Hurricane Victims Along Havana’s Coastline Wait for Help That Never Comes

A group of neighbors puts their belongings out in the sun after the storm. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 23 September 2017 – Hope is fading these days in Havana’s San Lázaro Street due to the closing of the Malecón, after the damages left by Hurricane Irma. The lives of the residents along the coastline are stalled, waiting for humanitarian aid that has never arrived.

The San Leopoldo neighborhood and the areas from Maceo Park to the mouth of the Almendares River are the most affected. Two weeks after Hurricane Irma the residents are still trying to salvage their furniture and belongings damaged by the sea which flooded the area.

Mattresses have taken possession of the sidewalks, and some sofas and armchairs that show the watermarks from the floodwaters are musty with the small of salt and dampness. The most affected cling to the idea of rescuing everything they can, because they fear aid will be delayed or doled out in dribs and drabs.

“Ours is the only working TV on the block,” says Georgina, a resident of Perseverance Street. Every night when the primetime news comes on, dozens of neighbors gather around the screen. “People come to find out when they’re going to start distributing things.”

Reports in the official media show the arrival in the country of numerous donations from Panama, Venezuela, China, Bolivia, Colombia, Suriname or Japan. However, “not even a tablespoon of rice has reached this neighborhood,” laments Georgina.

A few yards from Belascoaín Street, a kiosk installed by the State for the sale of prepared food only offers a watery stew that few deign to buy. (14ymedio)

Expectations grew among those most affected on hearing of the arrival of a Dominican Navy ship last Monday, with 90 tons of construction materials such as wood, doors, aluminum window frames, nails, metal roofing, wire, in addition to mattresses and portable generators.

“People thought they were going to start distributing all of that right away,” a young man explains to 14ymedio, as he helps his father move some sacks of cement to raise a more than three-foot high wall and stairs at the entrance of his home, which faces the sea. “We had one but it fell short,” he explains.

The Government allocated part of the national budget to finance 50% of the price of construction materials that will be sold to victims with total or partial damage to their properties.

Although Irma seriously damaged the electrical wiring, took part of the kitchen tiles, removed the toilet bowl and contaminated the water tank, the young Habanero considers that “the most urgent need is food because there isn’t any.”

Mattresses have taken up permanent residence on the sidewalks, as people wait for them to dry. (14ymedio)

A few yards from Belascoaín Street, a kiosk installed by the State for the sale of prepared food only offers a watery stew that few deign to buy. So far no free rations have been distributed in the area and potable water is also on sale in containers of various types.

The World Food Program (WFP) has allocated 1,606 tonnes of food and $5.7 million to cover the food needs of 664,000 people in affected areas for four months, but only one ration has been delivered to Centro Habana.

A resolution passed Tuesday said that the delivery of “products received as a donation (internal or external)” will be made “at no cost.” However, along with free distribution, victims are also demanding greater speed along with controls to avoid the ‘diversion’ (i.e. stealing) of resources.

“Food is the main thing because many people are left without money,” explains Heriberto, a retiree who lives on a second floor in San Lázaro Street. “I had no direct affects in my apartment but the refrigerator is empty and I have nothing to put in my mouth.”

Nearby, the broad portal of the Immaculate Church has just been repaired after the floods, with hinges and everything. Humanitarian aid for the most affected residents has been collected through a side entrance for days. The donations arrive in small quantities but they provide some relief.

Cuban Hurricane Victims Demand Cuts in Prices and Customs Fees / Iván García

Photo by Julio Batista for ’The slow death of Centro Habana’, a report by Elaine Díaz published on September 14, 2017 in Barrio Journalism.

Ivan Garcia, 18 September 2017 — TV Cuba is different. In the news, we see mechanical shovels collecting debris, brigades of electrical linemen repairing the posts blown down by the powerful hurricane and optimistic citizens who “trust that the revolution will not leave them helpless.”

Real Cuba is something else. Garbage collection is done at a snail’s pace. More than a few towns in the interior of the country will be a month without electricity and the service of drinking water is deficient.

After noon on Wednesday, September 13, in the Havana neighborhood of Santos Suárez, hundreds of people started a street protest because of lack of electricity and water. Residents threw rotted food in the street, demanded repairs for their homes and asked the authorities for better government management. continue reading

Let’s call him Eduardo. He participated in the spontaneous street demonstration and believes that “the government should greatly reduce prices in foreign currency stores, for the sale of construction materials and also reduce the high customs tariffs on parcels sent by our relatives from abroad.”

Irma destroyed the roof of Eduardo’s precarious room in a tenement on Calzada Diez de Octubre and the rain destroyed his mattress, television and an electric rice cooker, his personal belongings.

“The materials that the government is selling to those with damaged homes is subsidized but only at 10 or 15 percent. You have to be physically disabled or a pensioner who is solely dependent on your pension, for the authorities to pay in full. Even with the price cuts, cement, aggregates and tiles are too expensive for those who work for the state, because we earn miserable wages,” says Eduardo.

As of six days after Hurricane Irma, the coastal Havana neighborhoods of Playa, Plaza, Centro Habana, Habana Vieja and Habana del Este, where the sea flooded into the city up to three feet deep, still lack electrical service and drinking water.

Germán, a resident of the poor neighborhood of San Leopoldo, is a guy with a short fuse who, when speaking, gestures with his hands and uses bursts of swear words.” Man, if this is not resolved, I swear I’m going to throw the furniture down the street and I’ll shout slogans against the government. This is a wreck. The light and water guys tell you one lie after another and my patience is already running out.”

Diario Las Américas asked about twenty men and women who suffered damages due to Hurricane Irma, their opinions about how to better manage the disaster.

Carla resides in Cojimar and lost her house: “The first thing is that the high officials of the government show their faces and explain without half measures or their official gobbledygook the real state of the situation. They should listen to what people think. And people want them to lower the inflated prices of food and goods in the stores. They want their relatives living abroad to be able to send them, without customs fees in hard currency, sheets, towels, mattresses, appliances … Also, deliver extra quotas of food and construction materials, free of charge, to those who suffered damages.”

A Civil Defense official who preferred anonymity claims that “the ideal would be for the State to offer free food and construction materials to the population. But in Cuba the economy is in the dumps. The budget for hurricane and natural disaster impacts is limited. While the United States has billions of dollars when natural catastrophes occur, the Cuban government has a few million pesos.”

According to official figures, in case of natural disasters, the state budget has a reserve of 200 million pesos, about 8 million dollars at the current exchange rate.

Jorge, an economist, believes that “this budget is not enough to even get started in the case of this hurricane. Although officially unreported, the total amount of damages left by Irma in the national territory could amount to billions of dollars. Of the 16 provinces in Cuba, four (Camagüey, Ciego de Avila, Villa Clara and Sancti Spiritus) were directly affected and in others it also it wreaked havoc. Almost half of the 169 municipalities in the country suffered with more or less intensity the consequences of the hurricane on the island.”

In the opinion of the economist, “it would be reasonable to apply price reductions immediately in all hard currency stores and not only for food that for lack of electricity could be spoiled, as some stores in Havana have just done, where they lowered the price of many of their refrigerated products by 70%.

“Likewise, a broad expansion of articles allowed to be imported by Cuban travelers as well as those sent by Cubans residing abroad to their relatives in Cuba. Other problems to be resolved in the medium term are to create insurance companies that can compensate for damages caused by natural disasters and to underground the electrical networks in big cities. And of course, build more robust homes, capable of withstanding the onslaught of a cyclone.”

In Cuba, there is only one insurance company, ESEN, but it only provides coverage to state-owned companies and agricultural cooperatives (although on its website it reports that it also insures cars and other private properties).

But ordinary Cubans don’t know how it works. In addition to cumbersome procedures to obtain bank credits, these are only allowed up to twenty thousand pesos (800 dollars). And because of inflation and high cost of living on the Island, that amount is not enough to put on a new roof, let alone repair hurricane-damaged doors and windows.

In several neighborhoods of Havana and in the rest of Cuba there have been public demonstrations brought about by the government’s mismanagement after Irma. “What happened in Santos Suárez expanded like gunpowder all over the country. People from other places will also try it. They know that there will be no legal sanctions [for the demonstratorss] and that electricity and water will be promptly restored,” affirms a neighbor of the Vibora neighborhood, which borders Santos Suárez where the initial demonstrations took place.

In several areas of Havana, along with tree trunks and branches, especially in corners, all kinds of waste has accumulated, where rodents and cockroaches swarm, not to mention flies and mosquitoes.

“Five or six times a day I call the Communal Service and no one picks up the phone. If they do not clean the city, an epidemic could break out at any moment. In the newspaper Granma, a doctor from the provincial department of hygiene and epidemiology said that “sanitizing the city is a responsibility of every citizen.”

It seems that she does not know that for that type of cleaning they need equipment and gloves. And the brooms and dustpans that people have to clean their homes aren’t enough for that,” explains Sara, a resident of Lawton.

Cubans feel like they have reached their limit. That the regime does not listen to people and is indifferent to their complaints. Then they decide to scream their irritation in the public street. They feel that they have nothing to lose anymore.

An Unnecessary Cuban Ministry / Fernando Dámaso

The ration book (14ymedio)

Fernando Damaso, 22 September 2017 — According to Cuban authorities, 32% of food services and of personal and technical services for domestic use are now operated by forms of non-state management. At the moment there are 4,173 of these businesses, of which 1,878 are dedicated to food services and 2,295 to personal and technical services.

It is also reported that, in 2014, 498 non-agricultural cooperatives (CNA) were approved while in 2017 there are 397 in operation, of which 62% are linked to the commerce and services sector and 17% to construction. In addition, in 2016, 291 state entities were managed as CNAs, an organization for economic and social purposes, which is voluntarily constituted (although there are many “induced” by the authorities) and is sustained by work of its partners. continue reading

It is also said that CNAs have their own assets, autonomy of management and cover their expenses and tax obligations with their own income (Resolution 305/12). All this constitutes a partial solution, which demonstrates the historical failure of state management.

The absurdity is that the agency (Ministry of Internal Trade) responsible for this failure, which was not able to efficiently run state enterprises of any kind, and destroyed them when they were under its direct administration, is now in charge of overseeing the good operation of this entire new structure, as well as controlling it and dictating its legal norms. As a part of this control it interferes in pricing, quality, and other matters that the services offer, issues that should be the responsibility of the new managers.

In addition, certain problems that conspire against the success of these forms of management have not been solved: there is no wholesale market with differentiated prices, state suppliers know nothing of contracting procedures, nor do they know how to negotiate with the CNAs, and they do not have transport to deliver supplies to them.

The socialist state, unfortunately, is inefficient and it is impossible for it to stop controlling and imposing “straitjackets” on the citizens, even if it is these same citizens who are the ones who solve the problems and render  services with a quality that none of the state agencies, institutions and companies have achieved for years, and the body designated to ensure all this lacks credibility and the moral strength to do so.

Here it seems that the reason for maintaining a bureaucratic and incapable ministry, which has proved to be unnecessary and has acted as a “bottleneck” between producers, marketers and the population, complicating all kinds of distribution, is its “single achievement” of maintaining the greatly reduced “ration book.”

Irma and the “Hollocastro,” Two Hurricanes Over Cuba / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro (Cubanet)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 16 September 2017, Havana – In these post-hurricane days, rumors are circulating through the streets of the Cuban capital: where is Raúl Castro? Why has he not made an appearance in the areas most affected by the ravages of Hurricane Irma or before the television cameras to deliver some message of hope and support to the victims? Isn’t it true that the person that holds by force the highest leadership of the Government and the single Party should go directly to the people and be more at hand, the greater the calamity that’s devastating the country?

A week after of the hurricane’s destructive passage deployment of leaders has been taking place throughout the devastated countryside and towns. The entire olive-green aging caste seems to have mobilized. Except for the general-president, whose invisibility is, at least, scandalous. He was barely seen in the official media this Friday, September 15th, presiding over a meeting of the National Defense Council that took place last Wednesday the 13th, where, according to the same media, “damages caused by Hurricane Irma and the actions to be developed during the recovery phase were evaluated, as were actions to be taken during the recuperation phase.” On that occasion, the head of government also maintained a very low profile. continue reading

As usual, speculations and rumors have been rampant in trying to explain the head of state’s unlikely behavior: “He must be very ill”, say some people; “They did not have a contingency plan for this disaster,” conjecture the more malicious. However, the most widespread impression is that the country’s situation is so complex and its solutions so difficult that it is too big a task for the old ruler. In fact, Raúl Castro doesn’t time to live, or good health, or political will, or courage, or sufficient talent not just to solve the deep national crisis, but to lead the destinies of Cuba to a good port.

To make matters worse, the Cuban president’s only message was the “appeal to our dynamic people,” published in the media on Tuesday, September 12th, where – in the absence of a more realistic proposal – he appealed to “the legacy” of the Specter in Chief “with his “permanent faith in the victory” to face the country’s recovery. Nothing seems as absurd and desperate as to invoke the ghostly guidance of the main maker of the national ruin in this horrible hour.

But the icing on the cake was the unfortunate clumsiness of stating in the same text that “we have the human and material resources required” to repair and put into operation before the high season (beginning in November) the main tourist destinations that suffered severe damages in the hurricane. In a country where a large number of families have lost their homes and their meager assets, such an impudent statement, which transcends the greed of the top for monopolizing hard currency is not only untimely and cynical in the present circumstances, but it constitutes an irrefutable demonstration of the Government’s insensitivity to the human drama that tens of thousands of Cubans on the Island are experiencing.

For many, the distance that the general-president of his troubled people has taken is multiplied by contrast, compared to the extreme populism of his predecessor. Everyone remembers that Castro I – whether out of his proverbial thirst for the limelight, his egocentrism, or his colossal narcissism – took advantage of the opportunities offered by hurricanes to descend from his high green Olympus to take a dip in town and appear as protector and generous patron, especially in those places where the poorest sectors lived and where the worst damage had occurred.

There, in the midst of the rubble, the rubbish and the mud, the egregious autocrat pressed some hands, clumsily patted some children’s heads, dictated the patterns of an imaginary recovery, provided for the free distribution of some odds and ends, flung impossible promises that ended up in oblivion, and pronounced inspired speeches. He looked as if he were sincerely concerned about his endowment of slaves. Because Castro I knew that it was not enough to be the maximum leader: he also – and perhaps this was the most important thing – had to look like one.

And the trick always worked because, at the end of the day, warped politicians (forgive the redundancy) know that people simply just need to believe that, in reality, despite losses, calamities and wreckages “they will not be left helpless” by their leaders. And they certainly believe it, if only for a while.

But it happens that “time” is what neither the general-president nor the millions of Cubans who await improvements that never arrive have. So, even admitting that his age, his declining health or his justified fears of the unpredictable reactions that the impatient multitudes may exhibit, could have prevented Raúl Castro from mixing with the people, what is true is that, as sitting “president,” he may not evade his responsibility at the head of the nation.

So, Hurricane Irma could turn out to be one of two options for Castro II: the opportunity to correct the course and remove the restrictions and obstacles that impede the development of the nation’s private sector, recognizing its important role in moving the internal economy; or – otherwise – the nail that seals the coffin of the so-called “updating of the model” with all its failed plans. The General’s insoluble dilemma is to try to improve the national economy without liberating its productive forces; but his personal tragedy is that he can only save the country if he betrays the so-called “socialist” legacy, inherited from his brother and mentor.

The signals of government weariness and the popular discontent are already clear, as has been shown in recent outbreaks of protest, in the looting of state businesses, in the obvious fear of the government that seeks to exacerbate popular discontent with “exemplary” measures and repress the heated minds with an unprecedented deployment of power of the Special Forces that only spur a climate of tension and of a plaza besieged, especially in the country’s capital. And to aggravate the scene, there is no longer a “wet foot/dry foot” policy in the United States, offering an outlet for Cubans’ expectations of prosperity. Now only frustration and powerlessness are left.

Meanwhile, Irma has been a fatal unforeseen event for the Government, which, at first glance, creates serious disturbances in different levels of national life.

At the economic level, it shatters the official plans of increasing the gross domestic product by 2% by the end of 2017 from an announced tourism growth that would see the arrivals of foreign vacationers surge to a number of 4 million visitors or more.

At the political level, it also alters the plans for the electoral farce that had just begun with the nomination process of base candidates, which now must be hastily reprogrammed, with all the flaws and unforeseen implications that this might entail.

At the social level, Irma’s saga has increased the tension between the fragile social power balance and the governed; which is the same as saying between the beneficiaries and the eternally sacrificed.

The reasons the General does not offer his face to the storm is understandable from all this. He does not give answers because he does not have them. He is old, tired and fearful. Perhaps the months, weeks and days that remain before giving the presidential chair are counted, and with it, all the problems and tensions that it arouses. Except that Hurricane Irma has also stamped an unthought-of turn in those plans. It is already known that in an uncontrolled Cuba everything that is harmful is possible.

Translated by Norma Whiting

 

Weeks before Yusniel Pupo Carralero was detained, members of the local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, retired officers of the Armed Forces and militants of the Communist Party tried to discredit his candidacy. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 September 2017 — The independent candidate Yusniel Pupo Carralero denounced on Wednesday that he had been detained by State Security to prevent him from participating in the People’s Power Nominating Assembly for his district in the municipality of San Juan y Martinez in Pinar del Río.

Once communications were restored in his town after Hurricane Irma, the 34-year-old activist explained by phone to 14ymedio that two officers with the rank of captain, known as Orestes Ayala and Juan Perez, intercepted him while he was walking from his house to the area outside La Estrella bodega, where he was planning to go to the meeting, last Wednesday at 8 PM.

“I was kidnapped in a green car with a private plates,” he says. The vehicle “circled for about two hours and after that time I was released about 8 miles from town, on the road to Punta de Carta,” he says. continue reading

A few months ago, Pupo Carralero was motivated by the #Otro18 (Another 2018) campaign for independent candidates to represent their communities. In the event that he was elected as a delegate, he proposed to “act in the interests of the people and to try to find solutions.”

Even before aspiring to that position, many in his district nicknamed him Delegate because when there is a problem the neighbors come to him. “They know that I am the counterpart of the Delegate [of People’s Power], that I am always on him, demanding that he perform,” he says.

In the weeks prior to his detention, the activist learned that Captain Ayala met with several members of the local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, retired officers of the Armed Forces and members of the Communist Party of the Celia Sánchez neighborhood to discredit his candidacy.

The participants in that meeting with the State Security were warned that Pupo Carralero, a tobacco grower, has also been the president of the peasant committee of the Independent and Democratic Cuba opposition organization for five years.

The same situation has been experienced by other independent candidates, who in a recent declaration denounced “the discrediting campaigns” coming from the authorities that aim to prevent them from becoming nominated as delegates in the municipal elections.

In the Assembly, while Pupo Carralero was being held by State Security, a resident named Rodolfo Pérez Mena “started talking to other voters to encourage them” to propose him as a candidate, but the police sector chief, Lieutenant Brito, “intimidated him by telling him to shut up,” he told this newspaper.

Since that incident several residents have avoided greeting the activist when they see him on the street. “Even my family feels afraid,” he reflects. “Sometimes life becomes a little complicated in the neighborhood in the face of so much harassment, but we have to keep fighting.”

Manuel Cuesta Morúa, the main promoter of the #Otro18 platform, believes that events of this nature are “complete violations of the Electoral Law.” The government “seems determined to prevent citizens, polls and ballots from being the ones who choose the representatives,” he denounces to 14ymedio.

Cuesta Morúa warned that “in all cases where the government tries to prevent the presentation of independent candidates, the result will be the establishment of municipal assemblies tainted by lack of legitimacy.”

Cuban Economist Karina Gálvez Sentenced To Three Years In Prison

The case against Karina Galvez, of the Center for Coexistence Studies, began on 11 January when she was detained for a week at the Technical Directorate of Criminal Investigation of Pinar del Río. (Screen Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 September 2017 — Economist Karina Gálvez was sentenced Thursday by the Municipal Court of the city of Pinar del Rio to three years of deprivation of liberty and the confiscation of her home for the crime of tax evasion, a member of the Center for Coexistence Studies CEC) confirmed 14ymedio. A court decision that ensures that it does not surprise him and that he was waiting.

“Although after the trial, which was clearly won by the defense lawyers, we had hoped that the penalty would decrease somewhat with respect to the prosecutor’s request,” explains the economist. continue reading

Ultimately, “the court accepted the requests for sanctions proposed by the prosecution,” the CEC said in a statement. This does not mean, however, that the economist must go to prison, since the sentence contemplates that the sentence of deprivation of freedom can be replaced by three years of house arrest.

The trial against Gálvez began on 11 January when she was detained for a week at the province’s Technical Department of Criminal Investigation and her house was sealed.

Karina Gálvez’s house was also the headquarters of the Center for Coexistence studies (CEC) and with its seizure the independent project lost its meeting place for the second time. In 2009, the yard of the house of Galvez’s parents, where their members met, was also confiscated and closed.

The property is now at the disposition of the Municipal Housing Department, subordinate to the Council of the Administration of the Municipality of Pinar del Río.

The court ruling says that the conviction seeks to “make the defendant understand” the seriousness of the crime and also “serve to education the people in general.”

In addition, Gálvez has been banned from exercising the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in electoral processes, as well as lost “the right to hold management positions in the organs corresponding to the political-administrative activity of the State.”

She is also prohibited “from being issued a passport and leaving from the national territory until the penalties imposed have been completed,” says the document that the court sent to her on Thursday through her defense lawyer.

The sentence states that this type of punishment is applied individually and in “its type and extent” is for the purpose of “repressing, re-educating and preventing the commission of new offenses.”

As of this Thursday Gálvez has ten days to appeal. After that time the sentence will be signed against her and she must wait for the appointment with an implementation judge.

“I still have not decided if I’m going to appeal, I’m thinking about it,” says the economist. “The person who presided over my trial is the president of the Provincial Court, so I would have to appeal to a judge who is subordinate to him,” and that “would be a formality.”

Gálvez has denounced, in recent months, an escalation of pressure by the authorities, which includes numerous interrogations in the provincial Immigration and Aliens Department, where they inquired about the motivations of her trips off the island.

Other members of the CEC have been summoned by the police and have received warnings, including the director of the publication, Dagoberto Valdés, who was told by an official last October that from that moment his life will be “very difficult.”

The CEC organizes training courses for citizens and civil society and, in a recent public statement, its members assured that they will not leave Cuba or the Church and that they will continue to “work for the country.”

A Hurricane Called Communism

An old woman sitting in front of her home waits for the electricity to return in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 17 September 2017 — In the middle of the hurricane I received a mysterious photo of Fidel Castro. At the top it said: “Fidel resurrected.” Below the portrait the mystery was clarified: “His name is Irma.” The Commander was reincarnated as a ferocious hurricane.

The joke has a serious basis Juan Manuel Cao, one of America TeVe’s leading journalists, explained it to me. Communism and hurricanes have many things in common. They leave society that suffers them without electricity, without food, without medicines, without clothes, without gasoline. The drinking water becomes an elusive trickle that fades with skill of Houdini. They are magicians. Everything disappears. Socialism is like this.

But both catastrophes differ in one key detail: hurricanes last only a few days and people look forward to the end of the water and the wind. Communism, on the other hand, lasts an eternity and, little by little, hopes of seeing the end vanish. We Cubans have been suffering for 58 years. Venezuelans, although they have not yet reached the sea of ​​happiness, as announced by Hugo Chávez, began the journey almost 20 years ago. They are already close to the goal. May God take them confessed. continue reading

The Cuban Human Rights Foundation, chaired by Tony Costa, in a bulletin written by the historian Juan Antonio Blanco, adds a forceful denunciation in response to statements by dictator Raul Castro. The general explained that almost all the resources available to Cuba in the last quarter of 2017 will be used to rebuild the hotel infrastructure destroyed by Hurricane Irma.

The companies, almost all foreign, co-directed by Cuban generals, will have priority. If a street or a building has to be fixed, a power line or telephone has to be fixed, it will not be the Cubans, but the foreigners. It has always been like this. It is the government, without consulting the citizens, who will decide how it will spend the resources generated by the work of Cubans.

When these catastrophes occur, the cruel absurdity of the systems in which the government, owner of all property, of all resources, and of all decision-making mechanisms, chooses the certain bad luck of its subjects.

In societies in which private property prevails, citizens protect their assets through insurance, and if they do not have it, they acquire loans to repair their homes or estates. They do not expect the State to solve their most urgent needs because they know, as Ronald Reagan used to say, that there is no more dangerous creature than the one who tells us: “I am a representative of the government and I have come to solve your problems.”

In Cuba there are thousands of victims of hurricanes that happened six, seven or ten years ago, and who continue to live in temporary shelters that are falling apart. Often the aid that comes from abroad is then sold in dollars in special stores.

I remember a shocking revelation made me by Jaime Ortega, very upset, who was then bishop and soon cardinal, in the nineties, at my house in Madrid: when Germany, already reunited, tried to give thousands of tons of powdered milk, to be distributed by the Catholic charity Caritas, and their diplomats in Havana learned that the government sold these coveted gifts, the indignant representative of the Cuban government, a deputy foreign trade minister named Raul Taladrid, on the instructions of Fidel Castro, uttered a tremendous sentence that should pass to the universal history of infamy: “Cuban children will drink water with ashes before milk distributed by the Church.”

Now it was Irma’s turn. Little by little the country will erode sharply, from hurricane to hurricane, from storm to storm, until it becomes an incomprehensible ruin, as long as the current system continues. I am not surprised by the bitter joke. Fidel reincarnated in “Irma.” Tomorrow it will be as “Manuel” or “Carmen.” Until Cuba is a fuzzy memory, or until this chastened society can get rid of the heavy chain and take the long road to national reconstruction away from the socialist utopia.

Last Episode of This Cuban Electoral System / Dimas Castellano

Election billboard in Cuba (MartiNoticias)

Dimas Castellanos, 7 September 2017 — The Cuban electoral system includes general elections every five years for deputies to the  National Assembly of People’s Power and delegates to provincial elections, as well as partial elections every two and a half years for district delegates and municipal assemblies.

During this month the nomination of candidates corresponding to a new election period will take place and on Sunday October 22 municipal elections will be held, a process that will culminate in February of 2018 with the designation of the new National Assembly and the election of the next revolutionary Government. (Ed. note: Due to Hurricane Irma the election calendar was extended after this article was written.) continue reading

Article five of the Constitution defines the  Cuban Communist Party (PCC) as “the leading force of society and the state,” therefore, the electoral system is designed to ensure the continuity of the PCC in power. This explains that although in the districts the people nominate and directly elect delegates, in forming the municipal, provincial and national assemblies, which is where the true power is concentrated, the Candidature Commissions, made up of the leaders of the mass organizations — constitutionally subordinated to the PCC — have the power to name 50% of the candidates, even if they have not been elected by the people.

In a context characterized by economic decline, the latent danger of the end of the subsidies from Venezuela, widespread lack of interest, moral corruption due to the need to survive and growing despair, the “elections” announced will be, in addition to the most difficult, the last under the current electoral system which, exhausted, will have to give way to a new electoral law. The reasons on which this thesis is based are the following:

In 1959: 1- The revolutionaries who came to power in 1959 were legitimized by arms; 2 – The economy that they found allowed them to lower prices and redistribute wealth, which allowed them to gain popular support; and 3 – Without any economic results, in the middle of the Cold War, they were sustained by Soviet-Venezuelan subsidies.

The current crisis of the electoral system — a reflection of the crisis of the Cuban model — is not ignored by the government. On February 23, 2015, at the 10th Plenum of the PCC Central Committee, it was announced that a new law would be adopted for the general elections of 2018. However, the setbacks suffered by the “Bolivarian” left in the region, the loss of the Parliament for Chavismo in Venezuela and the tight victory [for the government candidate] in the second round in Ecuador seem to have led to the postponement of the new law. To this is added that, in the municipal elections of April 2015 the number of Cubans who did not vote at all or who canceled their ballots totalled 1,700,000 Cubans, or 20% of the electorate.

To this complexity are added: 1- The presentation of dozens independent candidates, which despite their not representing an immediate danger for the conservation of power, is a sign of the need for changes and 2- The recent restrictive measures against private work.

The recent Resolution No. 22/2017 of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security prohibits the granting of new licenses for dozens of self-employment activities ranging from the rental of housing to the pushcart vendors selling agricultural products; activities that the State has been and is unable to carry out. It is, therefore, a setback aimed at preventing the development of an independent national middle class that Cuba needs so much in order to maintain its power.

All this has generated great concern for the Cuban authorities as evidenced by the following three facts:

  • The Granma newspaper of Thursday, July 13, 2017 reproduced the following words of Carlos Rafael Miranda Martínez, national coordinator of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (the block watch committees that are “the eyes and ears of the Revolution”), calling for a great battle. He said: “This time they must be on the front line to ensure the success of the Cuban electoral process, the great battle is to nominate colleagues and comrades with a proven revolutionary prestige, with a trajectory in favor of the neighborhood and community.”
  • The Cuban president, at the closing of the National Assembly, on July 14, 2017, said: “It is not idle to emphasize the transcendent political importance of this electoral process, which must constitute an act of revolutionary reaffirmation on the part of our people, which requires an arduous work of all the organizations and institutions.”.
  • The Committees for the Defense of the Revolution initiated the “Neighborhood discussions for the patriotic and anti-imperialist duty,” in which a bulletin of that association is discussed with the directions that its members arrive at the nomination assemblies ready.

For the reasons listed, the new generation of revolutionaries who will take over the leadership of the government in February 2018: (1) that has not been legitimized by arms or by the ballot box; (2) that will find a stagnant economy, in a frank retreat, that prevents them from having anything to offer the people; (3) in an international context without a foreign power prepared to subsidize them for ideological reasons; and (4) amid widespread weariness and discontent that will inexorably lead to a new electoral law.

Cuba: The Day After / Iván García

The state in which the old Hotel Cosmopolita de Camajuaní  has been left by hurricane Irma in Villa Clara a province 290 km east of Havana, going by the Autopista Nacional. Built in 1918, the hotel was included in the tourism development plan to liven up the hotel trade in Villa Clara. Taken from “Los límites de la alucinación”, a report by Lianet Fleites in Periodismo de Barrio, September 12th 2017.

Iván García,13 September 2017 — On Friday September 9th, Omar, 55 years old, set up two speakers in his house,  located in an inside corridor off San Lázaro Street, in Lawton, in the south of Havana, just like he does almost every weekend, and, at 6 in the evening he started to open some bottles of cheap rum for his neighbours and friends. Any event is a good excuse for a celebration.  Omar and his family live with the money they make working, and what his family send him from time to time from Miami. They eat what they can come by and they don’t worry about the future.

When Omar found out that Hurricane Irma’s high winds were going to hit the island, he rang the electric company and the public services, to get them to cut the medium sized palm tree in the patio of his house. “I have been having this fight for a year now, especially when a hurricane is approaching. They always argue about it. They told me they would come right away, or, if not, they would send a team in a few hours. But it’s all hassle and lies. Look at what’s happened”, he says and indicates the concrete roof of his house, destroyed when the palm tree fell on it early in the morning of Sunday, September 10th. continue reading

There are stories like Omar’s all over Havana. Luis, a medical centre nurse in La Vibora had to work Sunday morning, just when Irma devastated the city with its surges of wind and rain.

“Before, the Luis de la Puente Uceda medical centre-hospital was located in a substantial building with all the necessary sanitary conditions and medical equipment. Then they decided to set up in the building a limited access surgery centre, principally for dealing with foreigners, and moved the medical centre to a less than ideal leaky ramshackle old house”, Luis explains. And he remembers what an ordeal it was.

“It was raining more inside than outside. With many of the windows broken, there were bits of wood, tin cans and leaves blowing in. The old electricity generator which wasn’t properly maintained, cut out from time to time, leaving the medical centre in darkness. When I knocked off at seven in the morning, in spite of the fact that it wasn’t windy and hardly raining any more, I had to walk home over 4 miles because some brilliant person had decided to suspend the city transport”.

Nearly 72 hours after Irma had passed Havana, Public Services, which is responsible for waste collection, had not done that over wide areas of Diez de Octubre, the most densely populated part of the capital. “Here we hadn’t seen any sign of the electric company vehicles or those of the water or public services. The streets were full of bushes and smashed up stuff left by the storm and people had piled it up wherever. That discussion by the government about which teams would collect the vegetation and the rubbish and that they had already started recovering the situation in the city was just for the television”, says a neighbour.

Although the strong winds lost their intensity as they approached Havana and did not greatly affect the capital and Artemisa province, since September 9th many Havana neighbourhoods are suffering power cuts and have no drinking water. “It was known that the areas worst affected by the hurricane were the coastal districts of Playa, Plaza, Havana Central, Old Havana, and East Havana. It looks like the authorities devoted all their resources to those areas and forgot the rest of us existed, complained Migdalia, a resident of La Cuevita, a poor area in San Miguel del Padrón.

The sea flooded over the coastal areas covering the streets 2,000 feet inland. “They looked like overflowing rivers. The water covered El Vedado, Central Havana and Old Havana. As most of the families living in these areas were evacuated, and in spite of the fact that the police and the civil defence said they would be protected, the looters had a field day. Several foreign currency outlets and shops in Miramar, Vedado and Central Havana were looted”, explained an agent deployed to keep order in important locations.

But the worst disasters of Hurricane Irma occurred in the central provinces of Cuba bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north. Sayli Sosa, journalist for the Invasor daily, from Ciego de Ávila, visited La Cayeria north of Ciego de Ávila. There, on the morning of Saturday, September 9th, the eye of the Category 5  hurricane touched land.  Irma was merciless in the tourist spots on the keys, which geographically belong to Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila  and Villa Clara. The ten workers who stayed in Hotel Meliá Cayo because of their duties sheltered themselves in a safe place, but admitted they had the greatest fright of their lives. “It was Dante-esque”, they said.

Sosa also went over to the town of Bolivia in Ciego de Avila, where he talked to Eusebio, a septuagenarian, who told him he was not afraid of hurricanes. The neighbours took shelter in the only house in the neighbourhood capable of coping with angry Irma. But pigheaded Eusebio wanted to stay put and when things got nasty he couldn’t get out. At three in the morning the deafening wind crashed through the cracks in the palmwood boarding of his house and the damp balsa wool material of the roof whistled horribly. He thought that the roof ridge was going to collapse and he got under the kitchen counter. The partly constructed grey reinforced concrete counter was what saved his life.

We have seen photos and videos and have heard descriptions of Irma’s cruelty in the tourist places in Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Santamaria, but we don’t have figures for the damage caused. In August 2016, I was staying at the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort Hotel, situated in Cayo Coco, Jardines del Rey archipelago in the north of  Ciego de Avila. While I was there I wrote two chronicles. In one of them, called Cayo Coco, a commercial centre  for the Cuban capitalist military, I said: “As with 70% of the tourist facilities in Cuba, the Memories Flamenco Hotel is managed by the Gaviota S.A. commercial operation, a business which set up in 1989 under the auspices of Fidel Castro, with the pretext of testing the profitability of the incipient tourism business”.

A few months after the main tourist season (November to April), the olive-green people lavished loads of money and resources to fix up the hotels damaged in Cayería norte, in record time. ” Most of the ETECSA linesmen and those from the electric company was sent to the keys. They are a priority, although there aren’t any tourists there as they were evacuated to Veradero. But those hotels are an important part of the hard currency earning money box”, explains a telecoms engineer.

Not too far away from the key is a very different situation. From Yaguajay, in Sancti Spiritus, a province 220 miles east of Havana, Sergio, who lives there describes over the phone that “the desolation is terrible, as if the fat madman of North Korea had fired one of his missiles. Eight out of every ten houses had their roofs damaged or their walls fell down. Nearly sixty were flattened, with just the foundations left”.

It’s not very different in Esmeralda, Camagüey.  In Adelante, the local newspaper, the journalist Enrique Atiénzar  says that Irma dealt brutally with Esmeralda. In Moscú, the damage was severe. Of the over 200 houses, mostly rustic, only ten survived the over 125 mile per hour winds. Lyam, 12 years old, doesn’t enjoy a hurricane going past, but says that 16 neighbours were sheltered in his grandmother’s house. The next day, Lyam’s grandmother sat down in the doorway and started to cry. “Not for me, but for the neighbours”.

In Cuba the real headache for the man in the street comes in the days following a tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane going by. You can just imagine what it’s like when it’s a hurricane like Irma, touching land in Cayería norte as a Category 5, then dropped to a 4 and then a 3 and then on the way to Florida went back up to a 4.

In the length and breadth of the island, thousands of families are living in shelters, having lost their homes because of a hurricane or other natural disaster. Some wait for twenty years for the state to provide them with a home. Others wait for help buying materials so they can repair their houses by themselves.

Omar, living in Lawton, knows very well what it’s like waiting for the government to help. “My house could fall down at any time”, he says with a sad face. For a Habanero, who likes salsa music, Olga Guillot boleros, and knocking back a few cheap rums with his friends, it hasn’t been much of a party lately.

Photo: The state in which the old Hotel Cosmopolita de Camajuaní  has been left by hurricane Irma in Villa Clara a province 290 km east of Havana, going by the Autopista Nacional. Built in 1918, the hotel was included in the tourism development plan to liven up the hotel trade in Villa Clara. Taken from “Los límites de la alucinación”, a report by Lianet Fleites in Periodismo de Barrio, September 12th 2017.

Translated by GH

Cubans Hope For Customs Moratorium After Irma

There is growing demand for a moratorium on import tariffs for food, clothing, footwear and household appliances. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 19 September 2017 – Planning what to bring and filling their suitcases with their purchases abroad is the obsession of any Cuban who returns to the island. After Hurricane Irma, the victims and self-employed are waiting for the General Customs of the Republic (AGR) to relax customs fees so they can bring articles and merchandise into the country.

More than a week after the hurricane touched down on Cuban territory, there is growing demand for a moratorium on import duties on food, clothing, footwear and appliances. The AGR has not yet issued any official information that points to or rejects an immediate change in its regulations.

This Monday seemed like a normal day at José Martí International Airport’s Terminal 3, but travelers and their companions demanded more strongly than at other times the right to expand the amount of luggage that each passenger can bring. continue reading

“In my town, Yaguajay, there are people who have lost everything,” Raiza Rojas, 43, told this newspaper. “Getting here was an odyssey, but the return of my brother who was visiting Miami is vital for my family,” she says. His relatives, sitting on the stairs connecting the ground floor with the first floor, waited anxiously.

“My kids were left only with the shoes they had on, and in my house the washing machine and the refrigerator were ruined,” Rojas explains. Her dream is that “the Government will allow it all to be brought in from outside, because here the stores are experiencing extreme shortages and the products are very expensive.”

The list of gifts that the Rojas family hopes to receive includes “tomato paste in tubes that do not need refrigeration, detergent, soap, candles, cumin powder and reading glasses” that were lost during the storm. “We are also hoping for painkillers, aspirins and some heartburn pills because the pharmacies are bare.”

Any traveler can bring up to 22 pounds of duty-free medicines, but must pack them separately and keep them in their original containers. “That’s nothing, because in my family there are four seniors and two are chronic patients who need many medicines,” adds Rojas.

The woman hopes that in the short term “people can bring medicines, food and also cars that are needed right now to rebuild this country.”

However, customs controls continued to be governed by the standards implemented in mid-2014.

“I have two suitcases, one for food and another because I brought a drill,” a Cuban recently arrived from Cancun, where he spent the weekend shopping, told 14ymedio. “I thought that after the hurricane I would not have problems with tools and food but I was wrong,” he adds.

The traveler had to pay customs fees equal to the cost of the drill in convertible currency because it was his second import this year. “I explained to the official that this drill is for domestic use, to fix some windows that the winds of the cyclone loosened, but I still had to pay 50 CUC,” laments the man.

“It cost me more to bring it into the country than to buy it in Mexico,” he complains. “With these prices people are discouraged and in the end the loser is the country because the families have less to face the inclement weather with,” he says.

A few yards from the waiting room of the main terminal in Havana, the parcel agencies also continue to be governed by the rules in force for three years.

In the customer service office of the Aerovaradero company at the airport, an employee who identifies himself as Yasser responds bluntly: “Everything is consistent with the Official Gazette and [we have not] received any document that expands the volume of cargo that can come in unaccompanied nor its costs in customs,” he says.

The worker confirms that in the last hours he has registered numerous calls from customers interested in being recipients of personal donations from abroad to relieve the damages that the hurricane left them. However, “the General Customs of the Republic is the only one authorized to make changes” in the rates and quantities that can be received, Yasser says.

Even Pedro Acosta, owner of the Docilla Ceci private restaurant at the Havana Deportivo Casino, has gotten comments from people calling for “expanding the coverage to bring things,” he tells this newspaper. However he believes that the authorities “are not going to do it and if they take any such action it would be only temporarily because of the situation left by Hurricane Irma.”

Acosta says he feels pessimistic and has the impression that “the tendency is to close it down more and more and for people bring things from abroad individually.” In his opinion, among the reasons for strangling the mules” is the official intention to “not benefit the private sector,” he says. The mules include people who bring things into the country just for the price of their own ticket, along with others who charge by the pound and make a business of it.

Were he able to import with more freedom, this private businessman would prioritize “refrigeration articles that are very expensive here and are not of good quality,” he says. He would also like to import products such as different types of meat, condiments and other items that he can barely find in the stores.

At the end of August, Customs categorically denied a rumor about the possible implementation of more restrictive provisions for the clearance of travelers’ luggage. The state agency called the spread of this false news “erroneous and malicious.”

“Cuban Customs will always inform in advance, by all means available to us, any changes we may impose,” said the official statement.

Now, many count the hours waiting for another announcement, but this time “to open, not to close,” said Pedro Acosta.

The Eternal Persecution of the "Deserters" / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 6 September 2017 — A recent email leak in Cuba confirms that although the island’s Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) facilitates the travel procedures for the collaborators it sends to missions in different countries, the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), which controls the regime’s organs of repression and citizen control, has absolute power to obstruct departures and avoid desertions.

On 7 August 2017, Cuba’s Central Unit of Medical Cooperation (UCCM) requested the Department of Foreign Relations (MINSAP), via email, to prepare five transit visas for Spain who were planning imminent travel to join the Cuban Medical Brigade in the African archipelago that forms the Republic of Cape Verde. continue reading

This singular cyber-message, brief and to the point, said that the collaborators must collect their transit visas on 12 September at the Spanish consulate in Havana, and must present themselves the day before at UCCM’s headquarters, located on CUJAE Highway in the capital municipality of Marianao.

The doctors involved are Neuvis Vázquez del Llano (surgeon), Manuel Luis Rodríguez Lavernia (surgeon), Aida Silvia Fuentes Abreu (pediatrician), Pablo Raúl Rosell (surgeon) y María Elena Pérez Jiménez (anesthetist).

So far so good. UCCM is the institution in charge of ensuring Cuba’s commitments with regards to International Medical Collaboration are met, and it is normal that it should also be in charge of the visas and travel of the collaborators.

The story’s dark and irregular point comes to light when, by magic and hours apart, a second email, dated Wednesday 9 August, is sent from Roberto Morales, Cuba’s Minister of Public Health, to the Cuban embassy in Madrid, with a copy to the African state, instruction that by orders of Jesús López-Gavilán, chief of the MINIT department that deals with health, that when the collaborators’ flight date is confirmed, it is imperative that an official of Cuba’s diplomatic mission in Madrid go to Barajas International Airport (the misspelled missive explains), because after an investigation and check of communications with family members abroad, it was determined that one of the five physicians, without specifying which, but repeating the names of the five mentioned above, has shown what are describes as strong indications and intentions to defect.

Charcoal, the Expensive and Only Cooking Fuel After Irma

Sacks stacked with charcoal made from the invasive marabou weed. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Zunilda Mata, Havana, 18 September 2017 — Black smoke from charcoal rises from an improvised fire in Dinora’s yard, which is close to the area most affected by Hurricane Irma in Caibarién, in the province of Villa Clara. In addition to half her house being on the ground, her new problem now is to cook without electricity or gas, in a place where local producers have increased the prices of this fuel, after energy shortages in the region caused by the hurricane.

Two years ago, Dinora’s family was among the province’s 4,902 families who were able to buy an induction cooker, a lidded casserole, a jug, a frying pan and coffee pot for 500 Cuban pesos (CUP) on credit, which the state bank is assured of being repaid through deductions from wages and pensions.

“There has been no electricity for more than a week and I had to go back to cooking with charcoal,” she says via telephone. continue reading

The charcoal, made mainly from marabou, is managed primarily by state companies that pay the local producers – who have self-employment licenses that allow them to produce it – and then mostly export it. A small part of the production is left in the hands of the carboneros, for their own use and for private sales with prices governed by supply and demand. “While before Irma a sack of charcoal cost 25 CUP in Caibarién, now that same amount is now worth twelve times more.”

“A sack of charcoal can’t be found for less than 300 CUP,” Dinora explains to 14ymedio. “My monthly pension isn’t even that much, so when I run out of this, I do not know what I’m going to do,” says the retiree, adding that she plans to use the fallen branches and logs that Irma left in her yard to be able to boil water and prepare food.

The so-called Energy Revolution, promoted by the late Fidel Castro at the beginning of the 21st century, replaced the distribution of kerosene and alcohol in the rationed market, which had been used for cooking in rural areas, with electrical appliances, such as hot plates and electric water heaters. Consequently, the installation of gas conduits was shut down and citizens came to rely on these new devices, useless in cases when the electricity fails.

Now, after Irma’s damage to the power grid, smoke from charcoal fires fills hundreds of houses and yards in the central area, in the absence of any other cooking fuel. It is not a question of choice but of necessity. The less fortunate do not even have a few coals to ignite and must settle for eating cookies or canned food.

The residents in this coastal town are impatient at the slowness of the restoration of basic services, as they continue with the access roads cut off, electrical poles on the ground and more than 4,000 homes totally or partially collapsed. “It seems as if they have forgotten us,” Dinora complains.

Independent journalist Pedro Manuel González shares this feeling of abandonment and regrets that in the first days after the storm the brigades of linemen and trash collectors were transferred to the tourist areas. “Caibarién is forgotten and has no priority in the national emergency,” he said.

Caibarién after the passage of Hurricane Irma. (Pedry Roxana)

Just 72 hours after Hurricane Irma, the 14-mile causeway that connects the tourist area of Cayo Coco with the nearby province of Ciego de Avila was repaired. A priority that has bothered many residents in Caibarién.

Francisco Carralero, a resident of the Van Troi neighborhood, is annoyed by that priority and complains that in Caibarién “everything is going very slowly.” He treasures a tank that he managed to buy last June when the province began the sale of liquefied gas. He rented the cylinder for 400 CUP and refilled it for another 110. “Thanks to that, it has been possible to pour a little coffee in this block,” he says.

“Now a full tank can’t be had for less than 1,000 CUP and no one can even find one,” explains Carralero. “He who has gas is a privileged one, because most of the residents of this neighborhood have not been able to light their stoves for more than a week.”

“Heat” and “chill” are two verbs difficult to conjugate these days in the area. In the informal market blocks of ice taken from the state lobster company are sold at about 300 CUP each. “He who has money gets cold water and he who doesn’t has to deal with it,” adds Carralero.

The losses are not only in infrastructure but also in food and resources.

“Everything I had in the refrigerator was spoiled because I didn’t have time to consume it,” explains the Villaclareño. In his area only some buildings have recovered electrical service and, he protests, they still have not received “any type of free food supply.”

The town’s pizzeria sells a serving of spaghetti for 5 CUP, the same price they charged before the arrival of the hurricane. Several distribution points in the city offer beans, rice and pork loin at 12 CUP, but the distribution of food at no cost is limited to those who were sheltered in state centers.

The dream of many neighbors is that there will be aid promised by the World Food Program (WFP), which will allocate US $5.7 million to “supplement the food needs of 664,000 people” in Cuba, according to remarks from Executive Director David Beasley during a recent visit to the island.

“We are in a critical situation and we have to start distributing food and water as soon as possible because people here are at their limit, many have been left with nothing,” explains Carralero, who fears that “the bureaucracy will delay the aid that is urgently needed right now.”

“This is a disaster zone and needs humanitarian assistance as soon as possible,” he explains. “If the situation continues, we will have to start dismantling the few pieces of furniture we have left to be able to cook,” he warns.

Raul Castro, Who Still Has Not Visited Those Affected By Irma, Tells Cubans: “We Will Move Forward”

Some 180,000 cubic yards of trash have been collected in Havana including trees, roofs, debris, poles and electricity and communications cables. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio (with agency information), Havana, 15 September 201 — Raúl Castro still has not visited any of the many areas affected by Hurricane Irma this past weekend and remains entrenched in the Palace of the Revolution, where on Wednesday night he led a meeting of the highest level officials to evaluate the damages caused by the hurricane, according to a report in the official press on Friday.

“The blow was very strong and spread throughout most of the country, but with the hard work that is being done, we will once again move forward,” Castro said, according to an article that filled the entire cover pages of both the Granma and Juventud Rebelde newspapers

The country entered a recession in 2016 for the first time in almost a quarter of a century and although in the first half of this year it experienced a slight recovery, the passage of the hurricane set the stage for a strong setback for the island’s exhausted economy. continue reading

Raúl Castro also “recognized the arduous work deployed in each of the places affected by the devastating meteorological event,” and said that he “has worked very hard” and asked that Cubans learn from experience to “be prepared.”

The president noted that the “intense” hurricane season in the Caribbean, “a clear product of climate change,” does not end until November 30.

The state press stressed that, “the army general called to continue working without rest, to face the problems with serenity and to keep the people informed by all possible means on the situation that the country faces.”

In addition, the president added, “there is a need to deal with problems with intelligence” taken from the “best experiences” applied after the passage of other hurricanes such as Sandy (2012), which battered Santiago de Cuba, or Matthew (2016) which caused serious damage when crossing the eastern end of the island.

These are the first communications from the Cuban president aired since last Monday, when he sent a written message to the population in which he appealed to the “spirit of resistance and victory of the Cubans” and recognized the “severe damages” caused by Irma.

Meanwhile, the government continues to assess the damage caused by the storm, which has left roughly two million cubic yards of solid waste in the streets of Havana, where 180,000 cubic yards were collected on Thursday, including trees, roofs, debris, poles and electricity and communications cables.

The cleaning of the capital is being carried out by the 19,240 workers of the state-owned communal services company, with 731 trucks and 12 cranes, supported by brigades from the Armed Forces, the Navy, inmates and voluntary state workers, according to Juventud Rebelde.

The Ministry of Education also reported the blow suffered by several universities. Those in the center of the country — Martha Abreu, of Villa Clara; José Martí, of Sancti Spíritus; Máximo Gómez Báez of Ciego de Avila and Ignacio Agramonte of Camagüey — will receive resources to repair damages according to the level of deterioration, said Minister José Saborido.

In the case of the University of Camagüey, the minister said that the greatest damage is located in the loss of about 10,000 feet of waterproofing which, for the moment, leaves exposed about 800 beds in student residences.

During a tour of its facilities, the head of Higher Education in Cuba said that the center “did not experience major impacts on equipment,” but there were some broken windows in dorms, classrooms and laboratories, as well as the loss of zinc tiles in the gym at the site of the Manuel Piti Fajardo Physical Culture facility.

Saborido set the reopening of the university for next Monday, when the current school year will be gradually restarted, as the necessary conditions are restored.

The impact caused severe, unquantified effects, including more than 1,700 elementary, secondary and pre-university schools affected by the rains and the strong winds that came with the hurricane.

The Minister of Education, Ena Elsa Velázquez, told the official media that the most damaged schools are in Havana, Matanzas and Villa Clara; while the greatest damage was recorded in Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey, and the main damages are in roofs, doors, broken windows, and contaminated water tanks.

Velázquez explained that the school year will be progressively resumed in the country, as the hygiene conditions and the availability of safe water stabilize, and in schools with serious damages students will be relocated to other facilities or family homes to continue classes.

The country has 10,698 educational centers and of them 510 were destined for people evacuated during the passage of the hurricane. Many schools that were converted to shelters for victims still remain occupied, so, according to the minister, alternative places need to be found to teach classes.

In Havana, the areas most damaged by the hurricane were Centro Habana, Habana Vieja, Vedado and Playa, where the sea penetrated nearly 1,000 feet inland and the hurricane winds caused total and partial collapses of houses. More than 4,400 homes in the city were affected prior to Wednesday, when another 21 total collapses were added to the 157 already reported, along with 9 partial collapses and 82 additional damaged roofs.

According to the official information, Havana’s electrical network was restored by Thursday to 86% of its coverage, although some areas of the city have been without service since last Saturday, including Playa and Plaza de la Revolución. The authorities insisted that by yesterday, Thursday, electricity would be restored throughout the capital.

The water supply was also brought on line and at the moment the four main water supply services to the population of Havana, with a coverage of 90%, are stable and working. However, some 14,600 people are still supplied by tanker trucks.

The supply of fuel is also normalized in the city, where more than 265,000 gallons have been distributed to service stations, the official report said.

Across the island, the hurricane knocked down some 2,400 communications poles, and thousands of others supporting the power lines, many taken down by fallen trees.

Irma, which touched down first on Cuba’s northwest keys as a category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, left 10 dead on the Island, mostly due to house collapses.

After Hurricane Irma, Sending Help to Family in Cuba is Complicated

Residents of Animas Street seek relief from the intense heat sitting on the sidewalk, because of the lack of electricity (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Nora Gamez, Mimi Whitefield, Mario Penton, Miami, 17 September 2017 – Concerned that the Cuban government does not usually accept donations from the United States, the Cuban-American community is looking for alternatives to help their families on the island, which has been devastated by the passage of Hurricane Irma.

According to a preliminary evaluation by the United Nations, 3.1 million people have no running water. Although the government has offered no estimates, thousands are without homes, destroyed by the fury of the winds or the floods. In the capital alone around 4,200 homes were damaged and in the province of Camaguey, where the eye of the hurricane passed over, 7,900 homes were damaged. According to the official press, some 26,000 people are still in shelters. Some have returned to their villages, despite their houses being in ruins.

Idanis Martín, 34, has lived for the past two years in West Kendall in Florida but the rest of her family resides on Goicuría Street in Caibarién, in Villa Clara, one of the places hardest hit by the hurricane which touched down in Cuba as a category 5. continue reading

“Everything there was destroyed. My family says there’s not a bush left standing in the village,” she told 14ymedio by phone. “The little [food] they had spoiled,” because of lack of electricity. “They told me that the last box of chickens sent to them rotted when there were more than half left,” she added.

Still recovering from Irma’s passage over south Florida, this Tuesday she sent her family ground beef, a box of chicken and pork cutlets that she bought online at Supermarket 23 for some 130 dollars.

Although their digital site doesn’t say so, Supermarket23 is probably one of the multiple Cuban government sites that, from Canada, allow people to buy products and foods very hard to get in the shortage-plagued markets of the island, although at higher prices.

“They deliver it right to the door of the house. It takes between a week and 15 days and is very useful because they don’t have to go to the hard currency stores,” explains Martin, who works in Miami in an agency that provides services to the elderly.

“Those of us who have a little more have to help those who have nothing,” he says.

“Other Cubans in Miami are going to the package agencies to help their families on the island, but the process is slow due to the damage to ports and airports on both sides of the Florida Straits.

Yudelkis Barcelo, manager of Envíos y Más Express, an agency that sends packages to Cuba with a location in Miami, said there still hasn’t been an appreciable increase in the number of packages to the island after Irma and that the restoration of the flow of goods between the two countries “will take time.”

“We don’t have the infrastructure ready. The airport and the ports are now recovering from the hurricane. It’s still going to take a little time to get back to normal,” she said.

Reopening the airports on the island will facilitate the shipment of food and other humanitarian supplies. The government has received donations from other countries, among them Venezuela, Vietnam and Panama. Jose Marti International Airport reopened Tuesday, but Santa Clara airport, which suffered severe damages, will not be open for flights until the end of October, said American Airlines spokesperson Marta Pantin.

Several organizations in the United States are campaigning to raise funds and provisions with the idea of ​​helping Cubans. But without government approval, US organizations will not be able to ship large quantities of food. It is time to find creative solutions.

After Irma left Cuba for Florida, the Cuban American National Foundation got in touch with civil society groups it works with in Matanzas, east of Havana.

“We said we were going to send them money and they said: ‘We need food,'” said Pepe Hernández, president of the Foundation.

So the Foundation plans to work with package agencies or employ so-called “mules” to deliver essential items. Some mules charge only the ticket price to and from the island for carrying 100 pounds of merchandise; others charge between four and six dollars a pound, Hernandez said.

Hernandez explains that the Foundation is also evaluating other ways to help the inhabitants of the island. One of the initiatives is to cover the costs of those who want to send money through Western Union to Cuba. With the help of civil society organizations, they also plan to come to the aid of people in need, not necessarily linked to opponents.

“Civil society groups plan to go to affected areas and identify families in need,” he said. “They will take their names, numbers and addresses, and then we will send each family $100 through Western Union,” which has 450 offices throughout Cuba.

The Foundation also seeks to push for an assistance program that provides funding to Cubans who need to make repairs to their homes. The program, which provides up to $1,200 in assistance, has made it possible to repair 60 homes so far.

“Now we hope to intensify this program and we hope there will be more donations,” Hernandez said. “So far, the Government has not given us any problems with this program.”

But this is not always the case when it comes to sending aid from the United States, especially if it comes from the Miami community. When Hurricane Matthew struck Guantanamo Province, in the east of the country, the Catholic Church was not authorized to receive planes on the Island with food donations from the Archdiocese of Miami or from Catholic Relief Services based in Baltimore.

The Archbishop of Miami, Thomas Wenski, said he was finally able to make a cash donation to the bishop of the Diocese of Guantanamo but without a wholesale market on the island and with supply problems in the network of supermarkets controlled by the state, he had to buy the necessary products abroad.

Other initiatives to raise money and send it to Cuba, such as the one promoted by the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights based in Madrid, rely on the Catholic Church for the distribution of aid on the island, the only institution, beyond the state, with an independent infrastructure to do so. Different agencies of the UN have a presence in Cuba but they must coordinate the delivery of donations with the state.

The Archdiocese of Miami is accepting financial donations through Catholic Charities and other entities to help the residents of the Florida Keys and Caribbean Islands whipped by Irma’s fury, including Cuba.

“We have food and water available but we cannot send them until they tell us they need them and the ports and airports are open to receive them,” said Mary Ross Agosta, Director of Communications for the archdiocese.

Wenski said he planned to go to Cuba for the inauguration of the new bishop of Ciego de Ávila on 30 September, and hoped to better understand the needs of Cubans and “see how we can help them.”

Although many in Florida are still recovering from the damage caused by the hurricane, Wenski acknowledged that he had seen “a lot of generosity. There is a great spirit of solidarity. We are all breathing with relief in Miami because we avoided the worst of Irma and that can inspire generosity. ”

“We will see if it changes this time and Cuba is willing to accept donations,” Wenski said.

CubaOne Foundation, based in Miami, and Give2Cuba, based in Seattle, have taken another path. Working together, both are seeking volunteers to raise money through the Crowdrise platform and bring provisions to help the victims on the island, especially in the provinces of Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spíritus and Santa Clara, most affected by the hurricane.

CubaOne has organized several trips of young Cuban-Americans to know the Island and Give2Cuba took humanitarian aid to Baracoa, very affected by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Giancarlo Sopo, co-founder of CubaOne and president of its board, explained that the trip, authorized by the United States Department of the Treasury under the category of people to people, would take place in October. But before that, CubaOne has joined the 3:05 Cafecito campaign to collect food, medicine and other supplies and send them to Cuba through Cáritas.

“Our community is concerned about the Cuban people,” said Sopo, “and we will do everything possible to support them during this difficult time.”

To donate to the victims of Hurricane Irma in Cuba:

Archdiocese of Miami: To donate to Catholic Charities, visit www.ccadm.org and https://give.adomdevelopment.org/irma.

CubaOne Foundation: To register for the humanitarian aid trip to Cuba, visit the organization’s website http://cubaone.org/irma-relief/

CubaOne and 3:05 Cafecito are collecting food, medicine and other necessities, at 1549 SW 8th Street, second floor, from 10 am to 7 pm.

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This article is part of a collaboration agreement between the south Florida newspaper El Nuevo Herald, and 14ymedio.

Aimara Peña: “I want to hear what the citizens have to say”

Aimara Peña, a spiritual activist who will stand as a candidate for the elections. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana 16 September 2017 — Aimara Peña was a little over 16 when she enrolled in a degree to qualify as a primary school teacher, but in the last semester of the course she was expelled from the Pedagogical University of Sancti Spiritus for her incipient political activism.

Now, the young woman seeks to represent her constituency as a delegate to the People’s Power. To achieve this, she will have to be proposed at one of the nomination meetings for candidates in the Las Pozas community, where she lives with her husband and two children, aged four and nine.

Peña has extensive experience in the reporting of human rights violations, the exercise of citizen journalism and work as an independent librarian. Works that have allowed her to know the exigencies of her neighbors. continue reading

Six kilometers from the provincial capital, Las Pozas, with 2,000 in habitants, has bus service only until six in the afternoon and lacks private carriers to alleviate the situation. The activist intends to seek a solution to this problem if she is elected.

Aimara Peña joined the Network of Electoral Facilitators whose main purpose is to ensure that citizens – ones with the will to represent the true interests of the population – occupy positions in these basic structures of People’s Power.

“The idea of ​​being a delegate always appealed to me,” explains the young woman who, at just 27, decided to run “to show that the work we do as activists is completely legal.”

With her attitude she also wants to motivate those people whom she energized to participate in the electoral process. “They are afraid and some are also undecided, so I wanted to set the example.”

The spiritual activist is dedicated “to listening to everything citizens have to say.” She believes that “at present the functions of the delegates are very limited despite being public figures in direct contact with the population and the only one that Cubans elect [directly].”

Peña is convinced that his main duty “is to help make the role of the district delegate a truly important one.” Until now the authorities use it as a channel to transmit information to the people but the delegate must work to “demand from the government what the people want,” she explains. “We have to start reversing that equation.”

Peña knows what she is facing. Although she has not received direct threats so far, not even an “unofficial visit,” she has received signals that the Party and Government organs are trying to deal with her candidacy by spreading negative rumors about her.

Something that does not kill her dream: “I think I have all the qualifications to present myself, and at least until now they have respected that, I hope that during the assembly, which still has no fixed date, things continue as before.”

In the Nominating Assembly, voters will have vote by an open show of hands and the fear of reprisals can have a negative effect.

“To some extent, many people close to me feel a little fear, because this is a decision that also involves the family, but my parents and my husband support me, they have been a pillar to strengthen me,” says the enthusiastic young woman.

If, in addition to being proposed, she manages to get the majority of hands to raise for her in that assembly, the name of Peña will appear on a ballot. Her photo and biographical data will be displayed in the same electoral district where a ballot box will collect the sentiment of the 754 voters of Pozas’s District 23.

“A lot of people will be afraid to raise their hands in my favor in the assembly, but once that barrier is overcome, the chances will be greater with the secret ballot.” She doesn’t doubt that if her name reaches the secret ballot in the next round her neighbors will vote for her. “All this, what I have been working for so long, will bear fruit,” she said.