El Templete’s Ceiba Says Goodbye To Havana / 14ymedio

The site of the mythical ceiba tree at El Templete in Havana. (14ymedio)

The site of the mythical ceiba tree at El Templete in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 February 2016 – The most-visited ceiba tree in Havana is no more. It was sick and yesterday, Tuesday, it was cut into pieces and removed from El Templete – a monument in Havana to the foundation of the original town in 1519 – by a brigade from the Puerto Carenas construction company of the Office of the Historian of Havana. The workers spent the morning on the task, helped by a crane that allowed them to move the largest pieces of the tree.

Curious neighbors watched the extraction of this symbol of Havana, a tree with deep meaning for the syncretic cults of African origin practiced in Cuba. There was no lack of prayers and bad omens among those who watched the felling of the tree. Among other reasons, because this ceiba, located at the site of the founding of the city, was associated in the popular imagination with the good luck and prosperity of the Cuban capital.

For more than five decades, the tree that was removed yesterday was the center of the supplications of many who would walk three times around its trunk on the anniversary of the founding of the city, 16 November. Tradition said that the circuits should be silent, touching the wood and then dropping a coin among its roots and at the end and making three wishes.

But for quite some time the cieba has shown signs of disease due to termites. It began to lose foliage months ago and its branches appeared dry. The grayness of the trunk also announced the end of a tree that, in nature, can have a much longer life.

The original ceiba was removed by a decision of General Captain Juan Manuel Cagigal y Martinez, who served between 1819 and 1821. The other trees that came later also appeared not to have experienced natural deaths. Diverse theories about the saltiness of the area contribute to hypotheses about the trees’ early demise.

A few steps from the Plaza de Armas, the recently removed ceiba was visited every day by hundreds of tourists and passers-by who, yesterday morning, were stunned by the removal of the imposing tree. The official newspaper Granma published a brief note Wednesday on the incident, but had previously not reported on the tree’s disease or slow decline.

A lady who works as a custodian in El Templete said yestersay that everyone who passed by wanted to take a piece of the ceiba home. She added that it was “an event” and “a lot of people were filming it and taking photos.” The woman also said that the tree that will be planted to replace it is already “in quarantine.”

Some of the curious said that the replacement should be planted quickly, because they cannot conceive of El Templete “without its ceiba.”

Havanans circling the tree on the 494th anniversary of the founding of the city. (Global Times)

Havanans circling the tree on the 494th anniversary of the founding of the city. (Global Times)

US Department Of Agriculture Anticipates End of Cuban Embargo / 14ymedio

The US Department of Agriculture has asked Congress $1.5 million to send five officials to Cuba. (USACC)

The US Department of Agriculture has asked Congress $1.5 million to send five officials to Cuba. (USACC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 February 2016 — In anticipation of a future lifting of the embargo, the US Department of Agriculture has asked Congress for 1.5 million dollars to send five officials to Cuban to work on the logistics that will support increases in trade when Congress authorizes it, according to the Associated Press.

Commerce Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday that this trip is “really important” and admitted that lifting the embargo will not be easy, especially in an election year. But, the secretary added, “at some point it has to end.”

The president of the U.S. Agriculture Coalition for Cuba (USACC), Devry Boughner Vorwerk, also considers the presence of US officials on the island a priority. “We need to be there permanently to start a dialogue with the Cuban government and with our counterparts on the technical aspects of trade and investment,” he said.

Vorwerk announced that the organization will send a mission to Cuba in April to establish an ongoing dialogue with their Cuban colleagues in the areas of bilateral trade, production, sustainability, distribution chains, investment and research.

The president of the organization – made up of thirty US agricultural and food companies in favor of ending the embargo – expressed disappointment at the continuation of the embargo but said he was “hopeful” for the creation of a bipartisan working group in the House of Representatives and the presentation of several bills when his group held a similar event in January 2015.

Despite the relaxations introduced by the White House since the announcement of the restoration of diplomatic relations in December 2014, US farmers are still faced with a prohibition on extending credit to Cuban government entities who want to import US products.

Last April Heidi Heitkamp, Democratic senator from North Dakota, and Arkansas Republican John Boozman presented a bill to allow American farmers access to financing for exports to Cuba.

#Otro18 Civic Platform Will Hold Forum On Citizenship And Multi-Party Voting / 14ymedio

The logo of the Civic Platform #Otro18 (Another 2018)

The logo of the Civic Platform #Otro18 (Another 2018)

14ymedio, Havana, 10 February 2016 – The group that manages the #Otro18 (Another 2018) Civic Platform has convened its first forum in early March in Cuba, under the slogan Citizenship Revisited, Multi-party Voting. Proposals ranging from reforms to the electoral law to a new law on associations will be presented at the meeting. Participants will include representatives from some 45 independent groups involved in the campaign, according to a statement from its organizers.

Participation in the Forum will be free and international experts on electoral and freedom of association issues have been invited as observers, along with representatives of the diplomatic corps. In the next few days a press conference will be held to define the agenda, date and place of the meeting. Since the Cuban government announced its intention to draft a new electoral law, different political and civil society actors have been encouraging the idea of gathering proposals from the public, with all the diversity and plurality of Cuban society.

Cubalex, an organization of independent lawyers, led the initial technical phase of this campaign in collaboration with lawyers from the Cuban Law Association and other institutions.

Political activists of various organizations such as the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the United Anti-totalitarian Forum, Somos+ (We Are More), Independent and Democratic Cuba, Cuban Solidarity Liberal Party, Liberal Party of Cuba (Azules), and the Center for Support of the Transition and Progressive Arc, as well as independent journalists, and community, civic and human rights activists, along with independent actors, participated in intense days both within and outside of Cuba.

With this event, #Otro18 completes the initial technical part in the first stage of its project, and initiates the policy and strong social and civic advocacy phase, ahead of the proposed reforms to the electoral law and the law of associations.

It Is Too Early To Say That Obama’s Cuba Policy Has Failed / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

The American flag was hoisted last July in front of its embassy on the Malecon in Havana. (14ymedio)

The American flag was hoisted last July in front of its embassy on the Malecon in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 10 February 2016 — The Washington Post, international analysts, politicians committed to the discourse of the radical groups in Miami and individuals within the internal opposition in Cuba, all say that United States President Barack Obama’s policy towards Cuba has failed, because a year after the announcement of the restoration of diplomatic relations, little has changed in our country.

They argue, further, that the policy is not conditioned on advancement in the area of human rights, that the systematic arrests of dissidents continue, that the goal of empowering the private sector has not been met, and that Internet connections have not improved.

All these opinions are grounded in false expectations and a mixing of desires, not policies, with false time frames. Continue reading

A Swede in Burundi, a Uruguayan in Cuba / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

The journalist Fernando Ravsberg.

The journalist Fernando Ravsberg.

14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 10 February 2016 – The Uruguayan journalist Fernando Ravsberg has spent years living in Cuba. But after reading his article Uncle Sam’s Cuban Cousins, and pondering it, I think what happened to Ravsberg in Cuba is the same thing that happened to the “disoriented Swede in Burundi” he references in his article.

One finds errors in his article that are the fruit of original sin, because the journalist, despite his close following of national events, speaks of the opposition as a whole; it is never appropriate to speak in phrases such as, “this group,” or “the project opponents.” This is serious because Ravsberg’s blog is not censored in Cuba, many subscribe to it by email, and a reading of the article in question gives the false conclusion that the entire dissidence acts under the umbrella of the United States government although, according to his own words, this same dissidence, in a total contradiction, is trying to boycott the normalization of relations promoted by its master. Continue reading

Tobacco In Cuba, Between Pests And Mud / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

Justo García Hernández working in his tobacco field. (14ymedio)

Justo García Hernández working in his tobacco field. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 9 February 2016 – The sun has barely risen and boots are sinking into land that is pure mud. In the furrows, a group of men is trying to revive the planted tobacco, but nature is working against them. Hundreds of producers in Pinar del Rio are struggling against the rain and the pests to save a tobacco crop which promises to be among the lowest in decades.

Prior to 20 January, 42,000 acres of land were planted throughout the province of Pinar del Rio, but only some 34,000 have managed to survive, and of these, some 5,000 are seriously affected. The excess moisture has also encouraged the emergence of the dreaded blue mold disease that devastates the crop. Continue reading

US Announces Plans To Replace The Office Of Cuba Broadcasting / 14ymedio

 Radio Marti studio. (archive)

Radio Marti studio. (archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 February 2016 — The United States government on Tuesday announced plans to replace the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), which runs Radio and TV Martí, with a “Spanish language concessionaire.” The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) did not elaborate on the proposal.

“The BBG requested authority to establish a new non-federal Spanish-language media organization, which will receive a grant from the BBG and perform the functions of the current Office of Cuba Broadcasting,” the document explained. Continue reading

Castro Regime Censors Blog Calling Raul Castro Responsible For UMAP* / Diario de Cuba

From the documentary: Mariela Castro’s March: Cuba’s LGBT Revolution (From Havana Times)

From the documentary: Mariela Castro’s March: Cuba’s LGBT Revolution (From Havana Times)

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, Havana, 9 February 2016 — A blog on sexual diversity, Proyecto Arcoiris (Rainbow Project), housed in the government-run blogging platform Reflections, has been censored by the regime after addressing UMAP and publishing a text attributing the responsibility for it to Raul Castro, according to the Global Voices international network of bloggers.

Those responsible for censorship alleged that the blog broke the rules for participation on the site and that the text “defamed the Revolution,” explained blog author Yasmine Silvia Portales Machado to Global Voices .

The censored paragraph from the Rainbow Project blog that refers to the Military Units to Aid to the Population (UMAP) is hosted here; but currently readers get a message that says “This site has been archived or suspended.” Continue reading

Gang Warfare In Havana / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Gangs are usually made up of children, often under age 14 (Frame / ARTE)

Gangs are usually made up of children, often under age 14 (Frame / ARTE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 8 February 2016 – A few nights ago my wife and I arrived in an almendrón [old American car in use as a shared-taxi] at the Ceiba little park just before the traffic light at Via Blanca and Lacret, in Havana. We we usually get off there when we are going home from El Vedado, in a line of collective taxes headed to La Vibora.

The unwelcome surprise that night was to find ourselves almost in the middle of a pitched war at 1:00 in the morning. At Bella Vista and Via Blanca two gangs of children – for the most part; many of them weren’t even teenagers – were facing off with stones, sticks, bottles, and some carried machetes nearly as big as they were. Continue reading

Four Questions For You, President Obama / 14ymedio, Yuslier L. Saavedra

The US president, Barack Obama talks with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro. (White House)

The US president, Barack Obama talks with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro. (White House)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yuslier L. Saavedra, La Salud (Mayabeque Province), 8 February 2016 — Mr. President, I am a young Cuban woman who lives in Cuba and I do not want to leave. Exile hurts and I lack the courage to miss my homeland. I want to stay in Cuba and the reality of my people leaves me with many questions. I think it is up to Cubans alone – all of us without exception – to resolve our problems; peaceful change toward democracy is ours and is in us. I dream of a sovereign people, with self-determination because we have a voice, rights and freedom. I dream of an independent, democratic and sovereign Cuba, where there is a genuine Rule of Law and Democracy, the indispensable foundations for Cubans to be able to achieve prosperity and well-being.

You have said you want to help Cubans to improve our quality of life, which leads me to ask you some questions:

  • What has improved in Cubans’ quality of life since 17 December 2014?
  • You have called Raul Castro ‘president’; does this mean you consider him your counterpart?
  • Can a dictatorship turn itself into a democracy?
  • Do you believe that the dignity of the human person, as well as his or her well-being and quality of life starts with rights?

Thank you for your time.

Year of the Monkey in Chinatown / 14ymedio

Festivities for the Lunar New Year in Havana’s Chinatown. (14ymedio)

Festivities for the Lunar New Year in Havana’s Chinatown. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 February 2016 — Colorful costumes, dancing and lots of rain characterized Sunday in Havana’s Chinatown with the celebrations for the arrival of the Lunar New Year this February 8. Despite the inclement weather, the festivities lasted until late at night and included dances typical of China and martial arts demonstrations.

The beginning of the Year of the Monkey was celebrated by the residents of Chinatown, descendants of the Chinese who lived around Zanja and Dragones Streets, as well as tourists. Some private businesses decorated their interiors with references to the restless animal, the ninth of the twelve that make up the Chinese horoscope, which won’t repeat until 2028. Continue reading

Cuba’s Phone Monopoly: Between Capitalism And Paternalism / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Users in the current wireless area of Holguin. (Fernando Donate Ochoa)

Users in the current wireless area of Holguin. (Fernando Donate Ochoa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 8 February 2016 — Applying the toughest rules of the market on the one hand and presenting itself as paternalistic on the other, is a game well played by the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA). While the benefits to its customers arrive drop by drop, the rates are applied strictly to the letter, without the least compassion and with no relationship to Cuban wages.

The new Wifi zones that will be opened this year, along with the timid beginning of installing internet in private homes, barely silences customer complaints over the high costs of cellphones and the deficiencies in the service. The news that five Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) recharges will get a bonus of 10 extra minutes and 20 domestic text messages, does not appease the company’s critics. [Ed. note: 5 CUC is more than $5, while wages for state workers generally don’t exceed $20 a month.] Continue reading

Brazilian Odebrecht Group Expands Its Presence In Cuba / 14ymedio

Container terminal at Mariel Special Development Zone. (Zedmariel.com)

Container terminal at Mariel Special Development Zone. (Zedmariel.com)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 February 2016 — The Brazilian Odebrecht Group will expand its presence in Cuba with two contracts in the sugar industry and in civil aviation, according a report from the Prensa Latina agency. On January 13, the company also received authorization to operate in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) over the next 15 years to provide engineering and construction services to potential foreign investors through its Works and Infrastructure Company (COI).

A representative of Odebrecht, Mauro Augusto Hueb, told Prensa Latina that the business potential is enormous and that COI is studying the possibility of asking the Cuban authorities for another permission to invest in a plant producing plastic packaging located in Mariel. Continue reading

Construction Materials / 14ymedio

Construction materials outside a building in Havana. (14ymedio)

Construction materials outside a building in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 February 2016 – Building or repairing a house in Cuba is a road strewn with obstacles, which begin with getting the permits, finding labor and buying materials. Despite the new programs to locally produce aggregates and blocks, the providers can’t keep up in the face of the high demand in a country where more than 60% of housing units are in fair or poor condition.

Sales of construction materials are also marked by the so-called “diversion” (i.e. stealing) of resources, mismanagement, the arbitrary behavior of prices and the shortages of products in greatest demand: cement, iron bars, and cement and zinc tiles.

At places where these products are sold in Cuban pesos, often missing are doors, windows, bathroom fixtures, paint, plastic parts for piping and hydraulic and sanitary fittings. The situation becomes even more critical with mosaics and tiles, concrete joists and water tanks.

Fidel Castro Elected As A Delegate To Cuban Communist Party Seventh Congress / EFE, 14ymedio

Former Cuban president Fidel Castro, in January 2014.

Former Cuban president, Fidel Castro, in January 2014.

14ymedio biggerEFE (14ymedio), Havana, 4 February 2016 – Former Cuban president Fidel Castro was elected as a delegate to the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (the country’s only party), to be held this coming April, as reported by the island’s government-owned media.

Fidel Castro, 89 and retired from power since 2006, will be a delegate to the Communist conclave for the city of Santiago de Cuba, where 306 leaders of the José Martí district committee designated him by acclamation. Continue reading