Cuba Holds World Record For Visa Applications Rejected By The United States

Hundreds of Cubans line up every day outside the US embassy in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 25 March 2017 – Maria, 59, has a daughter in Miami she hasn’t seen for six years. Her visa applications have been denied three times and she promised herself that she would never “step foot in” the US consulate in Havana again.

Cuba is the country with the most denials of those who aspired to travel to the United States in the last two years. In the midst of an abrupt drop in the granting of visas under Barack Obama’s administration, the Department of State rejected 76% of the travel requests made by Cuban citizens in fiscal 2015, according to figures released by the US press.

Cubans are followed on the US consulate most-rejected list by nationals of Laos (67%), Guinea-Bissau (65%) and Somalia (65%). In the Americas, the others most affected, although far behind Cubans, are Haitians (60%).

According to preliminary data released by the US State Department, the situation has worsened in fiscal year 2016, with Cuban visa applications rejected at a rate of 81.85%.

Each interview to request a visa cost Maria about 160 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), with no chance of reimbursement, nor has she ever received any explanations about why her permission to travel was denied.

Places where US visa requests are most rejected (NYT)

On each occasion the woman dressed in her best clothes, added an expensive perfume that her daughter sent her, and practiced her possible answers in front of the mirror. “No, I will not work during my stay,” she repeated several times. “I want to see my granddaughter who is a little girl,” and “I can’t live anywhere but Cuba,” she loudly repeats as a refrain.

She took with her the title to her house in Central Havana, a copy of her bank statement and several photos with her husband in case they asked her to provide reasons why she would not remain “across the pond.”

Last year 14,291 Cubans received visas for family visits, to participate in exchange programs, and for cultural, sports or business reasons, among other categories. The figure contrasts with the 22,797 visas granted in 2015 and, more strikingly, the 41,001 granted in 2014.

Non-immigrant visas issued to Cubans on the island

The State Department said that the reduction of visas granted in Havana is because of no specific reason, but that because the valid time period of the multi-entry visas was extended to five years in 2013, many islanders don’t need to return for new interviews to make multiple trips to the United States.

But Maria did not figure among the fortunate in any of her three attempts.

The last time she headed to the imposing building that houses that US consulate in the early morning hours, she prayed to the Virgin of Mercedes, made a cross with the sole of her shoe and put flowers before the portrait of her deceased mother.

She went to apply for a B2 Visa, the ones that allow multiple visits to the United States to visit relatives and for tourism. It seemed like the line lasted “an eternity” before they called her name, she said. Then came the iron-clad security to enter the building.

“The interview room had an intimidating coldness,” she recalls, and was long and rectangular. Applicants talked to immigration officials through shielded glass.

The woman’s feet trembled and the clerk on the other side of the glass gave her no time to explain much. He just made a mark on the form with each answer. A man was crying ata nearby window and an octogenarian lady sighed after hearing she was not approved.

More than two million Cubans reside in the United States, with an active participation in the economy and politics, primarily in South Florida

Maria knows that the United States and Cuba have signed an agreement for 20,000 Cubans to receive immigrant visas every year. In 1995, President Bill Clinton negotiated that agreement to end the Rafter Crisis, fueled by the economic recession that hit the island after the fall of the socialist camp.

In 2016, 9,131 Cubans obtained a visa to legally emigrate to the United States, many of them under the Cuban Parole Family Reunification Program, and others through the International Lottery of Diversity Visas or the Cuban Parole program, among others.

More than two million Cubans reside in the United States, with an active participation in the economy and politics, primarily in South Florida.

The Cuban Adjustment Act, approved in 1966, allows Cubans to obtain permanent residence (a green card) if, after entering legally, they spend one year in the United States. A special welcoming policy only for Cubans known as wet foot/dry foot was cancelled in January; this policy allowed any Cuban who stepped foot in the country, even without papers, to remain, while Cubans who were intercepted at sea were returned to the island. In the last five years 150,000 Cubans took advantage of this policy to settle in the United States.

Cubans admitted to the United States — Total Arrivals

However, Mary’s intention is not to emigrate. She does not want to live in a country that is not her country, although her relatives have told her that Miami “is full of Cubans” and that Hialeah is like Central Havana.

Despite her Afro-Cuban rites and trying to maintain a positive mental attitude, in her last interview she didn’t have any “luck” either.

She received a quick denial and was given no chance to display all the answers she had rehearsed. In her opinion, the fact of being under 65 plays against her. “They approve older people who cannot work illegally there,” the lady assumes.

For Eloisa, a retired science teacher, that is not the reason, rather it is “hostility toward Cubans” by the US Government.

“The Americans want to take over Cuba. It has always been their greatest desire and because they cannot do it, they punish us by separating us from our children,” the woman says by phone. She has been a member of the Cuban Communist Party for 25 years and has had two children living in Houston for just over six years.

Although she only tried once, last year, the refusal from the consulate made her not want to try again.

“My children work very hard and I wanted to give them the pleasure of going to spend a little time with them. But hey, it’s not to be, “ she says in a voice that is brittle and resigned.

Mary, however, does not tire. This year her daughter will gain American citizenship and the woman hopes that this new condition will facilitate a positive response to her next request. Although this new attempt will leave her a little older and with almost $500 less in her pocket, in a country where the average monthly salary does not exceed $28.

A Month Without Machado Ventura

A month after the public disappearance of Ramon Machado Ventura, no official media has offered an explanation for the absence of the second most powerful man on the Island.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 March 2017 — Just a month ago his face disappeared from the Cuban government’s family photo. The last time he was seen, Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura handed out orders in an extensive agricultural area of ​​Pinar del Río. Four weeks later, no official media has offered an explanation for the absence of the second most powerful man on the island.

Now 86, this man born in Villa Clara’s San Antonio de las Vueltas, has stood behind Raul Castro for more than five years, in his position as the second secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), which the Constitution of the Republic consecrates as the “the highest leading force of society and the State.”

The man who was never absent from our television screens and newspaper pages for more than 48 hours has failed to appear since 27 February. An absence that feeds rumors among a people accustomed to giving more importance to a lack of news than to the news itself. But above all, it is a disappearance that comes at a bad time for the Plaza of the Revolution.

It is less than a year before Raúl Castro leaves his office as president and every day the uncertainty of who will relieve him in his post increases. Machado Ventura’s departure from the game would force the hurried naming of a second secretary of the PCC and put a face to one of the most jealously guarded mysteries of recent years.

The next few weeks could be of momentous importance for clearing up this question

The next few weeks could be of momentous importance for clearing up this question. If the first vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, assumes the second position in the Party it will prolong the tradition of concentrating in a single person the highest positions in the country. To choose among other names, such as Bruno Rodríguez, Lázaro Expósito or Salvador Valdés Mesa, could open a bicephalic route, unprecedented in communist regimes.

For decades, all power was concentrated in Fidel Castro, who placed his brother in the rearguard of his countless positions. In 2006, already with serious health problems, the Maximum Leader had to step away from public life and Raúl Castro inherited that conglomerate of faculties that placed him at the head of the Party and the State.

Nevertheless, during the Raul era “second positions” have bifurcated. The first vice-president is no longer the same person as the second secretary of the PPC, among other reasons so that no one person could completely replace the General-President. A measure of protection, but also an evidence of the lack of confidence of the historical generation in its relief team.

In this new structure, Machado Ventura remained second in the Party. Machadito, as his friends call him, has cultivated a public image as the ayatollah and custodian of ideological purity. An orthodoxy that in the Cuban case does not cling to the dogmas of Marxism-Leninism but to the voluntarist* doctrine of Fidelismo.

Machado Ventura earned his reputation for immobility through prohibitions and punishments

Analysts blame this iron-fisted goalkeeper’s presence at the top of the pyramid on Fidel Castro’s express wish, placing him behind his brother to prevent the latter from veering from the path. This is how a man who once qualified in medicine became, according to Soviet terminology in the times of perestroika, the “braking mechanism” on the reforms Raul Castro might have pushed.

Machado Ventura earned his reputation for immobility through prohibitions and punishments. He was in charge of leading the provincial assemblies prior to the last Communist Party Congresses, confabs where the principle agreements were hatched, the delegates chosen and where the key points of the Party Guidelines that today are the “sacred commandments” of Raulismo were committed to.

However, that role seems to have come to its end. The man who ordered the dismissal of high-level cadres and for decades banned Christmas trees in public establishments has left the scene. Missing with him are his harangues calling for efficiency and his visits to workplaces where he advocated greater discipline and sacrifice.

It remains possible that Machadito – the guardian of orthodoxy – will reappear at any moment like the phoenix, and leap between the furrows to explain to farmers how to plant sweet potatoes or arrive to instruct the engineers of some industry how to make better use of their resources. The followers of the hard line would receive that return with relief.

Translator’s note: Voluntarism is the view that revolutionaries can change society by means of will, irrespective of economic conditions. Source: David Priestland, Stalinism and the Politics of Mobilization. (Or, in another and quite a bit older formulation…)

An Unfortunate Article / Fernando Dámaso

Juventud Rebelde masthead from earlier years

Fernando Damaso, 26 March 2017 — In a mis-timed article, a journalist from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), a self-proclaimed Cuban youth, visits Hiroshima and unleashes her personal feeling about the events of 6 August 1945. She says she “is pained,” that “August in Hiroshima is forever” and shocked that a survivor, after the passage of 71 years, bears no grudge, and that “in Japan forgiveness is long-overdue subject.”

Then, instead of understanding that forgiveness is a sign of wisdom, she speaks about “the fiery blood of Cubans,” and says “it is hard to understand it.”

She’s right: We Cubans lack the wisdom necessary to forgive, and what’s more, to ask for forgiveness. To forgive and to ask for forgiveness are pending subjects here, despite the fact that our mambises — the original freedom fighters of a previous century — at the end of a real war, knew how to forgive.

These last 58 years are filled with bad examples. In Cuba hatred has overcome love, even though Jose Marti made it very clear that love builds and hatred destroys. The problem is that the example of Marti is used according to political convenience: one part of his thinking is manipulated and published and the other is hidden.

The journalist, to ride the wave, goes even further and addresses the visit and words of President Obama, when he was here. She says, “But that a victim of the Holocaust leans on his words to talk about the most painful moment?  That’s more than I can stand.”

Despite everything, I understand it: if she were not spiteful, filled with hatred and a practitioner of intolerance, it would be very difficult for her to write for Juventud Rebelde.

It is striking that “at this stage of the game,” when it is already lost and it will end very soon, instead of drawing useful conclusions from her visit, she shows herself to be so dogmatic. These are times to forgive and not to accumulate rancor and historical hatreds that, as can be seen, contribute absolutely nothing: Cuba is an example.

You have to know how to “turn the page” and not get stuck in the past. Japan demonstrates this with its spectacular development without losing its national dignity. It would be wise to learn from them.

 Translated by Laura

“Adequate Social Behavior” Is The Requirement For A Sports Contract Abroad for a Cuban Athlete

“Social behavior” is key to a contract abroad. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 18 March 2017 — To the voices that call for more autonomy for athletes, the Cuban government has just responded with a clear message. “To enter into a contract abroad, the athlete” must have “adequate social behavior,” according to Ramiro Domínguez, legal director of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER), speaking to the press

The official’s statement was accompanied by data about the number of athletes residing on the island who obtained a contract in other countries through the state entity. By the end of last year 61 agreements had been signed in different disciplines, and there are “between 200 and 300 athletes engaged temporarily in tournaments, training camps or leagues abroad,” he said.

Domínguez explained that to achieve one of these contracts the athlete must also have “good teaching and sports results, be of interest to his national federation and receive authorization from the country where he would perform.”

INDER evaluates “the athlete’s living conditions in the club” where he will play, “the right to represent Cuba when asked and his safety,” as well as a “second medical opinion in case of injury or discomfort.” The official commented that he is studying to implement a scheme for “economic compensation” that would go to the State for the training the athlete received in Cuba, and that “can be a fixed economic amount or the equivalent of 20% of the contract in question.”

He clarified that in the case of baseball, the money that the Federation collects in that way is not “to satisfy personal whims, but destined to solve problems of the sport itself.”

“One of our main goals is to prevent the athlete from being treated as merchandise,” and “every athlete hired leaves Cuba with a rigorous medical examination, anti-doping test and aware of their contractual and tax obligations, and in some cases accompanied by relatives,” Domínguez pointed out.

Alfredo Despaigne from Granma province is the emblematic example of an athlete hired by a foreign club. The player achieved a million dollar contract with the Japanese club Fukuoka Hawks of Softbank, and according to Domínguez does not have to pay the Cuban Federation of Baseball, nor INDER.

“Once he returns to the country, the athlete will comply with tax obligations, like all Cuban citizens who receive income abroad,” Domínguez had indicated in an earlier statement.

“On A Daily Basis I Prepare Around Fifty Lunches” / Cubanet

Source: Cubanet

cubanet square logoAy mi’jo, I would die of shame if I told you the things I’ve had to do, to earn a living (…) Fortunately, the best thing about working on my own is that even though beginnings are hard and there are always difficulties, I have managed to find my business (…)

Since I’m from Bauta [municipality about 25 miles southwest of Havana] I have to get up early almost every day, from Monday to Saturday, to be in Havana from 7 to 8 AM at a friend’s house who rents me her kitchen in Cerro. Then I have until noon to cook the food I’ll sell, and I have to make it well (…)

On a daily basis I prepare around fifty lunches. I put them in the containers I have, and around noon I go and sell them at a taxi stop by Parque de la Fraternidad.

Afterwards, I’ll go back to my friend’s house and prepare for the next day, buying anything I might need, or defrosting and seasoning meat. In the afternoon, I’m off to Bauta once again (…)

It’s been like that for five years (…) I’ve always been a dreamer, with many hopes and aspirations, but now at my age I try to not expect much from the future. Better to have it surprise me.

Translated by Leidy Johana Gonzalez and Brenda Rivera

“None of these women have anything better to do at home” / Martha Beatriz Roque

Site manager’s note: The Cuban opposition frequently posts photos of their repressors — in plainclothes as well as in uniform — sometimes naming them as well.

Translation:

Angel Juan Moya: Department of State Security (DSE) and National Revolutionary Police (PNR) repressive operation at the national headquarters of the Ladies in White.

Martha Beatriz Roque: None of these women have anything better to do at home.

Chinese Company Huawei Dominates Cuban Cellphone Market

Chinese brands have been expanding on the Island in recent times, ahead of the previous leading brand, Samsung. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 23 March 2017 — The mobile telephone market is changing at a speed that leaves little time to get used to new models. In Cuba, this dynamism is mostly seen in the informal networks, where the Chinese brand dominates because of its low prices and the preference it receives from the government.

Since 2008, when Raúl Castro’s government authorized Cubans to have a mobile phone contract, the number of customers with mobile lines has skyrocketed. At the end of 2016, the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) had more than 4 million subscribers to its cellphone service.

However, the sale of the handsets in the state network fails to satisfy users, who complain of outdated models and high prices. To alleviate this situation, the black market is greatly supported by those who want to update their telephone technology. continue reading

ETECSA’s offices sell Huawei Y3 and Huawei Y520 for 80 and 85 CUC respectively; low-end terminals with limited features

ETECSA’s offices sell Huawei Y3s and Huawei Y520s for 80 and 85 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) respectively. Catalogued as low-end terminals with limited features, these devices are an option for those who can’t afford more complex models such as Huawei P7, which the company sells for a whopping 472 CUC (roughly the same in dollars — about two years’ average salary in Cuba).

“I use it to connect to wifi and make videocalls with IMO,” Havier Morales, a technology student who owns a Y520 told 14ymedio. The young man emphasizes that the front facing camera, which is the one that is most used to talk with this application, is not very good quality, “but for the rest it’s an all-terrain phone.”

In the ETECSA office located in the Miramar Trade Center complex, an employee who preferred to remain anonymous offered more details. “We sell a lot of these models to teenagers who can’t afford a more expensive device and also to people who want to use it to connect to the internet,” she says.

The employee acknowledges that “the competition is tough, because street prices for mobile devices have dropped a lot,” and informal sellers frequently offer their merchandise outside the office. “They sell phones with cases, extra batteries and high-capacity micro-SD cards, so they have more attractive offerings than we do.”

Huawei holds 17.2% of the Chinese market and is now the leading mobile producer in that country. Outside its borders, for example in Spain, where in 2016 the Chinese company provided 21% of the smartphones sold in that country, the company has been very successful.

In late 2015, the company founded by Ren Zhengfei, who worked as an engineer in the Chinese Army, signed an agreement with the Cuban state monopoly to market smartphones on the island

In late 2015, the company founded by Ren Zhengfei, who worked as an engineer in the Chinese Army, signed an agreement with the Cuban state monopoly to market smartphones on the island and to improve voice and data services. The agreement includes the purchase of “parts, pieces and technical training,” according to a report at the time from the Cuban News Agency.

In 2000, Huawei obtained a contract to install the national fiber optic network. The Chinese company’s equipment is also used in wifi hotspots and in the newly opened Nauta Home service that provides internet access from homes.

The presence of Huawei on the island goes back more than fifteen years, according to Javier Villariño Ordoñez, sales director for the Chinese firm. In its relationship with state entities, it emphasizes “negotiating on the basis of mutual protection,” the businessman told the national press.

Official media has widely covered the company’s presence, while they have ironed out the scandal that enveloped the firm for some months because of a security hole in its code that sent client information to China. The problem was detected in other very popular brands in Cuba, such as ZTE and BLU.

The Washington-based human rights organization Freedom House has followed a number of allegations about the close ties between Huawei and state power in China and warns that security and human rights issues have been linked to the business.

In an open letter from Miami addressed to ETECSA, the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba stated its disagreement with the agreements between Havana and Huawei, a firm that “has a long history of supporting closed societies by improving the ability of your government to censor the Internet. ”

In the middle of last year it was learned that US authorities were investigating Huawei for its business with Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria

In the middle of last year, it was learned that US authorities were investigating Huawei for its business in Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. Its Chinese competitor, the telecommunications company ZTE had already been sanctioned for the same reason and fined 1.2 billion dollars.

However, the brand continues its expansion in the Cuban market. “Before we sold more Samsung but now a lot of customers prefer BLU or Huawei,” Rosa Ileana, an informal seller who sells smartphones from Panama and the United States, told 14ymedio. “Three out of four phones I sell are Chinese brands,” she says.

Her most frequent clients are “young people in high school,” but she also says that recently her products have been sold to “many older people who want to video-chat with relatives abroad,” from the wifi zones on the island.

The preferences are “a question of prices” but also because “as more people get a Huawei others also want to have one,” explains the seller. “A lot of it is word of mouth, if a device is recommended to you because of a long-lasting battery, stability and durability, then it’s more likely you’ll reach into your pocket and buy it.”

Bubble Bursts for Flights Between Cuba and the United States

Silver Airways has been forced to reduce its weekly flights to six cities in Cuba. (Silverairways.com)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 17 March 2017 — A year ago the headlines left no doubt: Cuba was Americans’ new destination and that country’s airlines fought for their piece of pie of flights to the island. After the initial enthusiasm, several of these companies have cut back on the frequency of their trips and others have seen a reduction in passengers.

In March 2016 the most important airlines in the United States requested permission from the Department of Transportation to include the island in its commercial destinations. Among them are big ones like American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, as well as United Continental Airlines, Southwest, JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, Alaska Air Group and Silver Airways. continue reading

Expectations grew and climaxed when JetBlue’s 387 flight arrived in Cuba on August 31, 2016 from Fort Lauderdale airport in southeastern Florida. The plane arrived in Santa Clara in just over an hour, completing the first commercial flight between the two countries in more than half a century.

Everything was all positive predictions at the time, and the Cuban ambassador to the United States, José Ramón Cabañas, cut the inaugural tape of the flight with JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes. In all, the routes of all the airlines reached 110 flights daily, 20 of them to Havana, the most popular destination.

For some airlines this is a test of persistence rather than speed. “Patience is the word for now,” said Gary Kelly, chief executive of Southwest Airlines

Earlier this year, American Airlines sounded the alarm when it cut its daily service by 25% and decided to use smaller planes. At the end of last year the company was operating two daily flights from Miami to Havana, Varadero and Santa Clara and daily service to Camagüey and Cienfuegos, but many of the aircraft flew with more than half of the seats empty.

Americans are still banned from traveling to the island as tourists but can travel within 12 other categories. The most used are cultural and educational exchanges. In January 2017, Cuba received 43,200 visitors from Cuba, a growth of 125% compared to the same period last year, according to Cubadebate.

However, the numbers of travelers have not grown as expected. The causes range from the slow economic changes implemented by Raúl Castro, up to the arrival of Donald Trump and the fears that have been generated before a possible reversal in diplomatic normalization between the two countries.

The low number of customers also points to Cuban-Americans’ caution in visiting the island. “With the immigration changes implemented by the Trump administration, many rumors have surfaced that exiles could have problems if they travel,” Idania Consuegra, a middle-aged Cuban living in Miami for two decades, told 14ymedio.

Frontier has announced that it will operate its last daily flight from Miami to Havana on June 4

Idania had plans to visit her family in the spring, but preferred to “cancel everything until further notice, because you do not know what will happen in this country.”

For some airlines this is a test of persistance rather than speed. “Patience is the word for now,” said Gary Kelly, chief executive of Southwest Airlines. The executive clarifies that the company had no expectations about its six daily flights to Havana and two other cities since this route had not be served for 50 years.

Silver Airways was forced to cut its weekly flights to six cities in Cuba, according to Bloomberg. The inability to sell tickets to the island through major online travel agencies such as Expedia and Priceline are some of the causes of these cuts according to company managers.

Frontier, a low-cost carrier based in Denver, Colorado, has announced that it will operate its last daily flight from Miami to Havana on June 4.

The cruise ships stay afloat

On the other hand, the president of the Norwegian Cruise company, Frank del Río, is elated due to the high sales levels of the cruises that include Cuba in its itinerary. During the Seatrade Cruise conference this week in Fort Lauderdale, the manager said he believes the island “is going to be a home run” for his company.

The declarations come a few days after the company’s first cruise arrived at the port of Havana with 1,250 passengers on March 9 on its inaugural trip to Cuba.

For the first time in its history Cuba received 4 million tourists last year

Norwegian plans to make nine more trips from the US during this year with two other of the company’s brands also participating: Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

The reception of the imposing ship was the occasion for the president of the Enterprise Cuba Travel Group of the Ministry of Tourism of the island, Jose Manuel Bisbé, to predict an increase in the number of trips of this kind.

According to the official, during 2016 88,000 cruise trip passengers visited the island and in the first two months of 2017 the number is 55,000. Visitors have arrived on the twelve cruise lines that have agreements with the country.

For the first time in its history Cuba received 4 million tourists last year, a record that represented a growth of 14.5%. For this year it is expected that the numbers will exceed 4.2 million visitors.

“What I Want Most Is To Get Back To Volleyball” / Cubanet

Source: Cubanet

cubanet square logoI was a volleyball player in the last golden era of the sport in Cuba. I played alongside the best in the world: Marshal, Dennis, Pimienta, Diago, Iosvany Hernández. I played on the national team in the 1999 Tournament of the Americas in the United States, and in 2000 I almost went to Sydney, but right after that, during the best moment of my career, the team changed coaches and volleyball practically finished for me. They never called me again for the team and I decided to retire from the sport (…)

Since then, I’ve tried a thousand times to get back in.  I started training young boys, and I was even on a sports mission to Portugal, but I couldn’t maintain myself financially with that, and I had no choice but to start working as a security guard in various nightclubs, like so many others. (…)

What I want most is to get back to volleyball, at least to train and prepare the youth, but the way things are now, I believe I’m just going to have to keep maintaining law and order in the Havana nights.

Translated by Jorge Vásquez, Aliaksandra Rabtsava, Vanessa Parra Henao

Task for Alejandro Castro: Protecting Cuba’s Disabled / Juan Juan Almeida

Raul Castro’s son Alejandro Castro Espín.

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 March 2017 — On March 17 of this year, a group of NGO (non-governmental organization) representatives from Latin America and the Caribbean celebrated in Havana Cuba’s political agenda in support of people with disabilities of every kind.  The next day, for the twentieth time, Cuban institutions honored the legacy of Terry Fox by encouraging people to join in the traditional marathon.  It is interesting that, although the Cuban State and constitution guarantee the right to free education without discrimination, there are neither an educational policy nor laws designed to protect people with different abilities.

According to official figures, approximately 3% of the Cuban population lives with some limitation that keeps them from participating in the labor market, and as a result, they cannot access the funds to confront the many obstacles they face in life. continue reading

The present legislation regarding this issue is very clear, but not all people with limitations possesses “special protection” status. In order to prove need, a disabled person needs to be in a situation of vulnerability or of economic dependence.

There is a logical explanation: having a deficiency is not synonymous with being vulnerable.  There are many types of disabilities: physical, mental, motor, and even sensory, and not all necessarily make a person incapable of work. However, in the particular circumstances of the island of Cuba, this justification is very unjust. There is nobody legally responsible for determining or regulating, according to whatever conditions are established, exactly when a disabled person is considered deserving of being included in, or excluded from, “special protection.”  As a result, this right is being denied to all people with hinderances.

Furthermore, we should not forget that any individual receiving subsidies from social security for labor disability continues to be economically dependent.  Simply getting a pension should not disqualify one from “special protection” status. It is not a mathematical equation, but rather question of applying formulas to the present reality in order to be efficient and achieve the greatest social benefit.  What products or services are available to a person who receives 150 Cuban pesos a month (about $6 US)?

I suffer from a disease that, without the right treatment, makes it impossible for me to do certain things.  I speak from the knowledge of personal experience:  I know that Cuban associations for the physical-motor disabled, and for the visually or hearing impaired, such as ACLIFIM. ANSI, and ANSOC, work for the equal rights of people with handicaps, for recognition of their dignity, autonomy and social and community integration.  This, however, is pure publicity, because as long as the Government does not push for a real legal policy designed to stop us seeing disability as disease, they will not begin to tackle this controversial issue from a more inclusive and less discriminatory social perspective.

Perhaps, as Mariela Castro did for the LGBTI community, her brother Alejandro Castro Espín, known for having a visual impairment, should lead a campaign for the respect of equality and the rights of people with disabilities.  But, of course, the masses of handicapped, with shameful frequency, fail to be a priority for a “great leader” who has been held up as champion of human rights.

Translated by Claire Huttlinger

Lower On-Line Prices for Brazilian Meat While Cuban Government is Silent

Supermarket Treew, one of the most popular sites for shopping on the net, maintains offers for Brazilian beef. (Screencapture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 24 March 2017 – Cuba has reacted very oddly to the scandal of adulterated meat from Brazil, the island’s main provider of beef products: silence on the part of the authorities, lower prices on some on-line shopping sites, and very little public concern about possible health risks.

At the corner of Monte and Cienfuegos several customers milled around this Thursday, waiting for La Havana Butcher Shop to lower the prices on its display. “My daughter told me they were going to lower prices,” Carmen, a 78-year-old pensioner waiting on the sidewalk, told this newspaper,

Carmen’s daughter lives in Murcia, Spain and has kept abreast of all the news about the adulteration of products by the Brazilian companies JBS and BRF, the two most important in the country, which came to light through an investigation by the Federal Police. continue reading

The Cuban press has been sparing in details about “Operation Weak Meat,” but the issue has generated hopes among Cubans of a possible fall in prices of these foods, in high demand on the nation’s tables.

The digital sites that sell on the island have taken the first step and this week some of them have dropped prices on beef. “Meats imported from Brazil. With great discounts and better quality,” announced Supermarket Treew, one of the most popular internet sales sites.

The services of the company, based in Toronto, began in 1998 and are widely used by emigrants living abroad to supply their families with food, cleaning supplies and appliances; they place and pay for their orders on line and the products are delivered in Cuba. Now online products like roasts, ground beef, hamburgers and steak are showing price reductions ranging from 5% to 15%.

However, Cuba’s Ministry of Internal Commerce has not applied similar discounts in the network of domestic stores nor withdrawn these products from the shelves.

The Ministry of Internal Commerce has not applied similar discounts in the network of national stores or withdrawn products from the sale

The Department of Attention to the Population of that state entity confirmed to this newspaper, by telephone, that “no particular measure has been taken with regards to that subject. We have not ordered the suspension of the sale of meat from Brazil nor lowered prices, although each store can do so autonomously.”

The point of sale of frozen products located at Neptuno and Angeles streets continued displaying the usual prices: 10.90 CUC per one kilogram of beef, half of the monthly salary of a professional.

“I have the store’s phone number and I have called every day to know if they have put anything on sale, but nothing,” says Ignacio Luaces, an entrepreneur who runs errands for a private restaurant. “We are hoping that the goods will go on sale, but so far, no,” he told 14ymedio.

Others are concerned about the potential health implications. “Every day on TV there are lots of announcements about mosquitoes and the dangers of the diseases they transmit, but they have not said anything about it,” protests Liudmila, a medical student who plans to specialize in gastroenterology.

“Food poisoning is very dangerous and most people who buy beef for domestic consumption do it for children or the elderly,” she says. “I think it’s time for the Ministry of Public Health to make a public announcement telling people not to eat that meat.”

“There’s No Place To Skate So You Have To Adapt” / Cubanet

Source: Cubanet

cubanet square logoThere’s hardly anyplace left to skate. You can walk around here and the only thing you can find are parks, which are really useless and sometimes we bother people. Old people scold us. I have friends that practice in the middle of the street because the ramps and installations that once existed are in ruins and no one bothers to fix them.

I’m not a professional; those who are more involved with skateboarding skate around Prado. I skate more often in Paseo. I do it as a pastime or as a hobby, like they say in English. Sometimes before coming out I watch extreme sport videos. There are even kids who win competitions with incredible technique.

I don’t know if there are competitions here in Havana. I don’t think so. It’s difficult because there’s no place to skate so you have to adapt. My favorite athlete is Tony Hawk, one of the toughest skaters I have seen. But personally I’ve never dreamed of skating seriously, I mean professionally.

I am in 10th grade and there is not much entertainment here, or anywhere else. While other kids my age are listening to reggaeton or, I don’t know, wasting time talking nonsense and telling lies, I grab my skateboard and spend a few hours in the afternoon riding it.

Translated by Cynthia Vasquez Bermeo, Josselyn Lopez, Natalia Pardo

Legal Process Opens Against ‘14ymedio’ Reporter in Camagüey

The reporter Sol García Basulto has denounced the escalation of repression against her, which started in December 2015. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 March 2017 – This Wednesday the gates have begun to close around independent journalist Sol Garcia Basulto, who has been charged with the crime of “usurpation of legal capacity.” (In other words, “practicing journalism without a license.”) The correspondent for this newspaper in Camaguey is facing a sentence of between three months and a year of deprivation of liberty.

The accusation against Garcia Basulto coincides with that made against the regional vice-president of the Inter-American Press Association in Cuba, Henry Constantin. Both reporters are a part of the editorial team of the independent magazine La Hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour), which is distributed in a digital format.

The young reporter was warned by the police about her work interviewing and gathering information in public spaces. A task that she engages in, according to the officials, to “misrepresent information and write against the government.” continue reading

If the process takes its course, the journalist could be tried under Article 149 of the Penal Code which punishes those who “perform independent acts of a profession for which they are not properly qualified.”

The police did not mention the names of the possible complainants, but warned Garcia Basulto that she was not “empowered” to undertake work as a reporter. The young woman is being investigated and cannot leave the country. Any travel outside her home province must be communicated ahead of time to the police.

Last November, State Security prevented the 14ymedio correspondent from leaving her house in the days after the death for former president Fidel Castro, while the funeral procession carried his ashes to Santiago de Cuba.

At that time, the young woman denounced the escalating repression against her, which started on 4 December 2015 when she tried to take some photos and collect opinions in front of Camaguey Provincial Court where the trial was being held for the murder of the musician Pedro Armando Junco, known as Mandy.

The Inter American Press Association warned this week about García Basulto possibly being charged with the same crime for which its vice president is being prosecuted. The entity considers that such accusations are contrary to international provisions that support “the right to seek, receive, disseminate information and express opinions.”

“And Then You Hear People Say That Racism Doesn’t Exist In Cuba” / Cubanet

Source: Cubanet

cubanet square logoI literally just saw a police officer ask a couple of kids for their identification and I’m pretty sure he did it because they were black. That’s just the life they were dealt. I have almost never seen the same happen to white kids. It’s as if whites are invisible to the police.

And then you hear people say that racism doesn’t exist in Cuba. And the funny thing is that it could’ve been those same whites that just finished robbing a house around here because whites also steal. I walk a lot around the neighborhood of Vedado, so I see many things.

Because of the color of my skin and my mean look, I get stopped all the time by the cops. I don’t want any problems. People look at me and think that I’m a tough guy but really, I don’t like fights or drama.

My thing is, I just like walking around town from time to time, finding small little jobs here and there to make money. Some days I sell fish and on other days I sell cans of paint.

I’m not really committed to anything right now but I have to find my way. I live alone but regardless I have to take care of myself. And on the weekends, I like to drink a little, like anybody would.

Definitely not beer though, because it’s more expensive. Besides, I’m more of a ‘rum’ type of guy, even though I advise people not to drink it. Rum is the reason why so many people are messed up in this country. I have a friend who went blind because he drank whatever he could get his hands on. I think he ended up drinking wood alcohol.

Translated by Oliver Inca, Patricio Pazmino, Marta Reyes

“San Lazaro Has Been My Savior” / Cubanet

Source: Cubanet

cubanet square logoSan Lázaro has been my savior. I’ve been through some very hard times and only when I placed my faith in San Lázaro was I able to find my way. Many people don’t understand why I do this. I left school in ninth grade, quite early, to work and help my mom. She earned very little money. How was she going to raise my ailing brother and me, if the money was never enough, not even for food?

They always called us ‘poorly dressed’, and to top it off we lived in a house cramped with people. (…) Since 2007 I’ve been making my pilgrimage. I remember the first time, I did the whole trip in somersaults. My brother went with me. I swear that one was the most exhausting trip. I passed through many villages, but I was told that was how it was supposed to be, I had to prove my faith. And I did.

Once I got to El Rincón they took pictures of me, movies… I felt that San Lázaro was with me. It was my first time at the Santuario del Rincón [the church dedicated to San Lázaro in the village of El Rincón to the south of Havna], and when I came in the door it was something amazing. Seeing the photographers and the people shouting, giving me water, it felt good. (…)

Today I’m alone, my brother feels better. I start my trajectory in November and I go around the streets of Havana collecting alms. Everyone stops, even the children. I see fear in their little faces, but one day they will understand.

Translated by: Beverly James, Aliya Kreisberg, Aracelys Pichardo-Bonilla