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.

The Brazilian company has signed a management contract with Azcuba, Cuba’s state sugar company, for the September Fifth Sugar Mill in Cienfuegos. “Our work will include loan structuring, modernizing the plant, improving the agricultural side and central administration, with a guarantee of maximum power generation from the cane bagasse,” said Hueb. He said that the first action will be to increase sugarcane plantings and efficiency per hectare.

Hueb praised the “high educational level, sense of discipline and impressive ability to learn” of Cuban workers and said that on the island the company found “a great potential for permanence in perpetuity.”

In Cuba, Odebrecht built the container terminal at the Port of Mariel, a one billion dollar project, most of it financed by loans from the Brazilian government. Its Works and Infrastructure Company is responsible for the modernization and expansion of Terminal Three at the José Martí International Airport in Havana. The group expects the new facility will be operational within two years and “will double the airport’s capacity to respond to the growth in international tourism.”

The company is convinced that the country offers “security for investors.” Hueb added, “When we first came, we found it notable that the economic guidelines approved by the government arose from a joint effort with the population… There is a clear vision of the direction that Cuba wants to follow to develop, and this provides security for investors.”

Hueb acknowledged that many foreigners who come to the island express concern when it comes time to invest. “Whenever I have the opportunity, I tell them about my experience in the implementation of the container terminal in Mariel: some 6,000 Cubans were involved in that, and for us the employment company [the Cuban government] was never an obstacle, its involvement was feasible, beneficial, economical and efficient,” he said.

Odebrecht is being investigated in Brazil along with 26 other firms for their alleged involvement in a corruption network entrenched in Petrobras which, over the past decade, according to the oil company’s own admissions, illegally appropriated two billion dollars. The president of the group, Marcelo Odebrecht, was arrested last June as part of the investigation, accused of fraud.

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.

As reported on the front page the newspaper Granma, Fidel Castro “embodies the highest principles of a revolutionary” and is a “man of deep convictions and visionary ideas” who founded the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) and became its first secretary from the date of the creation of its Central Committee in 1965, to its last conclave, in 2011.

At this last Congress, Fidel Castro was replaced in the post of first secretary by his brother Raul, who took control of the country when the leader fell ill in 2006 and was ratified as president in 2008.

At its last congress, the Cuban Communist Party approved the plan for the “updating” of the country’s economic model, undertaken by Raul Castro in his mandate.

The appointment of Fidel Castro as a delegate to the 7th conclave of the Cuban communists is part of the pre-congress process; the meeting that will convene on 16 April 2016.

For A Real Battle Of Ideas in Cuba / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Sign on a street of Havana. “The Revolution is Invincible” (EFE)

Sign on a street of Havana. “The Revolution is Invincible” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 7 February 2016 – Whether it is a Cuban government presided over by a member of the Communist party, or by someone else elected by the direct and secret vote of the citizenry, the challenges that lie ahead for this future government are immeasurable. In an environment with a free flow of information, where stating an opinion is no longer perceived as a punishable activity by some, or potentially dangerous by others, Cuba, as unanimous as it seems to be, will become a tempestuous stage for disparate opinions.

The workers, who today serve the goals and wave the flags of the collective vanguard, will demand rights and organize strikes. This country that seems so quiescent today will become a Tower of Babel. That is why it is so important that the different visions of Cuba not ignore each other, and above all that the government does not ignore them all. Even common sense suggests that within the ranks of the apparently monolithic ruling party, there are opinions far removed from the party line and that it is thanks only to the mortar of so-called democratic centralism that they are not noticed.

Among citizens, anyone who wishes to engage in serious politics, if they want to attract interest and get votes, must be explicit and convincing with respect to preserving a system of healthcare, education and social security that covers everyone, although these activities do not have to be exclusively free. The inequalities that are currently shamelessly on display, are precisely in schools and health centers.

The lack of a sense of ownership and the feeling that “everything belongs to everyone, so nothing belongs to anyone,” has had disastrous results. Different forms of ownership have not been implemented except on an exceptional basis. Faced with limited private property (home, auto, cemetery vault, furniture, personal belongings, farmland), the rest has been overwhelmingly state-owned, not owned in common, however much they try to explain otherwise.

The economy needs to be renewed. It is urgent to modify the timid Investment Law so that the most motivated (Cubans, regardless of their geography) can participate. The state must become an efficient administrator and coordinator and must reform its bloated and unwieldy structure. Not making the necessary layoffs to pare the state structure is a political decision with an economic burden that also affects the lack of equality.

Fiscal policy (fair, based on production and productivity) should finance social policies and the strategic development of the country, but with full transparency about the uses of this money. It is disrespectful to taxpayers to force them to support an enormous and inefficient state apparatus. Planning must be realistic, and set aside volunteerism, historical anniversaries or “tasks handed down from above,” and should be a natural part of the autonomy of these businesses.

The market can no longer be subordinated to politics; in any event it must be subordinated to social interests. State intervention in the prices of agricultural products is viewed with suspicion and the critics didn’t take long to appear.

To articulate democratic participation and obedience to the law without exceptions are the greatest challenges, and we should not fear a real battle of ideas. If citizens feel their participation is truly voluntary and that they are honestly informed, their participation will be massive and spontaneous.

A good plan for the future should be based on José Martí’s idea of a republic for all and for the good of all. In a project like this there is room for all Cubans, on the island and abroad, ready to debate and to respect what is decided at the polls, and there is a great deal that will need to be voted on in the coming years.

As in any joint venture, no one will emerge the total winner. Negotiations will be open, as the development of a plan for the future must be open if it is to succeed after the secrecy of all these years. And citizens, through their votes, must have the last word.

We are not inventing anything. There is a wealth of experience in our history and in history in general about how to do things that come out better, versus worse. Personally, I have many doubts about how it should be, but I have none about how it should NOT be.

There Isn’t Enough Beer For So Many ‘Yumas’ / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

3.5 million tourists visited Cuba in 2015. (EFE)

3.5 million tourists visited Cuba in 2015. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Viñales and Havana, 6 February 2016 – First they ran out of water bottles, then packaged juices became scarce, and now it is difficult to find fresh fruit. This is how a hostess of tourist rooms in Viñales describes the situation there with the significant increase of tourism in Cuba and the problems of supplies.

During 2015, 3,524,779 foreign visitors arrived on the island, according to the latest official figures, an increase of some 17.4% over the prior year. However, the number of hotel rooms and private homes offering accommodation has not grown just as quickly. Other services, such as airports, food services and transportation, have also appeared to be overwhelmed by the flood.

The beautiful valley of Viñales, with its attractive mogotes and range of nature tourism, has experienced months of great demand. “Now we have more tourists here than locals,” exaggerates Paco, an 81-year-old who owns a house near the well-known Indian Cave. From his doorway he can see the incessant caravan of buses that brings visitors to the beautiful underground attraction.

“Before I sat down here,” he notes from his wooden armchair, “I saw at least ten To one side of his house, a family that owns a private restaurant reinforces Paco’s view. “We are struggling to maintain our menu, because between the shortages and the number of tourists that are coming it’s getting very difficult,” says Zoila, the restaurant’s cook. Continue reading

How a Havana Couple Lives on Cuban Pesos / Ivan Garcia

The photo is not of Yesenia and Sergio. It is another of the many couples in Havana who, lacking resources, go fishing with their daughter and dog. Taken from Hablamos Press.

Ivan Garcia, 26 January 2016 — In the large commercial centers of Havana, whether Carlos III, Galerias Paseo or the at Avenida Boyeros and Camagüey Street, you will not find families like Yesenia and Sergio.

In these ’shoppings’ or hard currency stores, a no-name plasma TV costs 399 CUC, or 10,000 Cuban pesos at the exchange rate of one Convertible peso (CUC) for twenty Cuban pesos (CUP). A juicer costs 219 CUC, or 5,475 Cuban pesos, and a food processor 118 CUC, which is 2,900 Cuban pesos in the devalued national currency. Continue reading

Tomas Regalado, “Washington Refuses To Recognize That There Is A Migration Crisis” / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Pedro Tomas Regalado, mayor of Miami, in a file image. (EFE)

Pedro Tomas Regalado, mayor of Miami, in a file image. (EFE)

14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 3 February 2016 — Miami Mayor Tomas Pedro Regalado (born Havana, 1947), says that his is not prepared to cope with the surge of Cuban rafters who come daily to the coast of Florida. He came to the United States as a teenager and was a journalist before winning election in 2009. Today he opposes the repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act and also opposed the opening of a Cuban consulate in Miami because of the costs for security that would be borne by the city.

Penton. In Miami, you breathe Cuba everywhere you go. Can you talk about a Cuban city?

Regalado. It may seem politically correct that the mayor of Miami says that this city has been made by ​​Cubans, Colombians, Nicaraguans, but the reality is that it has been made by Cubans, who opened the door so that many other nationalities could work, triumph and achieve the American dream. I was born in Cuba, but I grew up here. When I arrived as a teenager, there were still signs in many rental buildings reading: “No Cubans, no Jews, no dogs.” We had to overcome these challenges so Cubans created Miami. Those who created this Miami were the same as those who contributed to the success of Cuba in the fifties.

Why hasn’t their “Cubanness” been extinguished? Simply because among the first generations many of the wounds have not healed and the exiles pass on this historic legacy to their children and grandchildren. The Cuban family is different from family in the United States. We grew up with grandparents and the family permanently together. My dad, who was a political prisoner, when he got here he picked up my daughter at school while I worked and he told her the stories of being a political prisoner. Today, my daughter, who has never set foot in Cuba, knows Cuban history as well as anyone who came in the ‘60s. In addition, the United States does not require you to break with your roots. Continue reading

Mexico Authorizes “Direct Transfer” Of All Cubans Stranded In Central America / 14ymedio

The price for a direct transfer to Mexico will be about $790. (Office of the President of Costa Rica)

The price for a direct transfer to Mexico will be about $790. (Office of the President of Costa Rica)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 February 2016 — The Mexican government has decided to accelerate the transfer of Cubans stranded in Costa Rica and will extend the “humanitarian measure” to those who are in a similar situation in other Central American countries. In a statement released Friday by its regional headquarters in Ciudad Hidalgo (Chiapas), the National Migration Institute (INM) said that “in the coming days we will allow the direct and orderly transfer” of Cuban migrants who have ben in Central America since last November.

In a statement, the Government of Costa Rica said that in the coming days the first flight to Mexico will take place, carrying pregnant women and family groups with children.

From the second half of this month, the direct route to Mexico “will be an alternative option,” while the trip from Costa Rica to El Salvador and the journey overland to the Mexican border at Tapachula (in Chiapas) will also continue operating. Continue reading

Evangelical Pastor Arrested During Demolition Of A Temple In Santiago De Cuba / 14ymedio

The evangelical pastor Alain Toledano. (Social networks)

The evangelical pastor Alain Toledano. (Social networks)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 February 2016 – The evangelical pastor Marilin Alayo was arrested today, Friday, during the demolition of a temple in the Abel Santamaria district in Santiago de Cuba, as reported to this newspaper by Pastor Bernardo de Quesada, founder of the Apostolic Move, a Christian movement that separated from the Cuban Council of Churches in 2003.

The demolition comes at a time when the church pastor and Alayo’s husband, Alain Toledano, is traveling in Miami. Continue reading

Yunior García’s Uncomfortable Questions / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar


14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 3 February 2016 – In a recent interview, the young playwright and actor Yunior García Aguilera affirmed that he was “dissatisfied with everything.” A finalist for the Virgilio Piñera Prize for his work Sangre (Blood), and highly praised by critics for his piece Semen (Semen), this graduate of the National School of Art and the Superior Institute of Art (ISA) is now becoming a creative force in contemporary Cuban theater.

Aguilera lived several years in Havana during his studies and also lived some years in London where he worked with the Royal Court Theatre. Now he is back in Holguin, his birthplace, where he writes and directs for the Trébol Teatro (Clover Theater). He has had the good fortune of having some ten of his scripts staged by Cuban and foreign groups, including pieces such as Dancing Without Masks, All Men Are Equal, Shut Your Mouth and Blood.

However, right now the news of the young playwright comes not so much for his vocation in the theater but for his reputation for dissent. In an audio recording, which has already spread through the unexpected path of flash memories, he is heard to formulate some fifteen questions on which he reflects, in the style of The Silly Age, on the reality “of Cuba, of the country where we live.” Continue reading

“Periodismo de Barrio” (Neighborhood Journalism) / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 5 February 2016 — With a low media profile, sidestepping the incomprehension of establishment colleagues and the suspicions of the independent press, Periodismo de Barrio has begun its journey. Meanwhile, journalism-in-praise-of-the-government on one side and of-criticisms on the other, has appeared in this digital space that in its almost monographic issues has given us an accurate picture of Santiago de Cuba four years after Hurricane Sandy to present a straightforward and effective account of the half-life of those people who never make the headlines, those we are given to call “average Cubans.”

I would like to talk with Elaine Diaz, the lead on this project and former professor at the Faculty of Social Communication at the University of Havana, about this experience. We don’t even have to agree that the excellent articles from her news site not only confirms the government’s inability to provide a prosperous and sustainable life for citizens in the name of whom they say — and should — govern, but they leave them very badly off. I look forward to meeting Elaine; meanwhile I welcome this new site.

Cuban Human Rights Group Denounces 1,414 Political Arrests in January / EFE (14ymedio)

Act of repudiation in front of the headquarters of the Ladies in White in Havana this January. (Angel Moya)

Act of repudiation in front of the headquarters of the Ladies in White in Havana this January. (Angel Moya)

EFE (14ymedio), Havana, 4 February 2016 — The dissident Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) reported Thursday that political repression continues its ascent on the island, where in January there were at least 1,414 political arrests, one of the highest monthly figures in the last decade.

This group, the only one keep an account of these incidents in the country, said in its monthly report on political repression that the number of arrests this January was surpassed only in November 2015, when 1,447 cases were reported.

The Commission, led by the dissident Elizardo Sanchez, said that in addition to the arrests, 56 peaceful dissidents were victims of physical assaults in January, three suffered acts of repudiation, and 68 cases of harassment and two of vandalism were recorded.

According to the CCDHRN, such acts are orchestrated by State Security police and other “repressive and paramilitary elements” present in Cuba, where the government “has exercised authoritarian power for 58 years.”

The government, according to the organization, is resorting more frequently to prolonged detention and provisional internment without trial, which often extends for long months, “a policy intended to wear down the opponents.”

“The number of prisoners is increasing unstoppably and in the huge prison system inhumane and degrading conditions of detention continue to prevail, while the government still refuses to accept the cooperation of the International Red Cross and other international NGOs,” laments the Commission.

Havana’s Metropolitan Bank Suspends Some Services Due To Technical Problems / 14ymedio

A man tries to get money from an ATM outside Metropolitan Bank this Thursday in Havana (14ymedio)

A man tries to get money from an ATM outside Metropolitan Bank this Thursday in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 February 2016 — Since Wednesday morning, customers of Metropolitan Bank Telebank have not had access to any transactions due to an interruption of services. The problems have extended to ATM and Point-of-Sale (POS) terminals that take magnetic cards in Havana stores, as reported Thursday in a statement by the bank.

Telebank service facilitates transactions such as paying land-line telephone or electricity bills, for users who have a magnetic card.

An employee of Telebank told 14ymedio that they are currently having problems with their electronic network. “It has to do with the magnetic cards, we can’t complete any kind of transactions with the cards.”

She added that at ATMs it is not possible to check your balance, and a customer “can only complete one transaction a day, withdrawing 200 Cuban pesos or 50 Convertible pesos.”

The employee said she did not know “exactly” how long the inconvenience will last, adding that “everyone is working on this because it is a difficult situation.” The interruption in service has also affected POS terminals that take magnetic cards to pay for services and for some operations at bank windows.

A note from Metropolitan Bank’s Department of Communication and Marketing says that “a contingency plan to minimize the effects on users” is currently being applied.

Bacardi Says Granting Cuba Rights To ‘Havana Club’ Name Is Illegal / 14ymedio

The legal battle over the rights to market Havana Club rum ended last month, in Cuba's favor, after two decades of dispute. (Havana Club)

The legal battle over the rights to market Havana Club rum ended last month, in Cuba’s favor, after two decades of dispute. (Havana Club)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio (with information from agencies), Havana, 1 February 2016 — The Bacardi company has asked for explanations from the United States government regarding the authorization to sell Havana Club rum in the country once the embargo is lifted, claiming that this January’s granting of the trademark rights to the Cuban government is “illegal.”

The company, based in Bermuda, directed a request with regards to the renewal of the trademark to the Treasury Department, and in a statement on Monday, accused it of violating “the language and spirit of US law.”

Eduardo Sanchez, Bacardi’s legal advisor, said “Americans deserve to know the truth of this sudden and unprecedented decision taken by Washington that reversed an international policy that protects against the acceptance of confiscations by foreign governments.”

The legal battle over the rights to market Havana Club rum came to an end last month after two decades of disputes, when the Patent and Trademark Office ruled that the Cuban state company Cubaexport is the lawful distributor of the iconic rum.

In 2006, Cubaexport tried to obtain a license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Control of Foreign Assets (OFAC) to pay $500 to renew the Havana Club trademark, but it failed to do so and its registration was declared invalid. The Cuban company had not given up and re-initiated its request earlier this year and was successful.

Prisons in Guantanamo / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Protest action to demand the closure of the U.S. prison on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. (Amnesty International)

Protest action to demand the closure of the U.S. prison on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. (Amnesty International)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 4 February 2016 – To the shame of the United States justice system, the prison at the Guantanamo Naval Base is 14 years old today. Since 2003, 680 detainees have arrived there, though today there are fewer than one hundred. Several of them are on hunger strike and are force fed through tubes. Prestigious media such as The New York Times have published letters from the inmates denouncing abuses; international human rights organizations have exposed the use of torture at this prison compound where the laws of no country in the world apply. President Barack Obama has promised to end this atrocity. He has not succeeded.

Not far away, on the road that runs from the provincial capital to the town of Jamaica, is Cuba’s Guantanamo Provincial Prison. It has the reputation of being the prison with the worst food in all of Cuba. Continue reading