“I’m Not Going To Erase My Graffiti,” Yulier Tells Police, Who Gave Him Seven Days To Do So

Graffiti artist Yulier Rodríguez was arrested by police last Thursday and released after 36 hours. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 August 2017 — Graffiti artist Yulier Rodríguez was arrested by police last Thursday and released after 36 hours. The arrest occurred while he was painting a collapsed wall at the corner of San Lazaro and Escobar, in the municipality of Central Havana, the artist told 14ymedio.

The police warned Rodríguez that he had committed the crime of “mistreatment of social property” and took him to the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) Unit in Zanja Street, where he spent most of his time locked in a well-known dungeon known as the deposit.

“It is a horrible place, with nothing, dirty and immensely hot,” the street artist to told this newspaper. “There is no room to sit down given the number of people they put in there.”

In these conditions Rodriguez remained for about twelve hours until an investigator called him to take a statement about the State’s charge against him for “mistreatment of property.”

The graffiti artist, better known as Yulier P, defended himself by insisting that his work “does not mistreat property” because it is done on walls and buildings “that are in ruins.” He added that his interest is “to redecorate these spaces through culture,” with the aim of “creating a more tolerant, more honest, more humane and sensitive society.”

After the interrogation, the investigator informed him that he was being processed and that he was “under Investigation by Counterintelligence (CI).” On Friday night a police officer told him he could pick up his belongings to be released.

“I left half tormented by that situation, and they told me to sign a warning letter where I pledge to erase my work in seven days,” says the artist.

Rodríguez denounced that he was pressured to initial the document, but on the back of the statement he wrote that he did not agree with the measure that directly affected his career, his work and his person.

He explains that after he signed the letter they released him and warned him that “if I didn’t erase all the graffiti I would go back to jail.”

Regarding his plans in the face of this new situation, he said the he wants to “seek international support for people to be aware of this injustice,” and hire a lawyer who can defend him.

“I doubt very much that I will find one because most people flee when they are involved in cases with Counterintelligence, but I’m going to look for one.” The urban artist calls the police decision arbitrary and unjust. “I am not going to erase my graffiti,” he insists.

Yulier Rodríguez Pérez (b. 1989) was born in Florida, Camagüey, but from a very young age settled in Havana with the obsession of being a painter. Although he was never accepted in the academy of San Alejandro, he has turned the walls of the city into his own gallery.

Three #Otro18 Activists Detained On Their Way To The Electoral Commission

Juan Antonio Madrazo was on his way to the National Electoral Commission when he was arrested. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 August 2017 — Three activists from the citizen platform #Otro18 (Another 2018*) were arrested Wednesday when they were on their way to deliver “some suggestions” to the National Electoral Commission in Havana, according the opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa speaking to 14ymedio.

Those detained are Lisbetty Darias González, Marthadela Tamayo and Juan Antonio Madrazo. “I have been trying to locate them since yesterday but I have not been able to find them, I have gone to all the police stations in the city, there are only four places left to visit,” Cuesta Morúa said.

The three detainees are involved in the Citizens Observer of Electoral Processes initiative, which works together with #Otro18 to promote new laws governing elections, the freedom of association, and political parties.

Gonzalez was cited Wednesday to appear at the Zapata and C police station, in Vedado, where according to Cuesta Morúa, he is detained. In the case of Tamayo and Madrazo, they went to the National Electoral Commission, located at 82nd Street between 9th and 11th, to deliver “a text with some suggestions from #Otro18.”

The recommendations were intended to “better regulate the voting process and have more citizen control, more transparency from the study of the law,” but so far it has not been possible to confirm “if they delivered the document,” Cuesta Morúa said.

The arrests have prompted a postponement of a press conference scheduled for Thursday, moving it to next week “depending on how things play out.”

For Cuesta Morúa, this week’s arrests are part of an offensive against independent initiatives that promote changes in the laws through the electoral system.

“#Otro18 candidates are the voice of citizens, not the voice of the state, they are fighting for transparency and propose electoral reforms that are supported by citizens,” the opponent clarifies.

Born in August 2015 from a project of the Progressive Arch and the Democratic Action and Unity Roundtable, the #Otro18 initiative has in recent weeks been the target of a repressive escalation aimed at activists seeking to run for positions as delegates in Popular Power districts, this coming October.

*Translator’s note: Raul Castro has said he will step down as president in February 2018. The election process in Cuba has a local component, but it is tightly controlled by the Communist Party. It is illegal to campaign and there is no popular vote of any kind for the position of president.

Cuba to Increase Control over Doctors Working Abroad / Juan Juan Almeida

Cuban healthcare personnel ready to be deployed abroad, to earn hard currency for Cuba.

Juan Juan Almeida, 16 August 2017 — The Cuban government will immediately strengthen controls and political indoctrination of Cuban doctors chosen for overseas medical missions.

According to reports obtained by Martí Noticias, the leaders from Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health of Cuba (MINSAP) met last Friday with all its national and provincial directors to provide them with new directives that will take effect on Monday, August 14.

“The e-mail announcing the meeting warned that we should be ready to report on compliance with Resolution 279 in each of the provinces and to discuss in detail the status of the personnel rotation plan along with the status of current pending cases,” says a source from the medical sector.*

Resolution 279, which was adopted by MINSAP in 2014, outlines procedures for training and providing human resources associated with providing medical and health services abroad.

The to-do list was distributed to attendees at the meeting, which began at 8:30 A.M.in the main meeting room of the Central Medical Cooperation Unit (UCCM), and consisted of a set of measures aimed at increasing control over Cuban aid workers on medical missions.

At the meeting officials were also informed of directives from the minister of public health, Roberto Morales, to the heads of Cuban medical missions overseas and analyzed the reasons behind the recent rejection by the Angolan government of 189 Cuban aid workers.

According to reports, ANTEX, the Cuban military-run company which provides services and training for joint ventures with the Angolan government, has prepared a new contract to be delivered to the authorities of the African nation.

Some key points of the meeting are as follows:

Political work

Due to the alarming increase in desertions and deactivations of personnel in various missions, it is suggested that a more careful selection of candidates be made.

Pay increased attention to aid workers. Revitalize meetings at the municipal level and pay personal attention to the relatives of those who have died while on a mission.

Review the annual personnel rotation plan

Due to numerous cases of non-compliance with the rotation program, it is necessary to review the current situation regarding shortages of specialists in Venezuela.

As a participating aid workers, directors should record how new resources from the Revolutionary Armed Forces are being used. Also, directors should review compliance with the personnel rotation plan in Brazil and provide information regarding recent changes to the collaboration agreement with that country.

Priority is being given to achieving 100% compliance in current cases. Therefore, it is strongly suggested that directors coordinate with State Security to expedite the approval of candidates.

189 Cuban aid workers’ applications returned by Angola

According to ANTEX, the factors that led to the rejection of aid workers included suspicions of desertion, incomplete documentation, confiscation of contracts, complaints about service provided and conflicts over billing. However, a new dispatch of qualified personnel is being readied and will be assigned as soon as possible to fulfill the commitment to the African sister nation.

Full Name, Specialty and Home Province of Personnel Approved for Upcoming Travel Overseas:

Carlos Emilio Alvarez Segrera, MD, Geriatrics, Granma

Fernando Raúl Rivero Martínez, MD, Neurophysiology, Granma

Rosaida Marrero Rodríguez, MD, Pediatrics, Holguín

Orlando Araujo Herrera, MD, Endocrinology, Havana

Carlos Demetrio Zamora Espinosa, Immunology, Havana

Adonis Montero Barrientos, MD, Neonatology, Las Tunas

Alejandro Virelles Pacheco, MD, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Granma

Silvio Valdés Avila Vera, MD, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Guantánamo

Tania de la Caridad Fernández Nuñez, MD, Microbiology, Mayabeque

Nolberto Rafael Monteagudo Garces, Hygiene and Epidemiology, Las Tunas

Caridad Luisa Mejias Mayo, MD, Microbiology, Las Tunas

Maile Paez Padrón, MD, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Artemisa

Keyly Fernández Garcia, MD, Ophtalmology, Havana

Milagro Sánchez Sarduy, RN, Ciego de Avila

Dolores Enriqueta Colet Figueredo, RN, Granma

Bessel Dieguez Ortiz, Licensed Clinician, Ciego de Avila

Asuncion Fortunata Rodríguez Morris, MD, General Surgery, Havana

Guadalupe Soliman Díaz, RN, Artemisa

Cecilio Vladimir Díaz Noda, MD, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Pinar del Rio

Madelyn Urquiola Mariño, Lab Clinician, Pinar del Rio

Lien Gómez Estacio, MD, Human Anatomy, Villa Clara

Arle Luís Ramos Arencibia, MD, Human Anatomy, Pinar del Rio

Rodney Kidman Nieves Armas, Licensed Lab Technician, Cienfuegos

Mabel Guzman Anglada, Licensed Biologist, Holguín

Rosa Coralia Cisneros Reyna, RN, Holguín

Osmani Becerra Peña, RN, Cienfuegos

Daisy Iliana Luaces Carballo, MD, Psychiatry, Havana

Luisa Bello Zamora, RN, Granma

Giorbis Watson Veola, MD, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Guantánamo

Griselda González Salazar, Secretary-Lecturer, Havana

Angélica González Medina, MD, Dermatology, Guantánamo

Leonardo Naranjo Aguilar, Licensed Lab Techinician, Granma

Ivette Mulens Ramos MD, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Havana

Alina Caraballo Díaz, Licensed Biologist, Sancti Spiritus

Carlos Tablada Cobiella, Telecommunications Engineer, Granma

Gladys Barbara Barberis Pérez, MD, Cienfuegos

Iliana Otero Rodríguez, PhD, Stomalogy, Pinar del Rio

Yainet Medina Magaña, RN, Havana

Adolfo Cruz Carrera, Special Education, Sancti Spiritus

Barbara Fortunata Salabarria Remedios, Licensed Clinical Lab Technician, Sancti Spiritus

Martina Sabina Jiménez Suárez, Special Education in Biology, Cienfuegos

*Translator’s note: As part of a program which generates hard currrency for the Cuban government, Cuban medical personnel are sent to overseas medical missions in developing countries for fixed periods of time. Their services are provided to patients free of charge and costs are covered by the host country. However, increasing numbers of Cuban medical personnel are defecting to other countries before their terms of service have expired and before they can be replaced. The Cuban government has tried, without great success, to stem the exodus.

“We Will Defend Our Cooperative Through Administrative and Political Channels,” Says Cuban Firm, Scenius

The non-agricultural cooperative Scenius is still promoting its accounting services through its website. (Screen capture Scenius.coop)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 August 2017 — Alarms have soared in the non-state sector after the independent magazine El Toque announced, on Friday, the authorities’ decision to close the Scenius cooperative, which specializes in economic, accounting and tax advice

“We allegedly incurred a violation of our ‘Corporate Purpose’, but we disagree and we will appeal,” Alfonso Larrea Barroso, a lawyer and the commercial director of the cooperative, told 14ymedio. From the official notification of closure, the executives have 30 days to liquidate operations with their fifty clients.

Two years ago Larrea offered statements to the official Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) newspaper in which he said Scenius is “the infantry of the cooperativism,” being the first cooperative to provide economic, accounting and financial services.

At that time, Larrea was optimistic and estimated that by 2016 the country would have some 12,000 non-agricultural cooperatives (CNA), a form of management authorized since 2012. “With an average of ten members in each, there would be almost 120,000 members. And thinking about the traditional family, there would be 480,000 people directly affected by this form of management,” he predicted.

However, that projected figure was never achieved and only 431 CNAs were constituted as of the end of the first half of this year.

Now, Larrea and his colleagues have hired a lawyer, who will appeal the decision of the Ministry of Finance and Prices. The entrepreneur regrets not only the end of his project, but also the more than 320 people who will be without work after the closure.

The commercial director also told this newspaper that at present “one hundred percent” of his clients “are state-owned enterprises, for example the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Communications and the Center for Neuroscience.”

After they were informed of the decision, Scenius managers held a meeting with the partners and the employees. “The decision was taken to defend the cooperative in every possible way, first by administrative means and second on the political side, that is, to demand that there be a discussion,” says Larrea.

Scenius has been dedicated, since its creation, to verifying the quality of accounting records and working with bookkeepers, and was also involved in the development and execution of economic plans, the preparation of investment budgets and the management of collections or payments. Their motto speaks of this approach: “Every champion has a coach.”

In the most recent session of the National Assembly, the CNA form of management was the target of Raul Castro’s criticism during his closing speech. “We decided to allow the cooperatives, we tried with some and immediately we launched ourselves to create dozens,” said the leader.

Castro said that many of the decisions in this sector have been made with “a good dose of superficialities and an excess of enthusiasm… We have not renounced the deployment and development of self-employment, nor the continuance of the experiment of non-agricultural cooperatives.”

This week the government also announced the temporary and final suspension in the delivery of licenses for several forms of self-employment, a decision that has caused great nervousness in the private sector.

Real Men Don’t Use Umbrellas

A woman walks along the Havana Rampa with an umbrella from the Artex chain of shops. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 August 2016 — “A man who is a man does not eat soup or sleep on his stomach,” says the popular quip, to which should be added that nor he does not use an umbrella. Despite the overwhelming heat that characterizes the Cuban summers, protecting oneself from the sun is still “a women’s thing,” a “female affectation,” think the macho.

On the streets of the island, there are hardly any men sheltering under an umbrella, wearing wide-brimmed hats – unless they have just left work in the fields – let alone using sunscreen. Taking shelter from El Indio (the burning sun) is somehow “weak” and masculinity is seldom associated with caution in the face of weather scourges.

However, the most common cancer on the island is skin cancer. In 2013, there were 10,432 cases of people affected by this disease and three years later 461 patients died as a result of this disease, of which 281 were men and 180 women.

Three Activists Arrested At Santiago Cathedral Receive Their First Prison Visit

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 August 2017 — The Aguadores prison authorities authorized on Monday the first family visit to the three activists arrested during the protest at the cathedral of Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 14ymedio was told by Reina Silvia González, wife of Alberto Antonio Ramírez Odio, one of the detainees.

During the meeting, which lasted half an hour, Gonzalez was also able to see her brother-in-law Leonardo Ramirez Odio, and the father of both young people, Alberto de la Caridad Ramírez Baró. The three men were transferred to the prison last week on a provisional basis while the investigation process is underway, in advance of filing charges against them.

Gonzalez, who went to the prison along with the brothers’ grandmother, told this newspaper that “they are in good health.” Since they arrived at the prison “everyone is eating” and “they are all together,” although the authorities “have threatened to separate them” and send each to a different prison.

“They did not tell me the date of the trial yet, but I was able to learn that, from now on, the visits will be every two weeks,” Gonzalez said. She also reported that the prison guards spoke to her in “very bad form.”

The woman said that the prison is far from the city of Santiago de Cuba, in a location that complicates the travel of relatives to the visits.

The activists belong to the Committee of Citizen Defenders of Human Rights (CCDH) and had demonstrated along with the opponent José Carlos Girón Reyes. They held up posters that read “58 years of deceit, hunger and misery,” and “The people demand freedom, Justice, democracy” and “Viva the right of expression, opinion and of the press.”

The protest occurred a few yards from the headquarters of the People’s Power of Santiago and was recorded in a video produced by the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU). Opponents also shouted “Down with the dictatorship, Down with Fidel, Down with Raul, Down with Congress.”

The action was a challenge precisely on the day that commemorated the 64th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada barracks. A few minutes after the protest began, the National Police and State Security intervened and detained the activists.

Trade Between Cuba And Venezuela Falls 70% In The Last Two Years

The deceased Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez signed a Cooperation Agreement between Cuba and Venezuela in 2000, but the economy of the latter has lost its strength since then. (Embassy of Cuba in Venezuela)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio (With agency information), Havana, 16 August 2017 – The effect of the Venezuelan crisis on the Cuban economy is greater than expected, judging by the latest data from the National Statistics Office (ONE) that reveals a 70% fall in trade between the two countries in only two years.

The trade in merchandise was $2.2 billion in 2016, compared to $4.2 billion a year earlier and $7.3 billion in 2014. Cuba has had to reduce imports from Venezuela and there has also been a cut in fuel shipments which has affected Cuba’s domestic economy, which fell into recession for the first time last year with 0.9% fall in the Gross Domestic Product.

Venezuela’s exports fell to $ 1.6 billion in 2016 from $ 2.8 billion in 2015 and $ 5.1 billion a year earlier. On the other hand, Cuba exported to Venezuela 642 million dollars in goods in 2016 compared to 1.4 billion dollars in 2015 and 2.0 billion in 2014.

Cuba’s trade in goods totaled $12.6 billion in 2016, down from $15 billion in 2015. The economy has grown by 1.1% in the first half of the year, according to official figures, but the tightening will continue and could be extended, according to the government.

Cuba’s dependence on Venezuela continues to be very strong and Cuban has no solid alternative plan, the prospects in this regard are not good. In 2017 so far, the Venezuelan government has sent Cuba 13% less crude oil and other fuels, compared to the same period last year.

The governments of Cuba and Venezuela maintain an alliance forged by the late Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. As a part of this alliance the island exports professional services to Caracas, particularly in the health sector, in exchange for oil and fuel. At the high point of the accords, in 2008, Havana received some 115,000 barrels of crude oil a day at subsidized prices, but due to the economic crisis in Venezuela, that amount has been reduced to 72,350 barrels a day.

Cuba intends to supply these energy deficiencies through Russia after more than a decade without having to resort to that country.

Meaningless Nonsense About the Flag / Fernando Dámaso

The flag, better “well adjusted” some think. (14ymedio)

Fernando Damaso, 24 April 2017 — The “official experts” continue talking and writing about the “correct” use of the national flag. Some of the arguments they trot out are laughable. The problem is not so much the rejection of the use of the national flag on clothing, as criticising the use of the American flag by many, mostly young, Cubans. It is something ideologically unacceptable  for fossilised minds. Let´s take ít one bit at a time.

In the United States, from when it was born as a nation, the flag has had an important place in the life of its citizens. Honoured and respected, it can be seen in government institutions and in front of many houses, as well as on the facades of many buildings. It is also everywhere in sporting and leisure facilities, and framed ones adorn the rooms of young people and adults alike and even the walls of commercial organisations. As if that weren´t enough, it appears on clothing and different consumer goods, with original and bold designs. It has never been idolised, but forms part of the daily life of every American. Something similar, though to a lesser extent, happens with the British flag.

In Cuba, the flag accompanied the Mambisas (a mixture of Cuban, Dominican and Filipino fighters for independence) who fought for independence in the 19th century but, when the republic was established, it became an official symbol of state, on display only in state institutions from dawn to dusk. It never featured in peoples’ day-to-day lives, apart from certain patriotic dates, like 10th of October, 24th of February or the 20th May.  During the years of the Cuban republic it was an object of respect, and its use was well regulated.

After 1959, the flag began to be used in a thoughtless way by the authorities, often without worrying about the established norms for its use, for any kind of political event and, over time, for many people, losing its emotional impact. And more than that, they put other flags next to it which had nothing to do with it, and that compete with it for importance (which is what happened with the 26th of July flag).

This totally anomalous situation changed it, for many, into more of a symbol of a government which had appropriated it, rather than of the Cuban people. In other words, the flag had become “official”, like the guayabera (a kind of mens’ shirt similar to what barbers wear), “safaris” and checked shirts that government officials are in the habit of wearing.

Nowadays no Cubans wear such clothes, least of all young people. They appear to be repudiated. Also, very few Cubans are interested in putting up a flag in their home or displaying it as a part of their clothing. The problem does not have to do with regulating, or stimulating, its use, as some suggest, but in honestly pointing out why many young people, and some not so young, wear clothing with the American flag on it.

Listen, you brainy ideologues,  don’t you understand that it’s a subtle way of demonstrating a preferance for a different system to the one we have here?

It isn’t, as you think, a problem about “trashy merchandise”, nor about “imperialist aggression”. Test it out, design some clothing with the flag, or parts of it incorporated, and you will see how few people actually buy it.

Translated by GH

Solomon Islands Suspends Sending Medical Students To Cuba

In 2007 the Cuban Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Health and Medical Services of the Solomon Islands signed a cooperation agreement. (The Island Sun)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 August 2017 — The government of the Solomon Islands, an archipelago located in Oceania and part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, has suspended the sending of medical students to Cuba, according to comments from the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Tenneth Dalipandam speaking to the local newspaper, the Solomon Star.

The official said Friday that authorities are considering “training the Cuban graduates to a certain level” before they reconsider “sending students” to the island in the future.

The President of the Education Committee of Parliament and Human Resources of the Archipelago, Nestor Ghiro, also previously stated that graduates in Cuba “are not doctors until they complete certain stages of training in [their home] country to qualify as doctors.” continue reading

Ghiro pointed out that they cannot even be called “doctors” until their training is completed in the Solomon Islands.

In 2007 the Cuban Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Health and Medical Services of Solomon Islands signed a cooperation agreement. The legal instrument opened the way for fifty young people to study medicine in Cuba, a figure that reached 150 students seven years later.

Cuba covers the costs of the schooling and the Government of Solomon Islands is responsible for paying for air tickets and other student expenses. Most of these young people study at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), which since 2005 has graduated more than 28,000 doctors from 103 countries.

The two nations established diplomatic ties in December 2003 and a decade later the first Solomon Islands embassy in all of Latin America was opened in Havana.

The Solomon Island’s cancellation of sending students to Cuba is not an isolated event. The professional quality of Cuban graduates has been questioned in countries such as Uruguay, Brazil, Costa Rica and Pakistan, among other nations.

Chilean doctors graduated from ELAM have also faced serious difficulties in passing the theoretical-practical exams required to practice their profession in Chile.

In 2012, of the 477 students graduating from foreign universities who presented themselves in Chile to take the National Examination of Medical Knowledge, only 20% passed. The majority of those who did not pass the exam had obtained their degrees in Cuba.

Quinceaneras in Cuba: A Vanity Catwalk / Iván García

A quinceañera poses in a classic American Car. (NBC News)

Ivan Garcia, 14 August 2017 — A week in Punta Cana, Cancun, or some paradisiacal beach in the Bahamas. And if the family is well heeled, two weeks on a luxury cruise.

The excursion to an all-inclusive hotel in the Caribbean, in addition to the quinceañeara and her parents, can include the girl’s best friend and boyfriend. Orestes, a corpulent mestizo who makes a living “under the table,” explains to the Hispano Post the latest trends in girls’ 15th birthday parties in Cuba.

At a private cafe in the Vedado neighborhood, Orestes details about the expenses. “A week in Punta Cana, at an all-inclusive four-star hotel, three people, can spend $1,400 on the room reservation and maybe 200 or 300 more fulas (bucks) on purchases and gifts. I advise you to bring more money, because both the stores in those resorts and the markets in Dominican Republic have quality packages at good prices and you can buy merchandise and then resell it in Cuba and cushion the expenses a little.”

Orestes goes on to give more details. “Before the trip 300 CUC (339 dollars) are spent to get three passports. Then the visa, whether the Dominican, Mexican or Bahamian, has to be paid for, in addition to fulfilling a lot of requirements, because although the United States has repealed the policy of wet foot/dry foot, the perception in Latin America and in the world is that Cubans are likely immigrants. People who have a multiple-entry visa for the United States do not have problems, because with it they can travel throughout the continent without any other visa. And if you’re lucky you can get a tourist visa for the daughter and pay for a stay in Miami Beach, which would be ideal, but the accommodation and expenses are higher.”

He pauses to drink a mamey milkshake and stare for a moment at the Confederations Cup soccer match between Portugal and New Zealand, from a flat screen at the coffee bar. Orestes goes on to explain:

“Already with the expenses of the hotel, air ticket and other preparations for three people, the sum fluctuates between 3 thousand and 4 thousand CUC. But the expenses of a quinceañeara party that pulls out all the stops do not end there. The package of photos, something usual among the quinceañeras, costs 120 CUC for the cheapest and 950 CUC for the most expensive. Add to that, from 400 to 500 CUC for the purchase of clothes, getting her hair done at a noted hairdresser and, to finish the job, about 2 thousand CUC for a not too flashy party, because a quality celebration is 5,000 CUC,” aays Orestes, who says that, on the party for his daughter, including the trip abroad, photos, clothes, hairdressing and party, he spent the equivalent of $10,000.

“Brother, and I have not finished yet, because I have two other daughters who will also have to celebrate their quinceañeras,” he concludes with a forced smile.

The quinceañera festival is a tradition that goes beyond Cuba: in several Latin America countries they are also celebrated. According to a historian consulted, “This custom dates back to the Middle Ages, when kings and princes, landowners and merchants awaited the time of puberty (coinciding with the onset of menstruation and, therefore, the reproductive age of fertility) to make the most of their daughters. It was time to expose them publicly before the greedy eyes of future husbands. And among these, select not the most handsome or someone of appropriate age for the young woman, but the one who could offer a higher dowry.”

At one time in Cuba, rich families broke the bank, the middle class saved and organized a more or less sumptuous party. The daughters of employees and workers were satisfied with modest celebrations. Other families could not even afford that. “I turned 15 on November 10, 1957 and my parents only gave me a sweater that cost ten pesos,” recalls the journalist Tania Quintero.

“In my fifteenth, in 1985, in parties, drinks and clothes bought in tourist shops, my parents spent about 800 pesos, which at that time amounted to 200 dollars, as the fula was exchanged on the black market at four pesos to one. My parents were professionals, they had good salaries and they started saving from the time I was four or five years old. At my daughter’s party, in 2012, we spent almost 4 thousand dollars,” says Betty, a language teacher.

And in five years, the expenses have multiplied by a factor of ten. As has the vanity, tackiness and frivolity. If at one time the savings of the parents were enough to organize the 15th birthday party, now the celebration involves the whole family and relatives living abroad.

“If you have relatives in the US they save you. They may not be able to send you a lot of money, but it’s a relief if they send you clothes, cosmetics and hair products,” says Luisa, a divorced mother who has spent a decade collecting money for her only daughter’s Quince.

A sociologist in Havana says that more than a tradition, “Quince parties have become a social event where many families want to show off their economic solvency. Show that they are different. There is a sort of rivalry. And those who can, they want to organize a party more lavish than those of their daughter’s friends at school. A total escalation to foolishness and waste. The worst thing is that many families who spend large amounts of money leave other priorities of everyday life unresolved, such as repairing their home.”

Mariana, the mother of 16-year-old twins, says that the day after their birthday she did not have the moneyf or a cup of coffee. “You are sending your daughters out into that world, where in the typical pack complex, every girl wants her party to be the same or better than her friend’s. It’s kind of like a drug. And parents and relatives begin to spend wildly. They want to rent the best costumes, the best photographer, the best hair stylist, a famous television presenter and the most recognized DJ. Absolute madness.”

Those who benefit most from this celebration fever is the private sector. Giuseppe, an Italian who landed in Cuba after his marriage, was dedicated to photographing seabeds.

“But that kind of photography does not earn cash in Cuba. Then I scrambled and with my savings I opened a business photographing weddings and quinceñearas. The main thing is to be creative and offer quality. The rest comes alone. I have cheaper packages, between 200 and 300 CUC. But people usually choose photo packages of 600 CUC or more. Each package includes transportation, rental of costumes and videos. The most sold packages are those where the girl, thanks to the techniques of photoshop, embraces her idols, and a magazine in made about her life or announcing famous brands. Yes, it’s pretty kitschy, like those parties, but they drop of nice wad of cash,” confesses Giuseppe.

Actors, musicians, comedians and TV presenters earn extra money as masters of ceremony. “Besides drinking and eating for free, the Quince parties allow me to support my family and buy quality food. For every presentation including a comic show for an hour and a half, I charge 150 CUC,” says a well-known comedian.

On a single party you can spend the salary of four years of a high level professional. And there is no class distinction. From the poor who count their centavos to those who have bank accounts, everyone in Cuba likes to celebrate their daughters’ fifteenth birthdays.

Now a novelty has been added. Young Cuban men are also celebrating their 15th birthdays. It does not matter that on the Island the average monthly salary is 25 dollars and many families only eat one meal a day. Ostentation can do more.

Translated by Sofia

Regime Strengthens Efforts to Avoid Surprises in Legislative Elections / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 3 August 2017 — The Cuban government is again relying on a proven strategy in an attempt to avoid surprises on October 22 when voters go to the polls to elect delegates to the various local and national legislative bodies, which will in turn be responsible for electing the president of the Council of State.

This curious initiative began with an orientation that had the feel of a series directives handed down by senior officials of the Communist Party, the Central Committee and the national coordinator for the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). continue reading

On numerous occasions General Raul Castro has said he intends to step down as president in February 2018. After having been in power for twelve years (ten as president, two as acting president during the illness of his brother Fidel), the eighty-six-year-old is in declining health. Remaining as head of the Communist party until 2021 would seem more like a ploy to guarantee immunity from prosecution than a step towards maximizing his control over the country or influencing the direction of government.

“I just came back from a meeting where they outlined all the things that we must do to raise public morale for the upcoming elections. People have to be happy because on this occasion they will be choosing those who will choose the next president, which seems redundant,” says a provincial CDR coordinator who prefers to remain anonymous.

The CDRs were designed to hold neighborhood meeting during July and August, assuage any doubts about the elections and make sure there are no unexpected proposals from unforseen candidates by paying attention to their constituents’ “revolutionary condition.”

Communist party and government officials are touring the island, meeting with local officials and party members and assigning them tasks in an effort to encourage an effective voter response. According to one source, the battlefield of ideas continues to be the main frontline.

The following are some of the tasks that have been assigned to party cadres and members:

  • Review the personal history and attest to the aptitude and ability of every member of the provincial, municipal and district electoral commissions.
  • Visit schools and check the documents and election materials that are to be distributed in each neighborhood.
  • Review voter registration rolls and verify that the Address Registry has been updated in every CDR.
  • Explain to, reason with and convince reliable voters in each community of the need to forcefully deal with problems caused by disturbances of public order or actions by members of counterrevolutionary groups who, with foreign funding, are attempting to disrupt the normal functioning of the electoral process.
  • Recruit young people with proven leadership abilities in every neighborhood to create a corps of activists who will spread ideas, encourage action and spur participation by members of the community.
  • Coordinate with representatives from public health and transportation, giving special priority to hygiene and sanitation with the goal of preventing the accumulation of trash over prolonged periods of time in underserved locations.
  • Insist that delegates have direct contact with the public and that they craft compelling messages that preferably have little to do with political positions.
  • Talk to voters in order to objectively and critically evaluate local problems and determine with renewed vigor the political adjustments that need to be made in each area.
  • Work closely with more enthusiastic groups and demographic sectors so that they might have influence on those who are apathetic or indifferent.
  • Coordinate with representatives from the cultural, transport, housing and supply sectors to optimize conditions for stability and assure widespread citizen participation.
  • Guarantee blood donations, which are important and essential.
  • Allow citizens to maintain orderly conduct, work together to assure that the elections take place in a peaceful atmosphere and participate in the opening and closing of the polls.
  • Monitor compliance with the assigned tasks, the Election Law and directives from the National Electoral Commission.

The Spurious Goals of Cuba’s ‘Free’ Health And Education

In Cuba, “the material situation of the schools is deplorable,” says the author. (I. Zahorsky / Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 12 August 2017 — The Government of the Castro brothers has always maintained that their fundamental social achievements have been “free” health and education, available to all people, which became an international calling card, to try to counter criticism of their massive, flagrant and systematic violations of the political, civil and economic rights of the Cuban people and, in passing, to seek outside influence and obtain economic benefits.

That these achievements have not been “free” is more than proven by the fact that the regime has never been able to hide that it appropriates the results of the production of all the state enterprises, the majority of the country, and it deprives employees of most of their salaries. Everyone knows that Cuba, along with Venezuela, has the lowest minimum ($10) and average ($23) monthly salaries in Latin America. continue reading

Today, although Cuba has more doctors per inhabitant than any other country in the region, the truth is that more than 50,000 of them, particularly the specialists, are carrying out “missions” abroad. In addition, the conditions and technical resources of neighborhoods clinics, polyclinics and hospitals, which serve the population, do not support stable and quality services, while appointments for exams, admittance to a hospital or surgery can come when the patient is already beyond hope.

A very different situation is presented by the clinics and special hospitals for the top leaders and for the rest of the high military and political bureaucracy that is attended in exclusive facilities, such as the clinic for Security Personnel, the CIMEQ Hospital and some floors of the Hermanos Ameijeiras National Hospital. Another privileged segment is foreigners who pay with foreign currency and who are seen at the Cira Garcia Clinic, all in Havana.

With regard to education, the material situation of primary and secondary schools and higher education institutions is deplorable; they do not have the necessary materials for an average international quality education. Due to the low salaries in the teaching profession, many educational institutions at all levels never have a complete team of teachers. Worst of all, since there is no internet access, modern education, which in most Latin American countries is based on this medium, is practically absent, with only limited availability in universities.

But most importantly, the fundamental, undeclared goals of the “free” health and education services are not to maintain a healthy and educated population capable of meeting life needs. Rather, the first goal is to try to guarantee a working population with a high technical and professional level and in good health that can be exploited in state-owned enterprises and international services, particularly medical services, which bring in foreign currency for the Cuban government. Secondly, the goal is to guarantee, through this patronage blackmail, a people who are committed to continuing to thank the “revolutionary government” for those benefits.

State-ownership, which is now predominant, until recently controlled all sources of labor and income, except for the exploitation of the approximately 20% of land in private hands. That situation has changed, but still today most of the workforce is engaged in state, military and para-state enterprises.

Nevertheless, the systematic deterioration of the health and educations services, as a result of the system’s inability to produce and manage resources, worsened since the fall of the USSR and the “socialist camp,” which aid from Venezuela is not making up for, has generated corruption and widespread discontent in the population.

Another important result of this deterioration is that the most vulnerable sectors such as the elderly, single mothers and the disabled have faced large cuts in the social assistance system, precisely because they contribute the least to the state coffers.

Such that, today, it is no longer even possible for the system to guarantee the control of a prepared and healthy labor force, to hyper-exploit in the generalized slavery frameworks of state-socialism, nor to guarantee the support of the majority of the population for the “free” services. And the state’s international goals are also affected since the countries receiving Cuban doctors are diminishing with the fall of the populist-state wave in Latin America and because, as the Cuban reality becomes better known abroad, there is more rejection.

If this is how “fundamental achievements” perform, we can imagine how the remainder do.

Prosecutor Dismisses The Case Against Eliecer Avila But Seizes His Belongings

Eliecer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) dissident group. (Héctor Estepa / El Confidencial)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 August 2017 – The Office of the Attorney General of Cuba declared the “final dismissal” of the case against the activist Eliécer Ávila, accused of the crimes of receiving and illegal economic activities. The court also ordered the seizure “in favor of the Cuban State” of most of the property seized during a police search in April.

On 5 August, the leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement received on a document signed by the prosecutor Bileardo Amaro Guerra dated July, to which he gave 14ymedio access. In it he is informed that the accusations have been “filed.” “We have considered the lack of criminal record of the accused and the attitude maintained during the process,” explains the text. continue reading

The measure adopted by the Public Prosecutor’s Office corresponds to what was stated in the Law of Criminal Procedure, whereby the prosecutor has the power to dismiss a case “if he considers that the act is not a crime or is manifestly false, or the accused as authors or accomplices are exempt from criminal responsibility.”

Avila has decided to appeal the seizure of his belongings, of which only three personal organizers, an almanac and an old travel insurance policy were returned to him. The remaining belongings, whose list in the judicial document covers ten pages of objects seized during search, will pass into the hands of the State, including a personal computer and mobile phone.

Avila’s defense lawyer, Osvaldo Rodríguez Díaz, has appealed the prosecutor’s order because the document is full of “gibberish.” “In its content it refers to activities of a non-governmental organization,” in reference to Somos+, but the accusation against the activist is based on an alleged economic crime.

Rodríguez also questions that, given the economic nature of the allegations, the case has been taken to Villa Marista, the headquarters of State Security in Havana.

The prosecutor’s document says Avila “sells clothing at home, when what was actually seized is something else,” says the defense lawyer, for whom the arguments are “far from being considered serious by that instance, of legality and truth.”

Wilfredo Vallín, President of the Law Association of Cuba, confirmed to 14ymedio that “the final destination of the items that are seized in a search should be decided by the court” and that “what is seized in a house is to be presented in court as evidence to indict the person.” He describes the prosecutor’s order as “a totally illegal procedure” in this case because “it is a group of objects of high value.”

The search in Avila’s house happened after several members of his movement held a protest at the International Airport Jose Martí of Havana to demonstrate against Customs, which confiscated the belongings of several activists who returned from a seminar organized in Colombia by the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America.

Police records and searches of dissidents have become a growing practice in the past year, and the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation has denounced this in its reports.

The Teachings of ‘Don Castro’

Fidel Castro, born 91 years ago, has been reduced to slogans that Cubans pay no attention to as they pass by them. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 14 August 2017 — With so much secrecy, so much myth and legend, it is not even known for sure if this August 13 was the actual date of the 91st anniversary of Fidel Castro’s birth. His life was so surrounded by exaggerations and lies that even the moment he was born and the name with which he was registered are open to question.

However, beyond any doubt, the day was propitious to reflect on the legacy of the former Cuban president, an imprint that has been reduced in officialdom’s Conceptualization of the Socialist Model to “his concept of Revolution” and the stubborn “conviction that yes we can achieve victory” with our own efforts. continue reading

That concept of “Revolution” – which is presented as his political will – is so ambiguous that it can be taken both as a result obtained and as a goal to be achieved. This theoretical hodgepodge is evidence of the lack of depth of the author’s thinking and his tendency to political opportunism, which allowed him to create slogans to encapsulate different moments.

Official media reproduce such a definition as a method for achieving dissimilar goals, the final fruit of a process or a tangle of moral values ​​close to the commandments of good behavior. However, in the absence of the violent component – which typifies any academic definition of Revolution – lies its main failure, to which is added the absence of the class approach that could be expected from a Marxist-Leninist.

The main teaching Fidel Castro has left us, which teachers warn their students they should pay attention to because “it will be on the test,” is voluntarism. The Commander-in-Chief instilled the idea that whomever is willing to defend a position at the risk of his own and others’ deaths, becomes invincible.

It does not matter if the cause to be defended is erroneous or valid. The cardinal rule, according to this theorem, is to accept a goal with unlimited enthusiasm and persevere in its realization at whatever price necessary.

Examples are the eradication of all vestiges of private property during the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968, the 1970 sugar harvest which attempted to yield 10 million tons of sugar, the idle effort to genetically transform livestock,or the purpose of combining study with work in the forgotten Schools in the Countryside. Along with these is a long list in which we should mention the energy revolution, the municipalization of universities and the extension of the cultivation of moringa.

Intensive grazing brought to Cuba by a French scientist, construction ‘microbrigades’, consecration in scientific research centers, special programs of rabbits, geese or buffalo, the doctor for 120 families, all called by the name ‘Plan Fidel’ and many other initiatives carried the personal imprint of one who considered himself an indisputable specialist on any subject he was superficially interested in.

Nothing and no one could stop Fidel Castro, except his own indiscipline and the sudden reluctance that came over him when he discovered some new object of obsession.

A monument recently erected in Crimea to his memory says that “victory is perseverance,” a bitter reminder that Fidel Castro was the worst disciple of his own teachings. He was only consistent in the act of never admitting that he was defeated, as defined in his favorite motto: “turning the setback into victory.”

Athletes may be able to inherit their legacy to win a competition seemingly against them, but in politics and economics it is nefarious to obsess over an apparently miraculous solution.

One should not persevere in the error, is also what we learned from Fidel Castro.

Cuba Spends Less on Healthcare Despite the Aging of the Population

The 20,000 places for care of the aged are not enough in a country with two million people over age 60. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 10 August 2017 – The Cuban population is aging at an inverse ratio to the investment required to support this share of the citizenry. Almost 20% of Cubans are over 60, and a recent government study sees aging as “the nation’s biggest demographic challenge.”

Health spending fell from 11% of GDP in 2009 to 8% in 2012, according to data from the Statistical Yearbook of Cuba. The investment in social programs affecting the elderly has been reduced since Raúl Castro initiated timid reforms in the country’s economy.

The economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago has calculated that the number of hospitals in the country has decreased by 32% since 2007, while personnel engaged in public health has fallen by 22%. Despite the steady increase in the number of elderly people in the country, there are only 20,000 places in some 300 grandparents’ homes (for day care) and 144 nursing homes. continue reading

According to sociologist Elaine Acosta, there is evidence that a significant share of Cuba’s 2,219,784 people who are over 60 “lack effective opportunities to enjoy a dignified old age.”

In addition, the expert believes that “the difficulty of social policy to anticipate and plan the resolution of problems related to old age only aggravate the crisis of care that faces Cuban society.”

In the face of what could be the end of trade with Venezuela, the aging population of the island, which has seen the purchasing power of its pensions reduced by almost 50% since 1989, is facing an unsustainable pension system in the medium term, Mesa-Lago explains.

The situation is complicated, because Raul Castro’s government eliminated many of the goods and services formerly provided ‘free,’ drastically reducing the items covered by Social Assistance, as well as the number of beneficiaries.

In 2016, 54,968 older adults received social security pensions, some 8,415 fewer than in 2011. This population segment has also been hit in recent years by the elimination of subsidies for several products in the ration book, and the resulting quadrupling of prices.

Proportion and growth rates of the population aged 60 and over in some Latin American countries. Source: ECLAC

A study published by Cuba’s National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI), reports that 79% of Cuba’s elderly live in urban areas, while the remaining 21% live in rural areas. Women make up just over half of the island’s aging population, at 53%, with men accounting for 47%.

The phenomenon of aging generally occurs in societies that have achieved a high rate of human development. Among the elements that influence a country’s aging statistics are migration, fertility rate and mortality.

In the case of Cuba, life expectancy was 79.5 years in 2015, one of the highest in the Americas. However, the low level of fertility – 1.6 children per woman, closer to European figures – and a steady migration have contributed to raise the average age of the country, which in 2016 reached 40 years.

Percentage share of elderly population by province. Source: ONEI

The impact of the aging of the population reaches all spheres of society and has repercussions on the economy, because an important segment of society ceases to produce and has to be sustained by an ever smaller population or workers, notable in the Cuban case. Social services face an increase in the demand for services to the elderly and there is also a direct impact on the pension system.

Relative to population, Cuba’s oldest provinces are Villa Clara, Havana and Sancti Spíritus, in which the population over 60 is 23%, 21% and 21% of the population, respectively. The youngest province on the island is Guantanamo, followed closely by Artemis and the Isle of Youth.

Population in thousands over age 60, by province.

In the case of municipalities, the youngest are Yateras and Caimanera, both in Guantanamo province, with only 13% of the population over age 60. Those with the highest proportion of elderly are Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution municipality – the location of the headquarters of Cuba’s octogenarian rulers – where 27% of residents are over 60, followed by Placetas and Unión de Reyes, both with 25% elderly populations.

“According to estimates by the United Nations Population Division, Barbados and Cuba will be the most aged countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in the immediate perspective,” the ONEI reports.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, which funded part of the study, notes in its research that in 2025, 25% of the Cuban population will be over 60, a figure that will reach 33% of the population by 2050.

Total Cuban population projected to 2050.