Balcony Collapses in Central Havana

The collapse occurred in a building on Calle San Nicolás and San Lázaro. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 22 June 2021 — The owners of an apartment located in a building on San Nicolás and San Lázaro streets, in Centro Habana, saw the balcony of their home collapse on Tuesday when they were carrying out repair work.

“They tied up the scaffolding on the balcony and a good part of it fell,” a neighbor told 14ymedio while the residents of the building collected the debris that fell on the street without causing material damage or injuring passersby.

The neoclassical building, built in the first half of the 20th century, is in an advanced state of disrepair due to lack of maintenance and erosion caused by saltpeter. To this are added the successive internal transformations, such as horizontal divisions — the building of raised platforms (popularly called ‘barbecues’) within a room — that seek to expand the space. continue reading

Centro Habana, without the colonial beauty of Old Havana or the modern buildings of El Vedado, has for decades been a municipality characterized by the high presence of tenements, infrastructure problems, overcrowding and a high population density. The successive programs launched by the Government have not resolved the increasingly frequent collapses.

In recent months, several collapses have been reported in the municipality. One of the most recent occurred in April on the Malecon, when two buildings collapsed and part of a third collapsed, and a man was seriously injured.

The fall of a balcony caused in January 2020 the tragic death of three girls in Old Havana, between Vives and Revillagigedo streets, in the Jesús María neighborhood. The structure, deteriorated by the years and the lack of maintenance, collapsed around four-thirty in the afternoon, when the young girls were on the sidewalk rehearsing for the events to celebrate the birth of José Martí.


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Cuba: With the Exception of Fines, the Economy of Sancti Spiritus is on the Doldrums

Despite the fact that more than half of the people of Spiritism reject the job offered by the office, the data is positive compared to later years. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 June 2021 — Some 53% of the people of Sancti Spíritus who go to an employment office reject the offer of work, as revealed by the provincial authorities, who have not explained the arguments offered by more than half the population for not wanting the job proposed to them. Of the more than 8,200 people who came looking for pincha (work), the majority of those who accepted it were women under 35 years of age.

Teresita Romero Rodríguez, governor of the province, provided these data in a meeting this Thursday in Sancti Spíritus in which the ’Ordering Task’* was evaluated. The data revealed that 24 state companies closed in the first quarter, with losses, and it is expected that at least five of them will end the year badly.

The authorities expect the others to recover, although the evolution of the pandemic and the absence of changes in the US embargo do not exactly invite optimism. continue reading

Romero, who insisted on the importance of protecting the vulnerable, asked the population to work to take advantage of the 63 measures approved for the agricultural sector. The key measure of this economic package was the liberalization of the sale of surplus beef and milk for those producers who had contributed the mandatory quota to the State. However, in the province only 1% of those who raise cattle meet the conditions.

The local newspaper Escambray indicated that “more than 80 farmers, private or state” could market their products and the number could grow “discreetly.” In Sancti Spíritus there are 2,900 landless farmers who graze animals, precisely one of the requirements to be authorized to dispose of their own livestock.

The governor pointed out one of the few things that is going smoothly: fines. According to Romero, around “7,000 control-of-retail-price actions have been imposed and 1,197 fines have been applied,” at all kinds of points of sale, from state markets to the self-employed, and including foreign currency stores.

These types of economic sanctions are also complemented by administrative ones, such as the withdrawal of licenses, confiscation of products, forced sale and, when necessary, a criminal complaint. Romero stressed the importance of being rigorous with control and punitive measures.

Barely a day had passed since the press reported on the dismantling of a network of “60 home warehouses” dedicated to “illicit economic activity” with more than 1,050 complaints made, especially in the capital and the municipalities of Trinidad, Cabaiguán and Jatibonico.

In addition, the police dismantled 19 illegal factories producing all kinds of products. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of food, 36,462 boxes of cigarettes and 7,828 toiletries were seized in this operation.

The data for the first quarter have been bad not only in Sancti Spíritus. A few days ago it was learned that local companies in Ciego de Ávila lost more than 53 million pesos until April.

Some of the most catastrophic figures in food were in the fall in the trade of pork and sausages, which only reached 22.3% of the forecasts, and eggs, which reached just 16.7%. The commercial sector lost 28 million pesos and food services 24 million pesos.

In this province the alarms had already gone off when the Ceballos Agroindustrial Company, a former jewel in the State’s crown and the main industry in the territory, closed January with red numbers.

*Translator’s note:  The ‘Ordering Task’ [Tarea ordenamiento] which is a collection of measures that includes eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and others. 


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Tourists in Cuba Can Now Buy Cash Cards of Up to $1,000

For the moment, prepaid cards will only be available to tourists, who must prove their status with their passport. (Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 June 2021 — The Cuban banking system has devised a new option to keep the foreign currency of tourists, who can acquire, starting this Tuesday, Prepaid Cards at the Cadeca currency exchange offices in Varadero and Cayo Coco.

The cards, of 200, 500 and 1,000 dollars, are only for non-resident travelers, who can buy them by presenting their passport and depositing the amount in cash plus a commission of five dollars, only until the 20th. After that they may do so in any other currency among those accepted in the country.

Prepaid cards can only be spent within Cuba and will be valid for two years. Travelers will thus be able to make purchases in hard currency stores without cash, although they can also withdraw Cuban pesos at ATMs. What they do not allow are transfers from abroad, or deposits or movements of funds between similar cards or others that operate in dollars. And unspent balance is non-refundable in foreign currency. continue reading

Last Friday, the first vice president of the Central Bank of Cuba (BCC), Francisco Mayobre Lence, explained on television that travelers who arrive on the island after June 21 will not be able, like nationals, to exchange dollars in cash, and so must arrive with a different currency to cover their expenses or use an international card accepted in the Cuba (the embargo does not allow the use of cards issued in the United States).

The new product could solve some of these problems, but it is to be expected that other problems will occur. The measure has not been well received by Cubans residing in the country, who speculate, in social networks and the official press, about the difficulties that this may have for tourists.

“So, does the tourist who comes with dollars after June 20 have to eat them? Can’t he buy these cards? Will the tourist be forced to come to Cuba with a currency other than the USD?” asks a Cubadebate reader to which another responds: “Cuban inventions. Apparently they forgot that there is competition in the Caribbean.”

Some users fail to imagine tourists lining at a Cadeca and believe it is very possible that a black market for dollars will continue to circulate. Meanwhile, others ask insistently if, since the use of the cards is not limited to the personwho acquired them, anyone will be able to use them, a doubt that reveals the aspiration of many to get one of these products by any means.

Last Thursday the government announced by surprise that it would stop accepting cash in US dollars. Yesterday, the General Customs of the Republic issued a statement clarifying that this also affects the payment of customs duties and services for items imported at the border, which can only be paid in currencies other than the United States or by card.

The agency has asked Cubans to take steps to avoid acting out and comply with regulations without giving up import rights.

Cubans and economists debate the reasons for this decision by the authorities, arguing that they have huge amounts of dollars in cash stuck in banks because they are not able to operate internationally with them. The foreign currency stores, which increasingly provide more goods, even basic goods, to Cubans and, at the same time, are more scarce every day, lack products due to the impossibility of buying with all the cash they collect, due to the US sanctions, which prevent them from moving the money, argues the Government.

Critics doubt this argument and offer other hypotheses, together or in combination, ranging from an attempt to pressure the Biden government to relax sanctions through pressure from families who send remittances, to money laundering through a desperate attempt to get hold of as much US currency they can collect, in record time.

Another theory suggests that it is a matter of curbing the rise in the price of the dollar in the informal market. Exchange houses sell dollars at a rate of 1 x 24 Cuban pesos, while in illegal networks the rate has reached 70.


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In Cuba, ‘The Dollar Is Still the Dollar; We Have to Wait and See What Happens’

For months it has been almost impossible to buy any foreign currency at one of the island’s banks.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 June 2021 — With June 20 fast approaching — the date after which Cubans will not be allowed to deposit U.S. banknotes in their bank accounts — people are increasingly wary about about exchanging their pesos for hard currency. At Telegram bureaus around town the exchange rate has been hovering at 80 to 85 pesos to the euro and around 60 pesos to the dollar. Few customers, however, are willing to take the plunge given the uncertainty created by recent government actions.

“Announcements are one thing but reality is another. I’m not buying or selling anything right now,” says Alejandro Medina, a 41-year-old private-sector worker. “I posted an ad four days ago offering 60 pesos to the dollar and no one, not one person, has contacted me. Everyone is hesitant because there’s so much uncertainty.” According to Medina, people are waiting to see what happens over the weekend.

That is what currency exchange “professionals” are also recommending. “The ’bigheads’ (dollars) fell out of favor,” complains Papito, a black market money changer who was contacted by a dozen or so clients, suddenly eager to get rid of their dollars. “I told them not to go crazy, to wait, that I am not interested in buying them now. The dollar is still the dollar. We have to wait and see what happens.” continue reading

Adorned with enormous portraits of America’s founding fathers, the most recent dollar bills have recently earned the nickname cabezón (or big head) to distinguish them from earlier denominations, whose central images were smaller. It joins a long list of nicknames for the dollar that includes greens, fulas* and enemy currency.

Though the European Union’s currency is now the leading candidate to replace the U.S. dollar, it is viewed with suspicion here. “People are just not as familiar with the euro. It’s a different size. Some of its bills don’t even fit in my wallet,” complains Papito. “We need a crash course to be able to tell real euros from fake ones,” he jokes.

It is not just informal money changers who are having problems. “There are a lot of home delivery apps that require payment before the customer knows the total purchase price in pesos or dollars, even if the person is paying cash in a foreign currency. Will they now have to redesign the app?” asks Yunieski, a messenger who works for one of those services.

“With dollars, at least people knew that if the little old man on the bill was wrinkled and half bald, it was a hundred dollars. If he had a beard, then it was fifty. But with these European monuments, who knows? We all have to start studying,” he notes ironically.

Even so, Yunieski prefers the euro over the soon-to-be defunct convertible peso. I won’t accept tips in chavitos,” he says, “because it means spending long hours in line at a bank to exchange them. But I’ll take any euros, pounds sterling or yen that customers want to give me.”

For months it has been almost impossible to buy foreign currency of any kind from the island’s banks. A young man, who prefers to remain anonymous, reported that one day he saw a bank teller stuffing three large bundles of euros and dollars into a cash drawer. He asked her why he could not exchange his Cuban pesos for some of the banknotes. Without flinching, she responded, “They’re not available.” Undeterred, the young man asked her when the bank would be selling dollars and euros. “You can buy them on the street,” she advised him.

After the government imposed tight controls on foreign exchange operations, some banks began doing a brisk business selling freely convertible currency (MLC) “under the table.”

So claims a 28-year-old computer programmer who has an account at Havana’s Banco Metropolitano, which allows him to receive foreign currency transfers that he can then access with a debit card to make purchases at MLC stores.

He reports that he contacted the branch bank where he has his foreign currency account. He was told that, for a percentage of the total transfer amount, an employee could let him know when there are enough euros in the till or the vault for him to make a withdrawal.

Meanwhile, if an ordinary customer were to go to the bank and ask to withdraw 100 euros from his account, he would receive the same reply: “Unfortunately, we do not have that amount on hand.”

The official press reported that banks will extend their weekend hours to make sure account holders have time to make cash deposits in U.S. dollars. Banco Metropolitano will be open on Friday and Saturday from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm; on Sunday from 8:30 am to 12:30 pm. Banco de Crédito y Comercio and Banco Popular de Ahorro will be open on Friday from 8 am to 3 pm; on Saturday from 8 am to 11 am, and on Sunday from 8 am to 12 pm.

*Translator’s note: In Cuba, the word “fula” is otherwise used to describe someone who is troublesome or cannot be trusted.


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Cuban Passport and ID Cards to Be Issued Again after Public Outcry

A Cuban passport is valid for six years but must be renewed twice in that period. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, June 17, 2021 — Barely forty-eight hours had passed since officials in Havana announced that they would not be processing travel documents or passport applications before they were forced to reverse course. The measure, adopted on Monday as part of a Covid-19 containment strategy in the Cuban capital, had generated widespread discontent

“Yes, on Wednesday we resumed procedures for issuing and renewing passports, as well as those for new ID cards,” confirmed an employee of the Directorate of Identification, Immigration and Alien Affairs (DIIE), speaking to 14ymedio. “Our offices are again accepting these applications,” she added.

On Monday, hundreds of people were unable to submit applications at any of the city’s DIIE offices. They learned only upon arrival that most processing procedures for passports and identity cards had suddenly been suspended. continue reading

“People screamed to high heaven so they had to walk back the decision,” a young man told 14ymedio on Wednesday. He was applying for a new passport at the DIIE office on 17th and J streets in Havana’s El Vedado neighborhood, the sole office accepting applications for special circumstances during the shutdown. “People here were as mad as hell.”

“They were telling us this through the metal gates because they were closed. They said they were only issuing passports to travelers who had already bought a ticket and were in the process of reuniting with family in the United States. The rest of us there that day couldn’t submit an application,” the young man added.

A Cuban passport is valid for six years but must be renewed twice in that period. The document is among the most expensive of its kind in the world. It costs 2,500 pesos ($100) and must be renewed every two years at a cost of 500 pesos.

The need to renew or apply for a new passport has been growing in the past year due to pandemic-related closures of several DIIE offices. The suspension of commercial flights and restrictions on entry from other countries have grounded many Cuban travelers, especially the “mules” who import merchandise for the underground market.

“This measure made absolutely no sense. To get a special exemption, they expected you to bring an airline ticket you had already bought. But how am I supposed to get a ticket if my passport is expired and I need to get a new one?” asks another applicant upon learning that the office on Castillejo Street in Central Havana was open again.

Last Friday officials in Havana imposed a new series of restrictive measures they are calling “the final offensive against the pandemic.” Among them are a ban on entering or leaving the city without authorization from provincial or national authorities, which is only granted for reasons related to work.

On Tuesday Cuba set a new daily record of 1,537 Covid-19 cases, surpassing the previous record of 1,470 infections on Sunday. Since March of last year the country has had 161,997 cases and 1,118 deaths from the virus, twelve of them in the last twenty-four hours.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Police ‘Dismantle’ a Network Dedicated to ‘Illicit Economic Activity’ in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba

During the first five months of the year fines were imposed on 278 state and private workers. (Escambray)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 June 2021 — A network of “60 home warehouse”  engaged in “illicit economic activity” was “dismantled” by the police in Sancti Spíritus, the local newspaper Escambray reported on Tuesday. The actions of the authorities took place, according to the official media, after more than 1,050 complaints concentrated mainly in the provincial capital and the municipalities of Trinidad, Cabaiguán and Jatibonico.

After the investigations, between the months of January to May of this year, they also dismantled 19 illegal factories in which rum, soft drinks, sweets, tobacco and bread were made and three workshops that did not have the authorization to dedicate themselves to sheet metal and painting.

The main crimes that the authorities identified, in addition to illicit economic activity, were “hoarding, violation of consumer protection regulations and currency trafficking,” but they did not specify how many people have been charged after the police operations. continue reading

In the dismantling of the criminal network of home warehouses, the police seized “agricultural products, fruits, corn, rice, meat,” and a “considerable numbers of toiletry, cleaning and hardware articles.”

In the 187 operations carried out, official seized 534,007 pounds of onions, 22,554 of tomatoes, 17,844 of rice, 2,872 of chili, 2,426 of beans, 1,814 of potatoes, 1,100 of sweet potatoes and 1,290 pounds of beef and pork. Also seized were 36,462 boxes of cigarettes and 7,828 of toiletries.

The police told Escambray that the “confrontation” they is carrying out aims to “restrict all transgressive behaviors” and crimes that affect the economy of the country and of citizens.

During the first five months of the year they also imposed 278 fines on state and private workers, who are mainly engaged in commerce, food service and the sale of agricultural products. The total amount of these penalties, established in Decree 30 that sets the pricing policy, exceeds 900,500 pesos.

At the beginning of September last year, a Cabaiguán resident was sentenced to ten months in prison for illicit economic activity within a network that sold essential items on digital platforms.

A few days later, sources from the Ministry of the Interior of Sancti Spíritus denounced on Cuban Television another illegal network dedicated to the repackaging and sale of powdered milk. Four people were arrested in the police operation, including three officials from the state dairy company Río Zaza.

In the last year in official media, with unusual frequency, the Government has published criminal acts related to the crisis in the country. In addition, it does not miss the opportunity to hold coleros* and resellers responsible for the worsening of the shortage and to issue warnings to other informal traders.

*Translator’s note: From the word “cola,” for “line,” coleros are people paid by others to stand in line for them.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Opponents Unite to Work for the Transition to Democracy

Opponents, activists and independent journalists presented the Council on Monday. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 June 2021 — Opponents, activists and independent journalists presented, on Monday, the Council for Democratic Transition in Cuba, an initiative that aims to achieve three foundational aspirations: “a nation with all, an inclusive society, and a republic of rights.”

Made up of more than 30 opponents, the Council is, at the same time a political platform, a center of ideas and a government embryo, with a presence on the island and anywhere in the world where there are Cubans, according to its organizers in a round of press.

Enix Berrios, from the Christian Democratic Party of Cuba and one of the vice presidents of the Council, explained that the first task is to propose, evaluate and criticize the policy of the Cuban regime. When asked by 14ymedio if there is an intention to promote a dialogue with the dictatorship, he specified: “Today we are born without the intention of seeing ourselves sitting at a table with the regime, we are questioning it and we consider it illegitimate. Over time let’s see what will happen. Today we are not open to dialogue.” continue reading

Despite technical difficulties, which prevented the presence of several members in the presentation, diversity prevailed in the composition of the Council, which “does not pretend to represent everyone, but is open to the participation of social, cultural and political actors, who want to place within the same basket of initiatives a set of actions, proposals and concerted ideas for democratic change.”

The advisor to the Council’s Foreign Relations Secretariat, Ernesto Gutiérrez Tamargo, specified that the initiative is an open entity that wants everyone to be part of its structures.

Gutiérrez explained that “there is a hierarchical organization because someone has to take charge of the organization.” The first people to make the list are there for “merit, experience, work time and the ability to devote themselves to the fight for freedom, democracy and human rights in Cuba.” He added that many more people have been spoken to and that some have chosen to “stay in second place.”

In Gutierrez Tamargo’s opinion, the recent European Parliament resolution on human rights and the political situation in Cuba “gave legitimacy to the Cuban opposition” to serve as an interlocutor with organizations and even governments of other countries.

The Council for the Democratic Transition is chaired by José Daniel Ferrer (Patriotic Union of Cuba) and among the nine vice presidents are Manuel Cuesta (Progressive Arch/Cuba En Plural) and Félix Navarro (Pedro Luis Boitel Democracy Party)


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Before Traveling, Cubans Must Pay in Foreign Currency for Quarantine on Their Return

The cost of these packages range from $292 for the Aparthotel Azul in Ciego de Ávila to almost $500 for the Hotel Iberostar Bella Costa in Varadero. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 June 2021 — As of June 20, Cubans who want to leave the island via Matanzas and Ciego de Ávila must present, before boarding, payment for the hotel where they will spend, on their return, a mandatory 7-day isolation period. This must be paid in freely convertible currency (MLC) and out of their own pocket.

The new provision was announced by the national director of Epidemiology of the Ministry of Public Health, Francisco Durán García, this Thursday during his daily appearance, with the aim of “facilitating the movement of tourists and travelers,” reports the official press. Not excluded is the requirement, also mandatory until now: a negative PCR certificate when arriving at the airport.

The measure further complicates, if possible, the travel abroad of nationals, who since last June 5 are obliged, if they arrive in Varadero or Cayo Coco, to pay for the required quarantine in freely convertible currency (MLC).

According to official rates, the cost of these packages range from $292 for six nights at the Aparthotel Azul in Ciego de Ávila to almost $500 at the Iberostar Bella Costa hotel in Varadero, passing through the $400 at the Hotel Sol Cayo Coco and Hotel Colonial in Ciego de Ávila, and Los Cactus, Mar del Sur, Las Morlas and Sun Beach in Varadero. continue reading

The consular section of Cuba in Mexico City echoed the new measures through its social networks, explaining that, for island residents, packages “may be purchased through national travel agencies, before travel abroad, or reserved from abroad through the tour operators that market the destination Cuba.”

Durán justified the new measures due to the number of cases “in many countries with which we have relations.” The official did not specify, but Cubans mostly use the airports of Ciego de Ávila and Varadero to travel to Russia, as a final destination or to connect to other destinations, due to the limitation on flights that the Government implemented since the beginning of the year to stop the outbreak of Covid-19.

By this same route, hundreds of nationals return to the island, many of them — popularly known as ’mules’ — dedicated to the business of importing merchandise to resell in the informal market.

At the same time, the virulence of the third wave of Covid in Cuba does not cease, and Durán himself acknowledged that May, with 35,701 patients positive for the coronavirus, was “the worst month of the epidemic in the national territory, since in March of last year when the first three infections with Sars-CoV-2 were reported.”

After setting a record last Tuesday, with 1,537 positives registered on that day, the latest official report from the Ministry of Public Health shows, this Thursday, 1,418 new cases and 5 deaths. There is a total of 163,415 cases and 1,123 deaths.


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Rebellion of Motorcyclists in Santiago de Cuba is Successful

Licensed motorcyclists are now allowed to carry passengers from 5 am to 8 am, and from 4 pm to 7 pm. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Alberto Hernández, Santiago de Cuba, 17 June 2021 — “”Based on the concerns voiced by the population,” the Temporary Working Group to confront Covid in Santiago de Cuba, lifted the ban on motorcyclists carrying passengers, two days after its June 11th announcement. The new rules, intended to help alleviate the demands on the city’s public transport system, allow licensed motorcyclists to ferry riders from 5 am to 8 am, and from 4 pm to 7 pm.

Augusto, who makes his living carrying passengers, is one of those who mobilized to overturn the ban. “What they don’t realize when they adopt these measures is that a motorcycle supports two families: the driver’s and the owner’s. If they don’t allow us to work, how are we supposed to eat?”

Cesar, one of his colleagues, adds, “Even when we’re not working, we still have to pay the license fee and the social security tax.” continue reading

After receiving complaints from unlicensed motorcyclists, who were not included in the lifting of the ban, city officials later amended the regulations to include them. “In my case, and there are a lot of people like me, I wasn’t even allowed to take my wife to work on my motorina. She had to get up before dawn to take public transit and walk almost an hour,” says Mario Alvarez.

Santiago de Cuba has more motorcycles than any other city on the island, almost 10,000 registered vehicles. Of them, more than 1,900 are commercially licensed or have licenses pending approval according to figures published by Juventud Rebelde. When motorcycles operating illegal are included in the count, the figure rises to 14,000, as confirmed by an official provincial news media outlet, CMKC.

A 23-year-old motorcyclist who drives one of the city’s most popular models — an Mz 251, made in former communist East Germany — tells 14ymedio how he manages to work during times of the day when motorcyclists are not allowed to operate. “When I go to work, I risk getting caught. I charge more during the prohibited hours. If a ride normally costs 30 pesos, I charge 50. I am not willing to starve to death. It’s very hard.”

Dalia, who is in the same line of work but rents her motorcycle from its driver, points out inconsistencies in the public health arguments that officials used to ban commercial use of two-wheeled vehicles: “I don’t understand why they are singling out motorcycles when buses and trucks are full of people while motorcycles only carry one passenger.”


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Motorcyclists Allowed to Transport Passengers Again in Santiago de Cuba

As of May 26 public transport may operate for six hours a day, from 5 A.M to 8 A.M and from 4 P.M. to 7 P.M. (El Chago-Santiago de Cuba/Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 June 2021 — Authorities in Santiago de Cuba have lifted restrictions on motorcycles carrying passengers, part of a series of measures originally intended to contain an outbreak of Covid-19, which the city has been experiencing for months. In reponse to complaints from the public, officials released a statement on Saturday announcing that commercially licensed motorcyclists would be allowed transport one passenger.

With more than 7,200 of these vehicles operating in the city, the initial decision to ban the practice of motorcycle ride-sharing led to complaints and criticisms from residents. Faced with a decrepit and deteriorating public transit system, they have come to see the motorcycle as an essential means of transportation.

“This ban made no sense. For a lot of families it’s their only way of getting around. That goes for public and private sector workers as well. There are those who like to throw stones but some of those people have to make ends meet by transporting their relatives because public transportation here is so incredibly bad. It’s terrible,” complains one resident, who says he does not often use this service because fares have risen so much since January. continue reading

The Temporary Working Group, the agency handling the public health emergency, announced that motorcycles would only be allowed to carry paying passengers during the hours public transport in operating. They are considering whether or not to allow motorcyclists, with or without commercial licenses, to transport family members with whom they are living.

Authorities say the decision is intended to “alleviate the transportation needs” for city residents.

“As in times past, motorcyclists are still doing the rounds and avoiding the traffic police by operating mainly in areas outside the city center, like Santa Maria, Boniato and Caney,” reports one young man who works in construction in the city.

“Thanks to the motorcycles a lot of us are able to get around because public transport only runs for a few hours a day and you have to fight for your life to use it,” he adds.

As of May 26, public transport may operate for six hours a day, from 5 A.M to 8 A.M and from 4 P.M. to 7 P.M. Only vehicles which are distributing essential goods, transporting flour, or being used by Public Health personel for administrative functions may operate outside those hours.

On Saturday, Santiago de Cuba reported 180 new cases of Covid, putting it behind Havana at 422 cases and Matanzas at 192, on a day that saw a record 1,470 new infections. On that same day there were 12 deaths due to complications associated with the infection for a total of 1,087 deaths from Covid-19 on the island.

The Public Health Ministry announced on Sunday that it has recorded 157,708 positive Covid test results since March 2020. Since early May, new daily infections of SARS-CoV-2 have averaged more than a thousand, with 1,198 cases in June so far.

On Sunday, Cuba, with a population of 11.2 million, reached a Covid case rate of 152 per 100,000 inhabitants according to the Spanish news agency EFE.

Controlled trials of the two of the five vaccines developed in Cuba, Abdala and Sovereign 02, are being conducted in high-risk areas of the country.

Both pharmaceuticals are in the final phase of clinical trials, which determine the efficacy of a potential vaccine. They have not yet received emergency use authorization from the country’s regulatory agency but authorities are hoping to obtain it this month once the results of the clinical trials are known. If one or both are shown to be effective, a massive vaccination campaign will begin.

Cuba is not part of the COVAX project, a vaccine program created by the World Health Organization which allows low and medium-income countries to acquire vaccines they have not been able buy on the world market.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

‘I Felt They Were More Aggressive Than Before,’ Denounces Cuban Journalist Yoe Suarez

In his interrogation with State Security this Thursday, Yoe Suárez was “threatened with jail” by the officers. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 June 2021 — The independent journalist Yoe Suárez was detained this Thursday by the political police for three hours, during which he was being interrogated, the reporter denounced in conversation with 14ymedio.

The State Security agents tried to intimidate Suárez by threatening him with jail: “They told me that I could end up as a political prisoner and that nobody here cares about them, that I should think of my family.” “I felt them more aggressive than others. times, “says the contributor to Diario de Cuba.

The officers also told him that they will increase the pressure against him and his family. Suarez explained that he was interrogated by a lieutenant colonel “who calls himself José,” whom he had never seen before, who was accompanied by “Officer Jonathan,” one of the repressors who detained him at his home. continue reading

After the journalist’s arrest, his family and the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and Press (Iclep) denounced that he was missing. Once released, Suárez said on his social networks that he was transferred to the police station at 7th and 62nd in Havana’s Playa municipality.

The journalist’s family told 14ymedio that they were looking for him at the police stations closest to his home, in the Siboney district, and did not get information on his whereabouts. Iclep recalled that Suárez “has been besieged lately for his work” and for denouncing “the repressive forces for their methods of torturing independent activists and journalists.”

On the other hand, Lázaro Yuri Valle Roca, director of the Delibera digital platform, remains under arrest since June 15, first at the Zapata y C station, in El Vedado, and later in Villa Marista, according to family members and activists.

Valle Roca, a day before his arrest, published on the Delibera YouTube channel, a video of the tossing out of leaflets at the central corner of Zanja and Galiano, in Centro Habana, on the occasion of the celebration of Antonio Maceo’s birthday.

This Thursday, Eralidis Frometa, a human rights activist and wife of the independent journalist, denounced that several agents searched the house they share.

Also still remaining in pridon is the independent reporter Esteban Rodríguez, who was transferred from the Guanajay maximum security prison to a hospital in Havana on Tuesday, where he was admitted after testing positive for Covid-19.

Rodríguez, a journalist for ADN Cuba, was one of those arrested on April 30 in the peaceful demonstration on Obispo Street, in which Mary Karla Ares, a contributor to the community media outlet Amanecer Habanero, was also arrested. The reporter was able to return home under “home confinement” and denounced that, during the 27 days she spent in prison, she was the victim of “long hours of interrogation” and “psychological torture.”

Likewise, the CiberCuba activist and reporter Iliana Hernández has been besieged at her house by the police and State Security agents for about 70 days. In addition to being forbidden to go out, they have also cut off her mobile data internet service.

In the month of May alone, the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights documented more than 900 violent actions, something that, they denounce, confirms a “broader and more personalized repression” against civil society with the aim of “silencing all dissent.”

After the increase in repression by the regime in the first five months of the year, some activists and organizations consider that the country is experiencing “a new version of the Black Spring” of 2003.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Maykel Castillo Was Able to Speak From Prison After Eight Days Incommunicado

The rapper Maykel ’Osorbo’ Castillo is accused of attack, public disorder and evading arrest and is in preventive prison in the province of Pinar Del Río. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 14 June 2021 — After eight days in solitary confinement, rapper Maykel Castillo, known as Osorbo, was able to speak this weekend with his colleague Eliexer Márquez Duany, who is called El Funky. Osorbo is imprisoned in the Cinco y Medio prison in Pinar del Río, awaiting trial for the alleged crimes of “attack,” “public disorder” and “evading arrest.”

“I spoke with him on Sunday and also on Saturday, which was his first call after eight days in solitary confinement,” El Funky told 14ymedio. “He told me he was okay and has a lot of faith that he will get out very soon.”

According to the artist, the two communications lasted only five minutes. Osorbo detailed that he had not been able to call because he was not allowed to  because “the officers had orders that he could not make phone calls.” El Funky also said that “the things that the family has sent to the prison are not given to him in full, only the things they [prison authorities] decide.”

“Two packages have already been sent to him and from them they have given him only what they wanted to. They have not given him all the cigarettes, only the food,” El Funky denounced.

The curator Anamely Ramos, a member of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), directly accused State Security, in a Facebook post, of appropriating part of Osorbo’s belongings and also pointed out that they were harassing the people who had supported him by bringing what he needs to Pinar del Río.

“State security and citizen insecurity: Yesterday you let Maykel call after eight days. It was a hasty call, but to guess your steps a person doesn’t have to have a lot of time or be very intelligent,” said Ramos in his complaint.

Osorbo was arrested on May 18 at his home and it was not until two weeks later that he was transferred to Pinar del Río. Before his arrest, he was subjected to a constant police siege of his home that lasted for weeks, in which he was arrested for no reason every time he went out on the street.

The artist together with El Funky, Yotuel Romero, Descemer Bueno and the Gente de Zona duo launched the song Patria y Vida (Homeland and Life) three months ago , which has become an anthem and slogan in protests against the Government.

On April 4 on Damas Street, in Old Havana, the police tried to arrest Osorbo, but the neighbors helped him avoid arrest. The handcuffs hanging from the artist’s wrist became a symbol of the unusual protest.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuba: Another Harvest Lost: ‘Take Pictures of the Rotten Mangoes to Show the Evidence’ to the Government Company

Hundreds of boxes of mangoes were left in the fields in Camagüey in the current harvest of 2021. (Adelante)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 June 2021 — “We would have filled a cart (…) to go out [in the streets] and sell it, even in the nearby neighborhoods, but we do not have the authorization,” the mango producer Ricardo Montaña Téllez complained on Monday, talking about his 130 boxes of fruit that was rotting without the state company Acopio nor the municipal government of Camagüey doing anything to collect the harvest.

This is another year in which mango production in Cuba turns into days of anguish and disappointment for the farmers. This time the producers who run the UBPC (Basic Unit of Cooperative Production) Farms #12 and #17, knocked on all possible doors, but to no avail.

After the rains of the last days of May, the ripening of the mangos on the province’s farms accelerated, according to what the farmers told the local newspaper Adelante. In the case of the local UBPC, they had a contract with the municipal Acopio for a current delivery of 278 tons, which was going to be destined for the industry. continue reading

Agustín Garrido Ramos took advantage of the early ripening and together with his family picked the mangoes on Farm 17, but the days passed and neither the UBPC directors nor Acopio did anything to collect the harvest. The only response that the farmer heard, after calls and negotiations, was: “Separate out the rotting mangoes and measure it in boxes and take photos of it, so when Acopio comes to collect it, the evidence is available.”

Ten days later, on June 7, the official entities collected part of the merchandise, by which time 320 boxes (12,800 pounds) had gone bad. “I gave up on harvesting it. To have it piled up here and see how it is rotting, I just leave it. It hurts to see how food is lost and we can’t even give it away,” complains Garrido Ramos.

The same happened with the Montaña Téllez harvest on Farm 12. Of the 165 boxes that he was able to collect, only 35 could be used, the rest were lost.

Elio Veny Martínez González, president of the local UBPC, told the local newspaper that they were going to “make a demand” to the State to pay them the money they lost and to ensure that the workers would not remain unpaid.

The company Conservas de Vegetales de Camagüey cannot process all the mango grown in the territory. (Adelante)

“A breakdown at the El Mambí canning factory coincided with the days of early ripening and there was no destination for the fruit we had already harvested. We told Acopio and the provincial government but there was no solution. This product is very expensive in the establishments and for that reason it is offered for sale slowly,” explains Martínez González.

According to the local newspaper, the company Conservas de Vegetales de Camagüey cannot process all the mango production in the territory due to limited industrial capacity, lack of packaging and repeated breakdowns in one of the main factories, El Mambí, where the machinery they are working with is 50 years old.

Two other plants were only able to process “400 tons, more than the 100 planned” in May, and for this month they will exceed “800, of the estimated 200,” according to the directors of Conservas de Vegetales.

The farmers of the affected UBPC, after much fighting, requested a permit from the Council of the Administration of the municipality to sell 90 boxes in the Puerto Príncipe and La Belén districts, “but a week after having the mango harvested,” says Martínez González.

For his part, Orestes Martínez Hernández, who is in charge of the harvest in the production unit, says that Acopio “does not have the capacity to move everything.” However, he insists: “We are in the best disposition to work the shifts that are necessary and until whatever hour, so that it is not lost.”

Added to this problem with transportation is that, coincidentally, this UBPC, which owns one of the 32 mini-industries in the province subordinate to the Ministry of Agriculture with the capacity to process 200 quintals (1 quintal = 33 acres) a day, cannot do so due to the lack of packaging.

The loss of tons of mango coincides with a rise in its price in markets throughout the island, where the fruit sells for between 6 and 15 pesos a pound, depending on its quality. Despite the increase in wages as of January this year, many retirees and low-income people cannot afford one of the most emblematic fruits of the Cuban countryside.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Short on Dollars, Cadeca Will Now Process Tax Collection and Retiree Payments

People waiting in line outside a Cadeca currency exchange bureau. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 June 2021 — Residents of Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood had been wondering why Cadeca, the state-run currency exchange agency, would be opening a new office in their area. They got their answer this weekend: the company will now be processing taxes and payments to retirees.

“All of us were surprised they would open an office here given the reduction in currency exchanges, especially now that they won’t be accepting dollars,” said one Plaza of the Revolution resident who lives near the corner of Tulipan and Estancia streets, where the office will be located.

A Cadeca employee told 14ymedio that, although the office is not yet operational, it will be processing payments to retirees, handling procedures for the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) and servicing customers with bank debit cards who prefer not to withdraw their cash from an ATM. continue reading

This information echoes a statement the president of Cadeca, Joaquin Alonso Vazquez, made on Sunday to the official press, in which he said the company was diversifying its retail services after the government announced that customers would no longer be allowed to deposit U.S. banknotes in their accounts.

Alonso Vazquez indicated that, although he foresees a shift in the retail sector to other foreign currencies, the company was diversifying the range of services it provides. These involve “operational capabilities and alliances” with ONAT, the banking and postal systems, utility companies that provide electricity, water and mobile phone services, the credit card company Fincimex and the oil company Cuba Petroleo, “to offer their services through Cadeca offices.”

Alonso Vazquez stated that sales are high at stores that sell goods or services for Cuban pesos so the company is setting up operations, known as third-party deposits, with state-owned businesses to confirm customers’ bank accounts.

The only service he did not mention was the sale of pre-paid gasoline cards, which are currently not available in all provinces.

In late May the government suspended the operations of currency exchange bureaus at the country’s international airports, claiming it had run out of cash. Executives at Cadeca said that they had been operating within established limits despite a “significant shortage” of hard currency but had to shut down due to a “lack of liquidity” which had reached an “extremely unsustainable level.”

Only two weeks ago, on June 10, authorities announced they would temporarily stop accepting cash bank deposits in dollars, blaming tighter U.S. sanctions imposed as part of the ongoing U.S economic embargo, which prevent the country’s central bank from using dollars it collects in Cuba overseas.

Cadeca offices became an essential feature of Cuban life in the 1990s when use of the dollar became widespread throughout the country. The company opened branches in major cities, tourist destinations and neighborhoods. Their importance has diminished in recent years, however, especially with the unification of the Cuban peso (CUP) with the Cuban convertible peso (CUC), which is being taken out of circulation.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

European Union Turns Down Funding to Cuban University

Karla María Pérez González, a student who was expelled from the University of Las Villas for political reasons according to the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights. (Captura)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 11 June 2021 — On Friday the European Union announced it would not provide funding for the Central University of Las Villas after the school expelled students whom the Cuban government considers to be subversive. The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) also condemned the move on Wednesday.

“It is not a given that the EU will fund this university. The EU supports specific educational projects as part of its program of worldwide cooperation,” a spokesperson for the bloc, Peter Stano, told the Spanish news agency EFE.

This week the OCDH reported that in 2019 the EU gave three million euros to the Central University of Las Villas (UCLV), which official EU documents described as “the most repressive in Cuba.” It cited the cases of Karla Maria Perez Gonzalez, who left for Costa Rica after she was expelled from the school, and Professor Dalila Rodriguez, who was fired in April 2017. continue reading

Regarding the Cuban situation, Stano told EFE, “There is a specific program for renewable energy and efficient energy use that focuses on advancing applied research in the field of renewable energy through a consortium of Cuban universities, led in Cuba by the UCLV, linked to EU academic institutions.”

Stano, who serves the EU as spokesperson for Josep Borell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, said the funds are channeled through the Free University of Brussels, a Belgian educational center serving the Flemish community. He added that the EU is “tracking the implementation of this project through in-depth dialogue and monitoring its progress.”

In response to questions about the situation in Cuba during a debate on Tuesday in the European parliament, Borell told delegates that the EU does not provide economic cooperation funds to organizations controlled by the Cuban regime.

“We are providing 8.4 million euros to civic organizations, 7.6 million of which are managed by civil society organizations, which by definition are not part of the Cuban government,” Borell said.

He added that 800,000 euros are managed by Cuban civil society organizations “carefully selected” by the EU delegation in Havana under the condition that they serve the broader interest and act as mediators between the authorities and their citizens.

On Thursday the European Parliament approved a resolution sponsored by the European People’s Party, liberals and right-wing deputies which called for the release of Cuban political prisoners. Members also expressed regret that the island has shown little progress more than three years after entering into a political association and cooperation agreement with the EU.

Nevertheless, Borell defended the agreement in the parliamentary debate, saying it has provided a “stable framework for a ongoing political dialogue and cooperation that did not exist before” and allows the EU to “support the modernization and reform process in Cuba.”


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.