‘14ymedio’: Five Years Since That First Day

The 14ymedio newsroom, located in this building in Havana, has been home to a great deal of work, nerves and time pressures these last five years.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 21 May 2019 – Today is 14ymedio’s birthday. This “informational creature” celebrates its five years of existence between the challenges that remain to be achieved and the satisfaction of having come this far. For any publication to survive five years is a test of maturity, but in the case of Cuba, where the independent media are prohibited and censored, it is a true act of boldness and persistence.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since that May 21, 2014. The dawns became intense, coffee cups accumulated on the tables of our newsroom in Havana, the stories to be told multiplied and, more than once, our journalistic work led to one of the reporters on our team behind the bars of a dungeon, arbitrarily detained.

In this time we, too, have changed. The reports, notes and interviews we did left a mark on the entire editorial board. We said goodbye to some colleagues who emigrated, we tried to console others who decided not to continue publishing for fear of reprisals, and we welcomed new faces. We broke several forecasts that predicted barely a few months of existence, and convinced some skeptics that what we have is information, good journalism and the press.

At the beginning all our editorial communications were made through the Nauta email system, there were no Wi-Fi zones in parks and squares, the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana had not begun, cruise ships had not yet docked in Cuban ports, and Fidel Castro continued to publish his delirious ‘Reflections’ in the official press.

In this time, we also extended to other platforms and now part of our content is disseminated through instant messaging such as WhatsApp and Telegram. We inaugurated an information podcast, and we maintain a weekly e-mail newsletter, routinely issue a PDF of the week’s news every Friday, engage in numerous collaborations with various media, and opened a membership program.

There was no shortage of tough days. Moments when it seemed like we were not going to make it. There are still many of those, but every comment left by a reader, a word of encouragement that we hear in the streets or from social networks, someone who manages to make their story visible through our pages and solve their problem, are the greatest stimuli to continue.

The pillars that sustain us remain solid: to perform better journalism every day and to maintain our economic independence, without receiving a penny from governments, parties or groups in power. Our objective is intact. Like the dinosaur in Augusto Monterroso’s story*, we want Cuba to embark on the path of democratic change and for 14ymedio to be there, accompanying citizens with information.

*Translator’s note: Monterroso’s story, in its entirety, reads: “When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Billboards Versus Laws

In some corners of Havana a sports-inspired billboard criticizes the Helms-Burton Act. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 16 April 2019 — As in the old days of the most heated ideological battles, the Cuban regime has again called on the propaganda machinery to use it against the activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.

But Cuba is not experiencing a time of many resources, and with the state coffers all but empty, the authorities have not been able to much more than criticize the posture of the United States in the media and on billboards.

The era of massive demosntrations filling the “Anti-Imperialist Tribune” in front of the United States Embassy along the coast, and canceling classes so that the students could participate in these acts of revolutionary reaffirmation seems to have remained in the past. Nor are there resources to distribute thousands of T-shirts with patriotic slogans or mockeries of the US president.

The ideological scaffolding seems to be in the doldrums, at least in terms of resources.

In some corners of Havana a sports-inspired billboards criticizes the claims against companies that engaged in business with properties confiscated after Fidel Castro’s arrival inn power. With dull colors and the final letters almost incomplete, the poster is a clear symbol of the times, a time when even the prioritized ideological battle faces economic hardships.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Police Search for Person Responsible for LGBTI March

A soldier organizes the repression while dozens of activists film the unprecedented LGBTI march on Saturday in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 May 2019 — The Cuban Police are looking for the person responsible for the LGBTI march last Saturday, which has been a real headache to the authorities. If the government sponsored Cuban National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex) thought that their call for a boycott of the march would help to close ranks with officialdom, the force used against protesters who claimed diversity in a festive atmosphere has served to put the international media focus on an authority that represses homosexuals.

Now, with the disaster consummated, the Plaza of the Revolution tries to locate some kind of leader who came up with the idea of marching as an alternative to the cancelled Conga Against Homophobia. This Thursday, the designer and LGBT activist, Roberto Ramos Mori, was arrested at the entrance to his workplace in Old Havana, the gallery workshop La Marca, by agents of the State Security.

Around 5:30 in the afternoon, a man who did not identify himself, handcuffed Ramos and put him in a vehicle in the presence of his colleagues after warning him: “You calm down.” continue reading

Ramos was detained for approximately four hours, according to what he told 14ymedio. “They took me to the Zanja Police Station, nothing happened in the car, there was no violence. At the station they made me wait a tremendous amount of time for the investigator, who did not arrive,” he says. The designer is one of those activists of the LGBTI community who participated in the march last week in Prado.

“They are looking for the manager [of the 11 May March],” he says. The activist explains that, when the investigator arrived at the station, they took him to an interrogation room, where the officer told him: “I know it was you who organized the march.” “I was there but I did not organize anything,” Ramos replied.

The designer maintains that he was “aware that he was breaking the law” when he decided to attend the independent demonstration, but that “there are times when one has to say it’s time.”

During the interrogation they wanted to know his relationship with other people who participated in the march but he didn’t know them. “They asked me if I knew Oscar Casanella or Urquiola, but I have nothing to do with them, my friends are a bunch of tattoo geeks,” he says. He adds that if he knew about Urquiola it is “because of everything that happened to him,” recently.

“I did not like that they did not officially cite me, I did not like that they went to La Marca, my place of work, and they handcuffed me and took me in a private car in front of my colleagues who did not understand what was happening,” denounces Ramos.

In fact, before taking him off in handcuffs, one of the officers, dressed in civilian clothes, entered La Marca asking Ramos to accompany him to show him some designs because he wanted to get a tattoo. When he refused to do it the man asked him to bring him the drawings and insisted on dealing only with him in the car. Finally, he took him off in handcuffs.

Artists and work colleagues mobilized on the networks in solidarity with the designer and demanded his release.

The LGBTI march last Saturday was suppressed by the forces of State Security and the police working jointly after it marched successfully from Central Park to Prado and the Malecón. Since the march had been called via social networks, the authorities were looking for a person responsible for the initiative, but activists and supporters insist that it was something spontaneous and without leaders.

The director of the National Center for Sexual Education, Mariela Castro Espin, Raul Castro’s daughter, described those who promoted the march as “lackeys of mercenary activism” and said that everything had been organized from Miami and Matanzas, but she was not able to show a single proof of her accusation.

Roberto Ramos Mori, 44, as well as an activist, is well known in the world of culture for his creative work. He graduated in Industrial Design from the Higher Institute of Design in the specialty of clothing. He worked as a designer at the El Público Theater Company and is coordinator at La Marca studio, where he also organizes concerts and community activities.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Scene of the Disaster

The place where the plane crashed on 18 May 2018 (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 May 2019 — Charred tree trunks and an abandoned hut is the landscape that marks the site where, a year ago, 112 people lost their lives as a result of the fall of flight DMJ-972, on its way to the province of Holguín.

“Once again life can be born when in dreams and fire we were surprised by death…” reads one of the walls. Just below, the remains of what seems to have been a floral offering, and all around a disturbing silence that is only interrupted by the fearsome roar of another plane that has just taken off from the nearby airport.

To get here I followed the instructions of a private taxi driver took the family of one of the deceased to the place: “If you go on the P12 bus to Santiago de las Vegas, you will get off at Eduardo Garcia high school (two stops before the Mulgoba station.) Walk about 300 meters to where there is a fork and turn left where the Civil Aviation Services company (Servac) is. When you get to the train line, turn left and walk along it and there, at about 30 meters, you will see everything.” continue reading

A very high, burnt out coconut tree is the first thing you see when you get to the place. (14ymedio)

A very high burnt out coconut tree is the first thing you notice. Between the train line and the ground where the impact occurred there is a ditch. A singed bottle of sunscreen suggests that they did not pick up everything. It is the same scene from those dramatic videos uploaded to social networks. I close my eyes and can see a stretcher carried by four men with a green sheet covering a body with the leg hanging down, as in Huidobro’s verse: “…hypnotizes reality like the wheel that keeps turning after the catastrophe.”

The few neighbors do not want to comment. “This was filled with journalists and everyone asked the same thing,” says a woman who is taking her granddaughter to school. “The truth is, I do not even want to remember, I think about the dead and the crying of their relatives, nobody is prepared for that.”

On my way back, I talk to an employee of the Servac Company. In order not to look like a journalist, and to start the conversation, I ask him if there are any positions open for custodians and the man responds. “Do you remember the plane that fell a year ago? Well, look, since then they have already kicked out about a hundred people. And not because they were to blame for something, but because there were no more flights so they didn’t need their work… How would there be jobs?!”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Tragic Crash on Havana’s Malecon Leaves Three Dead and Dozens Injured

A wounded man is taken to the hospital after a tragic crash on Havana’s Malecón. (Ricardo Gómez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 May 2019 — In the late night hours of Sunday mornng three people died and 21 were injured in Havana after being run over by a classic American car, known on the island as an “almendrone*”, veered off the road and  and climbed the sidewalk in the area of 23rd Street and the Malecón, a busy area during the early hours on weekends.

The director of Calixto García hospital, Edilberto González, explained that five of the injured people admitted remain in serious condition, four of them were operated on and a young woman is serious to critical. Three minors were referred to the Juan Manuel Márquez Pediatric Hospital.

So far, the names of three of the deceased have been announced: Ulises Canales López, Franklin Baket Hernández (52 years old and a resident in Guantanamo) and Osmany González Claro, 45 years old and residing in Guanabacoa, Havana. continue reading

In addition, he reported that among the injured people treated in that hospital are two foreigners with orthopedic injuries — whose identities and nationalities were not detailed in the report.

The specialist indicated that most of the injuries of the patients injured in by the crash were in the limbs, skull and trauma in the abdomen. The causes of the crash are being investigated by the authorities.

One of the witnesses of the crash told 14ymedio that “an American car lost its brakes, climbed the sidewalk and then continued along the wall, killing people.”

“It was horrible,” said the woman, still shocked by the crash. In the social networks videos and photographs are circulated where bodies can be seen on the ground with people shouting shortly after the events, while the police tried to cordon off the area.

This massive crash is one more in a series of crashes in Cuba. In 2018, 10,070 crashes were recorded in Cuba, leaving 683 dead and 7,730 injured, with a frequency of one every 52 minutes, according to data from the National Road Safety Commission.

The country has a high rate of traffic crashes attributed, among other factors, to the advanced age of the fleet (most of the vehicles in circulation are more than 20 years old and many more than 60 years old) and the precarious vehicle maintenance that is frequently carried out in an makeshift way.

During the mandatory inspections carried out in 2018, “technical deficiencies” were detected in 44% of the cars tested (63,966), mainly due to the braking system, steering and lights.

In addition, more than 36,000 vehicle circulation permits were withdrawn due to lact of updated technical checks.

Among the main causes of crashes, the National Road Safety Commission identifies improper overtaking, not paying attention to the control of the car, violation of the right of way, speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol and technical defects.

*Translator’s note: The classic American cars still common in Cuba are nicknamed “almendrones” in reference to their “almond” shape.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

"Good Morning to My Customers"

The bus ticket agency located at 41st and 30th streets in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 May 2019 — Maybe because the National Bus Ticket Agency on 41st street at the corner of 30th in Havana’s Playa municipality is next to a theater, you might think that what happens every day at 8 o’clock in the morning is a performance, designed to mock of several things at the same time: the bureaucracy, the authoritarianism and especially the disparagement on anyone calling themselves a customer, but who does not happen to be a user, more or less subsidized.

The truth is that it is a ritual that takes place in the ticket reservation offices of the capital whose purpose is to guide the aspiring passengers to learn about their dwindling rights and their overwhelming obligations.

His arrival on the stage happens with punctuality. Dressed soberly, perfectly shaved and pronouncing all the letters of all the words, the actor, that is the second administrator of the Agency, is placed in  corner protected from the inclement sun which, at 8 o’clock in the morning attacks the facade of the building at an almost horizontal angle. A discreet earring in his left ear gives him an air of tolerant and understanding person. continue reading

He utters the same phrase in a low voice every morning. “Good morning to my customers” and he pauses, often rehearsed, because he knows that those who have remained at the edge of the tumult can not hear him and as everyone wants to receive their “clear directions” he manages to divide his audience into two parts, on the one side the undisciplined who do not shut up and the obedient ones who demand silence.

His customers have spent most of the night in a line with the intention of having a place that allows them to get a ticket to another province for the desired date. Some clever people have arrived even earlier and are dedicated to selling their places in the line to the unsuspecting who appeared at the time of opening.

“Good morning to my customers,” he repeats, almost condescending and then informs them that today is Saturday and consequently the Agency concludes its work at eleven-thirty in the morning.

“Our jobs is to sell the tickets for trips between today and August 15, and I speak of the outward trips that are sold 90 days in advance, because as you know, the returns are sold 105 days in advance, that is, from today until August 30.”

Every time he says “from today” he knows that he is stating a formality because in real life those who have spent the early morning waiting at the office have come to buy a ticket for August 15th and returning by the 30th. Because everyone knows that it would be a miracle if there were any tickets left for any of the days before that, much less for today or tomorrow.

An employee of the ticket agency details the intricate details, one by one, to buy a ticket. (14ymedio)

Then he says something that gives hope to those present: “As you know on Saturday we sell the same dates as on Friday, so yesterday we were also offering for the same days as today, and today we will sell what was left from yesterday… if there was anything left “

Undoubtedly, this man is a professional communicator and knows that he must offer certain warnings, for example, he explains to his clients that when they speak of one-way tickets, they refer to those leaving Havana and that those for a Return are those that come from other provinces ending in the capital.

He is respectful when he says “when you go to the ticket office you must have enough money to pay for the ticket.” He adds that they must pay in national currency because the CUC (Cuban convertible peso) is not accepted here and that if they are short a peso they can not buy the desired ticket.

From time to time he is silent and glares at those who have dared to interrupt him, but he does not get upset, he just recommends that they listen to him because when they are in front of the window it will be too late.

He feels it necessary to indicate to those who listen to him that when they talk to the clerk at the ticket office, they should do so through the hole in the glass and that when they tell the date they should say it with numbers, first the day and then the month. To avoid regrettable confusions. It specifies that June is month 6, July is month 7 and August is month 8.

When he thinks he has said almost everything, the person in charge of informing the clients makes it known that the priorities or privileges in the line are duly regulated.

“In the first place the physically disabled, with their corresponding identification (physical handicap card), those who only come to reinstate their passage because they changed their trip, employees and inmates showing their pass.

Aware of the sensibility sparked by a woman with a babe-in-arms or a pregnant one, he clarifies that the Agency does not include these among the priorities and that is “a matter of the line.” Before the innocent and surprised spectators he confesses: “Some pregnant women or women with babies in their arms come here and buy tickets for the whole family, but not for themselves.”

Finally the diligent employee makes it known that only 4 seats are sold in each car and that if someone has paid money to a “colero” to stand in line for them, they should know that this does not guarantee that they will get a ticket.

Before saying goodbye, he gladly offers to answer any question, which he does with kindness and knowledge.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

142 Congolese Students Who Protested in Havana Sent Home

The police broke into the university campus of the Salvador Allende School of Medicine in Havana to end the protest. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 May 2019 — This Wednesday afternoon, 142 Congolese students who protested in Havana for the non-payment of their scholarships were repatriated. The police took the young people to the José Martí International Airport in paddy wagons, some of them belonging to the Santiago de las Vegas police station, 14ymedio was able to confirm.

The students were moved at the end of April to the Machurrucutu Hotel, located in the Bauta municipality of the province of Artemisa. The place has traditionally been used to house and train Cuban doctors who go on a mission to Venezuela because of its proximity to the airport in Havana.

“We are heavily guarded as if we were prisoners, they do not let us leave or allow anyone to visit us,” one of the youths told this newspaper. “The situation is very oppressive and they treat us as if we were murderers when all we were doing was demanding our rights.” continue reading

From the hotel, the young people were taken to the airport without being able to say goodbye to theircolleagues who remained in Cuba. “We’re leaving with what we’re wearing because they did not allow us to pick up our belongings or say goodbye to our friends,” added the source, who preferred anonymity.

At the airport, an immigration service was set up in front of the airplane ladder to avoid having contact with the rest of the passengers who waited in the terminal.

The Cuban official press also reported the transfer and stated that “66 students who had violently demanded late fees in their scholarships before the Embassy of the Congo in Havana” are on the list of those expelled.

“These students crossed the red line, showed an unpleasant behavior, incuding on social networks and we saw one of them fight with a Cuban policeman,” added Jean-Claude Gakosso, Congolese Foreign Minister.

“The Cuban authorities no longer want them in their territory,” he added during a meeting on Tuesday with the parents of these students.

The cause of the repatriation of the other 76 students is described as “having registered a succession of failures (academic), both in Medicine and in learning the official language of Cuba (Spanish),” explained Bruno Jean-Richard Itua, Minister of Higher Education of the African country.

Gakosso was recently in Havana to talk with the Cuban authorities about the crisis triggered by the students’ protest, an event of great repercussion on national public opinion and in some cases international.

In early April, the protest organized by this group of medical students was repressed by a strong deployment of the National Revolutionary Police along with special troops and officers of the Ministry of the Interior (Minint). The Congolese demanded the payment of their scholarships that had been delayed over 27 months and better conditions in the university residences.

The Congolese students began with a protest strike of not attending class, to which the authorities reacted with surveillance in the student residences. Finally, the operation was moved to the campus of the Salvador Allende school in the Altahabana district of Boyeros municipality.

The students recorded images that they spread through social networks in which they showed riot police running towards the protest area, previously cordoned off by a group of uniformed men. A police officer came to point a gun at two students, one of whom assaulted another of the agents while he was arrested.

The Ministry of Public Health issued a note hours later in the official press explaining that the “incidents” caused by the Congolese students due to the “difficulties faced by the Ministry of Higher Education in their country (…) to pay their stipend “became violent” yesterday, which required police intervention. The note highlighted that “indiscipline will not be allowed and the appropriate measures will be adopted.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

IAPA Sees No Reason to Celebrate International Press Freedom Day

Mauren Barriga and Leonardo Muñoz, and the Spaniard Gonzalo Domínguez. The three journalists were arrested in Caracas in 2019. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 May 2019 — The president of the Inter-American Press Association, María Elvira Domínguez, has broadcast a message for World Press Freedom Day in which she says that it is not a day “to celebrate in our Americas” where the murder of journalists, arrests and censorship continue to restrict the work of informing.

“We can not celebrate when the authoritarian regimes of Daniel Ortega, Nicolás Maduro and Miguel Díaz-Canel repress, censure freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the right of citizens to freedom of assembly and to demonstrate peacefully,” the director of the Colombian newspaper El País also emphasized.

Dominguez remembers journalists Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda, who “are still in jail in Nicaragua without due process” and also the alarming figures of reporters who lost their lives in the region. “Since May 2018, 26 journalists were killed in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras and the United States, crimes perpetrated by corrupt officials, organized crime gangs and criminals who wanted to silence their complaints,” he adds. continue reading

“Nor can we have peace of mind when in countries like Mexico the system of protection and security of journalists has failed and is inefficient, we can not be satisfied when the majority of crimes against journalists occur in total impunity,” laments the president of the IAPA.

As an additional concern, Dominguez notes the existence of “stigmatization campaigns carried out by democratic leaders that seek to reduce the credibility of the press to govern with greater comfort, as has been happening in Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and the United States.”

In these circumstances it is impossible, says the journalist, to have “peace when freedom of the press and expression are besieged by violent discussions that occur in social networks, as well as polarization.” In his text, he denounces “the tendentious dissemination of information that seeks to twist elections through false news disseminated by battalions of bots and cybermilitants.”

In the midst of the turbulent situation in Venezuela, the president of the IAPA regrets that official censorship disrespects the right of Venezuelans to access information through any media and platform available, while the Nicaraguan regime “has leveled, closed and confiscated media and as a result of official harassment more than 60 journalists sought refuge in other countries.”

Canada also came in for criticism on this day of Freedom of the Press. Dominguez says that in that country “there is still a tendency to persecute journalists to reveal their sources.” Meanwhile, in nations such as Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica “bills are promoted that would affect the practice of journalism” and in Argentina “the right to privacy is applied in a discriminatory manner.” For its part, in Bolivia “the media is economically suffocated” and in Peru “public access to government information is restricted” and “opinion is criminalized” as in many other countries of the Americas.

World Press Freedom Day was established in commemoration of the Windhoek Declaration, a document that contains principles on the defense of freedom of the press, drafted in 1991 during a meeting of African journalists promoted by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO).

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

"The Fridges Are on Vacation": The Obsessive Search for Meat Products in Cuba

In the larger markets like Carlos III meat supplies arrive more frequently, but the lines are long and contentious. “There is some kind of scuffle hear every day when they put out the chicken and sausages,” says one of the guards. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 25 April 2019 — “Is there meat?” asks a customer outside a market in Havana. “No, the refrigerators are still on vacation,” the employee, who has heard the same question a dozen times in the last hour, says ironically. In the midst of the famine of food supplies, the first to disappear from the shelves have been all those of animal origin.

Cubans have a long and painful obsession with flesh. During the crisis of the ’90s they tried to recreate it with other products, some of which weren’t even food. Today, in the midst of the shortages of chicken, pork and sausages that currently affects the whole island, the effort is being repeated, with an endless coming and going to the stores and markets.

“I got up at four in the morning to look for pork but when I arrived at the counter nothing but butter and orejas were left,” Lala Garcia tells 14ymedio. Garcia is a neighbor of the Youth Labor Market (EJT) on 17th Street in Havana’s El Vedado neighborhood, who had to be satisfied “with some chicken bouillon cubes to make some croquettes.” continue reading

Garcia inherited the recipe from an aunt who made it frequently during the Special Period: “You only need old bread, an egg, a little nutmeg and two small bouillon cubes to make up to 20 croquettes,” she explains proudly. “That’s the closest thing to a protein [of animal origin] that we will eat this week in my house.”

The crisis of the ’90s led to a “multiplication of substitute products and a decrease in the quality of products in general and protein in particular”, including “fricandel (sausage based on fishmeal) or minced meat that is textured or enriched (with soy flour and meat scraps),” according to a study by anthropologist Margalida Mulet Pascual.

History repeats itself for many, like Virgilio Fuentes, 78, who says he was lucky because he managed to get a pack of ten hot dogs in a store in convertible pesos. “With this I have my grandson’s food for several days,” he tells this newspaper. “One day I prepare two dogs in sauce, another I grate them and make a Chinese sauce (soy) and the third day  I slice and fry them on both sides.”

Fuentes was a teacher at a secondary school when the Soviet Union imploded and the island lost the huge subsidy that came to it from the Eastern European socialist camp. “I learned to make steak with the white part of the grapefruit, to prepare a good forcemeat with wheat flour or a plate of shredded “beef” from shredded banana peel.”

The retiree regrets that now there is less and less supply in the butcher shops and lists some products that have also been disappearing, such as “turkey hash, hamburgers and even the cans of spam, which solved a lot of problems because they can be prepared in various ways.” Now “only the cans of sardines are left but they are very expensive, at 2 CUC each (Cuban convertible pesos – roughly worth $1 each), and I have a pension of 300 CUP (Cuban pesos) (about 12 CUC)” per month.

The refrigerators in most stores are empty. (14ymedio)

A study carried out in 2017 by the Ministry of Agriculture and the United Nations Program for Development determined that “in Cuba there is an unmet demand for animal protein for feeding the population.” This dissatisfaction becomes more evident in the case of beef,” because “the consumption of this product has been deeply rooted in the food culture of the country and is the product that has suffered the most from the effects of the crisis.”

According to figures offered in the study, the amount of beef that each Cuban eats each year barely reaches 7.3 pounds, far from the 19 pounds consumed in the 1980s when the product was imported at very preferential prices from the countries belonging to the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CAME) of which the Island was also a member.

Although recent studies confirm that the consumption of animal protein is not necessary for proper health, beef has become a recurring dream for many Cubans who see it as an unattainable delicacy.

“The last time I could eat a beef steak was at an all-inclusive hotel in Varadero, when my brother who lives in Miami came and invited the whole family,” recalls Osmani, a 30-year-old who was born just when the Special Period crisis began.

“Every time I meet with my friends we end up talking about food, and especially meat, roasts, grills and chops,” he says with a smile. “We all end up salivating, and then the problem comes because we have to go back to the house and face a plate of rice with beans or maybe a croquettes of ’mystery meat’,” he says.

Among the reasons that Osmani yearns to emigrate outside the Island is just being able to eat meat more frequently. “I want to fulfill the old dream of one day eating breakfast with meat, eating meat at lunch and dinner with meat,” he says and touches one of his eye teeth. “I have to use this which nature gave me, because at the rhythm I eat here, they will atrophy on me.”

At the end of last year, the authorities announced that they were trying to stop the fall in pig production but the lack of liquidity has prevented buying the animal feed necessary for raising pigs abroad. In Candelaria, Artemisa, a town that has traditionally been dedicated to farming and raising pigs, many producers have had to sell their animals when they are just a few weeks old because they do not have feed to keep them.

“When the sow gave birth we had no food to give the piglets so we had to sell them when they were very small and also slaughter the mother,” Onelio Suarez tells 14ymedio. Suarez is a producer who insists he had twenty pigs in fattening barely two years ago. “Recovering will cost me a year,” he says.

“Even if we get a lot of feed for the pigs, the producers here need at least a year to recover the cycle of births and fattening that has been severed,” he says. “That’s why the cost of pork has exploded everywhere and will continue to rise,” he says.

In several agricultural markets in Havana the price of a pound of boneless pork has reached 60 CUP, the salary of two days of a professional. “As there is not much frozen chicken in the shopping centers there is an even greater demand for pork and that has complicated the situation much more,” says Suarez. “This has been going on for a while and the production is not going to meet the demand.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

500th Anniversary of the City of Havana

Fountain of the Indian Woman, a symbol of Havana

Rebeca Monzo, 13 May 2019 — As its 500th anniversary approaches, the City of St. Christopher of Havana has been named a “wonder city.”*

Unfortunately, to date, very few reconstruction projects are being carried out to mark the anniversary. Over the past sixty years the city has not been adequately maintained or cleaned. As a result, many architecturally significant buildings have been lost while others are in a total state of decrepitude.

Waste and refuse continue to pile up in every neighborhood of the city despite the fact that Japan recently donated a hundred garbage trucks to Cuba. So far, more than twenty of them have been received, with the rest scheduled to arrive sometime this year. But they are barely visible because, apparently, they have been idled and garbage collection has been paralyzed due to the gasoline shortage.

To make matters worse, though thousands of streets and sidewalks are in a state of complete disrepair, very few have been fixed. Bulbs in public street lamps have been replaced with LEDs but the installation was not done properly. Instead of burying the wires underground, as was done on major thoroughfares such as Linea Street and Avenue 26 in Nuevo Vedado, they have been left exposed like clothes lines. They hang from post to post, or from socket to socket, on poles that been left leaning or that are in poor condition.

Another sensitive issue at the moment is the scarcity of basic foodstuffs as well as the high prices charged for them. People are forced to wait in incessantly long lines for food and cleaning products to arrive.

How is it then possible for official media outlets (print and digital, radio and television) to talk about and promote a grand celebration of the 500th anniversary of a city where the population is so adversely affected.

Concerts, culture clubs, musical events and other activities are planned to celebrate, with song and stridency, an anniversary that has not brought people cleanliness, order, solvency or economic stability.

Author’s addendum: In Havana there are 169 impoverished neighborhoods, more than 1,000 barracks and tenements and 696 buildings in critical condition.

*Translator’s note: The designation was awarded by the Swiss-based New7­Wonders Foundation

Cuba, Sun Tourism and… Problems

The Spanish hotel company Meliá has 32 hotels operating in the archipelago, 7 under construction and some 15,000 rooms. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Maite Rico, Madrid, 23 April 2019 — Shocking to the Spanish business community. Especially the hotel sector. And more specifically in two of the big ones, Meliá and Iberostar. The United States has opened the door for its citizens to file court claims over properties confiscated in Cuba since the 1959 Revolution. Since the majority of the Cuban exile lives in the United States, what is coming is a tsunami of demands: the most conservative calculations speak of 75,000.

And what does that have to do with the hotel operators? Well, a dozen of them exploit 77 establishments in Cuba (51.2% of the entire hotel infrastructure of the Island) and it would be coincidence if none of the land they are built on came from the pillage.

Donal Trump did not pull this measure out from under his toupee. It is included in the Helms-Burton Act, approved by the Bill Clinton Administration in 1996 after the Cuban Air Force shot down two planes belonging to Brothers to the Rescue, an organization that helped Cuban rafters in the Florida Straits. continue reading

Helms-Burton toughened the trade embargo and included two thorny titles related to the confiscated properties: Title 3, which allows claims in the courts, and Title 4, which restricts the entry into the US of people who have kept those properties or to do business with them. The European Union screamed to high heaven before what it considered an extraterritorial application of restrictive measures, and the successive tenants of the White House left those two chapters in the freezer to keep the peace.

But Trump no. Trump, or rather, his advisors, have lost patience with the Cuban dictatorship, the brain-in-the-shadows of what is happening in Venezuela. After the disappearance of the USSR, the Castro regime has remained afloat in the last two decades thanks to the oil sent by Venezuela, and is not willing to allow that to change. That is why Washington has decided to tighten the screws by imposing restrictions on travel to Cuba, limiting the sending of remittances and activating those two titles of the Helms-Burton Act that so frighten the companies that have invested in the Island.

The Meliá chain has rushed to insist that it “operates legitimately in Cuba” and that “it does not own property that could be of potential claim after its expropriation in the 1960s.” Its role, it adds, is that of “mere hotel managers.”

It is true that the Cuban State is the formal owner of the facilities, and that Spanish businessmen manage them through contracts or as part of joint-venture companies (the majority controlled by the Cuban Armed Forces). But hoteliers can not wield the “I just sign in the guests”. Because, in fact, they have taken advantage of those properties to make big profits. Above all, Meliá and Iberostar, which today account for 27 and 19 hotels, respectively, 70% of the establishments in the hands of Spanish capital.

They knew from the first moment (and has already been going on for three decades) that legal problems would arise sooner or later, and they took a risk. Many others did not. But they did. They overcame their scruples and opened hotels subject to Castro’s apartheid: all the guests were welcome except Cubans, who could not stay. And thus it was until 2008, when Raúl Castro repealed the restriction, smelling the dollars of the Cubans in Miami.

The package also included the exploitation of workers, deprived of union rights and most of their salary, through the cheating exchange of currency: foreign companies pay the State salaries in dollars, and the employee receives them in local currency and at a considerably diminished share (the State keeps up to 95%). A hard sell in corporate social responsibility brochures.

The bold Spanish entrepreneurs have also had to go along with the ugly custom of the regime of spying on guests. Cuban Security has turned the hotels into Big Brother sets, placing microphones and cameras in the rooms and filling them with infiltrators and snitches. The archives of the State are fat with files about the intimacies of illustrious visitors, even of friends of the regime, always suspicious.

As the Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner has noted on several occasions, criminal consequences could result from all this. The battle begins now. The hoteliers hire law firms and Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, threatens fireworks. The Spanish Government and the European Union fulfill their role defending the economic interests of their companies, especially if there are legal discrepancies. But let’s not lose sight of the moral: to associate with a dictatorship has its drawbacks.

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Editor’s note: this article has been published by Vozpópuli. We reproduce it with the authorization of its author.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Fired Cuban Journalist Asks for Asylum in the US

Ramírez Pantoja minutes before leaving the Mexican border behind. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, 8 May 2019 — José Ramírez Pantoja, who was expelled in 2016 from Radio Holguín for a publication the government found uncomfortable, requested political asylum in the United States on Wednesday, convinced that “escape” is his only option.

“They left me without work or sustenance, without caring about the years I worked as a journalist just for reporting. Then came the threats, pressures, they wanted me to stop working for the independent press and at the same time they continued to censor my work in the official press,” recounts Ramírez Pantoja by telephone minutes before leaving the Mexican border behind.

The journalist made public the content of a meeting in which Karina Marrón, deputy director of the official newspaper Granma, warned of “mass protests” similar to that of the 1994 Maleconazo, should there be a repeat of the “Special Period” in Cuba. continue reading

After his dismissal from the official press, the Popular Municipal Court of Holguín ratified the judgment against him. The National Ethics Committee of the Union of Journalists of Cuba also failed to reverse it. From officialdom, voices with power inside the media accused him of wanting to move “to the Miami press” and unleashed a campaign against those who dared to defend him, like the Uruguayan journalist Fernando Ravsberg, who at that time was publishing from the Island.

“After I was expelled from my job, I had to work as a domestic servant, because the State controls all the media in Holguín, I worked for room and board. It seems that what I published about Karina Marrón bothered them so much that they persecuted me and threatened me” adds Ramírez Pantoja.

After a series of appeals and letters begging to be readmitted to the circle of official journalists, Ramírez Pantoja ventured into the independent press, writing for El Toque, OnCuba and 14ymedio , sometimes under his own name and sometimes under a pseudonym.

“When I started writing for the independent press, the threats multiplied, and State Security officials told me they had not imprisoned me in 2016 because they had not wanted to, but they told me I lived alone and anything could happen to me,” he says.

The case of Ramírez Pantoja was included in the 2016 report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The organization, based in New York, then warned of an increase on the Island of arrests, confiscations of work tools and the imposition of police warning letters to reporters.

Last year, Ramírez Pantoja was accredited by the independent magazine El Toque to cover the Gibara Film Festival. According to his story, two State Security officers cornered him and forced him into an office where they reproached him for “selling himself to imperialism for $10.”

“At that moment they told me that they knew that I worked under a pseudonym for the independent press, and that I mustn’t ’continue talking shit talking about the Revolution’ because that would have consequences. They also tried to blackmail me with alleged evidence against me and suggested that it would be better if I just remained tranquil until my sanction ends,” he denounces.

The journalist left the country on January 31 of this year after receiving a scholarship to do a PhD in History at the Autonomous University of Baja California. “I am afraid that when I finish my legal stay in Mexico, I will be returned to Cuba, that’s why I made this decision,” he adds.

The number of Cubans who appear in the southern border of the United States to request asylum continues to increase, according to the latest figures presented by the U.S. Border Patrol. In the 2018 fiscal year, 7,079 Cubans were counted, while from October 1 to February 19, 6,289 reached the border.

Last October, the US authorities granted political asylum to independent journalist Serafin Morán after he spent six months in a detention center in Pearsall, Texas. The reporter had to overcome a long judicial process to prove that his life was in danger in Cuba.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cenesex and the Political Police Coordinate to Block the LGBTI March

Members of the Metropolitan Community Church parade in La Conga against homophobia and transphobia. (Facebook / Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 May 2019 — A few hours after the National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex), led by National Assembly deputy Mariela Castro, denounced that the independent march called for this Saturday in the Central Park of Havana had been organized from Miami, some activists have suffered harassment of the Political Police to prevent them from attending the march.

“A few minutes ago a [State] security agent called my phone without identifying himself, and in an aggressive voice repeated several times that I would be imprisoned if I continued with the call to march for LGBTI rights on May 11. He told me that I was being watched,” wrote Zekie Fuentes, an LGBTI rights activist and collaborator of Cubanet and Cibercuba, on his Facebook page.

“Once again, freedom of the press, expression and conscience is intimidated or at least, that’s what they are trying to do. Once again LGBTI rights remain in a dark tunnel that does not see the light,” Fuentes added. continue reading

The call for an independent demonstration by the LGBTI movement came after Cenesex canceled the traditional Conga against Homophobia citing “tensions in the international and regional context.”

In a note published on Thursday in Cenesex’s social networks, the organizing team of the Days Against Homophobia and Transphobia attributed the cancellation of the Conga to “the aggravation of aggression against Cuba and Venezuela.”

“Those who really want to defend the institution can close ranks with the Cenesex and the organizing committee of this twelfth edition, to ensure its successful development, and not join politically biased provocations or attacks,” writes Cenesex.

“Some opposing groups,” adds Cenesex, “use what happened with the conga as a weapon against our institution, and through it, against the State, the Government and the Party.”

“We exhort them, therefore, to make these Cuban Days against Homophobia and Transphobia a space for unity, in the defense of the Revolution and socialism, as the only social project that defends the true inclusion of all people,” concludes the text.

Independent journalist Maykel González Vivero was also threatened so that he would not attend the independent demonstration on Saturday. “Everything has a purpose, Maykel, but you do not see it that way. You’ll see what will happen on Saturday,” was the Twitter response to the call made by the LGBTI reporter and activist. This is not the first time that the Cuban State Security has used false profiles in social networks to frighten journalists and activists.

On Wednesday, the government denied entry to the country to Michael Lavers, a reporter for the oldest LGBTI+ newspaper in the United States, the Washington Blade, founded in the middle of the gay liberation movement, in 1969.

This is not the first time that the Cuban LGBTI community has called for an independent march. On May 28, 2015, a march for International Gay Pride Day was organized at the Prado in Havana, by organizations such as Puertas Abiertas (Open Doors), Shui Tuix, the Foundation for LGBTI Rights, Divina Esperanza (Divine Hope) and Arcoíris Libre de Cuba (Free Rainbow of Cuba).

Many of those who answered the call to march were not able to get there. At least five people were detained for 24 hours and several of the main organizers reported that a police patrol prevented them from leaving their homes under the threat that they would be arrested.

Four years earlier, in the same place and for the first time, the Cuban authorities tolerated the celebration of such an activity, outside the scope of Cenesex. That first LGBTI Pride Walk was organized by the Cuban Observatory of LGBT rights, a non-governmental organization. The event took place under heavy police surveillance, but without serious incidents.

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Silvio Rodriguez Criticizes the Repression of the LGBTI March in Havana

In the midst of a strong police operation, 300 people paraded without incident through the central Paseo del Prado to Havana’s Malecon. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 13 May 2019 — Singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez endorsed, on Sunday, the criticism published by singer-songwriter Vicente Feliú about the “absurd, shameful, dangerously evocative repression” of the LGBTI demonstration held on Saturday in Havana by independent activists and without permission from the authorities.

“With my eyes wide open, I subscribe to every word of what Vicente said on his Facebook,” the artist wrote in the comments section of his blog, Segunda Cita, which has become for many intellectuals and citizens point of meeting and debate about the news of Cuba.

Hours earlier, Feliú had published in his account of that social network that “the absurd, embarrassing, dangerously evocative repression” of the gay march “is definitely indefensible.” continue reading

LGBTI activists and State Security agents clashed on Saturday during a demonstration called without permission after the annual gay pride march organized by the official National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), led by Mariela Castro, daughter of ex-president Raúl Castro, was cancelled.

Mariela Castro, who is a deputy to the National Assembly, wrote on Sunday on her Facebook account that the march was a ’show’ that was “supported by officials of the US embassy and covered by the foreign press.”

Castro added the above comment when reposting a comment from the Chilean activist, Víctor Hugo Robles, who said that “advances in the rights of LGBTIQ communities always have contradictions.”

Robles also said that “the images of the march of diversity in the streets of Havana this Saturday May 11, 2019 hide not only the legitimate desire for greater spaces of rights for everyone, but the staging of an orchestrated operation that seeks to question the outstanding and essential work of CENESEX.”

This is the first time in decades that a demonstration without official permission has taken place in Cuba, in an unprecedented challenge from the independent civil society to the authorities of the Island.

In the midst of a strong police presence, about 300 people paraded without incident through the central Paseo del Prado but at the end of that avenue and, when the marchers headed towards the Malecón, many policemen in uniform and plainclothes ordered the march to disperse.

The activists refused on the grounds that they did not need permission to walk around Havana and that was when clashes took place with police and State Security agents forcibly detaining between four and seven people, according to eyewitnesses. There were no official reports about the total number of people arrested.

The announcement this week that the traditional conga against homophobio would be suspended, with the justification that the country is preparing to face a serious economic crisis, caused a great deal of discomfort in the LGBTI group, which questioned why other mass activities, such as the recent May Day parade celebrating Labor Day, were carried out as usual.

Had it gone forward, the cancelled conga would have been the first one held after the approval, in April, of the new Constitution. Initial drafts of the document included a modification that opened the doors to equal marriage on the Island, but ultimately this was not included in the final text.

That issue was one of the most controversial in the popular debates on the Constitution and provoked a strong campaign against the measure by the evangelical and Catholic churches.

The LGTBI collective has been gaining visibility during the last decade in Cuba, in contrast to the first years of the Revolution when homosexuals were persecuted and sent to work camps, one of the darkest chapters in the recent history of the Island.

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"For That Price Nobody Here is Going Anywhere"

The majority of the vehicles of the state-owned company Cuba Taxi must use the meter, but their drivers hardly ever turn it on. (Nycecile)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, May 14, 2019 — The rearview mirror is too long and hides the meter that marks the price that the customer must pay at the end of the trip. Confused and disoriented, the tourist, recently arrived in Cuba, will attempt to look for those universal red numerals that increase as the vehicle goes forward, but he will not succeed. “It’s 10 CUC,” the driver will tell him tersely before he gets out.

In recent years the practice of agreeing on a price for the section traveled and not using the meter has been extended among the taxis of the Cuban state-owned sector. Unlike privately managed cars that traditionally do not have those measuring devices, the vehicles associated with the Taxis Cuba Company still have them and the regulations require that they be supplied with a meter or a visible official pricing.

However, reality is far from what the law says. In practice, the yellow cars with white roofs that offer services in convertible currency, along with the friendly Cocotaxis that make trips inside cities and the olf Russian-made Ladas that are still taking passengers in national currency, hardly ever use that device to establish their prices. continue reading

“They’re as likely to ask you for 8 CUC to go from Parque Central to Ciudad Deportiva as they are 10,” complained a customer who this Sunday was trying to get a bouquet of flowers to his house to celebrate Mother’s Day. “I’ve spent more than an hour looking for a taxi to take me but when I ask them if they are free and can take me, right away they tell me a price for the trip and they are not going to turn on the meter.”

A situation that, according to what 14ymedio was able to confirm, is the same at most of the taxi stands for those popularly called Panataxis, continuing the use of the official name with which they appeared when the arrival of thousands of foreign visitors for the 1991 Pan American Games in Havana obliged Cuban authorities to create a transportation system in hard currency.

“When we began, one of the premises of the service was precisely that the customer could see at all times the price [up to that point] that was being shown on the taxi meter,” recalls now Raquel Villanueva, who for more than two decades worked for the Panataxi company. “That was very important because shortly after that the circulation of the dollar was allowed and it was important that the passenger knew how much he was spending.”

“I remember that several times I had Cuban or foreign clients who would tell me a destination but would ask me to let them out before because they realized from the meter that they weren’t going to be able to pay the full price to get to the end,” she remembers. “All that was lost and relaxed until we arrived at the current situation where it’s really rare to find a taxi that regulates the price by kilometer.”

On trips within the city, these cars in have currency have prices by mileage that vary between 0.45 and 0.76 CUC per mile depending on the comfort and size of the vehicle, among which even minibuses are included. On round trip highway journeys, the fare goes from 0.45 CUC to 0.50, while an hour’s waiting time is charged at between 7 and 8 CUC.

Villanueva attributes the current situation to several factors, but especially to the new system in which these drivers are working. “Now those taxis are under a leasing concept and the driver has to take care of everything, from paying for the parking to covering repair costs,” explains the ex-employee of Taxis Cuba. “For that reason, now they are the ones who decide how they are going to charge the customer and even though it is still required for them to do it by the meter, the Government doesn’t enforce that.”

For several years state-owned taxis have been on a leasing system and the drivers must take care of repairs. (14ymedio)

An administrative resolution in 2018 confirms Villanueva’s statements. “The taxi drivers’ vehicles, owned or leased, must have a taxi meter or official price list, the Taxi badge and sign or a sticker that authorizes them to provide services and use the taxi stands that the corresponding public administration authorizes for this end,” specifies the text of the law.

Among the facilities these vehicles receive is the ability to buy tires, batteries, lubricants, and other parts in state-owned stores at preferential prices. But many drivers complain that at those places the most in-demand parts are in short supply and that the majority of the spare parts have to be acquired on the retail or black markets.

“In Havana we have fixed fares established from the airport, which go between 25 and 30 CUC, depending on the place in the city where the passenger is going,” says Ricardo Pajés, driver of one of these state taxis who drives under a leasing scheme. “That makes things a lot easier because the majority of clients who arrive already know — because they looked it up on the internet — how much they have to pay.”

Pajés believes that not using the taxi meter is not an “irregularity.” “These cars operate however the driver chooses, and I can even decide I don’t want to out to work one week,, although in any case afterwards I will have to pay the State for the lease which is almost 50 CUC daily.” For that reason, “with that much money that we have to pay daily, we are almost forced to agree on fares verbally.”

The leasing rates that each driver has to pay have been established according to demand for taxi service in the territory where they operate. The legislation determines that there is a high demand in Havana and Matanzas; medium in Pinar del Río, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, Sancti Spíritus, Ciego de Ávila, Camagüey, Holguín, and Santiago de Cuba; and low demand in Artemisa, Mayabeque, Las Tunas, Granma, Guantánamo, and the special municipality Isla de la Juventud.

“Nobody can drive one of these taxis, pay for the lease, and have enough money left if they go by what the taxi meter says,” a driver who works frequently at the taxi stand outside the Inglaterra hotel affirms categorically. “We have to be on the safe side on each trip because if we don’t make enough money we lose the lease,” he laments. The taxi driver says that he works “between 14 and 16 hours daily and often at the end of the day I haven’t made even half of the money needed to pay the State.”

Outside the Central Train Station several yellow taxis wait for customers who want to go to the beach. “From here it’s 15 CUC to Santa María and 20 CUC to go to Guanabo,” Maykel, a young man who has been leasing a state vehicle for more than a year, tells this newspaper. “It’s mostly foreigners who want to get quickly to the beach who contract this service.”

The same trip measured by the taxi meter would be below 12 for the former and 15 for the latter, recognizes the driver, but he warns, “for that price nobody is going anywhere here because we are offering comfort, air conditioning, and security, that has a price.” None of the cars waiting for a tourist has a meter visible.

“That is no longer used, it’s there but it’s as if it weren’t there. Very few customers get difficult and demand to see the meter because by now almost everyone knows how this works,” Maykel points out. “Whoever wants to see numbers can take the bus, which has a number on the outside.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.