Cuba Records its First Case of Local Transmission of COVID-19

The Cuban commercial network has again suffered shortages of products like chicken, powdered milk, cheese, yogurt, and detergent. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, EFE, Havana, March 28, 2020 — Cuban health authorities acknowledged this Friday the first case of local infection of COVID-19, which until now had only occurred stemming from foreigners or Cuban travelers arriving with the disease on the Island, according to official reports.

The Cuban Minister of Health, José Ángel Portal, reported this Friday during the television program Round Table that local contagion occurred in the “Cardenas municipality, in the Matanzas province” and came from a hotel host from Varadero.

That man was diagnosed with COVID-19 after being infected by “a group of Italian tourists,” and his case was included on the list of positives for coronavirus that was disseminated on March 21. continue reading

From this patient 53 contacts were identified, who went on to isolation and epidemiologic observation and, of whom, four family members and a friend were found positive for the novel coronavirus.

Until this Saturday, in Cuba 119 positive cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed, 2,000 people were isolated under observation, and 3 deceased, the last of whom was a 52-year-old Cuban man.

The World Health Organization (WHO) had reported Cuba as a country with local COVID-19 transmission since March 19, but it wasn’t until Friday that Ministry of Public Health authorities confirmed it.

 1/ Questions for the Ministry of Public Health Cuba

Why is the WHO reporting Cuba as a country with local transmission of COVID-19 since March 19, but it wasn’t until yesterday, Friday the 28th [sic], that Health authorities confirmed this on state media?

– @invntario March 28, 2020

On the other hand, the Cuban Government announced this Friday, March 27, 2020 measures in the economic sector and retail trade focused on prioritizing the production of food and controlling its distribution to avoid crowds in face of the complex scenario created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Vice Prime Minister, Alejandro Gil, explained during a television appearance that priority will be given to the production of food on the Island and concentrating resources on basic products, like the production of cement, medicine, cleaning products, and renewable energy sources.

“We must respond to this situation in an ordered manner, which allows taking a group of decisions to confront the pandemic with the least economic cost possible and that allows us to recover,” stressed the Minister, who also holds the office of Economy and Planning.

Gil called for looking for solutions “by our own hands,” which, in the realm of food, means promoting agricultural production with short cycle cultivation and the farming in urban spaces of products like plantains, corn, pork, rice, beans, and eggs.

The Minister said that the importation of basic products for feeding the population is “being carried out,” a line to which the country dedicates more than $2 billion per year. “A restriction in import supply is evident because countries are producing less, as well as difficulties in accessing financing sources and external credit, which demonstrates a decrease in the country’s productive levels and in foreign investment,” he said.

In recent weeks, the Island’s commerical network has again suffered from shortages in products like chicken, powdered milk, cheese, yogurt, and detergent, which has produced long lines and crowding that go against recommendations at the time of the contagious coronavirus.

Since last Tuesday the lines have begun to be regulated, keeping the proper distance of at least a meter between people. Stores must enforce the separation and it is necessary to avoid disorder, but the shortages and the popular fears have made it practically impossible to comply with those measures.

In face of the crisis, the Minister of Interior Commerce, Betsy Díaz, announced this Friday the “controlled and regulated” sale of a series of products, to avoid hoarding and resale. She specified that there are products that cannot be marketed by the “ration booklet.”

Starting April 30 there will also be distributed, in a controlled manner, to each person 10 ounces of peas and one pound of chicken — at an unsubsidized price of 20 CUP. In the case of cleaning products like washing and bathing soap, toothpaste, and bleach, those will be sold on a quarterly basis, in modules that will include a quantity of those articles according to the number of members in each nuclear family.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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Day 11 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

The Havana market in Boyeros and Camagüey usually has a short line but these days it’s exploded. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 31 March 2020 – Two hours of lining up and it was only possible to buy two of each product. This morning we had to go out looking for some food because our reserves were depleted. We decided to go to a market on the corner of Boyeros and Camagüey that usually has a short line, but we were wrong. The line went around the building. In coronavirus times the offers decrease and the lines multiply.

The police presence is striking. Uniforms are inside the market, near the cash register, at the door of the warehouse, outside the store. We are in an undeclared “state of siege.” Legislation is fuzzy in this case. Can we leave our houses or not? How much of the same product can we buy? Official voices impose certain measures but there is no clear legality to uphold or define them.

Tempers, in addition, are heated. In the line this morning, two customers nearly came to blows. A fight in Covid-19 times is rare. If before people swooped down and shouted right into each other’s faces, now they squabble from a distance, a hullabaloo that marks the space. Even the ritual of anger changes in Cuba these days. continue reading

I returned home with two cans of sardines and a package of flour. It is what it is. Tomorrow I will improvise some croquettes. The search for food, which has always had a special role in this country, now absorbs everything, concentrates everything, surpasses everything. From the time we wake up, our life revolves around getting food and putting it on our plates. There are two obsessions: surviving and feeding ourselves.

Even ideology seems to be fading. The demonstrations of political fervor that were so frequent a few weeks ago have been suspended or postponed. The May Day parade, in a country where the only union allowed is a transmission-line from the Power to workers, has also been canceled. Reinaldo says that he remembers something like that in 1970 when the 10 million ton sugar harvest was attempted. But I was not born yet.

Today we venture to make a family lunch and invite those relatives we suspect we will go weeks without seeing again. It was like saying goodbye but in advance. The table was the center that brought us back together and, of course, the coronavirus dominated the conversation. We speak of positive cases of the disease already reaching 186 in the country, according to official data, and that at least six people have lost their lives due to the pandemic.

Until a few days ago, those were people who shared a table with their family just as we did this Tuesday. They breathed, they had dreams and they loved, but it all ended abruptly. Understanding that fragility gives us a special strength to deal with all this, because you end up understanding the true human measure in the face of chance, disease and the environment.

Before sitting down to our plates, we all went through the rituals of handwashing, keeping our distance, and kisses that are now given only with the fingers or a gaze. We will be many days or weeks without seeing each other, but this Tuesday we decided that illness and shortages are not going to take away the memory of a lunch together.

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Day 10 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

Days in coronavirus time pass differently. Before we were dominated by anguish and today we are at the mercy of an anxiety multiplied. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 30 March 2020 — Mondays are always complicated. But this one dawned calm, with the city in a rare silence although the chimney of the Ñico López refinery had one of the tallest columns of smoke I can remember. The sound of the birds filled the dawn in this neighborhood where the fury of “cementing” each patio has not completely snatched the trees from us.

Days in coronavirus time pass differently. Before we were dominated by anguish and today we are at the mercy of an anxiety multiplied. The mother despairs because her son has to risk leaving the house and traveling on public transport; the entrepreneur is exposed to the danger of closing his business and not earning anything, or continuing to sell food and end up infected. The freelance journalist knows that his reporting capacity is currently being tested, but he is aware that censorship is mounting.

These are times when the worst and the best of each person come out. A close neighbor has hung a sign on his door so no one will knock on it, and he believes that hiding in his home will save him entirely. The problem is that the same neighbor depends on going out to buy the bread they sell in the rationed market every day, and actively participates in the meetings of the nucleus of the Communist Party maintained by retirees in the area. continue reading

He says he fought at the Bay of Pigs and that this virus was “created by the CIA.” He is neither an epidemiologist nor a doctor, but he is a fervent believer in what the national television news reports. Perhaps that is why, on Sunday night he went out onto his balcony to applaud the work of Cuban doctors, without knowing that the call for that ovation was something that had been forged in civil society and social networks, in tune with a similar gesture acted out days ago in Italy and Spain.

The clapping was heard loudly in our neighborhood, in honor of those Cubans who today are in hospitals facing Covid-19. A tough task in a country where official figures announce 170 confirmed cases of the disease and four deaths. Despite the context, there are always those who want to politically hijack the tribute to the doctors, but they are so ridiculous, and few, that they are drowned in the spontaneous applause.

Beyond those symbolic gestures, our lives change every day. It is not as if before we could use the adjective “normal” to define our existence, but it is that now the little that we felt safe in is gone or has changed. It is as if a building had its columns suddenly removed and the entire roof collapsed on its stunned residents.

If before, in order to define Cuba, it had to be emphasized that “without sugar there is no country,” now it is worth adding that “without the ‘weekly packet’” we could not guarantee that the nation that we knew until yesterday remained. For both skeptics and the credulous, it is worth announcing that since Monday the private store in our neighborhood that every week sold — religiously and without fail — that ubiquitous udiovisual compendium, has closed. It is not there, it’s gone… and we, thousands of addicts, are left in the lurch, literally staring at our blank screens.

In the afternoon, when the sun fell a little, I transplanted an oregano in the earth on my balcony, and a rosemary plant. “Rather dead than without spices,” I said to myself and touched my nose (for luck), that rare geography that the coronavirus has amputated for us because putting our fingers to our faces is a danger in these times.

Perhaps my militiaman neighbor, in partisan quarantine, will knock on my door in the next few days asking for some “flavor” to add to his food. I’ll be here. There are things that unite and tragedies are one of them.

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“We are Isolated But Not Protected”: The Truth About an Isolation Center in Cuba / Miriam Celaya

Dormitory at the isolation center (Author’s photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 30 March 2020 — On March 23rd, in his presentation on the Roundtable broadcast on all Cuban television channels, Cuban Prime Minister, Manuel Marrero Cruz, reported about new official measures that would deepen controls to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Island. Among them, it was established that all Cubans residing in the country, on their arrival from abroad, would be placed in solitary confinement to serve a mandatory two-week quarantine before returning to their respective homes.

In order to comply with this measure, said Marrero Cruz, all the necessary conditions had been created in centers specially designed for such purposes, to which travelers would be driven directly from the airport, under strict police control, and duly transported by State buses. Additionally, it was established that the travelers’ relatives would not have access to the airport to avoid any possible contagion and spread of the disease.

Unlike other practices whose compliance has not yet been verified in practice, the isolation and transfer to isolation centers of Cuban travelers went into effect immediately. continue reading

Magela was one of those Cubans who arrived back in Cuba on Tuesday, March 24th and was surprised by what seemed to her a true state of siege at José Martí Airport in Havana. The police deployment, health personnel and border authorities controlling each traveler, issuing orders and preventing their departure, evoked a Hollywood movie atmosphere.

“There was an air of uncertainty and fear among us” stated Magela. “I know that taking measures to prevent the disease from spreading in Cuba is necessary, but it is such an impressive situation to find all those personnel in their protective suits, and it is so strange to feel treated as someone with the bubonic plague that fear took hold of me. Deep down I felt a very strong wish to cry.”

However, Magela set out to assume the inevitable. In the end, she felt that undergoing quarantine was the safest thing for her and even her own family. It was reasonable and necessary, she told herself. And without protest, with other traveling Cubans like her as companions, she got on the bus that would take them to the isolation center.

“Thus, we entered the center on Tuesday afternoon. They told us that we were in El Cotorro, but I don’t know this place. It is a rural center, away from everything. If you look out the windows, all you see are fields.”

The first thing that surprised Magela at the isolation center was the forced proximity to the rest of the recluses. Several bunk beds were placed too close to each other, forcing promiscuity, as dangerous as it is unnecessary, especially in a facility that, according to those in charge of the place, has a capacity for 600 people.

“There are only around 200 here for now, in addition to the staff, but people crowd in the lines at the dining room because we are all hungry and sometimes meal waiting times are long. Even though they give us protective masks that we must use, there is not enough control over the distance between us. In addition, there are always people who are undisciplined or unaware of the risk.”

To make things worse, men and women share bathrooms on each floor, which further affects privacy. Magela believes that this results from the fact that “they,” the ones in charge, were filling the floors as travelers arrived. It seems that they did not take into account separating the bathrooms used by women from those used by men. It’s terrible.”

Another point that concerns Magela is that of cleanliness. “There are a lot of us, and hygiene is not as it should be. It has been talked about endlessly that hygiene is the most effective measure to combat the corona virus, right?  Well, that is not the case here. In general, everything looks clean, but when you look at the details you realize that the required hygiene is lacking. The mirrors are stained with soap and everyone’s splashes, the normal fluids of personal hygiene — hand, face, mouthwash — are poured in the sink and they do not receive a thorough cleaning. There is also no cleaning in the rooms or hallways.”

I asked one of the people in charge if they have not raised those concerns with management. “They tell us that nobody wants to come to clean because people are afraid of catching it.” Those confined there cannot clean either, since they do not have the resources and means of protection to do so.

It is true that they deliver protective masks and chlorinated solution daily, plus they also supplied the travelers with soap and toilet paper upon arrival, but Magela declares that “conditions were not set up as they should have been. I tell you that it is not the fault of the personnel assisting us, but I do believe that it was the duty of the State to protect us with the necessary means if this confinement was to take place.”

And after a brief pause, she adds: “They (the government and the authorities in charge) think that what they are giving us is more than sufficient and get upset when one asks a question or demands something. And if you protest, they label it a gusanería*. That is not the case.  We are asking about the reality we are living here and not about lies or insults. It turns out that in the end we are isolated but not protected. We are all very afraid of catching it because nobody knows who may or may not be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.”

Of course, no one has been tested to rule out contagion. For this, it is necessary to present symptoms, although this waiting threshold supposes the possibility of infecting others.

Magela says she understands the situation in the country, and the importance of this quarantine, but she is frustrated because she expected better conditions. “I think that the resources that have been invested despite the country’s shortages are useless, since the fundamental thing at the moment is true isolation and hygiene and we have neither.”

“For example, the protective masks are changed every day, but not so the sheets and towels. They tell us that these must come from a company, and we don’t know which or when. I believe that if nobody can come to do the cleaning or if there are no answers to our concerns, they are going to have to find some solution. Let the FAR (Revolutionary Armed Forces) or another organization respond”.

Here I feel compelled to remind Magela that, among the strengths of the Revolution that the high authorities of Cuba so much like to mention, are the mass organizations – CDR (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), FMC (Federation of Cuban Woman), and others – and also that vanguard of society, the PCC (Cuban Communist Party). Perhaps they should designate hygiene care in isolation centers a shock task for the communist militancy. After all, aren’t they the first line of defense fighters? Here is a good time to demonstrate their courage and spirit of sacrifice when the Homeland calls.

Despite everything, Magela does not want to be unfair. “Let me tell you that the food is not bad, considering the shortages that exist in Cuba. In the dining room they give us chicken, rice, beans, salad, ham, yogurt… The truth is that we have nothing to complain in that regard.”

There is also a cafeteria at the center, although not everyone is able to purchase stuff.  “How it works is that they sell us in new Cuban convertible peso (CUP), but the majority of us confined here have US dollars. Let’s remember that there is a ban on taking Cuban currency out of the country and we are returning from abroad with foreign currency.”

This is another detail that the authorities have not taken into account. Consequently, the few who have CUC or national currency – who perhaps took it on their trip abroad in violation of the provisions of the law – now have an advantage over the rest. Thus, the national adage is fulfilled, where the cheater wins, often protected by the State itself.

But there is no end to the calamities. “Another problem is mosquitoes. Although they spray every day, we cannot sleep at night because there are so many mosquitoes.” However, those who are confined on the big Island do not have mosquito nets assigned to them, which introduces the additional risk of a dengue outbreak, another health scourge that is already endemic in Cuba, striking the population with more or less intensity every year. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Magela has little data left on her phone, the balance of the service she purchased is very low, and she still wants to send me some photos. She will not be able to buy a new round of minutes/data to connect to the Internet, nor will she have a way to communicate, unless her family or friends purchase additional time, because there is no free access for the purchase of telephone cards in the center. “Upon arrival, we were told that the Cuban telephone company Etecsa would give each one of us a free 5 CUC phone card to use, but we have not received it yet. They have already told us that people from Etecsa are here, and we are hoping that they will give us the cards today.”

On the other hand, I expect more. I hope that the official practices this time are not just letters piled on paper and all the necessary conditions are created for the safety of our quarantined compatriots, especially in terms of issues related to the strictest hygiene standards, the greatest possible respect for privacy and the proper distance between quarantined inmates. These are the minimum guarantees that we must demand of a Power that professes solidarity and presents itself as humanistic, and that asserts itself as a world-class medical power. There has never been a better time to prove it.

*Gusanería (Nest of maggots) Very informal, pejorative term used when referring to counterrevolutionaries

Bathroom area (Author’s photo)
Isolation Center, Cotorro, Havana (Author’s photo)
Area around the Isolation Center is remote and rural (Author’s photo)
Waiting for food. (Author’s photo)
Interior hallway. (Author’s photo)

Sinks. (Author’s photo)

Water, The Best Ally Against COVID-19, Doesn’t Reach Many Cuban Homes

Authorities are also working on the reorganization of transportation, a very problematic means of spreading the virus in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, March 25, 2020 — The most effective and accessible enemy of the virus, water, isn’t so easy to obtain in Cuba, troubled by drought and the deficient management of a supply more necessary than ever against COVID-19. In Havana, 468,721 of its 2.2 million inhabitants suffer water shortages, according to authorities.

The capital has 111 supply sources affected, 89 partially and another 22 totally, and only one of the five basins that supply them is in good shape, as Antonio Rodríguez, director of the National Institute of Water Resources (INRH), explained this Tuesday on the Roundtable TV program. The deficit rises to 2,447 liters of water per second so far this March with 58,500 people being supplied by cistern trucks.

The shortage of water for lack of rain affects 469,000 people in the western area of the Island, the majority in Havana; some 23,000 in the central area, and some 21,000 in the east. continue reading

According to Rodríguez, among the most affected municipalities in the capital are Arroyo Naranjo, Central Havana, Old Havana, La Lisa, and Boyeros, although he warned that there are also problems in the others. The official pointed out that complaints and inquiries about service have increased and it has been necessary to increase the telephone capacity to deal with them.

“We have the advantage of the fact that we continue working on the interconnection of systems within the capital, to better distribute water,” he said. The works in various areas are accelerating to improve the situation, said Rodríguez, and the drilling of refill and supply wells is being worked on.

Additionally, two small desalinization plants have been installed and other wells will be activated as easy access points. In the capital, the director announced, theoretically there is an average of 648 liters per inhabitant, but the problem of pipe and network leaks (up to 2,000) prevent that quantity from reaching its destination and although 78% of the pipes have been renovated, only 36% of the networks are working properly.

Rodríguez also said that on Monday water arrived in water trucks to 31,909 people in Havana and that measures are being taken to adjust the supply and restrict the sources of shortages to the large consumers, in addition to reinforcing state inspection.

In the midst of all this, the weather forecasts are not optimistic and it will continue raining little at least until April, for which reason the official asked, as usual, for a rational use of water.

José Angel Portal Miranda, Minister of Public Health, also appeared on the program, where he took stock of the situation in Cuba, not without first highlighting that the Coronavirus is affecting 168 countries and that the most afflicted currently, according to the speed at which is spreading, are Italy, the United States, Spain, and Germany.

Cuba has had until now 48 confirmed cases, 29 Cubans and 19 foreigners. All the cases are considered to be imported, since the contagions are not considered to be local until they are transmitted between two people who have not left the country. Three of the cases are serious, there is one discharged and one deceased, while the rest remain stable.

Additionally, 1,229 people remain under observation, 1,055 Cubans and 174 foreigners, “admitted in isolation centers and hospitals planned with this in mind,” specified the Minister of Health.

“We have moved forward to the prevention phases, with measures like the partial closing of borders, because the majority of cases have been linked or were coming from abroad,” argued the Minister, despite the fact that the only control carried out until now was at ports and airports, through which, precisely, the coronavirus has entered.

The Minister of Health insisted that vigilance measures be maintained, specifically among the elderly and other vulnerable groups, and reminded that every province has facilities designated for measures of isolation, hospitalization, and control.

Portal Miranda reviewed other measures, like those taken in the reorganization of health services, with treatments been postponed with the exception of emergencies, and the holding of routine visits (aimed, thus, at reducing the number of patients) and the maternal and infant program.

“We reiterate the call for social distancing and for everyone to stay informed by official media, because the key is in prevention. Nobody can substitute what is necessary to do for their own protection. The success of everybody is in prevention,” stated Portal Miranda.

Reynaldo García Zapata, governor of Havana, asked the population to comply with the measures announced “by the highest leadership of the country.”

The official insisted on the role of the popular councils to guarantee vigilance and to respond to whoever needs help to comply with isolation. He also explained that 3,875 tourists remain isolated in hotels and 5,620 who remain in rented houses will be transferred.

García Zapata said that 770 points of sale have been set up for takeout food, and they are working on having all places able to provide that service, do so. Points of sale of bleach have also been raised to 123, one in every popular council.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.

Monica Baro: "You Can’t Sacrifice Yourself for a Utopia" / Ivan Garcia

Iván García, Havana, December 9th, 2019 — This interview is the fruit of much bargaining. In various profiles that Journal of The Americas aims to publish on independent Cuban journalists of different generations, the name Monica Baro is underlined in red.

The plan was to open the season with an interview of the brilliant young reporter from Havana, who at 31 years of age publishes El Estornudo (The Sneeze), a digital publication of narrative journalism. But Monica was impossible to catch. When she was not travelling abroad, she had a lot of work. Time and again she postponed the date of the interview. I refused to give up.

Finally, on Tuesday, December 3rd, we managed to meet at the Cafe Fortuna, on First and 24th Street in Miramar, a neighborhood in the west of Havana caressed by the breeze from the Atlantic Ocean. The locale was decorated in a vintage style, dimly lit with poems by Chaplin adorning the walls. The servers were dressed in 1950s sailor outfits. continue reading

Twelve minutes after the agreed-upon hour, Monica appeared in black jeans covered in patches. Her hair hung loose and she wore a plastic Made in China watch, a white pullover emblazoned with an image of Frida Khalo, a smile and glasses that gave her a quirky, intellectual air. Monica was in her element.

I heard her name mentioned for the first time in 2014. It was a hot afternoon in summer, in a bar a stone’s throw from the Bay of Havana, where we, a group of independent journalists, would go to drink beers once a month. We would speak about our families, baseball and soccer, as well as local and international politics. But the majority of our time we dedicated to talking about journalism. I don’t recall if it was Jorge Olivera or Victor Manuel Dominguez who mentioned an interview that a Monica Baro had published in OnCuba.

When I read the interview, I found myself more interested in the questions the reporter was asking than the interviewee’s responses. Reading the byline at the end I learned that the reporter was a recently graduated journalist. She had worked in the publication Bohemia and at the Institute of Philosophy. A short while later, as I was revising articles in the Wi-Fi park of La Vibora, I stumbled across Monica again, this time in the independent newspaper Periodismo de Barrio, with a report on a woman who lived in extreme poverty in deep Havana.

Already, journalist cliques were babbling about Monica Baro. It was clear that she was in another league. And then the awards began to pile up. The last, the Gabo Prize, she received in October 2019 in Colombia for her investigation ‘La sangre nunca fue amarilla‘ (The Blood Was Never Yellow), published in Periodismo de Barrio in February of this month.

But Monica remained shrouded in her natural humility, dodging spotlights and praise. When she sat on the stool at Cafe Fortuna, after the usual greeting, she ordered a refreshment. I made the most of it and told her she was more difficult to trap than a politician. She smiled, tilted her head and we began to film.

Iván García: Monica, are you planning to leave, to emigrate?

Monica Baro: Not so far. I am not sure if I will stay in Cuba indefinitely, it is impossible to tell. You never know where you’ll end up.

Iván García: I am going to describe to you two hypothetical scenarios. One, Cuba 2059, Monica, grandmother to a couple of grandchildren, prepares to cover the centennial of the disaster called the Cuban Revolution for El Esturnudo. Second scenario, Monica, 71 years old, already retired, remembered for her contributions to Cuban narrative journalism. Which scenario do you think the future will bring? Do you sincerely believe there is a solution for Cuba?

Monica Baro: I believe so. There are those that think that Cuba will change in two years. Others say five, ten. The truth is that I don’t know how much time Cuba will need to democratize and become a country that respects political liberties and freedom of expression. To be a decent country, where people can have a future and develop themselves openly. But I persevere. This is not something that gives me pause. I think that one has to be in a place one wants to be and is happy.

If I am here it is not because I feel a certain commitment to a certain cause or to the democratization of the country. I am in Cuba because the work that I do here makes me happy. The day that this work no longer makes me happy, I’ll leave.

For a long time the government, and the most rancid left on the continent, have wanted to inoculate us with the idea that you have to sacrifice yourself and everything for the cause and put the interests of society in front of the interests of the individual. And I believe that this is not healthy for any cause. I believe that causes have to be the ones that make people happy.

If you are defending human rights, the freedom of expression and independent journalism, it is because it makes you happy. When I worked for the review Bohemia, I interviewed Pepe Mujica at a CELAC event, and something he said stuck with me: “A generation cannot sacrifice itself for a utopia.”

It is the same on the individual level. You cannot sacrifice yourself for a utopia. For me, utopia is the present. It is not the future. It’s today. And for me, since I graduated in journalism in 2012, every day that I have been in Cuba I have been living in my own utopia, my happiness.

Iván García: Independent, free and alternative journalism, as you call it, arose at the end of the 1980s. Afterward, in the 1990s a number of independent journalism agencies were established that abused the use of the opinion column. But, at the same time, street journalism began, with reports and chronicles from that other island that the regime tries to ignore.

In 2007 the blog Generation Y was started by Yoani Sanchez, which undoubtably marked a new era in freelance journalism with the appearance of new digital publications.

With the relaxation of tensions of the Obama era in 2014, a wave of talented journalists surged forward, exploring that which I call the new Cuban narrative journalism. This is a deliciously different kind of journalism of undeniable quality, and it has awakened suspicions in some independent journalists of the barricade, decidedly anti-Castro. It is said that this new group does not compromise, that they are a fifth column that rejects the current themes of Cuban society and look a bit from above the shoulders of the rest. What is your take on this topic?

Monica Baro: I think this is another political miseducation that we have inherited from the government. We think that we have the authority to judge the political and social leanings of other people. In issuing judgement, we believe ourselves to be the judge of others. It is sad, a culture that we have to overcome, to be constantly questioning that if you are committed to this, I am more committed than you are, a logic that really shocks me.

I make a fair effort not to fall into this vicious cycle, but I don’t want to claim that I am a stranger to this culture. I was educated in Cuban schools, I was indoctrinated, we are part of the same society. One should always question their way of interacting with others, their way of conversing, their way of treating people who are different and think differently than you. And it shouldn’t be that you put yourself in a position of moral superiority to issue judgement, since those who judge believe that they have the moral superiority to do it.

Iván García: Do you believe that this has happened?

Monica Baro: Yes, of course. All those who can say that El Estornudo, Periodismo de Barrio or El Toque are not more radical media, because they don’t deal with more political themes, are obviously making judgements. And for me there is a logical explanation: these media are drawing a border between activism and journalism. I am aware that there are some media that do both simultaneously. I understand that there are publications that engage in political activism. I myself have engaged in political activism on social media in defense of political liberties, freedom of the press and of expression.

In a way, when you create independent journalism in a country where there is no freedom of the press you are defending the right to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. But you have to know there is still a border between journalism and activism. It is important to respect this, as it is what guarantees that what you publish as a journalist has more credibility.

Genre journalists are here for a reason. When you want to give your opinion, you do so. When you go to investigate, you investigate. You demonstrate with facts, you contrast your sources, using various sources if you are going to denounce something.

You try to respect these genres that are here for a reason. And also respect a profession that has rules and norms that are not by choice. They are there to ensure that, first, you protect yourself, second, you protect your sources, and, third, the information that you publish has the effect you are looking for. This is not to say that a journalist, when they leave their office, goes and serves in a political party, of course. But you have to know where the limits are.

Iván García: I am going to give you some bad news and the good news. Digital journalism, just like traditional journalism, has not recovered from the crisis that the introduction of new technology created. The majority of media has not found an effective business model. And the worst part is that, for the past ten years, even now, Chinese media has been using robots as presenters.

They say that artificial intelligence and robots will substitute for a large number of journalists, in particular those who write news. I suspect that the journalists that will remain are those who can tell stories differently, to be read by an audience of readers nostalgic for the Sunday paper.

The good news is that this kind of advanced technology will take a while to reach Cuba. Has the though ever crossed your mind to abandon journalism and take refuge in literature or poetry?

Monica Baro: I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever leave journalism. What I want is to tell stories, and journalism gives me this space. Nonetheless, at some point I would love to write literature. In fact, when I first started to write as a child of eleven years, I did not start as a reporter. I liked to write stories and novels. When I was twelve I wrote pages and pages of things. This was where I started, with fiction. But my main interest is telling stories. I would love to write screenplays, but without completely giving up on journalism. The only difference would be that one contains fact and the other fiction.

Iván García: Do you think that social media is harmful to serious journalism?

Monica Baro: Social media is a tool used by people. I do not see it as something abstract, as it has its own life. I do think that we have to educate ourselves about the use of social media, especially when it comes to the consumption of news and information.

Many people say “I read it on the internet,” but the internet is not a source of information. We have to know how to identify which sources are trustworthy, why they are trustworthy or not. People have to learn how to consume journalism. To look up the sources and citations from news articles.

I think that schools should include, as another required subject, a course on how to protect yourself on the internet and how to consume information from the internet. But I don’t believe that journalism will disappear, as journalism does not just inform people but also helps them to understand. Literary journalism is trying to provide something different, other focuses. It does not just aim to give cold hard facts.

Iván García: But then this happens: a joke or fake news generates thousands of comments on social media. Regardless, a deep and entertaining piece like ‘La sangre nunca fue amarilla’, which you published in Periodismo de Barrio, and was awarded the Gabo Prize for Journalism, barely had comments on the site.

Feedback, when there is any, stays in the intellectual world. And then something strange and dangerous happens–those who read your article begin to think themselves reporters and communication professionals. And these articles never reach the people they were aimed at. Not even through reposts.

Monica Baro: This report, ‘La sangre nunca fue amarilla’, took me three years, between research and editing. Of course at times one can feel a bit decieved. But I keep insisting.

The server brought something to eat. Monica mentioned that she’s a fan of cinema.

“From when, on the 5th of December, the annual Cinema Festival starts in La Habana and until it ends on the 15th, I turn off my cellphone. I love classic black-and-white films. Every night I go to see a movie.”

She enjoyed Joaquin Phoenix’s version of the Joker. She loves Tarantino.

“Have you seen his latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?” I asked.

“No, how was it?” She wanted to know.

“Very good, Tarantino in his purest form.” I said.

We finished eating and returned to the task at hand. She told me that State Security had detained her only once.

“It was in Guantanamo, in 2016, during Hurricane Matthew. I am also regulated (restricted from travelling abroad). At least for now.”

She doesn’t see herself as a political figure. “It’s not my responsibility. Politicians, democracy, have to come to different agreements to be able to govern. I prefer to judge them as a citizen from the perspective of journalism.”

She has her habits and manias. “Before sitting down to write, preferably in the morning, I have to bathe, then I drink coffee and burn some incense, in that order. I don’t have to isolate myself. I can write just the same in an airport at peak hours. I read a lot, at all times,” she confessed.

She respects political columnists. She thinks that they should have broad historical knowledge, a lot of information and a good analytical capacity to write. But they also have to be willing to jump in and give their opinion in any them when needed. Monica Baro is one of the forty Cuban women who signed a letter petitioning an Integral Law against Gender Violence and last November she presented to the National Assembly of Popular Power.

Night had fallen in La Habana. I bid farewell to one of the young voices for change in Cuba. A woman fighting for a different kind of journalism. And for democracy in her country.

Text and Photography: Iván García

Note: On the 5th of December, after this interview, it was announced that four Cubans, the journalists Mónica Baró Sánchez and Carlos Manuel Álvarez, the filmmaker José Luis Aparicio Ferrera and the environmental entrepreneur Alexander López were included in the list of 100 young Latinos who believe in and inspire a better world, created by the periodical Avianca. About Monica, the Colombian publication wrote that the Cuban woman, connected to alternative media like Periodismo de Barrio, El Estornudo and El Toque, won the Gabo Prize of Journalism in 2019 in the Best Article category for her report “La sangre nunca fue amarilla.”

 Translated by: Geoffrey Ballinger

Day 9 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

If on Friday some of the residents of my building still survived with the ‘online’ food purchases made from abroad by their migrant children, but that is no longer possible. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 29 March 2020 — The phone rang early this Sunday and I came back from a dream. I was sheltering in a parallel reality and the ringer brought me back. On the other end of the line, a Cienfuegos inmate was reeling off his troubles. He has been sentenced to four years for “illegal slaughter of cattle*” and fears that the Covid-19 will catch him behind bars.

Right now, a Cuban prison is the worst place to experience this pandemic. In addition to overcrowding, there are problems in the water supply, poor food and difficulties in communicating with family members. A country with so many absurd prohibitions has overcrowded correctional facilities and many prisoners who should never have been behind bars.

The voice on the other end of the line tells me that he was sentenced because someone linked him to the attack on a “yearling”; the calf did not die, but the court locked him up for 48 months. All those who call me from some prison say they are innocent, but in addition to the true culpability, in this case I maintain that these are times for pardons and amnesties. continue reading

Going to jail in Cuba is not just a matter for criminals. The penal code includes the charge of “pre-criminal dangerousness,” which — in the worst style of the Minority Report movie — sends you to prison just because authorities believe you might violate the law, in the future. If the crimes of opinion and opposition are added, we are looking at a cage anyone can fall into.

Opening the bars, softening the sentences that are handed down in the coming days and eliminating so many disparate crimes from the Cuban Penal Code could be a first step. Let no one else go to prison because he is predicted to become a future criminal, either by sacrificing his own cow or by carrying a couple of pounds of shrimp* in a briefcase.

It is a time to rectify and to open the bars.

Today, the Ministry of Public Health updated the coronavirus figures in Cuba. According to official data, there are 139 positive cases and more than 2,300 people under surveillance. Behind each number there is a life. Like that of Pastor Saúl Díaz, from the small city of Remedios, in the province of Villa Clara, who was the first Cuban included in the list of deceased that has been released by the national media.

In my neighborhood, the news of that death has paralyzed many. Until recently, the coronavirus seemed like something for foreigners, a disease that came from outside but would not make a dent in nationals. Giving a name, face and voice to one of the victims has a devastating effect. “I’m not going out anymore,” a neighbor told me after I showed him the most recent video of Saúl Díaz on Facebook, as he was coughing and waiting to be hospitalized.

Today, I continued with my plantings on the terrace. Garlic and some peppers were added to the self-consumption garden. As I work the earth and prepare the seeds, I keep thinking that a few yards from my balcony stands the Ministry of Agriculture, a mass of concrete whose size is inversely proportional to the efficiency of the land in Cuba. One day, those floors will not be full of bureaucrats but of entrepreneurs… At least I dream of that.

I insist on what my hands can give because what cost five yesterday today is worth ten. Prices go up and up. If on Friday some residents of my building still survived on the online food purchases made from abroad by their migrant children, it is no longer possible. Most of these commercial portals have closed or warned that they will not be able to deliver on time.

We have all returned to the same starting line. No matter age, race, social status, access to remittances or education. We have entered the territory of survival, where nothing is written in advance. An inmate and someone who walks the streets equally frail, serving an identical sentence.

*Translator’s note: In Cuba cows belong to the State and cannot be killed by the people raising them (or anyone else) without authorization. Carrying shrimp, or cheese, or other such items is also illegal. See “Male Heifers and Cow Suicide” 

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"Nothing is Going to Happen Here," They Say in Artemisa About the Pandemic

Buying soap, chicken, rice or the few medicines that are left in the pharmacy has become essential for many and they crowd together in long lines to do it. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Bertha K. Guillén, Candelaria (Artemisa), 29 March 2020  — With three cases positive for Covid-19, ten suspected cases and a total of 1,077 people under surveillance, Artemisa, an agricultural region bordering Havana, is facing the pandemic with concern.

Cuban authorities have called for “responsible lines” and “social seclusion,” as part of the strategies to stop the spread of the virus on the Island. But in the streets of Candelaria, a municipality of Artemisa, few abide by those measures.

The chronic shortages are added to the exceptional nature of the situation and residents are very anxious about being able to buy basic products. Buying soap, chicken, rice, or the few drugs left in the pharmacy has become paramount, given the increasing likelihood of a mandatory quarantine. continue reading

“People are more concerned with starving in their homes than with the coronavirus,” says a retired woman who stood in a long line this Thursday to buy chicken at a Candelaria store. In the same line waiting to enter the market, another woman said: “Among Cubans it’s OK, you have to avoid contact with those who come from outside.”

Getting water in sufficient quantities to supply basic needs is another of the challenges that keep Candelarians busy these days. With continuous supply problems for two months, the situation has become more dramatic these days and the expense has increased considerably.

“The water comes and goes, they fix the well for two days and it breaks again. With the hygiene that must be maintained, this is unsustainable,” says Iraida, a residents of the community who waits with dozens of people to access the hose from a water truck that will fill some tanks and buckets for her home.

But commerce is not the only tense issue in the country’s emergency situation. The transportation of passengers and goods in the most important agricultural center for the Cuban capital is also plagued with fears and the measures to restrict mobility that have been taken in recent days.

Agustín is one of the few private carriers still covering the inter-municipal route that connects the province’s capital with Candelaria and San Cristóbal; the others have stopped driving for fear of fines and contagion.

“People have not stopped traveling, many work outside the municipality, and the stops and terminals are still full,” he says. Some people travel to the city of Artemis where there are more stores, in search of variety to stock up.

“To close off that communication between the municipalities and the center, would be to condemn us to not having new supplies,” he says. Despite being an eminently agricultural area, the residents of the interior towns need to travel to obtain products such as soaps, detergent and meat.

Lack of information also does a lot of damage. More than a few people insist that “nothing is going to happen here,” others downplay the severity of the disease on the island while comparing national figures with statistics from the United States, which the Cuban official press has analyzed to the limit.

Others believe that Artemis is separate territory and is governed by its own rules. “Are the Roundtable [TV show] measures only for Havana?” asks Martha Rodríguez, as she tries to keep her place in line to buy chicken. “Here people go around as if it’s nothing and the police are more concerned about people not taking photos and videos for Facebook than about keeping their distance,” she says.

Behind the doors of the Candelaria Polyclinic the reality is different. The pressures from the Ministry of Public Health to enforce the necessary measures to prevent the spread of the virus — limit direct contact with people who may be infected — along with poor working conditions, are especially stressful for public health workers these days.

Natalia García, a doctor in Comprehensive General Medicine from the municipality of Candelaria, says that these are very difficult days. “Not everyone has become aware of the responsibility we have to prevent the spread of this pandemic,” she details. “I spent days without being able to sleep, dreaming that I was getting sick; now I don’t even stress and I take care of myself but if an infected patient arrives…,” she comments with some resignation.

The long and haggard faces of the doctors are the reflection of the work of the last days, nobody speaks, nobody confirms or denies any information, while the rumors and fictional stories around the “possible infected” increase every day.

“Since the presence of the first positive case on the Island was announced, we have been working very hard, the nurse and I do not sleep, a traveler comes to me every day and monitoring must begin,” says García. “There is very little health education, there are many who take care of themselves, but the vast majority do not,” he regrets.

On the other hand, several of the people who own and work at the tourist rental houses located on the road to Soroa have decided to remain in voluntary quarantine after receiving their last customers.

“We decided not to go out to avoid contagion and because we have grandchildren to take care of,” say Jorge and María, a couple who manage a hostel surrounded by orchids and with a spectacular view of the mountains, but which is now closed. No economic income is worth a life.

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We Need Your Help to Report on the Covid-19 Crisis in Cuba

In Cuba, the independent media suffer the limitations on movement imposed on their reporters, the collapse of the networks and the intensification of censorship. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 March 2020  — These are difficult times for everyone and journalism is also being badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In Cuba, the independent media suffer the limitations on movement imposed on their reporters, the collapse of the networks and the intensification of censorship.

Our collaborators cannot come to our Havana Newsroom to deliver their work and, in many cases, they can’t go to a Wi-Fi zone to send updated content. They have to resort to mobile communications, which are very expensive on the Island.

For this reason, our communications expenses have increased at the same time that advertising revenues and readers’ contributions to our membership program are decreasing due to the uncertainty that is spreading throughout the world.

In these circumstances, continuing to prepare updated reporting on the Cuban reality, and providing you with quality and truthful information, becomes increasingly costly, as well as difficult. Hence, we are making a special call asking you to support us in these “times of coronavirus.”

You can contribute any amount you decide, through our PayPal account. Below is the “Donate” button that you can use or, if you prefer, access the link. Thank you very much in advance!

Please click on the image.

(Note, the ‘comma’ in the payment screen is a decimal point. Your choices are $10, $20, $50, or any amount you choose.)

Two Journalists Summoned by State Security in the Midst of the Coronavirus Crisis

Decree 370 has been used by the Government to fine several reporters and activists in recent months. Yoé Suárez (left) and Camila Acosta (right) were recently summoned by Cuban State Security regarding violations of the decree. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 March 2020 —  This Friday, reporters Yoe Suárez, a collaborator with Diario de Cuba and Camila Acosta, from Cubanet, were summoned by State Security, as reported by both on social networks. Acosta was also fined 3,000 CUP for allegedly violating Decree 370, which regulates the use of the internet in Cuba.

The journalist was fined for criticizing the government and publishing articles from the independent press on social media. The authorities invoked Article i of Decree 370, which penalizes the dissemination of “information contrary to the social interest, morality, good customs and the integrity of people.”

Acosta attended the “interview” at the station at 7th and 62nd, in the Havana municipality of Playa, where a State Security agent was waiting for her. “The repressor Alejandro was waiting for me, the same man who for months has been leading the harassment of dissident Cuban women in Havana.” continue reading

Acosta was checked to prevent her from entering the premises with a tape recorder. Inside, Captain Rubisel Ortega and three men who identified themselves as inspectors from the Ministry of Communications were waiting for her. One of them, Rolando Ballester, showed several posts that the reporter had posted on Facebook as proof that she violated the law.

For his part, journalist Yoe Suárez was summoned to the Siboney police station, also in the municipality of Playa. As the reporter told Diario de Cuba , “the interview” with two political police officers lasted an hour. The two men, who identified themselves as René and Enrique, threatened him to make him abandon the practice of independent journalism.

“They threatened me again with ’consequences’ for my family. They even explained to me that they would summon me again and that they would go to ’another phase with me’, and in that sense they mentioned the possibility of imprisoning me,” the reporter said.

“I told them not to call me again until the quarantine is over,” Suarez said.

Decree 370, which the government has used to fine several reporters and activists over the past few months, establishes extensive government control over the internet, the sanctions include not only the fine, but also the confiscation of the equipment and methods used. The implementation of this Decree raised widespread condemnation by international organizations concerned with freedom of expression and also numerous criticisms from activists and independent journalists.

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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.

Day 8 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

Many Cubans continue to take to the streets to line up to get food.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 28 March 2020 — Today a street vendor broke the morning silence with his proclamation of coconut and guava cakes, which he described as “original,” but few neighbors dared to go down from the concrete blocks of the neighborhood. Between the need to search for supplies and the fear of contagion, this time caution has prevailed.

And they do not exaggerate. This weekend the positive cases in Cuba have exceeded one hundred, reaching 119, and Covid-19 has already taken three lives, according to official sources, numbers which haven’t convinced many. People fear that the contagion numbers are being reported in the same way as other awkward statistics from the past.

In the end, we have lived for decades in a scenario of made-up figures, where the yeast of triumphalism is added to positive numbers so that they grow, while the stubborn indicators of the disaster are cut or silenced. When so many lies have been told, there is a risk that even if the truth is told no one will believe it. continue reading

In this case, mistrust is allied with the survival instinct and although officials insist that they are going to guarantee basic products, many citizens continue to take to the streets to line up, haul away and store food. The serious thing is that, in this task, they not only bring home some bread and rice, but also — potentially — the virus.

In our house we have reinforced the protection. Our exits are more and more sporadic and climbing the stairs to the 14th floor is a mandatory practice to avoid the congested elevator. We have suffered a couple of power outages since yesterday, but briefly. It would be very serious if, in addition to the scarce soap, we had to start looking for candles.

I keep planting vegetables and greens in any container I come across. Today it was the turn of some chili pepper seeds and others of basil. Tomorrow I will plant my first onions and some garlic cloves. I do not follow any manual, I get carried away by my “green finger,” which is useless for playing the piano but has shown good skills for agriculture. The guajira (peasant) in me blossoms these days.

I sense that private initiative will become vital in the coming weeks to avoid a famine on this Island, but it will depend on the authorities understanding the gravity of the moment and removing all obstacles to agricultural production. Only the Cuban countryside can save us, but fewer restrictions and more freedoms are urgent. Without that, we are doomed.

Once already the peasants saved us, in the 90s. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet subsidy, the Island was submerged in the lack of fuel, long blackouts and food shortages. These were years, too, of a heated political discourse that seemed more disposed to lead us towards a Kampuchea-style model than towards the necessary economic and political openness. But, when many had given up hope of improvement and after decades of stubborn nationalization of the economy, agricultural markets were reauthorized.

Guavas returned from those private producers, I tried the first canistels of my life and I was able to make the malanga puree that my son began to eat a few months after he was born. Unfortunately, that flexibilization was filled with restrictions that have weighed down the growth of the sector and the potential of our land. The Plaza of the Revolution became afraid of the guajiros. But, now, there is no other option but to open and open wide.

As I bury the seeds in various pots, I listen to the loudspeaker from a vehicle that traverses the streets of my neighborhood. “Take extreme measures, don’t be on the street and beware of the coronavirus,” you hear it say over and over. Until a few days ago, those speakers would only have broadcast political slogans, but a tiny enemy has forced them to change the script.

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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.

Day 7 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

The challenge and the real fiesta is to wake up and breathe without difficulty every morning. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 27 March 2020 — Unlike other Fridays, on this one there are no calls to get together with friends, appointments ahead of the weekend or preparations to go out on Saturday and Sunday. During a quarantine every day is the same, they pass without much change and with little commotion. The challenge and the real fiesta is to wake up and breathe without difficulty every morning.

With 80 positive cases of coronavirus and more than 1,600 people in isolation, in Cuba we are emerging from a long torpor. A numbness derived from the delay in taking measures at the national level to slow the advance of Covid-19 and the naivety of believing that — like a hurricane — at the last minute the pandemic would change course and miss the Island.

But neither prayers, nor illusions, much less indifference, managed to twist the path of an opportunistic infectious agent that can only multiply within the cells of other organisms. Forgive me if I extend the metaphor too much, but this description reminds me of the Cuban political police, who cannot live or transcend without those they eternally watch over: the dissidents. continue reading

One would think that in times of coronavirus, the “restless boys of the Apparatus” would be sent to find out who has a fever, but no. They are still there, sending subpoenas to independent activists and journalists. In a country where there is so much to do in the midst of this crisis, State Security prefers to fight citizens than to face a microscopic thing.

Speaking of small things, today we have managed to buy a piece of mortadella that arrived at the rationed market. A slice of a mass pink in some parts, green in others, which should serve to withstand part of this quarantine. I found a fish bone just after cutting it, although the employee assured me it was made from “chicken and meat.”

While I decipher what the sausage contains, I continue sewing masks. The first ones did not suit me, but little by little I understand the proportions, the fit and the amount of fabric to use in each one. Although the World Health Organization has warned that this type of facemask does not prevent us from being infected, at least it relieves me to think that there are asymptomatic infecteds who will reduce the scope of transmission if they wear one.

I sewed one for a neighbor and stuck on the logo of his favorite soccer team, another came asking me to do a “reinforced” face mask because he works in a state cafeteria where they continue to sell food to the public, and a little girl wanted me to give a few stitches to hers — pink and sequined — that had broken in one corner. Curious, that people try to set their own guidelines in the midst of an emergency.

Days are not measured in 24 hour cycles. Every day we count the friends who have called, the onions we have left, and the pounds of rice that are diminishing. We count like maniacs the times that one of us has had to irretrievably leave the house to buy some food, go down to walk the dog, or repair the elevator in the building, as has happened to Reinaldo each of these last days.

When we return from these forays, there is no hug or welcome. A chlorine-soaked cloth awaits us in the hallway. You have to leave your shoes, go directly to the bathroom, spend a long time washing your hands, your face and getting rid of part of what you carry. Later, the rest of the family begins to approach but without violating the yard of distance.

This virus has stolen our hugs. I just hope it doesn’t take anything else away from us.

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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.

The Artist Alcantara Again Sparks Controversy by Auctioning the Flag of his ‘Performance’

The artist carried flag, which bears his signature, like a ’second skin’ for a whole month. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 23 March 2020 — Just one week after his release, the controversy has returned to the work of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who announced the auction of the flag that starred in Drapeau, the performance for which the Government accuses him of the crime of “insult to the national symbols.” This flag bears the signature of the artist, who carried it “as a second skin” for a whole month.

“Next Wednesday at 3:00 pm Cuba time, I will auction the flag used in the Drapeau performance. The money will be donated to the Cuban State, in the figure of the President of the Republic, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, to confront the coronavirus pandemic,” the artist posted on his Facebook page.

The auction, Otero Alcántara clarifies, will be and the money will be delivered to the Central Committee of the Party. continue reading

“Is anyone aware that 4% of the population will die?” he asked in the middle of a discussion between advocates of the idea of the auction and those who oppose the money going to the government.

Otero Alcántara explained to 14ymedio that this is a symbolic gesture.

“It is a work of art, it is very easy right now for me to say on social networks that I am going to give the money to an old man, but the dialogue that I am interested in opening is in another direction and with another dimension, and suggests that it is the regime that has the solution in their hands. That of playing the hero artist who can go out and help does not work now. We are contaminating and contaminated, the idea is to open our minds and point out that the regime has to take responsibility and they can’t leave us alone.”

Otero Alcántara believes that no matter how much money he earns, it will be trivial in the face of the pandemic. “I want to help resolve this and not discuss whether the regime is good or bad. These are times when we all have to hold ourselves accountable.  The only one that has absolute power now is the system, the only one that has the power to bring a boat with medical supplies or a shipment of facemasks to Cuba is the system. This is not a tornado that happened and left you homeless, it is a pandemic, what is happening is that there are still many Cubans who are not aware of how serious this is,” he adds.

Official voices such as Deputy Minister Fernando Rojas or cultural promoter Alexis Triana have attacked Otero Alcántara for this initiative.

“Those interested in harming us who take advantage of the moment to attack the Cuban Government from sites paid by the United States, will make the news of this clear provocation. It is a time to not listen to them and to condemn them. Every decent person must support the Cuban Government and work for health of all,” Rojas wrote on Twitter referring to the auction.

For his part, Triana condemned the artist calling hima “sewer rat.” “Every patriot must denounce this baseness to the world. If he dared in analog, he would receive once and for all from the people what he deserved.”

Nor did Deputy Raúl Palmero did not waste the opportunity to attack the artist: “And while Cuba as a whole fights against Covid-19 and offers the world its solidarity, this court jester comes up with the ’brilliant’ idea of auctioning our flag,” a message accompanied with the hashtag #RespetaMiBandera (RespectMyFlag) #CiberChusma (CyberRiffraff).

The vice president of the Union of Artists and Writers of Cuba (Uneac), Pedro de la Hoz, also condemned the auction.

“The flag is sacred. (…) To prosper with it is an act of infinite baseness. Auctioning it under the pretext of false altruism becomes an act of infinite vileness. None of this has to do with art. To be an artist is to be Ethically responsible. If someone does not understand, respect.”

Otero Alcántara has two pending trials for the crimes of “property damage” and “insult against the national symbols,” which have been postponed without adate due to the “crisis” that the country is experiencing, according to the artist’s lawyer speaking last week.

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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.

Tourism from the U.S. Drops 68.8% in January

Though the island has built numerous hotels in recent years, tourism is rapidly declining. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, February 27, 2020 — Tourism to Cuba fell 19.6% in January compared to the same period last year according to official figures published by the Office of Statistics and Information.

During the first month of the year 95,856 tourists visited the island, less than in the same month in 2019. The the decline was greatest in the U.S. market, which saw a 68.8% reduction: 19,464 visitors versus 62,416 the previous year. Other markets which saw significant reductions were European countries and the overseas Cuban community, which registered 12% fewer visitors.

The Russian market, however, is growing and is now the third largest, with 48.4% more tourists than in January 2019. Canada also grew modestly at 2.1%. continue reading

“It’s a big drop-off,” said economist Pedro Monreal on Twitter in reference to the global figure.

In his blog, Humberto Herrera, who has close ties to the Cuban government, attributed the drop to measures the Trump administration has put into effect to prevent U.S. citizens from traveling to the island and adds that the calculation is meeting the forecasts.

Monreal writes in a comment on the thread, “Given the 19.6% decline in January, what the minister said could mean two things: that a decrease was foreseen in the first month of the year and that the next few months should see enough steady growth to meet the goal for 2020.”

Tourism, which is the Cuba’s largest source of income after remittances from overseas and medical services, had a bad start to the year after suffering negative growth the previous year. Only the beach resort town of Varadero bucked the trend, growing 12% in January mainly due to the high concentration of hotels managed by foreign companies in the area.

For this year, Cuban tourism authorities have set themselves the goal of receiving 4.5 million international visitors and reversing the decline suffered, but the health crisis that arose after the spread of COVID-19 could destroy these plans, as tourism globally is beginning to show a sharp decline since the emergence of the novel coronavirus.

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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.

Day 6 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

On the street, there are those who walk with gloves and others who kiss when greeting each other. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 26 March 2020 — Staying at home is still the best way to defend against the enemy who is out there and who has infected 67 people in Cuba, two of whom have died, with another 1,603 in forced isolation, according to official figures published this Thursday. In a country where there is nice weather we only subtract: fewer products; fewer resources; less money… it gives the impression that the numbers of the coronavirus are the only ones that are growing.

But prices also rise. “Pork is at 50 pesos a pound,” complains a friend who called me very early to ask for a recipe for eggplant, one of the few products she was able to buy in the market before locking herself in with her 80-year-old mother to wait for the virus to pass. I gave her some advice and we agreed that she would call if she had questions.

The phone has become the social glue and the only link with many friends. These days, when a call is answered, the greeting is no longer “how are you?” but “do you feel good?” The goodbyes have also changed and we have parked the “see you later,” to replace it with “take care” and an optimistic “I’m sure we’ll see each other again.” continue reading

Two days after classes were canceled, many leisure time venues were closed and passenger transportation between provinces was suspended, my building looks like an anthill. A few floors below ours, a family took it upon themselves to do a general cleaning and there is still wood, debris and some broken toys in the hallway waiting to be thrown out.

I woke up to a “boom, boom, boom.” Some neighbor decided to pass the time in quarantine making repairs. In this concrete block where I live, inaugurated 35 years ago, infrastructure problems accumulate in the common areas and in the apartments. Many lack the resources to renovate and others the time, of which there is now a surplus.

The practice of leaving shoes outside the door, started by my neighbor Chucho, is beginning to spread, although there are suspicious people who prefer the risk of dirty soles in the house over exposing their only sneakers to the dangers of the hallway. I have bumped into people on the stairs wearing all kinds of “masks”: imported and modern, discreet, alternative, recycled, improvised or homemade.

I couldn’t stop smiling when I saw a retired woman who had sewn up a facemask using part of an old “adjuster” (bra). Creativity is triggered when the need is tight and, if health is at stake, ingenuity reaches incredible levels. “No, shame? I don’t have any, I would be ashamed if I get sick and not even my children can come close,” the lady defended herself when someone pointed out that this was not something to put over her mouth.

Reinaldo wants to make a mechanism to hoist a bag from the ground floor up to our balcony. “Everything can be very difficult and we’ll have to have something to get food and other products in without having to take the elevator or drag them up 14 flights of stairs,” he theorizes. Just thinking about the fact that we could get to that point terrifies me. It brings back bad memories.

When I was a teenager and the Soviet Union imploded, they began to talk about Option Zero in Cuba. They said it could lead to a collective stewpot in each neighborhood. Just the idea of that cauldron in the middle of the sidewalk with the ladle pouring nearly transparent broth into my bowl tormented me for years. Now, even imagining myself locked up on the 14th floor hoisting up food in a bag causes me a similar fear.

Fortunately, we have not reached that point. We are halfway between disbelief and alarm. In the street, there are those who walk with gloves and others who kiss when greeting each other. We have the one who learned to cough into his elbow, and another who sneezes with his whole mouth wide open in an elevator loaded with people. There are the obsessive handwashers and those who repeat, “you have to die of something.”

Today I have set aside some of the potatoes I had left from the ration book to plant in our small flowerbed on the balcony. “We will watch them grow and in a few weeks we will invite friends in and cook them,” I say to myself. The image of that hypothetical plate of potatoes with chopped parsley has given me hope that we will have a tomorrow.

See other posts in this series.

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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.