Gang Warfare In Havana / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Gangs are usually made up of children, often under age 14 (Frame / ARTE)

Gangs are usually made up of children, often under age 14 (Frame / ARTE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 8 February 2016 – A few nights ago my wife and I arrived in an almendrón [old American car in use as a shared-taxi] at the Ceiba little park just before the traffic light at Via Blanca and Lacret, in Havana. We we usually get off there when we are going home from El Vedado, in a line of collective taxes headed to La Vibora.

The unwelcome surprise that night was to find ourselves almost in the middle of a pitched war at 1:00 in the morning. At Bella Vista and Via Blanca two gangs of children – for the most part; many of them weren’t even teenagers – were facing off with stones, sticks, bottles, and some carried machetes nearly as big as they were. Continue reading

Four Questions For You, President Obama / 14ymedio, Yuslier L. Saavedra

The US president, Barack Obama talks with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro. (White House)

The US president, Barack Obama talks with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro. (White House)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yuslier L. Saavedra, La Salud (Mayabeque Province), 8 February 2016 — Mr. President, I am a young Cuban woman who lives in Cuba and I do not want to leave. Exile hurts and I lack the courage to miss my homeland. I want to stay in Cuba and the reality of my people leaves me with many questions. I think it is up to Cubans alone – all of us without exception – to resolve our problems; peaceful change toward democracy is ours and is in us. I dream of a sovereign people, with self-determination because we have a voice, rights and freedom. I dream of an independent, democratic and sovereign Cuba, where there is a genuine Rule of Law and Democracy, the indispensable foundations for Cubans to be able to achieve prosperity and well-being.

You have said you want to help Cubans to improve our quality of life, which leads me to ask you some questions:

  • What has improved in Cubans’ quality of life since 17 December 2014?
  • You have called Raul Castro ‘president’; does this mean you consider him your counterpart?
  • Can a dictatorship turn itself into a democracy?
  • Do you believe that the dignity of the human person, as well as his or her well-being and quality of life starts with rights?

Thank you for your time.

Year of the Monkey in Chinatown / 14ymedio

Festivities for the Lunar New Year in Havana’s Chinatown. (14ymedio)

Festivities for the Lunar New Year in Havana’s Chinatown. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 February 2016 — Colorful costumes, dancing and lots of rain characterized Sunday in Havana’s Chinatown with the celebrations for the arrival of the Lunar New Year this February 8. Despite the inclement weather, the festivities lasted until late at night and included dances typical of China and martial arts demonstrations.

The beginning of the Year of the Monkey was celebrated by the residents of Chinatown, descendants of the Chinese who lived around Zanja and Dragones Streets, as well as tourists. Some private businesses decorated their interiors with references to the restless animal, the ninth of the twelve that make up the Chinese horoscope, which won’t repeat until 2028. Continue reading

Cuba’s Phone Monopoly: Between Capitalism And Paternalism / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Users in the current wireless area of Holguin. (Fernando Donate Ochoa)

Users in the current wireless area of Holguin. (Fernando Donate Ochoa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 8 February 2016 — Applying the toughest rules of the market on the one hand and presenting itself as paternalistic on the other, is a game well played by the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA). While the benefits to its customers arrive drop by drop, the rates are applied strictly to the letter, without the least compassion and with no relationship to Cuban wages.

The new Wifi zones that will be opened this year, along with the timid beginning of installing internet in private homes, barely silences customer complaints over the high costs of cellphones and the deficiencies in the service. The news that five Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) recharges will get a bonus of 10 extra minutes and 20 domestic text messages, does not appease the company’s critics. [Ed. note: 5 CUC is more than $5, while wages for state workers generally don’t exceed $20 a month.] Continue reading

Brazilian Odebrecht Group Expands Its Presence In Cuba / 14ymedio

Container terminal at Mariel Special Development Zone. (Zedmariel.com)

Container terminal at Mariel Special Development Zone. (Zedmariel.com)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 February 2016 — The Brazilian Odebrecht Group will expand its presence in Cuba with two contracts in the sugar industry and in civil aviation, according a report from the Prensa Latina agency. On January 13, the company also received authorization to operate in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) over the next 15 years to provide engineering and construction services to potential foreign investors through its Works and Infrastructure Company (COI).

A representative of Odebrecht, Mauro Augusto Hueb, told Prensa Latina that the business potential is enormous and that COI is studying the possibility of asking the Cuban authorities for another permission to invest in a plant producing plastic packaging located in Mariel. Continue reading

Construction Materials / 14ymedio

Construction materials outside a building in Havana. (14ymedio)

Construction materials outside a building in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 February 2016 – Building or repairing a house in Cuba is a road strewn with obstacles, which begin with getting the permits, finding labor and buying materials. Despite the new programs to locally produce aggregates and blocks, the providers can’t keep up in the face of the high demand in a country where more than 60% of housing units are in fair or poor condition.

Sales of construction materials are also marked by the so-called “diversion” (i.e. stealing) of resources, mismanagement, the arbitrary behavior of prices and the shortages of products in greatest demand: cement, iron bars, and cement and zinc tiles.

At places where these products are sold in Cuban pesos, often missing are doors, windows, bathroom fixtures, paint, plastic parts for piping and hydraulic and sanitary fittings. The situation becomes even more critical with mosaics and tiles, concrete joists and water tanks.

Fidel Castro Elected As A Delegate To Cuban Communist Party Seventh Congress / EFE, 14ymedio

Former Cuban president Fidel Castro, in January 2014.

Former Cuban president, Fidel Castro, in January 2014.

14ymedio biggerEFE (14ymedio), Havana, 4 February 2016 – Former Cuban president Fidel Castro was elected as a delegate to the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (the country’s only party), to be held this coming April, as reported by the island’s government-owned media.

Fidel Castro, 89 and retired from power since 2006, will be a delegate to the Communist conclave for the city of Santiago de Cuba, where 306 leaders of the José Martí district committee designated him by acclamation. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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

3.5 million tourists visited Cuba in 2015. (EFE)

3.5 million tourists visited Cuba in 2015. (EFE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prisons in Guantanamo / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

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

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

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

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