Material Shortages in Schools Hinder the Development of Values / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Delivered school supplies to children in primary education. (Luz Escobar)

Delivered school supplies to children in primary education. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 1 September 2015 – Early Tuesday morning the bell rang for the first morning of the school year in more than 10,300 schools throughout the country. All eyes are now focused on the availability of teachers at the front of the classroom, the material conditions of the schools, and the epidemiological questions in those provinces affected by dengue fever and cholera. However, the most titanic task that faces the Ministry of Education is to meet the commitment to develop values in children and young people.

Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, head of the branch, has made frequent calls in recent weeks for vocational training of students, working with families, and the transmission of ethical and moral values ​​within the school. The greatest difficulty on the path to this achievement is the limited training of many teachers and the lack of incentive provided by teachers’ salaries, say parents and teachers.

“My daughter has a Spanish and literature teacher who has never read Don Quixote,” says an astonished mother of a teenage daughter in the 9th grade at a basic secondary school in Old Havana. The family has tried to alleviate the poor training of the teacher by paying for hours of study with a tutor. “He worked in a high school and gave excellent classes, but can’t stand being in education any more,” the lady says about this particular teacher.

“In these times with the internet and technology we should have more support from these novelties in our classes,” says Mario

To cover the shortage of teachers in the capital, they have mobilized more than 3,000 teachers from other provinces. The measure doesn’t please many, nor does it resolve the situation. “It seems incredible that they have to bring people from other places, with what that costs, instead of raising the salaries of those here,” complains Roberto, a retired teacher who spent a good part of his working life in an elementary school in Central Havana.

The salary of a secondary school teacher does not exceed 600 Cuban pesos a month, less than 30 dollars. The union demands a salary increase, especially after the increase in salaries in the in Ministry of Public Health, but their demands are whispered and not published in the official press.

“The doctors care for the bodies of people, we feed their souls, so they should also increase our salaries,” explains Mario, a history teacher at Santa Clara High School, who has more than once cherished the idea of leaving the classroom. “I would leave my house to sell lollipops, which would certainly earn me more and I would have more peace of mind.”

The material situation of the schools of education also discourages professionals in the sector. “In these times with the internet and technology we should have more support from these novelties in our classes,” says Mario. “Can you imagine how I could teach my students about the scenes of historic battles through Google Earth,” he adds.

In schools across the whole the country, there is a total of 61,908 computers. There is no need to do complicated calculations to know that this means six computers for each campus throughout the Island. However, 64% of these are more than 12 years old, and so barely function with the most modern programs. And in most cases they only have access to a local intranet.

Many teaching assistants or recent graduates fill in for the absence of professionals with more teaching experience

Teachers also complain about the accumulation of extra-curricular tasks that have been added to their teaching activities. “Many meetings, too many lists and tables to prepare and reports to write. We have almost no time to prepare for classes,” says a teacher at José Miguel Pérez High School in the Plaza municipality.

The picture is not very different in higher education. This September 1st the university classrooms hosted more than 170,000 students throughout the country, 33,000 of them new entrants. Many teaching assistants or recent graduates fill in for the absence of professionals with more teaching experience.

Despite an investment of around 20 million pesos for university campus repairs, the situation of the furniture and the infrastructure still presents many shortcomings. In the worst situations there are student dorms with serious problems with the plumbing, windows and woodwork.

“Developing values is very difficult, because we have other emergencies,” concludes a teaching assistant at José Luis Arruñada elementary school. Behind her, a line of children in recently-ironed uniforms looks forward to entering the classroom. September has returned.

UNPACU asks the Pope for Solidarity with the Oppressed / 14ymedio

Building the stand in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution for the papal visit. (Luz Escobar)

Building the stand in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution for the papal visit. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 September 2015 – The executive secretary of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer, sent Pope Francis in a letter published this Thursday on the organization’s website, to warn him that on his upcoming visit to the island he is going to find a scenario very similar in many aspects to that observed by his predecessors on previous visits to Cuba. The activist asked the pontiff for “a gesture of solidarity in defense of the oppressed.”

“From the visit of Karol J. Wojtyla to date, the world has opened itself to Cuba, but the Cuban government, in a reticent way, appears to open itself to the world, while at the same time continues to be closed to the feeling of an entire people and continues to deny rights and freedoms without which the happiness and well-being of nations and of the individual are impossible,” he writes.

Ferrer argues that those who speak of “reforms” on the island exaggerate, and that “the measures taken by the government are still insufficient, they do not go to the root of the problem.” However, he adds, that something has, indeed, changed substantially: the mentality of the people. “The majority already say that what they feel and want is profound changes. The fear of repression, little by little, is being overcome,” he added.

The UNPACU secretary argues that the Cuban people suffer not only widespread material misery, a product of decades of the centralized economy, but also, and above all, the lack “of the precious gift of Freedom.” He also regrets that the spaces of association and participation for civil society “continue to be disjointed and stranded,” and he asks the pope for a “gesture” to support the building of a nation on the basis “of freedom and solidarity.”

“You can intercede and advocate for the rights of the oppressed, and in Cuba we are the majority,” he affirms, asking support for the release of political prisoners and for the end to arbitrary detentions of peaceful activists.

In addition, Ferrer explains that many members of the organization, as well as other groups of independent civil society, wish to attend the masses that the pope will celebrate during his stay in Cuba, between 19 and 22 September, but “the secret political police will prevent it, as happened during the visit of Benedict XVI.”

Leftist Imperialism In Latin America / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea

Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera. (Wikicommons)

Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera. (Wikicommons)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea, Santa Clara, 24 August 2015 –One morning, I had just arrived at the Cabaña Fort during the days of the 2014 Havana International Book Fair, and on consulting the daily program discovered that at this very moment the Bolivian vice president Alvara Garcia Linera was offering a videoconference in the Lezama Lima Room. The room was full of Bolivian civilians and Cuban military, who in a state of excitement not very common to a book fair, were cheering with the veins in their necks bulging every time Linera showed on a map a piece of territory which, according to him, one of his neighbors had grabbed from Bolivia.

According to Linera, absolutely all the countries bordering Bolivia had participated in this plundering. In fact, according to his speech, almost half of South America legally belonged to his country which, more than Andean – and in this he was explicit – was by right Amazonian.

The truth is that, despite all the supposed integrationist advances in Latin America, territorial or maritime claims are the order of the day. This persistence is due to the Latin American tendency to use the differences that these claims generate to divert public attention from domestic policies. There is no Latin American government, elected or imposed, of the left or the right, which in the face of a scenario of enormous popular disapproval doesn’t immediately look at a piece of territory that, supposedly or truly, some neighbor grabbed at some time in their history.

No Latin American government in the face of massive popular disapproval fails to remember the piece of land that a neighbor grabbed at some point in its history

The most emblematic case is the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina’s military dictatorship which was foundering in a difficult economic and social internal situation. Emblematic because not only did it go beyond threats and rhetoric, but because the opponent was nothing more than one of the nations with the strongest fighting traditions and most prominent navies in human history: the United Kingdom.

The most recent, and the most pathetic (not to say cowardly), is the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, with its pretension to claim from a much poorer country a piece of its territory rich in petroleum. A piece that, incidentally, represents half of Guyana. Thus, after the Chavez-Maduroism of the last two decades launching continuous and daily diatribes against imperialism, now takes off the mask and behaves like it actually is: a deeply ideological imperialist.

Thus, we can see the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela now practicing a blackmail diplomacy throughout the Caribbean, in a manner more unsubtle than almost anything Washington has done in its entire history.

How can we reconcile the integrationist Venezuelan discourse with this despicable and cowardly act? It does not make demands of the power of Great Britain, but rather of the poorest country that emerged through independence from that colonial power. Nothing changes, they shout to the four winds, with the resources in dispute in Venezuelan hands as they will also be available to the Guyanese people thanks to the extensive cooperation with the country “in solidarity.” On the contrary, this justification better shows the true nature of the “integrationism” and the Chavez-Maduro solidarity. It is Maduro’s Venezuela that decides and has the last word. In the end is it not our oil? Well do and think as we dictate from the Caracas fascism… I’m sorry, the socialism of the 21st century.

Venezuela seeks to strip from Guyana, a much poorer country, a piece of its oil-rich territory

The ultimate reasons for this infamy are the same ones that led Galtieri to assault the Falklands in 1982. With a barrel of oil under 38 dollars, and with increasingly meager support, Chavez-Maduroism seeks to distract attention from the difficult internal situation and, at the same time, put Venezuela in a state of war that gives it a free hand to close the few remaining spaces for democracy in the country. Because something that must be understood by the opponents to Chavez-Maduroism who, however, support this imperialist adventure: the principal objective is nothing more than to annul them as opponents, presenting the opposition attitude as treason “at such difficult times.”

The fear is that attitudes like that of Chavez-Maduro’s Venezuela are being repeated by other leftist regimes in these difficult times for them in the region. It should not surprise us when very soon the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, sitting on an erupting volcano, remembers the half of the country that Peru snatched from Ecuador more than a hundred years ago. As for the land of the “Great Indian Chief of the South,” Bolivia, we have already mentioned where the ideas of Linera have currency, his Great White Brain: a guy to be reckoned with and a bomb thrower.

A Child Writes the Tragedy of a People in the Sand / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Front page of Spain's El Pais, 3 September

Front page of Spain’s El Pais, 3 September

I am innocent and I have come to the seashore 
Gaston Baquero

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 3 September 2015 – There is a boy on the beach, he does not move, he does not smile, he does not build sand castles. The life of Aylan Kurdi has been brief: only three years, but the drama of his people has lasted decades, centuries. A tragedy that sheds light on the displaced, on wars, on the overwhelming economic contrasts that mark this planet. The little head that rests in the sand encompasses the pain of those who flee, who leave everything behind, but who never arrive at their destination.

A people who escapes always understands better another who emigrates. They know the pain of saying goodbye to things that are left behind. Goodbye table. Goodbye tree. Goodbye window, from which every day they gaze upon the sunrise, and the horror. Goodbye friends. There is always a touch of innocence, of blind hope in those who leave, as if they are filled with the certainty that they will reach the other side. Continue reading

The Language in the Struggle for Democratization / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

Graffiti of a tall Christmas tree painted over the initials of the Committee for Defense of the Revolution

Graffiti of a tall Christmas tree painted over the initials of the Committee for Defense of the Revolution

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 1 September 2015 — If for you revolution is taking up arms on a hill and facing the bullets of power, for one of your interlocutors it is an act in which the masses take to the streets to change one government and impose another and for a third participating, it is the process of changes in the relationships of production, you and your other two interlocutors will have a hard time understanding any discussion on the topic.

We can say the same with regards to socialism, capitalism, democracy and another set of basic terms of today’s politics. It will be very necessary for us to agree first on what we mean by each of those words, if we are to reach broader agreements. Achieving this implies opening ourselves to different positions. Continue reading

Cuban Bank Will Lend To Private Sector Without Collateral / EFE, 14ymedio

Long lines outside a bank branch Infanta Street in Havana. (14ymedio)

Long lines outside a bank branch Infanta Street in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE / 14ymedio, Havana, 2 September 2015 — The self-employed in Cuba may borrow up to 10,000 Cuban pesos ($400 US) without submitting financial guarantees or guarantors, and the loan may be approved within three days, the official media reported today on the island.

The measure by the People’s Saving Bank (BPA), which operates throughout the country except in Havana, will take as a guarantee a “developing” savings account, explained Greicher La Nuez, BPA’s director of Business Banking to the State National Information Agency.

The deposit will contribute to the amortization of the debt (if the payments are 200 pesos a month, 50 will remain in the account), said the functionary, who said that the accumulated savings could serve as backing for another loan, once the first loan is paid off. Continue reading

Cuban State Enterprises: Compete Or Die / 14ymedio

The general secretary of the Workers' Central Union of Cuba, Ulises Guillarte on the program 'Good Morning'.

The general secretary of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba, Ulises Guillarte on the program ‘Good Morning’.

14ymedio biggerCuban state enterprises, the cornerstone of the country’s centralized economy, could be about to suffer a major setback with a new review process. The inspection that concludes this coming November will evaluate those entities that present losses and could determine to do away with many of them, according to a report this Monday in Trabajadores (Workers).

Among the measures to be adopted against the enterprises that do not demonstrate profitability will also be the redefinition of their organizational structures and the salaries of their workers. The analysis should conclude before the next session of the parliament, this year’s last, to be held in December.

Continue reading

Holguin Starts the School Year in the Midst of a Complex Epidemiological Situation / 14ymedio, Donate Fernando Ochoa

Preschool classroom of a primary school in Holguin. (Fernando Donate)

Preschool classroom of a primary school in Holguin. (Fernando Donate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 1 September 2015 — The beginning of the school year in Holguin has been complicated this early September by the complex epidemiological context facing the region because of the outbreaks of dengue fever and cholera. The city is experiencing a declared health emergency, but authorities say they have taken all sanitary measures in order to prevent the spread of diseases in schools.

In junior high schools the school snack has temporarily been suspended, an offering that consisted of yogurt and bread with mortadella passed out free in the schools. Continue reading

Less Milk and Less Beef / 14ymedio, Jose Quintana de la Cruz

A cow in Cuba. (CC)

A cow in Cuba. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Quintana de la Cruz, Pinar del Rio, 31 August 2015 – Cattle ranching in Cuba touched bottom in 1999, but it had started its decline in 1970. That year’s effort to produce 10 million tons of sugar was the focus of attention and resources for the entire nation. Such a disproportion was detrimental to the the motto of centralized planning: wielding economic harmony and proportionality.

The setback in the care and breeding of cattle came after a remarkable success in the cattle industry until 1968. In the sixties, mass vaccination increased the heads of cattle from just over 5 million on the island in 1958 to 7.5 million. The increase was the result of importing breeding stock from Canada, the massive use of artificial insemination and good animal husbandry and veterinary management. This improved the quantity and quality of the herds.

However, in 1968 a decline in the number of cattle began that is not yet over. Alarms sounded in 1999 when Cuba had 3 million fewer head of cattle than in 1968. Of the numbers lost, at least 1.9 million were heifers, which considerably affected the base of reproduction, the guarantee of future herds. Continue reading

Sales Of Building Materials Under Scrutiny / 14ymedio

Adjoining apartments in the same building: Among the most deficient products is paint for facades. (Reinaldo Escobar)

Adjoining apartments in the same building: Among the most under-supplied products is paint for facades. (Reinaldo Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 September 2015 – When there is sand, there are no bricks,” protests a lady this week outside the market in Havana’s La Timna neighborhood. People’s dissatisfaction with regards to quality, quantity and variety of construction materials continues unresolved despite having been addressed at the accountability meetings of the People’s Power throughout the country and in the national press.

The situation shows no signs of improvement despite the annual application of the Program for Local Production and Sales of Construction Materials, which began this Tuesday for the seventh consecutive year, starting in Guantanamo province and concluding on October 15 in Isla de la Juventud, according to the schedule published in the official press. Continue reading

Free or Slaves? / 14ymedio, Lynn Cruz

Scene from 'The Emigrants' by Slawomir Mrozek, directed by Sahily Moreda. (14ymedio)

Scene from ‘The Emigrants’ by Slawomir Mrozek, directed by Sahily Moreda. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lynn Cruz, Havana, 30 August 2015 — The play The Emigrants (1975), by the Polish playwright Slawomir Mrozek has been staged by Sahily Moreado and his company Teatro del Cuartel at Sala Teatro El Sotano in Havana. This story of tearing apart, uprooting and exile will present the final shows of its revival over the weekend.

One of the characters fled for political reasons, while the other to escape misery. The first believes in the value of being able to think and speak freely, while the latter wants to make money to return to his family. Two visions of the world coexist in a basement, but what isn’t specified is in which country or city.

Driven by survival, each character shows his most primitive side and at the moments when the atmosphere becomes more sordid than dreary, the theater piece evokes the work Two Lost in the Filthy Night (1966) by the Brazilian Linio Marcos. Continue reading

Fines Do Not Deter, They Accumulate / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A policeman checks a street vendor’s papers and merchandise (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

A policeman checks a street vendor’s papers and merchandise (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 29 August 2015 – Outside the market at 17th and K in Havana informal vendors gather despite the police raids. Niurka is one of them and her “offering” is reduced to selling plastic bags which she offers at one Cuban peso (about 4¢ US) each. “The last time they charged me, they gave me a one thousand peso fine,” says the women about her most recent encounter. However, she says she wouldn’t think of paying it and will continue to offer her wares.

“People come here when they are planning to travel or to do some paperwork and they don’t want to have an unpaid fine,” says an employee of the Fine Payment Office of the Plaza of the Revolution municipality. In line for the payment counter, a young man named Diego carried in his hand a paper that shows the amounts for each offense. “I was sitting on a wall and a cop fined me for damage to a public ornament,” he says angrily. Continue reading