Sweating Is Not For Cuba’s New Rich

In recent years the supply of air conditioners in the informal market has increased considerably. (J. Cáceres)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 20 June 2017 — The passenger complains of the heat while frantically moving the fan. “In a few days I will install an air conditioning,” justifies the taxi driver and adds that he will charge “higher fares.” In summer everyone dreams of air-conditioning their rooms or vehicles, but whether or not one suffers the heat depends on the pocketbook.

In 2013, after eight years of prohibition, the government authorized travelers to import air conditioners, electric stoves, refrigerators and microwave ovens. It was the starting shot for an avalanche that invades the airports, the port terminals and the shipping agencies to Cuba.

“Six ‘splits’ (air conditioners) came on that flight,” said an employee of Terminal 3 at José Martí International Airport in Havana. The plane from Cancun, a route greatly appreciated by the mules, also brought a dozen flat-screen TVs, eight minibars and two desktop computers. continue reading

Among the boxes that are piled around the luggage belt are the units that will be placed inside rooms and others that will be placed on a roof or an outer wall, a cruel irony, because in the main airport of the country travelers complain about the heat and drip fat beads of sweat while waiting for their suitcases.

“It is difficult to know the number of AC units entering each day,” says the employee. “It is rare that a flight arrives from Panama, Mexico or any other nearby country that comes without at least two devices.” In the lines to pay for overweight luggage and the import of domestic appliances one sees the new arrivals loaded with bundles.

Permanent residents in Cuba, national or foreign, can import two air conditioners of up to one-ton capacity on each trip. On the first occasion only – over the space of a year — they pay tariffs in Cuban pesos at a price ranging from 150 to 200 CUP (roughly $6 to $8 US). For additional imports they pay that amount in convertible pesos (CUC – roughly $150 to $200 US).

The business is booming. Even paying in CUC the traveler can resell a one-ton air conditioner on the black market for about 650 CUC, for a device that originally cost less than 350 dollars. The brands that enter most frequently are Midea, LG, Carrier, Royal, Daewoo and Prestiger. Prices have fallen by up to 30% since the imports were authorized and given the volume of supply that trend will continue.

State stores try to compete with the “under the counter” sales but have higher prices, fewer models and shortages that make the supply unstable.

The air conditioners have slowly been incorporated into the landscape of cities and towns. If before the economic relaxations they were installed discreetly, now with a more open economy the tendency is to exhibit them.

“The people living there have cash,” says Igor, a pedicab driver who waits for his clients in the vicinity of the Plaza de Carlos III. While pedaling and showing some parts of the city, the cyclist glances at these signs of families with money. “Wherever there is an air conditioner they are affluent,” he muses. Not only does acquiring one of these devices mark membership in a social group, the most difficult thing is to pay for its operation.

Much of the electricity supply remains subsidized. “The average monthly consumption in the residential sector in 2013 was approximately 180 KWh per customer,” said Marino Murillo. For that amount a consumer pays 36.60 CUP, “while the cost to the state is 220 CUP,” said Cuba’s vice president.

Keeping a one-ton air conditioner on all night can trigger electricity consumption above 400 CUP monthly, the entire salary of a professional. However, many families decide to do so, overwhelmed by the heat or because they want to rent rooms to foreigners.

“Air conditioning and hot water cannot be lacking in this business,” says Rocío, who operates a colonial hostel in Trinidad with his mother. With three rooms for rent, each with AC, minibar and television, the entrepreneurs pay a four-digit electricity bill. They consider that, even so, it “brings in business” in an area with a high occupation rate throughout the year.

In November 2010, a new progressive electricity rate began to be imposed, which imposes a penalty of up to 300% on households that consume more than 300 KWh per month, a situation that has triggered electricity fraud.

An engineer from the Electricity Company in Havana told 14ymedio about the new ways in which citizens seek to steal electricity. Before there were “visible” cables that were easy to detect or they tampered with the meters in a way that technicians noticed right away, but now they conspire with the workers who repair the streets and get the cables installed underground.

In 2013 the Cuban government authorized travelers to import air conditioners, electric stoves, refrigerators and microwaves. (J. Cáceres)

The specialist says that there are “people whose homes abut state entities and they steal electricity from a company, a warehouse, a carpentry workshop or even a polyclinic.” He says that almost always “it is a cases of people who have some highly customer-based business, like an electric oven to make pizzas, a body shop, a private restaurant or a lot of air conditioners.”

The engineer recalls a family in which “even the youngest children had AC in their room and left it on all day.” A neighbor reported the situation when he learned that they paid a very low electricity rate. The complaint brought the inspectors and they discovered that the meter was tampered with. In addition to the fine “they had to pay retroactively all that they owed.”

To counter fraud, analog meters were replaced by digital ones and in some areas of the country they are being changed again for new ones with infrared technology. But the tricks are inexhaustible.

“The upstairs neighbor lives alone and is retired, and he passes the cable with electricity to me and in return I also pay for his consumption,” says a prosperous entrepreneur who runs a coffee shop on Zanja Street. “So I share the consumption and it’s not as expensive” because it prevents all the kilowatts going on a single account with the consequent progressive surcharge.

The customer has three air conditioners installed throughout the house. “Without this you can not live here, because this house hardly has windows to the outside and the kitchen of the business generates a lot of heat,” he explains. He bought the devices in the informal market and is waiting for them “to lower prices a little” to buy a room.

“It is not the same to be Cuban with a fan as it is to be a Cuban with AC,” he reflects. “The first one is irritated but the second is less stressed because he has air conditioning.”

Cuba From The Inside With Alternative Tour Guides

Independent guides show what the state-run companies leave out.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 21 June 2017 — Economic hardships turn many Cuban engineers to work as bartenders, doctors become taxi drivers and innumerable professionals become alternative guides for tourists. Among the latter, there are the experienced or the just-getting-started, but all of them earn more money than they would working in the state sector.

“When they change a picture I know instantly,” says Natacha, a Havana city guide who says she has visited “the Museum of Fine Arts more than 300 times” with her clients. She graduated from the Teaching Institute but she left the classrooms after five years of teaching in junior high.

“I had to think about what to do with my life and I realized that I spoke Spanish very clearly, I knew the history of Cuba and I was good at dealing with people.” A friend advised her to start offering tours to foreigners who came to the country. continue reading

At first, Natacha stood in a corner of Old Havana and whispered her services to travelers. Now, after the relaxations regarding self-employment, she has been able to legalize part of her activities and form a team. “We have a network that includes rental houses, dance teachers, masseuses and chauffeurs,” she says.

With the increase in tourism, which last year exceeded 4 million visitors, the guide has “a surplus of work,” but now fears that after the announcements of US President Donald Trump that “the business will decline.”

Natacha accompanies her clients “to places where a state guide will never take them…The program is flexible according to their tastes: from exclusive areas to poor neighborhoods, trips in collective taxis, a train ride and a santería party.”

She speaks English and French fluently and recently began studying Italian and Japanese. “Japanese tourism is still small but they pay very well and are very respectful people,” says Natacha. Most of her clients end up recommending her services to a friend who wants to travel to Cuba. “This is a chain of trust that has allowed me to have up to 200 customers a year.”

The prices of a walk with the former teacher vary. “They can go from 20 to 100 CUC (roughly $20 to $100 US) depending on the place, the time and the complexity of the subject.” For years she included visits outside of Havana but now she has left these to her younger colleagues because her mother is very old and she doesn’t want to leave the city.

“This work is hard because it takes a lot of personal involvement, learning something new every day and answering many questions,” she explains. “I spend hours walking, most of the time under the sun, but I would not give up my independence by going back to teaching.” She says that being a tourist guide has allowed her to “put a plate of food on the table every day… a good plate of food.”

A growing alternative is digital sites that advertise independent guides and offer a wide variety of services or entertainment packages. Recently a team of 30-something Cuban residents in Miami launched Tour Republic, a website to sell recreational activities on the Island.

The site connects the traveler with urban guides with a marketplace – similar to Airbnb – but instead of offering lodging it markets tours of varied intensity and duration, from a ride in a classic car through Havana, to an escape through the unique natural landscape of the valley of Viñales.

Máximo, a 30-year-old Italian newcomer to Havana, was hesitant Tuesday about whether to buy a three-day package worth $58 including visits to the Ernest Hemingway Museum, the University of Havana, the old colonial fortresses of the capital, and even an encounter with the sculpture of John Lennon located in a Vedado park.

With Tour Republic the customer pays the online service and must be at the site where the itinerary begins at the agreed-upon time. In the case of the tour that interests Maximo, the guide is at the bottom of the steps of the Capitol and departs every morning at ten.

The tourist says he prefers an independent guide because “the program is more flexible and can be adjusted more” to what he wants. In a small notebook he has noted some interesting places that escape the typical tourist route: the town of San Antonio, the Superior Art Institute and the Alamar neighborhood.

“In this arena there are people very prepared and with excellent training,” says Carlos, an alternative guide who leaves the statue of José Martí in Central Park every morning for a tour he has baptized Habana Real. “I take them through the streets where tourists do not normally pass, I have them try a drink of rum in a bar where the Cubans really go,” he says.

The young man, with a degree in geography, has been “wearing out shoe leather in the city for seven years.” At first “I did not know much about history, architecture or famous people, but little by little I have become an itinerant encyclopedia of Cuba,” he says.

The GuruWalk platform has also risen to the crest of the wave of tourist interest in Cuba. The Spanish company runs an international website for free walking tours and has chosen Havana as their preferred site to begin operations.

Communications director, Pablo Perez-Manglano, told 14ymedio that “the platform is completely democratic, anyone can join and create a tour.” Site administrators check the offers one by one, but the reviews are left to users after each visit.

“We are an open and free platform, we do not charge the guide or the visitor anything, and therefore, we hope that each person understands and takes responsibility to comply, or not, with the legality in their respective cities of the world,” he clarifies.

The site already has seven free tours in Havana, one in Santiago and another in Santa Clara. “In addition, we had about 200 registered users in the last month, which is a lot for such a new platform,” says Pérez-Manglano.

Unlike Tour Republic there is nothing to pay online and the money is delivered directly to the guide.

The perspectives that the web offers for entrepreneurs like Natacha sound promising. GuruWalk does not deny “entry to someone for not having an official guide qualification.” Rather, it seeks “people who are passionate about culture and history, who also enjoy teaching and transmitting that knowledge.”

One of the strategies of the company is to make itself known among “the owners of private houses” because it is to them that more often the foreigners ask: “What should we see in the city?”

Pérez-Manglano underlines that the cornerstone of GuruWalk is the “collaborative economy.” Instead of “certificates, rules, rules, or permits,” they are interested in trust, which “is built little by little.”

Two Solstices Seen From Our Newsroom

The winter solstice (above) and the summer (below) seen from the newsroom. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 June 2017 — It has been six months since a photo taken from 14ymedio’s newsroom, last 21 December, captured the moment when a reddish sun was about to sink into the longest night of the year. This Wednesday the image reflects the other extreme and the reporters of this newspaper look out over the day with the most light: the summer solstice.

From the municipality Diez de Octubre to Old Havana the restless star has traversed the landscape of our balcony. A brief route before the eyes, but incredibly transcendent for nature and life. Spring has ended in the northern hemisphere and the 93 days that summer “officially” lasts have begun, although the thermometers have us believing that we are already in the hottest season. continue reading

On this terrace it is impossible to ignore the resounding news that today, at noon, the sun will be at its highest point of the year and will illuminate us for the longest number of hours. In the southern hemisphere winter will begin and it will be the longest night. Meanwhile, in the street, life remains oblivious to how the stars place themselves above us.

The rainy season has also begun, although El Indio seems reluctant to cede prominence to the downpours and insists on mistreating with its rays the already affected Cuban landscape, which is suffering the most grueling drought in a century.

It is true that there will be scarcely any difference between today and tomorrow, that our spring is as close to the summer as one can imagine, and that the sun strikes equally in June as in August, but an avalanche of events has occurred in the six months since that other solstice. In December we were in a total diplomatic thaw with the United States and today we grind our teeth amid the political glaciation, led by President Donald Trump.

In half a year we have also had to say goodbye many times to the friends who have left, the official press has been filled with obituaries, and in our newsroom the gray hairs are sprouting and the impetus to report grows. I only wish that on this day, the longest of the year, the light will accompany us in both its real and metaphorical sense, and give us clarity to know what news is and what it is not; what sinks us and what saves us.

Consensus and Dissent in the Face of Trump’s Cuba Policy

Hundreds of people gathered in the vicinity of the Manuel Artime Theater to show their disagreement with the change in policy toward Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 June 2017 – Over the weekend the official media have repeated ad nauseam the declaration of the government in response to Donald Trump’s speech about his policy toward Cuba. The declaration’s rhetoric recalls the years before the diplomatic thaw, when political propaganda revolved around confrontation with our neighbor to the north.

Beyond these words, many on the island are breathing a sigh of relief because the main steps taken by Barack Obama will not be reversed. The remittances on which so many families depend will not be cut, nor will the American Embassy in Havana be closed.

On the streets of Cuba, life continues its slow march, far from what was said at the Artime Theater in Miami and published by the Plaza of the Revolution. continue reading

Julia Borroto put a bottle of water in the freezer on Saturday to be ready for the line he expects to find waiting for him Monday outside the United States Embassy. This 73-year-old from Camagüey, who arrived in the capital just after Trump’s speech, remembers that Trump had said “he was going to put an end to the visas and travel, but I see that it isn’t so.”

The retiree also had another concern: the reactivation of the wet foot/dry foot policy eliminated by Obama last January. “I have two children who were plotting to go to sea. I just sent them a message to forget about it.”

The hopes of many frustrated rafters were counting on the magnate to restore the migratory privileges that Cubans enjoyed for more than two decades, but Trump defrauded them. Hundreds of migrants from the island who have been trapped in Central America on their way to the US were also waiting for that gesture that did not arrive.

Among the self-employed, concern is palpable. Homeowners who rent to tourists and private restaurant owners regret that the new policy will lead to a decline in American tourists on the island. The so-called yumas are highly desired in the private sector, especially for their generous tips.

Mary, who runs a lodging business in Old Havana, is worried. “Since the Americans began to come, I hardly have a day with empty rooms.” She had made plans on the basis of greater flexibilities and hoped “to open up more to tourism.”

On national television there is a flood of “indignant responses from the people” including no shortage of allusions to sovereignty, dignity and “the unwavering will to continue on the path despite difficulties.” The Castro regime is seizing the opportunity to reactivate the dormant propaganda machinery that had been missing its main protagonist: the enemy.

However, away from the official microphones people are indifferent or discontented with what happened. A pedicab driver swears not to know what they are talking about when he is asked about Friday’s announcements, and a retiree limits himself to commenting, “Those people who applaud Trump in Miami no longer remember when they were here standing in line for bread.”

Of the thirteen activists who met with Barack Obama during his trip to Havana, at least five expressed opinions to this newspaper about the importance of the new policy towards Cuba.

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), was at that table in March 2016 and was also mentioned on this occasion by Donald Trump during his speech. The activist had planned to be in Miami for the occasion, but at the airport in Holguin was denied exit and was subsequently arrested.

“It is the speech that had to be given and the person who could have avoided it is Raul Castro,” the former political prisoner asserts categorically. Ferrer believes that Obama did the right thing whenhe began a new era in relations between the two countries but “the Castro regime’s response was to bite the hand that was extended to it.”

In the opinion of the opposition leader, in the last 20 months repression has multiplied and “it was obvious that a different medicine had to be administered” because “a dictatorship like this should not be rewarded, it should be punished and more so when it was given the opportunity to improve its behavior and did not do so.”

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, was also prevented from flying to Miami to attend the event. For her, the words of the American president were clear and “if the Cuban regime accepts the conditions that Donald Trump has imposed on it, Cuba will begin to change.”

Soler believes that the Cuban government’s response is aimed at confusing the people, who “do not know exactly what is going on.” She says that Trump wants to maintain business with Cuba “but not with the military, but directly with the people,” something that the official press has not explained.

Opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa, who manages the platform #Otro18 (Another 2018), is blunt and points out that “returning to failed policies is the best way to guarantee failure.” The measures announced by Trump, in his opinion, do not help the changes, and they once again give the Cuban government “the excuse to show its repressive nature.”

The dissident believes that the new policy tries to return the debate on democracy on the island to the scenario of conflict between Cuba and the United States, “just when it was beginning to refocus the national scenario on communication between the Cuban State and its citizens, which is where it needs to be.”

The director of the magazine Convivencia, Dagoberto Valdés, believes that there is a remarkable difference between the discourse itself “which seems a return to the past with the use of a language of confrontation, and the so-called concrete measures that have been taken.”

For Valdés there is no major reversal of Obama’s policy. “The trips of the Cuban Americans, the embassy, ​​the remittances are maintained… and the possibility of a negotiating table remains open when the Cuban Government makes reforms related to human rights.”

Journalist Miriam Celaya predicted that the speech would not be “what the most radical in Miami and the so-called hard line of the Cuban opposition expected. What is coming is a process and it does not mean that from tomorrow no more Americans will come to the Island and that negotiations of all kinds are finished,” she says.

In her usual poignant style, she adds that “regardless of all the fanfare and the bells and whistles, regardless of how abundant the smiles, and no matter how much people laughed at Trump’s jokes, it doesn’t seem that the changes are going to be as promising as those who are proclaiming that it’s all over for the government.”

Celaya sheds light on the fact that the official statement of the Cuban government “manifests its intention to maintain dialogue and relations within the framework of respect.” This is a great difference with other times when a speech like that “would have provoked a ‘march of the fighting people’ and a military mobilization.”

Instead, officialdom has opted for declarations and revolutionary slogans in the national media. But in the streets, that rhetoric is just silent. “People are tired of all this history,” says a fisherman on the Havana Malecon. “There is no one who can fix it, but no one who can sink it.”

Three “Paladares” Closed Were Among The Best Restaurants In Havana

Lungo Mare is another of the Havana closed in the middle of this week.(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 June 2017 – The closure of three private restaurants in Havana last week has sparked doubts among owners of food service businesses. The fact that the three paladares – private restaurants – were rated “excellent” on Trip Advisor, one of the most important travel sites on the web, has fueled fears that the authorities are acting against the more prosperous businesses.

The police closed El Litoral, Dolce Vita and Lungo Mare, all located in the Vedado neighborhood, after a high-profile operation and the seizure of many goods, 14ymedio was able to confirm.

Alejandro Marcel Mendevil, the visible face of El Litoral, which operates under the name of his mother, Nardis Francisca Mendivil, had previously had legal problems when working for a company linked to the Ministry of Tourism, according to an employee of the place who preferred to remain anonymous. On that occasion he was “under investigation with other employees” for an alleged diversion of resources detected in the entity, which operated with foreign capital. continue reading

That investigation ended without charges but according to the same employee “the suspicion clung to him that he was laundering the embezzled money through El Litoral.”

Nardis Francisca Mendivil, legal owner of El Litoral, refuses to talk to the press so as not to harm her son, who is imprisoned in 100 and Aldabó and subject to a warning from State Security, but she does deny the version published by some media according to which he was the proprietor of the three closed paladares.

“We have nothing to do with Lungo Mare,” said the mother of the detainee. Other sources stated that her son also managed that paladar at one time, but had sold it “a few months ago.”

In addition, Señora Mendival complains that it is not the first time that they have tried to impute false crimes to her son; in the past he was accused of the death of a police officer who, according to Señora Mendival, shot “himself in a patrol car,” a few yards from the restaurant.

The closing of the restaurants took place after an exhaustive search by the Technical Department of Investigations in cooperation with police forces.

The news of what happened circulated through emails in the Cubapaladar newsletter on food service businesses. Its organizers were quick to remove the premises from their list of recommendations and asserted that they will never include an establishment that is “under a legal investigation or involved in any case that violates any Cuban law.”

This Thursday, an improvised sign with the word “Closed” was the only visible sign to customers at door of number 161 Malecón between K and L where until recently the El Litoral was overflowing with activity. The area is now deserted.

”Paladar” Dolce Vita. (14ymedio)

The operation and the confiscation of numerous belongings from the premises were the subject of comments from the whole neighborhood. “I saw many things: air conditioners, drinks of different brands they had in the cellar, chairs, tables, they even took the cutlery away,” says a neighbor.

According to an employee who spoke to 14ymedio, agents also took everything that was in the basement where a new space was going to be inaugurated for “tasting exquisite drinks and Cuban cigars.”

The site, with a wide-ranging menu specializing in seafood and fish, soon became a emblem of the new era for Cuban entrepreneurship after the flexibilizations for the self-employed sector promoted by Raúl Castro’s Government as of 2010.

“From the moment you walked through the door, you felt that you were not in Cuba because of the variety of dishes and the efficiency of the service,” says Grégory, a Frenchman who has visited Cuba more than a dozen times in the past decade, where he has “two daughters and many friends.”

However, those times of bonanza and glamor seem to have ended in the large house with a view directly to the sea.

The scene at El Litoral is repeated in the restaurant Dolce Vita, specializing in Mediterranean food and also located on Havana’s Malecón. The restaurant, which was a bustle of waiters and customers, is now closed, lock stock and barrel.

At the corner of Calle 1a and C, in Vedado, silence has also taken over the outside terrace and the interior area of ​​Lungo Mare. Underneath its distinctive red and white striped awning there is no longer the noise of the silverware or the clinking of the glasses. “This is dead and it will take a long time for it to rise again,” jokes a newspaper salesman who mourns the situation.

“The whole neighborhood benefited from this restaurant because many people came and I could sell some of my newspapers at a slightly better price,” he explains.

“This happened because it stood out a lot,” says Luis Carlos, a young man who delivers agricultural products for several restaurants in the area. “El Litoral became a reference point and many foreigners and diplomats came,” he explains. “Here they sold the best croquettes in Havana and that’s not a joke.”

No other private restaurant or coffee shop owner in the area has wanted to comment on the case.

Trump And Cuba, Or How To Bet On The Wrong Winner

President Donald Trump (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 13 June 2017 – In less than 72 hours President Donald Trump will declare in Miami the new basis for the United States government’s policies towards Cuba. At that time the decisions of his predecessor Barack Obama, during the process of normalization of diplomatic relations with the island, could be paused or reversed.

The magnate will make the announcement into a spectacle like so many he has starred in since he has been at the head of the greatest power on earth. He will gesticulate, commit himself to human rights and elicit enthusiastic applause, but then he will return to the White House and the Island will fall off his agenda.

Why entrust the fate of this country to a man who has failed to keep a single one of the election promises he made to his own people? Is the policy toward Cuba the only thing that will turn out well from someone who has behaved like a political bull in a china shop? continue reading

Trump will try to please the voices asking him to tighten the screws on Havana. Sanctions, cutting back and revoking the measures taken during the thaw are among the demands of those who bet on confrontation, a strategy that has had half a century to demonstrate its ineffectiveness.

The president will especially address himself to those who insist on “turning off the tap,” cutting off communication and shutting down supplies to the longest dictatorship in the West, as if such measures will cut off the electricity, water supply or internet access to the homes of the Community Party elite.

It is symptomatic that demands for economic strangulation rarely spring from those who wait long hours for a bus, depend daily on the bread that is distributed in the rationed market and have to stretch a monthly salary that is barely enough to survive on for a week.

On the other hand, blaming Obama’s “soft hand” for the wreck of normalization leads one to forget that those in charge in Cuba did not seize the opportunity for fear of losing control. They were more frightened by Obama’s speech at the Gran Teatro de La Habana than by any threat of military intervention.

Those who have aspired for decades to unconditional surrender, to revengeful justice, and to “all or nothing” with Castroism, did not lose any time in putting roadblocks in the way of the process started on 17 December 2014. Starting this Friday they will be forced to accept everything that happens after Trump’s decisions, or to recognize this is not the way to emerge from a dictatorship.

The figures for arbitrary arrests compiled by the Cuban Human Rights Commission are unlikely to decline significantly, the Ladies in White will still be unable to march down Fifth Avenue in the west of Havana, and opposition groups will remain illegal and persecuted by the police.

What will be the foreseeable consequences on the Island of a return to the politics of the cudgel? An increase in repression and a better positioning of the more conservative sectors. The Plaza of the Revolution, the tyranny of the Castros, the regime… or whatever you prefer to call it, will not be alone in facing the tightening of the screws from Washington.

Russia, China, Angola, Nicolas Maduro and comrades from North Korea, Congo, Zimbabwe and Iran will rush to take sides with Raul Castro. Meanwhile, in the streets of the Island the population will mark Trump’s measures with renewed “marches of the fighting people,” shouting anti-imperialist slogans and accepting the postponement of the old promises of the Revolution.

Faced with “the new onslaught from the empire” the government will reinforce its aptitude for entrenchment. In the upper echelons of power there will be no cracks or disagreements. Persecutors will strengthen their power and enjoy the impunity to crush any resistance.

Trump will not achieve, with his new measures, a new march by university students with a “Down with the Dictatorship” poster, nor will the unions call for a general strike against the government, nor will the farmers march to the cities demanding land.

It is not even clear whether the president will serve out four years in office, cornered as he is by political scandals, alleged Kremlin intervention in the elections that brought him to power and his unfortunate way of managing politics through incendiary treatises or threats.

His decisions will not provoke another Maleconazo on the island like the one of August of 1994. That popular protest was spurred by the desire to escape the country, not change it. Those dramatic events were not sparked by the opposition, nor did they generate political changes, just the Rafter Crisis.

Such an outbreak would be a nightmare for a leader with a marked nationalism and an evident anti-immigrant phobia.

This Friday the American president will have his moment in front of the Cuban exile. The applause for him will be short-lived. The placebo effect of his announcements will dissipate to give way to the stubborn reality that no decision of a foreign government will change Cuba, regardless of whether Barack Obama or Donald Trump is at the head of it.

The End Of The Cycle For Two Caudillos

The presidents of Cuba and Angola, Raúl Castro and José Eduardo Dos Santos during the signing of bilateral agreements, in the Palace of the Revolution of Havana. (File / EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 12 June 2017 — His mother died, his brother emigrated and now no one brings flowers to the tomb of one of those many young Cubans who lost their lives on the African plains. His death served to build the authoritarian regime of José Eduardo dos Santos in Angola, a caudillo who, since 1979, has held in his fist a nation of enormous resources and few freedoms.

At 74, Dos Santos knows the end is near. His health has deteriorated in recent months and he has announced that he will withdraw from politics in 2018, the same year that Raul Castro will leave the presidency of the Cuba. Both intend to leave their succession firmly in place, to protect their respective clans and to avoid ending up in court.

For decades, the two leaders have supported each other in international forums and maintained close co-operation. They are united by their history of collaboration – with more than 300,000 Cubans deployed in Angolan territory during the civil war, financed and armed by the Soviet Union – but also connected by their antidemocratic approach. continue reading

Longevity in their positions is another of the commonalities between Castro and Dos Santos.

The Angolan, nicknamed Zedu, is an “illustrious” member of the club of African caudillos who continue to cling to power. A group that includes men like the disgraceful Robert Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe for 37 years, and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has governed for almost 38 years Equatorial Guinea.

Their counterpart on the Island surpasses them, having spent almost six decades in the control room of the Plaza of the Revolution Square, as a minister of the Armed Forces or, following his brother’s illness, as president. Neither Zedu nor Castro tolerate political opposition and both have fiercely suppressed any dissent.

Angolans also live amidst the omnipresence of the royal family. On the banknotes, the face of Dos Santos shares space with that of Agostinho Neto, and in political propaganda he is represented as the savior of the country. One of the many tricks of populist systems, but very far from reality.

What has really happened is that the family and the African president’s closest allies have made colossal fortunes. The largest oil exports in Africa today have fueled this oligarchy, which, ironically, was built on the efforts of thousands of Cubans who left their lives or sanity in that country.

Isabel dos Santos, nicknamed by her compatriots the Princess, has wasted no time in taking advantage of the prerogatives that her father grants her. Forbes magazine calls her the richest woman in Africa, with a fortune of around 3.1 billion dollars, and last year she was named head of the state-owned oil company Sonangol, the country’s most important economic pillar. She also controls the phone company, Unitel.

She resembles Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela in her taste for giving statements to the foreign media and presenting herself as someone who has achieved everything “by her own efforts.” She projects an image of a modern and cosmopolitan businesswoman, but all her businesses prosper thanks to the privileges she enjoys as the daughter of her father.

Her brother, José Filomeno de Sousa dos Santos, also economically advantaged, sits at the head of the Angolan sovereign fund that manages 5 billion dollars. An emulator of Alejandro Castro Espín, whom many credit for the impressive voracity that has led the Cuban military to seize sectors such as hotel management.

However, Zedu has preferred to choose a puppet as heir to the post of president and head of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA): Angola’s Defense Minister, João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço. A figure who will be the public face while the true dauphins try to continue sucking dry – like voracious leeches – the resources of a country that is not experiencing good times.

Gonçalves Lourenço is seen as a moderate, as is his emulator in Cuba, first vice-president Miguel Díaz-Canal. Men who will try to give a face-lift to personality-centered systems to silence the voices of those who assert that the “historical generation” does not want to abandon power. Neither has been chosen for his abilities, but rather for his reliability and meekness.

Gonzalves arrived in Havana in mid-May with a message from President Dos Santos to Raul Castro. In Angola, 4,000 Cubans work in sectors such as healthcare, education, sports, agriculture, science and technology, energy and mines. It is one of the countries that most appeals to the Island’s professionals for the personal economic advantages that serving on an “internationalist mission” there affords them.

Gonzalves’ trip, of course, also included a commitment to continue to support the Island, perhaps with some promise of credit or oil aid to ease Cuba’s currently complicated situation. Most likely the heir to the throne came to tell the aging monarch not to worry, that Angola will continue to count itself among its allies. They are words that could be blown away in the wind before the uncertain future that awaits both countries.

For years the Angolan regime benefited from significant foreign investment and high oil prices, the main source of income. However, the fall in the value of crude oil in the international market has complicated the day-to-day situation of citizens subject to economic cuts, a rise in the cost of living and a decline in public investment. The discontent is palpable.

On the Island, not a week goes by without an obituary reminding us of the reality that the “historical” generation is dying off. The brakes are about to be applied to the thaw with the United States, and the mammoth state apparatus isn’t about to adapt itself to the new times. The double standard, corruption and diversion of resources undermines everything.

Neither Castro nor Dos Santos will leave power in the context they dreamed of. One falls ill, after having negated in practice his ideological roots, and senses that history will destroy his supposed legacy. The other loses control over Venezuela, that mine of resources that prolonged the life of Castroism. His worst nightmare is that young Cubans care more about Game of Thrones than the revolutionary epic.

Populism Cuban Style: Conquests, Threats and Leadership

Fidel Castro in his gangster era when he belonged to the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Union (UIR). Here, in 1947, in the company of Rafael del Pino and Armando Gali Menéndez. (D.R.)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 6 June 2017 — The leader speaks for hours on the platform, his index finger pointing to an invisible enemy. A human tide applauds when the intonation of a phrase demands it and stares enraptured at the bearded speaker. For decades these public acts were repeated in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution, shaping the face of revolutionary populism.

However, Fidel Castro’s extensive speeches constituted only the most visible part of his style of governing. They were the moments of collective hypnotism, peppered with promises and announcements of a luminous future that allowed him to establish a close bond with the population, to incite class hatred and to extend his growing power.

Castro has been the most complete product of Cuban populism and nationalism. Evils that sink their roots into national history and whose best breeding ground was the Republican era (1902-1958). Those winds brought the hurricane that shaped a young man born in the eastern town of Biran, who graduated as a lawyer and came to hold the military rank of Commander-in-Chief. continue reading

The political framework in which Castro was formed was far from a democratic example. Many of the leaders of that convulsed Cuba of the first half of the twentieth century did not distinguish themselves by presenting programmatic platforms to their constituents. The common practice was horse-trading to obtain votes, along with other aberrations such as stealing ballot boxes or committing fraud.

From his early days, the young attorney elbowed his way into the milieu of those figures who relied on gangster like behavior, rather than the transparent exercise of authority. He quickly absorbed many of the elements of demagoguery that would be greatly useful to him later when the time came to subject an entire nation.

Unlike republican populism, whose purpose was the conquest of electoral favor, revolutionary populism had as its goal the abolishment of the structures of democracy. From January 195,9 the civic framework was systematically dismantled and the laws were subjugated to the disproportionate will of a single man.

To achieve this dream of control, the Maximum Leader persuaded the citizens that they could enjoy a high degree of security if they renounced certain “bourgeois freedoms,” among them the ability to elect their leaders and a system of power in which leadership alternates.

The so-called Moncada Program outlined in History Will Absolve Me, is a concentration of these promises in the style of a tropical Robin Hood. The pamphlet was presented as Fidel Castro’s plea of self-defense during the trial in which he was indicted for the armed attack on the Moncada Barracks, the main military fortress of Santiago de Cuba, in July 1953.

Until that moment, this man was practically unknown as a political figure. The boldness that characterized the action enveloped him in an aura of heroic idealism that set him up as the leader of the revolutionary alternative to the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.

In his manuscript, where he described the problems the country faced, he never warned that solving them would require the confiscation of properties. He limited himself to detailing the necessity of an agrarian reform that would eliminate the latifundio and distribute land to the peasants. These were proposals that rapidly earned him sympathies among the poorest.

Upon leaving prison, Castro was convinced that the only way to overthrow the dictatorship was by force. He organized an expedition and opened a guerrilla front in the mountains of the eastern region of the Island. Two years later, his triumphal entry into the capital and his charismatic presence made him the beneficiary of a blank check of political credit, endorsed by the majority of the population.

The first populist ruse of the new regime was to present itself as democratic and to deny any tendency that could identify it with communist doctrine. At the same time that it presented itself as the enabler of freedom, it expropriated the newspapers, the radio stations and the television channels.

The regime struck a deadly blow to civil society by establishing a network of “mass organizations” to bring together neighbors, women, peasants, workers and students. The new entities had in their statutes a clause of fidelity to the Revolution and perform – still to this day – as transmission wires from the power to the population.

The first revolutionary laws, such as the Agrarian Reform, the rent reductions, the Urban Reform and the confiscation of properties, constituted a radical rearrangement of the possession of wealth. In a very short time the State stripped the upper classes of their property and became the owner of everything.

With the enormous flow of treasure, the new power made multi-million investments in social benefits that allowed it to achieve “the original accumulation of prestige.”

From its original proclamation in April 1961, the socialist system declared the irreversible nature of the measures taken. Maintaining the conquests achieved required the implementation of a system of system backed by a legal structure that would make it impossible for former owners to recover what was confiscated.

The new situation brought with it a powerful apparatus of internal repression and a large army to deter any external military threat. The most important bars of the cage in which millions of Cubans were trapped were erected in those early years.

To the binomial of an irreversible conquest and an undisputed leader was added the threat of an external enemy to complete the holy trinity of revolutionary populism.

Conquests

The main conquests in those initial years focused on education, health and social security. Economic centralism allowed the new ruling elite to establish ample gratuities and to distribute subsidies or privileges in exchange for ideological fidelity.

Like all populism that rises to power, the government also needed to mold consciences, impose its own version of history, and create from the teaching laboratories an individual who will applaud greatly and question little.

In 1960 the Island was already among the Latin American countries with the lowest proportion of illiterates, but even so the Government summoned thousands of young people to isolated areas to teach reading and writing. Participation in this initiative was considered a revolutionary merit and dressed in heroic tones.

The text of the primer to teach the first letters was openly propagandistic and the literacy campaigners behaved like political commissars who, on reading the phrase “The sun rises from the East,” needed to add as a clarification “and from the East comes the help we are given by the Socialist countries.”

At the end of the process, a massive plan of boarding schools operated under military methods began, the goal of which was to remove students from the influence of their families. Mass teacher training also began, thousands of schools were built in rural areas, and privately run schools were taken over by the Ministry of Education.

From this rearrangement the “New Man” was supposed to emerge, free from “petty-bourgeois laziness.” An individual who had never known exploitation by a boss, paid for sex in a brothel, nor exercised his freedom.

The fact that there was not a single child left on the island who didn’t attend school became a dazzling paradigm that blocked the view of the shadows. To this day, the myth of Cuban education is being used by the defenders of the system to justify all the repressive excesses of the last half century.

The state monopoly turned the education system into a tool of political indoctrination while the family was relegated to the role of a mere caretaker of the children. The profession of teacher was trivialized to an extreme degree, and the costs of maintaining this giant apparatus became unsustainable.

Many of the achievements that were put into practice were unworkable in the context of the national economy. But the grateful beneficiaries had no opportunity to know the high cost these campaigns imposed on the nation. The country was plunged in an inexorable decapitalization and the deterioration of its infrastructure.

For decades, the media in the hands of the Communist Party helped to cover up such excesses. But with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the massive subsidies that the Kremlin sent to the island, Cubans came face to face with their own reality. Many of these supposed advantages vanished or were plunged into crisis.

The Maximum Leader

One of the hallmarks of populism is the presence of a leader who is given full confidence. Fidel Castro managed to turn that blind faith into obedience and a cult of personality.

The merging of the leader with the Revolution itself and of Revolution with the Homeland gave rise to the idea that an opponent of the Commander-in-Chief was “anti-Cuban.” His flatterers called him genius but in his long speeches it is difficult to find a theoretical nucleus from which a conceptual core can be extracted.

In the oratory of the Maximum Leader, a preponderant role was played by his histrionic character, the cadence of his voice and his playbook of gestures. Fidel Castro became the first media politician in Cuba’s national history.

Voluntarism was perhaps the essential feature of his personality and the hallmark of his extended mandate. To achieve his objectives at the necessary price, to never surrender before any adversary and to consider every defeat as a learning opportunity that would lead to victory, served him to conquer a legion of fidelistas.

The target dates for obtaining the luminous future promised by the Revolution could be postponed again and again thanks to Castro’s apparently inexhaustible political credit. The demand for people to tighten their belts to achieve well-being became a cyclical political stratagem to buy time.

There were some rather abstract promises, in the style of there would be bread with freedom, and others more precise, such as the country would produce so much milk that not even three times as many people could drink it all. The largest zoo in the world would be built on the island and socialism and communism would be constructed at the same time.

In December 1986, after 28 years of failed efforts, Fidel Castro had the audacity – or desperation – to proclaim before the National Assembly the most demagogic of all his slogans: “Now we are going to build socialism!”

The Enemy

Populist regimes often require a certain degree of tension, of permanent belligerence, to keep the emotional flame burning. Nothing is better for that than the existence of an external enemy. Even better if it is a powerful one that makes alliances with the regime’s political opponents.

From the time he was in the Sierra Maestra commanding his guerrilla army, Fidel Castro determined who that enemy would be. In a letter dated June 1958, he wrote: “When this war is over, a much longer and larger war will begin for me, the war that I will launch against them [the Americans]. I understand that this is going to be my true destiny.”

Between April and the end of October 1960 there was an escalation of clashes between Washington and Havana. The expropriation of large tracts of land held by US companies, the suspension of the sugar quota enjoyed by the Island, the nationalization of US companies based in Cuba, and the start of the embargo on goods from the North are some of the most important.

During that same period, Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Anastas Mikoyan visited Havana, diplomatic relations were restored with the USSR and Fidel Castro met in New York with Nikita Khrushchev, who went on to say in an interview: “I do not know if Castro is a communist, but I am a fidelista.”

In the eyes of the people Fidel Castro’s stature rose and he begin to take on the outlines of a world leader. The exacerbation of nationalism, another characteristic of the populists, reached to its fullest expression when Cuba began to be shown as the little David facing the giant Goliath.

Revolutionary arrogance, driven by the conviction that the system applied in Cuba should extend to the whole continent, led many to believe that fomenting the Revolution beyond the borders was not only a duty but a right protected by a scientific truth.

The populist root of this “liberator of peoples” thinking led tens of thousands of Cuban soldiers to fight in Algeria, Syria, Ethiopia and Angola as part of the geopolitical interests of the Soviet Union in Africa, although wrapped in the clothing of a disinterested Revolutionary internationalism with other peoples toward whom there supposedly was a historical debt.

The enemy was not only “American imperialism” but the South African racists, the European colonialists, and any element that appeared on the international scene that could become a threat to the Revolution.

Convinced, like the Jesuit Ignacio de Loyola, that “in a besieged plaza, dissidence is treason,” every act of internal opposition has been identified as an action to contribute to that enemy and by the official propaganda every dissident deserves to be described as a “mercenary.”

However, the beginning of the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States in late 2014 has shaken the thesis of a permanent danger of invasion. The death of Fidel Castro, the decline of leftist forces in Latin America and the announced stepping down of Raul Castro by February 2018 diminish what remains of revolutionary populism.

On the other hand, younger Cubans have a less grateful and more critical perception of those conquests in the field of education and healthcare that were presented as a generous gift of the system.

The reappearance of notable social differences arising from the urgent acceptance of the rules of the market and the growth of the economy’s “non-state sector” – the authorities are reluctant to call it “private sector” – have rendered unrepeatable the slogans of biased egalitarianism espoused by the ideological discourse that justified the obsolete rationing system for food products.

Haute cuisine restaurants and hotels of four or five stars, once exclusively for tourists, are now within reach of a new class of Cubans. The elimination of the exploitation of man by man, an essential banner of Marxist-Leninist socialism, has not even been discussed.

The widely shared conviction that the country has no solution is one of the main drivers of emigration in recent years. But this lack of hope for the future, combined with fierce repression, also limits the work of the opposition.

The system that once counted on enthusiasm is now supported by virtue of reluctance. The so-called historical generation still in power is fewer than a dozen octogenarians in the process of retirement and the new offspring are more inclined to business than to the podium. Today’s grandchildren of those populists have more talent for marketing than for slogans.

_______________

Editorial Note: This text is part of the collective book El Populismo del Populismo , which will be presented this Tuesday at the Casa de América, in Madrid. The coauthors are, among others, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Mauricio Rojas, Roberto Ampuero and Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo.

Private Carriers in Santiago de Cuba Complain About Inspections

Inside a truck retrofitted for passenger transport that circulates through Santiago de Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 June 2017 –Authorities have taken a firm stand with private transportation in Santiago de Cuba and have begun to demand exhaustive proof of fuel purchases from the state gas stations to verify that they are not from the black market.

“Last Friday there was a massive operation, and four drivers were detained in the Micro 9 unit,” says activist Jose Antonio Lopez Pena, who closely follows the transportation issue in the eastern province. At least one of them had to sign a warning, to which this daily had access, in which they confirm that he cannot operate as a carrier if he does not buy fuel in the state gas stations. continue reading

The warning is issued by the Ministry of Transportation and signed by Wilfredo Ramos, an official with the province’s State Traffic Unit (UTE).

The application of the rule, which was already widespread in Havana and in the west, has been extended to the eastern zone since the end of May and deeply disturbs the carriers who resort en masse to the black market to buy fuel. Most of that gasoline comes from diversions from the state sector.

“The police and inspectors know that we can’t make a living if we buy oil and gasoline from the State,” explains Ramon, who drives an old truck from the middle of the last century to make the route between several Santiago municipalities.

Warning which confirms a private carrier cannot act as a driver if he does not buy fuel in the service centers.

The private carriers complain about the large sums of money they spend on licenses, taxes and vehicle repairs, so they try to make money by acquiring fuel on the black market at a lower price than the official rate.

During recent months instability in the petroleum supply from Venezuela caused significant cuts in distribution within the state sector. This situation triggered the price of the product in the informal market which is fed by diversions from businesses, entities and personal allotment that is given to some professionals like doctors.

From eight Cuban pesos (CUPs) per liter, petroleum suddenly rose to 15 on the so-called black market, while in the state service centers the equivalent is sold for 24 CUPs per liter (roughly 1$ US, or about $4 a gallon).

The government has responded by setting prices for private transportation in some places like Havana and also started a cooperative that tries to compete with individuals. However, the vintage taxis and trucks managed by the self-employed continue to be one of the most popular forms of transportation among the municipalities and provinces.

The carriers guild is quite big in the country but lacks its own union which could press for an improvement in work conditions. More than 80% of self-employed workers, according to official data, belong to the official Workers Center of Cuba.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Ministry Ratifies the Expulsion of Professor Dalila Rodriguez from the University of Las Villas

Dalila Rodriguez, ex-professor for the Central University of Las Villas, whose dismissal has just been ratified

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 June 2017 – The Ministry of Higher Education (MES) ratified the expulsion of Professor Dalila Rodriguez from the Marta Abreu Central University of Las Villas. A letter dated May 9 and delivered this Friday to the academic, responds to her earlier appeal and confirms the revocation of her teaching status, as Rodriguez explained to 14ymedio.

The document is signed by the MES legal advisor, Denisse Pereira Yero, and by the chief of the Legal Department, Jorge Valdes Asan. The officials will not consider an appeal by Rodriguez because “an infraction of Article 74 Subsection (d) suffices to lose Teaching Status directly.”

On April 11 the professor received an order of dismissal from her position on the Humanities Faculty, issued by the dean Andres Castro Alegria, and it invoked Article 74 of the Regulation for the application of the Higher Education Teaching Categories. continue reading

The argument put forward to justify the expulsion was that the professor had not managed “to rectify a set of attitudes that deviate socially and ethically from the correct teaching activity that her teaching status demands, and that can affect the education of students.” Rodriguez received the news with surprise.

The philologist, 33 years of age and a resident of the Villa Clara township of Camajuani, was, until her expulsion, studying for a doctorate in Pedagogical Sciences after having obtained a master’s in Linguistics and Publishing Studies. She was active in the union and in February received an excellent evaluation.

From the beginning of 2015, the academic experienced pressure from State Security. Several agents interviewed her in order to find out if she had contacts with the activist and evangelical pastor Mario Felix Lleonart. There were also interested in knowing about relationships of her father, Leonardo Rodriguez Alonso, coordinator of the Patmos Institute, an independent organization that defends religious rights in Cuba.

Dalila Rodriguez asserts that she does not belong to any dissident group, nor does she even attend events convened by independent entities on the Island. “They have done all this to make my father feel guilty,” she says.

Dissident Leonardo Rodriguez, father of Dalila Rodriguez. (Courtesy)

When they told her of her dismissal, the first vice-dean, Ossana Molerio Perez, and the legal advisor also informed her that she would not be allowed to appeal via the union, and they warned her that she must not “set foot” again in the University.

The dismissal process was plagued by irregularities, Rodriguez complains. According to regulations, her case should be reviewed first by the commission in charge of teaching categories and she should be offered seven days to appeal. Nevertheless, the dean made the decision directly and without respecting deadlines.

Rodriguez then decided to write to the Minister of Higher Education, Jose Saborido, but the answer received this week asserts that in her case, “there is no violation” because “it does not involve a disciplinary process but a special administrative proceeding.”

In a phone conversation with 14ymedio, the professor called it “incredible” that, shortly after having been evaluated with the highest marks in her work, she has turned into someone “with serious ethical and social problems who damages the education” of students.

She said she felt “totally helpless after working for 11 years in that university,” and she said that the teaching authorities “have not been able to show any evidence against her.”

Journalism student Karla Perez Gonzales was expelled a few days later from the same university after being accused of belonging to the Somos+ Movement and “having a strategy from the beginning of her studies to subvert youth.”

Her case inspired a wave of indignation, and official voices spoke in her favor, like that of singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez, who wrote on his blog: “What brutes we are, fuck, decades pass and we don’t learn.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

They Deceived Us With Tourism

Luxury development along Varadero beach (RepeatingIslands.com)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marta Requeiro, 29 May 2017 — There was a time when I saw it as natural. I understood, to say it in a certain way, that Varadero beach was not ours despite its being in Cuban territory.

My unconscious viewed the image of that strip of land, like many, as if it were part of another country to be destined to the enjoyment of the foreign tourist. Economic progress was needed and in an island with favorable climate and geography the resources are mainly provided by tourism, hence even feeling proud of it.

But the years go by and as part of a macabre plan the areas where ordinary Cubans live are deteriorating, and in contrast every day the are more tourist centers supplied with amenities, luxuries and the latest technology to better serve the foreign visitor. They put make up on facades so that people who come to visit don’t see how the rest is falling down little by little. continue reading

Once, with my family, we “dressed like tourists” and started to enjoy the, until then, unknown part of Cuba. We arrived with the children who we’d warned ahead of time about how to behave and carry themselves, and we got there on transport from Havana, planning to spend an exquisite day.

The place was full of persecutors and police who did not hesitate to return a ball to the son of a tourist but at the same time were “programmed” to detect and prevent Cubans and their children from swimming in the transparent waters of the spa.

Before long, we were detected by two police officers who ordered us to leave the area, as if we were criminals, and told us to go to Santa Marta, the village beach.

Today, Varadero is even more elitist, restricted and impassable.

Today a citizen struggles to get some bricks or some cement to repair their crumbling house and, even more painful, foreign companies are hired to carry out the construction of tourist hotels, preventing a professional or a national worker from earning a better salary.

We were deceived and it is time to stop believing that the profits that the tourism leaves will trickle down to the people and the most needy.

Another Friday Without Water for Thousands of Havana Residents

The new pipes will allow a smaller volume of water to run than before.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 June 2017 – The water supply pipe from the South Catchment area that suffered a rupture a week ago began to operate on a trial basis Thursday morning, according to a report by the Havana Water enterprise. Nevertheless, service has still not been re-established in all of the capital’s municipalities as 14ymedio was able to confirm.

Three tanker trucks supplied water Thursday afternoon to the Tulipan Hotel which housed the deputies who attended the last special session of Parliament. The scene of trucks and people moving buckets or tanks was repeated in the streets and avenues of the capital’s most populated zones on Friday morning.

Industry authorities assured the official press that the connection of 1.2 kilometers of the first two lines of high density polyethylene was concluded in the stretch where the rupture occurred. But the replacement pipes have a smaller diameter and will only gradually allow the transfer of some 1,300 liters per second. continue reading

This volume is half that which flowed through the original conduit, built 60 years ago and whose central, 36-kilometer line is composed of pipes two meters in diameter.

During the first six days after the break, the number of those affected exceeded 800,000 people throughout the city. The price of water shot up on the black market, and a medium-sized “pipe” doubled in price to more than 50 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).

As of a week ago, more than one hundred construction workers from the Institute of National Water Resources and from the Ministry of Construction worked in order to repair the breakdown, which affected 50 meters of the South Catchment area in the Quivican municipality of Mayabeque province. It is estimated that the investment to repair the pipes is about five million Cuban pesos (roughly 200,000 CUC/US$).

The tests are targeted to fill the Palatino central tanks in the neighborhood of Cerro, which supplies water to the municipalities of Habana Vieja, Centro Habana, Plaza de la Revolucion, Cerro, Diez de Octubre and part of Boyeros.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Cuban Catholic Bishops Express Solidarity with Venezuela

Dionisio García Ibáñez, archbishop of Santiago de Cuba. (Networks)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 30 May 2017—Cuba’s Catholic bishops are not “on the fringes of the suffering and uncertainty experienced by Venezuelans,” according to a letter released this week signed by Dionisio García Ibáñez, archbishop of Santiago de Cuba and president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba .

The letter, addressed to the Venezuelan episcopate, refers to the “difficult moments” that the South American country has experienced since the beginning of protests almost two months ago in favor of and against the Government which have degenerated into acts of violence and left a 59 dead. continue reading

“We send them our prayer of solidarity,” adds the bishops’ statement and calls for “the paths of forgiveness, constructive and sincere dialogue as well as the yearnings for truth, justice and a commitment to constitutional legality to lead to a stable and true peace.”

The missive extends “firm support” to the Venezuelan Church in “the wishes expressed in its repeated interventions in favor of peace and concord.”

Recently, during the opening of the XLIII Special Plenary Assembly held in Caracas between May 16 and 18, the president of the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, Diego Padrón Sánchez, drew attention to the “picture of barbarism and violence” installed in the country that has returned to “an anti-culture of death.”

The priest said that the “state of affairs” that has led “the current ruling political system is reasonably unjustifiable, ethically illegitimate and morally intolerable.”

Activist Joanna Columbie Deported to Camaguey

Joanna Columbie last Monday afternoon in Vivac when they were taking her to receive a visit. (Somos+)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 June 2017 – The principal of Academy 1010 and Somos+ (We Are More) Movement activist, Joanna Columbie, was deported Friday from the Vivac detention center in Havana to Camaguey province, as reported to 14ymedio by the leader of the Somos+ organization, Eliecer Avila.

“Joanna called from Vivac to say that she was going to be taken to Camaguey on a bus along with other detainees,” the dissident added. “The police have mounted an operation around the bus that looks like they are transporting dangerous criminals,” he said sarcastically.

“They have given her a warning about subversive activity and enemy propaganda,” he added. continue reading

The crime of enemy propaganda can carry “a sanction of incarceration from one to eight years” according to the Penal Code. It applies to those who prepare, distribute or possess “oral or written propaganda” that “incites against the social order, international solidarity or the socialist State.”

At the time of her arrest the opposition leader was carrying with her several compact discs “with material about Academy 1010,” says Avila.

Columbie was arrested a week ago in the Arroyo Naranjo township by State Security just two days after her temporary permit for residence in the capital had expired.

The activist’s permanent residence is in Cespedes, Camaguey where she was a victim of a robbery at the beginning of the year, but the police so far have arrested no perpetrators.

Joanna Columbie’s arrest and deportation add to a series of repressive actions against Somos+ in recent months. The expulsion of journalism student Karla Perez (member of the independent group) from the University of Las Villas and the raid on the home of Eliecer Avila are some of the most recent actions by State Security against this opposition group.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Cuban Parliament Closes Ranks Around Nicolás Maduro

A session of Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 June 2017 — A statement of support for “the people and the Government of Venezuela” came at the last minute in the extraordinary session of the Cuban Parliament this Thursday and was unanimously approved. The text salutes “the constant calls for dialogue” made by President Nicolás Maduro.

Deputy Yoerkis Sánchez, a member of the parliamentary group of friendship with the South American country, presented the statement denouncing “the serious escalation of internal violence and international intervention that has destabilized” Venezuela.

The document criticizes harshly the role of “the media of the oligarchy that distort the reality of the achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution.” An informative line that supposedly hides “the barbaric coup of the right, including the murder of young people.” continue reading

The members of the National Assembly had hard words for the Organization of American States (OAS) and its secretary general Luis Almagro, who they accused of “double standards.” According to the document, the entity seeks to “surround and overthrow the government of Nicolás Maduro, while silencing other serious manifestations of violence and the breakdown of democracy in other countries of the region.”

Deputy Yoerkis Sánchez, a member of the parliamentary group of friendship with the South American country, presented the statement denouncing “the serious escalation of internal violence and international intervention that has destabilized” Venezuela

Criticism against the OAS comes within hours of the organization’s foreign ministers failing to agree on a statement on the Venezuelan crisis on Wednesday and setting another meeting before the June General Assembly in Cancun.

The Cuban deputies called for “the cessation of any intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela” and invoked “respect for the determination of its people and their right to build the model of society it determines.”

The statement included a call to the legislators of the world to show solidarity with the South American country.

Since the protests began two months ago, there have been marches convened by the opposition against Maduro’s government, which have resulted in at least 59 deaths. There have also been 2,977 arrests, of which 197 were ordered by military courts, according to the Venezuelan NGO Penal Forum.