The Government Prohibits Berta Soler From Leaving Cuba / 14ymedio

The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, says that the government will not allow her to leave Cuba because of leaflets distributed in a protest. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 March 2017 – This Tuesday, the Cuban government prevented Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White movement, from traveling outside the country because of an unpaid fine for for an alleged infraction “against public adornment.” Meanwhile, the authorities accuse her of having thrown “papers in the street,” which the regime opponent clarified to 14ymedio were “leaflets.”

Soler took advantage of the action to denounce the disappearance, this Tuesday, of her husband, the activist Angel Moya. “We consider that he is ‘disappeared’ because when he left the house he was being followed,” she detailed. “Today I am calling him and his phone is shut off or outside the coverage area.”

“This morning I was supposed to travel to the United States, first to Miami and then to California,” said Soler. However, after passing through the immigration booth and security controls at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, she was intercepted by an immigration official who asked her to accompany him to an office.

The official told Soler that they would not let her board the plane because she had not paid a fine for “throwing papers into the street.” According to Decree 272, whoever “throws into the public street waste such as papers, wrappings, food waste, packaging and the like,” will have a fine of 50 pesos and must “pick them up immediately.”

“Here, the person who owes the Cuban people freedom is Raul Castro,” Soler replied to the accusation. She claims that it was sheets with political slogans. “The fine is from last September, after that I went to Panama and the United States, so I don’t understand this now,” the dissident complains.

The activist was planning to meet in California with David Kaye, United Nations rapporteur for freedom of expression. Instead of Soler, the activist Leticia Ramos will attend the meeting

Last year, when the Aguilera Police Station informed Soler about the fine, she signed a document informing her of the contravention with an ironic “Down you-know-who,” and threw it in the agents’ faces, telling them: “I do not accept any inappropriate fines.”

Subsequently, Soler was informed that the unpaid fine could be doubled, and it was suggested that the police could exchange each Cuba peso (approximately 4 cents US) of the fine for one day in jail or instead not let her travel on Tuesday.

The activist was planning to meet in California with David Kaye, United Nations rapporteur for freedom of expression. Instead of Soler, Lady in White Leticia Ramos will attend the meeting.

“In the report we list all those fines that they assign to us inappropriately,” reflects Soler. “They are illegal and violate the Republic’s penal code,” a situation that is complemented by “the harassment, the threat and violence that is unleashed against our families, against our children and our husbands to try to get us to stop our activism.”

This month marks a year since the Lady in White was prevented from attending mass at Santa Rita parish, and also blocked from attending the Sunday marches on 5th Avenue, a traditional route that goes back to the origins of the movement after the repressive wave of 2003, known as the Black Spring.

Doubtful Meat From Brazil Continues To Be Sold In Cuba / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Brazilian frozen chicken that was sold this Monday in the markets of Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 21 March 2017 — Cubans know a lot about adulterations. For decades they have grappled with the “diversion of resources” [i.e. stealing] from state stores and the practice of state employees acquiring products elsewhere at low prices, bringing them into the stores and selling them at high prices and keeping the profit for themselves. Hence the scandal of the altered meat that involves two Brazilian companies has hardly surprised anyone on the Island.

This Monday Brazilian meat products continued to be sold in Cuba’s retail network, where the frozen chicken of the brands Frangosul and Perdix, from the companies JBS and BRF respectively, continue to be on sale. According to an investigation by the Federal Police of Brazil, both these companies adulterated these products.

In the case of chicken, the authorities have warned that it is more of an economic fraud, consisting of adding water to the product to increase the weight, without any risks to health.

In the case of chicken, the authorities have warned that it is more of an economic fraud, consisting of adding water to the product to increase the weight, without any risks to health

The results of what was called “Carne Fraca” (“weak meat” in Portuguese), confirmed the suspicions of those who warned that something “doesn’t smell right” in the world’s largest exporter of these products. Each year Brazil exports beef worth roughly 5.5 billion dollars and chicken worth roughly 6.5 billion. This business represents 7.2% of Brazil’s Gross Domestic Product.

So far, no Cuban store or market has withdrawn the Brazilian frozen food products. On the digital sites that offer a wide range of foods that emigrants abroad can order for their families on the island, Brazilian beef and chicken remain on sale.

The official media spread the news of the scandal, focusing on the possible repercussions for President Michel Temer’s government. The Ministry of Public Health did not discuss the issue when asked by 14ymedio.

Cuba imports more than 80% of the food it consumes. For 2017, the bill for these purchases is expected to exceed $1.75 billion, $82 million more than the estimate for the previous year.

Each year, more than 120,000 tonnes of chicken meat are bought in the international market, most of it hindquarters, also called “dark parts.” Alberto Ramírez, president of the Cuban Society of Poultry Producers (SOCPA), recently confirmed to the official press that “[domestic] meat production is practically zero.”

Each year more than 120,000 tonnes of chicken meat are bought in the international market, most of it hindquarters

In 2014, several representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture visited Brazil to inspect the facilities of the dairy and beef plant managed by JBS in Mato Grosso do Sul, with a view to importing its products to the Island. Another 25 facilities approved for trade with Cuba are located in the states of Tocantins, Rondonia, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Goiás, Mato Grosso and Sao Paulo

The United States and Brazil are the countries supplying the greatest amount of frozen products to the Cuban market. Faced with the lack of supply and the lack of variety, chicken has become one of the most common foods at the table of Cubans. Only the wealthy can afford beef.

“I came to buy a piece of top round steak,” said a retired woman at the butcher’s in Plaza de Carlos III on Monday. She said, “it is a luxury that I can only allow myself from time to time.” The meat on offer in that market comes from Brazil, according to an employee who preferred anonymity, but who, so far, had received “no order to stop selling it.”

On display in the meat case are several packages with prime ground beef, stew meat, top round and tip steak. No merchandise specifies where it comes from, but local workers confirm that it has been bought from Brazil. The customers look longingly at the display; meat remains a forbidden delicacy for many, even if it is wrapped up in investigations and fraud.

“Here we work with Brazilian meat,” explains one of the waiters at the restaurant next to the Riviera cinema, formerly El Carmelo, on 23rd Street. In their menu they offer sirloin, fillet mignon, fried beef tender and ropa vieja (shredded beef in sauce), this last a very traditional dish that is in high demand among tourists.

Butcher shop in the Plaza de Carlos III in Havana. (14ymedio)

The select El Palco market, whose main customers are diplomats and foreigners living in Havana, is also “especially stocked with Brazilian meat,” points out one of the local cashiers.

Some 27 people have been arrested in Brazil, and Federal Police Commissioner Mauricio Moscardi warned of a corruption network inside the government that allowed adulterated meat to be legalized. That chain of infractions involved officials of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, to which President Temer belongs.

The main Brazilian meat producers added chemicals to meats that were “rotten” or unfit for human consumption. An extensive network of bribe payments purchased approval from the Ministry of Agriculture.

“They used acids and other chemicals, in some cases carcinogenic, to disguise the physical characteristics of the rotten product and its smell,” Moscardi explained. They treated the meat with vitamin C to give it a more “appetizing” color, along with levels of preservatives well above those allowed by health authorities.

Representatives of both companies have denied allegations by police authorities, but the alarm has spread in the international market and the companies’ stock prices have tumbled sharply.

“BFR ensures the high quality and safety of its products and guarantees that there is no risk for its consumers,” said one of the largest food companies in the world with more than 30 brands in its portfolio, Sadia, Perdigão, Qualy, Paty, Dánica, Bocatti or Confidence.

Cuban customers who are learning about the news coming from Brazil are beginning to connect the dots. “The chicken no longer came with the quality of before and had a lot of ice”

The Chilean Ministry of Agriculture announced, a few hours ago, that it would accept no more imports from the Brazilian beef market. Minister Carlos Furche explained that the measure is temporary “until the Brazilian authorities know exactly what facilities are being investigated, and of those facilities which have exported to the world and Chile,” he said.

The Chinese authorities have responded unceremoniously. The Government banned all such imports and prevented meat already shipped from being unloaded in its ports. Last year the Asian country imported 1.6 billion dollars from Brazilian meatpackers.

Europe has slowed shipments from JBS and BRF. This week the European Commissioner for Health Affairs, Vytenis Andriukaitis, will travel to Brasilia and the agenda revolves around the food scandal.

Cuban customers who are learning about the news coming from Brazil are beginning to connect the dots. “The chicken no longer came with the quality of before and had a lot of ice,” complains Luisa Cordoves, a housewife in Central Havana who says that “right now it’s better to buy the chicken boxes that come from United States, because the product tastes better. ”

She believes that the scandal will not dissuade domestic consumers from acquiring these products. “People have many needs and there is no choice: you take it or leave it.”

Unlucky Palm Trees / 14ymedio Marcelo Hernandez

The section that goes from the Park of the Fraternity to near Neptune Street was decked out with the national tree. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, 17 March 2017 — As part of the restoration work of the National Capitol, seven palms were planted at the beginning of last year on the Paseo del Prado median facing the famous Havana building. The section that goes from Fraternity Park to near Neptune Street was then decked out with the national tree, but this lasted for only a short time.

The planting took place during the days before the visit of the American president Barack Obama, in which the city lived a dizzying swirl of construction and beautification. The Department of Forestry of the Ministry of Agriculture chose the trees that would be transplanted and experts in the matter offered advice for their rapid acclimatization. continue reading

With precision, the construction workers made wide planting areas surrounded by paving stones while the nearest neighbors debated whether or not to have these plants that, although they are not native to the Cuban archipelago, are consecrated in the left pavilion of the coat of arms of the Republic.

Within a year of their planting, the palms were dying one by one. They were planted in the appropriate soil and neighbors say they were watered frequently despite the city’s water shortage, but they did not survive the transplanting.

The palms have been dying one by one. (14ymedio)

Those who claim to know certain intimacies of nature ensure that before relocating a palm tree to a new site it is necessary to mark on its trunk a sign that shows which side faces the sun. The tree should be placed in the same direction. Failure to do so, results in the plume of leaves looking “disheveled” at the first light of dawn.

No one can assure that this requirement was met. Like other facts that become a “state secret,” no public official has felt it necessary to offer an explanation for the mass death. At the same time another transplanted tree died, the young ceiba that was replanted a year ago in the Plaza de Armas of Old Havana and that honors the foundation of the city.

A Year After Obama’s Visit, Cubans Feel Disillusioned With His Legacy / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

On March 20, 2016, Barack Obama began a historic visit to the Island that raised hopes and questions. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 19 March 2017 – It rained when the presidential plane touched down on the tarmac at Havana’s Airport. On 20 March 2016, Barack Obama began a historic visit to the island that awakened hopes and sparked questions. One year after that visit, Cubans are taking stock of what happened and, in particular, what did not happen.

The tenant of the White House evoked waves of enthusiasm during his tour of Havana’s streets. His official agenda included talking with young entrepreneurs, he appeared on a comedy TV show, he visited a private restaurant, and he met with representatives from civil society. They were intense days during which popular illusions reached historic records.

However, Obama’s decision to eliminate the wet foot/dry foot policy before the end of his term in January, caused that sympathy to plummet. Now, inquiring about his legacy on Cuban streets leads to answers mostly filled with criticism, resentment or a sense of betrayal. continue reading

“I lost my life,” Luis Pedroso, a soundman by profession, tells 14ymedio, He sold all his property to pay for an illegal trip to the United States. He left Cuba for the Dominican Republic, and then crossed Mexico and arrived at the border in Nuevo Laredo, on 12 January when the immigration policy that benefitted Cubans was no longer in force.

Cubans crowded the streets hoping to see Obama and his family. (EFE)

“What did he do that for?” asks Pedroso, about the act of the Democrat. “We Cubans gave him our hearts and he betrayed us,” he says. The man sleeps on the couch of his sister’s house waiting to “make money again to leave.” He thinks “Trump is less sympathetic,” but perhaps, “will get more loyal.”

The months following the presidential visit, the emigration of Cubans to the United States continued its growing trend. More than 50,000 Cubans entered US territory during fiscal year 2016, according to the Office of Field Operations of the Customs and Border Protection Service.

Norma works as a saleswoman in a private coffee shop in Havana’s Chinatown. She recalls that in the days when Obama was on the island, “people were going crazy all over to try to see him.” She was among the hundreds of people who crowded along the Paseo del Prado when word spread that The Beast (Obama’s armored car) would pass by with the presidential family.

The woman was especially hopeful about the economic benefits that could come from the trip. “It seemed that everything would be fixed and that we self-employed workers would be able to import and bring products from over there,” she reflects. But, “everything is stuck,” is continues.

The entrepreneur would like to bring an “ice cream machine” from the United States, and “ask for a loan or find an investor who wants to put money into a small business.” However, the customs restrictions imposed on the Cuban side make commercial imports difficult, and there is no easy way to send supplies to the island from the United States.

Nor have expectations in the countryside been met. Luis Garcia, a farmer dedicated to planting rice outside Cienfuegos believes that “everything has been greatly delayed.” The flexibilities implemented by Obama from the beginning of the diplomatic thaw were mainly directed toward the private and agricultural sectors, but “the benefits haven’t appeared,” said the farmer.

Obama in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana. (EFE)

The Cienfueguero continues to plow the land with an old yoke of oxen and recalls that “there was much talk about the arrival of “resources, tractors and seeds, but everything remains the same.” Nevertheless he believes that “Obama has been the best president of the United States with regards to us, a man of integrity,” he says.

The activists, who talked with Obama on that occasion and behind closed doors, are also taking stock after twelve months.

For Dagoberto Valdés, director of the independent magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), the main result of the trip was “to show that ‘the enemy’ used as a weapon in the Cuban government’s narrative was willing to offer a white rose,” as Obama demonstrated in his speech at Havana’s Gran Teatro.

The speech, broadcast live, is considered by many as “the best part of the visit,” says Valdez, who recognizes that “a year later, unfortunately, the situation in Cuba is worsening.” He cites an increase in repression, the attacks on the United States in the official discourse, which continues to be one of “trenches and confrontation.”

The opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa was also at that table at the US Embassy in Havana. He points out that after the arrival of the Democrat there was an emphasis on “an awareness that our problems are our problems, not problems caused by the United States.” Obama helped to defuse the “historic tension” between “democracy and nationalism.”

Obama’s trip ended with a visit to a baseball game. (EFE)

On the other hand, the regime opponent Martha Beatriz who was traveling during the historic visit, sums up the impact of Obama’s trip as “none.” While “he left everyone filled with hopes,” on the contrary, “what he did was to put a final end to the wet foot/dry foot policy.”

The former prisoner of the Black Spring believes that the visit “is not something that is remembered gratefully right now.” When it happened, “everyone was very happy and filled with hopes, but a year later it’s completely different,” she emphasized.

The columnist Miriam Celaya believes that beyond “being in favor or against” Obama’s actions toward the island “there is one thing that is undeniable, and that is that he marked the Cuban policy of the last fifty years like no other American president.”

Celaya believes that the Democrat “ended the exceptionality” of the Cuban issue “by taking away the government’s foreign enemy.” A situation that has the Plaza of the Revolution “forced to render accounts. Ending the wet foot/dry foot policy,” also contributed to ending “the emigration preference for Cubans in the United States.”

“Any policy towards Cuba framed by US politicians, as long as this system lasts, will have as an obligatory reference this parting of the waters achieved by Obama,” the independent journalist says.

Celaya believes that the population developed “tremendous expectations that are now completely deflated. Many see Obama as the beloved and the hated,” an attitude that puts “the solutions in the United States, as if they have to come from outside,” she says.

The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer, believes that Obama “did everything possible to help the people out of the deep crisis in which Castroism has plunged us,” but “the regime closed all the doors”.

The outgoing president urged Raúl Castro “to open up to his people, to allow the people to recover the spaces” but instead, the authorities remain “in their old position of controlling everything and doing nothing that endangers the total control they have over society. ”

“What’s up, Cuba?” Obama tweeted when his plane was about to land in Cuba. Today, listening to that question generates more concerns than certainties.

Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate Says Cuban Medical Missions “Are Slavery” and Vows to End Them / 14ymedio

Apologies to our readers that this video is not subtitled. Before the shouts of “bravo” Lasso says, that the free healthcare system in Ecuador provided by the government should be in the hands of Ecuadorian doctors. His other statements are reported in the article.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio (with information from Diana Ramos), Quito, 17 March 2017 – Guillermo Lasso, a candidate for president of Ecuador, is against the Cuban medical missions in his country and promised to end them, should he triumph in the upcoming run-off election.

“We must end this slavery of one government negotiating with another that pays poverty-level wages for the services” provided by professionals. He also stressed that Cuban professionals “displace” Ecuadorians in their own country.

“In my government there will be no policy that persecutes any professional sector in Ecuador,” he said on Tuesday, during a visit to Luis Vernaza Hospital in Guayaquil, the candidate’s hometown.

On February 10, Movimiento X Cuba, a civil society group composed of Cuban health professionals based in Ecuador, asked the future president to end the Cuban medical presence there.

“We advocate that Cuban doctors be free and able to decide their own future, their country of residence, and have the freedom necessary to exercise such a dignified profession,” the movement said in a statement.

Some 600 Cuban doctors are working in Ecuador and the Ecuadorian government pays 2,700 dollars a month for each one. From this, the Cuban Ministry of Public Health pays individual doctors barely 800 dollars, with the rest going into the coffers of the state. Profits from this leasing out of medical and other professionals is one of the Cuban government’s largest source of revenue.

Acure, an association of pro-Castro Cubans in Ecuador, spoke out against the “malicious and provocative statement of Movimiento X Cuba” and insisted that doctors from the island have provided medical care “to more than four and a half million Ecuadorian patients,” emphasizing the provision of eye operations and kidney transplants.

“Cuba has trained, free of charge, more than 6,000 Ecuadorian specialists in its universities,” Acure said.

Dr. Daniel Medina, president of Movimiento X Cuba, who defines himself as an opponent of the Cuban government, asked for protection for “all migrants who seek freedom and flee totalitarian regimes like those in Cuba and Venezuela.”

New Skate Park Opens in Havana, 14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez

Skating and skateboarding has gained followers in Cuba in recent years and also the attention of filmmakers, musicians and supportive friends. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 16 March 2017 – Manolito spends his afternoons chasing buses to grab onto as he rides down the street on his skateboard, or rehearsing new stunts. The young man left school a couple of years ago and every day he spends fewer hours in the house in La Timba where he lived with his mother, his grandmother and his three brothers. Now, a few yards from where he lives, there is a new skate park.

An immense site, closed to the public for decades, was opened for skateboarding on Paseo Street and 31st, very close to the Plaza of the Revolution. With the opening of the new facility they no longer have to watch jealously as other boys do tricks on their boards. News of the opening of the new park spread rapidly among fans of the sport, who have always had to try to find their own place to skate, despite the prejudices.

This urban sport has gained followers in Cuba in recent years and also the attention of filmmakers, musicians and supportive friends. For years, the organizations Cuba Skate, based in Washington DC, has been sending materials to the island for these restless boys, including boards and spare skates. The lack of material is just one of the problems they face. So far the main “squeaky wheel” is that the urban sport lacks places where it can be practiced, leaving them only the plazas and other public spaces where they are definitely not welcomed by other users of the space.

Cuba Skate from Cuba Skate on Vimeo.

Total Uncertainty Among Families Of Cuban ‘Rafters’ Recently Arrived In The United States / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

The speedboat in which the Cubans traveled. (Miami Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 16 March 2017 — A call from Cuba finally let Yandry Perez relax. His aunt had alerted him through an interrupted phone call from the north of Villa Clara, that for two days the whereabouts of his mother and his two younger brothers had been unknown. Organized in absolute secrecy to facilitate their flight, fifty Cubans escaped last weekend in speedboats to Florida, even though they knew they were no longer welcome there.

“For days we have been waiting for news, in complete uncertainty,” says Perez, who two years ago crossed seven international borders to seek refuge under the wet foot/dry foot policy, cancelled in the last days of President Obama’s term. continue reading

“When we heard the news that they had caught two boats with Cubans, we breathed a sign of relief,” he adds.

Last Sunday, a 40-foot speedboat was intercepted by an operations team from the US Customs and Border Protection. It had more than 30 migrants on board

His mother, Marlenes Romero Leon, 47, along with his brothers Yusdiel and Kevin, 20 and 11 respectively, boarded the speedboat as a last option to join the rest of the family that was in the south Florida, in a reunification process that was initiated some years earlier but was frustrated when Romero was denied a visa to travel to the Unites States to reunite with the father of her children.

“On television I was able to see one of my brothers, so I know they are being detained,” says Perez, who only wants to know where his family is so he can hire an attorney to take the case.

“We believe that can ask for political asylum. On more they one occasion they arrested my mother [in Cuba]. They didn’t even let her get to beach so she couldn’t escape Cuba,” he adds.

“My brother is a child, at least they should let us take care of him,” he says.

Last Sunday, a 40-foot speedboat was intercepted by an operations team from US Customs and Border Protection. There were more than 30 migrants on board, five of them ran off into crocodile filled mangrove swamps to escape the authorities but they were caught.

A few hours earlier a small boat with seven Cubans on board was intercepted at Blackpoint Park and Marina, south of Miami-Dade. Another boat with 21 migrants was detained in the vicinity of Cayo Largo.

“We can not give any information about the case or those involved because it corresponds to an open investigation,” an official with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said.

Authorities are investigating the boat operators who transported the Cubans from the island. If it is proved that they are human traffickers they could face severely punished charges

Authorities are investigating the boat operators who transported the Cubans from the island. If it is proved that they are human traffickers they could face severely punished charges in the United States.

Since the press announced the arrival of the Cuban migrants, Julio Infante has not stopped seeking the whereabouts of his father-in-law, who allegedly traveled on one of those boats.

“I’ve gone to several places but they always tell me that they cannot give out information. We’re desperate because we do not even know if he’s alive,” he says.

The missing man is Wilber Hechavarría, 46, who left Cuba on Monday. The relatives were supposed to call to his daughter, Yoandra, who was waiting for the news.

“I wanted to be with her and leave Cuba. She always wanted to leave the country because people there have to steal to eat,” says Infante.

Brothers Kevin, 11, and Yusdiel, 20,, are among the fifty or so Cuban ‘rafters’ detained. (Courtesy)

“My wife came from Guatemala a year ago crossing borders. She arrived pregnant, we already have a family and we wanted her dad to be with us too,” he adds.

Although the migrants knew of the ending of the wet foot/dry foot policy, they ventured to cross the Florida Straits, confident that they would find some way to legalize their situation later in the United States.

For Infante, it’s all the same that the policy that facilitated the entry of Cubans to the United States is over.

“In the end, I would look for some way to legalize or be undocumented, but that will always be better than staying in Cuba,” he says.

When a rafter or any undocumented Cuban migrant arrives in the United States, he is obliged to appear before the authorities for processing

Immigration attorney Wilfredo Allen comments that when Cuban rafters arrive in US territory and do not surrender to immigration authorities, not only will they not be eligible for the Cuban Adjustment Act after staying in the country for a year, but they will not be able to obtain legal status even by marrying residents or citizens.

“When a rafter or any undocumented Cuban migrant arrives in the United States, he is obliged to appear before the authorities for processing. The migrant can apply for political asylum if he is persecuted and fears to return to Cuba,” says Allen.

“If your case is credible you have the right to fight for asylum before a judge and, if granted, you could then adjust your situation through the Cuban Adjustment Act.

“If migrants who illegally entered the United States do not present themselves to the authorities, they remain undocumented and it is very difficult for them to legalize their status later. They are subject to immediate deportation,” he adds.

Police Accuse Journalist Henry Constantin Of “Usurpation Of Legal Capacity” / 14ymedio

Cuban activist Henry Constantin. (Twitter)

14ymedio, Havana, 17 March 2017 – Journalist Henry Constantin, director of La Hora de Cuba (Cuba Hour) magazine and regional vice president of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), was formally charged Friday with the crime of “usurpation of legal capacity,” he told 14ymedio.

Constantin received a subpoena for the third Police Station in the city of Camagüey where First Lieutenant Pacheco Seagnamillo informed him that he was accused of conducting interviews on the public right-of-way in which he “misrepresented reality.”

The police did not mention the names of potential complainants, but emphasized that he was not “empowered” to perform a reporter’s job. continue reading

The journalist could be prosecuted for violating Article 149 of the Penal Code which punishes whomever “performs acts of a profession for the exercise of which he is not properly qualified.” The sentence contemplates the “deprivation of liberty from three months to a year or a fine of 100 to 300 shares* or both.” The official told him that the independent journalist Sol García Basulto, correspondent of this newspaper, will also be prosecuted for the same crime.

In the next 60 days, Constantin will be subject to a precautionary measure yet to be detailed but at the moment he cannot leave the city. The reporter will not be able to attend an exhibition in Los Angeles, about the current situation of journalists on the island, nor the subsequent meeting of the IAPA in Guatemala.

Constantín was named last December as IAPA’s regional vice president for Cuba and pledged to spread “the reality of journalism” on the island. The organization has issued several press releases condemning the harassment and arrests of those who have been victims of attacks in recent weeks. It has urged the Cuban government to guarantee freedom of the press and expression throughout the country.

*Translator’s note: Cuban law sets fines based on “shares”; the value of a share is set separately and in this way can be changed, over time, without having to amend all of the laws that reference fines as a penalty.

Cuba Will Pay For 500 Former FARC Guerillas To Study Medicine / 14ymedio

Graduation of Pakistani doctors in Cuba in 2014. (Screen Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 March 2017 — The Cuban Government will offer to Colombia one thousand scholarships to study medicine on the Island, of which 500 will go to former FARC guerrillas and another 500 to civilians without ties with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

The proposal was presented by the Cuban ambassador in Colombia, José Luis Ponce Caballero, to Iván Márquez and to the Commission for implementation, monitoring, verification, and resolution of differences of the Final Peace Agreement (CSVR). It is a contribution to the peace process and to the post-conflict phase.

The 1,000 grants will be distributed over five years and the first course will begin this coming September. Each year 100 grants will be awarded to the Government and 100 to the FARC for its management.

“The embassy of the Republic of Cuba will deliver to the Government of Colombia and the FARC a document detailing the offer, which is being prepared by the Cuban authorities,” Ponce said.

Iván Márquez, a former FARC guerrilla and leader of the peace process on the part of the guerrillas, thanked the Cuban government for the gesture. “To Army General Raúl Castro, our gratitude for filling Colombia with his love and solidarity He supports peace and offers us doctors,” he said.

The total price for a foreigner without a scholarship who wants to study medicine on the island is about $85,000 for six years of study.

Translator’s note: Foreigners studying medicine in Cuba attend the Latin American School of Medicine, which was established specifically to educate foreigners separately from Cubans.

Cement Pottery / 14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez

Victor Rodriquez engages in the specialized trade of creating ornamental cement pottery. (14ymedio).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 14 March 2017 – They call it grey gold because it repairs damage, prevents divorce and builds houses. Cement is one of the most in-demand products in Cuba today where 39% of the housing inventory is defective or in a bad state, according to a report by the Housing authorities.

In the midst of pressing construction needs, a taste for the ornamental also is developing. A newly emerging class decorates its houses with friendly garden gnomes, pelicans with thin legs who appear at front doors and balusters in the shape of sexy women.

After a long period of block-shaped construction, made of pre-fabricated and undecorated pieces, many Cubans appear ready to make up for lost time. The “cement potters” industry, a self-employment occupation that is on the rise, has been made to bloom by the demand for façade decorations. continue reading

Victor Rodriquez lives in Pinar del Rio and considers himself an artist of concrete. His work day begins early when he gets the molds for the pieces that he assembled 12 hours earlier. His hands reveal panels, pedestal vases, mushrooms, lions, flowers, pine cones, pyramids, friezes and post corners.

The potter then moves to the stage of scraping, polishing and painting each piece with a solution of cement and water. He does it like someone who bathes and touches up a delicate baby. His small courtyard is crowded with the sculptures that will later adorn the homes of the province or some distant town.

Cement pottery is hard but profitable work, according to its artisans (14ymedio)

Victor has a loyal clientele, although the competition in the area is strong, and the number of self-employed workers devoted to these activities is growing. The craftsman stands out because he designs his own pieces instead of buying ready-made molds, a detail that many appreciate in an industry that lives by imitation and the repetition of motifs.

Each day, when he finishes his work near 7 pm, Victor bathes to leave behind that grey powder that covers him from head to foot. After eating, he dedicates himself to giving form to the clay that will serve as a sample for casting the cement molds. After polishing and painting, the prototypes are ready to produce new series of figures.

“It is more work, but I never liked to be anyone’s echo,” Victor proudly explains about his originality. “I have never been able to promote my business, and I live away from the city, but the clients themselves have spread the word, and the orders even come from other municipalities,” he explains to 14ymedio.

With the growing demand, Victor’s family became involved in his efforts. His wife polishes, retouches and paints, while his son helps him prepare the concrete and cast the pieces. “It is hard work,” says the young man, who decided to become a potter with his father. “But it pays, and I like it,” he concludes.

“Getting the materials is the most difficult part because there is no wholesale market,” complains the business owner. Most times he has to order from retailers who buy it from the suppliers and bring it to the house.

“Yes, I do demand receipts from them and quality products. In order to maintain my standards I only use pp350 cement, more expensive but also more durable.” The mixture also includes “artificial sand,” he points out.

The Cuban cement industry suffered with the fall of the socialist camp. Currently, the country has six factories that produce grey gold, and in 2016 they reached 1,494,000 tons of the product, of which some 400,000 were distributed in the retail market.

Cement pottery requires preparing the concrete, casting the pieces, polishing, retouching and painting, among many other things. (14ymedio)

However, they still do not produce “the volumes necessary to satisfy an ever-growing demand,” according to Cesar Revuelta, vice-president of the Construction Materials Group. Between 2014 and 2015, the amount of cement that the country had to import underwent a significant increase from 2,677 tonnes to 4,349.

At the end of 2015, the Mexican business Cemex, one of the leading worldwide cement producers, showed its interest in returning to the Island, whether through the sale of cement or the installation of a plant. However, the establishment of an industry on Cuban soil has still not materialized.

But not only the materials shortage can damage the work of these craftsmen. “Sometimes the sculptures are ruined because the molds are badly assembled,” explains Victor. “It has happened to me when I am stressed, that’s why I try to stay focused on the work.”

The pieces made by the Pinareño have had great reception not only because of their unique designs but also because of their quality and durability. But the business of cement ornaments also is rife with swindles and tricks.

“There are no quality controls for concrete construction materials, generally the only inspection carried out for individuals in that line of business is of a fiscal character,” explains Alexander Morejon, official with the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT), in Pinar del Rio.

There have been cases of manufactured balusters incapable of supporting weight or pieces eroded by humidity and saltpeter. “I ordered some vases to place on the balcony but they have fallen to pieces,” says Monica, owner of a recently remodeled dwelling in San Jose de Las Lajas.

The woman believes that in her case the artisan used “a mix with sea sand, and the cement was overcome. Placing the decorations on the upper story of her house has caused problems, and “it is dangerous because pieces fall, and children play just below.”

However, Victor’s clients attest the quality of his products. “My statue-shaped balusters have been at the doorway more than seven years and look like the first day,” Angel Izquierdo, from the Brione Montoto village, tells this daily when he shows up at the potter’s home for the purchase of patio tiles, another of the products that he offers.

“I am about to finalize a machine to make floor tiles with different mosaic designs,” says Victor as he shows the pieces of a rustic press with which he hopes to increase his earnings.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Official Press and the Art of “Sweetening The Pill” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The art of “sweetening the pill” has been a characteristic of the official press for years (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 March 2017 – After contemplating several ideas of what to write about on this Day of the Press in Cuba, I decided to share with my readers an extract from an unpublished autobiography where I relate the vicissitudes of a journalist in the late eighties of the last century .

It is the best testimony I have on hand to illustrate the art of “sweetening the pill” that for years has characterized the official press and that causes so much damage to our profession. I hope you enjoy it and that it will help you better understand why I decided to assume the risks of being an independent journalist.

The complicated task of telling the truth

Before leaving for the factory, the journalist was warned by the editor-in-chief of the Government’s interest in having the magazine Cuba International write about the quality of the batteries that were produced on its assembly line.

When Antonio and Juan Carlos, the young photographer, announced their presence at the factory, the guard on the door made two calls. The first one to the Director and the second one to a colleague to warn him: “Hey, tell Cuco that the journalists are here, hurry up…” continue reading

A short time later an employee appeared and asked them to accompany him to the director’s office. Cuco also arrived, and in a trembling voice addressed Antonio:

“Journalist, I am the union’s representative: I want you to talk to us before you leave.”

“Of course,” said the reporter.

The administrator exchanged a hard look with the union leader and emphasized to the newcomers the gesture of “follow me.”

The office they entered had a model that reproduced the whole installation. In front of it the director waited for them, and introduced an engineer with a pointer in his hand, who explained the industrial process.

Juan Carlos took a couple of photos of the small scale model and others of the showcase with the types of batteries that the factory was able to produce. The engineer announced that they would visit two sections: the laboratory and the assembly line.

“We also want to go through the area of ​​chemical components and the warehouses,” Antonio said.

“We do not have authorization for that,” said the engineer.

When they arrived at the laboratory they saw a range of sophisticated instruments that could diagnose of the quality of the products and the conditions of the raw material.

At the request of Juan Carlos, two smiling girls stood in front of the devices as if they were handling them. Minutes later they went to the assembly line to organize “a cover photo.”

Juan Carlos chose an angle in which the nozzle of the plastic packing and the conveyor belt with the finished batteries could be captured. In the background, a forklift, frozen for the snapshot, filled a container.

“What do you think?” he asked the reporter.

Everything was perfect, clean and in order. The image offered an obvious sense of efficiency and modernity, but Antonio realized that there were only two batteries on the conveyor belt.

“Can we put some more there?” he asked the engineer.

“The number of finished pieces is an index of our productive rhythm,” said the specialist.

“And what would be the optimum?” inquired the reporter.

“Someday we’ll have between four and six examples on this same stretch,” he replied in response.

“Can we put five?”

“Yes,” said the engineer, “up to five.”

After the photo shoot, Antonio inquired about Cuco.

“He works in the area of ​​chemical components and we cannot go through there, but I’m going go look for him.”

The union leader arrived more calm than he had been earlier.

“Ten minutes to lunch,” he said. “Would you accept an invitation to join me in the dining room?” he asked, so we talked.

The first surprise was to see that the workers did not eat where the engineer had indicated with the pointer on the model, a place he described as “a large, bright and ventilated room with comfortable tables and chairs,” but rather in a closed area, originally intended to store the finished products.

Cuco began without beating around the bush.

“I don’t know if you know that this factory was started 11 years ago. One night a caravan arrived with a large crane and unloaded the machinery. They left it outside, because there wasn’t a single place with a roof.

“It sat out there for three years and the boxes were taken away by the neighbors. They started with the clocks, the light bulbs, the electrical cables, and nuts and screws. They didn’t leave a single ball bearing, because everything ended up in strollers, water pumps or old cars.

“One day the order came to finish everything in six months. Two hours before the opening, volunteers from the Communist Party Municipal Committee hid all the debris and planted a garden as fast as they could. Among them were several of the predators who had made off with the machines when it appeared they had been abandoned.

“The artist who painted the portrait of the martyr, whom the factory is named for, spent 14 hours without getting down from the scaffolding. That’s why the portrait looks cross-eyed and with a mustache tilting to the left. The hero’s mother was about to cause a scandal because of what her son looked like.

“In the haste, they didn’t build the workers’ bathrooms, they didn’t finish the dining room and they didn’t put the fans in the areas where chemicals are used. Nor did they complete the tank for processing toxic waste and now they dump it in a lagoon where before there were fish but now there aren’t even mosquitoes.”

Antonio listened to the story in silence.

“All that data you copied into your notebook is real, but I bet you anything that they never told you what was produced, just what the factory is capable of producing. You will only have heard of the possibilities, not of the results achieved.”

Antonio opened his notebook. Indeed, before each figure appeared formulas of the kind: “When the installation is in full operation it can reach …”, “We are designed to produce …”, “The line has a maximum capacity of …” but not a single word of what was being produced.

“And what is the reality?” I ask.

“What is being completed in a month is what the factory should produce in a week. We should make at least six models and we are only making two.”

“And the ones in the showcase?”  the reporter asked.

“Those came as a sample along with the machinery.”

Cuco continued.

“You want to help us? Then publish the truth. Your article could play a very important role in improving our working conditions,” said the trade unionist.

“Our magazine has been commissioned to produce a report to attract buyers from abroad,” justified the reporter. “I can only speak about the bright side.”

Cuco looked at his watch. He had no desire to ask Antonio if he knew a journalist who was paid to tell the truth, but intuited his lack of guilt in the matter and only managed to say goodbye with a phrase:

“Do not look for trouble for us, journalist, and I hope you can sleep easy.”

Antonio would have preferred to be insulted. He would have liked to say that he preferred to breathe poison in the area of ​​chemical elements rather than sweeten the reality that the union leader had tried to denounce.

But it was false. They paid him for “sweetening the pill” and they not only paid well, they demanded only three or four articles a month. He received food and cash allowances for transportation. His position also served to develop relationships in many places and to gain prestige among those who considered the magazine Cuba International an enviable place for a journalist to work.

I did not work in that publication to tell the truth, but to contribute to making it up.

Ecuadoreans Are Gambling With Their Freedom / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa and presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso (Ecuadornoticias.com)

14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, 11 March 2017 — They are five: Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador. That’s the main nucleus of the 21st-Century Socialism countries. They have different economic structures and their governments manage the productive apparatus in diverse ways, but their rulers coincide on an essential aspect: they attained power so they could keep it permanently. Alternation in the tasks of governance seems to them a bourgeois foolishness to which they’re not willing to submit, even if they have to twist the laws or commit some form of fraud.

The Cuban dictatorship, which 58 years ago seized the country at gunpoint, declared in its Constitution that the Communist Party is the only institution permanently authorized to organize society — period. There is nothing to debate. Any vestige of pluralism is illegal and those who express their disconformity with that unnatural uniformity are worms at the service of imperialism who can — and should — be extirpated. That’s why they murdered Oswaldo Payá. continue reading

The other four countries, obligated by the peaceful and electoral manner in which they acceded governance, pretend to be liberal democracies with freedoms, separation of powers and periodic elections. But they don’t believe in those elements either, and are willing to turn a blind eye to these minor “formalities” or to convert the institutions of democracy into instruments of tyranny.

That’s what just happened in Ecuador. The first unsavory trick was to set the majority at 40 percent of the vote. They did that to adapt the balloting to the ceiling of the party in power and not to take a chance on a second round or runoff. Unless Pythagoras was pulling our leg, a majority is one-half-plus-one of the votes cast. Anything that disagrees with that way of counting is a subterfuge counter to decency and common sense.

But, because resistance to Rafael Correa is in crescendo, because more than half of the country is tired of his bullying, and because Ecuador’s economic situation gets worse each passing day as a consequence of the corruption and the exponential increase in public spending, it became evident that the government would not garner 40 percent of the vote, which meant that there would be a second round.

It was at that point that Rafael Correa and his Defense minister, Ricardo Patiño (Cuba’s man), decided to alter the results to exceed the dishonest percentage of 40. To that end, they took best advantage of their revolutionary rhetoric. The value of the Revolution and the glorious destiny of the socialist motherland rose above the petty will of a temporary majority that, in the future, would be grateful to them. How important was to alter a few tenths of a percentage when the fate of the Revolution was at stake?

Fortunately, they could not perpetrate their plans thanks to the vigilance of Gen. Luis Castro Ayala, inasmuch as the Constitution makes the Armed Forces the guarantors of any election. When the so-called “chain of custody” was lost (the transfer of votes to the National Electoral Council), the general realized that fraud was in the making, refused to be complicit to that shameful act and stood up to the plotters.

Castro Ayala saved the people’s will and went into history as a man of honor, but lost his post. Correa — despite alleging his friendship with the general and proclaiming, with some cynicism, his “deep sorrow” over his action — called for his resignation and placed at the head of the Armed Forces some officers who responded to his ideological line, which is also Patiño’s.

The Ecuadoreans will return to the ballot boxes. To win, and to make sure the election is not taken from them, they must count on two basic factors. First is the unequivocal and enthusiastic support of all democrats to the candidacy of opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso. Second is their willingness to defend their votes tooth and nail because 21st-Century Socialism is capable of any foul trick to cling to power.

One final and melancholy observation. Those socialists — who are totally unlike European social-democrats — are willing to commit any abuse in order to prevail. If they do prevail by hook or crook, they will speed their race toward tyranny, as happened in Maduro’s Venezuela. The Ecuadoreans are not just betting on a change of government; they’re gambling on their very freedom. In that country, democracy has an expiration date: April 2. After that date, night might fall forever.

Note: English translation from Montaner’s blog.

Scooters Ease The Problem Of Public Transport / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada and Mario Penton

Scooters do not require registration and the only license required is one to drive light equipment. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada and Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 8 March 2017 — Carlos began to travel to Ecuador when Cubans did not need a visa. He brought back clothes and appliances to sell in the informal market, until he discovered a more lucrative business: the import of electric scooters, the flagship product of those who do not want to wait hours for a bus or pay the fares charged by the fixed-route shared taxis known as almendrones (after the “almond” shape of the classic American cars widely used in this service).

At first, he sold these light vehicles discreetly from his garage on 23rd Street, centrally located in Havana’s Vedado district, he told 14ymedio. He asked between 2,500 and 3,000 Cuban Convertible pesos* for each bike, three to four times his investment. It was a “solid business,” he confesses.

“So we had several months until things went bad,” he recalls, referring to the visa controls that the government of Rafael Correa imposed on Cubans at the end of 2015. continue reading

The visa waiver Cubans had enjoyed in Ecuador since 2008, along with the immigration reform approved by Raúl Castro in 2013, led to an “airlift” with thousands of trips made each year by private individuals, allowing them to supply the Cuban informal market with products from the Andean nation. As the Ecuadorian door closed, there were other shopping destinations, including Russia, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

For Yamilet García, a Cuban based in Miami, the ‘motorinas’, as they are called, are ‘a blessing’

“It is now more difficult” to find customers who are willing to pay what he was formerly able to charge for an electric scooters, explains Carlos. “There are a lot of people traveling,” so the number of “scooters of different brands and colors” has soared.

In South Florida, where the largest concentration of Cubans outside the Island is located, this business opportunity did not go unnoticed.

Yudelkis Barceló, owner of the agency Envios y Más based in Miami, explained to 14ymedio that for the last three years they have been in the business of shipping electric scooters to Cuba.

“The customer acquires the product and in a period of six to eight weeks they can pick it up at the Palco agency, west of Havana. Payment is made in Miami. The company offers Voltage brand bikes of 750 Watts and 1,000 Watts, which cost $1,450 and $1,600 respectively, plus customs costs (70 Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC) plus 400 Cuban pesos (CUP) in the first case; and 170 CUC plus 400 CUP in the second case).

There are also other models of scooters: the Ava Aguila costs 1,950 CUC, the Hornet is 1,850 CUC and the Mitshozuki is 1,750 CUC.

Barceló notes that the shipment of this equipment is intended for personal use only, so his company does not violate the US embargo. Shipments are made by sea.

Another circumstance that favors scooters is that they do not have to be registered and can be driven with a license to drive light equipment

For Yamilet Garcia, a Miami-based Cuban, the motorinas, as they are called, are “a blessing.”

“Everybody knows what transportation is like in Cuba. I sent one to my brother who lives in Cotorro and he’s happy because he doesn’t have to wait for the bus or take the shared-taxis,” he says.

The Caribbean Express agency is another company that sends motorinas to the Island.

“They are taking four to five months” to be delivered, explains one of the sales agents who for protocol reasons prefers not to be identified.

“Only the Palco agency receives this type of product because it has the scanner to analyze them, so there is a delay,” he adds.

Another popular article among relatives who send products to Cuba are electric bicycles, much cheaper than scooters and with speeds of between 15 mph and 30 mph.

The deterioration of public transport, which has intensified in recent months, has contributed to a rebound in orders

On the Island you can buy the 60 volt LT1060 model with a three phase 1000 watt motor that the Angel Villareal Bravo Company of Santa Clara assembles from components from China.

These are higher powered bikes compared to those previously produced by that factory, and they are capable of reaching speeds of up to 30 mph. They have hand controls to activate the horn, digital screen and disk brakes, among other features.

This model “has characteristics similar to those currently imported by many individuals” and will be sold in the government chain of “TRD stores at a price of 1,261 CUC,” Elier Pérez Pérez, deputy director of the factory explained to the government newspaper Granma, saying they expect to produce 5,000 units by the end of the year.

The deterioration of public transport, which has intensified in recent months, has contributed to a rebound in orders.

Many motorists and passers-by complain, “If anybody hits you, they flee and you can not even see a license plate to complain about it”

Another circumstance that favors scooters is that they do not have to be registered and can be driven with a license to drive light equipment. A condition that many riders do not meet.

However, many motorists and passers-by complain, “If anybody hits you, they flee and you can not even see a license plate to complain about it,” says Pascual, a driver of a state vehicle.

“I’ve even found children under 16 driving these things,” he complains.

“I take care of it like it’s my child and the truth is that it has saved me from a thousand problems,” says Maikel, a computer engineer with a Voltage Racing bike.

His problems go in another direction. “There are few parking lots where I can feel safe leaving the bike and the cars don’t show me any respect on the road,” he complains.

However, he says that the motorina has totally changed his life by giving him a freedom of movement that he did not have before.

*Translator’s note: Cuba has two currencies. Cuban Convertible pesos are officially worth one US dollar each, although transaction fees raise the cost for foreigners converting money on the island. Cuban pesos are worth roughly 4 cents US each.

Mexico Deports 49 Cuban Migrants / 14ymedio

Hundreds of Cubans have been stranded in various countries of Latin America on their journey to the United States. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana. 13 March 2017 – Mexico’s National Institute of Migration (INM) reported in a press release that on Monday morning it repatriated 49 Cubans who were in the country in an irregular situation. At 7:30 a.m. (local time) they were sent on a Federal Police plane from Quintana Roo to Jose Marti Airport in Havana.

The migrants – 40 men and nine women – had arrived in Mexico on different dates and were waiting to obtain a transit permit that would have allowed them to reach the US border.

Since the ending of the previous US wet foot/dry foot immigration policy, the Mexican government no longer gives Cubans without visas trnsit permits, which allow foreigners without recognized nationality to legally travel for 20 days through the country.

In contrast, Mexican authorities have since implemented a bilateral agreement with Havana, which allows the return of citizens of the Caribbean country, if the Cuban consulate in Mexico recognizes their Cuban citizenship.

According to the official Cubadebate newspaper, between January 12 – the end of the previous US immigration policy – and February 15, 264 Cubans were deported by the Mexican INM following the same procedure.

As of February 18, a total of 680 migrants were repatriated to the island from different countries, mostly from the United States.

The Nomads Of The Commerce Travel The Towns Of Cuba / 14ymedio, Bertha Guillen

Street vendors move from one town to another to offer food, household goods and other products. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Bertha K. Guillen, Candelaria, Cuba, 13 March 2017 — Apples, disposable diapers and fried foods are some of the products on display on the stands of the traveling fairs that make the rounds of Cuban towns. Nomadic caravans that recall the circuses of the olden days, but without the jugglers or wild beasts.

Rosario González is 47 years old and lives in Los Palacios, Pinar del Río. For a decade he was employed at a state coffee shop, but a few years ago he decided to have his own business. Now he dedicates himself to preparing and selling snacks in a nomadic fair that travels throughout the west of the Island. continue reading

Rosario’s competition is strong, and he must add new options and products to make his offerings more attractive. At the end of February there were some 539,952 people with self-employment licenses. Of these, 59,700 are engaged in preparing and selling food.

The group keeps tabs on patron saint parties, carnivals or any local festival. They arrive at the place and set up their improvised stands

The license to engage in this occupation allows the seller to move from one municipality to another and also between provinces. “I had some neighbors who were involved in this business and I realized that it was worth it. So I threw myself into it,” Rosario tells 14ymedio.

This man from Pinar del Rio is part of a group that keeps tabs on patron saint parties, carnivals, or any kind of local festival. They arrive at the place and set up their improvised stands, made out of the same metal cots they sleep on at night.

The merchants go from here to there and spend the greatest part of their time on the highways, roads and public plazas. Some of them don’t even have homes and choose the traveling business without ties to any place they can return to. They are this century’s nomads, in a country that has a housing deficit of 600,000 units.

“At the beginning it was a little complicated, because my previous life was so peaceful,” says Rosario. The state café where he worked was known as “the king of the flies” because it had very few products and even fewer customers. He then took a risky step and now he is used to the “festive atmosphere and the crowds of people.”

In a nearby timbiriche – the Cuban word for a tiny commercial stand – is Yaumara, a jewelry seller born in Bahia Honda. She displays necklaces, rings for all sizes, and jewelry made from surgical steel, very popular among those who can’t afford gold or silver.

“I always liked a party,” the merchant confesses, so her current job “is easier” for her.

When the swarm of vendors arrive in a town they register at the municipal Physical Planning Office. They rent a space for their flea market and show their licenses from the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT), which allows them to engage in activities ranging from the sale of good to the management of children’s games.

They take care of each other and warn of possible police controls. When an inspector demands they report on a colleague, everyone remains silent

Among the sellers bonds of friendship and family are created. In the caravan there are several married couples and some have even found love along the road. They take care of each other and warn of possible police controls. When an inspector demands they report on a colleague, everyone remains silent.

Despite the restrictions on selling imported merchandise, many products sold at the fairs come from Panama, Russia or the United States. What they display openly is only a small part of what they have on offer. “Here we have something for every taste and pocketbook,” says a home-appliance salesman who also offers light hardware.

Another part of the merchandise comes from the network of hard currency stores managed by the State. In towns where shortages are a much more chronic problem than in provincial capitals, resale has become a widespread practice. The merchants supply sponges for scrubbing, pens, flip-flops and belts.

Despite the strict controls of the inspectors, the street vending business is attractive to many self-employed. (14ymedio)

“We sell at retail and that’s good because there are people who can’t afford a packet of detergent but can buy the small bags we repackage it into,” says Maurilio, who has spent at least five years “in these comings and goings.”

The group evaluates how long to stay in each village. “We see how things are, the atmosphere of partying and how sales go on the first day, then we decide whether to stay or not,” clarifies the entrepreneur.

Most of the inhabitants of the hamlets and settlements welcome them. “I look forward to the fair because it is an opportunity to buy things for the house and also my children love it,” says a resident of Candelaria. However, some residents closer to the points of sale complain that the travelers sleep on porches or take care of their personal needs in the street.

Some residents closer to the points of sale complain that the travelers sleep on the porches or take care of their ‘personal needs’ in the street

Ernesto and Uvisneido have solved that problem. Coming from the distant city of Guantánamo, they entered the business with a supply of toy cars. With the profits they bought a small trailer with three bunk beds and a bathroom. “So we do not have to sleep outdoors,” says Ernesto.

“We also have a dragon toy, a small inflatable jumping structure and a swinging chair carnival-type ride,” he adds. His customers are children who pay about 5 Cuban pesos for each turn on the ride or for a few minutes of jumping on the inflatable.

“There is always some inspector who spoils the party, but with this work we make out,” says Ernesto. Traders who have not managed to get a trailer to sleep in at night, set up their cots anywhere and pay a guard to patrol the vicinity.

With the first rays of the sun, they need to begin to proclaim their products or undertake the journey to the next town. Trade nomads know that their business only works if they travel everywhere.