Cuba’s Self-Employed Join State Union to Avoid Trouble / 14ymedio, Mario Penton and Caridad Cruz

Street vendor in Havana (14ymedio)
Street vendor in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton/Caridad Cruz, Miami/Cienfuegos, 24 June 2016 – Like every morning, Maria Elena and Enrique go out to sell vegetables, tubers and fruits in the streets of Cienfuegos. At temperatures of more than 86 degrees and with a sun that “cracks stones,” they travel the city carrying their products house to house and earning their bread, literally by the sweat of their brows. They are part of the more than 12,600 self-employed legally registered in the offices of the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT) in the province, a not inconsiderable number for the officials of the Cuba Workers Central Union (CTC) which has seen in these “workers” an opportunity to increase their ranks.

Cuba has a unionization rate of almost 96%. According to official statistics, more than three million workers belong to18 unions that are grouped under the umbrella of the Cuban Workers Central Union, which functions as a conveyor belt for the Communist Party’s “instructions.”

“Our work day begins at five in the morning. At that hour we have to go wait for the truck that brings the merchandise from the towns. Those who transport the products are the ones who negotiate the price with the farmer, and we negotiate with them. Sometimes people don’t understand the high prices, but it’s because everyone needs to eat,” says Maria Elena.

The self-employed woman is 53-years-old and her son is 19. They have chosen this way of earning a living because, as they say, “working for the State does not provide.”

“Sometimes the inspectors come and fine us because we are stopped in a place. Of course, you can always resolve it with some little gift: some cucumbers, a pound of tomatoes…everyone has needs,” she says.

CTC leaders have found in these problems the breeding ground for promoting membership.

“The street vendors have basic problems with the inspectors. The advantage of belonging to the union is that if they unfairly fine you, the workers can come to our offices and have the situation analyzed. If they show that the sanction has been unjust, we can intervene for its dismissal. Belonging to the CTC, you are protected,” says a union member who prefers to not give his name.

According to the vendors, the union have been inviting them for months to become part of the Agricultural Workers Union. “We don’t understand why, but it seems that they want everyone to be unionized,” says Enrique, who also says that, “it does not solve anything for the people.”

Several leaders of the CTC consulted by this daily said that more than 80% of the self-employed people in this area are enrolled in some union.

Union dues vary between two and eight pesos according to the worker’s earnings, although the majority of self-employed pay the minimum. The members also have to pay “My contribution to the homeland,” an update of the concept of “día de haber” – the “voluntary donation of a day’s wages to the Territorial Military Troops, to be spent to acquire weapons for the “defense of the homeland.”*

“People are not much interested in unionization, they do it simply so that they don’t get screwed by them,” explains Roberto, a man self-employed as a scissors and nail clippers sharpener.

“Sometimes they fine us just for the fact of remaining a long time in the same place selling. What happens is that these days there is so much sun that we have to take refuge under a shrub for a while in order to sell, and there the inspectors fall on you. Since our license is issued for mobile vendors, we cannot spend too much time in the same place,” says Enrique, who believes that the self-employed workers are the most vulnerable.

“You can be fined about 700 pesos for selling too much on one corner. But what’s a reasonable time that you can be in that place is not noted on any official document, it is at the complete discretion of the inspectors who take advantage of any reason to impose a sanction,” he says.

Although the Government promotes its organizations by all means, barely 48% of membership attends union meetings in Cienfuegos, as recognized by the official press. Independent union organizations exist in the country, like the Cuban Independent Union Coalition, heavily harassed by State Security. However, none of the self-employed consulted for this report say they are familiar with them.

The southern city’s statistics reveal what is a fact at the national level. After some first months in which the self-employed were left alone, the CTC encouraged carrying out “political work” in order to make them enter the ranks of the organization. According to their numbers, more than 400,000 “self-employed workers,” of the 500,000 registered in the country, belong to the official organization. For the moment, the creation of a union just for the self-employed continues to be a project “under study.”

“There is no other option, in the end we will have to join like everyone else, so that they don’t classify us as disaffected and rain more blows on us. We have to keep fighting, because we have to resolve it,” say the self-employed who prepare to end their day at eight at night, counting their meager earnings.

*Translator’s note: The so-called “día de haber” was initiated by Fidel Castro in 1981, requiring workers to “donate” a days wages to the military. The program was later renamed “día de la Patria,” meaning ‘One Day’s Work’ for the Homeland. The custom (and name) goes back to the Cuban independence struggle of the 1800s.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

With More Travelers, Cuban Customs Heightens Control / 14ymedio

Havana's Airport (14ymedio)
Havana’s Airport (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 24 June 2016 – Cuba’s General Customs of the Republic has announced that it will strengthen the infrastructure of detection in air and sea terminals throughout this year to counter “phenomena such as drug trafficking, violations of the security of the country and smuggling of endemic species,” according to a report in the official press on Friday.

Moraima Rodríguez Nuviola, assistant director of Customs Control Systems, in a meeting with the press on Thursday, highlighted the need to strengthen “risk management, the preparation of forces, and the acquisition and mastery of modern technologies.”

With the increasing number of tourists in recent months, following the immigration reforms that eased travel for Cubans beginning in 2013, the work of the customs service has experienced an increased “level of complexity,” especially in detecting communications technologies coming into the country, because of the advancements in these technologies in recent years, said Rodriguez Nuviola.

Customs keeps a tight control over satellite transmission and reception equipment, literature critical of the Government, controversial audiovisual materials and technology to create wireless networks. During the strict customs searches, which include scanning each bag, they also look for external hard drives and other data storage devices.

Methods of circumventing the restrictions have diversified, acknowledged the official, and there has been an increase in “diverse methods of hiding the introduction of these methods into the country (bringing them in parts and pieces hidden inside the frames of similar equipment).”

Between January and May, the entity foiled a total of 41 cases of transportation of drugs, among them six kilograms of cocaine and seven of marijuana. During this period, they also detected 817 violations defined as the “introduction of devices, satellite equipment and subversive literature aimed at the counterrevolution.”

There has also been an increase “in attempts to bring in weapons, parts and ammunition and an increased detection of subversive printed materials in different formats,” said Rodriguez Nuviola.

In the absence of a legal framework for commercial imports destined for private hands, many travelers use their personal baggage to bring into the country goods such as clothing, footwear and medicines, which are subsequently sold on the informal market.

With regards to bringing in undeclared cash, in the first five months of the year Customs detected at least 47 cases in which they have recovered the smuggling of 1,598 Cuban convertible pesos, 63,924 dollars and 1,100 euros.

In the face of new conditions, Nelson Cordobes Reyes, first deputy head of the Cuban Customs, reinforced that the “control activity in the field of Aviation Security at the exit from international airports, particularly for direct flights to the United States” will be strengthened. Customs will also invest in new “technical means of detection and control.”

Cuban activists and opponents have regularly denounced the confiscation by the authorities of literature, computers, external hard drives and business cards. As a rule, despite following the process for reclaiming possessions, travelers are unable to retrieve the items confiscated from them.

Remittances To Cuba A Record $3.3+ Billion in 2015 / EFE, 14ymedio

As of this spring, Western Union is sending remittances from the US to Cuba (Business Wire)
As of this spring, Western Union is sending remittances from the US to Cuba (Business Wire)

EFE (via 14ymedio), 23 June 2016 – The sending of remittances – money primarily from family and friends to Cubans on the island – has experienced the “most dynamic growth” in Latin America, with a record 3.354 billion dollars sent in 2015, according to the Havana Consulting Group.

Between 2008 and 2015, remittances to Cuba grew by 1.907 billion dollars, an annual average increase of 238 million dollars, “an event without precedent in the Cuban market where remittances to the island officially began in 1993,” according to Emilio Morales, the president of the group based in Miami.

Morales attributed much of the growth to the easing of “restrictions and limitations” on the sending of remittances, especially that stemming from the “rapprochement” between Cuba and the United States, under the leadership of US President Barack Obama.

Another factor in the change has been the “huge increase” in travel between the US and Cuba; in 2015 a total of 538,433 Cubans and Cuban-Americans made round trips between the United States and Island, or vice versa, an increase of 328% over 2007.

Cubans And Foreigners Competing For Hotel Rooms / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

It is estimated that domestic tourism will grow by 13.8% this year compared to 2015. (14ymedio)
It is estimated that domestic tourism will grow by 13.8% this year compared to 2015. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 20 June 2016 — With the arrival of summer on Monday, Cubans are obsessed with getting an “all-inclusive” package tour to enjoy the school holidays. However, domestic demand is affected by the simultaneous growth of foreign tourism — up 11.9% since January — and the insufficient number of hotel rooms.

Since 2008, when Cubans were granted the previously denied permission to book rooms in hotels, domestic tourism has seen a sharp increase and is estimated to grow by 13.8% this year compared to 2015. The island currently has about 61,200 rooms in about 300 hotels. The Ministry of Tourism plans to add some 3,790 new rooms and repair 5,677 others, by December. Continue reading “Cubans And Foreigners Competing For Hotel Rooms / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata”

Latin America in the Mirror of ‘Brexit’ / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

A demonstration against the costs of the Mercosur Summit in 2014. (Digital Analysis)
A demonstration against the costs of the Mercosur Summit in 2014. (Digital Analysis)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 June 2016 — Rupture can only be possible if there was once an agreement, a relationship or love. In the eyes of Latin America, Brexit seems like the story of a mature friend embroiled in the bitter litigation of a divorce, provoking a certain envy in those who have never managed to mate. In this world, while some arrange their departure from an alliance, others yearn for the marriage of an agreement.

When the British vote this Thursday on a referendum to decide whether the United Kingdom will remain in or leave the European Union, the major impact of in Latin America should be a reflection on unitary structures, their reason for being and their fragility. On a continent where, in recent years, there have been innumerable groups, alliances and regional councils, each one more ineffective than the last, comparisons are inevitable. Continue reading “Latin America in the Mirror of ‘Brexit’ / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

The Goytisolo Palace, A Jewel Of Cienfuegos About To Disappear / 14ymedio, Caridad Cruz

The Goytisolo Palace, also known as La Catalana, in Ciefuegos
The Goytisolo Palace, also known as La Catalana, in Ciefuegos

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Caridad Cruz, Cienfuegos, 19 June 2016 — One of the greatest treasures of Cienfuegos, the Goytisolo Palace, lies in ruins amid official apathy to the rescue of this emblematic building in a city declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005.

Declared a local monument, the Goytisolo Palace, or La Catalana as it is also known, was built by Agustín Goytisolo Lezazarburu, a Biscayan born in 1812 who came to Cuba in search of opportunities in the 1830s. Continue reading “The Goytisolo Palace, A Jewel Of Cienfuegos About To Disappear / 14ymedio, Caridad Cruz”

Cooling Off / 14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar

Boys bathing in the rain in Havana. (14ymedio)
Boys bathing in the rain in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar, Havana, 21 June 2016 — With the coming of summer the evening downpours are back. Almost daily, in the evening, the sky is loaded with black clouds about to burst. Sometimes we get the “deluge” and sometimes not. When it happens, invariably the boys in the neighborhood come out together to have fun in the rain.

Most of the students in the country are on vacation in these weeks, and don’t miss an opportunity to play soccer or baseball on any corner. When the downpour comes, instead of trying to find shelter under a roof, they walk the streets looking for puddles to splash in and enjoying everything falling from the sky. Continue reading “Cooling Off / 14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar”

Nespresso Will Be The First Company To Export Cuban Coffee To The US / 14ymedio

A farmer selects ripe coffee. (EFE)
A farmer selects ripe coffee. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio (With agency information), Havana, 20 June 2016 — The Cuban coffee will again be exported to the US after more than 50 years. Nespresso, of the Nestlé group, will be the first company to do so, as reported Monday by the Reuters agency.

Cuban coffee is one of the products of the island’s non-state that the US State Department authorized for import this April. Cuba’s National Bureau of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) rejected the measure and charged that it was an attempt to influence Cuban peasants and separate them from the state, saying that it “cannot be permitted, because it would destroy a Revolutionary process that has provided participatory democracy, freedom, sovereignty and independence.” Continue reading “Nespresso Will Be The First Company To Export Cuban Coffee To The US / 14ymedio”

The Crisis Hits Cuban Doctors In Venezuela / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

The island earns more than 8.2 billion dollars from the "export of health services." (EFE)
The island earns more than 8.2 billion dollars from the “export of health services.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, Mario Penton, 21 June 2016 — Tania Tamara Rodríguez never thought of fleeing the Cuban medical mission in Venezuela and become a “defector” who is prohibited from entering her own country for eight years. The plight of the island’s health professionals in Venezuela has led an increasing number to seek refuge in neighboring countries or to take alternative work to meet their needs in the midst of the economic crisis in that “Bolivarian” nation.

“The situation of doctors and aid workers Cubans is terrible. The whole time you are living under the threat that they send you back to Cuba and you lose your mission. You’re afraid they’ll take away all the money – which is in official accounts in Cuba – and if they take some disciplinary measure they will revoke the mission,” says Rodriguez. While working in a clinic lab in the “Barrio Adentro” mission, her salary of 700 Cuban pesos (about $26 US) is deposited in Cuba and she has the right to an account of 280 dollars a month and a card giving her 25% off on purchases at Foreign Exchange Collection Stores (TDRs) in Cuba. Continue reading “The Crisis Hits Cuban Doctors In Venezuela / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

No Diploma Certifies Us As Parents / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes in Old Havana, on Father’s Day Sunday without a single flower. (14ymedio)
The statue of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes in Old Havana, on Father’s Day Sunday without a single flower. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 June 2016 – Those of us who have had the joy of being parents spend our lives asking ourselves whether we have done well, if in the strict judgment our children will make about our work will we earn a good score, a mediocre grade or, instead, a resounding disapproval.

The Venezuelan singer Franco de Vita says it is “not enough” to feed our offspring, surround them with comforts and conveniences, or guarantee that they receive an education, we must also respond to their questions. But our answers, which we have to improvise in a second, will be the most momentous memories our children have of us. Continue reading “No Diploma Certifies Us As Parents / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

Necessity Doesn’t Understand Slogans / 14ymedio

On this wall in the town Regla, Havana, life has overtaken the revolutionary slogans. (14ymedio)
On this wall in the town Regla, Havana, life has overtaken the revolutionary slogans. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 June – The city walls emulate the political billboards with regards to signs and slogans. However, the propaganda painted on the facades is frequent interrupted by a doorway, a window or a vent. Behind these changes to the exterior there is always the story of a divorce, or the birth of a child, or even a relative who comes to live with the family.

In these cases, respect for the slogan written on the wall means less than necessity in most cases, as is shown in this photo in the town of Regla , a few yards from the pier served by the ferries that link this capital municipality to the historic heart of Havana.

The phrase on the wall marks the anniversary of the founding of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) is now just a series of letters with little sense. The phrase “long live” has been replaced by a doorway leading to a new dwelling, where “life” has imposed its own slogans.

Ten Undocumented Cubans Found Off The Coast Of Puerto Rico / 14ymedio

Mona Island off the coast of Puerto Rico is considered US territory in the Caribbean. (DC)
Mona Island off the coast of Puerto Rico is considered US territory in the Caribbean. (DC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 June 2016 — Puerto Rican authorities detained 10 Cuban migrants on the island of Mona, considered US territory in the Caribbean. Apparently the Cubans had landed there and so far all are in good health.

The Puerto Rican police said in a statement that seven women and three men were found on Saturday morning on Mona, west of Puerto Rico.

The Cubans will be taken to the port of Aguadilla where the immigration authorities can analyze their status and consider whether they qualify to benefit from the wet foot/dry foot policy under which all Cuban nationals are automatically given refuge after stepping on American soil.

So far this fiscal year, which began in October, more than 3,600 rafters have been intercepted at sea, according to the United States Coast Guard.

Six Rafters Arrive in Florida on a Rustic Boat Named ‘Barack Obama’ / 14ymedio

The arrival of the rafters.
The arrival of the rafters.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 June 2016 — A group of six Cuban migrants arrived on Monday night along the coast of Lauderdale By-the-Sea, Florida, in a precarious craft, according to the local media. Among them was a pregnant woman who was treated by medical services as a precautionary measure.

The rafters crossed the Florida Straits aboard a rustic boat covered with metal plates that they had baptized Barack Obama, which could be read on the side.

The Cubans, who are in good health despite spending nine days adrift, came from Nuevitas, Camagüey.

A witness quoted by the Sun Sentinel newspaper saw the arrival of the migrants from the beach. “We thought it was someone surfing, but then we saw several people. They were paddling like crazy,” she said.

5,000 Tons Of Vietnamese Rice Arrive In Cuba / 14ymedio

Signing the record of delivery and receipt of the 5,000 tons of rice. (Twitter)
Signing the record of delivery and receipt of the 5,000 tons of rice. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 June 2016 – Rice is again a symbol of friendship between Cuba and Vietnam. The signing, this Thursday, of the record of delivery and receipt of 5,000 tons of rice donated by the Vietnamese Communist party – the State – is added to the joint agricultural programs carried out by both countries tat have allowed Cuba to reduce from 450,000 to 300,000 tons the import of this grain.

The ceremony this Thursday, which represents a gesture to underscore the friendship between Vietnam and Cuba, was attended by Rigoberto Enoa, director of Trade Policy with Asia and Oceania of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, and Pham Phan Dung, chief of of Vietnam’s National Reserve. Continue reading “5,000 Tons Of Vietnamese Rice Arrive In Cuba / 14ymedio”

Crime Lurks Around ATMs / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

The little security in the areas where around many ATMs contributes to the assaults. (14ymedio)
The little security in the areas around many ATMs contributes to the assaults. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 16 June 2016 — “It was about six in the evening and I had taken money from an ATM, when I saw the knife.” So says Carmen, 71, about the time when she was attacked by two young men who stole her entire pension for the month on 10 de Octubre Avenue. The little security in the areas where many of the ATMs are located contributes to the assaults, a topic discussed last week at a meeting between members of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and government representatives in the capital.

In addition to losing 243 Cuban pesos, Carmen has inherited from that traumatic moment the fear of reliving a similar situation. “From that day I hardly go out into the street alone and when I’m going to collect [my pension] at least two of my children accompany me,” she explains. Continue reading “Crime Lurks Around ATMs / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada”