The Scandal of the 15,000 Apples

La Puntilla supermarket is one of the best stocked in the capital. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE/via 14ymedio, Atahualpa Amerise, Havana | 18 September 2018 — In face of chronic shortages in Cuba, products of the United States embargo and the inefficient policies of state planning, hordes of black marketeers stockpile goods to resell them at a higher price, an open secret that has finally burst with the “scandal of 15,000 apples.”

La Puntilla supermarket, in the exclusive Havana neighborhood of Miramar, received on August 31 an unusual shipment of apples. The prized fruit, rarely seen on the island at this time of year, were set out in boxes of 100 for sale to the public with one restriction: one batch per person.

At the exact moment that they went on sale, dozens of young people, without hiding what they were doing and in a coordinated action, got hold of 150 boxes (15,000 apples in total), paid for them ($6,750), and took them, leaving behind empty shelves to the disgust and indignation of the other customers. continue reading

One of the onlookers was the pro-government journalist Iroel Sánchez, special witness to the fruity “kidnapping,” who denounced it the following week on his blog in an article entitled Robbery in La Puntilla, republished shortly after in Cubadebate, where it generated a big popular stir and ended up provoking the intervention of the authorities.

Sánchez explained that small Cuban mafias get hold of not only apples, but also diapers, chicken, cheese, or any other scarce product to later establish their own distribution networks on the black market at higher prices than those set by the state-controlled socialist monopoly.

For him the fundamental thing is the collusion of supermarket officials and distribution chains, whose meager state salaries of $30 a month invite “incentives” to turning a blind eye, leaking information, or even handing over merchandise to the speculator and helping him to transport it.

Sánchez’s article has raised this problem to the forum of social debate in Cuba, until the point that CIMEX, the State business group that monopolizes distribution, announced the immediate dismissals of eight officials allegedly implicated in the case and — something very unusual — made public their names and surnames for greater public derision.

Efe spoke with two employees of the Havana supermarket who confirmed that it is “strictly forbidden” to make any mention of the scandal of the apples, although one said: “What you have read on the internet is true.”

Meanwhile, an executive from the shopping center told the agency, under condition of anonymity, that the incident “isn’t as bad as they say” and denied any collusion with the black marketeers.

“Each one took the maximum allowed and we couldn’t do anything,” he insisted, after revealing that he and his subordinates are the focus of a rigorous investigation by the authorities and that they fear losing their jobs.

For economist Ricardo Torres, specialist from the CEEC, an adjunct institution to the University of Havana, speculation in Cuba is a difficult problem to eradicate, despite the authorities’ efforts.

“In every society the majority dedicates time and energy to whatever is most lucrative. If the diversion of resources is profitable, it will be more difficult to stop it because people will look for other ways to avoid the controls,” he explains to Efe.

Torres believes that “the fundamental cause is general scarcity, which has shaped certain behaviors in business owners and in the population.”

For him, until the shortages end, the law of supply and demand will control distribution and prices, however much the State tries to maintain control and punish offenders.

The lack of hard currency — aggravated by weak exports, an insufficient distribution system, debt problems, and the US embargo — is at the root of the chronic shortages that Cuba suffers, which end up emptying the shelves of stores, according to the expert.

For his part, Julio, a 55-year-old worker and regular customer at La Puntilla, sums up for Efe his view of the problem: “In every place on earth there are unscrupulous people who take advantage of society’s needs.”

The cause of the shortages “is known by the entire world. We are financially blockaded by the United States,” affirms this confirmed socialist, referring to the embargo that, according to Havana, has caused losses in the amount of almost a billion dollars from 1960 until today.

“We have been blockaded for six decades, but we will continue to resist and we will keep living much more happily than they do in other countries,” he declares in a conversation with Efe, while he waits at the door of the supermarket for his wife to come out with at least half of the products on their shopping list.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Makeup Doesn’t Cover Jimaguayu’s Problems

Residents in the municipality of Jimaguayú complain about the poor state of the roads. (14y middle)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ignacio de la Paz, Camagüey | 18 September 2018 — The Jimaguayú municipality has been busy for days starting last week, when the authorities announced a visit to Camagüey by President Miguel Díaz-Canel. Between 19 and 21 September the president is expected to arrive, which has unleashed an avalanche of repairs in public areas and state centers.

The provincial authorities of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) have called several meetings with their members to alert them that Diaz-Canel will be accompanied by a large government contingent and that Camagüey must show “its best face” on these days, especially in the places where the caravan will travel.

In Jimaguayú, one of the municipalities included in the tour, a fever for touch-ups has been unleashed, including a rejuvenation of the road that leads to the Sanguily Genetic Rescue Company, located in the area of Jesús María, one of the sites expecting a visit from the president who, last April, replaced Raul Castro. continue reading

The road to the genetic company right now is the scene of brigades of workers with machetes clearing out the weeds in the surrounding area, a scene that the farmers of the zone look on with surprise. The older ones, such as farmer Omar Vázquez, do not remember “when something like this was done around here.”

Since assuming power, Diaz-Canel, a 58-year-old engineer, has made a frantic tour of several provinces that has been widely followed by the official press, a practice that contrasts with the lack of travel that characterized his predecessor who “did not even come to Camagüey when we were affected by hurricanes,” says Rubén, a resident of the area.

Before the arrival of the president, in the bodegas of San Cayetano and Victorino, two of the poorest communities in the region, the sale of the rationed basic basket corresponding to the month of October has been pushed forward, a usual practice on festive dates. The residents can’t contain their amazement because, for the occasion, products like chocolate, detergent, washing soap and rum are also being sold off the ration book.

The greater police controls that have also been deployed in the area complicate the operation of the black market in a region where most of the cheese that ends up being sold illegally is produced. More surveillance along the roads has producers and retailers of this product holding back on the “under the table” trade, given that the State prohibits any private sales of cheese.

Others prefer to see the arrival of the president as an opportunity to air the daily problems that mark life in Jimaguayú.

“Díaz-Canel has to pass through this area more often, because we are abandoned,” says a farmer who complains that “what is being done is pure makeup in the streets where he is going to pass, but the problems that we, the people who work in the fields, have are not fixed with a little lechada (low quality paint).”

The Camagüey plain, and especially the Jimaguayú area, has a long tradition of raising cattle, but in recent decades the sector has been harmed by the economic crisis and the loss of thousands of cattle as a result of the drought, the lack of fodder and mismanagement in state farms. 70% of the milk produced in the territory comes from non-state farms, according to official data.

Owners of estates, tenants and cooperative members have been pressing for years for the State to allow them access to a better wholesale market, where they can buy things from piping to carry water, to food for animals, something that is now available only sporadically and in small quantities.

“It will take less makeup and more resources because we do not have medicine for the animals, the feed is missing, and even getting a piece of fence to keep the cows in one place is a problem because there is no wood or wire for sale,” says Gumersindo, 66.

The autonomy to sell “milk directly to consumers and develop a cheese industry without going through the State” are also among the demands that Gumersindo and several farmers in the area have been posing for years in meetings of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP).

In several meetings at workplaces where the imminent arrival of Díaz-Canel has been mentioned, the workers have called for taking advantage of the visibility that the arrival of the president will give the area to make some social and labor demands.

Several residents hope to be able to raise with Diaz-Canel problems that affect the area, such as the notable reduction in the number of schools and the deficit of teachers. “The schools of La Loma and Piedra Imán where I live closed for lack of students and teachers, and that left only two in San Cayetano and Victorino,” laments Gumersindo.

Before beginning this school year, the Minister of Education, Ena Elsa Velázquez, acknowledged that, despite the “attention” and “stimulation” accorded to the teachers by the Government to “avoid the exodus,” there is a nationwide deficit of about 10,000 teachers. A situation that worsens in rural areas.

“Here we have a double problem, because the low salaries are compounded by the poor conditions of the classrooms and the transportation problems for teachers to get to the schools,” says Carmina, a grandmother of two children of school age, residents of Jimaguayú. “The last teachers my grandchildren had didn’t last three months in front of the classroom.”

Carmina and many of her neighbors complain that the students “have no teachers but rather makeshift teaching assistants who can not teach the kids anything.”

Alberto Murga, a farmer in the area, wants to bend Diaz-Canel’s ear with the difficulties that the residents of Jimaguayú are going through every day as a result of the bad state of the roads and the lack of public transportation, as well as the low electrical voltage of the area that means many families “can only light a couple of bulbs.”

“For more than two years we have not had any buses for these communities and the pharmacy in Victorino does not have the medicines that are sold on the so-called card.” The farmer complains that “the family doctor comes once a week and there is no doctor’s office, so she has to take care of the patients in the social circle without any privacy.”

The chorus of complaints continues to grow as the scheduled date for the visit approaches. The residents know that, in all likelihood, after the photos everything will remain the same. Even the place where the heroic rescue of Brigadier Sanguily took place is lost in the undergrowth and the marabou weed. “Like all of Jimaguayú,” Gumersindo says.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Pablo Milanes Sings to Havana in an Emotional Concert

The audience responds enthusiastically on Friday to Pablo Milanés at the Karl Marx Theater in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 9 September 2018 — Three years since his last concert at the Karl Marx Theater, Pablo Milanés returned to the same venue last Friday. The concert, dubbed “My Havana,” began with the firing of a canon at precisely nine o’clock in the evening, a gesture to mark the five-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the city, to which the singer-songwriter paid tribute.

The audience reaction was enthusiastic. As soon as the curtain rose, there was a standing ovation. The concert began and ended with people rising to their feet in homage to their adopted Havanan hero, who set so many of his songs in the Cuban capital and made numerous appearances here.

After performing a snippet from his song “Marginal” followed by “Cuanto Gané Cuanto Perdí” (So Much I’ve Lost, So Much I’ve Gained”), Milanés commented, with some emotion, that Cubans are his favorite audience, especially those from Havana. Describing the event as “this night among friends,” he told the audience, “there are some new things for you in this recital that I will present for your consideration.” continue reading

The show, which lasted almost two hours, featured Milanés’ classic tunes sung to an audience which responded with tears and applause. The repertoire also included more recent compositions, though the attendees were happy to once again hear him perform old standards such as Para Vivir, Yolanda and De Que Callada Manera.

On stage he was accompanied by musicians who have been part of Milanés’ artistic journey as well as members from his current group, who demonstrated distinctly jazz influences. The almost inseparable trio that has accompanied him for more than a year was made up of Miguel Núñez on piano, Sergio Félix Raveiro “El Indio” on bass and Osmani Sánchez on percussion.

One of the night’s surprises was the appearance of Carlos Varela, who joined Milanés to sing Vestida del Mar and Los Días No Volverán. Both managed to create an intimate atmosphere, transporting the audience to a time when there was more opportunity on the island for writing and performing trova-style songs, a time when their words and melodies impacted the lives of many Cubans.

The second big event of the night happened when Pancho Céspedes left the stage. He thanked Milanés for his trust, a gesture that was reciprocated when the singer-songwriter described him as “a brother and friend of many years.”

For the special numbers, the troubadour invited Maykel González and Robertico García on the trumpet, Emir Santacruz on the tenor saxophone and Aldana on the flute to join him. Accompanied by this metal string, he performed Amor Que Cantas la Noche, a poem by Sandra de Peret that Milanés set to music, followed by Regalo and Amor.

He did not pass up the chance to thank old collaborators such as the pianist Miguelito Nuñez, who accompanied the singer-songwriter for more than three decades. Nuñez came to this concert with his daughter Mariana, who was the cellist that night for Nostalgias, a song that — as Milanés describes it — has turned out to be the most important number from his album Días de Gloria.

Between songs the artist spoke enthusiastically, smiled, shared memories and acted like the host at a get-together in the living room of his own house. Natural and flawless in his interpretations, he displayed a vocal ability that has not been diminished with the passage of time.

Pablo, as his fans affectionately refer to him, paid homage to the Cuban capital with his song Vestida del Mar. He sang, “Havana will come back. It will be what it once was, dressed in the sea, dressed in light, like a rebirth. But it will mourn the loss that it will not be able to revive.” A flood of applause drowned out his voice.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Father Jose Conrado Rodriguez Denounces Cuba’s “Totalitarian” System

José Conrado Rodríguez (center) during the presentation of one of his books in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 19 September 2018 — The political system in Cuba, an inheritance from the former Soviet Union, is deeply monstrous and inhuman. Caribbean totalitarianism has turned every Cuban into an executioner and at the same time into a victim and the only way to escape from the vicious circle of lies and fear – the basis of the system – is to try to live in the truth. This is one of the conclusions of the new book Resistance and Submission in Cuba , by José Conrado Rodríguez, which will be presented this Wednesday at the Ermita de la Caridad del Cobre in Miami.

With a prologue by Carlos Alberto Montaner, Universal Editions has published this book that complements the recently released Dreams and Nightmares of a Priest in Cuba. It is an analysis of communist totalitarianism from the point of view of four authors from the periphery of the Soviet empire: Czeslaw Milosz from Poland, Constantin Noica from Romania, Vaclav Havel from the Czech Republic, and Cuban Eliseo Alberto de Diego García Marruz.

“The liberating force of truth, understood as a way of life, as a purpose in life, and as a fidelity to what we are, has an intimate dimension and is related to the knowledge of ourselves,” Rodríguez explains. continue reading

The dissidence, for this author and priest, is in intimate connection with the truth, because only from a coherent life that breaks with the social rites of the system, such as repeating slogans nobody believes in, can real change be driven.

The four authors on whom Father José Conrado Rodríguez based his reflection suffered under the communist system. Milosz (1911-2004), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980, in his work The Captive Mind analyzes the process of assimilation of totalitarianism on the part of intellectuals. The philologist Constantin Noica (1909-1987) was sentenced to 25 years in prison by the Stalinist regime of Ceaucescu in Romania. In his essay Pray for Brother Alexander, published posthumously in 1991, he makes it clear that only a life in truth and compassion can exorcise totalitarianism.

From Vaclav Havel (1936-2011), activist and, later, president of his country, Rodríguez addresses The Power Of The Powerless, an analysis of what he called post-totalitarian societies, where dictatorship goes hand in hand with ideology, where it becomes a kind of secular religion. Finally, from his compatriot Eliseo Alberto de Diego, he addresses Report Against Myself, a raw account of power in Cuba.

In a society like Cuba manipulation and lies are the basis of the system, says Rodríguez, paraphrasing Vaclav Havel. Already past the caudillo and the first stages of the revolution in which terror filled the prisons with political prisoners and brought down each of the democratic institutions, power does not need society to cohere.

If, earlier, the system tried to create a feeling of “the masses” and intensify the “fighting spirit” against an attacking enemy, the post-totalitarian society seeks to compel the population to accept the status quo.

The system will try to demonstrate “socialist legality” as a way to legitimize itself. “The function of ideology is to fill the gap between the plans of the system and the plans of life, implying that the intentions of the system derive from the needs of life, which is not true, but functions as if it were,” says Rodríguez.

Legality is one of the main weapons that the system has to defend itself. Laritza Diversent, an independent lawyer who went into exile in the United States, has detailed at least 400 laws in the Cuban criminal code that can be used against the opposition movement. In a post-totalitarian society like Cuba’s, everything is limited, controlled, well subjugated to the state apparatus, Rodríguez wrote.

Father Conrado uses Havel’s example of the self-employed person who takes a poster with a political slogan and hangs it in his window. He has not read it, the people who will visit his business will not read it either. The entrepreneur may not even agree with the content of the slogan (the likes of which abound in Cuban stores). But when he puts it in his window he has fulfilled the “social rite,” has been immunized against the suspicion of being disloyal to the system.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of cruelty that the book presents is that of Eliseo Alberto de Diego García Marruz, forced to spy on his own father, the Cuban poet Eliseo Diego. “We are at war against Yankee imperialism, Lieutenant,” he was told while serving in the Cuban army. “The Central Intelligence Agency has an exorbitant costume shop to hide spies, we can not lower our guard,” says the author in his Report Against Myself.

Before the timid objections of Diego García Marruz they gave him a report with the State Security files about his family. Former classmates, residents of the neighborhood, even exiles from Miami who visited his home had delivered reports to the all-powerful Cuban State Security.

“One against others, some over others, many Cubans were trapped in a network of mistrust,” writes Rodriguez and wonders how it is possible that in all the places where the totalitarian system has been established, the same things happened.

“How is it possible that the Russians and the Romanians, the Czechs and the Poles, the Cubans and the Chinese were victims of the same destructive mechanism? Victims and executioners: we ourselves have been transformed into these. We are the victims and the instruments of the system,” he concludes.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

"He said to me ’you’re a faggot’ and stuck his knife in me"

Campos is a promoter of the Network of Men who have sex with other men (HSH), associated with the Ministry of Public Health. (Y.C.)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 September 2018 — “I was the fly on that night’s cake for them,” laments Yoan Campos Guevara, 26, the young man who was attacked with a knife on Friday in Villa Clara in what appears to be homophobic assault. The son of singer Juan Carlos Campos, he lives in Caibarién and was leaving a party organized by the local LGBTI community at ‘Juanito’s Easy Chair’ when he was attacked, as he explained to 14ymedio from the Arnaldo Milián Castro Provincial Hospital in Santa Clara, where he is recovering from the surgery he underwent after the attack.

“Almost everyone had gone home but I stayed a little longer, there were five boys none of whom, as far as the little I could see, were older than 18. They stopped behind me, but I did not turn around. I finally got up to leave, I already had one of them behind me,” says Campos, who feels able to identify his main attacker. “When he was behind me, he said, ’You’re a faggot,’” and he buried a blade in me which didn’t hurt. I started to get scared when I felt something hot coming out of my back, and when I put my hands there I saw the blood running down,” he continues. continue reading

Yoan Campos Guevara is a dental assistant at the Pablo Agüero Guedes de Caibarién Polyclinic and promoter of the Network of Men who have sex with other men (HSH), associated with the Ministry of Health (Minsap) and in coordination with the Cenesex, which is directed by Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela Castro.

Although now he admits to feeling “pretty good,” his voice, clear and strong, fades away when he remembers what happened. “I ran out to get help, but it was 4:30 in the morning and no one was going to get involved with a badly injured person, so two security guards at a nearby hotel — because this happened in a relatively public place, it was not in the dark — they put me on a scooter,” he says.

Campos, who did not lose consciousness, relates that on that trip he saw his attackers. “They were walking very happy, like someone who had thrown water on a dog,” he laments. Seeing them walking along the road “as if it was nothing” and “without any remorse” took away his desire to forgive them and he now announces that he will take it to the end to make the guilty ones pay for their crimes.

A few minutes after he was admitted, a policeman came to inform him of the arrest of the alleged perpetrators, who are from Santa Clara, and told him that the weapon used was a knife. “They have been informing me of everything and I have learned that one of the boys was responsible for the stabbing and is awaiting trial, they also say that he confessed, and that the other four are still detained,” he says.

The specialists at the hospital in Caibarién where he was initially admitted managed to stop the bleeding. He was later transferred to Remedios, where his wound was sutured and he had blood tests, but finally he had to be taken to Santa Clara because some of the blood had passed into his lung. According to his testimony, Remedios’ surgeon warned him that “if the wound had been a few millimeters higher” it would have pierced his heart.

His father, the well-known tenor Juan Carlos Campos, explained that at the hospital “they put a drain on his side because the knife cut caused a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) and he had blood and air in his lung.”Also, this Tuesday they did some tests that will be evaluated today by the doctors to decide whether to remove part of the drain and they will evalute later if he can be discharged, at best, at the end of this week.

Juan Carlos Campos believes that there is a set of people who are “homophobic and half criminals who are doing nothing and are a danger. He was on his cell phone, communicating after the holidays when everything happened,” says the father of the young man about that night, as if he wanted to go back in time. “The people in the neighborhood, his friends and all his co-workers” have been calling the hospital to find out about his son because “everyone loves him very much,” he says with satisfaction.

Yoan Campos was operated on after the knife attack for a perforated lung. (Y.C.)

Yoan Campos, who confesses that he never thought something like this could happen to him, feels very grateful for the attention that his co-workers, friends and the LGBTI community have shown for his condition. “The provincial coordinator of the Network of men who have sex with other men visited me here. I did not expect that attention on a human level,” he says.

Pedro Manuel González, an LGBTI activist from the area, told Radio Martí that he is convinced that it is a hate crime because “there is an aversion towards these people.”

In mid-2017, another young homosexual, José Enrique Morales Besada, who lived in Morón, Ciego de Ávila, was beaten in the middle of the street by unknown persons who insulted him for being gay, although his case has not yet reached the courts. In May 2015, this newspaper announced the death by stoning of a 24-year-old transsexual in the city of Pinar del Río, but the official media never published the news.

Thanks to the work of members of the Cuban LGBTI community, more and more information and reports on aggressions and hate crimes can be documented. Although official institutions do not publish statistics on murders or violent acts against transvestites, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and intersexuals, at present the news filters out through social networks and independent media.

The Cuban Penal Code does not address the concept of “hate crimes” in the case of assaults against people based on ethnic origin, religion, race, gender, orientation and sexual identity. The latter, in particular, are not called out in the current legislation and these crimes are processed by the police and the courts without an aggravating circumstance that takes into account the vulnerability of this group of people.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Greatness and Decadence of the United States

A Honduran family fled to the United States because gangs threatened to kill them one by one if they did not submit to extortion. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami | 17 September 2018 — A humble Honduran lady came to Miami to visit her family. All had fled their country in order to save their lives. One of her sons, a hardworking and decent young man, was assassinated with 38 stab wounds. In Honduras, her daughter was a good teacher and her son-in-law was a high-ranking official of a credit institution. Her three grandchildren were (and are) magnificent students. The gangs threatened to kill them one by one if they did not submit to extortion.

They decided to escape to Miami. The teacher today works as an aide in various homes. The accountant works in construction. It is a variant of the beginning of the American dream. Fortunately, the United States granted them asylum. This happened before Jeff Sessions declared that his country would not take into account the risk of losing your life as a sufficient reason to request asylum and protection from Washington. To me, frankly, I can not think of a more valid explanation to flee from a nation in which you were comfortably installed.

The Honduran matriarch admired the economic picture she found. “We live here like the rich live in Honduras,” she said. And then she explained why. They rent a comfortable house (in a clean and modest neighborhood) with three bedrooms and a bathroom that has hot and cold water. The house has electricity, telephone, TV, air conditioning and internet. They are paying for two small used Japanese cars, also with air conditioning, because they need them to work. continue reading

Everyone eats and dresses reasonably well. They have cell phones and, as they know how to save, have even gone on vacation for a week inside the country. The boys study at a good public high school and the girl, who is the oldest of the youthful trio, does so at Miami Dade College, where she has not gone unnoticed by the educated eye of educator Eduardo Padrón, President of that enormous state university, the largest in the country with more than 160,000 students. She is one of the best. She wants to be a doctor and she will achieve it someday. She has a surplus of talent and tenacity.

The United States was already the largest economy on the planet at the beginning of the 20th century. How did it do it? There is no other secret: it is a country of laws and institutions and not of people. The independent nation surged with the industrial revolution and has grown and expanded little by little, at the rate of 2% per year for two and a half centuries, with the exception of the four years of the Civil War. The thirteen apprehensive states that declared independence, with just under 4 million inhabitants, today are 50 states and have 327 million people unequally distributed in a territory that is 6 times larger than the original.

Never has humanity lived better. Never has it lived longer and with more comforts. It is worth reading Steven Pinker’s books to contrast the data. All the reasoned information is there. The hard-working Honduran family participates in the accumulated American wealth (buildings, roads, sewers, bridges, parks, etc.) and the potential wealth that depends on intangible factors (institutions, rule of law, values and shared principles).

Someday, of course, the United States will no longer be at the head of the planet. It has always happened like that. The history of Greece, Rome, Spain, France, Germany and England proves it. China will probably replace the American nation. It is all in combining military power with technological and economic power. It’s possible it may discover a more efficient way to kill human beings than nuclear war. If this happens, maybe they will use it. It will happen in the middle of this century. I hope we old ones won’t live to see it.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Lazaro Bruzon Expelled from Cuban National Team for Refusing to Return to the Island

Lázaro Bruzón during a tournament. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 September 2018 — Grand Master Lázaro Bruzón has been officially expelled from the national chess team for refusing to return to the country, according to a statement issued by the National Chess Commission and published in the official press.

Bruzón, who has been living in the United States for some months, did not want to process a travel permit through the Cuban authorities and rejected the demand of the official sports institutions to return to the island to address his health problems.

As explained by the authorities, the chess player has also been excluded from the Giraldo Córdova Cardín Higher Training School for High Performance Athletes  (ESFAAR), an institution with which Bruzón “had signed a contract.” continue reading

Bruzón traveled with an ordinary passport to the United States on 31 July, “to attend to personal matters and participate in a tournament” refusing to process the trip through ESFAAR. In August, the Grand Master confirmed to the Cuban authorities that he could not participate in the World Olympiad due to health problems. Cuba asked him to return to the island “to arrange appropriate treatment through the Institute of Sports Medicine,” but the chess player refused.

The coup de grâce came when it was known that Bruzón and Grandmaster Yunieski Quesada were on the payroll of the chess team at Webster University, presented to play in the 2018-2019 season.

“Given these circumstances, Bruzón’s membership in the Cardín ESFAAR and the Cuban national team has ceased,” said the senior leadership for the game of chess on the island.

After announcing his contract with Webster University, Bruzón launched harsh criticism of the Cuban authorities. “Cuban chess has serious problems at the elite level,” said the player, who criticized the fact that Cuban chess players do not have internet service. “It’s like a baseball player who goes after a ground ball without a glove,” he added. Cuba has already lost Leinier Domínguez and Yuniesky Quesada.

Bruzón said at that time that he was willing to continue representing Cuba, but the authorities have made it clear that he will not be able to do so, at least on an official team. Bruzón, a native of eastern Cuba, was a youth national champion in 1998 and 1999. He has 2,717 ELO coefficients and is 31st in the world ranking.

Yusnel Bacallao, Yuri Gonzalez, Isán Ortiz, Omar Almeida and Yasser Quesada, which is the list presented by the Cuban Chess Commission, will have very few opportunities at the World Olympiad to be held in Georgia.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

28 Cubans Captured Tying to Cross Honduras Without Documents

Honduras is part of the so-called “Central American corridor” through which thousands of undocumented immigrants try to reach US territory. (Honduran Police)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 13 September 2018 — Honduran authorities reported Wednesday the capture of 28 undocumented immigrants from Cuba who were trying to cross their country in order to reach the southern border of the United States.

In an initial police operation, 19 immigrants from Congo, 17 Cubans, 6 Haitians and three from Ghana were arrested. According to the National Inter-Agency Security Force (Fusina), the migrants’ objective was to reach the United States but they were arrested for “illegally circulating” in Honduran territory on Tuesday in the sector of Guasaule, on the border with Nicaragua.

The immigrants were taken to the National Institute of Migration’s facilities in Choluteca, in the south of the country, where they will be able to apply for a permit to cross Honduras, otherwise they will be returned to their home countries. In the case of the Cubans, the majority are able to obtain permission, according to several testimonies of immigrants collected by 14ymedio. continue reading

In Bucana, another area of Honduras bordering Nicaragua, authorities also detained another group of immigrants, including 11 Cubans.

According to official data, during 2018 the Honduran authorities have detained more than 1,400 foreigners in their territory.

The arrests of Cubans take place in the context of the second round of migratory talks held in Tegucigalpa. The Cuban authorities indicated their interest in signing a memorandum of understanding in this matter to “stimulate and guarantee the mobility of people in a regular, orderly and safe manner”. The delegation from Havana was also interested in “enhancing cooperation between both nations in the fight against irregular migration, human trafficking and migrant trafficking.”

Honduras is part of the so-called “Central American corridor” by which thousands of undocumented immigrants try to reach US territory. Despite the end of the policy of wet foot/dry foot, which granted legal status to Cubans who reached the United States border, thousands of the islanders continue to make these dangerous journeys in order to seek political asylum.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Prologue to “La Grieta”

La Grieta is a novel full of dramatic moments, it is not exempt from those tragicomic instants derived from the totalitarian context. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 September 2018 — A quarter of a century ago, when I met Reinaldo Escobar, there were at least two obsessions around which his life revolved. The first was to try to continue doing journalism despite having been expelled from the official media, and the other was this novel, a biographical exorcism that he wrote with an almost monastic discipline.

That process of typing, on his sonorous Adler machine, the experiences accumulated in more than two decades of working in the press controlled by the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), was happening at a time when the country was falling into the abyss of the economic crisis after the collapse of the socialist camp. So the sheets were filled amid the blackouts, shortages and long hours on an empty stomach.

After his expulsion from the Juventud Rebelde newspaper, Escobar had tried all sorts of occupations – providing material for a second novel – on a downward slide that found its parallel in the fall being experienced on the island. He worked as a proofreader in the National Library, where they sent him as punishment for the critical insolence of his articles, texts that, read in the light of today, produce more shame than pride, he confesses. continue reading

In the library galleries full of volumes, the journalist found a long list of censored books, met other punished individuals, and even signed a letter of protest against the agreements of the Fourth Congress of the PCC. That new boldness cost him another administrative warning that convinced him to distance himself from any state workplace where he toiled with the volatile material of words and ideas.

Thus he became an elevator mechanic, the job he had when he wrote the first page of this novel starring his alter ego Antonio Martínez. Thus, that original text had all the traces of the appeal of a condemned man, of someone who feels that an unjust penalty has been applied to him and who hopes to be able to vindicate himself through his own version of the facts. He hoped that after reading it they would come to rescue him from his forced “pajama plan”*.

That original text had all the traces of the appeal of a condemned man, of someone who feels that an unjust penalty has been applied to him and who hopes to be able to vindicate himself through his own version of the facts

That character of accusation was lost as he added paragraphs where he verified, with each passage, that he, too, had been responsible for the construction of the mirage of the Cuban Revolution. Another conviction began to surface with each written syllable: the censors who had expelled him from the official press had given him the gift of a charter of freedom to do the journalism he had always dreamed of. Rather than suing them, he almost had to thank them.

Overcoming that first desire to display his innocence, Escobar concentrated on narrating the events that took him from a desk in the School of Journalism to a greasy cab where he adjusted the mechanism of an old elevator, while the neighbors shouted at him to get it working as soon as possible and a brigade leader looked with scorn on that reporter fallen into disgrace.

It was a journey from the summit to the abyss, from being a reliable compañero to a dissident. The descent from the cloud of privileges, to the stinking hole of the counterrevolutionaries. In short, letter by letter, he wove the story of the journey to the infernos of real socialism and the lowest of its circles, where the renegades wander, persecuted by insults and reprisals.

Escobar dispenses with the tricks of language; his is a prose indebted to journalism, devoid of ornaments and without metaphorical boasts. His intention was never to transform into literature the uneasy journey of a communicator, but to make the fiction boil over with objectivity and to bear a part of those words that he had not been able to sneak into the national press.

The writing of this journey from revolutionary faith to apostasy began when the Berlin Wall had already fallen and the Soviet Union had dismembered itself without even one of those proletarians of the red flag doing anything to prevent it. The events surrounding Reinaldo Escobar fit the predictions ventured by Antonio Martinez while listening from the press room, as the cracks of the Cuban system opened.

Escobar dispenses with the tricks of language; his is a prose indebted to journalism, devoid of ornaments and without metaphorical boasts

 Completing each chapter became a struggle against the clock, driven by the mistaken feeling that Castroism was living its final years and this novel must be finished before the system that condemned its author to ostracism expired. It was the little victory of the ousted journalist: to sketch some letters of what would be the collective epitaph of a chimera.

The exercise demanded more than bravery. He suffered so many interruptions, especially those stemming from the numerous friends who filled his apartment in search of a space of freedom in that suffocating Cuba of the nineties, that in order to concentrate on his work he locked himself in a room for weeks, leaving a warning sign the he needed “absolute tranquility.” The message was in vain, because in Havana, in 1993, peace was as scarce as food.

In this context, La Grieta (The Crack) – which at that time carried the significant title Pages from the Pit – had to deal not only with the obstacles imposed by a disintegrating everyday life, but also with surveillance. Reinaldo received frequent “control visits” from a State Security official who shared his name and who asked, insistently, if he was writing “any book.”

Finally that unwanted “guardian angel” learned from other sources that there was a novel under development, something that sealed the fate of that first version, typed without copies. In May of 1994, when the author traveled for the first time outside of Cuba, bound for Berlin, his name echoed on the loudspeakers of the José Martí International Airport. A uniformed man confiscated the novel he was trying to get out of the island.

All that Escobar has left from that seizure is an official document in which the General Customs of the Republic provides a receipt for having seized some “some sheets with writing typed by machine” (sic). Later, in front of the first computer he had touched in his life, lent to him by a friend in Frankfurt, he began the hard task of trying to remember the novel that had been taken from him. From this effort of memory, the current text was born.

Reinaldo received frequent “control visits” from a State Security official who shared his name and who asked, insistently, if he was writing “any book.”

With the need to, once again, put in black and white the book that had been finished, the author decided to reshape the whole plot. He applied the scissors with great daring, decided to use the real names of most of the characters which, in the first version, he had changed for discretion, and present the protagonist with less heroism and more guilt.

The rewriting of La Grieta took more than two decades. During this time, Escobar could not hang a “do not disturb” sign to fully immerse himself in his endeavor, but rather was battered by the hurricane winds of life. His work as an independent journalist, which began with a collaboration with The Guardian in January 1989, led to several unsettling situations.

The Black Spring of 2003 arrived and the author watched as several colleagues were condemned to long prison terms and Fidel Castro tightened the repressive screws of the system. At that time, not even a memory was left what had been experienced in the years when the winds of Glasnost were blowing over Cuba and many had opted to create a press more attached to reality.

The majority of those reporters, editors and photographers who, influenced by the Soviet Perestroika, had tried to publish on the national plane more critical reports, bolder columns or more daring images, had ended up emigrating, or had locked themselves in self-censorship or had made the leap to independent journalism where they played with their own freedom every day.

The story of Antonio Martínez took on other connotations in these new circumstances. It was no longer just about the troubles of a university graduate who wanted to apply in practice what the manuals had taught him in school, but of a survivor. A Cuban who had gone through the stages of fascination, and then doubt, to rejection. His life was a testimony of disenchantment.

The story of Antonio charged other connotations in these new circumstances. It was no longer just about the troubles of a university graduate who wanted to apply in practice what the manuals had taught him in school, but of a survivor.

The pressures of reality on the fiction he was writing shaped La Grieta as a map of disenchantment, which marked the path followed by a young man who hoped to make an authentically revolutionary journalism and ended up being labeled as an “enemy.” As they peruse its pages, readers will go through different stages with respect to the protagonist; sometimes they will be sympathetic and at others they will want to insult him for harboring so much naiveté.

The author has not wanted to misrepresent those illusions, nor to present himself as someone who always knew that the communist utopia was impracticable and that underneath the false slogans of a system for the humble, the hidden reality was the construction of a calculated totalitarianism. Instead of the cynical look that his later experiences might have given him, Escobar prefers to assemble Martinez’s character with his real elements of ingenuousness.

That gullibility, shared by millions of Cubans during the first years of the Revolution, is what leads the protagonist to want to use his journalism to show what is working badly, in order to fix and rectify it. At the beginning, he falls into the trap of thinking that the greatest problems were derived from an incorrect application of the doctrine and not from the system itself.

In his dreams, he imagined that he would run into someone from the nomenklatura to whom he could explain the damage that bureaucrats and extremists caused the Revolution by distorting its precepts when putting them into practice. He speculated that if he could manage to explain to the leaders the inconsistencies between the proposed goal and the path that was being taken to reach it, surely the course could be corrected.

An attitude that repeats in his romantic life, in which he tirelessly seeks a love that fits the ideal mold that has been shaped from the borrowing of verses from Vicente Huidobro, the opinions of his mother, and the idea of an inseparable compañera from official propaganda. That passionate fantasy also ends – at least in the novel – shattered against the sharp rocks of reality. 

In the style of a tropical Milan Kundera, Escobar is unveiling the successive masks worn by many of the characters to survive professionally and socially

In the style of a tropical Milan Kundera, Escobar is unveiling the successive masks worn by many of the characters to survive professionally and socially. Opportunism, indolence and even radicalism are some of the obligatory covers for the political carnival of which he is a part. Sometimes he can see the face beneath those masks and he feels the urgent desire to flee in terror.

Although La Grieta is a novel full of dramatic moments, it is not exempt from those tragicomic instants derived from the totalitarian context. One in which the dilemma of whether to put butter or mayonnaise on the bread of the workers’ snacks encapsulates the dilemma between the freedom of opinion and the militant discipline that the regime expects from its employees.

Untimely questions, misguided sincerity, excessive self-criticism and the desire to improve society from the pages of newspapers are setting Antonio Martínez apart. With keenness, the censors notice the danger that exists in an individual who has swallowed the speeches delivered from the podiums. His end is defined as soon as they recognize a true believer.

This novel, for all that, is a description of a professional and social suicide. The precise narration of how the flame of a utopia burned the wings of a generation of Cubans, with the consent and approval of many of them. Reinaldo Escobar, who burned in that fire, has had the courage to tell the story.

*Translator’s note: “Pajama plan” is a common Cuban euphemism for the status of public employees forced out of their positions for political reasons.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Government Demands More Fidelity and Less Ability From Journalism Students

The Faculty of Communication is one of the most demanded by students. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 September 2018 – High school students who aspire to enter the University to train as journalists will no longer have to demonstrate the high academic achievement required in the past. As of the next academic year, 2019-2020, simply passing the entrance exams and “aptitude test” will be sufficient, according to the official press.

René Sánchez, Director of Admissions and Employment Placement for the Ministry of Higher Education (MES) confirmed in a press conference that the candidates for a place in journalism programs will be “selected by a rigorous process that demonstrates the necessary skills for this specialty and commitment with the best traditions of that profession in Cuba,” the so-called “aptitude test” that has existed for years.

The novelty is that, after having succeeded in this peculiar examination which traditionally evaluated a knowledge of history, the ability to write and the ideological fidelity to the system; they will have “pre-earned the career, and they will only have to pass the entrance exams to register, that is, they will not fill out an application or compete for the major.” continue reading

The parameters that will be measured in the aptitude tests are outlined in a note recently published by Adelante newspaper in the province of Camagüey that promotes “exchanges” identified as “vocational training spaces” organized by the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC) where applicants to the profession can study to pass the aptitude tests.

According to this provincial media the exchanges will take place from late September to mid-October in the Camagüey Press Center to train for three phases of the aptitude test called “general culture,” “writing and understanding” and “the interview,” with the understanding that the latter will not be the submission of a work of journalism, but an interview which the applicant will face to be accepted.

The president of the National Journalism Careers Commission, Maribel Acosta, told this newspaper in a telephone interview that the aptitude tests will be what establishes acceptance into the journalism department, according to the plan of places awarded.

“At the moment we are trying to clarify with the MES whether the aptitude tests are going to be centralized or decentralized,” Acosta added. In the latter case, each study center will hold its own exams, but if they continue to be centralized, they will be carried out by the Commission and will be the same day and at the same time throughout the country.

When the new measure takes effects, students who apply will not have to obtain outstanding grades in the entrance exams or have a high grade point average accumulated in three years of high school.

Over the last 30 years, the Bachelor of Journalism had been at the top of the pyramid of aspirations for university degrees, and for that reason and due to the ranking system based on the academic performance that has prevailed, only high school graduates with grades higher than 95 or 97 points could be admitted to this discipline, after having passed a supplemental proficiency test.

“This faculty has been considered as a kind of elite to which only the brightest high school graduates are admitted. Now the most docile, the most ‘politically correct’ will enter and that will be good news for those who direct the press in this country,” a young student of the first year of the Faculty of Communication of the University of Havana commented to 14ymedio on condition of anonymity.

Marlon, 16, a high school sophomore in Havana, considers the measure favorable because, in his opinion, “the materials that are measured in the entrance tests do not define the quality of a journalist, who must have more than skills for writing or oral expression.” The young person maintains that “this eases the way for many people who have journalistic vocation but who did not get good scores on the examinations.”

In other more sensitive careers such as medicine or teaching many young people have managed to enter with average grades and very low scores on entrance exams, because of the country’s urgent need for doctors and teachers, the first to sustain the government’s profitable business of selling their services abroad on the so-called “medical missions,” and the second to cover the deficit of teachers.

The Higher Institute of International Relations (ISRI) and the Higher Institute of Art (ISA) are the other careers that require their applicants to take an aptitude test. In the case of the ISA, this test is related to the necessary skills that an artist must assume, for dance, theater, music or visual arts, but in ISRI and journalism the ideology aspect is of higher importance, such that the “aptitudes” tested are translated into “attitudes.”

These new measures is going to be applied after the last Congress of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC) and on the eve of a Press Law still to be enacted.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Animal Protection… Also for Oxen

The economic crisis has meant that for decades most work on the land is done with oxen. (A. Bielosouv)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, September 13, 2018 — One of the subjects that has come up most frequently in the meetings where the reform of the Constitution is being debated is the necessity to have a Law of Animal Protection. The majority of the people who have launched the proposal are thinking especially about the infinite number of abandoned dogs and cats in Cuba’s cities, the violence they are victims of, and the irresponsible abandonment that they suffer at the hands of their owners.

The bad working conditions of thousands of horses used for passenger transport all over the country is also on the minds of many of those demanding an end to such bad treatment and the establishment of a law that prevents excesses. However, few think about the many oxen used for farming labor all over the country, made invisible as a matter of course, but in a situation many times worse than that of those horses who pull coaches packed with people or of abandoned pets.

The long economic crisis in the country and the lack of a market selling agricultural machinery has meant that for decades the majority of work on the land is done with these animals. Without the plow, with its corresponding yoke of oxen, it wouldn’t be possible to produce many of the products sold on the stands in markets. With the lack of tractors and mechanized combine harvesters, a large percentage of the harvest in rural areas rests on the backs of these animals. continue reading

In the Matanzas plain, Rigoberto takes care of his two oxen like they are the apple of his eye. He raised them from birth and they answer to the names General and Florentino. “Without these animals my family would be even worse off,” recognizes the farmer, who grows greens and vegetables. “I take care of them like they were my own children,” the farmer shares, although he recognizes that his story isn’t very common in the surrounding area.

“On the closest cooperatives and on the state-owned farms, these animals are exploited and so they have a short life, because they aren’t given time to rest nor the food that they need,” Rigoberto believes. “When a guajiro (Cuban farmer) is the one who has a yoke of oxen, he tends to take care of them more, because it is very expensive and it will take a long time to get others.” General and Florentino sleep under a roof in an improvised shed that Rigoberto made. “You need to have a veterinarian look after them and give them fresh grass along with enriched fodder,” he points out.

However, another view appears as soon as one leaves this Matanzas man’s farm. Ribs sticking out, snouts injured by a badly placed nosering, and workdays that never seem to end is the most common lot of the area’s oxen. Those that hope, along with dogs, cats, and horses, that legislation is passed in their favor.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Panamanian Arrested for Transporting 10 Cubans Over the Border With Colombia

Cubans cross the Darien forest to reach Panama. (Courtesy / Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, September 10, 2018 — The Panama border police announced this Sunday the detention of a Panamanian who was transporting ten Cubans through a zone of the border with Colombia, in an alleged case of human trafficking.

The Panamanian, whose identity was not revealed, was driving a truck containing the ten Cubans, and was detained at the Agua Fría control post, in the province of Darién, bordering Colombia, the National Border Service (Senafront) reported this Sunday. continue reading

“It was coordinated with the Deputy Prosecutor’s Office of Primary Care for the corresponding procedures in this proceeding” after the arrest “of those involved in the alleged crime of international human trafficking,” added Senafront in a statement.

Illegal migrants who seek to reach the United States come from all over the world arrive in Panama, the doorway to Central America, after a route of thousands of kilometers, transported by international human trafficking mafias, in a business that generates hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

The massive arrival of Cubans a few years ago created a humanitarian crisis in Panama and Costa Rica, considered a consequence of the thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States and the end of migration benefits for Cubans in the US.

More than 100 Cubans have been expelled from Panama so far this year and 298 have been arrested for being in the country illegally, as the National Migration Service reported to 14ymedio. According to official statistics Cubans occupy the second place in the number of detentions, only behind Colombia and Venezuela, both bordering countries.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

"A Spaceship Fell in Our Neighborhood"

The Packard, with 312 rooms, has wide glass windows, sharp corners, and an entranceway that is integrated into the promenade. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, September 11, 2018 — Gerardo Carbonell chews tobacco, seated in the doorway of a housing complex on Calle Prado, as he says that in his neighborhood “a spaceship fell.” The dazzling object in fact is identified and is no other than the recently inaugurated hotel Grand Packard, the second five-star-plus hotel in Cuba.

The facade shines under the September sun and although one does not yet see the coming and going of tourists, the accommodation is already causing a stir. “In the last few days many important people have come to see it and participate in the inauguration,” says Carbonell, although “they don’t move much, they don’t walk this way,” he laments.

The housing complex where this retired Havanan has lived for 60 years is only meters from the impressive construction but they seem two worlds apart. “This is like the sun and the moon, day and night,” he believes. “Now these houses are looking more deteriorated because in comparison with this new thing everything seems much older.” continue reading

By “old” Carbonell doesn’t refer only to the age of the colonial style building where he lives with his wife and three children, but also to its facilities. “On this site the pipes collapsed years ago and all the water that we consume has to be taken in buckets from the cistern or carried to the rooms by our own power.”

However, the least of their problems is carryong the water from one part of the complex to another, the most difficult is getting it to the complex. “We have a supply once a week, maybe twice. The rest of the time you have to pay for pipas (water trucks) or take care of your needs elsewhere,” he maintains.

The retiree points out the places in the area where he frequently goes to use the bathroom. “In the Hotel Inglaterra there are good bathrooms and they aren’t such a pain about it, also in the Parque Central they have a good supply of toilet paper, but in the Telégrafo you can’t even enter because the security is really strict,” he explains.

The Grand Packard, developed by the Spanish company Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, will not have problems with water. This Monday the water trucks supplied it very early, in a routine carried out by all the hotels in the area, which has among the worst water shortages in Havana.

With ten stories and an exceptional view, the accommodation promises its visitors the chance to get to know an historical and well-trafficked part of the city. The shopkeepers in the area hope to benefit from the clients who venture out to eat and have a few drinks outside of the hotel facilities at a time when the drop in tourism worries everyone.

“We are on the same sidewalk and we’ll get a slice of this cake,” predicts an employee at the nearby private cafeteria La Tatagua. The place, small and well designed, has a view of the Paseo del Prado and a wifi connection that clients can use as they eat. “Although the Packard has all types of luxuries, there are always those who want to touch reality with their own hands,” he adds.

Reality is a vague concept in one of the most touristy areas of the country. On one hand, there are the spectacular old cars, many of them convertibles, that offer trips through the most famous areas of the urban landscape, but a few meters away are buildings, miracularly still standing, in which dozens of families are packed.

The floor of the central promenade has recently been polished and this week various workers continued working on the streetlights that line the route. “The whole area has made itself beautiful for the occasion, especially the green areas just in front of the hotel,” assures one of the guards, in a perfect suit and tie, who watches over the entrance.

Property of Gaviota, the state-owned hotel business controlled by the Armed Forces, the Packard has come to underline the contrasts in a area where the hotel Manzana Kempinski was already viewed as “something fallen from the sky,” as Carbonell jokes.

“This was a ruin, because before that the Biscuit hotel was here, which was inaugurated in 1911 and which my grandfather told me was a marvel,” insists María Eugenia, who lives in another housing complex on the opposite side of the street “with a direct view of the new hotel. Now I wake up and when I look out the window I feel like I’m in another country,” she remarks ironically.

The Packard, with 312 rooms, has wide glass windows, sharp corners, and an entranceway integrated into the shady promenade, typical of the area. Its impressiveness and size — it occupies almost an entire block — have few rivals in the area.

The facade, however, has its detractors. “Although part of the original exterior structure has been preserved, the majority of the elements are modern and break with the dominant aesthetic in the area,” believes Laura Fumero, graduate in architecture, who works with a small private design firm.

“The height of the entryway seems to make the building look big, but my major concern has to do with the demand for energy, water, and other resources that this hotel will have when it is fully operational. It is not much use to have something so luxurious in a place with general infrastructure that’s over a century old,” she points out.

The architect goes further and calls into question the need for hotels of “high volume.” The decision “would be more accepted if we were experiencing a dramatic increase in tourism, but that’s not the case,” she specifies. “It’s also a matter of a type of accommodation aimed at high income visitors, but right now we’re experiencing a fall in the number of Americans who come and they are the ones who are, for the most part, most likely to spend more,” she believes.

In the first half of the year global tourism numbers, about 2.5 million visitors, went down more than 5%. Taking into account only American tourists, the drop in that time period was about 24%. Between January and March, 240 groups of Americans cancelled their reservations due to the new restrictions that Washington has placed on trips to the Island.

In June, the nearby Manzana Kempinski was down about 20% in occupancy, according to testimonies given to 14ymedio by various employees. “It’s a difficult gamble to make, because in this area there is already a large saturation of rooms and we are in a difficult moment,” confirms a tour operator who preferred to remain anonymous. Despite that, the general director, Xavier Destribats, assured that the Swiss hotel group that manages it has various other projects in conjunction with the state-owned Gaviota.

“Every inauguration increases the pressure and urgency to attract more tourism, but we don’t see another boom happening like what happened with the rapprochement of Barack Obama,” explains the specialist in reference to the diplomatic thaw between the two nations that began in December 2014. “It would have to change somewhat drastically for the number of tourists to reach what it needs to be,” he affirms.

Further from the worries of architects and tour operators, the Grand Packard hotel’s closests neighbors, like María Eugenie and Gerardo Carbonell, fear that the building’s demand for resources will harm their delay routines.

“We will have to get used to the noise of the water trucks from early in the morning and the coming and going of supplies, security in the area area will increase and that will affect the black market,” he points out.

“Many people are afraid that this way of opening luxury hotels will continue and that Calle Prado will end up completely dedicated to tourism,” she warns.

Above their heads, on a brilliant terrace filled with attractive offerings, the first curious people look toward the horizon and once in while turn their gazes down.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

History of a Botched Job

The most sagacious inquire why the same section of the conduit is broken again and again, as it is not even located on a busy street with heavy vehicles. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 11 September 2018 — The neighbors who pass in front of the huge crater scratch their heads, confused by the impression that they are suffering from déjà vu. Reasons for this estrangement are not lacking because the waterworks rupture that forced the closure of Conill Street, very close to the Avenida de la Independencia (Rancho Boyeros), has been repaired four times in a period of less than three years.

The current pit has been dug by the Havana Water Company, which is in charge of the supply of drinking water, the maintenance of the sewer system and the sanitation and storm drainage in the capital. On this entity falls a good part of the popular mockery and insults, for its remarkable inability to offer stable quality service.

With a bulldozer and an exasperating slowness, workers have unearthed on Conill Street a broken pipeline which, with its successive repairs, has become part of the landscape of this area of ​​Nuevo Vedado which is full of tall buildings constructed during the days of the Soviet subsidy. The deteriorated conduit has become a well-known character in these parts as well as an unwanted “neighbor” who, time after time, reminds us of his presence with a leak. continue reading

“It’s because the pipe was damaged,” the head of the works repeats with little enthusiasm this week, every time a concerned resident asks about the repairs that have affected the water supply to several surrounding blocks. The most sagacious inquire why the same section of the conduit is broken again and again, a section that is not even located on a busy street congested with heavy vehicles, but the man avoids answering.

The key to understanding the recurrence of the breakage is to recognize the degree to which most public works in Cuba are botched. “Every time they fix it, they don’t reinforce the area between the pipe and the asphalt, so the passing of the cars ends up damaging it,” says a neighbor who has not studied engineering or led a hydraulic repairs brigade, but who knows his own neighborhood well.

Others have been indirect accomplices to the bad practices suffered by this stretch of pipe. “The last time they stole some of the materials and there was even someone who paved the entrance to his private garage with what he diverted from that work,” says another resident nearby. “They filled the hole as well as they could and two weeks later there was another,” he says.

The hole in the street started as a slight drop, but over the months it turned into a dangerous cavern. Vehicles from the nearby Ministry of Agriculture had to drive around to avoid it and after the rainstorms it flooded for several days. In the end, the story repeated itself and the pipe that was underground ended up giving way.

“We have paid four times for this repair,” says a self-employed neighbor who sells pizzas a few yards away. “And I say we have paid because this comes out of our taxes, which are quite high.” The worried taxpayer passes each morning in front of the hole and wonders if there will be a fifth time. “Is this a curse?” He asks himself. But the Havana Water Company has no answers.


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"I Loved a Government That Today Deceives Me"

Elisa Silva  on the program “Tonight” where she denounced the arrest of her brother, accused of terrorism. (Confidencial)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Maynor Salazar, Managua | 10 September 2018 — Elisa Silva Rodríguez feels deceived. The illegal detention of her brother, Carlos Humberto Silva, destroyed the trust and credibility she had towards “her president,” Daniel Ortega. Elisa was a faithful militant and supported “her party” in all elections, however seeing her brother on Channel 6, accused by the National Police of being a terrorist, annihilated the devotion she had towards the Sandinista ruler.

“It scared us to see my brother in clothes not hisown, and being exposed as a criminal, terrorist, and we are not terrorists, others are terrorists, but my brother is not. Is it to be a terrorist to think differently?” said Elisa in an interview on the TV show Esta Noche.

Silva was arrested on August 25 when he had just finished playing a basketball game at Luis Alfonso Velásquez Park against a team from the Mayor’s Office of Managua. His only crime was to proclaim: “When we win, we are going to change the name of this park.” Then a police officer arrested him. continue reading

“We learned about it because a friend told us that he had been arbitrarily arrested. They said a policeman came and told him ‘we are going to take you’. My brother asked him ‘why are they going to take me?’ The agent responded, ‘We’re going to take you away,’ and Carlos turned around and they handcuffed him,” Elisa said.

That night Elisa and Carlos’s other relatives went to the National Police districts one, two, three and four. In none did they get an answer. When they arrived at El Chipote, the officer on duty denied them information. Again they made another tour of the police stations, ending again in the cells of the Directorate of Judicial Assistance (DAJ), where this time they confirmed that her brother was there.

“I did not look for any media to denounce what happened, I did not look for anyone, I still believed in justice, because I defended, I defended the vote of my commander Daniel Ortega, I was dying to go to the square, to be in an activity, because I believed that everything was fair, but today he is hurting a person who served him,” said Elisa.

Charged by the Police 

After eleven days detained in the cells of El Chipote, the National Police charged Silva on Tuesday and accused him of being the leader of a terrorist group “that maintained traffic barriers in the vicinity of the National University (UNAN) in Managua.” Senior Commissioner Farle Traña, second chief of the DAJ, added that in addition to being accused of terrorism, he “caused” damage to public property, used homemade weapons, industrial weapons, molotov bombs and launched mortars.

The Police “investigation” says that on May 11, at the Rigoberto López Pérez roundabout, Silva burned the chayopalos* installed there.

“I went to Channel 10 to tell the commander that I was willing to kiss his feet, because my brother is an innocent man. How can he repay me today by accusing him of being a terrorist, is there justice in this country? I want them to give me proof of the paraffin because my brother didn’t so much as light a match,” said Elisa.

Silva’s sister explained that her brother supported the barricaded students of the UNAN-Managua, bringing food so that they had something to eat. When her brother found out that a student was dying, he cried bitterly. And if he heard they were attacked, he would come out with an aluminum pot to bang and make noise in the neighborhood. Of course, he was never on the university campus.

“That was his way of protesting, but my brother was never a ringleader and he did not know the students, how is it possible that you do this to Daniel? Do not keep destroying our families, President. I honored you, I did not believe in any other channel more than in what the president said, and today I’m slapped in the face, that’s why I denounce you,” said Elisa.

She added that, “He (Daniel Ortega) knows very well that I was out there, supporting him faithfully in the elections, with that much I want to tell him, because I gave my life for the ballot box, because they would not take a vote from my president. I am not a politician, but I defended your vote, I ask you for justice for my brother.”

Illegal detention

As with other citizens, the detention of Carlos Silva occurred within the framework of illegality. Vladimir Miranda, the lawyer who leads the case, explained that until Tuesday, September 4, there was no accusation against him in the courts of Managua.

“Arrest is for a serious crime or by judicial order. And we have a more than clear understanding that neither of these exists in the case of Carlos, which is why we talk about kidnapping. No charges have been filed in the courts of Managua. Eleven days have passed. We were expecting the order of the judge within 48 hours, and that was not the case,” said Miranda.

The lawyer explained that the family of Carlos Silva has a judicial record dated August 29, which indicates that Carlos has no legal precedent, which proves that he was illegally detained.

“We used all the legal avenues mandated by our law, we filed an appeal, an judge was appointed, we went to El Chipote, we met with the judge and they did not even let him in. From the legal point of view, there is no alternative for these people. It is more than clear that the rule of law in Nicaragua is weak, even if you have all the resources, what the law orders you to do, everything that the law dictates at this time, isn’t worth the paper it’s written on,” lamented Miranda.

The lawyer added that the citizens are being unfairly accused and there is no option that will enforce their rights. He said that the Prosecutor’s Office, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Police, the judges, are in collusion.

“I’m not the one to say if you leave or if something is going to happen to you or if you want to die. That’s your problem, you’ll know how you’re going to defend yourself, but I defended you one day, and I fought because I thought you were the best candidate, and today I feel deceived,” insisted Elisa, speaking of Daniel Ortega.

Elisa said that she never received any privileges from the government party and that her fidelity was not bought by a piece of land or two hundred cordobas. Neither with food nor a political position.

“I did believe in Daniel Ortega, and I say it in a different channel, and I believed with all my honor. And it hurts me that they are not speaking the truth about my brother. I worked for this government, Ortega knows that I did that work out of love Because I did not receive a payment from the Council. I did it out of love, because I liked my Government. I ask my brother’s forgiveness for having loved a government that today deceives me, “Elisa concluded.

*Translator’s note: “Chayo palos” are ornamental tree-like sculptures, also known as “trees of life” installed at enormous expense (reportedly $25,000 each) under the direction of Nicaragua’s first lady Rosario Murrillo, who is nicknamed “Chayo.”


Editor’s note: This article has been published in the Nicaraguan newspaper Confidencial which authorizes this newspaper to reproduce it.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.