Pot With Missing Cord Doesn’t Come With a Guarantee / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Fachada-centro-comercial-Puentes-Grandes_CYMIMA20140908_0003_13

Exterior of the new Puentes Grandes shopping center (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, Regina Coyula, 8 September 2014 — Tiendas Panamericanas [Panamerican Stores], owned by the CIMEX corporation, has just launched a grand (for Cuban national standards) shopping center. Utilizing the building formerly occupied by the old towel factory, Telva, on the corner of 26th Avenue and Calzada del Cerro street, a side addition was built, doubling the space. The opening of Puentes Grandes has been well received, being that until now only small stores have existed in that neighborhood, and the closest shopping centers — La Puntilla, Galerias Paseo, and Plaza Carlos III — are located about two miles away.

Spurred by curiosity, I visited Puentes Grandes last Saturday. Hundreds of people had flocked to the place. There was a line at the handbag security station, because bags and purses are not allowed inside stores that take convertible currency. There was another line at the entrance. We were going on half an hour already. In other circumstances I would have left, but resisted the impulse just to be able to write this article. Finally, I went through a narrow entryway where, as always, are those who wait, and those other, clever ones who butt the line. The interior entrance is quite spacious, with metal shopping carts, and other cute small plastic carts on wheels for which I predict a brief, happy life, and baskets. All is set up for the customer to select his purchases; merchandise is kept behind the counter in the perfume and household appliance departments.

A large interior arcade connects the grocery and housewares area with the hardware department, where I was detained by an employee. To go from one area to the other, you have to now go outside and re-enter, even though just days before you could walk directly between departments and check out at any register. Why is this? The employee doesn’t know, but he was assigned there to enforce the trajectory. I had placed various items in my cart, then had to stand at the register line, go outside, stand in another line to leave my purchases at the handbag security station, then go stand in another line to enter the hardware area.

Continue reading

Ministerial Hustling / 14ymedio

Habanarte in the Casa del Alba

Habanarte in the Casa del Alba

14ymedio, Havana, Luzbely Escobar, 11 September 2014 – When I was younger and went out looking for something to do in Havana’s evenings or nights, one day I stumbled over Julio. I went out with a girlfriend from Berlin and he was looking to make a living scamming innocent foreigners. He approached us intending to invite us to a Rumba Festival, but was disappointed by our refusal. The trick was easy: lead the unwary to Hamel Alley where there was almost always the sound of drums and right now there was the Festival he mentioned.

I had warned my German friend about those characters who invent everything to attract the tourists, and the truth was that, in those days of September 1993, there wasn’t much to do. Every encounter ended in a park, along the Malecon, or the home of a friend. Julio didn’t give up and told my friend, Angelica, that he knew a place where there was salsa dancing. We turned our worst faces to the old rockers and took off before they came up with something else. I remember my friend at the end of this episode telling me, “That’s what I would call cultural hustling.”

I’m telling this story because right now there is a cultural event called Habanarte. I support the theory that this is more or less the same thing, but organized by the Ministry of Culture itself. With a program that includes everything but which, in reality, brings little new, one more festival where supposedly a program specially designed for the event is created, which comes to be a kind of umbrella that covers everything and anything that’s happening in Havana lately. Thus, this umbrella festival takes credit for everything and even includes visits to museums on its list of events.

Presentations by the National Ballet of Cuba, Haydée Milanés, Descemer Bueno,
among others, are part of the shows absorbed by Habanarte. Also, the Art in the Rampa show, and even the sixth Salon of Contemporary Art, have been put under the umbrella.

An odd, or revealing, piece of data is that the Paradiso agency confirmed the participation of 1,500 Venezuelans and announced that the event in question is being marketed to tourists passing through Havana and Varadero. The perfect mix to ideologize even more the cultural spaces that, gradually, we Havanans have conquered to relax the everyday political ballad.

At the press conference that took place a few days ago, we learned that the Festival Information Center will be located at the Casa del Alba, the most rancid epicenter of political propaganda masquerading as culture. All this made me remember Julio and his fake musical event, and my friend Angelica who realized the farce in time. However, unlike that lie to get some money from unsuspecting tourists, Habanarte is a huge ministerial balloon scamming thousands of people.

(The event takes place from 11 to 21 September, but the official opening is on September 12, at 11 pm, at El Sauce Cultural Center, of Artex, with a concert by El Chevere de la Salsa, Isaac Delgado.)

The Cubans of 9/11 / 14ymedio

Marco Motroni

Marco Motroni

Born in Havana in 1945, Marco Motroni emigrated with his family at age 11. In 1963 he graduated from George Washington High School in Manhattan. He started playing in la Típica Novel, one of the most successful Latin orchestras in New York. Years later he began working as a broker at Carr Futures, whose offices, in 2001, were on the 92nd floor of the North Tower.

Juan La Fuente

Juan La Fuente

Born in 1940 in Cuba, Juan LaFuente emigrated to the United States to attend university. In 1964 he married Colette Merical, who was the mayor of Poughkeepsie between 1996 and 2003. LaFuente worked at IBM for 31 years and at the time of the events was working for Citibank. On September 11 he was attending a meeting at a restaurant North Tower.

Niurka Dávila

Niurka Dávila


Niurka Davila was 47-years-old when she died in the attacks. Her real name was Rosa, but she changed it when she was naturalized as an American citizen. She worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Nancy Pérez

Nancy Pérez


Born in Cuba in 1965, Nancy Peréz emigrated with her family five years later and settled in New York, She was a supervisor at the Port Authority at One World Trade Center at the time of the attacks.

George Merino

George Merino


Born in Matanzas in 1961, George Merino emigrated with his family when he was only 7 and settled in New York He lived in Bayside, Queens, and was a securities analyst at Fiduciary Trust, located in the World Trade Center.

Carlos Domínguez

Carlos Domínguez


The son of Cuban emigrants, Carlos Domínguez was born in New York in 1967 and lived in Nassau County, New York. In 2001 he was in charge of computer system security for Marsh & McLennan, on the 95th floor of the North Tower.

Michael Díaz Piedra III

Michael Díaz Piedra III


Michael Díaz Piedra III was born in Cuba in 1952. His family, plantation owners, emigrated to the United States in 1960. They settled in Florida and later, in New Jersey. He was 49-years-old in 2001 and was a vice president for the Bank of New York in charge of disaster recovery planning. His family said his desire was to return to Cuba the day it became a democracy.

From 14ymedio, 11 September 2014

Alert Sounded in the Informal Market / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Photo: Exterior of Terminal 2 of José Martí International Airport

Photo: Exterior of Terminal 2 of José Martí International Airport

Unauthorized vendors welcome new customs regulation with caution as they prepare to redefine strategies

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 3 September 2014 — “Call me from a land line” instructs the classified ad placed by Mauro Izquierdo, vendor of electrical household appliances. He has a wide range of items on offer, from air conditioning units to toasters, but his specialty is flat-screen TVs. This morning, his cautious response to all callers was: “Right now I’m in the midst of redefining my pricing structure until everything settles down with the new customs regulations.”

Mauro is but one strand in the complex tapestry of unauthorized vendors who are living through anxious moments with the new restrictions imposed by the General Customs of the Republic. Price increases are imminent in the black market, given that a good part of the merchandise offered through its networks enters the country via the flight baggage of so-called “mules.” “I have ceased all operations for the time being, because I don’t know if I will get the accounts with new prices that have been imposed on the airports,” the able merchant confirms.

His clients also have been preparing for the increase.”I’m finishing construction on my house and I had to run to buy lamps, bulbs and bathtub plumbing for the bathroom, because all of that might become unavailable very soon,” said Georgina M., looking to the future, as she concludes construction on a new residence in the western township of Candelaria.

14ymedio contacted approximately 20 vendors offering merchandise on classifieds sites such as Revolico and Cubisima. Although previously-listed products remained at their advertised prices, any orders going forward would come “with with new tariffs added to the price,” according to various distributors. Last week, Leticia was offering hair dryers, massage machines, and hair removers. However, now she is planning to raise prices by about 20 or 25 per cent on each product so as to be able to “finance the payments that those who bring the items into the country must make at Customs.”

The advance notice given of the new rules has allowed many people to be prepared. Rogelio, a Panataxi driver who makes trips from Terminal 2 of José Martí International Airport, refers to how even “two days before the new restrictions went into effect, what people brought was incredible — suitcases upon suitcases.” Even so, he noted that since yesterday, “travelers seem more cautious and, among those I have transported, I have seen a decrease in the amount of baggage they’re carrying.” Another taxi driver joined the conversation, saying that “people have now been made to jump through hoops.”

Even so, for other alternative vendors, the new measures barely affect their supply chain. “I buy space in the ‘containers’ of people who are on official missions, working in the embassies and consulates throughout the world, and that is how I bring in my merchandise — therefore the new rules don’t touch me,” boasted a seller of lawnmowers and commercial refrigerators, who enhances his ads with attractive photos of each unit and the guarantee that it’s “all done with proper documentation.”

It is still too early to measure the true impact on the informal market of the new customs rules, but sellers as well as merchants are preparing for the worst.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Have You Tried Cyanide… General? / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 1 September 2014 – Today is Zero Day, the fateful date, the day the General Customs of the Republic enacts its new restrictions for non-commercial imports. The measure called to mind an old joke that circulated in the nineties and is still heard today. In this humorous story, a foreign journalist interviewed Fidel Castro and he listed all the obstacles we had faced. “The Cuban people have survived the collapse of transportation, the food crisis and power cuts,” the delusional politician said proudly. The reporter interrupted him and asked: “And you haven’t tried cyanide, Comandante?”

Nearly two decades have passed and they are still imposing limits and prohibitions incompatible with development and with life. As if in this social laboratory they want to test what they can do to get the guinea pigs—which are us—to keep breathing, clapping, accepting. The new experiment doesn’t come in the form of a syringe, but through customs rules governing the luggage of every traveler. Measures that were taken without previously allowing commercial imports that favor the private sector. As if in the closed glass box in which we are trapped, they are cutting off the oxygen… and watching from the other side of the glass to see how much we can stand.

And you haven’t tried cyanide, Comandante? echoed in my head while I read “The Green Book” with the new prices and limits applied to imports from electric razors to disposable diapers. We lab rats, however, have not remained calm and quiet, like so often in the past. People are complaining, and with good reason, that these restrictions are suffocating self-employed labor and the domestic economy. Everyone is upset. Those who receive parcels from abroad as well as those who don’t, because some of those bouillon cubes or rheumatism creams end up reaching their hands through the black market or the solidarity of a friend.

The reason is not an altered chromosome, but a system that has failed to maintain a stable and high-quality supply of almost any product … except canned ideology and the insipid porridge of the cult of personality

It’s not that we Cubans have a specific gene to accumulate things and—out of pure neurosis—throw stuff into our suitcases from toilet paper and toothpaste to lightbulbs. The reason is not an altered chromosome, but a system that has failed to maintain a stable and high-quality supply of almost any product… except canned ideology and the insipid porridge of the cult of personality. While the shelves of the stores are empty, or filled with the worse quality merchandise at stratospheric prices, we have to bring from outside what we don’t have here. A law on commercial imports was not what we needed and the knife of customs restrictions falls very heavily upon us.

That the measures have come into force is still more evidence of the divorce between the Cuban ruling class and the people’s reality. In their mansions there is no lack of resources, food, nor imported products! They, of course, have no need to bring them home in their luggage. To stock up they reach out to the Ministry of Foreign Commerce, to the official containers that arrive at our ports, and a network of transport that brings chlorine for their swimming pools and French cheese right to their doors. The customs rules do not affect them, because they don’t pay excess luggage fees on their luxuries, which are not considered sundries, household items or food. They live outside the law and watch us locked behind the thick glass of the laboratory they’ve built for us.

Have you tried cyanide… General? Perhaps it would be faster and less painful.

What Purpose Did the Dual Currency System Serve? / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

"This commercial site accepts payment in national currency"

“This commercial site accepts payment in national currency”

14ymedio, Havana, Miriam Celaya, 27 August 2014–The information that the Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) published on August 19th in the paper edition of the newspaper Granma about “the next issuance of high denomination bank notes (100, 50 and 20 pesos, CUP) with new security measures” brings back to the forefront the issue of the dual currency and its unification, as announced by the same official press, a change which will take place in the near future.

Security measures that will begin to appear in the above currency issues starting in 2014 consist of the placement of a watermark with each patriot’s image corresponding to each denomination placed in the upper left corner of the front face of such bills. In addition, another watermark will repeat the bill’s denomination on the upper left portion of said image. Meanwhile, lesser denomination bills will continue to carry the watermark with the image of Celia Sánchez, to the right of which will be added the corresponding denomination of the bill.

Some believe that such measures respond primarily to the large amount of counterfeit currency that, according to some, is currently circulating, which should gradually start to disappear as the new notes start to replace the existing ones in circulation. However, most of the random 50 people surveyed in Havana felt that this is a preliminary step to the announced monetary unification, which may be imminent.

This second view seems to be reinforced by the fact that just two weeks before the information of the BCC, Granma had published an article that addressed the issue of the dual currency and the need to eliminate the “distortion of the economy”, especially in the government sector. Continue reading

72 Hours to Demolition / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Inspectors arrive to demolish an illegal construction (Luz Escobar)

Inspectors arrive to demolish an illegal construction (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Havana, Luz Escobar, 26 August 2014 — Impotence and indignation has spread among residents of La Timba, in the Plaza de la Revolution municipality, one of the Havana neighborhoods affected by the Government’s war on architectural illegalities. For years, thousands of families with housing needs built additions their homes, took vacant land to expand them, or improvised makeshift parking spaces. A campaign by the authorities against this social indiscipline has put the spotlight on all these irregularities.

The Housing Institute inspectors, in cooperation with the police, travel the neighborhoods looking for these “illegalities” and, once they detect a violation, deliver an order to the homeowner to tear down every inch of the constructions put up without permission. The situation not only hurts those affected but puts the serious construction problem in the country at the center of the debate.

It is estimated that there is a deficit of over 700,000 homes in Cuba. In addition, 8.5 out of 10 existing dwellings need repairs. During the year 2013 only 25,634 units were built in the entire country, of which 47.7% were erected by the occupants’ own efforts. Continue reading

The Swimmer Diana Nyad Returned to Cuba a Year After Her Feat / 14ymedio, Orlando Palmo

The swimmer Diana Nyad (from her Facebook page)

The swimmer Diana Nyad (from her Facebook page)

14ymedio, Havana, Orlando Palma, 29 August 2014 — Just twelve months ago, all eyes were on Diana Nyad while she swam between Cuba and Florida. This willful 64-year-old woman was the first person to cross the 100 miles from Havana to Key West without a shark cage, wetsuits or fins. A feat she tried four times, but that only on the fifth opportunity was she able to savor the taste of success. A year after her feat she has returned to the Island. She wanted to visit the place she left from, the Hemingway Marina, and meet athletes, sports authorities, and other people who collaborated in this endeavor.

“You always have to pursue your dreams,” Nyad reiterated, on touching land after 52 hours in the water. The well-known athlete had started the same crossing in 1978, but deteriorating weather conditions caused her to abandon it. Jellyfish stings and asthma came between her and her goal on the three other previous attempts. Last year she finally managed it, beating the record for the greatest distance swum by a woman without a shark cage, previously held by Penny Palfrey. The same route between the two countries had been crossed by the Australian Susie Maroney in 1997, but on that occasion with protection.

The route taken by Diana Nyad is a common route of rafters trying to reach the U.S. coast. The harsh conditions, the dangers of storm waves, and the abundant presence of sharks costs many lives each year.

Suchel, a State Monopoly With Feet of Talcum Powder / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Suchel at the Havana International Fair

Suchel at the Havana International Fair

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 29 August 2014 — Just outside the Tienda Ultra (Ultra Store), an illegal seller advertises deodorants and colognes. It is precisely in August, this terribly hot month, when the shortage of hygiene products aggravates the bad odors and other annoyances. The problem has made the pages of the official newspaper Granma, which this Thursday published a story looking for answers to the lack of soap, cologne, toilet paper and deodorant. The text reveals the tortuous and inefficient ways of Cuban centralization.

The director general of the Cuban company Union Suchel said that “funding cuts” have limited purchases of raw materials. The statement of this official contrasts with the monopoly status of this well-known industry. Suchel has reigned for decades in the domestic market, given the absence of competitors to push down prices, diversify the product line and improve the quality of the offerings. Instead, the perfume, talcum powder and detergent giant has taken advantage of the privilege of being a State-majority consortium with zigzagging foreign capital.

For 2104, Suchel developed a “reduced production plan” due to the financial problems facing the entity. Even so, the volumes coming out of its factories point to mammoth nature of the company still so influential in its decline. Deliveries for this year in the unrationed market should reach 17 thousand tons of laundry soap, 17.9 thousand tons of hand soap, and 9.6 thousand tons of liquid detergent. Packing, transporting and distributing such quantities has become a real headache, especially in a country where corruption and the diversion of resources act as leaks, sucking dry the sources of products and services.

The position of guard in one of the many company plants trades on the black market for more than 5,000 Cuban convertible pesos

Suchel is undermined by the theft and embezzlement, an issue not addressed by the article published in Granma. The position of guard in one of the many company plants trades on the black market for five thousand Cuban convertible pesos. Working in one of those jobs guarantees the fortunate employee “under the table” earnings that exceed in three days what a doctor earns in a month.

The work of the guard consists of simply looking away, to allow the majority of the merchandise slip away, unregistered in the accounts. These undeclared goods are sold in the State’s own “hard currency collection stores” (as they’re called). The profit is distributed among the managers, drivers and the industry’s own security guards.

In the absence of a free market to test the efficiency of Suchel in competitive circumstances, the monopoly will continue to impose prices, quality standards and high costs, as well as to cause chronic supply problems.

Angel Santiesteban, Being Held in Military Unit to the West of Havana / 14ymedio

Angel Santiesteban through the blinds (14ymedio)

Angel Santiesteban through the blinds (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 2 August 2014 — Writer Ángel Santiesteban has been relocated to a prison under the control of Border Guard Troops in the Flores neighborhood near the town of Jaimanita, west of Havana. After weeks of uncertainty and conflicting information, a reporter for 14ymedio was able to locate and see this military unit.

For three weeks Santiesteban‘s situation has become even more confusing after the authorities in charge of keeping him under custody in the prison center in the Lawton neighborhood declared that he has “escaped.” He was immediately taken  to the police station at Acosta and Diez de Octubre Streets, where he could only receive visits from his closest relatives.

Freelance journalist Lilianne Ruiz, after touring the different places where it was stated that the writer being held, was able to see him and talk to him through the blinds. The guards of the Border Guard Troops confirmed to the journalist that Santiesteban is considered a “special case.”

Santiesteban himself assured Ruiz that he is not being prosecuted for a new offense, and that a brief letter will appear in his blog, The Children Nobody Wanted, explaining everything that happened during the last days.

Ángel Santiesteban serving a five-year sentence for the alleged crime of violation of domicile. Multiple irregularities during his trial have been denounced by activists and independent lawyers. A couple of weeks ago Reporters Without Borders released a statement calling on the Cuban government to clearly state the fate of the narrator and journalist.

University (for the Tenacious) / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Reinaldo Escobar

Henry Constantin during the interview (14ymedio)

Henry Constantin during the interview (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 28 August 2014 – Henry Constantin is a native of Camagüey province, born in Las Tunas on Valentine’s Day, 30 years ago. He has been expelled from university three times for his ideas, but still believes he will obtain his journalism degree.

This slender, plain-spoken young man has founded two independent publications and has just returned from a cultural exchange program. For years he has been part of the reporting team of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), and today he invites the readers of 14ymedio to share the challenges he has faced in his classroom journey.

Question: You hold the sad distinction of three expulsions from university. What was the first time like?

Answer: One day I wrote this question on the board: Who was the Cuban nominee for the Nobel Prize? My fellow students did not know, neither did the professor, so I wrote the name of Oswaldo Payá. Continue reading

What Does a Cuban Bring Home in Her Suitcase? / 14ymedio

Nuria's suitcase (14ymedio)

Nuria’s suitcase (14ymedio)

Nuria retired last year and this month she traveled to Miami, where her sisters live. On returning to the Island she showed 14ymedio what she brought home in her suitcase.

Let’s take a look at what she threw in her bags with brief comments from her about why she chose each product.

  • Two bottle of dishwashing soap. “There isn’t any in the spiritual centers and what they do sell here destroys my hands.”
  • Two packages of napkins: “In the snack bars they cut them in two and even in four, making them real onion skins.”
  • A stove lighter: “There aren’t any matches in the stores, and when you find them the heads fall off and burn my clothes.”
  • Two packages of bath soap: “I’ve spent years without washing myself with something soft and creamy, so I just couldn’t resist.”
  • Four pairs of jeans: “They last and I’m not going to pay the price the State charges for them in its boutiques.” Continue reading