Moscow Does Not Fit In A Suitcase / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

The Sadovod Moscow market. (Ancon)
The Sadovod Moscow market. (Ancon)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 25 August 2016 – For decades visiting Moscow was the golden dream, but only the most trusted could enjoy a stay in the Soviet Union. From these trips to the “godmother nation” they returned with suitcases filled with products unavailable in Cuba. Today, some take the same route, but this time they shop in a Russia with a market economy and well-stocked stores.

Most of them are “mules” who make the long journey to Pushkin’s native land to bring back shoes, clothing and Lada or Moskvitch car parts, which they sell in the informal market. Those with more resources pay for their own airline tickets, knowing that they can make back the money; but others offer the room in their suitcases in search of an investor to pay for the trip.

With the restrictions imposed late last year on the entry of Cubans to Ecuador, one of the most important routes of imports for the black market was closed. Russia, however, has continued its policy of not requiring visas from residents of the island, so the “mules” have reoriented their travel to Moscow, a route also widely used to emigrate.

The travel agency Ancon, located in a spacious property on Linea Street in Havana’s Vedado district, is taking advantage of the growth in interest in Russia to offer “shopping trip” packages to Moscow. There is no shortage of customers and the tour operator focuses on organizing visits to markets, filling travelers’ suitcases and facilitating getting the merchandise back to the island.

Vladimir Putin’s Russia has a commercial network unthinkable in Raul Castro’s Cuba. While the shelves of Havana stores display the same products over and over again, or are empty, Moscow’s markets are a permanent temptation to the wallet.

“The travel agency is part of the Russian company Kompozit 21 and has been operating in Cuba for three years,” says Ada Soto, an employee of Ancon. The CEO is Nikolay Popov, but in a spacious 16th floor apartment, two Cubans manage reservations and sales.

Soto explained to 14ymedio that since early this year business has significantly increased. Cubans who contract their services are received by one of their compatriots based in Moscow who greets them at the airport and will answer any questions in Spanish, while leading them to their hotel arranged from the island.

The seven-day packages that costs not more than $500 for accommodation, transfers and a guide, are the most sought after and the highlight is the tour of the a visit to the Sadovod marlet, a shopping mall with wholesale deals and more than 4,500 stores.

Most customers prefer to focus on shops and ignore Ancon’s cultural program with visits to museum. Cuban travelers seem more interested in the goods on offer and the sales rather than taking a look at the Red Square.

Vivian, 32, made the trip earlier this year. She says she spent it “eating hamburgers and pizza,” while acknowledging that “the Russian language is a bit of a problem, but if you speak some English and with a calculator in hand, no problem.” Together with her husband they bouhgt two passages and hired the services of Ancon. “It was a business trip,” she says.

The couple spent a day in Moscow in the Saviolovskiyo electronics market to stock up on photography and video equipment, mobile phones, tablets and other electronic devices, merchandise that can be sold at three times its value in the Cuban black market.

Vivian fed her nostalgia for the times when the Kremlin and Revolution Square were close with some Russian souvenirs, like matryoshka nesting dolls and decorated wooden crafts. She also fulfilled the request of her father in the Puerto Sur car market, buying some spare parts for his Volga.

The Saviolovskiyp electronics market. (Ancon)
The Saviolovskiyp electronics market. (Ancon)

The young woman’s husband was delighted with the Sokolniki shopping center with accessories for Jawa, Voskhod, Minsk, Karpati and Riga motorcycles, models that circulate widely on Cuba’s streets. With a couple of purchases made at the request of some friends he said he would “recover nearly half the money spent on tickets.”

The agency handled the transfer of goods to the hotel, gave them the use of a cellphone, and helped them manage the payment for an extra suitcase, in addition to the 33 kilograms they could bring home free, between a large bag and a piece of hand luggage.

On Revolico, the classified site similar to a Cuban Craigslist, they rented coats and boots because it was still “quite cold” when they landed in Moscow. The couple hopes to repeat the trip in late September and has already bought the tickets on Aeroflot for 630 convertible pesos each.

“I’ve realized a dream of my lifetime because when I was a chiquita my father went to Moscow on a trip he earned as a bonus for being a vanguard worker, but my trip was for shopping,” enthused Vivian while showing off some of her purchases. Unlike her father, she didn’t have to work overtime or demonstrate ideological fidelity to realize her dream.

Costa Rica Returns 56 Cuban Migrants To Panama / 14ymedio

A Cuban child sleeps near the border between Panama and Costa Rica waiting to continue with his family travel to the US. (Silvio Enrique Campos)
A Cuban child sleeps near the border between Panama and Costa Rica waiting to continue with his family travel to the US. (Silvio Enrique Campos)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 August 2016 — The Government of Costa Rica returned a group of 56 Cuban migrants to Panama, according to a report in the local press on Tuesday. The Cubans, including an eight-year-old boy and a woman eight months pregnant were taken to the capital where the Catholic charity Caritas will care for them until the government decides their future.

Sietnel Candañedo, a member of Pastoral Caritas of Chiriqui, explained to the newspaper La Prensa that the migrants have no money, nor any place to stay and that they need “urgent” help with personal hygiene items, canned food, water, drinks, disposable cutlery and milk for children.

The Cubans allegedly entered Panama through Colombian’s Darien jungle. In the the last three weeks several migrants have traveled from Panama City to Chiriqui hoping to cross the border to continue their journey to the United States.

Cuban Official Josefina Vidal Accuses US of Using the Internet “To Promote Subversion” / 14ymedio

holding text
“The illegal use of radio and TV against Cuba isn’t enough, they insist on using the internet as a weapon of subversion”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 26 August 2016 – Josefina Vidal, Director of the United States Division for Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Tuesday that the internet is being used from the United States as a way to promote internal subversion on the island.

“The illegal use of radio and TV against Cuba isn’t enough, they insist on using the internet as a weapon of subversion,” the diplomat complained through her Twitter account.

Vidal criticized the first conference on the free use of the internet on the island, organized by the Office of Cuban Broadcasting, which operates Radio and TV Martí. The event, which will be held in Miami on 12-13 September, will bring independent Cuban journalists together with digital innovators and individuals who are fighting for the island to open up to the World Wide Web.

In an article published by Cubadebate and shared on social networks by the diplomat, she says that the government of the United States, over the last two decades, has spent 284 million dollars to promote programs of regime change in Cuba.

First Conference On Internet Freedom In Cuba To Be Held In Miami / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

A group of young people connect to the internet in a wifi zone in Havana. (EFE)
A group of young people connect to the internet in a wifi zone in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 24 August 2016 – This coming 12-13 September, independent Cuban journalists will meet with digital innovators and individuals who are fighting to open the island to the World Wide Web. This first conference on the use of the internet in Cuba is being organized by the Office of Cuban Broadcasting (OCB), which operates Radio and TV Martí. The event will be free and open to the public.

One of the pillars of “The Martís” (as OCB’s media are known on the island), is free access to the internet in countries where the right is censored, as is the case in Cuba,” explained Maria (Malule) Gonzales, OCB’s director. Continue reading “First Conference On Internet Freedom In Cuba To Be Held In Miami / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

An Enslaved People / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco

Fidel Castro’s entry into Havana in 1959. (File)
Fidel Castro’s entry into Havana in 1959. (File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Camagüey, 24 August 2016 – The level of enslavement of a people is determined by the sum of freedoms that are restricted. Slavery and freedom are two ends of a scale that, as one side slants downward from the weight of the load on its side, its counterpart rises.

I explained this to a high school student some days ago when he asked me if I agreed with the opinion of his grandfather, who told him that the Cuban people are suffering a modern form of slavery. Continue reading “An Enslaved People / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco”

Viñales Pool Owners Rebel Against the Bureaucracy / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Casa Nenita pool (14ymedio)
Casa Nenita pool (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Vinales, 23 August 2016 – The tables are ready, the glasses shine on the tablecloths and the bar displays a wide variety of beverages. Nevertheless, the restaurant is closed. Some months ago, the ample dining room of Casa Nenita, in Viñales, was full of tourists, but the construction of a pool resulted in the cancellation of the owner’s license for renting rooms and selling food.

The drama that Emilia Diaz Serrat (Nenita) is living through is repeated all over the beautiful valley of Viñales among those dwelling owners who decided to build a pool. The local authorities have required that these entrepreneurs demolish what was built or convert into enormous flower beds the works intended for a refreshing dip.

A muffled fight, which newcomers barely notice, strains the paradisiacal valley crossed by wooded hills, caves and fields of tobacco. More than five years ago and before the touristic flowering of the region, self-employed workers devoted to renting rooms took a further step to diversify their services and began building their own pools. Continue reading “Viñales Pool Owners Rebel Against the Bureaucracy / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata”

‘Coffee, Three Cents’ / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

An independent seller of peanuts and sweets on the streets of Havana. (Luz Escobar)
An independent seller of peanuts and sweets on the streets of Havana. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 23 August 2016 – Self-employed Cubans are tossed out of places where they’ve contracted with the State to work, without consideration of the consequences for them and violating what is established in their “contracts.” Recently this happened in Pinar del Rio, according to various reports, thanks to the redevelopment of the city boulevard. But this happens commonly all over Cuba.

An emblematic case happened in a Havana park when it was closed to the public for repairs and two dozen self-employed individuals, among them food vendors, sellers of toys, balloons and baby things, photographers, parking attendants and others, were left without work and without any ability to demand redress, although they had one year contracts and their licenses, payments and other documents were in order. Continue reading “‘Coffee, Three Cents’ / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos”

Camagüey Has No Water Despite a 40 Million Dollar Loan from Saudi Arabia / 14ymedio, Ignacio de La Paz

Water supply truck, last April, in Havana. (14ymedio)
Water supply truck, last April, in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ignacio de la Paz, Camagüey, 23 August 2016 — The water supply crisis suffered by Camaguey, the third largest city in Cuba, worsened this August despite the spring and summer rains. Although the supply in some areas of the city presents no difficulties, in the historical district the situation is truly critical and citizens must resolve it as they can.

“I get water every day, clean and with good pressure,” said Luis, a resident of the Avenue of the Martyrs, in the neighborhood of La Vigia, in the north of the city. “I boil the water, treat it with sodium hypochlorite and we drink it.” Quite another thing happens to Roberto, who lives on Calle San Pablo, in the city center. Continue reading “Camagüey Has No Water Despite a 40 Million Dollar Loan from Saudi Arabia / 14ymedio, Ignacio de La Paz”

Raul Castro Tells Intellectuals That Cuban Culture is Threatened / EFE, 14ymedio

Cuban Writers and Artists Union President Miguel Barnet. (UNEAC)
Cuban Writers and Artists Union President Miguel Barnet. (UNEAC)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 23 August 2016 – Cuban President Raul Castro warned in a message to the island’s intellectuals and artists that the country’s culture is threatened by “subversive projects” and a “global wave of colonization,” although he is confident that they can confront the challenge, according to an article in the official media published this Tuesday.

The letter, read last night during the celebration of 55 years of the official Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC), congratulates an institution “that was born in a decisive stage of the Cuban Revolution” and has been “at the service of culture, considered by Fidel as ‘the nation’s shield and sword’.” Continue reading “Raul Castro Tells Intellectuals That Cuban Culture is Threatened / EFE, 14ymedio”

Foreigner For One Day, Foreigner Forever: Diary of a Returnee, Part 2 / 14ymedio, Dominque Deloy

A foreigner can pay up to 12 times more than a Cuban to enter cultural events such as the La Rampa Art Fair. (14ymedio)
A foreigner can pay up to 12 times more than a Cuban to enter cultural events such as the La Rampa Art Fair. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Dominque Deloy, Havana, 22 August 2016 — How do Cubans to know I’m not from here? I wear the same clothes as Cubans (shorts, shirt and sandals) and my skin is not that white in this scorching summer. Also, I flatter myself I speak pretty good “Cuban”… So why do I still feel like a perpetual stigma like I’m being “délit de faciès” (racially profiled) as we would say in France to refer to those who control the streets and target immigrants with no other motive than their physical appearance. Why am I forced to hear continued calls in the street of “Hello my friend?” in English. Followed in Spanish by “Do you want a taxi, a good private restaurant, where are you from? What language do you speak? Do you want to go to the beach?”

Why can’t I just seem normal, like the rest of the citizens, and not an almost extraterrestrial being? Why is the label of tourist stuck to my forehead, as if I was suffering from an obsession that consists of touring the island over and over? Ten years from now will they still be offering me wooden statues of Che berets? Why doesn’t anyone think I live here, and even work here, in exchange for a Cuban salary? Continue reading “Foreigner For One Day, Foreigner Forever: Diary of a Returnee, Part 2 / 14ymedio, Dominque Deloy”

Preparing For The New School Year Amid Economic Constraints And Teacher Shortages/ 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

A primary school in Candelaria, Pinar del Río. (14ymedio)
A primary school in Candelaria, Pinar del Río. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 20 August 2016 – The 2016-2017 school year starts in just two weeks and the authorities of the Ministry of Education are calling on people to take good care of school supplies given “the economic limitations of the country.” Department head Ena Elsa Velaquez Cobiella, also acknowledged the lack of teachers in several territories, a problem that last year amounted to a deficit of 10,300 teachers island-wide.

For the upcoming school year, among the provinces with the most significant lack of teachers are Ciego de Avila, where an exodus to other lines of work has caused a shortage of 663 education professionals. These positions will be covered, according to Barbara Rodriguez Milian, Provincial Director of Education, with “personnel contracted for on a hourly basis, a university contingent, and methodologists and the boards of directors of the schools,” as the official told the local press. Continue reading “Preparing For The New School Year Amid Economic Constraints And Teacher Shortages/ 14ymedio, Luz Escobar”

FANTU Activists Ask Obama to “Save the Life” of Guillermo Farinas / 14ymedio

Guillermo Farinas on hunger and thirst strike. (Courtesy)
Guillermo Farinas on hunger and thirst strike. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 August 2016 — A group of activists from the Anti-Totalitarian Forum (FANTU) have sent an open letter to President Barack Obama, asking him to “save the life of Guillermo Fariñas Hernández” who, as of Sunday, has been on a hunger strike for 32 days. The missive is addressed to the leader as “president of the country which is a beacon of human rights in the world.”

Seven members of the opposition organization which is led by Fariñas, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, are asking Obama to “use his political wisdom to take any action” that would avoid the death of the dissident. However, they clarify that the letter is not asking the US president to do “something tied to politics.” Continue reading “FANTU Activists Ask Obama to “Save the Life” of Guillermo Farinas / 14ymedio”

Social Networks Respond To Randy Alonso: I-Am-Not-Ex-Cuban / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

#YoNoSoyExCubano: Milkos Danilo Sosa Molina, a young Cuban resident in Miami responds to Randy Alonso. (Courtesy)
#YoNoSoyExCubano: Milkos Danilo Sosa Molina, a young Cuban resident in Miami responds to Randy Alonso. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 19 August 2016 — A recent comment by official journalist Randy Alonso has generated a number of protests on social networks.

The well-known Cuban TV host questioned the nationality of the Cuban athlete Orlando Ortega, who won silver medal competing for Spain at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

On the Roundtable program, which he moderates on Cuban State TV, Alonso dedicated a segment to Cuba’s performance in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and spoke about the “controversial elements” in that sporting event, mentioning the case of “the ex-Cuban Orlando Ortega who is going to compete for Spain, and other cases of athletes who have jumped from one country to another.” The journalist placed his speech in the context of a supposed controversy “that today animates the international sports scene, tempered by the growing influence of money.” Continue reading “Social Networks Respond To Randy Alonso: I-Am-Not-Ex-Cuban / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

Why Did I Get Myself Into This Mess? Diary Of A Foreign Returnee Part 1 / 14ymedio, Dominque Deloy

About 10 million people eat the same thing at the same time in Cuba, the few products available in the market. (EFE)
About 10 million people eat the same thing at the same time in Cuba, the few products available in the market. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Dominque Deloy, Havana, 18 August 2016 – My situation is like that of the majority of mixed couples where one of the two had the good fortune to be born in a democratic country – indeed, a country with a free press and a multi-party political system, where a person can express an opinion without fear of being denounced by their neighbors or reprimanded by the police. It is useful to remember this in these difficult times, with a certain tendency, on the other side of the Atlantic, to forget or deny the achievements and advantages of democracy even though, of course, it is far from perfect and is always an ideal to that is being striven for.

In these cases, sometimes, the Cuban man or woman, who remains deeply attached to their island, convinced their partner to initiate the “repatriation,” full of hopes for change after the famous handshake with the former enemy and potential invader. Continue reading “Why Did I Get Myself Into This Mess? Diary Of A Foreign Returnee Part 1 / 14ymedio, Dominque Deloy”

Jorgito, The New Revolutionary Icon / 14ymedio, Ignacio de la Paz

Jorgito debuted in his public life on the occasion of the Fourth Pioneers Congress, when he caught the attention of Raul Castro
Jorgito debuted in his public life on the occasion of the Fourth Pioneers Congress, when he caught the attention of Raul Castro

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ignacio de la Paz, Camagüey, 19 August 2016 — The Revolution needs to constantly reinvent new ideological struggles, constructing new heroes that meet the demands of the so-called ideological work with the masses. Thus, after the stage of the founding epic there was the release in 1988 of Orlando Cardoso Villavicencio, who had been held for nearly 12 years by Eritrean rebels, later there was the ideological battle for the return of Elian Gonzalez and finally, the struggle began for the return of the Five Heroes imprisoned by the “empire.” The saga of revolutionary heroes could not be finalized once and for all, and now a new one is being constructed, Jorge Enrique Jerez Belisario, otherwise known as Jorgito the Disabled.

At his birth in the Provincial Maternity Hospital of Camagüey on March 8, 1993, in the toughest year of the Special Period, Jorgito suffered physiological jaundice complicated by symptoms of a generalized infection by the bacterium Klebsiella and was finally diagnosed with Infantile Cerebral Palsy. This information is public, taken from Ecured, Cuba’s official on-line encyclopedia. However, we Camagüeyanos who knew the Ana Betancourt Maternal Hospital in those years knew that it was a time of every man for himself, and suspect there could have been poor medical practices caused by the lack of hospital resources. Continue reading “Jorgito, The New Revolutionary Icon / 14ymedio, Ignacio de la Paz”