‘Godfathers’ Jump the Lines at the Currency Exchanges in Cuba

The workers at the Cadeca (currency exchange) on 23rd Street — and at any exchange office in Cuba — have their own business of influence, with family, friends and even coleros [people others pay to stand in line for them]. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez /Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 22 September 2022 — “No one cheats on me,” a man grumbles in front of the Cadeca [currency exchange] on 23rd Street in Havana, this Tuesday. “I’m not a fool.” His face is swollen and red; he is sweating and drags a crutch with difficulty. Next to him, a  sympathetic mulatto in a T-shirt and with a golden tooth nods. “He walked in front of me and went in;  it was that simple,” shouts the man. Several people in the line predict a heart attack if he doesn’t calm down.

Beyond, at the door, a lady demands explanations from the policeman who guards the exchange house: “It’s not the first time this has happened today,” she says. The officer looks at her reluctantly, as if he doesn’t understand, and sends the complaint to the “organizer” of the Cadeca line, who calls the customers according to a list.

Everyone witnessed how an individual arrived at the establishment, advanced, distracted, up the stairs and approached the door, beckoning through the glass. The door opened, and the man managed to slip between the policeman and the organizer, who didn’t say a word.

The eyes of the clients followed the event in detail, but they were silent until the subject entered the Cadeca. First it was a buzz of comments; then someone rebuked the organizer of the line, and finally the man on the crutch exploded, left his place and began to scream. continue reading

In the face of the screams and fingers pointing at him, the policeman remained calm.

“That one had a ’godfather’ inside the Cadeca,” someone theorizes. Sponsorship consists of having a contact within the establishment, a friend or relative who overcomes obstacles and facilitates access to the first place in line.

The customers can withstand the sun, heat and hunger, but never that someone “unrecognized” approaches and, mysteriously, penetrates the building without waiting: it’s intolerable.

The workers at the Cadeca on 23rd — those at any exchange house in Cuba — have their business of influence. The “chosen” are family or friends, and also coleros who accept a payment to guarantee another person a privileged place.

Those who don’t have a “godfather” must submit to the murky system of “lists,” drawn up illegally after the previous night, which pretends to be a spontaneous form of organization in the face of institutional corruption. The lists include solitary buyers, but also the “gangs” of customers, groups of five or ten people who intend to assault the Cadeca.

However, spending the night in the vicinity of an establishment is considered, by the police, a violation. So they’re authorized to fine or arrest the overnight coleros. But it’s a risk that dollar buyers are willing to take, because without the few bills that the Government agrees to sell, it’s impossible to live decently.

So the man with the crutch calms down, goes up to the policeman and calmly says: “Officer, if you want, arrest me, but tonight I’m going to sleep here, to see who is going to take the first place in line away from me tomorrow.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Twenty-Eight Cuban Rafters Rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard Are Transferred to the Bahamas

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued 31 people at the request of the Bahamas. (Twitter/@USCGSoutheast)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 September 2022 — On Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard, at the request of the Bahamas authorities, rescued 31 people who were adrift on the high seas. Among them were 28 Cubans, three Chinese, one Jamaican and one Dominican. The migrants were picked up by the ship Robert Yered and handed over to the Royal Bahamas Defense Force (RBDF), according to the U.S. Coast Guard on its Twitter account.

The 28 Cubans ’rescued’ on Tuesday are in addition to the six who, on September 6, were arrested and handed over to the RBDF, after the boat in which they were transported to Florida was intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The trafficking of migrants by sea has increased in the last month. On Monday, it was reported that Didier Pérez Pérez, Lester Leyniel Soca Díaz and Yoandy Alonso face six charges for transferring Cuban rafters to Florida, kidnapping them in a house in Hialeah, and extorting their relatives, of Cuban origin and residents of Florida, for the sum of $15,000. If found guilty, they will be sentenced to 10 years in prison and will be forced to pay fines of $250,000. continue reading

The U.S. Coast Guard announced on Wednesday that from October 2021 to date, 6,032 rafters have been intercepted and arrested. In addition, 50 more Cubans were repatriated, on board the Pablo Valent, who were added to the 68 who returned last Tuesday on the Paul Clark.

The Cuban exodus has been considered a real “migration catastrophe” by the Cuban virologist based in Brazil, Amílcar Pérez-Riverol. The number of rafters intercepted in their attempt to reach the United States, the scientist says, “exceeds the total of the previous five years.” In 2017, they arrested 1,468; in 2018 there were 259; in 2019, 313; in 2020, 49; and in 2021, 838, according to official figures.

The data are even more alarming if we consider that during this fiscal year 180,000 Cubans have entered the United States by land. And no record takes into account those who have emigrated to Europe and Latin America, which according to Pérez-Riverol’s calculations are equivalent to “1.6% of the population and 2.5% of the entire workforce.”

The flight of Cubans by sea has not diminished despite Hurricane Fiona, which continues its trajectory through the Caribbean islands and the Atlantic Ocean. On Monday, the Florida Border Patrol rescued and “put into custody six rafters that were stranded” in Gaius Marquesas. The head of this police force, Walter Slosar, warned of the dangers of going to sea in a “homemade boat in hurricane season.”

For her part, a Coast Guard non-commissioned officer, Nicole Groll, said in a statement issued on Tuesday that “migration on rustic and improvised boats without safety equipment, such as a life jacket, is dangerous,” and stressed to the rafters that “risking their lives in this way causes their loved ones unnecessary anxiety for not knowing if they are saved or lost at sea.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Another General of Cuba’s ‘Historic Generation’, Antonio Enrique Lussón Batlle, Dies at the Age of 92

Lussón Batlle (left) was on the II Frank País García Eastern Front and the Abel Santamaría Front and held the rank of commander. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 September 2022 — Major General Antonio Enrique Lussón Batlle died this Wednesday in Havana at the age of 92, according to a note published by the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and released by the official press.

His body will be cremated and his ashes displayed this Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the Veterans’ Pantheon of the Columbus necropolis. Subsequently, they will be transferred to the Mausoleum of the Second Eastern Front, in Santiago de Cuba, where he was originally from.

Lussón Batlle has been profusely praised by the official press, which highlights that since joining the Castro Army in 1957, he showed “daring and courage in every action and was promoted to the rank of captain and appointed chief of the platoon.” At that time, he was part of the José Tey, René Ramos Latour Column 9, but a year later went to the II Frank País Garía Eastern Front and in a few months to Abel Santamaría, already with the rank of commander. According to the official newspaper Granma, the promotion was due to his “outstanding participation in the fighting, discipline, spirit of sacrifice and courage.” continue reading

His military successes during the Revolution earned him a privileged position, and he was responsible for bringing the so-called Caravan of Victory to Havana.

Lussón Batlle was second head of the Managua military camp, head of the Operations section of the Western Army, head of the Directorate of Operations of the General Staff, head of the Independent Corps of the West, and second head of the Inspection Body of the FAR. He was also twice in the Angolan War, although one of his best-known missions was his performance at the head of a battalion in the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

In addition, between 2000 and 2008 he was head of Special Troops of the FAR.

In the political sphere, Lussón was Minister of Transport, first vice president of the National Institute of the State Reserve, and vice president of the Council of Ministers between 2010 and 2015. In 2016, he returned to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which he had helped form as a founding member. He also held the position of deputy in the National Assembly of People’s Power for several legislatures.

In 2001 he received the medal of Hero of the Republic of Cuba.

In the last 14 months, about twenty senior Army officers have died, almost all of them from the so-called historic generation that participated in the 1959 Revolution.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

United Airlines Expects to Resume Flights to Cuba by the End of the Year

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, United Airlines had seven weekly flights to Havana from its hubs in Houston and Newark. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 September 2022 — The U.S. company United Airlines announced on Wednesday that it is working to resume its commercial flights to Cuba by the end of 2022, two and a half years after suspending them due to the pandemic.

The airline, based in Chicago, told Reuters news agency that it has been working on the reactivation of its flights to Havana for several months but is facing contract setbacks. It has requested from the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) an extension of 30 days to finish the deadline process, set by the US regulator for October 31.

“United needs to do significant work, including the renegotiation of multiple contracts with service providers that have expired and the construction of the necessary infrastructure in Terminal 3 of the Havana airport, where United is being relocated,” it said.

Before shutting down its operations in March 2020, when countries closed their airspace due to coronavirus restrictions, United had seven weekly flights to Havana from its hubs in Houston and Newark. continue reading

The airline resumed negotiations to return to Cuba after June, when the USDOT lifted the restrictions imposed by former President Donald Trump on commercial flights of American companies to small airports in Cuba outside Havana.

The USDOT agreed on Monday to expand U.S. flights by granting one to JetBlue and 13 to American Airlines, although the latter requested authorization to operate two more daily flights, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, on the route between Miami and Havana, which would have meant an increase of 14 weekly flights.

In this way, American Airlines will add 13 additional routes in December to the seven that are already flying from Miami to the Cuban capital, while JetBlue, a low-cost airline, will have four from Fort Lauderdale.

Even before the Biden Administration lifted the air restrictions, American Airlines requested permission to extend its operations to the Island and, in July, obtained authorization to fly, beginning in November, to Santa Clara, Holguín, Varadero and Santiago de Cuba.

The airline has indicated that the flights would improve “service and access between the United States and these points outside Havana, after more than two years during which such operations were suspended.”

Translated by Regina Anavy 

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Yes Vote and No Vote on Cuba’s New Family Code Collide on a Street In Havana

An official this Thursday on Obispo Street in Old Havana talking about the Family Code. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 22 September 2022 — A scene this Thursday on Obispo Street, in Old Havana, was enough to show that the opinion of Cubans on the Family Code, whose referendum will be held next Sunday, is far from uniform.

This isn’t what the Government would like, judging by the resources it has been deploying for months to guide the population to vote yes, without giving space to any discordant voice. In addition to the complimentary notes in the official press on the new rule, the final text of which has been available in the Official Gazette since August 17, are joined, in recent days, acts of propaganda in the streets.

The one on Obispo Street, this Thursday, would have been very difficult at another time, given the obligatory stop for tourists that has always been at that point of Old Havana. This is not the case this month of September, when the volume of foreign travelers still hasn’t rebounded, and the street has only a few passers-by in the hottest hours of the day. continue reading

That’s why it caught the attention of the resident so much that, before noon, there were tables selling handicrafts — decorated with posters containing the slogan “Yes on the Code,” and some officials — wearing T-shirts with the same slogan — with a microphone placed in the middle of the street.

Before the crowd, an official began to explain different aspects of the Family Code, such as the protection it would provide to the elderly. At one point, with pedagogical concession, he asked the people around him what they thought.

“I think this is very bad,” replied an old woman to whom they gave the microphone. “Because I understand that marriage has to be between a man and a woman, not between two men and two women,” the woman said, based on her religious beliefs.

At that moment, without removing the microphone, the music that enlivened the activity through loudspeakers began to sound at full volume, in such a way that it prevented the old woman from being heard. Without being intimidated, the woman raised her voice even more: “I vote no, I vote no!”

In her favor, many of those who had spontaneously gathered to hear the official began to speak up. “This is a lack of respect,” one man protested, defending the old woman. “Don’t ask me my opinion if you’re going to call the police later, because that’s not democracy,” another woman shouted.

One of the summoned officials replied: “This is Revolution, and now it’s more important than ever to vote yes.”

Three days before the plebiscite on the Family Code, the Government hasn’t given up trying to win by all possible means. This Thursday, President Miguel Díaz-Canel will lead a special program on National Television to defend the yes vote.

For tomorrow, Friday, a march has been called in the capital, with the same slogan, “Yes on the Code,” “with the participation of Havana’s youth.” According to a message disseminated through official networks, the event will start at 3:00 pm along G and the Malecón, and there will be “dance troupes and congas.”

Esteban Lazo Hernández, president of the National Assembly of People’s Power, called on Monday to “win the battle of the popular referendum, by a landslide,” in the face of what he calls “maneuvers of the enemies, the haters” alluding to the independent opinions that contradict the official voice.

On Tuesday, it was the Prime Minister, Manuel Marrero, who asserted that the Family Code has served as ” cannon fodder” for the “enemies” of the Revolution, who have carried out a “campaign” of disinformation about the content of the rule.

At the International Nature Tourism Event in Havana, Marrero declared that those who have positioned themselves against it — who in no case have had space in the official media — haven’t spoken “of all the virtues of the code, which identifies and unites the Cuban family.”

The Cuban regime does not appear to have the support it needs for the third referendum called in 63 years, the first one it could lose.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Biden Says It Is Not Logical to Deport Migrants to Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua

Migrants outside the residence of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington on September 15. (EFE/Jim Lo Scalzo)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio) Washington, 20 September 2022 — The President of the United States, Joe Biden, said on Tuesday that “it’s not rational” to deport migrants from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, and he’s working with Mexico to stop the flow of these arrivals.

In statements to the press at the White House, Biden said that the situation at the border is “totally different” from that of the previous Donald Trump Administration (2017-2021), since “fewer  migrants are coming from Central America and Mexico.”

“Now I’m aware of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. The possibility of sending migrants back to these countries isn’t rational,” said Biden, adding: “We’re working with Mexico and other countries to see if we can stop the (migration) flow.”

Faced with rumors that Republican governors might send undocumented migrants to the state of Delaware, where Biden’s residence is located, the president limited himself to answering, in a mocking tone: “Visit Delaware, it’s beautiful state.” continue reading

Immigration has become a main topic of the November midterm election campaigns following the decision of some Republican governors to send groups of undocumented immigrants to states governed by Democrats, in protest against Biden’s immigration policy.

Since April, the governor of Texas, Republican Greg Abbott, has regularly sent buses with migrants, mostly Venezuelans, to Washington, New York and Chicago, in response to Biden’s attempt to rescind Title 42, a health policy that allowed express deportations of migrants at the border.

Last week, the governor of Florida, also Republican, Ron DeSantis, joined Abbott’s strategy by sending two planes with migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, an exclusive island in the state of Massachusetts.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The United States Authorizes 14 More Flights to Cuba from Florida

American Airlines will have 13 more flights between Miami and Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Madrid, 20 September 2022 — JetBlue has one of the 14 flights to Cuba, and American Airlines (AA) now has 13. The United States Department of Transportation, which set a limit of 20 daily round trips to Havana, has thus resolved the dispute that occurred between the two companies to make more trips.

AA had six daily flights from Miami to the Cuban capital and in December will expand to 13, while JetBlue adds one more to the three it has from Fort Lauderdale.

Since the Biden government revoked the rule of the Trump administration, which prohibited flights to Cuban cities other than the capital, AA began to request permission to expand operations, and in July obtained authorization to fly, beginning in November, to Santa Clara, Holguín, Varadero and Santiago de Cuba.

The airline said that the flights would improve “service and access between the United States and these points outside Havana, after more than two years during which such operations were suspended.” continue reading

In August, the Fort Worth-based company submitted a request to increase the route between Miami and Havana by two more daily flights, one morning and one afternoon, which meant 14 flights.

At that time, JetBlue decided to enter into dispute alleging that AA was taking a dominant position. “There is no justification in the public interest to grant additional U.S. flights as long as there is such a competitive imbalance,” argued the New York-based company, which was requesting a Saturday flight.

“Of all U.S. airlines, JetBlue has the least options to offer low-cost flights between South Florida and Havana on Saturdays, one of the most important days for travel in the Caribbean,” it added in its letter to the Department of Transportation.

American Airlines, however, argued that the additional flights “would maximize the benefits, by increasing capacity at the gateway with the increased demand for travel between the United States and Havana, while improving connectivity using American’s leading network in Miami.”

JetBlue, finally, has received what it wanted, although it benefits both airlines since they are in a merger process under the name of “Northeast Alliance,” which depends on the decision of a federal court.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Some Private Companies in Cuban Begin Exporting without the State’s Involvement

Persian limes, known locally as lemons, are one of the island’s most exported products according to officials. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 21 September 2022 — Small and medium-sized companies in the technology and renewable energy sectors may now export their products and services without having to rely on the state as an intermediary. The news was buried near the end of an article published on Wednesday in the the official online daily Cubadebate. The article dealt with foreign trade involving “forms of non-state management,” a euphemism that avoids using the words “private sector”.

Authorities had already announced in August that they would allow private entities to do this “under the control of the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment.” That time has now come. Vivian Herrera Cid, director-general for this program, states that the technology sector was chosen because it had the “simplest operations” and the renewable energy sector because of “the country’s energy situation.”

Herrera notes that these businesses will be subject to the same controls and supervision as state-run entities. Companies which are already engaged in foreign trade do not seem to be convinced the process will work, however. One such skeptic is Bernardo Romero Gonzalez, head of the mid-sized software firm Ingenius SRL. continue reading

The Cuban businessman is trying to take advantage of this option but fears that the experience will be similar to the one with which he is already familiar. “This could work as long as the procedures are more flexible,” he tells Cubadebate. As an exporter, he has been hampered by the slowness of the system, pointing out that, though a state company can afford such delays, every week spent waiting for approvals means money lost for a small company. Imports have also faced long delays.

Though the article contains data that should come as no surprise to anyone given the country’s heavy dependence on imports, the numbers are startling. Of the 15,497 contracts private businesses have finalized with overseas companies through the state, 15,101 (97.4%) were for imports. Only 396 were for exports.

Since these businesses were converted to small-size businesses, and to a lesser extent new ones were created from scratch, 1,092 have been involved in imports and only six in exports.

In the article, Herrera blames several factors to justify the low level of foreign trade in the private sector. On one hand, she cites the pandemic, which has drained the island’s few resources and hindered the flow of exchange between countries. Then there is Russia’s war against Ukraine as well as the rise in freight costs and of products in general.

She points out that officials have tried measures intended to encourage foreign trade. These include consignment sales, the sale of imported merchandise already stored in government warehouses and the creation of small state-owned enterprises dedicated exclusively to foreign trade to supply the private sector.

In the latter example, this involved creating another government intermediary: Solintel. The company has set up an online store to sell technology as well as retail stores in several provinces that its customers can access. She therefore feels that, despite inconveniences, “inaction by some companies is not justified.”

But Romero Gonzalez refutes this, pointing out that the Cuban economy, especially foreign trade, remains burdened with bureaucratic hurdles.” The problem is in the regulations,” he says bluntly, emphasizing that it is even more confusing when it comes to online sales with no freight charges.

The businessman, who has worked with Solintel, explains that, after negotiating with the client, he contacted the company. It handed him “a sheaf of papers” required by the Ministry of Foreign Trade. “They tell you if you’ve missed a comma, or that where it says ’client’ when it should say a ’buyer.’ Things like that. We’ve spent up to three months in this process before being able sign a contract,” he complains.

Romero Gonzalez, who has thirty employees, admits that sometimes he has had to provide services without having signed a contract or received payment, putting everything at risk. “What we cannot do is tell clients, ’Wait two months for the paperwork to be completed,’ because we would lose them.”

Romero admits that he has been able to export and to be paid in hard currency but says things cannot go on as they have, especially when it involves long-term contracts.

Harrera says her ministry is aware of the complaints and is revising and modifying more than seventy regulations dealing with foreign trade. “It’s not a matter of  getting rid of permits but of simplifying the steps required by authorities, not throwing out all regulations,” she explains.

She adds that businesspeople must understand that they are not individuals making purchases on Alibaba, that international sales follow procedures that address border security, health and other concerns and involve cumbersome procedures. She insists, however, that there will be changes “so that, when direct export is authorized by small and medium-sized businesses, they can operate under the same conditions as socialist state companies.”

Among the largest number of exports are charcoal, agricultural products (lima beans, avocados, chile peppers, turmeric, bananas and pineapple), technical support services, web platforms, furniture and decorative accessories. Meanwhile, imports include food, footwear, construction materials, paint, automobile spare parts, home appliances and an endless number of other products.

Herrera also mentions the single, one-stop system that should simplify the paperwork process, which in any given instance can now take between 50 to 60 days. “This process, in which several agencies and institutions are involved, requires a lot of permits. These are necessary, however, because they are intended to protect people, plants, animals, the broadcast spectrum and national security,” she points out.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Mexico Tries to Convince its Medical Students to Stay in Cuba with 1,500 Euros

Foreign medical students during an event at the University of Medical Sciences of Ciego de Ávila. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 September 2022 — The National Council of Science and Technology (CONACYT) will award 1,500 euros as “additional one-time support” to Mexican medical students who accept controversial scholarships to study a specialty in Cuba.

According to the report, which doesn’t specify the number of beneficiaries, the support is to encourage “permanence in their academic programs,” given desertions and refusals to agree to study on the Island. The money will be deposited with the Banco Popular de Ahorro, which is the Cuban entity that manages these scholarships from the Mexican Government.

In the first year of the program, which began in 2020, of 1,600 spaces planned to study a specialty in Cuba, only 172 were filled. For these residents, the Government of Mexico gave $1,501,766 to Cuba. The transaction was made by CONACYT to the Comercializadora de Servicios Médicos Cubanos, S.A., the Cuban company that has been accused on countless occasions of promoting “human trafficking and forced labor.” continue reading

A graduate of medicine at the Autonomous University of Mexico, Luz Elena Rodríguez, rules out traveling to the Island to study a specialty in pulmonology. “I’m not convinced by the curriculum, and because of the experiences shared with me by some Mexican doctors who have been to Cuba, I prefer to do the specialty in Mexico.”

Rodríguez told 14ymedio that the theoretical part “is acceptable, but in practice it appears to be elementary” in hospitals. “Last year a friend applied for a scholarship abroad, but the only option was Cuba,” she says.

A group of 172 Mexican medical students arrived in Cuba two years ago to study a specialty. (Capture)

She also says that what ended up discouraging her friend were several reports that began to come out, in which “the shortage of medicines and the lack of supplies were denounced.” That isn’t frightening, she says, because “in Mexico it exists in rural areas, but why go to another country, if the conditions here seem to be much better to continue specializing?”

There is total secrecy about the second generation of scholarship students on the Island who were selected last January, which suggests that perhaps, again, the call for students is once again received tepidly.

In a March post on his social networks, the consultant for health issues, Xavier Tello, pointed out that “out of the 995 places for medical residences that CONACYT conjured up, only five were occupied.” Because of this disinterest, “doctors are now accused of being selfish and only wanting scholarships in the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany.”

In addition to the controversial scholarship program, the Government of Mexico hired 641 Cuban doctors to serve in marginalized areas. These supposed health workers were denounced by the president of the Prisoners Defenders association, Javier Larrondo, who said that they didn’t have any specialty and that among the group were State Security agents.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Rice and Bean Production Collapse While Hotel Rooms in Cuba Grow by 125 Percent

A Cuban farmer plants rice in Pinar del Río, about 75 miles west of Havana. (EFE/File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 September 2022 — The discomfort of Cubans due to the lack of basic necessities and food in the face of the unbridled pace of construction and renovation of hotels is not just a mere perception. Official figures show that divestment in agriculture is a reality that coexists with wasted investment for tourism.

According to data published by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI) last Friday, of the 31,673 million pesos invested by the Government between January and June of this year, 10,692 were dedicated to “business services, real estate and rental activities,” the heading that covers most of the investment in hotels and tourism. This accounts for a third of all state investment.

At the same time, the numbers reveal that only 830 million pesos were dedicated to agriculture, livestock and forestry, and 225 million were dedicated to fishing. continue reading

But these figures are even more astonishing in perspective, as can be seen in the graphs prepared by the Cuban economist Pedro Monreal from the history of production in the last nine years. Between 2013 and 2021, the tons of rice generated by the country fell by -66.4% while hotel rooms grew by 125%. Food also shows a strong reduction compared to tourism, although its decrease is smaller, with -5.7%.

However, rice is not the only crop in collapse: beans, another basic product of accompaniment in Cuban cuisine, also fell by -55.5% this year, compared to 2013. Vegetables also lost, with -28.8%.

“Cuba’s distorted investment priorities are reflected in disparate results: the 10.7% increase in hotel rooms in 2022 compared to 2017, when 4.6 million visitors were welcomed with far fewer rooms, coexists with a deep agricultural crisis,” Monreal points out, comparing the last five-year period.

That year was the golden moment of the tourism sector, and the Island received 4,689,898 visitors. Since then, with the tightening of the embargo, the pandemic and the poor market recovery, the data have been falling. For this year, the authorities maintain their target of 2.5 million tourists, but during the first half of the year, 682,297 travelers arrived, almost 500% more than in 2021, which is no relief, since in 2019 by this time, 2.6 million people had arrived in Cuba for vacation.

Monreal also notes that the weight of investment in “business services, real estate and rental activities” was even greater in 2020, when it took 45.6% of the total allocated. “But it’s still irrational in the context of food insecurity, with agriculture receiving only 2.6%,” he emphasizes.

Now the imbalance is even greater, since in 2020 almost 6% was invested in agriculture, with 7.7 times more investment in real estate. At present, the percentage is 13 times higher than for farming. “The overcoming of the food insecurity crisis in Cuba requires that, at a minimum, 8% of total national investment be devoted to agriculture — especially the private sector — which would be equivalent to approximately 5,000 to 6,000 million pesos per year,” says the economist.

Despite having the precise data of negligible investment dedicated to the countryside, the Government ventures to ask in public what is happening so that Cubans don’t manage to produce. This Monday, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited Camajuaní, in Villa Clara, and went to the estate of Yusdany Rojas Pérez, belonging to the Juan Verdecia cooperative. The young man is successfully dedicated, according to the account of the presidency and the official press, “to pig breeding, the planting of crops as the main source of animal food, shade-grown tobacco and the planting of cane.”

“If he can do it, why can’t others?” the president asked. A question shamelessly copied by the official newspaper Granma to present Rojas Pérez as an example to the detriment of thousands of farmers who aren’t mentioned in daily reports.

“When I ask him about the keys to his success in the company where he works,” says the State newspaper, “he doesn’t hesitate for a moment to say: ’I’m not someone who starts crying in the face of problems; I always see the positive side of things and try to look for options to get afloat.’”

Granma, which ends up giving some advice to the farmers to increase production, considers this a success story, and “evidence (…) that despite the difficulties the country is going through, if someone works with passion and without fear of facing obstacles and problems, results can happen.” The fact that the Government invests less than a billion for the population to eat doesn’t seem to be newsworthy to the official press.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Risk Of Getting Sick From Dengue Fever is High in Cuba, According to the Minister of Health

The authorities admit that they have failed in the fight against dengue fever. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 September 2022 — The risk of getting sick from dengue fever is high throughout the country. This comes from the Minister of Public Health, José Ángel Portal Miranda, who signed a statement released this Monday by his department to warn of the worrying situation.

“The rates of infestation caused by Aedes Aegypti, the [mosquito] transmitting agent of dengue, continue to be high in Cuba. Even though in the last five weeks there has been a decrease in the rate of transmission of the virus — with very similar figures — the risk of getting sick is high throughout the country,” says the minister, who is also a doctor, without giving any of those figures that allow a full understating of the extent of the situation.

Ten days ago, health authorities went on the State TV Roundtable television program in order to provide extensive information, they said, on the evolution of the virus, but they refused to detail once again how many cases there are currently on the Island and limited themselves to pointing out that the situation is similar to that of Latin America, which has reported an increase of 300% in the first 32 weeks of the year, and of 165% in comparison with all of 2021.

Since the number of infections in that year is not known either, it’s impossible to know the real dimension of the problem, although the number of known patients is a warning symptom. continue reading

In addition, the authorities specified that 60% of the cases are of type 3, the most serious, although the four variants of the disease currently coexist.

According to Portal Miranda, Santiago de Cuba, Havana, Guantánamo, Las Tunas, Matanzas, Mayabeque and Isla de la Juventud are the provinces with the highest incidence rates of the disease, although, once again, the rate is unknown.

The minister places the beginning of the “current cycle of focal treatment” on September 5, at which time the greatest presence of mosquitoes was detected in Santiago de Cuba, Havana, Camagüey, Holguín, Matanzas, Villa Clara and Pinar del Río, with water tanks, once again, as the main place of concentration of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito.

Portal Miranda adds that in 43.1% of the blocks in which the presence of the mosquito was detected, the problem persists, and that although the rate of growth is contained, “it’s still impossible to stop the transmission or increase in the incidence rate of suspected cases” of the disease.

The minister’s message is addressed to the population to become aware and avoid contagion or worsening in the case of getting sick. “We cannot leave that responsibility alone to the workers of the vector campaign,” says Portal Miranda.

The official reminds people of the symptoms and also insists that they don’t have to wait for bleeding to take action, because sometimes abdominal pain, vomiting, fluid accumulation, bleeding from the mucosa, irritability, drowsiness or fainting are already a warning that the disease is  entering a critical phase.”

One of the problems faced by the Ministry of Public Health in the face of the spread of dengue is the lack of diagnostic methods, which is why Portal Miranda indicates in his statement that action be taken even without the appropriate confirmation. “The first thing we should always think about in any of these symptoms is dengue, until the opposite is proven,” he said, immediately warning of the dangers of a delay.

The problems in obtaining diagnoses, medicines and good hospital care are a blow in the face of the current epidemic. Many Cubans refuse to be admitted due to the poor condition of the facilities and prefer to stay at home, potentially multiplying the chances of contagion.

The difficulties in carrying out the campaign against dengue have been another factor that have contributed to the worsening of the situation this year. The lack of workers and, above all, material and fuel to fumigate have been the norm, to the point that the Deputy Minister of Health, Carilda Peña García, warned last week that the blame this time fell to the Government. “[The population] has worked to eliminate the foci of the vector in their homes. We know that we have responsibility for the issue and that it didn’t go as it should have,” he said, although there are many people who are reluctant to fumigate their homes.

The authorities have also acknowledged that dengue is causing deaths in Cuba, but they haven’t dared to give a figure. Just last week, two health workers died from virus.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Three Coyotes Who Demanded $15,000 From Relatives of Cuban Rafters Are Arrested In Order To Free Them

Last Tuesday, the Coast Guard intercepted a boat with Cubans who were allegedly being transferred to Florida by coyotes. (Twitter/@USCGSoutheast)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 19 September 2022 — Didier Pérez Pérez, Lester Leyniel Soca Díaz and Yoandy Alonso, arrested last Thursday, are accused of belonging to a human trafficking network that was transporting Cubans by sea to Monroe County, Florida (USA), where they were kept kidnapped in a house in Hialeah, until their relatives paid $15,000.

A grand jury in the Southern District of Florida has charged them with “conspiracy to transport and hold foreigners for profit; transportation of foreigners for profit; conspiracy to commit hostage-taking; and hostage-taking.”

According to details of the indictment, to which the Spanish agency EFE had access, the facts of which they are accused happened from August to the beginning of September of this year, and “other people, both known and unknown participated in them.”

The indictment also mentions the existence of two affected, identified only as victim 1 and victim 2, who were held and whom their captors threatened to “injure” or “kill.” According to information from the working group on the control of drugs against organized crime, in charge of the investigation, “migrants were even told that they would be left in the middle of the ocean if they didn’t pay their smuggling debts.” continue reading

According to the U.S. authorities, with the capture of Pérez, Soca and Alonso, the network of coyotes was dismantled and the Cubans could be rescued thanks to a “friend of one of the kidnapped, who served as a hook and agreed to pay the 15,000 dollars. They summoned him to a spot for the exchange of the hostage.”

The coyotes, who will have to stand trial, if found guilty could be sentenced to a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum of three years of probation, as well as fines of $250,000.

The indictment provides for the confiscation of boats, vehicles and planes that may have been used to commit the crimes charged.

Properties that are acquired, directly or indirectly, from the commission of the crimes and those used to commit them will also be confiscated.

The existence of these coyote networks has been exposed in some cases. Boxer Andy Cruz saw his escape frustrated due to the denunciation made by Rolando Céspedes, The Prosecutor, a man who has been in the business of the departure of athletes for more than 10 years and has contacts in immigration in Cuba. This individual had warned the athlete that his departure should be managed with him in exchange for a large sum; since the athlete didn’t agree, he was denounced.

Last Wednesday, Víctor Manuel Ríos Castillo, 29, a resident of West Palm Beach, and Jorge Luis Fernández Rodríguez, 53, a resident of Tampa, were arrested. The first was accused of attempted smuggling of people and the second of illegally transporting fuel.

Ríos admitted that he had planned to go to Cuba to transfer migrants. Since October 2021, when the current fiscal year began, more than 177,000 Cubans have arrived by land in the U.S. and more than 5,000 by sea, a migration crisis that surpasses those of 1980 and 1994 together.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Stones Rain Down from the Top of the Building of the Ministry of Public Health in Havana

The only signal that anyone walking on the sidewalk at that time would have to protect themselves would be the building custodian’s alert (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 19 September 2022 — From the facade under repair of the Ministry of Public Health, in the crucial ramp on 23rd Street, in Havana, numerous stones fell this Monday. They were not large, but they were large enough that, given the height from which they fell, would have caused a head injury to any passerby.

The only signal that anyone walking on the sidewalk at that time would have to protect himself would be the alert from a building custodian: “Walk fast, walk fast, don’t let it fall on you!”

“Is this normal?” A woman who was passing by at the time blurted out. “Stones are falling into the street, there are no signs, they have not stopped traffic. One drives by in a car and the windshield gets smashed, what do you do?” continue reading

Towards the top of the Public Health Building a green mesh can be seen that barely covers part of the scaffolding placed for the works. (14ymedio)

Toward the top, a green mesh can be seen that barely covers part of the scaffolding placed for the works being done to the building. Minutes later, two workers scrambled to sweep the debris from the street.

Fewer security measures can be seen in the works of the controversial tower at K and 23rd Streets, also in Havana’s Vedado district, from where a piece of wood of considerable size shot out, also this Monday.

Also on Monday, a large piece of wood of considerable size shot out from the tower at K and 23rd Streets (14ymedio)

In this case, the building does not have a protective mesh, which is something various specialists have criticized.

The board was dodged by a man in his thirties, to the shock of the rest of the passers-by. “That’s why I don’t go through here,” one of them said to the young man, who was livid. “Because anything that falls might kill anyone and nothing happens.”

The building does not have a protective mesh, something for which it has been criticized by various specialists. (14ymedio)

Translated by Norma Whiting
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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

No Cuban Wants a Wooden Plaque with ‘Ever Onward to Victory’ Inscribed on It

Leather sandals, decorative plates with floral motifs and small pieces of earthenware now make up most of the itmes for sale at the outdoor market in Havana’s El Quijote park. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September 19, 2022 — Berets with the face of Ernesto “Che” Guevara are relegated to a small corner of the table while in the middle are boxes of matches, super-glue and mobile phone accessories. A few yards from the Plaza de la Catedral in Old Havana, this souvenir stand has had to reinvent itself due to the drop in tourism to Cuba.

“Most of the people buying things here now are Cubans,” admits 62-year-old Pedro Novo, who has more than twenty-years experience selling handicrafts in the historic heart of the Cuban capital. “What I’m selling now are rattles and refrigerator magnets with images of things that appeal to people here, like soccer team logos and photos of influencers.”

The items most popular with tourists are now relegated to craft fairs located in areas frequented by foreign travelers. The market on downtown 23rd Street no longer carries jewelry made from seeds or images of old Chevrolets that once drew customers from the Habana Libre hotel a few yards away. continue reading

A version of that market can be found a little further away in El Quijote park. The merchandise here, however, is geared more to locals than to foreigners — leather sandals, decorative plates with floral motifs, small earthenware gifts — though the face of the Argentine guerrilla leader, or the odd olive-green baseball cap, still pops up from time to time.

“Three years ago our biggest sellers were wooden keys, little drums, statuettes of old men in hats, and any souvenir that would appeal to tourists,” says Randy, a young artist and graduate of Havana’s San Alejandro academy who supports his family by making wood carvings for several souvenir vendors.

“After the pandemic we had to shift gears because the Cuban buyer is not looking for the same things. Who’s going to be interested in a wooden plaque with ‘Hasta la Victoria Siempre*‘ [Ever Onward to Victory] inscribed on it? No one who lives here… These days I’m finding it easier to sell wooden spoons and forks for the kitchen than a carving of the Capitol.”

Near the Plaza Vieja, a makeshift display provides evidence of vendors’ eagerness to get rid of things they are having a hard time selling. “Three for the price of one,” reads a small sign in front of a tobacco sculpture with Fidel Castro’s profile carved into it. Berets with “comandante” insignias have also been reduced to 150 pesos apiece. The other items on display are pet collars and spirals of mosquito repellent.

The most astute vendors are able to change with the times, which currently means fewer foreign visitors and worsening food shortages. Behind a counter displaying earrings made from colored beads and wristbands adorned with zodiac signs, a vendor on Obispo Street offers an assortment of “packaged frozen chicken quarters, sausages and cleaned, deboned fish fillets.”

The merchandise, more like that found in a grocery store than a crafts fair, is purchased only after the buyer feels confident and has spent enough time looking at the jewelry. The transaction is completed after the buyer follows the seller’s instructions: “I have already alerted my contact. Just turn the corner, knock on the blue door, give him the money and you’ll be all set.”

Others rely on privately owned restaurants and cafes near Havana Bay to exhibit some of their merchandise on the walls in hopes of attracting the interest the few tourists who might happen to be there. The strategy occasionally bears fruit and customers leave with a painting of Morro Castle or the Giraldilla statue. It depends on how many Cuba Libres they have had to drink.

“It will take time for this market to recover,” says Pedro Novo. “But we’re also learning from this crisis because we had forgotten the Cuban customer. We had focused too much on foreigners and, when tourism declined, we realized we had to produce more for the people here.”

Monetary issues can also pose a problem, however. “Cubans pay in pesos but the peso is always losing value. What I would like is for tourists to be able to pay me directly in dollars because my products are well-made, beautiful and will last for many years on the walls of their house or on a shelf.”

“People are also tired of things that just a few years ago were novelties. There’s a lot of repetition and, when an artisan comes up with something new, everyone else copies it over and over,” he observes. “So we have to come up with other things or I’m going to spend the rest of my life selling matches and Spanish playing cards.”

*Translator’s note: A phrase associated with Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The United States Will Resume All Its Services to Issue Immigrant Visas in Cuba

These efforts are “a key step” to fulfill the commitment made by the United States under the Migration Agreements with Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, September 21, 2022 — The United States Government announced on Wednesday that at the beginning of 2023 its embassy in Cuba will resume all its services to issue immigrant visas, for the first time since 2017.

According to a statement, with this measure, the United States “announces the expansion of the usual ways available to Cubans who want to come to the United States and an increase in the staff of the U.S. embassy” on the Island.

Washington explained that immigrant visas provide people who are eligible to apply for them with a “safe and orderly” migration route.

“This change will also eliminate the need for Cubans applying for immigrant visas in categories of family preference to travel outside Cuba to Georgetown, Guyana, for their interviews,” the U.S. government said.

At the same time, the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) are increasing their staff in Havana to “effectively and efficiently” process cases and conduct interviews.

On September 1, the United States embassy in Cuba began processing pending applications for the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program (CFRP), suspended since 2017. continue reading

The program was initially launched in 2007 under the mandate of President George W. Bush (2001-2009) and provides a legal way for Americans and legal residents in the United States to claim their family member within Cuban territory.

The program was suspended ten years later by the Donald Trump Administration (2017-2021).

In its statement on Wednesday, the U.S. Government explained that these efforts are “a key step” to comply with the commitment made by the United States under the Migration Agreements with Cuba to ensure that the total legal migration from the island to U.S. territory is a minimum of 20,000 Cubans each year, not including direct relatives of U.S. citizens.

And it pointed out that the State Department continues to consider further expanding its visa services in Havana if conditions permit.

Since the arrival of Democrat Joe Biden to the U.S. Presidency, the U.S. embassy resumed issuing visas for migrants last May after a four-year break.

In addition, his government suspended the limit of $1,000 quarterly on remittances and authorized the travel of groups destined to make contacts with the Cuban people, known in English as people-to-people travel.

Last June, the embassy extended the visa process for immediate family members.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.