“Every Time There’s More of Us and They Will Not Be Able to Get Us Out of Here”

Los Quimbos is a community built spontaneously in Alquízar starting in 2005, by migrants from the eastern provinces of Oriente, especially Guantánamo. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Serafín Martínez, Havana, 18 November 2020 — “My husband and I built my little wooden house with dirt floors and inspectors immediately arrived. I paid two fines of 500 pesos and another of 2,000 pesos, doubled, for illegal occupation of the land. But I did not leave.” This is how Kirenia Alganza Torres recounts her first encounter with the authorities in Los Quimbos, a marginal community in the municipality of Alquízar (Artemisa).

Several years went by until, on November 9th, the authorities returned to remove the neighbors from their homes. “They told us that we were illegal and that this land belongs to the Alquitex factory, which needs it. Overall, I don’t know what they want it for, because the factory has been closed and idle for a long time and I won’t leave until they give me a house or legal land I can build on,” says this 39-year-old woman who has five minor children and works as a cleaning assistant at a school in the area.

Kirenia is one of the founders of Los Quimbos. “I had been treated for several years as a mental case, even for suicide attempts due to my critical housing situation. It was all for naught, until I decided to come here, as soon as I found out that people were building here,” she says. continue reading

Los Quimbos is made up of 100 marginal homes in which more than 500 people live, without water or sewage, and many without electricity. (14ymedio)

In the first eviction attempt, they took 26 of the original settlers of the Mirtha Farm, but they still have no electricity or water. “At least I got the electricity from an overhead line,” she adds.

This community was built spontaneously, starting in 2005, by migrants from the eastern provinces, especially Guantánamo. They began to settle illegally in lands surrounding the textile factory known as Alquitex, officially named “Rubén Martínez Villena,”,attached to the Ducal Textile Company of the Light Industry Business Group.

They named it the same as the precarious houses on the outskirts of Guantánamo, in turn named after the quimbos of Angola, the miserable huts that Cuban soldiers got to know during the military intervention of the African country.

Los Quimbos de Alquízar are made up of around 100 marginal homes where over 500 people live without running water or sewers and many without electricity. The residents also live under permanent siege from the authorities, who have demolished several shacks and heavily fined the residents of the community.

In addition, residents of Los Quimbos live under permanent siege from the authorities, who have demolished several shacks and heavily fined the residents of the community. (14ymedio)

The on-going harassment has not prevented the permanence, the roots and the extension of the community due to the lack of housing.

“I’m not leaving here because I have nowhere to go,” says Idelfonso Rodríguez, a 27-year-old rickshaw driver, who states: “Since I built my little house, the inspectors arrived and ate me alive with fines: 500 pesos for misappropriation of the land, 1,000 pesos for not demolishing and 300 pesos for illegally connecting to the electricity. I have not been able to pay the fines. I don’t have a ration card.”

Rosaida, 50, came from the Oriente province four months ago because of a marriage that soon ended, and she was left alone, on the street and unable to legalize her change of address. “I was desperate. I couldn’t go back, so I built my little house, made of wood, cardboard, and dirt floor. I don’t have water and now I don’t have electricity. I do my necessities outside on the patio when it gets dark. I bring big jugs of drinking and cooking water from far away. I use firewood for cooking and the inspectors cut off the light from the overhead lines. I don’t have a ration card and eat whatever is around,” she says.

The woman swears that the governor of Alquízar, Miguelito Rodríguez, wants to deport her to Oriente, “although on his last visit he put his hand on my shoulder and told me that everything was going to be ok,” she adds. “I suffer from a nervous condition and I don’t have a husband.”

“Since I built my little house, the inspectors arrived and fined me: 500 pesos for misappropriation of the land, 1,000 pesos for not demolishing and 300 pesos for illegally connecting to the electricity. I have not been able to pay the fines. I do not have a ration book,” says Idelfonso Rodríguez, a 27-year-old pedicab driver. (14ymedio)

René, 72, is also inflexible: “I am disabled, I’ve had surgery on my leg and I have a rod in it. Still, I work as a custodian at the Zorrilla farm. I live alone and they want to get me out of here. Where to go. This is my house and I’m not leaving here.”

Another disabled person, as a result of a traffic accident that caused paralysis, is Eddy Reyes Frómeta, age 55. He lives on a patch of land adjacent to that of his sister, Mirtha, and they both arrived 17 years ago from Baracoa, Guantánamo. “Two years ago, they knocked down my little ranch, the policemen put me on a bus, they released me with my belongings in some sacks and dumped me off. A few days later I returned and they have not been able to get to me anymore. Every time there’s more of us and they will not be able to get us out of here,” says the man.

His sister Mirtha, who lives with her son, narrates: “On Monday of last week, when the inspectors came to get us out, they put numbers on our houses. I don’t know if that is good or bad. I cannot return to Baracoa. I don’t mess with anyone and I’m not leaving here.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban State Security Continues to Harass the San Isidro Movement

Police surveillance in front of the house of the artist Tania Bruguera, in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 November 2020 — A police cordon around the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement, in Old Havana, has blocked pedestrians since since last Monday. State Security arrests anyone who tries to reach the place, where seven activists remain confined in protest of the sentence of eight months in prison for the rebellious rapper Denis Solís.

One victim of State Security is the independent journalist Héctor Luis Valdés Cocho, who was arrested around one in the afternoon on Thursday and released 24 hours later.

“I was in the Zanja police station, they did not give me a mattress to sleep on, and my back is wrecked,” he told 14ymedio after being released this Friday at noon.

The mother of Iliana Hernández, a contributor to the Cibercuba site, was also intercepted this Thursday afternoon, when she wanted to visit her daughter, who is on a hunger strike for Solís’s freedom, convicted of the crime of “contempt.” continue reading

In addition, surveillance continues in front of the houses of other activists to prevent them from going out onto the streets, including the artist Tania Bruguera and Michel Matos, a member of the opposition group, who denounced that they have been surrounded for three days. “They do not allow me to leave my own house under penalty of arrest and confinement in one of the many smelly dungeons in Havana … They have limited my internet, I cannot navigate or communicate,” Matos said on his Facebook profile.

Brugera said that, in her case, the surveillance of the police and State Security began on Monday. “Since then, they have taken the internet from me (I already found a way to connect at least once a day). They will not stop our solidarity with our brothers and sisters from MSI, Patria y Libertad!”, she wrote on her social networks.

Adrián Rubio, one of the strikers, announced that this Friday morning three State Security agents visited his mother to persuade her to ask her son to abandon the protest and to leave the Movement’s headquarters.

“They told her that I was now involved in a group of murderers. That everything is a just an act, that we are not on a hunger strike. And that everything is an invention because we are demanding the freedom of a prisoner who is serving time for attempted murder,” he reported. The agents also warned her that his son “neither works nor studies” and that when he leaves the movement’s headquarters that can charge him with “pre-criminal dangerousness” or take him to Pinar del Río “to do military service.”

The Hannah Arendt International Institute of Artivism, directed by Tania Bruguera, expressed solidarity with the activists and their peaceful protest: “There is no justification for the illegality, arbitrariness and inhumanity of these repressive strategies on the part of the State to restrict the freedom of expression.”

The activists reported from the group’s headquarters that Humberto Mena decided to abandon the strike for “personal reasons.” They said that upon arriving at his home, Mena was searched by State Security agents, taken to an unknown place and released after a few hours.

Similarly, the artist Yasser Castellanos reported in on his social networks that he could not continue with the strike because he felt a lot of “discomfort.”

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Esteban Rodríguez, Maykel Castillo, Iliana Hernández, Adrián Rubio, Oscar Casanella and Osmani Pardo continue on hunger strike, and this afternoon it will be 48 hours since the protest began.

Also at the headquarters are Anamely Ramos, Katherine Bisquet, Omara Ruiz Urquiola, Jorge Luis Capote, Niovel Abu Alexander Tamayom and Anyell Valdés Cruz.

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Where Are Arantxa and Other Useful Fools Now?

The Youth Labor Army (EJT) market on 17th street, in Havana, these past days. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 19 November 2020 — With a casual tone, under the Havana summer sun, the Spanish political scientist Arantxa Tirado recorded a video last year where she explained the wonders of the Cuban economy, wonders that allowed a person to have three meals a day and even a snack for only 30 euros per month. Now, the same market that served as the setting for her dissertation is practically empty, but the protagonist of that panegyric is missing, not here to film this other side of reality.

At the corner of 17th and K streets, in El Vedado, the market stands have been almost deserted for weeks. Some dismal bananas, stone-hard oranges and ginger are among the few products that have appeared sporadically in the last month in what was one of the best-stocked markets in the Cuban capital, managed by the military through the Youth Labor Army (EJT). The ingredients that Tirado claimed to have stocked up on while on the Island are now found only in our memories and in the brief images of her video.

Those images raised a cloud of reproach when they went viral on Cuban social networks last January. An avalanche of criticism fell on the political scientist who, after spending a few days on the island, already felt sufficiently educated about Cuban daily life to instruct and clarify, to the “enemies” of the system, their mistakes. How many of those useful fools have we not met inside and outside our national borders? Why do none ever appear to report what contradicts their thesis? continue reading

I try to contain the toothache from a terrible filling from the polyclinic in my Havana neighborhood, while I remember some Germans who explained to me in the Berlin subway the tremendous advantages of the Cuban Public Health system. Several days of frustration passed before this I received dental repair because there was no water or electricity on the premises. I was finally able to “resolve” the treatment after giving the dentist on duty some soap and a sandwich.

Once, even a Canadian tried to convince me of the happiness of Cuban workers who never went out to protest in the streets to demand better wages or increases in their pensions. He added that he saw people in the street moving freely and that this was evidence of the advantages of the island’s political model. While he was developing his argument, several police officers with unfriendly faces fluttered around us in Havana’s Central Park to determine if I was a national who would be fined for “harassing a tourist.”

The list of preachers of utopia, builders of castles of smoke, and falsifiers of our reality is long. They unfold a story in golden tones to convince their audience that this is the best of all possible countries and that any criticism of its authorities is a vile imperialist hoax. Part of that spirit, between illusionist and combative, prompted a Spanish traveler to say – without blushing – in front of a camera, that she spent in a month, and only on food, the entire salary of a Cuban engineer.

And now, Arantxa Tirado? Where are you now to say that neither double nor triple that amount is enough to fill your bag? Do you dare to film another video in the 17th street market in Havana? This time prepare your wallet and practice your lies better.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

Western Union’s Offices in Cuba to Close at 6 PM, November 23

The deadline for sending money from the United States to Cuba is 11:00 PM EST, November 23. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 November 2020 — On Friday, Western Union announced it will no longer provide remittance services in Cuba as of November 23 after the island’s government rejected a proposal that would have allowed the US-based to comply with American regulations governing its transactions with Fincimex*.

The deadline for sending money from the United States to Cuba will be November 22, 11:00 PM Eastern Standard Time. According to the announcement the deadline for collecting money at Western Union offices in Cuba will be November 23, 6:00 PM Cuban time.

“It is important that family members immediately pick up money transfers at Western Union retail locations in Cuba. If a recipient does not finalize a transfer transaction to Cuba, you may request a full refund at any time through your original method of payment,” states the company. continue reading

These deadlines will allow the remittance giant to “pay transfers to their recipients in Cuba before the United States government’s rule takes effect on November 26, 2020.” The new restriction prohibits transactions with companies controlled by the Cuban security apparatus, such as Fincimex, which is only entity authorized by Havana to partner with Western Union.

The announcement states, “We know how important it is to ensure your loved ones in Cuba are cared for, and money transfer is a part of that. We regret to inform you that you have a limited time to send money to your loved ones in Cuba.”

“We have been working around the clock to explore every possible option to keep our services open between the U.S. and Cuba as we recognize this is a vital channel for our customers. The new rule, which was published on October 27, 2020, provided 30 days to implement the new restrictions. Unfortunately, we have not been able to find a solution in this limited timeframe,” reads the text, which was signed by Western Union’s president, Khalid Fellahi.

The company assures customers it “will continue to explore all possible alternatives in search of a solution” though it  acknowledges that, at this stage, there are no indications when the situation might be resolved.

Western Union’s announcement comes two weeks after the the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced that authorizations “related to remittances in transactions involving identified entities or sub-entities on the Restricted List for Cuba will be annulled as of November 27.”

Shortly after learning of the new restriction, Fincimex issued an ambiguous statement indicating that the Western Union’s 407 offices in Cuba would close, though several company employees consulted by this newspaper said they had not not received orders to suspend operations.

In late September the U.S. State Department added American International Service (AIS), a Cuban company that issues banking cards on the island, to its Restricted List. The U.S. government defended its actions, saying that AIS, which receives and manages remittances from overseas handled by Fincimex, is controlled by the Cuban military.

Fincimex is a subsidiary of the Business Administration Group (Gaesa), which is controlled by a powerful brigadier general, Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, Raúl Castro’s former son-in-law, on whom OFAC itself imposed sanctions on September 30.

 *Translator’s note: A company run by the Cuban military which serves as the Cuban partner of foreign credit card companies and Western Union.

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Small Private Businesses Celebrate a Successful Fair in Cuba

Gretel Bormey has seen a great opportunity in Amarillo Coworking to get in touch with other entrepreneurs and potential clients. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 17 November 2020 — Gretel Bormey was attending to her clients with care this Sunday at Amarillo Coworking, housed in what was previously the Casa Brava, a private boutique hotel located on Calle 2, between 21 and 23, which was forced to close due to the pandemic. The exposition space started last July and this weekend it hosted an event at this Vedado house aimed at bringing together entrepreneurs like Gretel.

Bormey & Daughter is the name of Gretel and her father’s family business. “He is a chef de cuisine and has many years of experience. I am a trained translator, but since I was a child, I have been watching him cook, I practically grew up in a kitchen. Our initial idea was to provide catering for small events, I always had the idea to also launch a parallel line to catering at some point, to offer certain products that are not available here or are not known in the popular culture”, she stated.

The pandemic acted as a reagent. Event cancellation led Bormey & Daughter to put catering aside for another time and make way for products more suited to the new reality: sauces, homemade sweets and frozen items. continue reading

Some of the brands that participated in the bazaar were born with Covid-19 and have developed only through social networks. (14ymedio)

“We thought that, in this situation in which we are confined to our homes there is a shortage of so many things but especially food items, we could offer people things that are different, that are fresh, healthy, quality products and that is what we do,” Bormey said.

Their list of products includes pesto, made with basil and spinach; garlic and curry mayonnaise; and chutney. They also make fish croquettes or ones made with spinach that they grow themselves in their backyard.

“It is an herb that contains no chemicals, that is grown and cared for with a lot of love. We also look for fish, my father has a boat and that is his hobby. We use fresh fish to make the croquettes. Of course, we would like to be able to offer many more products but the situation is a bit complex and sometimes our creativity is limited by what we can get in the market,” she laments.

Bormey & Daughter started in mid-September, limited to home deliveries. “Following hygiene measures at all times, we always use antibacterial gel to try to protect us and our clients,” she clarifies. So far, her business balance is very positive. “People place repeat orders, and that means that they like the product and that they have been incorporating it into their usual diet,” she highlights.

When Gretel Bormey found out about the Amarillo Coworking celebration event through social networks, she did not want to miss it. She was surprised by the number of initiatives that emerged in the context of the pandemic and that there are “many people making delicious things, promoting healthy eating.”

The entrepreneurs exhibited their products, such as food, masks, ornaments or bags, between 10 in the morning and 6 in the afternoon. (14ymedio)

“We thought it was a great opportunity for our emerging small business to interact with other similar enterprises and learn what they do and establish alliances. These have really been very good days,” she says while having curious people who come to her stand sample her product, spread on a slice of bread.

Saily González, founder of the project, explains to 14ymedio that this is “the first physical co-working space for entrepreneurs in Cuba,” a place for business owners to exchange experiences and offer their best products to the public.

“The first part of the pandemic was difficult, but even more difficult was to open and to have to close again. We had a lot of uncertainty, few sales and a lack of interaction,” discusses González.

Some of the brands that participated in the bazaar were born because of Covid-19 and have developed only through social networks. “They are doing online sales but have not yet had physical interaction in the community. In my experience, when you, as the person behind a brand, interact with the community, it is very powerful because it personalizes brands and helps the entrepreneur generate a sense of community, that was the idea of establishing the bazaar. It was basically setting up the space and making the call,” she says in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the day.

The event, which was held between last Friday and Sunday, welcomed more than 20 small businesses over the three days during which they showed their products to the public, such as food, masks, ornaments and bags, between 10 in the morning and 6 in the afternoon.

The exhibition started last July, and it hosted an event this weekend aimed at bringing together some entrepreneurs. (14ymedio)

The clients who arrived, most of them as a family group, visited the house’s rooms taking in every detail. Towards the back, in one of the rooms was stationed Havana Dehydrates, a product that has only been in existence for three months.

“So far, we have worked with four fruits: pineapple, coconut, banana and lemon. The process we follow is quite traditional, completely natural, we do not add any chemicals or sugar to our dehydration process. We have a gas oven with pressurized air. Depending on the oven and on the cut of the fruit, the process takes between 10 or 12 hours. We market our products in the form of chips, dice, slices,” explained a young woman to each person who approached.

On Saturday, Caridad León arrived at the house, hand in hand with her daughter, her son-in-law and her two granddaughters. She bought two face masks, curry mayonnaise and pesto sauce; and she did not stop praising the nice product packaging, their design and their quality. “I am happy, it is very good to see that young people want to do these beautiful things, it is inspiring. Filling one’s belly cannot be all there is.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

Only in Cuba: Stealing 208 Tons Without Leaving a Trace

The peculiar incident occurred in Basic Unit 315 of El Cotorro in Havana, according to a report from the National Television Newscast. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 November 2020 — The history of thefts from the Cuban state sector has milestones that seem insurmountable. Adulteration of figures, disguising merchandise and even ingenious garments with internal pockets to transport products. This November, the Potemkin warehouse was added to the list , stacks of rice sacks that were only a facade with a large empty space in the center.

The peculiar incident occurred in Basic Unit 315 of El Cotorro in Havana, according to a report by the National Television Newscast. At the beginning of the report, nothing seemed to differentiate this theft from many others that the official media have denounced in recent weeks, if it were not for the ingenious way in which the perpetrators hid the embezzlement.

The thieves, workers in the state warehouse, erected wooden structures in the center of the piles to occupy the space of the sacks they stole. The shoring allowed the blocks to appear complete during routine inspections, although they were hollow inside. It took a timely count of the merchandise to discover the trick. continue reading

At the beginning the authorities calculated that the missing grain totaled 33.5 tons, an amount that represents, according to Manuel Andreu Hernández, director of Defense, Security and Protection, “the quota of 10,550 consumers, with an economic effect on the country’s economy of 14,736 dollars.” However, after a more exhaustive count it was determined that a total of 208 tons were missing.

“The causes and conditions that we see in this type of event are lack of administrative controls and the lack of supervision of the people in charge of carrying out this type of task,” an agent from the Ministry of the Interior explained to the TV camera, while also noting that the product it was intended for the “basic food basket” Cubans can buy cheaply through the ration system, and was imported from Uruguay.

The agent added that this type of event occurs due to the management of “internal control and violations of the procedures established for the commercialization, storage and transportation of products.”

To make up for the losses of the rice, according to official television reports, “the State reallocated part of its budget intended for other products for the purchase of rice.”

The report stated that it is not the first time that “people with certain responsibilities in the protection of the resources destined for the basic food basket have been involved in the diversion of products.”

Andreu Hernández said that the inspection process for the rest of the products stored in the El Cotorro facilities continues.

For their part, the police reported that the investigations have not concluded and are intended to “include in the criminal process other perpetrators who make up the criminal chain, although regardless of whether other perpetrators are found, the damage has already been done.”

Rice, an absolute essential on Cuban tables, is one of the many products that have disappeared due to the shortages and lack of supplies facing the Island in recent months. It has become seven to eight times more expensive since the pandemic began, and almost all of the rice traded on illegal networks is diverted from state-owned companies.

The replacement product from Uruguay is highly appreciated by Cuban consumers, who consider it to be of better quality than the rice donated by Vietnam which is sold in the rationed market. The grain is more complete, there are fewer stones in each bag, and the grains do not stick together, which is more to the traditional taste, all of which makes the South American rice more popular.

Until the beginning of the year, it could be found at five pesos a pound in commercial establishments that sold unrationed rice; however, it has now risen to unsuspected prices. This newspaper reported in May a record price of 45 Cuban pesos* per pound or 90 CUC* for 50 pounds, which has dropped to 20 or 25 pesos in recent weeks.

*Translator’s note: Cuba operates with two Cuban currencies, the Cuban peso and the Cuban convertible peso, and with foreign hard currencies, including the dollar, the euro and others. Currently in flux, the exchange rates are changing very rapidly. At the beginning of this year, 45 Cuban pesos would have been the equivalent of just under $2 US, and 90 Cuban convertible pesos would have been about $90 US. As a point of comparison, government salaries in Cuba generally average the equivalent of about $30 US a month, or, in this example, enough to buy about 15 pounds of unrationed rice a month, and nothing else. The monthly quota of rice each Cuban gets from the rationed market is much cheaper.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

Flood Victims in Majagua Denounce Cuban Government’s Mismanagement of a Dam

The heavy rains left by tropical storm Eta caused the Majagua River to overflow, leaving heavy flooding.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 13 November 2020 — After the waters fell in the Ciego de Ávila municipality of Majagua it seemed that the worst had passed, but no. Wednesday and Thursday arrived and all people could do was put what little had survived the floods out in the sun, the mattresses, the furniture, the clothes, and to make an inventory of everything that the water took away.

The heavy rains left by tropical storm Eta caused the river of the same name to overflow, and the waters advanced to the nearby areas, leaving floods that surprised many residents in that municipality halfway between the cities of Ciego de Ávila and Sancti Spíritus.

“Luckily we are alive but it was terrible, like an avalanche of water. That had never happened before like this; even with hurricane Flora I did not see something like that,” a resident who has lived in the town since the 1950s tells this newspaper. continue reading

“What happened was, they opened the Plan Plátano dam because was full and the water flowed out uncontrollably and covered everything. We have family that helps us but there are many people who are alone and it is not easy to find oneself without anything and to have no place to turn around,” he added.

He added that the neighborhoods of La Sierra and Los Rusos were the most affected. “Here we are used to floods but not of this magnitude, the ones that I have experienced, I can say that the water has reached my ankles and this time it has covered entire houses.”

Some people put their possessions in high places, but taking as a reference their previous experiences. “I put down some bricks and put some of my things up on them and even so, the mattresses and suitcases with my clothes got soaked. I could only save the small appliances because there wasn’t even time to raise the refrigerator,” commented a young woman this morning as she was putting her clothes out in the sun and looking at the two mattresses she had brought out to doorway.

She said that some of the houses that were in higher areas, where the water normally never reaches, saw their patios totally submerged.

Juan Carlos Calvo Vidal, who knows the area well, insists that this flood is the fault of a dam that is at the source of the river, it is “a loose dam,” he said.

“The authorities said no, but all those affected know that it was like that,” he reported in a comment he left in one of the publications that were posted on Facebook to detail the several houses that were totally submerged.

According to his testimony, the river, which already had a high water level as a result of the rains, released “suddenly, in a matter of 15 or 20 minutes, an avalanche similar to a tsunami.”

“The government is helping all these people, but the disaster is so immense that it will take them some time to solve it,” adds Calvo Vidal.

“In minutes, people lost their houses, personal items, their dreams, their stories, their comforts, customs, experiences. (…) I only hope that the Government destroys that dam or builds it as it should be. Today it was houses and material objects, tomorrow it could be people and people cannot be recovered,” he said.

The authorities insist that several preventive measures were taken to avoid the loss of human life and material things and evacuated 2,308 people, the majority to the homes of friends and relatives. They also list the 1,740 head of large livestock and other small livestock that were saved.

According to official data, a total of 45 homes were affected, four of them with total collapses and 24 partial. One of the houses suffered the total loss of its roof while a dozen partially lost roofs and two buildings registered damage to their waterproofing, according to Ernesto Linares Ojeda, vice president of the Municipal Defense Council of the town.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

In Cuba the Tomato King Pays for His Success With Prison

The Interior Ministry seized more than 1,250 sacks containing 62,8450 bottles of tomato puree from the farmer, currently in pretrial detention. (Screen Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 November 2020 — A farmer from the Los Palacios de Pinar del Río municipality was arrested on charges of “illicit economic activity” for producing and selling tomato puree.

According to a report issued by Cuban Television, the producer, a member of the Manuel Ascunce Credit and Service Cooperative in the Paso Quemado Popular Council, was required to deliver 20 tons of tomatoes to the province’s state-run industry in the last cold season, but, says the official media, he failed to comply..

“It only delivered 27 quintals, approximately one ton,” the municipal agriculture delegate, Carlos González Ocasio, said in the report. The official said that the rest of the production, which he did not report,” could have been sent to supply the territory’s agricultural markets, but instead he appropriated this production for personal manufacture” of tomato puree. continue reading

The Interior Ministry seized more than 1,250 sacks containing 62,8450 bottles of tomato puree from “artisanal manufacture, an activity for which he did not have legal authorization,” said an official.

During the operation, several personal hygiene products, 16 sacks of soy, 75 liters of car oil and 780 liters of diesel were also confiscated.

According to the state television report, the man was able to illegally market 2,500 bottles of tomato puree. The production that the police confiscated was transferred to the state run business Acopio, in the municipality, “pending a health assessment regarding its use.”

Many Cuban farmers have complained forever that the goals the Acopio company sets for their output are high, and the prices very low. They almost always lose more than than they gain from from fulfilling state contracts. The little that remains of their crops is often consumed by the farmers themselves.

A case similar to that of the farmer from Pinar del Río was one involving a farmer from the Cooperativa Ciro Redondo in the province of Artemisa. Nicknamed The Cheese King on social networks, the farmer who owned 42 cows, delivered 70 liters of milk to the state every day, well short of the 150 that he was required to provide, according to a report broadcast in the National Newscast. The man was arrested for the alleged crime of illegal economic activity; he had a cheese factory that mainly supplied three restaurants specializing in Italian food in the municipality of Playa, in Havana.

The Cuban government recently announced a transformation of the marketing system for agricultural products. However, what the farmers see is a timid relaxation of the agricultural market. Private farmers will be able to sell part of their production on their own as long as they do so under state requirements, but first they must satisfy the deliveries agreed to with Acopio.

According to the farmers contacted by 14ymedio, this announcement will not change anything. “Now we can declare on paper what we were doing a long time ago.”

The government of Raúl Castro had already implemented similar measures in 2011, aimed at opening up the agriculture, but reversed the measures in 2016, without explanation.

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Journalist Miriam Celaya Has Become ‘Regulated’ and Cannot Leave Cuba

On Friday Miriam Celaya joined the list of ‘regulated’ citizens who have been banned from leaving Cuba. (Radio Martí)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 November 2020 — Independent journalist Miriam Celaya has joined to the list of regulated citizens this Friday under a ban on leaving Cuba. The 14ymedio columnist and contributor tried to apply for an extension of her passport but came across the news that she cannot travel abroad.

“I went to extend my passport early at the office of the Directorate of Identification, Immigration and Foreign Matters (DIIE) in Centro Habana and there they told me that I was regulated so I was unable to complete the process,” Celaya comments to this periodical.

The official who communicated the situation to Celaya was unaware of the reasons for the travel ban and recommended that she go to the headquarters of the DIIE to inquire about the causes, although the reporter intuits that her opinion columns, very critical of the Government, could be behind the measure.

“I have been ‘regulated’ for writing, for my work as a journalist and for what I share on social networks.” Celaya adds that the sanction can also be a punishment “for having defied State Security in March of this year,” when she received a summons from the political police and refused to answer their questions. “They wanted to question me but I told the officers I met with that I had nothing to say to them.” continue reading

Celaya adds that the sanction may also be a punishment for having defied State Security in March of this year, when she received a police summons from the political police and refused to answer their questions

The journalist also has Spanish nationality obtained in 2010 through the so-called Grandchildren’s Law and planned to spend the end of the year with her family in the United States, a project that she’ll have to postpone indefinitely, since the authorities usually do not divulge how long the sanction will be in effect.

Some 200 people are on this blacklist, established by the Cuban authorities. With these travel bans, the Government violates the right to free movement of citizens, which is enshrined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also in Article 52 of the Cuban Constitution.

Those affected by this ban also note that, in January 2013, an immigration reform came into force that significantly relaxed the procedures to travel outside Cuba, as the old “exit permit” was eliminated. At that time the the foreign press described this move as part of the reforms leading to greater openings by Raúl Castro.

However, the list of opposition voices banned from leaving the country has been increasing over the years. At first, State Security prevented dissidents from traveling, through arbitrary arrests or by intercepting them on their way to the airport, but since 2018, the strategy of informing them of their status when passing through the immigration window at the airport or when renewing their passport has become more common.

Translated by Norma Whiting
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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

Cuba’s Private Sector Denounces the ‘Runaround’ from the Government Administration

Municipal Directorate of Labor and Social Security of the Plaza de la Revolución Municipality, calle B between 23 and 21. (Facebook / Pedro García)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 November 2020 — Since the coronavirus pandemic reached Cuba eight months ago, most private sector workers have been unable to perform their jobs. Many had to surrender their licenses and others, in the absence of solutions, stretch their savings to try to withstand the blow until they can start their businesses again.

The photographer Pedro Luis García has denounced the Sub-Directorate of Self-Employed Work on his social networks for “malfunctioning, irresponsible, bureaucratic runaround and lack of respect for the population.” According to García, this department belongs to the Municipal Directorate of Labor and Social Security of the Plaza de la Revolución Municipality. “I hope that my case is resolved by this institution at some point,” he said.

“I am a self-employed person, I have my license and I pay Social Security. Last month they told me to present a letter to the Municipal Labor Directorate to release me from payment for the months of the pandemic.” They told him that he should have canceled the license for those days, but because he was considered “high risk” he was not able to leave his home. continue reading

Now, the authorities tell him that he must pay for the months he didn’t work. He made a claim last month but they have yet to respond.

He went to see the deputy director of that agency and spent hours waiting for him and when he finally met with him he was told to go to the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) to see if he was already freed of the obligation to pay. When he arrived at ONAT, they informed him that his name was not on the list provided by the municipal work department of those exempt from payment.

“I am a victim of a runaround and the bureaucracy of the municipal deputy director of Labor and Social Security of the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución. I denounce my case and the lack of respect shown to self-employed worker. I feel helpless in the face of the Government; since we are living in limbo in this time of pandemic, because the regime does not offer benefits; they force us to hand over our licenses,” he denounced.

In mid-April, the Minister of Labor placed the number of personnel in the private transport sector who suspended their activity at the request of the Government at 52,000, and explained individuals could also request to suspend their activity, an option that 139,000 people had accepted. At that time, an impact of about 99 million pesos was calculated, both for the monthly tax payments*, and for the 10% of the services or sales that are no longer captured.

Since then, the private sector has requested access to a rescue package that includes preferential credits, and has requested authorizations to import and export without going through the State. All without success, since the Government only offers these benefits to state companies, along with other solutions that do not apply to the self-employed.

*Translator’s note: Individuals licensed to work as self-employed in Cuba must pay flat rate monthly taxes simply to maintain their licenses, in addition to taxes on income.

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Cubans Without Regular Status in Costa Rica Will be Allowed to Stay at Least Two Years

An encampment of Cubans on the border of Costa Rice and Nicaragua, last August. (Facebook/Miriela Oliva Respuestos)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 November 2020 — The Costa Rican government has created a special category of asylum for Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans who arrived in the country before March 18, 2020 and who have had their refugee application denied.

The resolution, published this Thursday in the official newspaper La Gaceta, establishes that people in this category — called “temporary supplementary protection” — can stay for a period of two years, extendable in equal periods. The beneficiaries may be free to perform any paid work activity, “as self-employed or in a dependent relationship.”

In the document, it is explained that the decision was made because of the emergency generated by the coronavirus pandemic and by the vulnerable situation experienced by the citizens of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. continue reading

The situation in these three countries, the resolution details, leads Costa Rica “to carry out a differentiated approach to the migratory situation of people who, due to their own conditions, will not achieve the recognition of refugee or the authorization of legal permanence, but who will not leave the territory national, both due to the situation of the global pandemic caused by Covid 19, and the precarious situation in their countries of origin.”

In addition, the resolution notes that since 2014, Costa Rica has registered a considerable increase in applications for refugee status by Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and Cubans. Regarding the latter, they state that “they are changing their migratory behavior” and are seeking to establish themselves in the Central American country.

Last August, the Costa Rican government transferred 225 Cubans who had entered illegally from Panama to a camp in the province of Guanacaste, where they remained in lamentable conditions on the border with Nicaragua.

Costa Rica’s General Directorate of Migration and Foreigners granted expedited refuge to 32 migrants, but the majority rejected it because they did not wish to reside in the Central American country, but rather wanted to continue their journey to the United States.

In 2018, Cuba and Costa Rica signed an agreement on migration matters to enhance cooperation between both countries in the fight against irregular migration, human smuggling and trafficking, as well as associated crimes.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

Human Rights in Cuba Have Deteriorated Since Signing of Agreement with Europea Union

At least 108 of the 110 respondents said that the Cuban authorities do not comply with the article on Human Rights. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 November 2020 — The human rights situation in Cuba has deteriorated since the 2016 signing of the Agreement for Political Dialogue and Cooperation between the European Union and the Island, according to the results of a survey conducted by the Civil Rights Defenders (CRD) organization.

The investigation, carried out among more than one hundred independent activists and journalists inside and outside the island, produced a very critical picture of what has happened regarding human rights in Cuba in the last four years and after the signing of the Agreement.

At least 108 of the 110 respondents said that the Cuban authorities do not comply with the article on human rights included in the document ratified at the end of 2017; while 33 of the 70 interviewees who live on the island wanted the European Union to begin the process to suspend the Agreement. continue reading

The report that accompanies the results of the survey also compiles several testimonies offered by the interviewees, most of which coincide in pointing out a deterioration in freedom of expression and association, together with the implementation of several very restrictive laws.

“The human rights situation on the island has worsened, with a growing number of arbitrary detentions carried out by the regime to prevent peaceful demonstrations or the exercise of journalism,” wrote independent journalist Vladimir Turró Páez, one of the respondents.

An opinion with which the lawyer Laritza Diversent, founder of the Cubalex legal advisory center, agrees. Diversent stated that “the Government continues to adopt laws and practices that restrict fundamental rights, there are no mechanisms for the protection and defense of these rights.”

For his part, Erik Jennische, director of the Latin American Department of Civil Rights Defenders, warned that if the EU “wants to maintain its credibility as part of international agreements, it must act to ensure that Cuba complies with its commitments.” To do so, he stated, there are mechanisms that can be used to suspend it.

Most of the human rights defenders, inside and outside the island surveyed by the NGO last September, believed that the Government has no intention of respecting the clauses of the agreement, which it considers a “dead letter” for the Cuban reality.

Another opinion, from Alejandro Tur Valladares, commented that the pandemic on the island and the shortage of food, medicine and other needs generates great dissatisfaction in the population. The independent journalist said that, for fear of losing control, “the regime imposes fear with fines, beatings, expropriation of property and imprisonment.”

Until December 2016, when the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement was signed, and subsequently approved by the European Parliament on July 5, 2017, Cuba was the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean with which the EU did not had reached an agreement for dialogue and cooperation.

The document was signed to promote sustainable development, democracy and human rights. With its entry into force, the so-called Common Position that had governed the relationship between both parties since 1996 and that conditioned any collaboration on respect for human rights on the Island was ended.

Article 5 of the Agreement refers to the respect and promotion of democratic principles, together with the fundamental freedoms established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also states that respect for the rule of law is an essential element between the two parties.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

Kidnapper of Cuban Migrants Sentenced to 75 Years in Prison in Mexico

Image distributed by the Attorney General of the Republic of Mexico of the Cuban Maikel Antonio Reyes Echavarría, sentenced to 75 years in prison for kidnapping. (FGR)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 November 2020 — A court in Mexico sentenced Cuban Maikel Antonio Reyes Echavarría to 75 years in prison for kidnapping citizens of the island who arrived in that country with the aim of continuing to the United States. As an accomplice, the Mexican Mónica Susana del Castillo Díaz received 50 years in prison.

In a statement issued this Wednesday, the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) of Mexico reports that both were arrested on January 16 of last year, in a police operation that managed to free five victims being held in a home in Mérida, Yucatán. The five Cubans were found to be “in poor health.”

The investigation began a few days before, when relatives of one of the victims, residents of Las Vegas, Nevada, reported having received an extortion call: the kidnapper demanded a large sum of money in exchange for the release of the kidnapped person, who had left Cuba on January 4.

With the participation of 19 witnesses, the FGR details, the criminal process was carried out, which resulted not only in the prison sentence but also in a fine of 960,200 pesos (almost $ 47,000) for Reyes and 644,800 pesos (about $ 31,000) for Del Castillo.

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Two Ladies in White who Filmed Matanzas Protests Were Fined 2,000 Pesos

Ladies in White Sissi Abascal and her mother, Annia Zamora. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 11 November 2020 — Two Ladies in White, Sissi Abascal and her mother, Annia Zamora Carmenate, were fined the high amount of 2,000 pesos by the authorities. Abascal and Carmenate published on their social networks the images of the protests that took place last week in the town of Carlos Rojas, Matanzas. The townspeople were protesting the lack of electricity, and the protesters demanded restoration of service from the authorities.

Both were summoned this Tuesday to appear at the Jovellanos Police unit for an interrogation, information that was released by Leticia Ramos on her Facebook profile; Ramos also belongs to the Ladies in White. In addition, she recalled that the previous Saturday the secretary of the Jovellanos Communist Party “threatened to make Abascal Zamora disappear” for filming the protests.

Opposition member Félix Navarro detailed that during the interrogation the “investigators” wanted to know “the name of the person who advised both Ladies in White to go to Carlos Rojas Park on the day of the protest and the reasons for a mobilization of such nature.”  continue reading

Annia Zamora was warned how difficult jail would be since she was in poor health. “But Annia told them that others with different health conditions have also been unjustly deprived of their liberty and they have not been interested.”

He explained that they were trying to put the blame on the two Ladies in White for “instigating the population to yell at [the authorities] and to mob the place” and said that both of them “were secretly threatened with jail, with the intention of intimidating them.”

Annia Zamora was warned how difficult jail would be since she was in poor health. “But Annia told them that others with different health conditions have also been unjustly deprived of their liberty and they have not been interested.”

The leader of the Ladies in White Movement, Berta Soler, also criticized the town of Carlos Rojas for having had a State Security operation since the day of the protest, and for the fact that when the opponents returned to their homes after the interrogation, they found State Security agents surrounding their houses.

Shouting “Liars!”, residents of the town of Carlos Rojas surrounded various officials and military personnel during a protest last Friday, November 6, after spending several hours that day without electricity.

In the video, filmed overnight and widely disseminated on social media, dozens of people are seen surrounding various officials, including one dressed in a military uniform, to demand the restoration of electricity service. “We are tired of lies,” Abascal Zamora forewarns one of the directors who, among complaints and demands about his management, cannot articulate a convincing answer.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

From Oggún to Magric Two Years Have Passed and Cuban Farmers Still Lack Tractors

Two years ago the Oggún Tractor was excluded from Cuba, and not the Government is promoting the Magric. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 11 November 2020 — Two years ago, after a long period of requests and expectations, the American tractor manufacturer Cleber was excluded from the projects approved to locate in Cuba’s Mariel Special Development Zone, despite offering much-needed equipment for Cuban agricultural producers. The tractor being promoted by the company — compact, light and nicknamed Oggún — would have solved many of the problems that farmers face in Cuba.

But it seemed to the “wise” Cuban authorities who make the decisions about the national economy, that the Oggún machinery did not meet “the standards of innovation required by this business center.”

Now, the official press is promoting the nationally produced Magric 80.2 prototype, which according to one of its creators, “took advantage of the experience acquired with the rebuilding of Yumz tractors in the 90s and the availability of resources related to the manufacture of tractor housings. Already in inventory were the engines, the transmissions and other aggregates.” The equipment “will be tested soon,” adds an article on the subject published in the State newspaper Granma.

That is, two years after rejecting Cleber and its compact Oggún, now it turns out that the national prototype has not even been tested. When it begins to be produced for the market, will it be sold in convertible currency (let us say dollars)? And meanwhile the farmers of this Island will have lost several years while they were unable to obtain much-needed machinery, and their customers in the market will have lost out on consuming countless pounds of fruits, vegetables and grains.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.