Cuba Sues Mexico for Non-payment of Salaries to 28 Coaches from Cuba

Cuban coaches who are part of the cooperation agreement with Mexico. (Government of Mexico)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lorey Saman, Mexico, 17 September 2020 — The Cuban Embassy in Mexico filed a lawsuit against that nation’s National Commission for Physical Culture and Sports (Conade) for the failure to pay the salaries of 28 coaches from the island who are part of an agreement between the two countries.

Since the beginning of the year, the technicians of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation of Cuba (Inder) who work in 11 disciplines in Mexico have not received their salary. On January 3, the debts of 2019 were canceled “and we return to the same situation with the lack of payment,” a member of Inder who trains in Mexico City told the Cancha newspaper.

The technician, who maintains that Conade has requested the withdrawal of the lawsuit, insists that the Chinese delegation has not been paid since November. continue reading

During the presentation of Mexico’s sports development plan, Ana Gabriela Guevara, general director of Conade pointed out that between the years 2013 and 2020 140 million Mexican pesos (almost 7 million dollars) were allocated to the payment of Cuban and Chinese technicians in accordance with the agreements signed with those nations.

According to Guevara, the work of the coaches did not live up to the expectations outlined in the contract. “We are going to choose now, we want to create our own academy, our own curriculum, our own human material,” explained the former sprinter, according to Latinus review.

Non-compliance with salary payments also affects other Cubans who are not part of the official agreement, such as national fencing coach Juan Alexis Salazar Márquez. “I am only claiming my right and they got angry. The truth is, I feel tied because there is no one who can solve my situation, but this is what is happening,” Salazar told the local newspaper El Demócrata.

The coach decided to leave the official Cuban delegation with his family in June 2012, when he was competing in Cancun (Quintana Roo) in a Pan American Championship. Shortly afterwards, he joined the Mexican Olympic Committee and began working at the National High Performance Center. But since the beginning of 2020 he has not received payment from the Mexican Fencing Federation, dependent on Conade.

Salazar has managed to survive by teaching private classes. “In fact I asked for help from the parents of some athletes who deposited money with me and if I ask for the proof of the deposit they will give it to me to prove what I am saying,” said the fencing teacher.

Conade is involved in alleged cases of corruption and irregularities. In an audit, ordered by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, an embezzlement of 50.8 million pesos (2.4 million dollars) was detected in the Fund for High Performance Sports in 2019.

Cuba and Mexico have had operation agreements for decades in science, culture, education, economy and sports. In 2017, the two countries also signed an agreement in Healthcare that facilitated a contract of 135 million pesos — 6.2 million dollars — for the collaboration of a Cuban medical brigade for three months.

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With the App Cola.cu the Cuban Government Strengthens its Control Over Sales in 86 Stores in Havana

Line in Havana, first thing in the morning of this Wednesday, to buy soy yogurt. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lorey Saman, Mexico, 16 September 2020 — Dealing with the lines and fighting the resellers continues to be the obsession of the Cuban authorities. The application Portero and the multiplication of police officers and local guards at the doors of shops and markets in Havana, joins a new control mechanism: the application Cola.cu.

This application, launched on September 1, registers the customer’s identity card and creates a database with the date, place and products purchased, according to the official newspaper Granma.

The Provincial Defense Council said that it is already working in 86 stores in the capital’s municipalities and justified its use saying that it “guarantees discipline in access to food” and that it also serves to alert “about the use of false profiles on social networks attributed to personalities to generate discomfort in the population.” continue reading

The application prevents “the same people from buying certain products several days a week,” the authorities said. In this way, they say, “greater access will be allowed to those who have not been able to buy food or toiletries and the hoarding of basic necessities is avoided.”

The application, which was created at the José Antonio Echeverría  Technological University of Havana (Cujae), also controls the mobility of capital residents, who are prohibited from acquiring basic necessities outside of their municipality of residence.

When it’s time to exert control, the agents have no qualms. A neighbor of Centro Habana testified how an old woman was not allowed to buy a product that a store was selling at that time. “When they asked for her card, they saw that it had an address in eastern Cuba and the police did not let her buy the package of noodles, which was what they were selling, one per person,” the man told this newspaper. “The poor lady could not buy her noodles and the police told her to go to the Government to complain.”

Although at the moment only the Provincial Defense Council works with the application Cola.cu, the municipal authorities will apply some measures in the coming days with the information provided by the new computer platform.

For months, the authorities have also used the application Portero created at the University of Informatics Sciences (UCI), which records what day a customer accessed a store and can warn if they behave like a reseller. Shortly after, the tool was updated and now works in connection with the police database, the criminal record database and even the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT).

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A Building Collapse in Old Havana Leaves One Dead

Neighbors warned of the collapse, which was reported by the official press this Thursday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 17 September 2020 — A woman died on Wednesday night in the collapse of a multi-family building in Old Havana, which occurred around 7:00 pm on Cuba Street, between Luz and Acosta.

“Rosa died, she was trapped under the rubble,” said Lucero, a neighbor on the same block, speaking to 14ymedio earlier this Thursday. He added that the victim was over 60 years old and had already died when the rescue work ended, around three in the morning.

This newspaper was able to verify the death of the woman, Rosa María Soltis Cuella, through a call to La Nacional funeral home, located in Calzada de Infanta and Benjumeda, where her funeral services are being held. continue reading

The collapse was reported by some residents on social networks  on Wednesday night and later confirmed in the official press.

A neighbor known as ‘the musician’ has lost almost everything, except for his mattress. (14ymedio)

“Members of the Command 1 Rescue and Salvage are currently working to rescue a citizen who remains trapped in the rubble,” said a note in the newspaper Tribuna de La Habana within a few hours of the event.

This morning, there was still a strong police presence cordoning off the area, along with some State Security agents.

The deceased had not legalized her situation in the property, although “she had been processing it for some time without an answer.”

Neighbors report that the building was in very poor condition and that it got worse after the rain in recent days. There were 36 families living in the building, but 24 of them had already been relocated, so at the time of the event, there were 12 families left. Four apartments were affected by the collapse.

One of the residents, known as “El Musico,” who lived on the floor above the victim, says that “he was hanging up a towel when the building collapsed.” Now, he sees it possible that the neighbors will be given a place in a shelter, although he anticipates that he will have to face the bureaucratic ‘scramble.’ “Housing will keep a roof over my head, but I will have to do all kinds of procedures to get it,” he says.

“The Musician lost everything, he could only save his mattress and other nonsense. He plays in an orchestra, he is a trumpet player at carnivals,” says another neighbor.

From the early hours of the morning, officials from the National Housing Institute visited the building to collect testimony from the neighbors and make a census of those affected.

Habitability problems have haunted the country for decades, and successive programs launched by the Government have not resolved these increasingly frequent accidents. In the case of the capital, the problem is particularly serious, as the high population density complicates the situation.

In July two people died in different events. The first took place on the 18th in Centro Habana, when a Communal Services worker who was working at the foot of a building in San Miguel and Belascoaín was crushed when the wall of the building fell on him. The building had been in ruins for years and had already been the site of other accidents.

The rescue lasted until approximately three in the morning. (14ymedio)

Just six days later, María Magdalena Olivares Miller died when she was crushed in the collapse of a property located on Monte 1061 Street, between Fernandina and Romay, in Cerro.

The most dramatic collapse in Havana occurred just at the beginning of the year, when a balcony collapsed on three girls between 9 and 11 years old. The children were returning from school when the structure fell on them, killing one on the spot, while the other two lost their lives in the hospital.

On November 3, a building located in the municipality of Playa collapsed, causing two fatalities, a 13-year-old girl and her mother. The girl’s grandmother was seriously injured but survived.

In Cerro, in March 2019, another person died in similar circumstances. A building, whose neighbors had requested rehabilitation for 15 long years, collapsed causing a fatality. Only after the tragedy the demolition proceeded, after the 36 people who lived there were evicted.

In July 2015 four other people died, also in Old Havana. A building on Habana Street, between Obispo and Obrapía, collapsed around six in the morning when the inhabitants, for the most part, were still sleeping. A three-year-old girl, two 18-year-olds and a 60-year-old woman lost their lives in the accident.

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“They Completely Locked Us Up, But We Were Spared Having to Stand in Lines”

The 12-story building, located at Tulipán and 39th Street, in Nuevo Vedado, has been under quarantine since last week. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 September 2020 — “I had never eaten better or so easily,” says Ivis with a big smile, despite being locked up for a week with hundreds of families in one of the largest buildings in Havana. The 12-story housing complex located at Calle Tulipán and 39th in Nuevo Vedado is cordoned off by yellow ribbon on all four sides and all access points are guarded by the Police.

“I have not had to stand on line, because they bring us everything down here,” says the woman, who lives with her husband, two daughters and her mother. “There are boxes with prepared food, they have been selling five chicken thighs and backs for three days and also one day they came with 10 sausages, a ham roll, two packages of croquettes and two bottles of oil, dry wine and vinegar. Every day they bring soft drinks, yogurt, compote, jam, meats, 10 rolls per family unit, but they also sell bread with ham or cheese.”

“Only the first three days were we able to go out in the morning to run errands, but since they set up the kiosks, they locked us up totally. The good thing is that we were spared the lines,” adds Ivis. continue reading

With three independent entrances, an outdoor park as a common area, a bank and a nearby Wi-Fi zone, residents in the building have feared for weeks that the coronavirus would reach their building.

“My husband has been out of work before; he is a driver and has been at home for a while, getting paid 60% of his salary, but nobody here can go to work, that I know. What I can’t tell you is whether other people are being paid their whole salary or only a part,” she explains.

Although this is not the tallest building in the area, where 18, 20 and 26 stories are commonplace, this prefabricated building, built in the 1980’s and inspired by Eastern European architecture, houses some 500 apartments. When it was being built, three 12-storey buildings were joined, one next to the other, ending up with what the neighbors jokingly call “the serpent,” “the horizontal ghetto,” or “the worm.”

With three separate entrances, an outdoor park as a common area, a bank and a nearby Wi-Fi zone, building residents have feared for weeks that the coronavirus would reach its densely populated structure. But the confinement also has its positive side, with a special supply of food in an area with a sketchy network of shops and markets.

Residents say that everything is “very organized” and that shopping is conducted by floor. “They come, they give you a ticket and when it’s your turn, you go down.”

“They come, they give you a ticket and when it’s time for your apartment, you go downstairs. There are people who don’t want to buy everything. For example, my neighbor, who lives alone with her husband, receives the same quotas as us, and there are five of us. They are retired, they do not have enough money to buy everything they are allowed to get, so sometimes they give us their ticket; in exchange we give them a part of what we buy.”

Ivis explains that one day they found four packages of detergent and five soaps for sale. “I hadn’t bought detergent for months and that’s how I solved my problem. What they haven’t brought is shampoo and toothpaste,” she said.

Another neighbor says that the closing caught her visiting her mother’s house, who lives in Alamar. “Imagine arriving and finding your building closed. Luckily, the confinement was not total those first days, so I was able to return to my house with my daughter,” she said.

“The other day I went to buy chicken at the Tulipán store and it turned out that it was closed because the employees had been given the task of preparing packages to sell to residents of the twelve floors,” said a neighbor from a nearby building.

This Monday, in El Vedado, another building woke up in the same situation. It is the América Building, on the corner of N and 27th, a seven-story building with high population density since many apartments have been divided into two.

“Here, they explained that between Tuesday and Wednesday they would set up the kiosk in the lobby to shop without having to go out and that they would randomly test us for the coronavirus, though not all the residents,” a tenant of the building told this newspaper.

Since the pandemic began in Cuba, no mandatory quarantine has been declared at the national level, but entire neighborhoods, shops, workplaces, houses and multi-family buildings have been isolated to avoid contagion. Havana has had more than 2,800 positive cases and an incidence rate of 131.4 per 100,000 inhabitants.

The rest of the streets on the Island, however, are still full of people in search of food and lining up for hours, a situation that the Government has not been able to resolve amid great shortages of basic products. What it has done is increase control over the population through fines and restrictions.

Translator: Norma Whiting

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With the Blackouts, the ‘Temporary Situation’ Becomes Permanent

Lines to buy fuel in Havana have been a constant at this time. (Alejandro Yanes)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 September 2020 — This Wednesday, September 16, the scheduled blackouts begin in Havana to reduce energy consumption and, according to the official press, stop “a tendency to overuse that the country cannot afford.”

This completes prophecy made by the Government a year ago when Miguel Díaz-Canel announced, on September 11, 2019, that the Island had entered a fuel crisis, which he described at the time as a “temporary situation.”

According to the notice published by the Electric Company of Havana, the “interruptions to the electrical service,” this Wednesday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm in the municipalities of Plaza, Playa and Boyeros, are due to “scheduled maintenance actions.” A few weeks ago, the authorities had already denied that the blackouts that occurred in August were due to a lack of fuel.

However, on September 3, Deputy Prime Minister Ramiro Valdés Menéndez called for a reduction in the costs of providing electricity and asked the municipal energy councils to identify the high consumers in residences and state services.

This Monday, the authorities insisted on this message, reporting a new accounting so far in September, when 4% more was consumed than expected. The only provinces complying with the plan are Las Tunas, Holguín and Granma, lamented the National Energy Council. Although the agency admits that households have reduced consumption, as recommended at the time, “the response from state agencies and their agencies still does not offer the results that are urgently needed,” said a note published in the official press.

Despite the insistent declarations of the authorities denying the link between blackouts and fuel shortages, the situation, far from improving, worsens and in the last month, several areas of the capital have been without electricity in periods that sometimes extend to eight o’clock hours.

The Government continues to place its hopes on its old energy partner, Venezuela, from which at least 49% of the fuel with which the island generates electricity comes (the remaining 51% is produced with oil extracted in Cuba). According to the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States, Carlos Vecchio, in the first half of 2020 the Maduro regime sent 33 tankers to Cuba, loaded with just over 13 million barrels of oil.

But the South American country, which for years has supplied oil to Cuba in exchange for doctors, has seen its possibilities greatly diminished with the increase in sanctions from the White House and now receives fuel in a non-regulatory way from Iran, also affected by the Washington measures. According to experts, part of the cargo from these ships reaches Havana.

At the beginning of the crisis, Díaz-Canel maintained a warlike language about the “temporary situation,” how could it be otherwise, charging the United States with the responsibility. “This is our Bay of Pigs… we have already overcome the first moment of the temporary situation… the country has not come to a standstill,” Díaz-Canel said in his government meetings, while on the street people mobbed gas stations and transport stops.

The authorities were then even forced to stop transport in the capital and demand — by way of an army of inspectors — that state vehicles pick up passengers. The situation also caused many of the private carriers to raise prices on their routes.

The arrival of the pandemic has left the situation in the air. It is impossible to know what the evolution of the energy situation in the country would have been if the coronavirus had not forced the stop of almost all transport on the Island to prevent mobility and stopped many non-essential activities that are large consumers of energy.

But even with these savings, Cuba has problems to maintain supply and the strong impact that covid-19 is expected to cause on the economy threatens to perpetuate an already long “temporary situation,” which looks a little more like the detested Special Period of the 90s every day.

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23 Indian Workers for State Construction Company Almest Infected With Covid-19

Hotel construction in progress in Miramar where construction workers from India tested positive for COVID-19 work. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Olea Gallardo, Havana, 16 September 2020 — A total of 23 construction workers who are Indian citizens who are in Havana are part of the new group of people infected with Covid-19, according to the latest official figures, as reported this Wednesday by the Ministry of Health.

All of them are male, aged between 26 and 59, and reside in the municipality of Regla. The authorities detail that they are keeping 114 known contacts under surveillance.

These are the Indian workers who arrived in Cuba in 2016 hired by the Bouygues construction company for the works of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, in the Manzana de Gómez building, in Havana.

At the time, it was speculated that the French company had resorted to the exception introduced by the Government in the Foreign Investment Law that authorizes “special regulations” in relation to foreign workers in “special circumstances.”

Three months later, these foreigners were working for the state-owned Inmobiliaria Almest and the official press praised their performance — “they perform three or four times more work than Cubans,” they said.

Although the official media did not specify the salaries of the Indian workers, business sources informed press agencies that it ranges between 1,200 and 1,600 euros per month, more than 20 times the salary that a Cuban builder earns.

The Indians continue to work in the capital, according to this newspaper, in the gigantic hotel works of 3rd and 70th, carried out by Almest in Miramar, Playa municipality, and which consist of three luxury hotels, with more than 500 rooms , divided by a two-story shopping arcade.

As declared to the official press by Daysi Malvares Moret, Director of Development of Almest, the property will be the tallest hotel in the capital, with approximately 154 meters, exceeding the Habana Libre (27 floors and 70 meters), which continues to be, as at was at its inauguration, the tallest hotel in the capital.

This outbreak of the coronavirus is the second most important associated with the construction of hotels, after the one that occurred weeks ago at a construction site in western Havana.

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Cuban Film Industry Restores the Work of a Filmmaker Who Was Censored and Sentenced to Exile

Nicolás Guillén Landrián died in 2003. Months before, the Young Filmmakers Show had paid him a tribute. (panoramas.pitt.edu)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 September 2020 — The filmography of Cuban documentary filmmaker Nicolás Guillén Landrián, who died in Miami in 2003, where he lived in exile, is being restored by the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC).

The filmmaker Ernesto Daranas is at the forefront of the process, according to the official portal Cubacine, and will include all the heritage that the Institute conserves on the director of such controversial documentaries as En un barrio viejo (1963), Ociel del Toa (1965), Reportage (1966) and Coffea Arábiga (1968).

Daranas highlighted that the project has the support of Landrián’s widow, Gretel Alonso; and Livio Delgado, photographer of several of her most important documentaries.

The job is to clean, first, the celluloid rolls and then scan them in 4K and create a digital clone as close as possible to the original work.

Although, according to Daranas, the restoration will allow the necessary approach to the filmmaker’s work “in order to appreciate it as he conceived it,” the truth is that Guillén Landrián’s filmography was censored for years by the Cuban film industry. His letters recalls it this way: “I was humiliated and banned throughout my stay at ICAIC and they censored my cinema.”

He was a creator marginalized by officials and specialists and his documentaries, unknown to the public, were only shown on the country’s screens a few months before his death when the coordinating team of the Young Filmmakers Show prepared a tribute in which they were premiered most of his titles.

The current situation, due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in Havana, has affected the process of searching for some films by Guillén Landrián, but the restorers are compiling all the bibliographic material that allows us to understand the creations of the Camagüeyan, born in 1938, who also dedicated himself to the painting.

Guillén Landrián was expelled from ICAIC in 1973 and in 1989 he arrived in the United States as a political exile. Gretel Alonso, who emigrated with him, told La Fuga: “The 80s were a particularly miserable decade. Nicolás knew that there was no return to the cinema, but a struggle for survival and constant persecution. That’s how the 80s were, little foo , vague accusations of ’dangerousness’, constant police visits.”

Alonso also commented that some films that do not appear, such as El morro (1963), Congos reales (1962), Rita (1965) and El son (1972), continue to be lost. “They do not appear, so we cannot say anything about them. Each of the documentaries I have studied has its own anthropological, sociological, aesthetic importance, its immanent beauty and the memory of Nicolás.”

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Highway Checkpoints Choke Off Havana’s Produce Markets

Checkpoints set up along highways into the capital have led to short supplies at privately run stores. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, September 7, 2020 — Empty stalls, closed markets and long faces were common sights this weekend around several stores selling farm products in Havana. Checkpoints set up along highways into the capital have led to short supplies at privately run businesses and growing resentment among workers in the informal market.

The new measures, which took effect on September 1, are an effort to halt the spread of Covid-19 in the city. Vehicular traffic, with some exceptions, is banned from 7:00 p.m. until 5:00 a.m., the period when most products normally enter the capital and just before they go on sale.

Documents are also being reviewed more thoroughly, making it difficult for independent, unlicensed drivers to move freely. The situation is affecting privately run markets and cooperatives, which have seen their stocks dwindle in the past week. Among those affected is the market on 19th and B streets in Havana’s Vedado district. Known locally as the “boutique of farmers markets” due to its wide selection and high prices, its shelves were half empty on Saturday. The peeled and chopped produce it normally sells, items which are in high demand from consumers, were not available. continue reading

Bernardo has been in the business of  delivering fruits and vegetables to Havana for two decades from his base in nearby Güira de Melena, one of the most important agricultural regions of Artemisa province. “They took away all the produce I was supposed to deliver last week and fined me,” he tells 14ymedio.

“The told me I’m contributing to the spread of the epidemic because I don’t have permission to enter Havana,” says the driver. “The ones who do manage to get in are drivers of state-owned trucks and those licensed by Acopio (a state entity). Right now freelance drivers are ’under fire’ and I am not going to risk losing my truck.”

The operations are not just restricting the legal flow of goods into Havana. They are also having an effect the informal pipeline of foodstuffs that secretly supplies the city. Some of these products end up in privately owned restaurant kitchens, farmers markets and the black market.

On Saturday many retail markets in Central Havana were closed or had only a couple of items for sale. (14ymedio)

In response to growing complaints over the collateral damage the measures are having on produce markets, police and transportation officials announced during an interview on Canal Havana that there are no restrictions whatsoever on vehicles carrying agricultural products entering the city but merchants disagree.

“I have not been able to open today because I don’t have anything to sell and don’t know when I will be able to start up again. They’re not letting anything through,” says a vendor who runs a small kiosk that until recently had a wide selection of produce. According to this merchant, roads are only open to transport vehicles that supply state-owned markets and those run by the Youth Labor Army.

The effect is clearly evident in Centro Habana, one of the capital’s most densely populated districts. On Saturday many retail markets in the area were closed or had only a couple of items for sale. Bananas and unripe avocados were among the few available items.

“Let’s go elsewhere. They only have pumpkins here,” a discouraged woman tells her husband before leaving a market in Cayo Hueso. A few steps away the couple finds that a place on the corner of Zanja and Oquendo streets is not even serving customers. “We’re not going to open until we get a shipment”, says a worker in answer to persistent questions from those who approach the closed door.

On San Rafael Street, one of the best stocked markets in the city has also been seriously affected. The store on the corner of Oquenda and San Lazaro only has packages of sliced sweet potato. “How and why did this happen? Did Hurricane Laura return?” asks a customer ironically. Behind him others keep coming, hoping to find something more than empty shelves.

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Trials Designed to Set an Example Overwhelm a Court of Law in Havana

The express legal process seeks not only to convict offenders, but also to send a message to the rest of the public. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 September 2020 — If it weren’t for the pandemic, it would seem that the group gathered on 23rd Street is waiting for a bus. But this Friday, people in front of the Municipal Court at the Plaza de la Revolución were waiting to find out the fate of their relatives, detained for allegedly violating the measures decreed in Havana to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Dozens of eyes did not lose sight of the arrival of police vehicles, the movement of the uniformed men, or the shout that, from time to time, a policeman would voice from the front door of a large house on the opposite sidewalk. At any time, a son, a brother or a father might be transferred to the site to be tried for failing to comply with Decree 14/2020.

“Here we are, waiting for them to bring our son but they tell us that it will be later, that now they are bringing the people from Cerro and we are from Centro Habana,” Marta, a woman who is waiting, leaning on a wall on 23rd Street with her husband and two children, tells 14ymedio. continue reading

Some have settled on the sidewalk, others have been able to bring a small plastic bench, a bottle of water and lots of patience for the long hours of waiting. They are people from all social classes and neighborhoods in Havana. What little unites them is the anxiety of not knowing what happened to the relative who did not return home and they found out shortly after he was detained.

Some have settled on the sidewalk, others have been able to bring a small plastic bench, a bottle of water and a lot of patience for the long hours of waiting

Under her umbrella, Marta harshly criticizes the injustice that has been committed against her son. “They are telling families that the penalties are always less severe for people who are employed, but I do not understand. My 21-year-old son lost his job like many others because of this Covid.”

From across the street, an officer yells: “Reinaldo, Reinaldo.” Last names are not necessary because several members of a family spring up and cross the light traffic on the avenue, under a sun that can melt stones. Only a relative can access the oral hearing. “Go in, since you are his mother, we will be waiting for you out here,” someone says. The woman, escorted by two officers, enters the house.

Inside, the trial takes place, a quick process that seeks not only to convict the offenders but also to send a message to the rest of the public. The trials are designed to serve as an example, to warn others not to hang out on the streets without a mask, not to go out after the curfew has started, and not to try to shop in stores outside their municipality.

The front yard of the courthouse is packed with waiting uniformed police officers, looking bored and tired, dozing with their elbows on their knees. Two small buses, the kind traditionally used for the transfer of prisoners, are parked outside.

The front yard of the courthouse is packed with uniformed policemen who wait, they look bored and tired

“They are the sector leaders, who are pressured to come and give testimony of the offense committed,” says another woman. “Here they conduct trials from everywhere, from Cerro as well as from Plaza or Centro Habana,” she adds. “I still don’t know why they took my brother. I know he’s here because I got a call last night.”

A young woman, with a little girl in her arms, approaches the group. In a timid voice, she explains that her husband was taken away on the 21st of last month and asks several questions: “Do you know what sanctions they are handing out? Do you have any idea where they will transfer him after this?” A buzz of solidarity is heard, but a voice calls for calm.

The young mother needs to go to the bathroom. “Wait, I’ll come with you,” offers another woman, who leaves her purse in the hands of her husband before crossing the deserted avenue again. They return to the subject when they return. The conversation is full of unanswered questions. Nobody knows which prison they are taking the detainees to, nor what penalties they are applying.

“According to what they have told me, the punishment depends a lot on the circumstances and the person”, says a man who had not spoken up to that point. Silence runs through the group. Perhaps each one calculates the situation of his relative. Does he work or not work? Does he have a criminal record?

Some take refuge in the hope that their relative will walk out of the trial with just a fine, cross the sidewalk and they will hug in the September sun. The officer’s shout breaks the brief silence. “Maykel, Maykel” is heard, and a woman with a small child crosses the sidewalk.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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An Outbreak of Covid in a Hotel in Trinidad Threatens the Image of Safe Tourism in Cuba

Hotel Village Costasur, in Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus, where the covid outbreak has been registered. (Expedia.com)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 September 2020 — Havana’s efforts to sell the island as a safe destination are faltering after the weekend revealed a coronavirus outbreak in a Trinidad hotel that added two more positives cases this Monday. In total, there are already seven infected in the Village Costasur, three workers, two vacationers and two contacts of those affected from Ciego de Ávila, who visited the facilities at the end of August.

The situation in Sancti Spíritus, which had been free of coronavirus for four months, has become complicated in recent weeks with a total of 14 active cases, which has led to extreme measures. Among the most prominent, the closure from Monday of several schools and restrictions on personal mobility. Its neighboring province Ciego de Ávila is currently the territory with the highest infection rate on the island.

But the main asset of Sancti Spíritus is tourism in the colonial city of Trinidad, which has been greatly affected by the pandemic and was just beginning to shyly raise its head when this new focus emerged in a hotel. continue reading

The news has coincided with the promotional launch of the new Meliá Trinidad Peninsula hotel. Francisco Camps, deputy director general of the Spanish company in Cuba, released a statement last week on the upcoming opening of the project, “which will have 401 spacious rooms equipped with excellent technological features.”

It is unknown, although it is hinted, if the promotion of technology is part of the hotel’s strategy for teleworking packages, an option that Meliá will offer in Cuba on a trial basis and which are yet to be defined. It was highlighted that the facility will have an exclusive section called The Level with personalized and luxury services, an option apparently intended for an international tourist who, today, is unknown when they will be able to arrive on the Island.

The statement emphasizes the importance of Cuba as one of the safest destinations in the world, but the plot on which the Meliá Peninsula stands is just 500 meters from the much more modest Village Costasur, where the outbreak occurred.

Cuba opened to national tourism on July 1, with the exception of Havana, with accommodation packages in mid-range hotels throughout the island, while opting to segregate foreigners by sending them to the Largo, Guillermo, Coco, Cruz and Santa María keys. To do this, and since the borders are still closed with no provision for reopening, travelers must arrive on charter flights.

On August 1, the first ship arrived from the Bahamas, and it was announced with great fanfare by the authorities of the Ministry of Tourism that certified as “safe facilities” several hotels that must perform PCR tests and have a doctor in the accommodation.

In addition, the staff must alternate weekly work shifts with isolation, wear a mask at all times, and undergo rapid result tests for Covid-19.

But these controls were not exclusive for foreigners. From August 10, a protocol to guarantee security in establishments for nationals came into force. The Cubans had to show proof of a negative rapid test result, carried out at most 48 hours before the trip.

To get the test, they had to appear at the polyclinic of their municipality with the hotel reservation.

The travel agencies also had to take the temperature of the tourists and inform the authorities of possible symptoms that made it appropriate to monitor or prevent the trip. In addition, the travelers themselves must complete the customer’s declaration, as a sworn statement of their health and as a guarantee of their origin (an area without quarantines and risk-free). But something in the protocols has gone wrong in the case of Costasur.

For this year, Cuba expected to receive 4.5 million international visitors and reverse the decrease of 9.3% of 2019, when 4.2 million tourists traveled to the country, 436,352 fewer than in 2018, according to official data, but the pandemic has broken any forecast.

In recent days, the first Canadians have arrived on the island, to whom it has been specifically reiterated that Cuba was a safe destination, since they are the main market in Havana; and soon a flight will arrive from Russia, the country with the highest growth in reservations on the Island.

 In addition, this Monday, the official press reported Cuba’s participation in the International Tourism Industry Exhibition in Canton, China 2020. Ambassador Carlos Miguel Pereira Hernández stated that “the exhibition was very important to promote the Cuban tourist destination, especially in the modality of Health tourism, as well as several recognized products such as Varadero and Caney rums, Caracolillo coffee and Habanos “.

Tourism is the third largest source of income for Cuba, behind medical services and remittances, and last year it had a turnover of 2.6 billion dollars. But this year the numbers are projected to be dire for an industry that has fallen precipitously around the world. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), a UN body based in Madrid, last July estimated losses in the sector at 320 billion dollars during the first five months of the year. And there is nothing to suggest that the later months in the year will be any better.

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Machetes and Oxen Yokes in Sale for Dollars but Nothing for Tractors

The merchandise is very limited: Machetes, horseshoes, ox yokes and fertilizer dominate the catalog. (DC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 September 2020 — Yokes for oxen, horseshoes and wire for perimeter fences are some of the items for sale in the recently issued foreign currency sales catalog focused on the Cuban agricultural sector. The dollar has arrived in the fields but still in a limited way.

The farmers can make purchases in foreign currency for some of the inputs and equipment they need to work the land, according to the new commercial modality created by the Logistics Business Group (Gelma) of the Ministry of Agriculture (Minag).

Gelma justified the decision through its social networks saying that, in the midst of the “shortages in the marketing networks, the sector requires a system that provides producers with access to inputs, equipment, parts, pieces and accessories of a specialized nature, and other assortments that allow the increase of agricultural production.” continue reading

At the moment this option is offered in the provinces of Havana, Villa Clara and Santiago de Cuba, but there is hope to extend it to the entire country. Gelma also clarified that the new stores do not guarantee “the availability of resources in the network”, but they are “an alternative within the established marketing system.”

“Given the current economic situation in which the country finds itself and the need to collect hard currency,” the agricultural sector is added to the sales in freely convertible currency (MLC), the state entity stated. With this, the sector could achieve “an increase in food production, guaranteeing the wholesale marketing of supplies and equipment.”

The announcement has provoked a wave of criticism in various sectors and on social networks, almost the only methods Cubans have to say what they cannot in other social spaces. The questions about the imminent dollarization of the country reflect a deep concern within the population.

“How far will the dollarization of the Cuban economy go, if the agreed and approved objective is monetary unification. Far from integrating productive systems and actors, segmentation is deepening. A contradictory and confusing economic and political discourse,” commented a user who signs himself as Carlos Pérez Soto on the Twitter account of the Ministry of Agriculture Business Group.

The new commercial centers for sales in MLC will have Point of Sale Terminals. Gelma also created an online store that will be dedicated to marketing, but 14ymedio was able to verify that the prices of supplies and equipment do not appear nor does it offer all the minimum computer security, as the page lacks a security certificate (SSL).

The merchandise is also very limited. Machetes, horseshoes, ox yokes and fertilizer dominate the catalog where the great demands of the Cuban agricultural sector are conspicuous by their absence: tractors and other types of heavy agricultural machinery. Instead, Gelma’s bet is on agriculture more focused on animal traction.

“You think that just by selling machetes you will collect something,” criticized a user when reviewing the few products that are exhibited in Gelma’s digital store.

The renowned economist Pedro Monreal also reflected on Gelma’s announcement and said that the largest volume of Cuban agriculture is meats and vegetables destined almost entirely for the domestic market and for sale in Cuban pesos. “The producer receives CUP. If he cannot legally buy using MLC, how can he buy from Gelma?”

A farmer, who identifies himself as ’Cubalibre’ on social media, expresses the same concern: “I buy in MLC and I sell in CUP. Who is going to sell me the MLC? How much do I have to sell in CUP if I have to buy in MLC? Like always, everything is a disaster.”

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Several Cashiers at Currency Exchanges in Santiago de Cuba Arrested for Illegal Sale of Foreign Currency

Until less than a year ago, Cubans could buy dollars and other currencies in banks and exchange houses, but at present, that option does not exist and banks are not authorized to sell foreign currencies. (Collage/Captures)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 September 2020 —  An operation coordinated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Police in Santiago de Cuba dismantled a network that was dedicated to the sale of foreign currency for the acquisition of household appliances. Several employees of the exchange houses (Cadeca) and informal vendors were part of the group.

A report aired on Cuban Television revealed that some ATMs of the state exchange house did not register operations with foreign currencies in the system. The incoming foreign currency was transferred to various accomplices who sold magnetic card recharges to their customers interested in buying electrical appliances in freely convertible currency (MLC) stores.

During the operation, several electrical appliances were seized, 17 magnetic cards, eight of them for purchases in MLC, and cash: 250 euros, 8,365 dollars, 10,857 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) and 18,180 Cuban pesos (CUP). continue reading

The official media also published that, last weekend in Pinar del Río, a citizen was arrested when he was closing a $500 exchange with another person. The police seized his car worth 10,080 dollars, about 39,000 Cuban pesos and 1,000 CUC, and when they searched his home they seized household appliances, with the justification that they are the product of illicit currency trafficking.

The accused, who is now in being held in prison, admitted that he was exchanging CUC and dollars and asked for 150 CUC for 100 dollars. The police also found links between the man and three employees of a branch of the Bank of Credit and Commerce of Cuba (Bandec), in the municipality of Pinar del Río.

Between July and August, the Police arrested two people residing in Havana and another from Camagüey for the same crime. Between the two events, the authorities seized 5 million Cuban pesos in different foreign currencies.

Until less than a year ago, Cubans could buy dollars and other currencies in banks and exchange houses, but at present, that option does not exist and banks are not authorized to sell foreign currencies.

The government ordered foreign currency to be collected and it is only sold in small quantities at airports. Since the end of 2019, a new regulation obliges travelers to get rid of their ‘chavitos’ (CUC) before leaving the Island, which causes endless lines at the Cadeca of the air terminals, where they can only exchange a maximum of 300 CUC.

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The Cuban State Bank, From Bad to Worse

A line outside a currency exchange (Cadeca), amid rumors of a reduction in the value of Cuban convertible pesos CUC. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist. 15 September 2020 — This morning (Tuesday) I had the opportunity to have a coffee with a colleague who works as director of a bank office in the Valencia capital. During the conversation, which revolved around important issues related to the future of the Spanish economy, it occurred to me to show him the Cubadebate report entitled “Behind the lines and rumors, what is happening in Cuban banks?”

My friend was surprised by everything. By the content of the article, By the photographs showing people lining up at bank offices and, in general, everything.

I finished by saying that this happened here in Spain 40 years ago. Today it is unthinkable. Office managers find it difficult to get people to come in person to do business. They do everything online, even the elderly. The world has changed a great deal. My friend, unintentionally, was referring to the latest bank merger announced in Spain, which will mean the layoff of thousands of employees and the closure of numerous bank branches, but there will be no lines. “You can be sure about that,” he affirmed forcefully. continue reading

The truth is that lines in Cuba at banks and currency exchanges – known as Cadecas – as presented in the article in CubaDebate, are a specific phenomenon of Cuba, basically the twisted roots of the Communist social economic system, and however much they insist that they do, the lines have little to do with the announcements of an eventual monetary unification. The lines have much more surprising motifs. In fact, the line has become something inherent in the Cuban way of life.

And I affirm it based on the fact that there is no need to fear a monetary unification in the short term, since the Central Bank of Cuba confirmed in a recent statement, while maintaining that at the time the decision is adopted public opinion would be duly informed through official channels. We’ll see if it’s true.

In any case, the unification of the currencies is now at the back of the drawer of the pending subjects, and in a complicated moment like the present one it does not seem to be a priority for the communist government. The owners of deposits in Cuban pesos (CUC) and Cuban convertible pesos (CUP) can sleep peacefully, because while they will end up losing part of their purchasing power against the dollar, unless they liquidated as soon as possible, in any case, the loss will not be great.

In addition, in reference to CubaDebate, the brand new governor of Havana, Garcia Zapata, looks bad. It appears that the measures being taken to deal with the epidemiological situation of the capital are not giving the desired results and flare-ups of the virus have soared, putting the population in danger and forcing new restrictions on people leaving their homes. It seems that measures and actions are being considered to minimize the concentration of customers in the bank and Cadecas branches. I don’t know if they will go ahead.

Discounting this “fear” effect among people using the banks and Cadecas to exchange currencies, the Cubadebate article is interesting because it analyzes the reasons for these crowds of people in Cuban banks. All of the reasons are inexplicable and absurd and the list is quite extensive.

In the first place, there are the people who wish to open an account in Freely Convertible Currency (MLC, for its Spanish initials). The new hard currency stores, uniquely stocked with supplies of “medium and high range” food, personal hygiene and cleaning products very hard to find elsewhere, can only be shopped in by people possessing electronic cards in MLC. Cuban pesos, CUC, or cash of any kind, are not accepted.

It is evident that the decision was planned by the communist government without taking into account the “chain” effect that a measure of this type would have on the population and the impact on the management capacity of the banks. Once again, the Cuban government errs in its plans. As usual.

Second, the lines were caused, at various bank branches, by people waiting to do operations at the ATM. Cubadebate observed that this situation occurred in several branches, also relatively close. This is another daily problem for Cubans who have opted to use banks and stop using cash they keep in a drawer in their room. It has been known for a long time that the number of ATMs that exists in the great capital of the Antilles is insufficient to meet a growing demand and so, of course, lines appear. Moreover, when in Cuba, you have to go to the ATM with certain frequency to withdraw money, which indicates a certain inflationary pressure on prices.

In fact, Cubadebate verified in its tour of several branches that ATMs “are not stocked with enough cash for all the people who want to access their services” and cite, for example, the “Bank at Manglar and Infanta, where more than 50 people were waiting in line to withdraw money from the ATM.”

This is unthinkable in any country. People, with their jobs and daily responsibilities, cannot waste time standing in line to get money. ATMs that work slowly or poorly, that do not allow you to withdraw money, that run out of money, are all common situations that even foreign tourists report when they use these services.

Thirdly, in most branches, there were also people lined up at the cashiers to carry out personal banking operations, including requesting and picking up the magnetic cards. But unlike the ATMs, apparently, “almost all savings banks were providing services, that is, operations in CUC and CUP, except for the branch of J and 23 where only two were working.” It is still significant that the human component of the bank branch is the one that works best, while the “technological advances” perform poorly.

Cubadebate confirmed that most of the customers in these lines wanted to open accounts in MLC, but they also verified that some people had been trying to carry out this simple procedure for a week without success, sometimes because of the lines, other times because of the requirements, most of them for the fear of Covid-19 infections.

The case of Cadecas was similar. Here the crowds of people were motivated by the desire to exchange currency. Cubadebate points out that when the report was made after the announcement by the Central Bank of the delay in the monetary unification, the tensions of the first days had decreased notably and the pressure on the lines was much less.

This situation, described clearly in the article, confirms that the banking sector of the Cuban economy, as defended many times by Diaz-Canel, faces many obstacles. The first, and undoubtedly most important, is the distrust that exists in broad sectors of Cuban society towards banks, owned by the state and acting as lines of information transmission to political power.

Second, the computerization of society, so-often announced by Diaz-Canel, is a problem in the banking sector because people prefer to use cash for transactions and hence almost 30% of the GDP of the economy is in cash, possibly the highest percentage in the world.

Electronic innovations are long overdue and the population mistrusts them. Procedures consolidated in practically all countries, such as opening bank accounts in MLC online, through the TRANSFERMÓVIL application, haven’t gotten off the ground in Cuba because they lack support of broad sectors of the population, who don’t have the computer resources for such operations and therefore prefer to go to bank branches to do their business.

My friend told me that if all these people who go to the branches could formalize some operation with the bank, something important would have been achieved. He was amazed to see the few financial services offered in Cuba by financial institutions.

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The Cuban Opposition Selfdestructs When Castroism is in Terminal Crisis

Former US President Barack Obama in a meeting with Cuban opponents. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jorge Hernández Fonseca, Miami, 15 September 2020 —  The world of the Cuban political opposition is full of many dissimilar figures, who seem more like a patchwork quilt than a screen ready for the projector. There has always been talk of the “necessary unity,” a thesis denied with such profusion of arguments among themselves, that no one in their right mind ventures to talk about it. However, the failure of such a union is no reason for opponents to attack each other mercilessly.

Today Castroism is defeated, ideologically and practically. Marxism does not work in Castro’s Cuba as it has not worked in any of the many countries where it has been established. However, the opposition is not an option to run the government in anyone’s eyes.

It is evident that Castroism is partly responsible for the critical situation of the opposition, because one of the government’s long-time strategies has been “divide and conquer,” a strategy that separates the opposition internally and externally and that has been particularly successful. Also the limelight, the fight for material resources and other detrimental characteristics of the human being, contribute to the fact that the long-awaited coordination between the opposition groups has not been possible. continue reading

The prospect presents contrasts, however, with the existence of young, brave, intelligent opponents willing to sacrifice to liberate the country from the iron dictatorship that has been imposed on them, who should have as a priority task coordination with their counterparts.

There are signs of discreet conversations between the Castro dictatorship and the United States, basically because Washington wants to solve the Venezuelan problem using “the good will” of the Cubans, the owners and lords of Chavista Venezuela. These conversations would also imply positive results for the Island, but there are no opponents capable of taking responsibility for running the Government, because their disputes could destabilize the State and give the drug traffickers the opportunity to assume power.

The model of drug trafficking societies that exists in much of Central America, starting with Mexico, would be very easy to introduce in Cuba with a weak and divided government, such as the one projected by the Cuban opposition, which lacks the strong leader that the United States needs to safeguard its coasts, after the Castro nightmare of these last years.

For a world power like the United States, which needs a stable Cuba above any other characteristic (including democracy), negotiation with an authoritarian government in Cuba — made up of sectors of current Castroism and leaving its armed forces intact — would be preferable to a democratic team on the island, made up of current weak and divided Cuban opponents, an easy target for the Central American and Mexican drug cartels.

Faced with this reality, Cuba’s own divided, unstable and uncoordinated political opposition — honest but divided — might not leave the US any alternative but to negotiate with the enemy.

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Police Evict Four Cubans Seeking Political Asylum In French Guyana

These two women whose belongings were seized say that they arrived in French Guyana because in Cuba they are persecuted for their sexual orientation. (Franceinfo / screenshot)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 4 September 2020 — Police in Cayenne, the capital of French Guyana, seized the belongings of four Cuban migrants who slept outside in front of the Red Cross headquarters while they waited for a response to their asylum requests, according to reports from the local press.

Several French human rights organizations issued a statement denouncing the operation, which took place on Saturday morning, explaining that the agents took “passport photographs” of the Cubans in order “to make sure they are expelled.” In addition, they defend that “these people are not causing disturbances to the public order, unfortunately they are trying to survive, in more than deplorable conditions.”

The four evicted were part of a group of about 50 Cubans who began arriving in this French overseas department on 30 July, and who had requested asylum, according data from the Red Cross collected by Franceinfo. continue reading

Most of them were assigned to shelters, but several have been sleeping on the streets in destitute conditions due to lack of accommodation. Those who remained are those who were removed by the police on Saturday.

Among them are two women who arrived in Guyana via Suriname, and who told Franceinfo that in Cuba they are persecuted for their sexual orientation. Another anonymous source told the French media: “We are treated like criminals, really like criminals, frowned upon by the rest of society. We leave this country to be free, so that our love is accepted and not mistreated as we are in Cuba. Because LGBT people are mistreated there, not like here.”

Human rights associations warn that depriving asylum seekers of the privileges provided for them under the law may be “a serious and manifestly illegal interference,” and note that these people, “whose asylum application is registered,” may remain in the territory until “they are given a definitive response to their request for protection.”

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