Cuban Regime Continues to Choose "Low Intensity" Repression, According to CCDHRN

Ladies in White being put into police cars (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 April 2019 — The month of March ended with 185 arbitrary arrests of activists, according to the latest report of the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), released Monday. The independent organization warns that “the regime continues to choose ‘low intensity’ political repression.”

The CCDHR reports that “there were 37 acts of harassment and at least one physical aggression, repressive actions that feed the atmosphere of intimidation that is part of daily life in Cuba.”

The document confirms the official pattern of “short-term arrests and other forms of repression in which the repressors of the powerful and ubiquitous secret political police (State Security) are experts.” continue reading

With regards to political prisoners, the CCDHRN denounces the imprisonment of José Antonio Pompa López, member of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo Civic Action Front, interned in Prison 1580 west of Havana.

“The current count of political prisoners puts the total number of prisoners between 130 and 140 prisoners,” the report details, noting that the organization will soon offer “a more accurate figure.”

The authorities frequently attribute common crimes, such as “assault” and “pre-criminal dangerousness,” to the activists, which makes it difficult to specify the number of inmates held for political reasons.

In 2018 there were 2,873 arbitrary arrests in Cuba, about 240 a month, according to the CCDHRN in its annual report. The independent entity denounced the harassment of activists who only “tried to exercise elementary civil and political rights.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

"Lay Space" Arrives Late But is a Must Read

The last issue of ’Espacio Laical’, which is dated 2018, didn’t arrive until the spring of 2019.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio,  José Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 1 Aptil 2019 — Perhaps to keep us in suspense, as usual, Gustavo Andújar and Jorge Domingo Cuadriello again bring us their magazine, Espacio Laical (Lay Space), at least in its paper edition. But the resource works, because when it finally appears, the accumulated impatience is such that one can not read the new number in one sitting, literally.

However the delay this time is unfortunate, since there are some articles and summaries of panels devoted to the constitutional reform process that happened months ago, that are late. For example, we would have preferred to read, before February 24 — the day of the referendum — or even before the draft became a project in December, the articles with which this number opens and in which two Cuban bishops, Dionisio García Ibáñez and Willy Pino, opine about the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba, recently endorsed in a referendum. continue reading

We also regret that the transcription of the panel (by the way, very badly assembled) on the draft constitution that was held on September 28, 2018 at the Padre Félix Varela Cultural Center has not been available to the readers of this magazine. In it two respectable jurists were moderated by one of the most brilliant intellectuals and Cuban politicians of the moment, Julio Antonio Fernández Estrada. As expected, the panelists and the audience itself serve only as an introduction to the frequent interventions of someone who, by its nature, is more likely to need moderators than to moderate. José Antonio is the whole panel, and in fact, we recommend that you save time and just read what he said. It will create dependence.

There is much more of interest in this magazine but I will comment on just two items: The murder of Professor Ramiro Valdes Daussá, by Paul Llabre Raurell, a historian living in Miami; and Aracelio Iglesias: the story, the legend, by the narrator and folklorist Tato Quiñones.

In the first one you will find a narration of the death of Ramiro Valdés Daussá, one of the most interesting characters of the Revolution of the 1930s. Thanks to the thoroughness of the author you will find that there is something more here than the description of a murder that occurred on a distant night in August 1940.

This article is a brief history of the emergence of university gangsterism, el bonche. Remember that in Cuba very little serious historiography has been written about the phenomenon of political gangsterism of the late 30’s and the 40’s and that, in any case, the works of Newton Briones Montoto or Aguilar stand out, but, to make matters worse, the same is the case in the mature phenomenon, from the assumption of the Auténticos to power, not in its very origins under Batista, both as colonel and president.

A very well written work, the author has armed himself with the support of abundant interviews with significant personalities, for example, Antonio Morín Dopico and Mario Salabarría, key actors with Emilio Tro of the Events of Orfila.

There is also, by the way, a brief look at the beginnings of Manolo Castro, the one whose 1948 death some contemporary press blamed on, among others, Fidel Castro who at that time was taking pictures with leather coats and Edward G. Robinson poses.

The second article is part of a controversy. It is the answer to the one published by Newton Briones Montoto in the previous issue of this magazine: The Murder of Aracelio Iglesias: Approaching the Truth.

Article that is somewhat extensive, and that Newton could have reduced to one or two pages, revolving around a campaign of electoral propaganda that seemed to demonstrate the membership of the communist port leader to the Abakuá sect, a topic that has always been a subject of discussion among historians and Cuban politicians for its obvious implications on the consequence or not with which the Cuban Communist Party (PSP) respected its supposed dialectical materialist philosophical bases.

Quinones gives us an admirable work, very documented in interviews with Aracelio’s colleagues, in which he tries to prove otherwise. His key arguments in this case are another flyer, also written in bríkamo (the secret language of the sect), but supporting the Matancera candidacy of the liberal Carlos Miguel de Céspedes, who supposedly was not Abakuá either; and what was said to him by Domingo Cárdenas Valdés, an important member of the ñáñiga sect.

According to this “if they had sworn, Aracelio would have entered into commitments of brotherhood with members of his power that would have put him in the difficult situation of (having to) privilege them over other workers,” which in the long run would have affected the undoubted leadership that he had and retained among Havana dockworkers and Cubans in general.

However, if Quiñones almost convinces us that Aracelio Iglesias did not belong to the ñañiguismo (Abukua secret society), on the other hand he reveals to us that as of 1937 the communist had become a babalawo, with which he puts us back to the theoretical origins of the controversy: the party He did not respect his philosophical principles when doing street politics.

The new installment of Espacio Laical also contains the gloomy predictions for the Cuban fifties of Lourdes de Armas and the positions of the director of the publication, Andújar, on gender ideology. The magazine can be found in the Father Felix Varela Center and is available on the website of Espacio Laical.
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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Police Clamp Down on Protest by Congolese Students

Police operation on the campus of the Salvador Allende school in the Altahabana district, in the municipality of Boyeros. (BrazzaNews)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, April 9, 2019 — A protest organized by a group of medical students from the Republic of Congo on Monday was put down in a strong show of force by the National Revolutionary Police aided by special troops and officers from the Ministry of the Interior. The Congolese students were demanding payment of stipends, which have been on hold for twenty-seven months, and better housing conditions.

On April 1 the students met with representatives from the Congolese embassy, the Ministry of Higher Education and the Ministry of Health. It ended without the parties reaching an agreement, which led to greater frustration among the students.

The Congolese students began a protest strike, refusing to attend classes, to which authorities responded with violence at a student housing site. On Monday, the police focused their actions on the Salvador Allende campus in the Altahabana district in Boyeros. continue reading

“The police arrived and beat people up. At least five students were arrested and taken to a police station in the area along a neighbor who was filming [the attack] and a girl,” said a witness who did not want to reveal his name.

Videos shot by students and posted to social media sites show uniformed officers running towards the scene of the protest, which had previously been cordoned off by police. One officer arrives and pulls a gun on two students, one of whom had just wrestled another officer to the ground while being arrested.

Several hours later official media outlets published a statement from the Ministry of Public Health stating that the “incidents” caused by the Congolese students were due to “difficulties that the Ministry of Higher Education has faced in their country… in paying their stipends,” leading to violence requiring police intervention. The statement adds, “Lack of discipline will not be tolerated and appropriate measures will be taken.”

Late last month a group of students demonstrated in front of the Congolese embassy, demanding payment of their overdue stipends, which also precipitated a large show of force by the police. Official media outlets did not report the incident at the embassy, which is located on Fifth Avenue between 10th and 12th streets in Havana’s Miramar district.

The Cuban government offers scholarships to students from third world countries, which are financed in part or in full by those countries. Cuba’s share of expenses are covered by agreements with international organizations. These payments, together with the export of health services, — constitutes the government’s main source of income.

The Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM) was founded in Cuba in 1999 and offers a six-year program to scholarship students from various countries. Its current enrollment includes students from forty-four African countries studying in various medical fields.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Factual, a Project That Supports Young Cuban Journalists

Xochiketzalli Rosas and Jordy Meléndez, promoters of the “Factual” project that supports young journalists in Latin America. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, April 3, 2019 — All over the world, young journalists hope to be published in prestigious media, to be in contact with recognized professionals and to have alternatives in order to better themselves, but frequently there are more obstacles than support. in the case of Cuba, the situation is complicated.

The independent press on the Island is illegal and has been officially stigmatized. Journalists have had to sort out problems of connectivity and, on more than one occasion, several have been prohibited from traveling outside the country as reprisal for their work.

For this reason Factual, founded in Mexico in 2014, decided to take a chance on Cuba, in order to smooth the way for more reporters. The project is the creation of the Latin American Network of Young Journalists, which organizes a forum of digital media and maintains a web platform where reporters can make their work known and develop networks of contacts. continue reading

Xochiketzalli Rosas and Jordy Meléndez, two of its principal founders, told 14ymedio that “Our main goal is to identify this talent in the under-30 group who are barely known.” The support includes “an educational process and learning sessions with some of the best journalists in the digital sphere in Latin America.”

Menéndez confesses that when they initiated the network, they had barely defined its purpose. “We didn’t have a clear idea of how we were going to finance it or what programs we would develop. We only counted on the desire to generate interaction, networks, communities and, above all, learning.”

Up until now, Factual has had three open calls to join the network. In 2014, 150 journalists applied, from which 16, between the ages of 20 and 28, were selected, coming from 11 countries. In the second round in 2016, there were 315 candidates, and 28 between the ages of 20 and 29 were selected, from 14 countries.

Rosas explains that they missed something in their projects. “We talked a lot about Latin America as if the Caribbean didn’t exist, and the most notable absence was Cuba.”

This omission was resolved with a call for applications that the promoters of the initiative called “the third generation.” At this time, 220 journalists from 21 countries, between the ages of 22 and 32, applied, and at the end of October, 2018, it was announced that 42 had been selected, among them several Cubans.

Mendéndez explains that up until the last minute they were not sure if the Cubans would be able to attend the virtual meetings. “We know the difficulties with connectivity on the Island, but we’re very happy to see that, in spite of the problems, the Cubans have had a good presence in the meetings.“

“Beginning with this, the regional character of our meetings was enriched, because in any analysis about Latin America, it’s essential to know what is happening in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba,” Rosas points out.

Factual has helped its members publish in 28 international media, and, in addition, it sustains a web platform where more than 40 reports, the fruit of the work done in the workshops, can be read.

Every Saturday, online learning sessions take place with highly-qualified professionals (Yina Morelos, Javier Sinay, winner of the 2015 Gabo Prize, or Pablo Rivero), an opportunity to express their experiences and expand themes, focuses and ways of constructing an informative text.

They work on creating a micro-profile in order to capture the essence starting with the description of physical and psychological features. “Some of the best profiles are created by them,” says Meléndez.

”How much of Cuba is there in Latin America?” we ask.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in San Salvador, Buenos Aires or México City.  It’s a matter of ascertaining the connection you can maintain in spite of the distance, through music, gastronomy, history or politics,” says Rosas.

The third program of the Factual project is the Latin American Forum of Digital Media and Journalism, which has taken place for seven consecutive years in Mexico City, and will happen again in 2019. Cuba was present for the first time last year, and its attendance was inaugurated with a table dedicated to independent journalism.

Factual, a context where the press media isn’t controlled by the Communist Party, will gain space on the Island. Its initiatives and projects help elevate the quality of reporting, and it connects journalists with other professionals in the hemisphere and promotes new informative subject matter, resulting in an injection of life for the sector.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

A Doctor Asks for Justice for the Death of her Pregnant Daughter in a Hospital in Santa Clara

Isabel Cristina Cabello, about to turn 60, seeks justice for her daughter and denounces that she has not received a satisfactory response to her complaints. (14y middle)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 22 March 2019 — “Mamita, if something happens to me, you get me justice.” Those words, pronounced by her daughter shortly before she died, in 2015, due to complications during delivery, resonate in the head of Isabel Cristina Cabello López. Besides being a mother, she is a doctor and for her it was a case of medical malpractice.

The last four years have been years of complaints in the courts and lawsuits before the Attorney General of the Republic to establish responsibilities. Also of great loneliness and professional reprisals.

Cabello shows 14ymedio a bulky folder with documents, letters sent to the official press and institutional responses that she has received since she began demanding responsibility for the death of her daughter Beatriz. The doctor claims that the doctors involved in the death of her daughter and her granddaughter “receive criminal sanctions,” and not only administrative, as has happened with some. continue reading

Her daughter died at the age of 18 at the Arnaldo Milián Hospital in Santa Clara after multiple medical complications after a cesarean section in which the baby did not survive.

The closest thing to a medical malpractice charge included in the Cuban Penal Code is Article 8.1 where it states that “any socially dangerous act or omission is considered a crime.” To take a doctor before the courts it is not enough to demonstrate that the doctor has “produced an injurious result, but that said result has been due to their reckless, negligent, imperious or unobservant conduct of the regulations,” says the lawyer Nora Cedeño Guerra.

Rarely are doctors who are involved in this type of negligence prosecuted legally and hospital centers traditionally protect their doctors from any criminal complaint. The official press never publishes cases in which Public Health professionals are responsible for errors in diagnosis or treatment, and few lawyers want to take cases of this type.

So far, Cabello has only managed to get the Ministry of Public Health to respond to her complaints through a letter signed by Dr. Roberto Álvarez Fumero, head of the Maternal and Child Department at the time of the incident. The letter acknowledges that there was a “non-compliance with the obstetric emergency care protocol” of a “high risk” patient by the specialists who attended her at the maternal hospital.

The day that the pregnant woman’s labor pains began, Cabello was away on a medical mission in Venezuela. The doctor who treated her daughter, a fourth-year student, ignored the report of “strange pains, different from those of my first birth,” which the young woman commented on and also dismissed the altered result of the first tests. Instead of doing a thorough examination, the doctor said that it was a reaction for not having eaten food.

“They did not place the monitor to measure the heart rate of the baby and that’s why they did not realize that they needed to perform an urgent caesarean,” says the mother, who received frequent calls from her daughter and other relatives in the hospital throughout the process. “She had a retroplacental hematoma and her hemoglobin collapsed.” The baby died during the caesarean section and the young mother had to undergo a hysterectomy, a removal of the uterus.

But the worst was yet to come. From that surgery, Beatriz was not transferred to an intensive care room as her mother thought she should have been, but to a recovery room where she was discharged 60 hours later. After arriving home she continued to feel badly and the mother returned urgently from Venezuela to Cuba on February 18 to be with her. “She was sweating, she said it hurt and she was very weak,”s he recalls.

“We went back to the maternal hospital, I talked to the director and I asked him for help, but he told me to take her home, that there was nothing else to do for my daughter,” she tells this newspaper. They went directly to the police station to make a report but the mother has never been able to retrieve a copy of that initial complaint because the police authorities have not delivered it.

“On March 5, she got up to go to the bathroom, when she went back to bed she fell down. She went into respiratory arrest at home and I took her to the Arnaldo Milián hospital, where she died at three in the morning,” she says sadly. The cause of death in the death certificate speaks of a “retroplacental hematoma that produces a clot, a thrombus in the inferior cava that went up to the left lung.”

The doctors involved were administratively penalized with one month of salary reduction, the removal of their position as a director, and with revocation of the young physician who attended the pregnant woman opportunity to graduate inthe specialty of gynecology and obstetrics. Measures that the doctor considers insufficient because she thinks that the case should reach the courts.

Still sad for the double loss, Cabello returned to Venezuela to conclude her medical mission in that country, but her continued demands to the Cuban Ministry of Public Health to initiate an investigation into what happened ended with her being terminated from her mission and returned to Cuba, with no warning. “They put me on the plane and I still have not been able to recover anything that I left there.”

Her older granddaughter is now the focus of her worries. “I am claiming the belongings that I left in Venezuela to be able to fulfill, in part, what I promised my daughter, to take care of her little girl,” she adds. But neither the resources she saved for her family nor legal justice arrive.

After a four-year stalemate of legal procedures in which she reported what happened to the police, the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the Provincial and National Public Health Departments, as well as the State Ombudsman, Cabello continues to fail to receive an answer that brings her relief. She has filed new appeals and says she will not stop until justice is done and thus fulfill the promise she made to her daughter before she died.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

With the Door to the US Closed, Cubans Shop in Panama and Mexico

Private restaurant in Varadero. (Tom Hart)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 21 March 2019 — The US announcement that it will replace the five-year B2 visa for Cubans with one of just three months has fallen like a bucket of cold water on the owners of small businesses that used to travel abroad to supply the Cuban private sector with all kinds of products, from Parmesan cheese and spices to soap for homes rented to tourists.

“I have a five-year visa that only has three months left before it expires and now I know I will not be able to obtain another one,” Lorenzo Pardo, 48, and manager of a home-based food store, explained to 14ymedio.

On March 18, the US government reduced the validity period of the B2 visa (tourism and family visits) for Cuban citizens from 5 years to three months. In addition, instead of a multiple entry visa the visa will be good for only one entry to the US. “I have been traveling up to four times a year to visit my family in Miami and also to bring back products,” he says. continue reading

Pardo loaded his suitcases with dried spices, especially garlic and onion, which often are not found on the island or have high prices. “I also brought disposable cutlery and other products that are very useful in my business of supplying food to homes,” he adds.

Despite the drawbacks, Pardo does not feel totally discouraged. “Now I will do the same but through Panama or Mexico,” he says. “The money that I used to leave in Miami will now be left in Cancun or in Panama City.”

The Panamanian authorities did not want to miss the opportunity and, just a few hours after the announcement from Washington, they announced their intention to increase the flexibility of their migration policy towards the island. As of last October Cubans could obtain a shopping permit, but now they will have access to a multiple entry visa for 5 years.

For Camilo Condis, also in the business of food services and accommodation for tourists, the new limitation transcends the issue of private businesses.

“Other than in 2016, when I brought home a computer, I have never brought imports, nor come home loaded with things for business,” he says. Condis believes that whoever wants to go shopping “has it easy in Panama” and prefers to focus on what he calls “the family cost.” As he laments, “My family is there and our ability to see each other regularly is in danger.”

Tamara Rodríguez feels the same pain. “It is true that I took advantage of the trips to Miami not only to visit my two children who live there, but also to bring basic products such as soap, shampoo and even bedding that has helped me a lot in this business,” says this self-employed person who operates several rooms for tourists in the coastal area of Guanabo, east of Havana. “Two years ago I got the Mexican visa and now I’m going to focus on getting the Panamanian one so this does not affect me too much,” she says in agreement.

Rodriguez says that many Cubans already suspected that something like this would happen. “In recent years steps have been reverse everything that was achieved with travel in the time of Barack Obama.” Three years ago she was staring at the television while it broadcast the speech of the American president at the Gran Teatro de La Habana.

“It seemed that only more advantages were coming, openings and a closer contact between both countries, but instead, what has happened is the opposite,” she laments. Rodríguez thinks that Cuban authorities should open more visas to Americans. “Maybe Donald Trump will reopen the five-year visa for us,” she says.

But the problems go beyond achieving a five-year multiple-entry visa. The United States has failed to comply with the migration agreement signed with Cuba in 1996 that guaranteed the delivery of 20,000 annual visas. It has also placed limitations on trips to the Island for US citizens. And, in addition, Cubans must now travel to third countries to apply for a visa.

Despite the denials of the Cuban government regarding its involvement in the events, most of the staff of the US embassy in Havana was removed from the island after the “sonic attacks” that affected more than twenty officials and their families.

“Now everything will become more complicated and it is likely that the consulates of Panama and Mexico will have a greater demand for visa applications,” reflects Wilfredo Pérez, another self-employed worker who still benefits from his five-year visa to visit his family in New Jersey. “I’m due to expire in 2021, so right now I do not have a big problem,” he explains to this newspaper.

Perez believes that the new situation may make some products more expensive in the “black market,” especially medicines, nutritional supplements, food and household appliances that arrived every week from the US to the island. Despite the inconveniences, he is optimistic. “People will adapt to the new situation and start to get more out of importing from other countries.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Where Is The FEU While Cuban Police Beat Congolese Medical Students?

Police invaded the university campus of the Salvador Allende School of Medicine in Havana on Monday. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 9 April 2019 — For decades, the official Cuban press has reported in detail on police violence against student demonstrations around the world. Thus, we have seen riot police respond with tear gas, tonfas and rubber bullets to university students in many countries. But the day that scene happened in Cuba, the national media did not broadcast it.

On Monday, an impressive repressive operation attacked dozens of Congolese students at the Salvador Allende School of Medical Sciences in Havana. The young people had been protesting for days due to the non-payment of their stipends and the bad conditions of the dorms. The situation reached its maximum tension when they moved the protest from outside their country’s embassy to the university campus.

The images are overwhelming. A large number of military and police vehicles arrived at the school. The uniformed officers were accompanied by dogs and fell on the unarmed youth. A policeman draws his weapon and points it at a student, while special troops immobilize and throw others to the ground. All this, amid the cries of repudiation and calls for nonviolence made by several students who film the events. continue reading

The residents of the area also narrate the harshness of the official response and some, who used their phones to capture the events, were arrested and taken to police stations where the images they had stored in the memory of their cell phones were erased. Despite the intention to eliminate evidence, in a few hours the videos of repression were on social networks and the news reached the covers of many international newspapers.

New images of the violent repression of students from The Congo by the Cuban police come to light. The medical fellows were protesting the delay in receipt of two years of their stipend and the poor conditions in which they live on the island. See images here and here. (Mario J. Pentón (@mariojose_cuba))

The disproportionate operation has generated outrage among many, but has not caused a single statement of condemnation by the docile University Student Federation (FEU), the official Union of Young Communists (UJC) or that grotesque without voice or vote that is the Continental Latin American and Caribbean Student Organization (OCLAE). In no faculty of the country this Tuesday the students made protests in solidarity with the Congolese youth.

It seems as if everything happened in another country, in a distant and alien galaxy, but the national history confronts us with the reality that it happened here and has happened before.

During the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, the chief of police, Rafael Salas Cañizares, entered the University of Havana with his troops, dealing out blows and fear. That day of April 1956 was considered an affront to the autonomy of the university and remained in the historical memory of this Island as an event that should not be repeated, ever again. That event is mentioned in the textbooks that were written after 1959 as clear evidence of the repressive nature of the Batista regime and the democratic weakness of the Republican era.

On Monday, uniformed men again entered a university campus with weapons. They handcuffed, beat and arrested numerous students but the images will not be seen in the national media nor will student organizations condemn the fact.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

"International Trend Towards Legalization" Increases Marijuana Trafficking, According to Cuban Authorities

The police inspect a package with drugs. (Archive EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 March 2019 — Cuban security forces seized 2,438 kilos of drugs in 2018, less than half of the previous year, when 5,539 kilos was reached, and also well below the 3.2 tons retained in 2016. The figures show a huge disparity with respect to 2015, when the seizure of just 104.68 kilos was reported.

The majority of the drug seized is marijuana, with 2,071 kilograms, compared to 363 of cocaine, 3 of cannabinoids, 1 of crack and 0.15 of hashish. According to the Ministry of the Interior (Minint), the “international trend towards the legalization of marijuana” directly influences these data.

The Cuban government, which disseminated the data on Tuesday through the official newspaper Granma, blames the drug trafficking business on Cuban coasts on “criminal groups of foreigners and Cuban emigrants interested in introducing drugs into the national territory.” continue reading

The majority of drug trafficking operations are carried out by sea, Minit’s estimate is 90%. Not coincidentally, 77% of the drug seized comes from stopping small speedboats that the authorities attribute, again, “to operations organized by Cubans living abroad.” The police arrested four people with 144 kilograms of marijuana attempting to enter the island in two operations by sea and neutralized two others in jurisdictional waters that allowed the capture of four other foreign drug traffickers and they seized 132 kilos of the same substance.

The air route, despite being less used, also generated 49 neutralized operations in which a total of 90 people, 54 Cubans and 36 foreigners, were arrested trying to sell drugs on the island. Most cases were concentrated at the José Martí International Airport in Havana, although the Minint draws attention to an operation at the Frank País aerodrome in Holguín, as well as two cases through the postal channel and one through the international cargo terminal in the capital.

To draw attention, again, to the role of emigrants, the official statement emphasizes the participation of “Cuban emigrant traffickers, with the use of couriers of various nationalities and origin in different countries” in the organization of drug entry operations through Internet applications, such as Imo or WhatsApp with which mules were recruited.

This year to date, within the island, the authorities seized 83 kilos of drugs, a quantity much higher than the 18 of the previous year, in actions that included the detection of concealed drugs along the coast, isolated harvests of marijuana and its transfer to other territories (especially Havana) and/or the prevention of the consumption of drugs and medicines with similar effects.

Minint highlights the actions taken in the fight against drug trafficking and the coordination of the Armed Forces to confront it, as well as the agreements it has with 37 foreign police, Interpol and other organizations to exchange information, the promotion and development of cooperative investigations and mutual legal assistance.

The note admits the existence of networks of drug trafficking and drug consumption on the island but insists on the government’s commitment to fight it “to achieve sustainable development and well-being” of the people. It also accuses the boom of marijuana use to those who “try to justify it, through its legalization, as another commodity of the capitalist economy.”

Cannabis use is legal for medicinal purposes in several countries of the continent, from Canada and the US to Costa Rica and Colombia. The only country in the world that has fully legalized its use is Uruguay, which in 2013, during the term of José Mujica, approved a law that regulates the sale and distribution of the plant and its private cultivation.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Beatriz Sogbe: I Am Living in Hell

For weeks Venezuela has experienced problems with its electrical grid. Above, a blackout in Caracas. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Beatriz Sogbe, Caracas, April 7, 2019 — A few years ago I did not understand how Cubans could survive on ten dollars a month. I could not see how anyone could survive on that amount. But now I understand. The observations here are not intended for Venezuelans, nor Cubans for that matter. They are for those in other countries who do not understand what this means, that they might be more tolerant of Venezuelans who have had to emigrate, that they might better understand them and be able to reflect on what it is like to live, day after day, in hell.

How do they do it? How do they live on ten dollars a month? First they are subdued with a subsidy. The oppressor delivers a little food (not much and with zero protein), some medicines, wretched but very cheap services, free homes for a few (but not for everyone, though there is always the hope that the others will one day get one). They have no other option. Both the haves and the have-nots accept these things. They must accept them or die. Their priorities change. Two kilos of rice become preferable to cash. With money, you never know if you will be able to buy the desired goods. With rice in hand, at least you know you will have something to eat. continue reading

For the last fifteen days we have not had uninterrupted electrical service. The sleepless hours are beginning to run together. Since the first outage there has been a series of blackouts, which have not only complicated existence but also coexistence.

Not having electricity means there is no phone service, no landline, no cellular. Those with electric stoves have been unable to cook. And since it is delivered by pump, there is no water either. One can still get water get water, but it is now delivered by truck at unaffordable prices. And its level of purity is always suspect but, after fifteen days, that is of little importance.

Elevators do not work. This means someone living on a fifteenth floor must use buckets to carry water up the stairs, in the dark, for bathing, flushing the toilet and cooking. It means getting up one morning to find there is no running water, then returning home and — as in times past — going to the river with a pitcher to look for water. Only there are now no rivers, or wells. They dried up because the forests were not preserved.

All that remains is a trail of destruction left by of the furious extraction of gold and diamonds. In the streets vermin stare out from the sewer grates, hungry rodents in search of food who no longer scurry through the drainpipes. Daily life is becoming hell. It’s like returning, in the blink of an eye, to the Stone Age.

If there is a medical emergency, there is no way to call an ambulance. Or the police. Or the fire department. There is no medical care at hospitals because, after so many days, the backup generators that a few of them had have stopped working. As a result, many patients are not receiving dialysis, neonatal patients cannot be placed in incubators and those who require artificial respirators are in agony. The number of deaths is unknown. And dying is forbidden because no death certificates are being issued and there are no morgues to store the dead. The gravediggers have no way to get there and the cemeteries have been closed for days.

There is no gasoline because gas stations cannot pump it. There is no cash because there are no automatic teller machines. There are no checkout counters nor a way to pay for anything. Vendors only accept cash or dollars. What yesterday was astronomically expensive now costs five times more. A pound of meat is worth more than a work of art.

Our relatives abroad are in despair. They have no way of knowing how their loved ones, most of whom are elderly, are faring. Nevertheless, something springs up unexpectedly: solidarity. We recognize each other. And those who show no signs of disgust, disgust us.

The general outlook is bleak. The Metro is not running and there is little public transportation. People, selfless and silent, walk to their jobs. Most carry empty bottles, hoping to bring home a little drinking water from their places of work.

But what is most striking are people’s attitudes. They walk without hope, without spirit. Their body posture gives them away. They are robots. The most desperate rummage feverishly through the trash.

People must travel across town to a mobile phone center in the hope that, once there, they can reach their relatives abroad to let them know they are still alive. All the shops are closed. The absence of information about what is happening is disheartening and exasperating. Radio batteries are exhausted. Candles are used up. Perishable food in the refrigerator is rotting. There is no ice. People burn garbage because there is no trash collection. A grayish sky hangs over the city while a reddish sun presages death.

When electricity returns, the news is bad. Friends have died. We take stock of which home appliances have survived the onslaught. No one is happy. There is only despair and rage. The sudden changes in voltage indicate this was only the prelude to purgatory. We know when it started but not when it will end. And that miracles do not exist.

After a second blackout, at neighbors meetings residents enumerate how things are in each part of the city. And though electricity returns intermittently, water does not because it relies on pumps. The equipment is old and has not been maintained. Its useful life ended many years ago so it now only works precariously.

The neighborhood gatherings now seem pointless because the local mayors cannot do anything. Why do they want to be mayors if they have no ambulances, no fire engines, no water delivery trucks? They don’t even have the power to tear down an illegal structure on protected public lands. They have become merely decorative figures.

For writers, not having a computer is a big deal. Our handwriting is now so mangled and illegible from lack of practice that even we ourselves cannot read it. Nevertheless, we still want to provide a first-hand account of this hell because, as we have been told, we are living in extraordinary times. I hope what happened in the movie Memories of Underdevelopment by Cuban director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea does not happen to us. In the film an intellectual stays behind on the embattled island because he senses that something is about to happen. But nothing ever does.

There are two activities in which we try to find shelter: reading and gardening. The former has becomes tiresome. We are not used to reading in dim light so we go outside. Nights are arduous. There is no enjoyment to be had in watching the stars or the fleeting fireflies, only despondency over not knowing when electricity will return. And when it does, there is anxiety because we do not know just when it will go off again.

Then we try another approach: connecting switches, washing clothes, cleaning bathrooms. It is the beginning of dry season. There is calm. There is no wind but there are mosquitoes and heat. The darkness, deep and gloomy, induces fear rather than melancholy. Suddenly, we see the lights go on in one area. But, after a while, they go off again. There is little hope that we will get electricity anytime soon. And then the conjecture starts. Who will they kill? Who will die? What will happen? We think of hospital patients, of political prisoners, of their relatives, of the elderly who do not have access their medications. Uncertainty can also be deadly.

We change tack. In the morning we decide to work diligently in the garden. But it languishes. The birds are not singing; they only emit moans. Only turkey vultures are hanging around. A gardener without water is condemned to watch the plants she has lovingly tended die. A heavy avocado tree has dried up. So too has the beloved jasmine, never again to emit its intoxicating aroma. Only its woody scorched stem remains. The gardener must content herself with raking dry leaves and observing, with astonishing pain, the fruit of years of effort vanish within a few days. It is one more torture, like watching the forest fires burning Ávila National Park on different fronts. The fire at night burns in the view.

Electricity comes and goes. Fifteen days have gone by. There is still no water. There is no internet. The disdain of our rulers elicits more indignation than hate. What kind of people are these for whom the pain of their subjects means nothing. Are they like Nero who enjoyed watching Rome burn? They only care about holding onto power, whatever the cost. Yet this is not a war. Or is it? I finally conclude I am living in hell.

This article was originally published in La Patilla.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Signs of a Silenced Crisis

A Cuban shows editions of the state press Granma and Juventud Rebelde. (File EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 6 April 2019 — A new and unequivocal signal of the current difficult times in Cuba has just arrived with the news of the reduction of the number of pages in the printed editions of several official publications.

At first glance, the news could seem the least of the problems in a country whose population has, as its top priority, finding and acquiring food for the day to put on the table. Over the course of the last year, Cubans have been gradually but inexorably witnessing an increase in the lack of basic foodstuffs — such as cooking oil, wheat flour, bread, eggs, chicken, pork, among others — which, together with the increase in the cost of agricultural products and the chronic shortages in the hard-currency markets, bring the shivers of the collective memory  of  the unburied ghost of the decade of the 90’s.

However, the drastic contraction of the official press in the current Cuban scenario is an indicator of the greatest relevance, bearing in mind that it has always been an ideological tool that cannot be discarded and is of great importance to the political power, which has used it for the indoctrination and the numbing of the masses, as well as for the control and manipulation of information. Contrary to the infiltration of other sources and the relatively greater access to the Internet and social networks that has been taking place in recent times, a large part of Cubans on the Island still assumes the government press as a priority — or unique — source of information. continue reading

The drastic contraction of the official press in the current Cuban scenario is an indicator of the greatest relevance, considering that it has always been an undeniable ideological tool

The press has been so significant as a strategic instrument in the hands of the power that the enormous control sustained by the Castro regime over the entire society along 60 years could not be explained independently.  Thus, the dramatic reduction that is currently being announced supposes a loss of strategic spaces for the regime. Therefore, it suggests a lack of growth in liquidity and a much more complicated economic outlook than the authorities are willing to recognize.

However, there is a past history of this, and it is framed precisely in the period of the crisis of the 90’s, when editions of the official press were also reduced. In that scenario, the now defunct founder of the Castro regime not only kept his political power intact, but also had the audacity to announce the economic collapse.

Even worse, he also had the audacity to draw a fabulous road map that supposedly would permit us to adjust in order to survive the crisis at different stages, through which he imagined we would journey, including a dark final phase that he termed “option zero,” in which Cubans would eat from a collective pot placed at intervals one city block apart — using wood as fuel, since there would be no oil, gas or electricity – in which would be cooked a kind of soup made with what each neighbor was able to contribute.

The Castro regime drew a road map whose end was the “option zero”, in which Cubans would feed from a collective pot, a kind of soup made with what each neighbor was able to contribute

Generations born at the end of the decade of the 80’s and beyond are unaware that in the midst of that crisis the “war of the whole people” was planned and disseminated to the most extreme stage, a war that never took place, but that vividly illustrates the levels of delirium that a dictatorship can reach in its eagerness to stay in power.

Despite the absurdity of the plan, and unlike today, in the 90s there was the perception that there was someone in charge. There was no democratic government — quite the contrary — but beyond the sympathies or antipathies of the maximum representative of the regime there was still the feeling that there was structure, a certain order of authority, although, obviously, it was an authority that was based more on its symbolic power and on its repressive capacity than on any real legitimacy.

Currently, Cuba is plunging into a crisis perhaps as deep as that of 30 years ago, but with the aggravating circumstance that today there is a great vacuum in its authority. The current president not only lacks legitimacy because he was not elected by the popular vote at the polls, but he also did not inherit the symbolic power of the so-called “historic generation,” those who fought in the Revolution that triumphed in 1959.

While many Cubans begin to perceive the signs of an economic collapse, the authorities continue to refer to the existence of “economic tensions” and, both the false agent and his team of bureaucrats — inept and handcuffed — insist on silencing the impending grim scenario that is approaching, and even fewer have presented a master plan to deal with it.

It is not possible to ignore that today’s Cubans are not exactly an ungovernable people, but rather largely “ungoverned.” The power class is aware of this.

But the differences between the two crises do not end there. It is not possible to ignore that today’s Cubans aren’t exactly an ungovernable people, but that they are rather largely “ungoverned.” The power class is aware of this, which perhaps explains the recent arrival in Cuba of an unusual and “generous” donation from Russia: a load of trucks, not to transport food from the countryside to the markets or to alleviate the eternal crisis of public transportation, but for no other reason than for the transfer of prisoners. There could be no more suspicious gift amid such a complex internal and external panorama.

So we can already guess that, although the current representatives of the spoils of the Castro regime do not have a contingency plan in the face of the impending crisis, they do seem to be deeply concerned about the social response Cubans may have as shortages increase and living conditions deteriorate.

Because we shouldn’t forget another great difference between the scenarios of the decade of the 90’s and the current one. This time around, the power claque could end up suffering the greatest losses.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

It Is Forbidden To Say "Special Period"

The worsening of the economy is observed not only in the “scarcities even in the dollarized stores,” but also in the lack of subsidized basic necessities such as bread and eggs. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 8 April 2019 — Cuban authorities have given officials instructions to avoid the concept of “Special Period” when addressing citizens, according to 14ymedio sources in state agencies.

“They met with the administrative cadres to tell them that very difficult times are coming,” a worker from the Provincial Food Industry Company in Pinar del Río told this newspaper. “It was a meeting with directors of Minal (Ministry of the Food Industry) who came from Havana, where they pointed out that we could not use the phrase ‘Special Period’ in communications with the population.”

In the 90s, the government insisted on labeling the serious economic situation of the island as “A Special Period in Peacetime” to avoid the words crisis or economic collapse. The euphemism generated numerous jokes and puns, but finally prevailed, even in the headlines of the foreign press. As a result, the link between the phrase “Special Period” and that time of crisis is now so clear that the concept must be avoided. continue reading

“They told us these are times to be very careful of what is said to avoid creating alarm or giving weapons to the enemy for their propaganda against Cuba,” adds the Minal employee in Pinar del Río. “But they also clarified that we are going to have serious problems with the import of raw material in the coming months, which will affect several areas of production, including those of the Los Portales Refreshment Factory, in the municipality of Guane.”

In the information field, the same thing is happening. A recent graduate of the Faculty of Communication of the University of Havana (FCOM) who works in a radio station, explains that there is “guidance from above” to avoid the use of the phrase “Special Period.”

“We have been told that we should use phrases like ‘economic tension’ or ‘difficulties with the arrival of raw materials’ but always with an optimistic approach and making it clear that it will be overcome in the coming months,” he explains.

The young man insists that reporters and screenwriters have been urged in several meetings to underline “the obstacles and challenges” facing the island’s economy but “to avoid the use of pessimistic phrases that may cause nervousness.”

In recent weeks, the radio station where he works has received numerous calls from listeners annoyed about the shortages of basic products such as cooking oil, chicken and eggs, but the answer they must give is that “work is being done to solve these problems,” the journalist revealed. “We must convey optimism, they have told us,” he stresses.

The caution of information professionals working in official media is justified. In the past decade a sports commentator on official television said that the Special Period was not over and that provoked an angry reaction from Fidel Castro, who wrote one of his customary ‘Reflections’ denying that perspective.

The economist Carmelo Mesa Lago recalls in a recent article that, “between 1960 and 1990, Cuba received 65 billion dollars from the USSR, two-thirds of which was a gift; this aid was higher than that received for all of Latin America during the Alliance for Progress,” a program from the 1960s involving roughly 22 billion dollars in aid to Latin America. With the end of Soviet support after the collapse of the Soviet Union, “a marked decline occurred in all economic and social indicators.”

Almost three decades after the start of the crisis of the ’90s, the government has not officially announced the end of a stage that in the collective imagination is associated with power outages, food shortages and transport problems. The use of “special” alluded to the measures taken by Fidel Castro at that time targeted to cushioning the effects of the depression setting aside some of the formulas of the centralized economy and allowing: circulation of the dollar, foreign investment, family remittances from relatives abroad, and the reappearance of an emerging private sector.

After that period when the Cuban economy hit bottom, aid from Venezuela from beginning of this century began to revive the economy of the Island. Despite this, and after two congresses of the Communist Party of Cuba, the appointment of a new president of the Councils of State and of Ministers and the ratification of a new constitution, the Special Period has not been decreed to be in the past.

Signs that the Cuban economy could be heading into a similar crisis have been accentuated in recent months, as reflected in reports published in the independent and international press, following the decrease in oil shipments from Venezuela, the freezing of credit for new exports from Brazil and the end of the Mais Médicos program in which Cuban doctors worked in that South American country in exchange for significant payments, most of which went into state coffers.

Some economists suggest that the situation is far from the one that arose in the ’90s, due to the strengthening of tourism, foreign investment and the existence of more than half a million people who work for themselves as “cuentapropistas,” but in the streets of Cuba the phrase “Special Period” is beginning to be heard more and more frequently, although the official media and state officials are forbidden to say it.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Authorities Blame Drivers for Increase in Car Crash Deaths in Camaguey

Camagüey province has the 4th highest traffic crash deaths in the country. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ricardo Fernández, Camagüey, 19 March 2019 — The number of deaths due to traffic crashes in Camagüey increased in 2018 according to data from the Provincial Highway Commission: 64 people were killed and 647 injured, compared to 58 and 540 in the previous year.

With a total of 597 crashes, the roads of Camagüey continue to be among the most dangerous on the Island, only behind the provinces of Havana, Matanzas and Villa Clara, and ahead of Holguín and Santiago, all at the top of the list for the number of crashes. The most affected municipalities were Camagüey with 319, Florida with 55, Sibanicú 27, Esmeralda 21 and Vertientes 20.

The authorities provided data for the most frequent causes, such as loose animals on the road and the irresponsibility of drivers, who were fined more than 7,000 times. Camagüey has registered 11,224 drivers whom the Roads Commission has proposed to evaluate more frequently. continue reading

According to the Commission, “only Santa Cruz del Sur and Jimaguayú managed to reduce the rates of a problem whose fundamental causes are, among others, not paying due attention when driving and ingesting alcoholic beverages.” In addition, they added that the number of victims increased in both Sierra de Cubitas and Esmeralda,  “all of which presupposes the need to continue demanding the relicensing and psycho-physiological studies of drivers, both private and state.”

However, once again, those responsible for traffic avoided addressing problems as visible as the state of the roads and the vehicles themselves.

“It says that up to Kilometer 500 the are roads in poor condition, but I think that’s true for the whole trip from here to Havana. What’s more, the roads here are like neighborhood streets and today’s buses are not made for that,” a young man explained to 14ymedio, while observing the informational posters placed in the interprovincial bus terminal. The blackboards located at the front of the platform show the most dangerous sections so that the drivers will take precautionary measures. “It is unfair to only blame the drivers for crashes without talking about the bad conditions of the roads,” he protests.

“When we travel we find ourselves getting into vehicles in poor condition, with obsolete technologies that were not even designed for the transport of people,” explained Enrique Fundora. “Whenever I can, I book Yutong buses, in advance, for long trips, but within the province there is no such alternative and that’s why disasters happen.”

Sergio Tejeda told this newspaper he almost lost his life last month in a serious crash on his way to Camagüey. “Climbing a hill I passed a Yutong and could not dodge a pothole in the road.” The car swerved out of control into the opposite lane, hitting the rear wheel of a truck converted into a bus that was carrying passengers heading east. “The pothole affected the steering column and caused the accident, thank God nothing happened to me, but the repair of the vehicle cost me about 10,000 CUP.”

The vehicles most involved in traffic crashes are cars, with 117 incidents, followed by motorcycles with 81 and bicycles with 53.

In the official note released by the authorities of the sector, it is emphasized that road safety is of special concern to the country’s leadership, so “the Provincial Road Commission will require its entities in the municipalities to exercise their functions, above all because the number of people involved continues to grow and because all the actions that are taken to reduce the crash rate fail to work.”

But nothing is said about improving the infrastructure, making it possible to renovate the vehicle fleet, or facilitating the purchase of spare parts for vehicles at affordable prices.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba Blocks a Recognized LGBTI Activist From Entering the Country

The Cuban authorities forbade the entry of Michael Petrelis, a renowned American activist for the rights of the LGBTI community. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 March 2019 — Cuban authorities prevented Michael Petrelis, a renowned US activist for the rights of the LGBTI community (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transsexuals and intersex), from entering the island on Wednesday, 20 March, according to the digital site ADNCuba.

“My visa (tourist card) was revoked and I am very sad,” Petrelis told 14ymedio through the app Messenger.

A few minutes before, he had posted a text on his Facebook profile, explaining that while trying to board his flight to Havana, an employee of Interjet Airlines informed him that the Cuban authorities had blocked him from entering the country. “I flew overnight from San Francisco to Cancun on a turbulent flight and will return home in a few hours,” he lamented. continue reading

The Interjet agent did not allow him to make a screenshot of the document with the refusal of the Cuban authorities, but wrote on paper that “for immigration reasons” he could not allow him to go on to Havana “since the country will not allow him to enter.”

When asked about the reasons for the refusal to allow him to board the plane bound for Havana, the airline workers told him they were unaware of them. “We receive the same message every time a passenger is prohibited from entering the Island,” he says they told him.

“I have no idea why I am excluded from the tourists who are allowed to visit Cuba, but it surely has something to do with having shared the life of the LGBTI community outside the control of the government,” Petrelis told 14ymedio.

“I am disappointed not to see my friends, not to experience fabulous times and not to be able to share my suitcases full of rainbows. To my Cuban friends, I let them know that my love and respect for them does not diminish due to the decision of their Government to deny me entry,” the activist added on Facebook while waiting to board a flight back to the United States from Cancun.

Earlier this year, Petrelis had traveled to the island to visit friends, distribute stickers and support public actions of gay pride and support the promoters of equal marriage in Cuba with public actions.

On that occasion he said he felt harassed by the authorities. The official National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), headed by Mariela Castro, daughter of ex-ruler Raúl Castro, tries to represent the entire LGBTI movement, but some work on the same issues independently.

On the island the entry ban decreed against Petrelis has been strongly criticized. The activist Isbel Díaz Torres regretted that the Cuban government has demonstrated its “authoritarianism with impunity” and denounced the “little respect” that it has for the rights of that community.

Torres noted that “while Michael Petrellis campaigns in San Francisco to promote impeachment of Trump, on the island they have the luxury of rejecting and humiliating a great fighter.”

Many of the independent organizations of that community have denounced the pressure exerted by Cenesex to maintain control over the LGBTI community. Recently the Parliament decided to suppress a controversial article proposed in the constitutional reform that would have allowed the approval of marriage between people of the same sex.

The Parliament decided to postpone the modification of the Family Code for two years and put the new version to a vote in a plebiscite, which has been criticized by many activists who see equal marriage as a human right that should not be subject to popular vote.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Alain Gomez Earns a Living with his Supermarket Cart

Alain Gómez Acuña with his cart in the ETJ market in Tulipán. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 21 March 2019 — The agricultural market on Tulipán Street opens its doors early and buyers start arriving from several municipalities in Havana. Just outside, a well-known figure waits to offer his delivery services. He is Alain Gómez Acuña, a Habanero of 40 years with Down Syndrome.

With his supermarket cart Gómez earns his living by loading food, fruit and other products from the premises administered by the Youth Labor Army (EJT). He has been at the job for seven years and, together with plastic bag sellers and workers who staff the stands, he is part of a commercial ecosystem that runs from Tuesday to Sunday.

This Thursday, like every day, Gómez is waiting in his place within walking distance of one of the entrances of the market. He will spend a good part of the day going from one place to another pushing his cart and maybe a neighbor will congratulate him, because March 21 is World Down Syndrome Day. continue reading

Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, is caused by the existence of an extra chromosome on pair 21. Its incidence in Cuba is 9.8 cases per 10,000 births, according to Dr. Cristóbal Martínez Gómez, family therapist, head of the National Group of Child Psychiatry of the Ministry of Public Health.

Although the chromosomal alteration is related to diseases — mainly cardiac or digestive diseases — which tend to shorten life expectancies, society has historically tended to focus on the mental retardation that sometimes accompanies it. On the island, the stigma over families with children with special needs has been frequent, although in recent years important steps have been taken in the social integration of these people.

The families of those affected have joined in support groups and, slowly, have managed to displace the derogatory language by more respectful words. However, there is still much to be done to ensure that society protects the rights of Cubans with Down syndrome and allows them to occupy an active and independent place, without ridicule or excessive commiseration.

Gómez smiles as a customer from the market engages him to take a large pumpkin and some tomatos to her house “climbing Tulipán hill.” Those who know him know that his family, an elderly mother and stepfather, also depend on his efforts, and the economic contribution of this son eases their day-to-day existence.

“Families need to know that the tendency to ’hide’ the situation by preventing the child from leaving the house will cause more pain and tension,” Dr. Martínez tells families who have a child with Down syndrome. “They show great fondness for music, they are happy and rarely suffer from attacks of irritability,” he says.

In his work and in the building where he lives, the neighbors joke with Gómez and tell him that he has become a millionaire delivering products from the market. He smiles nervously, as if they had discovered him, and the laughter covers his whole face. Sometimes he offers to carry some unpaid cargo, just to help an elderly woman or someone of low income.

In addition to the economic contribution he brings with his work, Gomez helps out with domestic chores, taking care of washing and ironing his clothes and cooking from time to time, according to his mother. On days when the EJT market is mostly idle, with little merchandise and fewer customers, he lends a hand in the bicycle parking lot or helping at the stands.

His permanent smile is only hidden when he has the impression that some client wants to deceive him with a very low payment or is trying to avoid paying him any money at all for his services. Then he gets so serious that he instills respect, as he does when they ask him how he got the supermarket cart with which he travels the streets of Havana.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Juan’s Traveling Bathrooms

Juan Reyes remodeled a truck to contain ten cubicles with toilets and even a shower. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Güira de Melena, 22 March 2019 — Juan Reyes was born in Santiago de Cuba but for the last seven years he has been touring the island chasing popular festivals. He drives a striking truck that has been adapted to contain a dozen individual bathrooms where cleanliness reigns and no bad odors are perceived. This week he arrived at the Potato Festival, in Güira de Melena, and his services attracted more customers than many of the festival’s own kiosks with food or fun products.

Reyes came up with the idea after seeing the difficulties that his wife suffered to find a decent bathroom at carnivals. Most of the time there was nothing more than a box placed over a sewer, stinky and without privacy. Immediately, this Santiagan with a great ability for business saw an almost untapped market niche. He bought the truck and began the process of converting it into a mobile sanitary service. continue reading

He created a drainage mechanism with a wide flexible hose that allows the sewage to be evacuated into the nearest sewer system. He added removable steps that is placed so that customers can easily access the interior of the vehicle and invested in some amenities so that “it does not resemble those dirty bathrooms with no personality,” he says. In addition to the immediate relief of the bladder, Reyes’ “invention” puts a smile on every face.

Now the “Ecological Bathroom” as he jokingly baptized it on one side in white paint, is a family business. At the entrance, Juan’s son charges 2 CUP per person (roughly 8¢ US) and inside each cabin there is water, soap, toilet paper and a mirror. In the last cubicle there is also a shower for those who want to cool off from the heat.

At the moment the service is exclusively for women but its owner does not rule out having a fleet of trucks where there is also space for men and mothers with small children who want a place to change diapers and breastfeed with tranquility.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.