The Vertiginous Days of Anger / 14ymedio

Protesters outside the headquarters of the Embassy of Cuba in the USA. (14ymedio)
Protesters outside the headquarters of the Embassy of Cuba in the USA. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 July 2015 – Recently, many calculations have been made about the time that has transpired since Cuba and the United States broke diplomatic relations. The journalists’ texts have emulated each other in the search for an exact number of years, weeks and days since 3 January 1961. However, so far none have alluded to the 734 days that transpired before the two countries parted ways.

Now that the emphasis is too frequently on how slow, complex and difficult the normalization process between the two nations will be, one has the right to wonder what would have happened if, between the first day of January 1959 and the third day of 1961, the principals implicated in this history had been animated by the same spirit that now measures each step with serenity, without haste but without pause, and takes it all gradually.

It is too difficult to resist the temptation to calculate at what speed normalization could occur if, in the next 734 days, the initiatives on one side or the other had the vertigo that existed then.

If harmony could be supplied with the same fuel on which the anger of those days gorged, one might venture the date of 23 July 2017 (just when the elections are being organized that will conclude with a new government in 2018) to take stock of what has been advanced.

Timelines are boring, almost no one reads them fully. The one I’ve suggested here includes some facts that more intensely marked the course of events. Only official Cuban sources have been used, and are certainly missing documents, speeches, declarations, and above all, actions, many of them to be declassified.

Cubans Expect Thaw to Lead to Improvements For All The People / 14ymedio

The new embassy of Cuba in the USA. (14ymedio)
The new embassy of Cuba in the USA. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 20 June 2015 – This Monday, a group of protestors outside the new Cuban embassy in Washington accompanied the speech by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez with shouts of “Cuba sí, Castro No”; “Freedom for Cuba”; “Democracy.” While some chanted, “Viva Cuba,” others responded, “Freedom.”

At some points “Castro sí” was also hears. “Never in this country would I have imagines I would hear something like this,” said a Cuban who came to renew his passport in the consulate.

“I’m here to support the human and civil rights of the Cuban people who have not had free elections for more than 60 years,” said Laura Martinez, a Cuban-American, 26, gathered outside the building that, since 1977, housed the Cuban Interests Section in the United States. “Although I support the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States, I want the human, civil and political rights of the Cuban people to be respected and we are demanding that right now,” she added.

The activist Rosa Maria Paya believes that “this is only the beginning of diplomatic relations that so far has meant the conversation between two elites, of people who were not there and don’t represent the Cuban people, because the Cuban people never elected them.”

“We are expecting that, at least in their discourse, those people who approach Cuba converse not only with the elites in power, but that they also support the right of Cubans to decide, of legislation conducive to [exiles’] visit to the island, and the extension of immunity from violence to those who demonstrate [against the regime] inside and outside of the island,” she adds.’

The writer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo stressed the importance of the resumption of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana also resulting in greater freedom for independent journalists. He asks for “a more inclusive future,” in which “the chokehold that the regime keeps on civil society is loosened.”

About 70 Ladies in White and Activists Arrested Sunday / 14ymedio

The Ladies in White in Gandhi Park on a previous Sunday
The Ladies in White in Gandhi Park on a previous Sunday (Americateve)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 19 July 2015 — This Sunday has led to the arrest of forty Ladies in White and thirty activists, at the conclusion of their usual march on 5th Avenue in the Havana neighborhood of Miramar.

After Mass in the church of Santa Rita, the Ladies in White gathered together with several activists in Gandhi park. There, from the speakers of a car, was heard a composition by the rocker Gorki Aguila, that pays tribute to these women and their human rights movement.

Gorki Aguila told 14ymedio  the song that just premiered, was produced in the studios of La Paja Records, managed by the group Porno for Ricardo. In addition to the melody of a cello, the musical theme includes strings, guitar, bass, drums and a solo by Aguila himself.

According to the artist “the intention was to give to the Ladies another song, to encourage other artists to make artworks to them, they deserve it.”

The renowned musician was taken to the so-called Vivac de Calabazar prison with Jorge Moya, Jorge Luis Antunez, Claudio Fuentes, Egberto Escobedo and Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, among others. The women may have been transferred to a detention center in Tarara, east of Havana, where they are routinely detained.

Marino Murillo, the “Antifidelista” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Mariano Murillo, Minister of Economy and Planning in Cuba. (EFE)
Mariano Murillo, Minister of Economy and Planning in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 July 2015 – Like those erratic comets whose pulse astronomers have not yet measured, Marino Murillo disappears and reappears on the Cuban political scene, generating gossip about his “thunder” when he disappears and expectations about its relentless ascent when he returns.

Those who knew him when he was the Director of the Economy in the Ministry of the Food Industry say that Murillo was the official who struggled hardest to get national production to substitute for imports. However, when he served as Minister of Internal Trade (2006-2009) he was the one who increased the trade in imported drinks, with obvious consequences for the domestic industry.

Now, in addition to being Minister of Economy and Planning, he is the member of the Communist Party Politburo responsible for implementing the guidelines of the 6th Congress, or, and it’s the same thing, the man who keeps track of the reforms.

“We must concern ourselves with creating wealth, because the economies with the best results are those that have been able to sustain production.” said Murillo continue reading

Which explains that Murillo will “put it to the test” as teachers say to their students when they present them with some new significant detail of the subject at hand. And recently he pointed out something revealing to the deputies of the 8th legislature of the Cuban Parliament: Cuban companies are governed by the fundamental law of capitalism. Clearly, he didn’t formulate it like that, but for someone with a degree in Economics who studied in the Soviet Union, the statement that the fundamental law of the capitalist system is to profit through capital gains is something that is learned like a catechism.

Therefore – and I am quoting from memory now, when he said that the basic objective of companies (Socialist State companies) was to produce, sell and make profits, it was like setting aside what the theorists enunciate as the fundamental law of the Socialist system which is expressed in the proposition of “satisfying the needs of an ever growing population.”

Not content with that, two days after he appeared before the delegates of the 10th Congress of the Young Communist Union, and after clarifying that the growth of 4.7% in the GDP is still not reflected in the domestic economy, it is understood on the shelves and in the refrigerators of every home, he said that, “for this to happen the GDP needs to grow at a sustained rate of 5% to 6% over several years.”

And he added, “We must concern ourselves with creating wealth, because the economies with the best results are those that have been able to sustain production. The model must start from the idea that all the economic actors  and the productive forces are working equally and non-stop.

Murillo is the loudest voice against the chorus loyal to Fidel, he said that the time will come when people can live on their wages

Perhaps I have not been attentive to the evolution of the official discourse and I’ve forgotten something, but I don’t recall the moment in which a self-criticism was made to what was, in its time, the magnetic north of the Revolutionary compass: “It is not to create conscience with money or wealth, but to create wealth with conscience.” (Fidel Castro, speech delivered on 26 July 1968).

If that has changed, Murillo is the loudest voice against the chorus loyal to Fidel, proof of that is in the same speech delivered to the Party pigeons, Murillo said that the time will come when people can live on their wages, which will increase depending on the ability to create wealth. “We have to make efficient use of the Socialist State enterprise to create wealth, which will be returned in salaries,” he stressed in case anyone had not understood.

Murillo is absolutely right, although he stops short, or perhaps he is measuring his steps. What I can’t understand is why this Minister of the Economy doesn’t mention “socialist emulation” or “moral incentives”… am I missing something?

The Cuban Government Unveils Its Version of Google / 14ymedio

The search engine "CUBA" is on redcuba.cu
The search engine “CUBA” is on redcuba.cu

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 July 2015 — The launching of a new Cuban Internet search engine was barely mentioned on official websites or on tonight’s national newscast.

However, it was reported that on the occasion of the Tenth Congress of the Communist Youth League, a new search engine would be launched. “Unified Contents for an Advanced Search” (“Contenidos Unificados para Búsqueda Avanzada, or “CUBA”), is meant to serve as a Cuban version of an alternative to Google.

Available through redcuba.cu, the CUBA portal provides a search engine for websites using the .cu domain. According to its developers, the idea behind CUBA is to link all websites located on Cuban servers unto one site, thus providing the user a “faster and more efficient” search engine.

This website now joins the Cuban government’s growing trend of creating imitations of the most important online resources and social media. The island already has Eucred, mimicking the free content encyclopedia Wikipedia, “La Tendedera” (“The Clothes Line”) competing with Facebook, and an alternative to the illegal “weekly packet” nicknamed “La Mochila,” or “The Backpack.” Still, none of them are as popular as the originals. continue reading

The CUBA project was developed at UCI, the University of Information Science, over three months, two of which were focused on sorting all of the country’s websites. Its developers guarantee that from the moment of its launching, it contains 500,000 indexed web pages, and among these are 6,695 using the .cu domain.

Ariagna González, director of UCI’s Center for Internet Studies and Development, told the official press that CUBA’s design is adaptable to different types of electronic devices, be they computers, tablets, or smartphones. It will allow the user to retrieve information posted on Cuban servers, and could also be an alternative for people who only have access to intranets, such as Infomed and Cubarte. Several computer users who spoke to 14ymedio agreed that “while it’s not the internet, at least it [CUBA] makes searching Cuban websites easier.” Gloria, a 34-year old user of the Cubarte intranet said that for years now she has needed “a search engine that could help me find everything from a theater group to a “Joven Club,”* and now I’m hoping to do so with this new tool.”

Others, like sixteen-year-old Anthony, are a bit more wary when it comes to recently launched CUBA: “Honestly, I prefer Google. This new search engine is like reinventing the wheel, but for the Internet. All the search engines we need have already been invented.” Anthony was connected to WiFi on Havana’s La Rampa Boulevard when 14ymedio asked for his opinion.

CUBA’s technology is based on the Orión search engine developed by UCI in 2013. In order to publicize the existence of this new tool, all “Joven Club” staff is being trained on how to instruct users on all the resources available through it. Apart from its home page, CUBA offers direct access to sites dedicated to sports, entertainment, news, health, art, and the humanities.

The real test for the search engine’s developers will be the upcoming school year when it is projected that 295 high schools and 329 trade schools throughout the whole country will be connected to the web. The plan includes connecting middle schools, special education schools, and daycare centers to the Internet before 2017, and elementary schools one year later.

Nevertheless, CUBA’s principal obstacle will be overcoming the public’s misgivings, since it seems they are more interested in using original sites than their Cuban versions.

* Translator’s Note: “Joven Club de Computación y Electrónica,” or “JCCE,” is a nationwide network of computer centers, where users only have access to the Cuban intranet. There are currently over 600 such centers throughout the island. Nevertheless, much of the equipment is obsolete, and the use of the Internet is closely monitored.

Translated by José Badué

Blogger and Activist Angel Santiesteban Released from Prison / 14ymedio

Angel Santiesteban. (14ymedio)
Angel Santiesteban. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 17 July 2015 — The writer and journalist Angel Santiesteban Prats was released from prison on Friday night. Speaking to 14ymedio, Santiesteban said he wanted the quick release of other activists and that a new stage “of struggle” was now starting.

“Just a few minutes ago Major Adonis and First Lieutenant Guillarte said “Angel Santiesteban, congratulations, you have just been released’,” explained the writer. “Then I was given my personal belongings and left.” Asked by this newspaper about his next steps, he answered: “Now, to fight, and other releases have to happen, such as that of El Sexto (Danilo Maldonado).”

In December of 2012, after a process that has been labeled by many as arbitrary and precipitous, Santiesteban was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for “violation of domicile and injuries.” Since 2008, he has published in his activist blog, The Children Nobody Wanted, in support of human rights on the island.

From the prison where he began his sentence, the Lawton Settlement Prison, in Havana, he passed from one prison to another, accused of “attempted escape.” For almost a year, he was imprisoned in the Border Patrol Unit, west of Havana, a military base where he experienced a more severe prison regimen.

Angel Santiesteban has won important literary awards, including the Casa de las Américas Prize in 2006. His book The Summer God Slept received the Franz Kafka Novels From The Drawer Prize in 2013.

Reporters Without Borders had called on the Cuban authorities to withdraw all charges against Angel Santiesteban Prats and release him immediately.

Criminal Acts Cause Losses Of More Than Six Million Pesos In Public Health / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 July 12015 — Amid reports that various state bodies have reported to the standing committees of the National Assembly, the powerful Comptroller General of the Republic (CGR) is among those doing so. According to the statement made by that entity on Monday, criminal acts persist in the institutions of the Ministry of Public Health and Communal Services.

Ileana Flores Izquierdo, head of the department of “Attention to the Population” in the CGR, said the modus operandi of these illegalities still includes bribes, inflated payrolls and padding the payroll with no-shows. To these are added such irregularities as failure to record invoices and vouchers for products without signatures, as well as the diversion of resources for subsequent illegal sale.

The gap between the detection of one of these crimes and the analysis of it or proceeding to eradicate it is still excessive: between six months and one year, the official explained. Economic losses resulting from these illegal acts amount so far this year to 6,266,893 Cuban pesos.

The modus operandi of these crimes include bribes, inflated payrolls and padding the payroll with no-shows

The deputies participating the in committee of Health and Sports agreed that such events occur because the management of the health care entities are lax and undemanding.

Teresa Perez Morales, deputy for the town of Bejucal, noted that, “The cadres should end the favoritism and cronyism to solve the problems.” For this deputy, “There will cease to be political myopia when we urgently focus on eradicating these problems.”

The area of communal services continues to have the largest number of criminal acts that have not been resolved.

WiFi in Pinar del Rio: Slideshow / 14ymedio

Several people connected to the WiFi from the center of Pinar del Río. (14ymedio)
Since early this month, the landscape has changed in Pinar del Rio with the installation of a wireless network to surf the Internet, installed by the State Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA)
1conexion-wifi-Pinar-Rio_CYMIMA20150714_0009_12
Some young people share a application that lets others connect through a single account and so save money
2wifi-Pinar_CYMIMA20150715_0002_12
Young girls look for friends on Facebook. The complicit laughter and whispers into each other’s ears complete the picture.
3wifi-Pinar-Rio_CYMIMA20150715_0004_12
The WiFi service has changed the face of the central avenue for the four blocks from Independence Park to La Chiquita store.
4Senoras-conversando-EE-UU-wifi_CYMIMA20150715_0006_12
The park where as recently as two weeks ago only drunks and vagrants spent the night has been taken over by whole families gathered around a screen.

continue reading

5Familia-Extanjero-Portal-Comercio-Bosque_CYMIMA20150715_0008_12
At any hour of the morning, afternoon or night, the place is packed with entire families talking via Skype with their family members abroad.
6wifi-Pinar-Rio_CYMIMA20150715_0010_12
Students download information they can use in their next course, young people recently released onto the World Wide Web create their Facebook profiles
7Madre-nieto-portal-calle-Marti_CYMIMA20150715_0015_12
No one wants to be without their kilobytes. The tricks to it are shared outloud and if someone finds a way to optimize the connection time, the news travels from mouth to mouth.
8amigas-laptop-Parque-Bosque_CYMIMA20150715_0018_12
A commotion, a jolt or a social phenomenon, the fact is that everyone agrees this city is not the same since the first of July.
9Arquimedes-EE-UU-Parque-Bosque_CYMIMA20150715_0017_12
The artist Arquímedes Lores Nelo talking with a family member from the Parque del Bosque
10Chicas-revisando-Facebook-Portal-Marti_CYMIMA20150715_0016_12
A girl, sitting in a doorway, chats her cellphone. “For us, who have nothing, this is very good,” explains the young woman without taking her eyes off the screen.
11Parque-Bosque-Pinar-Rio-conectandose_CYMIMA20150714_0017_12
The park where as recently as two weeks ago only drunks and vagrants spent the night has been taken over by whole families gathered around a screen.
13Jovenes-conectados-centro-Pinar-Rio_CYMIMA20150714_0015_12
The reduction in hourly connection costs, although still out of reach relative to wages, has motivated many to try this thing called the “interned.” (sic)
14Joven-Parque-Bosque-Pinar-Rio_CYMIMA20150714_0014_12
Now, at two convertible pesos an hour*, residents of Pinar del Rio have been added to the many Cubans who have taken to the places where 35 WiFi points have just been unveiled throughout the country.
15Wifi-centro-Pinar-Rio_CYMIMA20150714_0013_12
A month before the service was turned on in Pinar del Rio, the antennas were installed for the connection and, barely two weeks beforehand, the bandwidth was tested with 120 people connected at the same time
16Joven-Parque-Independencia-Pinar-Rio_CYMIMA20150714_0011_12
In Independence Park the connectivity is quite a spectacle. Loudspeakers play reggaeton every hour, while hundreds of young people are everywhere, some connected to the web, others dancing.
17Familias-Parque-Bosque-Pinar-Rio_CYMIMA20150714_0010_12
People, despite the costs, bite the bullet and live the experience of access to a vast diversity of information
18wifi-Pinar-Rio_CYMIMA20150715_0007_12
Alejandro, a young college student who has already tested the service a couple of times, told 14ymedio, “This is the best vacation gift you could imagine, this is my best summer.”
19wifi-Pinar-Rio_CYMIMA20150715_0011_12
The bright flashes of the red LED on the USB memory shows they are making copies of everything they read.
20wifi-Pinar-Rio_CYMIMA20150715_0014_12
“Cubans always look for ways to overcome obstacles,” points out Andy, one of those connected to the peculiar network formed by all these guys stuck to their laptops
Midnight is approaching and the parks are still full. It seems that Pinar del Rio doesn’t want to go to sleep.
Midnight is approaching and the parks are still full. It seems that Pinar del Rio doesn’t want to go to sleep.
The ETECSA offices in Pinar del Rio
The ETECSA offices in Pinar del Rio

 

 

Pinar Del Rio Comes Alive With The Internet / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

Several people connected to the WiFi from the center of Pinar del Río. (14ymedio)
Several people connected to the WiFi from the center of Pinar del Río. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 15 July 2015 – For a long time the city of Pinar del Río has languished in the evening. The central Martí Street was a scene of complete desolation and only came alive Saturday with groups of young people wandering aimlessly. However, since early this month, the landscape has changed with the installation of a wireless network to surf the Internet, installed by the State Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA).

The WiFi service has changed the face of the central avenue for the four blocks from Independence Park to La Chiquita store. It is now a hive of people with phones, tablets, laptops and whatever technological device serves to access the web. At any hour of the morning, afternoon or night, the place is packed. continue reading

Entire families talk via Skype with their family members abroad. Students download information they can use in their next course, young people recently released onto the World Wide Web create their Facebook profiles, and hundreds of people, read, search and flit from one page to another. No one wants to be without their kilobytes. The tricks to it are shared outloud and if someone finds a way to optimize the connection time, the news travels from mouth to mouth.

A commotion, a jolt or a social phenomenon, the fact is that everyone agrees this city is not the same since the first of July. The park where as recently as two weeks ago only drunks and vagrants spent the night has been taken over by whole families gathered around a screen.

The park where as recently as two weeks ago only drunks and vagrants spent the night has been taken over by whole families gathered around a screen

The reduction in hourly connection costs, although still out of reach relative to wages, has motivated many to try this thing called the “interned.” (sic) Now, at two convertible pesos an hour*, residents of Pinar del Rio have been added to the many Cubans who have taken to the places where 35 WiFi points have just been unveiled throughout the country.

A month before the service was turned on in Pinar del Rio, the antennas were installed for the connection and, barely two weeks beforehand, the bandwidth was tested with 120 people connected at the same time. Last weekend the phenomenon was launched and threatens to revolutionize the entire city.

Alejandro, a young college student who has already tested the service a couple of times, told 14ymedio, “This is the best vacation gift you could imagine, this is my best summer.” With a tablet in hand, he navigates the social networks like Twitter, and watches videos on YouTube, while checking his email and looking for information on topics that interest him. The appetite for information is huge.

Like love, the Internet has no age and Leopoldina, 60, is almost crying with joy as she sees again via videoconference an emigrant son she hadn’t seen in ten years. “My son, how beautiful you are and how pretty your house is. The whole neighborhood sends you greetings and kisses,” the lady repeats, still a little surprised that this “box with keys” had returned her “little boy” to her.

Nearby a group of young girls looks for friends on Facebook. The complicit laughter and the whispers into each other’s ears complete the picture. A few yards away another girl, sitting in a doorway, chats her cellphone. “For us, who have nothing, this is very good,” explains the young woman without taking her eyes off the screen. “The price is high and many people can’t afford the equivalent of 50 Cuban pesos per hour, but I hope they’ll lower it later,” she says with enthusiasm.

Leopoldina, 60, is almost crying with joy as she sees again via videoconference an emigrant son she hadn’t seen in ten years

In Independence Park the connectivity is quite a spectacle. Loudspeakers play reggaeton every hour, while hundreds of young people are everywhere, some connected to the web, others dancing.

Baseball lovers, in Rock Forest Park now consult the web for the latest results of the Cubans playing in the major leagues. The minute they hear of the recent high level leaks against the United States their comments contrast with the silence of the government press on these matters. “They don’t have to say anything now, explain anything to us. Now we already have the news of the day,” a fan shouts loudly.

People, despite the costs, bite the bullet and live the experience of access to a vast diversity of information. “It is a sensation of freedom that I’ve never experienced before, ‘brother’,” Geddy Carlos enthuses. Seated next to eight young people who share an application through which they are all linked through a single account and so save money.

“Cubans always look for ways to overcome obstacles,” points out Andy, one of those connected to the peculiar network formed by all these guys stuck to their laptops. A young couple, next to them, jumps from El Nuevo Herald to el Diario de las Americas, and before they disconnect they take a look at El Pais. The bright flashes of the red LED on the USB memory shows they are making copies of everything they read.

“Look at what Antonio Castro is saying in Turkey!” a surprised young man murmurs, and an flood of friends come over to look at the page appearing on the screen. Midnight is approaching and the parks are still full. It seems that Pinar del Rio doesn’t want to go to sleep.

*Translator’s note: 2 convertible pesos is more than $2 US, the equivalent of two days wages or more for many workers.

Civil Society Open Forum Asks Pope Francis to Meet with Representatives of Civil Society / 14ymedio

Opponents gathered at the Civil Society Open Forum at its meeting on Thursday 16 July. (14ymedio)
Government opponents gathered at the Civil Society Open Forum at its meeting on Thursday 16 July. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 July 2015 – Cuba’s Civil Society Open Forum launched a call for a plural and inclusive dialog at one of its regular meetings, on 16 July, in which it sent a letter to Pope Francis and a statement about the increasing repression of the Ladies in White and other activists.

The request for dialog in this call is directed to the entities of civil society, the political organizations of the opposition, government authorities and the people in general.

The letter to the pope was delivered to the Apostolic Nunciature by Catholic priest Jose Conrado Rodriguez, the lay pastor Dagoberto Valdes and the pastor Mario Lleonart, where Francis is asked to meet with representatives from Cuba’s civil society.

In particular, the letter highlights the violence against the Ladies in White and their companions, and against the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU). As a consequence of these actions numerous activists have been victims of brutal reprisals.

Some thirty activists, representatives of diverse organizations, discussed the possibilities and conditions under which they could engage in a political discussion with the powers that be.

International Road Safety Expert Advises Cuban Authorities / 14ymedio

Transgaviota bus involved in an accident. (Image taken from the primate time television news)
Transgaviota bus involved in an accident. (Image taken from the primate time television news)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 15 July 2015 — The president of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), Jean Todt, met in Havana with Cuban authorities in charge of transport to find ways to reduce accidents on the island’s roads. Todt is in Cuba on Monday in his capacity as United Nations ambassador for road safety.

The expert has launched a Latin American tour that will also include Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. The aim is to help combat traffic accidents, which worldwide cause over a million deaths and 50 million injuries a year, something that Todt calls “a pandemic.” Speaking to Agence France Presse, the FIA ​​president said that “an awareness at the highest level in each country is necessary, so that traffic accidents are placed at the same level as AIDS and Ebola.”

With his Cuban partners, Todt talked about the age of the vehicle fleet, two-thirds of which is made up of American cars from the ’50s or Soviet cars from the ‘70s and ‘80s. “There are about 600,000 vehicles in the country, but only 5% of them are newer than 10 years and about 50% are over 30 years old,” Todt said. “It requires education, enforcement, improvements in infrastructure and rejuvenating vehicles,” he added. continue reading

Deputy Transport Minister, Oscar del Toro Quesada acknowledged that Cuban authorities face huge challenges in this area. After government restrictions lasting half a century, in January 2014 they began to allow the free sale of vehicles, but the astronomical prices have only supported a few transactions.

In 2009 a road safety plan was launched, which foresaw greater legal and institutional support, training and education, maintenance of roads and safer vehicles, but this strategy has not yet borne fruit.

Nearly 700 people died on Cuban roads in 2014*, a rate of 6.2 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, higher than the previous year (five per 100,000).  In the first half of 2015, there have been 346 deaths.

*Translator’s note: Traffic deaths in Cuba per 100,000 motor vehicles are more than ten times the rate in the United States. Traffic deaths are generally compared based on deaths per miles/kilometers driven, but that data is not available for Cuba.

 

Green Light in Mariel Special Zone for Five Foreign Companies and Two Cuban Ones / 14ymedio

Container Terminal in the Port of Mariel Special Development Zone
Container Terminal in the Port of Mariel Special Development Zone

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 15 July 2015 — Seven companies received approval to open businesses in the port of Mariel and the nearby industrial area, as reported Wednesday the Associated Press. Since late 2014, the green light has been received by two Belgian companies, two Mexican, one Spanish and two Cuban, which will be dedicated to food, chemicals, logistics and automation.

Ana Teresa Igarza, Director General of the Office of the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM), told AP that more than 400 foreign companies have been in contact seeking authorization. Of this total, only about 25 completed the documentation. “The first (investors) are the hardest, when they begin to invest with more ease others see what they are doing, but there is a step closer, she said.

The space to open will be in Sector A, an area of about 17.4 square miles, where an esplanade is being built for the first two factories: the Spanish company Hotelsa, dedicated to the manufacture and marketing of food products and beverages for the hospitality industry, and the Mexican company Richmeat, a producer of meat.

The Mariel Special Development Zone has a 2,300 foot quay at the port and a railway line that will serve to both for cargo and to transport workers.

The Zone, which opened in January 2014, currently offers employment to 328 workers, in addition to 4,000 working temporarily in construction. Teresita Trujillo, a specialist in the office of the Special Zone consulted by AP, estimates that about 70,000 jobs will be created.

Several US companies have already expressed interest in opening in Mariel after the diplomatic rapprochement between Washington and Havana; they include Cleber, from Alabama, which assembles tractors.

 

Cuban Vice President Diaz-Canel: “The Cultural Policy Of The Cuban Revolution Is Unique” / 14ymedio

Abel Prieto, adviser to President Raul Castro on cultural issues in a forum of Ministers of Culture of Latin America and the Caribbean in 2010. (Ministry of Culture of Ecuador)
Abel Prieto, adviser to President Raul Castro on cultural issues in a forum of Ministers of Culture of Latin America and the Caribbean in 2010. (Ministry of Culture of Ecuador)

14ymedio biggerA few days after the censorship of Juan Carlos Cremata’s production of The King is Dying, cultural policy has been the topic of discussion on Monday at the National Assembly commission dedicated to these issues. The first vice president of the Councils of States and of Ministers Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, participated in the debate.

The parliamentarians discussed the implementation of cultural policy in public spaces, which led to Diaz-Canel to warn that “the enemies of the Cuban process are trying to use culture as a platform of capitalist restoration. Therefore they insist on the trivialization and vulgarization of culture.”

Also present at the commission were Abel Prieto, adviser to President Raul Castro on cultural issues, and the Minister of Culture, Julian Gonzalez, along with officials of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television and the Ministry of Domestic Trade. The normalization of relations with the United States prompted the first vice president to claim that “in the new scenario (…) Cuba should take advantage of the economic opportunities that circumstance offers, but must also assume the ideological challenge.” According to the official, “in that sense, the role of culture is unquestionable.”

Diaz-Canel said that “at a time when the contents, their distribution and impact take on a great importance in the political landscape, the political culture of the Cuban Revolution is the guarantee of national sovereignty (…) and is unique.” The Ministry of Culture, he added, “is the governing body of its application, but all government agencies must participate in its application.

Abel Prieto, for his part, specified that “it is not about imposing one culture, but promoting it, to guide people’s taste.”

Delegates to Cuba’s National Assembly Blame the “Weekly Packet” for Drug Use in Schools / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Singularidad-paquete-contenido-digitales-httpfalcowebbcom_CYMIMA20140913_0008_1614ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 13 July 2015 — Ten official caucuses of Cuba’s National Assembly of the People’s Power* convened last weekend to discuss –among other things – the state of the country’s senior citizenry, and the use of drugs in schools. This gathering at Havana’s Convention Center was a working prelude to the July 15th’s opening of the eighth session of the National Assembly.

The caucuses also examined Cuba’s housing problems. They reported that from December 2011 until this date, more than 424,000 credit applications for housing improvements have been approved by the government, totaling 4.4 billion Cuban pesos. Still, the delegates in attendance criticized the pervasive irregularities and illegalities hampering production, transportation, and the sale of construction materials. continue reading

A delegate from Ciego de Ávila Province, Antonio Raunel Hernández, reminded his colleagues that 19% of the current Cuban population is older than sixty years, and it is anticipated that by 2025 that figure will reach 30.5%, making the island the oldest country in Latin America. Faced with this challenge, delegates agreed to launch programs ­­­– within the framework of senior citizen homes – focusing special attention on those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other ailments requiring special attention.

Children also took center stage in last weekends’ meetings with a discussion on the urgency of improved training for childcare specialists. Martha Elena Fleitó, First Vice-Minister of Labor and Social Security, stated that of the 1,726 childcare professionals in the country, 34% of them work in Havana. The increasing propensity among Cuban parents to opt for private daycare facilities has raised alarms about the conditions of their State-run counterparts.

The Economic Affairs Caucus reported that revenues to the State’s budget last year rose to 47 billion Cuban pesos. At the moment, there are 498 cooperatives in the country, of which 204 focus on gastronomy and other services. According to Tania Duconger, President of the Customer Service Caucus, 95% of these enterprises are “turning a profit.”

While Cuban national television did report summaries of the topics discussed, many viewers lamented the lack of a “National Assembly channel” where speeches, reports, and debates could be followed live. Among the numerous topics for discussion, one that aroused enormous interest is the consumption of alcohol and drugs in schools. Although barely ever mentioned in the official media, this consumption is increasingly common in the country’s educational institutions.

The caucus meetings disclosed that with each passing year Cubans who smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol are younger and younger. Several deputies attributed this to newscasts and audiovisual materials that reach the youth through “el paquete” or the “weekly packet,” where they learn about celebrities who consume drugs. Therefore, a new law will be passed requiring the expulsion of young people over sixteen who consume or distribute alcohol and drugs in schools.

At the meeting of the International Affairs Caucus, Josefina Vidal, Director General of United States Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, gave a synopsis of events after the announcements of December 17, 2014. Ms. Vidal confirmed the opening of an embassy in Washington on July 20th, and also said: “On that day we will be ending the first phase of the process we initiated with the United States.” Nevertheless, she warned that the process towards normalization of relations between both countries “would take some time…We have yet to discuss very complicated matters that have accumulated over the past five decades.”

Translator’s Note: According to Cuba’s 1976 Communist constitution, the “Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular” is the single-chamber legislative branch of government. All its delegates are Communist Party members, nominated by their local Party branches, and elected unopposed through obligatory universal suffrage. The National Assembly, which seldom meets, serves as a rubber stamp for the decisions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.

Translated by José Badué

Building Collapse Kills Four in Old Havana / 14ymedio

Building collapse on Habana Street in Old Havana.
Building collapse on Habana Street in Old Havana.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 July 2015 – The peaceful early morning was turned into a tragedy for the neighbors of 409 Habana Street between Obispo and Obrapia, in Old Havana.

While the residents of the place slept, at six in the morning this Wednesday, the building fell down and caused at least four deaths, a figure that could risein the coming hours given the severity of the injuries.

A minor was taken to Juan Manual Marquez Pediatric Hospital and two adults are being cared for at Calixto Garcia Hospital. There they also received the last of the dead confirmed by 14ymedio, a young woman age 18, Glendys Amayi Pérez Kindelán, who was visiting Havana at the home of some family members. In the Tomas Romay Polyclinic in Aguiar Street Henola Álvarez Martínez, a little girl of 3 gravely injured in the collapse, died.

Jorge A. Álvarez Rodríguez, age 18, and Mayra Páez Mora, age 60, also died.

The street, located in a tourist area, was cordoned off from the very early hours of the morning and the police detained a young man taking photos of the incident. The roof was totally caved in and the façade is cracked in half. Among the rubble one can see furniture, clothing, beds and other items.

The building had two floors and the neighbors attribute the collapse to the ground floor tenant who was remodeling and may have removed some bearing wall. The most affected family had lodged several complaints and denunciations about these “construction movements” being undertaken in the downstairs dwelling. The intense rains that fell in Havana yesterday and the poor state of the housing could have contributed to the collapse.

The rescue brigades are working non-stop to remove the debris in order to be able to enter the building.