4-star Cockroaches / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Facade of the Plaza Hotel in Old Havana (14ymedio)
Facade of the Plaza Hotel in Old Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 26 August 2015 – When Francina Islas and Juan Andres Sanchez planned their Cuban vacation from Miami, they didn’t imagine that their stay in Havana would become a sequence of discomforts and annoyances. Three days at the centrally-located Hotel Plaza was enough to know that the excellence of Cuban tourist facilities is often a publicity mirage with no connection to reality.

The latest figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics indicate that the country experienced a 21.1% increase in foreign visitors between January and May of 2015, compared the same period from a year ago. However, at the same time that the number of tourists was increasing, customer demands were increasing.

The couple who shared their experience with 14ymedio said, “We were not looking for luxury, just minimal conditions of hygiene and maintenance, working hot water, no cockroaches,” said Francina, a Mexican traveling with her Spanish husband and their daughter.

With difficulty, the family managed to book a room in Havana from Spain. The flood of tourists has left little availability in the accommodation network which includes 430 establishments throughout the country, including hotels, apartment hotels, motels, villas, hostels, houses, cottages and campgrounds. continue reading

After working through several obstacles, Francina and Juan Andres made a reservation through the Logitravel travel agency for a room in the Armadores de Santander, located in a historic mansion in the city. But a week before traveling, they were alerted that it was overbooked and they were relocated to the Plaza Hotel, what was announced as four-stars.

Interior Detail of the Plaza Hotel
Interior Detail of the Plaza Hotel (14ymedio(

The change didn’t bother them at all, because the new place is a few yards from Central Park, and had a beautiful façade. However, passing through the most visible areas of the building, they found the rooms left a lot to be desired.

The musty smell on opening the door of the room was the first sign that something was wrong. Then they found there was dust on the furniture, the shower was not embedded in the wall, but hanging, and the water pressure lasted just a few minutes. If someone closed the bathroom door from inside, they needed help from outside to open it, and the bedspreads were dirty and shabby. “Fortunately the sheets had been washed and changed, and they were the only things we used because the blanket was torn, ripped and filthy,” the alarmed Francina commented.

Another interior shot of the Plaza Hotel (14ymedio)
Another interior shot of the Plaza Hotel (14ymedio)

When they went to breakfast the first time they tried to shake off their frustration with some good tropical fruits, but there was nothing like a Cuban pineapple, guava, or mango, nor even natural juices. Their annoyance grew and the couple – the journalist and her economist husband – were on the point of slamming the door to the Plaza Hotel, but it wasn’t that easy.

The price of the central accommodation is 120 convertible pesos (just over $120) a night in this season, but Francina and Juan Andres were only paying 80 because they got a deal. Contacting the Logitravel Agency was impossible: the cost of overseas calls too expensive, and the internet service too slow.

The Plaza Hotel is managed by the Hotel Group Gran Caribe SA, an entity that is grouped under the Ministry of Tourism, whose slogan is “in all its splendor.” With 12,123 rooms spread over 45 facilities, Gran Caribe is present in the main tourist centers in the country and now has its sights set on a possible flood of tourism from the United States.

On the third day, August 6, the couple left the Plaza and rented a room in the Hotel President. They found the room clean and airy, but “the bathroom taps didn’t fully shut off,” they said. Francina ended up wondering, “How can there be such a lack of water for Havanans and a permanent waste of water in hotels?”

“We will are not going quarrel with the Plaza, we will complain to the agency,” said Francina. “I lost count of how many cockroaches I found in the room.” For the couple it is not only about complaining to get their money back, but who is going to give them back their vacation?

Neither Strong Men nor Soft Coups / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

A Sunday march of the Ladies in White in Havana. (14ymedio)
A Sunday march of the Ladies in White in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 24 August 2015 — Two notable Cuban analysts, Carlos Alberto Montaner and Rafael Rojas, have plunged the scalpel almost simultaneously, but without having come to an agreement (as far as we know) about a particular issue: the popular anti-government protests in Latin America. Montaner in, “The Terrible Time of the Strongmen” and Rojas under the title, “Soft Coups?” in the Mexican newspaper La Razón

The first, the politician, makes a list of twelve demands shared by the citizens of Latin American countries against governments of the left, the center and the right; the second, the academic, questions the term “golpista” (coup supporter) from the leftist governments faced with their respective “peaceful and institutional oppositions, without the support of the armies, who are loyal to their governments.”

Looking at this simultaneously from different positions – which do not diverge – overlooking the Latin American political landscape, one appreciates the agreement on the inefficiencies of the continent’s democracies. The protests, organized or spontaneous, with greater or lesser violence, allowed or suppressed, are a reflection of the discontent of certain sectors who do not feel duly represented in the halls of parliaments, where what is demanded with shouts in the street should be settled in a calm way. continue reading

The leaders affected by these protests, whatever political color they may be, defend themselves wielding the supposed legitimacy they once achieved at the ballot box, dismissing the demonstrators and claiming they have been confused or bought by foreign powers, or they send their supporters out into the streets to compete in numbers with the opposition.

Curiously, neither of the two analysts includes the case of Cuba. It gives the impression that the Caribbean island does not belong to Latin America, or that the uniqueness of Cuba merits its own separate study.

Of the dozen grievances enumerated by Montaner only one, the violation of human rights, has a permanent presence in the Sunday marches of the Ladies in White or the demonstrations of UNPACU in Cuba’s eastern provinces. The rest of the topics, except for the shortages, seem to be postponed until we have an imperfect democracy, although any one of them is worthy of an entire day of protest.

Another curiosity that comes to mind after reading “Soft Coups,” signed by Rojas, is that the Cuban government is on the only one in the club of Latin American leftists that has never used the descriptive “coup supporters” in the long list of insults it launches against opponents on the island or in exile. And this is despite the fact that from the most radical sectors of the opposition there is no attempt to hide the desire to “overthrow the dictatorship.” Not for one second does it occur to the managers of official propaganda that those in uniform would be against them.

The only military coup that might be expected in Cuba would have come from this recalcitrant left that frowns on timid openings in the market, rapprochement with the United States through an eventual normalization of relations, and any concession to multiparty democracy.

The presumed protagonists of this coup option would not go out into the street with posters or gladioli, but rather with tanks and machine guns. But this is an improbable hypothesis, just as much as is the sudden appearance of an enlightened leader who would drag the people to a restorative platform through the instrument of revolutionary means.

Yusmila Reyna: “UNPACU’s Challenge Is To Turn Sympathizers into Activists” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

UNPACU activist Yusmila Reyna. (Facebook)
UNPACU activist Yusmila Reyna. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 August 2015 – A philologist by training, a dissident by passion, and an activist with the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) by choice, Yusmila Reyna (b. 1976) is today one of the most important figures in the opposition. She speaks slowly, moves easily through technology issues and seeks perfection in everything she does.

Since joining UNPACU, this woman has known how to leave the imprint of a part of her personality on the movement. This week we exchanged messages through the State Nauta service about the fourth anniversary of the opposition organization. In her free minutes between her young daughter and daily challenges, Yusmila responded to some questions for 14ymedio.

Sanchez. Four years after the founding of the UNPACU, what is the main challenge of the organization?

Reyna. To motivate and move thousands of Cubans to join the peaceful struggle for freedom. That is the great challenge of all opposition. Although we have achieved certain results, the reality is that we have much left to do.

Sanchez. Who are the members of UNPACU and how many are there?

Reyna. We have had many ups and downs in the course of these four years. Many have joined, but not everyone can bear the pressures of the repressive forces. Between the eastern region and Camaguey is where we are best organized. We now have about 2,500 activists. In the rest of the country we are not in a condition to establish numbers right now. In the central and western regions we are reorganizing, restructuring and trying to identify the leadership to sustain the fight. continue reading

We have had many ups and downs in the course of these four years. Many have joined, but not everyone can bear the pressures of the repressive forces.

UNPACU has members of all ages, but young people are the majority in our ranks, those between 18 and 45. A good portion of us are from the eastern provinces, Santiago de Cuba first of all, and we are humble people, working-class, young people who are unemployed and self-employed.

We have professionals and technicians, but the base is composed mainly of people who only finished high school, or even just the ninth grade.

Sanchez. The Cuban opposition has been strongly criticized for not being “connected to the people and not reaching ordinary Cubans.” How does this relate to the work of your organization?

Reyna.  For UNPACU, we reach out in so many ways to the people I mentioned, principally in the east and in the Cuban capital, to thousands of compatriots who look to us and ask us for help to solve many of their problems. They look to us to denounce the injustices they’ve been victims of, to avoid an eviction, to get them medications, to help them in the construction of a humble abode. They also ask to use our audiovisuals, to help them connect to the internet and many other things.

In Santiago de Cuba, for example, there is no person who does not know our organization. Young people and teenagers are humming the music produced by our artists and they even threaten the police that they will get UNPACU to come when they harass them or try to stop the weekend parties. If everyone who sympathized with us joined in a peaceful protest we would fill several plazas. The challenge is to turn sympathizers into activists.

Sanchez. Right now UNPACU is the opposition movement with the largest number of political prisoners. To what do you attribute such marked repression against you?

Reyna. Currently there are 21 and since September of 2011 we are the organization with the most political prisoners in Cuba. More than one hundred members of UNPACU have passed through the regime’s prisons in the last four years. Political prisoners and repression manifest themselves to the extend that pro-democracy public activism manifests itself. It is a law of physics: every action causes a reaction. The more our activism annoys the dictatorship, the more their repression. We are developing a diverse struggle in many areas. Some areas are more repressed than others.

They look to us to denounce the injustices they’ve been victims of, to avoid an eviction, to get them medications

 Sanchez. How does UNPACU view the normalization of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States?

Reyna. Since last December we have said that we value the process of normalizing relations between the US government and the Cuban regime. We appreciate the solidarity of the US government with the Cuban people and independent civil society, and we are also grateful for the solidarity of governments and organizations of the old continent.

The protagonists of change must be Cubans, but solidarity is always necessary. In UNPACU we try to be realistic and never forget the feelings of the majority, the opinion of the people, our friends and the world in general. We always want to take the greatest advantage for the cause of freedom and open any space we can for freedom.

Sanchez. What do you expect from the visit of Pope Francis to Santiago de Cuba in September?

Reyna. We want to tell him that Cuba has not changed much since the visit of John Paul II and continues to be the same country that then Archbishop Pedro Meurice presented to the Polish pope. We hope that he can intercede for the political prisoners and be heard by Raul Castro. We will also tell him that the solidarity of the Church with the oppressed is always appreciated by many and that we hope his visit will be positive for our people and for the Church.

Another Sunday of Repression Against the Ladies in White / 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 23 August 2015 — This Sunday has resulted in dozens of arrests among activists and Ladies in White. The arrests occurred after the traditional march that the human rights movement takes along Fifth Avenue in Havana. This time, the police operation was very intense and many of those who tried to approach Santa Rita parish in Miramar were intercepted.

The regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque reported that after 11 in the moring only 14 people had been able to reach the place, along them activists from different groups and independent journalists. For his part, the dissident Angel Moya confirmed the arrest of at least 10 opponents who had intended to accompany the Ladies in White in their Sunday walk.

After the Mass and the meeting at the Gandhi Park, several activists were repressed by groups organized by the State Security. As is usual in these acts of violence, the police put dissidents in several buses that took them to a detention center in Tarara or the place known as Vivac in the south of the capital city.

The Terrible Time of the Strongmen / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Hundreds of thousands of protesters take to the streets of Brazil to protest against corruption. (Twitter / Telenoticias)
Hundreds of thousands of protesters take to the streets of Brazil to protest against corruption. (Twitter / Telenoticias)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 23 August 2015 — Latin America’s streets are filled with people protesting angrily against their governments. The protests are against governments of the left (Venezuela – the worst of all, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Nicaragua and Argentina); against those of the center (Peru and Mexico); and against those of the right (Guatemala and Honduras). Surely others will be added along the way.

Those who have taken to the streets in Latin America are essentially protesting for one, several or all of the following twelve reasons: corruption, inefficiency, insecurity against violent crime, the impunity of criminals, the subordination of the other republican branches of government – the legislative and the judicial – to the will of the executive, the blatant change in the rules to stay in power indefinitely, the violation of human rights, electoral tricks, control over the media, shortages, the abuse of rights previously granted to unions or indigenous peoples, and the irresponsible abuse of the delicate ecosystem.

The general perception is that the region is being governed terribly badly, which in part explains the longstanding relative backwardness continue reading

The phenomenon is very serious. The general perception is that the region is being governed terribly badly, which in part explains its longstanding relative backwardness. The social contract between the governors and the governed has been broken, and the latter refuse to give their consent to the former. The pitcher can only go to the well so many times before it breaks.

In the republican concept we are all equal, we are obliged to comply with the laws, we cannot write constitutions or dictate laws at the pleasure of an abusive clique, elections are organized as collective mechanisms to make decisions and not to legitimate corrupt mandarins.

Likewise, it is assumed that politicians and officials obtain their positions and move up and keep them based on their merits and not on their relationships. They are public servants who enter government to fulfill the mandate directed by the society that has elected them. They have been chose not to command, but to obey. This, at least, is the theory.

And the theory is not wrong. We Latin Americans have violated it until it has failed.

Bad businesspeople have violated it, in collusion with the rulers, sharing out profits and closing the path to economic actors who lack sponsors or who are unable to engage in bribery.

Union and syndicate leaders have made a mockery of it when they negotiate with power for privileges, knowing that they are making it almost impossible for young people to enter the labor market.

Certain religious leaders of all ranks have done great damage, as have verbose journalists and certain radical professors who condemn the quest for personal triumph, as if economic success in life – achievements through profits – were a crime or a sin.

The republican design works and we see it in the twenty most prosperous and free countries in the world

Of course the republican design is correct and it works. We see it in the twenty most prosperous and free countries in the world. Some are republics and others are parliamentary monarchies, but all accept the basic norms of the Rule of Law born from the enlightenment and perfection of liberal revolutions.

Among these successful nations, some governments are liberal and renounce the anti-clericalism of early times, while others are social democrats who stripped away the superstitions of Marxism, or Christian democrats devoid of religious fanaticism, or conservatives who abandoned an unpleasant taste for the iron fist or the disproportionate worship of order.

Sometimes coalitions form, at others the political terrain is adversarial, but they always proceed democratically in the exercise of power. They form a part of the same political family, presided over by tolerance, that arose from the American and French revolutions, although they are divided by an important factor, but one that is neither vital nor irreconcilable: the intensity and destination of the tax burden, which determines the size and responsibilities that each group assigns to the State.

Not included in this lineage are communists, fascists, and authoritarians of every stripe – militarists, ultranationalists, religious fanatics – because they do not believe in coexisting with and respecting differences, nor in the pluralism inherent in every society, nor in democratic changes in government, as evidenced by the endless trail of corpses they have left in their efforts to conserve power.

It is desirable that we Latin Americans learn once and for all a rather obvious lesson: the republican structure is very fragile and is only sustained over the long term if societies are capable of discriminating in favor of governments that accept and follow the rules that give meaning and form to this way of organizing coexistence. Govern well or everything will go up in smoke.

When they govern badly, first comes the widespread sense of collapse, and then come the strongmen, the military who command and control, the enlightened revolutionaries; they exert authority over our peoples, aggravating all the evils that they swore to fix. That is the terrible time of the strongmen.

Cuban Doctors in Bogota Demand US Visas After Defecting In Venezuela / 14ymedio

Dozens of Cuban doctors demonstrating this Saturday for a US visa in the Plaza de Banderas, south of Bogota. (EFE / Leonardo Muñoz)
Dozens of Cuban doctors demonstrating this Saturday for a US visa in the Plaza de Banderas, south of Bogota. (EFE / Leonardo Muñoz)

14ymedio biggerEFE / 14ymedio, Bogota, 22 August 2015 – Around fifty Cubans who deserted from Cuban “medical missions”* in Venezuela, gathered this Saturday in Bogota to denounce the “legal limbo” of nearly 500 of them who continue to wait for a visa to the United States and have exhausted the time of their stay in Colombia.

“We are gathered here today to demonstrate the world that we are professional and we are seeking freedom to practice our profession,” the dentist Mara Martinez, one of the Cubans in Bogota, explained to EFE.

Martinez, like many of her compatriots, finds herself in Bogota after deserting in Venezuela and crossing the border to Columbia “informally.” continue reading

On arriving in Bogota she asked to access Parole, a special US visa program, and while her request was pending she obtained safe conduct that allowed her to remain in the country legally for 90 days. After that time transpired she found herself in an irregular situation defined as “legal limbo.”

According to official data from Colombia Migration, in total 720 Cubans have entered the country informally so far this year after deserting in Venezuela.

Currently, according to the data, 117 of them are waiting for the US visa, while 603 have been deported so far in 2015.

However, this data contrasts with that managed by the Cubans themselves; the doctor Jose Angel Sanchez told EFE that from January to date they estimate that about 1,600 doctors have entered Colombia.

Of these, about 600 have gotten a visa to the United States, so there are still a thousand in Bogota.

“At the time we abandoned [the missions] we cease to be professionals in service to Cuba,” said Sanchez, explaining that their titles had already been cancelled in their native country.

The reasons why they decided to try to travel to the United States range from lack of freedom to the poor conditions in which they lived in Venezuela.

According to Colombia Migration, in total 720 Cubans have entered the country informally so far this year after deserting in Venezuela.

“We are modern slaves, I made the decision to abandon the mission to seek a better economic solution,” said the doctor Inalbis Lao Miniel.

Lao Miniel explained that the wage paid in Venezuela “barely covers the basic needs of anyone” and they had to live in substandard housing, which made them become infected with dengue fever.

With their salary they could not afford to purchase of essential hygiene items and had to resort to relatives in Cuba to meet some of their basic needs.

To enter Colombia they had to illegally cross the border at city of Cucuta, currently closed following an attack by suspected smugglers against Venezuelan military.

On their way they met policemen from both countries who “know why come, they think we have money and to not be betrayed by them they ask us for an amount of money that sometimes we don’t have to give them,” added Lao Miniel.

Among the reasons why they decided to leave their country as well, is the lack of democracy,” explained the nurse Adriana Lopez to EFE.

“I decided to leave it because I realized that (in Cuba) I would continue to be without freedom, without democracy,” she said.

In this regard says she observed in Venezuela how citizens “expressed what they felt and I wondered why they can express it and we cannot.”

“If you say what you think you can be prosecuted,” she said of the situation in Cuba.

Lopez explained that in Cuba she currently has her two daughters, both pregnant, along with her mother. She says they only ask for support and even ask that she “send a helicopter get them out of there.”

A situation that is repeated in numerous cases among Cubans who gathered today under a clear slogan: “When the people emigrate the rulers should step down.”

*Translator’s note: The Cuban government calls the work of Cuban doctors in other countries “missions,” but they are monetary arrangements and one of the major sources of government revenue. The doctors serving abroad are paid a small fraction of what foreign governments pay the Cuban government for their services.

Jose Daniel Ferrer Can Not Leave The Country For Reasons Of “Public Interest” / 14ymedio

Jose Daniel Ferrer, UNPACU leader. (14ymedio)
Jose Daniel Ferrer, UNPACU leader. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 August 2015 — The activist José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) has been informed this week by the Office of Immigration and Nationality that he can not leave the country. The authorities said that the travel restrictions are being imposed because he is not “in compliance with the criminal sanction” and there are “reasons of public interest” to prevent him from crossing the national borders.

The official response was communicated Wednesday, when Ferrer attempted to being the paperwork for a new passport at the identity card office in the Playa municipality in Havana. continue reading

The regime opponent had received an invitation from the Forum 200 Foundation to participate in its traditional annual event, to be held in Prague from 13 to 16 September. The forum seeks to maintain the legacy of Václav Havel and supports “the values ​​of democracy and respect for human rights, supporting the development of civil society,” in the words of its organizers.

Jose Daniel Ferrer is a part of the group of 75 dissidents imprisoned during the “Black Spring” of 2003, when he was sentenced to 25 years in prison. In 2011 he was released, but on parole.

Unusual “bomb alert” at the Carlos III Market / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Interior of Carlos III Market in downtown Havana. (14ymedio)
Interior of Carlos III Market in downtown Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana | August 18, 2015 — A crowd of shoppers and dozens of neighbors in the vicinity stood together at around 3 PM last Monday across from the popular Carlos III Market, in the capital municipality of Centro Habana. In a matter a minutes, and in a flurry of confusion, they had been forced to evacuate all shopping departments, eateries and entertainment areas due to a “bomb threat”.

The emblematic shopping center was shut down, and employees responsible for its security, who almost never have anything to do other than to check out the bags of customers suspected of theft, fluttered from one side to the other, trying to keep away the curious while exchanging details in their walkie-talkies, in a showy display worthy of a Hollywood action film like those that air on Cuban TV on Saturday nights. They had become the heroes of the day and were enjoying their role.

We are the only people who, instead of running away, stand around in a place where the possibility of a bomb exploding has just been announced. continue reading

There is so much national apathy here that Cubans are probably the only people who, instead of running away, stand around in a place where the possibility of a bomb exploding has just been announced. However, seeing that nothing was happening that was worthy of more attention, the crowd started to disperse gradually, and towards 6 PM there were barely a handful of neighbors hanging around, more entertained than concerned about an event that broke the neighborhood’s daily routine.

This was the moment this casual writer chose to innocently approach the security guard in charge of controlling the wrought iron fence at the market’s side entrance on Árbol Seco Street, to find out why they had closed before the regular time. “We have a special situation,” a very serious and circumspect guard responded. “And why is that, is there a fire, a new assault on Western Union, another gas leak like the one a few months back?”

Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. It belonged to a young man in his thirties who had quietly come over to us and had witnessed the brief dialogue. His Suzuki motorcycle, parked at the curb, by the sidewalk, betrayed his status as an agent of the State Security. He approached in a friendly and conciliatory – even condescending – manner: “No. We are going to tell this comrade the truth,” he directed his comment to the uniformed guard, who instantly turned into an unwelcome guest. Then, turning towards me, his hand still on my shoulder, informed me there was a “bomb threat” at the market, and, for security reasons, they had evacuated the place. The threat had been phoned in; they were not even sure whether the bomb had been placed at this store or at another one, so they had decided to close several shops since the previous day, as a precaution.

“Any Cuban might be a mercenary of the Islamic State. We have to be better informed, comrade! Don’t you know what the internet is?” the security dude told me.

I put on my best face of shock and disbelief. “A bomb… in Cuba? Are you sure about that? And if the threat has been known since yesterday, why is the market closed today? A lot of us could have blown up, right?” The agent began to lose his good demeanor and withdrew his affectionate hand from my shoulder: “But why are you surprised, comrade? Don’t you know there was an Italian tourist who died because of a bomb at a Cuban hotel?” I responded: OK, but that was a bomb, not a threat. As far as I know, nobody has placed a bomb in Cuba and later warned that he did. That is something you see in American movies. People who place bombs prefer to let them explode without warning.

By now the young man was showing real disgust with this exasperating inquisition. “Look, comrade, everyone knows that after the triumph of the Revolution there have been lots of bombs and counterrevolutionary terrorist attempts where lots of innocent people have died.” I nodded and added “You’re right, this thing about bombs is nothing new. Even before the Revolution there were revolutionary ‘Action and Sabotage’ groups of the July 26th Movement that would place bombs and petards [pipe-bombs} in movie theaters, parks, and other public places.”

It was a low blow on my part, I know. This time, my impromptu instructor was momentarily speechless, he looked at me suspiciously and began to lose his temper, but he still did not quit his lesson. “Listen, comrade, you should get better informed. Look, if you have any relatives abroad, ask them to tell you what is in the cable news. There is a terrorist group called ISIS that has branches throughout the world, and Cuba has become part of the world and we are globalized, so any Cuban might be a mercenary of the Islamic State, just like the one that was going to place a bomb but was arrested in Florida recently. Are you listening? Ask your relatives to inform you. You need to get better informed, comrade, you have to get in tune with the times! Don’t you know what the internet is?”

“We need to consider that there are many in Florida who don’t want relations between Cuba and the US. I bet they have something to do with the bomb.”

That was the foot in the door I had been waiting for. ”Let me tell you something, young man, as far as I know, we Cubans are so well informed by Granma, all of the national media and Telesur that we don’t need any foreign news show, internet or any cable to know what is happening in Cuba and in the world. What’s more, if they don’t mention this in the national TV news, the business about the bomb is another enemy hoax to sow fear in the population. What’s more, I fail to see any team of firemen, cops, or street closings. People continue to circulate throughout the area and employees continue inside the market. What kind of bomb is it that can only kill customers?”

Obviously, the agent had no answer to that, so he ended the conversation and improvised a crumb: “That’s another matter. We need to consider that there are many in Florida who don’t want relations between Cuba and the US. I bet they have something to do with the bomb.”

I could not help laughing, “Well, finally! It had been slow in coming. So we no longer have an imperialist enemy and now we invent another one. OK. We need to keep up the belligerence somehow. What would happen to the Revolution if it became orphaned of its enemies?”

Suddenly, the young security dude realized that he had been the victim of a scam and scowled, but it was in vain. People around us laughed heartily. An old neighbor from across the street sealed the brief episode with a solemn sentence, “A bomb was placed 56 years ago but it has failed to explode!” A general peal of laughter was the most convincing popular judgment on this unusual “bomb threat” in the Carlos III Market.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Food Shortages Are Getting Much Worse / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

The shortages and high food prices have led many retirees to stand in line for others.(14ymedio)
The shortages and high food prices have led many retirees to stand in line for others.(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 19 August 2015 – She boasts that she “walks all over Havana” and there isn’t a single store, market or point of sale she doesn’t know about. “I have a family to feed and for years I’ve also taken advantage of my walks to tell the neighbors where they can get something,” sais Maria Eugenia, 58, who these days never stops repeating, “everything is bare.” The food shortage has gotten worse in recent weeks and the situation has reached crisis levels in many places.

“There is no chicken, no chopped soy-meat, no sausages, and never mind meat,” details this stubborn housewife. The refrigerators in the stores of the Cuban capital have hardly any merchandise and in many cases the cooling system has even been turned off, to avoid wasting electricity. “People don’t know what is happening, because they don’t explain it on television,” the lady complains. continue reading

Few markets are spared the deficit in products. Ultra, a store in the heart of Central Havana, is one of the most affected. “It’s been days with no supply of chicken and when it comes it’s very little, people have even come to blows the get a package,” an employee who preferred to remain anonymous explained to 14ymedio. On Tuesday, a sign proudly announced, “We have butter,” but there was nothing else to see in the windows of the meat and freezer departments.

If they would at least carry hot dogs,” a woman with her baby pleaded, looking over the empty shelves. The frustrated customer was talking about the chicken sausages imported from the United States, Canada or Brazil, one of the food products in greatest demand among the Cuban population, given its low price and the number of hot dogs included in each package.

The last week dozens of telephone calls crossed the city to let family and friends know that “sliced mortadella is available” in the store at San Lazaro and Infanta. The message was brief and accompanied by a “hurry, before it runs out.” Two hours after the product processed by the Canadian firm Golden Maple was put on sale, this newspaper was able to confirm that it had run out.

“There’s no powdered milk anywhere,” bellowed a young man outside the Carlos III Plaza Monday morning. With a mother who had recently suffered a hip fracture, he shouted, “I must get milk,” perhaps hoping to reach the ears of any underground seller passing through the area.

There is a particular shortage of products from the United States. The import figures from that country have plummeted in the last year. If in the first quarter of 2014 the island imported $160 million in food from the US, in 2015 that figure has barely reached $83 million, according to MartiNoticias.

The effects of this decline are visible in the shops. “Every day it is more difficult to cook and give food to the children,” says Yanisbel, a 34-year-old mother of two, one of which is gluten intolerant. The woman was surprised that, “with all the contact we have now with the yumas (Americans) we’re no longer seeing the products that used to come from that country.” As an example he mentions frozen chicken, ground soy-meat, various kinds of tomato sauce.

The lack of liquidity to pay cash in advance for purchases from the U.S. has dented what seemed to be a growing trade. Moreover, the Cuban government’s poor credit history and unpaid debts does not favor the search for new suppliers.

The drop in imports cannot be made up for by a rebound in domestic products. “There is no significant increase in the production of food,” says the economist Karina Galvez. A reality that contradicts Point 184 of the Political and Social Economy Guidelines that urge, “the replacement of imports with foods that can be efficiently produced in the country.”

During the last session of Parliament, Marino Murillo Jorge, Minister of Economy and Planning, confirmed missed production targets, among them the delivery of fresh milk to the industry, which fell 13 million liters shorts.

With regards to the shortages of products in the hard currency stores, the official attributed it to the late arrival of imports and announced a set of provisions to better serve that market. More than a month later, the effects of these measures haven’t been felt on the plates of Cubans.

Who Has Barack Obama Betrayed? / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

Raul Castro and Barack Obama greet each other for the first time at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa
Raul Castro and Barack Obama greet each other for the first time at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 18 August 2015 — The restoration of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States is leaving a trail of reactions. Cuban civil society on both shores shows two positions with many nuances, on the one hand those in favor of the process and on the other those who are against it.

From those against it a sharp rebuke against President Barack Obama is heard, accusing him of being “a traitor to the cause of Cuban freedom.” However, to think that the occupant of the White House embarked on such an adventure alone and on his personal initiative is crazy. continue reading

It is likely that the American president is anxious to change the direction of American policy toward Cuba. But he never would have succeeded if he had not had the support of a considerable number of legislators, both Republicans and those of his own party. So this political move represents the culmination of a strategy gestated before his arrival at the White House, and one whose principal protagonists were the so-called “pressure groups.”

Among what are also called “lobbies,” the powerful group representing commercial interests in the agricultural sector has led several initiatives of rapprochement toward the island. It has also promoted lifting the embargo and normalizing relations with the Cuban government. The reasons for this push in the direction of normalization are economic, but also political.

On the commercial side, American businesses are at a fundamental disadvantage with the restrictions against Cuba. Meanwhile, on the political side they argue that US influence in the region has declined considerably, thanks in large part to the conflict with Cuba’s communist government, and China has stepped in.

A portion of US civil society has also exerted pressure to take the path of diplomatic normalization. Involved in this crusade has been the radical left, as well as unions, cultural organizations, NGOs, religious groups and academics.

Barack Obama, however, is the person responsible for the political insight to take advantage of the hemispheric situation, with Venezuela in a free fall, and serious internal problems in Bolivia, Ecuador and Brazil. Meanwhile, inside the island a profound economic crisis seems to have no end, there are grave social problems, and Fidel Castro is practically out of the political game.

Beyond that ability, Obama also responded to a demand from his people, represented by civil society pressure groups. To ignore them would represent political suicide for the next Democratic candidate. Surveys have proved him right, with more than 60% of Americans looking favorably on the initiative he has promoted with respect to Cuba.

Moreover, to accuse Obama of treason will not change what happened last 17 December and lays on him a responsibility that belongs to thousands of people. On the other hand, the fact that the Cuban leaders now shake hands with their neighbor to the north does not give them carte blanch to do whatever they want. This they know very well in the Plaza of the Revolution.

Health Alert Causes Big Losses For The Self-Employed / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

The Candonga market. (Donate Fernando Ochoa / 14ymedio)
The Candonga market. (Donate Fernando Ochoa / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio,  FernandoDonate  Ochoa, Holguin, 18 August 2015 — The cholera outbreak affecting Holguin has gone way beyond the health problem and become a drag on economic activity.

The health authorities in the province have issued a set of transitional measures that restrict the manufacture and sale of food and drinks in eating establishments. The measures, designed to protect public health, are affecting public and private entities by the absence of a plan to cushion the effects on the economy.

The new regulation only authorizes the sale of canned and industrially packaged liquids. Beer and soda in bulk, for its part, will be offered exclusively in the eating establishments specifically authorized to do so and will be dispensed in unused disposable cups or glass containers. continue reading

Among the food products restricted are cold salads, appetizers with homemade mayonnaise and foods with sauces or dressings. Also suspended is the sale of raw seafood and shellfish such as oysters.

“They closed everything, but we do not receive financial compensation from the government. Nor does the Insurance Company include a policy to protect us in these cases,” protests Maximo Tejedor Avila, a 65-year-old entrepreneur who has a stand in La Condonga, an area near the Calixto Garcia stadium. The self-employed man laments the great loses his business wlll suffer this year, with the suspension of the carnivals and the regulation of good sales.

La Candonga, with thirty outlets, is an open space for privately run food stands, open for over two decades and the most frequented by Holguin residents.

Now, uncertainty has taken over the place. Romario Céspedes Ferrer, one of the first of the self-employed who started their sales in that area, says it is the first time “they have indefinitely closed these food businesses.”

For now, the only instrument the self-employed have to remedy the situation, is the application of a temporary suspension of their permits, a mechanism that would allow them to at least avoid paying taxes as long as they cannot exercise their activity. Many food workers have initiated the request, which is in process, as they still do not know what will be the resolution of authorities. Others, meanwhile, have continued selling some products in secret, with the aim of reducing their losses.

A similar situation faces self-employed people involved in food services working outside the Dagoberto Sanfield Intercity Bus Terminal in the city of Holguin. The whole city is under strict observation by a body of inspectors, who supervise volunteers workers who inspect homes and soldiers who have joined the fight against dengue fever and cholera.

Farinas Says Latest Arrests Show The Cuban Regime’s Insecurity / 14ymedio

Guillermo Fariñas during the Cuban National Meeting in Puerto Rico. (Martí Noticias)
Guillermo Fariñas during the Cuban National Meeting in Puerto Rico. (Martí Noticias)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 17 August 2015 — The dissident Guillermo Fariñas, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Human Rights, told EFE Monday, speaking from the Puerto Rican capital, that the arrests recorded last weekend in Cuba are a sign of insecurity of the regime in Havana.

Fariñas, who participated in the closing ceremony in San Juan of the first Cuban National Conference, said the regime in Havana “was left without enemies” after the rapprochement with the US Government.

“The battle is now with the Cuban citizen, because the enemy is the people,” said Fariñas, shortly after the issuance of the Declaration of San Juan, which contains the outcome of the meeting begun last Thursday in the Puerto Rican capital in which a hundred dissidents coming from Cuba and elsewhere participated. The declaration marks the steps to follow in the coming months. continue reading

Fariñas emphasized that the approach to Washington has not decreased the intolerance of the Raul Castro regime. “They demand tolerance from everyone, but also ask to be left to do,” whatever they want, he said.

Fariñas is a part of the opponents of the regime in Havana gathered in San Juan to study a common strategy of opposition to the Government of Cuba, both inside and outside the island.

These Cuban dissidents called today for the unity of those who fight against the Castro regime during the closing ceremony of the conference.

The Declaration adopted at the conference said that the purpose of the meeting was “to seek ways to reconcile the work of the pro-democracy forces with the commitment to restore sovereignty and all their fundamental rights to the Cuban people.”

Fidel Castro’s Legacy for Cuba / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

Fidel Castro during an interview with journalist Barbara Walters for 'ABC' in 1977
Fidel Castro during an interview with journalist Barbara Walters for ‘ABC’ in 1977

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea, Holguin, 15 August 2015 — For many, Fidel Castro has been “a light in the street and darkness at home.”* Although I don’t believe that either outside or inside Cuba’s borders this gentleman has illuminated a new path for humanity, I have to admit there is some truth in such a vision of his role in history. More than with doctors and teachers, Fidel Castro has performed an invaluable service for Latin Americans, behaving like those knuckleheads in the classroom who practice the sport of attracting to themselves the wrath of the teacher.

Many countries in Latin America, if not all, have benefited at some point from the role assumed by Fidel’s Cuba against Washington. They only had to sit at a desk and assume the face of an exploited lamb while the fractious Caribbean big guy assumed the defense of their rights with equal or more fervor than they themselves.

What’s more, in this role, the merit belongs not to Fidel Castro himself. It is unquestionable that he has been the first and only Latin American leader who has seriously challenged the hemispheric hegemony of the United States. But he achieved it for no reason other than the fortunate circumstance of having been born in Cuba. In short, the only merit of the Revolutionary Fidel Castro was to have been carried away by the explosion of expansive nationalism that this people of extremes experienced in the middle of the twentieth century. continue reading

However, as a revolutionary or as a tyrant, it is indisputable that Fidel Castro has truly brought about a dense darkness “in our house.” It is quite possible that only Captain General Valeriano Weyler was more disastrous for Cuba than what has resulted from this offspring of one of the little soldiers Spain sent here to fight against the desire of our ancestors to be free and independent.

Fidel Castro’s refusal to act For example, his refusal to act as a politician, that is with responsibility, put the country at the edge of the abyss during the missile crisis, in October of 1962.

For example, his refusal to act as a politician, that is with responsibility, put the country at the edge of the abyss during the missile crisis, in October of 1962. Indeed, one can admire and be proud of the fortitude with which the Cuban people faced the threat of nuclear holocaust, however frightened they were and opposed to the way in which their leader was stubbornly dragging it towards them. Nor did he channel in realistic ways the explosion of Cuban vital energy of the mid-twentieth century. Fidel Castro behaved not as a hero, but was a huge disgrace to his countrymen.

On assuming power in 1959, Fidel Castro took over a country that needed to find a new base of economic to assure the level of prosperity previously — but no longer — enjoyed, that had been shared out, with its vagaries, for more than a century. Since 1926, more or less, the Cuban economic model. based on the production and export of huge quantities of raw sugar, was in crisis. Such was the magnitude of this crisis, that from that year productive investments were not realized in the sugar industry. Despite the general will of the nation to improve the living standards of all its members, it was impossible to do so in the case of farm laborers. As would be shown in the sixties, it was absolutely unsustainable to increase the wages of the manual cane cutters, without destroying the profitability of the entire sugar industry.

After achieving full national sovereignty in the Revolution, it was a fundamental duty of the new rulers to put Cuba back on the path of prosperity.

However, Fidel Castro, in his nearly half century of governance, did nothing realistic with respect to it. Absolutely unable to deal with complex and non-linear economic problems, he always thought that, as on any feudal estate in his native Birán, the omnipotent will of the owner was enough to advance a modern economy of the then not insignificant size of Cuba’s.

Fidel always thought that, as on any feudal estate in his native Birán, the omnipotent will of the owner was enough to advance a modern economy of the then not insignificant size of Cuba’s 

Ultimately, his solution was not to convert the sugar industry into a modern sugar-chemical complex, as Ernesto Guevara had dreamed in the early sixties. Fidel Castro, pathologically incapable of doing anything good in economics, decided call on that other field that he seemed to give himself to so well: politics. If Fidel’s Cuba has experienced anything, at least from 23 December 1972 until today, it has been the economic exploitation of a dispute with the United States, more or less exacerbated any time it suited him. How? By presenting himself as the ideal ally of everyone who, in a world fill of such characters, had some ax to grind with the Americans.

By not solving the principal economic problem he just exacerbated the main danger to the nation: the lack of an non-precarious economic base that would assure credible levels of prosperity in a nation that had previously enjoyed a fairly high standard of living. Combined with very close proximity and easy communication with the United States, 1950s Cuba was in the same situation as a small planet that gets too close to an extremely massive one, ending up shattered into pieces with its remains devoured by the giant.

It was already clear in those years that, with no solution to its economic base, the nation would confront in the ‘60s and ‘70s a massive exodus of Cubans to the United States. Without any perspectives of work that would assure them the level of prosperity of their grandparents, or at least one that would compare to the neighbors to the south, there was no doubt that many Cubans would end up leaving with their families for the US. On the horizon, in addition, was the fear of the possibility of a resurgence of the previously overcome tendencies to desire Cuba’s annexation to the United States.

As would be expected in someone so impetuous, a Fidel Castro was caught flat-footed on the economic problem and tried to attack the danger directly… and to extract some advantage. As a leopard doesn’t change its spots, he tried to politicize it.

Those who left Cuba were businessmen, doctors, technicians, artists and generally a contingent of people with the values, skills and knowledge necessary to build a modern and prosperous society.

In a complex feedback process, Fidel Castro exacerbated the internal differences to the same extent that an ever greater human contingent continued what was already in the 1950s a natural tendency of Cubans to move. By 1965, a tenth of the population had emigrated to the United States, a human capital that few nations in the world of that era would have been able to display. Businessmen, doctors, technicians, artists and generally a contingent of people with the values, skills and knowledge necessary to build a modern and prosperous society.

After that, in the 1960s, we lost the sector of the population with the least affinity to his absolute authoritarianism, and he established immediate and complete control over the movements of the citizens who remained. Anyone, even the most humble seller of lollipops without any special knowledge or skills for national development, needed the express authorization of the Castro regime authorities in order to emigrate.

And at first it was almost impossible to get, at least until the eighties. Beginning in that decade Fidel Castro, by the confluence of many factors, increasingly relaxed his immigration policy. The main reason was the growing unrest.

Under his government, he had created a technical and professional sector much larger than the needs of the island. A large sector that found no possibilities for personal fulfillment in a country that first experienced the gradual withdrawal of the Soviet aid, and later its total disappearance. An extensive new opposition anticipated on the horizon, against which he might appeal to violence, although certainly not with the expected results, because already the international context wouldn’t support it. Alternately he could dip into the old standby of opening the path to emigration. Thus, this became the Cuban substitute for the Soviet gulag. Those who didn’t get on well in His Cuba could emigrate, or at least he was hoping they would, and this neutralized any desire they might have to fight.

The result of the total politicization of the life of the Cuban nation could be evaluated as of 31 July 2006. The day that, though he himself did not yet know it, Fidel Castro left power forever.

The result of the total politicization of the life of the Cuban nation could be evaluated as of 31 July 2006. The day that, though he himself did not yet know it, Fidel Castro left power forever.

By then, Cuba was (and is) without an economic base, no longer like that prior to 1926 with regard to a level of assured prosperity, but also one that brings some possibility of something more than survival to the absolute majority of the Cuban people. Even the sugar industry, with a respectable capital of accumulated knowledge of more than two centuries of evolution and with so many possibilities in new times, was eliminated by Fidel Castro in 2002. He tried in this way, it seemed, to avoid that on his departure from power, someone would dare to try to exploit the production capacity for biofuels.

But it is in the exacerbation of the danger to the survival of the nation, provoked by this lack of a non-precarious economic base, where we discover the darkest legacy of the half-century of the absolutist government of Fidel Castro. This, paradoxically, stands out still more, because Fidel Castro always presented his absolutism as indispensable to the survival of the “homeland.”

Fidel Castro’s regime has promoted the desire to escape from the island on such a scale that today, despite the enormous difficulties in doing so, almost a quarter of Cubans live outside of Cuba. What’s more, the principal danger in this is not in the proportion, but in the particular pattern of the Cuban migration with the flight of those people who are most educated.

Fidel Castro’s regime has promoted the desire to escape from the island on such a scale that today, despite the enormous difficulties in doing so, almost a quarter of Cubans live outside of Cuba.

From a Cuba in which initiative was a highly suspicious quality, and therefore under close surveillance by the secret police, the best prepared have necessarily emigrated, the most active, those least given to respecting the opinions of authority. In other words, the problem is not that emigrants are a quarter of the population, but that this quarter has been systematically selected to rob the nation of its members most likely to put themselves forward and lead a prosperous future, and an orderly one… democratic of course.

As this pattern of emigration continues, and even has even intensified since Fidel Castro left power, though his regime continues, it is not so fanciful to suppose that in the near future we might see Cuba converted into the most backward and poor nation in the western hemisphere. A position it is not far from today, despite the fact that in 1959 this same society only yielded to the United States and Canada and was equated with Argentina and Uruguay.

The damage Fidel Castro caused the nation has, in the end, been so great — a nation where in the 1950s there were only inklings on the horizon — that today there is a strong current of furtive opinion, although not openly expressed by hardly anyone, that suggests the only solution to the problem of having a country without an economic base is to annex the island to the United States.

This current, expressed only in private, remains dormant only because of the fact that the Castro regime’s propaganda still manages to be somewhat effective in promoting nationalism. However, it is to be expected that a nationalism without an economic base, or one in which the remittances of those who emigrated to the United States rapidly occupy this role, will end up eventually losing any prestige among ordinary Cubans.

The main legacy of Fidel Castro is precisely this: Never before have Cubans had less confidence in ourselves and, consequently, never has the idea of annexation had so many followers.

*Translator’s note: “Candil de la calle, oscuridad de la casa” (a light in the street, darkness at home) is a common Spanish expression meaning that a person is effective (“lit up”) away from home and with others, but useless (“dark”) at home.

UNPACU Reports More Than A Hundred Activists Arrested / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 August 2015 — From the early hours of Sunday the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) denounced the arrest of more than 130 of its activists. Several sources within the organization told this newspaper that the detainees were going to the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, in Santiago de Cuba, when they were intercepted.

Repression in the east of the country coincided with a major operation in Havana, around Fifth Avenue, a place where traditionally the Ladies in White march. The human rights activist movement reported an intense act of repudiation at the end of its weekly pilgrimage, along with arrests and police violence.

The march of the Ladies in White ended with about 40 women and 25 other activists detained and taken to police stations or detention centers. Mobs staged action against activists, markedly larger this Sunday, which was denounced by the leader of this movement, Berta Soler. continue reading

For his part Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of UNPACU, told the independent press that the number of members of his organization who were arrested “is around 138.” He also said that more than a hundred arrests took place in Santiago de Cuba, a dozen at Guantanamo and the rest in Havana and Las Tunas.

The raid on the home of Geordanis Muñoz, coordinator UNPACU in Palma Soriano, was among the repressive actions reported during the day. Despite the control, Ferrer reported that the activists managed to deliver “leaflets, paint graffiti and distribute audiovisual materials on freedom of expression and association.”

UNPACU activities are primarily directed to denounce the arrest of Zaqueo Báez and Jordys M. Dosil, who have spent weeks in Havana criminal center known as VIVAC. Ferrer explained that Baez’s wife has been informed by the prison authorities that on Monday he will stand trial for the alleged crime of “contempt.”

“Those Pools Aren’t for the People” / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernández

The pool at the Frederick Engels Vocational School. (Juan Carlos Fernández)
The pool at the Frederick Engels Vocational School. (Juan Carlos Fernández)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernández, Pinar del Río, 13 August 2015 — “New movies, lots of ice cream, and a good pool,” is how a resident of Pinar del Río summarized his wishes for this school vacation. His second wish was granted at the local Coppélia ice cream shop, but his hometown has a sad record otherwise, counting only one open cinema, and no functioning pools.

Pinar del Río’s eleven pools are either dilapidated or are under some sort of renovation keeping them closed to the public. In spite of it being a particularly warm summer, with temperatures exceeding 97ºF, the people of Pinar del Río have to make do with fans in order to cool off a bit. Or they make do like Yoankys and Maykel, who use “a hose in the backyard” when the heat becomes unbearable. They used to able to take dives at the pool of the Pinar del Río Hotel after paying admission in CUC’s, but that option does not even exist anymore.

“This shows a lack of respect,” opined Yoaknys, who added that in the Galiano and Mijares Districts, adjacent to the Pedro Téllez Vocational School’s pool, the discontent is even greater. “People see the infrastructure is there, but we need the will to make it work.” That blue, waterless, and dilapidated rectangle is an eyesore for anyone who takes a peek at the school’s sports facilities. continue reading

Orestes, a longtime neighborhood resident who works on a government pig farm, said he could care less if there is a pool or not, but “the kids are sweltering, and we don’t even have a lagoon with water.” This man, who has always lived in the area, recalled that “the only recreation around here used to be the Vocational School’s pool, but since they didn’t change the water, they had to close it.”

Mariela, a housewife who moved to the neighborhood only two years ago, blamed the empty pool on the drought. “It would be a scandal if we had a pool full of water while we’re having such a hard time filling our water tanks.” Pinar del Río Province is facing the lowest precipitation in half a century. Its reservoirs are at a little more than 30% of total capacity, and seven are at critically low levels. Mariela added: “We can’t waste water for recreation when we barely have enough to wash dishes or bathe.”

Jorge, the custodian in charge of the Vocational School’s grounds said that (the Ministry of) Public Health ordered the pool closed because it was a mosquito breeding ground.” Together with the breakdown of pumping and water treatment systems, chlorine shortages are one of the causes that most often works against the safety of pool water throughout Cuba.

Bottom of the pool at the Ormani Arenado Sports School in Pinar del Río.
Bottom of the pool at the Ormani Arenado Sports School in Pinar del Río.

“This had turned into a health problem,” explained Mariela, who remembered that several “youngsters got sick from fungus, skin infections, and otitis in that place,” and said she was “relieved they drained the water, because it was a constant source of diseases.”

In her opinion, “people aren’t accustomed to pools. They don’t even shower before getting in, and they urinate or eat while in the water. And that’s not counting all those who in spite of having an infected wounds on their bodies, still dive in.”

However, Antonio Vázquez, a staffer of the city’s Ministry of Education, refused to accept that closing the pools is the way to solve health problems. “We want our children to learn how to swim, to play sports, and to spend their free time on wholesome recreation…but we have ten pools closed in this city!” he exclaimed in frustration.

Mr. Vázquez explained that “pools in the city of Pinar del Río fall under the jurisdiction of several government entities.” According to this government employee, the Vocational School’s pool is run by the Education Ministry, “but it was ordered closed by Public Health, because with the drought, they weren’t able to change the water, and after a month, it was polluted.”

A waiter at the Pinar del Río Hotel explained to 14ymedio that the closure of their pool was due to remodeling, “but it’s going to end up looking very nice. We’re opening it on August 13th *, with a ten CUC admission, of which eight covers food and drinks.” The hotel employee stressed “they had to close it, because it was in a very bad sate, but now it’s going to be perfect. We felt bad for the public, but it had to be closed.”

Like a vanquished giant, the Olympic-size pool at the Nancy Uranga Physical Education College, is deserted and waterless. “We had to empty it,” recalled the college’s custodian “because youngsters would show up with alcohol and knives, and then things would get bad. The grounds are under police surveillance, but the problem did not go away.” The custodian then explained, “The problem with the diving pool is another story. That one is contaminated.” Its green water covered with a layer of litter confirmed the custodian’s words.

Far from there, weeds cover the entrance path to the Frederick Engels Vocational School, inaugurated by Fidel Castro. It has been almost five years since any students have been able to submerge themselves in its two pools, which were once its source of pride. “No one gives a hoot about this. They were ruined because of the lack of upkeep,” complained an employee. The pool at the Medical Sciences Department is in a similar state.

The Ormani Arenado Sports School has become the last hope for the desperate swimmer. However, two of the three pools have not been filled for months, and the Olympic-size pool overflows with a liquid covered by a green film that reeks terribly.

In contrast with these bleak scenarios, the Central Home of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, located on the Central Highway, at the outskirts of the city, showcases a well-maintained pool, but it is reserved for the members of the military. The Ministry of the Interior’s Villa Guamá, located on the 4th kilometer (2.5 mile) mark of the highway to Viñales, is another one of the privileged locales enjoying the relief of a functioning and clean pool.

“But those pools aren’t for the people,” protested a frustrated Yoansky, the young man who tries beating the heat by dousing himself with a hose in his backyard. “It’s as if they didn’t even exist.”

*Translator’s note: August 13 is Fidel Castro’s birthday and the day is often marked by “special” events such as this.

Translated by José Badué