The Annoying Wait of the Luyano Residents

Mercedes Caballero with red handkerchief is part of the brigade March 13 that works in the reconstruction of the Otero area. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 18 April 2019 — Sitting at the entrance of his house, Yanisley Valdés blocks the sun on his face with his hand and does likewise and the swirls of dust that rise with the winds of Lent. Since the tornado of January 27 devastated his home, his days are reduced to a succession of negotiations that do not lead to anything. His roof is still waiting for demolition and his room is filled with the materials it has taken him months to obtain.

One of the reasons why the repairs in Luyanó incomprehensibly go on forever is the lack of materials, which seem to be lost at some point in the chain, according to one of the workers who is rebuilding the Otero site, in front of Valdés’ house. continue reading

“If you lack a nail, you have to stop. Right now we don’t have the electrical boxes to install, we do not have nails for the formwork, the other day it happened, the same as now, the supplies did not come. Finally we got what we needed five o’clock in the afternoon, almost when we were leaving, and we left at almost ten o’clock that night. That’s not right, I do not understand why those things happen, because onm paper there is everything. There is money for the materials, which in turn are in the warehouse, but here they are not arriving on time,” he explains.

Yanisley Valdés sat at the door of her house on Reyes y Mangos street in Luyanó. (14ymedio)

There, despite the shortcomings, the picture is different than in the home of Valdés. There are dozens of workers from the March 13th brigade who work from morning to night. Juan Antonio, one of the workers, says that he hopes that “by February or March of next year” all the works in the Otero neighborhood will be finished and together they can celebrate “the happiness of delivering everything new and with quality.”

The residents are happy with their work, although, again, the sticking point is the tools. “They arrived here the first week after the tornado and the truth is that they have tremendous willingness to work,” one of the residents tells this newspaper while serving lunch to the workers.

“Here the problem is that there is a lack of materials and that is why it doesn’t go any further, they are stopped right now because supplies have not come in. I stay at my son’s house, I come every morning to help and I stay until late. The buses are wearing me out, but this is my home and I want it fixed soon,” says Mercedes Caballero, one of those affected by the tornado, tells 14ymedio. She has not missed a single step of what it takes to build a new roof on your home.

Mercedes Caballero at the entrance of her house next to one of the workers. (14ymedio)

Yanisley Valdés, on the other hand, has so far barely been able to buy a water tank, rebar, stone and cement. To prevent the roof from coming down, the interior of the house has been propped up, but the brigade that has to demolish the roof still doesn’t come. In her case, the slowness of the bureaucracy has been the first obstacle she has had to face. And it continues.

Four days after the tornado, Valdés went to the office to start the procedures and recover her house, but she had to wait two months for a technician to measure the house and obtain the document for the purchase of the materials.

The waiting did not end there. “I was told the site, very close to here, but there was no truck and they sent me to Alma’s site, which is very far away. Thursday I went because they told me there was concrete, but when I got there, I had to sign in first. I was ready but the person responsible for carrying it out was not in. I got up on Friday, I arrived at about five in the morning, and there were so many people in front of me, I got number 49.”

So that day she didn’t achieve her goal either. The authorities at the supply site told her not to wait, because in one day they only dispatch five people. Valdés has taken five days to get some of the materials, but others that she needs are still missing. She paid for everything in cash, without credits or subsidies, although she did get the reduction of 50% authorized by the Government to deal with the construction crisis derived from the tornado.

Otero under construction. (14ymedio)

“Here I am, still waiting for the demolition, they told me they were going to send a brigade to demolish the second floor that is falling in, but ’you have to wait, now there is no brigade’, ’they are all working, you have to wait’. That’s the only thing they can say every time. I’m going to protest,” he complains.

While she spends his days here and there, she lives in the house of her ex-husband and father of the youngest of her two children. “That’s in Lawton, every day I have to get up at six in the morning to take my kids to school, then sit here, and in the end I lose the whole day.”

In addition, Valdés complains that she is not treated well when she goes to the offices or has received confusing information. “At one point, they told me that for the houses with property there is no brigade available, but another told me that there is and that I have to wait.”

Some materials that Yanisley Valdés has not been able to keep in his house are in the middle of the street like those sacks of stone. (14ymedio)

However, what angers her the most is that she has not been given a shelter while the situation of her house is resolved. “The lack of respect is very great, I am a woman with two children, they have not offered me shelter, I can not cook here, I have everything in sacks, I can not even walk,” he says.

“All the work that I’m going through and it turns out that I also have to come and hear lies. Diaz-Canel said clearly on television that everyone will have their situation resolved and that women with children are a priority, the question is when and how will it be. They have not explained to me, I’m going to wear out my shoes from so much going from one office to another, there’s a big mess, they work as they please.”

According to the latest official figures, released in March, of 7,923 homes affected, 2,480 have been totally resolved. The President of the Government of Havana, Reynaldo García Zapata, affirmed that all resources for reconstruction are assured and that 90% of the victims have already purchased the resources they need. But those who don’t appear in the statistics still see the open sky from their homes.

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

Rapid Response Brigades Reactivated in Cuban Universities

A Rapid Response Group stars in an act of repudiation against the Ladies in White. (Cubasindical)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio,  Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 14 April 2019 — In several Cuban universities, professors and directors are being required to ratify their membership in the Rapid Response Brigades (BRR), para-police groups destined to confront popular protests. Teachers must sign a document with the commitment to join these groups, according to testimonies and documents collected by 14ymedio.

“At the end of February they circulated a page where each teacher had to put their name, position and phone number, in addition to adding their signature as a commitment to be part of the Rapid Response Brigades,” a young professor at the University of Pinar del Rio who preferred anonymity told this newspaper. “Everyone in my department, we all signed,” adds the teacher who works in the computer area.

Since its inception in the early 90s, the Rapid Response Brigades were conceived as a vigilante organization that controlled outbreaks of popular dissent. The Cuban authorities wanted to avoid the image of uniformed people repressing the people and founded these bodies of “brown shirts” as the first ring to neutralize the protests. continue reading

The BRRs have had a particult participation in acts of repudiation against opponents and activists, especially against the Ladies in White movement. But their consecration arrived in August 1994, when together with the police and armed with sticks they faced those who took to the streets in the popular revolt known as El Maleconazo which was the preamble to the so-called Crisis de los Balseros (Rafters Crisis).

“I was surprised because I had not heard about these brigades for years, but I think that now it is something more formal, that they will never call us to do anything,” says the professor from Pinar del Río. “A colleague of mine was on leave in those days and they called her to come and sign because they said it was very important and that the country is going through difficult times in which there are new threats.”

The form, to which 14ymedio had access, details that the commitment is carried out at the request of the rector of the “Hermanos Saíz Montes de Oca” University of Pinar del Río (UPR), the doctor of educational sciences, Yorki Major Hernández. Graduated initially with an English Degree, Major Hernández was promoted from teaching and administrative positions to reach his current position.

Registration form to belong to the Rapid Response Brigades at the University of Pinar del Río. (14ymedio)

This newspaper contacted by telephone several of the professors that appear in the commitment document, but none of them wanted to make statements about their affiliation with the Rapid Response Brigades. Nor did they deny the authenticity of the return or the process of reactivation of these shock troops. “I have every right to belong to whatever I want,” said one of them before hanging up the phone in the middle of the conversation.

“The Rapid Response Brigades have never ceased to exist in Artemisa,” says Niurka, 42, who lives in the municipality of Candelaria. “Last year, when Defense Day was held in this area, many workers from the state sector were mobilized and contingency exercises were carried out in case of massive protests, the members of the Rapid Response Brigades were summoned.”

“In order to expand knowledge and learn to face special situations,” was now the call for these practices was reflected the local press. “It was nothing secret, it came out in the newspaper, but of course it caught our attention to talk about something that many thought had ended that it was a Special Period,” adds Niurka.

In the training, Niurka recalls that they insisted that the people themselves had to “defend the Revolution” and they were taught some techniques to “keep [the protesters] silent, avoid their shouting counterrevolutionary slogans and even how to immobilize” elements disaffected to the process. They also emphasized “being careful not to present an image of physical violence to people who are recording with mobile phones.”

Unlike the decade of the 90s, when communications on the island were very precarious, Cubans are now making more and more intense use of mobile phones and social networks. In recent months there have been viral images of protests against Miguel Díaz-Canel’s caravan in a neighborhood affected by a tornado in Havana and numerous images of violent arrests of activists.

A report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, dated October 1996, described the BRR as groups that “the Cuban government throws into the streets with weapons and clubs to beat its opponents.”

The BRRs have not been deactivated since they were created almost 30 years ago but have languished in the last decade. Now, with the increase in social unrest due to the rise in food shortages, the deterioration of public services and the rising cost of living, the authorities seem worried about a possible social explosion and are dusting off these vigilante groups.

Teachers of the “Marta Abreu” Central University of Las Villas and of the Havana José Antonio Echeverría Technological University, also confirmed to this newspaper that a similar form has circulated in recent weeks among professors, administrators and directors of these centers of higher education. So far there is no confirmation that the commitment has also been extended to the students.

The reactivation of the BRRs revives the memory of many who were part of these groups or were victims of their acts of repudiation.

Roberto, 68,  who emigrated to Miami remembers that day very well. “I worked in a warehouse on Zanja Street in Centro Habana when they told us there was a provocation near the Ameijeiras Hospital and that we had to go out and confront it,” he recalls now, using a pseudonym. “They gave us construction workers’ helmets and rods, but on the way I lost the group on purpose because I knew I was not going to be able to hit anyone.”

Now, working with a contractor repairing homes in Florida, Roberto says he could not fulfill his duty as a member of the BRRs in part because his eldest son “had left that early morning for the Regla Ferry because the rumor had spread that they were going to leave for the United States.” Just thinking that “among those who were going to take hits was my son, paralyzed me.”

Finally the young man managed to get out on a raft, be picked up by the US Coast Guard and settle in Miami. A decade later, he managed to get his parents out of the island. However, Roberto rarely tells his story because he fears that they will point him out in public as a member of the BRR, a past membership that could cost him his residence in the US.

Recently, the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FDHC), based in Miami, launched the Cuban Repressors initiative, to “identify, investigate and collect information on the military (MININT / MINFAR) or paramilitaries (Rapid Response Brigades)” that exercised “violent political repression against the citizens” and now live in the United States.

“I signed up not to lose my job but I never hurt a fly,” says Roberto. “Although I do remember co-workers who enjoyed coming out with the od to break their heads, but most of them do not want to remember that now, and many even live here in the United States and they show themselves to be tremendous anti-Castro people.”

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

US Imposes New Restrictions on Travel and Remittances to Cuba

John Bolton, National Security Advisor to US president Donald Trump spoke at the press conference in Miami. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 April 2019 — The United States government announced restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba on Wednesday, as detailed by national security adviser John Bolton in a speech at the Biltmore Hotel in Miami.

Bolton noted that remittances to Cuba will be limited to “1,000 dollars per person per quarter” and that the US Treasury Department will also reduce “non-family travel” to the island, or, in other words, “veiled tourism.”

Likewise, it announced that five Cuban military companies, including Aerogaviota, will be added to the list of entities that with which “direct financial transactions are prohibited” due to their links with Cuban military personnel and services. continue reading

The Secretary of State of the United States, Mike Pompeo, announced this Wednesday in a press conference that on May 2 Titles III and IV of the Helms-Burton law will go into effect, provisions that have been frozen since its approval in 1996, due to opposition from the European bloc.

Washington has warned that no company, whether American or European, will be exempt from its new policy towards Cuba, which allows suits to be brought before US over courts properties expropriated by the Revolution.

“There will be no exceptions,” Assistant Secretary of the State for Latin America and the Caribbean, Kimberly Breier, told a news conference.

“The Cuban regime has exported its oppression to Venezuela for years, and the Cuban military, intelligence and security services keep Maduro in power, which undermines the stability of countries in the Western Hemisphere and represents a direct threat to the national security of the United States,” said Pompeo.

Participating in the announcement this afternoon in Miami were members of the 2506 Assault Brigade, composed of a group of anti-Castro fighters of the so-called “historical exile”, veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, as well as new members representing the “hardest” wing of the opposition to the Cuban Government from the United States.

The Secretary of State said that with this measure, “after more than 22 years, Americans will have the opportunity for justice.”

The Cuban government has reacted immediately by rejecting the predictable measure in a tweet from Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez.

“I strongly reject the announcement by the Secretary of State Pompeo of activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which is an attack on International Law and the sovereignty of Cuba and third States. Aggressive escalation of the US against Cuba will fail. As at Girón [the Bay of Pigs], we will win,” the Minister of Foreign Affairs wrote, adding hashtags to “Cuba” and the “US”.

This policy change will open the door to lawsuits in the US against companies from all over the world, including Spanish hotel chains such as Meliá, Barceló and Iberostar; as well as the Canadian company Sherritt, dedicated to the mining sector and one of the main foreign investors in the Island.

“Sadly, Cuba’s biggest export these days is not cigars, nor is it rum, it’s oppression,” said Pompeo.

That decision promises to inflame tensions with the European Union, whose High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, warned this month in a letter to Pompeo that the bloc could sue the United States before the World Trade Organization (WTO) if Washington implemented that measure.

The EU already sued the United States before the WTO two decades ago, when the Helms-Burton Act was passed, but it suspended that procedure once the White House agreed to freeze those sections of the Act.

As of yesterday, the European Union warned that it will take the measures that are within its reach to defend its companies, although it waited until the news was official to be more specific.

In a study published in 1996, the US State Department estimated that the activation of Title III would allow between 75,000 and 200,000 lawsuits to be brought before US courts.

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

Kenyan and Somali Elders Try to Negotiate Release of Kidnapped Cuban Doctors

Cuban doctors Landy Rodríguez Hernández and Assel Herrera Correa, with their wives. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 13 April 2019 — The 10 elders from the community of Mandera, in northeastern Kenya, who left for Somalia to negotiate the release of two Cuban doctors kidnapped on Friday morning revealed that the doctors are alive in the neighboring country.

The Kenyan authorities made the decision to evacuate the Cuban doctors who were in the counties of Garissa and Wajir. Wajir’s governor, Abdi Mahamid, said they were ordered to evacuate the two Cuban doctors to Nairobi following a national security warning, Kenyan media reported on-line.

Cuban doctors Landy Rodríguez Hernández and Assel Herrera Correa were escorted to their work at the Hospital de Mandera when their transport was ambushed by two Toyota Probox cars. The attackers killed one of the bodyguards, while the other fled, and they kidnapped the health professionals. continue reading

The doctors were quickly transferred to neighboring Somalia, where Al Shabab, a terrorist group linked to al Qaeda, is fighting to topple the central government and establish Islamic law. The doctors performed surgeries and cared for the local population, including in the neighboring countries of Ethiopia and Somalia.

Kenya had difficulties sending national doctors due to the dangerousness of the area, where there are frequent attacks by Al Shabaab to pressure the Kenyan government to withdraw its troops from Somalia. In January, the terrorist group organized a major attack on a hotel complex in Nairobi in which 26 people died.

This has been the second kidnapping of foreigners in five months by the extremist group Al Shabab. Last November, the Italian aid worker Silvia Costanza Romano, 23, was kidnapped by armed men in the town of Chakama, near the tourist town of Malindi (east). To date, her whereabouts are unknown despite army searches.

The Government of Kenya has deployed its elite troops to search for Cubans, so far with no results. The governor of Mandera, Ali Roba, condemned the attack and asked the elders to initiate talks with their counterparts in Bulahawa and to ensure that the doctors are returned to Kenya, reported The Star.

“We call on the security agencies to do whatever is necessary to save the lives of our Cuban doctors and to bring them back from captivity. I sent my condolences to the family of the deceased officer,” he said.

Landy Rodríguez Hernández and Assel Herrera Correa are part of the contingent of 100 doctors Cuba sent to Kenya in June last year amid heavy protests from medical unions in that country.

According to the digital site Mwakilishi, Kenya pays  4,000 per month for each doctor, a higher figure than paid to their local counterparts. Generally, the Cuban government keeps 75% of the doctors’ salary. The export of health services is the main source of income of the Island, according to official figures, with an annual income of close to 10 billion dollars.

The Ministry of Public Health said in a brief official note published on Friday afternoon that it was keeping in touch with the Kenyan authorities and had created a “governmental working group” to follow up on this “sensitive issue.”

National Assembly Deputy Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of former president Raul Castro, said on Twitter that the kidnapping of doctors was “another hoax of imperialism.”

“The Islamic State responds to them, but they got into a swamp by kidnapping the Cuban doctors,” said Castro, a leader of the government’s National Center for Sex Education.

Assel Herrera Correa is a native of Puerto Padre, in the province of Las Tunas. He graduated as Integral General Practitioner he has participated in “missions” of the Cuban Government in Botswana, Brazil and Venezuela. In Cuba, he has a 17-year-old daughter, Sheyla Herrera, who attacked officials of the Ministry of Public Health in an interview with Radio and TV Martí.

“I do not know anything yet, we do not know anything,” she said, adding that no Public Health official has informed the family about her father’s condition, or what measures will be taken to return him home safely.

Landy Rodríguez Hernández is a surgeon by profession, born in Placetas, province of Villa Clara, in the center of the country. In Cuba he worked in the General Hospital of Remedios. According to the information on his social networks, he is married and has a five-year-old daughter.

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

A New Constitution and "Preparing for the Worst" on the Economy, Says Raul Castro

In his speech in the National Assembly, General Raul Castro stood up for Nicolás Maduro and described international pressure on the Venezuelan government as “unconventional methods of warfare.” (@AsambleaCuba)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 April 2019 — The proclamation, this Wednesday, of the new Constitution of the Republic of Cuba was accompanied by the bad news that the ex-president Raúl Castro was commissioned to announce in a speech before the National Assembly. He warned that the country faces “additional difficulties and that the situation could worsen in the coming months.”

The day began with a symbolic act, where Castro was not present, in the Camagüey town of Guaimaro, where on April 10, 150 years ago, the country’s first Constitution was approved.

Later, in the Palace of Conventions in Havana, the parliamentarians began the act of promulgating the constitutional text that the ex-governor defined as a “child of its time,” which “guarantees the continuity of the Revolution” and “safeguards, as fundamental pillars, the unity of all Cubans and the independence and sovereignty of the country. “ continue reading

Given the criticism the constitutional text has provoked, Castro said that “as expected, the historical enemies of the Revolution have sought to question the legitimacy of this comprehensive constitutional exercise,” and he noted that among those who voted No in the referendum there were those who rejected only some issues of the Constitution.

With regards to the worsening of the economic situation, the 87-year-old general clarified that “it is not a question of returning to the phase of the Special Period of the decade of the 90s… Today is another scenario in terms of the diversification of the economy, but we must always prepare for the worst variant.”

“Faced with the turbulent scenario that has been formed,” he said, “we have defined as an unavoidable priority the preparation of the country for defense and the development of the national economy,” he said. He gave as an example the measures adopted “in the interest of strengthening the capacity and combative disposition of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the entire defensive system of the country, under the strategic conception of the war of the whole people.”

In his speech, the general stood up for Nicolás Maduro and described international pressure on the Venezuelan government as “unconventional methods of warfare.” He recalled that last year he had warned that “the siege of the empire is tightening around Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.”

The new Constitution has 229 articles, 2 special provisions, 13 transitory and 2 final. The text was updated with several of the economic reforms of recent years in an attempt to get closer to the reality of the Island, in a way that recognizes private property and applauds foreign investment.

However, the new Constitution does not leave open any possibility for a change in the country’s political model and consecrates the supremacy of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) over other organs of powers, in addition to ratifying, in its preamble, communism as the ultimate goal.

With its publication, today, in the Official Gazette, the Constitution enters into force. However, the adoption of a new electoral law is pending, which will be presented in Parliament in July during the next ordinary session.

Then, the Parliament will have three months to elect its president, vice president and secretary, the other members of the Council of State and the President and First Vice President of the Republic.

The new Constitution, which limits the office of President of the Republic to two terms, creates the figures of a prime minister and also of provincial governors.

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

Cuba Establishes Priorities so as Not to Return to the Crisis of the “Special Period”

Shortages of food have made the daily routine difficult for Cubans who now have to stand in long lines to buy it. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 14 April 2019 – Given the renewed pressure from the from United States and the inefficiency of its economy, Cuba established “clear” priorities in a plan looking ahead to 2030 to avoid at all cost falling into a serious crisis like that of the so-called “Special Period” in the decade of the 1990s, according to president Miguel Díaz-Canel.

The harshness of the moment requires us to establish clear and well-defined priorities, so as not to return to the difficult times of the ‘Special Period’,” said Díaz-Canel at the end of an extraordinary session of the National Assembly, which, this week, approved the new Constitution.

The leader, who will complete his first year as Head of State this coming Friday, recognizes that the Island still bears “the weight of administrative inefficiency, import mentality, lack of savings and insufficient income from exports.”

“We cannot exclude the manifestations of corruption and illegalities, unacceptable in the Revolution,” he added, outlining two absolute priorities: preparation for defense and the economic battle.

The priorities will be tourism, biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry, renewable energy sources, food production, and construction, along with the export of professional services which analysts believe to be the country’s main source of income.

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

The Impossible Agreement

Higinio Vélez, president of the Cuban Baseball Federation, signing the agreement with the MLB of the United States. (FCBA)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 9 April 2019 — It was expected that Donald Trump’s administration would cancel the agreement that the Cuban Baseball Federation (FCB) and Major League Baseball (MLB) authorities had achieved. As soon as it was signed last December, Senator Marco Rubio announced that he would act to undo it. Honestly, it didn’t take much effort to achieve that.

Passions aside, the heart of the matter is that, according to the laws of the US embargo, MLB teams can not pay any amount of money to the Cuban government. Although the Obama administration had considered the FCB as a non-governmental organization, for the Trump administration it is one more pro-government institution.

When the agreement was signed, its two weakest points became immediately evident. The first is that the FCB, to legitimize its agreement with MLB, tries to compare itself with the Japanese Baseball League, the Chinese Professional Baseball League and the Korean Baseball Organization, which are private entities, independent of their governments. continue reading

On Cuban television, Higinio Vélez, president of the FCB, used two arguments that prove nothing at all to demonstrate that his organization is, in effect, nongovernmental: First, that the FCB “has existed for some years,” and second, that “it is recognized by organizations such as the World Baseball and Softball Federation, the Pan-American Baseball Confederation and other international institutions related to this sport.”

The other weak point is the clause allows that the FCB to charge a percentage for releasing each player and for the training given to him. For this, a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control — an arm of the Department of the Treasury of the United States — is required, which the Trump Government will not allow.

The FCB claims to be a non-governmental association. In other words, the same as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and the Federation of Cuban Women, which the Cuban government itself created but insists are part of civil society. However, the fact is that the FCB belongs to the National Institute of Sports and Recreation, whose presidency has just been changed by a decree of the Council of State. As a picturesque note, it must be added that the second in command of the FCB is Antonio Castro, son of the late Fidel Castro.

In the declaration of the Cuban entity with regards to the cancellation of the Agreement condemns the actions of Marco Rubio and US National Security Advisor John Bolton, along with the politicization that has been made of this sports agreement “mostly supported by both Cuban and American societies,” but the government of Cuban’s neighbor to the north is not interested in “the welfare and tranquility of the Cuban family.”

In fact, the FCB is trying to convince us, the main reason it signed the pact was to protect our players from human trafficking, the risks of illegal emigration and the “humiliating and discriminatory treatment of which they have been victims” previously.

To demonstrate its goodwill, the Cuban federation had accepted the return to the national baseball team of Yuniesky Riquimbili Betancourt, for many years considered a deserter, who returned after participating in foreign leagues in Mexico, Japan and the United States, where he played nine seasons and, he confessed, was able to realize his dream of proving himself in the best baseball in the world.

Almost at the same time of Betancourt’s arrival in Cuba, Victor Labrada departed, the first player to turn his back on the agreement, a few days ago, unconcerned about the possibility of spending two years without being able to sign a contract with MLB teams, or perhaps anticipating that this arrangement with Major Leagues did not have much future, as has just been demonstrated.

Labrada did not wait to be “liberated” by FCB. He had been chosen among the most outstanding youth athletes of 2018 and captained last year’s Cuban team to the Pan American Under 18. In the last National Series, Labrada grabbed attention when he hit a home run in the first at-bat of his career and finished with a .350 average. However, he preferred to strike out on his own and left legally for Haiti.

At the moment, everything will continue as it was before: every Cuban player, in order to play under the “Grand Tent,” will need a specific license from the US Department of the Treasury. In fact, it sounds absurd that the FCB seriously believed in the possibility that, had the agreement survived, it would be the organization mediating between each player and the team that wanted to hire him.

More absurd, and very cynical, it sounds like the Cuban sports authorities are trying to make us believe that they are really worried about the fate of our players in their dangerous adventure of finding a place in the best baseball in the world.

If they care so much about the players, they could pave the way for them by waiving the right to collect any percentage as a “nongovernmental organization, letting each one sign the contract that they get and, even more, allowing the creation of a truly independent union that looks after the interests of the players, because, as we know well, the FCB, whatever it says, has never dedicated itself to defending them.

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

Cuban Police Raid the Home of Journalist Augusto Cesar San Martin

After the police search of his home, Augusto César San Martín was taken to the Zanja Street Police Station. (Cubanet)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 April 2019 — Tuesday, the police raided the home of journalist Augusto César San Martín in Havana, as confirmed 14ymedio by his wife Yanela Duran. After the search the reporter was taken to the Zanja Street Police Station, where he was released after being detained for five hours.

At seven o’clock today nine people showed up to undertake a police search in the independent journalist’s house in Carlos III street, at the corner of Marqués González. The raid concluded at 10:45 am, said Durán.

“An official from the Interior Ministry informed me that Augusto Ceesar would be taken to the Zanja Street Station to be informed of the charges. They took all his work equipment, computer, camera, microphone, flash memories, a NanoStation and numerous documents,” explained Durán. continue reading

San Martín is a frequent contributor to the Cubanet information site and activist of the Pro Libertad de Prensa Association (APLP). During the search this Tuesday they had to take him to the hospital because his blood pressure was very high, his wife details.

Among the nine people involved in the operation were two police officers, two plainclothes individuals who presented themselves as technicians in telecommunications, Lieutenant Colonel Kenya Maria Morales Larrea, two from State Security and two other witnesses from the local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), as required by law.

After being released, San Martín explained to 14ymedio that he was shown search warrant but was not allowed to read it. “They came with the justification of looking for communication equipment but they took everything they felt like,” he said. He also explained that when he was released, they did not levy charges or say he would go to trial, but he does have fines to pay. “They gave me two fines, one for having telecommunications equipment and the other for illegal economic activity without specifying absolutely anything about what they are referring to.”

This is not the first time that Augusto César San Martín has been the target of a repressive action. Last December, San Martín was summoned to the offices of the Department of Immigration, Identification and Emigration (DIIE) in Havana’s Plaza municipality. An officer warned him then that if he continues with the work of an independent journalist, he ran the risk of being arrested and having his work tools confiscated.

Last February, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published a detailed account of violations against freedom of expression and the exercise of the free press in Cuba. The IACHR denounces that “despite the years that have elapsed and the repeated recommendations on this matter, intolerance continues to be the rule on the part of the Cuban authorities towards any form of criticism or opposition.”

For its part, the most recent report from the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), presented in Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), denounced that freedom of expression and the independent press fall into the category of “criminal behavior” according to the Cuban Constitution. The IAPA adds that article 149 of the Penal Code maintains the crime of “usurpation of legal capacity” — that is, working in a profession without a license — is used to punish independent journalists.

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

Why Am I Not Going to the XIII Havana Biennial?

The Cuban Artist and “Artivista,” Tania Bruguera. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Tania Bruguera, Havana, 14 April 2019 — Before giving my reasons I want to clarify that I admire the work of the curators of La Bienal de La Habana and I do not consider any of my reasons to be their responsibility. Rather, they are a response to the cultural policies of the Ministry of Culture. I am an artist formed by the Havana Biennial and maybe that’s why what is happening pains me more.

I am not going to the XIII Havana Biennial because I do not understand the incoherence of suspending the Biennial in 2017 to redirect its resources to the reconstruction of Hurricane Irma — which was a position posed as aesthetic-ethical — and now, in 2019 , when a few months ago a tornado devastated several of the poorest and most hard-working areas of Havana, the Ministry of Culture (MINCULT) has decided that it is more important to spend a good part of its budget in promoting and using the Havana Biennial to clean up its international image in the face of the campaign against Decree-law 349.

Because MINCULT does not practice institutional transparency. When the Deputy Minister of Culture was asked openly through Twitter for the budget of this year’s Bienniel, the response was a string of personal accusations without, of course, answering the question. continue reading

When I explained that this was an internationally established practice, his response was silence. That silence continues even when the Ministry of Culture and promotional material support to the project of an artist is determined based not on artistic quality but on their loyalty to the government and the use it can make of that artist to enhance the international image of the country.

Because the objective of this Biennial is not to promote Cuban artists (it affects each one according to their possibilities), but that everyone understands that Decree-Law 349 will be applied only to those who are independent and ask uncomfortable questions.

Because it could not attend a party to share my impressions about the artistic merits of a work of the XIII Biennial of Havana while I know that Congolese medical students are being repressed, abused and confronted at gunpoint by Cuban police in the same streets that we walk to go to see an exhibition, and nobody is doing anything to avoid this happening or to show solidarity with the students.

I could not take a selfie among friends while I know that, at that moment, there are artists who are prisoners and constantly harassed because they are considered ’uncomfortable’ and do not fit into the official narrative of the Biennial created by MINCULT.

I can not continue to justify with the official euphemism “bad work” when in reality it means “I’m not getting involved in this because it will bring me problems.” I can not be an accomplice, because I already know with irrefutable evidence that State Security gives orders to MINCULT.

Because the double standards of those who support the protests in the Whitney Museum (because a member of their council is ethically unacceptable), or in the Guggenheim (so as not to accept ethically unacceptable money), are the same people who in Cuba justify ethically unacceptable attitudes and do it with tremendous joy; this is incomprehensible to me.

Nobody is innocent anymore, the person who is blind is so because he took out his own eyes so as not to see. Who cares about the injustices that exist in Cuba? Not those who visit The Biennial, Cuba is not their problem, they are passing through and have exchanged for a party and sunny skies their power to pressure the Cuban government to get Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the rappers Pupi and Maykel Osorbo out of jail and to stop harassing Amaury Pacheco, his wife Iris Ruiz and their children.

Injustice can not be a rumor circulating among mojitos and solidarity in places like Cuba is not a ’pretty slogan,’ it is not Venice nor is it Kassel; Cuba is a country that represses freedom of expression (especially when there is no Biennial).

Because my struggle to achieve freedom of expression in Cuba, my defense of cultural rights, to achieve the end of political hatred among Cubans and to defend the right to demonstrate in the streets is not limited to an event but is a life mission.

This is the biennial where no one is innocent anymore, this is the biennial where everyone must act according to their conscience. My conscience does not let me be part of the spectacular process of whitewashing which Mincult has made of the Havana Biennial.

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

Change and Continuity in Cuba

Tourism is one of the few sectors in Cuba that has seen growth in the past six decades. Nearly all the others have fallen.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Pittsburgh, April 9, 2019 — The 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution is an opportune time to examine how things have changed and how things remain the same in the intervening years. The country’s market economy lasted until 1958 but, by 1961, had been transformed into a centrally planned economy overwhelmingly dominated by state-owned enterprises and collectivized agriculture. The market took a back seat to the central plan.

Though it has failed throughout world, this economic model survives largely intact in Cuba, resulting in monumental economic inefficiency that has negatively impacted growth. The dependence on the sale of sugar, which constituted 75% of total exports in 1958, was replaced with an 80% reliance on professional services and tourism.

Cuba was not exporting any professional services in 1958, while the number of tourists in 2018 was 18 times what it had been thirty years ago, with income from this activity 53 times what it had been back then. continue reading

Oil production is 79 times what it was in 1958 and Cuba now even produces natural gas. The dependence on energy imports has been reduced from 99% to 50%. Previously, social services were mainly limited to urban areas and were provided, at least partly, by privately-run organizations. Now those services are state-managed, virtually universal and free.

On the other hand, Cuba’s foreign debt is 190 times what it as in 1958, and that is after significant debt forgiveness by the Paris Club, Russia and other countries. Annual population growth in 1953 (the last time a census was taken) was 2.1% compared to a 0.2% decline in 2017 due to an increasingly aging population. The proportion of older adults rose from 9% of the total population to 20%. Cuba has the oldest population in the region, which has increased the health care and pension costs.

In regards to continuity, in the past six decades Cuba’s socialist economy has not managed to eliminate or significantly reduce its enormous reliance on trade with, or investment, aid and subsidies from another nation.

A 55% reliance on exports to the United States in 1958 became a 72% reliance on the Soviet Union and, since the beginning of the 21st century, a 44% reliance on Venezuela.

Between 1960 and 1990, the Soviet Union loaned Cuba the equivalent of 58.5 billion euros but only got back 450 million. The rest was written off as price subsidies and non-reimbursable aid. The collapse of the Soviet bloc in the 1990s led to a severe crisis in Cuba. At their peak in 2012, Venezuelan aid, subsidies and investment amounted to 11% of Cuban GDP.

In spite of substantial foreign assistance, the economy stalled — average annual growth from 2014 to 2018 was only 1.7% — due to the economic system’s inherent inefficiency. The target for 2019 is 1.5%, a quarter of the 6% officially acknowledged as the level needed to generate adequate growth.

In 2017, most manufacturing, mining, agriculture and fishing production was below the 1989 level. Only tourism showed a significant increase. Foreign trade has suffered a systematic decline: 6.76 billion in 2017.

The surplus generated by the Cuba’s primary source of foreign exchange — the export of professional medical services provided by doctors, nurses and related professionals — decreased 35% from 2012 to 2018 due to the economic crisis in Venezuela, which had been paying 75% of the cost of these services. Overall trade with Venezuela also fell from 44% to 17% of GDP, the supply of oil fell by half, and all the country’s investments in Cuba were halted.

These problems led to a cut of eight percentage points in social spending from 2008 to 2017 with a resulting decline in health and education services. From 1989 to 2017 the value of pensions fell by 50%, home construction by 80%, and the wage adjusted for inflation by 61%.

The US embargo is blamed for these problems. This was true 25 years ago but Cuba now trades with at least eighty countries, including the US, and has received investments from multiple nations. The embargo still has negative impacts — sanctions are imposed on international banks that do business with Cuba — but the fundamental cause of these problems has been the inability to generate exports to pay for essential imports, both of which have declined in recent years.

Between 2007 and 2018, Raúl Castro tried to solve these problems with market-oriented structural reforms. They had no tangible effect, however, due to extremely slow implementation, disincentives, taxes and an about-face starting 2017.

Neither the new president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, who favors continuity, nor the new Constitution, which was ratified on February 24, have changed the essential economic model. This is an absurd attitude given the collapse of the Venezuelan economy and the teetering of its regime due internal rebellion and international pressure. Maduro’s fall would further aggravate the current crisis in Cuba.

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

Cuban Government Ignores its Responsibility and Advises Others How to Avoid Traffic Crashes

The overturning of a tourist bus with 40 people on board a dangerous road in the province of Guantánamo this January. (Escambray)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 March 2019 —  On Tuesday, the official press published the report of the National Road Safety Commission with the loss data of 2018 in an extensive report of more than 1,200 words in which no word is written regarding the State’s responsibilities in the 10,070 crashes last year on the island, that left 683 dead and 7,730 injured.

The report, far from the informative tone that could be expected in a data document, which only appears in the second half of the report, is characterized by a maudlin tone that even includes in the introduction this sentence: “And we hope that these lines will help to ensure that drivers, passengers and pedestrians, take more care of their own lives and those of others.”

Human error, in fact, is behind 90% of traffic crashes according to the World Health Organization, however, the same agency indicates that the vast majority of deaths in this type of accidents occur in low-income countries, to the point that people of low socioeconomic status are more likely to be involved in traffic crashes. continue reading

The WHO report on road safety in the world states that 93% of deaths occur in low and middle-income countries, despite the fact that they have only about 60% of the world’s vehicles.

From these data it is clear that the state of the roads, the vehicles and the security systems, without neglecting road safety education or adequate health care, after the crash, are decisive when it comes to reducing mortality related to traffic.

“The cornerstones of this approach are safe roads, safe speeds, safe vehicles and safe users of the roads, all of which must be addressed to eliminate fatal crashes and reduce serious injuries,” says the WHO, noting that these claims cost countries up to 3% of their GDP.

The Cuban data for 2018 (one crash every 52 minutes) are slightly better than those of the previous year, when 750 people lost their lives in 11,187 crashes and 7,999 were injured. This supposes a reduction of 10% in the number of crashes, 9% in the mortality of victims and 3% of those injured. Despite this, a person dies every 13 hours because of road collisions.

According to the official press, it is confirmed that the number of major crashes increased, from 36 in 2017 to 44 in 2018, leaving a balance of 165 more injured and one fewer killed compared to the previous year.

The report indicates that the majority of those involved in the crashes (5,686 people) were “in full socially useful capacity,” a phrase they use to describe the age range from 21 to 55 years.

Traffic crashes decreased in 69% of the country. The provinces of Camagüey, Las Tunas, Granma and Havana, recorded 36% of the total events (3,661), 29% of the deaths (195) and 17% of the injured (1,329).

Pinar del Río, Mayabeque, Artemisa, Villa Clara and Las Tunas are other provinces in which there are disasters with fatal consequences in which one person died in every second or third crashes.

From Monday to Friday, between 3 and 9 in the evening, are the times when the most incidents occurred. Another fact that is extracted from the report reports the incidents by sectors, with 10,856 state cars involved in crashes, compared to fewer than 5,000 private vehicles.

The authorities claim to have taken some legal measures, such as the withdrawal of 36,000 traffic permits, 233,710 fines and the performance of 13,088 breathalyzer tests that resulted in 31% (4,022) of those tested found to be driving under low effects of alcohol, while 126 were in a full drunken state.

According to the EFE agency, so far in 2019, more than a dozen crashes have been reported, the bloodiest, in January, was the overturning of a tourist bus with 40 people on board on a dangerous road in the province of Guantanamo, which caused the death of seven passengers (three Cubans, two Argentines, one German and one French) and caused injuries to 33.

The National Road Safety Commission indicates that during the mandatory inspections, “technical deficiencies were detected, mainly with the brake system, steering and lights,” in 44% of the verified cars (63,966), a fact that confirms the poor condition of the vehicle pool. The difficulties in acquiring new vehicles, along with those of obtaining quality repairs, are a perfect scenario to drive cars that, on occasions, represent a public danger.

The official newspaper Granma, as the government spokesperson, ignores the responsibilities of the State in road safety and sidesteps the issue with: “As popular wisdom already says, nothing has to do with chance, and in that ’reckless’ way on more than one occasion we assume the risks.”

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

The Chinese Press Reveals Lis Cuesta’s trip to Beijing and Her Meeting With Xi’s Wife

Lis Cuesta and Peng Liyuan wanted to bring to light the diplomatic ties between their countries. (Xinhua / Ding Lin)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Beijing, 11 April 2019 — Lis Cuesta Peraza, the wife of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, traveled to China this week, where she had a meeting with Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday. The visit is unprecedented in the Cuban diplomatic framework, after decades without an institutional role for the spouse of a head of government.

However, the news was reported by the Chinese press. The official Cuban media have not covered the meeting or given any information related to the trip of Diaz-Canel’s wife to Beijing.

Lis Cuesta said that Cuba admires the achievements of China over the past 70 years and expressed its gratitude to Beijing for the long-term support and assistance it has offered to the island. continue reading

Diaz Canel’s wife conveyed her desire to “seize” the opportunity of the 60th anniversary, in 2020, of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries to promote cultural exchanges between both peoples and consolidate the institutional friendship of both nations.

In addition, she asked Peng to convey the greetings and good wishes of Diaz-Canel to Xi and spoke on behalf of the Cuban people to affirm that the island loves Chinese culture and its people.

For her part, Peng confirmed that the two countries share a deep traditional friendship and expressed the hope that Sino-Cuban cooperation will achieve fruitful results and the bilateral friendship will last.

Peng explained to Cuesta her work as a special envoy of Unesco for the promotion of girls’ and women’s education and as a goodwill ambassador of WHO for tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. She shared China’s experience in the promotion of education and health.

Xi’s wife expressed the hope that the two countries will strengthen exchanges and cooperation in these areas and praised Lis Cuesta’s “active efforts” to promote bilateral exchanges between peoples and cultures.

The public appearances of Cuesta contrast with the secrecy that surrounded the private and family life of Fidel Castro for decades. His wife and the mother of five of his children, Dalia Soto del Valle, was only seen in the last years of the ruler’s life and during his funeral.

Cuesta, however, has joined her husband in at least 11 countries, the last of them Nicaragua, for the VIII Summit of the Association of Caribbean States. The first lady was also present at the reception in Cuba for Prince Charles of England and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, as well as a recent luxury hotel event Iberostar Grand Packard of Havana.

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

’Online Markets’, the Last Bastion for Purchases in Cuba, Are Also Empty

Searching the Supermarket Treew site for “eggs” finds a plastic holder to carry them but no actual eggs.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 April 2019 — The shortages have reached the online stores, which were until now the only place where you could get products missing from the stores of the island. Online sales portals such as Supermarket TreewShipments to Cuba or the Carlos III shop, work from merchandise stored in Cuba but have their own inventories of physical items.

These online stores sell everything from food and cleaning supplies to furniture and appliances, but they have no avoided the shortages experienced by the island’s markets. Until recently, these portals had a priority supply and were able to provide products that had disappeared from local markets.

“I ordered a box of chicken quarters and they told me that they would deliver it to my family in San Miguel del Padrón, Havana, in seven days, but 12 days later, nothing,” explains Marianela, 38. A Cubans living in Tamoa, she frequently uses these shopping services through the web. continue reading

Another client complained about having received an email after purchasing a mixed food package, with pork, vegetable oil and chicken for his family in Santiago de Cuba. “I paid online, they deducted the money from the card but two days later they wrote me saying they could not guarantee the quality of the merchandise and that therefore it would be longer than agreed,” he tells this newspaper.

“The payment I made includes a fee to deliver the food to my mother’s door, she is a very old person,” he explains. “Initially she was going to receive the purchase between 10 and 21 days because she does not live in the capital but in the city of Matanzas, but she has been waiting for a month and has not received even a chicken thigh,” he complains.

In recent weeks the official media have published several articles on the problem of shortages that affect the national stores, a situation attributed to the “economic stress” that is affecting the whole country and the problem of liquidity in the state coffers. However, they have not commented on these online markets.

“Up until now we had been a prioritized sector because it is real money that arrives in this way, not colored paper like convertible pesos,” a messenger from the 3rd and 70th store in Havana tells this newspaper It also offers online purchases to be paid with a credit card and focuses on emigrants with family on the island.

“The warehouses have always stored the products that are already reserved online but the problem is that right now everything is empty, especially the butcher shop,” he says. “What we have is not the kind of food that is sold online. What we have are very low quality things like sausages, turkey hash and hamburgers, but we do not have the boxes of chicken quarters or breasts that sold very well in the digital sites.”

Now, some customers based abroad spend hours in front of their computer screen to “catch” the few offers of these foods that appear for online sale. “I filled the shopping cart of the page and in the few minutes that passed until I went to pay I got a sign saying that one of the products I had added was not for sale,” says Maria, a Supermarket Treew customer.

“When I realized what was happening I got very early the next day and I kept putting the word ’chicken’ in the search engine until they supplied the product.” But , she added, “I have to go to work and I can not spend all that time with my finger on the mouse waiting for food to show up, and that brings me very bad memories of the lines I used to stand in before I left Cuba.”

Recently, at a meeting of the Council of Ministers, Miguel Díaz-Canel acknowledged the problems with the supply of basic necessities such as chicken, eggs, bread and cooking oil. The president called for “closing the productive cycles,” and criticized the inefficiencies in “contracting transport or delaying shipments” that delays the arrival of imports to markets.

Managers of the state corporation Cimex, in charge of the management of many of the hard currency stores that operate on the island, attributed the high cost to the tense financial situation of the whole country and confirmed that. with regards to chicken, only  “40% of the normal demand of the network,” had been delivered.

“What has happened is a mixture of problems,” says an administrative employee at the Carlos III store, on condition of anonymity. “To the extent that products such as chicken have begun to be lacking, many customers have asked their relatives abroad to guarantee their food by buying it online, even though it is more expensive because of the cost of home delivery.”

The worker addes that this practice is also the resource of many paladares (private restaurants) who have to guarantee certain products to keep their menu well stocked. “We started receiving more online requests than usual, a jump in demand that exhausted our stocks,” he explains.

“We are selling little by little because we can not guarantee that when the customer clicks on the product over there we will have something to deliver here,” he concludes. A few yards away from the warehouse where a lot of merchandise was previously stored for online sale, the shelves for customers who arrive physically are also almost empty.

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

Venezuela Rejects Extradition Request for the Accused Killer of Two Cuban Women in Madrid

The three victims of the Usera Street murder. From left to right, Elisa Consuegra, Pepe Castillo and Maritza Osorio. (El Mundo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, April 10, 2019 — The man accused in the so-called Usera triple murder will be tried in Venezuela, not in Spain. In citing its resaon for rejecting an extradition request, the criminal division of the Supreme Court in Caracas noted that Dahud Hanid Ortíz, the man accused of the murders of two Cubans and an Ecuadorian in June 2016, is a Venezuelan national.

The defendant, who also holds U.S. citizenship, is Venezuelan by birth, which — according to Venezuela’s criminal statutes and its constitution — prevents him from being handed over to another country for trial.

The criminal court ordered the trial to be held in Venezuela, where Ortíz fled to evade Spanish justice. In its finding the court pledged its “firm commitment to the Kingdom of Spain that Dahud Hanid Ortíz will be judged solely for the crimes of homicide and arson,” adding that “the above-mentioned citizen will be treated with due respect in accordance the inherent dignity of a human being.” continue reading

The court is also ordering the public prosecutor’s office to solicit and collect from the Kingdom of Spain any corroborating evidence that might be used in his prosecution.

A court in Madrid, where the triple murder was investigated, requested his extradition on November 30. The United States also issued an extradition request for the suspect, Dahud Hanid Ortíz, who served in the U.S. army as a first lieutenant and fought in the Iraqi war.

Cuba has also threatened to intervene because two of the victims, Elisa Consuegra Gálvez and Maritza Osorio Riverón, were Cuban citizens.

Venezuelan authorities arrested Ortíz on October 13, 2018 in El Chaparral district of Puerto Ordaz, a mining area in the south of the country. During his arrest, two documents issued in the names Abdel D. Makarem Dalal and Makarem Urdaneta Fayiz Hussein were seized. Also found were a U.S. Army Purple Heart and a German student ID card.

The three murders attributed to Ortíz occurred on June 22, 2016 in Madrid’s Usera district. Emergency services personnel made the discovery after responding to reports of a fire at the offices of the Eurasia law firm. It is alleged the suspect started the fire to cover his tracks.

According to an investigation by Spanish police, the incident was an act of revenge by Hanid Ortíz after discovering that his wife, Irina Trippel, had been having an affair with Victor Salas, a Peruvian attorney and owner of the law firm where the two Cuban women worked.

As academic records indicate, attorney Elisa Consuegra Galvez, who was born in Havana, was considered a brilliant student. She had studied at the Vladimir Lenin Vocational School. She later received a law degree from the University of Havana and had worked in Cuba as judge.

A few days after the murder, Ortíz wrote a note to the sister of his ex-wife in which he said, “I used to be a good man but Irina changed all that… I don’t know who I am anymore… I did terrible things without wanting to. I’m dead inside.”

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

‘Memes’, A Political Weapon Against Power In Cuba

With a little help from Photoshop: “In every neighborhood, an ostrich” (14ymedio) (CDR is the initials (in Spanish and English) for Committee for the Defense of the Revolution)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 April 2019 — Social networks were recently flooded with parodies about the flight of the presidential caravan from an area affected by the tornado, but this week the protagonists are ostriches, jutías (giant rats) and crocodiles which, according to comandante Guillermo García Frías, could resolve Cuba’s food problem. Just this week the 91-year-old García Frías proposed raising these animals to fill Cuban stomachs.

Memes have become a democratic alternative to the cartoon as a way of criticizing a power not greatly given to jokes. It is within the reach of almost anyone to make one and spread it until it becomes viral.

Political humor has been absent for decades in the official Cuban press, where only burlesque cartoons about capitalism or the president of the United States are found. No one has ever dared to offer irony about the ministers, officials or figures of the national leadership. All the jokes about them have been oral, told in low voices or in gestures.

Overhead: Welcome to Mexico. Ostrich 1: Run! Run! Here comes Guillermo García Frías. Ostrich 2: Hey! Hey! We are political refugees!

continue reading

And then the internet came to mobile phones. What in other nations has been happening for more than a decade has just began to become a reality for the residents of this Island. Now, the virtual world is not only a way to contact friends who have emigrated, seek out scholarships as a way to escape to some other place, or to ask a relative in exile to recharge your phone, but it has been erected as a place to mock the Castro regime. All the carefully contained creativity is exploding.

Some ‘memes’ rework the famous photo of Fidel Castro throwing himself from a tank, but in today’s version he is jumping off an ostrich. (Alen Lauzán)

The memes reach everyone, spark a smile and go viral many times over. The political power does not know how to deal with them: if they ignore them, they still generate laughter and reflections; if they mention and contest them, they consecrate them. The slogans can be infinitely parodied in these sparkling images and funny collages, while the sober ideological language of the billboards in the streets cannot adopt less formal codes to try to compete with such mockery.

The result is that the dissatisfaction and popular disapproval of the Executive’s management is coming to the fore in these collages. For example, the regime’s phrase, “In each block a committee” – referring to the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, a national system of informants where all citizens are expected to monitor and report on each other’s revolutionary fidelity – is bowdlerized to “In each block an ostrich,” accompanied by a rework of the famous photo of Fidel Castro throwing himself from a tank, but in this version he is descending from one of those enormous African birds, a metaphor perhaps of a Revolution sustained more by improvisation than by military courage.

The Plaza of the Revolution has a problem. The irreverence of the meme has a greater impact on people than the solemnity of slogans because they are corrosive, familiar, catchy and make one think. The tendency of Cubans to look for the humor in things and to grab onto “anything to relax” turns out to be a very fertile breeding ground for these vignettes to deeply embed themselves in the collective imagination.

To mock the power is to begin to tear it down.

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