"One ‘Yuma’ Less, Two Cubans More," the Arithmetic of Cuban Tourism

The majority of domestic customers are people with hard currency income. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, La Habana |19 July 2018 — Sand, sun and Cubans. The three elements prevail these days in many spas on the Island where national tourism takes advantage of school holidays and fills the gap left by the fall in foreign visitors. The employees of tourist facilities are least enamored with the domestic tourists, these expert seekers of the best deals and big eaters in the all-inclusive hotels, nationals are already the majority in many accommodations in the country.

The image differs greatly from what could be seen just a decade ago, when Cubans living on the island were prohibited from entering hotels that charged in hard currency. Ten years later, the local accent has become frequent in the formerly forbidden rooms and recreational areas, and a robust market of private excursions has grown that orgnizes everything from transportation to lodging and entertainment. continue reading

On a corner of in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood last Friday, at least twenty families waited for the bus that would take them to Cienfuegos. Loaded with bags and several baby strollers, the holidaymakers greeted the bus with applause of joy. They had made reservations for at least two nights with everything included at Hotel Jagua in that city in the center of the Island.

“On the same date last year there was no chance that we would manage to fit such a large group in a hotel in one of the most visited areas,” says Luciano, a private guide who has been organizing trips for eight years covering all the Island’s provinces. “Since foreign tourism bgan to increase it became more difficult to organize this type of travel for Cubans.”

“We are not fishing in troubled waters but in a calm river, if more people come from abroad we can not squeeze in our customers,” says Luciano. In his extensive catalog, some offers are marked with a red checkmark. “These are the most attractive but also the hardest to get, because foreigners like them a lot.”

“Cayo Santamaría, two nights with everything included for 160 CUC,” reads one of the promotions. Luciano organizes the transport with buses that work for state companies during the week, but that have permission from their administrations to make tourist trips from Friday to Sunday. “We leave the clients in the hotel lobby, they pick up the key to their rooms and start enjoying themselves.”

Luciano is one of the few who rejoices in the fall of foreign tourism and the increase in those who arrive on cruises, and sleep on the boat rather than occupying hotel beds. Between January and June, around 50% of American visitors who arrived on the island did just that. In Cuba, 17 cruise companies operate, including Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Carnival Corporation and Royal Caribbean Cruises, with a growth of 28.6% in the first quarter of this year.

Although the latest data on US tourism, released on Wednesday from sources cited by Reuters, are more optimistic than those of the same period last year, with an increase of 5% (68,000 Americans of non-Cuban origin), the outlook is still negative. Even more so if one takes into account the post-thaw euphoria.

Global tourism figures, about 2.5 million visitors to Cuba, fell by more than 5% between January and June 2018. The figures include cruises for the first six months, which brought 379,000 people to the island, 45% more than in 2017. Taking into account only American tourists, the fall for the period is 24%.

The impact on business in the most tourist areas has not been long in coming. Restaurants that barely manage to fill half their tables, rental houses that previously were occupied 80% of the time now looking at their almost empty rooms, and state rental car business that just a year ago couldn’t cope and now have parking lots full of cars.

“One yuma less, two Cubans more,” explains Luciano in a simple arithmetic. “When Americans arrive on cruise ships they do not rent accommodation and as a result of that pressure hotels that were no longer providing capacity for the national market are forced to do so and even lower prices. What before one foreigner would pay for one night, I can reserve for a national couple.”

“Another influence is that we are in the off season right now. For foreigners its too hot but for Cubans these are good dates to go to the beach.” Among the examples, he mentions the exclusive resorts of Varadero.

“These were places that were sold exclusively through foreign companies, but now appear more and more in our catalogs,” he explains. “The hotels that are run by Spanish companies or from other countries are those most requested by Cubans, because they know that the they willbe treated better and the facilities and supplies are better,” he says. “This is the time to catch a place like that.”

Tatiana, the daughter of Cuban and Russian, agrees with that opinion. “I have everything already reserved for this summer, but I am waiting for more offers to come available,” she explains to this newspaper by phone. With contacts in state tourist agencies such as Cubatur, the joung woman resells in-inclusive packages to Viñales, Trinidad and Varadero, to which she adds transportation and pick-up, “on the corner of their house.”

“I’ve worked with Cuban clients for three years and I prefer them despite everything,” she says. “It is true that when you arrive at a hotel with ten or fifteen Cuban families, you’re not treated as well as foreigners, but this is a clientele that does not depend on the arrival of a plane, on the arrival of a cruise, that is sold a reservation in another country, these customers are already here.”

“For another thing, I can communicate very easily with them and the clients I’ve been working with for some time know the rules.” Tatiana believes, however, that for a four or five star hotel with everything included is very likely that a Cuban guest will cost them more. “They eat a lot more and also want to try a lot of drinks they don’t get to have very often, like expensive wines, whiskey and even champagne,” she says.

The majority of Tatiana’s clients are the “new rich.” Cubans who receive remittances from abroad, are engaged in private businesses, have benefits through the sale of art or are part of musical groups. “Every once in a while an occasional client arrives who wants to book a trip paid for by a relative who is coming on vacation from Miami,” she explains. “They are all people with convertible pesos, from one side or the other.”

People with fewer resources frequently resort to Popular Campismo (People’s Camping), a plan created by Fidel Castro in 1981, to “open up valleys, beaches and mountains, a form of accommodation and enjoyment available to everyone.” The option, with very modest accommodations, does not enjoy a very good reputation among the social sectors that already aspire to more comforts.

“I sell tourist packages to Cubans but I treat them as people. Just because are nationals they don’t have to be given a worse product,, explains Tatiana. “In the end, they are the ones who support my business, and it’s better for me that foreign tourism keeps falling because the hotels are not going to close because of that, if they offer more affordable packages for those from here.”

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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.

Reform the Essence of the Constitution, Not the Letter

Boris González, one of the promoters of the initiative. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 July 2018 — Despite the scarcity of information and the absence of public debate that have characterized the process of constitutional reform in Cuba, several civil society groups, the political opposition and the independent press have criticized some postulates announced by the official media.

In this context, the draft constitutional reform project undertaken by the Democratic Action Roundtable (MUAD) stands out. The text will be formally delivered to the authorities when it concludes a public consultation that began on July 11 and will end in mid-August.

Boris González, a member of MUAD’s executive secretariat, explained to 14ymedio that their committee that prepared a draft revised version of the 1976 Constitution, with its reforms of 1992 and 2002, did so not with the intention of modifying the letter, but rather the essence of the document. continue reading

“We concentrated on 82 articles. First we did an analysis of the content and then prepared a final form that not only included the proposals, but also the rationale.” Gonzalez emphasized how important it is for those who read the draft to know not only the suggestions for changes, “but also what is the reasoning that led MUAD to suggest them.”

Boris González said that one of the most significant contributions of the initiative is the strong will to extend the right of citizenship by birth to the descendants of Cubans who left the island in the middle of the last century. “We believe that the government’s willingness to change can be measured when it accepts that all Cubans who have left the country and their descendants are Cuban citizens with full rights,” he stresses.

Other vital aspects of MUAD’s projects are the recognition of private property, the right to create political parties, the establishment of a fair wage, the right to be compensated in case of dismissal, the right for citizens to enjoy a legal personality that allows them to invest in their own country, strengthening the concept of habeas corpus, and the creation of a Court of Constitutional and Social Guarantees.

The elimination of Article 5, which gives the Communist Party the role of the leading force in society, and of Article 62, which states that none of the recognized freedoms can be exercised against “the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism,” are the most radical modifications proposed in the draft.

Although González believes that it would be ideal for there to be a process of deliberation across the nation with the largest number of people, he is aware of what they are facing. “That would be beautiful, but we have many limitations, not only of resources but of the obstacles imposed by the current Cuban institutions,” he says.

Those working on the draft proposal have created “constitutional initiative roundtables” to gather the opinions of those who wish to participate. “We also hope to collect ideas for the writing of the final document through email,” he adds.

The 605 deputies of the National Assembly began their “individual study” of the preliminary draft of the constitutional reform that will be approved this weekend, probably unanimously, during the year’s first ordinary plenary session of the National Assembly of People’s Power.

The division in the ranks of the opposition is reflected in its differing positions with regards to constitutional reform. In addition to the MUAD project, there are other sectors that believe the appropriate response to the modification proposed by the Government is to ignore it and not participate in its endorsement. Still others believe that the correct thing is to vote against it, to express their rejection, while a final sector has not yet made public its position.

“To believe that it is not worth making proposals is the position of repudiating everything, but there is a gradualness in how much of the existing order should be repudiated. Our position is: they will not listen to us, but if they read our document, they may find something that interests them and it will be better than what they are going to do with the new constitution,” says González, defending himself before those who believe that it is not worth proposing alternatives.

With regards to the referendum on the document that will be approved by the National Assembly he is forceful: “Up until now there have been no signs that the Constitution the Government will submit to a referendum will fulfill our ambitions, but I can not say in advance what the position of all the organizations that make up MUAD will be with regards to how to vote on the constitutional referendum.”

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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 Country of ‘Wificulties’

Cubans connect to the internet on state-owned Wi-Fi networks. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 July 2018 — A small insect falls on they keyboard of my laptop, a few minutes later there’s another one while a third lands on my neck. A few yards away, a well-known filmmaker tries to block the sun shining on his screen and a lady screams some intimacies while videoconferencing with a family member who has emigrated. A stray cat approaches my bag and demands food, but I didn’t bring any, as I’ve come to a wifi access area only a few yards from my house.

I’ve been lucky enough to claim a bench, even if it doesn’t have any back, and after an hour of navigating my lower back is demanding some support. Then I move to an area near the staircase of a building, checking beforehand that there is no balcony over my head to be sure that some resident won’t throw water or food scraps onto my computer. I have found a good place on the stairs and my spine now has the relief of a wall to lean against. continue reading

After a few minutes I start to sense an unpleasant smell. Evidently someone used a nearby bush as a public toilet and my ideal “office” loses all its charm with that stench. I move somewhere else. Some children are playing baseball with an improvised bat and I put myself in a position where my screen is not in danger, but the sun is advancing towards the area and I calculate that I have half an hour before “the Indian” catches me.

The sky clouds over but now the battery is telling me it has less than 15% charge left. There are no outlets nearby and nobody who “resells” a little energy – a business that would be very lucrative to install in these wifi areas. So I adjust the screen brightness to save the battery, but with all the light around me I can barely see a thing. I manage to post a couple of messages in Twitter, check my inbox, and look over a contribution that has arrived for our daily newspaper, 14ymedio.

A drop of rain falls between the “D” and “F” keys. I have been lucky, it’s tiny and hasn’t managed to slip through the crack that would let it get inside to the circuits, the electrical contacts and, perhaps, the motherboard. My face reflects my fright as I wipe off the moisture and close the laptop. Looking around me, I see that while I’ve been focused on web pages and social networks, a stalker has sat down nearby and released his anxieties all over a bench.

I save everything and seek reliable shelter until the downpour passes. Under a small roof other websurfers talked about the news they’ve read, the messages they managed to receive before the rains came, and a half-finished visa application, but that was it until the sun came out again.

In spite of the wificulties, people squeeze the maximum out of the wireless signal they pick up with their phones, tablets and computers. The makeshift internet “café” hums with life all day, although for every connection hour users pay the excessive price of one convertible peso (CUC), more than half a day’s wages for the average state worker. Any thoughtful person would say that under these conditions you can’t get any work done, or do anything other than chat with friends or laugh at the memes. Every day, however, professionals of all kinds extract the most they can out of these places, sun, rain, insects and hungry cats notwithstanding.

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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 Funeral of the Revolutionary Left

Miguel Díaz-Canel, Nicolás Maduro, Raúl Castro and Evo Morales, center stage, during the closing of the Sao Paulo Forum. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 June 2018 – The only thing missing was the funeral band accompanied by some black crepe and sobbing. The closing ceremony of the XXIV Sao Paulo Forum, on Tuesday in Havana, had all the traces of a funeral. You could almost hear the shovels of earth falling on the Latin American left which has not figured out how to disassociate itself from populism.

Far from the time when the region’s leftist leaders could fill a large stage, a few political survivors of that time, more closely related by their furious addiction to power than by the banner of social justice and the equitable distribution of wealth, met on the Island.

There was no lack, among the more than 600 guests, of disoriented people who still believe the propaganda that “the Island is a Utopia,” or who naively seek a space of fresh plurality in a meeting of this kind. False illusion. Created in the 90s at the initiative of Fidel Castro and Luiz Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva, the Forum has never been a place for polyphony. continue reading

An indirect heir of those congresses organized by the Soviet Union, the scenography of the hammer and sickle is now hidden, the word communism eliminated from the talks, and Leninist allusions banished. The organizers may have dressed as progressives and sucked in the environmentalists and the indigenous and human rights movements, but the skeleton that supports them continues to mimic the constitution of the conferences staged by the USSR, because they try to pass off as spontaneous what is controlled down to the tiniest detail.

The latest edition has once again served as a gateway for those such as Nicolas Maduro who promote political intolerance, authoritarianism and ‘assistancialism’*. Others include Bolivian president Evo Morales, with his longing to serve in perpetuity, Raul Castro, the caudillo who inherited power through blood, and Cuba’s hand-picked president, Miguel Diaz-Canel.

For three days the participants furiously applauded the slogans, the rants, and even the false promises of “helping the disadvantaged” and “defending the truth,” which fell from the mouths of some of the most corrupt and predatory press on the continent. Every new phrase uttered was like an extreme unction intoned over their own doctrine.

Those who this week clothed themselves in the garments of social struggles and the demands of the most disadvantaged, have shown that once installed in their palaces their objective is to undermine republican institutions and dynamite the legal bases of democracy, actions that in the medium term end up inflicting extensive damage on the very social sectors they claim to represent.

The meeting also gave ample space to explaining the false and Manichean dilemma of choosing between a left that still speaks of revolutions and enemies, and neoliberalism, the right and the powerful. A false dichotomy that cloaks itself in calls to respect “the free determination of the people,” which in reality masks the demand for governmental impunity to sweep away citizens’ rights.

In the narrative thread that connected the sessions of the event, one strand insisted on the idea that the left is not finished in this part of the world and nor can one speak of a change in the ideological cycle. Such irony: those who contributed to the fall from grace of a political leaning presented themselves in Havana’s Palace of Conventions as doctors ready to auscultate their victim.

The populist champions who devoted a good part of the debates to naming the culprits, with index fingers pointing north, have handed their opponents the arguments to discredit an entire ideology on a silver platter. Experts, perhaps, in that fall from grace, they now appeal to each other to prop them up. “Either we unite, or we sink into the mud of the counterrevolution that they are trying to impose on us,” they concluded presciently.

That phrase also reveals the real reason for the event. A council to grease the wheels of the machinery that sparks actions, triggers protests, twists the frameworks of opinion and screams, from every lung, opposition to any speech that moves a single inch from the pre-established script. The Sao Paulo Forum functions like one of those meetings where the instructions for the ideological mafia are handed out and watches are synchronized to the time for the next ‘escrache’ or repudiation rally.

However, not everything from the recently concluded conclave should be discarded. Their sessions can act as a warning to the other left, democratic and less vociferous, that is rarely invited to this type of session, to publicly mark the distance and revitalize progressive ideas on the continent.

Latin America needs a left with renewed ideas, modern and responsible, not the conglomeration of unpresentable leaders who met in Havana. We need progressive parties that stop placing responsibilities elsewhere, fearing their own citizenship and fishing in the troubled waters of social conflicts. But for this to happen it is perhaps essential that the Sao Paulo Forum be dissolved.

That scenario is not so distant. To the extent that the governments that supported the Forum disappear from the executive map of the region, the meeting is stumbling back and forth among a few countries. The previous meeting was held in Nicaragua and this time it returned to the island, where it had already taken place in 1993 and 2001. It is easy to guess where the next encounters will be: Bolivia, Venezuela… or Mexico.

This time, and it came as no surprise, in their final declaration the forum members blamed United States “imperialism” for the revolts and social conflicts in the region, especially in Nicaragua, and called for the release of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. As expected, Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution” received special support.

Something, however, cracked the mask and revealed the face hidden beneath the progressive disguise. On the same day the Forum ended in the Cuban capital, Daniel Ortega’s bombs fell on Masaya. Applause at the Havana Convention Center, and deadly explosions in the streets of Monimbó’s indigenous neighborhood. Laughter in one place, seven hours of terror in another. No attendee of the Sao Paulo Forum condemned the repression.

Translator’s note: Assistancialism is often defined as the creation of dependence through imposed aid. At least one scholar has defined it as “sit down and shut up money.”

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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’s Docile Press Rebels Against Free Information

Alexander Jiménez (in the center) with members of his team after receiving the Flag of Labor Prowess. (Radio Villa Clara)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 18 July 2018 — Nothing defines the essence of Cuban official journalism better than its own discourse. This was clearly demonstrated with the standing ovation that greeted the speech of Cuban president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, at the closing ceremony of the 10th Congress of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC) on July 14.

Diaz-Canel heaped praise on an article by a combative hack – one of those who, in the absence of arguments, defends the “system” with slogans from the barricades and insults to the adversary – as an example of the journalism that reflects the “Cuban truth” against those who have been called the “new revolutionaries,” whom he claims are bought with hard currency by foreign powers that seek to subvert Cuba’s political and social order.

Just in case the absolute subordination of the press monopoly to the service of power was not already amply exposed and enshrined at the 10th Congress, state television insisted on returning to the theme, this time presenting the “outstanding” intervention of an unknown ideological commissar, who participated as a delegate (nothing less) from the Ethics and Communication Commission. continue reading

Alexander Jiménez is the director of the radio network in Villa Clara province. However, incredible as it seems in these times of global connections and lavish new communications technologies, this supposed information professional cannot find any work in the national press or social networks.

His tenuous professional footprint seems to be limited to his performance as a functionary. On April 8, the collective of workers of the Villa Clara Radio System under his direction – made up of a provincial chain and several local radio stations – received the ‘Banner of Labor Prowess’ for “outstanding work informing people during the scourge of Hurricane Irma and later in the recovery phase.” In other words, he and his subordinates were distinguished with a banner just for doing their job. “Moral stimulus,” is what this type of award is called in Cuba.

But not all Jiménez’s subordinates are deserving of awards, as can be seen from his speech at the UPEC Congress, broadcast on television, which has provoked a lot of comments on social networks. In his speech, the journalist-functionary attacked certain colleagues, “mostly young people who sell their souls to the devil and, for payment in hard currency, contribute their writings to publications aligned with subversion against Cuba.” He adds that those journalists, “little girls and boys” who “until yesterday were docile (…) on occasion are transformed and become real monsters.”

“Those of us who direct press organs sometimes have our hands tied, or lack a legal basis to judge these wage-earners who are paid for subversion against Cuba and its social system, and who believe – because sometimes they do believe it – that they are going to overthrow the Revolution with a five-paragraph newsletter,” Jiménez complains. He goes on to demand that the draft of the new code of ethics for Cuban journalism must include a provision that doesn’t allow “collaboration with media that are hostile, clearly or covertly, to the political and economic order in force in our society.”

With this regulation, says Jiménez, press executives would not feel “bound hand and foot” when it comes to sanctioning “or considering two-faced” those “hostile” journalists who deviate from the government’s official line.

It is clear that for this paradigmatic servant of the ‘holy office’  – and therefore for his bosses in the Palace of the Revolution, the owners of the press monopoly – docility is a quality of (good) journalists.

That imaginary metamorphosis necessarily involves the endless refrain that these journalists are financed by “Cuba’s enemies,” and the hard currency payments they receive far exceed the salaries earned by official journalists. Sometimes the professional zeal of government amanuenses is too much like envy.

To the greatest alarm of the guardians of the old Castroite orthodoxy, those “monsters”– many of them graduates of the journalism schools in Cuban universities, and all born and educated under the sign of Castroism – are not only growing in number, but they dominate the exercise of their profession and (oh, sacrilege!) have the temerity to break the established rules and question reality, including political decisions at the highest level of the country.

Given the activities of the 10th UPEC Congress and the uproar among Castro’s troops, there are those who feel we are witnessing a great demonstration of the omnipotent power and its colossal press apparatus oiling its gears to launch a devastating blow to crush the independent press which is gaining in quality and distribution within the Island.

In reality it is the opposite: we are facing a clear demonstration of weakness; almost a declaration of defeat in another battle anticipated to be lost by the ‘inquisitors’. Because it is a fact that the grayness and stiffness of the official press, with its repertoire of slogans, anniversaries and intangible victories, cannot compete with the freshness and irreverence of the young journalism.

When the president of Cuba, his “docile” favorite yeoman, Manuel Lagarde, or an obscure commissar, such as Alexander Jimenez, launch their barrages of bravado and announce such a disproportionate campaign of harassment against the new Cuban journalism, in reality they are poorly concealing the terror inspired in them by free information, a fear that is also reflected in the terms they use to define their counterparts: mercenaries, traitors and, now, monsters.

Do not underestimate the repressive capacity of those in power, but do not let yourself be impressed by their war cries. It is the bravado of the bully who feels threatened by a strange force he does not understand but that he guesses is superior: that of freedom.

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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.

GPS Use in Cuba Increases Despite its Prohibition

GPS has never been sold in Cuban stores, and its importation has been strictly regulated on the Island. (gpsetravelguides)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, July 16, 2018 – The screen stands out in the middle of the dilapidated communal taxi. A small arrow marks the path the vehicle is following through the crowded streets of Camagüey and the driver reassures the passengers. “I don’t know where it is, but this device tells me,” he explains and caresses the TomTom GPS, which has never been sold in Cuban markets and whose importation is tightly regulated on the island

Along with USB drives, external hard drives, smart phones, and Wi-Fi antennas, satellite geolocation devices for land or sea navigation have become common in Cuba. Among motorists, cyclists, or rafters, the desire to know exactly where one is has made Satellite Positioning Systems (GPS) a highly appreciated tool.

But the Customs General of the Republic warns that the importation of these devices requires prior permission from the National Office of Hydrography and Geodetics. Obtaining authorization for a private person is almost impossible. “If you belong to a company or are a foreign resident you must bring a letter explaining why you need a GPS,” an agency employee explained via telephone. continue reading

“We don’t give that permission unless the person first proves that it will be used in a professional task endorsed by some institution or a duly accredited project,” the official said. The law provides for confiscation of the device and a fine for those possessing a GPS “that entered the country without permission or was purchased without appropriate papers,” she added.

The official wasn’t able to confirm to this journal whether the restrictions on  importation and use are due to security issues. “I can’t go into that in detail,” she said. A retired Interior Ministry official anonymously confirmed to 14ymedio that “those devices were banned at a time when it was feared that people would transmit detailed locations of military sites or houses of leaders of the Revolution.”

“I sell a Garmin GPS with all the maps of Cuba for 200 CUC,” says an ad on a popular classifieds website. A phone call is sufficient to flesh out the details. “This is the latest on the market and anyone who wants to provide taxi service professionally has to invest and buy a GPS,” says the seller. But he explains that “you won’t have any import papers, so if the police stop you, hide it.”

Among those seeking to exit the Island illegally, satellite positioning devices are almost as precious as the boat, motor, or rehydration salts that they tenaciously search for in order to leave the country. “A GPS makes the difference between being lost at sea or reaching a safe harbor,” says Víctor Alejandro Ruíz, a Cuban living in Tampa who managed to reach the U.S. on his sixth attempt to cross the Straits of Florida.

“I made it after selling all my belongings and buying a GPS. Before I always had problems,” he recalls now, three years after touching the U.S. coast when the wet foot/dry foot policy was still in effect. “I didn’t have to pay anything to the owners of the raft to let me join the expedition, because my payment was bringing the GPS.”

After arriving in the US, Ruiz became even more of a “GPS fanatic” for vehicles, he confesses, and managed to send one to the cousin he left behind in Cuba. “I sent it via a “mule” and although Customs found it, the lady gave them a few dollars more and they let it go,” he says. “Now my cousin is using his Garmin GPS and that has solved a ton of problems.”

Ruíz’s relative recently updated all the road maps in the device through another informal-market trader who “for 20 convertible pesos included everything, even the potholes in the street,” jokes the rafter. “Even though they are tightly controlled, just as with the parabolic antennas, you can’t buy them in stores or legally bring them into the country, but everyone has seen one.”

Foreign diplomats based on the Island and foreign media correspondents, who are authorized to import them, have found a lucrative business in reselling these devices to nationals. At least three drivers with TomTom or Garmin GPS confirmed to this journal that they had bought them from foreigners who finished their stay in Cuba.

Recently the news outlet Cubanet told the story of Shannon Rose Riley, an academic from the Humanities Department of San Jose State University in California, who visited Santiago de Cuba on the dates of the Fiesta de Fuego. The American brought a positioning device that works through the SPOT satellite system and that hikers and travelers usually buy when they go to remote places.

State Security subjected her to an intense interrogation and threatened to jail her if it was determined that she was using coordinates emitted by the device to send information to the government of her country.

In December 2009 Alan Gross was arrested in Cuba while working as a contractor for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The main accusation against him was that he had introduced satellite telecommunications devices that he delivered to the Jewish community of the Island. Gross was sentenced to 15 years and released in 2014, after the announcement of the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana.

The banning of these devices no longer makes much sense since many smartphones recently introduced to the market include positioning tools. Even without the ability to communicate with a satellite, some of these phones manage to tell the user where they are thanks to “telephone signal triangulation.”

“A mobile phone without GPS can provide location information,” confirms Yipsi Gómez, a computer graduate who works in a computer and cell-phone repair shop in the Cerro neighborhood in Havana. “The location can be obtained through the cell towers, by determining the intensity or time that radio signals are delayed between one and the other,” she says.

“When we have the data signal turned on, and even if we don’t have access to the internet, we can see in the maps on our mobile phones the point where we are, even if it’s not as accurate as when we receive the information from a satellite,” explains the young woman. “Most people who use a positioning system in Cuba do it that way, but it works poorly in areas with little mobile coverage.”

“Every day there are more devices that include a satellite locator, and they are continually getting smaller,” adds the computer expert, while showing her Garmin Forerunner sports watch with GPS.

Translated by Tomás A.

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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.

Fernando Ravsberg: "In Cuba There Are Good Journalists and Bad Press"

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 13 July 2018 — Fernando Ravsberg, a Uruguayan journalist living in Cuba, has closed his blog Cartas desde Cuba (Letters from Cuba), after an intense campaign of harassment on the part of the most radical sectors of official journalism. Ravsberg published his last post on Thursday, explaining that he made the decision because the authorities refused to continue to accredit him as a journalist on the island.

“This is the last post from Cartas desde Cuba, I write it with sadness. After a decade in cyberspace reporting on the reality of Cubans, the blog must disappear, I have no possibilities to continue, the gate has been closed,” the journalist wrote.

In a telephone conversation with 14ymedio, the former correspondent for the BBC and Público, said he had not wanted to specify in his last post whether he was leaving the country, however, sources close to the journalist told this newspaper that he will leave Cuba. Ravsberg is married to a Cuban so he could apply for permanent residency, but he can not work as a foreign correspondent. continue reading

Although the closure of Letters from Cuba is a victory for the most radical wing within official journalism, the communicator is optimistic about the future of the press on the Island.

“The number of readers we had and the debates that took place show that there is an interest in the nation for a different journalism to emerge,” he said by telephone from Havana.

Official journalists who now write in blogs what they are not allowed to write in the pages of the State media, as well as new magazines, pages and voices that relate a Cuba different from that in the media controlled by oficialdom, are examples of a new journalism that is opening a path, Ravsberg believes.

“There will always be forces that resist the new, the fact of economically drowning Letters from Cuba seeks to create a precedent, but I do not think they can stop all those who are doing different journalism at the moment,” he added.

In February of this year, Ravsberg launched a fundraising campaign to “save” Cartas desde Cuba. According to the journalist, he was able to collect just over 2,700 dollars, a small amount compared to the 30,000 dollars he has had to invest in the last five years to maintain the site.

“It’s not just maintaining Cartas desde Cuba, it’s a problem of maintaining me. I have a bad habit of having breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he jokes.

The grudge against Ravsberg has been steadily growing, according to the journalist’s own complaints. In January of last year the orthodox of officialdom accused the communicator of spreading false news about Cuba and even received threats of having “his teeth smashed in” because of the critical entries he posted on his blog.

At that time his accusers brought up a quote from Fidel Castro where he described Ravsberg as “the biggest liar” for daring to question one of his latest projects: the Energy Revolution that left the country in the dark.

Shortly before, the vice president of the Union of Journalists and Writers, Aixa Hevia, threw the first darts against the former correspondent for his defense of the ousted journalist José Ramírez Pantoja, of Radio Holguín. On that occasion he even let fall the idea of expelling Ravsberg from the country.

“I’m not complaining, we did good things, we called attention to the death of thirty patients of the psychiatric hospital, to the corruption in civil aviation during the time of General Acevedo and the strange negotiation that preceded the recent plane crash,” Ravsberg wrote in his last post.

He also highlights among his achievements what he calls “breaking ghettos,” making the different political tendencies of the country listen to “the arguments of the adversary.”

“In Cuba there is not bad press because there are bad journalists, the contradiction is that there are good journalists and bad press,” Ravsberg told 14ymedio.

Asked if these same forces that have driven the closure of Cartas desde Cuba can also drive the closure of the new information spaces that have emerged on the island, Ravsberg responds with a resounding no.

“There is an important difference between Cartas desde Cuba and the new spaces that are emerging, these new spaces are in the hands of Cubans, and of young Cubans. I am a foreigner, although the nation has welcomed me with open arms. I have to be silent because I am a foreigner, but that is not going to happen with the young people,” he adds.

The International Press Center did not renew Ravsberg’s credential, a measure denounced by the journalist a month ago. Apparently, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the publication in Cartas desde Cuba of a request for an independent investigation into the plane crash that killed 112 people in Havana.

The dissident Manuel Cuesta Morúa believes the assault on Ravsberg is proof that “the regime is afraid of the exercise of opinion, wherever it may come from, and that freedom of expression is incompatible with the system, regardless of the fact that the system is currently right in the middle of an apparent renovation. “

The dissident believes that the Ravsberg’s posts “have been criticized on both sides” of the different political positions, although he has always been linked to positions close to the Government.

Silvio Rodríguez, a singer-songwriter who for decades has sung praises to the government headed by the Castro brothers, came out in defense of Ravsberg on his blog Segunda Cita.

“It seems that at last the Cabrebrujas de Dores feel strong enough and unleashed, so much so that they seem capable of doing what Fidel and Raúl did not do … If this happens, if his press credential in Cuba is withdrawn and they push Ravsberg to emigrate with his Cuban family of 30 years, it can mean a parting of the waters in this Revolution that so many have loved, defended and built,” said the troubadour.

The worst fears of the author of El Necio (The Foolhave already been fulfilled: Ravsberg had his journalistic credential cancelled, he had to close lCartas desde Cuba and possibly board a plane in the coming weeks not to return, as thousands of Cubans have done in past decades. It remains to be seen on which side of the “parting of the waters” the troubadour will be located.

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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.

Pro Press Freedom Association Denounces Arrests, Confiscations and Threats Against Journalists

The independent journalist Osmel Ramírez Álvarez. (HavanaTimes)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 July 2018 — Arrests, confiscations and threats are some of the attacks against journalists reported by the Pro Press Freedom Association (APLP) in its most recent report, covering the month of June and made public this Monday. The text details a dozen attacks but warns that “the possibility of the existence of others is real.”

The release of the report of the APLP, an independent organization that monitors the state of press freedom on the island, coincides with the closing of the 10th Congress of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), an event where the new information policy that will govern in the country will be delineated.

In this context, reporters not affiliated with the official media are taking the brunt of the repression and the confiscation of the equipment and supplies they use to perform their work, a theme that was not addressed during the sessions of the official meeting, where 267 delegates from across the country met. continue reading

The APLP denounces cases such as that of reporter Carlos Torres Fleites, contributor to news website Cubanet and to this newspaper, who was “arrested on the street by agents of the National Revolutionary Police and the political police (State Security) after interviewing residents of Calle Real, Santa Clara.”

During an arbitrary detention, Torres Fleites was interrogated, “forced to be without clothes” in the cells and the police confiscated his mobile phone, the journalist’s main tool to do his work.

A similar situation was experienced by Osmel Ramírez Álvarez, a Havana Times contributor, who was detained at a police station for three days in retaliation for his work as an independent journalist.

In Guantánamo, the home of Niorbe García Fournier, a journalist with the agency Hablemos Press, was raided by the police and the reporter was threatened with “going to prison for espionage and for spreading false information that threatens international peace.”

The report also includes attacks against contributors to Palenque Visión, the Cuban Institute of Freedom of Expression and Press (ICLEP) and La Hora de Cuba. Its pages include a complaint about the police citation received last June 27 by the president of the APLP, José Antonio Fornaris.

The APLP’s report is consistent with the data published by international organizations and the warnings they have issued about the constant attacks on press freedom by the Cuban authorities.

Last April the organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) placed Cuba in 172nd place, of 180 nations, in terms of press freedom. The country was the lowest rated in the continent.

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) also denounced, in its latest report presented in Colombia last April, that the Cuban government seeks “a dumb, deaf, and blind country” with regards to communication, journalism, and the internet.

It is “an increasingly difficult goal,” the IAPA said, for “journalists and independent media to persevere and not cease their work despite the restrictions.”

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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.

Diaz-Canel Praises State’s Monopoly on the Press and the Truth

Miguel Díaz-Canel displayed with astonishing simplicity the scope of his political thought when closing the 10th Congress of the Union of Journalists of Cuba. (ANC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 July 2018 — In his first ideological speech, President Miguel Díaz-Canel displayed with astonishing simplicity the scope of his political thought in his closing remarks at the 10th Congress of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), a meeting in which professionals of the official press raised the slogan “The truth needs us.”

In the Manichean vision of the world detailed by the leader this Saturday, on one side is “the logic of capital, selfish and exclusionary,” while on the other stands the “socialist and (José) Marti logic, the fidelista (faithful to Fidel Castro), showing solidarity and generosity.” For him there are no half measures. continue reading

The Communist Party has a monopoly on the truth and whoever disputes it is an enemy of the homeland and in the pay of the empire. In order to erect these intimidating arguments, the newly appointed president hides behind the definition of a besieged square and alludes to the testament received from the ‘historic generation’ – those who fought in the Revolution.

People who spent months digging into the sources and integral parts of Diaz-Canel’s thought must have suffered great frustration this Saturday when listening to so many simple things. Especially those who believed they had found a nugget of gold in the poetic quote from the singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez in his inauguration speech on 19 April.

The words from Rodriguez quoted by Diaz-Canel – “You don’t need wings to take flight” – inspired some hopeful to believe he might be planning to undertake a daring comeback. Instead, before the 267 journalists gathered in the congress, he chose to recommend the complete reading of the text The New Revolutionaries, signed by the official troll Manuel Henríquez Lagarde.

Of course you don’t need wings for such a low altitude flight.

Exclusionary and partisan, the president considered it appropriate not to invite independent journalists to the discussions of the new communication policy “because they are not part of UPEC nor of Cuban society, which earned through its efforts and sacrifices the exclusive right to discuss how to design the future.” Although he did not say it, it was clear that nor would independent journalists have the right to have a separate congress.

The Social Communication Policy that has taken shape in this conclave recognizes only two types of ownership for the mass media in the country: state and social. The document, which has not been published in its entirety, defines access to information, communications and knowledge as a public good; it establishes obligations to the rest of the institutions and amplifies the powers of media executives.

What has not been amplified with sufficient emphasis is what Marino Murillo noted in one of the sessions of the congress when he said that “this policy, which represents a starting point to begin working,” implies the creation of three legal projects, and a subsequent monitoring of compliance with this policy through objectives, goals and indicators.

Díaz-Canel acknowledged that among the pending tasks is for “the country our media shows [to look more like the] country we are.” This requires the fulfillment of another of the announced foundations of the new policy which refers to “respect for the diversity that we are.”

The governing spheres hold a narrow meaning of “diversity” in which they include race, sex, age, province of origin, religion and occupational profile, which has been timidly increased to include sexual orientation. The law can penalize someone who discriminates against a young woman from Guantanamo who is a lesbian, black, Catholic and self-employed, but if this same person shows her social-democratic or liberal inclinations then she would be punished.

Nor could she belong to the Ladies in White, promote the Cuba Decides project, be a member of UNPACU, the Christian Liberation Movement, MUAD or FANTU. She could not be an activist defending human rights, open an unauthorized library or exercise independent journalism. Of all this, nothing!

In order for the country that appears in the press to resemble the real country in all its diversity, the diversity must also reach social communication media. The nation will continue to be a puzzle that lacks pieces if the existence of political opposition and independent civil society is not recognized, if it is not accepted once and for all that Cubans are everyone, wherever they live and whatever they think.

The truth needs many actors and different versions. It requires debate and confrontation among ideas and, above all, freedom. While it is true, that as the crucified one said, “the truth will set you free,” it is also indisputable that freedom will make us truthful.

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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.

Diaz-Canel Blames Athlete Exodus on the "Subversive Provocation of Imperialism"

Diaz-Canel during the opening of the Sports Hall (EFE)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Havana, 14 June 2018 — In his speech this Friday during the inauguration of the Cuban Sports Hall, President Miguel Díaz-Canel spoke of the exodus of several of the best athletes in the country and attributed it to the “subversive provocation that imperialism tries to impose” with the intention of seeking a “loss of prestige” for Cuba, as well as the “lack of commitment” of the island’s athletes.

The new space located in Havana Sports City is dedicated to collecting the history of sport on the island and exhibits numerous photos along with trophies and medals won by national athletes. continue reading

The president said that the practice and development of sports has been “one of the achievements of the Cuban Revolution” and also “an expression of joy and a confirmation of revolutionary values and of patriotic and human values.”

He also said that in the world today sports has been converted into a form of “merchandise” in a scenario marked by “high administrative corruption” where “athletes are bought and sold.”  In addition, he lamented the “nefarious scourge” of doping.

Díaz-Canel has declared that the Government will continue giving “priority” attention to the sport, “even in very complex conditions,” and that Cuba will win first place among the countries in the upcoming Central American and Caribbean Games in Barranquilla (Colombia), from July 19 to August 3.

The Cuban State strictly regulates the exercise of sports on the Island. Trained in technical education institutions where each discipline reaches a high level, and with a very low salaries paid by the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation, Cuban athletes are presented as amateurs but in practice they live as professionals.

Driven by Fidel Castro, the Island’s plan for sports sought not only to promote exercise, but also to export the idea that the Antilles was a power in this area and could face the richest countries.

After the end of the subsidies from the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1990s, a large part of the academic institutions and facilities for sport fell into disuse due to lack of maintenance. Poor living conditions, coupled with poor remuneration, led hundreds of athletes to escape from national teams at events and tours.

In 2013, the authorities gave the green light to hiring high-performance athletes from abroad, as long as it is managed through a company that assures the State a substantial part of the contract. The measure, applauded by a broad sector of Cuban sports, has not stopped the exodus. The most recent known case of an athlete leaving the national team was the Olympic boxing champion Robeisy Ramirez, who escaped during a training session in Mexico earlier this month.

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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.

For a Press Without Silences or Omissions

Delegates from the province of Santiago de Cuba to the UPEC congress. (Sierra Maestra)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 14 July 2018 – One has been unemployed for two years, the other went to Miami and works for one of those media the Cuban government calls “imperialist press,” while the third writes ephemera for a local Cuban radio station and dreams of doing investigative reports. The three of them are journalists who are graduates of the island’s universities, and who have in common talent, a desire to do things, and professional frustration.

On Friday, the Congress of the Union of Journalists of Cuba (Upec) opened in Havana, bringing together 267 reporters, editors, photojournalists and news directors from all over the country. The meeting is being held amid expectations that range from one extreme to the other: from its final agreements can come a renewing impulse for the press or a straitjacket closer to the current exercise of the profession.

As in every Upec conclave, the demands to make journalism more incisive and closer to reality, to give newsrooms greater access to official data, as well as a broader editorial autonomy for the local press, are repeated on this occasion, along with the demand to modernize a sector plagued by excessive ideological controls and material instability.

The congress could not avoid offering an obligatory reverence when dedicating the meeting to Fidel Castro Ruz, a tenacious predator of press freedom and the main architect of the biggest problems that have plagued the guild in the last half century. But, in addition to these formalities moved more by opportunism than by faith, the meeting takes place in a complicated scenario. continue reading

The journalists gathered at the Palace of Conventions are exchanging opinions at a time when censorship against the ‘weekly packet’ is increasing, new obstacles are imposed on the presentation of artists in private venues and the harassment of independent reporters grows. All these events suggest that the ruling party wants to recover, through intimidation, the ground that has been lost in the distribution of content and news in recent years.

Upec is also meeting with president Miguel Díaz-Canel who, a few weeks after he took office, expressed ambivalent positions towards the media. On the one hand, he has called on journalists to address more deeply issues of Cuba’s reality and, on the other hand, he has emerged as an implacable keeper of the revolutionary press, demonizing and threatening to put an end to media outside the control of the Communist Party.

A new information policy could be enshrined at the meeting, at a point where the system, lacking results to show amid a deepening economic crisis, chooses to continue substituting headlines for realities, strengthening the media’s ideological component  and demanding a new commitment from professionals of the press to behave like “soldiers of the pen” rather than as keen informants.

For their part, journalists who work in official media are demanding better guarantees to do their work, but many of them start from the condition that other information sources, which they consider to be inadequately trained or ideologically objectionable, be eliminated.

On the other hand, a part of the union, not represented in the congress and made up of journalists who work for independent media or manage their own information spaces, has been asking for a Press Law for years that guarantees the exercise of the profession beyond the strict official frameworks. They seek legal recognition for their work so they do not end up with their bones in jail.

The latter are the great absentees of the meeting and the most affected by its possible results. What is anticipated from the meeting is an information policy that seeks to close ranks, lash out against those who maintain links with the independent press or who have dared to found blogs, newspapers and websites that touch on taboo topics such as violence in the streets, the excesses of State Security, administrative corruption or environmental pollution, among others.

In contrast, none of the attendees of the Upec congress has published anything about the most urgent problems that have shaken the reality of the island in recent weeks. Did even one of them ask Cubana de Aviación the details of the agreement that led the state airline to rent a plane from a Mexican company plagued by irregularities? Did they inquire about the thorny issue of compensation to the families of the victims?

Which of these delegates bid to sneak into the debates of the new Constitution of the Republic that take place behind closed doors? Or has published at least one line about the theft of thousands of dollars experienced by dozens of Cuban doctors in Venezuela? How many of them have asked for “authorization” from their editorial chief to report about the new migratory route that is taking thousands of Cubans to Chile, Uruguay and Brazil?

This Friday, when the calendar marked the 24th anniversary of the sinking of the 13 de Marzo tugboat, in which 37 people died, people who were trying to escape the country and among whom were children, which delegates to the congress thought of writing a note, promoting an investigation or picking up the phone and calling a ministry for answers? Did any of them ask for an interview with the new head of state to ask him what his program for the government consists of?

All these questions are answered with a single word: none. All the journalists gathered in the Palace of Conventions have concurred in the silence, looked the other way and tried not to inconvenience the powers that be. The motto of the congress states “The truth needs us,” they boast with a certain touch of superiority, when in reality they are the ones who need the truth and who should be running after the facts.

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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.

"I Prefer the Cuba of the Special Period to the Venezuela of Nicolas Maduro," Says a Cuban Doctor

Cuban government claims it earns 11.5 billion annually from the sale of services abroad. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Havana, 13 July 2018  — After the robbery of 152,000 dollars (a figure later reduced to 16,000 by the police) Cuban doctors in Venezuela have come to be seen as privileged due to their access to the green bills in contrast to the unfortunate situation of the local population. Several physicians consulted by this newspaper fear that the media exposure will make them targets of criminal gangs, although, according to them, the standard of living of a Cuban health professional in Venezuela leaves much to be desired.

“They give us a million bolivars a month, that’s the stipend, but it’s not enough,” explains a doctor who, like the rest, is strictly forbidden to talk to the press. Some doctors assume that the stipend will be as much as three million after the minimum wage increases, but so far no action has been taken in this regard.

In the black market, which regulates street trade, the price of the dollar is over 3.4 million bolivars. All Cuban personnel, technicians, nurses and doctors receive the same stipend. continue reading

The Venezuelan Government guarantees them a home where they live with other “internationalists,” as well as a bag of food, and Cuba pays for their plane tickets to return on vacation to the island.

“We are not to blame for what is happening in Venezuela, the Government of this country has not been able to control the situation,” says this doctor, who has sometimes felt “despised” by his patients. “I prefer the Cuba of the Special Period to the Venezuela of Nicolás Maduro,” he says.

To buy toiletries and food, the professional brought money with him from Cuba. “When it’s all gone and I have nothing left, I send for more,” he says. On the island, the government keeps his salary and also deposits an amount in convertible pesos in a frozen account that he loses if he leaves the mission or he is sanctioned.

Among the prohibitions whose violation could mean returning to Cuba are being absent from work, talking to the foreign press about the medical mission or trying to escape to Colombia or any neighboring country. The doctor says that it has not crossed his mind because he fears he would not see his family on the island again. “They would punish me by forbidding me to enter Cuba for eight years, I can not stay away from my family that long,” he says.

The Cuban Government participates in medical missions in exchange for obtaining oil from Venezuela. Caracas sends some 55,000 barrels of oil a day to the island, which represents 1.5 billion dollars a year, a surprisingly high figure for a country sunk in a severe humanitarian crisis. The government maintains that it receives more than 11.5 billion dollars annually for the professional services it provides to countries all over the world, a figure questioned by independent economists.

Personal security is among the greatest concerns for Cuban doctors who provide services in Venezuela. Although the Special Action Forces of the police arrested the thieves, some Cubans consulted by this newspaper say that most of the time this is not the case.

“Many have been assaulted and some have died here, but nothing is said because the policy of the medical mission is total discretion, they tell us that it will become a political problem if we report these cases and they can punish us by terminating our mission,” says a doctor who works in eastern Venezuela.

The doctor also states that she has been the victim of harassment by the mission heads. “Sometimes I have had to face the machismo of the bosses, they believe that because we come alone to work we have to serve them as maids and as women in their beds,” she complains.

Most cases of abuse, according to this doctor, go unpunished, silenced by the secrecy surrounding the mission.

The doctor is concerned about the deteriorating situation in the country. “They have asked us to bear up until the end, but that end never comes and things get worse every day,” she explains.

Venezuela is experiencing a hyperinflationary process that has left its currency worthless. The economy of the country contracted the first quarter of this year by 12% according to the calculations of the opposition National Assembly. Oil production, the main export item in the country, has plummeted and reached 1.5 million barrels per day in June, the lowest figure in 70 years. Added to this is the widespread violence that has claimed the lives of more than 280,000 people since Chavismo came to power in 1999.

“Cuban professionals here are in a situation of war in a country that is crumbling to pieces and without any protection,” she laments.

Several doctors have sent messages to the heads of mission asking for better wages and protection, always under the slogan “everything for the Revolution” so as not to be branded as counterrevolutionaries, explains a third professional who works in Zulia.

“If our relatives in Cuba or our colleagues knew the things that we have to go through in this shitty country nobody would come,” says the doctor. But the official media of the Island censors the negative news about the missions abroad.

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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.

Tribute to the 37 Victims of the ’13 de Marzo’ Tugboat

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 July 2018 — On July 13, 1994, Cuban government forces sank the 13 de Marzo tugboat, which was carrying 72 citizens who were fleeing the island for Florida; 37 people died, including 10 children.

Betania Publishers is making available to our readers the poems recently published by the poet and writer Liliam Moro (Havana, 1946)  in trubute to the victims.

Journey to Horror

By Liliam Moro

Papi, don’t look, close your eyes!

(María Victoria García, mother of the drowned child Juan Mario)

The earth is bounded by borders

The sea is free.

But in freedom there is also Death. continue reading

 

Death is not made of numbers,

it is not a quantitative reckoning.

In a single death

there is humanity.

But when Death arrives uniformed

in three boats

and furiously shoots water from cannons

to sink an opponent

–death by water–

and rams and destroys the opponent,

and this other is not one but seventy-two,

and there are ten children among the seventy-two

–death by water–

and it is at dawn

when the sky and the sea merge

in the same brush of blackness

–death by water–

then, to save themselves,

they clung to a floating corpse

and a mother tells her son to close his eyes

so he will not be frightened on seeing Death

–death by water–

when they ask for clemency

and they respond laughing “let them die”

–death by water–

and they begin to count the bodies face down

adrift,

among them ten children like floating dreams.

How are they, Lord, those who survived?

How are they, Lord, those who shouted

“let them die,”

and now aged so many years later

without the powerful ships, without the water cannons,

with the medals of merit rusting

at the same rate that their souls are rotting?

What god did they blindly obey

whose voice they no longer remember?

How is she, Lord, that woman

who throws candies into the water

every 13th of July?

How are we, Lord, we who remember it

on every anniversary and we foam from the mouth

writing poems

and we cannot tear out that infamous page

from the history books

nor grant them resurrection?

 

The brutal cannonade of water in the middle of the night

broke to pieces the spheres of the compasses

that showed the cardinal points

of the time to come,

that is called the future;

the glasses shattered

the needles crushed

they could not point to the North.

 

The bodies no longer float,

they wenty sinking

with the slowness of inevitable.

They didn’t need the ferryman Charon.

they were unhurriedly sinking

like he who finally rests

and abandons himself to the dream where Nothing receives him.

Tangled in the silt

among the blind fish,

they descended to keep company

with old rusty boats

of rotten wood

that have been accumulating for centuries

where the abyss begins;

and down there, in the depth of the deep

so like infinity

lie the beings who tried

to move to another nearby geography.

And they are there still.

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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 Modifies Private Sector Licenses and Taxes

Pushcart vendors pushing their products along Colón street, next to the Milanés theater in the city of Pinar del Río. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 July 2018 — The announced “reordering and updating” for self-employment work appeared this Tuesday with the publication in the Extraordinary Gazette of a package of measures that modify the licensing system and the payment of taxes from the private sector.

“No activity disappears, 96 of the existing ones are grouped into 28, and from of a total of 201, there are 123,” explained Marta Elena Feitóra Cabrera, Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Security.

The 27 activities for which the issuing of licenses had been frozen, will be opened again when the regulations take effect, in December 2018. continue reading

Some activities, starting now, may continue to operate, but no new licenses will be granted. This is the case for wholesalers and retailers of agricultural products, pushcart tradesmen or vendors of agricultural products, sellers of CDs and operators of recreation equipment.

However, new license categories have been created. The permit for the preparation of food and drinks in food services and restaurants is modified with the creation of two new licenses: gastronomic services and restaurants, and bar and recreation services. The activities of baker-candy maker and renter of means of transport are also new.

In some cases a single authorization that groups several activities (as in beauty services, which groups seven) will allow a broader set of services with the same tax burden as before.

The new regulations also establish that only one authorization to exercise an activity per person will be granted and only one of the three activities of gastronomic services in restaurants, gastronomic services in cafeterias, or bar and recreation services can be exercised in the same domicile.

Other areas that will see changes are those of renters of houses, rooms and spaces, who may lease to legal persons (companies, organizations, organizations), as well as to natural persons. In addition, in the absence of the business owner, a representative may be appointed from among the employees.

Tax reform in the self-employed sector will also be significant. The government will abolish the tax exemption for the hiring of up to five workers, a measure that includes artists and non-agricultural cooperatives. In addition, the minimum taxable base for the payment of the tax for the use of the labor force is adjusted, with the minimum continuing to be 5%.

Of the 123 self-employed activities that were approved after the regrouping, 52 will be taxed by the General Scheme and 71 by the Simplified Scheme (monthly payment of a consolidated fee).

The tax regime for Havana is differentiated from the rest of the provinces in the new measures. Vladimir Regueiro Ale, general director of Fiscal Policy of the Ministry of Finance and Prices (MFP), explained that the minimum tax quota will be increased on 41 activities in the capital and 20 outside it. The increases range from 5 to 360 CUP.

The minimum tax quota of 39 activities is also reduced outside of Havana, and for 22 in Havana, and the monthly tax quotas are maintained for taxpayers registered in the grouped activities, provided they are higher than the minimum for that license.

In the event that a taxpayer turns in their license for an activity in which they have experienced a loss within a period of less than 24 months, they will recover the tax quota paid before the cancellation.

These changes will apply only to new self-employed workers. In the case of those who are already licensed, they will maintain the preconditions even if the license holders’ tax quotas have been increased.

Another novelty is the obligation to have a fiscal bank account, a measure through which the Government intends to increase control over the sector and that initially will be applied only to food services, construction services, the rental of housing, rooms and spaces, and the transportation of passengers in motor vehicles (from four to 14 seats) in Havana.

All the financial operations of the business must be passed through this account and it will be obligatory to maintain a minimum balance equivalent to three of the taxpayer’s monthly installments. The deposit account must be opened within 30 days of the notification of the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT), and the minimum balance be deposited within 90 days. Otherwise, it will constitute a punishable offense.

The transport of passengers in Havana includes specific regulations for the control of the use of fuel, which, according to the Government, has been a source of multiple “deficiencies and irregularities.”

It is required that 100% of the expenses for fuel consumed be made by magnetic card, in addition to other expenses of the activity in the Personal Income Tax Affidavit.

The holders of the license will be required to certify the fuel consumed by magnetic card issued by Fincimex, as justification for payment of taxes.

Also modified is the tax exemption incentive for three months at the beginning of the activity, a measure that the authorities claim is used for tax evasion purposes.

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