Cuba Risks a Christmas Without Rice on the Table

The rice imported from Vietnam is not popular among Cuban consumers (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 30 November 2018 — The end of the year is approaching and families are setting aside provisions for the December festivities. Beans, pork and salad can not be absent, but the most essential of all products is rice, the distribution of which in recent weeks has shown signs of an alarming shortage in supplies and a fall in quality.

With an annual national consumption that exceeds 700,000 tons, this essential ingredient is sold in three types of markets: the bodegas of the rationed system, stores that sell products for Cuban pesos (CUP), and the hard currency stores that only sell products in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), each of which is worth 25 Cuban pesos. Shortages currently are affecting the latter two options and the customers are complaining about the poor quality of the rice that is available.

“We have had cuts in supplies and now consumers don’t like the rice that is being sold,” admits Suanny, a grocer in a market on San Lazaro Street in Havana, where imported rice costs 5 Cuban pesos a pound (roughly 25¢ USD). “People come by and ask if it is Brazilian, but when they find out it is Vietnamese, they do not want to buy it.” continue reading

In the midst of an escalation of accusations between Havana’s Revolution Square and the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, over the Mais Medico (More Doctors) program staffed by Cuban doctors who are being recalled to Cuba, Cuban consumers fear that the diplomatic chill will affect the arrival of the highly-valued rice. Even television comedians allude to its counterpart, the food of Asian origin, as “the worst nightmare” of the coming Christmas Eve.

Vietnam is the main exporter of rice to the Island because the national harvest covers barely a third of what is consumed on the island. According to official data, more than eleven million Cubans residing in the country eat an average of 11 pounds a month, more than 130 pounds per person per year. The vast majority of diners will say they have not eaten if there is no rice on their plate, both at lunch and dinner.

Suanny explains to this newspaper that the reasons for the rejection of the Vietnamese product are varied. “Many of the grains are broken and the smell it has, even if it is washed several times, is not pleasant,” he says. “Besides, it’s a type of rice that does not cook up with individual grains, but rather is sticky, and we don’t like it that way here.” Similar opinions are heard in all the markets, with the exception of stores in convertible pesos where the origin of the rice is different.

“We mainly sell one kilogram packages from Spain and Brazil that are well accepted,” explains Yaima, administrator of a small store in Vedado. While in the rationed market and in places that sell in the local currency there is only one variety and for a price up to six times higher, “of a type that is very good for making yellow rice, paellas and even risotto, as well as others of long grain of the variety basmati and the jasmine.”

Yaima explains that the main buyers of this variety are the private restaurants (paladares), the foreigners residing in the national territory and “the so-called ‘pots’ (new rich) who want something of higher quality.” In the last month in several stores, including Yaima’s, they had to “ration the sale of rice packages to five per person because the supply is not stable.”

With the increase of the private sector in recent years, especially in the restaurants with extensive menus for foreign tourists, “the purchase of this type of rice [sold in CUC], which previously sold very slowly, has grown a lot,” says the worker. “Now it’s among the products we sell the most, after chicken, sausages and oil.”

Some of those interviewed consider that Cuban rice is barely sold in convertible peso stores due to “quality problems” and “presentation.” Also because of the obstacles that the State still puts on the private farmers before they can place their goods on the shelves of stores in the internal trade network.

Domestic rice does not enjoy customers’ favor either. In agricultural markets, its price remains at 4 CUP, cheaper than imported rice. “It’s second because it’s very dirty with small stones, seeds and also grains with husks,” explains Wilfredo del Toro, who manages a market stall in a plaza in Marianao.

It is common for consumers to spend between 20 minutes and half an hour selecting, washing and “picking” the national or Vietnamese rice before they can cook it, a time that is prolonged if the grain comes from the fields of the Island, due to the lack of sorting machines that clean the product before it reaches the markets.

“It’s not just about harvesting more quality rice in the fields, but about achieving a better finish,” explains Josué Amorín, an agricultural engineer who has been dedicated to rice harvesting in Artemisa’s Güira area for a decade. “The selection and packaging are unaddressed issues in the sale of national rice, in that almost nothing has been achieved in recent years.”

“In the end, what the buyer takes home is a product that can not compete with the one sold in stores in convertible pesos, neither in quality nor in cleanliness,” says the engineer.

The rice is moved in hoppers or bags throughout the transport chain from the fields to the markets. Once at the market stalls it is also sold in bulk, which contributes to the addition of particles and dirt to the product. In the rationed market it is common for employees to add small stones or other objects to increase the weight, which leaves them a surplus to sell in illegal networks.

Currently, with the problems of shortages that are affecting several areas of the country, the practice of adulterating the national rice has also exploded. This November the planting for the cold season has started and the problems with the quality of the seed already foretell that the goal of planting 139,000 hectares can not be met.

“The grain we have is a variety that demands a lot of water and is quite fragile,” a rice grower explains by telephone to 14ymedio from the  Aguada de Pasajeros area in Cienfuegos, who prefers anonymity. “In the technological package (a module that the State sells to the producers) we have distributed a rice for sowing that is very deteriorated.”

The farmer points to the problems with irrigation systems, “in very poor condition given the years and lack of maintenance,” together with the difficulties of drying and transporting the grain once it is harvested, as the main brakes suffered by the sector. “Getting bags [to package it in] is a headache,” he says.

The Rice Development Program, managed by the State but with a majority of producers located in cooperatives and private farms, aims to reach a production of 400,000 tons by 2020. But the forecast, according to several specialists consulted by this newspaper, seems too optimistic and even counterproductive for the country’s economy.

In the opinion of Israel Lugo Hernández, technical-productive director of the Rice Technology Division, reaching these figures depends not only on seeds and machinery, but also on how the rains behave in the coming years, especially over the territories of Granma, Camagüey and Sancti Spíritus, the regions where the grain is most sown.

For engineer Josué Amorín such a forecast is a “pure dream.” Rice production “demands water availability that is impossible to guarantee throughout the process in a country that has had serious drought problems in recent years and that, according to forecasts, may worsen in the future.” The specialist believes that “we must concentrate not on increasing the production numbers too much, but on the quality of the rice that is arriving at the tables.”

In his opinion “an appropriate combination of national production and imports would be more advisable than trying to grow everything 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.

Taking Care of Children and Then Grandchildren

The role played by older people increases when one of their children emigrates. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, November 29, 2018 — Preparing snacks, picking up the girls after classes, and staying on top of keeping the school uniforms clean. A good part of the daily routine of Clara Rojos, 74, is focused on her two granddaughters, aged 10 and 11, who she has taken care of since their mother emigrated to Miami. From there she is trying to bring them over via a family reunification process that has taken more than five years.

Clara Rojas is “mother and father” to the two girls, as she explains to 14ymedio. In parks, outside schools, and in the vicinity of childcare centers, it is common to see these gray-haired heads accompanying minors. Sometimes they do it to help out the rest of the family, but in other cases they are the only support these children have.

According to an investigation conducted by the Law Faculty of Marta Abreu University, in Villa Clara, currently Cuba includes “more grandparents in the raising of grandchildren, now that, in general, both parents have a lot of work and social activity, and they spend little time with their children.” The role played by older people increases when one of their children emigrates. continue reading

For Clara Rojas, being in charge of her two granddaughters brings her many advantages and a “mountain of problems.” “I get up every day and I have the energy to go on because I can’t leave them alone,” she says. A study carried out in Germany indicates that elderly people who on an occasional or permanent basis take care of their grandchilren “tend to live longer than the elderly who don’t take care of other people.”

However, the diligent grandmother recognizes that she is a little old to share with the girls certain passions, like using new technologies, “listening to reggaeton, or helping them with their math homework.” She calculates that in the next three years, when the girls reunite with their family in Florida, she will have time to dedicate to herself and “do a bunch of unresolved things” that right now she can’t do because she doesn’t have the time.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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.

First Ladies: An Untapped Potential in Latin America

After more than five decades in which the power had hair on its chest and only used skirts as a secondary support, a woman accompanies the president on his international engagements. It is a serious problem that she does not say anything.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 27 November 2018 — In times when there is so much talk of women’s demands, of campaigns with #MeToo-style labels, and of questioning the treatment of women in the media, it is worth reflecting on the figure of the First Lady in so many governments in Latin America.

In contrast to some European nations, and of specific moments in the administrations in the United States, in this part of the world that ranges from the Rio Grande to Patagonia, the person accompanying the president has barely used her influence and media exposure to bring messages of renewal to a female audience. She has been, rather, a “beautiful adornment” that follows the president to his public speeches, to the signing of agreements or on international tours, but she has been far from carrying herself as someone with a voice of her own who addresses the nation.

What if she used her position to influence something beyond clothes or hairstyles? The Latin American first ladies should break the mold of a beautiful face that assents to everything her husband does and throw themselves into promoting new roles, demanding spaces and launching those life stories that help the women of this region shake off disrespect and violence. continue reading

There are very gray cases, such as that of the recently premiered first lady of Cuban Lis Cuesta, the first female name that is officially linked to a president in more than half a century. After more than five decades in which power had hair on his chest and only used skirts as a secondary support, we see a woman who takes the president’s hand and accompanies him on his international engagements. It is a serious problem that she does not say anything, but we do not know if it is because of her own desire for “invisibility” or because she is prevented from doing so.

It matters little whether she shares spaces with the highest Chinese authorities or walks through the streets of London, the big problem is that we Cubans do not know the tone of her voice or what she thinks about the most critical issues of the nation.

In other Latin American countries the problem would be one of media over-exposure or the banal use of the figure of the first lady by the gossip media or fashion press to discuss the inches of her hemline or the quality of her makeup. However, in countries like this island where I live, the voice of the ruler’s wife seems to be suppressed as her very existence is shown as a “weak” diversion of the ideology in power, a “mannered” gesture of authority.

It is already time for this person who accompanies the highest office in the country to stop being pure decoration. She should not be presented like a flowery curtain that does not speak, like a beautiful vase and – much less – like an artificial flower that should always look fresh and perfumed, even in the worst moments.

A first lady must be the mirror for many Latin American women to see their potential reflected, a powerful call to realize projects and a reflection of what will come in the future. Will the ladies of the Palace be willing to subvert their wardrobes for real influence, to exchange heels for social endeavors? We all hope so.

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Note: This column was originally published in the Latin American edition of the Deutsche Welle chain.

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.

Through its Doctors, Cuba Influences Global Health Programs

Cuban doctors equipped for emergency missions. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 21 November 2018 — Perhaps never before has a Latin American leader been able to raise such a stir before his inauguration as the newly elected Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, has done. His proposal is to grant work, with full salary and permanent residence for them and their families to the doctors who work in the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) program, after they revalidate their credentials in Brazil, has provoked a drastic response from Havana, which has announced the departure of Cuba from the program and has ordered its health professionals to return to Cuba.

The fate of Cuban doctors in Brazil has become one of the most prominent issues in numerous media and social networks. It has, once again, focused on the many dark stains of the humiliating exploitation system that has been systematically applied by the Cuban Government to these professionals, and it has also stirred passions between the critics of the Castro regime and some of the faithful who – in spite of all the evidence – still justify and defend it.

Thus, while a growing chorus calls for the doctors’ insurgency, urging them to defect and to continue offering their services in the communities where they have been working so far – this time receiving all the advantages offered by the new Brazilian president – certain voices of the radical left regret what they consider a low blow to a program that has brought primary health care to the most impenetrable and poor places in Brazil where it did not exist before. continue reading

The questionable decision of the Cuban regime to withdraw the doctors has exposed the true interests behind the Castro pantomime of solidarity, altruism, cooperation and Latin American brotherhood. The fate of millions of poor Brazilians who receive basic care thanks to Cuban professionals is completely irrelevant to the Palace of the Revolution.  Their concern is the irreparable loss of the more than 300 million dollars it has been receiving annually, lifted from the doctors’ salaries.

The questionable decision of the Cuban regime to withdraw its doctors has exposed the true interests behind the Castro pantomime of solidarity

The loss of such lucrative income constitutes a devastating and possibly irreparable blow for the Castro regime. And for greater injury, the Island masters would also lose a good part of the supply of skilled workers in conditions of semi-slavery that have brought them so much wealth over the years.

In the middle of the political tug-of-war from this or the other side, the future of doctors and patients gets decided. On November 19th, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the new specialized agency of the inter-American system, the intermediary between the Mais Médicos program promoted in 2013 by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the Cuban Government, launched a statement that reflects an identical instrumental perception of Cuba’s medical personnel and reinforces the customary congratulatory position towards the Cuban authorities. At the same time, it distances itself from the conflict and avoids committing itself to the free hiring of Cuban doctors, by clarifying that “the Organization has agreements with the governments of both countries (Cuba and Brazil, in this case) for Mais Médicos, but it does not enter into contracts with doctors…”

“Cuba has the highest number of physicians per one thousand inhabitants in the world, 7.5,” said the note, pointing out where their sympathies are by mentioning that the lack of doctors in Brazil motivated the signing of the agreement, since Cuba has “extensive experience in providing doctors.”

Nothing else is needed. It is clear that PAHO needs the Cuban dictatorship as medical personnel guarantor to cover the programs of the organization. The fact that Havana uses its doctors as semi-slave labor, both in this and in other international programs in which it participates, in open violation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the International Bill of Human Rights created to watch over the guarantee, among others, also of the labor rights of these doctors and other Cuban health professionals, is only a minor detail for PAHO, despite its being a body affiliated with the World Health Organization (WHO)

It becomes clear that PAHO needs the Cuban dictatorship as guarantor of medical personnel to cover the programs of the organization

Thus, and without detracting from the importance of the existence of agencies that promote cooperation between countries and governments in favor of primary health care for all, and the undeniable ability of these to promote general policies aimed at preventing epidemics and chronic diseases, develop vaccination programs and reduce child mortality among the most vulnerable population groups, among other commendable functions, both PAHO and WHO have left their serious limitations exposed.  By applying the maxim “the end justifies the means” they manage to fulfill their functions with relative success, and justify their own existence, but they violate important legal instruments established by the UN and become accomplices of a long dictatorship.

Thus, the essential remains in the background. The Mais Médicos program was created, at least on paper, to provide medical services to millions of people from the poorest social sectors of Brazil, not to fatten the coffers of the Cuban dictatorship. Therefore, both international organizations, PAHO and WHO, in their roles as coordinators, should not be limited to being just intermediaries between the party that pays for the services (Brazil) and the one that provides the labor and benefits from the highest gains (Cuba), let alone take sides with one of these parties and, consequently, political interests that have nothing to do with the health of vulnerable populations.

Perhaps this is a good time for both organizations to reconsider their commitments and assume a more coherent vision in the future between the fulfillment of their programs and the basic principles that justify the very existence of the United Nations. Perhaps it is time for the competent organizations to remind Cuba that the UN Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are still waiting to be ratified by the Cuban government.

There is no doubt that Bolsonaro’s proposal has been more effective and forceful than the US embargo itself

In the case of the crisis of the Cuban doctors in Brazil, the ideal would have been if, from the current crisis, they had established a new contract in which Cuban doctors were acknowledged with the sacred labor right to collect their salaries in full and, in return, fully carry out their duties in places needing their services. But the PAHO statement has closed that door. The bureaucrats coordinating world health know that wherever financial resources appear to apply the health programs that justify their own existence, qualified manpower is usually scarce to carry them out. Hence, they tip the scales in favor of Havana.

Only Cuba, possessing an army of poor and poorly paid physicians, subordinate to the will of political power in exchange for ridiculous salaries, can guarantee the necessary human capital for such missions. International organizations try not to irritate the owner of the only resource they lack with uncomfortable demands or suggestions.

And so it is that we will have to continue the saga until the curtain falls on this new soap opera that is capturing the attention of the regional public. Meanwhile, and in spite of the accolades, the Cuban regime continues fanning the flames. There is no doubt that Bolsonaro’s proposal has been more effective and forceful than the US embargo itself, and that 2018 is probably proving to be the worst year endured by the Castro regime since the fall of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of the Eastern Europe socialist bloc.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

Black Friday Arrives in Cuba in the Hands of Private Businesses

Websites selling products that can be shipped to Cuba try to motivate users to join Black Friday. “Free delivery for orders over $100!” (Screen Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 23 November 2018 — Without long lines outside stores or massive orders via Amazon or store windows decorated for the occasion, we have Black Friday in Cuba, a practice that has come  with the private sector and that this year has featured extensive offerings in the informal market.

“If you send text message with the #BlackFriday hashtag, we discount 20%,” says an ad spread across several websites offering purchases and shipments to Cuba. Benefitting from the sales are both Cuban emigrants who send products to family and friends in Cuba, as well as self-employed entrepreneurs who order the merchandise to sell on the Island. The offers are included range from dishes, through mobile phones to food supplements. continue reading

“It’s about motivating people to join this practice of Black Friday that is increasingly spreading to more countries,” says Yusimí, 40, an informal saleswoman of toiletries, cosmetics and vitamins. “This year we have had many orders and we have also offered special combos for the date.”

Originating in the United States, “Black Friday” marks the start of the Christmas shopping season and is characterized by its significant reductions in prices. Custom now dictates that  Cyber Monday is celebrated on the following Monday. Its original intention was to boost digital sales that had once taken place on “Black Friday” in physical stores, but today these borders do not exist and “Cyber Monday” focuses on selling technological products at tempting prices both on-line and in street-front stores.

As a practical matter, Cubans living on the island cannot make online purchases because very few have a credit card. For this they depend on emigrants, and thanks to them and to the sites that ship to Cuba they can take advantage of these offers. “Sales and gifts, free delivery,” read an email sent to thousands of people and intended for Cuban emigrants. The discounts were only valid until 23:59 on Friday.

Nobody is surprised by these options because, little by little, certain festivities and traditions that come directly from Cuban emigrants in the United States have entered the island reality. “We are taking advantage of the two-day opportunity because Thursday is Thanksgiving and Friday is Black Friday,” explains Duaney, a merchant who specializes in footwear and appliances.

Although the state stores, the only ones that legally exist in the country, did not show a single sign that this Friday was commercially special, the private sellers filled that absence. “Two for the price of one,” “spend your black Friday here, so you do not miss the sales,” “it’s not Monday and it’s not Tuesday … it’s Black Friday,” were some of the improvised slogans of a sector of sales that officialdom limits.

Since the authorities banned self-employed workers from selling imported merchandise at the end of 2013, the inspectors persecute those who market these goods. But instead of disappearing, merchants have retreated to the black market and now widely use classified sites to place their products. A mobile phone number placed in an advertisement is the primary link to contact the sellers.

Instead of an automatic recording, José Luis, 38, repeats in his own voice the Black Friday sales every time an interested party calls. “If you want an appliance, the rebates are up to 15% this Friday and if you are looking for clothes, shoes or perfume we have discounts up to 35%,” he says on the phone to everyone who calls.

“We have to take advantage of this day when people have more desire to buy,” explains this young man who was born and raised in a Cuba where the government harshly stigmatized words such as “business,” “profits” and “merchant.” Part of a wide network of people who do not study or work in state-run workplaces, José Luis defines himself as “a great servant, who serves the clients what they need.”

However, he also takes advantage of the pull of consumption to peddle products that sell better accompanied by others or that
move slowly,” as he calls them. “We have good cologne, shaving foam and perfumes for men,” he explains and “for children there are backpacks with Wonder Woman and Spiderman.”

Others reject the arrival of these commercially focused dates of foreign influence. “We have reached a point where Halloween is celebrated more than Mother’s Day and where Cubans in Miami dictate to the family here that they should eat turkey instead of pork,” a retiree complained on Thursday, as he stood in line at a Western Union office on 3rd street in Havana’s Miramar district.

Most of those waiting to collect their remittances sent by relatives from the United States had a plan to celebrate Thanksgiving, more to please their families across the Straits of Florida than becuase of their own desires. Some also thought to set aside some of the money to spend on Black Friday.

The compulsion to buy that characterizes this Friday in other regions of the planet is still limited in the island, where in recent months the shortages of products have worsened in the network of official stores. So it is not uncommon to find “two-door refrigerators” for sale on the black market while state markets post a sign saying “out of salt.”

Black Friday has also coincided with the days dedicated to second anniversary remembrances of the late leader Fidel Castro, a bitter enemy of consumption. “With him in the Government, none of this would have been possible,” speculates José Luis, the seller. While in state markets posters with the face of the Commander in Chief are seen, the young merchant’s small illegal shop offers brands such as Adidas, Nike, Huawei and Dolce & Gabbana.

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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 Chicken Will Also be "Cubañol"

Currently, most imported chicken in Cuba is from the US or Brazil (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 26 November 2018 — Chicken is the food that stars on Cuban tables, beyond the traditional pork, the longed-for beef or the scarce fish. With the product shortages  having intensified in recent years, the legs and thighs of these birds have become the main source of animal protein for many families, a market that will now be entered by a Spanish production company.

The Cuban government is in negotiations with the Spanish company Kodysa to create a joint venture that will supply three out of every ten chickens consumed on the island, according to an announcement during the recently concluded official visit of Pedro Sánchez, president of the Spanish Government.

Kodysa is a construction and engineering company that also has an agri-food sector among its business areas. The multinational has poultry complexes in Andalusia and a company dedicated to the preparation of poultry products. continue reading

The first step was the signing of a memorandum of understanding to launch a 50 million euro project through which a mixed capital company will produce 400,000 fresh chickens a week for the Cuban market, a product with a broad demand which, today, is mostly imported from Brazil and the United States.

Kodysa chicken production

The Cuban poultry industry is going through a bad time, hit last September by Hurricane Irma and last May by the subtropical storm Michael, which damaged numerous chicken farms along the northern coast and in the western part of the country, although most of them were dedicated to egg production.

“We have very little production of chicken for meat consumption because of the issue of feed for growth and fattening, which is not easily achieved,” explains Luis Abreu by phone to 4ymedio. Abreu, 53, works on a poultry farm near the community of Las Terrazas in Artemisa. “Here we are dedicated to laying hens but right now we are below half of our capacity.”

Problems with the roofs of farm buildings, the supply of water to keep the hen-houses clean and the delicate issue of feed, makes it difficult for the animals to enjoy “the minimum conditions to lay all the eggs they could, much less to raise a chicken to a certain weight in a short period of time,” Abreu laments.

At the farm, a group of sorters reviews the newly hatched chicks and separates out the females, which will go to areas with special lighting to supply them with heat and later to the laying sheds to use for egg production. Those classified as males “go to feed the pigs,” says the employee.

The depressed local industry forces Cuba to import more than 80% of the food consumed on the island, including more than 120,000 tons of chicken meat. In 2017, Alberto Ramírez, president of the Cuban Society of Poultry Producers (SOCPA), confirmed to the official press that “the [national] production of meat is practically nil.”

Under the agreement with Kodysa, chickens could cover up to 30% of local demand, which includes not only domestic consumption, but also a portion of the needs of hotels and private businesses, a sector hit hard by the shortages.

The Spaniards are committed to guaranteeing the supply of animal feed, the weakest point of Cuban industry, and one that must be watched with greater zeal. “One of the main problems of meat production in Cuba is the diversion [i.e. theft] of resources from state companies to the informal market,” said Maritza Rojas, a Villa Clara native who worked for two decades as an accountant on a poultry farm, speaking to this newspaper.

“Private producers are sold barely any feed, so this product sells very well on the black market,” she explains. “Any place where chickens are raised, we have to watch the feed more than the birds, because it disappears little by little.” The accountant thinks that “it is still too expensive to produce chickens in Cuba” because of “the lack of infrastructure and so much theft.”

In the last two decades, the United States has been the greatest supplier of chicken to the Island, especially the so-called “dark meat” (thigh and leg-thigh). In November of 2017, after several months of  Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House, more than $21 million in agricultural products and food was sold to Cuba, almost $17 million of which was frozen chicken.

However, Havana must pay cash for the these products, as established by the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, which the US Congress approved in 2000.

Brazil also supplies much of the whole chicken that ends up on Cuban tables, particularly the companies Frangosul and Perdix, JBS and BRF, although political relations between Cuba and Brazil have deteriorated. Havana has a debt with the Brazilian National Development Bank of more than 600 million dollars that it has committed to settle, although this year alone it needs to renegotiate arrears in the amount of 110 million dollars for 2018.

Local production of chickens would alleviate the spending on imports and bring a fresher product to Cuban tables, but the agreement with Kodysa still has no firm date to go into effect.

*Translator’s note: Cubañol: a combination of Cuban and Spanish (español)

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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 Offers Customs Advantages to the Doctors in Brazil

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 November 2018 —  The Cuban doctors in Brazil will have customs advantages to import their belongings, according to a note from the authorities of the Ministry of Public Health, to which 14ymedio had access. The flexibilization has been accompanied by pressure on their family members to convince the doctors to return to the island.

The announcement comes a few days after the Cuban government announced the withdrawal of the more than 8,300 doctors who are working in the Mais Medicos (More Doctors) program in Brazil, after the president-elect of that country, Jair Bolsonaro, offered these health professionals political asylum if they decide to avail themselves of it.

“To support them and reduce expenses, we decided that for everyone who sends unaccompanied cargo to Cuba by different means, that cargo will be considered as Household Items, which implies not paying the duties in any currency,” explains the Medical Mission’s communication. continue reading

Even doctors who had already traveled on vacation to the island will be allowed to import additional products paying in the national currency, an exception to the strict Cuban customs rules that require payment in hard currency after the first annual importation.

However, for many of the professionals these measures are not enough. “It costs money to send our equipment to Cuba. What are we going to come with if they announce the end of the mission from one day to the next?” says one doctor under the condition of anonymity.

The other option that the authorities have given is for the doctors to sell everything they have and bring the cash. “I’m trying to sell everything I have. But what I can’t sell I will take to Cuba. I do not know if I can take a container on the plane, but what is certain is that I’m not going to leave it here,” said a doctor in a voice message sent to the directors of the mission through WhatsApp.

Another doctor regretted that they were only allowed to carry 40 kilograms (88 pounds) on the plane home. “I’m taking my air conditioner with me,” he said. “Look for two planes because I’m taking everything, doctor. Look for two planes because all I can get for an AC is 100 reales and I will not sell it because it cost me 2,200 reales. I do not know if they are going to find me a separate plane,” he added in a voice message to the directors of the Medical Mission.

Doctors are dismayed by the authorities’ recent visits to their relatives on the island to pressure them to return. “They went to visit my daughters. They are minors, they are girls. However, they went there and asked them if their mother had told them that she was going to stay in Brazil and that they should tell me not to stay, to return to the country,” lamented one doctor in communication with this newspaper.

Another doctor denounced the visits they made to his mother on his Facebook profile. “As my house was empty they went to my mother’s house. For the first time, she had the pleasure of seeing the family doctor who had never visited her despite her having suffered a heart attack and having blood pressure problems. They went to threaten her with measures in case I stayed in Brazil,” said the doctor.

In the official media, the campaign against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has also been strong. “Puppet of imperialism, fascist, far right” are the descriptors used by Cuban Television.

In a recent interview, the provincial director of the Ministry of Public Health in Guantánamo, Roilder Romero Frómeta, insisted that “there will be no reason for the desertion of health personnel” in Brazil.

Romero, former coordinator of Mais Medicos, said that those returning from Brazil will not be “regulated” — the official term used to describe the act of banning individuals from traveling outside the country — and may emigrate if they wish, but threatened those who break the contract and take refuge in the asylum offered by Bolsonaro with the application of the law that prevents them from returning to Cuba for any reason for eight years. “Health professionals in an official mission who have left have may not enter the country for eight years. There is no reason for them to defect,” he said.

On Friday, the president-elect of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, said that the situation of Cuban doctors is “practically slavery” and reiterated his promise of asylum for those wishing to leave the Cuban medical mission. Bolsonaro also considered it “unfair” and “inhumane” to assign the medical attention of Cuban professionals who have “no guarantee of quality,” to the poorest Brazilians.

The statement refers to Cuba’s refusal to have its doctors take the necessary examination for any foreign doctor working in Brazil. According to the president-elect, the government of Brazil has never had proof that the professionals sent by Cuba are competent.

Bolsonaro’s demands for Cuba’s continued participation in the Mais Medicos program, include requiring Cubans doctors to take the Brazilian examination for the revalidation of their credentials; requiring the full salary paid for each doctor be paid directly to the doctor (currently the Cuban government keeps 75% of the payment); and the right for the doctors’ family members to live with them in Brazil for the full period of their mission.

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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.

Doctors Continue Returning From Brazil While Revelations About the ‘More Doctors’ Program Are On-Going

Doctors continue arriving from Brazil after the Cuba’s break with that country’s Mais Medicos (More Doctors) program. (Granma/Juvenal Balán)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana | November 26, 2018 — Vice-President Salvador Valdés Mesa and the Minister of Public Health, José Ángel Portal, welcomed the second group of Cuban doctors to return to the Island following the Government’s decision not to continue with the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) program. The contingent, made up of 203 doctors from Brazil, arrived Sunday morning at the José Martí International Airport in Havana.

The deputy minister of the department, Luis Fernando Navarro, directed a few words to the doctors, whom he distinguished for their solidarity and commitment to travel to the most remote places in Brazil where the population has less access to health care.

Meanwhile, in Brazil, details of the creation of the Mais Médicos program with Cuban participation have become known. The leaks of telegrams that reconstruct the negotiations carried out between the governments of Havana and Brasila have revealed details until now unknown such as the length of the talks, which began at least a year before the program was announced, or Cuba’s request for payment of $8,000 monthly per doctor. continue reading

In March 2012 a Cuban mission visited Brazil and made proposals ranging from “sending doctors and nurses” to consulting “for the construction of hospitals” and for the development of health systems”, at advantageous prices, according to Alexandre Ghisleni, in charge of business on the Island

On April 4, representatives from the Federal Council of Medicine, the Brazilian Medical Association and the National Federation of Physicians went to Planalto Palace (the official seat of the president of Brazil) to protest against these agreements, then still in the shadows, but then Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff did not confirm them, although she did not deny them, either.

In June 2012, the Ministry of Health organized a visit to Havana to address the creation of the medical program for providing health professionals in remote areas of the country. For the embassy, the project was “initiated in a reserved way, in view of the concern about repercussions from the Brazilian medical community due to the entrance of the doctors.”

The delegation was led by Secretary Mozart Sales of the Ministry of Health, and included Alberto Kleiman, then international adviser of the portfolio and now the current director of international relations and associations for the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO).

“The Brazilian side proposed payment $4,000 ($3,000 for the Cuban government and $1,000 for the doctor),” states one of the telegrams. “The Cuban side, for its part, said that it had assumed $8,000 per doctor and made a counter offer of $6,000 ($5,000 for the government and $1,000 for the doctor).

The Cuban authorities demanded that the evaluation of the doctors take place in Cuba and that Brazil limit itself to “familiarizing the doctors, above all, in the language and the procedural and administrative practices of the legislation”.

The papers document the Brazilian suggestion that the payment to the Cuban government be made through what they called a “compensation system” to settle the debts of Havana with the National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES), which financed the large works of construction in the port of Mariel, among other projects.

Given Cuba’s refusal and Brazil’s fear of having to request the approval of Congress, it was decided at the last minute to triangulate the business by making payment to the PAHO, which would contract with Cuba, which would in turn hire the doctors.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

Latin American Despair

The leaders of the left, Hugo Chávez, Dilma Rousseff, José Mujica and Cristina Fernández. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 24 November 2018 — Guy Sorman is a notable French thinker. He recently published an article in ABC de Madrid entitled “The future recedes in Latin America.” It is a brilliant and desperate text. Well meaning, but desperate.

He goes on to say that in Latin America we have tried everything, and everything, uselessly, we have pulverized. Liberalism in Argentina, originating with Alberdi and Sarmiento. The enlightened despotism of Mexico with Porfirio Diaz and his “scientists.” The statism with the Mexican Revolution of 1911. The military dictatorships of Pinochet and Stroessner, and the civilian dictatorships with Somoza and Fujimori. Communism with the Castros, with Chavez and Maduro, with the first Daniel Ortega (the second Daniel Ortega is Somoza revived, but with more homicidal furor).

The strange thing about our culture is that, instead of correcting what is wrong, we renounce our successes and insist, periodically, on our mistakes. It still reverberates, from time to time, the old Maoism at the hand of a wounded but not buried Shining Path, although Mao does not exist in China, beyond a rhetorical reverence. continue reading

It is amazing to hear Pablo Iglesias, the leader of “Podemos” in Spain, be envious of what is happening in Venezuela, as if he were willing to repeat in his own country the terrible devastation that occurred in the once prosperous oil paradise.

I remember a young woman from Guayaquil screaming at me, incensed, that “in Ecuador we need a couple of Tirofijos.” She was referring to the Colombian bandit who caused so many losses to his native country. The incident took place at the Catholic University of Guayaquil. The appearance of the truculent girl – blonde, beautiful, green-eyed, well-dressed – was bourgeois.

Why did the Argentines interrupt the impetuous road to development and prosperity they had followed until Hipólito Yrigoyen was deposed by a fascist military coup in 1930? In Argentina there were problems, but none prevented the country from being part of the First World in almost all aspects, and especially in education. That coup was the prologue to Peronism and the total collapse of the Argentine miracle that had begun with the liberal Constitution of 1853.

Why was Fidel Castro not able to understand, in 1959 – when he, his brother Raúl, Che and another small group of communists clung to the Soviet model and chose the path of totalitarianism – that there were enough indications (for example, the German and Austrian miracle) that demonstrated the superiority of “liberal democracy” instituted by the economist Ludwig Erhard?

Such was Fidel’s ideological blindness that he was not even able to understand the example of his own father, Angel Castro, a humble Galician peasant, astute as a fox and laborious as an ant, who, when he died in 1957, bequeathed to his family capital of eight million dollars, an agricultural company that gave jobs to dozens of people, a school, and even a cinema run by Juanita Castro, a contemporary of Raúl, who has been exiled in Miami since the 1960s.

Sorman, who knows in depth the bloody history of Europe, rightly alleges that “in Europe the ancient nations, very different from each other for centuries, are gradually coming to an agreement on the best possible regime, liberal democracy.” While in Latin America “everyone cultivates their uniqueness, learns nothing from their neighbor and the exchanges are practically nonexistent.”

We are not able to perceive the leap towards modernity and development Chile has been given, today a country on the threshold of the First World through a fortunate combination of markets, private property, control of public spending, and national savings – thanks to the reviled pension plan created by the economist José Piñera – and freedoms.

Why do not we correct the shortcomings and adjust what is worth saving instead of undoing everything and moving to the other direction of the pendulum, as president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador promises to do in Mexico, to the terror of investors?

The United States, which unwittingly created “liberal democracy” after 1787, when it promulgated the country’s first and only Constitution, grew little by little, modifying the course with each election, wise to the extraordinary importance of placing everyone under the rule of law.

Will the example of Chile catch on? I don’t know. I hope so, but when one sees the destructive vocation of the left and the extreme right, what happens to Guy Sorman happens to you: you are overcome by total and absolute despair.

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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 Chess Masters Criticize the Precarious Situation of the Sport on the Island

The sports authorities attribute the poor results of Cuban chess to the departures from this sport on the island like that of Lázaro Bruzón’s . (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Miami, 20 November 2018 — The wave of disagreements between the best Cuban chess players and sports authorities never ceases. After the declarations of Lázaro Bruzón last September against the authorities of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (Inder) for their exclusion from the national preselection process for refusing to return to Cuba, now the protests against this institution come from the pen of Yuniesky Quesada and Alejandro Yanes. Both chess players have published in social networks the complaints and wishes of their guild on the island.

This past November 13, Quesada, an International Grand Master (GM), published a comment  on his Facebook wall criticizing the chess authorities on the island, which received great support among the chess players. The sportsman recounted that in the years he represented Cuba, he did not feel valued by Inder or by the National Chess Commission. “In addition to injustices perpetrated against me throughout my career, even while being ranked as the third best player in the country since 2008, I have felt unmotivated in the last few years,” confessed Quesada. continue reading

At the beginning of this month another chess player, Alejandro Yanes, a Master of the International Chess Federation (FIDE), wrote on his Facebook wall a list of nine points that summarized, in his opinion, the complaints of Cuban chess players and their possible solutions. According to Yanes, he developed the document after “long hours of talking with players both in Cuba as well as those residing abroad” while also relying on his personal experience.

The sportsman, 34, invited his colleagues to contribute to the text with the aim of achieving “awareness of the grave condition” of chess on the island. After the publication of the note, the recent scandals and the declarations of Bruzón, for Yanes now “the ball” is in the court of the sports authorities and “they can no longer state that they are unaware of the current situation”.

Yanes calls for the authorities that represent the players “to demand access to the Internet from the central agencies of the State” because he believes that in the current context “there can’t be a chess player that can reach elite status” without this tool.

In addition, he requests “making public and transparent” the regulations and classification clauses for tournaments that affect chess players so that they aren’t changed annually “depending on the person who they wish to benefit or harm”. In a similar vein, he demanded transparency in the “budget dedicated to chess by the central body of the State”, claiming that they have the right to know “how it is invested.”

Among the nine written points, Yanes asks the Cuban Chess Federation that every athlete who is a member of this entity has the right “to play for their country in Cuban and foreign events” and that the organization has the obligation to reclaim their titles before the FIDE, even if they are overseas. He also demands the authorities not give priority in any tournament held on the island “to a chess player or foreign official to the detriment of the national athletes”.

“It would be good to supervise the Capablanca Tournaments where many foreigners receive lodgings from the state budget, while many Cuban International Masters get neither accommodation nor lodging,” he denounced, in accordance with his own experiences. He also pointed out irregularities when delivering the prizes of the event. “While foreign chess players are paid in cash at the end of the contest, Cubans are paid years later,” he commented.

Meanwhile, the Cuban Federation and the National Chess Commission look the other way. According to a document published by Alejandro Yanes on Monday, the authorities blame the bad results in the last Chess Olympiad on the “loss” of those “key athletes” who guarantee the highest level of play in this type of competition. The solution proposed by these authorities is to give “priority to ideological political work” and to the “formation of values”.

The latest results of Cuban chess in international events have been described by experts as the worst in decades. In the Olympiad, which took place last month in Batumi (Georgia), the men’s team finished in 61st place, their worst showing ever, while the women’s team finished in 27th place.

The precarious situation of chess on the island is causing the flight of Cuban chess players. Both Bruzón and Quesada today form part of the roster of the Webster University chess team, in the United States, and were already selected to play during the 2018-2019 season.

“Now I feel that I can continue improving my chess. Here at the university we have a very strong team and there is a lot of professionalism in the training which helps to increase the level of chess. I also have aspirations to make it a career”, Quesada said on the social network.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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 ‘Yumas’ will be something else, but the ‘Pepes’ are family”

Tapas y Toros, a ’paladar’ (private restaurant) serving Spanish food in Havana, was a hotbed of questions about the visit of Pedro Sanchez this Wednesday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 22 November 2018 — A head with horns dominates the room. It’s nearly noon and not a single paella has emerged from the kitchen of Toros y Tapas, a paladar (private restaurant) in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood. In the restaurant, a favorite among diplomats, there was a certain expectation, this Wednesday, a few hours before the arrival in Havana of the Spanish President Pedro Sanchez.

“If Sanchez goes to eat at any private restaurant, it will be here, because many of his compatriots are our customers,” predicts the waiter who serves olives and cold beers as a relief to Havana’s November heat. But other than the official meetings, no one knows anything about the schedule of theSpanish president.

That enigma fuels expectations. From all sides, invisible arms pull at him. The grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren of Galicians, Catalans, Basques, Canaris, Valencians and Andalusians seek to grab his attention. Hoping to catch his ear for a sea of requests and questions. He needs a very receptive ear for so many demands. continue reading

The first official visit of this kind in 32 years is not a game. So close in history, culture and language, Spain feels so distant from the Island due to the diplomatic distance between the Moncloa Palace and the Plaza of the Revolution, the limitations imposed on its embassy, and the vagaries of political interests.

What history separates is united by “blood,” as Sandra María Jiménez, 42, describes the “pull of Spanishness,” a link that, every day, leads dozens of girls under the age of 12 to flock to dance classes with their castanets and fans. “Whether you like it or not, this is still the most Spanish country in America,” she says.

However, the years and closer neighbors push in another direction. “Now we eat more hamburgers than churros, Lady Gaga won the fight with flamenco, and stiletto heels are more common than espadrilles,” Jiménez laments. Even at home, photos of the Puerta de Alcalá, in Madrid, alternate with ones of the Brooklyn Bridge, in New York.

In Cuba there has been a long fight of more than a century, and on Thursday Sanchez landed in the middle of it. A confrontation between Spanishness and the influence of the close neighbor of the North. The majority of the vehicles that circulate in the streets emerged from American factories and inside them we see the the stars and stripe flag, not the red and yellow.

Only when soccer is talked about does the former Motherland lead with its goals. Young Cubans are Spanish as soon as the goal unites them and the ball calls them. Rugby and tennis have little success on the Island.

Sanchez is going to put Cuba back on the Spanish map,” says Jiménez, who has not yet been invited to the meeting next Friday afternoon between Pedro Sánchez and the descendants of Spaniards settled on the island. “Those who attend will carry the demands of everyone,” says the dance teacher.

Others are more skeptical.

With a hot custard in hand, Serapio Rodrigues, 85, a descendent of Asturians, rocks in a hammock in the Artemisa village of Alquizar, where his father arrived at the end of the 19th century. In nearly 150 years, the Rodriguez family and saw their fruit empire flourish and die, sending two children to university and seeing all their grandchildren leave for abroad.

“Some live in Spain and others are in the United States but everyone has a Spanish passport,” says the family patriarch, who stayed so as not to abandon the farm and leave “the hens with the neighbors.” Rodriguez, who is Spanish since the Law of Grandchildren gave him the opportunity to acquire that nationality, wants Sanchez “to increase financial aid to retirees.”

With a pension worth less than 15 euros a month, this old militant of the Communist Party has parked his revolutionary medals in a drawer and hopes, like a prodigal son, that the Motherland will receive him with material support. “It does not matter if it comes through the Spanish embassy or through the Church, only that it comes, because the situation is very difficult,” he laments.

Among his priorities there are no luxuries: analgesics, milk powder, a cane (because the former broke going down a staircase), disposable diapers for “the bad days,” as he calls them, some vitamins that serve as a supplement and “a channel of postal mail, fast and direct” with which to communicate with the offspring who live on the other side of the Atlantic.

Rodriguez has his doubts if this visit of Sanchez will help him to overcome “the gap,” as life that takes place under the rigors of the rationed market and a salary in Cuban pesos is called. “The Yumas will be something else, but the Pepes are family,” says the ex-militant to distinguish Americans from Spaniards.

The lack of transparency, a constant in the last half century in Cuba, has also aroused all kinds of rumors before the arrival of Sánchez. In Santiago de Cuba, a refurbishing of the road that goes to the cemetery of Santa Ifigenia, site of the monolith that holds the ashes of Fidel Castro, has been converted into fuel for the fire of speculation.

The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, regime opponent José Daniel Ferrer, suggests, “It’s not possible that a politician who is clamoring to dig up the remains of Francisco Franco in Spain comes here to visit the tomb of another dictator,” although there is no official confirmation of any journey to visit the remains of the deceased.

In the cemetery in Havana, an old gravedigger who boasts of having buried “half the city” speculates, without any signs, that the Spanish Prime Minister will visit the necropolis, where, among other illustrious compatriots, José Martí’s mother is buried; Martí was a hybrid man of both the island and the Spanish peninsula.

“How could he be in Cuba and not visit his dead?” asks the worker, a few yards from the resting place of Máximo Gómez, who fought on the side of Spain in Santo Domingo and against the Spanish army 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.

The Thursday of Sanchez’s Arrival

Caption: Rogelio Sierra (right), Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, and Juan Fernández Trigo (left), Spanish Ambassador to Cuba, receive the President of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sánchez, and his wife María Begoña Gómez. (EFE / Yander Zamora)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 23 November 2018 –  Thursday, when the plane of the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, landed in Cuba, began like any other day. National newspapers reproduced extensive tributes to the late leader Fidel Castro, at sunrise pharmacies  had long lines and in agricultural markets pork meat reached 55 Cuban pesos per pound, or two days’ salary for a state worker.

A brief note in the official newspaper Granma announced that Sanchez would arrive on an official visit to the island and in the centers of Spanish communities that dot the national geography, the descendants of Basques, Galicians and Asturians made the trip the main topic of the conversation. If in some places the subject was talked about intensely, among the broad social sectors that do not watch television or read the official press, the trip has barely registered.

On Monte Street, a Havana artery teeming with informal vendors and old shops converted to warehouses or stores selling in Cuban convertible pesos, Sanchez’s visit was only brought up this Thursday in connection with a desired modification of the so-called Law of the Grandchildren that permits application for Spanish citizenship to those who were left out in the prior iteration. continue reading

Lourdes, a self-employed worker who manages a small counter with scouring pads, plastic strainers and other kitchen utensils sees the arrival of Sánchez as “an opportunity to reopen to the descendants of Spaniards the process of applying for citizenship”. The seller assures that she does not want to emigrate “but to use the passport to travel to buy products in Panama and Mexico”.

The cubañoles (Cubans of Spanish descent) are the largest group of travelers who act as “mules”, Cubans who dedicate themselves to importing goods that are scarce in the networks of state enterprises. “A Spanish passport changes life for anyone,” says Lourdes.

While the news of the arrival of the president was among the headlines featured in the evening news, in the first news summary on Friday, the presence of Sanchez had to wait for news about the constitutional reform, the return of Cuban doctors from Brazil and the weather report. In the dissembled official “grammar” of communication, everything seems designed to minimize the importance of the visit.

It did not go unnoticed by attentive viewers that at the foot of the steps of the plane, Sanchez’s counterpart, Miguel Diaz-Canel, president of the Council of State, was not waiting. Instead of the ruler, the Spaniard was received upon his arrival in Havana by the Cuban Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rogelio Sierra, who accompanied him to place a wreath at the image of José Martí in the Plaza de la Revolución.

Sanchez has said his presence lays the groundwork for a possible visit to the island by the King and Queen of Spain in the setting of the 500th anniversary of the founding of  Havana that will be commemorated in November 2019. An announcement that has not escaped the sharp tongue of popular humor.

“They better hurry because at the rate of deterioration in this city they may find only ruins,” exaggerated a participant of the sports group* La Esquina Caliente (Hot Corner) in Central Park, a place through which Sanchez will walk to the Palace of the Captain Generals where this Friday he will hand over the chair of General Antonio Maceo .

A gesture of historical connotations that has been included in an agenda in which the Spanish Executive has preferred not to meet with the Cuban opposition, arguing that no European political leader has done it and that it was not about making gestures, but being effective. Sanchez and Diaz-Canel signed a memorandum by which the two countries commit to annual political contacts in which they will discuss, among other items, human rights.

In place of the dissidents, Sanchez prefers meeting with the descendants of Spaniards in the gardens of the ambassador’s residence in Havana. The guests include the layperson and editor of Cuba Possible, a moderate who is seen by the most radical opposition groups as a lightweight and by the spokesmen of the ruling party as an “enemy”. In the context of the meeting this Friday, he will be the most political figure who has been invited.

Others not invited have taken advantage of the new technologies to send Sanchez their views on the situation that exists on the island. As is the case of former political prisoner Librado Linares, who has sent an extensive missive to the Spanish president in which he takes the opportunity to denounce that part of the text of the Constitutional reform that includes articles that encourage “discrimination for political and philosophical reasons”, in addition to giving “a patent to the ’revolutionaries’ to commit outrages against the dissidents: acts of repudiation, assault against their homes, beatings, and other offenses.”

Translator’s note: The group is an informal, but unfailing, gathering of Havanans who vociferously talk about sports.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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 Official Cuban Press Bares Its Teeth to Jair Bolsonaro

The official media has preferred to spread testimonies and stories about the return of the doctors as a very synchronized chorus and without different chords. Text: Fewer Doctors With Bolsonaro!

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 19 November 2018 — These days the official press controlled by the Communist Party has sharpened its rhetoric after the decision by the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) to close the door on the Mais Medicos (More Doctors) in Brazil program.  The Island’s press outlets have not spared insulting president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who, under a humanitarian pretext by which in reality he sought to distance himself politically from Havana, conditioned the continued stay of the Cuban doctors on a series of measures that the Island’s authorities did not like.

The next leader of the South American giant combines characteristics that perfectly fit the mold of the adversary of Havana’s Revolution Plaza:  defender of the military dictatorship, ultra-rightist and very critical of the Island’s government.  His profile turns him into Ronald Reagan’s perfect successor for pro-government political forces. continue reading

“We get up and it’s Bolsonaro, we lie down and it’s still Bolsonaro,” complains Yanisbel, a Havana resident of 45 years who asserts that “recently it’s not worth it to turn on the television because it’s all the same.”  The news reports are filled with interviews of Cuban doctors who describe their sacrifices and achievements during the mission in Brazil and also attacks on the “new political shift” of the — for years — allied country.

Granma, the official mouthpiece of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), has taken great pains in reports, opinion columns and bulletins in which it highlights the “lack of morality” of the next Brazilian government for questioning Havana’s actions and proclaims that “foolishness won” with the departure of the Island’s health professionals from the Mais Medicos program.

Among such profusion of words and adjectives, the readers and viewers have noticed that something important is missing.  “They have not told us the chicken of chicken with rice, and everyone knows it,” advises Duany, a self-employed barber who spent several days scrutinizing the topic with his customers.  “The Cuban press has not counted on Bolsonaro wanting our doctors to make their whole salaries and to be able to bring their relatives,” he opines.

In a country where new technologies put official censorship in check it is increasingly difficult to hide information.  “Everyone knows it, everyone talks about the same thing in the street, but the prime time newscast does not mention it,” complains Duany.  “That makes the press lose credibility and contradicts all the calls to end secrecy that some official makes from time to time on television.”

“This is the typical case that puts editorial policy to the test,” says a young graduate of the Havana Communications Department who asked for anonymity.  “The fact that the national press only reflects one opinion and one way of seeing the end of the agreement of the Ministry of Public Health with the Brazilian government is very significant.”

The young man rejects the idea that they have not interviewed “a single doctor among those who must return to Cuban who is not in agreement with MINSAP’s decision or who plans to seek the political asylum that Bolsonaro has offered.”  Nor “have they broadcast statements from relatives here who do not agree with the low salaries or the family separations that the mission imposes.”

Instead of that, the official media has preferred to broadcast statements and stories as a very synchronized chorus and without different chords.  “We fall again time after time into the same thing and later we are called to do journalism closer aligned with reality, but as if reality is not published,” complains the recent graduate.

Meanwhile, illegal parabolic antennas and other forms of information distribution are experiencing increasing usage.  “People are waiting for Bolsonaro to be able to widen the political asylum offer to other Cuban professionals or make more flexible the travel visa from the Island to that country,” speculates Ricardo, a distributor of several of the illegal signal antennas.

“Some days ago what was most in demand was the telenovelas and the series but in the last week they have asked me to transmit all the news from Florida and any program that touches on the topic of Bolsonaro,” he explains to this daily.  On the flat roof of his home in Central Havana, camouflaged behind a supposed dove cage, Ricardo has installed three antennas from which emerge yards and yards of cables that go to the living rooms of more than a hundred families.

In the official media, Bolsonaro’s counterpart is former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, who during her reign strengthened ties with Havana and provided the National Bank of Economic and Social Development with a loan of more than 680 million dollars to widen the Mariel port, the emblematic work of Raul Castro’s government.

“We have returned to the fable of the good and the bad, the hatchet man and the victim,” asserts Susana, a retiree who for more than a quarter of a century worked for the Ministry of Foreign Trade.  “This is going to last, and we are going to have Bolsonaro for a while,” says the woman with a daughter who is one of the more than 8,300 doctors who are still on Brazilian soil.

“This is like a Brazilian telanovela, by chapters, but it’s already known who is the bad guy and who plays the part of the slave Isaura,” says the woman.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

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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 Woman Is In Charge of the University of Havana for the First Time In 290 Years

Miriam Nicado García is a member of the Communist Party of Cuba and, since April of this year, also of the Council of State. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio / EFE, Havana, 21 November 2018 – The University of Havana (UH) appointed Miriam Nicado García as the new rector of that institution, the first time that a woman holds the position in the center of higher education of the capital since its founding almost three centuries ago. The decision was announced Monday in an extraordinary session of the University Council of the UH, but was not divulged to the press until Wednesday.

Until now Nicado was the rector of the University of Information Sciences, created by the late leader Fidel Castro as a center of advanced technology to stimulate the national development of software.

The rector is a member of the Communist Party of Cuba and, since April of this year, also of the Council of State, in addition to being one of the deputies of the IX legislature in the National Assembly of People’s Power for the municipality of La Lisa, in Havana. continue reading

Full Professor, top level graduate and licensed in Applied Mathematics, Nicado is also a Doctor of Science in that specialty. Previously, she was dean of the Faculty of Mathematics, Physics and Computing at the Central University of Las Villas and vice-rector of that university.

As a professor she has taught in her field of study at universities in several countries in the region such as Mexico, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. She has received the National and Provincial Vanguard award, a distinction granted by the Central de Trabajadores (Workers Center) of Cuba.

In the meeting where she was appointed it was also made known that Dr. Gustavo Cobreiro Suárez, rector who was in charge at the time of the announcement, “will assume other functions” from now on, the official press said without specifying more details.

Founded in 1728 by Dominican friars as the Royal and Pontifical University of San Geronimo de La Habana, UH now has 19 schools and 12 research centers.

It is the main center of higher learning on the island and was recently included in the list of the 20 best universities in Latin America, according to the London-based consultancy Quacquarelli Symonds (QS).

In September of this year Dr. Orquídea Urquiola Sánchez became the first woman to ever hold the position of rector in the country at the University of Cienfuegos.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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Police Dogs

This graffiti has appeared in recent days on several buildings in Cuba’s capital. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 19 November 2018 — Several building facades of Central Havana display a very unique graffiti that has appeared in recent days. The image shows a uniformed National Revolutionary Police (PNR) officer accompanied by a dog with whom he shares the same face, snout, teeth and fierce gesture. Man and animal have the appearance of being alert, the ears attentive and an aggressive look, as if about to launch themselves on their prey. The graffiti alludes, without subtleties, to the police violence and aggression that characterizes this body of public order in Cuba.

For several years it has been common to see police accompanied by German shepherd dogs in the central zones of the Cuban capital. The area surrounding the Capitol, the areas near the Central Park, the busiest parts of Monte Street and even the most entertaining corners of La Rampa are a frequent stop for these officers accompanied by their dogs. Next to the whistle, the night stick and the walkie-talkie, the dog is already a distinctive sign of their presence. continue reading

That era during which television broadcast an announcement in which a small child claimed “police, police you are my friend”, has also been forgotten. Now, the members of the PNR are viewed with much distrust and fear by the population. The excesses committed during the arbitrary arrests, the fines and the detentions without cause have sufficiently stained their reputation, disseminated by the new technologies, have left testimony of the injustices or the excessive blows of these uniformed ones.

Part of that fear and suspicion has been captured by the graffiti artist in which the fierce irrationality of the animal is shared by a human being who should maintain order, not provoke violence or fear.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.