Intense Rains in Cuba Force Delay in Tobacco Sowing to February

With around 65% of the country’s production, the Vueltabajo area, in the province of Pinar del Río, is the largest supplier of the leaf. (DC)

14ymedio biggerEFE  / via 14ymedio, Havana, 18 January 2018 —  The intense rains in Cuba in recent months have forced the island’s farmers to extend until February the sowing of tobacco for the 2017-2018 season. During the season, they plan to sow over 73,000 acres in tobacco, the raw material of the famous Havana cigars.

Rainfall damaged nearly 1,500 acres already planted and several areas used as seedbeds, causing delays that have led to the extension of the plan’s target dates, according to the head of the state group Tabacuba, Gonzalo Rodríguez, speaking to the official news agency Prensa Latina.

Rodríguez insisted, however, that the “situation is encouraging and the producers are optimistic,” having already planted more than 64,000 acres. The current season’s sowing of the leaf began last October. continue reading

Tobacco is the fourth largest contributor to the country’s gross domestic product; it accounted for some 445 million dollars in 2016 from the sales of the Cuban-Spanish joint venture, Habanos.

With around 65% of the country’s production, the Vueltabajo zone in the province of Pinar del Río is the largest supplier of the leaf in the country. The central territories of Sancti Spiritus and Villa Clara also have large plantings of tobacco.

In 2018, Cuban tobacco farmers hope to deliver more than 32,000 tons of leaves to the cigarette and cigar industry, one of Cuba’s major sources of exports.

The intense rains in the last three months have affected other agricultural sectors on the island as well, including damaging 70% of the cane plantations destined for the sugar harvest now underway.

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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 Danger of Extremes / Fernando Dámaso

Fidel Castro speaking at a 100th anniversary commemoration; sign in the background reads: The Protest of Baragua Which is Among the Most Glorious in Our History

Fernando Damaso, 9 January 2018 — I have always respected those who avoid extreme positions, which, in short, do not lead to anything good even if, at certain times, they might be considered correct.

The Pact of the Zanjón was a wise and intelligent decision, which responded to the reality of the time in which it was signed, although it was rejected by some and criticized historically by many, and its signatories with disparagingly referred to as “zanjoneros,” ignoring all their accumulated merits during years of struggle

The Baraguá Protest was an example of stubbornness, which did not respond to the reality of the moment, although it was approved by some and its participants honored by historians. In short, it lasted only a few days and, in the end, the “Protestors,” with a few exceptions, accepted the Covenant they had repudiated. continue reading

Without the the Pact of Zanjón it would have been impossible to preserve and rebuild the forces that, years later, would participate in the War of Independence that ended in 1898, since these individuals would have been decimated and their main leaders sacrificed in vain.

Years later, with the acceptance by the most reasonable Cubans of the Platt Amendment, the emergence of the Republic would have been impossible, because the US occupation troops would not have left Cuba, and Cuba would have become a protectorate, without actually constituting Nation, regardless of everything bad that would have flowed from this.

If. in the 1930s, the intelligence of certain groups had prevailed instead of their ambitions, the reality would have been different, and the country would have moved more quickly on the path of development.

If, in the decade of the 50s, those who worked for a political and non-violent solution had triumphed, instead of those who believed in armed struggle, we would have avoided these six decades of backwardness and misery.

That is, betting on the extremes has never been synonymous with wisdom, although some people are more attracted to noise and hubbub than to good sense. It would be convenient if, in the days and months to come, the latter would prevail.

The "Worms" and the Future of Cuba / Iván García

Cuban rafters. Taken from “The Positive Scum,” an article by Ricardo Riverón published in On Cuba Magazine on April 9, 2017.

Ivan Garcia, 19 January 2018 — Ana Gálvez, now 72, spent eight months picking sweet potatoes, yuccas and squash in a state agricultural enterprise outside of Havana before she was allowed to leave for the United States in 1971.

“They treated us as if we were prisoners or slaves. The food was disgusting. We had to work twelve or thirteen hours a day. Then, it was the only way that the dictatorship would sign the ’freedom card’,” recalled Gálvez, with tears in her eyes, sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Miami, a stone’s throw from the international airport.

In Florida, she became an executive with a renewable energy firm and today has as storehouse of knowledge that could help in the future reconstruction of the Cuban energy sector. continue reading

“Cuba has all the conditions necessary to stop using fossil fuels in a decade or less. Based on the sun, the winds and the waters of the Atlantic Ocean or the Caribbean Sea — because the rivers are not very large — the Island would have clean and sustainable energy that would contribute to its development. To this we could add the use of hybrid transport, running on electricity or cane alcohol,” said Ana optimistically.

But when I asked her, “if the laws changed would you return to rebuild the country?” she emphatically shook her head, No. “It would have to be with certain requirements, among them a public apology from the regime for its deplorable attitude towards the Cubans who one day decided to emigrate and live in a democracy. It is the first thing I would demand to return and work for my country. ”

Given the current dilemma of Cuba, trapped in a stagnant economic crisis, chronically unproductive, with brakes on private work and the creation of small- and medium-sized businesses, with social tension due to the poor administration of resources, along with a housing deficit exceeding one million homes, a low birth rate, an accelerated aging of the population, miserable salaries and a qualitative decline of education and public health, an honorable exit would be forge an agreement with the diaspora and, using the skills and talents of everyone, begin to rebuild the foundations of the national economy.

Exiles like Ana Gálvez or the famous musician and composer Jorge Luis Piloto, who, in order to emigrate from Cuba, had to accept the regime’s degrading treatment, deserve an apology. And there are others whom Fidel Castro expelled from their homeland for thinking differently and opposing the state of affairs.

Miami, Autumn 2014. While Jorge Luis Piloto in his Mercedes Benz was traveling with me to the new Marlins baseball stadium through the tunnel built after the expansion of the port, I asked him, too, if certain conditions were met would he return to reform his country. The answer was not immediate. He kept driving, concentrating on the traffic.

In the 70s, Piloto lived with his mother in a small room with a makeshift platform “mezzanine,” a bathroom and collective kitchen in a building in danger of collapse in the Pilar neighborhood, in Havaa’s Cerro municipality. The authorities did not consider him a “reliable” guy: he wore his hair long, he always carried a guitar in his hand and was a lover of the Beatles.

He had arrived in the capital at age 15 from Cárdenas, Matanzas. And although in Havana one of his own song’s won an award in the Adolfo Guzmán Competition, in 1980 he decided to leave with the Mariel Boatlift.

Fidel Castro, offensively, called the more than 125,000 Cubans who emigrated through the Port of Mariel that year “scum.” Earlier, he had called those who left “worms.” In 1980, that terrible year, the neo-fascist acts of repudiation emerged. Popular mobs harassed you, shouting all kinds of offenses and slander, they threw eggs at you and more than one person beat you.

Piloto experienced it first hand. After pondering his response to my question he told me that he had no plans to return, but if one day Cuba bet on democracy, he would help in any way he could. Recently, in a card for the new year, Jorge Luis wrote: “In 2018 may we can travel to Cuba without asking for permission and with a process on the way to democratization, but with social justice for all. The Cuba that [José] Martí dreamed of.”

Every time I’ve been in Miami, I’ve chatted with numerous compatriots. Most have good jobs and have built successful careers. I ask them all the same question: would you return to rebuild Cuba?

Ninety-five percent, after explaining their reasons, answer No. Journalists like Osmín Martínez and Iliana Lavastida, who have managed to turn a boring conservative newspaper like Diario Las América into an attractive medium, do not have plans to return to Cuba either.

Only those politically committed confessed that they would leave everything behind and return to rebuild the land where they, their parents and grandparents were born. This is the case for the poet and journalist Raúl Rivero.

Almost all of the Cubans who have triumphed in Miami would help from a distance. A praiseworthy thing, but in a de-capitalized nation like Cuba today, it feels like very little. Because the country will need more than professional and financial help and powerful infrastructure investments. It will also need labor. People with experience in sectors such as construction and architecture: with few exceptions, everything built in Cuba over the last sixty years has been built badly.

It will also require people with knowledge in public administration, democratic political institutions, specialists in education, agriculture, telecommunications and other technical and scientific branches.

It is probably the best option — perhaps the only one — to involve the olive-green dictatorship. Negotiate with the emigration, especially the one with the most economic power. Open, without conditions, the doors back to their homeland. Stop treating emigrated Cubans as just a source of remittances and encourage them to participate in the national reconstruction.

Despite the triumphalist discourse of the regime, the ship is taking on water. It would be a crime to let it end up sinking without trying to find solutions.

Nobody is more interested in the fate of Cuba than Cubans. Although those who left do not want to return to stay.

IAPA Condemns Cuban State Security’s Threats Against ’14ymedio’ Journalist

Gustavo Mohme, president of the Inter-American Press Association. (Congress of the Republic of Peru / Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 January 2018 – Cuban State Security’s threats against Luz Escobar, a journalist with 14ymedio, were condemned on Tuesday in a statement by the Inter-American Press Association (SIP); the organizations said that the threats “show that restrictions and challenges continue to confront the exercise of freedom of the press” on the island, as they have since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.

“We are concerned that this new harassment of an independent journalist only reflects the government’s intolerance and lack of will,” the president of the IAPA, Gustavo Mohme, said in the note.

Last Monday, 14ymedio published an article in which it made known that Luz Escobar, who has been working for this medium since its founding in 2014, had been summoned in Havana by agents of the political police, who invited her to collaborate with the Government and thus “influence the editorial line” of this newspaper. continue reading

During the hour and twenty minute meeting, and before the professional had received and rejected the offer, the agents threatened to prevent her from leaving the country, said they would pressure her family members, and would accuse her in front of her neighbors of being a “counterrevolutionary.”

In a recent article framed as a letter to the journalist, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, openly stated her support for Luz Escobar. “They, without planning to, have given you the best argument to continue your career in journalism, because they have shown you that ‘up there’ nothing remains of respect for the citizen, for ethics, morality, sincerity, integrity… and much less for COURAGE. Of which you possess oceans,” she told the journalist.

The president of the IAPA has reiterated that what is happening in Cuba “continues to be a priority issue” for the organization he presides over. The statement also mentions another incident that occurred on January 11 in which the authorities detained journalists Sol García Basulto, Inalkis Rodríguez and Henry Constantín Ferreiro, members of the magazine La Hora de Cuba  in Camagüey.

IAPA continues to emphasize that this action by Cuban State Security against the journalists of La Hora de Cuba was due to the presence of President Raúl Castro in Camagüey, since he was visiting the city. ” Constantín Ferreiro and Garcia continue to be prohibited from leaving Camagüey, where they reside,” the statement reads, noting that they had been accused of the crime of “usurpation of legal capacity” because, according to the government, they have not been “duly authorized” to practice as journalists.

In its latest report on Cuba, the IAPA denounced that the lack of press freedom on the island worsened in 2017. The non-profit organization said that this was due to an increase in “the aggressions against independent journalists and even their relatives, and against users of social networks by police bodies” with the collaboration of the Ministry of Justice.

In the Human Rights Watch’s 2017 Annual Report published on Thursday, the organization notes that the Government of Cuba “detains, harasses and threatens independent reporters” among other serious violations of people’s rights and freedoms.

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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.

Canned Chickpeas at the Outpost of El Corte Inglés in Havana

The private label products are sold at a considerably higher prices in Cuba than in Spain. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 17 January 2018 — The corner of San Rafael and Galiano in Havana is now a plaza with a wifi zone where everyone stares at the screens of their mobile phones; but long ago the famous store El Encanto was built there, a business that inspired the creation of warehouses in Madrid called El Corte Inglés, which landed in Cuba this January, like a prodigal son, with some of its private label products.

“Everything is very expensive and although they look good in comparison to the domestic products, these are products bought by foreigners or people who have a private business,” said Katia María, mother of two teenagers who was looking at the cans.

The containers fill the shelves in a scene that is barely remembered by the customers of the La Puntilla Mall west of the city. The economic problems, which have worsened in recent years, have made one of the best-stocked stores in the capital a site with almost empty shelves and poor quality products. continue reading

“These are things that I can do without and that I only buy once a year for a special occasion, but I could not do it frequently

Now, with the arrival of the Spanish giant, there are cans of tuna, cans of the typical piquillo peppers, canned pasta and chickpeas. Customers walk up and down the aisles where the green triangle with cursive letters appears that announces the merchandise coming from the other side of the Atlantic. This Tuesday nobody put anything in a cart, they just looked, as if in a museum.

The effect has been seen immediately on market shelves. “We have had hard months because when there is toilet paper, there is no chicken or milk,” points out a customer of the shopping center who preferred anonymity. “I come to Miramar, although I live in Centro Habana, because this is an area of ​​diplomats, so sometimes the stores are better stocked.”

The shopper was surprised to see the new product line but declined to buy anything. “These are things that I can do without and that I only buy once a year for a special occasion, but I could not do it frequently,” he says.

At the end of a shelf, an employee was still stacking some of the newly arrived products. “This is a type of merchandise that is usually slow-moving,” she says. “You can see that they are of good quality but not of first necessity and here people are looking for basically the most important ingredients to cook: oil, tomato sauce and canned meat or fish,” she says.

The prices do not help much either. “This can of tuna in sunflower oil costs more than what I get as a monthly pension,” says Irma Junco. However, this pensioner says she can allow herself a “taste” because she has just sold her apartment and moved to a smaller property and “the difference in money is for me to eat better, because I am bored eating rice with hot dogs and chicken.”

If in a market of El Corte Inglés in Spain a box of pasta Farfalle costs 1.46 euros, in Havana its price of 2.50 CUC is equivalent to 2.11 euros

The prices of the new products have also “swelled” quite a lot in their long journey from their origin. If in El Corte Inglés market in Spain a box of Farfalle pasta costs 1.46 euros, in Havana its price of 2.50 CUC is equivalent to 2.11 euros. Something similar happens with a 6-portion package of yeast powder, which has gone from 0.63 euros in Spain to 1.65 in Cuba.

The contrast becomes greater in those products that in Madrid are presented in packages and in Havana are sold by the unit. If a package of three cans of sweet corn costs Spaniards 2.09 euros, Cubans must pay 1.10 for each can. When the administration of La Puntilla is asked about this the answer is always: “We do not choose the prices, they are already determined,” in a clear reference to the management of the Hard Currency Collection Stores (TRD).

Cuban consumers have complained repeatedly about the lack of transparency with regards to the percentage of profit that the State takes on the products it sells in the TRDs. However, studies done independently put the amount at between 50% and 240% of the initial purchase cost in the international market.

As excessive regulations stifle the agricultural production of the island, the country must import more than 80% of the food that it consumes, which means an expense to the national coffers of more than 2 billion a year.

The canned corn, canned fruit, or ground coffee that are now marketed in La Puntilla are part of a huge bill that the island spends on the purchase of cereals, rice, beans, corn, soybeans, milk powder and chicken to sustain both the rationed market and the retail network.

A package of three cans of sweet corn is sold in Spain at 2.09 euros, while in Cuba a single can costs 1.30 CUC. (14ymedio)

In the last two years, with the economic crisis in Venezuela and the decline in oil shipments at a preferential price from that country, paying for this flow of imports has become very difficult. The lack of liquidity, in the face of the loss of profits from the resale of the oil, has caused Raúl Castro’s government to have to cut imports.

The name Aliada, another of the private labels of El Corte Inglés, is also printed on several packages of pasta that fill the shelves. Products of both private labels come to the island through the Italian company Farmavenda and are sold exclusively in the TRDs managed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces. So far only two stores in the Cuban capital offer their products, although there are plans to extend them to others this year.

Also arriving in Cuba in recent months, with less media hype, is another brand of food, this one marketed by Alcampo, the Spanish subsidiary of the French group Auchan.

The arrival of El Corte Inglés in Cuba via its imported food is an event charged with symbolism. The establishment was inspired by the sales techniques of the new El Encanto stores, founded on the island by the Spanish brothers José and Bernardo Solís.

The establishment was inspired by the sales techniques of the new El Encanto stores, founded on the island by the Spanish brothers José and Bernardo Solís

Two of their employees from Asturias, César Rodríguez and Ramón Areces, settled in Madrid after working for decades in the famous Havana store. There they founded, in 1935, the great department stores, to which they brought their experience in selling by departments, advertising campaigns and the design of the stained glass windows that had so much success among Cuban customers. To this day, the giant is still the most powerful in Spain despite its falling profits and its problems with the Treasury.

Its predecessor in Havana suffered a different fate. With the coming to power of Fidel Castro in January 1959, El Encanto was nationalized and in 1961 two firebombs burned it down. The Revolutionary government accused the CIA of being behind the action, in which the famous militia woman Fe del Valle died. The place where the property had been was turned into a park that now bears her name.

Despite its sudden end, El Encanto is still a recurring memory that comes up when talking about the island’s republican past.

“Now they are the ones who send products to us,” laments Irma Junco, a 78-year-old retiree who inspected the shelves of La Puntilla on Tuesday after learning about the arrival of the products from El Corte Inglés. “We were pioneers in a lot of things and now we are in the caboose of the train,” she says sarcastically, while holding a can of fruit cocktail with the logo of the Spanish brand.

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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: The Devotion to Saint Lazarus / Iván García

The plastic artist Luis Manuel Otero shortly before being arrested by the political police. Taken from Martí Noticias.

Ivan Garcia, 18 December 2017 — On the night of Thursday, 14 December at night, after fifteen hours on the road under a copious downpour, from Sagua de Tánamo, in Holguín, province 530 miles northwest of Havana, in an old General Motors truck from the 1950s, Erasmus and his wife arrived in Havana ready to fulfill their promise to Saint Lazarus, who is as popular among Cubans as the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint.

“We live in a neighborhood called Ocapuna. My wife had breast cancer that thanks to the ’old man’ she overcame it. I was threatened with twelve years for embezzlement in a coffee company. And my prayers to Saint Lazarus were heard. After these incidents, even if I have to walk, I will give my offerings to the Saint,” says Erasmo. continue reading

On the morning of Friday the 15th, after a hearty breakfast of melon juice, bread with pork steak and cold salad of macaroni with ham, pineapple and mayonnaise, the couple, dressed in sackcloth and dragging a medium-sized stone they began their journey to Rincón, a small town south of the capital, where at the stroke of twelve o’clock on Saturday, December 16, in the sanctuary adjoining a leprosarium, the saint of beggars and the poor is venerated.

Erasmus wants to arrive at the town of El Rincon in the afternoon and buy candles, flowers and prayers. Also food and a bottle of rum to alleviate the cold that usually attends this time of year. “We thought to sleep outside in the sanctuary and after the mass, give our offering to old Lazarus. He deserves it.”

Because the procession coincides with the weekend, the “congregation of devotees, which is always impressive, this year is expected to be more numerous,” says a priest of a church in the neighborhood of La Víbora, who adds:

“There is a lot of frustration in the country. The wet foot/dry foot policy was eliminated, with the arrival of Trump to the White House and relations between Cuba and the United States have worsened. And after the supposed acoustic attacks, obtaining family reunification visas has become very complicated, because people have to travel to Colombia with all the expenses that represents. In addition, the government has slowed down its economic reforms.

“For more than three months now, it has not been issuing licenses to the most prosperous private businesses and the economy continues to deteriorate. All this is being suffered by the Cuban family, with salaries that do not solve much, a lack of housing, expensive food and an indecipherable future. As if that were not enough, it is unknown what will be the course of Cuba within three or four months, when it is assumed that Raúl Castro will leave power.”

Not only is Catholicism favored in times of economic crisis and people’s distrust of the poor management of the regime. Evangelists, Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others, have increased their numbers of faithful. As have, of course, the Afro-Cuban religions, both Santería and Palo. Due to religious syncretism on the Island, Saint Lazarus is also known as Babalú Ayé and is venerated without distinction of creed.

Three years ago Yanira joined Santería — Yemayá, clarifies — and now goes dressed in white to El Rincón. “Every December 16, on the eve of Saint Lazarus, I’m walking down Rancho Boyeros Avenue to Rincón. The last section, from the village to the sanctuary, I crawled down the street. I have a lot of faith in old Lazarus. Thanks to him I have been successful in life.”

According to Ana Luisa, a resident in the town of Rincón and owner of a small business selling entrepanes (sandwiches) and flowers, “there are believers who spend up to one hundred convertible pesos in offerings to Saint Lazarus. When this time of year arrives, almost everyone in the village starts to sell something: food, flowers, candles, statuettes … Whatever it is, to take advantage of the influx of thousands of devotees, who usually pay a lot of money.”

Shortly before December 17, El Rincón is decorated with large floral decorations and dozens of images of San Lazaro, some of large size, which are placed in glass urns or in the portals of the houses.

On the main street, several private coffee shops offer Creole food, fruit smoothies, ham and cheese sandwiches or bread with roasted suckling pig. They also sell coffee, beer, rum, brandy and red wine, which helps to bear the coldness and damp that at night is felt in El Rincón, which belongs to Santiago de las Vegas, a town where temperatures usually drop quite a bit in December.

Although the official press hardly reports on the pilgrimage, spontaneously thousands of Cubans come to venerate Saint Lazarus. “It’s a village show. Even in the hard years, when the regime banned religious demonstrations, people flocked to the Rincón. That voluntary participation in Cuba only occurs in baseball games or mega concerts, like the Rolling Stones,” says Carlos, sociologist.

In spite of the silence, the authorities allow a flotilla of state buses to transport thousands of people to the sanctuary. During the journey on foot, hundreds of policemen, black berets and agents of the State Security dressed in civilian clothes, without much discretion, watch the pilgrims.

The plastic artists Luis Manuel Otero and José Ernesto Alonso, began a walk in support of freedom and democracy in Cuba, but they could not even leave Centro Habana: at the intersection of Belascoaín and Carlos III, they were detained by the political police. Alonso has already been released, but Otero’s whereabouts are unknown.

And by tradition, Saint Lazarus receives various prayers and petitions. Erasmo and his wife, from the Ocapuna neighborhood in the eastern province of Holguín, thank the “old man” for healing breast cancer and having escaped from prison.

Other faithful, like Ernesto, come from Miami to pray for reunification as soon as possible with his daughter who lives in Havana. And Otero and Alonso, with all their rights, they demand freedom and democracy.

Saint Lazarus, somewhere, hears them all.

Mogherini’s Real Interest in Havana

Federica Mogherini in Havana this month (Radio Cadena Agramonte)

Cubaeconomía.com, Elias Amor Bravo, 5 January 2018 – The Castro regime, in its urgent need to find external financing for the economy, has developed a strategy of approaching the European Union that has come to an end, at least for the moment, with the recent visit of Federica Mogherini to Havana. The agreement is a vague text, with language so general it can mean anything, but it does not deceive anyone in terms of its objectives.

Behind this propaganda scenario, Cuba wants to access the economic funds, certainly substantial, of the so-called Cotonou Agreement, the central axis of the collaboration between the European Union and its member states with another 79 countries belonging to three continents, Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, abbreviated as the ACP countries, which had been, in their day, colonies of different states now in the Union. continue reading

The Cotonou Agreement, signed in 2000, has as its main objective the reduction of poverty to contribute to its eradication, offering support to the sustainable economic, cultural and social development of its partner countries, and facilitating the progressive integration of their economies into the world economy. Its antecedents start from the founding text of the Treaty of Rome in 1957, with the cooperation later expanded by the two Conventions of Yaoundé and the four of Lomé.

The Agreement establishes a framework of close collaboration between the signatory countries, based on a series of fundamental principles:

  1. The Agreement partners are equal.
  2. The countries determine their own development policies.
  3. Cooperation is not only between governments; parliaments, local authorities, civil society, the private sector and the economic and social partners also play a role.
  4. The cooperation agreements and priorities vary according to some aspects such as the levels of development of the countries.

Since its entry into force, joint institutions have been created to support the implementation of the Agreement, such as the ACP Council of Ministers, which receives assistance from the Committee of Ambassadors and maintains political dialogues, adopts political guidelines and makes decisions for the implementation of the Agreement. This institution is responsible for presenting an annual progress report to the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly and as an advisory body it presents recommendations on the achievement of the objectives of the Agreement.

There is no doubt that the political dimension of the Cotonou Agreement is important since it includes, among other elements:

  1. A full political dialogue on national, regional and global issues,
  2. The promotion of human rights and democratic principles,
  3. The development of policies for the consolidation of peace and the prevention and resolution of conflicts, and
  4. The handling of issues related to migration and security, including the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

To date, the Agreement has been based mainly on the promotion and development of cooperation activities whose objectives are: the economic development of the industrial, agricultural and tourist sectors of the ACP countries; social and human development to improve health, education and nutrition services, and regional integration and cooperation to encourage and develop trade between the ACP States.

All these activities are financed through the European Development Fund, which between 2014 and 2020 has a budget of 33.1 billion euros. However, it contains important clauses on trade in services, information and communication technologies, as well as capital movements.

Seen from this perspective, the interest of the Castro regime to accede to the Cotonou Agreement is more than evident, since it can act as a beneficiary, both receiving aid for internal development, as well as participating in the health, education and nutrition programs, which receive outstanding financing.

In addition, this Agreement depends on the representative of European foreign policy Federica Mogherini, hence the maximum attention she received in Havana and the displays of fondness and affection such as the visit to Old Havana with Eusebio Leal and the cardinal.

The regime, which agreed to generous plans for debt cancellation with the signatory countries of the Paris Club, and its subsequent conversion into development aid, now has an essential instrument in the Cotonou area to channel programs and give them a politically responsible format. All perfect.

But in addition, it may be known in Havana that the Cotonou Agreement will end in 2020, after the review carried out in 2010, which adapted the collaboration to focus more on issues such as climate change, food security, the fight against HIV/AIDS, the sustainability of fisheries, the strengthening of security in fragile regions, and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (replaced in 2016 by 17 Sustainable Development Goals).

Through this gateway to the EU, Cuba is prepared to participate fully in the negotiations of the future Agreement that the Union can elaborate and, in due course, sign with the ACP countries.

To occupy an active position and to be integrated into the more than 100 countries that make up the Agreement can serve the regime to obtain the much needed financing to close its external accounts and avoid structural liquidity problems.

Having exhausted the resources from Venezuela, Havana turns its eyes to Brussels. Will it work?

“Yes, It’s Really a Bus”

The passengers enjoyed the air conditioning and seats of a bus designed to minimize damage to the environment. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 29 November 2017 — The buildings pass by, a piece of blue sky, trees and some newspaper stands. Through the window of the only all-electric bus running through Havana, the city seems different. “This is the future,” the driver tells the passengers of the vehicle that serves route 18 between the Palatino terminal and Avenida del Puerto.

This Tuesday, getting on the shiny bus was much more than a trip. The modern technology from the manufacturer Yutong gives the vehicle a range of up to 180 miles. Although its usual fare should be 40 centavos (less than 2 cents US), yesterday no one returned change to those who paid with a full Cuban peso. continue reading

The equipment, with tinted windows against the sun and lightly padded seats, was the target of jokes and speculations throughout the day.

At the first stop, near the Vía Blanca, the young people at a nearby high school gathered to enter as a group through its wide doors. The E12 bus is eco-friendly with Zero Emission, moves at a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour and has Michelin tubeless tires.

But none of this seemed to matter too much to the teenagers. Their conversation after sitting down wasn’t about the batteries or the fact that the bus does not consume fossil fuel, but about the efficient air conditioning that keeps the interior cool.

In a country where most of the year the thermometer climbs over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, it is no small thing to be able to move around the city without fat drops of sweat trickling down in a sweltering public bus. The lack of crowding in the aisles and the fact that on the walls of the vehicle no one has yet marked it with phrases in the style of “Claudia loves Maikel” also seems strange.

“Soon there will be some self-employed guy renting out overcoats,” jokes a young woman. Beside her, in the blue high school uniform, a classmate is skeptical: “This will not last long.” Most of the conversations passengers share across the seats are expressions of regret for the deterioration that, inevitably, the vehicle will suffer.

The suspicion that cleanliness, air conditioning and comfort cannot withstand the passage of time, in the face of apathy and the lack of control that reigns on the island, dominates the conversations. “Here everything starts well and ends badly,” says an old woman who pinches the seat covering to see what it is made of.

“They say it has cameras and sensors in the back door,” warns a dark-haired man. “That is so that nobody leaves without paying,” the young woman who travels next to her responds. “And the seat is intelligent,” he adds, “that means you sit and it takes care of you, you can pass your hand over it and other things…” he says with a mischievous look.

A woman comes on with a string of onions she just got after “walking all over Havana.” From the bundle, thin layers fall off and land on the spotless floor. “Compañera, be careful, you have already started messing it up,” her seatmate scolds her, asking her where she bought the onions, because “they’re impossible to find.”

The driver’s assistant, in addition to collecting the fares, insists that nobody travel standing up and stares across the bus from one side to the other like a police officer. In the middle of the trip a lady climbs on with a ten-year-old girl and gets upset because she can’t stand next to her daughter. “Are you going to take care of the depraved ones who want to take advantage of her?” she asks the employee, who insists that she cannot stand in the aisle.

The first discussion of the day begins with an incident involving a dozen neighbors all willing to explain the dangers of a minor traveling alone and “the squaring of the circle,” according to a young man, who talks about bureaucratic regulations. “Coming or going here, now it is forbidden to travel standing,” he mocks.

A gentleman of advanced age, with worn out clothes, can’t bear even three minutes inside the vehicle. “Let me get off, it is very cold,” he says, yelling at the driver to open the door. “Get used to it, this will be the public transport of 2020,” the driver manages to tell him before a man gets on with a wireless speaker blasting reggaeton.

The bus runs without incident along Calzada del Cerro. When all the seats are occupied it does not even slow down at the bus stops, always crowded at that time of the morning. As they pass by, people on the street open their eyes, point and comment about the shiny body. “That, that’s the one they put on the television,” one hears when the door opens.

A couple of tourists take a photo at the insistence of their informal guide who “sells” the wonder of being able to spot the first bus of that type in all of Cuba. “You will not see this anywhere else in this country, it’s pure novelty,” he emphasizes.

The vehicle is about 40-feet long, 8 feet wide and 10 feet high, with 35 seats, five of them for people with disabilities, and a wider aisle that allows 70 passengers to stand, despite the ban from yesterday.

At the top of Infanta Street, a young mother approaches with her seven-year-old son, loaded with packages. “Mommy, this bus is new,” exclaims the boy excitedly. “This really is a bus,” he repeats as he runs his hand over the handrails and the edge of the seats.

The euphoria is painted on his little face, until a man who travels two stops further shouts: “I’ll trade you the bus for your mother.” A collective laugh fills the interior of the gleaming bus before the driver’s grim gaze. “No, because the mother is mine and this bus is not yours,” the boy replies, adding a curse that remains floating in the air.

When it reaches the end of the route, there is another line of people waiting on Avenida del Puerto to make the return trip. New comments emerge as the passengers board. No one comments on the benefits of this transport to the environment or the fuel savings. The first one to board starts off with a joke: “How much do I have to pay for the electricity?”

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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 Eye: Data / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 16 January 2018 — During the World Internet Governance Forum held in Geneva at the end of December 2017, my curiosity was raised that the word most mentioned in the different forums was “data.”

The term Big Data has been increasingly pervasive among the multiple stakeholders in Internet Governance. Since the English mathematician Clive Dumby, in 2006, launched the phrase that is associated with the data boom: “Data is the new oil,” this new oil, unlike the organic one, has only grown exponentially, and is a “renewable” resource. continue reading

Impossible to give shape without complex programs and powerful processors, so that this enormous amount of information is usable; To make these data really valuable, what is known as the 4V rule must be fulfilled: Volume, Speed, Variety, Veracity, which are explained by themselves.

According to the most widespread idea, it is about the data generated by social networks as a whole; however, these data represent a small amount of the global volume, but they are the data that allow profiles to be drawn up, and which may end up violating the right to privacy, as has already been demonstrated.

Something as widespread and everyday as the mobile phone, even with the data turned off, is a transmitting source and, by triangulating the antennas, can constantly announce its geographical locatio. A TED conference offers an interesting perspective on this.

Cases like that of Dumby that became a millionaire creating brand loyalty through the expert handling of Big Data to know tastes and trends, have motivated many to create their own ventures with data analysis.

For others, studying this information can predict droughts and prevent famines; it can improve the life of the citizen by optimizing administrative management in what is known as Open Goverment; or it can be decisive in clinical diagnosis. This is, let’s say, the friendly area of Big Data, because in its darkest side, in the hands of companies and/or unscrupulous governments, what can not be deduced about the private life of individuals?

In many countries, these databases have been opened to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation and as a sign of transparency. But as, in Cuba, we can not wait for that opening by a secretive government par excellence, the care of the data is an individual responsibility. What we share on social networks, what we say on the phone, the content of our correspondence, both traditional and electronic.

And if we want more privacy, leave the cell phone at home.

Letter to a Threatened Journalist

Luz Escobar has worked for 14ymedio since its founding in 2014. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 17 January 2018 – Luz, you have had an incredible “privilege”: To see up close the true face under the Fantômas mask.

In your police interview this Monday those State Security agents showed you, with complete self-confidence, who they really are, what is hidden behind the discourse of supposed ‘Revolutionary ethics’ and ‘defense of the country.’ In reality, under their clothes they are ‘mafioso’ whose methods mimic the worst style of the Camorra.

They have threatened you, they have warned you that the people closest to you will pay the consequences, they have even asked you to become one of them to betray your colleagues. All this, using the only tool they know: repression.

Your life will become more difficult from now on. Many friends will stop calling you, others will cross to the other side of the street when they see you, dozens of acquaintances will say you’ve gone crazy or that you are brainwashed, others will advise you to leave the country as soon as possible, to shut up, to stop writing. Some relatives will tell you to think about your daughters, while the fence around your house, your neighborhood, your person, will become suffocating.

They themselves, with the characteristic abuse of power, will spread the word that you are a ‘mercenary’ or, in the worst case, that you work for the ‘apparatus’ as an ‘undercover agent’. Distrust will rise like a wall around your work. These campaigns of defamation and demonization will affect every detail of your existence, from who knocks on your door to sell you a little milk, to the phrases the teachers repeat in your daughters’ classrooms.

However, from today, you will also feel a strange lightness, as if a weight you had been carrying on your shoulders for years has been lifted. They, without planning to, have given you the best argument to continue your career in journalism, because they have shown you that ‘up there’ nothing remains of respect for the citizen, for ethics, morality, sincerity, integrity… and much less for COURAGE. Of which you possess oceans.

Welcome to your new life. Enjoy it and be free.

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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 Official Press Criticizes Scarcity and Quality of Subsidized Menstrual Pads

To the problems of supply is added the “terrible” quality of the domestically manufactured product, according to the complaints collected by Juventud Rebelde. (Escambray)

14ymedio biggerEFE / via 14ymedio, Havana, 16 January 2018 — The small amount of sanitary pads that the Cuban State gives to women of childbearing age each month, their “terrible” quality and the irregularity in deliveries are currently the source of criticisms in the official press of the Island, where many turn to the black market to cover this need.

An extensive report in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde notes that this is a recurring problem that “over and over again” has led to “the same complaints” and maintains that, although it is a heavily subsidized article, it is used for “a basic hygienic need that does not understand delays in production or obsolete machinery.”

In Cuba, all women of childbearing age are entitled to receive a pack of ten pads per month, for which they pay 1.2 Cuban pesos (just under 5 cents US). continue reading

Several women interviewed by the newspaper are annoyed that ten “intimates,” as this product is known in the country, it is not enough to cover the entire menstrual cycle, and criticize that deliveries are often delayed for months.

Meanwhile, the product never fails in the black market, where it is offered at a price more than ten times higher: “In normal times up to ten pesos and when there is a crisis, it’s up to 15 to 20 pesos in Cuban pesos,” says Marta Valdés, 34.

Another alternative is the state stores that sell in hard currency, where a packages of pads are sold at prices from 1 CUC (equivalent to a US dollar 02 24 Cuban pesos), a high cost for  someone living on a Cuban average salary, that does not exceed 30 CUC.

“The black market should not be the solution to acquire the demanded product,” says the state newspaper, which titled the story Intimate Tragedy.

The article also cites experts, such as gynecologist Arelis Leon, who explains that the ideal is to change the hygiene pad every four hours during the menstrual period, which means using six pads a day and an average of between 18 and 42 pads for each cycle.

To the problems of supply is added the “terrible” quality of the domestically manufactured product, according to the complaints collected by Juventud Rebelde.

In Cuba there are three factories that make this product and all stopped doing so for lack of raw materials, since of the ten materials used in the production, eight are imported from countries such as Spain, Italy and China, said Emma Hernández, the general director of the state manufacturing company Mathisa.

The delay in production accumulated by this stoppage, makes it “impossible for the company to catch up on the loast production during the months in which the factories were stopped.”

The company also attributed the defective products to “human errors,” because the quality review and packaging are done manually.

“There are still no definitive solutions, at least in the coming months,” the newspaper said.

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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.

Once Banned in Cuba, Musician Paul McCartney to Get Statue There

El Morro restaurant, in Santiago de Cuba, has known how to exploit McCartney’s visit 18 years ago by using it for promotion. (Tripadvisor)

14ymedio biggerEFE / via 14ymedio, 11 January 2018 — A life-size statue of English musician Paul McCartney, a former member of The Beatles, will be inaugurated next Saturday near Castillo del Morro in Santiago de Cuba — the only colonial fortress in eastern Cuba — which was visited by the composer and his family 18 years ago.

The sculpture will be located in El Morro Restaurant, on the outskirts of the popular tourist attraction of Santiago, where the author of Let It Be had lunch on 14 January 2000 with his two eldest sons, apparently attracted by the superb view of the Caribbean and the Sierra Maestra.

Paul McCartney is represented full-size and seated, using marmoline to look like bronze, explained the creator, Mariano Frómeta, who was quoted Thursday by the state-run Cuban News Agency. continue reading

The statue will be placed next to the table where the Beatle ate in the restaurant, which has preserved and exhibits the furniture and crockery used by the musician during his short visit.

On that occasion, McCartney and his children ate vegetable omelettes and drank the typical Piña Delicias cocktail, as well as the local Mayabe beer.

The words “Very good, I’ll be back,” written by the legendary guitarist on a napkin — which they also treasure — keep the workers of El Morro hoping for a possible return.

Long before the “thaw” between Cuba and the United States made it fashionable to travel to the “forbidden island,” Paul McCartney surprised passersby and musicians in Santiago de Cuba, the cradle of son and vieja trova.

McCartney toured the Castillo del Morro and visited the Pepe Sánchez Casa de la Trova in the city, where from the first row he enjoyed the a performance of traditional music and dared to play the claves, a small percussion instrument made of wood that marks the characteristic rhythm of the “clave cubana.”

Those present say that the musician went home with several albums by Cuban artists, among them the Santiago-born Eliades Ochoa, winner of a Grammy.

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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 Lawyer Sees Salvation in Brazil’s New Immigration Law for "Deserter" Doctors

Some Cuban doctors complain that with all the money they’ve given to the Government, they could afford to pay for their medical education several times over.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, November 24, 2017 – The new immigration law which takes effect this Wednesday in Brazil could benefit hundreds of doctors who have escaped from the Mais Medicos (More Doctors) mission in this country.

According to André De Santana Correa, a lawyer who represents 80 doctors from the Island who abandoned their mission, “the new law allows several types of protection for a Cuban doctor who is considered a deserter, on humanitarian grounds.”

De Santana told 14ymedio that he counsels all Cuban doctors who have an expired temporary visa for Brazil that they request “permission for residence with a temporary visa on humanitarian grounds.” The authorities can take into account that these professionals are prohibited from returning to Cuba for eight years, because they are considered deserters there. continue reading

“The Cuban Government’s decision to consider doctors who abandon their missions as deserters is much more than political persecution. It’s the most merciless cruelty because of what can happen to a human being who is taken away from  loved ones and his native land and, in addition, is left completely powerless, as if his life isn’t worth anything,” adds De Santana.

The new Migration Law guarantees the same rights to foreign residents as to native-born Brazilians and also facilitates the arrival of qualified workers in the country. The legislation replaces the Foreigners Statute, which dates from the time of the military dictatorship (1964-1985). It allows foreigners with higher education or the equivalent to work in Brazil without needing to have a formal employment request from a company in the country.

Official statistics state that between 2010 and 2015, the number of foreign employees increased some 131%, going from 54,333 workers to 125,535, less than some 0.5 percent of the formal work market.

“We hope that with this new law our process will continue. There are many Cuban doctors in Brazil who need this country to recognize that we are health professionals who have equal status with the doctors of other countries who are in the More Doctors program,” says Ernesto Ramírez, a health specialist who left Havana’s supervision.

Noel Fonseca, who has spent more than 20 years as a doctor and decided to stay and live in Brazil, said that he is hopeful about the new law. He, as well as his wife, were expelled from the More Doctors program for not supporting the Cuban Government. The authorities in Havana, in addition, told them that they couldn’t return to the country for eight years, and that Brazil wouldn’t allow them to work as doctors because of pressure from Cuba.

“The Cuban Ministry of Public Health threatened the Brazilian Government so that they wouldn’t permit us to stay in the More Doctors program if we deserted the mission. In turn, the Ministry of Health pressured the municipalities to not give any type of aid to the doctors,” explained Fonseca, by telephone.

While the Cuban Medical Professional Parole was in effect, the United States allowed doctors who abandoned Cuba’s official missions to emigrate legally to the U.S. During that period (2006-2016), more than 8,000 doctors benefited from the program, which was eliminated in January, 2017.

Cuban Healthcare Personnel Taking Advantage of US “Cuban Medical Professional Parole” program that allows them to settle in the United States (14ymedio)

Diana Quintas, a lawyer from the Fragomen firm in Brazil, told Agencia EFE recently that the new law “has gaps,” and that in matters such as work, the joint action of several ministries would be required.

In addition, in order to seek employment without a work offer in the South American giant, professionals from Third World countries would have to have a university degree in “professions strategic for Brazil,” without specifying what these professions are.

Many other analysts criticize putting this legislation into effect at a time when unemployment is increasing in the country and when, in practice, many of the essential services that they want to offer to immigrants Brazilians themselves don’t have.

Translated by Regina Anavy
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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.

Turmoil Previously in Front of US Consulate in Havana Moves to a Quiet Street in Miramar

Part of the strict security routine that was deployed around the US Embassy is being transferred to the Colombian consulate. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 11 January 2018 — Jimena yawns and says she has barely slept since leaving San Juan y Martínez, in Pinar del Río province, to be on time Wednesday at the Colombian consulate in Havana. The quiet street in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood where the consulate is located has become a hive of activity this week.

Quick off the mark, the residents around the diplomatic site have not missed the opportunity to put together a network of businesses to meet the needs of the hundreds of Cubans who arrive every day. From the water sellers, the residents who charge a fee to use their bathrooms, to those who rent simple accommodations, all are doing a brisk business in this ’off-season’ of the year.

Since Washington drastically reduced its diplomatic staff in Cuba and canceled the handling of visa processing in Havana because of the alleged acoustic attacks, thousands of Cubans have been left in limbo in the middle of a process to emigrate or visit the United States. continue reading

The despair set off by the interruption in processing visas is now felt in every inch of Calle 14 between 5th and 7th in Havana’s Playa municipality, near the Colombian consulate. People are arriving from all parts of the Island, hoping to travel to the US Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia, where they must go to get their permission to enter the US.

Every face is one of anguish as they wait more than 50 yards from the consulate entrance. The police have placed an improvised set of fences and gates to keep the applicants away from the embassy entrance. The street is closed to traffic and no vehicles are allowed to park in the block.

The authorities have also deployed personnel from State Security, who, although dressed in civilian clothes, are easily identified by those waiting based on their military hairstyles and the way they constantly observe the line, which grows as the morning progresses.

“Our routine has been destroyed,” laments José, a retiree who works guarding the entrance of a prosperous house that rents rooms to tourists. “Customers can’t get here by car and when they come from the airport they have to get out of the taxi in the next block and lug their suitcases,” he laments.

The neighborhood, with several embassies and diplomatic residences, is experiencing a shock. In several places people have put down cardboard to sleep on through the night so as not to lose their place in line. “They urinate in the garden,” laments José, for whom the most difficult part is that “the police are everywhere and now you can not even buy an egg ‘under the table’.”

The line for US travel documents ordinarily formed in the park at Calzada and K, in Vedado, a place that traditionally had hosted “the line to leave,” jokes José.

Now, the sea of people has moved to this street in Miramar, where the well-oiled infrastructure of services created by local entrepreneurs around the US embassy does not yet exist. The commercial network ranged from coffee shops to places where self-employed workers charged people to fill out the forms for the visa process.

In the new location everything seems improvised and disconnected, beginning with the small number of personnel in the Colombian consulate that is trying to manage the avalanche of people, the haphazardness of the space for people arriving and waiting, and the lack of food services for those who must wait for hours, in a neighborhood where things generally cost more than they do elsewhere in Havana.

“An egg sandwich cost me 3 CUC in a private coffee shop, because almost everyone who lives in this part of the city has money, or earns it from renting [to tourists] or is a foreigner,” complains a man who says he arrived from Remedios, in Villa Clara. “If I have to stay another day here I’m going to have spent all my money,” he says.

Beside him, a woman describes the journey she made from Las Tunas and complains loudly that for the second consecutive day she has not been seen. “I have all my papers and my appointment for the US visa is scheduled for the end of the month in Bogota, but the doorman says they are only serving those who are traveling this week.”

The guard raises his arms and asks for silence. The human chorus of laments and demands is silent for a moment. The man, overwhelmed, clarifies that only requests from those with the earliest appointments in Colombia are being processed.

“You must be calm, as far as we are concerned, a great effort is being made and so far nobody has been unable to travel but it is important to organize the entrance, which can only be by date of the first summons,” says the man without managing to calm the spirits.

He then selects the group that will enter the consulate. Several policemen accompany the official and are in charge of stopping the vehicular traffic on the cross street so that people can cross to the other side. The line of the chosen ones covers the distance in silence, while those who remain outside watch them with a mixture of envy and resignation. The conversation breaks out again when the police move away.

Manuel Perdomo says he wants to see his son in Miami. He shares with the others what he knows about the procedures in Colombia. “It is necessary to take a certificate of vaccines and a summary of your clinical history to facilitate the medical check-up,” says the man, who expects to receive a US residence premit under the family reunification program.

“Anyone who is missing a vaccine is going to have to pay for it there,” he says, with his finger pointing to that distant and dreamed of place that Bogotá has become. Perdomo exchanges advice on what awaits them in Colombia because he believes they should help each other. “We are the ones affected,” he says.

This video is not subtitled, but gives a sense of the scene around the consulate

A few yards away, a neighbor on the block charges 5 Cuban pesos for access to his bathroom. “I have toilet paper, soap and a little cologne for those who want to clean up,” he promotes his service. “If someone wants to take a shower you can do that too, but that costs more,” he clarifies.

The bathroom is small and the mirror over the sink is broken. Near the sink, on some tiles that lost their shine years ago, they have stuck a sign that announces that in a nearby house “forms are filled out.” The splashes of water have blurred the phrase, but you can still read the house number and a telephone number.

The most common complaint heard alludes to the lack of information about the new procedures. Jimena is worried about having to connect to the internet to complete some form. “They told me that they will give me the printed forms here, but what if it’s not true?”

Her son has warned by a fellow resident of Pinar del Río not to pay 20 Cuban convertible pesos for the service to fill out the consular documents. “He told me that he is going to take care of everything from Miami, because I do not have the slightest idea of how to connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot,” she says.

“You can not be here, señora, you have to go to the corner and wait for the official to review the papers,” a uniformed man tells a woman. The man turns and yells at an independent journalist, telling him that photographs are not allowed. He also tells a young woman to turn off her phone before entering the room.

Little by little, part of the strict security routine that was deployed around the US Embassy is being transferred to the Colombian consulate.

Jimena’s fears do not end in Cuba. His biggest nightmare is to arrive in Bogotá and be asked for a document she does not have. The mere idea that she might have to return to the Island to look for a paper robs her of her sleep. “Just in case, I’m taking everything, even what is not necessary,” she says, and shows a pink folder cluttered with papers.

At noon, the the nearly fifty people still standing in line wilt with fatigue. The rest have gone to have lunch or doze under nearby trees.

The guard, who until last December yawned in his booth overcome by  boredom, stares at the line. “Señora you can’t be here,” he warns a Cuban woman living in Miami who approaches the consulate door to try to enter. The woman complains that she has come to help her daughter obtain the Colombian visa and that everything is very badly organized.

At several points, employees have posted a sign with an email to clear up doubts and get an appointment, but most of those who arrive prefer to be “present in body.” The anguish that they have lived for weeks, since the relationship between Washington and Havana began to get complicated, is not calmed with an email.

“I’m staying here until the Colombian visa is stamped on my passport, so I have to sleep overnight in the street,” says José Carlos, a Havana resident who has been waiting for two years to reunite with his children and his wife “on the other side of the puddle.” And he adds, “Anyway, I already sold my house so I’m renting and no one is at home waiting for me.”

As evening starts to fall pessimism falls over the line. “There are no guarantees that the United States will grant us the visa,” says a female voice that comes from a corner of the group. “All this can be for nothing and a tremendous loss of money,” she adds. José Carlos silences her: “Do not be a wet blanket, when you get to Yuma you will not remember any of this.”

The guard continues to watch the group closely, while darkness settles over busy Calle 14 in Miramar.

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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.

“We Will Be Watching You”

The police offered Luz Escobar better treatment if she collaborated so that the Government could influence the editorial line of ’14ymedio’. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 January 2018 — Two State Security officers threatened the journalist Luz Escobar on Monday with prosecution for a common crime and making her life hell if she continues her work as a journalist for 14ymedio. “We are going to be watching you, because everyone here [in Cuba] has to buy something on the black market,” warned one of the interrogators.

Escobar received a summons, the second in less than five weeks, to attend an “interview” at the Zapata and C Street police station in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, on 15 January at 1:00 in the afternoon. The meeting lasted an hour and 20 minutes and included several warnings.

“They threatened to tell my neighbors that I am a counterrevolutionary, to not let me leave the country and to prosecute me for a common crime,” adds the reporter, who in the last four years has published dozens of chronicles and reports in the pages of this newspaper. continue reading

“They gave as an example the case of the economist Karina Gálvez,” a member of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC) who was prosecuted last year for the crime of tax evasion. “The same thing can happen to you”

“They gave as an example the case of the economist Karina Gálvez,” a member of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC) who was prosecuted last year for the crime of tax evasion. “The same thing can happen to you,” the officers threatened.

Escobar, who previously worked as a theater producer, has been working as a journalist since the beginning of 2014 when she joined 14ymedio’s initial team. Since then she has specialized in cultural and local coverage; highlights of her work are her interviews with artists and her chronicles of daily life in Havana.

“They were particularly annoyed by the article I published last week about the situation outside the Colombian embassy in Havana, where visas are processed so that Cubans can continue the consular procedures for visas to United States in Bogotá,” she said.

“The official, who identified himself as Lieutenant Amed, reproached me for going there and gathering information from Cubans who were waiting to enter the consulate,” Escobar said. “He told me that I had to notify State Security whenever I wanted to cover news of that type.”

The “interview” cycled between threats and an offer of collaboration for the journalist to help the political police to “influence the editorial line” of 14ymedio, because right now “it is a newspaper that receives instructions from abroad to subvert the Revolution,” they told her.

“Among the warnings there were clear hints that they will put pressure on my family and even alluded to my daughters, telling me that they might not have me around as they grow up,” said the reporter, who has decided to continue with her work. “It’s what I want to do with my life,” she says flatly.

The agents asked the journalist to help the political police to “influence the editorial line” of ’14ymedio’,because right now “it is a newspaper that receives instructions from abroad to subvert the Revolution”

The officials insisted that the United States Government financially supports this digital newspaper, but did not reference public information on 14ymedio’s finances; in its four years of existence the newspaper has not received funds from any governments or political parties, or from any organizations linked to any nation’s executive branch.

“Lieutenant Amed avoided mentioning the transparent finances of which this newspaper boasts,” said the director of 14ymedio, the journalist Yoani Sánchez. “He is lying, because we have created our own business model with the resources derived from memberships, reporting agreements with other media, private donations and the work we do in academic centers or other information spaces,” she adds.

“Amed wants to blame us for something that is totally false and is committing the crime of defamation crime by saying that we receive resources from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) or the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), when we are a project with total economic and editorial autonomy,” she reiterates.

A few weeks ago, this newspaper inaugurated a membership system for Internet users to help support the costs of maintaining a newspaper in a country where the independent press is penalized. “We have managed to involve readers so that they can support, with their monetary contributions and solidarity, the work we do every day,” says Sánchez.

Thank you all for the solidarity. The “interview” was full of threats from State Security to get me to quit my work as a journalist on the digital newspaper 14ymedio. 15 January 2018

Since the founding of 14ymedio, in May 2014, members of the editorial team have received constant pressure to abandon their work as journalists. The website is blocked on national servers and residents on the island can only access it via anonymous proxies or VPN.

“Arrests, threats and interrogations have been our day-to-day reality, but we have tried to prevent that repressive atmosphere from distracting us from our reporting,” Sánchez emphasizes, “however, the situation has reached a point where we fear for the integrity of our reporters and it is time to call on the solidarity of journalism organizations in the region and human rights organizations to alert them to what is happening.”

At the end of the interview, Luz Escobar received a new police citation for next Wednesday, 17 January, at the Police Station on 21st and C streets in Vedado.

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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.