"Here, The Same People Put The Squeeze on You, and Back Off"

The absence of a wholesale market for the self-employed, as well as high prices and shortages, have encouraged the importation of household appliances and raw materials. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 15 June 2018 — “You have to be calm until the wave passes,” says Rubén, 28, an informal vendor of vitamins and ointments from Miami. “Right now there are fewer products coming into the country and it is better not to risk it because in the airports they are more strict.”

Last week the General Customs of the Republic (AGR) threatened to confiscate packages sent from the United States through people who travel specifically to the island to bring goods and who are hired by shipping agencies based in the US.

To all his customers interested in products such as Omega 3, creams to relieve back pain or popular nutritional supplements, the merchant promises that he will have supplies “in two weeks.” And he says, “Here, the same people put the squeeze on you, and back off.”

After the declarations from Customs “we must take extreme precautions and avoid bringing a lot of the same product,” explains Rubén. “The ‘mulas’ (mules) are warned that they should not transport sealed packages, because that sets off the alarms that these are things are going to be delivered to different customers,” he says.

Parcel shipments through southern Florida agencies that the Island’s Government considers illegal have skyrocketed in recent years. The recipients on the Island are the relatives of Cubans who have emigrated, and also small businesses that have been opened due to the economic flexibilizations pushed by Raul Castro.

The economist Emilio Morales, director of the Miami-based consulting firm The Havana Consulting Group, estimates that 90% of shipments arriving in the country come from the United States. The value of the goods that were sent last year amounted to 3 billion dollars, Morales told 14ymedio.

The practice of carrying the packages has grown among some emigrants who see working as mule a chance to visit their relatives on the Island with the costs of the plane ticket covered. After the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana, direct commercial flights were restored, one of the things that triggered these shipments.

The most common products sent through the mules are medicines, appliances, clothes, footwear and also dehydrated or canned foods. “A good part of the country ends up with something from these shipments because those who don’t get a package directly end up benefiting from the contents of packages received by others,” says Raima Gutiérrez, a hairdresser in a private business.

“Here the products we use, such as dyes and peroxide, come in with the mules because in the national stores they are very expensive, of poor quality and often are not the most wanted colors,” Gutiérrez says. “In this last week we’ve had to tell several clients that they’ll have to wait for the packages to arrive because they are paralyzed on the other side”.

Raima’s mother is anxiously awaiting a blood pressure monitor that a niece sent her from West Palm Beach. A neighbor of the family says that her “package” is stranded in Miami without daring to send it, while one of the hairdresser’s customer tells the story of his brother who had a dozen suitcase locks he brought from Madrid in his luggage confiscated.

The mules have reason to worry because the director of Technical Customs himself, José Luis Muñoz Toca, said in a press conference that more than three tons of products people tried to bring into the country through the shipping networks were confiscated. So far in 2018 the authorities have detected 113 cases of trafficking in merchandise.

In the eyes of the authorities, there are 29 agencies based in the United States operating in an unauthorized manner to send goods to the island “through travelers who bring them in exchange for payment or compensation.” In South Florida, companies like XAEL Habana, Va Cuba, Cubamax Travel, Viajes Coppelia, Habana Air, Blue Cuba Travels and Central America Cargo have been banned.

The authorities blame the intensification of the controls on the fact that these agencies “do not have official contracts with Cuban companies authorized to carry out these operations,” while promoting the use of the officially approved companies to send parcels to the Island.

The importing of these goods is “a commercial transaction,” the authorities complain, and the contents of personal baggage, when it is used to transport commercial packages, are “subject to the administrative sanction of confiscation, if there is no more serious crime.”

“If they would let us bring in merchandise to maintain these businesses, in a legal and transparent manner, we would not have to engage in all these illegalities,” says Hilario, 47, an interior designer. This has been one of the great demands of the self-employed sector that aspires to obtain the right to import and export freely, along with the possibility of having a wholesale market.

“All the stores are state-owned and staples are very expensive,” the man says. “Without the monthly package, with toothpaste, soap and bouillon cubes that my sister sends me, everything would be more difficult.” The designer also receives materials that he needs for his work. “I was expecting good caladors and a laser to measure rooms, but now everything is stopped,” says Hilario.

The sharing of a video filmed at the José Martí International Airport in Havana, in which two Venezuelan women are seen being beaten and arrested for allegedly transporting merchandise to the island, has added fuel to the fire of fears.

The images have circulated widely via wifi or Bluetooth on mobile phones. “If this is what happens to foreigners what is in store for Cubans,” says Hilario.

Venezuelan journalist Elyangelica González recorded the images of the arrest of Yussely and Amanda López, who say they were beaten by immigration personnel after they were not admitted after an attempt to confiscate their luggage.

The Venezuelans claimed the contents of their luggage were gifts for the doctors who operated on their father and other friends on the island. Both deny that the products were going to be marketed.

Cuban Customs has also intensified in recent months the controls against the so-called Venezuelan “bachaqueros” (black-marketeers), who use the island to sell some products and buy food and dollars to take back to their country.

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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.

Rafael Alcides: The Great Poet Of The Cuban ‘Insilio’

The ashes of Alcides will be scattered in the river of his native Barrancas, in Bayamo, where everything started. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 21 June 2018 — His voice amazed me the first time I heard it, when he had just turned 80. A voice grave and smooth at the same time, a voice I no longer remembered from his years on the radio. A mariner’s voice perhaps, someone who has traveled other worlds and has a lot to tell, but does not want to amaze anyone, much less overwhelm them with his stories. A voice from someone much younger and, at the same time, an old voice, coming from a mythical and remote era of certainties.

Although I had read his poetry and shared it with several friends, I never spoke with him. I admired him from afar and knew him to be a good man, what is called a man of integrity. What’s more, we lived relatively close for many decades. But it never happened, although I always had the vague certainty that one day I would meet him. That’s why, when I read the fatal words of the news, I could not help but feel that with his death, in some way, I had lost a friend. continue reading

I suppose that it is easy for those who have read him to feel that they have talked with him. Not because of his “colloquial” poetry, but because ultimately all poetry is conversation, although almost always with oneself or with the intimate demon. In Alcides’ poems one feels, in reality, a colloquium with the reader, as if each verse were written to be replicated in a long exchange of intuitions, fears and memories.

For nothing is further from him than the pose of an old teacher who knows some clues, who has learned to deal with short life and endless art. “Life has taught me that suddenly the wave of the days changes your program,” he said ten years ago in an interview for Consenso magazine. “I limit myself to being ready for what may come,” he said, demonstrating that, in spite of himself, he was that: an old teacher who could give us, more than a poetic art, an art of living.

An art of living as poetry. The voice of his poems flows directly from the common man who hurts and dreams, from the untamed citizen who does not use words as a spell or as a subjective construction, but as a lever to move a truth, as a magnetic guide, as a bridge to reach what is farthest from here and now. And all with a breath more transparent than the air of his native Barrancas or a quiet Havana morning.

“From good seeds he made bad harvests, in the name of freedom he surrounded us with wire, and he added guards and bloodhounds. In everything, he was the same. With real words he composed a great lie,” Alcides tells us, alarmed by Fidel Castro’s support for the Soviet tanks in Prague, and who suffered – without being indirectly implicated – the effects of the Padilla case and could not publish anything between 1967 and 1984.

Finally, regardless of whether the commissars wanted to publish him or not, he decided to step away from the literary world, specifying that he would only be published in Cuba when his books could appear before the public along with the authors that the Castro regime has banned for more than half a century. But he kept writing, as if nothing was happening.

In 2013, at Estado de Sats, when he had just turned 80, I heard him read. Alcides had not offered a solo poetry recital for 20 years: “All of us here are exiled, all of us, those who left and those who stayed, and there are no words in the language or movies in the world, to make the accusation: millions of mutilated beings exchanging kisses, memories and sighs over the sea.”

“The future in Cuba is already passed. It is sad, a country where the future has already passed, the future of this Government, which we live under now, because life is now,” he said. But he was not pessimistic or cynical, because he saw that everything, before being real, has been a dream, because always “we let a dream fly and we chase it, that’s why we have to dream and then the realization of the dream comes,” but we can not lose the opportunity, because “there are trains that, if they go by, they are gone.”

Alcides did not have a mysterious creed. For him, the poet’s mission was obvious: “witness today and announce tomorrow.” So he did, assuming insilio* not as a title of nobility, but as a humble daily task, as his own choice and simple destination, but accompanied and loved by those who cared for him, and respected and admired even by those who did not know him.

It is better that the official press did not mention his death. That grave and slow voice did not cry out in the desert: “Where are we, Lord. Where in the world have we lost ourselves? Where do these boiling waters come from? What was made of that pair of incurable children who believed in the prophecies, who still believe, and who went out very proudly on the morning of their day to found the whitest city without knowing that they founded a prison?”

His ashes will be scattered in the river of his native Barrancas, there in Bayamo, where everything started. His voice will continue to sound, smooth and firm, long after the end of the long and dark chapter that tried to silence him, of this seemingly endless exile for all those from over there and those from over here. The empty and turbulent voices of today will be silent one day and we will continue to hear the fluvial and austere voice of Rafael Alcides, like an old sailor who does not want to overwhelm us with his certainties.

*Translator’s note: From ‘exilio’ (exile), Alcides chose to call himself an ‘insilio’, (‘insile’) – exiled from his country without having left it.

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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.

Poet Rafael Alcides, the Protagonist in Miguel Coyula’s Latest Documentary

Rafael Alcides at the screening of Miguel Coyula’s film ‘Nadie’ (Nobody) in Havana.

Yanelys Nunez Leyva, Havana Times, 26 December 2016 — One of the most recent films directed by filmmaker Miguel Coyula is being screened during some independent spaces in Havana: Samuel Riera’s studio, Oscar Casanella’s home and the El Circulo gallery.

On Sunday the 18th, I went to see it at this last venue, located in Lia Villares and Luis Trapaga’s home, and I was happy to see so many familiar spaces. Several friends, journalists, activists, art critics, writers…

Most of us sat on the floor in the small living room, and the documentary Nadie (Nobody) from 2016 was shown promptly at 8:10 PM. continue reading

The protagonist, the poet Rafael Alcides was among us. It’s a luxury, almost everyone who knows him was saying.

I’m slightly out of the know, I haven’t read anything that he’s written, even though I have had some excellent recommendations.

The first thing that I liked was the narrator’s voice, it was nostalgic, bucolic, beautiful.

Then, Alcides’ story came; he didn’t want to speak about his personal life. Only about the novels which he is trying to recover right now, papers which have fallen to pieces due to the typewriter’s corrosive ink and time.

He only wanted to speak about his love/hate relationship with the revolutionary process. About his deception in the face of Fidel supporting the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, and of Ochoa’s assassination.

He only wants to talk about Beauty.

At the screening of ‘Nadie’ in Havana: Rafael Alcides, far left. Miguel Coyula, far right. Lynn Cruz, fourth from right.

Coyula appeals to a visual collage, just like he did in his renowned Memories del Desarrollo (Memories of Overdevelopment). In the film, Antonia Eiriz’s pedestal becomes that of Alcides, who talks in a die-hard fashion with a caricature of Fidel, that of historic and rhetorical speeches. And he answers him, in a debate about the life of the New Man.

Alcides isn’t a defeated poet. According to him, artists are a testimony and chronicler of their time, and he still believes he can do both of these things in the most dignified way he can.

He has distanced himself from the institutions which once published a book of his, he has sought refuge in his home, he has cut himself off from his neighbors, from friends who were too involved but whom he still loves, but who no longer visit him.

Alcides leads us in this documentary to what he calls «everybody’s burial», which is nothing more than the death of an idea, of a utopian dream, with Fidel Castro’s death.

The director of the documentary didn’t put it forward to be screened in the selection of movies at the Havana Film Festival. He wants to send it to other platforms, perhaps more understanding international events where there is greater dialogue.

The story of this cursed poet will reach Cuban viewers in another way, perhaps at screenings like this one, informal, maybe even via the paquetito, the alternative to the «government’s» Weekly Package of audiovisuals. The important thing is that it has already come to life, that it has already begun its journey, existing on the fringe, with the same seal of the good «misfits» who made it.

Note: Translation from The Havana Times

‘The Mechanism’: A Series That Will Not Be Seen On Cuban State Television

The fictional series, based on real events, revolves around the investigation that uncovered the fraudulent network woven around the semi-state oil company Petrobras in Brazil. (The Mechanism)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 20 June 2018 — When people talk about Brazilian TV shows, some think of the dramatic soap operas that Cuban media broadcasts every year. Those soap operas, full of intrigues, loves and hatreds, have been part of the island’s television network for decades, but The Mechanism, a production that addresses the corruption revealed by Operation Car Wash, will not suffer the same fate.

For a couple of weeks now, the series, directed by the filmmaker José Padilha and produced by Netflix, has landed in Cuba through the informal content distribution networks such as the weekly packet. With a dynamic plot and excellent performances, The Mechanism premiered on Netflix last March and since then has not stopped stirring passions. continue reading

The fictional series, based on real events, revolves around the investigation that uncovered the fraudulent network woven around the semi-state oil company Petrobras in Brazil. These investigations led to the discovery of the tentacles of bribes, money laundering and payments to politicians extended by the construction company Odebrecht for decades throughout the region.

Padilha, who had already made a name for himself with Narcos, structured his series based on a book by journalist Vladimir Netto and managed to build a gradual sense of disgust in his audience. The repulsion grows as the names of those involved appear, and the bribery strategies and the depth of these practices in the political and economic life of Brazil come to light.

Due to the little that has been reported in the national media, Cuban viewers are probably tempted to read the story as a documentary, although it is essential to take into account the warning message that appears at the beginning of each episode: “This program is a work of fiction freely inspired by real events, characters, situations and other elements, adapted for dramatic effect.”

However, along with the creative freedom that has led Padilha to change or recreate real events, The Mechanism maintains the authentic edges of Operation Car Wash, which have not been reported in Cuba, hence its dual character as entertainment and revelation. Unlike other countries where the scandal filled extensive headlines, on the island this will be the first details many people see about the many dimensions of that rot.

The case, which shook the whole continent and reached as far as Angola and Mozambique, is of particular interest in Cuba, where Fidel and Raúl Castro maintained close relations with two of the characters in this truculent story: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, who appear in the series with changed names but easily identifiable.

In the same years that Odebrecht bought contracts, supported election campaigns in Latin America and distributed millions to fend off any investigation against it, the Cuban authorities embraced, smiling and complicit, the two politicians who were up to their eyeballs in such corruption.

No wonder, the construction company Odebrecht was hand-picked for the modernization of Cuba’s Port of Mariel. The megaproject, a kind of white elephant Raul Castro’s regime used to try to attract investors, was inaugurated in January 2014 by Dilma Rousseff and the Cuban president. They posed smiling in front of the cameras of the foreign press just a a few weeks before the scandal would shake the Brazilian president.

Since then, Cuba’s official press has mostly reported the upheavals caused by the revelations of Operation Car Wash to the region’s centrist and rightist governments. That information strategy prioritized the details of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s resignation as president of Peru, and the international arrest order against former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo, also accused of receiving bribes from Odebrecht.

In contrast, Cuba’s national media hardly mentions the sentencing of Ecuadorian Vice President Jorge Glas to six years in prison for the same reasons, and has totally ignored all the evidence that points to Nicolás Maduro as part of the machinations of that powerful construction company. The links to current Brazilian president Michel Temer, who assumed office after Rousseff’s impeachment, were reported in the pages of Granma, like those of Lula and Rousseff, except that in the case of these last two, it was reported as a “conspiracy of the right.”

As expected, both Brazilian former presidents are among the staunchest critics of the series since it was launched on Netflix. Lula has insisted that the “piece is one more lie” and Rousseff accused it of “distorting reality” and spreading all kinds of lies.

Beyond the welts that it raises, the arrival in Cuba of The Mechanism helps to break the mantle of silence that the Plaza of the Revolution has thrown over parts of this history, and it will set people talking about the subject and raise desires for a greater investigation of the true details.

The series is also a great opportunity to enjoy solid performances, such as those of Selton Melo who plays investigator Marco Ruffo, a researcher obsessed with the case and whose childhood friend, called Roberto Ibrahim in the series but taken from the real life Alberto Youseff, is one of the money launderers whose arrest uncovers the scandal.

The manager of the construction company, Marcelo Odebrecht (in the series presented as Ricardo Brecht), manages to transmit that calculated coldness of someone who knows that he has presidents and senators from all over the continent in his pocket, while the character of Verena Cardoni, played by Caroline Abras, stands apart from the female stereotypes that abound in Brazilian soap operas.

This, unlike those soap operas of unrequited love and exalted hatred, is not a production to get you to mourn for a couple separated in the past or for an unrecognized son, but for the rottenness of a country. What happens on the screen is not history, but absolute fiction, but one based on the uncovering of a crooked network of corruption that extends its threads to this Island.

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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.

Rafael Alcides: May He Rest In Peace / Luis Cino Alvarez

Rafael Alcides (EFE)

Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 20 June 2018 — The writer Rafael Alcides, who died in Havana on June 19 at the age of 85, had a warehouse of novels and unpublished poems in his home. It had been more than three decades since a book of his was published in his homeland. First it was because the commissars, unable to make him submit, did not want to publish him. Then, it was Alcides who did not want to be published. He made it clear: he said he would not accept it until the day his books could be in Cuban bookstores along with those of all the Cuban authors prohibited by the regime.

He resisted fearlessly, without losing heart. And, industrious and stubborn as he was, without failing to write for a single day.

The author of Agradecido como un perro (Grateful as a Dog) had the stubborn patience of poets, who do not rush because they know themselves to be the absolute owners of time and words. continue reading

Born in 1933 in Barrancas, a remote hamlet in eastern Cuba, Rafael Alcides was one of the main colloquialist poets of the so-called ’50s generation.

Once he believed in the Revolution. But poets, if that is what they really are, can not sing in the chorus. The praise bores them. They are reluctant to follow orders and commands, they do not accommodate themselves nor fit within the battalion of the submissive. And that is why he broke with the confining official culture and stepped aside, to witness the sad parade of the mediocre, servile and coryphaeus. He continued to listen to “the rumor of what life was before the future came,” warning that “nothing is as we supposed.”

His time of vain illusions passed, converted into ashes, without smoke or grudges. The poet did not answer to illusions. He lived between the past and the future, warning — he said in verses — that: “Everything we had we lost and it was more than we could have.”

He spent his last years surrounded by the affection of his loved ones, at peace with his demons, without fear, decent, unwavering.

I had the privilege of enjoying the friendship of Rafael Alcides. I used to visit him in the small apartment in Nuevo Vedado he shared with his wife, blogger Regina Coyula and her son. His conversation, always lucid and interesting, never ceased to inspire courage. Not even when cancer was about to win the game.

Rest in peace Rafael Alcides, if the souls of poets can ever resign themselves to rest and stop dreaming.

luicino2012@gmail.com

In Tribute to Rafael Alcides, Cuban Poet and Writer and Wonderful Man

Rafael Alcides (9 June 1933 – 19 June 2018)

Today Translating Cuba is dedicated to Rafael Alcides, who died yesterday. We are republishing articles by and about him, and you can also do your own search of past articles on this site by going to this link.

The following “Author’s Biography” was written several years ago and is not up-to-date.

Rafael Alcides was born in Barrancas, municipal district of Bayamo (Cuba) in 1933. A poet and storyteller, he was a master baker in his teen years. He has worked as a farmhand, cane cutter, logger, wrecking crew cook, and manager of a sundries store in a cane-cutters’ outpost.

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In Havana in the 1950s he worked variously as a mason, broad-brush painter, exterminator, insurance agent, and door-to-door salesman. In 1959 he was the chief information officer for the Department of Latin American Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Relations, and spokesman of this agency in a daily television program in which he hosted and interviewed foreign political personalities. He was chief press officer and director of Cultural Affairs in the Revolutionary Delegation of the National Capitol.

Among his most recently-published titles are the poetry collections, GMT(2009), For an Easter Bush (2011), Travel Log (2011), Anthologies, in Collaboration with Jaime Londoño (2013), Conversations with God(2014), the journalistic Memories of the Future (2011), the multi-part novel, Ciro’s Ring (2011), and the story collection, A Fairy Tale That Ends Badly (2014).

As of 1993, he had been employed by the Cuban Institute of Radio & Television for more than 30 years as a scriptwriter, announcer, director and literary commentator when, at that time, he ceased all publishing and literary work in collaboration with the regime in Cuba. As a participant in numerous international literary events, Rafael Alcides has given conferences and lectures in countries in Central and South America, Europe, and the Middle East. His texts have been translated into many languages. He was honored with two Premios de la Crítica, and a third for a novel co-written with another author. In 2011 he received the Café Bretón & Bodegas Olarra de Prosa Española prize.

Writer Rafael Alcides Dies in Havana at the Age of 85

Rafael Alcides was born in Barrancas on June 9, 1933 (La mala letra)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 June 2018 — Ten days after his 85th birthday and after a long battle with cancer, the poet Rafael Alcides died at his home in Nuevo Vedado on Tuesday afternoon, his son Rafael confirmed to 14ymedio. Sources close to the family explained that there will be no funeral and that his ashes will be scattered in Barrancas, in the east of the island, where he was born on 9 June 1933.

“He did not like tributes,” says filmmaker Miguel Coyula and author of the documentary Nadie, based on an interview with Alcides that lasted more than two hours. With this work, presented in the independent gallery El Círculo in Havana, Coyula addressed the biography of the poet and novelist, especially his long years as a censored writer. continue reading

Rafael Alcides began his literary career with the magazine Ciclón (Cyclone) and successfully published some 60 books, including Himnos de montaña  (Mountain Hymns) (1961) and La pata de palo (The Wooden Leg) (1967).

He began his fall from grace with the regime when, in the 80s, the poet set aside ideology and expanded to less political issues, publishing Agradecido como un perro (Grateful as a Dog) (1983), Y se mueren y vuelven y se mueren (They Die and Come Back and Die Again ) (1988), Noche en el recuerdo (A Night to Remember) (1989), Nadie (Nobody) (1993).

By 1983, when his poetry collection Agradecido como un perro appeared, the author had already suffered, for decades, the institutional silence that greeted his work, because of his openly critical positions on the Cuban Government.

From 1993 on, he abandoned all publishing collaborations on the Island and in 2011 he won the Breton Café & Bodegas Olarra de Prosa Española Award.

In 2014 his books published in Spain were seized from his wife, the blogger Regina Coyula, every time she tried to bring them into Cuba. For this reason he submitted his resignation from the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), which he had been a member of for years, saying that banning from the island his books published abroad was the same thing as banning him as author.

The poet published a letter, which he addressed to Miguel Barnet (president of UNEAC), in which he explained his reasons and returned the Commemorative Medal of the 50th anniversary of the UNEAC, which he had been granted as a founder of that government institution.

The letter to Barnet makes clear the ideological disenchantment of one of the most important poets of the 50s Generation: “Among these memories are those of the good friends I made among the members of the Association back then, treasures of my youth that are all that remain of that great, failed dream, people I love though they do not think the way I do, and who love me also, even if they dare not visit me.”

In speaking of the writer and poet, Cuban writer Virgilio López Lemus says that when Alcides published Agradecido como un perro he became a reference poet for the generations born between 1946 and 1970. López Lemus describes this work as a “long and intense poem in which the lyrical subject appears in a confessional attitude and at the same time as a witness, where he includes social life, family life, love and friendship (or is it one of the two?), and above all the warmth of a man who expresses himself with his skin open to the world, whether he receives wounds or caresses.”

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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.

Rafael Alcides, Who is a Very Important Person / Regina Coyula

Rafael Alcides, poet, writer and my husband

Note: This article is being republished from 2013. Rafael Alcides passed away yesterday, 19 June 2018.

My husband is not just any writer.  He belongs to the generation known as “The Generation of the ’50s,” a rather arbitrary poetic grouping that started with Carilda Oliver (1922) and ran through David Chericián (1940). His generation’s peers — if they haven’t died or emigrated — have received the National Literature Prize and enjoyed social and official recognition. This is one of the reasons he is an extraordinary writer. Not only that he wasn’t seduced by the siren song of the National Prize ten years ago. Not only that he willingly “inxiled” himself from Cuba’s cultural life for twenty years and is not published in Cuba. continue reading

For him, the prize has been that his book Agradecido como un perro (Grateful As a Dog) was traded for cigarettes in the Combinado del Este prison in the late eighties, and asked around for; kids coming from the provinces discovered him by chance in a second-hand bookshop. His books today would be collectors’ items, of a writer unknown to the young and unpublished after 1990, if it weren’t for the Seville publisher Abelardo Linares who knocked on our door one day.

He is not a run-of-the-mill writer. Foreign publishers are highly sought after, their visits to Cuba put them in a position to receive a ton of unpublished and published texts from hopeful authors who either fete the foreign visitor or put a Santeria spell on them.

Alcides is incapable of boarding a bus, a shared taxi (almendrón), or a called taxi (panataxi); he is incapable of walking even 200 yards to meet a celebrity. Instead, he is an extraordinary host, so warm and attentive, who immediately makes even new acquaintances feel comfortable.

In this era of ideological polarization, he maintains an intact and intense affection for those he loves, whether a high government official or a senior opposition leader in exile. He forgives (but does not forget, he has excellent memory) some highbrow (?!) silliness from a fledgling poet to a functionary who from his new position has been allowed to treat him coldly. He will regrets the error of omission in the dedication to Roberto Fernández Retamar in a poem in a book just published in Colombia.

Another of the things that makes him extraordinary has to do with his appearance. When we started our relationship 24 years (!!) ago, my niece, with all the candor of ten years, wondered if he was Eliseo Diego. He was then a venerable white beard unsuspectedly balding. His contemporaries seemed like younger brothers. It turned out the joke was on them as he didn’t get any older while others lost their freshness, hair, pounds, physical and/or mental agility and for a long time the tables have been turned. That, despite a copious medical record very well concealed.

With the bias of affection, there are those who say he’s the best poet in the world. There’s no need to exaggerate, although some verses are saved for posterity.

These fires feed this man who writes and writes on a battered computer with no more to give. Leaving poetry behind he is dedicated to finishing enormous drafts, novels that became priorities in the rush of life.

No one would expect that behind this thunderous voice asking who’s last in line at the farmer’s market, this competent cook who saves me from the daily doldrums, is this Amazing Poet in “atrocious invisibility” who tomorrow, June 9th, will be 80 years old.

8 June 2013

Cuban Poet Rafael Alcides has Left Us / Lynn Cruz

Rafael Alcides

Lynn Cruz, Havana Times, 20 June 2018 — Yesterday, on June 19, 2018, in the afternoon, 85-year-old Rafael Alcides passed away. The sensualist poet, friend and main character in “Nadie”managed to do what very few can: “Live in keeping with his ideals.”

He spent his last days resting at his home in Nuevo Vedado, after having fought a long battle against cancer.

The end of his journey has left a deep abyss in not only the people who knew and admired him, but in everyone who has fought for their ideas. continue reading

He was ostracized because of his critical thinking. He was such a grand figure that he would always say that he hadn’t been censored, despite his novel “Contra Castro” and poetry collection “Nadie” being banned.

Alcides chose to distance himself from social and cultural life because he didn’t agree with the direction national politics were taking. He was referring to Fidel Castro’s treachery, to the ideas he himself had fought for as part of the underground movement before the 1959 revolution.

He inspired filmmaker Miguel Coyula with his eloquence and gift for speaking leading Coyula to make his first documentary “Nadie” (Nobody) about him. Coyula always says he will keep the film showing (in private in Cuba) for as long as possible, in the face of the poet’s brilliant personality.

Being a free man living in a totalitarian system has meant that this film is still banned, even today. Nobody on the island is talking about it. Not critics, or poets from his own generation, or pro-government press or the news.

However, the poet has had a taste of eternity. Governments and politicians come and go. Those of us who love him will always be “grateful like dogs” for having his work among our literature.

Alcides didn’t have an age. He was brimming with so much passion that he seemed more like a child who was stunned by a world unknown to him.

For those of us who were close to him, we also have the priestly example of how he treated his writings, unwilling to sell out.

As a friend, I know that I will always miss him and that I will have to get used to thinking, what would Alcides have had to say about this?

The poet from Bayamo asked that his ashes be scattered in Barrancas, his hometown.

Note: Translation from Havana Times

Here Come The Limes, There Goes The Soap

The price of limes has dropped from two Cuban pesos for one fruit, to five pesos a pound. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana | June 18, 2018 — Finally, the limes have arrived. They returned after an inexplicable absence, the result of a month’s long shortage during which they became coveted items in kitchens and bars. In the terminology of rationing, it is said that the precious citrus fruits “came to” or are now “leaving” the market stalls.

With an abundance that cannot be exaggerated, these days limes can be found on most produce market shelves, all green and glistening. From a high of two pesos for one lime, the cost has been reduced to five pesos for an entire pound. As a result, customers are taking advantage of the low prices by stocking up in anticipation of hard times ahead. continue reading

An essential ingredient in lime-based drinks, mojo criollo marinades and avocado salads is once again available.

There is a catch, however. Just as limes were making a triumphal comeback, soap began disappearing. There is no discernible cause-and-effect relationship between the recovery of the citrus harvest and the disappearance of this essential element of personal hygiene, which cannot be found even in the most expensive shopping malls.

Sometimes it is dry wine and beer, toilet paper or cassavas, matches or dishwashing detergent. It is as though it were all scientific planned. It’s like that old joke about the socialist hell: the sinners cannot be punished because some key component of torture, such as oil for the pot or wood for the fire, is always in short supply.

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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.

Giving Birth at 40, Late Motherhood in Cuba

While fertility rates in Cuba decrease in most age groups, the downward trend does not occur among women who are between 35 and 39 and between 40 and 44 years old. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 June 2018 — Marcel runs through the park while his mother follows him everywhere and, between races, sits on a bench to rest. She is 47 with a small son who hasn’t started school yet. She is one of the many Cubans who preferred to give birth in her 40s despite the risks, social prejudice and “the fatigue that comes with age,” she tells 14ymedio.

They are women who do not have the energy of a twenty-year-old and are already combing gray hair, but have in their favor greater maturity, family stability and professional development. Many of these late mothers have been wanting to get pregnant for decades, others waited for better conditions to bring a child into the world, and for some of them, the arrival of a baby was a surprise. continue reading

When they show up pregnant at the OB-GYN clinics they are called “elderly” and talked to about risks and problems. Because along with social prejudices that see motherhood as something exclusive to young women, they must also face a public health system that has a hard time adapting to a global phenomenon: the postponement of pregnancies.

When they show up pregnant at the OB-GYN clinics they are called “elderly” and talked to about risks and problems. (14ymedio)

Grisell Rodríguez Gómez, a psychologist and researcher at the Center for Demographic Studies of the University of Havana, has studied this trend on the island. “The fertility of women over 30 years of age began to rise” explains the specialist, who says there is currently “a greater presence of mothers in these ages,” in Cuba. The Cuban health system considers any woman who is expecting a baby after the age of 35 as a “high risk” patient, although it is not contraindicated to conceive a child at this stage of life. “My doctor at the Family Clinic cried to high heaven and predicted a rather dark picture for me,” says Marcel’s mother. 

“I was the first pregnant woman in her 40s she had cared for and she was very nervous, because doctors are very demanding when it comes to a baby that is coming… There is still a very narrow mentality about motherhood at this age and they see us as a phenomenon, an abnormality, sick mothers,” she emphasized.

Little by little, society has had to get used to the presence of these mature women who push a baby stroller and are not grandmothers. The economic crisis of the 90s has been one of the triggers causing the postponement of motherhood, because many women preferred to wait for better times, according to several specialists consulted by this newspaper.

The Cuban health system has had to get used to the presence of these mature women who push a baby stroller and are not grandmothers. (14ymedio)

While the fertility rates in Cuba decrease in each age group, the downward trend does not occur among women between 35 and 39 and between 40 to 44 years old, who have steadily shown an increase in motherhood in recent decades, as proven by data collected by the National Statistics Office.

At 39, Ariadna López is preparing to enter her fourth decade of life with a newborn baby in her arms. She is now seven months along and one day she woke up with the suspicion that her second son was coming ten years after she had her first. A new relationship had started and her husband was happy with the announcement.

“The family doctor was scared at first,” recalls Lopez. “When I gave her the news, she raised his eyebrows in concern,” especially because now the Public Health authorities in the municipality of Habana del Este where she resides, “are in a tizzy because they have an old pregnant woman, which is a headache.” Lopez immediately began a strict plan of prenatal vitamins and folic acid. If it had been a planned pregnancy it would have been better to start with this regimen even before conceiving the baby to ensure the correct development and functioning of the brain of the fetus. 

The feminist activist Marta María Ramírez recently announced her pregnancy on social networks. At 42, each consultation has been a battle to stop them from treating her “with fear because of the risks involved in pregnancy” at her age. She is tired of hearing phrases like “let’s have a look at your problem” and she prefers not to know the biological sex of the baby until the delivery, something difficult for the medical staff to understand and accept.

According to a study conducted by several specialists and published in the Cuban Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, “a woman in good health” and “with adequate prenatal care” is very likely “to have a happy delivery and a healthy child” although they clarify that the health system of the Island must prepare itself to deal with the tendency to become pregnant later in life.

Society has had to get used little by little to the presence of these mature women who carry a baby stroller and are not grandmothers. (14ymedio)

“Many of these pregnancies are not spontaneous but occur in mothers who have had fertility treatment for many years,” explains Kenia Ferrán, a Cuban obstetrician who worked for years in the public health system until in 2017 she emigrated to Ecuador. of these pregnancies begin from the beginning because there is a high rate of spontaneous abortions among women over 40.”

If they manage to overcome the first trimester of pregnancy,”they still face the high possibility of suffering from gestational diabetes and hypertension, problems that affect not only the health of the pregnant woman but also the baby,” Ferrán said. “Genetic risks are also high, such as the presence of chromosomal alterations such as Down syndrome.” 

However, Ferran says that in her professional life she has treated “many women who decided to become mothers after 40 and in most cases everything has gone very well. The most important thing is the follow-up and above all, ethically, to respect the decision that the woman has made. We are here to accompany her on that trip, not to criticize her.”

Some of the women she cared for in her clinic “waited to have a place to have a child, because the housing difficulties force many of them to postpone the moment.” The economic situation and “dreams of emigrating” also influence the decision, along with “the desire to take more advantage of professional opportunities in the 20s and 30s,” she says.

Beatriz Medina, 41, has two children from a first marriage and this week she visited the Ramón González Coro Gynecology-Obstetric Hospital in Havana to ask for advice about a new pregnancy. “Among the problems they told me is the chance that the child will beborn underweight or that I deliver early,” she says, and immediately says that she is not afraid.

Medina, however, does not feel so confident about what will come next. “I estimate that at 60 I will still be taking care of a young man and the generational abyss will be tremendous.” The mother is concerned “that she she won’t live to see him develop his professional life, be an adult, have his own children,” although she believes that she will have “more maturity to educate him and more resources to support him.”

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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 Can Hardly Sleep With the Mosquito Bombardment”

Two young people of the Youth Labor Army with the fumigation equipment. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 18 June 2018 — “We used to complain because they were always coming and knocking on the door every week to fumigate and make sure you didn’t have standing water, or a vase of spiritual water or a water tank without a cover,” says Diosdado, 68, who lives in La Timba neighborhood a few yards from the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana.

“But this year, from the times the rains started, they have only come by once and have not finished fumigating all the houses because they ran out of the product,” he adds. “We can hardly sleep with the bombardment from the mosquitos, because this area has a lot of vegetation and there are also many places where rain accumulates, and families with small children have to use mosquito nets all night.” continue reading

The abundant rains of recent weeks have not only left Havana with hundreds of homes at risk of collapse but also plunged it into a wave of mosquitoes that residents fear contribute to the spread of diseases such as Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue. The fumigation, which a few years ago was intense at this time of year, has decreased due to the crisis that the country is experiencing.

Until last summer, fumigations inside and outside homes were common. The image of vehicles that left a trail of smoke while driving through the main avenues of the capital became part of the urban landscape. Inspections in the residential areas were also repeated several times a month in search of the feared Aedes aegypti mosquito, a vector of these diseases.

A workers’ bag for the antivectorial campaign, especially the students of the University of Medical Sciences who do the work voluntarily. (14ymedio)

La Timba is a neighborhood that is densely populated with people with low economic resources, and several residents visited the nearby polyclinic April 19. “We have gone several times but the answer is that right now there is little product to fumigate and that it is very difficult for the country, which does not have the resources to carry out massive campaigns like before,” explains Diosdado.

A source from the hospital confirms with this version to 14ymedio. “The rate of infestation in this area exceeds 0.15 and we are prioritizing the most affected parts but we can’t cover everything,” explains a polyclinic worker who preferred anonymity. “Last week they sent us some liquid to fumigate and we are administering it where it is most urgent.”

“In every municipality in the city, the presence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito has been detected,” the source points out. “We are trying to cover the entire capital in the most effective way with what little we have,” she says. “It is not only the liquid to fumigate but also the fuel to start the ‘backpack-motors’ (as the fumigation equipment is popularly known).”

The Cuban economy is still burdened by the worsening of the crisis in Venezuela, which has led to a reduction in bilateral trade and the supply of oil to the island.

Cubans identify fumigation against mosquitoes with the era when Fidel Castro ran the country, because in those years the antivector campaigns were so intense many were annoyed by them. People complained that the inspectors constantly invaded the privacy of their home in search of Aedes aegypti, and were also concerned about the other evils associated with the frequent administration of insecticides.

“The cases of allergy and asthma skyrocketed in those years when it was constantly sprayed,” recalls Yander, a nurse who worked for a decade in the emergency room in a Centro Habana hospital. “We also had several patients who arrived because they had slipped on the liquid left behind on the floor of their house after the fumigation, and one even broke his hip.”

However, Yander says that “all those evils were minor compared to the risk we now have with Dengue and Zika.” The nurse adds that “seeing less fumigation and inspections, people lower their guard and have a lower perception of risk, which is why it is important to warn of the danger.”

Many families have decided to fight the mosquito with their own resources and use small household sprays bought in hard currency stores that promise to kill all insects, or other simpler recipes to avoid bites.

“When we sit down to watch television we put alcohol on our legs and arms to scare off mosquitoes, it’s not perfect but it works,” says Maritza, a retired resident in the Cerro neighborhood, near the well-known Manila Park, an area very affected by the presence of insects.

Orders from the Island to the community of Cuban émigrés, especially those based in South Florida, have increased, asking for incense, lotions and other repellent products and there are many ways to send parcels to the Island. The black market has a wide variety of products, but the prices are out of reach for the poorest families.

“We depend on state fumigation because we can not pay for an anti-mosquito spray that costs more than 3 CUC (roughly $3 US), which is a third of my monthly pension,” says Maritza. “That’s why we use this alcohol, which can be bought in pharmacies much cheaper but it doesn’t totally protect us.”

Hundreds of workers in the antivector campaign have been reassigned to other tasks and in the Provincial Health Department complaints pour in from the residents in the neighborhoods hardest hit by the swarms of mosquitoes. Given the lack of resources, the authorities are appealing to the discipline of the population to inspect their own homes, a practice known in the bureaucratic language as “auto focal.”

A poster stuck up at the entrances of several multifamily buildings in Nuevo Vedado calls for extreme measures, “combat the mosquito” and “immediately report any symptoms” of possible infection. However, unlike other occasions, this medical warning is not accompanied by a fumigation calendar for the area.

In 2017, an extremely dry year on the Island, there was a notable decrease in confirmed cases of Dengue fever. The infections fell by 68% compared to 2016, as reported by the official media at the time. During this period, Zika virus transmission also decreased and there were no reports of a single patient with Chikungunya.

Due to its humid climate, Cuba is a country prone to the proliferation of these arboviruses, a situation that gets worse during the summer with the rains and the greater mobility of the population taking advantage of school holidays to travel between provinces and contributing* to the propagation of these diseases.

Translator’s note: The cycle of infection for dengue and chikungunya requires a female mosquito to bite a person who is infected. Within about a week, the mosquito becomes infected and can then pass it on when it bites other people. These two diseases are not contagious person-to-person or mosquito-to-mosquito. Zika, however, although it is transmitted in the same way, can also be transmitted person-to-person through sex, and it can be transmitted to a child during pregnancy potentially resulting in birth defects than can be very severe.

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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.

Occupancy Rate at Manzana Kempenski Luxury Hotel Under 20%, Say Staffers

Most of the customers who come to the bar do so to admire the view of the city and the ‘infinity’ style pool. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, La Habana | Junio 19, 2018 — None of the customers who were enjoying the bar and pool on the rooftop of the Manzana Kempinski Hotel this Monday were staying at the accommodation. The luxurious colossus across from Havana’s Central Park is below 20% occupancy according to the calculations of its workers, due to the slowdown in tourism in Cuba and the high prices of the establishment.

Opened in May of last year, with 246 rooms, of which 172 are standard, the Manzana Kempinski is apparently performing far below its projections. Despite this, the general manager, Xavier Destribats, said a couple of weeks ago that the Swiss hotel group in working on several other projects the state-owned Gaviota company. continue reading

“We have bet on Cuba and we will continue to grow with Gaviota with a second hotel and maybe a third one,” Kempinski’s director told Cuban state television. Destribats was optimistic about the results of the luxury hotel which, he said, has customers from markets such as France, Spain, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and China. However, he did not provide any occupation data and the employees believe it is underperforming.

“This seems like a museum, one of those that is very beautiful but almost empty,” a waitress told 14ymedio on condition of anonymity.

“We are afraid that there will be cuts in personnel and that they will send us home, as has happened with other hotels,” explains the employee who receives a little more than 300 Cuban pesos per month (less than $ 15) for her work. “Last week several clients who came to an event saved us, but they are about to leave,” she laments.

Located in an historic area, the hotel occupied the old Manzana de Gómez shopping center, a name Havanans still use to refer to the place. After several years of repairs it went from being an aged and dirty building to emerge with all its impressive architectural details restored.

In the Manzana bar you can find cold and imported beer, a luxury difficult to locate in the rest of the city. (14ymedio)

“Most of the guests who come to the bar come to admire the view of the city and the ’infinity’ style pool that attracts many fora  little refresher,” says the bartender. “It is very peaceful up here and since we are open until midnight it’s a place for the tourists to go after they leave the concerts or the cultural activities in the area.”

“Many people come to look and browse because the restoration process was very painstaking and the hotel has spaces that make you want to stay, but putting your hand in your pocket to rent a room is a real stretch,” a waitress explained to this newspaper.

“If there are few guests, it makes no sense to work here, because the most important thing for us is the tips that the workers share at the end of the day, but in the last weeks it has been very poor,” she complains.

The employee calculates that the hotel is now below 20% occupancy, which other employees of the hotel and those working in the tourism sector confirm. “At the moment this seems like an investment for the long-term, because the hotel has little demand because of its prices,” confirms Katy Ramos, tour package manager.

The clumsy launch of the Manzana is the fault of factors that go beyond its prices. “There is always someone willing to pay dearly for good service, but what is happening has nothing to do with the hotel but with the whole country,” says Ramos. “There is a fall in the number of tourists which is very worrying to all of us who live off this business.”

None of the customers who enjoyed the bar and pool on the rooftop of the Manzana Kempinski Hotel this Monday were staying there. (14ymedio)

Tourism is Cuba’s second largest source of income, behind the sale of professional services abroad, and contributes 10% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in addition to generating half a million jobs. For the private sector it is also an important pillar that supports everything from rental houses, to private restaurants, private taxis and guide services.

From January through May of this year, Cuba has counted more than 2.1 million foreign tourists, 93% of those who had arrived during the same period in 2017. However, the figure “includes Cuban Americans who come to visit their families and also people who come to events and congresses, but don’t otherwise engage in tourism,” says Ramos.

The Government, however, maintains the official projections for 2018 of five million visitors with the aim of breaking the previous records of almost 4.7 and 4.5 million travelers in 2017 and 2016, respectively.

But the winds that blew away the diplomatic thaw between Havana and Washington, which attracted all sorts of celebrities to the island, seem to have changed course.

At the end of 2017, the United States Government announced that it would enforce a promise made by President Donald Trump in June of that same year, to crack down on commercial and personal travel of Americans to the Island.

The US Treasury published a list of more than 100 companies, which included restaurants and two rum distilleries, that travelers from that country may not visit. Several tourism agencies and at least 84 hotels throughout the Island appear on that list and the Manzana Kempinski is one of them.

Although it is managed by the German company Kempinski, based in Switzerland, the property is owned by the Cuban military corporation GAESA, which appears on the blacklist drafted by the Trump administration.

However, even if they are not staying at the site due to lack of resources or fear of penalties, many customers come in search of good services and the impressive supplies of the Manzana.

In the midst of the shortage of food and other products that have characterized the last weeks on the island, dozens of tourists come to the hotel every day in search of a good meal or those drinks that are scarce elsewhere.

In a city “where there is a scarcity of almost everything, this is a haven of comfort,” says Empar, a Spaniard who on Father’s Day Sunday was enjoying a cold imported beer on the terrace after “having walked through several stores and markets without finding anything I wanted. “

“I came for the views but of course I can not pay what they ask for a room,” he told 14ymedio. A night in the Patio room, the cheapest in the entire hotel, cost about $440 without breakfast, while the most exclusive, the corner suite goes for $1,355.

“It’s a shame that despite being half empty they do not offer a significant reduction in prices, because that would make many customers like me feel encouraged to stay,” says Empar.

Cuba is now in its low season of foreign tourism, because in the summer months people choose destinations cooler than the hot tropical sun of the island. These are the same months when nationals have a chance to be tourists because of the school holidays.

But the Manzana Kempinski is beyond the pockets of Cubans living on the island, where an average salary does not exceed the equivalent of 30 dollars a month. “Before leaving it empty they could lower the prices and fill it with Cubans,” joked Humberto, a baseball fan reconverted to football supporter during the World Cup in Russia and a visitor to the nearby sports club, known as La Esquina Caliente.

This character of “forbidden apple (manzana)” due to its stratospheric rates, has earned the accommodation many criticisms, especially for the contrast between its luxurious conditions and the neighborhood that surrounds it, plagued with serious housing problems.

The young artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara put on three artistic performances at the luxury hotel. In the first of them, he questioned the disappearance of the bust of the communist leader Julio Antonio Mella, previously stationed there; in the second he brandished a sledge hammer a few inches from the window of an exclusive store in the basement of the building; and in the third he ran a raffle to win a night in the only five-star hotel in the country, which was won by a young man about to enter to Compulsory Military Service.

“That may have been the first and only ordinary Cuban who has slept in those beds,” speculates Humberto, while gazing from the Central Park toward the empty entrance of the Manzana Kempinski.

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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.