There’s hardly anyplace left to skate. You can walk around here and the only thing you can find are parks, which are really useless and sometimes we bother people. Old people scold us. I have friends that practice in the middle of the street because the ramps and installations that once existed are in ruins and no one bothers to fix them.
I’m not a professional; those who are more involved with skateboarding skate around Prado. I skate more often in Paseo. I do it as a pastime or as a hobby, like they say in English. Sometimes before coming out I watch extreme sport videos. There are even kids who win competitions with incredible technique.
I don’t know if there are competitions here in Havana. I don’t think so. It’s difficult because there’s no place to skate so you have to adapt. My favorite athlete is Tony Hawk, one of the toughest skaters I have seen. But personally I’ve never dreamed of skating seriously, I mean professionally.
I am in 10th grade and there is not much entertainment here, or anywhere else. While other kids my age are listening to reggaeton or, I don’t know, wasting time talking nonsense and telling lies, I grab my skateboard and spend a few hours in the afternoon riding it.
Translated by Cynthia Vasquez Bermeo, Josselyn Lopez, Natalia Pardo
14ymedio, Havana, 23 March 2017 – This Wednesday the gates have begun to close around independent journalist Sol Garcia Basulto, who has been charged with the crime of “usurpation of legal capacity.” (In other words, “practicing journalism without a license.”) The correspondent for this newspaper in Camaguey is facing a sentence of between three months and a year of deprivation of liberty.
The accusation against Garcia Basulto coincides with that made against the regional vice-president of the Inter-American Press Association in Cuba, Henry Constantin. Both reporters are a part of the editorial team of the independent magazine La Hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour), which is distributed in a digital format.
The young reporter was warned by the police about her work interviewing and gathering information in public spaces. A task that she engages in, according to the officials, to “misrepresent information and write against the government.”
If the process takes its course, the journalist could be tried under Article 149 of the Penal Code which punishes those who “perform independent acts of a profession for which they are not properly qualified.”
The police did not mention the names of the possible complainants, but warned Garcia Basulto that she was not “empowered” to undertake work as a reporter. The young woman is being investigated and cannot leave the country. Any travel outside her home province must be communicated ahead of time to the police.
Last November, State Security prevented the 14ymedio correspondent from leaving her house in the days after the death for former president Fidel Castro, while the funeral procession carried his ashes to Santiago de Cuba.
At that time, the young woman denounced the escalating repression against her, which started on 4 December 2015 when she tried to take some photos and collect opinions in front of Camaguey Provincial Court where the trial was being held for the murder of the musician Pedro Armando Junco, known as Mandy.
The Inter American Press Association warned this week about García Basulto possibly being charged with the same crime for which its vice president is being prosecuted. The entity considers that such accusations are contrary to international provisions that support “the right to seek, receive, disseminate information and express opinions.”
I literally just saw a police officer ask a couple of kids for their identification and I’m pretty sure he did it because they were black. That’s just the life they were dealt. I have almost never seen the same happen to white kids. It’s as if whites are invisible to the police.
And then you hear people say that racism doesn’t exist in Cuba. And the funny thing is that it could’ve been those same whites that just finished robbing a house around here because whites also steal. I walk a lot around the neighborhood of Vedado, so I see many things.
Because of the color of my skin and my mean look, I get stopped all the time by the cops. I don’t want any problems. People look at me and think that I’m a tough guy but really, I don’t like fights or drama.
My thing is, I just like walking around town from time to time, finding small little jobs here and there to make money. Some days I sell fish and on other days I sell cans of paint.
I’m not really committed to anything right now but I have to find my way. I live alone but regardless I have to take care of myself. And on the weekends, I like to drink a little, like anybody would.
Definitely not beer though, because it’s more expensive. Besides, I’m more of a ‘rum’ type of guy, even though I advise people not to drink it. Rum is the reason why so many people are messed up in this country. I have a friend who went blind because he drank whatever he could get his hands on. I think he ended up drinking wood alcohol.
Translated by Oliver Inca, Patricio Pazmino, Marta Reyes
San Lázaro has been my savior. I’ve been through some very hard times and only when I placed my faith in San Lázaro was I able to find my way. Many people don’t understand why I do this. I left school in ninth grade, quite early, to work and help my mom. She earned very little money. How was she going to raise my ailing brother and me, if the money was never enough, not even for food?
They always called us ‘poorly dressed’, and to top it off we lived in a house cramped with people. (…) Since 2007 I’ve been making my pilgrimage. I remember the first time, I did the whole trip in somersaults. My brother went with me. I swear that one was the most exhausting trip. I passed through many villages, but I was told that was how it was supposed to be, I had to prove my faith. And I did.
Once I got to El Rincón they took pictures of me, movies… I felt that San Lázaro was with me. It was my first time at the Santuario del Rincón [the church dedicated to San Lázaro in the village of El Rincón to the south of Havna], and when I came in the door it was something amazing. Seeing the photographers and the people shouting, giving me water, it felt good. (…)
Today I’m alone, my brother feels better. I start my trajectory in November and I go around the streets of Havana collecting alms. Everyone stops, even the children. I see fear in their little faces, but one day they will understand.
14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto, Camaguey, 22 March 2017 – Hip Hop has become that redoubt of rebellion that other musical genres, like rock and roll, used to embody. The Trakean2 Fesitval, which ended Monday in Camaguey, gave voice to performers who sing as if they were shooting truths at the public, but censorship against Cuban rapper Rashel Cervantes – known as Rapshela – who lives in Spain, overshadowed the event.
Also missing were rappers who sing their lyrics in marginal neighborhoods where the genre enjoys the greatest vitality. But that is what was decided by the Brothers Saiz Association, who organized the ninth edition of the event with 40 participating rappers, including MCs (Masters of Ceremony), breakdancers and graffiti artists. Cockfights, the improvised verbal confrontations between musicians, were the moments most appreciated by the public.
Rapshela could not appear before the public in spite of having travelled to the Island for the occasion. Problems with her cultural visa and reproof by the organizers prevented it. continue reading
After spending her own money for the plane ticket from Barcelona, where she lives, Rapshela ran into the cancellation of the presumed institutional promise to pay for her travel from Havana to Camaguey. She managed to arrive nevertheless, but the obstacles had not ended: as a resident abroad she did not receive authorization to appear in time.
“As soon as I arrived I went to the AHS, and the organizer [Eliecer Velazquez] told me that I could not sing because I was living abroad,” she tells this daily. Nor was the artist included in the lodging and food options that other guests enjoyed. A situation that she regrets “after four months of speaking” with the event promoters.
In a gesture of solidarity, Los Compinches, a group from Pinar del Rio, invited Rapshela to accompany them to the stage. But when the artist began to sing, the Festival organizers ordered the microphone sound lowered. A little later the spectacle came to an end.
The event generated an intense debate when other musicians and the public clamored for her to be permitted to sing, but the organizers proved inflexible. Although they declined to give their version of what happened, Eliecer Velazquez justified himself to the artist, arguing that it was the first time that he had organized a festival, and he did not know “that there was so much paperwork to do.” The promoter explained to the singer that she sought the cultural visa too late and that is why they did not grant it.
Among the attendees, many considered it absurd that a Cuban had to wait for a cultural visa to appear in the city where she was born, so they saw what happened as censorship masked in bureaucratic delays.
The organization also had disagreements with some lyrics by the group Los Compinches, in which marijuana consumption is promoted and Cuba’s economic situation is criticized.
Before the microphones went mute, the spectators had shown great enthusiasm and repeated choruses like Don’t step on the herb, smoke it. A second song increased nervousness of the authorities when the singer explained that the video clip that accompanied the lyrics had been censored.
Joaquin Corbillon Perez, member of the group, does not explain what they did wrong although he argues that the Brothers Saiz Association is not responsible for the situation. “The guilty ones are much higher and are the ones who prohibit it,” he said.
The AHS director from Pinar del Rio, Denis Perez Acanda, also a member of Los Compinches, defended the lyrics of his song and characterized as an “act of repression” the fact that the organizers did not let Rapshela sing.
For Rapshela the problems that she suffered transcend the music scene. “The Cuban people are censored,” she says. In her opinion “rap is a weapon for expression” and “a window to liberty, but here they are scared of liberty.”
The organizer of the Havana female rap festival and manager of the Somos Mucho Más (We Are Much More) project, Yamay Mejias Hernandez, known as La Fina (The Fine One), showed her solidarity with Rapshela because “she is Cuban, Camagueyan, and has never performed in her land. What she wanted was to introduce herself and for her people to hear her.”
Mejias Hernandez, also a feminist activist, told 14ymedio about the festival’s other problems. “It needs a little more organization, maybe more coordination in the places where they hold the concerts at night.” She thinks that Cristo Park, a site intended to offer concerts, did not meet the requirements for nighttime performances.
“There have to be more theoretical events like discussions, meetings, book readings,” adds Mejias Hernandez. “They need more female presence because at this event only two female rappers appeared.” The singer asserts that throughout the Island there are many females who are connected to the genre.
You’re lucky to be witnessing the debut of one of the major go-getters in the bicitaxi business. Old Havana is crammed with ‘yumas’ [foreigners]. You see them on the streets, getting crazy, desperate to move from one place to another, looking and always asking. (…) And here’s Pancho, ready to be of service to those who need it. (…) I’ll admit I still have to fix up my “ship”, paint it, add cushions, lights, music. I’ll even have to dress better; I know the competition will back-stab you with those little details. (…)
Even though it’s my first week, I can already see that a lot of people are trying to get into the bicitaxi trade. You’re in constant contact with foreigners who are the ones with big bucks. (...) Since networking is everything, I’ve already partnered with some hotel owners, so I can play that card. If I happen to pick someone up who doesn’t have a place to stay, I’ll drive them to one of my contacts and afterwards I’ll collect my commission. (…)
I have a lot of advantages, but I’m just getting started. I know the neighborhood. I know five languages, at least enough to communicate the basics. Besides, now that “El Supremo” is gone, I’ll be the king of Havana. As the saying goes: I’ve got my charm going for me, asere! I have the key!
Translated by Camila Fernandez, Kendra Gil, Jingqi He
Luis Felipe Rojas, 14 March 2017 — A poet writes to unpick puzzles, to sell and buy other questions. The Cuban poet Magali Alabau came to Miami this Friday 10th March to give a reading from her book “Fatal Attraction” (Betania, 2016). She did it in La Esquina de las Palabras Lounge, which was founded and run by the poet Joaquín Gálvez in Café Demetrio in Coral Gables.
Alabau, a stage actress, who didn’t decide to write until she hit 40, has a voice which slides words around to tell a story which is forgotten here in the north, which all of us in exile are seeking – everyone in exile is seeking. Her sense of direction as she weighs every step becomes a necessity. “Poetry is the foundation through the word, and in the word”, states Heidegger when he embraces the poetry of Hölderlin, and it is precisely in that tone of voice that Magali Alabau has proposed to construct and name her domain, nomatter how small … or resonant … or large it seems to us. There is no other foundation which is not a word.
“This foreign body / which is, during the day, / only involuntary movements, prayer which starts / and doesn’t finish.” continue reading
What is praiseworthy in a poet who lowers her head to give herself to others, to not look back, and to follow those voices which will call to her all her life? Nothing, we can reply, if we understand the ancient profession rebuilt time and time again on the graves of other voices, of other authors.
The mistakes of friendship, the errors of custom, pseudo love, and violence, flow through this book like a flood. In Magali’s voice we encounter accidents and not human characteristics. It is a text without makeup, for which we should be thankful. “I can hear you behind me / harping on about supposed predictions. / I laugh at you, yes, I laugh”, she says to death.
Alabau lives in New York and is the author of a dozen books of poems, with a special mention for “Hermanas”, which won the Poesía Latina Prize in 1992; “Electra, Clitemnestra” (Ed. El Maitén, Chile, 1986) and “Hemos llegado a Ilión” (Betania,, 19922), among others.
I studied at a Camilito [one of the Camilo Cienfuegos Military Academies]. But for financial reasons, I had to drop out and start working. My father washed his hands of me and my mom did the best she could. When I used to go out on the weekends, I would come home with no shoes. It was very hard.
I started working as a bicycle taxi driver approximately four years ago. My work hours are around 7AM to 5PM, and I pay 3 CUC [equivalent to $3.00 U.S.] a day for the bicycle rental. Clients call me or look for me because I have a reputation for being trustworthy and honest. Thanks to them I always have work.
What I’d really like is the restaurant business, to be a bartender or something like that. I’ve always wanted to better myself professionally, but if I were attending night school I couldn’t work past 1pm. That wouldn’t allow me to earn enough money to accomplish the goals I’ve set. If I continue down this path, ten years from now, I’m not going to be much good to anyone unless my quality of life changes for the better.
I have thought about leaving Cuba. I love my country, but there is so much that needs to be changed and no one knows where to start. My dream is to have my own business. I’m willing to make sacrifices. But I don’t want to do it for no reason.
Translated by Mayra Condo, Karlina Cordero, Stephanie Desouza
My name is Ángel Martínez and my dream was to become a cameraman. I always thought about photography. Just like you, my friends made fun of me, but I was stubborn and I started to work as a television assistant in 1954. I got to know the best of the culture of that time. At work, I was the first one in and the last one out. That’s how I climbed up the ladder till I earned the title of cameraman (…)
Many years later in the middle of the Special Period [the early 1990s], they retired me. They explained that they were concerned about me making a mistake behind the cameras, and that I was of retirement age. They gave me this bicycle, which helps me get around and sell my goods [on the bike are paper cones filled with peanuts]. It’s not a lot of money but it’s some. At least enough to pay taxes and keep a little over 260 pesos, which is my pension. They convinced me, but I swear that even now that the equipment is more modern, as long as I’m mentally fit, I will keep on dreaming.
Translated by Maite Arias, Tamara Belmeni and Jorge Caceres
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 March 2017 — A year ago Cuba had a once in a lifetime opportunity. US President Barack Obama came to the island willing to turn the page on political confrontation. The gesture transcended the diplomatic situation, but Raul Castro – fearful of losing control – responded by putting the brakes on economic reforms and raising the levels of ideological discourse and repression.
Nations are not presented with opportunities every year, nor even every century. The decision to entrench itself and not to undertake political flexibilizations has been the Plaza of the Revolution’s most egotistical measure of recent times. Failure to know how to take advantage of the end of public belligerence with our neighbor to the north will bring this country lasting and unpredictable consequences. continue reading
These effects will not be suffered by the so-called “historic generation” – those at the forefront of the 1950s Revolution – now diminished by the rigors of biology and desertions. Rather than the generals in olive-green, the ones who will pay the price will be those who are still sleeping in their cradles or spinning their tops in the streets of the island. They don’t know it, but in the last twelve months a short-sighted octogenarian tricked them out of a share of their future.
The greatest waste has been not exploiting the international moment, the excitement about foreign investments, and the expectations everywhere in Cuba of taking the first steps towards democratic change without violence or chaos. It was not the job of the White House to encourage or provoke such transformations, but its good mood was a propitious setting for them to be less traumatic.
Instead, the white rose Obama extended to Castro in his historic speech in Havana’s Gran Teatro has faded, beset by hesitations and fears. Now, it is our job to explain to these Cubans of tomorrow why we were at a turning point in our history and we threw it away.
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 March 2017 — Putting aside the passions of supporters and detractors of the policies drawn up by President Barack Obama for Cuba, there is no doubt that, for better or worse, it set indelible before and after benchmarks in the lives of the Cuban people.
The first benchmark was the reestablishment of relations after half a century of confrontation, which – although it did not even come close to the high expectations of Cubans – did manage to expose the Cuban dictatorship to the scrutiny of international public opinion, thus demonstrating that the regime is the true obstacle to the wellbeing and happiness of Cubans. continue reading
Consequently, although Cubans are no freer, after two years of rapprochement with the former “imperialist enemy,” the Castro regime has run out of arguments to justify the absence of economic, political and social rights, and thus has lost credibility in the International forums and in political circles, where it is being openly questioned.
Just a few days before leaving the White House, Obama took another decisive step by repealing the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, giving up immigration privileges for Cubans in the US, and thereby crushing the hopes of an large number of Cubans who aspired to enjoy the rights and prosperity in that destination, that they can only dream about now, and are unable to demand in their own country.
Thus, in two years, these two Cuban exceptions which seemed eternal, suddenly disappeared: an old dictatorship, long tolerated by the international community when it was considered the “small, heroic and defenseless victim resisting the onslaught of the strongest of world powers,” and the people – equally victimized, persecuted, helpless and subjugated by the dictatorship enthroned in power – who were forced to emigrate, deserving the consubstantial privilege, above that of any other immigrants, to live quietly in the territory of the United States, no longer setting foot in Cuba.
Thus, in the future, the Castro regime can be considered as what it really is: a prosaic dictatorship without heroic attire, while those Cubans who flee it without making the slightest effort to face it, will not be described as “politically persecuted,” but as any other run of the mill immigrants, such as those throughout the world who aspire to enjoy the wellbeing and opportunities that residing in the most developed country on the planet offers. No more, no less.
That is to say, though Barack Obama did not improve or worsen the Cuban crisis, we, nevertheless, must thank him for putting things in their right perspective, whether we like it or not. But it may be that some, or perhaps too many, find it much more comfortable to steer the direct burden of the current state of affairs in Cuba – including increases in repression – while others (more astute) here and there toss their hair and tear their patriotic garments against the “betrayal” of the former leader, generally with the untenable intention of making a political career or of continuing to thrive in the Cuban calamity.
These are the “hard hand” theorists who will attempt to use it as a trump card to overthrow the Castro dictatorship, this time with the hypothetical support of the new US President, as if that strategy had not proved ineffective during the previous 50 years.
The sad paradox is that, judging from the present reality, the Castro way of government – like other known dictatorships – will not “fall,” defeated by the indignant people, fed up with poverty and oppression. Neither will it be crushed by the tenacious struggle of the opposition or the pressures of some foreign government. Most likely, instead of falling, the Castro regime will gently slide down of its own accord into another advantageous form of existence in a different socioeconomic setting.
For, while not a few Cuban groups from both shores wear themselves out and gloat over mutual reproaches and useless lamentations, the olive green mafia continues behind the scenes, distributing the pie, quietly accommodating itself in the best positions and palming its cards under our clueless noses, to continue to enjoy the benefits and the privileges of power when the last remnants of the shabby backdrop of “socialism, Castro style,” which is all that barely remains of the glorious revolutionary project, will finally fall.
To the surprise of the army of disinherited survivors of the communist experiment, the progeny of the historical generation and their accompanying generals could emerge, transmuted into tycoons and entrepreneurs, thus consummating the cycle of the swindle that begun in 1959. This is, so far, the most likely scenario.
Perhaps by then 60 years of totalitarianism would have elapsed, and eleven presidents will have passed through the White House, but until today, only one of them, Barack Obama, will have influenced, in such a defining way, in the political future of Cuba.
14ymedio, Havana, 21 March 2017 – This Tuesday, the Cuban government prevented Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White movement, from traveling outside the country because of an unpaid fine for for an alleged infraction “against public adornment.” Meanwhile, the authorities accuse her of having thrown “papers in the street,” which the regime opponent clarified to 14ymedio were “leaflets.”
Soler took advantage of the action to denounce the disappearance, this Tuesday, of her husband, the activist Angel Moya. “We consider that he is ‘disappeared’ because when he left the house he was being followed,” she detailed. “Today I am calling him and his phone is shut off or outside the coverage area.” continue reading
“This morning I was supposed to travel to the United States, first to Miami and then to California,” said Soler. However, after passing through the immigration booth and security controls at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, she was intercepted by an immigration official who asked her to accompany him to an office.
The official told Soler that they would not let her board the plane because she had not paid a fine for “throwing papers into the street.” According to Decree 272, whoever “throws into the public street waste such as papers, wrappings, food waste, packaging and the like,” will have a fine of 50 pesos and must “pick them up immediately.”
“Here, the person who owes the Cuban people freedom is Raul Castro,” Soler replied to the accusation. She claims that it was sheets with political slogans. “The fine is from last September, after that I went to Panama and the United States, so I don’t understand this now,” the dissident complains.
The activist was planning to meet in California with David Kaye, United Nations rapporteur for freedom of expression. Instead of Soler, the activist Leticia Ramos will attend the meeting
Last year, when the Aguilera Police Station informed Soler about the fine, she signed a document informing her of the contravention with an ironic “Down you-know-who,” and threw it in the agents’ faces, telling them: “I do not accept any inappropriate fines.”
Subsequently, Soler was informed that the unpaid fine could be doubled, and it was suggested that the police could exchange each Cuba peso (approximately 4 cents US) of the fine for one day in jail or instead not let her travel on Tuesday.
The activist was planning to meet in California with David Kaye, United Nations rapporteur for freedom of expression. Instead of Soler, Lady in White Leticia Ramos will attend the meeting.
“In the report we list all those fines that they assign to us inappropriately,” reflects Soler. “They are illegal and violate the Republic’s penal code,” a situation that is complemented by “the harassment, the threat and violence that is unleashed against our families, against our children and our husbands to try to get us to stop our activism.”
This month marks a year since the Lady in White was prevented from attending mass at Santa Rita parish, and also blocked from attending the Sunday marches on 5th Avenue, a traditional route that goes back to the origins of the movement after the repressive wave of 2003, known as the Black Spring.
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 21 March 2017 — Cubans know a lot about adulterations. For decades they have grappled with the “diversion of resources” [i.e. stealing] from state stores and the practice of state employees acquiring products elsewhere at low prices, bringing them into the stores and selling them at high prices and keeping the profit for themselves. Hence the scandal of the altered meat that involves two Brazilian companies has hardly surprised anyone on the Island.
This Monday Brazilian meat products continued to be sold in Cuba’s retail network, where the frozen chicken of the brands Frangosul and Perdix, from the companies JBS and BRF respectively, continue to be on sale. According to an investigation by the Federal Police of Brazil, both these companies adulterated these products. continue reading
In the case of chicken, the authorities have warned that it is more of an economic fraud, consisting of adding water to the product to increase the weight, without any risks to health.
In the case of chicken, the authorities have warned that it is more of an economic fraud, consisting of adding water to the product to increase the weight, without any risks to health
The results of what was called “Carne Fraca” (“weak meat” in Portuguese), confirmed the suspicions of those who warned that something “doesn’t smell right” in the world’s largest exporter of these products. Each year Brazil exports beef worth roughly 5.5 billion dollars and chicken worth roughly 6.5 billion. This business represents 7.2% of Brazil’s Gross Domestic Product.
So far, no Cuban store or market has withdrawn the Brazilian frozen food products. On the digital sites that offer a wide range of foods that emigrants abroad can order for their families on the island, Brazilian beef and chicken remain on sale.
The official media spread the news of the scandal, focusing on the possible repercussions for President Michel Temer’s government. The Ministry of Public Health did not discuss the issue when asked by 14ymedio.
Cuba imports more than 80% of the food it consumes. For 2017, the bill for these purchases is expected to exceed $1.75 billion, $82 million more than the estimate for the previous year.
Each year, more than 120,000 tonnes of chicken meat are bought in the international market, most of it hindquarters, also called “dark parts.” Alberto Ramírez, president of the Cuban Society of Poultry Producers (SOCPA), recently confirmed to the official press that “[domestic] meat production is practically zero.”
Each year more than 120,000 tonnes of chicken meat are bought in the international market, most of it hindquarters
In 2014, several representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture visited Brazil to inspect the facilities of the dairy and beef plant managed by JBS in Mato Grosso do Sul, with a view to importing its products to the Island. Another 25 facilities approved for trade with Cuba are located in the states of Tocantins, Rondonia, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Goiás, Mato Grosso and Sao Paulo
The United States and Brazil are the countries supplying the greatest amount of frozen products to the Cuban market. Faced with the lack of supply and the lack of variety, chicken has become one of the most common foods at the table of Cubans. Only the wealthy can afford beef.
“I came to buy a piece of top round steak,” said a retired woman at the butcher’s in Plaza de Carlos III on Monday. She said, “it is a luxury that I can only allow myself from time to time.” The meat on offer in that market comes from Brazil, according to an employee who preferred anonymity, but who, so far, had received “no order to stop selling it.”
On display in the meat case are several packages with prime ground beef, stew meat, top round and tip steak. No merchandise specifies where it comes from, but local workers confirm that it has been bought from Brazil. The customers look longingly at the display; meat remains a forbidden delicacy for many, even if it is wrapped up in investigations and fraud.
“Here we work with Brazilian meat,” explains one of the waiters at the restaurant next to the Riviera cinema, formerly El Carmelo, on 23rd Street. In their menu they offer sirloin, fillet mignon, fried beef tender and ropa vieja (shredded beef in sauce), this last a very traditional dish that is in high demand among tourists.
The select El Palco market, whose main customers are diplomats and foreigners living in Havana, is also “especially stocked with Brazilian meat,” points out one of the local cashiers.
Some 27 people have been arrested in Brazil, and Federal Police Commissioner Mauricio Moscardi warned of a corruption network inside the government that allowed adulterated meat to be legalized. That chain of infractions involved officials of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, to which President Temer belongs.
The main Brazilian meat producers added chemicals to meats that were “rotten” or unfit for human consumption. An extensive network of bribe payments purchased approval from the Ministry of Agriculture.
“They used acids and other chemicals, in some cases carcinogenic, to disguise the physical characteristics of the rotten product and its smell,” Moscardi explained. They treated the meat with vitamin C to give it a more “appetizing” color, along with levels of preservatives well above those allowed by health authorities.
Representatives of both companies have denied allegations by police authorities, but the alarm has spread in the international market and the companies’ stock prices have tumbled sharply.
“BFR ensures the high quality and safety of its products and guarantees that there is no risk for its consumers,” said one of the largest food companies in the world with more than 30 brands in its portfolio, Sadia, Perdigão, Qualy, Paty, Dánica, Bocatti or Confidence.
Cuban customers who are learning about the news coming from Brazil are beginning to connect the dots. “The chicken no longer came with the quality of before and had a lot of ice”
The Chilean Ministry of Agriculture announced, a few hours ago, that it would accept no more imports from the Brazilian beef market. Minister Carlos Furche explained that the measure is temporary “until the Brazilian authorities know exactly what facilities are being investigated, and of those facilities which have exported to the world and Chile,” he said.
The Chinese authorities have responded unceremoniously. The Government banned all such imports and prevented meat already shipped from being unloaded in its ports. Last year the Asian country imported 1.6 billion dollars from Brazilian meatpackers.
Europe has slowed shipments from JBS and BRF. This week the European Commissioner for Health Affairs, Vytenis Andriukaitis, will travel to Brasilia and the agenda revolves around the food scandal.
Cuban customers who are learning about the news coming from Brazil are beginning to connect the dots. “The chicken no longer came with the quality of before and had a lot of ice,” complains Luisa Cordoves, a housewife in Central Havana who says that “right now it’s better to buy the chicken boxes that come from United States, because the product tastes better. ”
She believes that the scandal will not dissuade domestic consumers from acquiring these products. “People have many needs and there is no choice: you take it or leave it.”
Iván García Quintero, Havana, 19 March 2017 — When the summons arrived for an interview with a police official, the girl’s puzzled family thought it was a mistake.
Let’s call them Kenia, Pedro, and Camila. They are neighbors of mine and prefer to remain anonymous.
Kenia was summoned to a police station on Finlay street, in the Sevillano District, near the State Security barracks known as Villa Marista.
“When I arrived, the man started harassing and threatening me, saying that I hung around with foreigners. Then he wanted to get information about Ivan García, ’a known counterrevolutionary that we’ve been investigating for five years.’ He wanted to know details about his private life, about where he got the money to repair his house. He also asked my opinion about his work as an independent journalist. At one point he described him as a ’terrorist’ and said that both he and his mother were ’conspirators.’ continue reading
“I was in a state of shock. I told him that he is a friend of mine and my family, and that if what he said is true, why didn’t he arrest him. The officer who interviewed me— young, hostile, and with a military haircut — replied that for now they had no evidence, but they were contacting people like me to collaborate with them and give them more information. I refused to be an informant,” says Kenya.
They were more direct with Pedro. “They accused me of giving confidential information to Ivan Garcia. I told them that I had been retired for four years. They threatened to open a file on me for collaborating on some of the news stories written by Ivan. At the end of the meeting, they warned me to be careful not to say anything to Ivan, because ’he might get off scot-free, but you, Pedro, old as you are, you could die in jail.’”
Without providing any evidence, they issued Camila a warning for harassing tourists and prostitution. “I didn’t sign it. But they told me that if I keep associating with Ivan I will be prosecuted for prostitution. I was accused of pimping and, together with Ivan, of controlling several prostitutes who, in return for money, offered information about their work. All that is a scandalous lie. Out of fear, I promised to delete Ivan’s phone from my contact list. ”
All three were warned that they would soon be summoned again. I told them that when they were, to let me know so I could go with them. If you want to know about me, cite me; it is despicable to intimidate innocent people.
In March 1991, four years before I began writing as an independent journalist at Cuba Press, I was detained for two weeks in a cell at Villa Marista, the headquarters of the State Security Department. They accused me of “enemy propaganda.” I was never tried, but beginning in 1991, for whatever reason, I was detained.
Then there was a period of less harassment until October 22, 2008, when at the intersection of Prado and Teniente Rey, a Colombian colleague handed me some books sent by Ernesto McCausland, a prestigious Colombian journalist, writer, and filmmaker (deceased in 2012). The Colombian and I were arrested by the police and placed in a patrol car. He was released immediately, but they took me to the station at Zanja and Lealtad and kept me in solitary confinement for 11 hours. I recounted this in State of Siege.
Two years later, August 2010, brought the first harassment by Military Counterintelligence. I was then writing for El Mundo.es/América, which published three denunciations, the first titled Citación oficial. Three years later, I would again be harassed by the secret police. On February 18, 2013, Diario Las Américas published, on its front page, “Las Américas Journalist harassed by the Cuban government.” Continuing evidence of this remains posted on the blogsite Desde La Habana.
State Security knows where to find me. They have my phone number and the address where I live. I wait for them.
Iván García, 17 March 2017 — On a wooden shelf are displayed two bottles of liquid detergent, a dozen packs of Populares cigarettes, a packet of coffee, and, on a hastily-drawn poster, a quotation from the deceased Fidel Castro.
Past 10:30 am, the hot bodega [in this case a store where rationed items are sold] is like a steam oven. Luisa, the saleswoman, seated on a plastic chair, tries to start up a rusty residential fan. In the background can be heard the baritone voice of an announcer narrating a soap opera scene.
In the bodega’s storeroom, stacked in random heaps, are 10 or 12 bags of rice, a half-empty container of vegetable oil, and several bags of powdered milk that the State provides exclusively for children younger than 7 years of age and for individuals who possess medical documentation of having cancer or some other grave illness. continue reading
Sitting on the stoop at the store’s entrance, two dirty guys knock back mouthfuls of rum from a small jug while a stray dog, old and ragged, urinates on the door. The monotony of the surreal panorama is broken when the saleswoman hurls a piece of hose at the dog to frighten it away.
After a while, customers begin arriving, nylon bags dangling from their forearms and ration books in their hands.
To all who were born in Cuba, the regime sells 7 pounds of rice, 20 ounces of black beans, a pouch of coffee blended with peas, a half-pound of vegetable oil, and 1 pound of chicken per month–and on a daily basis one bread roll, almost always poorly made.
This subsidized market basket, if consumed in small portions at lunch or dinner, will probably last 10 or 12 days. After that, for the remainder of the month, people are on their own. Housewives and mothers who, after getting home from work, must turn on the stove should be given prizes for creativity.
To feed a family requires 90 percent of the household income. Those who make a low salary (which is the majority of the population) have no choice but to purchase average to low-quality merchandise offered by the State. Those who receive remittances from family or friends abroad in hard currency can purchase higher-quality products.
The ration book, which was implemented in March 1962, is the reason that thousands of Cubans have not died of hunger. Although what they eat remains a mystery.
Luisa the saleswoman says that “for four months now, the rice we get at the bodega is dreadful. Nobody can eat it. Not even the best cook could make it better. It sticks, forming a sludge, and it tastes like hell. And don’t even mention the beans. They’ve been taken from the state reserves, where they’ve been stored for ages. They have a terrible smell. And you could try cooking them for four or five hours and they still wouldn’t soften. This is rice and beans that pigs would not eat.”
But Diego and María, a couple of pensioners who between the two of them take in the equivalent of 25 dollars a month, cannot afford the luxury of discarding the subsidized rice.
“I mix it with the rice that’s sold at 4 Cuban pesos per pound; it’s pretty good, and this way we can eat it. If you live in Cuba you can’t be picky. You have to eat what they give you, or what you can find,” María emphasizes.
If you go around inside any state-run cafeteria, you will note that hygienic standards are nonexistent: stacks of cold-cut sandwiches, fritters or portions of fried fish on aluminum trays surrounded by a chorus of flies.
The elderly, those great losers in Raúl Castro’s timid economic reforms, tend to eat foods of low nutritional value and worse preparation, just to lessen their hunger.
There is a chain of state-run dining halls on the Island that serve lunch and dinner to more than a half-million people who are in extreme poverty.
One of these facilities can be found in the old bar Diana, located on the busy and dirty Calzada Diez de Octubre street. The rations cost 1 Cuban peso. According to a Social Security roster provided to the administrator, about 100 Havana residents–almost all low-income elderly people–are served there daily.
At two steel tables covered with cheap cloths, three women and four men, holding their old metal bowls, await the day’s rations. “The food isn’t worth mentioning. A bit of rice, often hard, watery beans, and a croquette or a boiled egg. Sometimes they give you a little piece of chicken,” says Eusebio, a retired railway engineer who lives by himself.
A dozen people interviewed complain more about their bad luck, about having no money and being dirt-poor, than about the bad cooking. “Yes, it’s bad, but at least in these dining rooms we can count on getting lunch and dinner,” notes Gladys, a single mother of four daughters who receives Social Security.
A staff member admits that “it’s very difficult to cook well without seasonings and condiments. Nor do we get vegetables and fruits. On top of that, the administrator and the cooks make off with the oil and the chicken when we get them.”
In Cuba, what is bad, unpleasant and incorrect goes beyond food preparation. You can find it in the dirty stands that hold vegetables and fruits, in the sale of unwrapped goods, or the adulteration of standards for making sausages and weighing them appropriately at the point of sale.
“It shows a lack of respect towards the population. Anything that you buy in Cuban pesos is of horrible quality. It’s the same for clothing, hardware items or household items. In general, what is sold to the people is shit. Look at these bags of watery yogurt,” Mildred points out while standing in line at a state store to buy whipped yogurt at 15 Cuban pesos per bag.
Even when purchases are made with convertible pesos*, it is hard in Cuba to buy items of assured quality.
But Cubans, who must eat, dress and enjoy their leisure time by paying for it with the national currency– the Cuban peso–must make do with devalued merchandise. They are third-class citizens in their own country.
Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison
*Translator’s note: Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos, worth about 4 cents US, and Cuban Convertible pesos, each worth 25 Cuban pesos, or about one dollar US. It has been a longstanding, but as yet unfulfilled, promise of the government to move to a single currency.