Price Reductions on Food Items in Cuba Are Not Enough / Ivan Garcia

Price reductions in Cuba are insufficient
Price reductions in Cuba are insufficient (El Nuevo Herald)

Ivan Garcia, 25 April 2016 — It is a Black Friday of a different sort. In the United States the morning after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the Christmas discount season, where people wait in long lines to buy electronics, computers and clothing. But in Cuba on Friday, April 22 — a date when the military government has reduced prices by 20% on a variety of grocery items — there are no lines

As usually happens at Brimart, a grocery store in the heavily populated Tenth of October district where products are sold for hard currency, employees open the doors fifteen minutes late.

Seven people are waiting outside. Four of them know about the sale on chicken and ground meat but are only planning on buying their usual items, which in the case of Mireya, a housewife, consists of a kilogram of chicken thighs, two packages of ground turkey and, if available, three containers of natural yogurt smoothies. “With the 0.70 centavos I save on the chicken and ground turkey,” she says, “I plan on buying my granddaughter a piece of candy.”

Arnaldo, a carpenter, found out about the sale before going into the store. “I’m going to buy chicken, ground beef, cooking oil, detergent and soap,” he says. “With what I have left over, I’m going to buy two Planchaos (small cardboard containers with two quarter bottles of rum). The only way to disconnect from this country is by getting plastered and watching the paquete.”*

Among the products listed as being on sale, Brimart only has chicken thighs, whole chickens, ground beef and one-liter bottles of cooking oil. Shortages are noticeable. However, the shelves are full of rum, whisky, wine, beer, canned tomato puree and plastic bottles of vegetable oil.

“I was expecting a big crowd, but it is as slow as ever,” says Olga Lidia, a state worker. “A lot of  people are happy about the sale. It has a positive impact on the household budget. But the reality is that the discounts are on items sold in a currency to which a lot of people don’t have access.”

Rachel, a store employee, confirms they are waiting on shipments of a wide assortment of canned goods, cookies and cold cuts but, she notes, “according to the manager, they have not arrived yet due to the transportation problem.”

On the lower level of the Carlos III shopping mall, there are people eating hamburgers and drinking draft beer in the food court, while in the meat and cheese department a man with a furrowed brow is looking at prices.

“What sons-of-bitches,” referring to government officials, he says. “They lower the prices by a few centavos on ground meat and chicken — the food of the poor people — but beef, good fish and imported cheeses still cost an arm and a leg.”

Noel, an economist, believes this is new measure is a populist move. It is more a political ploy than anything else,” he notes. “They know how disgusted people on the street are. The price reductions they have put in place won’t even put a dent in the 240% to 400% markups on goods sold in convertible pesos. These twenty-percent reductions are a way to curb discontent.”

Although Susana, a professor approves of the reductions, she claims they will be of no benefit to her. “We teachers earn between 500 to 600 pesos (twenty to twenty-five dollars) a month. That is barely enough to eat on. The government should be thinking about raising salaries and lowering prices of household appliances,” she says as she eyes a washing machine costing 757 CUC, the equivalent of three-years salary for an elementary school teacher.

Gilberto — the manager of a market inside a store in the Flores neighborhood in Miramar, a suburb west of the capital — cannot guarantee that people will always be able to find the lower-priced items on sale.

“Because supply outstrips demand,” he explains,” and generally owners of food and hospitality businesses buy in large quantities. All this suggests the government reduced prices after taking into account its stores’ inventories.”

Selma, the proprietor of a cafe, does not think prices will be lowered at food service establishments.

“If the price of these foods stays low and the prices of other items are gradually reduced, then that might lower the costs for family businesses, but we’ll have to wait and see. In Cuba prices are lowered on things that are in short supply, like potatoes. They used to sell them by the pound and now you can only get them once a year,” says Selma.

In several of Havana’s hard currency stores, things have been in short supply for the last ten months. Chicken breasts, yogurt and domestically produced cheese are scarce almost everywhere.

Dariel, the head of business that occupies one floor of a building in the old part of the city, sees the glass half full. “They say that there will be ships coming into port loaded with food and other things to sell in stores,” he says.

It seems Cuba is always waiting for its ship to come in.

*Translator’s note: the “package,” a weekly compendium of foreign TV serials, soap operas, sports shows and films sold illicitly throughout Cuba.

May First North Korean Style / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 28 April 2016 — The First of May is supposed to be a day for the workers to demand better working conditions, and in our country, after the first of January 1959 it was converted into a “spontaneous” gathering of the masses to support the regime and not to make labor demands, all very much in the style of the extinct socialist countries.

This year, triggered by the huge welcome the Cuban people gave the visit of United States President Barack Obama, the Castro regime propaganda has reached extremes never before seen. The reappearance, on the public stage, of the now nearly forgotten leader of the Cuban Revolution, has intensified the veneration in the media of a person who already seems on the path to extinction.

There is now an exaggerated and constant cult of personality, linking to all kinds of cultural, sporting and political events with the upcoming 90th birthday of a character whom, in their heart of hearts, most citizens totally reject. But the fear used in our country as a dominant weapon prevents spontaneous and public demonstrations against him and ensures that, like the tame sheep of a deteriorating herd, acceded to the decision to impose an administrative tax to cover the participation percentage imposed in their respective workplaces, to make up a figure of 6.3 million citizens (out of a population of 11 million), who will show their support in different squares in the country, for a regime in a complete state of decay.

This is nothing more than the North Korean version of a Caribbean parade, appropriate for any witches’ coven.

“The opposition has not matured,” Laments Martha Beatriz Roque / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Martha Beatriz Roque. (14ymedio)
Martha Beatriz Roque. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 28 April 2016 —  Martha Beatriz Roque has returned from Miami after receiving a permit from the Cuban government in late February, which authorized her to leave the country one time. The activist was one of the seven former prisoners of the Black Spring of 2003 who benefited from this permit. She returns with a certain pessimism and a critical impression of the state of the Cuban opposition.

Lilianne Ruiz. You returned from abroad after permission from the Cuban government, which allowed you to make only one trip. What impressions did you bring back from your stay outside the country?

Martha Beatriz Roque. I come back with a tremendous pain in my heart about what I have seen there. In Miami there is the historic exile, who love their country, their fatherland, who talk about democracy, who think about Cuba constantly and who have a great nostalgia for the island, but this historic exile, unfortunately, is getting old and some of its members have died. Continue reading ““The opposition has not matured,” Laments Martha Beatriz Roque / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz”

Carriers, Tanks And Trucks, The Ways To Get Water / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

A tanker truck delivers water in the streets of Havana. (14ymedio)
A tanker truck delivers water in the streets of Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 27 April 2016 – Under the hot sun, while passersby seek shade under the balconies, one hears the sound of truck on Jovellar Street in Havana. It goes along loaded with tanks full of water, and as it passes the residents look out their windows and run inside their houses looking for a bucket to fill. The commotion in the neighborhood is reminiscent of holidays, but there is no music, no fun, just a water carrier selling his coveted merchandise door-to-door.

Idalmis, a young mother who lives on the route taken by El Primo, yells from the balcony that she wants to fill her tank. She asks him not to leave, that other neighbors need to store water in jars, pots and even a fish tank. It’s been months since the tanks in their homes have had a drop of water to dampen everything. Continue reading “Carriers, Tanks And Trucks, The Ways To Get Water / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar”

This Time I Reached Pinar de Rio / Somos+, Eliecer Avila

 

Somos+, Eliecer Avila, 26 April 2016 — The last time I tried to meet with several families in this province I was forcibly  “deported” by State Security agents, who told me I was “persona non grata” in the territory. It is very likely that no citizens had heard of the action taken against me, because today I noted the astonishment and indignation of many upon learning those facts. “You are welcome here and everywhere,” I was told by the wonderful people who welcomed me this time.

Obviously, State Security and the Communist Party do not represent the views of the vast majority of the Cuban people. I think they no longer represent even those of their own members. So they try at all costs to prevent the average Cuban from encountering the new proposals. This repressive and fearful weapon can delay the process, but never stop it. Continue reading “This Time I Reached Pinar de Rio / Somos+, Eliecer Avila”

Cubans on the Borders / Fernando Dámaso

Cubans are once again crowded along the border between Costa Rica and Panama. the Cuban government, as usual, blames it in the “Cuban Adjustment Act” and ignores, as always, the real causes: Cubans don’t believe in the promised “prosperous, sustainable and irrevocable socialism” and, even less, in their old political leaders.

The political, economic and social situation, instead of improving, has continued to deteriorate, without the appearance of any intelligent measures that could turn it around. Everything goes back to words, slogans, recycled speeches and empty promises, by the same “historicals” responsible for the current crisis and their national and international spokespeople. Continue reading “Cubans on the Borders / Fernando Dámaso”

The Cuban Spice Route / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

An employee selects and packages spices at Purita Industries. (14ymedio)
An employee selects and packages spices at Purita Industries. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, San Miguel del Padron, 24 April 2016 — The spice route of Purita Industries begins with the pruning camp a short distance from the production workshop. It continues in the room where the machine is, a heated dehydrator designed by a mechanical engineer that processes 200 pounds of plants in 24 hours.

Located in San Miguel del Padron, to reach Purita’s farm you have to cross the Güines highway and continue down Dolores Street “until you can sense the odor of the seasonings,” as a nearby neighbor directs.

The aroma of the spices hits your nose before you enter the little factory. They produce basil, celery, rosemary, chives, tarragon and garlic, all “one hundred percent natural,” according to the producers. They also produce dried peppers, peanuts and shredded coconut. Continue reading “The Cuban Spice Route / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz”

A ‘Bishop Of The People’ For A Cuba In Transition / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Juan de la Caridad García, the new archbishop of San Cristobal de Havana.
Juan de la Caridad García, the new archbishop of San Cristobal de Havana.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 26 April 2016 — After nearly 35 years as head of the Archdiocese of Havana, Jaime Ortega y Alamino, the only Cuban cardinal and a crucial figure in the thaw with the United States, has been replaced. Pope Francis decided to accept his resignation, presented since 2011, and appoint in his place Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez, Archbishop of Camagüey, a man who is considered a “bishop of the people” and who is connected to the world of missions.

In an interview by telephone from Camagüey, a few hours after his appointment was confirmed, Garcia said he hopes his episcopate will serve to increase the dialogue with the Cuban government, so that “the Church can be present in spaces that belong to it, such as education, the media and prison ministry.” Continue reading “A ‘Bishop Of The People’ For A Cuba In Transition / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

The Collapse / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Raul Castro, in the presence of Barack Obama, chides a journalist who asks about political prisoners on the island. (EFE)
Raul Castro, in the presence of Barack Obama, chides a journalist who asks about political prisoners on the island. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 26 April 2016 – In films there are final epics. Systems whose final moments pass between the sound of the hammers tearing down a wall and the roar of thousands of people in a plaza. The Castro regime, however, is going through its death throes without glorious images or collective heroics. Its mediocre denouement has become clearer in recent months, in the signs of collapse that can no longer be hidden behind the trappings of the official discourse.

The epilogue of this process, once called Revolution, is strewn with ridiculous and banal events, but they are, indeed, clear symptoms of the end. Like a bad movie with a hurried script and the worst actors, the scenes illustrating the terminal state of this twentieth century fossil seem worthy of a tragicomedy: Continue reading “The Collapse / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez”

To End Censorship / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The cover of “Censorship of the Press in the Cuban Revolution,” by Minerva Salado (Verbum Publishing)
The cover of “Censorship of the Press in the Cuban Revolution,” by Minerva Salado (Verbum Publishing)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, If the mid-seventies I had thought to tell Minerva Salado, then my chief editor at Cuba International magazine, that in some forty years she would write a book titled “Censorship of the Press in the Cuban Revolution,” I would have caused enormous problems for myself, only surpassed by that if I had predicted to her my current status as an “unofficial” journalist.

Unveiling the framework of obscenities and subtleties that was woven into the early years of the process called the Cuban Revolution in order to implement strict censorship on the media is a very complex task; what scholars would call “a multidisciplinary task.” Minerva knows this, as a writer, journalist and poet, so in the introduction she warns that her efforts “will have to address the documentary research, personal experience and memory of several generations of journalists and media.” Continue reading “To End Censorship / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

Danse Macabre / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 7.56.35 AM
cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, Florida, 13 April 2016 — The video has gone viral in the internet in just over 24 hours — between Monday afternoon, April 11th 2016, and the early hours of Tuesday night — it had been shared 42,000 times, it had been viewed almost 4 million times, and the count continued to rise exponentially. The images speak louder than words: children as young as 7 or 8 years old, in school uniform, contort in the frenzy of a lewd dance in what is obviously a Cuban elementary school. Around them, voices can be heard (their teachers or some other adult in charge of their care and their education?) encouraging them cheerfully, obviously enjoying the spectacle.

The kindest adjectives that could describe those responsible for this act are aberration, atrocity, perversity and depravity. Continue reading “Danse Macabre / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

The Repression Obama Did Not See in Havana / Iván García

Some 46 Ladies in White who on Sunday, March 20th, were removed by force from Gandhi Park and subsequently arrested by members of the Ministry of the Interior in uniform and plainclothes. (Source: Nuevo Herald)
Some 46 Ladies in White who on Sunday, March 20th, were removed by force from Gandhi Park and subsequently arrested by members of the Ministry of the Interior in uniform and plainclothes. (Source: Nuevo Herald)

Ivan Garcia, 22 March 2016 — Just when Air Force One landed at 2 pm at the Andrew military base on the way to Havana, forty-six Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) walked in file along the central promenade of 5th Avenue, with photos, placards with slogan against the autocracy, and photos of political prisoners.

Starting eleven months ago, every Sunday, these women take part in a march which always ends in blows, detentions and insults between Castro supporters, and the opposition.

Nearly thirty foreign journalists, accredited to cover Obama’s visit, arrived at the Santa Rita church to see what would be the olive green regime’s strategy in relation to the resolute Ladies in White. Continue reading “The Repression Obama Did Not See in Havana / Iván García”

The Obama Revolution and the Average Cuban / Iván García

Cubans waiting for Obama to pass.
Cubans waiting for Obama to pass.

Ivan Garcia, 9 April 2016 — Quiet has returned to the streets of Carraguao, a neighborhood in the suburb of Cerro. There are no more patrol cars, no local police or beefy foreigners who look like U.S Secret Service agents walking around and checking everything out. But two days after it took place, Berta — a fifty-six-year-old housewife — remembers every detail of Barack Obama’s visit to the Latin American Stadium here.

“When The Beast (the presidential limousine) drove by, the the excitement was tremendous,” she says. “People were shooting videos on their cell phones and chanting ’Obama, Obama.’ A pothole on my street corner that had been there for twenty-five years was patched for the president’s visit as if by magic. They painted all the houses and fixed all the streets. People now call him ’Representative Obama.’ In one week he solved more problems than our local representative, a dim-wit who can’t solve anything.” Continue reading “The Obama Revolution and the Average Cuban / Iván García”

Cuba: A Prosperous and Sustainable Socialism? / Hablemos Press, Leonel Rodriguez Lima

What does "a prosperous and sustainable socialism" mean for citizens who must wait for more than two hours for a bus? Photo/ HP
What does “a prosperous and sustainable socialism” mean for citizens who must wait for more than two hours for a bus? Photo/ HP

Hablemos Press, Leonel Rodriguez Lima, Havana, 16 April 2016 — It has been much-emphasized by Cuban officialdom that we are in the process of constructing an indigenous or distinctly Cuban socialism, prosperous and sustainable. But the phrase could turn out to be a hollow one, being that its realization continues to be delayed as time goes on without any concrete progress being attained to lend it credibility. This concept deserves some analysis.

Time and again there have been attempts to codify, at the worldwide level, a theory of socialism and communism. Hybrid models of the two have been tried, which have concluded in total disaster. With regard to our country, it is not precisely socialist ideas that govern us. From the start this process was distinguished by a strong Stalinist influence on how we faced the future, and whose political totalitarianism contaminated Continue reading “Cuba: A Prosperous and Sustainable Socialism? / Hablemos Press, Leonel Rodriguez Lima”

Fidel Castro Brings a Transitional Communist Party Congress to a Close / Iván García

Fidel Castro speaking at the close of the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in Havana in April
Fidel Castro speaking at the close of the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in Havana in April (AP from Info 7)

Ivan Garcia, 21 April 2016 — He is no longer the beefy guy in the olive green uniform with a Russian pistol in his holster who would give improvised, hours-long speeches in a public square or television studio until he became hoarse.

It was a stale, slouching version of Fidel Castro — his hair combed back like an elderly man after a bath in a nursing home and dressed in a blue Adidas track suit — who gave a brief diatribe in a shaky voice, a man decidedly brought down by kryptonite. Continue reading “Fidel Castro Brings a Transitional Communist Party Congress to a Close / Iván García”