Rosa Maria Paya Meets With Jair Bolsonaro in Santiago de Chile

Opposition leader Rosa María Payá (right), with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro (2nd from right). (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 March 2019 — Cuban opposition leader Rosa Maria Payá met Friday with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Santiago de Chile. The promoter of the initiative Cuba Decides asked the president for “support for the Cuban community in Brazil,” which is facing a difficult time after the end of the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) mission.

Also attending the meeting were the Brazilian Foreign Minister, Ernesto Fraga Araújo, who participated with Bolsonaro in the official launch of the Forum for the Progress of South America (Prosur), a regional body that seeks to replace the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), currently in crisis after the departure of several governments.

On Twitter, Payá described the meeting with Bolsonaro and his foreign minister as an “intense meeting,” especially in relation to “the specific actions that Brazil and PROSUR can take in support of the Cuban people in their struggle for democracy.” continue reading

Intense meeting with President @jairbolsonaro and chancellor @ernestofaraujo on the specific actions that #Brasil and #ProSur can take in support of the Cuban people in their struggle for democracy. 

Thanks for the solidarity. #CubaDecide #Ni1Más (Not 1 More) 

– Rosa María Payá A. (@RosaMariaPaya) March 23, 2019

“We talked about the conditions of semi-slavery of health professionals sent abroad by the regime, I appreciated his actions to end the abuse of Cuban doctors and requested support for the Cuban community in Brazil,” Payá added.

Last November, Bolsonaro, then president-elect, said that the Cuban physicians who worked for Mais Médicos were “slaves” of a “dictatorship,” words that triggered a rapid response from the Government of Cuba which began to withdraw the more than 8,000 health professionals it had working in the South American country. Some 2,500 doctors decided not to return to the island and accepted an asylum proposal from Bolsonaro.

I held a conversation with the Cuban Rosa Payá @RosaMariaPaya. She tells truths that I have never seen anywhere about the new Cuban constitution and the lifestyle of the people living in the Castro dictatorship. Socialism kills! [Video here of RMP speaking with Eduardo Bolsonaro, Federal Deputy and son of Jair Bolsonaro]

– Eduardo Bolsonaro (@BolsonaroSP) March 23, 2019

Since then, these health professionals have been in limbo with regards to employment and have repeatedly demanded that they be allowed to revalidate their credentials and have access to jobs.

Last February these doctors sent a letter to Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menéndez asking for support to restore the Cuban Medical Professional Parole program, repealed by former President Barack Obama in 2017, which grants US visas to health professionals who leave Cuba’s international missions.

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

The Final Act of “Cubazuela”

The then presidents of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, and of Cuba, Fidel Castro, both now deceased.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos A. Montaner, Miami | 23 March, 2019 — Carlos Lage, in December 2005, said in Caracas that Cuba had two presidents: Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro. “Cubazuela had emerged.” At that time, Lage was vice president of Cuba’s Council of State and the Council of Ministers. He was the number two man in Cuba by appointment of Fidel. The Commander had ordered him to release that pearl among the Venezuelans. The idea was, as always, Fidel’s, but Chávez agreed. Lage obeyed.

That meant, also, that Venezuela had two presidents: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez. Fidel was the primus inter pares. Fidel had molded Chavez. He had spawned him. When he received him in Cuba, in December of 1994, Chávez was a failed coup leader under the influence of Norberto Ceresole, an Argentine fascist Peronist, passed through the Libyan desert by the hand of Gaddafi.

As Chávez’s political muse was totally promiscuous, Fidel impregnated him with four Marxist slogans and dismissed Ceresole without hesitation. El Comandante was not a theoretician, but a strategist and a tactician who, at age 18, was persuaded that he had been endowed with a Greek profile as a premonition of nature, and exchanged his middle name, Hippolytus, for Alexander, after Alexander the Great. It was his first step towards the conquest of the planet. Something that was impossible to do from poor Cuba, so far from Marx and so close to the United States, but possible with the enormous wealth of Venezuela, especially with a barrel of oil around one hundred dollars. continue reading

Then Cuban chancellor, Felipe Pérez Roque, was entrusted with another task for Venezuelans: explaining why Venezuela and Cuba should be allied. He did it at the Teresa Carreño theater in Caracas. Fidel formulated the script, carefully read the speech, and made a few suggestions. No important detail escaped his meticulously manipulative temperament. The task that lay ahead was gigantic. Replace the vanished and treacherous USSR in the defense of the oppressed of the world. Fight and defeat the American neighbor, huge, powerful and foolish.

Raul Castro did not appear in the equation. He was the neat and loyal boy to run errands, but without greatness. Fidel fabricated his biography. He dragged him to attack the Moncada barracks, to the Sierra Maestra and to the Ministry of Defense, but he did not respect him. He pegged him as a mediocre guy, unable to read a book, someone to leave in front of the armory, but nothing more.

He didn’t like Hugo Chávez either. Actually, he couldn’t stand him. Chavez was just a gun to assault the sky. The ordinariness of the Venezuelan bothered him. His “parejería” (conceit), as the Cubans call the unfortunates who want to become “equal” to the boss.

In one of Chávez’s frequent phone calls, Fidel explained that, “sadly,” he had to hand over the relationship to his two trusted men, Lage and Pérez Roque, because the Revolution, due to lack of time, demanded the sacrifice of ties that I really appreciated.” Chavez, impervious to rejection, began to constantly annoy the other two characters.

In 2009, Raúl Castro, with the fatigued consent of Fidel, dismissed Lage and Pérez Roque, turned them into non-people and they left the game accused of being ambitious and disloyal. On December 30, 2012, Hugo Chávez died in Havana because of his audacity in having his cancer treated in Cuba, although they didn’t disconnect him until March 5, 2013, exactly 60 years of Stalin’s death.

As Alexander the Great was surprised by death at the age of 32, and shortly afterwards his Greco-Macedonian empire was undone, Fidel Castro almost died as diverticulitis took him down at the end of July 2006, a few months after he deployed his strategy in Caracas, and they immediately began to demolish his fantasies, although he remained (more or less) alive until November 2016.

Nicolás Maduro, the replacement imposed by Cuba, is drowning because of his plunder, incapacity and stupidity. Raul Castro, old and tired, has gone all out to save him, but, as is often the case, the two are about to suffocate in the turbulent post-Communist swirl.

Everyone knows that the puppeteer is Raúl Castro. They have been abandoned by the artists who came to sing to Juan Guaidó, Michelle Bachelet, the OAS, the Italian Federica Mogherini, Heinz Dieterich, Noam Chomsky and the sursum corda. All that’s left are some deeply brainless men without the least prestige.

The image of Venezuela is terrible and is leaving the Cuban regime without friends or lifesavers. The irony is that they conquered Venezuela by swallowing Chávez and Maduro and now they have become indigestible, as historians say happened to Alexander the Great after a banquet.

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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.

From the Left Wave to the Right Tsunami

The Latin American left continues to crumble, in the image above one is still president and another has been able to leave a faithful successor. Left to Right: President Morales (Bolivia) and former presidents Chavez (Venezuela), Castro (Cuba), and Lula (Brazil)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mauricio Rojas, Santiago de Chile | 23 Marzo 2019 — Ten years ago the Latin American left was in a situation unparalleled in the history of the region: never before had it been as influential or controlled as many governments as it did then.

Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Lula da Silva in Brazil, Cristina Kirchner in Argentina, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Alan García in Peru, Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay, Mauricio Funes in El Salvador and Fidel Castro in Cuba were part of a broad and diverse political family that seemed unstoppable.

By that time, very few could have imagined that just a few years later this great family would be in ruins and even less that a true right-wing tsunami could become the most transcendent legacy of the leftist wave.

It’s the economy, stupid

The fundamental explanation of the rise and fall of the Latin American left is relatively simple and can be summarized with the help of Bill Clinton’s famous saying: “It’s the economy, stupid.” The beginning of its meteoric rise was the triumph of Hugo Chávez in the Venezuelan presidential election of December 1998, and its context is given by the difficult times that Latin America experienced from the collapse, at the beginning of the 80s, of the model of “inward-directed development” that the region had followed since the 1930s. continue reading

The successes of the left were consolidated during the first decade of the new millennium with the help of the enormous abundance of resources generated by the export boom that began at the beginning of 2000 and ended during the first half of the decade of 2010. Then came the economic crisis, the scandals of corruption, the great electoral defeats and, in certain cases, like Venezuela, the dictatorial abyss and the humanitarian catastrophe, but also the emergence of leaders, such as Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, with a political domicile located at the antipodes of 21st century socialism and other variants of Latin American leftism.

The background of the leftist surge must be sought in the 1980s and 1990s, when the region experienced the harsh consequences of the collapse of the type of economy that prevailed for half a century inspired by a development strategy based on import substitution, protectionism and extensive state intervention.

The failure of this strategy, theorized and disseminated in the post-war period by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL by its initials in Spanish), became evident not only because of its inability to meet the demands of progress of the great majorities of the region, but also because of recurrent economic instability and ever greater dependence on traditional exports that increased the vulnerability of a development model that, paradoxically, had the great goal of reducing this dependence and the vulnerability it produced.

The debt crisis in the early 1980s resulted, first, in long economic recessions and then in painful attempts to restructure what were “greenhouse economies” dominated by patronage, privilege and connivance with politics. The consequences were dramatic: poverty increased from 134 to 225 million people between 1980 and 2002. In addition, that year recorded record levels of economic inequality: the regional average of the Gini coefficient reached 0.55 and the richest 10% of Latin Americans had income that was 14.4 times higher than the poorest 10 percent (data from CEPAL).

In Venezuela, to give just one example, per capita income fell by 28% towards the end of the 1980s compared to the level reached a decade earlier. In turn, poverty came to be estimated among more than half of the country’s population, something that is hard to imagine in the country that in the ’50s was not only the richest in Latin America, but one of the richest in the world.

The most visible and dramatic result was the so-called Caracazo, an unprecedented social outbreak that began on February 27, 1989 and lasted for a week throughout Venezuela, leaving hundreds or perhaps thousands dead in its wake, an impressive material devastation. No wonder Moisés Naím has said, referring to February 27 and its impact on the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez and the democracy that Venezuela had experienced since 1958: “That day Pérez fell and democracy fell.” And it can be added that, also that day, the winding road began that led first to the failed coup of then-Lieutenant-Colonel Hugo Chavez in February 1992 and then to his overwhelming electoral victory in December 1998.

From bullets to votes

The statistics and events just referred to give us the context in which the leftist wave emerges, particularly in its more populist and radical versions. The potential demand for leaders and movements that promised a rapid reduction of poverty and inequalities through redistributive policies was great.

In this sense, the charismatic leadership of Hugo Chávez came to give a face to a widespread desire to achieve better living conditions and more social justice without delay. The fact that the “eternal commander” could have practically unlimited resources, thanks to the nationalized oil already in 1976, to carry out his policies made him enormously popular, creating the illusion that it was enough the will of a messianic leader to liberate the poor of their painful condition, without putting the old elites in their place and challenging the power of the United States.

In this way, Chávez was able to occupy the place of redeemer and display the powerful attraction once enjoyed by Fidel Castro. Thus, the radical left could go on the offensive throughout the region, coordinated by the Sao Paulo Forum and financed by the petrodollars that Chávez used at will.

One of the most significant effects of Hugo Chávez’s rapid rise to Latin American left-wing stardom was a change in strategy by the region’s militant left. Instead of considering a guerrilla war or a revolutionary coup as a way to get to power, they now turn to the use of democratic electoral mechanisms. The means change, but the ends are maintained. And the result was undoubtedly much more encouraging than that obtained by Castro’s strategy during the 60s and 70s, at least while maintaining the large flow of income from what would be the largest export boom in the history of Latin America.

The leftist wave initiated by Hugo Chávez would consolidate with a series of important electoral victories. In this way, Lula da Silva and Néstor Kirchner came to the presidency of Brazil and Argentina in 2003, Evo Morales to that of Bolivia in 2006, Daniel Ortega and Rafael Correa to that of Nicaragua and Ecuador in 2007, and Mauricio Funes to El Salvador in 2009. To this wave of successes must be added, although they belong to a much more respectable and quiet branch of the leftist family, the victory of Ricardo Lagos in the second round of the Chilean presidential election of January 2000 and the one of Tabaré Vázquez, at the head of Frente Amplio, in Uruguay in November 2004.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

During this time — the first decade of 2000 — the export boom was taking off and poverty decreased throughout the region as a result of the economic growth generated by the export plethora combined with various redistributive policies. For the year 2011, CEPAL statistics report a decrease of 44 million poor compared to the figure for 2002.

In countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru and Uruguay, poverty was reduced by half between 2002 and 2012, while in Venezuela the percentage of the poor fell from 49.4% in 1999 to 25.4% in 2012, that is, during the last full year in which Hugo Chávez governed. The distribution of income also became more egalitarian and the Gini coefficient fell below 0.4 in Uruguay and Venezuela, which is something very unusual in the history of Latin America.

The extraordinary magnitude of the export boom was the engine of this rapid but, as it would soon be demonstrated, fragile progress. To look again at the example of Venezuela, it can be pointed out that the value of its exports increased 5.5 times between 1998, the year before Hugo Chávez came to power, and 2012.

This implies that during his 14 years as president Chavez had an income surplus of more than $530 billion compared to the average income of Venezuelan oil exports during the decade prior to his government. This was the abundant manna from the sky that Chávez used to consolidate his increasingly personalistic and authoritarian government, as well as to subsidize the decrepit economy of Cuba and spread the Chavista doctrine, 21st Century Socialism, throughout Latin America.

Then came the fall into the abyss: the value of Venezuelan exports decreased by 75%, some 70 billion dollars between 2012 and 2016. But this fall and the consequent collapse of the Venezuelan economy under the government of Nicolás Maduro was due not only to the reduction of oil prices. Of equal importance was the disastrous economic management that has burdened all sectors of the Venezuelan economy, including the production of oil that today is at pitiful levels.

Among the most dramatic consequences of the economic disaster have been thousands of perfectly preventable deaths, a poverty that according to the latest estimates of the Survey of Living Conditions (Encovi), carried out by three prestigious Venezuelan universities, totals around 90% of the population, and a wave of emigration never before seen in the region that already exceeds 10% of the inhabitants of the country and that, according to the United Nations, could reach 5.3 million people by the end of 2019.

The evolution in other Latin American countries was similar, but without reaching the extremes of Venezuela. In the case of Brazil, the income generated by exports multiplied 5.3 times between 1999 and 2011, and then, between 2011 and 2016, fell by a third. This was enough to lead Brazil to a serious economic crisis that reduced per capita income by 9% in 2015-2016 and put an end to the long cycle of governments of the Workers Party, which continued from the time Lula da Silva assumed power, in 2003, until Dilma Rousseff was deposed in mid-2016. In Argentina something similar happened and in December 2015 ended the long era of the Kirchner spouses that started in 2003.

Other leftist populist leaders, such as Evo Morales in Bolivia and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua — countries that experienced export booms comparable or superior to what happened in Venezuela or Brazil — have refused to relinquish power in the face of growing popular resistance and take the path of turning their countries into open dictatorships. In another case, that of Ecuador, the revolt against the populist authoritarianism of Rafael Correa came from within his own movement, the PAIS Alliance, and was headed by the current president Lenin Moreno, making Correa a fugitive from Ecuadorian justice for abuse of power.

In this sad way, in the midst of deep economic crises, serious corruption scandals and the rise of rampant dictatorships, the democratic path towards authoritarianism exhausted the capacity of the populist left to win elections by distributing donations generously financed by exports. Democracy was no longer useful and to preserve power and stay out of jail, only repression remained.

First comes morality, then food

The Latin American left is today, with few exceptions, in the greatest possible discredit. The kingdom of abundance and social justice it promised vanished when the vast resources of exports were exhausted and none of the great problems of Latin America was solved, quite the contrary. This refers in particular to the already traditional fragility of its institutions, which has been one of the great obstacles to achieving sustainable development. It is about the most basic thing: to be able to trust the authorities, the existence of the rule of law, protection against crime and violence.

The great resources generated by the export boom were used, to a significant extent, to further undermine an already fragile rule of law, distort democratic institutions and pay for the emergence of huge networks of corruption and crime.

These are the circumstances that today decisively mark the political course of Latin America, generating an increasingly broad demand for the restoration of those essential pillars of all civilized life: legality and decent codes of moral conduct. More and more Latin Americans have understood that things are exactly the reverse of Bertold Brecht’s famous phrase of  in the Threepenny Opera: (“Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral”; “First comes food, then morality”); first comes morality and then food. Without respect for basic moral norms or the law, there is no food on the table or any security to stay alive. Law and order is today the popular cry most heard south of the Rio Grande. It is not really about the left or the right, but about something much simpler and more vital: establishing the foundations of a civilized life.

The recent elections of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of Mexico (July 2018), of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil (October 2018) and of Nayib Bukele in El Salvador (February 2019) have dealt with it. The rhetoric may have been left or right, but in all these cases their great victories have had a common source: a massive protest against the corrupt elites and a desperate demand for protection in the face of the dramatic escalation of violence, illegality and crime these three countries experience. Triumphant candidates have been seen as outsiders uncontaminated by the existing corruption, and their great promise has been to restore order and the foundations of civility. Everything else has been less important.

Of course, it is not the first time that an outsider comes to power in Latin America through major electoral victories and promises to put the house in order and end the corruption of political or economic elites. It is about the classic ingredients of the figure of the populist leader: presenting himself as the true voice of the people who stands up against the selfish and dishonest elite. This has been the case, just to mention some examples, of Juan Perón in Argentina in 1946, Alberto Fujimori in Peru in 1990, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1998 and Jimmy Morales in Guatemala in 2015.

Now, the result of the exercise of power by these outsiders has not been at all encouraging, tending towards an authoritarian personalism that has seriously damaged or simply made democracy disappear. In the end, the remedy has been worse than the disease and in the present cases nobody should underestimate the risk of something similar happening. We will see what happens with time, but there is no doubt that Latin America is living more and more in the era of desperate hope or, to put it another way, in the era of the electoral lottery where no one knows for sure what he is choosing or what it will mean for the country.

From the left populist wave to the right tsunami

The most surprising thing in this context is the emergence, as a reaction to the economic and institutional devastation produced by the wave of the populist left, of a radical right led by an outsider who learned to use populist rhetoric against the populists and does so with total disregard for the prevailing political correctness. This is the new president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who comes to give a continental resonance to the political style of Donald Trump and who will have, given the enormous weight of Brazil, a decisive influence on the future of South America.

What has remained evident after the disastrous left-wing populist experience is the total collapse of the moral superiority and democratic legitimacy that the Latin American left achieved as a result of the violence and human rights violations of the region’s right-wing military dictatorships against whom they prevailed during the final decades of the Cold War. Today this is history.

The pro democracy and human rights farce has been unmasked by the dictatorial violence exerted by the leftist regimes in Venezuela and Nicaragua with the active or passive complicity of almost all the rest of the Latin American left. Today it is evident to all that they were against the dictatorship and against human rights violations as long as they were not themselves the ones who exercised violence in the name of socialism.

Moreover, the corruption scandals that have resulted in many of their great leaders ending up in prison or at the prison gates do nothing but complete the picture of a complete moral and political debacle. Behind the masks of populist rhetoric and the fiery proclamations of the Forum of Sao Paulo was hidden a multitude of despicable tyrants and thieves. They deservedly won generalized opprobrium and it only remains to hope that they do not cause even more damage than they already have, and leave the peoples of Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia to live in freedom.

At the end of the day, the result of the leftist wave seems to be one of those clever stories that Hegel told us that lead to an outcome that is the absolute opposite of that imagined by its protagonists. In this case, the most important legacy of the leftist wave initiated by Hugo Chavez in 1998 can end up being a tsunami of continental magnitude of a new radical right.

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Mauricio Rojas is a researcher at the Faculty of Economics and Business at Chile’s Universidad del Desarrollo and a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Progress

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.

Journalist Jorge Enrique Rodriguez Continues to be Missing 24 Hours After His Arrest

Jorge Enrique Rodríguez, a journalist for Diario de Cuba, remains unaccounted for after his arrest. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 March 2019 – Some 24 hours have gone by since the Diairo de Cuba journalist Jorge Enrique Rodríguez was arbitrarily arrested, and he remains unaccounted for, his whereabouts unknown.

The reporter Manuel Alejandro León announced that he received a text message from Rodriguez saying he had left on Thursday in an bus from the Víazul company heading to Guantanamo, but at 4 o’clock in the afternoon he was arrested at the police checkpoint at the exit of the capital.

According to Rodriguez, his colleague told him that he was able to make out in the patrol car that stopped the bus the State Security officer who calls himself Camilo. After that message nothing more has been heard about his whereabouts. His phone responds with a recording saying that the number is “off or out of the coverage area.”

Given the poor state of telephone lines and the poor coverage on highways and roads, that message may appear even when the user is really available, but given the time between now and when he sent his text, the journalist should have reached his destination in Guantanamo or be back in Havana.

Arbitrary arrests of independent journalists are common and are aimed at preventing or making it difficult for the reporters to carry out their work. This practice has been denounced by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) and the Inter-American Press Association (SIP).

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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.

Five Cuban Rafters Escape the Police on Reaching the Beach in Miami

An upturn in illegal arrivals is now expected because of the worsening of the crisis on the island due to the collapse of Venezuela, Cuba’s main ally. (Archive photo. Coast Guard)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 March 2019 — A group of Cuban rafters arrived on the coast of Florida at Sunny Isles on Wednesday, according to a statement from the Coast Guard. At least five rafters managed to escape the authorities as the abandoned the precarious boat which brought them to the U.S. coast.

A witness to the arrival recorded the boat bringing the rafters, from 162nd Street and Collins Avenue. When the authorities arrive the rafters had already escaped, so all they could do was inspect the boat and remove it from the beach.

According to the Border Patrol, the crew of the makeshift craft was made up of five people. Authorities have said they are investigating the incident and as of now they do not know the whereabouts of the rafters.

Since January of 2017 when President Obama put an end to the wet foot/dry foot policy that allowed Cubans who reached US soil to be welcomed as refugees, the number of arrivals on boats from Cuba has dropped significantly.

However, an upturn in illegal arrivals is now expected because of the worsening of the crisis on the island due to the collapse of Venezuela, its main ally. In January a group of 20 rafters arrived in the Florida keys.  All were processed and repatriated to Cuba.

In February, eight rafters who launched themselves into the sea from the south of Havana disappeared, according to complaints from their relatives to the independent portal Cubanet, while just a week ago, the Coast Guard rescued 26 Cubans in a raft that was about to be shipwrecked near the Keys.

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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.

United States Eliminates Five-Year Visa for Cubans

This change is a heavy blow for Cubans who use the five-year visa to travel to Latin American countries as well. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 March 2019 — Cubans will no longer be able to obtain a five-year multiple-entry visa for the United States; rather when they travel from the island to visit relatives they will only receive a visa for three months and a single entry, as announced on Friday by Mara Tekach the Chargé d’Affaires for the US Embassy in Havana.

The official emphasized that the measure has its origin in questions of “reciprocity,” given that Cuba only grants Americans visas of two months, extendable for one month and a single entry.

The measure will take effect on March 18 and especially affects B2 category visas for family visits, medical consultations, trips for tourism and shopping; these visas were previously granted for five years and allowed multiple entries. continue reading

This change is also a serious blow for Cubans who use the five-year US visa to travel to countries in Latin America as well, and especially Central America, which do not require a visa of their own to those who have the US B2 visa stamped on their passport. These countries include Mexico, Panama, El Salvador and Costa Rica, among others.

According to a press release from the US embassy in Havana issued a few hours later with regards to Cubans who already hold a B2 visa, “the five-year, multiple-entry B2 visas remain valid until their expiration date.”

Relations between Washington and Havana have deteriorated since Donald Trump’s arrival to the White House, as he has taken steps in the opposite direction from his predecessor, the Democrat Barack Obama, who pushed a historic diplomatic thaw between the two nations beginning in December 2014.

In January of 2017, just days before the end of his term, Obama put an end to the wet foot/dry foot policy that had granted migratory preferences to Cubans who managed to reach US territory, a measure that was met with harsh criticism within the Island.

In recent months, relations between the two countries have become even more tense due to a series of health incidents suffered by 26 US diplomats in Havana, an episode that the Plaza of the Revolution emphatically denies having organized.

After learning of the so-called “sonic attacks,” the US withdrew most of its staff from its Embassy in Havana and canceled most of the consular procedures. Cubans interested in traveling to the United States must now process their visas in third countries, which has greatly complicated the process.

In recent weeks the tension has escalated even more between both governments due to Havana’s support for Nicolás Maduro, a proximity that Washington considers interference. The Cuban chancellery has responded by standing firmly behind the Chavista regime and accusing the US of planning an armed invasion of the South American 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.

‘The New York Times’ Responds to Díaz-Canel on Cuban Doctors in Venezuela

‘The New York Times’ responded to Miguel Diaz-Canel on Twitter, insisting that it backs the report published by its reporter Nicholas Casey. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 19 March 2019 — The Cuban government harshly criticized a report published Sunday in The New York Times where 16 Cuban doctors spoke about how they were used in Venezuela to pressure patients and push them to vote for Nicolás Maduro in the May 2018 elections.

Miguel Diaz-Canel published a tweet Tuesday where he asserted that Cuban doctors “can never be defamed.”

Cuban doctors can never be defamed. Their
extraordinary humane work in lands that the empire calls “dark 
corners of the world,” belie the #NYT and its reporter Casey. 
Feeding Marco Rubio’s war of hatred against #Cuba and #Venezuela is a crime. #SomosCuba  pic.twitter.com/AX5TIjLpID

– Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez (@DiazCanelB) March 19, 2019

The New York Times responded to the president on Twitter, claiming that they support the article published by their reporter Nicholas Casey. “This type of rigorous journalism is the core of our work,” insisted the New York newspaper. continue reading

In addition, The New York Times  published another tweet reminding Díaz-Canel that the report contained the stories of 16 Cuban doctors who had left the island’s missions “who described a system of political manipulation in which their services were used to obtain votes for the ruling party.”

Cuba maintains more than 24,000 doctors in Venezuela who were joined by another 2,000 who were forced to leave Brazil after Cuba decided to suspend its participation in that country’s Mais Medicos program, after the election of Jair Bolsonaro to the Brazilian presidency, a candidate not liked by Havana.

Since the publication of the report in Spanish and English, the Cuban official press has launched a propaganda campaign on the activities of doctors in third countries.

This Tuesday, the Communist Party owned newspaper Granma  ran an article with the title “The truth or the visa?: The New York Times lies against Cuba and Venezuela. The article insinuates that the doctors who participated in the New York Times report are seeking to emigrate to the United States, which was subsequently denied by some of the doctors.

According to the official press, The New York Times  was preparing the ground for the reactivation of the Cuban Medical Professional Parole, a special program that granted refuge to Cuban doctors who escaped from missions abroad. The program was repeated by President Barack Obama in 2017. Under this program more than 8,000 Cuban health professionals emigrated to the United States.

“The perverse report from The New York Times only shows the photos of two of the 16 supposed doctors who informed the journalist (one living now in Chile and one in Ecuador),” said Cubadebate, another news site run by the Cuban government.

This Tuesday Cubadebate dedicated a Facebook Live broadcast to supposedly explaining live “why the NYT lies.”

Another official newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) also published “a set of works” about “the real work” of Cuban doctors in Venezuela “as opposed to the media manipulation issued by the American newspaper The New York Times.

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

Cuba Rejects US Decision to Eliminate 5-year Visa for Cubans

Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodríguez. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerHavana, 16 March 2019 — This Saturday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Minrex) rejected the United States’ decision to reduce the duration of the B2 Visa (for tourism and family visits) from five years to three months for Cuban citizens. The decision was announced this Friday by the US Embassy in Havana.

According to the Foreign Ministry, “this decision constitutes an additional obstacle” for Cuban citizens wanting to visit their relatives in the neighboring country. The Ministry added that this decision “is in addition” to the closure of the consular services of the United States in Havana and to the “unjustified interruption” of the granting of visas to Cubans, who must travel to third countries to apply for a visa.

According to Havana, the reduction of the validity period of the visa “imposes high economic costs on relatives for exchange in multiple areas.” The United States adduces a criterion of “reciprocity” for this change, since US citizens require a visa to travel to the island and the document is only valid for two months and for a single entry. continue reading

The Cuban Foreign Ministry nevertheless believes that “it is not true” that a criterion of reciprocity applies to this measure. “Cuba offers all the facilities for US citizens to obtain a visa to travel to Cuba, which is issued at the time of travel,” explained the Minrex.

The Trump administration decided in 2018 to evacuate the vast majority of diplomatic personnel from the US embassy in Cuba in light of mysterious acoustic attacks suffered by over twenty officials. Former leader Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel have denied the implication of Cuban intelligence services participation in the attacks, but Washington asserts that the island didn’t do enough to protect the diplomats.

“If the United States genuinely wishes to apply a policy of reciprocity, it should immediately reopen its Consulate in Havana,” adds the Ministry, which also calls for “resuming the process of granting visas and eliminating the prohibition of US citizens from traveling freely to Cuba.”

Since Trump’s arrival at the White House, relations between both countries are under strain. The United States has failed to comply with the migration agreement signed with Cuba in 1996, guaranteeing the delivery of 20,000 visas annually. Furthermore, the US has toughened the travel ban on the island for its own citizens, occasioning a steep delcine in the volume of visitors from that country to Cuba.

Trump has also threatened to fully activate Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which would allow suits in US courts for companies that “traffic” with properties expropriated by Fidel Castro in the 1960s, and has blamed Cuba for its role in the Venezuela crisis.

Translated by Carly Dunn

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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.

René, the Mattress Magician

Some mattress repairers have built electric machines that allow them to renew the wadding to fill the mattresses. (Revolico)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 19 March 2019 — His hands move with agility, looking first for the scissors, then the thread and finally the needles to close the long cut made on one side. He is not a surgeon or a tailor, but a mattress repairman who, in the middle of a Havana roof, repairs that soft surface where later a couple will be sleep in peace, a child will romp or a grandmother will rest.

“There are two places in life where we deserve a good rest: the mattress and the coffin,” René Puerto reflects philosophically, like the mattress repairman with more than ten years of experience that he is. “In the coffin we do not realize it but a mattress can help us really get our rest, or it can be an ordeal.”

Puerto travels the Havana neighborhoods of El Cerro, El Vedado and Nuevo Vedado announcing his services. “I repair all kinds of mattresses.” He has in a small truck with two assistants and they bring with them all the tolls necessary tools for their work. “We know people’s embarrassments,” he says. continue reading

“Most of the mattresses that I have to repair are over 40 years old but I have been faced with some older than 70,” Puerto explains to 14ymedio, Before making the switch to this particular job he  was employed by a subsidiary of the Ministry of Domestic trade.

Ten years ago he obtained a license to practice as a mattress repairman on his own and he no longer imagines doing anything else other than straightening springs, placing a lining, and stitching and distributing the filling to make the mattress firm and fluffy.

Puerto charges about 50 CUC for repairing a mattress and claims to be able to do it in less than three hours. “That’s if I do not find surprises like too many broken springs or part of the outer wire frame split,” he clarifies. “This work requires patience but you also have to be very clever to solve problems that arise.” He considers that “each mattress is a mystery until it is opened.”

“I was always skillful with my hands and during the Special Period I dedicated myself to upholstering furniture but immediately I realized that if repairing a sofa is almost a luxury, repairing a mattress is a necessity and even people with less money are willing to spend a little bit to sleep better.”

Puerto’s team works on the most common models and types of mattresses in Cuba: bed, cradle, the so-called “three-quarters” and the enormous imperial ones. “We can repair the ones filled with wadding as well as those that are partly foam.” Although he says he prefers “the old mattresses with good springs that are no longer sold in the stores.”

“The most important thing is the mattress framework because the rest is the filling and what happens is that those they’re selling now look very nice but they do not last half as long as that mattress that my parents bought when they got married a lot of years ago,” says Puerto.

During the 70s and 80s, buying a mattress in Cuba was an almost impossible task. Through the rationed market, a few units were sold for newborns and couples getting married, but it was such a small number that it could not meet the demand. With the opening of stores in hard currency, in the 90s, the sale of mattresses reappeared.

Currently bed mattresses are for sale  in the network of state stores at about 250 CUC (the equivalent of well over half a year’s salary for the average worker). The price in the informal market can fall by half but scams and adulterations are frequent. For many families, repairing an old mattress is the only affordable way to sleep more comfortably.

Juan boasts that he has taken the mattress repair business to a “higher level,” he tells 14ymedio. “Before, I used to do it on the sidewalk, in a parking lot or on a rooftop, but since I put an ad in Revolico — an online ad site similar to Craigslist — to work in peoples’ homes, I’m doing better and with fewer risks.” Before, he says, the police bothered him a lot because although he has a license “most of the raw material that is needed can not be bought legally.”

“Strong fabric for the lining, steel wire for the springs to be replaced and the wadding itself are not for sale anywhere,” he complains. “We do not have access to a wholesale market and we have to recycle and recover everything we can so as not to waste new materials, but in any case we lack the resources to be found on the street.”

In more than 20 years dedicated to the trade, Juan says he has seen everything. He relates that once a couple getting a divorce asked him to separate a mattress to make two personal mattresses. “The most difficult thing is when we have to work with mattresses where an old man or a sick person has been bedridden because then it has spots or smells bad.” Although Juan knows that in these cases the mattress can be a health hazard, he does not hesitate to repair it if he is paid.

“The day I suffered the most was when I visited my brother in Miami and several times I saw mattresses thrown in the trash, almost new,” he recalls. “I wanted to take them all and bring them to Cuba but I could not.” His brother, as a family joke, sends him pictures every now and then of other mattresses that he sees being thrown out on the streets of that city.

Other times unforeseen events are not so negative. “Once we bought an old mattress very cheap to get the springs and when we took it apart in the workshop we found more than 1,000 CUP in a roll.” The practice of keeping money under or inside the mattress (shoved through a gap) is common on an island where many continue to distrust state banks.

“We couldn’t even return the money because the mattress had reached us through several intermediaries and when we started asking nobody knew who the original owner was.” With that unforeseen treasure Juan bought a good electric motor to fulfill an old dream.

“Between my son and I, we created an electric machine that helps to renew the wadding, which helps a lot with the old mattresses where the stuffing has gotten hard in places,” he explains. “We give a one year guarantee and the customer can stay close by the whole time to see what we do and what materials we use, there is no cheating.”

Scams are very common in that sector, which is why Juan likes to act with transparency. “I had a good mattress that I inherited from my mother, she needed to change the outer fabric because it was stained and fix a couple of springs but nothing else,” says Marilú, a client who was the victim of a hoax.

“I made the mistake of not looking at what they were doing in the parking lot of the building, which was where they were repairing my mattress,” she recalls. “The first night everything went fine but then some balls started coming out and when I couldn’t take it anymore and I opened it up I realized they had exchanged all the original stuffing with sacks of dried grass and jute sacks,” she laments.

Now Marilú is saving to buy a mattress in the stores in convertible pesos and insists that she will try to take good care of it to avoid having to resort later to the repairers. “These people are like magicians: they can  turn an old mattress into a wonder; or they can change it into a pile of garbage.”

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

"The Person Who Fought the Hardest to Get the Building Fixed Died"

The shared dream of the neighbors is that by demolishing the building right there the new one is raised but most are already aware that this will not be the case. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 15 March 2019 — The residents finish removing their belongings from the apartments at the far end of the building on Rancho Boyeros Avenue that collapsed on Thursday, at the corner of Cerro and Colon Streets. They have been told the property is going to be demolished and that for their own safety should not stay a minute longer.

The decision came too late, after the building located in the Cerro neighborhood is already a mess of ruins and one of the 36 residents who lived in the ten affected apartments was crushed to death. Before the tragedy the authorities had decreed that these housing units did not meet the minimum security conditions and had to be destroyed.

“We had been asking the Government for more than fifteen years to repair the building but nothing, nothing happened with our complaints, we wrote to the newspapers, we went to all the offices that handle these cases but there was never a solution,” laments Julio, who is about 70, while talking to his neighbors this Friday under the shade of a mango tree.

The residents of the collapsed building try to rescue their belongings before the total demolition. (14ymedio)

Julio remembers that at dawn on Thursday he sensed a noise similar to the crashing of two trucks but when he looked out on the street he did not see anything unusual. “Suddenly I heard screams, ‘get out! get out! everyone!’, and when I opened the door of the apartment to go to the staircase, that was when I realized that I was looking at the sky and a few yards from my apartment everything had collapsed. I ran out and at that moment my only thoughts were for my daughter and my grandchildren who ten minutes earlier had left for school.”

Julio’s apartment suffered a deep crack months ago, big enough to put his hand in, he said. He called the government and they sent him to a specialist who “looked at everything and wrote a lot on some papers” but there was no further news of the matter.

“The person who died was my neighbor, a man who lived with his daughter and granddaughter, but who was alone yesterday. We were buried in the rubble.” The firefighters were slow to find us and I just asked Jehovah to get me out of there alive with my husband and my son,” Aydelin Medina tells 14ymedio while the firemen are removing her belongings from the rubble with a crane.

“We have been waiting for them to tell us something for a long time, to move us, but waiting and waiting and the building fell,” she adds. Yesterday, Medina slept in the house of a neighbor, although she says that the authorities have told them that they will give them some kind of accommodation.

In the group of neighbors who are waiting for the truck that the Government has sent to move their belongings to another place, there are only adults, including elderly people, since the children are in school at the time. In boxes and bags they have been taking everything out to the street, a small table, armchairs, fans, refrigerators, food. In all the coming and going a bag of sugar breaks and what spills to the ground serves as a snack for a stray dog.

The collapse of the property occurred near six in the morning, while the families on the second floor slept. (EFE)

The least affected apartments are those that face Colón Street but their occupants must also abandon them. A woman complains loudly in the face of pressure from the authorities to evacuate the property. “They are trying to shove us out of there, saying we have to leave now, but it is not easy to dismantle a house from one day to the next,” she says, while another neighbor answers her that at least her life was saved.

A girl arrives with tears in her eyes hugging the neighbors one by one. She is the daughter of Santiago, who died because of the collapse. Minutes before, they had been commenting that he was the person “who fought the most to get the building fixed.”

Julio explains to 14ymedio that on Thursday night they were taken “to a place beyond La Monumental where there is a villa with some small shacks.” He says that the authorities have informed them that they are to stay there “on a temporary basis” while somewhere else, they were assured, “they will build new houses” for all of them.

On Colon Street a group of neighbors waits for a truck the Government has sent to move their belongings to another place. (14ymedio)

Julio is worried about the fate of his family. “It’s very sad, we’ve always lived here, my grandchildren are in the neighborhood school and now how are we going to come and go from so far, but also other people who were there in the neigborhood, in the same conditions as us, they told us that there is nothing available there quickly, that all this takes years until it is resolved.”

The shared dream of the residents is that the building will be demolished and a new one built in the same place, but most are already aware that this is not going to happen. “Yesterday the authorities came here and they explained to us that at the moment they are looking for the place to build our houses but that there is no chance will it be here,” Julio says with great sadness.

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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.

Bogota Expels Cuban Spy Who Arrived in Venezuela on Medical Mission

Colombian Migration Agents with the Cuban agent expelled this Saturday. (Migration Colombia)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 March 2019 — Colombian authorities, on Saturday, expelled José Manuel Peña García, a Cuban citizen who arrived in Venezuela in 2014 as a medical collaborator and who carried out espionage work in Colombia, according to intelligence sources in that South American country.

Peña was detained by Columbia’s Special Migration Units of Colombia for carrying out “espionage work at the Palanquero air base,” a strategic installation of the Colombian military forces located in Puerto Salgar, Cundinamarca.

The investigations confirmed that he belonged to the Cuban intelligence and he was arrested at 8:00 pm this Friday in the municipality of La Dorada, in Caldas, near the military installations. Members of the National Police participated in the operation. continue reading

“He monitored and informed on the operations and movements at the Palanquero base,” said a source close to the case. “He had equipment that allowed him to measure the dimensions of the planes and the weapons,” he added.

After his arrest, the Colombian authorities transferred the Cuban citizen to Bogotá immediately and from that city he was expelled to Havana in the early hours of this Saturday.

“This activity was carried out under  Colombia Migration’s discretional powers to expel a foreigner from Columbia when they have information from a national or foreign authority that the person is carrying out activities that affect national security,” said sources from that organization.

Peña García arrived in Venezuela in 2014, in the middle of the exchange program for doctors between both countries. According to information obtained by the Colombian authorities, the Cuban served as a front to bring members from the island’s intelligence groups to the neighboring country.

In 2016, Peña García married a Colombian-Venezuelan citizen in Cuba, whom he met while living in Venezuela, and then both entered Colombia.

The expulsion measure prohibits Peña García from entering Colombian territory for a period of ten years.

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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.

An Open Letter on the Situation in Venezuela

Protesters in Venezuela support of Juan Guaidó on January 23. (jguaido)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio,  Ernesto Hernández Busto, 15 March 2019 —  Poor Venezuela! After having undertaken what it announced as a radical process of social transformation, a process intended to mark a turning point in Latin American ideology and guarantee a project of social equality baptized as “21st century socialism,” today the country has ended up becoming a despotic compound, where not only are the most basic political rights violated, but one in which a person can barely survive with a minimum of dignity. From the promised emancipation to compulsory destitution; from the dream of the continental left to the prototype of failure, despair and exodus: such is the sad journey of the so-called “Bolivarian Revolution.”

Given the serious political and humanitarian situation that Venezuela is going through today, we the undersigned, Cuban intellectuals who reside inside and outside the island, demand that the Cuban Government ackknowlege the evidence of the social and humanitarian disaster, refrain from intervening by any means in the political conflict of that nation, and withdraw its numerous “cooperators,” both civilian and military, who are working in that country. After six decades of a failed revolution, after the collapse of that “Cubazuela” celebrated for years by the Castrochavism, it is time for Cuba to stop exporting or stirring up conflicts in other countries under the pretext of ideological solidarity, and to ensure they can subsist with their own resources, without exploitation or interference of any kind.

Signers of this open letter

Ernesto Hernández Busto, writer; Ladislao Aguado, writer and editor; Carlos A. Aguilera, writer; Janet Batet, curator and art critic; Yoandy Cabrera, academic; María A. Cabrera Arús, academic; Pablo de Cuba Soria, writer and editor; Enrique del Risco, writer and academic; Armando Chaguaceda, political scientist; Paquito D’Rivera, musician, composer and writer; Néstor Díaz de Villegas, writer; Manuel Díaz Martínez, writer; Jorge I. Domínguez-López, writer and journalist; Vicente Echerri, writer; Abilio Estévez, writer; Gerardo Fernández Fe, writer; Alejandro González Acosta, writer and academic; Ginés Gorriz, producer; Kelly M. Grandal, writer; Natacha Herrera, journalist; José Kozer, poet; Boris Larramendi, musician; Felipe Lázaro, writer and editor; Rafael López-Ramos, visual artist; Jacobo Machover, writer and academic; Roberto Madrigal, writer; María Matienzo Puerto, writer and journalist; L. Santiago Méndez Alpízar, writer; Michael H. Miranda, writer and academic; Carlos Alberto Montaner, writer and journalist; Adrián Monzón, artist and producer; Lilliam Moro, writer; Luis Manuel Otero, artist and activist; Amaury Pacheco del Monte, writer and artivist; Geandy Pavón, photographer and visual artist; Gustavo Pérez-Firmat, writer and academic; José Prats Sariol, writer; Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, writer; Alexis Romay, writer; Rolando Sánchez Mejías, writer; Manuel Sosa, writer; Armando Valdés-Zamora, writer and academic; Amir Valle, writer; and Camilo Venegas Yero, writer and journalist.

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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.

Why Was There No Student Strike For Climate Change In Cuba?

A young woman shouts slogans through a megaphone during a march for the environment in Santiago de Chile. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 16 March 2019 — Greta Thunberg, age 16, is quiet and shy. The Swedish teenager resembles any Cuban woman of that age who has understood that the world is not the neat and clean place described in children’s stories.

Her concern for climate change led her to skip school every Friday to demand politicians take effective actions that protect the environment, an attitude that has spread to schoolchildren in several European cities and has crossed the Atlantic to infect thousands of children in Latin America. So far in Cuba however, no student in primary, secondary high school or university has joined the initiative.

But the fact that, last Friday, the streets of Havana and other cities on the island were not filled with youthful faces demanding cuts in carbon dioxide emission, or the urgent implementation of policies to save the planet, does not mean – at all – that Cuban children and adolescents are not thinking about these issues. continue reading

What it shows is the lack of autonomy and of rights that leaves them unable to express their dissatisfaction. Nor is the majority apathetic and insensitive to environmental issues, as adults often want to believe, with that nefarious phrase, “young people are a lost cause.” Nor is Sweden so far away that Cuban young people are not aware of the earthquake of activism being launched by Thunberg.

Through social networks, internet access on mobile phones and conversations between friends, it is easy to hear about the story of the young woman who stood for weeks alone in a square in Stockholm to inspire thousands of people throughout the world. Thus, at least in this case, the justification of misinformation or ignorance is not valid. Nor, in Cuba, is it a valid argument to say – as the official press likes to repeat – that we do not have the serious environmental problems “of the developed world.” It is enough to see the long column of smoke that rises every morning from the Ñico López Refinery in Havana, to realize the seriousness of the situation.

Beyond the excessive local emissions or the specific contamination of an area, the protests initiated by Thunberg try to draw attention to the fact that this is a global problem that concerns us all. Why, then, have young Cubans not followed the path of Ecuadorians, Brazilians, Mexicans, Chileans and Argentines who have joined the demand she initiated? The answer is not indifference, but fear.

Not one of the structures that include students and young people on this Island is designed to let them act with their own voice. The José Martí Organization of Pioneers, for younger children, the Federation of Secondary Students, and the Federation of University Students are organizations used by power to transmit down to the new generations, not platforms for representation, demands and pressure from those generations up to the authorities.

If the Plaza of the Revolution does not order them to take to the streets they do not do so, and, sadly, this “orientation” comes only for ideological purposes, such as protesting against the White House, demanding the release of a Cuban spy or participating in a act of repudiation against dissidents on the island.

They are entities designed to muzzle the voices of young people rather than amplify them. This explains why the example of Greta Thunberg has been met in Cuba with silence.

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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.

Peanuts, A Survivor of Economic Centralization

The police do little to control the illegal sellers of peanuts because many belong to very disadvantaged groups. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 13 March 2019 — Rebaptized as “Cuban chewing gum” because of its popularity, it is a constant companion in the face of the long lines at the bus stops, the days of agricultural ‘mobilizations,’ or the poor rations in prisons. The peanut, for decades, has remained the flagship product of the informal market, it has managed to survive the iron-fist nationalization to which it was subjected and today, when it is permitted to sell it from private hands, the product resurfaces but not without certain difficulties.

After the 1968 Revolutionary Offensive, when all the small businesses remaining in private hands were nationalized, few foods continued to be available outside the state apparatus and the rationed market. This legume continued to survive and continued to be sold on the black market from the hands of roving sellers until 2008, when with the Raulist reforms of the private sector, a good part of its sellers and producers were legalized.

The national tradition of consuming peanuts, embodied in the famous musical “maní, manisero se va” (peanuts, peanut seller goes), had to go largely underground. In a whisper, only showing a few paper cones while keeping the rest safely stored in a bag, merchandise was offered avoiding the eyes of inspectors and police. continue reading

“I’ve been sowing peanuts for almost 30 years,” Leopoldo tells this daily. He is a farmer in the Candelaria area who claims to have “gone through everything” with this crop. “It takes a lot of work and we have to be very attentive to pests but later it is sold at a very good price to nougat producers,” he says.

Soil preparation is vital for good peanut production and it should not be planted in stony areas. Its cultivation requires abundant water during germination, growth and flowering, but when it is time for the fruits to ripen they may have already become scarce.

“I have all my land destined for peanuts, but now I also grow flowers and beans.”

Leopoldo owns his land, which allows him to decide what type of product to sow, in contrast to the cooperative members and those who lease their land from the State. The State controls the products that must be harvested in each region and the farmers have to accept the list of priorities designed by the Ministry of Agriculture.

“In this area, most people who have leased land have to plant beans and vegetables to sell to the State,” says Leopoldo. “I went for the peanut because I can sell it directly, it’s in high demand all year and right now it has gone up a lot of price.”

“It is a product that does very well here and it is easy to preserve the seeds, but the drying process in the field has its complexities and it is a very important moment when the whole harvest can be spoiled,” adds the farmer. “Only when it is well dried is it separated from the bush to prevent it from being damp and having a fungus.”

Among the main risks are insects and worms, which feed on leaves. They also produce diseases such as the cercosporiosis fungus, blue mold and the so-called leaf spot, which can spoil an entire harvest, something that often happens with either excess moisture or with little availability of water at the time of initial growth.

In Havana markets one pound of peanuts currently costs between 20 and 24 CUP, the daily salary of a professional. However, few producers of nougat or of the little paper cones it is sold in by street vendors buy it from the stands in these markets, rather they are in direct contact with the producer.

The harvester sells peanuts at between 8 and 10 CUP per pound to the food producer who comes to the farm to get the crop. If the farmer is responsible to deliver the peanuts, he can ask for a little more. The price is unusual. Few agricultural products, with the exception of beans and pork, are sold at around 10 pesos per pound directly from the field.

“Once a month I go to the area of San Antonio de los Baños, where for years I have an agreement with a farmer to buy several kilograms,” says Marcial, a nougat producer who offers his merchandise to sellers in the areas of Centro Habana and Cerro. “My entire house smells like peanuts because we entered this business in 1992 and we have not left it.”

From those early years, Marcial recalls that “everything was illegal” and his wife and daughters sold the cones and nougats very quietly. “One day they confiscated all the production for a week, we were taking it to the house of a cousin who supplied other traveling vendors, when the police stopped us.”

“In those years we cooked at home with the oil we extracted from the peanuts, and we even used it as a skin cream,” he recalls.

Now, Marcial has a street vendor license and his wife has another license to make prepared foods, and they have expanded the products they make and distribute. “We have the typical ground peanut nougat, the another that many people like and we have added one similar to nougat with almonds, but with peanuts, that is in high demand at the end of the year and around other festive dates.” A weak point is “the supply of sugar, which is not stable, but we have also added products with honey to the list of what we sell .”

Family earnings range between 4,000 and 5,000 CUP per month, discounting the raw material and license payments, five times more than Marcial and his wife would earn together as engineers in a state company, which is what they were doing when they met more than 40 years ago.

The dream of Marcial’s family is to launch their own brand of nougat to the market, something that other entrepreneurs have been able to do, and even to register their brand and their recipes in the Cuban Office of Industrial Property (OCPI). But the tenacious manisero (peanut seller) thinks that he still falls short of that.

“The supply is not very stable because it depends on many things, the climate, the state controls on the producers, the transportation and the police searches on the road, having the plastic to wrap them in, in short it is an obstacle course.” Now he is designing a logo for his offerings and trying to add new combinations.

Although many vendors, such as Marcial, have legalized their activity in recent years, the peanut sector remains mired in illegality.

“Most of the peanuts that are bought in the streets are still in the hands of informal sellers, who do not have a license,” says an employee of the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) who preferred anonymity. “But right now the police do little to control them because many are elderly, disabled or with serious economic problems.”

“It’s a lost case because if you fine or stop all the peanut vendors in Cuba they wouldn’t be able to pay the fines and the police stations would be full.”

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

The Nightmare of the Special Period Impedes Use of Bikes as Transport

One of the places where bikes can be rented in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 11 March 2019 — Something is changing in the Cuban mentality toward getting around by bike, but too slowly. The ghost of the Special Period keeps citizens from perceiving the bicycle as a means of transport, an alternative to the bus, healthier and less polluting. And politics has not exactly helped.

Last November, a public system for renting bicycles in Havana began operating experimentally. But the Ha’Bici project, a joint effort by the Office of the Historian of Havana, the provincial General Directorate of Transport and the Basque Government, has just not become an alternative for residents.

“It’s too expensive, because the occasional customer has to pay 50 CUP (Cuban pesos) to rent a bike for an hour, while the subscriber pays 60 CUP a month, and those are prices for foreigners, not for people who have to live on a Cuban salary,” complains Oscar, a neighbor of one of the bike rental outlets in the historic district. continue reading

Tourists have been the main beneficiaries of the initiative so far, a Ha’Bici employee confirms to this newspaper. “Very few Cubans come to rent a bicycle and when they come it is because they want to accompany some tourist on a ride around the city,” adds the worker, who preferred anonymity.

In his opinion, young people are “more open to the idea of enjoying riding a bicycle without this making it seem that they are poor or in the middle of a crisis,” but he recognizes that “many Cubans still see a bicycle as a form of punishment, not as recreation and something good for their health.”

A study by the Health Center of the German University of Sports (DSHS) states that “people who suffer from the typical discomforts of back pain, or who are overweight or have other cardiovascular diseases could enjoy many years of good health, if they decided to ride a bike more.”

The countries of northern Europe are those that have best incorporated the bicycle into urban mobility. An appropriate geography, with flat cities, and public policies oriented towards sustainability and health have turned countries like Holland, Sweden, Germany, Belgium or Denmark into places where it is common to see politicians and big businessmen bicycle to work.

In Cuba, on the other hand, the memory of having to use bicycles to get around in the ’90s is too close for comfort. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the first signs of economic deterioration was the plummeting of public transport. Rather than wait for hours at a bus stop, many preferred to climb onto the saddle.

“I had never ridden a bicycle,” says Yanet Gonzalez, 44 , who lives in Alamar in Havana del Este tells 14ymedio. “When I was a girl, only the boys used them and in my family they thought that a woman should not be out there pushing the pedals.” When she finished ninth grade she got a Chinese-made bicycle for being a good student and her life changed.

“When I got home, my father told me we were going to sell it,” she recalls. On the black market, the price of the bike exceeded 1,500 CUP at that time. “That was when a pound of rice cost 50 CUP, so my family immediately thought of turning the bicycle into food.” Despite the pressure, Yanet refused to sell it.

“I learned to ride and I spent almost a decade using the bike to get around without being dependent on public transportation.” On two wheels she rode to the place where she met her husband, later they both rode on a bike to the birthplace of their first child, and when she decided to leave the state sector and go to work on her own she sold her first sweets, too, “from the seat of my bike.”

Now, Yanet is like those thousands of Havanans who have not touched a bicycle in almost two decades. “As soon as people felt that the economy was improving a bit at the beginning of this century, the first thing they let go was the bicycle, because for most of them it was something they did not use because they liked it but because they had no other option,” she admits.

With Hugo Chávez’s rise to power in Venezuela, the island began to receive large shipments of oil that supported the reestablishment of public transport in Havana, although never with the number of routes nor the frequency that had been operating during the years of the Soviet subsidy. As more and more buses filled the streets, bikes became scarce.

Roberto spent almost 20 years repairing cycles and fixing flat tires next to the gas station on Carrer Infanta and Lealtad. “I had up to 10 customers a day, because this was one of those streets where there was a steady flow of passing bicycles,” he explains to this newspaper. “With what I earned I fixed the house and even helped one of my children to leave the country, but about ten years ago I closed the business.”

“Almost no cyclists came any more,” he explains. “We converted this into a cafe, but I liked my previous work more,” Roberto acknowledges. He believes “Havanans fear the bicycle because it brings bad memories.”

Near his home is a bus dispatch point adapted to transport bicycles through the tunnel under the Bay to East Havana, but the frequency of the departure of vehicles has fallen a lot and when one does leave it is filled almost entirely with electric or gas motorbikes, but very few bicycles. The same scene is repeated on the boat to get to Regla or Casablanca.

In 2013, the authorities announced a program to promote the use of bicycles. Marino Murillo, head of the Commission for the Development of Economic Reforms, extolled the advantages of this means of transport for the mobility of the population and said there was an ongoing evaluation of “wholesale prices for the sale of parts for maintenance,” but six years later little has changed.

To buy a bicycle in hard currency stores you need more than 100 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos) and in the informal market the prices are similar, although the variety of bikes available is greater.

“It’s too hot to ride a bike and traffic is dangerous,” says Raunel, 29, who says he prefers motorbikes. Most providers of public bicycle services in Europe offer electric cycles that, if used in Cuba, would solve climate problems or the problem of riding where there are hills, but it would also be necessary to enable safe routes and raise awareness among vehicle drivers of the importance of respecting cyclists. “As there are no priority paths for cyclists, it’s the law of the strongest and we already know who is going to lose.”

The young man expects that in the short-term “they will sell bicycles at affordable prices, reopen parking lots and improve the situation of the streets,” in order to be able to get around on two wheels again. “So, as the situation is now, it is suicide to travel by bicycle, especially at night because there are areas that have virtually no street lighting.”

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