Bank Loans Do Not Fix the Lives of Those Affected by Irma

Following Hurricane Irma, which flooded part of Havana, residents tried to save their furniture and appliances by drying them outdoors. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 20 October 2017 — On a corner of Centro Habana an old sofa displays its swollen slats and next to it lie the paddles of a fan. These are the remains left by Hurricane Irma’s flooding of the area, the belongings of families that now apply for bank loans to recover, although the money barely covers a part of the damages.

At the Metropolitan Bank on Galiano at San Jose Streets, customers gathered on Friday looking for answers. News spread by several national media the previous day revived the expectations of those who lost their furniture and appliances when the fury of the sea covered the streets of the San Leopoldo neighborhood. continue reading

The vice president of the Central Bank of Cuba, Francisco Mayobre, told the Cuban News Agency (ACN) that, hours after the hurricane, survivors had been given loans totalling 28,700,000 Cuban pesos (CUP) “for the acquisition of material resources” for the construction and repair of homes.

The official pointed out that in one week, from 9 to 16 October, the total amount of credits allocated doubled “due to progress in the process of identifying the affected families, and through the intense efforts of bank workers to approve the loans within 24 hours.”

Mayobre also detailed that up to now, 9,054 loans have been paid out to people from the banks of Credit and Commerce, Popular Savings and Metropolitan. “The largest amount of money loaned out is concentrated in Villa Clara, Ciego de Ávila and Sancti Spíritus,” the provinces most damaged by the storm.

According to the current exchange rate governing transactions between Cuban pesos (CUP) and convertible pesos (CUC), the amount borrowed represents only 1,195,833 CUC (slightly less than two million dollars) and amounts to an average of 132 CUC (about the same in dollars) for each beneficiary.

The majority of those affected use the money to buy construction materials because bank loans have not yet been authorized for the purchase of household appliances and other household goods, although there are those who dare to buy other types of products with the money they borrowed, despite the risk of being subject to an inspection.

In mid-September, the government announced that it will finance 50% of the price of construction materials for those affected by the total or partial destruction of their homes after the hurricane. 

However, the products this benefit can be used to purchase are only those sold by the state, where the choices are few and supply is affected by corruption and diversion of resources (i.e. theft).

“I lost the kitchen counter because of the sea,” says Luisa Sampedro, a resident of San Lázaro Street, who laments, “they tell me that they only have floor tiles, so I’ll have to do it with that or go to the ‘mall’,” (stores selling in convertible pesos, which Cubans call by the English word).

A square yard of the tiles that Sampedro needs for his counter costs about 20 CUC in the hardware stores that sell in convertible pesos, so a loan from the bank is only enough to buy fewer than seven square meters. “It’s not enough money,” he says.

It was recently announced that the European Commission has approved a $826,000 project to repair damaged houses in the municipality of Yaguajay, but Sampedro does not believe that he will benefit from the initiative to be implemented by the United Nations Development Program UNDP).

“There are too many people with problems,” he says. “I live in a low lying area where there is a lot of humidity and I have to cover the walls halfway up in tile,” he says. He has not yet decided whether to go to the bank to apply for a loan and can not do so until he has been accepted as an applicant, a long and tortuous process.

An employee of the banking branch at Galiano and San José Street told 14ymedio that “work groups have been formed for the victims in each People’s Council” area. Those affected in San Leopoldo should go to an office on Dragones street to request that an inspector visit their home and prepare a “technical file.”

“From there the process begins and here in the bank we can grant the loan,” emphasizes the worker.

The bank is the last step of a broad working group that dictates who is a victim. The loans that are given to these people charge 2.5% interest and do not require guarantors.

Meanwhile, some of those affected by the hurricane are desperate for the state to begin officially granting credit for the purchase of appliances and other household items.

A few yards from the house of Luisa Sampedro, a family shelters their old Soviet-made Aurika brand washing machine from the sun. “We spent days and days seeing if we could manage to fix it,” says the owner of the house. The woman insists that she cannot afford to acquire a new machine.

In state stores a semi-automatic washing machine is around 250 CUC and the most sophisticated can exceed 600. “I can’t ask for a bank loan to pay that,” explains the Havanan. “The only thing left is to see if I can repair the machine myself or to pay a mechanic to see what he can do.”

Children play hide and seek around the metal casing. From time to time the grandmother of the family asks a neighbor if he knows where the social workers are who are “writing down the effects. Her dream is to get the loan in her name. “I have only a few years left and no one is going to charge me on the other side,” she said.

Paladar 1800 Resurges After Owner Released from Prison

Tripadvisor rates Paladar 1800 as “excellent”. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Camagüey, 19 October 2017 — The historical center of the city of Camagüey is once again recovering one of its emblematic attractions, although it is not an old church, a park, or one of the many museums in the city. Paladar 1800 reopened after having been closed for ten months due to a police investigation.

Since its reopening in August a steady stream of customers visit the colonial house. No other Camagüey paladar (‘palate’ — the term used for private restaurants in Cuba) has a greater reputation and its state-run competitors are far from being able to emulate the variety of its menu.

Between the 23 September 2016 until 1 August this year, the restaurant was closed and its proprietor spent two months in the jail. continue reading

Edel Fernández Izquierdo does not hide his relief at having left prison and being able to resume his food service business, which has been rated as excellent by Tripadvisor. The small businessman was arrested along with 11 other people investigated for alleged economic crimes, but ultimately no charges were lodged against him.

The arrest last year of several owners of very successful private restaurants in Las Tunas and Camagüey, including the owner of 1800, was interpreted by some citizens as a sign of a government plan to put the brakes on the private sector.

The situation escalated to a point of uncertainty among the 33 private restaurant license holders in Camagüey, where in November of last year a meeting was convened between the owners of private restaurants and representatives of the government, together with officials from various state agencies.

At that meeting, the authorities reported that irregularities were detected in the inspections carried out in the sector, such as the presence of uncontracted workers in the establishments, delays or underreporting in the payment of taxes to the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT), illegal construction, and trade in unauthorized merchandise.

Jesús Polo Vázquez, Economic Vice-President of the Provincial Council Administration, also told the official press that the searches and arrests were simply actions targeted to problems of “legality in the exercise of non-state management,” and that as long as the premises comply with established law no facility would be “unjustifiably closed.”

Now, Hernández Izquierdo is happy to be able to continue the business in his name, unlike other owners who were investigated and who ceded the ownership of their restaurants to a relative to keep them open. This is the case with the restaurant La Herradura in the Villa Mariana neighborhood, whose previous owner, Papito Rizo, was also arrested.

Hernández Izquierdo resumed his business after spending two months in Cerámica Roja prison in Camagüey and the police investigation, which ultimately never went to court, continued after his release.

Since its reopening the Hernandez Izquierdo’s restaurant does not have “half of the drinks” it had available before because during the police search some of the bottles were seized and that still have not been returned, although the owner does not give up the dream that someday he will know “what became of them.”

Outside, under the intense October sun, a tourist guide explained to a group of Canadians this weekend that 1800 serves the best Cuban food in the area. One of the visitors was also interested in the architecture of the large house on Plaza San Juan de Dios, the tourist heart of the city.

The paladar is visited mainly by foreign tourists and Cubans living abroad, but there are local diners who come looking for quality and good service.

Hernández Izquierdo is licensed as a “food and beverage vendor” to work in the hospitality industry.

The limits of the license are strict and Hernandez Izquierdo does not even want to know about exceeding what he is allowed. “If I want to have a man here to make cigars to sell them that is not allowed, among other things because there is no such license,” reflects the owner.

Local authorities have redoubled inspections in recent months to ensure strict compliance with the rules governing the operation of these premises. None can have more than 50 chairs, they must respect the defined opening and closing hours, and be supplied exclusively by products bought in the state stores – backed up by invoices – according to what several owners consulted by this newspaper have confirmed.

Last August, the Cuban government temporarily halted the issuing of licenses to private restaurants and rental houses for tourists, among other activities, in order to “regulate self-employment.” So far the issuance of these permits has not been resumed

Edel Hernández Izquierdo plans to “forget the negative moments” and to return to position himself in Camagüey as a prestigious restaurant. “It is no coincidence that we are well recommended in all the guides and by all travel agencies,” he says with pride. “To keep the name and to make up the lost time, that is my goal.”

“We will continue to serve and generate employment, despite the misunderstandings we are subject to,” confirms the owner of 1800. He smiles and adds, “I like what I do and I will continue to fight.”

UN And EU Allocate $826,000 To Repair Homes In Cuba Destroyed By Hurricane Irma

House destroyed in Caibarién by Hurricane Irma. (Pedry Roxana)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 October 2017 — The European Commission has approved a project of 700,000 euros to repair damaged houses in the municipality of Yaguajay after the passage of powerful hurricane Irma, which ravaged Cuba between 7 and 10 September. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) will be responsible for reconstruction work on the ground with the budget provided by the European Union (EU).

“About 8,000 most affected Cubans in the municipality of Yaguajay, Sancti Spíritus province, will get help to recover from the devastating storm by restoring their homes and living conditions,” the UNDP said in a statement on Wednesday. continue reading

The initiative will also “contribute to strengthening the local capacities to withstand recurrent disasters due to extreme weather,” such as Hurricane Irma, category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, whose winds of up to 130 mph and heavy rains left 10 people dead and 14,657 homes destroyed. The UNDP’s goal is to make hurricane-resistant repairs through the use of locally produced materials.

Hurricane Irma also completely destroyed the roofs of 23,560 houses, while another 103,691 roofs suffered partial damage. The EU and UN program intends for brigades specialized in the laying of roofs to be responsible for rebuilding these affected homes.

“The project will also pay special attention to groups of families and people in conditions of greater vulnerability,” explained Soledad Bauza, Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP in Cuba.

This EU economic contribution to post-hurricane reconstruction is in addition to the $2.5 million the UN has already provided through Emergency Response Funds. Previously, $500,000 was allocated to buy tarps, mattresses, roofing and equipment for the local production of construction materials to help the victims of Irma from Villa Clara to Camaguey.

The international aid will ease slightly the housing shortage in Cuba, which continues to worsen, according to the report of the National Defense Council published in late September, which estimates that 158,554 homes were affected by the hurricane on the island, around 4% of the homes in the country.

By the end of 2016, there was a deficit of more than 880,000 housing units on the island and part of the housing supply was deteriorating and with “critical” problems, especially in cities such as Havana and Santiago de Cuba, according to reports presented to the National Assembly.

Hurricane Irma Damaged Around 4% Of Cuba’s Already Deficient Housing Supply

The cities of Havana and Santiago de Cuba have the most deteriorated housing supply. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 September 2017 — The situation of Cuba’s housing supply deficit continues to worsen, according to a preliminary report by the National Defense Council published Friday, which counts 158,554 homes affected by Hurricane Irma on the island, a figure that represents around 4% of the total housing supply in the country.

The powerful storm left 10 dead, destroyed 14,657 homes and left another 23,560 homeless, as well as 103,691 homes partially damaged.

So far, 11,689 people remain under state protection in evacuation centers where they receive food and other basic necessities, although the report did not specify the number of evacuees that are staying in the homes of relatives or neighbors. continue reading

The largest number of houses destroyed or seriously damaged by the hurricane is concentrated in the provinces of Havana, Matanzas, Villa Clara, Sancti Spíritus, Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey as well as Las Tunas, Holguín and Guantanamo.

Between September 7 and 10 Irma passed along the island’s north coast with hurricane winds of up to 130 mph and heavy rains that affected 13 of the 15 provinces in the country.

At the end of 2016, there was already a housing deficit on the island of more than 880,000 units and a large part of the housing supply was deteriorating and with “critical” problems, especially in cities such as Havana and Santiago de Cuba, according to reports presented to the National Assembly.

The National Defense Council also reported that the national electrical system, which suffered serious damage, has been almost completely restored, and that 99.9% of consumers already benefit from the repair of this service. Nevertheless, the provinces of Villa Clara, Sancti Spíritus, Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey are still suffering damages.

Not everything is bad news after the hurricane, because thanks to the rains produced by the storm the reservoirs of the island now contain 6.302 million cubic meters of water, which means that they are now at 68.4% of their capacity, easing the drought that the island has been suffering for several years.

José Martí from New York, Without a Visa and With Mistakes

The equestrian statue of the Cuban hero José Martí, that has been living in Central Park in New York since 1950, has a replica in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 October 2017 – We see him leaning over, a lost look in his eyes. He is mortally wounded and the bronze captures the second that separates him from immortality. The replica of the José Martí statue that has been in New York’s Central Park since 1950, now has a place in Havana. On Thursday afternoon, under an intensely blue sky, we can see his contours sparkling and the pedestal shine. Also noteworthy are the unpardonable mistakes on the commemorative plaque.

On the commemorative plaque of the monument of José Martí there are two spelling mistakes. (14ymedio)

City is spelled ”cuidad”– similar to the word for “care” – instead of “ciudad.” Nacío – an ugly attempt at “he was born” – misplaces the accent and almost flirts with “I was born,” but in fact is not a word at all. These are two of the “pearls” carved into the shining black granite that, as of this week, thousands of Cubans and foreign visitors will read on the monument. The devils of misspelling and lack of grammatical rigor have played a trick on the man who loved words and cultivated them with a venerable passion. continue reading

More than fifteen feet high and weighing three tons, the piece has been placed a few steps from the old presidential palace. Its lovely lines are a copy of the work conceived by the sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington that stands in a small area at the southern end of the New York City park, along with monuments to Simón Bolívar and José de San Martín.

The mistake-plagued inscription on the Havana piece – no one has clarified whether it came with the statue or is a local production – is an insult to the poet of Versos Sencillos, Simple Verses. To write on a piece of paper a phrase that has not been carefully reviewed is one thing, but to sculpt it in stone is to make a monument to improvisation and to display a huge disdain for the language.

Some will say that they are only small details, but a graduate in Philosophy and Literature deserves – at the very least – that a good editor check his lines.

Nor does the equestrian statue come at an easy time. Forged in Philadelphia, it was carried to the Island in the midst of a growing escalation of tensions with the United States. The figure that should represent the confluence between two nations, as Martí did during his life, is now a reminder of a diplomatic meltdown that fell short and of a time that was irretrievably lost.

A man in a United States flag T-shirt gave the finishing touches to the monument in Havana. (14ymedio)

Thus, during its placement there was no lack of jokes from the nearest neighbors about whether the man we Cubans call the “Apostle” had asked for a visa to enter the country. The humor never fails, nor the sad jest that evokes the difficulties that Cubans currently face to travel to their northern neighbor, after the scandal of acoustic attacks about which there are more questions than certainties.

As an irony of life, one of the workers who finished some details around the monument proudly displayed a T-shirt with the banner of stars and stripes. As with the spelling mistakes, no one saw it, no official came to check on what was going on.

Dozens Of Cuban Doctors In Brazil Fight To Escape From Havana’s Control

Some Cuban doctors working for low stipends in Brazil complain that with all the money they’ve earned for the Cuban government they could have paid for their medical studies several times over.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 19 October 2017 — Ruber Hidalgo has traveled to five countries in recent years, an uncommon record for a Cuban doctor whose salary, in Cuba, was about $40 a month. Hidalgo is a specialist in integrated general medicine and has participated in four missions abroad organized by the Cuban Government.

The doctor says that he has lost the illusions of the first years after coming to realize he had become “a slave” of the Cuban government and that he needs to live his life “independently.” continue reading

The doctor is one of the dozens of doctors trying to break away from the tripartite agreement with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the Cuban Ministry of Health, and its counterpart in Brazil through which the island has more than 11,000 doctors stationed on Brazilian soil.

The professionals are trying to leave the tripartite agreement with the Pan American Health Organization, the Ministry of Health of Cuba and its counterpart in Brazil, through which the Island has more than 11,000 doctors in Brazil

“Pakistan, Haiti, Venezuela, Bolivia and then Brazil. In all these countries I have been in risky situations, in the midst of earthquakes and epidemics. I have done what Cuba and the governments of the places where they have sent me would have me do, but now I want them to let me be free,” says Hidalgo.

The doctor currently lives in the state of Maranhao, in the northeast of Brazil, one of the poorest in the country, but is now part of a “silent revolution” that is shaking up the Cuban physicians. According to Brazilian lawyer André De Santana Correa, who represents 80 doctors from the island, including Hidalgo, “the cooperation agreements signed by Rousseff’s Government, mediated by PAHO, violate the principle of isonomy [equality before the law] and the social dignity of work.”

Doctors from other countries can be hired directly by the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) program and receive a full salary. In the case of Cubans they require PAHO mediation and the money paid by Brazil goes directly to the Cuban Government, which in turn distributes only a part of it in the form of stipends to the doctors.

De Santana is optimistic about the possibility of winning the legal battle that allows Cubans to obtain the maximum benefits of the Mais Médicos program. “There are no official figures for the number of physicians who are filing appeals at court, but there are at least 154,” he explains to 14ymedio.

“The main obstacles we face are the issues of judicial power, and the question of the budget which also affects justice, but there is a good chance of winning,” he says.

Cuban medical missions are the primary source of income for the Havana government. Cuba exports the work of its doctors to 62 countries and charges about 10 billion dollars each year for health services. Less than a third of the salaries specified by contracts goes into the pockets of the doctors, leading this work structure to be considered “modern slavery” by labor rights advocates.

In Brazil, the Mais Médicos program, established during the presidency of Dilma Rousseff, allowed 11,400 Cuban doctors to provide their services in difficult areas of the country. Brasilia pays Havana, through the Pan American Health Organization, about $3,300 a month for each physician, while the doctor receives only 2,976 reales (about 900 dollars).

“Not only do they steal our salary, but they also took most of the money the Brazilian government provides as an allowance when we arrive from Cuba so that we can furnish the place where we are going to live,” Hidalgo explains. Brazil paid $3,000 to $9,000 for each foreign doctor to get settled in housing, but of that the Cuban government only passes on $1,261 to the doctors.

Brasilia pays Havana, through the Pan American Health Organization, about $3,300 a month for each physician, while the doctor receives only $900

In 2016, Hidalgo decided to leave the Cuban medical mission despite the reprisals from the Cuban government. Since then he has worked caring for livestock and peddling, while he is in the process of revalidating his title in Brazil and pursuing litigation in the courts to allow him to participate in the Mais Médicos program independently, without PAHO mediation.

“When Cuba finds out that you are engaging in a judicial process to get out from under the PAHO guardianship, they immediately send a medical mission coordinator to your house. That person does not give you anything in writing, but tells you that if you do not return to the island within 24 hours you will not be able to do so for eight years and you immediately become a deserter and a traitor,” explains Hidalgo. In 2015, the government decided to change that policy and accept the return of doctors who formerly were classified as deserters, because of a shortage of healthcare professionals in the country.

One of the clauses that the government imposes on professionals in the Mais Médicos mission is a prohibition on taking the exams to revalidate their medical degree in Brazil, according to what 14ymedio confirmed with someone who had access to one of those contracts

Noel Fonseca and his wife, Diusca Ortiz, have been practicing medicine for 20 years and say that with all the money they have earned for the government, they could afford to pay the cost of their medical studies on the island several times over. The fact that Cuban doctors did not pay to go to medical school is one of the government’s main justifications for keeping the money they earn working abroad.

“The doctors have already given a lot of money to Cuba. In Angola I had a contract that paid the Cuban government $4,000 a month and of that I only received $600. In the three years I worked for Brazil, the Cuban government earned more than $100,000 dollars from me and let’s not even talk about Venezuela,” says Fonseca.

The couple is also in a legal process that allows them to enter Mais Médicos without the sponsorship of Cuba. In September they took a test to revalidate their titles in Brazil.

“When we decided not to return to Camagüey, a representative of the Ministry of Health in Cuba went to our house and told my elderly mother and my minor son that they would not see us for eight years,” says Fonseca indignantly. Cuba also cut off access to the public health e-mail system that allowed them to communicate with their families.

“In Angola I had a contract that paid the Cuban government $4,000 a month and of that I only received $600. In the three years I worked for Brazil, the Cuban government earned more than $100,000 dollars from me and let’s not even talk about Venezuela”

The couple, who worked in Arari, a city in northern Brazil, were replaced by a couple of Cuban doctors who immediately informed the PAHO coordinator that the deserters had received help from the city.

“They fired us. Cuba got the Brazilian Ministry of Health to demand that the municipalities eliminate any aid to doctors who left the program,” says Fonseca.

Havana applied pressure by not sending more than 700 doctors in the first quarter of the year and that had an effect; Brazilian Minister of Health Ricardo Barros cancelled the program in more than 49 municipalities that helped emancipate Cuban doctors.

“Brazil wants to help us, but the situation is difficult because they don’t have doctors to serve in the poor regions and Cuba uses this as a tool for blackmail,” explains Fonseca.

“Thousands of doctors have married Brazilians to obtain residency in the country and in the past many people escaped to the United States when [the Cuban Medical Professional] Parole Program existed for the doctors, but now that the Americans have closed that door there’s nothing left for us but to fight here,” says the doctor.

In February, the Brazilian government held a contest to award Mais Médicos places to Brazilian doctors, but while 6,285 doctors registered to win one of the 2,320 seats, only 1,626 showed up for work and since then 30% have left their posts due to the difficult working conditions.

Cuba’s Ruling Party Looks With Relief on China’s Communist Party Congress

The Cuban government sees a reliable ally in China, whose present Congress is a sign of continuity and stability. (EFE / How Hwee Young)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 October 2017 — When the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, with its hammer and sickle as the dominant element in the decor, opened in the Great Hall of Peking in Beijing, the Cuban government breathed a sigh of relief. Havana is betting that the partisan meeting guarantees the continuity of the system in the Asian giant and puts the power of the United States against the ropes.

Raul Castro’s government needs the Chinese Party’s conclave to consolidate Beijing’s leading role internationally and for “the Chinese solution” to renew the air of the communist utopia in the face of the “advance of neoliberalism.” The motto of Chinese President Xi Jinping, “a modestly affluent society,” is reflected in the version here of “a prosperous and sustainable socialism.” continue reading

With these expectations, national orthodoxy felt at ease with the opening speech of Xi Jinping, who proclaimed to 2,300 delegates that in the next five years they will continue the same policies as in his first five-year term, although more markedly so, and that there will be no space for divergence.

This last point is reassuring to the island’s Government, which has copied many of the Chinese repressive methods, especially those related to internet control, censorship of digital sites, and creating a large army of cyber cops to control or influence the opinions of the internauts.

The island’s government has copied many of China’s repressive methods, such as internet control, digital censorship, and creating a large army of cybercops

However, the most important thing for the Cuban Communist Party is to be able to count on its Chinese counterpart amid a changing international landscape, looking ahead to Raul Castro’s pending departure from the presidency this coming February. Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House, and his backtracking in the diplomatic thaw between both nations, also forces looking in another direction, especially with a Venezuela that every day sinks more deeply into economic problems and political volatility.

The stable ally is China, whose present Congress is a sign of continuity and stability, a power far enough away not to pose a threat to sovereignty and ready to speak up for Havana in international forums. It is a country that ventures to sign economic agreements with the island, though without the magnanimous generosity of the former Soviet Union.

The current relationship between the two regimes is marked by a certain amount of amnesia that makes them forget that years ago the Chinese were not seen in these parts as allies, but as a danger to the cause of communism. Today’s friends were rejected until very recently.

In early 1965, Fidel Castro denounced the distribution of political propaganda by the embassy of the People’s Republic of China among high commanders of the Armed Forces and, a few months later, the Cuban leader ranted against the Asian nation over the decline in its rice sales to the Island.

In 1977, Castro said in an interview with CNN that Mao Zedong “destroyed with his feet what he had created with his head over many years,” an act that “one day the people of China and the Communist Party of China will have to recognize,” he predicted.

After decades of estrangement in the relationship, Havana and Beijing again approached each other in 1989

After decades of estrangement in the relationship, Havana and Beijing again approached each other in 1989 and six years later Fidel Castro made his first state visit to China. References to the disagreements were erased from official books and publications.

Nowadays it is difficult to find in any library one of those manuals prepared by the Communist Party of Cuba in which it called Maoism a “counterrevolutionary current.” The Soviet-produced documentary titled The Long Night Over China has also conveniently gone out of circulation.

This week, when several Chinese-language students approached the Chinese embassy to request published documents about the XIX Congress, they were not even invited in. They were just told that they should make an appointment in advance. In addition to that incident, ordinary Cubans have hardly raised their expectations of what will come out of the Congress in Beijing.

In general, Cubans are convinced that the Chinese wall will not collapse like the Berlin Wall and that the reforms brought about by the current congress will not bring democracy to that country. For its part, the Plaza of the Revolution knows that the island will not have an ally like the Soviet Union, but Raul Castro is relieved to confirm that he is not alone on the planet.

“The State Doesn’t Pay Me, So I Sell On My Own,” Say the Candelaria Guajiros

In the informal market it is difficult to find an avocado for less than 5 CUP. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Bertha K Guillen, Candelaria, 18 October 2017 — A year ago the smell of guava filled the road where Santiago Hernandez was waiting for the state company Acopio (Collection) to sell the fruit he produced. With the passing of days the flies showed up and the smell turned to rot, but the truck never appeared. Now, like many others in San Cristóbal (Artemisa province), this private producer prefers to risk the informal market.

The streets and roads of Artemiseño towns are the scene of an economic battle of the deaf. The police control farmers in the area, which has a long agricultural tradition, not allowing them to sell their crops on their own, but forcing them to deliver them to the official entities; nevertheless illegal trade continues to increase. continue reading

The frequent delays in transportation and the Acopia’s successive failure to pay the farmers discourages them from following the legal process to market their crops. “Before I let them rot again I prefer to sell them for a few cents,” Hernandez tells 14ymedio.

“The maximum price they pay us for avocados is 1 CUP per pound”

The campesino is not only annoyed by the problems of transportation and lack of packaging that Acopio blames for each delay, but also by the prices set for his merchandise and the continuous problems of weighing the product that “always go against of the man from the fields,” he says.

“The maximum price they pay us for avocados is 1 CUP [Cuban peso, roughly 4¢ US] per pound, so a quintal [100 pounds] comes out at 100 [$4 US],” he laments. In the informal market it is difficult to find this delicious fruit for less than 5 CUP each. “Normally they don’t sell for less than 10 CUP each, but in order to earn that much money, I have to sell ten pounds.”

“In the street I can raise or lower the price according to what suits me, whether due to the quality of the avocados or because there is a lot of supply, but with the State everything is very bureaucratic,” says the farmer. The Council of the Municipal Administration meets every month to check if it should modify some of the prices, but the State has imposed maximums that cannot be exceeded.

“The more production there is of a product in an area, the lower Acopio’s purchase price, that’s how it works,” says Hernández. The campesino says he does not understand “such a simple” formula when it comes to fruits and vegetables that mostly end up in Havana, with high consumption in homes and private restaurants.

It is not only private producers and those who lease state-owned lands that feel dissatisfied with the strict provisions under which they must sell their crops. Farmers organized in Agricultural Production Cooperatives (CPA) and Credit and Service Cooperatives (CCS) must also comply with the rules requiring them to deliver a good part of their crops directly to Acopio or to the companies of the Ministry of the Food Industry (MINAL) that process fruit industrially.

Farmers organized in cooperatives must also comply with the rules and to deliver a good part of their crops directly to Acopio or to the Ministry

In the middle of this year, more than 2,600 metric tons of mangoes were lost in the fields of Guantánamo due to lack of packaging and problems associated with processing plant breakdowns. The news raised a wave of indignation among consumers and the issue was even debated in the National Assembly of People’s Power.

However, what happened is nothing new and the scenario is repeated throughout the Cuban countryside. According to a report published by Mundubat a non-governmental organization for development aid based in the Basque Country (Spain), 57% of food produced in Cuba is lost before it reaches the consumer.

The problems are worse for seasonal products such as mangoes, tomatoes and avocados. The latter has entered October in the final stretch of its harvest and it is precisely the provinces of Artemisa and Mayabeque that obtain a greater harvest.

In 2016 there was a drop in avocado production, which barely exceeded 90,000 tons, about 30,000 less than in 2015, while this year the abundant rains have favored the growth and ripening of the fruit. Rainfall has even managed to keep the trees growing at this time of year.

“Now the problem is not the trees, nor the climate, but the man,” complains Amancio, a Candelarian who has been “tied to the furrow.” More than a decade ago, when Raul Castro came to power in Cuba, this composed farmer thought that the problems of the state-owned company Acopio were going to be solved.

“Everybody said that the General was going to put an end to Acopio and that we could sell our crops directly, but in reality everything is still very bureaucratic and the prices they put on our products are ridiculous,” says the farmer who specializes in food crops and fruit trees.

Ignoring the established process, Amancio leaves each morning early on his tractor to sell the last avocados of the harvest. The biggest risk is being stopped by the police and having his merchandise seized and the least serious rosk is to run into an inspector and receive a fine.

Each product is placed in a category, where only those labeled “premium” will be paid for at the maximum price

“More than three months ago I sold some bananas to Acopio and they still haven’t paid me, so I prefer to go on my own,” he explains to this newspaper. The farmer also complains about the high standards that the State applies to evaluating his fruits. Each product is placed in a category, where only those labeled “premium” will be paid for at the maximum price.

“If the inspector sees a spot on a banana or that day does not feel like paying you much, he tells you that the merchandise is second rate or doesn’t have quality, then the months of work go by the wayside and you just have to wait for them to pay you, someday, an amount far below what you spent on production,” reflects Amancio.

The farmer recalls that Nelson Concepción Cruz, general director of Acopio National Union, affirmed in the parliamentary sessions of last July that “the system of collection has been reordered by new equipment and the weighing system has been gradually restored.”

With the passage of the months little has changed and the operation is still a frequent target of farmers’ criticism, claiming lack of precision in the weighing, which goes against them, the obsolescence of the weighing devices and manipulation of the scales. They also point to an excess of subjectivity when it comes to categorizing the quality of fruits, vegetables, grains and root crops.

After Hurricane Irma and the rains associated with several tropical storms, the Artemisean producers come out more strongly to sell merchandise whose days are numbered

After Hurricane Irma and the rains associated with several tropical storms, the Artemisean producers come out more strongly to sell merchandise whose days are numbered. “I’m going through the nearest villages to sell what I can,” says Ramon, another producer from the region. “What I have is avocados and I sell them for up to 3 CUP, at least I do not lose all the merchandise.”

A few days ago the police gave him a warning about selling on his own. “I went out with the cart full of bananas and a patrol stopped me,” he says. “They took me to Los Palacios and forced me to sell for a few cents,” recalls the farmer. “They told me that the people needed it more, but what they do not realize is that I also have needs,” he says.

Cuba is among the countries with the lowest agricultural yield in Latin America, despite the fact that “the cooperative sector already has 80% of the land and produces more than 90% of the country’s food”, according to the Mundabat report, production “only meets 20% of the needs of the population.”

Santiago, Amancio and Ramón believe they know, from their own experience, the reason for such low numbers.

Cemetery Vault For Sale, Deceased Included

Colón (Columbus) Cemetery in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 14 October 2017 — “In this street there are five vaults for sale,” says Boris Fernandez as he walks through Colón (Columbus) Cemetery in Havana. “That one has the granite stone but people with money prefer marble,” he explains. His business is “to guarantee rest in the afterlife,” this salesman who lives off the funeral business tells 14ymedio.

“The first time I sold a grave was almost by accident,” recalls the former engineer, now a real estate agent for the afterlife. “In 2011 I was contacted by a lady who wanted to get rid of everything to leave the country. The first thing I found for her was a buyer for the family vault,” he says. continue reading

The cremation of corpses is a strong competitor for the traditional burials managed by Fernandez. In 2013, 5,045 bodies were incinerated throughout the country. However, “there are still many people who prefer to spend eternity in a beautiful place like this tomb,” he explains as he points to a gravestone with bronze letters.

Over the years, the dealer has become a specialist in his services and each satisfied customer in turn recommends new customers. “I have learned to price tombs, vaults and ossuaries because there are many details to keep in mind.” He has studied “even a little art history” to determine styles and influences.

“This one here has rounded lines and the vault includes two art deco gardens,” he says, describing a tomb next to the central chapel of Cuba’s largest graveyard. “That is worth at least 5,000 CUC [Cuban convertible pesos, roughly the same in dollars] because it has Carrara marble, coming from Italy and is highly treasured for its whiteness.”

The sellers are mostly people who come from families of ancient ancestry who “are going through hell to survive economically and decide to get rid of the family vault,” or they might be “people who want to emigrate and need ‘to complete’ [get a certain amount of money] for the passage,” explains the funeral director.

The transfer process must be done before a notary, but the vast majority of those involved prefer to simply hand over the title deed even if it is still in the name of someone who died more than a hundred years ago. “Whoever has the papers is the owner, it’s as simple as that,” explains Fernández.

“These are exchanges often done in a rush, and all it takes is to deliver the documents for the new owner to take possession of the place,” he points out. “So far I have not had any clients who got into trouble and I have helped many people find a place for their dead.”

The cemetery authorities are aware that economic inequalities are emerging once again in one of the most luxurious cemeteries in Latin America. “There is a lot of business in sales but there are areas that are frozen because they belong to the heritage area,” explains one of the guides that runs the tours for tourists.

The cemetery authorities are aware that economic inequalities are emerging once again in one of the most luxurious cemeteries in Latin America. (14ymedio)

“We have more turnover in the tombs that are not the most striking and that belonged to families of the republican bourgeoisie,” he clarifies. “The main reason is economic, because very few people get rid of something like that because they do not have time to take care of it or they do not care anymore.”

“We have had cases of people who have sold the vault even with the deceased inside,” Fernandez notes with alarm, as he accompanies visitors on a tour of the most famous burials in the site.

This reality is confirmed by Abelardo, a resident of Columbus Street near the capital’s largest cemetery who dedicates himself to the business of selling tombstones, flower boxes and vases. “People have come for help selling a tomb but insist that the buyer must commit to leaving the remains that are in the ossuary,” he details.

“In that case a special price is set and the new owner gives his word not to remove the bones of the previous family, it is a gentlemen’s agreement,” he says.

In addition to the grave ornaments he sells in the doorway of his house, Abelardo has contacts for all kinds of tasks related to the deceased. “We offer natural and plastic flowers, demand for the the latter has greatly increased after the campaigns against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito [transmitter of dengue virus and other diseases] which has removed many vases with water from the cemetery.”

“I also have a friend who does the spiritual cleansing of the tomb so that the new owners can use it without bad influences,” he adds to his string of offers. “For Catholics he does with prayers, for the Santeros [practitioners of Santería] he has an offering that includes a cleansing with herbs, and if they are spiritualists then the ceremony can include candles and glasses with water.”

The increase in the sale of tombs is not a phenomenon that occurs only in the capital, but rather is widespread in the country’s cemeteries.

“I also have a friend who does the spiritual cleansing of the tomb so that the new owners can use it without bad influences”. (14ymedio)

Niliana is selling a family vault of five square meters “in the best area of ​​the Tomás Acea Cemetery in Cienfuegos,” she emphasizes. Because the cemetery is further away from the city, prices are lower, but still remain inaccessible to those who live off their official salaries.

For 560 CUC, the buyer can bury his relatives in a cemetery declared a “National Heritage site since 1978 for its artistic, architectural, historical and environmental values,” explains the owner.

At double that price a much more modest tomb is marketed in Colón Cemetery. “It is like with houses, the location determines the price,” clarifies Boris Fernandez. “The one with the best economic situation can choose a good street or be next to a famous vault.”

“Now I have a client who is a painter who wants a tomb with a tree that gives him shade and as close as possible to the Chapel,” he says. “My job is to please him: I bring the place and he brings the dead.”

 

Cuba’s ‘Convivencia’ Project Celebrates Its First Decade

The Convivencia Project on-line. (Screen capture)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 October 2017 — It was April 2007 and a time of dark days. The most stagnant part of the Catholic Church intervened in the magazine Vitral (Stained Glass Window), shifting it away from its marked social mission. In the face of the hijacking, the editors jumped ship and months later founded the Proyecto Convivencia (Coexistence Project), which celebrates this October a decade of constant work.

The new publication was born under the influence of its predecessor, which had arisen in 1994 and came to have a circulation of 12,000 copies. However, from the beginning it became clear that the magazine Convivencia would be much more than a mere reflection of that stained glass window that stopped shining for diversity and reflected only pastoral issues. continue reading

In an environment of great debate and intense listening, the Catholic layman Dagoberto Valdés and his collaborators, working from Pinar del Rio, raised the first roof beams that would later cover not only that new publication, but also a project of civic development and a study center, both under the same name.

With the slogan “A threshold for citizenship and civil society in Cuba,” this triad has been a fresh wind in an independent sector where political approaches excessively prevail over social ones. Offering proposals rather than complaints became a part of the unique editorial and investigative seal of the project.

Unlike its predecessor, Convivencia placed its bets more on a digital presence. In times of blogging and Twitter accounts, its editorial board has relied on new technologies, and the web portal born of that vision has just updated its design, as well as offered more dynamic access to its content.

However, the biggest difference has been traveling the difficult road of offering information and opinion without the protection of the Church. To this difficulty is added that of maintaining a moderate profile in the midst of the polarization of Cuban society, the pressures of State Security and an intense campaign to discredit the project.

Seven years before Bishop Jorge Enrique Serpa Pérez forced a change of course on the Catholic publication, Valdés had been subjected to a harsh assault from two publishers of the official newspaper Granma, but the worst was yet to come. That was just the preamble to a sequence of interrogations and threats.

In this decade, members of Convivencia have experienced various forms of harassment. From constant police citations to a court’s latest decision to sentence Karina Gálvez, one of the leading publishers, to three years’ imprisonment and to confiscate her house which served as a headquarters.

Nor has there been a lack of criticism from other civil society groups in response to Convivencia’s approach of dialog, always maintained by the Pinar del Rio team, its position in favor of the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States, and its use of respectful language toward any figure or institution. The project has paid a heavy price for its restraint.

In this landscape, the work of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC), which over a number of meetings has outlined an impressive reservoir of ideas and proposals for the future of the island, stands out. Culture, education, the media and economy are at the center of the analysis of this Cuban think tank, that labors without a lot of commotion, but without pause.

Together, the CEC, the civic center and the magazine seek “not only to educate citizens to exercise their own sovereignty but also work to have a vision of the future that will help to rebuild the nation,” Dagoberto Valdés proudly states. The man that the official propaganda calls a “mercenary” has only one obsession: to think about Cuba.

Today’s context is also very different than it was when the editors of today’s Convivencia began their work on the previous publication, at the end of the last century. Now, the spectrum of publications that address the issue of Cuba has grown both inside and outside the Island. Approaches have also diversified and readers have a flood of options from which to choose.

Other independent think tanks have also emerged and terms such as “community,” “civility” and “consensus” have become commonplace in the discourse of national activists. That light that began to peek through the stained glass of a magazine from Pinar del Rio, is today a common good that everyone shares.

Convivencia faces the challenges of surviving and growing: to avoid letting the repression make them adopt a discourse of denunciation rather than one of proposals; to overcome with their work the silence some want to impose on their very existence; to progress despite the insults others apply to their work; and to maintain their equanimity in times of hysteria.

The roof that began to rise in October of 2007 is complete, but within its interior there are still many subjects to address and innumerable situations on which to meditate. There is time for all that, because as emphasized in a recent statement the members of Convivencia Project, they have no plans to leave Cuba, Pinar del Rio or their civic space.

See also:

The Experiment of Hope, Francis Sanchez

Between the Gun and the Cassock, Miriam Celaya

Cuban Artists Warned Not To Stage An Independent Biennial

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara in his workshop in Cuba. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 October 2017 — In a note published on its website and distributed through institutional emails, the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) warns its members that “some unscrupulous people” are organizing an independent Biennial after the postponement of event originally planned for 2018.

The XIII Havana Biennial was postponed to 2019 due to “the very serious damage caused by Hurricane Irma to the country’s system of cultural institutions ” according to a declaration of the National Council of Plastic Arts published at the end of September and also initialed by the Wilfredo Lam Center for Contemporary Art. continue reading

Several young artists, who are not in agreement with the postponement, have decided to go ahead with the organization of an independent event called the Havana Biennial 2018. The artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is one of the most visible faces of this initiative.

Otero Alcántara commented to 14ymedio that they have “the support of several artists and independent galleries” to carry out the exhibitions and workshops. The young man believes the official artists union is annoyed because “it it an interesting and decisive moment” to hold the independent Biennial. “Strong energy has been generated” around the idea and “the majority of those consulted support it,” he says.

In the response note circulated by the UNEAC, the executive of the Association of Plastic Artists points out that the organizers of the independent proposal “can not divide us” and that the members of the official organization understand and support the decision to postpone the Biennial.

“We strongly support Raul’s call to our people,” concludes the statement, which stresses that “we will go forward in all fields, despite cyclones and blockades.”

The artist Leonardo Salgado, harshly criticized the declaration of the official organization and described as “opportunist” the intention to blame the cancellation of the XIII Havana Biennial on Hurricane Irma.

Salgado points out that “the obsolete, obsessive and unsustainable” will of the Cuban government to “organize and direct all political, economic and social activities” is what has plunged the country into stagnation and proposes that the government allow the Independent Biennial, at least to raise funds.

“Why does UNEAC not defend and embody the interests of the artists it represents in front of a government that only prioritizes political, economic and social immobility?” the artist asks in a chain of responses to the official communication.

“If expressing freely what we think is called provocation, how can we dialogue? If the institutions that represent us call us unscrupulous for asking for the floor, through whom do we do it?”

The last edition of the Havana Biennial was held between May and June 2015 and had as its theme “Between idea and experience.” In its three decades of life, the artistic event has gone through different stages; at some points creative effervescence prevailed but at others the strongest influences were the nefarious effects of economic crisis and censorship.

Candelaria Runs Out Of Medicines

The outskirts of the place were a hive of customers who tried to reach the counter shouting and shoving. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Bertha K. Guillen, Candelaria, 13 October 2017 — The main pharmacy in Candelaria, a city in Cuba’s Artemisa province, looks like an overturned hornet’s nest when new medications arrive. Meanwhile, the area’s chronically ill spend their days in uncertainty due to the shortage of a growing number of drugs, a situation echoed in the ‘informal’ market.

“There is no Enalapril left or right,” lamented a retiree who waited for several hours this Wednesday to find out if the pills critical to those with hypertension had arrived. “I’m going to have to continue using herbal concoctions,” she lamented. continue reading

Since 2015, the deficit of drugs has worsened due to the country’s lack of liquidity. The Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industry Group (BioCubaFarma) attributes the problems to the shortages of raw material due to the long-standing non-payment of foreign suppliers.

“We did not have the necessary financing to pay the debts incurred,” Teresita Rodríguez Cabrera, vice president of the group, told the official press in late 2016. The official said that the industry was working to improve supply, but a year later the situation has worsened.

“Six months ago we had 97 drugs missing at this pharmacy,” says an employee of the Candelaria dispensary who prefers anonymity. “In the last three months the figure has reached an alarming number and we are now lacking 157.”

According to this source, analgesics, hypertension pills, diabetes pills, antibiotics and eye drops are among the most affected, “precisely because they are the most in demand.” The employee says that the managers of the branch assured them that the situation would normalize as of September, but the expected return to normal has not materialized.

“As of today, only a few drugs have arrived and in insufficient quantities,” the employee emphasizes.

The medications sold on presentation of a control card, known as a tarjetón,

are among those in shortest supply. The State subsidizes all pharmaceutical products and regulates the quantities that each consumer can buy, even when it comes to medications that don’t require a prescription.

The police had to come to the pharmacy to calm the building commotion. (14ymedio)

In the small villages near Candelaria several pharmacies have closed their doors permanently due to the lack of supply, which overloads the dispensaries that remain in operation.

The administration of the Municipal Main Pharmacy has taken measures to avoid the crowds that form when supplies arrive. These guidelines also seek to curb the hoarding of products, many of which end up on the black market.

This Wednesday, outside the pharmacy a hive of customers tried to reach the counter, screaming and shoving. In a near brawl won by the strongest, people with disabilities, pregnant women and the elderly had to retreat to avoid getting elbowed.

The pharmacy workers responded by closing the place down and calling the police to restore order. Buyers who clustered at the small window to ask questions also received no response and for hours no employee picked up the phone.

The pharmacy administration is determined to sell only one prescription of each drug per person, a decision that bothered those like Milagros, 64, who stood in line from nine o’clock on Tuesday night and had hoped to receive enough medication to last until the next supplies came in.

A few blocks away, the Catholic church also lacks the supplies to meet the demand for medicines. For several years the parishes have supplied the needy with non-prescription products that come from donations from abroad. In the last half year, however, the arrival of these donations has also declined.

“For months we’ve gotten nothing more than vitamins and some other things and those only in small quantities,” Olimpia, the women in charge of drug distribution at the Artemis church, tells 14ymedio. Hurricane Irma has affected many provinces of the country, causing much of the aid to be channeled to those areas.

In these circumstances, many Candelarians settle for trying to relieve their skin itches or lower their blood pressure through the traditional infusions that their grandmothers abandoned years ago.

Cubans Will Now Have to Go to Colombia to Apply for an Immigrant Visa for the US

Cubans can apply for a United States in person in Colombia.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 October 2017 — The US embassy in Bogotá will assume the work of issuing immigrant visas to Cubans for as long as the process is suspended at the embassy in Havana as a result of the reduction of personnel that took place because of the acoustic attacks that affected embassy workers.

“Due to the suspension of immigrant visa services at the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba, the United States Department of State has designated the US Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia to process immigrant visas for Cuban residents,” a State Department press release said. continue reading

The press release points out that it is still unclear when the interviews for Cuban applicants at the Bogota embassy will begin to be scheduled.

“Due to the suspension of immigrant visa services at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, the U.S. Department of State has designated the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia to process immigrant visas for residents of Cuba. At this time, we are determining when we can begin scheduling Cuban applicants for interviews at Embassy Bogota. If NVC has not scheduled your case at Embassy Havana, they will schedule your visa interview at Embassy Bogota. NVC will send you, your petitioner, and your agent/attorney (if applicable) an email or letter noting the interview location, date and time. Please contact NVC through the  Ask NVC  online contact form for your updated status,” it said.

The statement also explains that if the person applying for the visa has not yet been interviewed they will be contacted “soon.” For those who have already been interviewed, the US Embassy in Havana will contact them to provide “additional instructions” and those who have not yet had their visa applications approved will have to contact the Citizenship and Immigration Service. United States Immigration (USCIS ) to learn the updated status of their case.

The statement adds that the headquarters of Havana will handle diplomatic visas, official or unusual emergency cases in which the applicant has a serious illness requiring treatment in the United States.

“We understand that this is a significant change and a nuisance for visa applicants, but the number of consular officials in Cuba at this time does not allow us to continue with normal visa operations in Havana,” it adds.

The existence of this alternative opens a door for thousands of Cubans who were waiting with uncertainty for a way to get to the US. However, the requirement to go to Bogotá greatly complicates the process, and Colombia also requires visas for Cuban citizens.

Since the migration crisis reached its peak in late 2015, Colombia has increased the number of requirements for visa applicants applying at its consulate in Havana. The appointments to be seen in that country’s consular headquarters are also difficult to obtain and the visa application form must be completed via the internet, a step already difficult for many nationals.

In August of last year Colombian police arrested 35 suspects forming an international network involved in the trafficking of more than 3,200 migrants from Colombia to the United States and Canada. The traffickers were led by two Cubans who controlled the transfer of migrants from the island, mostly to the United States.

The United States also announced Thursday that it will keep active the program that allows Americans and permanent residents to apply for permission for their relatives in Cuba to visit them, but has not yet revealed how it will proceed to process the requests.

The Sonic Attacks Began With Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro was the only person who could give orders without consulting his younger brother Raul. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jorge Hernandez Fonseca, Miami, 6 October 2017 — The mystery surrounding the so-called “sonic attacks” perpetrated in Cuba against US and Canadian diplomats, set off a major diplomatic crisis between the US government and the Cuban dictatorship of Raúl Castro. Now Cuba suggests that such attacks belong to “science fiction”, although they do not deny categorically.

The analysis I will do on the basis of the following clue: who would benefit from the crisis that these attacks would provoke? With this premise we deduce that there are two sectors that would take advantage of the developing crisis: on the one hand, the most anticommunist sector of the anti-Castro exile in the United States, and on the other the most conservative sector within the Cuban communists. continue reading

There are third countries probably involved in the plot, such as China or Russia; but we concentrate the analysis on the sectors closest to the “Cuban problem” without ruling out another possibility, although logic indicates that the interest in these attacks must come from the international actors.

Official Cuba suggests that the CIA could be the cause of the attacks, but what interests would that agency have above the interests of its country? It could be, but it seems unlikely. The Cuban exile could be the source, but does the exile have enough power to execute such an operation from the outside? It’s unlikely.

The Communist sectors within Cuba interested in derailing relations with the US seem to be the most likely to organize such an operation, including because they have all the means and are acting inside their country. As these attacks began during the Obama administration – and even when Fidel Castro was still alive – it seems very likely that he was the one who directed the attacks for the following reasons: no one other than the deceased dictator could have given that order without consulting Raul Castro, or even, with consulting him. No one, apart from the retired dictator, was personally more interested in thwarting the rapprochement with the US, as he stated in writing and was public and notorious about.

Thus, the dictatorship of Raul Castro now has no way out of the problem. It fails if it speaks the truth, and fails – as it is doing now – if it doesn’t speak it. There is no other hypothesis with more force that explains such a mystery. It is well-known of the ancestry

The ascendance of a special security body commanded by the deceased dictator is well known, a body faithful to him, and very probably it was them, under his orders, who executed the attacks, to provoke an estrangement between both countries, contradicting his brother.

No one but Fidel Castro – neither the CIA, nor the Cuban exile, nor Russia or China – can be more satisfied, enjoying from his grave the current estrangement between Cuba and the United States.

Venezuela Finances Russian Oil Coming To Cuba

Refinery in Cienfuego, Cuba. (5 de September)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 12 October 2017 — Russia is again aiding Cuba and, as with the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, the aid comes in the form of oil. Moscow is trying to compensate for the collapse of Venezuelan shipments, but part of the bill comes from Caracas, says Jorge Piñón, director of the International Energy Center at the University of Texas.

According to the Russian news agency Tass, last weekend the Kremlin agreed with the Palace of the Revolution to increase the supply of oil and develop cooperation in the extraction sector in Cuba. continue reading

“This is a triangulation of an agreement signed in 2016 and extended this year. Rosneft (a joint-venture company majority-owned by the Russian government) has loaned PDVSA (the Venezuelan state oil company) between four and five billion dollars in recent years, “says Piñón. “Part of the 250,000 tonnes of diesel that Rosneft pledged in May to deliver to Cuba was funded in the back office through the triangulation of the agreement with PDVSA.”

Piñón’s thesis is also supported by statements from Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, who last May put as a condition on shipments of oil to the island that they must have a secure source of funding.

During the Soviet era, Cuba received more than $40 billion in subsidies and contracted a $35 billion debt that Russia condoned by 90 percent in 2014. At that time the USSR was sending oil to the Island, which the Cuban authorities partially re-exported to the international price. It did the same with a part of the shipments of Venezuela, that reached 100,000 barrels a day before falling to a little more than half that.

In addition to supplying oil and diesel, Rosneft intends to fulfill an unfinished promise of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez: the modernization of the Cienfuegos refinery, the largest in the country, operating at half speed because of the fall of the Venezuelan oil deliveries.

According to several analysts, Caracas sends 55,000 barrels of oil daily to Havana, far from the 87,000 it supplied last year and the 100,000 barrels supplied during the life of Hugo Chavez. In return, Havana sells to Caracas, at very inflated prices, its doctors serving on medical missions and other professionals providing other types of service.

Under the government of Nicolás Maduro the payment through this model has abruptly dropped. Cuba has not published its earnings from the export of services since 2014 but, as economists Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Omar Everleny Pérez have reported, these earnings have fallen by more than 1.3 billion dollars in recent years.

Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas said in July that the country was forced to import 99.6 million dollars in fuels so far this year due to non-compliances in the delivery of petroleum products from Caracas. Last year, Cuba was forced to import fuel from Algeria, and Raul Castro himself sent a letter to Vladimir Putin asking for a stable supply from Russia.

Jorge Piñón believes that it will be difficult for Cuba to find another Venezuela like that of Hugo Chavez willing to pay its oil bill: “The value of the Cuban oil deficit is approximately 1.1 billion dollars a year if we value a barrel at 45 dollars. Who and how is that bill to be paid?” he asks, since Havana does not have the financial resources.

Neither does he believe that Russia will assume the cost of refurbishing the Cienfuegos refinery, which the expert says needs between three and five billion dollars of investment.

“For example, we have the great Refinery of the Pacific, in Ecuador, that for the last ten years has been looking for partners after the Venezuelans ‘embarked’,” he cites as an example.

Data provided by the National Bureau of Statistics and Information show that oil production on the island has steadily declined over the last decade. In 2015 (latest figures published), Cuba produced 2,822,000 tonnes of crude oil, some 202,800 tonnes less than in 2010.

National oil production in Cuba. Source: National Bureau of Statistics and Information

National oil production in Cuba. Source: National Bureau of Statistics and Information

National production barely covers 48% of energy demand, as reported by the authorities of the Cuba Petroleum Union in an interview with the national press. The cost of extracting a barrel of oil on the Island is around $14, but it is of low quality and therefore needs to be mixed with other fuels to be used.

The deposits in operation are located in the north-western fringe of the island. After more than 40 years of operation the yield of the wells has fallen, which is reflected in the volume of extracted oil.

On the other hand, some of the most important deposits are located in Varadero, the main tourist center of the country, which makes it difficult to extract, according to authorities, who estimate to 11 billion barrels of oil reserves in that area of ​​the country.

Cuba’s biggest bet is its exclusive economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico (about 112,000 square kilometers), open to foreign investment since 1999, with high costs and investment risks in the Gulf’s deep waters. Russians, Canadians and Venezuelans have invested there without much results. This week, however, the Australian company Melbana Energy will begin exploration of the oil wells it has identified in the northern coast of Cuba.