You Can’t Come In / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

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This venue reserves the right of admission (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, Rosa Lopez, 27 August 2014 – “You can’t come in,” a young doorkeeper emphatically tells a young man, while gesturing for him to move away from the door. When the target protests, he receives the explanation that in this crowded Havana club, “you can’t enter wearing shorts.” A sign posted at the entrance warns that the place, “reserves the right of admission.”

The story is repeated in many other places in Havana. The Charles Chaplin Cinema downtown posts a sign with entry restrictions. When you ask an employee if the rules are dictated by higher body, she says, “No, no. Management is in charge, there’s no law. We are the ones who decide.” And she adds, “We don’t allow people without shirts, or wearing flipflops, or behaving inappropriately.” It’s not unusual to see, however, flexible rules for foreigners. An Italian in short shorts—which could be confused with a bathing suit—passed through the lobby without being ejected.

In 2010, the Chaplin Cinema refused entry to a group of people trying to attend the premier of the documentary Revolution about the hip-hop group Los Aldeanos. Some of these citizens drafted a legal demand against the entity, charging that the segregation was based on ideological reasons, because they were activists, bloggers and musicians from the dissident scene, but it was unsuccessful in court. Years later, the downtown movie theater still sports a sign with restrictions on entry. Continue reading

El Zanjon In Baragua Times / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Cartel-entrada-zanjon_CYMIMA20140825_0004_1314ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, El Zanjón, 25 August 2014 – No one remembers when the old Spanish barracks were demolished and or the decades passed since the allegorical tally of what happened there. Although the official history vilifies this place, a sign on the central highway tells us we are nearing El Zanjón, whose name also appears on the ID cards of the three hundred people who live in the small village.

On 10 February 1878, the seven agreements of the Pact of Zanjón were signed there, putting an end of the Ten Years War. Thus, the two fundamental objectives that had caused the war were frustrated: Cuban independence and the abolition of slavery. General Arsenio Martinez Campos would be the big winner in an accord that many Cubans considered a shameful page in the national history.

The vast majority of the Liberation Army fighters accepted the pact, with the exception of Antonio Maceo, who a month later starred in the Baraguá Protest. That attempt to keep the struggle alive only lasted until mid-May of the same year, and shortly after Maceo, the Bronze Titan, abandoned the Island for Jamaica. Continue reading

A Shortage of Teachers Will Mark the Upcoming School Year / 14ymedio

Elementary students (Luz Escobar)

Elementary students (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Havana, 25 August 2014 – This Monday enrollment began for the various levels of education across the country. The 2014-2015 school year presents a challenge to the Ministry of Education authorities, given the alarming shortage of teachers in the provinces of Havana and Matanzas. On September 1st more than 1.8 million students will enter the classrooms, a figure that declines every year because of the low birthrate affecting the Cuban population. The coming school year will put to the test an educational system caught between an educational system, the unattractive salaries for professionals, and the verticality of decision making.

So far, the presence of 172,000 teachers in the schools has been confirmed, which meets only 93.1% of the needs. However, at least 10,897 positions have been difficult to fill and the educational authorities have tried to fill them by hiring retired teachers, using school staff members from management and administration, and increasing the workload of the teachers already confirmed. Officials and education experts will also help in the schools, although without the ability to cover all the educational needs.

Still, there is a shortage of at least 660 teachers in the capital and Matanzas province, which so far have no replacements. The Education Minister, Ena Elsa Velazquez, remarked that regardless of the shortage, already confirmed educators have to be protected and “not given extra tasks.” An intention difficult to achieve given the current circumstances.

In recent decades Cuban education has suffered a process of material and professional deterioration. During the previous year there was an increase in people complaining about the loss of spaces in classes and assignments in numerous schools around the country. The exodus of teachers to other types of work has forced the training of “emergent teachers” and the introduction of classes taught by television and videos. These measures demonstrate that education is broken and generate deep concern among the students’ parents, particularly those with children in elementary and junior high school.

Official Press: Triumphalism, Blacklisting and Censorship / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

News kiosk (Luz Escobar)

News kiosk (Luz Escobar)

14YMEDIO, Havana, Yoani Sanchez, 22 August 2014 – The phone rings and it’s a friend who works for a government publication. She’s content because she’s published an article that attacks bureaucracy and corruption. The young woman finished college two years ago and has been working in a digital medium that deals with cultural and social issues. She has the illusions of a recent graduate, and she believes she can do objective journalism, close to reality, and help to improve her country.

My friend has had some luck, because she exercises this profession at a time when the national media is trying to more closely reflect the problems of our society. The official journalist exists in a timid Glasnost, 25 years after a similar process in the Soviet Union. If that attempt at “information transparency” was promoted through Perestroika, on the Island it’s been pushed by the Sixth Communist Party Congress Guidelines. In this way, a more objective and less triumphalist press is pushed—from above. The same power that helped create laudatory newspapers, now urges a shift from applause to criticism. But it’s not easy.

The original sin of the official press is not the press, but propaganda. It emerged to sustain the ideological political-economic model and it can’t shed that genesis. The first steps in the creation of the current national media always includes an act of faith in the Revolution, It is also funded entirely by the Government, which further affects its editorial line. It’s worth noting that the official media is not profitable, that is, it doesn’t generate income or even support its print runs or transmissions. Hence, it operates with subsidies taken from the national coffers. All Cubans sustain the newspapers Granma and Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth), the Cubavision channel or Radio Reloj (Clock Radio)… whether we like it or not. Continue reading

A Thief Who Steals from a Thief… / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Computer store (14ymedio)

Computer store (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 August 2014 — “Beds, furniture, mattresses, heaters”, is the soft cry from a reseller who prowls around the Carlos III Market entranceway. A few steps away, another dealer advertises his wares: “airs,’microgüeys’, washing machines, rice cookers, ‘Reina’ brand pots and pans…” The cries are not too loud, but measured, uttered in a tone just loud enough to reach the ears of the nearby walkers, or of those people who enter or leave the market.

Speculators move around with stealth and pretending, like one who knows well that he is operating at the margin of what is legal. So, as soon as he sees a cop or some individual he suspects of being an “inspector”, the cries are abruptly suspended. Many turn away instantly, but the more adventurous stay and buy themselves a beer and adopt the carefree air of one who just wants to cool off from the heat wave of this merciless August air. They know they don’t fool anyone, but neither can they be charged with a crime if they are not caught dealing in the illegal market.

For years, black market traders have flourished all around shops operating in foreign currencies. They speculate in several different products, from sophisticated electronics equipment to cosmetics or toothpaste. They come in quite a few categories, depending on the product they sell, but all belong to this illegal trade network that is many times more efficient than the legal markets: the chain formed by hoarders and/or burglars-resellers-receivers. There is currently an official media campaign being developed against the first two links (hoarders-resellers).Government media particularly blame those who traffic in products that are scarce, while shortages–another epidemic that has turned endemic–affect the country’s commercial trading networks. Continue reading

Angel Santiesteban Transferred to La Lima Prison / 14ymedio

Angel-Santiesteban_CYMIMA20140516_0001_1314YMEDIO, Havana, August 22, 2014 – The writer Angel Santiesteban might have been transferred to La Lima prison, located in the Havana municipality of Guanabacoa. The information was provided to 14ymedio by Lilianne Ruíz, a freelance journalist who visited the police station at Acosta and Diez de October streets where the narrator and blogger was detained.

For several weeks, Santiesteban’s family and friends have been demanding an explanation for the aggravation of the charges against him. The police informed the family that the writer was being prosecuted for an escape attempt. However, his family believes that this “new imputation is groundless and is being lodged only to increase his time in captivity.”

Reporters Without Borders issued a statement calling on the Cuban authorities to “clearly explain” Santiesteban’s situation.

Prior to his transfer to the Acosta Station, Santiesteban was held in a construction unit where he could receive visitors and make telephone calls. The blogger was sentenced in 2013 to five years in prison for an alleged “violation of domicile and aggression.” Independent lawyers have repeatedly denounced the irregularities committed in his case and have raised the complaint with national and international entities.

Pedestrians Are the Most Frequent Victims of Traffic Accidents / 14ymedio

Pedestrians walking in the street in Havana (BdG 14ymedio)

Pedestrians walking in the street in Havana (BdG 14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, August 22, 2014 — In recent weeks, the official media have reported numerous traffic accidents in several provinces. In addition to drivers and passengers, pedestrians represent a significant proportion of victims: 34.6% of deaths in the country and, in the case of Havana, the percentage skyrockets to 70.9%, according data reported on the television evening news by the National Directorate of Traffic.

The official report hid some of the factors contributing to this situation, especially the poor condition of the sidewalks, the lack of pedestrian crossings on busy streets and avenues, and the deterioration of the traffic lights or the power outages affecting their operation.

As for the responsibility of drivers, several factors explain the high incidence of accidents: disrespect for the right of way, speeding or drunk driving.

According to recently published official data, in the first half of this year Cuba reported more than 5,600 traffic accidents, with a balance of 347 dead and over 4,300 injured.

Authorities Seize a Shipment of Seafood Hidden in an Ambulance / 14ymedio

Tending their nets (14ymedio)

Tending their nets (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, 20 August 2014 – Cuban authorities recently seized a shipment of 270 pounds of shrimp and 110 pounds of lobster being transported hidden in an ambulance, the official newspaper Granma reported in its edition of Tuesday 19 August.

The official organ of the Communist Party refers to unlicensed fishermen as “internal enemies against whom we must intensify the struggle.” The author of the text, Ortelio González Martínez, analyzes the situation of illegal fishing in the province of Ciego de Avila where, he says, “There are still black holes into which seafood escapes.”

The journalist said that so far 18 contracts have been cancelled “for repeated breaches of catch plans, boats out of commission for a long period of time, and sales out of the province,” and he emphasizes the growing danger posed by the illegal seafood sales networks.

Despite being unavailable in the official markets, seafood is widely available in the informal trade networks on the Island. Harvesting shellfish is illegal for most fisherman—with or without a license—and is the exclusive domain of State or private cooperatives. The State has sole responsibility for managing seafood, which can be destined for export, or consumed at tourist resorts on the Island.

Reseller, That Dirty Word / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

14YMEDIO, Havana, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, 21 August 2014 – “I have mattresses, games room, air conditioning …” an individual stationed at the entrance to a popular store says softly. A few yards further on, another vendor has filters for drinking water, and so it continues, on both sides of the commercial center, an illicit network that caters to more than a few dissatisfied customers with poor State offerings.

If you look in the stores without success, you shouldn’t worry, because outside it’s possible to find everything you need from the “resellers” for a few pesos more. Those traders who swarm streets like Carlos III, Monte, or 10 de octubre, operating with nothing more than the law of supply and demand. The solution that occurs to the government, far from focusing on filling up the half-empty shelves, has been to eradicate what they describe as “social indiscipline.”

What they haven’t considered, however, is granting licenses to the traders. In fact, the word “trader” is banished from the official jargon. Those who exercise one of the oldest crafts known to humanity are called “resellers” and that, in the eyes of the authorities, is not a good thing. The government accuses them of hoarding and speculation.

So far this year there have been almost 17,000 fines and hundreds of seizures. However, the punitive measures taken so far are not enough. “We don’t have an inspector on every corner. We need help from the public,” declare some State inspectors on the TV news. The phenomenon has gotten out of control. This not only contributes to the lack of productivity and bad distribution on the part of the State monopoly, but the problem also includes more than a few corrupt officials.

Chimeras and Frustrations / 14ymedio, Luzbely Escobar

Longing for the beach (14ymedio)

Longing for the beach (14ymedio)

14YMEDIO, Havana, Luzbely Escobar, 21 August 2014 – It is a little more than a week before the start of school and the youngest at home are already taking stock of what they’ve done on their vacation. They go to sleep thinking about what they’ll tell their friends in September and in their little heads they remember each outing with their families. Although parents have few options to entertain their children in the summer, they always make an effort.

The options range from five pesos to buy an ice cream cone at the corner snack bar, to the complicated and greatly desired trip to the beach. I’ve made many promises to my little ones to take them for a dip, but I still haven’t been able to keep my promise. A trip to Santa Maria or Guanabo is like the children’s Road to El Dorado during the summer season.

A trip to the beach is a chimera. The main difficultly rests in the long lines for the bus, with its riots of boys who push in front of everyone because they don’t like to wait that long. Coming home, as if it weren’t hard enough to catch the route 400, we add the drunkenness and fights that break out in front of the innocent eyes of the children. Not to mention the abundant stream of bad words and atrocities shouted with a natural mastery from one end of the bus to the other. Continue reading

Portugal Has Spent $ 12 Million Euros Since 2009 to Recruit Cuban Doctors / 14ymedio

14YMEDIO, Havana, 19 August 2014 – The Portuguese National Health Service spent about 12 million euros (about $16 million dollars) in the last six years to recruit Cuban doctors, the local newspaper Jornal I reported Tuesday.

In June 2009, the Government of the Socialist José Sócrates signed its first agreement with Cuba to address the shortage of family doctors. The first protocols provided for payment of a monthly payment of 5,900 euros for every Cuban professional, a base salary above the pay of the Portuguese healthcare provides, although the figure was reduced to 4,230 euros at the end of 2011.

Between August 2009 and 2011, Portugal disbursed 259,600 euros a month for a team of 44 Cuban doctors. Spending in 2012 and 2013 was 164,970 per month for 39 professionals. Following the changes in the latest revision of the agreement last April, the monthly cost is currently 219,960 euros, according to information published by Jornal I.

Payments are made every three months to the Cuban Medical Services Company, which is responsible for paying for healthcare workers, although each of them receives less than a quarter of the total disbursed by Portugal for their services. Cuban authorities justify these deductions to finance training and for the National Public Health Service.

In addition, Portugal has assumed the cost of travel between the two countries, including during the holidays, so that doctors can travel once a year to their country of origin.

The workers on this mission are subject to Cuba’s code of ethics and disciplinary rules. They cannot participate in political activities or make statements to the press, and must inform the authorities if they want to marry. The agreement also provides that in case of abandonment of the mission or violation of the contract, the doctors cannot return to Cuba for a period of eight years.

 

Do You Recognize the Face of This Rafter? / 14ymedio

Some photos from the collection of Willy Castellanos (Exodus Project website)

Some photos from the collection of Willy Castellanos (Exodus Project website)

The photographer Willy Castellanos fought so that the faces of the more than 30,000 rafters who fled Cuba in the summer of 1994 would not be forgotten. The Exodus Project, by the Aluna Art Foundation, in which the Polish documentary film maker Marian Marskinsky is also involved, attempts to once again give names to the protagonists of the exodus of that era.

Castellanos documented the departure from the island of dozens of people in precarious vessels from the beaches of 30th and 24th in Miramar, and from the Cojimar esplanade, east of Havana, during the so-called Rafter Crisis.

The photographer launches a call for all those who recognize the faces immortalized in the photos to provide information to help reconstruct their individual stories.

“Today, 20 years later, I want to once again find these people. I want to document the progress of their lives from the precise moment that my old Nikon captured them on the Cuban coast exchanging spells with fate and the sea, to aspire to a different life. If you recognize yourself, or recognize someone you know in these images and, like me, value the importance of remembering and are moved to tell about it, call or email me,” Castellanos said on the website of the project.

The curator Adriana Herrera of Aluna Art Foundation and Castellanos himself are preparing an exhibition at the Spanish Cultural Center of Miami, which will open in September. The exhibition will also feature videos and installations by Cuban artists such as Coco Fusco and Juan-Si Gonzalez.