Families Step Up in Place of the State to Support Children’s Baseball

Many of the children who begin to practice baseball have the dream of being part of the national team and one day playing in the US Major Leagues. (Víctor C.)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos A. Torres Fleites, Santa Clara, 12 February 2018 — The Natilla Jiménez baseball field in Santa Clara, known as El Sandinito, is filled on the weekends with children who share a dream: to become part of the provincial team, later of Cuba’s national team and, perhaps, finish in the Big Leagues in the United States. Since the State has ended its policies that support sports, families have taken on the task of providing their children with the necessary resources to achieve that long-sought fame.

Natural talent and hard training are not enough for the development of an elite athlete. Achieving success in the sport of balls-and-strikes requires starting at an early age and spending a lot of time practicing with the right equipment to avoid injuries.

The uniform, the specific shoes, a bat, a glove, the protective masks and kneepads for the catchers, make up a basic set that can run to between 60 and 100 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC — roughly the same in dollars), an amount that is not always available to all families. Years after promoting sports as a right of the people, the situation today means that only those with more resources can afford this arsenal of materials, often bought on the black market. continue reading

On weeknight evenings, after school, dozens of parents meet at El Sandinito, where some 30 children under the age of twelve practice ball. The social differences that the Revolution wanted to eliminate are obvious just looking across the field to see what families have been able to do to make their son resemble, as much as possible, a professional baseball player.

The boys, under the expert eye of two coaches, practice in the Special Area, one of the eight that exists in the city of Santa Clara and is supervised by the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER). The state entity barely takes care of the most basic infrastructure. With the economic crisis that the country is going through, the government is finding it very difficult in keeping sports going.

The overgrown grass, the deterioration of the bleachers and the poor state of the sanitary services dent the enthusiasm, but both children and parents seem willing to overcome such inconveniences.

“You have to come as if it were for an interprovincial trip, but you have to make these sacrifices so that the child grows in discipline and in physical form,” says a grandmother, protecting herself from the sun with an umbrella, who does not miss a practice. “I had to learn all about baseball, because before I didn’t know anything,” she says with amusement.

The group of parents applauds when one of the children connects a hit and runs with his impeccable uniform to first base. “That’s my son,” says a man with dark glasses, grinning from ear to ear. “I’ve asked him not to slide into base too hard, so his pants will last longer,” he confesses.

Pedro Fuentes, one of the two coaches at El Sandinito, sweats oceans while moving from one side of the field to the other. The whistle in his mouth stops some and makes others run. The ideal age to start practicing baseball is seven, he tells 14ymedio. Enrollment in the program is open throughout the year and only requires that the child be accompanied by one of their parents.

An improvised bat and a ball made of cloth are often the only implements to practice baseball that many children have (Pablo S.)

Sometimes they allow older children to enter “who have a good body type and show interest in baseball,” he adds, referring to the youth’s temperament. “We can’t accept all those who approach us due to lack of capacity and the needed equipment and fields, so we have to make a selection.”

In the programs in which the teacher works, the students learn the general foundations of the sport, such how to move around and place themselves on the field. They are also taught how to use the equipment of the game.

Fuentes is critical of how little attention they receive from the authorities. He thinks that to achieve good results in national and international baseball, it is necessary to broaden the fundraising at the base and “strengthen the lower categories.” Without the support of state agencies something like that becomes an almost impossible task.

In recent years, Cuba has experienced a significant decrease in competitive results in all baseball competitions. Fuentes regrets that Cuba is only earning medals on occasion and at a level more or less limited to lower level competitions.

Private management of the fields is not allowed, although there has been no lack of community initiatives to transform vacant lots or plazas to create ball fields. “Champions are not made by happenstance,” says a Havana sports methodologist consulted by this newspaper.

“The situation is complicated because along with the lack of resources we have vandalism,” says the professional, who preferred anonymity. He also criticized the ’diversion’ (i.e. theft) of sports equipment for resale on the black market.

“It’s like having a broken pipeline. Everything that is invested or every product that is delivered is not going to make it into the hands of those who need it most, but rather it ends up with those who turn it into a private business,” he says.

The wound is still open with regards to the performance of the Granma team in the Caribbean Series in Guadalajara, Mexico, where the Cuban squad was in third place, and at Sandinito parents and coaches exchange views on the current state of national baseball.

Although soccer has gained much ground in the preferences of children and youth, it is still common to see these baseball games in the corners or squares of the cities of the Island. (CV)

Fuentes thinks that “the fall” in the earning of medals is due to the shortage of trainers willing to transmit their knowledge to new generations of players for such low salaries, between 300 and 400 Cuban pesos (CUP — $12-$16 US) per month according to the category they are working in.

Pelayo, one of the parents who accompanies his son to each training in Santa Clara, considers that children “move forward and do not abandon practice when they have the interest of teachers, in addition to the support and enthusiasm of their family.”

Some small private businesses have seen in this need a niche market, as is the case of Chueco, a small producer of baseball uniforms that also helps organize children’s tournaments.

The uniforms made by Chueco “are high quality and resemble those of the Major Leagues,” says Romelio, grandfather of a player of the Los Halcones de Guanabacoa team in the Sub 12 category. The team uniform is a combination of blue and orange made by local entrepreneurs and sells for 30 CUC.

In general, a championship between municipalities can cost “each family about 50 CUC, without counting the clothing and equipment, only in transportation, food and gifts,” he says.

In Santa Clara, Pelayo confirms that assessment. “The bats, gloves and baseball uniforms the children have is because they have been bought by their relatives, in the vast majority of cases, abroad.”

On the black market, an official baseball glove can exceed 50 CUC, more than double what a coach of any sport on the island earns in a month’s work, “a real embarrassment,” according to Pelayo.

In the children’s categories a solid rubber ball (known as Kenko) is used, which differs from those used in the higher categories, and whose value is around 12 CUC each on the black market. When there is a long ball, the parents applaud but also watch the ball with concern, for fear that it will be damaged.

“If this continues, baseball practice will become a luxury that only the children of families with more economic resources can afford,” laments Pelayo.

_______________________

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.

Breeding Birds In Captivity, From Pastime To Lucrative Business

“Bird breeding, today, has become the economic sustenance of many families,” says breeder Luis Morales Torres. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos A. Torres Fleites, Santa Clara, 26 January 2018 — Luis Morales Torres has lived among the chirping for 40 years. This Villaclareño fell in love with breeding birds in 1967. Today, canaries, the main breed he works with, are not only his passion and main pastime, but a way to make a living. Like him, another 10,000 people throughout the Island breed more than 30 species of birds for sale, according to data from the National Ornithological Association of Cuba (ANOC).

“Bird breeding today has become the economic sustenance of many families,” Morales Torres tells 14ymedio, adding that the economic difficulties that are experienced on the island have led many people to see this hobby as a lucrative business. continue reading

The best specimens of canaries can be purchased from breeders through the ANOC at a price of 6 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) and those of lower quality are sold through pet stores for 4 CUC.

Across the Island, there are 17 Non-Agricultural Cooperatives (CNA) engaged in the captive breeding of birds, according to data from the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI). In all, there are 431 entities engaged in this work, which was authorized in 2013 when the state allowed cooperatives and self-employed individuals to engage in a new set of money-making endeavors.

Although it is a business that provides benefits to breeders, Morales Torres warns that “[it] is not easy to raise canaries because it is still expensive and takes a lot of dedication.” It is also a market not immune to risks, which include the mistakes of those who approach breeding for the first time.

At first, many of Morales’ birds died because he did not know how to prepare a substitute for the soft food that canaries give their young in the first days of life. In addition, he made the cages with thin branches and wands from the coconut palm tree because the costs of wire and wood wands were prohibitive.

With patience, the Villaclareño saved enough money to buy canaries that served as a genetic base for several generations of beautiful specimens. Even so, in the process of becoming a professional bird breeder there have been some bitter stumbles along the way, such as the loss of some animals preyed on by mice or the hard years of the Special Period in the 1990s — after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its subsidies for Cuba — when “nobody bought a bird because of the cost and delicacy” associated with taking care of them.

With patience, Luis Morales Torres saved enough money to buy canaries that served as a genetic base for several generations of beautiful specimens. (14ymedio)

Currently, caring for only one of these animals still requires a large initial investment, since the owners feed their canaries eggs. Between them, four or five canaries can consume an egg a day, and given the shortage of this product on the island after Hurricane Irma, the breeding process is ever more complicated and expensive.

In addition, preparing other mixtures to feed the birds, made from a base of grain, sunflower seeds, millet or birdseed can mean a disbursement of 50 Cuban pesos every 20 days to support 15 canaries, but owners with fewer resources measure out this formula so that the preparation lasts longer.

Morales Torres, who was vice president of thecolored canaries group in the Ornithological Association of Villa Clara, appears to be a very careful breeder. In his bird farm he moves slowly among the cages, feeds some, looks at others carefully and checks that everything is clean and comfortable for his colorful animals.

The breeders’ clients are very diverse people, ranging from private business owners who want to decorate their premises, to families that acquire them because they “sing very beautifully,” especially the males. Also, many parents bring their children to pet stores seeking a first animal for them to care for.

But on the Island, the commercialization of birds in captivity is not only a business to satisfy the internal demand. In Artemisa, The House of the Birds is one of the CNA’s dedicated to the sale of ornamental birds, including their export and import thanks to a resolution of the Ministry of Agriculture. The breeders that are part of the cooperative keep 60% of the revenue from sales with the remaining 40% going to the coffers of the State.

During 2016, this cooperative exported 4,817 birds, with the species most in demand being parrots and roseicollis. The destinations of the shipments included countries such as Mexico, Canada, Guatemala, Panama, Venezuela and Honduras, and others as infrequent as North Korea.

As an experienced breeder, Morales is committed to changing the mentality, especially among “older people” and taking advantage of the fact that many countries are interested in acquiring Cuban birds “for export and also to acquire products and technology that allows them to improve this hobby.”

 _______________________________

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.

Teachers Prefer To Work As Private Tutors In Villa Clara

In the last five years more than 450 teachers have left Villa Clara classrooms. (Telesur)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos A. Torres Fleites, Santa Clara, 29 January 2018 — The constant trickle of teachers leaving the classrooms in Villa Clara province to work in another occupation or as private tutors does not cease. During the first four months of the 2017-2018 school year, 82 teachers left the classroom, increasing the deficit of professionals in the region, which in the last five years has seen the loss of more than 450 teachers throughout the province.

An official of the Ministry of Education (MINED), who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed to 14ymedio that professionals who decide to abandon teaching are mainly driven by the low salaries, and it is not uncommon for them to end up self-employed, working as private tutors. continue reading

Blanca Estévez Díaz, who works in the provincial labor department in Villa Clara, says that in the region there are some 70 private teachers in the provincial capital alone, and according to her they claim they have better working conditions and higher salaries than they did working in public education.

As of December of last year, a total of 322 teachers who at some time had been working in MINED educational institutions were self-employed in the province, where tourism, commerce or food service have also become sectors of refuge for those who decide leave teaching.

For Laura Martínez López, a former teacher at the Ernesto Guevara Vocational School in Santa Clara, exchanging her position as a teacher for her own food service business has been a relief that has solved multiple problems she faced in the 18 years in which he worked as a teacher.

Martínez received a monthly salary of 750 Cuban pesos (less than 30 dollars) without a benefit popularly called “stimulation” – i.e. a bonus – which is received by workers in other state sectors and which supplements the basic salary with a sum in cuban Convertible pesos, or with a bag of food and cleaning supplies.

In the opinion of several teachers consulted by this newspaper, the State must at least triple current salaries and improve conditions in schools to reverse the exodus of professionals seeking better economic and employment opportunities.

The authorities have tried to alleviate the deficit by accelerating the graduation of new teachers. Last year more than 3,800 teachers graduated nationally in the 24 schools of education across the country.

In the case of Villa Clara, more than 200 of these new teachers started in September teaching in pre-schools, primary schools and English education, after graduating from the Manuel Ascunce Domenech School of Education.

However, the shortage of teachers far exceeds in numbers those who arrive in the classroom from the pedagogical schools, along with the retired teachers who return to support their recently graduated colleagues and university students who teach some subjects. The current school year started with a deficit of 16,000 teachers throughout the country, as acknowledged by the Minister of Education, Ana Elsa Velázquez.

__________________________________

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.