Cuba Opens First Wholesale Market, For Private Cooperatives Only

Last August, the issuing of licenses to private restaurants and tourist rental businesses was temporarily halted. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 18 March 2018 — Mercabal, the first wholesale market in Cuba, opened its doors in Havana, initially intended only for non-agricultural private cooperatives but with the promise of extending it to the other self-employed workers of the Island, the official newspaper Granma reports on the front page.

The facility already has 35 customers, who have access to a discount of 20% off the retail price on products such as beans, cigars, soft drinks, beers, sugar, salt, jams, hamburgers and sausages, which are in high demand in private sector restaurants, coffee shops and bars. continue reading

Chicken, one of the most consumed foods, will be reduced by up to 30% compared to its price in the retail network, says Granma, which acknowledges that the Cuban government is responding to “one of the most repeated demands of those who exercise the new non-state forms of management in the country.”

“To the extent that conditions permit, this experience will be extended to the self-employed in units leased” to the State, explained the Minister of Domestic Trade, Mary Blanca Ortega.

For now available only in the capital city, the next wholesale markets will open “gradually” in the rest of the island, “once this initial proposal is in optimal operation and depending on the places where more self-employment exist,” said the article.

In Cuba today there are more than half a million private or “self-employed” workers, who are engaged in categories of work permitted by the Cuban Government.

More than 12,000 are members of non-agricultural cooperatives, which already number about 420 throughout the country, the vast majority of them dedicated to food services, commerce, other services, construction and industry.

Located in the Havana municipality of Plaza of the Revolucion, Mercabal will open from Monday to Saturday with products from ten direct suppliers, which will replenish the market according to the customers’ monthly orders.

In order to use the services of the new market, the self-employed person must have updated their client file and have an account with a magnetic card, issued by the state-owned Banco Metropolitano.

The 2010 expansion of private work — which includes non-agricultural cooperatives — has been one of the key reforms of the government of the outgoing Cuban leader Raul Castro to update the socialist model and reduce the overlarge workforce of the state sector.

As of last August, the Island began a process of reordering “cuentapropismo” (self-employment), as a part of which the issuing of licenses to private restaurants and tourist rentals, among other activities, has been temporarily halted to curb illegalities, “deviations” and “correct deficiencies.”

The licenses no longer being issued are precisely those in most demand among the would-be self-employed.

Although it promised that the new measure would not be in effect “for a very long period of time,” the Cuban government has not yet resumed the delivery of licenses to Cuba’s self-employed, who already represent 12% of the country’s labor force.


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Cuban Banking System Lacks Infrastructure to Service Remittance Market

In the last eight years, the use of remittances has diversified to cover more of Cubans’ needs. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, 7 March 2018 — The Cuban banking system lacks the necessary infrastructure and technology to provide services to the overseas remittance market, which in 2017 totaled 3.575 billion dollars from the United States alone, according to a report issued on Tuesday by a consultant specializing in the Cuban economy.

The Miami-based Havana Consulting Group (THCG) released a report highlighting the “accelerated transformation” experienced by the Cuban remittance market since 2008, which is focused primarily on providing family support as well as footwear and clothing needs. continue reading

In fact, in the last eight years, the use of remittances has broadened to cover some of Cubans’ other needs, such as the costs of mobile phones, internet accounts, vacations and business investments.

Today even the purchase of cars, spare parts, mortgage payments, medical insurance and private tutors for college entrance exams are necessities that are paid for with remittances from the US, where more than 90% of them originate.

THCG predicts that remittances from the United States will rise to 5.285 billion dollars in 2025.

However, this economic landscape of family remittances — characterized as one of “transformation, diversification and growth” — is impacted by a banking system that lacks the infrastructure to offer adequate payment services and delivery channels.

“More than half a million private sector Cuban business people generate thousands of financial transactions daily that do not go through Cuban banks because the conditions do not exist to handle them,” writes Emilio Morales, president of THCG, in the company’s extensive report, which sheds light the Cuban consumer market.

Morales adds that a large part of these transactions are handled through “payment networks of remittance agencies and other informal channels.”

A financial activity that, according to the expert, costs Cuban banks tens of millions of dollars in potential profits every year “because they do not have the technological and digitized infrastructure capable of offering these services.”

There is currently no banking transfer system between US financial institutions and Cuban banks, and Cubans have “limited access to tools” that allow them to receive money directly from their bank accounts.

In this context, Cuban banks have a “great opportunity to insert themselves into the remittance payment networks” and to “create formal channels for Cuban entrepreneurs to conduct commercial transactions through banks.”

In addition to the fourteen existing categories, the firm has identified seven new ones for the use of remittances in the next eight years: water, electricity and mortgage payments, cruise vacations, medical insurance, car purchase or rental, and payment of cable or satellite television.

In Morales’ opinion a number of new “modalities” will have “a strong impact on the market and represent a great oportunity for Cuban banking.”


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Cubans Don’t Hold Elections, They Ratify the Names on the Ballot

Cuba’s first vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel (center front, blue shirt) and his wife Lis Cuesta line up to vote in the general election. (EFE / Alejandro Ernesto)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Sara Gómez Armas, Havana, 12 March 2018 —  Cuba voted this Sunday for the deputies that will form the National Assembly, charged with electing a new president in April, in elections that are the last step before the replacement of Raul Castro. The elections are conceived by the Government as a defense of socialism and the Revolution, which they consider “under attack” by the United States.

The island’s first vice president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, stressed that Cubans are expressing their support for the Revolution, which is being “attacked and threatened” by the United States, which in recent months has approved measures that are “offensive and harm millions of Cubans.” continue reading

Diaz-Canel, who by all accounts will be the next president, exercised his right to vote before a large collection of national and international media in his hometown of Santa Clara, from which he aspires to a position as a national deputy.

In an image unusual among the leaders of the country, where senior officials bypass the line altogether, Diaz-Canel lined up to vote for about twenty minutes, accompanied by his wife, during which time he took the opportunity to talk to and greet other voters in that city, where he has been beloved since he served as the first provincial secretary of the Communist Party, between 1994 and 2003.

Diaz-Canel, 57, accused the Trump Administration of launching “insults against Cuba” and restarting the “rhetoric of the Cold War” amid the retreat in the bilateral relationship, marked by the tightening of the embargo, the reduction of personnel in the American embassy in Havana and the suspension of the office’s consular work.

“We have been constantly attacked for almost 60 years and we stand firm here. History tells us who succeeds, those who persevere and those who keep their principles intact,” he said.

More than eight million Cubans were called to the polls to vote for the deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power, which will be sworn in on April 19, when it will choose from among its members those who will fill the 33 positions on the Council of State, the highest body of Government, which includes the president.

At 5:00 PM local time, an hour before the polling stations closed, 6.93 million people had already voted, 78.5% of the electorate, according to the latest data that were available yesterday.

On Monday, the National Electoral Commission will present the final data of the day, during which 41 municipalities were authorized to remain open for an additional hour due to the rains that affected part of the island.

According to the president of the Electoral Commission, Alina Balseiro, the  results of the day were “satisfactory and positive,” with the “massive,” “enthusiastic” and “disciplined” participation of the population.

With the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) as the only legal party, the elections, in practice, are simply a ratification of the names of the ballot, since there are 605 candidates throughout the country and the same number of seats in the Parliament.

The deputies that do not belong to the PCC come from pro-government mass organizations linked to the party, and although independent candidacies are allowable under the law, the candidancies of people linked to the opposition do not prosper.

Regarding this electoral process, Díaz-Canel highlighted that the broad participation reflects a “commitment” of the Cuban people to “the historical generation” that has led the country “and that forged the Revolution.”

“It is a tribute to Fidel and a support to Raúl, our president, who in the midst of this difficult situation has led the process of updating our economic and social model,” said Díaz-Canel, who has been “number two” in the Government since 2013.

President Raúl Castro, 86, was the first to vote in the municipality of Segundo Frente, in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, for which he is a candidate for deputy for the upcoming term.

After exercising his suffrage, Raul Castro spoke with the electors at the school that served as his polling place, who recalled that the Second Eastern Front that he led in the Rebel Army had been created there, and rose in arms in the Sierra Maestra against the regime of Fulgencio Batista until the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.

Although he is leaving the presidency, Raúl Castro will continue until 2021 as head of the PCC, which controls the power structures on the island, so he will remain involved in the decision-making process.

For the holding of the elections, 24,470 polling stations have been set up, distributed across the 12,515 districts, to which more than 38,400 children have been summoned for the first time, to stand by the ballot boxes and salute each voter.

The 1,265 delegates to the Provincial Assemblies are also being elected at the same time, since provincial elections are held in parallel.


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US Tourism Sector Asks Trump to Lower Obstacles to Travel to Cuba

Far right: US Embassy building in Havana. On September 29 the Department of State asked Americans “not to travel to Cuba” because of the alleged acoustic attacks against diplomats in the US embassy there. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Washington, 1 March 2018 — A coalition of 28 tour operators and US companies specializing in educational trips to Cuba called on President Donald Trump today to reduce restrictions on travel to the island, a destination that the US government recommends “reconsidering.”

Cuba is listed as a Category 3 Alert country (“reconsider the trip”) by the US Government.

“This warning of inappropriate travel has caused fear and confusion and has drastically reduced the number of US citizens traveling to Cuba,” Andrea Holbrook, CEO of Holbrook Travel, one of the companies signing the petition said in a statement. continue reading

On September 29 the Department of State asked Americans “not to travel to Cuba” because of the alleged acoustic attacks on the island between November 2016 and August of last year against 24 Americans (embassy staff or relatives), attacks of which the USA has not yet found the cause or the guilty parties.

In addition, the Trump Government withdrew 60% of the staff of the Embassy of Havana and expelled 15 diplomats from the Cuban Embassy in Washington.

“The consequences of the actions of the Department of State have negatively affected not only US companies and institutions that send travelers to Cuba for educational purposes, but the lack of Embassy staff in Havana has also made obtaining visas very difficult,” said Kate Simpson, president of Academic Travel Abroad.

In January, the government changed Cuba’s destination category and included it in Category 3, a rating that according to the tourism sector is “unjustifiable” due to the lack of real evidence that these attacks even happened.

For nations in Category 3, the United States recommends its citizens “avoid traveling due to serious security risks.”

This group also includes five other Latin American countries: Venezuela, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

On the other hand, the State Department is facing a deadline this week for the requirement that, six months after the reduction of the Embassy staff in Cuba, that staff must be reassigned to another location or returned to the same site.

In 2017, almost three times as many Americans traveled to Cuba compared to the previous year, according to data from the Cuban Foreign Ministry.


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The Tainos Did Not Die Out, They Survive in the Caribbean, Report Says

Reconstruction of a Taino village in Cuba. (Michal Zalewski / cc)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, 20 February 2018 — The Taínos, an indigenous ethnic group associated with the inhabitants of the Caribbean, did not die out as it is frequently affirmed but were integrated into the new civilization after the arrival of the Spaniards, while still maintaining their roots, says a study published this Monday.

The original genetic sample used by the authors of the research, published yesterday in the PNAS journal of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), came from the tooth of a woman found on Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas, who lived between the 8th and 10th centuries, at least 500 years before Christopher Columbus arrived in America. continue reading

Comparing the ancestral genome of this native of the Bahamas with those of current Puerto Ricans, the researchers found that they were “closer to the Taíno ethnic group than to any other group of indigenous people in the Americas.”

However, the researchers consider that these characteristics are not unique to the inhabitants of Puerto Rico and hope that future studies will find “similar genetic legacies in other Caribbean communities.”

“It’s a fascinating discovery. Many history books say that the indigenous population of the Caribbean was almost entirely annihilated but people who think they resemble the Taino have always argued for their continued existence,” said Hannes Schroeder, a professor at the University of Copenhagen and lead author of the study.

“Now we know they were right all along: there has been some form of genetic continuity in the Caribbean,” said Schroeder, who led the research as part of the Nexus 1492 project.

The investigation includes the testimony of Jorge Estévez, a Taíno descendant who, despite growing up in New York, remembers the stories of his grandmother and his ancestors. The results of the study confirm what Estevez heard as a child.

“This shows that the true story (of the Tainos) is certainly one of assimilation and not total extinction,” said Estevez who works at the National Museum of American Indians and participated as an assistant to the project’s research team.

Another important aspect contributed by the study is the possibility of confirming the theory that many of the natives who inhabited the Caribbean islands have their origins in the Arahuacos, originating in the north of South America.

“I am truly grateful to the researchers, although this may have been a subject of scientific research for them, for us the descendants is truly liberating and stimulating,” Estévez concluded.


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Marino Murillo Recognizes "More Errors Than Virtues" in Applying the Reforms

Mariano Murillo directs the Permanent Commission for the implementation of the New Economic Policy. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Havana, 24 February 2018 — Cuban Vice President Marino Murillo acknowledged on Friday that the implementation of the economic reforms undertaken under President Raúl Castro’s presidency of the island has generated “more errors than virtues” and said that there is a “distance” between the initial objectives and the reforms in practice.

Murillo, known as the “Tsar of reform,” pointed out that “insufficient training” for the island’s human resources limits the implementation of national policies associated with the updating of socialism. His comments were made during a seminar with executives from the health sector, according to the official media. continue reading

Since the approval of the first reforms in 2010, the Cuban government has applied a total of 100 Guidelines — as the new economic directives are officially called — which have always been accompanied by education and training for the intermediate levels in charge of carrying them out, said Murillo.

“But the quality has not been good,” admitted Murillo, Minister of the Economy from 2014 to 2016 and currently head of the Permanent Commission for the Implementation of the New Economic Policy, charged among other things with defining the conceptualization of the new Cuban socialist model.

Murillo noted that in the area of human resource training there were “flaws” in the content and in the selection of participants and he stressed the importance of holding new seminars to raise awareness of the new legal rules governing the business system.

The two fundamental pillars of the reforms to “update” socialism are the new arrangements for foreign investment and the opening of the private sector, by expanding the professions in which individuals can work autonomously, “cuentapropismo” (literally ’on-your-own-account-ism’) as self-employment is officially referred to. Currently this form of employment now involves more than half a million entrepreneurs.

In August, the government halted the granting of new self-employment licenses for the most widespread professions, such as restaurants and renting lodging to tourists, reportedly in order to improve and correct irregularities.

Since then the sector has been waiting for a new regulations, which it is feared will be more restrictive.

As a positive aspect in the progress of the reforms, Murillo stressed that the relationship between the directors of state-owned companies and government boards has been tightened when allocating the budget to “maximize” production.

One of the pending reforms on the island is the monetary unification — that is ending the dual currency system consisting of Cuban pesos and Cuban convertible pesos — which, according to Murillo, should create a “more favorable” environment for state-owned companies, since the two currencies currently ciculating on the island are regulated under different exchange rates according to the sector.

In Cuba, the Cuban peso (CUP) circulates as the national currency and the convertible peso (CUC) is considered a hard currency (roughly equivalent to the dollar and worth 24 CUP), a monetary duality that has persisted since the 1990s and that has generated serious distortions in corporate accounting and macroeconomics, as well as led to two standards of living among the population.

Most Cubans collect their salaries and pay for basic services with the national currency, the CUP; the average monthly salary is about 672 Cuban pesos (equivalent to about 28 dollars).

The timetable — without dates — to complete the unification has been announced since 2013, but has not yet been implemented. However, according to several analysts it is likely to be realized this year, since the lack of a single currency is also one of the main obstacles to foreign investment.

In his closing speech at the last plenary session of Parliament in December 2017, Raúl Castro stressed that the end of the dual currency system “cannot be delayed any longer” and it is the “process that will be most determinate” in advancing the reforms promoted during his mandate.


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Cuba Extends Internet Censorship and Continues to Harass and Arrest Opponents

Women connecting to the internet through wifi enabled in a park in Jagüey Grande. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 22 February 2018 – “Unwarranted restrictions” on access to and freedom of expression on the internet have been added to the traditional forms of censorship in Cuba, where the government continues to arbitrarily detain and “harass” people critical of it, according to Amnesty International’s 2017-2018 report.

The document, released on Wednesday, stresses that the extension of censorship to the online environment weakens the country’s progress in education and describes a test by the Open Interference Observatory on the Web which detected 41 websites blocked from the island, all critical of the government and with content addressing human rights or techniques to avoid censorship. continue reading

Although Cuba, the only country in the Americas that continues to bar access to Amnesty International, continues to “expand access” to the network and has reduced the price to connect, the cost – one dollar per hour in wifi-enabled parks– is still “prohibitive” for the majority of the population in a country where the average monthly salary is less than 30 dollars.

The organization also stresses that “harassment, intimidation and arbitrary detention” of political and human rights activists continues, although the figures are lower than in 2016.

According to data from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation – the only organization that keeps a full count of these incidents on the Island – in 2017 there were 5,155 arbitrary detentions, compared to 9,940 in 2016.

Among the main targets of the repression, Amnesty International cites the Ladies in White, an organization of women who have relatives being held as political prisoners.

The report notes that Dr. Eduardo Cardet, who replaced the late dissident Osvaldo Payá as head of the Christian Liberation Movement and who is named a prisoner of conscience, is serving a three-year sentence imposed in March for publicly criticizing Fidel Castro.

It also cites, among others, cases such as that of graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, who spent two months in prison for writing “He left” on a Havana wall hours after Castro’s death, and that of urban artist Yulier Pérez, “arbitrarily detained after months of intimidation and harassment by the authorities for expressing himself freely through his art.”

“The authorities continued to present false charges for common crimes to harass and detain representatives of the political opposition, which means that there were probably many more prisoners and prisoners of conscience than those documented,” the report said.

The firings for “discriminatory and for political reasons” are also included in the document, which notes that the State is still the largest employer in Cuba and also regulates the incipient private sector, which it uses to “repress even the most subtle criticism,” practices that are reinforced by the absence of independent labor unions.

Despite the thaw with the United States, now reversed by the Donald Trump Administration, the report emphasizes that a high rate of Cuban migration persists, driven by the “exceptionally low” salaries and the “control of free expression.”

This bilateral change in direction also makes the possible lifting of the US embargo on the island less likely and “continues to weaken economic, social and cultural rights.”

Finally, the report’s Cuban chapter notes that in 2017 the first visit to the Island by an independent United Nations expert on human rights took place, although the expert was refuses “access to the whole country, its prisons to the majority of independent human rights organizations.”

Cuba has not ratified either the international Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2008) nor the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.


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Three Women Killed and 21 Others Injured When ‘Passenger Truck’ Overturns in Cuba

The truck – modified to operate as a bus – overturned between the cities of Santiago de Cuba and Palma Soriano. (

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 19 February 2018 — Three women were killed and 21 other people were injured as a result of an crash that occurred this Sunday when a ‘passenger truck’ overturned between the cities of Santiago de Cuba and Palma Soriano, Cuban state television reported. It is common in Cuba for trucks to be modified and adapted to serve essentially as buses, and many of them are open air with structures that do little to protect the passengers in the event of a crash.

The crash occurred on Sunday morning when the driver of the vehicle lost control of it, according to the source. Among the injured are five adults in serious condition and a child who suffered fractures in one leg and a foot injury. continue reading

Eleven injured were referred to provincial hospitals and ten are under observation in other health institutions. It is the fifth serious traffic crash in Cuba this week.

Last Friday a triple collision between two trucks and a tractor left a dozen injured in the central province of Villa Clara, and in previous days there were three other incidents, one of them in the mountainous area of ​​Santiago de Cuba, also involving an overturned truck, leaving twenty injured.

Among the injured are five adults in serious condition and a child who suffered fractures in one leg and a foot injury

A passenger bus also overturned on the central highway of the island, causing 40 injuries, and there was another serious crash that killed six people when a car and a cargo truck collided on the National Highway as it passed through Villa. Clear.

Traffic crashes, which average 31 a day, are the fifth leading cause of death in Cuba, and in the first half of 2017 (the latest official data available) there were 1,070 of these incidents, resulting in 314 deaths and 3,478 injuries.

The main causes are related to the lack of attention of the driver, the breach of the right of way and speeding, but other factors include the poor state of the roads, and the aging vehicle fleet, in a country where cars are routinely more than 50 years old.


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Painter Nelson Dominguez Opens Cuba’s First Rural Art Gallery in Cienfuegos

Nelson Domínguez, winner of the 2009 National Plastic Arts Prize. (Juventud Rebelde)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 16 February 2018 — As of Thursday, Cuban has its first rural art gallery, opened in the mountain community of Cumanayagua in Cienfuegos province, the fruit of a project of Nelson Domínguez, painter, sculptor, ceramists and engraver, and, winner of the 2009 National Plastic Arts Prize.

The new art gallery in the El Jobero community, designed to exhibit and market artworks and to serve as a place to celebrate events, is installed in the building that houses the theater group Los Elementos, according to the state-run Cuban News Agency.

The purpose of this initiative is “artistic and communal” and is intended to raise the aesthetic awareness and engagement in art of local residents. To this end, attached to the gallery will be a ceramic workshop, in addition to the exhibition hall, explained Dominguez. continue reading

“Working with the mountain people is exhilarating, as is enjoying the genius of the children of this community,” said the artist, who is confident that the exhibition space “will influence how art is approached in the future, due to the the beauty and comfort of this place, which is conducive to creation.”

Estudio Galería Molino Rojo, the name of the cultural institution, is part of Galerias Rurales, one of the most ambitious projects promoted by Domínguez with the aim of creating creative spaces in rural areas with a perspective towards economic development.

Domínguez said that two other rural galleries will be located in similar areas, one of them in the town of Baire, in the province of Santiago de Cuba, and the other in the town of Minas de Matahambre, in Pinar del Rio province.

This community cultural space joins other projects that the artist has undertaken involving painting, jewelry and sewing, also dedicated to stimulating the popular collection and creation of ceramic murals to donate to hospitals on the island.

The gallery is part of the Jobero Verde cultural project, installed on the 80 acres of a rural farm, where a library, a computer room and an amphitheater, attached to the side of a hill next to a river, have been built. The amphitheater is the main stage of the theater group Los Elementos.

Nelson Domínguez (1947) is a native of the rural area, having grown up in the mountains of the eastern Sierra Maestra. He graduated from the National Art School of Havana, and has participated in more than a hundred personal and collective exhibitions.

His works appear in institutions in Cuba and in public and private collections in countries such as Japan, the United States, Spain, Italy, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil and Sweden.


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Independent Reporting from Cuba Wins Ibero-American Award for Environmental Journalism

Cuban Julio Batista Rodríguez (in Madrid in the image), winner of the award, contributes to several media outlets, among them ‘Periodismo de Barrio’. (Facebook)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Madrid, 1 February 2018 — The Cuban journalist Julio Batista Rodríguez was awarded the Special Ibero-American Prize for Environmental Journalism and Sustainable Development for his work The Dead Waters of the Havana Club.

The report, published in Periodismo de Barrio on 28 August 2017,  denounces the dumping of the byproduct vinasse from La Ronera Santa Cruz, the largest distillery in Cuba, which has killed off all the fish along the coast of the Chipriona inlet. continue reading

The Ibero-American Special Prize for Environmental Journalism and Sustainable Development is one of the categories of the King of Spain International Journalism Awards, organized by the EFE agency and the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AECID), under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The jury, which granted the award unanimously, highlighted the difficulty of carrying out this kind of reporting in Cuba and also noted that Periodismo de Barrio is a non-profit organization whose primary aspiration is “to do journalism.”

The work of the Cuban journalist was selected among this year’s 44 aspirants for the sixth edition of the award.

Julio Batista (b. 1989), graduated in Journalism from the School of Communication of the University of Havana, has been a sports reporter in the weekly Trabajadores (Workers), as well as collaborating in several digital magazines such as Progreso Semanal, Cuba Contemporánea, On Cuba and Cubahora.

The prize is endowed with 6,000 euros (7,465 dollars at current exchange rate) and a bronze sculpture by the artist Joaquín Vaquero Turcios, and is sponsored by the Aquae Foundation.


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’Pizarra,’ a Cuban Twitter, Launches to Connect the Two Shores

A mobile phone showing the site Apretaste! (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Miami, 27 January 2018 — Pizarra, a new Twitter-like social network created so that Cubans inside and outside the island can communicate, is already working and will allow users themselves to moderate content.

This was explained to EFE by one of the social medium’s creators, the young computer scientist Salvi Pascual who has been working for half a year on programming the software from Miami.

“We are trying to create a communication window based on Twitter but with the difference that Pizarra allows us to sort information by topics,” explains Pascual, a 32-year-old Cuban who is the executive director of the social networking site “Apretaste!” continue reading

Apretaste! has 40,000 registered users in Cuba and works through email. Cuba is among the countries with the lowest internet connection rate in the world (only 5% of Cubans have actual connections to the World Wide Web according to research from the NGO Freedom House).  Given this reality, Pascual, who has a master’s degree in computer science and divides his time between the United States and Spain, has always challenged himself to find ways to connect his compatriots.

“It is very difficult for ordinary people to understand that we work based on emails, but that’s the way it is, and our input and output (from Cuba) is encrypted,” he says.

Around 300 users already use Pizarra to communicate with friends and relatives on the island. The vast majority of them, explains Pascual, live in the United States, the place “with the greatest number of Cubans outside Cuba.”

Right now, he and his team — which includes a “good hacker” who lives in Cuba and works under the pseudonym Kuma Hacker — are finishing an application of Pizarra for mobile phones that will be available at the end of March.

The name of the social network, “Blackboard” in English, was chosen because “it is a kind of synonym for learning and knowledge, a place where everyone can write and read openly,” explained the programmer.

Pascual says that his new software, which works “free of any political color,” has a function that can block or call out people who misuse it.

“We did not block any content, not even the Granma newspaper, so we have made some people unhappy,” he lamented.

Although the mobile phone version of application may or may not be accessible to users from within the island, the new social network can be used there through the platform Apretaste!

The Cuban government says that 35% of the population is connected to the Internet, but Freedom House research reports that the actual number is only 5%, some 560,000 people from a population of just over 11 million inhabitants.

Data from Apretaste! finds that 25% of the population (about 2.8 million users) receive emails even if they do not have Internet.

Pascual relies on state accounts and state servers, such as those used by university students, diplomats, radio amateurs and doctors, who can access email through the government domain “cu.”

But the computer scientist based in Miami wants to go further. His Pizarra, he said, is also being created to function as a tourist guide.


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Historic Farm Where Cuba’s Wars of Independence Began to be Refurbished

Preserved equipment from the sugar plantation where Cuba’s wars of independence began. (

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 7 February 2018 — La Demajagua National Park, the farm in eastern Cuba where the wars of independence began in 1868, is being refurbished to improve its facilities, gardens and access roads, with the incorporation of new symbolic elements.

Located in Granma province, the farm was declared a national monument in 1978 and will be refurbished on the occasion of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the struggles for island’s  independence, the official newspaper Granma reported on Tuesday. continue reading

The renovation includes three new facilities, the reconstruction and expansion of the access road and the improvement of the patrimonial complex with “allegorical components” such as ten royal palms as a reference to the date, the 10th of October, on which the revolt began, and a lighting system with the colors of the Cuban flag (white, blue and red).

A “mount” of twelve flags will also be added in memory of the number of men who stayed with independence hero Carlos Manuel de Céspedes after the failure of the first military clash, the capture of the town of Yara, according to La Demajagua’s director, Carlos Céspedes, speaking to Granma.

All the improvements and the new features “will respect the patrimonial design dictated by the existing museum,” he added.

La Demajagua was a sugar plantation belonging to Céspedes who is considered Cuba’s “Father of the Nation.”  The ruins of the sugar mill and the curved stone wall are preserved, along with the original bell, which is the one the pro-independence hero rang the day the uprising began.

On that date, which marked the beginning of the Ten Years War against Spain, Céspedes shouted the island’s first pro-independence proclamation — “Independence or Death!” — and also freed his slaves.


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Trump, UN and OAS Asked To Not Recognize Transfer of Power In Cuba Without Free Elections

Activist Rosa María Payá in front of the new Cuban Embassy in Washington. (Twitter)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Miami, 7 February 2018 — On Tuesday, February 6, the Miami-Dade County Commission requested that the United States Government, the Organization of American States and the United Nations not recognize a possible transfer of power in Cuba if it is not the result of free elections.

The petition was contained in a resolution supported by Commissioner José Díaz on the occasion of tribute paid by the Miami-Dade Commission to the Cuban dissident, Rosa Maria Payá, for her work as the founder and coordinator of the Cuba Decide campaign. continue reading

The campaign is aimed at mobilizing the Cuban people to organize a binding plebiscite in which citizens can decide on the political system they want, according to an official of the Miami-Dade Commission.

In the resolution, which was unanimously approved, the Commission adopted Rosa Maria Payá’s call for the United States Government, the United Nations and the Organization of American States to “not recognize any succession of power in Cuba without free and multiparty elections that restore the self-determination of the Cuban people.”

Since Raúl Castro announced his intention to step down from the presidency, it is expected that his successor will be elected in a vote without opposition candidates on the electoral ballot.

“The Cuban people deserve the right to decide their own future in free, open and multiparty elections, not by a simulated vote orchestrated by the Communist regime,” said Commissioner Díaz.

Payá, the daughter of the dissident, Oswaldo Payá, who died in an automobile crash that his family believes was provoked by Castro agents in 2012, said that Cubans “need” the international community to support them in order to prevent a “dynastic succession” in Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart was Buried in the Colon Cemetery in Havana

Several wreaths remained on Monday on the vault of the Academy of Sciences of Cuba, in the Colon Cemetery of Havana, where Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart was buried on Sunday. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Havana, 5 February 2018 — The remains of the nuclear physicist Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart, Fidel Castro’s first-born son, known as Fidelito, who took his own life last Thursday, rest in the pantheon of the Academy of Sciences in the Colon Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Havana.

On Monday, the discreet black marble pantheon was covered with several wreaths of flowers, most of them of white roses, from his children and grandchildren, his mother, Mirtha Díaz-Balart, and his sisters on his mother’s side and his nephews, according to EFE. continue reading

The funeral of the revolutionary leader’s first-born, who committed suicide at the age of 68, was celebrated on Sunday in Havana, where he was honored at the headquarters of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, of which he was vice president at the time of his death, according to several attendess who published on social networks.

The official media did not publish anything about the funeral, organized privately by the family, as had already been explained in the official note published on the death.

The only public comments from the Castro family about the death of the the commander of the revolution’s oldest son were made last Friday by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raúl Castro and cousin of the deceased, who expressed appreciation on her Twitter and Facebook accounts for the condolences received.

Castro Díaz-Balart, the only child from Fidel Castro’s marriage with Mirtha Díaz-Balart, also served as scientific advisor to the Council of State of Cuba, the Island’s highest governing body.

According to the official statement released in state media, Fidelito was in a “deeply depressed state” for which he had been receiving treatment for months.

“As part of his treatment, he initially required hospitalization and then continued with outpatient follow-up during his social reincorporation,” the text said.

Trained in Russia, where he studied under a pseudonym for security, he was the head of Cuba’s nuclear policy between 1980 and 1992 and was in charge of the unfinished construction of the Jaragua nuclear power plant, which would have been the first installation of this type in the island.

Among his last public appearances were the investiture of Chemistry Nobelist Peter Agre, an American, as a member of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, in August of 2017, and a trip to Japan last October to represent Cuba in a scientific forum.

Few details of his personal life are known, but he was married to the Russian Natasha Smirnova, with whom he had three children (Mirta María, Fidel Antonio and José Raúl) and after divorcing his first wife he married the Cuban María Victoria Barreiro.

He had, in addition, five brothers recognized by their father (Alexis, Alexander, Antonio, Alejandro and Angel Castro Soto) and two sisters from his mother (the twins Mirta and America Silvia Núñez Díaz Balart). as well as Alina Fernández Revuelta, the illegitimate daughter of a relationship that Castro had with Natalia Revuelta.

In addition, his maternal cousins include Cuban-American Republican congressman Mario Díaz-Balart and former congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart, both known for their anti-Castro positions.


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Cuban Authorities Denounce ‘Illegalities’ in Vinales to Serve Explosion of Tourism

The Valley of Viñales has a landscape of mountains and mogotes unique in the world. (Marius Jovaiša)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 5 February 2018 — The Valley of Viñales, whose unique landscape has made it a highly attractive place for tourism, faces the potential risk of an uncontrolled exploitation as well as illegalities in the provision of services for tourists, which has required the authorities to adopt measures for its protection, according to the local press.

Viñales, where traditional methods of agriculture, highly valued vernacular architecture and traditional artisanal crafts and music ​​are preserved, was declared a National Monument in 1978, a Protected Area in 1998, a UNESCO World Heritage Center in 1999, and a National Park in 2001. continue reading

All these attributes, and in particular its stunning natural setting, have stimulated a growth in foreign tourism to the town of Viñales, which in 2016 received more than 700,000 visitors, followed by some 600,000 in 2017, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

To welcome the burgeoning boom of travelers, this valley in Pinar del Rio province currently has 2,300 rooms for rent and more than 130 restaurants that employ about 5,000 private workers, according to data provided by the president of the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power from the area, José Antonio Valle.

He explained that the interest stirred by the tourist destination caused people from other regions to start creating food services and lodging for tourists.

In this sense, the director of the Technical Office of Monuments of the Provincial Center of Cultural Heritage, Nidia Cabrera, said that the growth of the town “has been more in housing than in demographics, because there are many campaigns that encourage visitors to visit Viñales,” and in her opinion this growth “has exceeded all capabilities,” to host it.

“The number of people we see [working here] are not all residents, but personal attracted by the trade, since the destination is a source of employment. There are those who work in construction, who are hired to serve, wash and clean,” the official said.

In the opinion of these authorities, tourism itself is not as much a risk for Viñales as are the illegalities linked to services, in “precipitous” expansion, in order to respond to the growing demands of visitors.

The proliferation of buildings has led to violations of urban planning rules, including heights and extensions of oversized housing, landscaped areas paved over for patios, and remodeling carried out with forms and materials inconsistent with the area’s existing patterns of development.

Among the measures proposed to stop the illegalities and preserve the heritage site are the restoration of planted areas, the use of an approved color palette, the replanting of trees along the main streets, the homogeneous painting of buildings and the use of approved lighting.

“Viñales must preserve the identity values ​​that have given it that importance at the universal level, especially with regards to the care of the landscape,” said the president of the Provincial Commission of Monuments, Juan Carlos Rodríguez.

This month a group of specialists from the Physical Planning Institute and the National Heritage Council will carry out a survey “meter by meter” of the anomalies, with the collaboration of local people, to dictate the pertinent measures, reports the local press.

Also mentioned among the violations associated with the tourist activities is the uncontrolled exploitation of the footpaths intended for hikers that are  now being used for horseback riding. For this reason it was decided to control the activity of renting horses.


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