Almagro Laments the Illegitimate Transition of Cuba’s Dictatorship

Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio via EFE, 20April 2018 —  The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, lamented on Thursday what he called the “illegitimate transition” of Cuba’s “dictatorship” with now former Cuban president Raúl Castro replaced by his chosen successor, Miguel Díaz-Canel.

“Revolution is not defined as the triumph of dictatorship over freedom. The presidential succession that we have just witnessed is an attempt to perpetuate an autocratic, dynastic regime,” says Almagro in a written statement.

“It represents decades without democracy and the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” continue reading

The fifty-eight-year-old Díaz-Canel was proclaimed president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers by Cuba’s National Assembly after being voted into office by 603 of its 604 deputies, an electoral margin of 99.83%.

Díaz-Canel replaces eighty-six-year-old Raúl Castro, who left office after two terms.

Almagro claims that Díaz-Canel was chosen by the National Assembly “without the free expression of the Cuban people,” noting that “when a people’s sovereignty is ignored, it deligitimizes of the authority of its rulers.”

“A regime that imprisons and silences opponents and dissidents, which has eliminated freedom of expression, which has carried out selective executions of political prisoners, is not a system which can be assimilated or whose political practices are acceptable in this hemisphere in 2018,” says Almagro.

“Our hemisphere,” he added, “must continue to demand democracy, freedom, human rights, accountability and that dictators be brought before Inter-American and international courts of justice.

Cuba was suspended from OAS in 1962 after the triumph Cuban revolution, led by Fidel Castro. Although the organization’s member states lifted that suspension in 2009, Cuba has so far declined to rejoin.

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Díaz-Canel, Raúl Castro’s Disciplined Pupil Who Will Pilot Post-Castroism

Miguel Díaz-Canel, named as a possible successor to Raúl Castro, with Castro and, between them, Castro’s grandson/bodyguard. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 18 April 2018 — Miguel Diaz-Canel, Raúl Castro’s disciplined pupil, prepares to enter Cuban history books as the first president of post-Castroism, after a career forged from the base of the Communist Party, amidst unknowns regarding how he will pilot the new era that opens on the Island.

The name of the current first vice president is first on the proposed list from the National Candidacy Commission (CCN) for the formation of the highest government body, the State Council, which will be put to a vote in the National Assembly, the result of which will not be known until tomorrow. continue reading

The first president of Cuba in almost 60 years who will not be named Castro and who will not wear a military uniform (if we exclude the case of Osvaldo Dorticós, who formally filled the presidential chair under Fidel Castros’s rule and committed suicide in 1983), will lead the generational change promised by his predecessor, in a meticulously designed succession whose objective is to ensure the survival of the socialist system.

Belonging to a generation that did not participate in the struggle of the Sierra Maestra, educated in communist orthodoxy and marked in his youth by the socialism sponsored by the extinct USSR, Díaz-Canel is a man of the Communist Party (PCC) who has climbed, step by step and without histrionics, the rungs of power until reaching the highest leadership level.

“He is not an upstart nor unprepared,” said Raul Castro when in 2013 Diaz-Canel was appointed first vice president, the regime’s number two, which became his launching pad for the presidency.

Born in Placetas in 1960, this electronic engineer who turns 58 on Friday began his political career in 1987 in the Union of Young Communists (UJC) at the Central University of Las Villas, where he worked as a teacher.

Seven years later and, after progressing in the ranks of the UJC and joining the PCC, he was appointed first secretary of the party in his native province of Villa Clara.

There he left the imprint of a person accessible and close to the people during the hard times of the so-called Special Period in a Time of Peace, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its enormous economic support for the Island. In Villa Clara he could be seen touring the neighborhoods by bike or on foot, dancing at festive events and even supporting initiatives such as El Mejunje, a pioneering center in transvestite shows which become a symbol of the struggle for LGTBQI rights.

In 2003 he took a major step in his career: in addition to being named first secretary of the Party in the province of Holguín, he joined the all-powerful Political Bureau of the PCC.

He was already in General Raul Castro’s sights, who at that time emphasized Diaz-Canel’s “high sense of collective work and effectiveness with subordinates” and his “strong ideological firmness.”

His move to the national government came in 2009 as Minister of Higher Education. Four years later, in 2013, he was elevated to first vice president of the Councils of State and of Ministers, “a defining step in shaping the future direction of the country,” Raúl Castro announced at that time.

With a serious mien and somewhat cold and expressionless in his official appearances, Díaz-Canel is an experienced politician who has behaved cautiously, aware of the risks involved in being tempted by “the honey of power.”

Temptations that ended in the defenestration of previous “dauphins” of Castroism, including Roberto Robaina and Carlos Lage, two of the failed promises of the Fidelista era that attracted the spotlight more than Castro allowed.

Now, as “number two,” Díaz-Canel has become visible to Cubans and internationally: on the island his appearance in the state media has been constant and in the last five years he has made numerous international visits and tours.

In his public speeches, Díaz-Canel has exhibited a discourse faithful to revolutionary orthodoxy, with continuous references of loyalty to Fidel and Raúl Castro and to the historical generation that fought in the Sierra Maestra.

Like his mentor, Díaz-Canel is not a friend of lavish personal displays before the media and even less so before international ones, although he has spoken on several occasions of ending the secrecy of news sources and has admitted limitations in the official media.

One aspect that distinguishes him from his predecessors is a certain sensitivity to promoting new technologies in Cuba – among the countries in the world with the least access to the Internet – but with a view to counteracting the “pseudo-cultural avalanche,” “the banal” and “the subversive,” in order to replace it with the “contents of the Revolution.”

The challenges Díaz-Canel faces are as many as the uncertainties he arouses.

Having ruled out a political transition, the candidate is called to complete the reforms that Raúl Castro has left pending such as ending the Island’s dual currency system, expanding private work, growing foreign investment and improving the precarious salaries in the state sector.

Another question is how he will manage the battered relations with the United States after the brakes imposed by the Trump administration on the thaw between the two nations.

And one of the most interesting enigmas is how he will consolidate his own leadership, both before the population and in the complex balances of power in Cuba between the Communist Party, the Armed Forces and the Government, and between the reformist and orthodox sectors.

Diaz-Canel is a leader circumspect about his family life, although it is known that he has two children from his first marriage.

His second wife is Liz Cuesta, an academic expert in Cuban culture who has been seen in numerous public events, where she projects herself, in an unprecedented image in revolutionary Cuba, as a “first lady” of the country.

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

Cuba Drilling the Deepest Horizontal Oil Well in Latin America

The well is located on the north coast of the island, and is already 6 km deep, although it must reach a record of more than 8.2. (Rincón cubano)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, 4 April 2018 — Cuba is moving along with the drilling that will soon come to be the deepest horizontal oil well in all of Latin America and the Caribbean, located on the north side of the island (Cuba ) where it has already passed the 6 kilometer mark and will soon reach the record of 8.2 km according to a notice this past Wednesday from the official press.

The drilling of the West Varadero 1008 long range well has been supported with financing and guidance from Cuba, which has chosen this technolgy in order to “exploit from the coast, the crude that lies beneath the ocean” and “to lower the cost of investment” as pointed out on front page of the state daily Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth). continue reading

The drilling began on the twenty-eighth of December 2016 at Boca de Camarioca, Matanzas and has been complicated “by the geology of subterranean rock” explained the Director General of the state Central Company for the Drilling and Extraction of Petroleum, Marcos Antonio Pestana.

According to the bulletin, CCDEP has produced 8000 tons of petroleum more than was previously planned for the trimester.

“Drilling always brings on new challenges and we are, at this time, drilling six wells which are very promising for company production and for the nation,” added Pestana.

Since January of 2018, operations of the company have reached up to the central area of Ciego de Avila. In Cuba, the first long distance oil well was the Varadero 1000 and today there are already a total of nine active wells with this technology in Cuba.

The Cuban energy system depends almost completely on petroleum although the nation is working towards sources of clean energy.

At this time, Havana is looking for alternative providers in light of the reduction of shipments of crude at subsidized prices from Venezuela, its main regional ally

According to some estimates, in the last two years, Venezuela has reduced its shipments down to fifty-five thousand barrels daily, about half of its peak shipments because of its economic crisis and the fall of the price of petroleum.

Recently the Island announced a new petroleum supply agreement in exchange for medical assistance with Algeria, which in 2017 brought some 2.1 million barrels of crude to Cuba, an amount that could be repeated this year, according to involved sources.

Russia also came to the aid of its former ally and shipped, this past year, 200,000 tons of petroleum for the Cuban company Cubametals under an agreement between the governments of Moscow and Havana.

The Russian state petroleum company Rosneft has also negotiated the development of future projects in conjunction with the production of petroleum within Cuba on land as well as in the ocean.

Translated by William Fitzhugh (Welcome back, from HemosOido!)

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Latin American Youth Network Calls Out Cuban Intelligence’s Interference at the Summit of the Americas

Members of the Network delivered the letter to several institutions, such as the embassy of Peru. (Facebook)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Miami, 4 April 2018 — The Latin American Youth Network for Democracy sent a letter to Foreign Minister Néstor Francisco Popolizio and other Peruvian high officials, warning of the “grave danger” that they believe “interference from agents of the Cuban dictatorship” represents for the 8th Summit of the Americas.

The letter, which Efe had access to, is addressed to Popolizio, Antonio García Revilla, national coordinator for the Summit Process, and Marcio M. Bendezú Echevarría, regional prefect of Metropolitan Lima, and will also be delivered to the embassies of the countries participating in the Summit, which will take place in the capital of Peru on April 13 and 14. continue reading

The Network, made up of young people from 20 countries, reiterates that its members will participate in the Social Summit that will take place as a complement to the presidents’ meeting, and expresses its hope that “the Peruvian authorities will be able to guarantee the security” of its members and delegates from Cuban and Venezuelan civil society.

The president of the Network, Rosa María Payá, and the coordinator, Jatzel Roman González, urge the Peruvian authorities not to “tolerate” what they say happened at the previous Summit in Panama, in 2015, “the ‘neighborhood bully’ attitude of the Castro delegation.”

The letter emphasizes that in Panama “shock troops of the Castro regime, led at that time by the current Minister of Culture of the dictatorship, Abel Prieto, attacked with blows and shouts formally accredited members of civil society of the Americas.”

“Three years later, the goal of the Cuban regime remains the same: to prevent the Civil Society Summit from being held because a dictatorship cannot tolerate sharing space with those who peacefully oppose their repressive actions and dare to express it,” the letter adds.

The Latin American Youth Network and the delegation of independent Cuban civil society at the Social Summit are already suffering “aggressions by the Cuban regime,” they point out.

The letter mentions an episode with the Cuban ambassador at the Hemispheric Dialogue in Lima, who “lashed out against Jorge Vallejo, the Peruvian representative who served as spokesman for Coalition 26 and director of our Network.”

The letter also refers to a message on the official Twitter account of the Cuban Foreign Ministry in which it warns that “Cuba will not allow offenses, disrespect or provocation” from the Latin American Youth Network during the Summit.

“Given all the threats and aggressions launched from the institutions and the Castro media, we are obliged to hold the Government in Cuba and the Peruvian authorities responsible for the physical integrity of all of our members,” the signatories of the letter write.

Payá and González also warn of the “dangerous error and incoherence of extending an invitation [to the Summit] to the representatives of the Cuban dictatorship,” after praising the exclusion of representatives of the “Venezuelan dictatorship.”

At the end of the letter, the Network’s directors state: “Our young people are not controlled by fear, we will continue peacefully fighting dictatorships from one end of our region to the other.”

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Cuban Government Asks for Calm in Face of Rumors About Imminent Monetary Unification

A woman in Havana showing Cuban convertible pesos and Cuban pesos. (Cubanet)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Havana, 30 March 2018 — Cuba’s Central Bank, on Thursday, tried to calm the “false” rumors that one of the two currencies circulating in the country will be immediately withdrawn in the process of monetary reunification, which has led to a rush on banks and currency exchanges.

“This event is based on the false information that in the next few days the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) will be removed from circulation as part of the monetary unification process,” said a statement from the Central Bank, read tonight on the government channel’s primetime evening news.

Monetary unification is one of the primary pending reforms in Cuba, where two currencies currently circulate: the Cuban peso (CUP), in which state salaries are paid, and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC), the hard currency, with its value tied one-to-one with the US dollar and equivalent to 24 CUP, according to official exchange rates. continue reading

The persistent rumors about the imminent unification of the two currencies, reflecting the Cuban government’s plan to eliminate the CUC which it began working on in 2013, has caused hundreds of Cubans to go to banks and currency exchanges in recent weeks to get rid of Cuban convertible pesos and exchange them for Cuban pesos (also known as “national money”), dollars or euros.

The official statement insists that “the CUC will continue in circulation until such time as its withdrawal is decided on as a part of the monetary unification process, an event that will be officially announced.”

“The date for the beginning of the process of monetary unification has not been set,” stresses the agency, which also insists on the permanence of the current rate of exchange.

Finally, the Central Bank noted that during the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of  Cuba there was “once again, the decision to guarantee deposits in bank accounts in foreign currencies, CUC and CUP, as well as the cash held by the population.”

Last December, during his most recent speech before the National Assembly, President Raúl Castro urged that the unification process be completed and described the elimination of the double currency as “the most important process” that needed to happen to advance his reforms.

“No one can calculate the high cost that the persistence of duality has meant for the state sector, which favors the unfair inverted pyramid: where there is greater responsibility, there is lower remuneration,” Castro said in his remarks.

He also warned that the situation promotes the migration of skilled workers to the non-state sector, which pays higher salaries and pays them in CUC.

Although the CUC is officially quoted at a value of 24 CUP, several official exchange rates coexist in the accounts of State enterprises in Cuba, which, according to some analysts, generates strong distortions that make it impossible to caculate the real state of the Centralized Cuban economy.

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

Vietnamese Company Will Produce Sanitary Pads and Diapers in Cuba Starting in 2019

Construction Underway in the Mariel Special Development Zone (zedmariel.com)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Havana, 27 March 2018 — A Vietnamese company will start producing disposable diapers and sanitary pads starting in the first half of 2019 in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM), the largest project on the island dedicated to attracting foreign investors.

The Director General of the Thai Binh Investment Trading Corporation, Vi Nguyen Phuong, explained on Tuesday to the Cuban media that the investment in the project, which is currently under construction, is estimated at over 9 million dollars and is expected to produce 40 million diapers and 150 million sanitary pads annually. continue reading

The Vietnamese company, with a presence in Cuba for nearly 20 years and and approved to develop in the Mariel Zone since 2016, has set the purpose of “offering the consumers local, high quality items made in Cuba”, according to the representative, cited by Island media.

In Cuba, there is not currently a factory for disposable diapers. It was announced last november that a Cuban-Italian company will build a plant to produce disposable diapers in the ZEDM, which is the business center and merchant port located about 45 kilometers west of Havana.

Disposable Diapers sold in hard currency stores on the island are imported and often sold out due to the high demand for these essential health products.

The Vietnamese board also revealed that the company plans to extend the investments in Mariel with the construction of a detergent plant capable of producing 50,000 tons per year.

This new project will be joint creation in partnership with the Cuban trade company “Industrias Nexus S.A.”. They intend to present the Mariel office with the proposal in April with plans of starting in 2020.

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Translated by: Michael Minshew

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

Cuba 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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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.

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

The 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. (lagrannoticia.com)

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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