Holguin’s Garayalde Market Reopens with “Free” Prices but Regulated Sales / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

The Garayalde market in the city of Holguin, at its reopening on Tuesday 19 January. (Fernando Donate)
The Garayalde market in the city of Holguin, at its reopening on Tuesday 19 January. (Fernando Donate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, Cuba, 20 January 2016 — The rain did not stop hundreds of people from gathering on Tuesday morning outside the emblematic Garayalde market in the city of Holguin, waiting for its reopening after eight months of repairs. In its second opening in less than a decade, the commercial center aims to offer a wide range of products.

The line to enter Garayalde started forming the day before and to organize it people were given numbers and allowed to enter in groups. The first to enter when the market opened had slept outside from the early hours of the morning to guarantee their place.

Most customers were carrying backpacks and big bags to fill with some of the 180 products that had been announced for sale at the market, promoted by Ana Maria Aguilera, market administrator, on the local TV channel Tele Cristal the day before. continue reading

However, neither the quantity nor the quality of the available products lived up to expectations. Several consumers interviewed by 14ymedio agreed that they hadn’t found a great deal that was new. “They are the same products they had before they closed,” said one lady a little disgusted by the long wait. She also talked about the prices, which she considered excessively high.

The first day after the repairs had barely begun when most customers headed to the meat counters. Unlike other products, pork at 17 Cuban pesos a pound (about 56¢ U.S.) was an attractive price for people who, over the last quarter, had seen the price climb above 30 CUP a pound.

Nor were there controls lacking to prevent disruptions. Outside the market it was evident very early in the police operation and the presence of troops to making discipline at the reopening.

The local administrator told the press, “We appealed to the police to organize the link and to help avoid customers hogging products for resale. We are all going to work together to ensure that this scourge of society doesn’t happen here.”

She also clarified that sales would be unrationed, but regulated, and specified the amounts that would be sold per person: two cartons of eggs, five pounds of meat and ten pounds of rice, “with the objective that everyone would get some.”

In the line there were women with children. One of them confessed that she had brought her five-year-old daughter to get “priority in buying” and to not have to wait “in such a long line.”

The managers of the shopping center, which employs 70 workers, expected to exceed 100 million Cuban pesos in sales, which depends on producers and suppliers being able to deliver the amounts committed. Most of these are local industries, cooperatives and State farms.

It is not the first time this market center, created in the early eighties of the last century, has undergone renovation. Its previous reopening was in 2009, after repairs and conversion into a market for the sale of unrationed domestic products. This time there was a general reconstruction with a reorganization of the departments to make the market work better, according to an official from the provincial Accommodation and Food Services company, which owns the market.

Expectations, however, exceeded the internal distribution of supplies. Four hours after opening this Tuesday, the market had run out of meat and canned sauces and tomatoes.

A clerk said it had been a lot of demand and that he had sold everything available to him for the day.

The only meat remaining for sale, which no one wanted, was ground hamburger and ground chorizo, at 20 and 28 Cuban pesos per kilogram respectively. Also sold out was any kind of seafood. In the candy store, of ten products only three were still on display.

Private Restaurants Rescue Cuban Cuisine / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

Denia Sao Blanco, cooking teacher at Casa del Chef, in Holguin. (Donate / 14ymedio)
Denia Sao Blanco, cooking teacher at Casa del Chef, in Holguin. (Donate / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Havana, 10 December 2015 – Denia Sao Blanco has spent over 20 years teaching top level native cuisine at the Casa del Chef in Holguin, an institution created to maintain and rescue the culinary culture of the region, where several generations of cooks have trained.

As part of her work, she has visited all the restaurants in town and has offered advice on the preparation of the dishes. Now, she is surrounded by young people completing a cooking course she taught this week. The final exam is to prepare a typical Holguin dish.

In this conversation with 14ymedio Denia speaks of tradition, culture and mistakes in the culinary arts in the region.

Donate Fernando Ochoa. How is culinary research conducted at La Casa del Chef?

Denia Sao Blanco. It is the work of several cooking teachers along with the students. New generations of cooks do not know the history and Holguin recipes that are always the basis for the rescue of these dishes. continue reading

It took us a few years trying to rescue these dishes at different events, like “Young Chef of the year” and “The Flower of Cuban Cuisine,” which has run since 1992 and is only for women professionals and amateurs, regardless of age.

DFO. What traditional dishes are prepared in Holguin now?

Denia Sao Blanco. There are many, among them is the “465,” created by Ramon Carbonell, which includes chicken, ham, pork steak grilled and served with vegetables. We offer it here for 30 pesos national currency.

Another is chicken “a la Periquera” created by José Rafael Pernas Iglesias, and “Paneque” sausage created by the late Rodolfo Gonzalez Paneque, founder of our social house.

DFO. Do Holguin restaurants keep typical native dishes on the menu?

Denia Sao Blanco. Unfortunately not. Very little is being done with these dishes. On the Holguin restaurant menus international cuisine predominates at the expense of traditional dishes. For example, the customer can’t find guava in syrup with cheese, jam with cheese, rice pudding, which are some of the basic dishes of our cuisine. This shows that there is a lack of knowledge about how to make these dishes; we are losing our identity.

In most restaurants, the customer finds the same menu, there is no variety, no dishes that identify a restaurant. Cooks appeal to the easiest, such as fried chicken, roast chicken and steak.

DFO. In your exchanges with students I heard about rice with chicken…

Denia Sao Blanco. I talk to my students about rice with chicken because it is not common to see it on restaurant menus. However, when it is on the menu it is not prepared like it should be, because they do it with a by-product mixed with rice; meanwhile in other restaurants they mix shredded chicken into the rice which is a mistake. The traditional plate is chicken cut into eighths with the chicken on the base of the plate, covered in rice and a crown of hard cooked egg with strips of bell pepper. This is the real chicken with rice and it is not seen in most restaurants.

DFO. What are the consequences of turning to easy cooking?

Denia Sao Blanco. Tradition is lost because each dish is, as we say, “its name and surname”; each course was designed, studied, approved and patented in order to maintain its identity and characteristics.

Holguin has little culinary culture left and this ignorance prevents people from demanding originality in the food they put on the table.

DFO. What do think about State restaurants?

Denia Sao Blanco. They have lost their originality and identity in the dishes offered, because the administrators who run the State restaurants do not know cuisine and because they don’t know it they can’t demand it: for them all the dishes are well prepared.

DFO. Is it the same with the private restaurants?

Denia Sao Blanco. These are different, because they deliver the originality of the dishes quite well. The owners and chefs come to ask us for evaluations and suggestions, which the managers of State restaurants do not do.

Another positive aspect is that private restaurants have created new dishes that distinguish them, and this does not happen with the State restaurant. So I think that, with the opportunity to privatize the restaurants, Cuban cuisine has gained in quality, originality and variety.

DFO. What else restricts the freedom of creation in the places managed by the State?

Denia Sao Blanco. There is no freedom of creation because the cooks are required to abide by a technical chart and the products available are very limited and of poor quality, while the private restaurants are always looking for the best merchandise, the freshest produce and they maintain an original menu.

Another aspect that affects State restaurants is that the supply of spices and condiments is sometimes insufficient, forcing chefs to buy these products paying out of their own pockets.

Disgust In Holguin With Broken Induction Cookers / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

Reception desk at the repair shop on Aguilera Street in Holguin (Donate Fernando Ochoa / 14ymedio)
Reception desk at the repair shop on Aguilera Street in Holguin (Donate Fernando Ochoa / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 4 December 2015 – Nearly and month and a half after the start of sales of induction cookers in Holguin, the poor quality of the product, which costs 500 Cuban pesos, has disgusted many buyers. The model sold includes a cooker, a pot, a jug, a pan with lid and a coffeemaker.

“The model we are selling is not good because the customers come to the repair shop daily with broken cookers; some of them haven’t worked since the day they were bought,” explained Mireya Almaguer Martinez to 14ymedio. Almaguer is a receptionist at the repair shop located on Aguilera Street at the corner of Martires, which is the one designated for post-sales service in the city of Holguin. continue reading

“When the cooker is beyond repair, the mechanic writes it up,” says Almaguer, and with this document, signed by the repair shop director, the customer returns the defective unit to the store where they got it and gets their money back.

The most common failure is a delay in heating up, which the technical repair shop blames on imperfections in the transistors and resistors. The coffeemakers commonly present structural problems, such deformed bases that prevent stability on the cooker.

The products are covered by a 90 day warranty but the repair shop has no way to replace defective parts.

However, Xiomara Ordoñez Rodriguez, National Director of Technical Services of the Ministry of Domestic Trade, told the official newspaper Granma that the repair shops had the necessary availability of spare parts in their warehouses to repair the broken cookers.

One of those affected is Ramon, a customer visiting for the second time with his broken cooker. “The first time I came was the day I bought it. When I got home, I connected it and it began to emit a continuous sound, and now I’m bringing it in because it does not heat up,” he lamented.

In the province, the sale of induction cookers started on 19 October. The number allocated to the territory was 27,800, an insufficient number for a province of more than one million people, causing long lines to the point that places in line were being sold for 50 Cuban pesos.

Omer González Velázquez, Commercial Director of the Commercial Business Group, announced that the sale of 27,000 more cookers in the province is scheduled for next year.

Officials Arrested For Stealing Chemical Used To Fight Dengue Fever / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

A fumigation truck in the city of Holguin. (14ymedio / Fernando Donate)
A fumigation truck in the city of Holguin. (14ymedio / Fernando Donate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 14 October 2015 — Several directors and heads of health districts in Holguin have been arrested for their links with the illegal sale of permethrin, a chemical used to fumigate against the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is responsible for the dengue fever epidemic that affects this eastern province. A government source told 14ymedio that the officials must answer for the crime of “spreading the epidemic,” because the “diversion of resources” complicates the fight against the vector.

Permethrin has reached the price of 1,500 pesos per liter in the informal market, where it is sold to fumigate certain crops. Lacking permethrin, the authorities resort to petroleum in a gaseous state, which is less effective, to fumigate the mosquito foci. continue reading

After a year of an epidemic scourge of both dengue fever and cholera, Holguin continues to experience a complex healthcare situation, despite having spent 26 million pesos on local sanitation. Despite the fumigation campaigns and other hygiene measures, the number of patients suffering from dengue fever and cholera remains high, as does the prevalence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, as corroborated by Elizabeth Segura Sierra, the provincial director of health, on a local radio broadcast.

This official also reported on the same broadcast that the presence of cholera has recently been confirmed in the towns of Rafael Freyre, Cueto, Cacocum, Gibara and Holguin, with the greatest number of reported cases in the latter. Segura Sierra insisted that there is still a risk of returning to the situation faced in August, when a health emergency led to a suspension of the Carnival celebration, the closure of dining establishments and a ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages in bulk. These measures caused great economic damage to both the State and the private sector. “Let no one think that these outbreaks have been eliminated, the cholera virus and dengue fever still exist in the area,” the official said.

Operators engaged in fumigation are working more than eight hours a day, for low wages and in bad conditions. This has generated a shortage of personnel, forcing the mobilization of 650 officials to do this work in August and September. Of these, 450 came from the healthcare sector and 200 from municipal bodies.

The province is in a true state of alarm as is evidenced by the many emergency measures being taken. Significant resources have been mobilized from other institutions which find themselves obliged to halt their normal work and take on the economic loses stemming from the lack of productive support.

At the most critical moment of the outbreak 130 vehicles and five buses were used solely to transport patients to the two hospitals equipped to deal with the crisis at Celia Sanchez Manduley University in Holguin.

“The Family Unit in Holguín Is Very Damaged” / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

Marcos Pirán Gómez, parish priest of San José Church in Holguín
Marcos Pirán Gómez, parish priest of San José Church in Holguín (Photo Fernando Donate/14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguín. 21 September 2015 — He shares both his faith and Argentine citizenship with Pope Francis, yet Father Marcos Pirán Gómez is not on Cuban soil for just a few days. He has been living on the island for fifteen years, and since 2012 has been the parish priest of San José (Saint Joseph’s) Church in Holguín.

A few hours before the Bishop of Rome travelled to this land of mountains, heat, and seas, Father Marcos met with 14ymedio to discuss his parishioners’ expectations, the difficulties besetting his community, and the role of the Church in finding solutions.

14ymedio: What did you feel when you heard that Pope Francis was coming to Holguín?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: I felt an enormous thrill because of the joy another Papal visit would mean to our people; the third one in just 17 years, such a short period of time. This is a significant event not only for the life of the Church, but also for the Cuban people. Each one of the previous Papal visits have left its mark. continue reading

Pope Francis is an exemplary and admirable person for the way he thinks, for what he does, and for his beliefs, which are consistent with how he lived in Argentina. I remember what he was able to generate around him, especially in Buenos Aires where we were neighbors living in the same area, and where we had more contact with each other. I know a lot of things from back then that are now known in the public square.

14ymedio: How will this Papal visit to the island be different?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: This third visit is also linked to the resumption of talks between the Cuban and American governments. This time stands out because it hopes to keep alive the first step taken on December 17th of last year.

Pope Francis has closely followed the history of the Cuban people. He wrote a book about John Paul II’s trip to Cuba, which undeniably signaled a before and after. It not only did so as far as the relationship between the Church and the Cuban government is concerned, but the relationship between religion and the government as well.

14ymedio: Is there special interest for Cuba in the Vatican?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Interest and worry for these people. Cuba has undergone a political and social experiment unlike that experienced by most of Latin America’s people. It’s different in the fact that Communist ideology takes precedence in Cuba, so theres a very different attitude towards religion here than in most other countries.

Starting with John Paul’s visit, an effort was made to initiate a new type of relationship (between the Church and the State) in which there would be an official recognition of the of religiosity of individuals and of our people as a whole.

14ymedio: What do believers in Holguín expect from this visit?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: On the one hand, the people of Holguín hope this visit will help them regain their enthusiasm and hope. There’re many people who due to different difficulties, such as the frustrations of life, the breakdown of families, the scarcities, have lost their will to forge ahead. The Pope can help reverse this because his message aims to break apathy and indifference.

14ymedio: Do you sense a lot of apathy?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Yes. People are apathetic because of their incapacity to react to situations they don’t agree with. When an individual stops demanding or voicing his concerns, whether it is out of fear or because he thinks it would be useless, that is worrisome, because it shows an attitude of apathy and indifference. I hope, and many others do as well, that the presence of Pope Francis will help bring about a reawakening.

14ymedio: So you are excited about the visit?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Very excited. I’ve been especially impressed by people who don’t practice any religion but who see the (Papal) visit as a very positive thing. People are hopeful this visit will bring something that’ll make them better persons.

14ymedio: The authorities have conceded that violence, drug addiction, suicide, and other social ills have increased in Holguín. Is there a spiritual crisis in Holguín?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: The family unit in Holguín is very damaged and divided. There’re a lot of difficult situations, and that affects the social order.

Family units are fragmented because of financial difficulties, and because a lot of people emigrate, and that brings suffering. People don’t know how to discuses issues, how to accept one another, how to collaborate, or how to promote solidarity within the family setting. When this starts happening to the family unit, it resonates throughout society at large, while adding to the already existing personal crises in each individual’s life.

14ymedio: The Cuban government pardoned 3,522 before the Pope’s arrival. What can you say about this?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Some have reacted happily, while others were disappointed because they thought they met all the conditions for a pardon but weren’t. The announcement (of the prisoner release) states that those convicted of “crimes against State security” would remain incarcerated. That’s why in this case it is a matter of opinion if those still being held are political prisoners or not.

14ymedio: Are there political prisoners in Cuba?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: This isn’t conjecture. The government itself has admitted there are political prisoners. Several years back, the President mentioned them. I don’t know how many there are, because there’s a lot of information I don’t know or have any access to. That’s why I can’t say for certain how many political prisoners there are, or where they are.

14ymedio: Has the Church in Holguín, or you, received a request from the opposition to meet with Pope Francis?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Up until now, that hasn’t happened. However, we have received letters from people directed to the Pope, asking him to intercede in support of freedom for their relatives serving prison sentences. Still, I don’t know if these cases are political prisoners.

14ymedio: Has the relationship between the Church and the State in Cuba been strengthened?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: The preparations for the Pope’s visit have opened the way for some dialog. Catholics in the Papal visit’s organizing committee note there have been important changes when compared to eighteen years ago while preparing for John Paul II’s visit.

Also, for some time now we have been noticing that the government has somewhat stopped pressuring mission houses or small (parish) communities from opening. Today, these houses do exist, but there was a time when the government wouldn’t allow people to gather in homes to celebrate the Word, to pray together, or to exchange ideas. The result of this is an increase in the social ills we’re now facing. When you keep something from growing over a long period of time, that has negative repercussions.

14ymedio: The Catholic Church in Cuba does not have at its disposal a radio station or a television channel. Doesn’t that limit your pastoral work?

Marcos Pirán Gómez: Nowadays, having access to the media is very important. I don’t like things that are just Catholic. I’d like more diversity in the Cuban media. I don’t need to have my own radio station, TV channel, or newspaper, because that in itself is exclusionary. I’m not interested in that way of thinking. What I do wish is that there be space for other voices, other ways of thinking, and other messages that contribute to the common good, within the media that already exists.

Translated by José Badué

The Merchants In The Square / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

A group of people carry bags with food products specially offered for the arrival of Pope Francis. (Donate Fernando Ochoa)
A group of people carry sacks and bags with food products specially offered for the arrival of Pope Francis. (Donate Fernando Ochoa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, 22 September 2015 — On Monday, while thousands of people waited in Holguin’s Plaza Calixto Garcia for Pope Francis to celebrate Mass, hundreds of others took advantage of the opportunity to buy the delicacies that were offered around the site, a special assortment of cookies and other confections that many Holguineros hadn’t seen in months.

The Bishop of Rome arrived at the huge plaza a few yards from a row of sellers loaded down with sacks and boxes of the yearned for food products. The sellers had also risen in the early hours of the morning, but not to hear the homily, rather to be assured of a good place in line in front of the food kiosks. continue reading

Tamara, a young resident of the area, showed up “at six in the morning” in front of the Red Dragon tent to buy everything she could. “After that, it’s gone,” she said. Tamara needed the help of two cousins to carry her purchases home, while from the loudspeakers on the plaza she heard the Pope’s voice recalling Saint Matthew.

Nearby, an old man with the help of a briefcase was carrying plastic bag of cookies he managed to get for 60 Cuban pesos with the stated intention of reselling them in “packets of ten cookies” for five pesos each.

The merchants took advantage of the absence of the police, who were concentrated on watching the plaza-turned-temple and, for once, they were left in peace.

A special assortment of cookies and other confections that many Holguineros hadn’t seen in months

However, not everyone was under-the-table vendors looking for cheap products, there were also the faithful who had gone to Mass and wanted to put a little something in their mouths. Leticia, there with her 7-year-old daughter, doubted she would make it to the front of the long line and protested because the majority of people were buying “huge quantities.”

Further back in line, a man recalled that the motto for Francis’s visit to Cuba was “missionary of mercy” and lamented the “lack of solidarity” to ensure that everyone would get a chance to purchase the products for sale. “An absolute lack of respect to take advantage of a Mass to hoard,” he protested.

The complaints forced a Red Dragon clerk to explain himself and tell people that it wasn’t their job to “establish quotas for selling.” One of the first products to run out was pieces of fried chicken at 10.20 Cuban pesos for half a pound. Later they ran out of wafer cookies, candy and Coral soda pop. Before the Mass ended, the majority of the tents had sold everything they had.

“I didn’t even get a wafer,” an old man wearing a Vatican flag in his sombrero repeated with a mix of frustration and humor.

Holguin Starts the School Year in the Midst of a Complex Epidemiological Situation / 14ymedio, Donate Fernando Ochoa

Preschool classroom of a primary school in Holguin. (Fernando Donate)
Preschool classroom of a primary school in Holguin. (Fernando Donate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 1 September 2015 — The beginning of the school year in Holguin has been complicated this early September by the complex epidemiological context facing the region because of the outbreaks of dengue fever and cholera. The city is experiencing a declared health emergency, but authorities say they have taken all sanitary measures in order to prevent the spread of diseases in schools.

In junior high schools the school snack has temporarily been suspended, an offering that consisted of yogurt and bread with mortadella passed out free in the schools. continue reading

For this reason, the class schedule at this level now runs from 8:00 to 10:00 in the morning, with an afternoon session from 2:00 to 5:00, according to Claribel Casamayor, an English teacher at the Panchito Gomez Toro school.

Students at Celia Sanchez University are also beginning the year atypically. The vice rector, Liuska Bao Pavon, in a special program of the Radio Angulo station, informed those students that the dormitories are not available because they are being used as a field hospital for patients suffering from dengue fever. For now, the students are attending classes on adjusted hours at other universities in the provincial capital city.

The situation becomes more complicated at the primary level, according to Ricardo Ramirez, municipal deputy director of Education for Holguin. His students, between 6 and 11 years of age, are studying at centers that are severely deteriorated due to the age of the buildings and the lack of repairs. Ramirez told the local station Telecristal that of the 252 schools in the city, 130 began classes with seriously damaged plumbing and he did not rule out that some schools would remain permanently closed for lack of optimal sanitary conditions. In those cases, the students would be relocated to other schools.

These statements have contributed to keeping people in a state of fear. Maritza Avila, mother of a seven-year-old boy, Pedro Enrique Tamayo, who started first grade at the Julio Grave de Peralta primary school, confessed that she feared for the health of her son as the school is in an advanced state of deterioration in both its construction and plumbing.

The health problems are compounded by a shortage of 1,205 teachers, 444 of them in the provincial capital city.

Yaser Quintana, a math teacher at Rafael Freyre elementary school, notes that the school year has also been affected by the fact that many children and teenagers have been admitted to hospitals for cholera and dengue fever.

The health problems are compounded by a shortage of 1,205 teachers, 444 of them in the provincial capital city. Among the measures announced by the authorities to solve this problem is the reinstatement of retired teachers, contracting with students at Oscar Lucero Moya University and with graduates of the basic course at José de la Luz y Caballero Teaching University as well as with recent graduates of the University of Information Sciences.

Deputy Health Minister Calls Situation In Holguin A “Health Emergency” / 14ymedio, Donate Fernando Ochoa

Auto announcing the measures against the threat of epidemics in Holguin. (14ymedio)
Auto announcing the measures against the threat of epidemics in Holguin. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 7 August 2015 — The Deputy Minister of Public Health, Jose Angel Portal, described the epidemiological situation in the city of Holguin as a health emergency, according to a local television report. The statement was confirmed this Friday during a meeting to assess the epidemiological measures in the provincial capital to halt the spread of dengue fever in the area.

Deputy Minister Portal said that although the epidemiological situation of the country is one of the most favorable in recent years, Holguin is facing “a public health emergency in which there can be no room for carelessness and mistakes.” He emphasized that “people’s lives are at stake,” although he also said that currently, “it is more a perception of risk and we’re heading down the right path.”

For his part, the first secretary of the Communist Party in Holguin, Luis Antonio Torres Iribar, criticized the directors of the state agencies for allowing there to be foci of the Aedes aegypti mosquitos in their workplaces. The official criticized that situations like this go on despite the great offensive that takes place in all social and business sectors. continue reading

The provincial Government vice president, Marcia Aguero, called for more action by the state health inspectors with regards to fining offenders – people with mosquitoes breeding sites on their property. In this regard she noted that the number of penalties applied is minuscule relative to the violations committed.

Public health directors emphasized that the high prevalence of foci persists, including uncovered water tanks and closed houses that haven’t been inspected. They also reported an increase in cases of cholera in the area.

Also present at the meeting was Ines Maria Chapman, a member of the Council of State, who called attention to the water rationing because of the drought which is expected to get worse in the coming months, and which could further complicate the situation in Holguin.

Deputy Minister Portal stated that Cuba has extensive experience in the management of dengue fever, to which he will give his full attention, and added that in reversing the situation in the province they can count on sufficient health professionals and they are the best in the country.

Dr. Jorge Luis Quiñones Aguilar, head of the provincial department of Education and Health Promotion, said that cases of fever and cases of diarrhea are continuing to appear, with most of the latter testing positive for cholera.

Quiñones Aguilar said that given the large numbers of patients flocking to hospitals it has been decided to have a fourth hospital, located on the campus of Celia Sanchez Manduley University. He acknowledged that positive tests for dengue fever continue to increase with a figure now over 90%; that is of 100 cases of patients with fever, most of them are positive for dengue.

“We should not underestimate any kind of fever in our homes. If we know a neighbor who does not want to go to the hospital we must report it without fear and anonymously,” said Quiñones Aguilar.

He said that so far Holguin has not had a lamentable loss of life from this outbreak of dengue fever, but that there are patients in serious danger of dying.

‘Holguin Nights’ Suspended Due To Increased Cases Of Dengue Fever / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

Indoor spraying will start on Tuesday. (Fernando Donate / 14ymedio)
Indoor spraying will start on Tuesday. (Fernando Donate / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, 3 August 2015 — This weekend the serious epidemiological situation in the city of Holguin forced it to suspend the first celebration of Holguin Nights for the month of August. The increase of dengue fever cases has sparked alarm among local authorities who are asking people to take extreme measures to avoid contagion.

The popular festivities were cancelled after the kiosks selling food and drinks on the Avenida de los Libertadores had already been constructed. The central street is the main stage for this festival, which mixes music, food and the sale of household products.

The Provincial Health Department has issued a report that explains that between 100 and 150 foci of Aedes aegypti are identified daily in the area. The figure has caused an increased rate of infestation of the municipality of Holguin, which stands at 3.3, versus the 0.05 that, under normal conditions, is common the area. continue reading

The worrying situation could affect the celebration of the Holguin Carnivals, scheduled for August 20-23, and international tourism. The province occupies third place in the national arrival of foreign visitors.

Several hospitals, such as the Lucia Iniguez Landin Clinical Surgical Teaching Hospital, the Octavio de la Concepcion y de la Pedraja Pediatric Hospital and the nursing subsidiary of the provincial capital, have been turned into places of isolation for infected patients. In the past two weeks 611 fever patients with nonspecific symptoms were tested of which 258 were confirmed cases of dengue fever.

The event 'Holguin nights' had to be suspended after the kiosks were already assembled. (Fernando Donate / 14ymedio)
The event ‘Holguin nights’ had to be suspended after the kiosks were already assembled. (Fernando Donate / 14ymedio)

The health areas where the most cases were reported, between confirmed and probable, are Mario Gutierrez with 1,052; Maximo Gomez, with 1,018, and Reparto Alex Urquiola, joined by Pedro del Toro, which now has more than 600 patients, according to what Dr. Elizabeth Segura Sierra, director of public health in the territory, reported to the media.

Sunday 450 workers were mobilized in the rest of the province to support the work of control and fumigation for the entire month of August.

Along with indoor spraying, intensive aerial spraying will take place starting Tuesday morning.

Holguin Hospitals Throw Away Biological Wastes in the Cemetery / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma and Fernando Donate

Broken tombstones in the Mayabe cemetery, Holguin. (14ymedio)
Broken tombstones in the Mayabe cemetery, Holguin. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma and Fernando Donate, Holguin, 11 July 2015 – Broken tombstones, open graves, dilapidated tombs, and, here and there, scavengers that devour shallowly buried remains. This is no scene from a horror movie but images from a video that exposes the serious situation in the Mayabe Cemetery in Holguin.

Released by the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in 2014, the film was produced by journalists Nairovis Zaldivar, Yainiel Diamela Escofet and Rosaida Check, and has been distributed through the illegal “weekly packet” that circulates widely in the province without any official media picking up the story.

Almost a year later, the problem has not been solved; it was caused because the Vladimir Ilich Lenin University General Hospital, the Lucia Iniguez Landin Surgical Teaching Clinic and the Provincial Military Hospital bury their wastes in the place, since their crematoriums are not functioning. Criticism of the mismanagement of biological wastes has been heard at various levels but local authorities have not taken action in the matter.

In the investigative work the errors committed by the medical institutions depositing the remains from surgeries, abortions, amputations and tests, without proper precautions, are laid bare. For months, those who have visited the grave of a relative in the cemetery have been overwhelmed by carrion birds and other animals that helped themselves to the hospital wastes barely covered by a little dirt. continue reading

Gate to the Mayabe, Holguin, graveyard, one of the biggest on the island. (14ymedio)
Gate to the Mayabe, Holguin, graveyard, one of the biggest on the island. (14ymedio)

Located six kilometers from the city, the Holguin cemetery has some 500,000 square meters and is one of the biggest in the country. Although there are no homes nearby, at midday the bad odor is unbearable, especially in the area at the back of the site where the three medical centers dump their wastes.

On the Cuban Medicine Blog, Doctor Eloy A. Gonzalez calls attention to the fact that “the management of hospital wastes, above all biological materials, is a problem of the highest priority for health systems and the organizations and institutions charged with management and disposal of the same.”

The doctor points out that “you cannot walk around in cemeteries throwing away biological wastes, barely buried where soon stray dogs and carrion birds notice the anatomical parts that come from a hospital. Are there no incinerators in hospitals in Cuba?” he asks. His text circulates through the email of various health professional with accounts on the Infomed service.

Specialists consulted by this daily agree that a first step to solving the problem would be to diminish as much as possible the biological wastes that the hospitals generate. Once reduced, their collection, transport and disposal must be rigorously controlled. Failure to fulfill the measures associated with the treatment of these wastes can present a serious health risk.

With the scandal uncovered by the UNPACU video, now the wastes are buried more deeply, although still without regard to the measures required for their handling. The regular edition of the February 15, 1999, Official Gazette governs the responsibility of “the heads of the entities that are in charge of installations and release areas whose operations generate dangerous biological wastes.”

Here and there are seen exposed remains in the neglected niches of Mayabe. (14ymedio)
Here and there are seen exposed remains in the neglected niches of Mayabe. (14ymedio)

Under Cuban law, wastes that may contain “biological agents, organisms and fragments of agents or organisms with genetic information, that represent a real or potential danger for human health and the environment in general” must be removed in a way that “guarantees the protection of the environment and in particular the population and workers.”

On questioning about the topic at the Vladimir Ilich Lenin University General Hospital, the employees shy away from responding about the conditions in which the wastes from the health center end up at the Holguin graveyard. Only one employee from the laboratory area, who preferred anonymity, submits: “We have problems with resources, for example with the correct bags and containers for placing the samples that we process.”

When they will repair the crematorium is a question that finds no answer in the management of the health center and much less in its administration. Nevertheless, the epidemiological risk from the wastes is not the only cause for worry for those Holguin residents who visit the cemetery. The use of an area laden with funereal connotations as a biological dumping ground bothers many, too.

Lucia Iniguez Landin Surgical Hospital Clinic, one of those denounced for burying biological wastes in the Holguin cemetery. (14ymedio)
Lucia Iniguez Landin Surgical Hospital Clinic, one of those denounced for burying biological wastes in the Holguin cemetery. (14ymedio)

Lucia, 72 years of age, often visits the family mausoleum which is located a few meters from the place where the hospitals bury their wastes. “It is a lack of respect that they do this because this is a sacred place for the dead to rest in peace,” this lady complains, and although she has not seen the journalistic report, she asserts: “I realized that something was going on when I arrived and this was full of miserable buzzards.”

The main complaint, however, lies in the fact that such a sensitive matter that involves ethical and epidemiological issues has still not been dealt with by the province’s official media. “It seems that they are waiting for something grave to happen, for someone to get sick or to protest because of this disrespect, before they put it in the press,” says Lucia.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Holguin’s First Pet Store Opens / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

Red Squirrel Pet Store is the result of the initiative of a private entrepreneur. (Fernando Donate / 14ymedio)
Red Squirrel Pet Store is the result of the initiative of a private entrepreneur. (Fernando Donate / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 1 July 2015 — The first pet store in the province of Holguin opened in the first week of June, under the name  hasThe Red Squirrel. The place, the fruit of the initiative of a private entrepreneur, is located on Cuba Street at the corner of Jose Antonio Cardet in the provincial capital and raised the curiosity of passersby outside its door.

For now, there are more who come to look than to buy. Nor is there any lack of critics surprised by the prices and some of the products for animals that can’t be found even in the stores for human beings. In line with State-run establishments that allow payment in both currencies, all the merchandise can be acquired in convertible pesos (CUC) or its equivalent in national currency (CUP). continue reading

The offerings, for now, include the sale of four breeds of dogs. A Pekingese or a Czech Shepherd sells for 40 convertible pesos, while a Chow Chow costs 60 CUC and a German Shepherd 70 CUC. These prices reflect the investment of at least two months salary to acquire one of their beautiful pets.

In the store you can also purchase a wide range of dog accessories such as harnesses, toys, flea and tick collars, shampoo, combs, toothbrushes and toothpaste. The offerings do not end there, those who are going to travel can buy pet carriers and there are also pet beds for the home, dishes, clothes and even shoes. Among the “clothing” one can find sweaters, robes and winter coats, despite the almost always high temperatures in Cuba year-round.

Buying a pet can cost two months of the average Cuban salary

There is also a hair salon for animals, which includes bath, combing, trimming, cutting toenails and cleaning the ears.

The client, as an additional offering, may obtain training on the upbringing and care of the animal. The pets can have a clinical examination in the store and if they present a health problem, be referred to the veterinary clinic.

Luis Rodríguez Hijuelo, owner of the premises and possessor of a license as a breeder-seller of companion animals, says that there are already many people, especially children and teens, who are receiving advice for free.

Before opening the store, Rodríguez Hijuelo worked as a street vendor. Holguin health authorities prohibited his trading in squirrels, one of the animals he offered, arguing that they could be carriers or transmitters of many diseases. That experience is what gave him the idea to name his new business The Red Squirrel.

In the future an expansion of the business will allow him to increase the quantity and variety of animals, Rodríguez expects, and he also plans to sell birds such as cockatiels, canaries, exotic poultry and cats, such as Siamese cats.


Operation Miracle, Not Available to Cubans / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

In the opticians on Martí Street in the provincial capital, the supply of frames is as low as in the rest of the province (Fernando Donate / 14ymedio)
In the opticians on Martí Street in the provincial capital, the supply of frames is as low as in the rest of the province (Fernando Donate / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 19 June 2015 — Operation Miracle has as its objective to return vision to or cure any ophthalmological problem for low-income citizens of poor countries. The humanitarian project was started in mid-2004 under the leadership of the governments of Cuba and Venezuela, and thanks to it about a million patients have been operated on every year. However, this medical service has not been as successful inside Cuba as it has been abroad.

The surgical waiting list extends more than 30 days in the Ophthalmology Center at the Lucia Iniguez Landin Clinical Surgical Teaching Hospital in the city of Holguin. The departure of professionals to other sectors and the exodus caused by international medical missions have contributed to the increase in service deficiencies. To this is added the lack of surgical instruments and difficulties with the air conditioning in operating rooms, sources from local hospital officials explained to 14ymedio. continue reading

Supply problems for frames and lenses in the eyeglass industry don’t help to improve the eyecare situation in Holguin, with the Provincial Company of Pharmacy and Optics continuing to experience problems since last year. The eyeglass frames that can be seen in Holguin establishments are few, outdated and uncomfortable, leading most customers to reject them.

The situation has reached the extreme that, on occasion, the customer is asked to bring their own frames to hold the lenses

The problem affects not only the four opticians of the capital city. According to Caridad Garcia, a worker at one of the establishments on centrally located Martí Street, the shortage extends to the other ten opticians in the province.

The situation has reached the extreme that, on occasion, the customer is asked to bring their own frames to hold the lenses. However, there are also delays with the graduated glass, because the lens grinding workshop lacks the specialized personnel needed, and the equipment frequently breaks down, having been in use for 20 years without renovations.

The National Directorate of Public Health has reported that the country does not have sufficient resources to meet demand, a fact for which there does not appear to be a short or medium term solution.

Currently, 4,405 Holguin health professionals are serving on international missions spread across 45 countries.

Holguin Besieged by Dengue Fever Mosquito / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

An operator fumigating a house in Holguin City (14ymedio)
An operator fumigating a house in Holguin City (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 15 June 2015 — An undesirable presence has been constant these days in the province of Holguin. A severe drought has been followed by the longed-for rains and with the torrential downpours outbreaks of the mosquito Aedes aegypti increase. According to local press, some 30,000 Holguinn residents are exposed to Dengue Fever, transmitted by this insect.

In this battle the local government has invested over 1.5 billion pesos, without obtaining the expected results, as shown by the data provided by the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology. Officials say that the vector has crossed the boundaries of 26 de Julio, Pueblo Nuevo, Hilda Torres and Harlem neighborhoods, and arrived in Libertad, Alcides Pino, Palomo, Nuevo Llano and Centro Ciudad Norte, where a wide perimeter takes in the area between Frexes, Carretera to Gibara Streets, Capitan Urbino Avenue and 31st of Vista Alegre, with the appearance of Dengue Fever in all of them. continue reading

It is predicted that in June and July, months that favor the undesirable vector because of the climate and the rain, transmission could trigger an epidemic of patients appearing with Hemorrhagic Dengue Fever. The complicated situation has forced the health authorities to intensify the work of control, but there continues to be a deficit of 300 operators to support fumigation inside homes and other places.

Given the seriousness of the situation, the Municipal Health leadership has asked different state institutions for a workforce, but the answer has not been as expected.

It is predicted that in June and July the climate and rain could trigger the onset of patients with Hemorrhagic Dengue Fever

Yendri Bermúdez Estupiñán, a former operative of the anti-vector campaign, told 14ymedio that the work is every day, working more than 8 hours, most of the time carrying fumigation equipment weighing 65 pounds, and exposed to poisons through working with the cypermethrin, a chemical used to control mosquitoes.

He also complains that the lunch, guaranteed daily, is small and of low quality. The salary of 625 Cuban pesos a month (about $25 US), isn’t enough to maintain a stable workforce in the sector.

As a last resort, the municipal authorities have asked for help from the Revolutionary Armed Forces, which mobilized a weekly rotation of more than one hundred soldiers, according to what Julio Cesar Velazquez Garcia, head of the Provincial Health Vector Control Department, told local TV.

Shortage Of Hygiene Products Is Severe In Holguin / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

A market in Holguin (14ymedio)
A market in Holguin (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 8 June 2015 – People in Holguin are worried about the lack of home cleaning products, particularly so close to the beginning of summer. The shortages have worsened just when the health authorities are calling for extreme cleaning measures to prevent acute diarrheal diseases, which can be worsened by the heat and severe drought affecting the country.

The tips on frequent hand washing and thoroughly scrubbing kitchen appliances in every home, broadcast on national television, contrast with the deficit in the area’s markets of liquid detergent, chlorine bleach, degreasers and scrubbing agents. In local stores such as La Marquesita, Hanoi, Las Novedades and La Casa Azul, there are no supplies of any of these products.

Employees of the commercial network of stores selling in national pesos and hard currency in the provincial capital do not know why the shortages have been exacerbated. Customers, in turn, refer to the other provinces where these products are available. A situation taken advantage of by resellers who bring in the products from other provinces and sell them in the informal market.

The sector of self-employed workers in food services is among the most affected by the shortages. Holguin province has the fifth highest number of self-employed in the country, after Havana, Matanzas, Villa Clara and Camaguey. In the entire country, those who work in the food preparation and sales represent 12% of the 495,725 people working in the private sector.

Cane Cutters Complain about Their Working Conditions / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

Cane cutting in Cuba (Conexion Cubana)
Cane cutting in Cuba (Conexion Cubana)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 31 May 2015 – The recently concluded sugar harvest failed to fulfill production forecasts. Analysts have struggled to explain the reasons for the repeated failure and have spoken of incomplete or ineffective repairs and poor organization, but none have mentioned the social factor.

Workers involved in cutting cane in Holguin complained of the abandonment to which they were subjected and multiple violations of their labor rights during the harvest that just ended.

Members of the Basic Economic Unit from the Loynaz Hechavarria center from the Cueto municipality say they worked more than 16 hours a day beginning at five in the morning during the four months of the harvest. continue reading

Heriberto Cuenca Tamayo, operator of a cane combine, told 14ymedio that his brigade had been victim of labor law violations and they were the group that suffered most: in spite of intense heat during these months, they had no cold water for lack of ice. Nor did they receive the promised work clothes, and they ate what they could manage on their own since they were not even provided coffee.

He mentioned that the enterprise is still in default on the incentive pay in convertible currency that is due the members of the team under the labor contract. He also lamented the lack of technical assistance that would have helped with the combine breakdowns during the cane cutting. They are only paid as operators, but they also had to act as mechanics, work for which they are not qualified.

“We were on our own when the machines broke, and in order to continue working we had to personally manage the parts and the repair,” Cuenca Tamayo told this daily.

Together with his companions, he said he felt unprotected. The bosses only speak of obligations, order, discipline and demands. “When they say to do more with less, it seems that they are thinking of more effort and worse conditions, more duties and fewer rights.”

“Neither the Constitution nor any other Cuban law legally establishes the right to strike, but nor did the union solve our problems in spite of raising them on several occasions,” said this cane worker.

For his part, Mario Gonzalez, harvest boss for the Azucarera Company, said that Holguin failed to meet the sugar production plan by not reaching the projected figure of 207,801 tons, lacking almost 4,000 tons to achieve the goal. In this harvest the province milled with only five of the ten sugar refineries it has had since 2002.

The official explained that among the causes that led to the failure are the breakdowns of the combines, the refinery stoppages for lack of cane caused by the late arrival of squads to the cutting fronts, and others of an organizational nature. “There was enough cane in the fields, but it was not known how to get it to the centers,” asserted Mario Gonzalez on a local radio program.

Translated by MLK