The End of Quarantine, With Diplomas and the National Anthem

From the balconies and looking out through their window shutters, many residents did not want to miss the exact moment when a police officer cut the yellow tape. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 6 October 2020 – From the early hours of the morning, the entire building was focused on the yellow tape that has surrounded us since the 23rd. Last night they knocked on each neighbor’s door to announce that at nine in the morning the municipal health authorities would come to lift the confinement imposed by the appearance of a positive case of Covid-19, which occurred in a relative of some of the neighbors, a person who didn’t even live in the building.

The clock struck 9:00 and then 10:00 and nothing, then just before 11:00 the  authorities from the Ministry of Public Health, our delegate to the People’s Power, police officers and neighbors who served as volunteers during the confinement began to gather in the park. They chatted animatedly until suddenly they distanced themselves from each other, stood to attention and the national anthem began to play.

In a martial position, the officials in charge of carrying out the opening ceremony read words of gratitude to all those who offered their help to achieve order and coordinate the sales of food and supplies to people in the building, continue the surveillance on the property’s entrance, and ensure discipline in all areas, as well as maintain cleanliness during the 14-day quarantine. continue reading

The solemn act lasted half an hour and each of the volunteers was given a diploma while they received a sporting applause from those present. From the balconies and looking out through their window shutters, many residents did not want to miss the exact moment when a police officer cut the yellow tape and rolled it around his hands to remove it.

After being locked up for two weeks, the anxiety was great. Backlogged plans and dozens of sentences in mind that start with the words “when I get out of this, I’m going to …”

“We are free,” a neighbor shouted to another from balcony to balcony. A few minutes later, a grandfather was bringing his granddaughter down to ride her bicycle in the park and a young woman was taking her dog for a walk.

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Neighbors Read Us and Friends Quietly Support Us

A delivery truck unloading yuccas, sweet potatoes, poplar roots and guavas at the base of the author’s building. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, September 27, 2020 — Despite our publication being blocked on Cuban internet servers, people still manage to read us. I was able to confirm this yesterday in the elevator when a young man asked me, “Were you the one who wrote the article about the building?”

“Yes,” I replied, adding that I post something every day, like a diary.

“Oh, great, I liked it a lot. That’s how I read it: like a blog, something more personal than an article, more subjective,” he added.

“Exactly,” I said. “That’s what it is. A chronicle, observations like you would find in a diary, about how I am living under quarantine.”

“I saw it on my cousin’s phone and, like I said, I liked it a lot,” he said. Then the elevator door opened at my floor and I got off, thanking him for the compliment. As I was walking through the hall towards my apartment,  I thought to myself, “How wonderful! They’re reading us. That’s how the web works. They connect with and discover us.” A few days later I got a tweet from someone who realized after reading one of these chronicles that we were neighbors. continue reading

Given the the current lockdown, feedback like this is comforting. One feels less isolated. There are also the offers of help from friends which arrive via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. “If you need something, let me know,” many tell me. It is a joy to see that friends are still there and are willing to expend their energies to help.

This is nothing new. These are the same friends who gathered together, showing strength and determination when the tornado impacted some of Havana’s neighborhoods. They are the same people who share a Facebook post or retweet a complaint that I make every time the State Security represses, harasses or defames me.

Yesterday was produce day and, like any other day, the day cheap items of various sorts are also for sale.

The delivery truck unloaded yuccas, sweet potatoes, poplar roots and guavas at the base of the building. I was able to buy some things because this time, to vary the routine, they started with the twelfth floor. When I got there, however, the piles of root vegetables consisted of colored dirt more than than anything else.  There was also another big pot of stew, which they said had been prepared at the Hotel de Tulipan across the street. In the neighborhood the place is known as the “little hotel” in spite of the fact that it occupies an entire city block.

While I was waiting in line, I heard a young man complaining about the absurdity of the lockdown. “I don’t understand. There’s been only one positive case here and the man doesn’t even live in the building. He was visiting his parents,” he pointed out. “They’re doing this because they feel like it. It’s as though they want to keep us locked up. When they sealed off this building, they quarantined 150 apartments. I’m told there are two other building in the neighborhood in the same situation.”

Coincidentally, it was when I was in line that I also found out that there is a procedure to follow in the event of a personal emergency. In case a resident has an urgent task to perform, such as going to the nearby ATM to withdraw cash, he or she must first seek permission from the local council member.

Meanwhile, my daughters have already learned four new pieces of choreography by watching their idols on TikTok. In spite of not having a social media account, they have managed to copy the dance steps from my Instagram. They also help me with the house cleaning. Because of efforts by the three of us, the kitchen and bath now sparkle. After another week of lockdown there won’t be anything left to polish.

Though every day under quarantine is like another, they are all different in their own way. The anxiety of the first 48 hours has passed, given over to calm and resignation. There’s nothing to do but wait until the ubiquitous yellow tape surrounding us comes down.

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The Afternoon I Found Out I Was in Quarantine

The building under isolation is located in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 23 September 2020 — No authorized representative came to knock on my door. I found out from my neighbor. “Hey, did you hear they locked us up?” That was it.

I leaned out the window and saw the building’s “political factions” [the ‘watchdogs’] gathered in the park at the entrance and went downstairs to ask. A neighbor on the eighth floor has tested positive for Covid-19. Now “he is hospitalized and his family is quarantined,” they explained.

It was 6:30 and there was not much time to do essential tasks, because starting at 7:00 pm, under the terms of the Havana curfew, no one is allowed out on the street. continue reading

I wasn’t the only one who had questions to ask. Many neighbors who learned about the confinement like I did came down to clarify their doubts.

“Each case will be seen individually, but do not worry, madam, people with emergencies and important medical appointments will be allowed to leave without problems”

An elderly woman with her son explained that on Thursday she had an important appointment with the doctor, another man said that he could not miss work because it was essential, and a retiree asked permission to go and get bread and stop by the cashier to get some cash. “Each case will be seen individually, but do not worry, madam, people with emergencies and important medical appointments will be allowed to leave without problems,” he replied.

I wanted to know, above all, if the residents could at least go to the bakery, since as of this Wednesday the tents that are set up in these cases for the sale of food and other basic necessities have not yet been installed in the building.

Today is my eldest daughter’s birthday, and just yesterday I ordered a cake and some pizzas from a delivery service to bring today so we can celebrate, without guests, but with a small candle.

“Do not worry, we will solve that; it is the first day and there are still many things to organize,” a lady from the Neighborhood Council, who was jotting down in a notebook the concerns of all the neighbors, said to me.

“It will be 14 days of quarantine, take it easy, this will go on for a while,” she told me.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Police Threaten the Young ‘Influencer’ Jancel Moreno with Prison

Jancel Moreno received the police summons last Tuesday and the document was signed by the area’s sector chief. (Facebook / JM)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 17 September 2020 — The young influencer and reporter Jancel Moreno was summoned this Wednesday afternoon by the police of the city of Matanzas and was threatened with up to four years in prison if he does not stop publishing criticism against the Cuban authorities on social networks.

Moreno, who is also a contributor to the ADN portal, received a summons to appear at La Playa police station, in the city of Matanzas at two in the afternoon on September 16, as previously reported on social networks and it became — in his opinion — in the “chronicle of an announced threat.”

“I arrived just before 2:00 pm at the door of the Station where they had summoned me. An officer with an authoritarian and even despotic manner collects my identity card (2:20 pm) at approximately 3:50 a.m. The older man calls me, we go upstairs. He introduced himself but I don’t really remember the name (it is also false) and then the talk began.” continue reading

According to the officer of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) who gave him the document, the appointment “would be for an interview with the chief.” (Facebook / JM)

The officer showed Moreno a folder with dozens of his publications on Facebook and questioned whether he should follow the influencer Alex Otaola and the opponent José Daniel Ferrer, among others, on that social network. “It was really impossible to enter into a debate, because he will not change his position nor will I mine, so I dedicated myself to listening to him and nodding my head.”

The older man let the reporter know that it was a “preventive” summons and that he could face four crimes for his publications on the networks. Enemy propaganda, contempt, incitement to crime and propagation of an epidemic are the accusations to which he is exposed. The penalty “for simply posting on social networks” can be up to 3 or 4 years of deprivation of liberty, Moreno explained after leaving the interview.

Jancel Moreno had received the police summons last Tuesday and the document was signed by the Lieutenant Adnier Moreno Ochoa, head of the sector of the area where he temporarily resides in the city of Matanzas. According to the officer of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) who gave him the summons, the appointment “would be for an interview with the chief.”

“If for thinking differently, raising my voice, I have to receive a thousand of these, well I will collect them, because I am not a criminal,” he wrote on his Facebook account.

Although the document claimed that the appointment was for an “interview”, Moreno believes that it was an interrogation full of threats that lasted more than an hour.

As of July 2018 Decree Law 370 came into force, emphasizing that Cuba is a computerized society, but the regulation warns that it is an “effective means for the consolidation of the conquests of socialism and an instrument for the political defense of the Revolution.”

In its article 68, Decree Law 370 describes a series of contraventions that imply extensive control over the Internet, and range from the prohibition against hosting websites on servers located abroad to limitations on what users can publish on their personal networks.

“Disseminating, through public data transmission networks, information contrary to social interest, morals, good customs and the integrity of people” is one of the specific violations detailed in the Decree Law.

Decree Law 370 has led dozens of activists and journalists such as Mónica Baró, Camila Acosta and Iliana Hernández to be fined 3,000 pesos in recent months.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

A Building Collapse in Old Havana Leaves One Dead

Neighbors warned of the collapse, which was reported by the official press this Thursday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 17 September 2020 — A woman died on Wednesday night in the collapse of a multi-family building in Old Havana, which occurred around 7:00 pm on Cuba Street, between Luz and Acosta.

“Rosa died, she was trapped under the rubble,” said Lucero, a neighbor on the same block, speaking to 14ymedio earlier this Thursday. He added that the victim was over 60 years old and had already died when the rescue work ended, around three in the morning.

This newspaper was able to verify the death of the woman, Rosa María Soltis Cuella, through a call to La Nacional funeral home, located in Calzada de Infanta and Benjumeda, where her funeral services are being held. continue reading

The collapse was reported by some residents on social networks  on Wednesday night and later confirmed in the official press.

A neighbor known as ‘the musician’ has lost almost everything, except for his mattress. (14ymedio)

“Members of the Command 1 Rescue and Salvage are currently working to rescue a citizen who remains trapped in the rubble,” said a note in the newspaper Tribuna de La Habana within a few hours of the event.

This morning, there was still a strong police presence cordoning off the area, along with some State Security agents.

The deceased had not legalized her situation in the property, although “she had been processing it for some time without an answer.”

Neighbors report that the building was in very poor condition and that it got worse after the rain in recent days. There were 36 families living in the building, but 24 of them had already been relocated, so at the time of the event, there were 12 families left. Four apartments were affected by the collapse.

One of the residents, known as “El Musico,” who lived on the floor above the victim, says that “he was hanging up a towel when the building collapsed.” Now, he sees it possible that the neighbors will be given a place in a shelter, although he anticipates that he will have to face the bureaucratic ‘scramble.’ “Housing will keep a roof over my head, but I will have to do all kinds of procedures to get it,” he says.

“The Musician lost everything, he could only save his mattress and other nonsense. He plays in an orchestra, he is a trumpet player at carnivals,” says another neighbor.

From the early hours of the morning, officials from the National Housing Institute visited the building to collect testimony from the neighbors and make a census of those affected.

Habitability problems have haunted the country for decades, and successive programs launched by the Government have not resolved these increasingly frequent accidents. In the case of the capital, the problem is particularly serious, as the high population density complicates the situation.

In July two people died in different events. The first took place on the 18th in Centro Habana, when a Communal Services worker who was working at the foot of a building in San Miguel and Belascoaín was crushed when the wall of the building fell on him. The building had been in ruins for years and had already been the site of other accidents.

The rescue lasted until approximately three in the morning. (14ymedio)

Just six days later, María Magdalena Olivares Miller died when she was crushed in the collapse of a property located on Monte 1061 Street, between Fernandina and Romay, in Cerro.

The most dramatic collapse in Havana occurred just at the beginning of the year, when a balcony collapsed on three girls between 9 and 11 years old. The children were returning from school when the structure fell on them, killing one on the spot, while the other two lost their lives in the hospital.

On November 3, a building located in the municipality of Playa collapsed, causing two fatalities, a 13-year-old girl and her mother. The girl’s grandmother was seriously injured but survived.

In Cerro, in March 2019, another person died in similar circumstances. A building, whose neighbors had requested rehabilitation for 15 long years, collapsed causing a fatality. Only after the tragedy the demolition proceeded, after the 36 people who lived there were evicted.

In July 2015 four other people died, also in Old Havana. A building on Habana Street, between Obispo and Obrapía, collapsed around six in the morning when the inhabitants, for the most part, were still sleeping. A three-year-old girl, two 18-year-olds and a 60-year-old woman lost their lives in the accident.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

“They Completely Locked Us Up, But We Were Spared Having to Stand in Lines”

The 12-story building, located at Tulipán and 39th Street, in Nuevo Vedado, has been under quarantine since last week. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 September 2020 — “I had never eaten better or so easily,” says Ivis with a big smile, despite being locked up for a week with hundreds of families in one of the largest buildings in Havana. The 12-story housing complex located at Calle Tulipán and 39th in Nuevo Vedado is cordoned off by yellow ribbon on all four sides and all access points are guarded by the Police.

“I have not had to stand on line, because they bring us everything down here,” says the woman, who lives with her husband, two daughters and her mother. “There are boxes with prepared food, they have been selling five chicken thighs and backs for three days and also one day they came with 10 sausages, a ham roll, two packages of croquettes and two bottles of oil, dry wine and vinegar. Every day they bring soft drinks, yogurt, compote, jam, meats, 10 rolls per family unit, but they also sell bread with ham or cheese.”

“Only the first three days were we able to go out in the morning to run errands, but since they set up the kiosks, they locked us up totally. The good thing is that we were spared the lines,” adds Ivis. continue reading

With three independent entrances, an outdoor park as a common area, a bank and a nearby Wi-Fi zone, residents in the building have feared for weeks that the coronavirus would reach their building.

“My husband has been out of work before; he is a driver and has been at home for a while, getting paid 60% of his salary, but nobody here can go to work, that I know. What I can’t tell you is whether other people are being paid their whole salary or only a part,” she explains.

Although this is not the tallest building in the area, where 18, 20 and 26 stories are commonplace, this prefabricated building, built in the 1980’s and inspired by Eastern European architecture, houses some 500 apartments. When it was being built, three 12-storey buildings were joined, one next to the other, ending up with what the neighbors jokingly call “the serpent,” “the horizontal ghetto,” or “the worm.”

With three separate entrances, an outdoor park as a common area, a bank and a nearby Wi-Fi zone, building residents have feared for weeks that the coronavirus would reach its densely populated structure. But the confinement also has its positive side, with a special supply of food in an area with a sketchy network of shops and markets.

Residents say that everything is “very organized” and that shopping is conducted by floor. “They come, they give you a ticket and when it’s your turn, you go down.”

“They come, they give you a ticket and when it’s time for your apartment, you go downstairs. There are people who don’t want to buy everything. For example, my neighbor, who lives alone with her husband, receives the same quotas as us, and there are five of us. They are retired, they do not have enough money to buy everything they are allowed to get, so sometimes they give us their ticket; in exchange we give them a part of what we buy.”

Ivis explains that one day they found four packages of detergent and five soaps for sale. “I hadn’t bought detergent for months and that’s how I solved my problem. What they haven’t brought is shampoo and toothpaste,” she said.

Another neighbor says that the closing caught her visiting her mother’s house, who lives in Alamar. “Imagine arriving and finding your building closed. Luckily, the confinement was not total those first days, so I was able to return to my house with my daughter,” she said.

“The other day I went to buy chicken at the Tulipán store and it turned out that it was closed because the employees had been given the task of preparing packages to sell to residents of the twelve floors,” said a neighbor from a nearby building.

This Monday, in El Vedado, another building woke up in the same situation. It is the América Building, on the corner of N and 27th, a seven-story building with high population density since many apartments have been divided into two.

“Here, they explained that between Tuesday and Wednesday they would set up the kiosk in the lobby to shop without having to go out and that they would randomly test us for the coronavirus, though not all the residents,” a tenant of the building told this newspaper.

Since the pandemic began in Cuba, no mandatory quarantine has been declared at the national level, but entire neighborhoods, shops, workplaces, houses and multi-family buildings have been isolated to avoid contagion. Havana has had more than 2,800 positive cases and an incidence rate of 131.4 per 100,000 inhabitants.

The rest of the streets on the Island, however, are still full of people in search of food and lining up for hours, a situation that the Government has not been able to resolve amid great shortages of basic products. What it has done is increase control over the population through fines and restrictions.

Translator: Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

With the Blackouts, the ‘Temporary Situation’ Becomes Permanent

Lines to buy fuel in Havana have been a constant at this time. (Alejandro Yanes)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 September 2020 — This Wednesday, September 16, the scheduled blackouts begin in Havana to reduce energy consumption and, according to the official press, stop “a tendency to overuse that the country cannot afford.”

This completes prophecy made by the Government a year ago when Miguel Díaz-Canel announced, on September 11, 2019, that the Island had entered a fuel crisis, which he described at the time as a “temporary situation.”

According to the notice published by the Electric Company of Havana, the “interruptions to the electrical service,” this Wednesday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm in the municipalities of Plaza, Playa and Boyeros, are due to “scheduled maintenance actions.” A few weeks ago, the authorities had already denied that the blackouts that occurred in August were due to a lack of fuel.

However, on September 3, Deputy Prime Minister Ramiro Valdés Menéndez called for a reduction in the costs of providing electricity and asked the municipal energy councils to identify the high consumers in residences and state services.

This Monday, the authorities insisted on this message, reporting a new accounting so far in September, when 4% more was consumed than expected. The only provinces complying with the plan are Las Tunas, Holguín and Granma, lamented the National Energy Council. Although the agency admits that households have reduced consumption, as recommended at the time, “the response from state agencies and their agencies still does not offer the results that are urgently needed,” said a note published in the official press.

Despite the insistent declarations of the authorities denying the link between blackouts and fuel shortages, the situation, far from improving, worsens and in the last month, several areas of the capital have been without electricity in periods that sometimes extend to eight o’clock hours.

The Government continues to place its hopes on its old energy partner, Venezuela, from which at least 49% of the fuel with which the island generates electricity comes (the remaining 51% is produced with oil extracted in Cuba). According to the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States, Carlos Vecchio, in the first half of 2020 the Maduro regime sent 33 tankers to Cuba, loaded with just over 13 million barrels of oil.

But the South American country, which for years has supplied oil to Cuba in exchange for doctors, has seen its possibilities greatly diminished with the increase in sanctions from the White House and now receives fuel in a non-regulatory way from Iran, also affected by the Washington measures. According to experts, part of the cargo from these ships reaches Havana.

At the beginning of the crisis, Díaz-Canel maintained a warlike language about the “temporary situation,” how could it be otherwise, charging the United States with the responsibility. “This is our Bay of Pigs… we have already overcome the first moment of the temporary situation… the country has not come to a standstill,” Díaz-Canel said in his government meetings, while on the street people mobbed gas stations and transport stops.

The authorities were then even forced to stop transport in the capital and demand — by way of an army of inspectors — that state vehicles pick up passengers. The situation also caused many of the private carriers to raise prices on their routes.

The arrival of the pandemic has left the situation in the air. It is impossible to know what the evolution of the energy situation in the country would have been if the coronavirus had not forced the stop of almost all transport on the Island to prevent mobility and stopped many non-essential activities that are large consumers of energy.

But even with these savings, Cuba has problems to maintain supply and the strong impact that covid-19 is expected to cause on the economy threatens to perpetuate an already long “temporary situation,” which looks a little more like the detested Special Period of the 90s every day.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Trials Designed to Set an Example Overwhelm a Court of Law in Havana

The express legal process seeks not only to convict offenders, but also to send a message to the rest of the public. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 September 2020 — If it weren’t for the pandemic, it would seem that the group gathered on 23rd Street is waiting for a bus. But this Friday, people in front of the Municipal Court at the Plaza de la Revolución were waiting to find out the fate of their relatives, detained for allegedly violating the measures decreed in Havana to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Dozens of eyes did not lose sight of the arrival of police vehicles, the movement of the uniformed men, or the shout that, from time to time, a policeman would voice from the front door of a large house on the opposite sidewalk. At any time, a son, a brother or a father might be transferred to the site to be tried for failing to comply with Decree 14/2020.

“Here we are, waiting for them to bring our son but they tell us that it will be later, that now they are bringing the people from Cerro and we are from Centro Habana,” Marta, a woman who is waiting, leaning on a wall on 23rd Street with her husband and two children, tells 14ymedio. continue reading

Some have settled on the sidewalk, others have been able to bring a small plastic bench, a bottle of water and lots of patience for the long hours of waiting. They are people from all social classes and neighborhoods in Havana. What little unites them is the anxiety of not knowing what happened to the relative who did not return home and they found out shortly after he was detained.

Some have settled on the sidewalk, others have been able to bring a small plastic bench, a bottle of water and a lot of patience for the long hours of waiting

Under her umbrella, Marta harshly criticizes the injustice that has been committed against her son. “They are telling families that the penalties are always less severe for people who are employed, but I do not understand. My 21-year-old son lost his job like many others because of this Covid.”

From across the street, an officer yells: “Reinaldo, Reinaldo.” Last names are not necessary because several members of a family spring up and cross the light traffic on the avenue, under a sun that can melt stones. Only a relative can access the oral hearing. “Go in, since you are his mother, we will be waiting for you out here,” someone says. The woman, escorted by two officers, enters the house.

Inside, the trial takes place, a quick process that seeks not only to convict the offenders but also to send a message to the rest of the public. The trials are designed to serve as an example, to warn others not to hang out on the streets without a mask, not to go out after the curfew has started, and not to try to shop in stores outside their municipality.

The front yard of the courthouse is packed with waiting uniformed police officers, looking bored and tired, dozing with their elbows on their knees. Two small buses, the kind traditionally used for the transfer of prisoners, are parked outside.

The front yard of the courthouse is packed with uniformed policemen who wait, they look bored and tired

“They are the sector leaders, who are pressured to come and give testimony of the offense committed,” says another woman. “Here they conduct trials from everywhere, from Cerro as well as from Plaza or Centro Habana,” she adds. “I still don’t know why they took my brother. I know he’s here because I got a call last night.”

A young woman, with a little girl in her arms, approaches the group. In a timid voice, she explains that her husband was taken away on the 21st of last month and asks several questions: “Do you know what sanctions they are handing out? Do you have any idea where they will transfer him after this?” A buzz of solidarity is heard, but a voice calls for calm.

The young mother needs to go to the bathroom. “Wait, I’ll come with you,” offers another woman, who leaves her purse in the hands of her husband before crossing the deserted avenue again. They return to the subject when they return. The conversation is full of unanswered questions. Nobody knows which prison they are taking the detainees to, nor what penalties they are applying.

“According to what they have told me, the punishment depends a lot on the circumstances and the person”, says a man who had not spoken up to that point. Silence runs through the group. Perhaps each one calculates the situation of his relative. Does he work or not work? Does he have a criminal record?

Some take refuge in the hope that their relative will walk out of the trial with just a fine, cross the sidewalk and they will hug in the September sun. The officer’s shout breaks the brief silence. “Maykel, Maykel” is heard, and a woman with a small child crosses the sidewalk.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

“When You are Censored, All Doors Close and the Locksmith Keeps All the Keys”

Omar Mena has authored over 11 albums since he began his career in rap more than a decade ago. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 September 2020 — Omar Mena is an artist without fear when it comes to expressing himself. The author of more than 11 albums since he began his career in rap more than a decade ago, he is known in his genre as El Analista [The Analyst].  Mena has always been at the side of the most complicated causes that have been defended within the culture in recent times: the fight against Decree 349, the support for the campaign that called for the freedom of the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the vote to petition the rejection of the Constitution, among others.

After a lot of struggling from one place to another, today he resides with his family in Santa Clara, from where he talks with 14ymedio about the challenges of being a free artist in Cuba and about the projects he has defended to stay active in the world of hip hop.

Question. What were your beginnings in music like, and what prompted you to rap?

Answer. I started to do rap in 2008, recording an album at the Real 70 production company. I’ve been in this field for twelve years. Initially I was a rocker, I really liked rock and I had my band, but I was always rebellious, what I liked was expressing what I felt. The issue was already complicated with the members. There were four of us and some began to be afraid because of what I said in my lyrics. So I decided to do rap. After my first album I recorded in some Santa Clara studios and later in one that I put together myself. continue reading

Question. Where can you hear hip hop in Santa Clara?

Answer. Santa Clara does not have spaces specifically for hip hop, the usual clubs in the city are the only spaces rappers have. For example, at the AHS there are about two clubs a month and one in El Mejunje de Silverio

When you have my kind of lyrics, you live with censorship from the beginning. The Government never guaranteed me anything with respect to my work or my music, I have always created independently

Question. Due to the lyrics and the free expression of the songs that you write, you have suffered censorship from the institution, what did this mean for your career? How did you experience it? What hit you the most?

Answer. In this genre, censorship is not something that affects an artist’s career much. When you have the lyrics that I have, you live with censorship from the beginning. The Government never guaranteed me almost anything with respect to my work or my music, I have always created in an independent manner.

What hurts is the dimension that censorship brings, the worst censorship is the one exercised by the artist against the censored artist. I have directed events when I belonged to the institution and brought censored artists such as David D’omni or the Patriot Squad and everyone participated, but if there are no artists from those who remain in the institutions who are committed to Cuban society, that censorship will be the one that will continue to hit the most, because no one can prevent an artist from being brave and inviting you; what can happen, at most they will tell him that he is responsible and that’s it.

What also happens is that censorship is a machine: they not only go against your work but against you.

Question. I suppose that resuming your career independently has closed many doors for you, what new experiences did creation outside the institution bring to you?

Answer. After censorship arrived, I spent almost a year devising a new strategy, because it was always clear to me that it was not going to stop. When you are censored, all doors close and the locksmith keeps all the keys. then there is nowhere to perform, you need to create doors and options and that’s what I did.

What hurts is the scope that censorship brings, the worst censorship is the one exercised by the artist against the censored artist

I created a project called Genesis Club. Initially it was only about supporting artists in their work, holding improvement workshops, helping them to record their albums but then it evolved into another period.

I have a large patio so that’s where I built my stage. It has been the most special thing that has happened to me in my life, one for the artists who have performed there and another for the support of the people of the neighborhood. It is not the same to sing for people who have the same problems than for those who attend so they can party. In a club everyone goes to drink their bottle and the neighborhood people attend out of curiosity and pay close attention to everything that’s said.

That is what the Government fears, new comments said in the neighborhood and the neighborhood starts to think, reflecting on what happens there. It is one of the most special things that has happened to me.

The issue of repression has been more complicated, let’s call a spade a spade. I am not a politician, I am an artist, I do not belong to a party, I am just an independent thinker, a young man with his own way of thinking and who expresses it without fear. It is not a question of being brave, it is a commitment that I think must be taken. Everyone should give themselves the personal satisfaction of saying what they think and that is my case.

What the Government is afraid of, what new idea can be spoken in the neighborhood and the neighborhood is left thinking, reflecting on what is expressed there

Whenever a rumor goes around or with each demonstration that social networks or the opposition calls for, two policemen get stationed in front of my house to prevent me from going out. When the Clandestinos thing was going around they stationed them there too.  It’s crazy.

It is difficult for me to understand that they do that to an artist, especially when they control everything. They know that I don’t belong to any party and yet I’m being repressed. Personally, it does not affect me, I can live quietly, I am free and I am at peace.

Question. Do you agree with the idea that a rapper from the provinces is at a disadvantage compared to one from Havana to achieve success in his career?

Answer. It is relative. Initially, I lived in Havana and I never achieved what I did later here in my province. Everything is where you pump it out, where you put effort to work. The thing about Havana is that there are 400 rappers there, but you can come to your province and make yourself noticed, I don’t see that as impossible.

It is true that there are more opportunities there, but it is possible. Life is a line, which may curve, but it will always go to its point, if something is there for you it will happen, everything depends on the effort you put into it, I do not agree that opportunities exist only in Havana.

When I’ve had to make an important video I have gone to Havana, like the one from 349, the one about “no to the Constitution”, I have gone and been videoed, when the issue of Luis Manuel’s freedom the same thing happened, shot the video, they counted on me from my province.

Question. Having created a concert space in the house where you live with your family, what consequences has it brought you? How has it worked so far?

Answer. The creation of space in the house has not brought me many problems, just a few citations, the normal that one lives with daily. I think it is done to make you feel the intimidation and surveillance. They always ask me about what I’m going to do and I always answer the same thing: I’m going to make art.

A State Security officer told me that they had an order to prosecute me, but that they were going to give me the opportunity to do the concert. I left calmly and told them that I was going to make art that day.

During the first concert they threatened to send me to prison if something was said on stage that was not in accordance with the Revolution’s discourse. A State Security officer told me that they had an order to prosecute me, but that they were going to give me the opportunity to do the concert. I left calmly and told them that that day I was going to make art and that the next day they would do what they had to do.

David, Soandry, the neighborhood Hip Hopper came to the concert, what went on, went on.  What they said was going to be said was said and nothing happened, many police cars patrolling, watching.

Every time I do a concert it’s the same. They come up here and come to ask my permission. Then they schedule me with the head of the sector to ask me what I live on and things like that, but they have no way to cross my threshold. I follow the rules, the schedules, it is at my house, it is not in the street, I do not interrupt the public space.

We’re here to make art, it is a free space, the neighborhood supports me immensely, they help me in a huge way, they fill up the audience space, they have never disappointed me. I live two kilometers from the park and people come from there. I have never before sung for as many audiences as I have here and there is always an atmosphere full of freedom.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Two Bags of Food for a Six Hour Wait

The line at the agricultural market on Tulipán Street was slow and unbearable this Saturday. There was only cucumber, squash, julienned sweet potatoes and some eggplants on the shelves. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 6 September 2020 — At five in the morning this Saturday, Beatriz Delgado went out to the streets in search of food for her family. It is already two in the afternoon and she is still standing on line to buy groceries and some vegetables. Her daily routine has become more difficult with the new restrictions to slow the rebound of covid-19.

Since last Tuesday, residents of Havana have been trying to adjust to the curfew. From seven at night to five in the morning the city is deserted. Only police, firefighters, ambulances and some cars with special permits can be seen. It is a radical change when compared to the very intense early mornings before this ban.

“I used to go out with a friend of mine after watching the soap opera and we would stand from that time in a couple of lines, sometimes without really knowing why. It didn’t matter, because anything is needed: shampoo, chicken, ground meat, tooth paste,” explains Delgado, who is 63-years-old. continue reading

Bakery on Calle Infanta, Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

“The lines would form starting in the afternoon, and getting up early in order to get a good number was useless; even so, we never got a number smaller than 60,, explains this Havana resident, for whom the curfew means fewer possibilities of being able fill her bag.

The Cuban Opposition Cautiously Welcomes the Creation of the People’s Party

Otaola insists that he “values, respects and admires” the work of the different opposition groups and that his initiative does not seek to divide. (AP courtesy el Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario J. Pentón, Havana/Miami | 27 August 2020 — Thousands of followers of Alex Otaola have enthusiastically received the creation of the People’s Party, announced on Tuesday by the Cuban presenter living in Miami. This initiative wants to be an “alternative” to the monopoly exercised by the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), the only one authorized on the island.

On the other hand, opposition groups within the island and in exile have been more cautious about the new proposal.

“The other opposition groups are not political parties, they are movements. None have presented themselves as a political party. There have been no elections or voting,” Otaola told el Nuevo Herald. “We have a plan for governance. We want to stand up to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC). People will be able to register, vote, participate. The other initiatives call for actions, I don’t think this is a reason for problems or divisions, it is something that comes together.”

“We want it to have its own leaders, that the people can decide, so that we can present ourselves to the world as the organized opposition that is proposing a path, a change,” he said. continue reading

Otaola assured that he “values, respects and admires” the work of the different opposition groups and that his initiative does not seek to divide, but rather “to join forces in a common idea, in what brings us together.”

As he explained to this newspaper, his “detractors” have begun to attack his initiative, “without analyzing it.”

The influencer said he has not received any response from exile and diaspora leaders to his proposal, but that “it is still early for that.”

Otaola stressed that his intention is not “to become a political leader, or to be the president of a party,” nor does he completely rule out being elected as a representative of the People’s Party.

Members of the People’s Party may be those “born in Cuba, or descendants of Cubans up to the third generation, regardless of their place of residence.” As explained by the new party, the organization will allow double membership during the first four years, “with the exception of those affiliated with the Communist Party.”

The website of the new party initially presented a list of “founders” that served as a reference to the creators of this project, but the list was later deleted.

Regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque, a former political prisoner of the Black Spring Group of 75, told 14ymedio that the list included “the names of the people who they say are the founders” but later said “were the inspirers.”

“The fact that you inspire the party should be an acknowledgment, but in this case all the names are intermixed and people have called me and I did not know of the existence of the party although my name was there,” she said.

“I think that was not ethical enough to start with, it was not as beautiful as possible,” said the leader of the Network of Community Journalists and Communicators. “I am not a member of any party nor do I plan to be.”

Otaola said it was “a mistake” that was made when creating the list. “They are inspiring, ideologues on whom we rely to create this party. We do not want them to believe that we are disrespectful, but rather pay tribute to the best ideas within the opposition,” he said.

From Miami, Eliécer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ [We are More] Political Movement, said he was “very happy” that a “new political option” has been born for Cubans. “If we bring together some Cubans to fight for freedom, José Daniel Ferrer does the same with UNPACU and Otaola does the same with the People’s Party, there will be more of is in the fight against tyranny. From Somos+ you can expect all kinds of collaboration,”  he expressed.

For the regime opponent and academic Manuel Cuesta Morúa, “any attempt to unite Cubans wherever they are” is valid and positive “to try to promote change as a whole.”

“What I would like to emphasize is that, speaking of epicenters, all efforts from abroad must take into account that the epicenter of change is Cuba and these efforts should be aimed at supporting initiatives that can be promoted or encouraged within Cuba, to try to achieve democratic change,” he told this newspaper by telephone.

Lawyer Eloy Viera, for his part, explained to el Nuevo Herald that another “electoralist” party, as is, in his opinion, the one proposed by Otaola, “does not make a difference.”

“My biggest concern with what Otaola proposes is that it is not a party that seeks the union of Cubans, but rather to take for granted a group of issues that are still being discussed today and that directly affect Cubans who have to actively participate in a change in Cuba: those from within,” said Viera.

He also pointed out that the program they propose “aims to solve a problem at a stroke that does not admit a single legal solution, since the discussions around the matter are very disparate.”

Viera stressed that the program omits “the way to return sovereignty to the people.”

“They intend to offer a program of governance, which goes as far as considering the number of ministries, but it is unable to offer an institutional system that really says how the people are going to enjoy that sovereignty,” he said.

“In practice, even in the liberal system where you live [United States], popular sovereignty is only achieved through institutions,” he said.

However, he pointed out that as an “option that enriches the necessary diversity that must exist in Cuba” the project seems “respectable.”

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Cubans Prohibited From Lining Up at Stores at Night

Last weekend, at dawn, in front of the Maisí store on Infanta Street, dozens of people were waiting to achieve the first positions. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 28 August 2020 — Long before the pandemic began, even before the “economic situation” was announced last September, the verbs mark (your place in line), wake up early and wait have been the most conjugated in Cuba. The lines that have accompanied our lives for decades have increased in size and gained prominence in the streets of this Island.

“I managed to get chicken on Tuesday in El Danubio because I stood in line from five. If I had arrived at the time the store opens, I wouldn’t have gotten even mayonnaise,” a woman lamented this Thursday before a young military man, wearing an orange vest, who was trying to evict several people who a little earlier set up the line to access the store near Calle 26, in El Vedado.

We are not coleros (people paid to stand in line for others), we are the heads of the family fighting to guarantee daily food. There aren’t any coleros here, those are organized from the day before and here, not even if you stand in front of the store when it closes, doyou manage to be the first,” the woman claimed before the silent military man and assured him that she had marked her place when the sun had not yet risen. continue reading

In some state stores employees have been hanging signs warning that it is forbidden to “line up before six in the morning.” (Facebook)

Now with the new restrictive measures that will come into effect next Tuesday in Havana, being in the street between seven at night and five in the morning will be prohibited. The hundreds or thousands of people who left left home before the “rooster’s crow” to try to guarantee something to eat, will have to wait for the curfew to end.

It is not a new obstacle. On August 2, the authorities in Havana began the offensive that was called “Operation to fight against coleros“, which includes the prohibition of standing in line near the store at night and at dawn. However, the lines continued to proliferate everywhere.

Last weekend, at dawn, in front of the Maisí store on Infanta Street, dozens of people were waiting to achieve the first places in line. A few meters away, in the popular Parque Trillo, the panorama was repeated amidst the shadows and doubts about the products that customers would find when the nearest store opened.

But these hours of darkness and anguish could change in a few days, because the authorities have threatened hefty fines for those who violate the curfew that will take effect on September 1st and continue for 15 days. The threat is unlikely to wipe out the crowds to buy food, but they will have to arrange themselves differently.

In some state stores, employees have been hanging posters warning that it is forbidden to “stand in line before six in the morning”, “line up for more than one person” or draw up “a list” with names and Identity Card numbers to guarantee your position in line. What will happen when all these restrictions take effect?

The hours of darkness and anguish could change because the authorities have threatened fines to those who violate the curfew. (14ymedio)

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Police Fight Illegal Currency Trafficking

Exchanging hard currency at banks is not a viable option due to long lines and an almost constant need to fill out paperwork. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, August 12, 2020 — Along with hoarders and coleros — people paid to wait in line — unofficial money changers are on the police’s radar. They are after individuals who exchange dollars and other hard currency on the black market. Raids began after digital classifieds began appearing on internet portals, where foreign currencies are one of the most frequently listed types of merchandise.

A house in Central Havana and another in Playa were the scenes of raids carried out by the Ministry of the Interior in which agents found cash in a variety of currencies totaling almost 1.3 million Cuban pesos according to a nightly news report on Tuesday.

Maylén Díaz Porro, operational officer with the Department of Technical Investigations, pointed out on state television that one of the alleged perpetrators had used the Revolico online sales platform to promote the sale of euros and dollars. Díaz added that the individual had also been visiting shopping centers, offering to “change money.” continue reading

According to the report security forces siezed 20,215 dollars, 12,097 convertible pesos, 445,350 Cuban pesos and 1,450 euros in the operations. Government sources added that agents also found small quantities of bills in other currencies.

Another officer explained that, during a search of the house in Playa, police found thirty-nine hundred-dollar bills, which were determined to be counterfeit by an “expert examination” carried out in the laboratory.

The report points out that the persons under investigation “have no employment relationship with the Cuban state yet have a high quality of life.” During the search agents confiscated “some records that suggest smuggling of imported merchandise through the use of mules.” Indications are the goods were later resold on the island, which is experiencing a growing shortage of consumer goods.

Armando Torres Aguirre, deputy director general of the National Bank, believes underground currency exchange has an economic impact on the country. He points out that Legal Decree 362 defines which financial institutions are authorized to carry out currency trading activities. The law specificies only “universal banks” and exchange bureaus such as Cadecas.

Cadecas was founded in 1994, after the possession of dollars was decriminalized. In recent years the number of its branches throughout the country has declined. Those that have remained open often do not have cash.

Banks remain an alternative for exchanging hard currency but long lines to make deposits, apply for a debit card or use other services mean they are not a viable option for the many customers who prefer to avoid long waits by turning to the underground market despite the risk that this entails.

On Tuesday the state newspaper Juventud Rebelde reported that the district attorney’s office in Ciego de Ávila province is preparing to try three individuals for “illegal trafficking of foreign currency and national currency.” All three are allegedly repeat offenders.

There are ninety-seven groups made up of more than 800 workers who, together with officers from the Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior, are looking into eighty-four retail establishments that have been identified as “vulnerable.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Quarantine and a Toothache

With so many daily cases that are being reported in the country, there is a greater possibility of transmission of the disease in such a place. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 15 August 2020 — The pain appears on Sunday night. That tooth that broke months ago shows its face. I try to think that the discomfort will pass, as we always think when we have pain. And it may happen, but for the moment: pain is just a symptom that something is rotten. The next day, the cheek is all swollen.

I should have gone to the dentist earlier, I think. Now, in full return to the confinement of the pandemic, just as the city abandons phase 1 of the de-escalation and resumes the strictest measures against the coronavirus, going to a medical consultation seems to me little less than a slow suicide.

I consult some medical friends over the phone and they all give the same advice: start taking antibiotics and then go to the dentist. I listen to them, but I can only take the antibiotics for 48 hours: which is the amount I have on hand. I know that I will not get more in pharmacies, where there is a shortage of drugs. continue reading

The situation does not improve and an infection in the mouth is serious. I pluck up the courage to go to the nearest polyclinic.

I clean my shoes on a blanket soaked in chlorine, I rub my hands with a few drops of hypochlorite, and I am ready to walk through the door of the health center.

In the waiting room, there are only two people: an older man also with a toothache — his seems more serious than mine, because he covers his cheek with a handkerchief — and a young man whose lip has been bitten by a dog.

I should have come earlier, I think again. But the truth is that the terror of contagion gripped me, knowing the limited means of protection that are used in the clinics.

At the window to ask for the turn to be seen, the employee says that they are only attending emergency cases. “Until now we had the consultation open but as of noon they told us to close,” she explains. I detail my case and show her my face, and she calls one of the dentists on duty to decide whether or not I can pass. The inflammation is eloquent: the specialist decides to treat me.

While I wait, dentists are leaving one after another and saying goodbye to their colleagues. “I’m leaving, tell my patients that I’m not coming back until classes start, whatever it is, in December or January,” says one. It has to be a joke.

Fifteen minutes later, they announce that we must wait another half hour to be seen. “All the instruments right now are in the autoclave — the sterilizing device — I ask you not to leave so that you do not miss this opportunity,” says an employee to the three of us who are waiting in the room, patients in its double meaning.

Finally it happened. At the consultation, I see that the dentist and his assistant are wearing double masks and a transparent plastic mask. He puts on the new gloves: “Open your mouth!”

I freeze, nervous with fear. With so many daily cases that are being reported in the country, there is a greater possibility of transmission of the disease in such a place, I tell the doctor.

“It is true that the routine we have constantly exposes us to the virus. Here everything is a risk, the viral load that patients expel, the use of instruments and machines, the inevitable proximity to the mouth, are all high-risk operations in the middle of the pandemic,” says the assistant, trying to reassure me. “But don’t worry, we have taken all the measures we have within our power.”

Finally I open my mouth and after looking at the affected area with the mirror, the doctor says: “There is only one way out for this, extraction.” The operation ends in ten minutes. I can’t help but wonder if those ten minutes have been enough for the contagion.

“I’m going to prescribe you azithromycin, which is now the only antibiotic available, and dipyrone in case you have pain,” says the dentist, also noting the specific pharmacy to go to.

In the pharmacy the employee charges me 11 pesos for three antibiotic tablets and warns me: “Forget about dipyrone, there is no such thing anywhere.”

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Havana’s Malecon: “If it becomes a wall, what will become of our view?”

With their feet dangling, the young people laugh, chat, take selfies, while listening to music on their cellphones. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havanan, 30 July 2020 — The group, of more or less 8 or 9 young people, was sitting this on the wall of the Havana’s Malecon Wednesday afternoon, at a quarter to six in the afternoon. With their feet dangling towards the sea, they laugh, chat, take selfies while listening to music on their cell phones.

“We just left Coppelia and came here to sit, for us young people there are not many options, our walks almost always end here.”

“What do you think of the idea of a higher Malecon, as proposed by the authorities, without the possibility of seeing the sea?”

One of the boys responds with another question: “Have you never heard that this is the ‘sofa’ of the Cubans?” continue reading

“If it were higher so that one cannot even sit down would not be the same, it would cease to be entertainment for us. I understand that it would serve as protection for many families who live here facing the sea, but when things get big, nothing stops the flooding. Nothing,” says Lorena Fonseca, another of the young women in the group speaking to 14ymedio while pointing to some cans floating in water and others embedded in the reef.

“Look, this shows it too. People don’t take care of anything, you should also write about that, there are very filthy people who don’t understand that the sea has to be taken care of,” she said.

Marcelino Piedra Mesa, has lived in 751 Marina for 50 years and talks about the sea as if it were a person. (14ymedio)

The news that the height of the wall of the Havana Malecon could be raised during the restoration process carried out by the city government together with the Office of the Historian made the news a couple of years ago. The controversy has not stopped and concern is reborn after the issuance of several reports on the works and with the visible presence of heavy machinery in some sections.

The architect Perla Rosales commented to EFE that the historian Eusebio Leal himself had a “personal interest” in the rescue of the Malecón, “because it is the face of Havana.” However, architects and citizens complain about the lack of transparency with which the works have been approached.

“We need, we deserve and they owe us complete information on this project so important for our city and its citizens,” denounces the architect Abel Tablada, who shared a report from the German chain Deutsche Welle about the works on his Facebook wall.

Leaning against a little wall that he has built at the door of the house is Marcelino Piedra Mesa, about 70 years old. He has lived at 751 Marina for 50 years and talks about the sea as if it were a person. “When it says ‘to look for him,’ he goes to San Lázaro,” he insists, at the same time adjusting a handkerchief that covers his mouth and nose.

He says that in the time he has lived there, the water has “really” entered twice. “From the sea,” the man clarifies, “because when it rains …,” and he stretches out both hands in front of him, like one who wants to caress a large circle. “I believe that even if they raise it, it will not be possible to prevent him from entering. Maybe stop some, but not completely,” he suspects.

“The first entry of the sea that I remember was in 2005. Previously it was flooded, but due to rain, problems with the sewers and the sewers that do not work well. The other was in 2017… Then he really came in hard, he took everything, he left me nothing, he cleaned me out completely,” recalls Piedra, who moved to that house in the 70s.

The Malecon is one of the biggest attractions in Havana for tourists, but also for residents. (14ymedio)

“There are areas that can hold up a bit, but there are others where, the height of the wall, it does not allow to go one centimeter higher. Previously that wall was a little higher, but since some work was done a few years ago, they cut off the whole top and then put it back again. At that time it was lowered about 25 centimeters. I remember that before I was jumping to sit on it, now I don’t have to jump,” he said.

The intention to raise the height of the wall is part of a State “plan” to “confront” climate change, and has been named Tarea Vida (Life Task). The works began, the authorities announced, in 2020 and with them the rehabilitation of the Havana seawall is intended “to avoid coastal flooding, both maritime and rainwater.”

The director of the Hydraulic Research Center of the  José Antonio Echeverría Technological University of Havana (known as CUJAE), Yoermes González, explained to the official press that this action includes four stages and is part of a project that they have been developing for about 30 years. González pointed out that this year, according to the project, they will begin with the part that involves “a change in the geometry of the wall” and its elevation “as far as the architecture allows,” without specifying a specific height.

The architect Universo García Lorenzo believes that there have been “problems” when it comes to communicating the project and quotes the journalist and professor Raúl Garcés Corra, who said: “If we want it as a public good we have to involve the whole of society in the management of the communication process.”

“I think that precisely that vision, identified and cautioned by our researchers, of communicating, socializing and involving society as a whole has been lacking, not in the result, but in the gestation and monitoring of the process,” García Lorenzo pointed out.

The most famous seafront avenue in Cuba, with its wide sidewalk and its eight kilometers of wall that go from Prado to the Almendares River, the Malecon is one of the most seductive attractions of the city for both Cubans and foreign visitors.

The Malecón. (14ymedio)

The debate on these works transcends social networks and, on the wall of the Malecon itself, neighbors and visitors dispute the reason for the idea of raising the wall.

“I think you could use yaquis so that the waves break a little earlier and not against the wall which, under no circumstances, can disappear as a coastline. If it becomes a wall, what will become of our view… so beautiful and characteristic of the city? I can’t even imagine it,” says a visitor to the Malecon, who resides in the Diez de Octubre municipality.

A neighbor who was extending a hose from his house to a water truck in the middle of the sidewalk replied: “You can see that the water does not enter your house above two meters high,” he says, before sucking on a hose to prime an engine that brings water from the street to his home.

“I don’t think that is for the entire area, maybe it is only in the area that is most affected by the floods. I think that would be good, along the entire Malecon it would be a crime. It is of the most beautiful things that Havana has,” says one of the regular fishermen on the corner of 25th, in front of the Hola Ola recreational center.

The man asks his fishing partner: “Let’s see my friend, what do you like the most about Havana?” And his colleague responds, before throwing the rod again: “That it has the sea.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.