Fire, Neglect and Bureaucracy Sink the Moscow Restaurant / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Complaints about the problems caused by the ruins of the building have been repeated each year in the “Accountability Assemblies”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 20 January 2017 – A bird has his nest on a fragment of wall and a creeper peeps over what was once the sumptuous door of the Moscow Restaurant. Almost three decades after a fire extinguished the sparkle of the downtown location, its ruins are a headache for its closest neighbors and city authorities.

“I asked my wife to marry me under that decorated wooden ceiling,” Waldo, a 67-year-old retiree from the Cuban Radio and Television Institute, tells this newspaper. Like many of his contemporaries, he thinks that the Moscow Restaurant “was the pearl in the crown of this city” until the end of the 1980’s. continue reading

After Fidel Castro came to power and the nationalizations happened, the property stopped housing the famous Montmartre casino and cabaret. At the end of the 1960’s, the place was re-named Moscow, a nod to the Soviet Union. Bolero nights came to their end, and Solyanka soup and Russian salad took over the place.

“The food was good, and they had workers trained in the old style who treated customers with friendliness and without today’s cheek,” says Jose Ignacio, a nearby neighbor from 25th Street who assures that the complaints about the problems caused by the building’s ruins “have been repeated each year in the People’s Power Accountability Assemblies*.”

The place remains closed, with entrances covered and vegetation growing between its walls. With the years, the situation has become untenable for the neighbors. “There are a lot of mosquitoes, because when it rains, the water accumulates,” complains Monica, mother of a months-old baby who must “sleep with mosquito netting in spite of being in the city’s very downtown.”

Officials from the Provincial Administration Council commented this week on television news that “given the damage caused by the fire” and the years of neglect, the ruined property can only be demolished. “There is no chance of saving it for restoration, therefore it must be demolished,” they pronounced.

The work of taking down the building necessitates 260 cubic meters of wood for support, and no fewer than two full-time cranes hired for a year, specified the two interviewed officials. The total amount for the operation is calculated at four million Cuban pesos, but it is not a priority among the investment plans assigned to the city.

In Old Havana other more ruinous properties have been restored and function as hotels or cultural centers, but the Moscow seems to be cursed. “In an attack here they killed Antonio Blanco Rico, chief of Fulgencio Batista’s Military Intelligence,” says Gustavo, a nearby neighbor and one who proclaims himself “familiar with every inch of this city’s history.”

More than three decades after that event a voracious fire destroyed the place, and since then it has been closed. “I was born in the middle of the Special Period in the 1990’s, and I only heard stories about the Moscow Restaurant from my parents,” says a young shoe and wallet vendor at the 23rd Street Fair.

Next to him a lady listens to the conversation and evokes the restaurant’s golden age. “They were times when a worker could pay for a meal in such a place with his salary,” she remembers. “But shortly after the Moscow burned, the USSR also came down, and all that turned to smoke and ashes.”

*Translator’s note: Regular meetings held by deputies at different levels of government with their constituents to hear from them and be “held accountable” for their performance.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Three Kings Are Also Sexist / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

The demands of children have grown along with the prices of toys. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, Luz Escobar, 6 January 2016 — Half a hundred people crowded around the outside of the store. Some shelves display dolls, play tea sets and teddy bears: an explosion of pink and lilac. In others, plastic wagons, swords and firefighters’ equipment appear darker and bluish. There is no other occasion like Three Kings Day – Epiphany, when Cuban children traditionally are given Christmas gifts – to highlight the sexism promoted by many toys for children.

In the line to get to the children’s department in Havana’s Carlos III Plaza, is Yuraima, 42. She hopes to buy a gift to deliver to her niece this Friday. “I look for something nice and cheap, but also different, because she is a very smart girl,” she told 14ymedio. The woman does not want to repeat the stereotypes that prevented her from enjoying some games when she was little. continue reading

Yuraima’s mother never agreed to buy her a plastic building set that she insistently asked for when she was nine years old. “That’s a boy thing,” her mother would say. Growing up and deciding on a profession, she continued to like “putting things together and taking them apart.” Now she works “fixing electrical appliances” in a private workshop in Central Havana.

While girls are presented as princesses, fragile and focused on looking beautiful, boys seem ready to battle and kill many-headed monsters

Although the government still has a tentative attitude towards the religious origin of the January 6th tradition, the market has ended up imposing itself. A fury of purchases has taken over the children’s shops in the days prior to the arrival of Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar, and the informal market has supplied itself for the occasion.

Most toys on sale are promoted with well-defined gender images and promote the learning of certain behaviors or attitudes. The face of a smiling girl decorates a box containing plastic pans and tiny cups in the downtown Galeries Paseo store. A few yards away, a muscular hero armed with a pistol stands out in the package containing a helmet and a shield.

While girls are presented as princesses, fragile and focused on looking beautiful, boys seem ready to battle to kill many-headed monsters or save a frail woman from the flames of a fire. Among the few unisex toys are table games, balls and Legos.

In the world of video games the distances also widen between both genders. The digital entertainments where girls dress their “paper” dolls with the most varied clothes have increased in the networks that distribute alternative media. In contrast, the sagas of heroes, sorcerers and monsters are the most abundant among boys.

Alicia González Hernández, from the Department of Sexology and Sexual Education at the Pedagogical University, has warned in her studies about the “blue, masculine world… of competition and achievements, open outwards, towards public life and social realization,” as opposed to “a pink, feminine world … of tenderness and help, turned towards intimacy, towards private life and the realization of the family.”

Women occupy 66.3% of the professional and technical positions, but in their houses they continue to carry out most of the domestic tasks

In 2015, 60.3% of graduates of higher education in Cuba were women, and they occupied 66.3% of professional and technical positions, according to the “Social Economic Landscape” report. However, women continue to do most household chores at home. They are responsible for preparing food, scrubbing, washing, ironing and caring for children.

Hence games that imitate household activities, with kitchens, small washing machines and tiny cleaning utensils are bought for girls. “That’s what they see their mothers doing and what they think they should do to become real women,” reflects Yuraima. In her opinion, “the grandparents influence a lot in those stereotypes, because they give dolls to the girls and toy cars to the boys,” she complains.

Princess toys for girls and battle toys for boys. (14ymedio)

In daycare centers and pre-school classrooms, children also find a divided universe. At the corner of a classroom in San Miguel del Padrón, the teacher Daysi, 28, has prepared several play stations that include a hairdresser and the kitchen of a house. “There are boys who also play with the dolls, but it is not the common thing,” although she says that “more and more, girls construct structures with pieces of wood.”

Small girls who play with marbles or spinning tops are called “marimachas” (butch) while boys who play house can receive worse insults. The strict definition of roles starts from the time they are babies and parents choose the pink basket for girls and blue for boys. The rest of their lives they are expected to accept or reject the gender molds that society imposes on them.

Most women surveyed prefer “a strong man, who fights, practices sports, drinks alcohol, is dominant, has money and, of course, never cries”

Julio César González Pagés, coordinator of the Ibero-American Masculinity Network and author of Macho Male Manly, led a study in 18 cities on the island with interviews with more than 20,000 people. Most women surveyed prefer “a strong man, who fights, plays sports, drinks alcohol, is dominant, has money and, of course, never cries.” Behaviors that are promoted from the home, reaffirmed in schools and supported in social or romantic relationships.

Such attitudes increase with the profile that surrounds many products for sale. State stores do not promote a balanced and non-stereotyped image of women. The critique of these rigid schemes has scarcely penetrated the public debate.

Younger parents, more aware of the issues being debated around the world, try to erase stereotypes in their children’s play. “Her father brought her a water gun, very nice,” says Lady, the mother of a three-year-old girl who is married to a Spanish resident on the island. The woman remembers that the grandparents “were very annoyed,” but in the end “everyone has gotten used to it.”

This year Lady has bought a science kit for her daughter, with a small plastic microscope and some containers to collect samples. “No Barbies and princesses, better to play with something that resembles reality.”

Old Havana, Internet Territory / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Liensey Martínez, a young resident of Teniente Rey Street between San Ignacio and Cuba, now enjoys having internet at home. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 January 2016 – A few lights blink in Julian’s living room, on San Ignacio Street between Teniente Rey and Amargura in Old Havana. This week he was given a router to connect to the internet, as a part of a pilot project being carried out in the area. However, the old man has no computer and hasn’t managed to enter the great World Wide Web.

The Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) has chosen 2,000 users in the People’s Council districts of Catedral and Plaza Vieja for a free experiment in web connectivity from their homes. The requirement was to have a landline, but many residents who qualified do not have the technology to enjoy the service.

“I leave it on all the time so it doesn’t get damp,” says Julian, of the apparatus whose LEDs twinkle in his modest home. The old man dreams that they will also offer a “time payment plan” so he can get a laptop, just like was done “with the purchase of the refrigerator.” continue reading

So far, navigating from home has been a privilege reserved for high officials, highly trusted professionals and foreigners living in Cuba. Those connections were established through the old-fashioned dial-up method, but the new test is being done with the faster ADSL lines.

The requirement for enrollment in the pilot was to have a landline, but many residents do not have the technology to enjoy the service

For Julián, the main benefit would be to connect with his family living abroad, although he acknowledges that, “Really it’s all the same to me to have the internet or not.”

The experience of Liensey Martínez, a young resident of Teniente Rey Street between San Ignacio and Cuba, is different. He has a computer and with the delivery of the router, a TP-Link brand, he is able to also put in a home wifi network to connect to a tablet or cellphone.

This week they gave Julian a router to connect to the internet, but he does not have a computer. (14ymedio)

“The connection works well, sometimes it gets slow, but it almost never freezes,” says Martinez, who operates a private business in his home renting rooms to tourists. “We benefit a lot because we make almost all reservations online and now it is more convenient. Before we had to go to the Plaza Hotel or a Wi-Fi zone,” he says.

The entrepreneur details that the pilot test includes 30 hours of free navigation during the month of January and a similar amount for February. However, “I can also enter my Nauta navigation account using my username and password,” and use the balance deposited in that service.

The experiment will conclude on 28 February, but the hourly rates for navigation packages have not been made public. “People say there will be packages of 30, 60 and 100 Cuban Convertible pesos (CUCs, which are about the same in dollars) depending on the hours but that’s just rumors that hear,” Martinez says.

Cuba is one of the countries in the world with the lowest rates of internet penetration; as of July 2015 the state telecommunications monopoly has enabled public Wi-Fi hotspots

Old Havana is one of the country’s municipalities with the most wifi zones, a good part of them located in the hotels, but there is also one on the corner of the centrally located Obispo Street at San Ignacio. But the connection from these points remains expensive for most wallets, although Etecsa recently lowered the price of one hour of Internet browsing from 2.00 CUC to 1.50, in a country where the average monthly salary barely exceeds the equivalent of 25.00 CUC.

Cuba is one of the countries in the world with the lowest rates of internet penetration; as of July 2015 the state monopoly of telecommunications has enabled public Wi-Fi hotspots, which now number more than 200 throughout the country. According to official figures about 250,000 users connect in these areas daily.

In recent weeks antennas for a wireless connection have also been installed in in several places along Havana’s Malecon and the company plans to extend service all along the coastal boulevard. The wifi zones at Hola Ola, La Piragua, 12 and Malecón, 3rd and B, and Fuente de la Juventud are already operational.

However, eyes are watching Old Havana. Cubans are waiting for 2017 to be the year they can finally become internet users.

Cuba’s ‘Weekly Packet’ is Caught in the Crossfire / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

A Cuban accessing the packet from his laptop. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 23 December 2016 – “Over my dead body!” echoes across a living room in Florida, Camaguey, Cuba, the day Jorge Angel discovered his family absorbed in the weekly packet. Now the wife sneaks to watch the reality shows that come in the weekly audiovisual compendium so as not to annoy the family’s Communist Party militant.

Criticized by officialdom, and in ever growing demand among customers, the packet is caught in the crossfire. After several weeks of programming on national television marked by tributes to the recently deceased Fidel Castro, demand for movies, TV shows and documentaries has skyrocketed in the informal market, while institutional hatred against the packet has intensified. continue reading

In Central Havana, the most densely populated municipality in Cuba, the impact of the packet is everywhere. Outside La Candeal bakery, two women were talking this Thursday about a Colombian telenovela that arrives in one of the 40 folders included in the popular compilation.

“This is the zone of satellite dishes and the packet,” explains a messenger for Copypack, a place that sells the product put together by an enterprise calling itself Omega. The young man says that over the last three weeks the number of clients has grown, as they “come looking for anything, so long as they don’t have to watch [state] television.”

Distributors have avoided including in the latest compilations material critical of the former president and the popular programs on South Florida channels. “There’s no reason to stick your finger in the eye of the beast,” says the employee.

The caution of the informal producers and distributors has not prevented the authorities from renewing their offensive against the most important competitor to official programming.

This Thursday the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) published an article on the subject, signed by journalist Miguel Cruz Suarez under the title The Sweet Poison In The Ostrich’s Hole. The author acknowledges that “thousands of Cubans” prefer audiovisual content that is distributed on flash memories and DVDs, a practice that exposes them to the “disparate scenarios of capitalist entertainment,” he says.

The reporter also points out the dangers of “cultural naiveté” opening the doors to “the guest of banality and consumerist egotism,” although he acknowledges that there are already “some manifestations” of this scourge on the island.

Among the bitterest enemies of the packet is Abel Prieto, Minister of Culture, and Miguel Barnet, President of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC). Both have complained about the poor quality of content consumed, versus that of the state television programming, is content they consider “junk” and “pseudo-cultural products.” Prieto recently warned that the phenomenon could end up expanding in the country “the frivolity of the culturally colonized,” people who “have already given up the pleasure of intelligence.”

However, among ordinary people on the street there are other critics whose voices are also being heard. “The packet has become very cowardly, I don’t watch it,” says Jonathan, who has a degree in History. He explains that “it used to include more interesting and controversial topics, but now it is a little lightweight.”

Wilfredo and Niurka, a couple residing on Monte Avenue in Havana, share this view. “We decided to buy the satellite dish because we want to watch the news and Miami programs that no longer come in the packet,” the wife says. Both believe that the compendium “has become annoying, it’s already as ‘controlled’ at the (state) Cubavision channel.”

The Film ‘Santa and Andrés’ is Excluded From Havana Festival / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Still from the film ‘Santa and Andrew’ Carlos Lechuga. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 23 November 2016 — The film Santa and Andrés will not be screened at the 38th edition of the Havana Film Festival, to be held between 8 and 18 December. Sources from the industry guild commented to 14ymedio that the exclusion of the independent film, directed by Carlos Lechuga, could be motivated by its theme, focusing on censorship against a gay intellectual in the early eighties.

The 36th International Festival of New Latin American Cinema awarded the film the prize for an unpublished script, but it will not compete in this year’s festival. This decision came from “the highest authority,” several filmmakers told 14ymedio, and contrasts with the decision initially made by the event’s organizing committee, which gave a green light to the showing of the film. continue reading

An article in the official blog El Heraldo Cubano says that the plot of the movie “aims to highlight political persecution and attacks on the island that did not take place.” The article says that the film follows “a course of action that is not consistent with history.”

The article has circulated widely among filmmakers, and Carlos Lechuga, in a passionate response on his Facebook page, says that the author’s words are not only an attack on Santa and Andrés, but also represent “a critique and an attack on all independent cinema.”

The director, Enrique ‘Kiki’ Alvarez, has joined the defense of the film because he feels that the story of the two main characters, “who are opposites, she a revolutionary and he a censored writer, forced to be together,” ends up leading them “to a coming together and a recognition of the other that defines the humanistic will of this film.”

Lechuga continues to hope that the decision to exclude the movie from the most important film event on the island will be reversed. However, the filmmaker Miguel Coyula believes he “is still trying to have a dialogue of the deaf (…). We have to advocate for creating a space, an independent theater, where art films are shown without being dominated by the dictates of an institution.”

The official attack has ignored the vast number of awards received by Lechuga, including the Julio Alejandro Award from Spain’s General Society of Authors and Editors (SGAE). This is the second feature film by this young director, who captivated audiences with his film Molasses (2012).

Santa and Andrés premiered to a full house at the Toronto International Film Festival, and was also screened at San Sebastian, Chicago and Zurich. Its first showings were dedicated to Reinaldo Arenas, René Ariza, Nestor Almendros, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Virgilio Piñera and José Lezama Lima.

Lechuga says that in the idea and filming of the work he was motivated by “the desire, the attempt, to hear the voice of many who were silenced or who suffered the repression of people who tried to silence them.”

The Havana Film Festival will show 440 films this year, with 36 of them competing for prizes. Among them, two Cuban productions will compete in the category of first works and three will compete for the award for best feature film.

For more than three years several Cuban filmmakers have defended, in open meetings ,the idea of a Film Law that would permit the development and operation of independent production houses.


Cubans Directed To Be Sad / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario Penton

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 29 November 2016 — Women crying on camera, Facebook profiles turned into portraits of Comandante Fidel, long lines to bid farewell to his absent ashes. No reggaeton in the streets, no “good morning” from the announcers on national television. For a tourist, the people, Cuban and devoted to Fidel, transfixed by pain, have not lost any opportunity to say goodbye to their leader. But the reality is very different from the slogans.

“The Student Federation sent me this picture by email,” says a computer science student in Santa Clara, while looking at an image of a young Fidel Castro in his inbox. “The directions are for us to put it on our social networks and dedicate a dignified farewell to the old man,” says the teenager. “All of it, it doesn’t matter to me, but if I don’t do it, it could affect my career,” he adds. continue reading

Teresa, a woman from Cienfuegos who works in education, spends the hours as the sun passes overhead in front of a photograph of the former president and follows protocol to show signs of pain, which isn’t pleasant.

“I went because the union made me. If you dare not to go you’ll find out what happens to you. He died, but the system he created is just the same. He could have done a lot of good, but forcing us to go say goodbye to him seems abusive to me,” says the teacher, who added that she ended up with a migraine after so much time standing in the sun.

Perhaps the most notable case of following the forms was the debate between two news announcers, Froilán Arencibia and Mariuska Díaz, caught on open mike, about whether they should greet viewers with “good afternoon” or simply “greetings.” Finally, the direction to eliminate the “good” won the day because how could it be a good day if Fidel Castro had died?

“They put us in a huge line where, at the end all we had in front of us was a photo and his medals, because the ashes were for the leaders,” an independent worker told 14ymedio.

On elderly messenger in Havana had his own hypothesis about why Castro’s ashes weren’t on display to the thousands of people who waited at least four hours to enter one of the three “altars” in the Plaza of the Revolution. “Looking at his photo were his admirers and opportunists who wanted to look good at work. If they’d put the ashes on display, they’d have to have someone guarding them and there might have been some damage done,” he said, in reference to the Afro-Cuban rites where the bones of the deceased or, failing that, the dust of the skeleton contains the spirit of the departed.

“There are people who really loved him and they’re sorry. Fidel had a people,” a lady of 60 years, retired from the army, says ruefully.

In a Havana street, a young man who was with his girlfriend in a car complains that a policeman knocked on his window and asked, discourteously, that he turn off the music with which the couple was passing the time.

In the case of Cubans abroad connected with the country, the directions have been clear: you must first participate in a ceremony in which a book of dedications and lamentations is filled, then you have to reflect that pain in social networks.

“We want to make Facebook into a place where our Comandante is remembered and colleagues from other countries can go there to see the pain of our people,” a coordinator of the Cuban medical mission told Cuban doctors at a meeting in Brazil.

“The truth is easy come easy go, they force us to stand in lines,” jokes one of the doctors of the mission who requested anonymity.

“This is like an open stage or one of the famous ‘marches of the combative people.’ Doesn’t anyone ask why there were not spontaneous mass gatherings after the announcement? The people have to wait for directions from above to be sad.”

When Bread Is Also Medicine / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Carlos Bernabé talks to 14ymedio about his experience in Cuba. (14ymedio)
Carlos Bernabé talks to 14ymedio about his experience in Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 20 November 2016 — The corner of Infanta and San Lazaro just awoke from its always busy Friday night. In the bakery of the El Biky restaurant, Carlos Bernabé tastes one baked treat after another. Faced with a delicacy filled with coconut, the demanding eater suggests “only the madeleine could be improved.”

He says it knowingly, because the Spaniard comes from a family of bakers in Valencia and presides over the Indespan company. His excitement to explore new horizons has brought him to the island several times in the last five years. He says that the challenge here is to “encourage innovation in the bread and bakery sector.” continue reading

Barnabas takes a bite of his pastry and a sip of coffee. He explains that his firm has done innovated research “in the field of healthy baking.” Outside the windows of the café where he speaks with 14ymedio, the sun begins to shine through everywhere, defying the clouds and traffic.

Over a year ago the entrepreneur came to train and supply the employees of La Antigua Chiquita bakery, and he affirms that “since then, the bakery has exclusively dedicated itself to preparing breads and pastries for the celiac population.” Celiac is a disorder that obliges those who suffer from it to each gluten-free foods.

Barnabas boasts that the breads and pastries prepared under his company’s methods “become medication.” He evaluates the initiative that started at the bakery on Carlos III Street as “a resounding success” because “it is the first bakery in Cuba that offers good quality products for celiac sufferers,” and that has been able to maintain a stable supply of products.

The businessman has not wanted to stay only in Havana and the project is expanding to other provinces. On his most recent trip he helped to “set up the second gluten-free bakery for celiacs,” now in Santa Clara. In this effort he was accompanied by two bakers from his team in Valencia.

This type of preparation “was totally unknown” to the Cuban employees, but after three days of practice “they know how to make different kinds of products such as breads, hamburger buns, pizzas, cakes and muffins,” says Indespan’s president.

Carlos Bernabe works with bakers in Santa Clara. (Courtesy of the interviewee)
Carlos Bernabe works with bakers in Santa Clara. (Courtesy of the interviewee)

In these last five years, while promoting his ideas on the island, he has been approached at his presentations by everyone “from crying children” to “mothers of adult children who were finally able to eat warm bread.” He found that many felt socially excluded because at parties and recreational activities “all the sweets contained flour, contained gluten,” which is dangerous to their health.

Last Friday Barnabas did a demonstration at El Sylvain on Calzada de 10 Octubre in Havana in which he made breads and desserts for diabetics, “with zero sugar,” he says.

He explains that in this effort to introduce formulas and methods for healthy eating in Cuba, he has found “great support” and “those responsible for the bakeries are very concerned about it.” He maintains “a fluid conversation with all those involved so he doesn’t run out of supplies,” and in order to avoid “celiacs not having their food, their medicine.”

The baker is not done in terms of projects. He plans to increase the variety of products and on his next trip will bring “gluten-free pasta so celiacs can make spaghetti, cannelloni and lasagna at home.”

He estimates that there is a need for more than “five hundred bakeries of this type” throughout the country to satisfy the demand. “The important thing is to start on the path and then offer the facilities necessary for the self-employed to be able to continue,” he says, in relation to the private sector.

However, to achieve this “the most important thing” is “to improve the supply of raw materials.” In his conversations with Cuban entrepreneurs he has learned that “their main problem is supplies,” stable supplies “to make bread for diabetics or to get mixes.”

There needs to be “in the very near future, a way for private individuals to get the raw materials necessary to give the population a quality product,” Bernebé emphasizes. Having a wholesale market still seems like a dream, but even though the projects are “going slowly” the baker believes that “we have to keep pushing.”

Trump in Miami, Clinton in Havana / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario Penton

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 8 November 2016 – With the presidential election this Tuesday, not only is the fate of the United States in play. Its results will also affect the future of the island. In Miami, the South Florida city that Cuban exiles have turned into their capital since the sixties, the Cuban-American community will go to the polls very early to exercise their right to vote. Jorge Guillarte, a 30-year-old Cuban-American, doesn’t care for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. He explains that, although he is going to vote, he prefers to do it for local candidates and to use his vote for things that change his own community. “If we had a candidate like Michelle Obama, I would vote for her,” he adds.

“I am a Republican, I am Cuban, we defend the rights and freedom. We want Clinton to leave and Trump to get in to live a little better, with peace and security, with more jobs and more prosperity for the American people,” Enrique de la Cruz, a former Cuban political prisoner, told 14ymedio. continue reading

The New York magnate promised to be tough on the government of Raul Castro if he comes to power. In an attempt to win the Cuban vote, traditionally Republican, but shifting among younger voters, Trump promised to reverse the opening to Havana maintained by President Barack Obama.

“The United States should not protect the Cuban regime economically or politically as Obama has done, and as Hillary Clinton plans to do. They do not know how to make a good deal. She is as bad as him, if not worse,” Trump told the veterans of the Bay of Pigs at a campaign event at the headquarters of Brigade 2506.

Others, however, choose the Democratic option. Such is the case with Ventura Soto, a retired Cuban who was born in the territory that today corresponds to the province of Granma.

Soto explains that he is going to the polls to support everyone who is a Democrat. “Starting with Patrick (Murphy) and doing away with his opponent (Sen. Marco) Rubio who is swarthy,” he says.

In the face of a “racist” speech by the Republican candidate, he is choosing continuity. “He doesn’t want us,” Ventura Soto affirms.

Ileana Cabrera, another Cuban who has spent 22 years in exile, is worried. “We Cubans have experienced monstrosities in our country, it costs a lot of work to believe that in this beautiful country that has accepted as that there are political problems as serious as those facing us,” she adds. “We have to unite, because Cubans divided us.”

In Cuba, the opinions seem to be marked by the influence left by the visit of President Obama in March. Vicenta, a woman selling crafts in Old Havana, believes that the best option for the US is Hillary Clinton, because she seems “fair” and “better person.” Antonio, a retiree, shares this view and, although he was not able to remember the name of the Democratic candidate, he predicts her victory.

Despite the limited access to the internet on the island, Antonio says that judging “online, she” will be the winner.

A young sophomore in the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Havana also expressed an opinion in favor of Clinton and evaluated her victory as a “preferred” way out, adding it would be “among the negative [choices], the better one.”

Only one of those interviewed predicted Trump would be the winner, “with the money he has, he’s going to win.”

On Tuesday morning, Cristina Escobar, the commentator on international issues on Cuban National Television, without venturing a prediction about the possible winner, concentrated on detailing the scenarios for Cuba in either case.

The journalist explained the real estate moguls unstable position with regards to Cuba, saying he has shown a proclivity to open businesses on the island, and also met with the veterans of the Bay of Pigs Brigade 2506. The Republican candidate also promised to reverse the diplomatic normalization promoted by Obama, she said.

On the former First Lady, Escobar predicted that she would maintain the steps toward a thaw taken by the current administration. However, she clarified that Obama considered the issue of Cuba an important part of his “legacy” but Clinton did not seem to give it much importance.

Repatriating, Yes. Settling In Is Another Thing / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Iliana Hernandez says she feels no regret for having returned to Cuba. (14ymedio)
Iliana Hernandez says she feels no regret for having returned to Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 2 November 2016 — “I swore I would never set foot in this country,” recalls Lazaro, age 48 and from Camaguey, who emigrated in the late nineties to Miami. However, a few months ago he changed his mind and began the legal process to return to Cuba. “The land pulls me,” he says with a smile while showing off his brand new identity card.

At the end of 2012, the average number of emigrants who chose repatriation that year barely reached 1,000. However, after the immigration and travel reforms put in place by Raul Castro’s government in January of 2013 – including the elimination of the often-denied permit needed to travel outside the country –the number has skyrocketed. continue reading

During a radio interview, the Cuban ambassador in Washington, Jose Ramon Cabañas, said that as of the beginning of 2015 until today, some 13,000 Cubans resident in the United States have returned to the island. This phenomenon is repeated among émigrés in Europe and Latin America.

The reasons for return range from buying a home, to coming and spending one’s old age with one’s family. Returnees also recover their right to an allocation of goods on the rationed market, and the right to vote, which Cubans living abroad cannot do.

The common denominator among the returnees is that most opt for repatriation only after acquiring a foreign nationality. “It’s not the same to return as a sato Cuban,” a phrase that roughly translates as a ‘garden variety’ Cuban, “as to return with a yuma passport,” i.e. a foreign one, “in your pocket,” explains Lazaro, who has had US citizenship for a decade.

Although Cuban authorities do not recognize dual nationality, having a foreign passport streamlines paperwork, facilitates traveling from the island, and can open many doors in the convoluted management of daily life.

In the case of Lazarus, the motivation to return goes beyond nostalgia. “I want to buy an apartment and if I’m not a resident of Cuba I can’t do that,” he says. The law governing the sale of property only recognizes this right for citizens who are permanent residents of the country.

Since getting his identity documents, Lazaro has spent a few weeks in his native land. “Right now I don’t want to live in Cuba,” he explains, and adds, “What I’m doing is an investment for the future, for when ‘the thing’ changes and it really makes sense to return.

“I have a retired friend who has done all the paperwork to repatriate because he has a pension that is very low for Miami, but here he can live like a king,” he adds. Among the reasons that motivated the pensioner, says Lazaro, is to find “a younger woman, because he feels very lonely over there.”

The ability to inherit property, open a private business or to get free medical care are also among the incentives for return.

Returnees also enjoy the prerogative of one-time opportunity to import a large volume of belongings. For the General Customs of the Republic, Yipsi Hernandez says, moving a “household has no weight limit” and is “tax-free.” The official confirms that you can import “two of every kind” of appliance.

Iliana Hernandez just repatriated from Spain. Her process lasted five months and to start it was only necessary to go to a notary with the person she planned to live with, her mother, who took responsibility for her return to the country.

“With this letter from the notary and a stamp costing 100 convertible pesos you have to go immigration,” she explains. “After filling out some forms, the authorities send you a notice to collect your ID card, which takes an average of six months.”

The reason for Hernandez’s return focuses more on social activism. “I want to fight to bring a quality of life here that is the same as abroad,” she says. Recently, the athlete, who left Cuba legally after a failed attempt to swim to the US military base at Guantanamo, has created Lente Cubano, an audiovisual project that brings together news and views on various topics.

She says she does not feel regret for having returned. “Sometimes when I am riding on a bus, I miss my little car. It is hard here,” she says, because “your quality of life is completely lost.”

Cuba’s Private Restaurant Owners are Worried / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

The Esteban Kitchen paladar (private restaurant) in Havana’s in Vedado district. (14ymedio)
The Esteban Kitchen paladar (private restaurant) in Havana’s in Vedado district. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana 20 October 2016 — Chinese, Italian or international food fill the menus of Cuban paladares, but lately fear has starred as the main dish on the menu of these private restaurants. The jewel in the crown of entrepreneurship on the island is experiencing moments of uncertainty after the government froze the issuing of licenses for these businesses run by the self-employed.

In recent months food and beverage outlets have watched a parade of pop stars, Hollywood actors, emblematic rock-and-rollers and even US President Barack Obama through their establishments, but it is a complicated time.

Even Camaguey province has been shocked, after the closure, at the beginning of this month, of three of the most important paladares operating in the city. Restaurant 1800 was searched by the police, who confiscated some of the furniture and arrested the owner, Edel Izquierdo. Two other paladares, Mi Hacienda and Papito Rizo’s Horseshoee, were also forced to close. continue reading

The suspension in the granting of new licenses for these premises has stoked fears about a possible backward step in the reforms undertaken by Raul Castro starting in 2008. Although officialdom has rushed to clarify that this is a temporary measure, a sense of a country going backwards to times of greater controls is felt on all sides.

The Acting Vice-President of the Provincial Administation in the capital, Isabel Hamze, declared on national television this Wednesday that “of the 135 license holders [of private restaurants] we met with 129 to alert them to a group of problems that cloud the services that they offer and we explained them that, with these exchanges ended, it was time to undertake an inspection.”

The official noted that during several meetings with owners of the private locales they discussed among other issues the consumption and sale of drugs inside restaurants, along with evidence of prostitution and pimping.

Hamze emphasized that those who acquired “money in Cuba or abroad illegally” in order to “bring it to the island and launder it,” need to be on guard. “Nowhere in the world is it legal to launder money and it is not permitted. We are not accusing anyone of doing it, we talked about where their capital comes from,” she said.


“The state can not compete with the privates, which in a short time have managed to run more efficient and attractive places for foreign and domestic customers,” a waiter of the centrally located Doña Eutimia Restaurant, nestled against the Havana Cathedral. The man believes that the current “storm will pass, because otherwise it would go against the times.”

Most owners of these private premises prefer to keep silent. “He who moved doesn’t end up in the photo,” joked a private restaurant owner on 23rd Street. “Everything is on hold, because no one dares to stand out now,” he added. “The repression of the paladares has come because some have become nightclubs with musical programs that attract a lot of people.”

According to updated data, more than 150,000 self-employed work in 201 occupations in Havana. There are more than 500 private restaurants throughout the capital.

In some locations it has become common to alternate good food with shows ranging from comedy, to magic, to fashion. Lately, the celebrated King Bar has sent out invitations to spend October 30, Halloween night, with costumes and frights.

The government undertakes inspections to guarantee strict compliance with the rules that govern the operations of these establishments: no more than 50 seats, limited hours, and the purchase of supplies exclusively in state stores with receipts to prove it.

However, several entrepreneurs consulted by this newspaper agree that it is difficult to manage a private restaurant following the letter of the law. The shortages often experienced in the markets that sell in Cuban convertible pesos, the lack of a wholesale market, and the prohibition against commercial imports, hobble the sector and push owners to the informal market.

In the Labor and Social Security Office on B Street between 21st and 23rd in Havana, this Tuesday, it was not possible to get a license to open a paladar. “The licenses of those who already have them are not suspended,” but “the issuing of new licenses has been halted,” declared an official to the nervous entrepreneurs who came to the site for more information.

The measure was preceded by meetings with the owners of paladares where they were warned to comply with the law; officials from the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) and the police were at the meetings. The answer has been felt immediately on the menus of the most emblematic places, which have reduced their offerings to what can be purchased in the state retail network.

The Don Quijote paladar (private restaurant) on 23rd Street in Havana’s Vedado district. (14ymedio)
The Don Quijote paladar (private restaurant) on 23rd Street in Havana’s Vedado district. (14ymedio)

Lobster and beef have been among the first items to disappear from the menus, as most of these products are purchased on the black market from suppliers who circumvent police roadblocks to bring them to the city.

The law criminalizes very severely the theft and illegal slaughter of cattle – which is nearly all slaughter of cattle outside the state system – in addition to the “illegal abetting” of such goods. Due to the decrease in the number of cattle, to a little more than 4 million today, the Government considers any irregularities in the slaughter and marketing of these animals to be a serious violation of Penal Code.

However, of the 1,700 private restaurants that offer the country has many typical dishes known as ropa vieja and vaca frita, among other dishes made from beef. Given the current onslaught of the authorities, a stealthy slogan is in play: survive and wait out the storm.

Omega and Odyssey Compete for ‘Weekly Packet’ Audience / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

With names from the epics, the two parent companies of this unique alternative attempt to capture television audience.
With names from the epics, the two parent companies of this unique alternative attempt to capture television audience.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 29 September 2016 – Two young men wait on the centrally located corner of San Lazaro and San Francisco in Havana, at the door of the private business Copypack. They have in hand a hard disk to get the ‘Weekly Packet’ without knowing that through this compendium of audiovisuals a discrete battle is being fought to monopolize the public’s preferences. Who chooses the compilation called Omega and who chooses Odyssey? That is the question.

With names from the epics, which seem straight out of video games and science fiction movies, the two great parent companies of this singular television alternative are trying to capture audience. They are the germ of the channels that the island’s TV viewers will enjoy in the future, without sneaking around or standing in line to make copies to take home. continue reading

“I realized that my ‘packet’ was Odyssey because I asked for some copies of Q’Manía TV and they told me that that material only came out on Omega,” said one of the customers waiting on the sidewalk. “I was surprised, because I had no idea of those details,” he said.

The two productions houses that copy, organize and distribute around one terabyte of material every week started offering movies, series, and foreign magazines, but they have been expanding and shaping their own content. While Omega is betting more on series delivered episode by episode, Odyssey is “best for finding music and videoclips,” say their followers.

Full Copy is a business with two locations in Havana, one in Vedado and another in Lawton, that offers the Omega packet every day from 7 in the morning, or a courier will bring it to your house for 1 Cuban Convertible peso. “Every week we sell more than a thousand copies,” says Javier, an employee.

The director and producer Rolando Lorenzo, who heads one of the leading programs in the Weekly Packet, explains that when he got the first deliveries of his production ready, dedicated to promoting the history of show business and advertising private businesses, the Omega managers gave him an “exclusive” space without paying “a single centavo.”

Entrepreneurial by nature, Lorenzo appreciated the gesture that helped him when his project was just starting out. The producer believes that “quality leads to power” and his program will help Omega develop even more and of course he pushes for Q Manía TV to grow its audience.

The director says that Omega “has its privileges” and proudly says that his program is available “in many places in the packet because it is in several folders,” especially in the first one, organized alphabetically, something that he calls “a luxury” and he pushes to keep his commitment to quality.

On 26th Street, in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution municipality, is one of the most important places in the capital for the distribution of the Weekly Packet from Odyssey. Its employees explain to 14ymedio the “daily update,” unlike Omega, along with the variety of music and TV series.

“The real difference is in Odyssey’s musical selection,” says a young messenger who is responsible for distributing both packets on his bicycle and he says that “both have daily updates.” Laughing, he says that both firms behave like “Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola, which are more similar than they want to acknowledge in public.”

Odyssey is managed by Abdel, “The Essence,” a very well-known music producer on the island. Thanks to its wide selection, many of the artists that can’t show their videoclips on the popular TV show Lucas, thanks to censorship, find a space on this audiovisual compendium. The young man doesn’t hesitate to assert that in his hands is “the best Packet of the week.”

However, Omega is no slouch and recently has created alliances with musical promoters like Eje Record or Crazy Boys to expand its variety of songs, soundtracks and videos with national singers.

Both parent companies have evolved in content distribution toward the advertising business. From the work of an artist who is just starting out, to reports focused on private businesses, the private sector determines more and more the content of the Weekly Packet.

In a country where only ideological propaganda is permitted, promoted and disseminated by the government on national television, alternative networks of distribution have filled the commercial spaces that are missing on the small screen.

Elio Hector Lopez, “The Transporter,” known for being one of the managers of the Weekly Packet, announced some months ago his intentions to mutate his company toward advertising, and recognizes the need to evolve in this sense of be able to survive in the future.

The producers who manage the Weekly Packet have a view of the future and dream that their compilation of audiovisuals will shape morning television.

“Cubans Like Everything Forbidden” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Rolando Lorenzo León, Q Mania TV producer. (14ymedio)
Rolando Lorenzo León, Q Mania TV producer. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 22 September 2016 – He is a self-confessed “son of television,” but he also admits that Cuba “is a bit behind” in the last decades with regards to innovation and quality in this medium. To catch up, Rolando Lorenzo León has created an entertainment program focused on the lives of artists and private sector businesses that circulates on the “alternative” network known as the “Weekly Packet.”

This week he spoke with 14ymedio about Q Mania TV, the production that absorbs all his energies and dreams.

Luz Escobar. How did you get the idea for this alternative TV show?

Rolando Lorenzo León. Q Mania TV emerged in May of this year from Bola8 TV, a previous project I was working on as general producer and that was distributed in the Weekly Packet. The project only lasted a little more than a month, but it achieved a tremendous rating and then differences arose among the team and I left. After the split I decided to start my own project. I wanted to show that I could make a great program, a good product, with a few people who know what they’re doing and are professionals. continue reading

Escobar. What it is the focus of Q Mania TV and how often does it appear?

León. It took off from the idea of the “mania” Cubans have for knowing about what’s going on with artists. My mania, or the mania of my team, is to learn where our artists are going and about the international artists who choose to come to Cuba. The result is a product with a national identity, a good profit potential, and targeted to the Cuban customer, to the Cuban family.

It began as a fifteen-minute weekly project. So far it has had 10 episodes, and will have 12 this season. There are still two to be produced, which are already recorded, but I have had to spread my time among other projects… because I have to live.

Escobar. You chose the Weekly Packet as the main method of distribution.

León. Yes, to appear on that alternative channel that many fear, others hate and others enjoy. If Cuban TV paid me and there wasn’t censorship, I would have my program right now in front of 11 million Cubans on the national channel. It’s not about being reactionary or going against the current, but about profit, because television can’t be made on a few pesos.

Escobar. In addition to the artists you have a special emphasis on entrepreneurship.

León. I thought from the beginning about private businesses, also because the program needs to be produced and I’m not a millionaire. I wanted the program to show where to go to eat, get your hair done, starting from a limited production. Although Cuban entrepreneurs and cooperatives are not ready for stable advertising. People see the Weekly Packet as one source of advertising but advertising is everywhere.

Escobar. How much does the production cost?

León. An ideal program of 27 minutes needs to be able to raise about 1,000 CUC (roughly $1000 US) a week for production costs. Cuban television costs more than that for each episode of a regular program. We brought four months of shows to the air and spent a quarter of the cost of a program on Cuban television, which has no audience and is broadcasting into the void.

Escobar. Do you have an idea of your audience numbers?

León. We are seeing many people. Although I have pieces I did working on national television, I never had much of an audience. Cubans like the forbidden.

Escobar. What problems have you had during filming in state premises?

León. When we started there was a lot of conflict with the issue of the concerts in places like La Casa de la Música, where managers were afraid of us because we are a program on the Weekly Packet. What we did was to establish direct communication with artists and they recorded the concert for us and then passed us the images. Other managers understood that there was no harm in the project and that a noncommercial space doesn’t generate any dividends, so they facilitate things for us.

Escobar. Do you aspire to put this product in international markets?

León. We would like to, and I think that is part of the natural development of the historical moment we are living in right now. If you are opening the doors for music and human potential and it is one of the most important sectors of the Cuban economy, television should not leave this behind. I see a talent flourishing in this country that wants to say things and that doesn’t have to lose its identity and its roots.

However, if in order to appear on an international channel I have to adapt to what I do not think or believe, I will not be in any international media.

Escobar. Will you bring this program to national programming someday?

León. My horizon has no limits. I’m not against being on Cuban TV if it suits my way of doing and saying things. But it is more likely they would take my program and plagiarize me than that they would pay me, because there are people who are afraid to make room for a young person.

“My song seeks to pick up the pieces” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

The troubadour is passing through Havana to record a disc in the EGREM studios in Miramar, along with several songwriters.(Courtesy)
The troubadour is passing through Havana to record a disc in the EGREM studios in Miramar, along with several songwriters.(Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 31 August 2016 — Passing through Havana to record a CD in the EGREM studios in Miramar, along with several singers, the troubadour Roland (Roly) Berrio spoke with 14ymedio about the beginnings of his career and health of Trova in Cuba.

Luz Escobar. Together with other troubadours you are currently working on an album that pays tribute to La Trovuntivitis project. How did that project arise?

Roly Berrio. The city of Santa Clara was left quite bereft in terms of music in the hard years of the Special Period, so it all began with the desires of students to do something on a stage with many shortcomings. So at that time there was a flourishing of projects, peñas – weekly shows – and the troubadours.

We started singing in several places in the city until one night El Mejunje opened its doors for us alone, we were five or six troubadours: Diego Gutiérrez, Alain Garrido and the Enserie trio. We are all included in La Trovuntivitis, which is a generic space for our own music, for music that has certain pretensions, social, aesthetic, risky. We have been singing there for 20 years now. continue reading

Escobar. In other provinces troubadours do not have their own spaces.

Berrio. Santa Clara has had the good fortune to have leaders, both political and cultural, who have given a lot of freedom and support to the projects of young people. Without much hesitation, without fear. This has helped this movement to exist, but also in fine arts, in literature and in almost all its manifestations. Unlike in other provinces, where there are musicians and artists with talent, but when it comes to joining together and having institutional support it has been difficult to create a movement.

Of course, we also had a very bad stage in terms of political and cultural leadership. That led to a falling-out and artists rebelling. It was a moment of rupture.

Escobar. What role did Ramón Silverio play in the birth of La Trovuntivitis?

Berrio. Everything. Like our Bartolome de las Casas. He has been the doer, an example of freedom and inclusion. A project he presents, he understood the project as his own.

Escobar. What was the effect on you of your time with the Enserie trio?

Berrio. The trio was part of my beginning, my musical and intellectual training. I continue to compose songs in three parts. I bring three ways of addressing the theme that I’m dealing with, three ways of looking at it, three ways of presenting the song.

Enserie was unusual because the composition was made among three people, the lyrics and music. It was a kind of workshop, we didn’t know the rules, it was entirely empirical. We wanted to give strength to a song that experienced the most critical years, in the nineties the media in the country – and therefore much of the public – completely dismissed the singer-songwriter.

Escobar. Are you planning a concert in the coming months?

Berrio. On September 10 I will appear at the Museum of Fine Arts with themes from an upcoming album of single songs. It still has no name and I am going to record it France.

Roland (Roly) Berrio. (Courtesy)
Roland (Roly) Berrio. (Courtesy)

Escobar. Do you feel that you are a chronicler of reality?

Berrio. Art can achieve awareness without having to dictate a sentence that says what you have to do. Some of the rejections to the music of the Nueva Trova movement were, in my opinion, very judgmental. There was a lot of “thou shalt do this” or “you have to be the New Man.”

My song seeks pick up the pieces that were broken and that are still somewhat scattered in the society, in the country.

Escobar. How do you assess the health of Trova?

Berrio.  Trova has not had, beyond the moments it had in the eighties, much impact on the broader plane. What happened is that people like an individual of some genre, and not the genre as a whole. In the eighties, whether or not you knew the person who was going to sing, if Trova was announced the venues were full and people came to know there was a curiosity that then began to disappear.

Tarará’s Thousand And One Stories / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

An abandoned house in the Tarara district. (14ymedio)
An abandoned house in the Tarara district. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 17 September 2016 – “This was my house,” says Elena, a Cuban-American who returned to the island this week and visited the place where she spent her childhood. In Tarará she took her fist steps, but the place barely resembles the residential neighborhood of her memories. In five decades it has passed from being an enclave of rich people to hosting a teacher’s training school, a Pioneers camp for schoolchildren, a sanatorium for children affected by radioactivity, and a tourist’s villa.

In the town, located east of Havana in a beautiful coastal area, the city’s crème de la crème settled in the middle of the last century. None of the residents of the 525 houses of this little paradise could imagine that soon after the titles of their homes were released, only 17 families would remain there and the rest would emigrate or lose their property after Fidel Castro’s coming to power. continue reading

“My father bought the parcel with great enthusiasm, he always said that he would live his last years here,” recalls Elena now. She walks around the house that has lost all the wood of its doors and windows. Weeds have taken over the terrace area and on the floor of the main hall there is evidence of the many bats that sleep in the room every night.

A man sweeping the street asks the newcomer if she passed through “the entry gate” control where visitors must pay for access to Tarará. For five convertible pesos Elena has returned to the place of her nostalgia, with “lunch included” in a solitary cafe by the sea.

She heads in that direction, but not before crossing herself before the lonely church dedicated to Santa Elena, which had gotten its cross back a few years earlier, after its having been removed during the decades when the most rabid atheism ruled the place. “They baptized my littlest sister here,” recalls the woman in front of the chapel.

In the bar of the local restaurant the waiter tells her that during elementary school he spent several weeks in Tarará. Although they swap stories about the same piece of Cuban earth, they seem to be talking about opposite poles. “I liked coming because they gave us yogurt at breakfast and lunch, and in one of the houses I saw a bathtub for the first time,” explained the man who is now over 40.

His memories correspond to the days when the once glamorous villa had been converted into the José Martí Pioneers City. The camp hosted thousands of school age children every year, “they were like vacations except we had to go to school,” explained the man.

The Soviet subsidy supported the enormous complex which included a cultural center, seven dining rooms, five teaching wings, a hospital, an amusement park and even an attractive cable car crossing between the two hills over the Tarará River, which is now a mass of rusted iron.

The cable car has become a tangle of rusty iron. (14ymedio)
The cable car has become a tangle of rusty iron. (14ymedio)

Elena, meanwhile, recalls the backyard fruit trees, the squash court, and the softball field that filled with families on the weekends. However, her fondest memories relate to the drive-in theater located at the entrance to the village, which is now converted into a parking lot. Between her memories and the waiter’s are 30 years, and a social revolution.

“Now the only people who can enter are those with reservations in the few houses rented to tourists in this neighborhood,” explains the employee. They belong to the families who resisted leaving despite all the pressure they received. “Overnight the village filled with young people who came to the countryside to study dressmaking,” he explains.

The few residents who didn’t leave “went through hell” the sweeper says. “They had to travel miles to find a store and all around the houses were places for dancing and checkpoints,” he recalls.

A few years ago the state-owned tourist corporation Cubanacan rehabilitated 274 houses and another state-owned entity, Cubalse, did another 223. However, the projected tourist center hasn’t taken off. “This place lost its soul,” commented the sweeper while gathering up leaves from a yagruma tree that have fallen on the sidewalk. The plaque marking the pier where Ernst Hemingway docked his yacht can barely be discerned in the midst of the undergrowth.

In the nineties, Tarará was the epicenter of a program sponsored by the Ministry of Public Health for children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident. They came from Moldovia, Belaruss and Ukraine, shortly after the economic crisis – sparked by the loss of the Soviet subsidy after the breakup of the Soviet Union – had put an end to the Pioneers camp.

The official press explained, at the time, that Cuba’s children had donated their “palace” to those affected by the tragedy, but no one remembers a single meeting at the school announcing the transformation the villa would undergo.

Early in this century 32,048 patients from Central and South America and the Caribbean passed through Tarará in the noted Operation Miracle, funded by Venezuelan oil. They came with different eye diseases such as cataracts and retinitis pigmentosa. They found a haven of peace in the place where only Cuban personnel working with patients and the few remaining residents were allowed to enter.

A decade ago 3,000 Chinese students came in turn to study Spanish and a police school was established in the neighborhood; its classrooms are often used to hold members of the Ladies in White when they are arrested on Sunday after leaving Mass at Santa Rita Church, on the other side of the city.

“This looks like a ghost town,” says Elena loudly as she walks the streets. Successive “programs of the Revolution” that filled the neighborhood have ended and now all that’s left is a development of numerous abandoned houses and others were a few tourists take the sun on the terraces. The beach where the visiting Cuban-American found her first snails is still there “as pretty as ever,” she says.