14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 28 August 2017 – The sun is rising and a teenager is unsuccessfully trying to find the presence of a wireless network. After months of waiting, the residents of La Pera Park, in Havana, are losing hope that an internet browsing point will be installed there. However, an artist got there before the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) and has placed a monument to the Wi-Fi on a pedestal in the park.
La Pera park is named after a peculiar shaped fruit – the pear – that is barely harvested in Cuba. Located on Almendares Street, between Bruzón and Lugareño in the Plaza of the Revolution municipality, the space is filled every day with families, with children who scurry everywhere and with internet users eager for a “dose of kilobytes.”
Months ago in the Accountability Assemblies of the Popular Power – where delegates and citizens take stock of what has or has not been accomplished – it was announced that the state communications monopoly was going to set up a wi-fi zone in the park. It was all very exciting with the placement of new garbage containers, the repair of sidewalks, and the installation of lamps and benches. But no wi-fi.
In the absence of technology meeting expectations, art arrived first. The artist Yosniel Olay Mirabal, born in Havana in 1987, decided to give shape, through a sculpture, to that wireless technology that is changing the face of Cuban streets and squares.
Now, on a pedestal, the figure of a man attuned to a beam of signals challenges ETECSA to realize the dream of thousands.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 2 August 2017 — The Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) is celebrating its six years in the midst of the complicated situation faced by the island’s opposition, assaulted by repression and limited by laws that penalize any form of organized dissidence.
Under the leadership of José Daniel Ferrer, UNPACU was born in 2011, after the release of the last prisoners of the Black Spring of 2003. Ferrar says that his experience within the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) proved to be momentous in shaping his political development.
Ferrer described the situation of the last year as “much more repressive” than the organization had experienced since its founding. Speaking to 14ymedio, Ferrer said that his greatest achievement in this new scenario has been “surviving” and finding “new actions and strategies to maintain a close bond with the community.” continue reading
Ferrer believes that UNPACU and its activists are the definition of “courage and service.” In the current political context, some dissident groups barely survive for a few months and others go through ups and downs. “They courageously face tyranny and serve the people, especially those most in need,” he said.
Ferrer described the situation of the last year as “much more repressive” than the organization had experienced since its founding
The leader of the organization explained that since the beginning of August they have undertaken activities to celebrate the founding of the opposition organization, “despite the increase of repression.”
“We have been moving our activists to different places in activities that have developed in a wifi zone, a river, a baseball or soccer camp.”
Ferrer denounced a police operation on Thursday that surrounded the organization’s headquarters in Santiago de Cuba.
“The operation coincided with the day UNPACU’s activist get together. Everyone who enters or leaves is searched or detained,” he said.
Carlos Amel Oliva Torres, youth leader of that organization, stressed that to its credit the organization has “not ceased activism in the streets,” but agreed with Ferrer that it has become more difficult because in the past year they have faced “more prisoners and more repression.”
Regarding the arrests, he said that they may have diminished, but that this is not due to “a better situation in the country” but to the fact that “many leaders are already in prison.”
UNPACU has spread all over the island and has more than 3,000 members, according to its leaders
UNPACU has spread all over the island and has more than 3,000 members, according to its leaders. In Havana, the provincial coordinator, Zaqueo Báez, has breathed new life into the movement, Oliva said.
UNPACU has a very dynamic YouTube channel where it shares material to publicize its community work and the opinions of the people of the street.
In a recent video, a resident of El Cristo neighborhood called for “greater support” for the organization because “any group that seeks freedom and the rights of any man is what represents the common good for this country.”
According to Oliva Torres, UNPACU continues “with social assistance” despite having been heavily attacked. He recalled that months ago the government “raided and closed a children’s nursery” run by the organization.
“We continue despite the fact that the regime has often predicted the end of UNPACU, today we are still here with the same willingness of the first day, assuming all the risks and consequences,” said the activist via telephone from Santiago de Cuba.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 August 2017 — Every Sunday, Raymel Casamayor meets with several friends in Havana’s Maceo Park and, together, they go for a walk through the nearby streets with a speaker connected by bluetooth to a mobile phone through which all kinds of Cuban rhythms are heard, beyond the rumba and reggaetón that dominate the area.
His musical walks have become the ReConstrucción project, which has been running for more than five months and aims to make sounds that have been overtaken by other, more popular ones, accessible to the public. “People have not had access to other rhythms. They have not had a way to gather and save other music; every day a new one begins and the others are left behind,” he says.
The idea occurred to Casamayor, a sound technician, when he started living in Central Havana and noticed that many people did the same thing but with another type of music. He says that they first lent him a speaker and he started going out into the street with a friend, playing other rhythms to see what would happen. continue reading
“We played Cuban music, Benny Moré, la Sonora Matancera … I really thought people were going to throw eggs at us, but it was the opposite,” he says.
“Every Sunday we are in Maceo Park and when, sometimes, I have to travel to another province, I do it there,” he says.
In Santa Clara he has undertaken his musical walks through the neighborhood of El Condado and has also passed through Holguín, where he sampled his playlist in Gibara, during the celebration of the film festival last April.
Casamayor breaks with the monotonous reggaetón just before five in the afternoon on Belascoaín and San Lázaro streets and begins to link a samba, with a son, with a cha cha cha, a rumba, something of the New Trova, boleros and even a meringue
The heat of the implacable Cuban August has led him to change the start time of the show. “Before we left early, about four o’clock, but now with this sun we are leaving at five,” and he passes out hats among those who approach to listen to the soundtrack of Casamayor.
Some of his listeners make requests. “Last Sunday a man asked me to copy a selection of songs on a flash memory and I bring it here, I give them the song they like and it’s good because later they remember it,” he says.
As they turn into Laguna Street, behind Ameijeiras Hospital, some neighbors recognize Casamayor and stop to dance. In a few minutes the block heats up, those who weren’t there come as they spread the word. In a small walker, a baby leaps to the rhythm of a son while his mother also wiggles her hips.
Ada Maria, 64, comes to a halt when she hears Van Van’s The Tired Ox, and invites her little granddaughter to dance while telling her that this was the music she danced to at parties with her friends when she was young.
“Kids and parents love that we do this because there are very few places to take the kids this summer,” she says.
Some young people join the group to ask for music by Yasek Manzano and the friends of ReConstrucción tell him that, although they do not have any pieces by the jazzman, they will look for it. “We’ll have it next week,” they promise.
At the corner of Calle Escobar and Concordia, in a plastic wading pool at the edge of the street, several sweating children are cooling off. They receive Raymel with such excitement that he himself gets soaked, but the undamaged speaker continues to spread music to the four winds.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 22 July 2017 — The future could only bring good things. His son grew up and his passion for photography allowed him to rub shoulders with numerous artists. But the life of Yuris Gabri Garrote Rodriguez was turned upside down in 2015 when he was sentenced to ten years in prison for carrying a cigarette with 0.38 grams of marijuana. The strict Cuban legal system destroyed all his projects.
The incessant controls and an inflexible penal code make the island one of the places in the world where drug possession and trafficking are judged with greatest severity. Cuba also ranks sixth in terms of number of prisoners per inhabitant, with an estimated 60,000 people living behind bars in the country. continue reading
Garrote was very unlucky, say friends and family. He had already had problems several years earlier when police found in his house two issues of the magazine Cannabis, a Spanish publication dedicated to the culture of cannabis. They also confiscated a poster with the drawing of a leaf of the plant that adorned his bedroom with its defiant silhouette.
Not a single gram of weed was found during the search, but he was tried because he was “acquiring enough culture about marijuana to successfully engage in” a business, according to court records. His detention occurred in the middle of the so-called Operation Coraza, a turn of the screw against “illegalities” that allowed the courts to apply exemplary sentences.
In Cuba the law tends to be as flexible as circumstances and power require. The independent lawyer Amado Calixto Gammalame, member of the Legal Association of Cuba, recognizes this. “The judicial treatment given to each person can be a bit capricious.”
For decades, the fight against marijuana has also been an ideological issue and official propaganda described republican Cuba as a place where vices such as prostitution, gambling and drug addiction proliferated. Maria, as many on the Island call cannabis, was a symbol of capitalist decadence.
This battle with political visions has remained to this day, despite the fact that other Latin American countries, such as Ecuador and Paraguay, have decriminalized its use in public spaces for personal consumption, although without fully liberalizing it.
If Cuba is the extreme of intransigence on the continent, on the other end is Uruguay which, after the definitive legalization of marijuana sales and production in December 2013, this month began to market small envelopes of 40 grams in more than a dozen pharmacies.
This decision has not done the government of the island any favors. Recently the authorities affirmed that the liberalization of cannabis in some countries of the region is nourishing the drug traffic.
The secretary of the National Drug Commission of Cuba, Antonio Israel Ibarra, said that so far this year they have seized three times the drug that was confiscated in the same period of 2016. For those who expected a relaxation, the official delivered a strong phrase: “We have not legalized it (marijuana), nor will we legalize it.”
This statement is in line with comments by Raúl Castro at the Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) held in Chile in 2013, when he remarked that on the island the drug would be fought “with blood and fire.”
Tourist guides warn that the island “is not a good place to smoke a joint” and murderers and rapists live in prison alongside inmates convicted of carrying a few grams of cannabis in their pockets. The “stain” of this criminal record on the history of anyone is a serious stigma when it comes to seeking employment.
Despite the severe punishments and controls, the consumption of the herb has not been eradicated. Marijuana has become common in the festivals of artists, successful entrepreneurs and the ruling class itself. But few of them dare to cry out in public for its decriminalization, for fear of being considered criminals.
A good part of the weed arrives aboard ships that land in the coasts. Its cultivation is also a juicy business for those who dare to plant the elongated herb, especially in the eastern part of the island.
In September of 2013 the young musician Roberto Carcassés improvised controversial verses in the middle of an official act: “I want to free the Five Heroes, and free Maria. Free access to information, to have my own opinion,” he sang in an unforgettable chorus whose reference to marijuana was clear.
Two years after that rhyme, the penal code remained just as tight and Yuris Gabir Garrote Rodríguez returned to jail.
For Iraiz Piña Gutiérrez, a 64-year-old from Holguin, the punishment was not just to be incarcerated for six years. The court also ordered the seizure of her home, a penalty that applies to anyone who “produces, traffics, purchases, stores or consumes” illicit drugs.
In a search in her house the police found ten chocolates “stuffed with marijuana,” says the former prisoner.
Aged and with only the clothes she wore, Piña left the prison after serving her sentence but still seeks justice for a case she considers “fabricated” against her. She has traveled to countless state agencies to get them to give her back her house and her “reputation,” but few want to hear or help a “marihuanera”, she tells 14ymedio.
For Lorenzo, a resident of Timba who prefers to change his name to tell his story, the feeling of helplessness will not let him sleep. He lost the house he inherited from his father because his brother kept several pots of marijuana in a room that was under the same roof that had, for years, a separate entrance.
“We did not get along and split the apartment so that everyone had their share,” he explains. Lorenzo had a thriving cafe but it all ended when a police raid found his brother’s little plants. After submitting several complaints, he has been told that the confiscation of the property is an “unappealable” decision because “that’s how it is with marijuana, there is no middle ground,” a lawyer said.
14ymedio, Mario Penton and Luz Escobar, Miami and Havana, 14 July 2017 — Ileana Sánchez is anxiously rummaging through her tattered wallet, looking for some bills to buy a toy slate for her seven-year-old granddaughter who dreams of becoming a teacher. She has had to save for months to get the 20 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, roughly $20 US) that the gift costs, since her monthly salary as a state inspector is only 315 CUP (Cuban pesos), about 12 dollars.
At the end of June, the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI) reported that the average salary at national level reached 740 CUP per month, slightly more than 29 CUC. However, the increase in the average salary does not represent a real improvement in the living conditions of the worker, who continues to be able to access many goods and services only through remittances sent from family abroad, savings and withdrawals.
“I do not know who makes that much money, nor what they base these figures on, because not even with the wages my husband earns working in food service for 240 CUP a month, along with my wages, do we get that much,” says Sanchez.
The ONEI explains that the average monthly salary is “the average amount of direct wages earned by a worker in a month.” The calculation excludes earning in CUC. However, the average salary is inflated by the increases in “strategic” sectors, such as has happened in healthcare, where the pay has been more than doubled, while in other areas of the economy wages have remained practically unchanged for over a decade.
“If you buy food you can not buy clothes, if you buy clothes you can not eat, we live every day thinking about how to come up with ways survive,” she says in anguish.
Most Cubans do not support themselves on what they earn in jobs working for the state, which employs 80% of the country’s workforce.
President Raúl Castro himself acknowledged that wages “do not satisfy all the needs of the worker and his family” and, in one of his most critical speeches about the national reality in 2013, he said that “a part of society” had become accustomed to stealing from the state.
Sanchez, on the other hand, justifies the thefts and believes that the “those who live better” are those who have access to dollars or those who receive remittances. “Anyone who doesn’t have a family member abroad or is a leader, is out of luck,” she says.
According to the economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, when speaking of an increase in the average wage, a distinction must be made between the nominal wage, that is, the amount of money people receive, and the real wage, adjusted for inflation.
A recent study published by the academic shows that although the nominal wage has grown steadily in recent years, the real wage of a Cuban is 63% lower than it was in 1989, when Cuba was subsidized by the Soviet Union and the government had various social protection programs. At present, the entire month’s salary of a worker is only enough to buy 10.3 whole chickens or 7.6 tanks of liquefied gas.
Among retirees and pensioners, the situation is worse. The elderly can barely buy 16% of what a pension benefit would buy before the most difficult years of the so-called Special Period – the years of economic crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union – according to Mesa-Lago.
Or by another measure, spending an entire month’s salary a worker can only afford 19 hours of internet connection in the Wi-Fi zones enabled by the state telecommunications monopoly, Etecsa, or 84.5 minutes of local calls through cell phones.
To buy a two-room apartment in a building built in 1936 in the central and coveted Havana neighborhood of Vedado a worker would need to save their entire salary for 98 years, while a Soviet-made Lada car from the time of Brezhnev would cost the equivalent of 52 years of work.
However, the island’s real estate market has grown in recent years at the hands of private sector workers who accumulate hard currency, or by investments made by the Cuban diaspora. In remittances alone, more than three billion dollars arrives in Cuba every year.
According to Ileana Sánchez, before this panorama many people look for work in the areas related to state food services or administration where they can steal from the state, or jobs that provide contact with international tourists such as in the hotels.
Other coveted jobs in the private sphere are the paladares – private restaurants – and renting rooms and homes to tourists where you can get tips. The “search” (as the theft is called) has become a more powerful incentive to accept a job than the salary itself.
Although, according to the document published by the ONEI, workers in the tourism and defense sector earn 556 and 510 pesos on average, many of them receive as a bonus a certain amount of CUC monthly that is not reflected in the statistics, and they also have access to more expensive food and electrical appliances than does the rest of the population.
Among the best paid jobs in CUP, in order of income, are those in the sugar industry, with 1,246 CUP on a monthly basis, and in agriculture with 1,218. Among the worst paid jobs according to the ONEI are those working in education, with 533 CUP, and in culture with 511.
For Miguel Roque, 48, a native of Guantánamo, low wages in the eastern part of the country are driving migration to other provinces. He has lived for 12 years in the Nuclear City, just a few kilometers from Juraguá, in the province of Cienfuegos, where the Soviet Union began to build a nuclear plant that was never finished.
“The East is another world. If you work here, imagine yourself there. A place stopped in time,” he explains. Roque works as a bricklayer in Cienfuegos although he aspires to emigrate to Havana in the coming months, where “work abounds and more things can be achieved.”
The provinces where average wages are highest, according to the ONEI, are Ciego de Avila (816 CUP), Villa Clara (808 CUP) and Matanzas (806 CUP), while the lowest paid are Guantanamo (633 CUP) and Isla de la Juventud (655 CUP).
“Salary increases in the east of the country are not enough to fill the gaps with the eastern and central provinces,” explains Cuban sociologist Elaine Acosta, who believes that cuts in the social services budgets are aggravating the inequalities that result from the wage differences.
“It is no coincidence that the eastern provinces have the lowest figures on the Human Development Index,” he asserts.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 June 2017 – The closure of three private restaurants in Havana last week has sparked doubts among owners of food service businesses. The fact that the three paladares – private restaurants – were rated “excellent” on Trip Advisor, one of the most important travel sites on the web, has fueled fears that the authorities are acting against the more prosperous businesses.
The police closed El Litoral, Dolce Vita and Lungo Mare, all located in the Vedado neighborhood, after a high-profile operation and the seizure of many goods, 14ymedio was able to confirm.
Alejandro Marcel Mendevil, the visible face of El Litoral, which operates under the name of his mother, Nardis Francisca Mendivil, had previously had legal problems when working for a company linked to the Ministry of Tourism, according to an employee of the place who preferred to remain anonymous. On that occasion he was “under investigation with other employees” for an alleged diversion of resources detected in the entity, which operated with foreign capital. continue reading
That investigation ended without charges but according to the same employee “the suspicion clung to him that he was laundering the embezzled money through El Litoral.”
Nardis Francisca Mendivil, legal owner of El Litoral, refuses to talk to the press so as not to harm her son, who is imprisoned in 100 and Aldabó and subject to a warning from State Security, but she does deny the version published by some media according to which he was the proprietor of the three closed paladares.
“We have nothing to do with Lungo Mare,” said the mother of the detainee. Other sources stated that her son also managed that paladar at one time, but had sold it “a few months ago.”
In addition, Señora Mendival complains that it is not the first time that they have tried to impute false crimes to her son; in the past he was accused of the death of a police officer who, according to Señora Mendival, shot “himself in a patrol car,” a few yards from the restaurant.
The closing of the restaurants took place after an exhaustive search by the Technical Department of Investigations in cooperation with police forces.
The news of what happened circulated through emails in the Cubapaladar newsletter on food service businesses. Its organizers were quick to remove the premises from their list of recommendations and asserted that they will never include an establishment that is “under a legal investigation or involved in any case that violates any Cuban law.”
This Thursday, an improvised sign with the word “Closed” was the only visible sign to customers at door of number 161 Malecón between K and L where until recently the El Litoral was overflowing with activity. The area is now deserted.
The operation and the confiscation of numerous belongings from the premises were the subject of comments from the whole neighborhood. “I saw many things: air conditioners, drinks of different brands they had in the cellar, chairs, tables, they even took the cutlery away,” says a neighbor.
According to an employee who spoke to 14ymedio, agents also took everything that was in the basement where a new space was going to be inaugurated for “tasting exquisite drinks and Cuban cigars.”
The site, with a wide-ranging menu specializing in seafood and fish, soon became a emblem of the new era for Cuban entrepreneurship after the flexibilizations for the self-employed sector promoted by Raúl Castro’s Government as of 2010.
“From the moment you walked through the door, you felt that you were not in Cuba because of the variety of dishes and the efficiency of the service,” says Grégory, a Frenchman who has visited Cuba more than a dozen times in the past decade, where he has “two daughters and many friends.”
However, those times of bonanza and glamor seem to have ended in the large house with a view directly to the sea.
The scene at El Litoral is repeated in the restaurant Dolce Vita, specializing in Mediterranean food and also located on Havana’s Malecón. The restaurant, which was a bustle of waiters and customers, is now closed, lock stock and barrel.
At the corner of Calle 1a and C, in Vedado, silence has also taken over the outside terrace and the interior area of Lungo Mare. Underneath its distinctive red and white striped awning there is no longer the noise of the silverware or the clinking of the glasses. “This is dead and it will take a long time for it to rise again,” jokes a newspaper salesman who mourns the situation.
“The whole neighborhood benefited from this restaurant because many people came and I could sell some of my newspapers at a slightly better price,” he explains.
“This happened because it stood out a lot,” says Luis Carlos, a young man who delivers agricultural products for several restaurants in the area. “El Litoral became a reference point and many foreigners and diplomats came,” he explains. “Here they sold the best croquettes in Havana and that’s not a joke.”
No other private restaurant or coffee shop owner in the area has wanted to comment on the case.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 29 May 2017 — They call him “Manolo 440” because a few years ago he had an electrocution accident in a building under construction. He managed to survive and has since been given the nickname of the voltage that almost killed him. He was lucky, unlike the 89 people who died in Cuba last year in one of the 11 work accidents that occur every day on the Island.
Shortly before April 28, World Occupational Safety and Health Day, a worker painting the façade of the Hotel Plaza in Havana stumbled and fell two floors onto the street. He had no protective gear but was lucky and was taken to the hospital. continue reading
The United Nations counts 6,300 people who die every day in the world due to accidents or work-related illnesses. There are more than 317 million work accidents annually. But that data is only a part of it.
In 2016 occupational accidents in Cuba totaled 3,576 (144 more than in the previous year). Havana leads the list of provinces with 27 deaths.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has called for eradicating the practice of “massaging” the numbers and this year is leading an intensive campaign in which it insists that it is essential for countries to improve “their ability to collect and use reliable data on safety and health in Work (SST).”
In Cuba, information on this scourge is rarely addressed in the press, although in recent years the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI) has published some figures. According to this state agency, in 2016 occupational accidents totaled 3,576 (144 more than in the previous year). Havana leads the list of provinces with 27 deaths.
The head of the Department of Occupational Safety and Health at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS), Angel San Martín Duporté, said a few weeks ago that “66% of accidents are caused by the poor conduct of men and women. ”
However, workers say the principal causes of work accidents are poor organization, the chaotic supply of protective gear and measures, and the incompetence of unions in demanding compliance with safety protocols as the main causes of workplace accidents.
“These boots were brought to me by a relative from Ecuador,” says a sugarcane cutter at the Majibacoa sugar mill in Las Tunas. The man, who preferred to be called Ricardo to avoid reprisals, said agricultural workers in the area are subject to frequent “cuts on their hands and feet.” He says, “the type of footwear matters a lot, because if it is strong and high the chances of getting cut are smaller.”
All those who work alongside Ricardo are dressed in old military uniforms that were gifts or that they bought in the informal market. “They do not give us adequate clothes and when it does come the sizes are too small or too large,” the cane cutter complains. “We have had colleagues who don’t even have a hat and have gotten sun stroke, with dizziness, headaches and even vomiting,” he emphasizes.
Clothing and footwear are among the personal protective equipment which according to the new Labor Code must provide the employer free of charge
Clothing and footwear are among the personal protective equipment which according to the new Labor Code must be supplied free of charge by the employer. Although an official of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security clarifies via telephone to this newspaper that “each company has autonomy to modify those issues.”
Damaris, head of a construction brigade located in Central Havana, says that the workers under her command are “very upset” because now they have to pay for their work clothes and shoes. Previously, both garments were “supplied free” but now are “deducted from wages” and in response the workers are refusing to pay the union dues.
The Government allocates between 20% and 30% of the gross monthly salary of a construction worker linked to the tourist sector to pay for life insurance. “When someone is injured, that money is supposed to cover them, but the truth is that it serves for very little.”
An injured worker has the right to receive benefits in services such as orthopedic appliances and prosthetics, according to Law 105/8 of Social Security. As far as economic compensation is concerned, they get a total or partial disability pension which can reach up to 90% of their salary. In the case of death, the amount goes to the nearest relatives such as husbands or minor children.
For a person in delicate health, that money barely lasts for a couple of weeks. “I lost three fingers while working on the railroads,” says Yasiel Ruíz, a transportation technician who now sells churros near a school in Marianao.
The former state employee would have received a disability payment of less than the equivalent of 5 Cuban convertible pesos per month (about $5 US), so he decided to start his own business. “I gave up the financial compensation because it was more paperwork than benefits. My family helps me and I have become accustomed to not having those fingers, but at the beginning it was difficult,” he confesses. He claims that the accident in which he suffered the amputation was caused by “a failure to close a cattle transfer cage,” but he never brought his case to a labor court.
The former state employee would have received a disability payment of less than the equivalent of 5 Cuban convertible pesos per month (about $5 US), so he decided to start his own business
Decisions like his are repeated over and over again. Vicente A. Entrialgo León, a lawyer specializing in labor law, recently confirmed to the official press that in Cuba “there are not a great number of claims around this issue.”
But the danger is not only in the complicated work of construction, the hard work of the countryside, or the roughness of working on the railroad.
Nuria is afraid of contracting a disease at the polyclinic in Plaza of the Revolution municipality where she works as a dentist. “I get three pairs of gloves a day and many times they break while I’m taking care of a patient, but I cannot change them,” she complains. She says that there is little distribution of “equipment and hygiene items” to keep the place clean and “to protect patients and staff.”
The National Labor Inspection Office (ONIT) must ensure that these situations do not happen and demand “administrative responsibility” in case of accidents. But Nuria has never seen a representative of that entity visiting the health center clinics where she works. “This is like Russian roulette, any day I could get an infection.”
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 5 May 2017 — Uncensored, fun and with many varied themes — this defines the producers of the paketito (little packet), a new compendium of audiovisual material that aims to fill the gaps left by the popular weekly packet.
Unlike its predecessor, which is made and distributed publicly, the paketito lurks in the underground, so as to be able to offer materials that the organizers of the weekly packet don’t include in order to avoid problems with the authorities. This choice to play it safe annoys a growing number of viewers, who find the weekly packet “traditional,” “comfortable,” and “domesticated.”
Carlitos, who preferred to use a pseudonym in speaking with 14ymedio, is one of the managers of the paketito and proudly recounts the emergence and evolution of this initiative that its creators distribute with a determined content, but the users enrich it during its circulation. continue reading
The creators distribute it with a determined content, but the users enrich it during its circulation
The compendium was born just over three years ago, in an informal way when a group of friends began to exchange files. “From the beginning we passed censored material, such as documentaries and news,” he recalls. “We also included old Cuban publications that had been forgotten,” adds Carlitos.
The audio content included every week occupies 5 gigabytes of memory, although there are larger versions that may contain a much larger offering.
The young man believes that many of these magazines are not currently known due to “the lack of historical memory” on the island because of censorship. So the first editions of the paketito had copies of “those pages from [the magazine] Bohemia of 1959 in which Fidel Castro affirmed that he was not a communist.”
Along with articles from the national press from more than half a century ago, the producers of the selection decided to include “photos of our parents and grandparents from before the Revolution.”
Among the materials that circulated from the beginning were songs impossible to find in the stores or to listen to on official media, such as those of the Los Aldeanos duo and the punk rock group Porno para Ricardo.
Carlitos clarifies that his audio-visual extract is smaller than the weekly packet, but “brings everything” that is not included in the version circulated by his ‘first cousin’
The obstacles soon appeared. The restless transgressors were a little frustrated at first because they could not update their deliveries regularly, but since the beginning of this year they have achieved a weekly frequency. Carlitos clarifies that his audio-visual extract is smaller than the weekly packet, but “brings everything” that is not included in the version circulated by his ‘first cousin.’
Meanwhile, a great distance separates the paketito from its official counterpart, La Mochila (the Backpack), created by the Youth Club to counteract the influence of the weekly packet, and which, in its latest installments, included numerous materials about the late president Fidel Castro.
Unlike this institutional imitation, every week the paketito contains a folder with written press prohibited on the island. “We load the PDF or summaries of web pages such as Diario de Cuba, 14ymedio and Cubanet,” adds Carlitos. There are also cartoons, news, movies, documentaries and courses. The documents from decades ago also continue to have an important presence in the weekly compilation.
The information comes from many sources. Some of it is downloaded over the internet. “In our team some of us work in state institutions and we have internet in our offices and we download what we need there. Other files we download in the public wifi points.”
A new and growing source of information comes from people who simply send a video that they recorded with their cellphone somewhere, when a significant event occurs
A new and growing source of information comes from people who simply send a video that they recorded with their cell phones somewhere, when a significant event occurs. Activists who travel abroad and download materials from YouTube or other social networks also contribute.
The clandestineness with which the paketito is assembled affects the expansion of its distribution, which has been restricted to customers who are as ‘transgressive’ as it creators. Through USB memory sticks and external hard drives, the files pass from hand to hand.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 29 April 2017 — They stare, amazed, but they don’t buy anything. Their faces press against the glass and admire that unattainable wealth that is a few inches from their hands and an abyss from their pockets. The new luxury theme park in Havana is the newly opened boutiques on the lower floor of the Manzana Kempinski Hotel, the first five-star plus on the island.
Last weekend, the gallery was officially opened with exclusive brands in the style of Versace, Armani, Montblanc and L’Occitane en Provence. Since then, the parade of onlookers has not stopped walking the aisles. They come to take photos, laugh at the prices or be upset because in the midst of the general famine is so much wealth. continue reading
Most remember the state of abandonment which the popular Manzana de Gómez fell into for decades and hardly recognize it in this gorgeous six-story building.
“I studied here,” says Roberto Carlos, a 30-year-old student who spent part of his technoly training on the second floor of the emblematic building.
“When I was studying here, there was not a blind left and the ceilings had leaks,” added the young man. As he speaks, he waits in line to enter the luxurious venue of Giorgio G. VIP with his girlfriend, his mother and a sister. They have come like a family going to a fair to feel the dizziness of climbing on the roller coaster of opulence.
The boutique’s doorman warns that “you can not take photos” or have your phone’s “wifi on.” A clarification that generates a murmur among those waiting outside. Still they remain in line, to be able to carry away in their retinas part of that pomp that ends around the corner, when they enter the Havana everyday life.
Italian businessman Giorgio Gucci inaugurated this Cuban branch of his well-known brand last Saturday. “People come here looking for quality and exclusivity, right now there are very nice women’s shoes for less than 200 CUC,” says the doorman with pride. In the line, several people raise their eyebrows when they hear the prices.
“Not everyone comes to look, there are many who come and buy,” the man explains. But in the interior you do not see anyone next to the cash register nor making the gesture of putting a hand in their pockets. They only look at the clothing and shoes on display. They behave as if they were in a museum surrounded by oils worth thousands of dollars.
Others, older, remember the days when the former Manzana de Gomez was a symbol of economic progress in the Cuban capital. Designed by the architect José Gómez-Mena Vila and built between 1894 and 1917, the building was the first shopping mall in the style of European galleries. “It was an incredible place and the customers who came were all Cubans,” says Roberto Carlos’ grandmother. The woman, who retired more than two decades ago, said: “It used to be a place for us, but now it’s for tourists.”
The new monument to luxury is located on the border of two districts with serious housing problems. Just a few weeks ago and a few yards away, in downtown Havana, the staircase of a building collapsed and left dozens of families trapped. The other face of a city that has a good part of its housing in poor condition.
At the intersection of the corridors of the gallery they removed the bust of communist leader Julio Antonio Mella, who for decades stood defiantly in the center of the building. “They took it because this place represents the opposite of what he promoted,” reflects a retired professor of Marxism who decided to have a look, this Saturday, at “the forbidden apple of abundance,” as the catalog describes it.
For Idalmis, a young woman who in her teenage years studied at Benito Juárez High School located on one of the upper floors, the place has changed so much that she has trouble recognizing it. “Of that apple only the skin remains,” she quips.
The Lacoste brand also has a space in the sumptuous building. An employee explains to this newspaper that since its opening the store has sales that average “between 2,000 and 3,000 CUC per day. Every day we sell about twenty articles,” says the employee who wears a shirt with the logo of the French brand.
In the surroundings, and dressed in gray suits, the guards make sure that nobody connects to the hotel wifi signal that reaches the stores. Although the service costs 1.50 CUC an hour, the Manzana is a much more comfortable than other places with wireless access to the web.
“You can’t be connected here, excuse me, but you have to go outside,” the employees repeat over and over again.
The place is still a construction site, but the coming and going of builders does not prevent three young people from taking their time to get a selfie in front of an ashtray that costs a whopping 53.90 CUC. They don’t want to miss having evidence of the day they were closer to wealth.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 April 2017 – When the wind blows, the odor of burning overwhelms the town of El Guay, in the municipality of Mella (Santiago de Cuba). It is an odor that sticks to clothes, hair and food. Last Sunday a downpour put out the forest fire that burned 5,000 hectares in the eastern part of Cuba, but the worst could be yet to come.
The columns of smoke warned the community’s residents that something was happening. In the neighboring province of Holguin, the flames began April 9 and devoured everything in their path. “Nothing was said on radio or television,” Ruberlandy Avila, 35 years of age and resident of El Guay, tells 14ymedio. continue reading
Surrounded by cane fields and vegetation, the neighbors saw the tongues of fire on the horizon as they approached. When night fell, they looked daunting and ever closer to the houses. “The entire town was affected by the smoke, many parents fled with their children without knowing what to do,” recalls the young man.
News of the fire was broadcast on national media only after a timely rain put out the last flame. The official statement blamed the disaster on the August 6th Cattle Company from the town of Biran. But the later disorganization among the forces charged with controlling it did the rest.
The fire spread through the Sierra Cristal range until arriving at the Pinares de Mayari area. According to Avila, Civil Defense authorities later reported that several local administrators had not authorized delivery of the fuel necessary for getting the tanker trucks underway to the affected zone to put out the flames.
In El Guay the residents saw the fire approaching which also fed on the branches and trees that fell after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The combination of the dry wood and the disorganization produced conditions favorable to the fire’s spread. “We thought nothing could put out such a strong fire,” recalls the resident of Santiago.
Engineer Raul Gonzalez, head of the Fire Management Department for the Forest Rangers, warned last February that this year the Island could suffer between 400 and 450 forest fires, damaging some 4,000 hectares. The figure was easily exceeded by the 5,000 hectares of pastures, forests and oak that just finished burning in Holguin.
Not only dried branches and fallen trees were lost. Environmental specialists from the area classify as “sensitive” the damage caused to flora and fauna of the municipalities of Cueto and Mella. “There are no bird nests or butterflies left, and even lizards are damaged,” commented one resident of the Cueto municipality to 14ymedio.
Leonel Sanchez, Agriculture subdelegate in the Santiago de Cuba province, reiterated in the local press that most of these fires occur “in crop rows, livestock areas, areas where the elimination of the invasive marabou weed is underway, uncontrolled burning and non-use of spark arrestors in cars.”
Between January and May the conditions are most favorable for fires to start and for the flames to spread. Between the beginning of the year and the beginning of February, some 40 fires were reported, more than one per day.
The provinces at greatest risk are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma and Isla de la Juventud. The human factor is the trigger in 90% of the cases.
Far from El Guay, at the other end of the Island, tobacco planter Nestor Perez also watches his cultivated fields with worry. “In this time of year forest fires are more likely,” and in Vueltabajo the farmers try to “have clean surroundings for tobacco curing houses in order to prevent those accidents.”
The Pinareno farmer recognizes that many do not complete these tasks and “that is why sometimes fires occur” because “the grass itself at this time is very dangerous.”
For Avila and his family, the drama they experienced is still very real. The days passed, the air became almost unbreathable, and in the middle of last week helicopters and small planes began to arrive to control the flames, but the situation seemed to be out of control.
A “huge downpour” came to the aid of the residents. The day that the first drops fell many watched the sky gratefully. This Monday it kept raining in Mella, a municipality that, like the rest of the Island, is suffering the worst drought since the middle of the last half century. For the moment, the residents of El Guay breathe with relief, but they know that many hard months lie ahead.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 April 2017 – Cuba’s State Security and the National Revolutionary Police surrounded the independent gallery El Círculo to prevent this Saturday’s screening of the documentary Nadie (Nobody), directed by Miguel Coyula and featuring the censored poet and writer Rafael Alcides.
The filmmaker and his wife, actress Lynn Cruz, were intercepted by police at the corner of 13th and 10th Streets in Havana’s Vedado district. Starting several hours earlier the agents had closed the street to vehicles and pedestrians, according to a statement made from the location to 14ymedio.
Cruz and Coyula point out that without any reason and with “only a vague argument” the operation was carried out in the area, and the police asked for their IDs and didn’t let them pass. Only “four Spanish diplomats” managed to reach the gallery, according to Lia Villares, curator of El Circulo. continue reading
“A group of uniformed men and others in civilian clothes advanced toward us. One of them took out a piece of paper with a list and compared our names with those written there”
“A group of uniformed men and others in civilian clothes advanced toward us. One of them took out a piece of paper with a list and compared our names with those written there,” said Coyula and Cruz describing the moment when the police blocked their access to the site where the documentary was going to be shown.
Cruz also denounced that State Security warned several of the invited guests that the operation was being carried out to “save” them from the “counterrevolutionaries” who had “deceptively” issued invitations to the screening.
“As authors of the work, we denounce the censorship that the government exercises because this time it went beyond the institution,” said Coyula.
“Art is also about the citizen’s right to share and discuss a film. Intellectuals and artists need to take a firm stand and defend their right to perform and display critical works, without compromise, because the attitude that that they take in life ends us being reflected in their work,” he added, speaking to 14ymedio.
Following the police deployment that prevented access to the gallery, the filmmaker invited several friends to his home where he projected the documentary. Among the guests was Michel Matos, director of Matraka Productions, who is strongly criticized by officialdom.
The Círculo had also announced a Saturday screening of Carlos Lechuga’s film, Santa and Andrés, but the film’s producer, Claudia Calviño, refused to allow the projection and called the gesture an “illegality” saying “this and other activities are outside the traditional marketing framework.”
Lía Villares circulated an email on Sunday in which she defined the “political” character of the gallery that seeks to “promote a culture that continues to be censored despite international awareness and witnesses.” The activist also points out that it is in Cuba that artists have “a moral responsibility to the present and future.”
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 April 2107 — Confined for more than 80 days in a punishment cell, without a single contact with the outside, the activist Lisandra Rivera Rodríguez of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) received her first family visit this Tuesday, in the Mar Verde Women’s Prison in Santiago de Cuba.
Lisandra Rivera, 28, was arrested after her home was raided by State Security on 31 December of last year. On that occasion, and despite having been beaten by the agents, she was accused of an alleged criminal “attack,” according to UNPACU activists. Her family had not been able to contact her since 17 January when her trial was held in the Provincial Court and she was sentenced to two years imprisonment. On 18 April she will have served four months. continue reading
She had no access to anything, no right to family or conjugal visits, or to receive calls or food brought in from outside
Her husband, Yordanis Chavez, commented in a telephone interview with 14ymedio that both he and her parents managed to be with her for almost two hours. “As of Saturday she is outside the punishment cell and is in a of maximum severity wing of the prison.”
According to Chávez, from now on they will be able to visit her normally. The next appointment is scheduled for the 17th of this month. “We saw her well, quite strong of spirit. She continues to refuse to comply with orders and or to accept reeducation.”
The authorities of the prison used this refusal to accept the “reeducation” regime as a reason to impose the isolation of a punishment cell on Rivera. “The tried to make her stand up and give military salutes to the jailers who conduct a count three or four times a day. When a high official arrived she also had to stand at attention like they do in the military and she refused to do it,” says Chavez.
During the visit, Lisandra told her relatives that the punishment cell is like that of any police dungeon, pestilent and in very bad conditions, without light. She had no access to anything, no right to family or conjugal visits, nor could she receive phone calls or food brought in from outside. “Every Tuesday I was handcuffed and taken, almost dragged, to the disciplinary council,” the activist told her husband.
UNPACU’s leader, José Daniel Ferrer, fears that, in the midst of the difficult international situation, there could be a repeat of the 2003 Black Spring
Yordanis Chavez explained that they have not appealed the ruling because they do not trust the judicial system. “Lisandra has not committed any crime, it is only because it was an order of State Security as punishment for her activism in UNPACU in favor of freedom and democracy in Cuba.”
José Daniel Ferrer, UNPACU’s leader, fears that, in the midst of the difficult international situation, there could be a repeat of what happened in the spring of 2003, when 75 regime opponents were arrested and sentenced to extremely long prison terms. That crackdown, which came to be known as the Black Spring, coincided with the United States’ invasion of Iraq, a time when the world was looking the other way. At present, more than 50 UNPACU activists remain in prison in several provinces, many of them accused of crimes they have not committed.
For its part, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation announced in its last report, on the month of March, that there had been at least 432 arbitrary detentions of peaceful dissidents in Cuba in that month. In addition, several dissidents were vandalized and stripped of their computers, cell phones and other means of work, as well as cash.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 8 April 2017 – Were the events like the books tell us? Is the official story a report of what really happened? The attempt to answer these questions inspires the documentary and two fictional shorts that were presented Wednesday in the ‘Moving Ideas’ section of the 16th edition of the Young Filmmakers Exhibition of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) in Havana.
Under the motto “Forgetting does not exist,” the filmmakers approached collective and family memory to show a point of view often ignored by the epic of Revolutionary discourse. The works probe those memories for what Cubans treasure about moments in national life, beyond the gilded frame that the institutional version attaches to them.
Economic disasters, a war on a distant continent and the drama of family separation after exile, were some of the issues addressed by this new generation of film directors, who show a special interest in looking back. Children of indoctrination and official silence seem willing to shed light on the darker areas of what has happened in the last half century. continue reading
Director Pedro Luis Rodríguez offers the short Personal Report set on the eve of the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968 — when all remaining private businesses in the country were confiscated, down to the last shoeshine boy. It was a watershed moment in the economic life of the nation that brought profound effects on commerce, supply and even the mentality of those born after that massive closure of private businesses.
Were the facts as they are told in the books? Is the official story a report of what really happened?
In less than half an hour, Rodríguez shows the conflicts experienced by Ricardo, an analyst on the Planning Board, who is preparing to present a report to his boss on the consequences of the measure that is about to be taken. The protagonist defends his right to participate in the decisions that are made in the country or at least to be heard, but everything is in vain.
Personal Report presents that look from below on a historical event where the decision was taken “on high.” An offensive about which the government has never offered a public self-criticism, although a quarter of a century later the private sector was again authorized to operate. Today, more than half a million workers are struggling to support themselves despite strong legal limits on their activities and economic hardships.
In the discussions with the audience after the screening in the Chaplin room, Rodriguez acknowledged that his film is “a wink” at the current phenomenon of self-employment. His desire is that the work serves to “reflect on this present” and to meditate “on participation and the need to be heard and to be consistent with oneself.”
The flood of memories and questioning continued with the fictional short Taxi, directed by Luis Orlando Torres. Taxi addresses another of the many themes barely touched on by the fiery speeches from those in power: Cuba’s involvement in the war in Angola and its aftermath in society; the plot centers on the physical and mental wounds left by that conflict outside the island’s borders.
‘Personal Report’presents that look from below on a historical event where the decision was taken “on high.”
Torres focuses on the effects on families and establishes a parallel with the internationalist medical missions that now send Cuban healthcare workers around the world, and their consequences here at home. The film develops a suspense story that begins when a taxi driver picks up a passenger in a seemingly casual way. A brief conversation will suffice to call into question moral aspects of a war, one which the Government has always defended as an act of solidarity.
Meanwhile, The Son of the Dream, directed by Alejandro Alonso and filmed in 16 millimeter with a Bolex camera, relives through family letters and postcards the filmmaker’s memories of an uncle whom he was unable to know due to the separation caused by the Mariel Boatlift. The material is the result of a workshop given at the International Film School of San Antonio de los Baños by Canadian director Philip Hoffman.
Beyond the aesthetic and artistic values of each of the projects presented in ‘Moving Ideas’, it is clear that much of the young cinema that is being produced on the Island is not trying to please institutions or accept pre-established truths. It is an uncomfortable, irreverent, questioning and willing movement to belie an epic story that has been shaped more with silences than with truths.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 2 April 2017 — Not even the most unconditional followers of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, known as ‘Titón’, have seen the movie Strawberry and Chocolate as many times as Alberto Maceo. This Cuban with the mischievous smile worked as a projectionist at Havana’s Acapulco cinema when the film was on the marquee for a year. The movie left in indelible mark on his memory, which he still hasn’t been able, nor does he want to, get out of his mind.
From Germany, where he currently lives, Maceo, ‘Albertico’ to his friends, learned last week that the only Cuban film that managed to sneak into the Oscar competition is going to be restored. The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) announced that it was a “very complex process,” despite the fact that the film is less than a quarter of a century old. continue reading
The news of the restoration unleashed a wave of nostalgia in the émigré. In 1993, when the story of Diego and David was released, Albertico was a teenager who no longer fit in his high school desk. Not only had he reached a physical height that made him stand out above his clasmates, but his restlessness pushed him into the theater. He played his first role in Pinocchio, while the movies allowed him to make a living.
It started as a lucky break to work as a projectionist in a difficult time when Cuban film production had plummeted and the projection rooms smelled of mold and sweat. In the midst of the Special Period, the young man began in a profession about which he recalls, “if you learn it well and focus on the details” you become aware that “what you have in your hands is a work of art.”
But enthusiasm wasn’t enough. Those were hard times, times when hunger and lack of sleep were not good allies in the projection booth. Albertico developed tricks so as not to fall asleep, from listening to music to reading a book, but few of them worked. He discovered that just talking with the other projectionists helped him manage to keep his eyes open while on the screen Titon’s movie played for the umpteenth time.
There were no lack of failures. One day when he was alone, sleep overcame him, and despite the cries of “done!” and “cut!” he only woke up when scrolling in front of the viewers’ eyes were “all those letters and numbers and marks at the end of the roll” that no one is ever supposed to see “in a good projection.”
“The only thing that really made our lives happy was the Film Festival every December,” he says now. It meant an oasis in the monotony of repetitive programming. “The bad thing was when the festival ended and the program was once again Strawberry and Chocolate ” he quips.
He came to know the film so well that a student asked him for a transcript of all the speeches of the characters and Albertico just needed to take a little breath to start repeating them one by one.
One day the young projectionist was transferred to the Riviera cinema, on 23rd street. He thought in this way he might save himself from watching the same movie every day, but his happiness was short lived. The National Film Distributor decided to schedule Strawberry and Chocolate at his new workplace as well. Albertico again had Titón’s famous work in his hands “like that brick Diego doesn’t know what to do with,” he jokes.
Among his most persistent memories is the music composed by José María Vitier for the film, although he remembers it in a rather peculiar way. “The material was pecked and scratched” so there were some notes of the credits that were missing. He got used to listening to it like that. Now, when he hears it in perfect quality his mind “always omits those notes.”
In those interminable replays trapped in an endless loop, from which he could not escape, he analyzed the movements of the actors, learned to know when they blinked, each one of their breaths and their pauses.” “Every frame” was recorded in his head.
Albertico began to detect those details which nobody noticed. “What does that actor do, out of focus there in the background? What happens to the strawberry in Diego’s spoon in the first scene in Coppelia?” He also began to notice those “microphones or cables that are accidentally seen in some scenes.”
“They are details that no one sees because Strawberry and Chocolate is a work of art that takes you along the paths of the forest,” he reflects.
“The funny thing is that in a year of screening, the film never failed to have an audience,” he recalls. “Those who had nothing else to do, who hadn’t seen it before, who came to smoke a joint, or the couple who would sit in the last row of the theater to eat each other alive,” and also those who “with Marilyn Solaya naked or a few seconds of sex on the screen, came to masturbate.”
He also recalls how the filmstrip fell apart in his hands because the material was in “very bad shape” and the projectionist comments that “in some cases you could see the gaps on the screen.”
Some time ago, Albertico bought a copy of Strawberry and Chocolate on DVD in a German market. Whenever he watches it on his TV he imagines the sounds of the roll in the projector. Although on the screen of his television the scenes shine, his eyes are enchanted to see the scars of that picture he had in his hands so many times.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 30 March 2017 — Through the streets of Sagua la Grande, in the province of Villa Clara, people walk around with bottles, buckets and every kind of receptacle. This month’s break in the turbine that supplies the city’s water has forced its inhabitants to carry water from different towns.
“It’s been more than a week without water,” Jaime Guillermo Castillo, a resident, told 14ymedio. “We fill the buckets at some public taps very far from the center, everyone goes to the closest one however they can. We go in horse-drawn carts, on bicycles, or whatever appears.” continue reading
The municipality is supplied by a public aqueduct system that has three basic sources: Caguaguas about 7 miles away, Chincilla about 6 miles, and Viana, nearly 10 miles. But with the acute drought affecting the whole country, the first of these sources has had to come up with most of the supply.
The breaking of the Caguaguas turbine aggravated the situation. The equipment was taken to Santa Clara for repairs but the residents complain about the lack of information and the excessive delay. The problem has reached the point that several residents have called the local People’s Power delegate to resolve the problem as soon as possible or to make a public protest.
“First they said it was only for a couple of days, but we have been dealing with this for more than a week and the situation is getting worse,” laments farmer Jorge Pablo, who fears “big crop losses” because it’s been at least eight days without being able to put “a single drop of water in the furrows.”
According to the Population and Housing Census of 2012, the municipality Sagua la Grande has about 52,334 inhabitants, 90% in urban areas. Problems with water supply have been frequent in recent years due to poor infrastructure.
Several areas of the city have also had problems with water pressure for decades, mainly in the San Juan neighborhood, the southern part of Victoria Center and Loma Bonita. Water is almost entirely unavailable in the latter. A situation that has forced many villagers to drill wells for their homes, which has brought a deterioration of the water table.
A study a decade ago calculated that water losses in the city were estimated at 30% and were mainly caused by leaks and uncontrolled consumption. Of the total water that is pumped from the sources of supply, about 410 liters per second, only about 290 reach the city.
Instead of improving, the situation has continued to worsen in the last ten years and the people’s council areas with the greatest difficulties are Coco Solo and Centro Victoria.
The driver from Caguaguas has also suffered the problems of maintenance and conservation, as well as the shortage of equipment and qualified personnel to maintain a stable service, according to local press reports.
Authorities attribute part of these problems to “unscrupulous citizens” who drill holes in the water distribution pipes to illicitly irrigate small orchards. The presence in the area of numerous producers of meat with clandestine farms has contributed to the increase of the phenomenon.
However, the residents point out that the promised investments have not been made to avoid the continuous breaks. “Nobody cares about this town,” laments Herminia, was was born there and who is now trying to sell her four-room property with an immense patio.
The Villaclareña puts her hopes on the sale of her house to leave what she considers has become “a place with no future.” She feels that Sagua la Grande has undergone a process of deterioration and “the frequent breakingof the turbine is another step in this fall.” Not even the 2011 declaration making the historic city center as a National Monument managed to stop the process.
“A town without water is a ghost town,” says Herminia. “Parents do not want to send children to school in dirty uniforms and older people are the ones who are worse off because they cannot carry water from afar.” She paid a water-bearer about 50 Cuban pesos (about $2 US), a quarter of her pension, to fill a tank that she only uses for cooking: “A bath is a luxury that I can not give myself,” she says resignedly.