This is Life for the Victims of the Tornado That Devastated Havana

Ailena, 22, pregnant and about to give birth, is one of the victims of the tornado. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 11 May 2019 — To get to the shelter you have to walk more than two kilometers under Havana’s inclement sun. No bus route takes you there. There is not a single sign indicating how to get there. The site doesn’t even have a name. Nobody would remember that old warehouse of the Villena Revolution school if it were not for the twenty people who now inhabit it, since a tornado struck Havana last January.

Overcrowded, in unhealthy conditions, these victims had no choice but to accept the government’s proposal to live temporarily in this shelter. Many of them are considered “illegal” for having emigrated from the poorest regions of the country to the capital in search of better opportunities for their children.

“This is not life. We’ve been here three months. The conditions are terrible, we have no privacy. We sleep in beds next to each other. We look like pigs,” says Yudelmis Urquiza, one of the displaced who lived for 15 days in a warehouse after she lost her home, until the government brought her to this place. continue reading

Urquiza is mixed race, thin, and very loquacious. She seems possessed by a rage that she can not hold back. She wants to explain why she feels insulted at the shelter and can not contain her words. She explodes in descriptions.

The guard of the shelter looks at her out of the corner of his eye. It bothers him that she speaks so freely. He blocks her attempt to give a tour of site but Urquiza passes the camera to a boy who photographs everything those living in the shelter want to denounce.

Since the tornado passed, more than 20 people live in this warehouse without any privacy. (14ymedio)

“The bathrooms are latrines. There is one that is blocked and the shit runs over without stopping. The other latrines are full of eye gnats [the disease-carrier Liohippelates] and other insects. Here all the women have acquired vaginal parasites and no matter how much we complain, nobody pays attention to us,” she says.

She is 29 years old and has two children, aged 11 and nine months. She’s a single mother. Her house on Concha Street, between Infanzón and Pedro Perna, collapsed with the first winds of the tornado. Like half the city, the building was not in good condition. If the tornado had not taken it would have been the rains or a cold front.

On Wednesday the sun was falling vertically on the fiber cement roof tiles of the shelter. The heat was unbearable and a few drops of sweat slid down Urquiza’s face. “Breakfast has not arrived yet,” she yells. The authorities forbid the tornado victims to cook. The food is free, but they are not satisfied with the quality.

“The food is terrible. The Congrí Rice is hard and the picadillo comes with fly poop. The children have had diarrhea and vomiting. One of the pregnant women couldn’t eat for two days because the food was spoiled,” she says.

Instead of toilets they have latrines, some of them in deplorable conditions. (14ymedio)

By this time a group of shelter residents has congregated at the door of the premises. The guard was still stationed at the entrance, undaunted, but the conversation took on the connotation of a formal neighborhood assembly. Everyone wanted to participate.

“The ham comes green. We’ve even found cockroaches in the rice,” said a young man with a thin beard and slicked-down hair. “There are pregnant women here, there are children who need to eat well. They bring food when they feel like it and we have to adapt to their schedules,” he adds.

The drinking water comes from a tank of asbestos cement that is found in the common patio. According to the shelter residents, the health authorities warned them that the water was not chlorinated, but since they are not allowed cooking utensils, they can’t boil it either.

“At first we were afraid, but now we are giving the children that water. We also drink it ourselves. What else can we do?” says another resident of shelter, resigned.

The doctors of the Boyeros polyclinic prescribed the children some tablets of mebendazole [Vermox], a drug for intestinal parasites, but according to the residents, so far they have not been able to find the drug in any pharmacy.

At times the interview became like a formal neighborhood assembly and everyone wanted to complain. (14ymedio)

“It is very hard for a mother to see her children living without sanitary conditions. They have had fever and diarrhea. The same doctors from the policlinic said this place was uninhabitable, but we continue living here,” laments one of the residents.

They all say they have written letters to the authorities of the government and the Communist Party asking for a solution to their case, but nobody has answered the letters. Ailena, a 22-year-old pregnant woman about to give birth approached the authorities to ask for help for her “special situation.”

“They told me that this was my a problem. That I had become pregnant and, therefore, I had to solve my own problem,” she says distressed.

“A wind blew off the roof tiles the other day and now when it rains everything gets wet. We spend our lives being careful not to get the mattresses the Church gave us wet,” says the pregnant woman.

The displaced people say that a television report showing victims receiving new houses caused them to start dreaming. “We immediately called Bárbara Agón Fernández, the president of the Municipal Assembly of the People’s Power of Diez de Octubre. She had promised us that after they did a census of us, they would build housing for us,” they say.

However, the official clarified that the aid was only for the “legal” ones. Those who did not have an address in Havana [formally registered with the government] would remain at the shelter indefinitely. They did not even know what they were going to do with them, said Agón, who also urged them to thank the Revolution because “if they were in another country, they would be on the street.”

The water the residents drink is not chlorinated. (14ymedio)

The shelter residents took out an old propaganda poster of Fidel Castro with his famous concept of Revolution. “Revolution is being treated and treating others as human beings,” said a woman with a slightly mocking tone. The guard, bad-tempered, lost patience and called the police. “Are we imprisoned?” the victims remonstrate. The man does not respond. Minutes later a police patrol with two uniformed officers announced that the interview was over.

“Your journalist’s credential? You have to accompany us to the police station to clarify this situation,” said an officer bluntly.

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

My Interrogator Didn’t Come Because He Had No Gas

Luz Escobar was arrested at a school where, dozens of people who lost their homes in the Havana tornado of Havana live crammed together. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 9 May 2019 — As journalists we must follow up on the issues we publish articles about, and that effort took me, this Wednesday, to a school in the municipality of Rancho Boyeros. Dozens of people who lost their homes when a tornado destroyed several neighborhoods in Havana last January now live crowded together in one of the school buildings.

Some of them met me while I was searching for testimonies among the ruins of Luyanó, one of the areas most affected by the winds. That’s why I was not surprised when my phone rang yesterday morning and a woman’s voice gave me the directions to get to the Villena Revolución school, next to the José Martí International Airport. In her words you could feel the despair.

The route is complicated and, to reach the shelter, you have to walk more than two kilometers on foot from Rancho Boyeros Avenue until you come across the entrance to the school. There were several women waiting for me, one of them pregnant. The site is controlled by several watchtowers with guards. continue reading

Later I understood that my presence there did not go unnoticed by the custodians who control the entrance, perhaps because of a “leak” of the telephone call from the morning which could have alerted the security personnel. Hence, the hostility with which I received by the man stationed in the second sentry box.

A rope was strung across the street to prevent passage and the guard, with imposing authority, asked who I was. The people living in the shelter tried to say that it was only a relative who was coming to visit them, but I preferred to say that I was a journalist and that I was making a brief visit. The man stuck to the group like a shadow, something that provoked demands from some of the hurricane victims for privacy and the right to receive visits. “We’re not in jail, right?” one of them said.

At the door of the shelter there was another “surveillance fence” made up of three men whom nobody had seen before and who said they were school workers. One specified that he was a member of the Communist Party in the school. The situation became very uncomfortable, because they blocked access to the door. The victims began to demand loudly that they let me in and the three men responded by appealing to a regulation that they were unable to quote.

That’s when technology came to my aid. As I could not access the place to take photos and know the conditions of the room where everyone sleeps crowded together, I asked one of the people sheltering there to take pictures and pass them to my mobile through the application Zapya, widely used in Cuba to transfer files via Wifi. I stayed outside compiling the testimonies, something that did not please the party militant.

Visibly upset, the man asked another of the guards to call the police. I thought he was just saying it to scare me and I sat at the foot of the shelter entrance doing the interviews.

A few minutes later the police patrol arrived with two uniformed officers. They asked for my identity card and I told them I was a journalist. Then they asked me if I had a credential, something impossible for an independent reporter, because the authorities do not recognize or issue permits for those of us who work in the media who do not join the official state media. “You have to accompany us to the unit to clarify this situation,” the officer said bluntly.

I tried to calm the group of shelter residents, among whom the outrage had grown, as they shouted at the policemen not to arrest me and said that if they took me they had to “take everyone.” At that time I internalized the importance of my presence there for these people. I was the voice that could tell a story that would never be published in the Granma newspaper or come out in in the discussion on the Roundtable TV show.

One of the young people in the group filmed the entire arrest with the cell phone and the policeman was so upset that he spit out some swear words, snatched the cell phone from his hands and demanded that he erase the video. A women interceded and managed to return the cell phone to the young man without losing his witnessing. Before entering the police car I managed to give them the phone number of the 14ymedio newsroom so that the residents could notify my colleagues.

They took me to the police station in Santiago de las Vegas, where I spent almost an hour sitting on the reception bench. A very emotional moment was when a group of the women from the shelter arrived to demand my release. The minutes passed and, when I inquired about my situation, they answered that I had to wait for the “specialist” from State Security for an “interview.”

They put me in a cell for the “classification” process. There they take the data of the newly arrested. While I was in that cubicle with grille and padlock I heard stories that bordered on the absurd and others worthy of a meticulous report, like that of a young Cuban girl recently arrived from Chile and arrested at the airport because she had once lost a cell phone, made a complaint and was left with a notation “involved in a theft case,” although she was the plaintiff. Her impeccable white clothes clashed with the gray shabbiness inside the dungeon.

It was my turn. I handed over my earrings, my ring and everything I had in my backpack. I waited another hour. The telephone rang and I knew, from the reaction of the policemen that it was Camilo, the alias of the Political Police officer who has been harassing me for months, summoning me for interrogations and threatening me and telling me that I can not cover public events.

The reaction of the officers of the National Revolutionary Police was very curious. It was clear that they were not happy with the situation and the one who answered the seguroso’s call said to the other: “the skinny guy will not come, because he does not have gas,” for his motorcycle. My situation was in a limbo, I was still under arrest but the police did not know what to do with me because it was not their “case,” but rather State Security’s.

So, they looked for a formula to get rid of the problem. The head of the unit sat down nearby and for more than 20 minutes he explained to me why I can not practice independent journalism. “You do not have a credential,” and that “violates the Constitution,” he reiterated several times. Actually, the first blow to the Constitution had been my arbitrary arrest. “Without authorization you can not go around doing interviews,” he remarked.

They returned my belongings and, after five hours there, I enjoyed the Havana sun on my skin. Only once I was outside did I learn about all the solidarity raised in social networks by my detention. It was the second time that day that technology came to my aid.

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

Repression in the Time of Shortages

Yoani Sanchez, via Twitter, Havana, 8 May 2019 — A nice “touch” in the fright of the arrest of @Luz_Cuba (Luz Escobar): After waiting five hours at the police station for the State Security agent to arrive to interrogate her, the “seguroso” never arrived because he didn’t have gas for his motorcycle. [#The Crisis Comes to the Political Police]

See also:
14ymedio Reporter Luz Escobar Arrested In Cuba / CiberCuba

Luz Escobar, Reporter for 14ymedio, Released After 5 Hour Detention in Cuba

Luz Escobar, Reporter for 14ymedio, Released After 5 Hour Detention in Cuba

Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 May 2019 — Thanks to all those who demanded the release of @LuzCuba (Luz Escobar). She just called us on the phone to say that she had been released after being under arrest for five hours. We will only have the details when she arrives at the 14ymedio newsroom and we speak with her. THANK YOU.

14ymedio Reporter Luz Escobar Arrested In Cuba / CiberCuba

Luz Escobar, a reporter for the independent Cuban newspaper 14ymedio

CiberCuba, May 8, 2019 – 15:08 (GMT-5)

Cuban police arrested journalist Luz Escobar, a reporter for the newspaper 14ymedio, on Wednesday.

Escobar was taken to the police station in the Santiago de Las Vegas municipality, in Havana, after she was arrested while interviewing residents of a shelter for victims in that area.

“Regrettably, we have confirmed that our colleague, Luz Escobar, a reporter for the newspaper 14ymedio, was arrested and taken to the police station in Santiago de las Vegas, in Havana. One of the residents of the shelter for victims where she was collecting testimonies called our office to confirm it,” wrote Yoani Sánchez, director of 14ymedio, on her Facebook page.

 

Cuban Police Have Their Eyes on the Tourist Guides in Old Havana

A fall in the number of reservations for tours through the state-run companies may be one of the reasons why the Government has decided to intervene in a practice before which, until now, it ignored. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 May 2019 — Things have become complicated for the independent tour guides in Havana in recent weeks. Accustomed to operating for years without a license, they see how the authorities are now trying to curb their activities to protect the monopoly of state companies, such as Cubanacan or Havanatur.

“We must avoid all streets near the cruise terminal, but the truth is some days are more complicated than other,” a freelance guide who prefers not to reveal his name tells 14ymedio. According to his testimony and that of another of his colleagues, in the last month several colleagues have been arrested and taken to the police station at Cuba and Chacón streets or fined by the authorities.

“It has already happened to me twice, encountering the police with customers along the routes. It’s a terrible shame, but I tell them all the truth, that we are in a legal limbo and that’s why they can stop us,” explains the guide, an English language graduate from the University of Havana who prefers to work on his own. continue reading

According to official figures, the Island has received two million international visitors from the first of the year to 4 May. (14ymedio)

The lack of government issued licenses for tourist guides prevents the practice of this specialty within legal channels, as professionals would prefer. “Many of us do not have a license because it does not exist, I, in particular, have a photographer, and when the police ask I always tell tourists that they hire me to accompany them on their tour and take pictures of them. So far it has worked for me but some of my friends have had problems with this ruse,” he says.

The profession of dance teacher is another of the licenses most requested by those who, in reality, use the license to act of a tour guide on the main streets of Havana.

Luis, driver of a luxury car that offers tours from Old Havana to the Plaza of the Revolution says that “the guides are tremendous targets. They are detained, they are fined, and then fined again. When they are fined for the third time, they are given a warning notice and that means they have a criminal record and it is impossible for them to travel in areas where there is tourism.”

The history of the raids against the guides runs by word of mouth among those who make a living in the Historic Center area. A parking lot attendant from the Lonja del Comercio attributes it to the fact that the cruise companies that arrive in Havana are receiving fewer reservations for tours and have complained because “the guides picked up clients from the cruise when they exit through Customs.”

The attendant admits that although there are many professionals in the business, there are also “many scammers” who take advantage of the situation and are not prepared for the job. “A few weeks ago here there was a big raid, they took about 20 in a trip, they grabbed everyone, small-time jineteros (male prostitutes) and guides who have been doing this for years,” he says.

Today we reached 2 million visitors, 12 days earlier than year, we will have a Foreign Administration Workshop, in the afternoon a Cuba-Spain Business Forum, tonight the gala at the Alicia Alonso Theater and tomorrow we will inaugurate FITCuba 2019 at the Palace of Conventions. pic.twitter.com/qBVJYTYAaT    –  Manuel Marrero Cruz (@MMarreroCruz) May 6, 2019

According to official figures, the Island has received two million international visitors since the beginning of 2019 until May 4. The Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero, published the data in his Twitter account and said that this shows “a higher rate” of arrivals compared to the same period last year.

The official press highlighted on Monday that the United States remains the second “origin market” despite “the [United States] Government’s policy.” By the end of April, 257,500 Americans had arrived in Cuba, 55% in cruises,” an option that continues to rise and grows 48% this year,” while arrivals by air grows 45%.

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

Residents of Boulevard D’25 Win the Battle Against Noise

There is a notable decrease in the influx of people since the playground was closed. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 24 April 2019 — Where once the hustle and bustle of children’s voices resounded at all hours of the day, silence now reigns. Most entertainment devices for the little ones have disappeared and those that are installed are covered with tarps or disconnected.

“The park was closed because the neighbors of the building next door were very upset by the noise,” one of the clerks in the arts-and-crafts shops told 14ymedio.

The place where there used to be an old state parking lot for vehicles, is now converted into an area to where the self-employed can rent spaces. Outskirts of each restaurant or cafe elegant young men show the menus where they announce “excellent dishes.” As for the playground, “That closed because it bothered a neighbor who convinced the whole building to protest,” says one of the waiters. continue reading

For the residents the question was not in dispute. Their health was affected due to “sound pollution,” and this was reflected in many of their demands to the Ministry of Public Health and the Provincial Government of the capital. The pressure they brought to bear, with complaint letters detailing the problems, caught the attention of the authorities, who agreed to close the playground.

According to the Facebook page Vecinos de La Rampa (Neighbors of La Rampa) there are several, not just one, residents whose complaints about the noise led them to close the park. One of them is Dr. Alina Arcos, who works in the Emergency Department of a hospital and lamented that she could hardly rest when she arrived home after more than nine hours of work.

“For three years, the residents of the community to which I belong have sent letters, complaints and denunciations to any organization, institution or official that might have any role in this, and except for a temporary solution, the rest have been useless. The businesses that operate there violate the commitments made by the Government and the Party with the community before its opening, multiple existing rules are openly breached and this puts our health at risk,” said Arcos in a post for the month of March.

Facade of the building without posters. (14ymedio)

After several complaints in different instances made over more than three years and on social networks, the neighbors decided to show their discontent by hanging fabrics from their balconies, which they have now removed. “On this Boulevard, profits matters more than the welfare of the community, enough is enough!” Said one, and, “This Boulevard violates our right to live in peace,” said another.

“We all worked together and our efforts won. My parents, who lived tormented by the situation, now feel relieved,” a young man who lives in the building told 14ymedio an Thursday afternoon.

It is not the first time that the neighbors managed to close the park with their demands. The authorities had already ordered the closure of the park on a previous occasion, although the owners decided to ignore it and reopened it despite not having the required permits .

“We neighbors just discovered that the Boulevard does not have — hear this — has not and never has had a health license for the use that it has been put to,” denounced another of the neighbors in the neighborhood Facebook group.

On April 13, just before the school break, the park closed. “Days before there was a meeting here with more than 20 neighbors in which the president of the Municipality of Plaza de la Revolución participated,” says another neighbor who plays with her grandson in the inner courtyard of the building located on N Street between 23rd and 25th.

Before getting the facilities closed, Dr. Arcos pointed suspiciously at “corruption,” “abuse of power” and “influence peddling” as the causes that could explain the State’s delay in this case when it comes to protecting citizens.

This week one of the vice-presidents of the Plaza Municipal Assembly of the Power, Pedro Pablo Herrera, was dismissed from his position. Although the reasons are unknown, two sources claim that Herrera participated in at least one of the Assemblies that was held with the residents of Boulevard D’25 to try to solve the noise problem.

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

The B Side of the Biennial

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was arrested on Thursday, the day the Biennial began. (14y middle)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 April 2019 — On Thursday, April 11, while in the halls of the National Museum of Fine Arts the Mexican artist Gabriel Orozcowas preparing an exhibition, and on the terrace of the Spanish Embassy the duo Clandestina finished mounting its installations, the independent artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was arrested in Damas Street when he carried out one of the actions he had planned for the XIII Biennial of Havana.

The most important artistic event in Cuba started with wide coverage in the official and foreign press. The media announced new features such as the multiplication of stages of the Havana-based event, which this year is also happening in Pinar del Río, Matanzas, Cienfuegos and Camagüey, and the motto of the Biennial — “The Construction of the Possible” — and the participation of more than 300 creators from 52 nations.

But none of them spoke of the flip side of the event. The arrest of Otero Alcántara came during a performance with which he was trying to pay tribute to Daniel Llorente, known as ’The Flag Man’ since he was arrested in 2017 while ’crashing’ the May Day parade waving an American flag. According to Eliezer Llorente, his son went missing more than two days ago. continue reading

The writer Abu Duyanah Tamayo, who witnessed the arrest, told this newspaper that when he arrived at the artist’s street, in the neighborhood of San Isidro, “they were putting him and two other boys in the patrol car.” According to his testimony, the boys were running toward their homes “because the police came screaming” but the officers entered the houses, took them out and took them away.

“They took the phone from Luis Manuel, and they tried to take ours from us when we arrived , but in the end we resisted and they didn’t.”

“The Biennial is a whole energy that gets into every corners and I am an artist and the Biennial is mine too,” Otero Alcántara had told 14ymedio before his arrest, when he had not yet specified a date or place for the action.

“I have three projects, and one of them is a tribute to the man of the flag, a race that will be called Daniel Llorente and in which every Cuban of and age can participate. It will be a 66 meter race, the distance Llorente ran in the Plaza of the Revolution on May 1st. Everyone who runs has to do it with an American flag and a Cuban flag, the first three will have their prize and their medal,” he explained.

The artist, who days before suffered another detention to warn him of the consequences if he went ahead with the performance, says he senses fear in the Government “This is a symbolic regime that has never been able to solve anything on a practical level, everything is hope, the illusion and the symbolism, “he said.

Installation of the clandestine duo in the Embassy of Spain. (14ymedio)

Otero Alcántara’s actions are part of the “Se USA” project. “The other work I’m going to do is a walkway outside my house, on the street, and with models that will be people from the neighborhood.” I will make a fashion show with 10 designs that I chose among the more than 80 that Chanel had when she did hers in the Prado, combining those Chanel designs with garments that Cubans wear a lot, in shorts, lycra, shirts, t-shirts, handkerchiefs, with the imagery of the American flag.”

As an artist, he is interested in talking about “that ultra-pathetic nationalism and patriotism” that power builds “to dominate, control and tell you that you are a traitor,” if you do not do things as they planned. “Why can’t Daniel Llorente go out with the flag if he wants. Why to you wantto make me an enemy, I feel like an enemy but I have to assume it because you impose it on me?” he protests.

This edition of the Biennial should have been celebrated in 2018, but its organizers postponed it because of the damage caused by the passage of Hurricane Irma. This decision gave rise to a group of independent artists, among whom, as a visible face, was Otero Alcántara, who took the initiative to organize the #00Bienal last year, an alternative call that was demonized and repressed by the Government and cultural authorities.

Hall of the Universal Art building of the Museum of Fine Arts with the pieces of the artist Gabriel Orozco. (14ymedio)

Since 1984 the Wifredo Lam Contemporary Art Center, together with the National Council of Plastic Arts and the Ministry of Culture, among other institutions, have been responsible for organizing the Havana Biennial.

The galleries of the Alicia Alonso Gran Teatro de La Habana, the Havana Collage, the Ensemble Workshop, the National Museum of Fine Arts and independent studios such as Del Castillo Art Studio or El Apartamento will remain open until May 12 as part of the exhibition.

In the last decade, with the birth of alternative spaces, activities that take place in independently managed galleries have also been added to the event and are included as part of the collateral actions. Provided they abstain from any criticisms of the Government, they will be allowed to exist.

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

"Do We Have to Launch Ourselves Into the Street to Resolve Things?"

Picota Street, in San Isidro. The water can cost up to 50 CUC for each water truck in these circumstances. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 10 April 2019 — On Merced Street in Old Havana a cloud of dust rises that floods the entire block every time debris is thrown off the roof of a house under construction. All the neighbors have their doors and the windows closed, very few show themselves to the block. A lady who sells sweets in one of the side passages of a building looks up and says, “And all this without a drop of water.”

The neighbors affirm that in Merced “almost no water has arrived for three months” but that the worst has been ten days with a complete absence of water. That’s why Laura has gone to the house of a friend who lives in Calle Picota and has a small cistern that receives a trickle of water, “by gravity,” between 4:00 in the afternoon and 10:00 at night. “That’s why I come to bathe here; as of January water hasn’t come to my house in the normal way.”

On his block, he explains, the neighborhood delegate “is playing a role now” to ’resolve’ a water truck but only “because people pressured him” after a week no water. The supply cycle through this alternative route is only once a week, insufficient for the needs of a home. “When people protest they react, when we haven’t had a water truck for five days, the service is not constant,” complains Laura. continue reading

Eduardo, a resident from San Isidro who looks out the door of Laura’s friend’s house with two empty buckets, complains. “Those who have money can pay for the water trucks, the poor have to wait for it to happen whenever it is, now it comes once a week,” he says.

Laura’s friend’s house is like a small oasis inside the San Isidro neighborhood, one of the neighborhoods by the crisis of the water supply. “The whole world comes by here, my cistern is small and what I have is what arrives by gravity, but it is something, we help those who do not have a drop,” says the good Samaritan as she cleans beans on a table full of junk.

Neighbors loaded with empty containers approach for water in San Isidro, in Old Havana. (14ymedio)

Eduardo tells it like a story from a book that, on Egido Street, “people launched themselves into the street” about two weeks ago. “They closed the block with children and everything, putting out mattresses and posters and then the police and six trucks appeared. You ask yourself, is this what we have to do, go out into the street, to resolve things, is this how the problem is solved.” On every corner, he adds, there is the company from Aguas de La Habana (Havana Water) with a brigade “digging with picks and shovels without a solution coming.”

In the 658 Egido Street building there is still talk of the protest a fortnight ago. Since that day the water truck has come every two days to fill the cistern.

At the entrance of the building, a group of girls talk about the reasons that led them to take to the streets to demand water from the authorities. “The problem is money; when you fill all the tanks you want, it can cost between 20 and 40 CUC, but right now, as it is, it can cost up to 50 [each water truck] and nobody here has a single peso, that’s why what we did what we did that day and it worked for us,” says the youngest of them all.

“The problem with water is very serious. I’ve seen people going nuts when the truck comes. It looks like we’re going back to the same time as before, that there was nothing and everyone was fighting over a bucket of water,” says another of the girls at the foot of the stairs.

Several residents of Merced Street explained to 14ymedio that the crisis began with the works for the 500th anniversary of La Villa de San Cristóbal (Havana). According to the official press it is “a large-scale project” that aims to improve water supply to more than 9,000 inhabitants. It began in March, just the month when supply problems reached their worst in the seven people’s councils of Old Havana.

The technical director of the Havana Water Company, Esther García, told the official press that this area of the city receives water with low pressure, with an intermittent and bad service and that for this reason the execution of the project was approved.

“On television it’s one thing and the reality is very different, there’s talk about building a new pipeline and that will be the solution, but here we only see scarcity,” says Mirna Flores, a resident of Merced Street.

The official data shows there are 8,600 people who currently receive water from tankers in that area while the new pipeline is finished. Brigades from the Havana Water Company, forces of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources and the Ministry of Construction are involved in the task with the promise of concluding it by September of this year.

While the commitment becomes reality before the eyes of all, the neighbors of Old Havana are still waiting for the arrival of a water truck and carrying buckets of water. The president of the Méndez building Council of Neighbors in the San Isidro neighborhood, assures this newspaper that there are cases of “elderly people over 90 years old who live alone” and can not go down to carry water, and “sick people.” They are more vulnerable to these crises. “Here the solution is would be that once again one opens the tap and the water comes out, as it should be.”

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

The Annoying Wait of the Luyano Residents

Mercedes Caballero with red handkerchief is part of the brigade March 13 that works in the reconstruction of the Otero area. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 18 April 2019 — Sitting at the entrance of his house, Yanisley Valdés blocks the sun on his face with his hand and does likewise and the swirls of dust that rise with the winds of Lent. Since the tornado of January 27 devastated his home, his days are reduced to a succession of negotiations that do not lead to anything. His roof is still waiting for demolition and his room is filled with the materials it has taken him months to obtain.

One of the reasons why the repairs in Luyanó incomprehensibly go on forever is the lack of materials, which seem to be lost at some point in the chain, according to one of the workers who is rebuilding the Otero site, in front of Valdés’ house. continue reading

“If you lack a nail, you have to stop. Right now we don’t have the electrical boxes to install, we do not have nails for the formwork, the other day it happened, the same as now, the supplies did not come. Finally we got what we needed five o’clock in the afternoon, almost when we were leaving, and we left at almost ten o’clock that night. That’s not right, I do not understand why those things happen, because onm paper there is everything. There is money for the materials, which in turn are in the warehouse, but here they are not arriving on time,” he explains.

Yanisley Valdés sat at the door of her house on Reyes y Mangos street in Luyanó. (14ymedio)

There, despite the shortcomings, the picture is different than in the home of Valdés. There are dozens of workers from the March 13th brigade who work from morning to night. Juan Antonio, one of the workers, says that he hopes that “by February or March of next year” all the works in the Otero neighborhood will be finished and together they can celebrate “the happiness of delivering everything new and with quality.”

The residents are happy with their work, although, again, the sticking point is the tools. “They arrived here the first week after the tornado and the truth is that they have tremendous willingness to work,” one of the residents tells this newspaper while serving lunch to the workers.

“Here the problem is that there is a lack of materials and that is why it doesn’t go any further, they are stopped right now because supplies have not come in. I stay at my son’s house, I come every morning to help and I stay until late. The buses are wearing me out, but this is my home and I want it fixed soon,” says Mercedes Caballero, one of those affected by the tornado, tells 14ymedio. She has not missed a single step of what it takes to build a new roof on your home.

Mercedes Caballero at the entrance of her house next to one of the workers. (14ymedio)

Yanisley Valdés, on the other hand, has so far barely been able to buy a water tank, rebar, stone and cement. To prevent the roof from coming down, the interior of the house has been propped up, but the brigade that has to demolish the roof still doesn’t come. In her case, the slowness of the bureaucracy has been the first obstacle she has had to face. And it continues.

Four days after the tornado, Valdés went to the office to start the procedures and recover her house, but she had to wait two months for a technician to measure the house and obtain the document for the purchase of the materials.

The waiting did not end there. “I was told the site, very close to here, but there was no truck and they sent me to Alma’s site, which is very far away. Thursday I went because they told me there was concrete, but when I got there, I had to sign in first. I was ready but the person responsible for carrying it out was not in. I got up on Friday, I arrived at about five in the morning, and there were so many people in front of me, I got number 49.”

So that day she didn’t achieve her goal either. The authorities at the supply site told her not to wait, because in one day they only dispatch five people. Valdés has taken five days to get some of the materials, but others that she needs are still missing. She paid for everything in cash, without credits or subsidies, although she did get the reduction of 50% authorized by the Government to deal with the construction crisis derived from the tornado.

Otero under construction. (14ymedio)

“Here I am, still waiting for the demolition, they told me they were going to send a brigade to demolish the second floor that is falling in, but ’you have to wait, now there is no brigade’, ’they are all working, you have to wait’. That’s the only thing they can say every time. I’m going to protest,” he complains.

While she spends his days here and there, she lives in the house of her ex-husband and father of the youngest of her two children. “That’s in Lawton, every day I have to get up at six in the morning to take my kids to school, then sit here, and in the end I lose the whole day.”

In addition, Valdés complains that she is not treated well when she goes to the offices or has received confusing information. “At one point, they told me that for the houses with property there is no brigade available, but another told me that there is and that I have to wait.”

Some materials that Yanisley Valdés has not been able to keep in his house are in the middle of the street like those sacks of stone. (14ymedio)

However, what angers her the most is that she has not been given a shelter while the situation of her house is resolved. “The lack of respect is very great, I am a woman with two children, they have not offered me shelter, I can not cook here, I have everything in sacks, I can not even walk,” he says.

“All the work that I’m going through and it turns out that I also have to come and hear lies. Diaz-Canel said clearly on television that everyone will have their situation resolved and that women with children are a priority, the question is when and how will it be. They have not explained to me, I’m going to wear out my shoes from so much going from one office to another, there’s a big mess, they work as they please.”

According to the latest official figures, released in March, of 7,923 homes affected, 2,480 have been totally resolved. The President of the Government of Havana, Reynaldo García Zapata, affirmed that all resources for reconstruction are assured and that 90% of the victims have already purchased the resources they need. But those who don’t appear in the statistics still see the open sky from their homes.

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

“We are the voices of those who can not speak”

The first march for animal rights is an unprecedented event in Cuba (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 April 2019 — Minutes before starting they were just a few, but more people were joining, coming by foot, by bike, and many of them with their pets. The unusual caravan brought together some 500 participants on Sunday who, in the streets of Havana, demanded an end the the violence against animals and the approval of an Animal Protection Law.

A crowd with banners, T-shirts with the symbol of an orange bow and with some participants who brought their dogs, marched this Sunday along 25th Street in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, from Quijote Park to Colón Cemetery. The walk against animal abuse was the first independent march in the last half century where people were allowed to carry posters.

Initially, the pilgrimage called by animal protectors and lovers was going to cross 23rd street downtown, but at the last minute the organizers announced that they would use the parallel and less crowded 25th Street. continue reading

An activist carries a sign against animal abuse in Cuba. “If children are allowed to be cruel to their pets and other animals, they will easily learn to acquire the same pleasure from human misery.” (14ymedio)

A small group managed to repeat for a few minutes “Animal protection law now!” but immediately several people – carrying neither signs nor orange ribbons – called on them not to shout if they wanted to continue marching. Despite the warning on the road other participants kept repeating phrases such as “ meow meow meow, bow wow wow,” and the call, “No to animal abuse.”

Promoters of the gathering, along with uniformed National Revolutionary Police (PNR) stopped vehicle traffic to make way for the march, during which there was also the obvious presence of State Security personnel, dressed in civilian clothes, who had previously warned independent journalists and activists not to attend.

There were also people from other provinces and tourists who joined the walk that lasted just over an hour and traveled a mile. From some balconies and doorways, the neighbors of 25th Street also supported the marchers with words of encouragement and offered containers with water for the animals.

Beatriz Carmen Hidalgo-Gato Batista, one of the animal protectors who organized the march reading in front of the tomb of Jeannette Ryder in the Colón cemetery. (14ymedio)

Arriving at the Colón Cemetery, the crowd fell silent and stood in front of the tomb of Jeannette Ryder, an American philanthropist who resided on the island at the beginning of the last century and founded a humanitarian organization, the Protective Society for Children, Plants and Animals, known as Bando de Piedad (The Mercy Society).

Several of the protectors of the organizers of the walk made brief speeches around Ryder’s gravesite. Among them were Beatriz Carmen Hidalgo-Gato Batista, who expressed her emotion for “the magnitude” of the response to the call to march. The 21-year-old student of social communication has 16 dogs and 7 cats under her care.

Being a “protector of animals in Cuba is to confront daily the overpopulation of malnourished animals, the abuse, murder, sadism and torture suffered by strays and not strays (…) is to become a lawyer and demand legislation or a decree that protect them,” Hidalgo-Gato read.

To which she added that her activism in favor of these creatures leads her to “deal with the ignorant and not ignorant who have who have a little bit of power and that in less than you imagine or you disappear animals that you are protecting or call the dogcatcher.”

Milagro González, veteran of the cause against animal and protective mistreatment for two decades. (14ymedio)

At the end of the walk, in statements to 14ymedio , Hidalgo-Gato said she was happy about the outcome of the march and considered that this Sunday “will mark a before and after in the fight against animal abuse in Cuba” and possibly lead to the acceptance of an animal welfare law.

“We have already started here, it is the first authorized march with awareness posters, and in the process we are demanding that they approve an animal welfare law that educates and punishes people who commit crimes and abuse against them,” she added.

“I participated in last year’s march, it was called by Aniplant, starting from Coppelia to here but it was less than 20 or 30 people. Maybe people feel more identified when we do not divide by breeds or names and simply summon lovers and protectors of animals, and also social networks had an effect,” she said.

The call to the march was widely shared on Facebook and Twitter by those who were left with a bitter taste after animal protection was one of the topics proposed in the debates of the constitutional draft, but finally not included in the text submitted to a referendum this past February 24.

Five hundred people gathered in Havana to demand respect from the animals. (14ymedio)

Hidalgo-Gato believes that this year the social networks allowed “sharing in real time” what is happening because “information is power. “ She also believes that what happened today is important because it “opens doors” and maybe next year they can “celebrate with a law” of animal welfare and protection.

Another of the protectors that arrived at the walk was Milagro González, a veteran of the cause. “I am here to advocate for a law that stops animal abuse in our country which is greatly needed, because we see a lot of abuse here. We are holding this march so that these voices can be heard and heard throughout the world and that here in Cuba the law is approved.”

This animal protector was marching with Negrita, a puppy run over on Monte Street and abandoned by the driver who ran over her. “It’s a pity that the abuse goes unpunished in our country, I picked her up and after several surgeries she’s fine,” she said. For her “this activity is a step forward in the pursuit of animal protection” and she hopes that it “moves mountains.”

“We are not going to shut up, we are the voices of those who can not speak,” Milagros said.

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

A Doctor Asks for Justice for the Death of her Pregnant Daughter in a Hospital in Santa Clara

Isabel Cristina Cabello, about to turn 60, seeks justice for her daughter and denounces that she has not received a satisfactory response to her complaints. (14y middle)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 22 March 2019 — “Mamita, if something happens to me, you get me justice.” Those words, pronounced by her daughter shortly before she died, in 2015, due to complications during delivery, resonate in the head of Isabel Cristina Cabello López. Besides being a mother, she is a doctor and for her it was a case of medical malpractice.

The last four years have been years of complaints in the courts and lawsuits before the Attorney General of the Republic to establish responsibilities. Also of great loneliness and professional reprisals.

Cabello shows 14ymedio a bulky folder with documents, letters sent to the official press and institutional responses that she has received since she began demanding responsibility for the death of her daughter Beatriz. The doctor claims that the doctors involved in the death of her daughter and her granddaughter “receive criminal sanctions,” and not only administrative, as has happened with some. continue reading

Her daughter died at the age of 18 at the Arnaldo Milián Hospital in Santa Clara after multiple medical complications after a cesarean section in which the baby did not survive.

The closest thing to a medical malpractice charge included in the Cuban Penal Code is Article 8.1 where it states that “any socially dangerous act or omission is considered a crime.” To take a doctor before the courts it is not enough to demonstrate that the doctor has “produced an injurious result, but that said result has been due to their reckless, negligent, imperious or unobservant conduct of the regulations,” says the lawyer Nora Cedeño Guerra.

Rarely are doctors who are involved in this type of negligence prosecuted legally and hospital centers traditionally protect their doctors from any criminal complaint. The official press never publishes cases in which Public Health professionals are responsible for errors in diagnosis or treatment, and few lawyers want to take cases of this type.

So far, Cabello has only managed to get the Ministry of Public Health to respond to her complaints through a letter signed by Dr. Roberto Álvarez Fumero, head of the Maternal and Child Department at the time of the incident. The letter acknowledges that there was a “non-compliance with the obstetric emergency care protocol” of a “high risk” patient by the specialists who attended her at the maternal hospital.

The day that the pregnant woman’s labor pains began, Cabello was away on a medical mission in Venezuela. The doctor who treated her daughter, a fourth-year student, ignored the report of “strange pains, different from those of my first birth,” which the young woman commented on and also dismissed the altered result of the first tests. Instead of doing a thorough examination, the doctor said that it was a reaction for not having eaten food.

“They did not place the monitor to measure the heart rate of the baby and that’s why they did not realize that they needed to perform an urgent caesarean,” says the mother, who received frequent calls from her daughter and other relatives in the hospital throughout the process. “She had a retroplacental hematoma and her hemoglobin collapsed.” The baby died during the caesarean section and the young mother had to undergo a hysterectomy, a removal of the uterus.

But the worst was yet to come. From that surgery, Beatriz was not transferred to an intensive care room as her mother thought she should have been, but to a recovery room where she was discharged 60 hours later. After arriving home she continued to feel badly and the mother returned urgently from Venezuela to Cuba on February 18 to be with her. “She was sweating, she said it hurt and she was very weak,”s he recalls.

“We went back to the maternal hospital, I talked to the director and I asked him for help, but he told me to take her home, that there was nothing else to do for my daughter,” she tells this newspaper. They went directly to the police station to make a report but the mother has never been able to retrieve a copy of that initial complaint because the police authorities have not delivered it.

“On March 5, she got up to go to the bathroom, when she went back to bed she fell down. She went into respiratory arrest at home and I took her to the Arnaldo Milián hospital, where she died at three in the morning,” she says sadly. The cause of death in the death certificate speaks of a “retroplacental hematoma that produces a clot, a thrombus in the inferior cava that went up to the left lung.”

The doctors involved were administratively penalized with one month of salary reduction, the removal of their position as a director, and with revocation of the young physician who attended the pregnant woman opportunity to graduate inthe specialty of gynecology and obstetrics. Measures that the doctor considers insufficient because she thinks that the case should reach the courts.

Still sad for the double loss, Cabello returned to Venezuela to conclude her medical mission in that country, but her continued demands to the Cuban Ministry of Public Health to initiate an investigation into what happened ended with her being terminated from her mission and returned to Cuba, with no warning. “They put me on the plane and I still have not been able to recover anything that I left there.”

Her older granddaughter is now the focus of her worries. “I am claiming the belongings that I left in Venezuela to be able to fulfill, in part, what I promised my daughter, to take care of her little girl,” she adds. But neither the resources she saved for her family nor legal justice arrive.

After a four-year stalemate of legal procedures in which she reported what happened to the police, the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, the Provincial and National Public Health Departments, as well as the State Ombudsman, Cabello continues to fail to receive an answer that brings her relief. She has filed new appeals and says she will not stop until justice is done and thus fulfill the promise she made to her daughter before she died.

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

With the Door to the US Closed, Cubans Shop in Panama and Mexico

Private restaurant in Varadero. (Tom Hart)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 21 March 2019 — The US announcement that it will replace the five-year B2 visa for Cubans with one of just three months has fallen like a bucket of cold water on the owners of small businesses that used to travel abroad to supply the Cuban private sector with all kinds of products, from Parmesan cheese and spices to soap for homes rented to tourists.

“I have a five-year visa that only has three months left before it expires and now I know I will not be able to obtain another one,” Lorenzo Pardo, 48, and manager of a home-based food store, explained to 14ymedio.

On March 18, the US government reduced the validity period of the B2 visa (tourism and family visits) for Cuban citizens from 5 years to three months. In addition, instead of a multiple entry visa the visa will be good for only one entry to the US. “I have been traveling up to four times a year to visit my family in Miami and also to bring back products,” he says. continue reading

Pardo loaded his suitcases with dried spices, especially garlic and onion, which often are not found on the island or have high prices. “I also brought disposable cutlery and other products that are very useful in my business of supplying food to homes,” he adds.

Despite the drawbacks, Pardo does not feel totally discouraged. “Now I will do the same but through Panama or Mexico,” he says. “The money that I used to leave in Miami will now be left in Cancun or in Panama City.”

The Panamanian authorities did not want to miss the opportunity and, just a few hours after the announcement from Washington, they announced their intention to increase the flexibility of their migration policy towards the island. As of last October Cubans could obtain a shopping permit, but now they will have access to a multiple entry visa for 5 years.

For Camilo Condis, also in the business of food services and accommodation for tourists, the new limitation transcends the issue of private businesses.

“Other than in 2016, when I brought home a computer, I have never brought imports, nor come home loaded with things for business,” he says. Condis believes that whoever wants to go shopping “has it easy in Panama” and prefers to focus on what he calls “the family cost.” As he laments, “My family is there and our ability to see each other regularly is in danger.”

Tamara Rodríguez feels the same pain. “It is true that I took advantage of the trips to Miami not only to visit my two children who live there, but also to bring basic products such as soap, shampoo and even bedding that has helped me a lot in this business,” says this self-employed person who operates several rooms for tourists in the coastal area of Guanabo, east of Havana. “Two years ago I got the Mexican visa and now I’m going to focus on getting the Panamanian one so this does not affect me too much,” she says in agreement.

Rodriguez says that many Cubans already suspected that something like this would happen. “In recent years steps have been reverse everything that was achieved with travel in the time of Barack Obama.” Three years ago she was staring at the television while it broadcast the speech of the American president at the Gran Teatro de La Habana.

“It seemed that only more advantages were coming, openings and a closer contact between both countries, but instead, what has happened is the opposite,” she laments. Rodríguez thinks that Cuban authorities should open more visas to Americans. “Maybe Donald Trump will reopen the five-year visa for us,” she says.

But the problems go beyond achieving a five-year multiple-entry visa. The United States has failed to comply with the migration agreement signed with Cuba in 1996 that guaranteed the delivery of 20,000 annual visas. It has also placed limitations on trips to the Island for US citizens. And, in addition, Cubans must now travel to third countries to apply for a visa.

Despite the denials of the Cuban government regarding its involvement in the events, most of the staff of the US embassy in Havana was removed from the island after the “sonic attacks” that affected more than twenty officials and their families.

“Now everything will become more complicated and it is likely that the consulates of Panama and Mexico will have a greater demand for visa applications,” reflects Wilfredo Pérez, another self-employed worker who still benefits from his five-year visa to visit his family in New Jersey. “I’m due to expire in 2021, so right now I do not have a big problem,” he explains to this newspaper.

Perez believes that the new situation may make some products more expensive in the “black market,” especially medicines, nutritional supplements, food and household appliances that arrived every week from the US to the island. Despite the inconveniences, he is optimistic. “People will adapt to the new situation and start to get more out of importing from other countries.”

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

"They Managed to Gather All the ‘Despicables’ in a Concentration Camp"

Pablo Milanés talks about his time in the UMAP camps in the 60s in this Pin Vilar documentary. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 4 April 2019 — “I’m waiting for day someone is going to offer Pablo and the other people an apology.” This phrase, from the recently deceased Sergio Vitier, is part of the documentary Pablo Milanés, which addresses, among other topics, the time in the 1960s that the singer-songwriter spent in Cuba’s forced labor camps known as Military Units of Production Aid (UMAP).

The film was screened yesterday at the 23rd and 12th cinema in Havana in a room with a large audience, despite the odd scheduling: 3:00 in the afternoon on a Wednesday, in the special presentation of the documentary, in the context of the Cuban Film Institute’s 18th Young People’s Show. Its director, Juan Pin Vilar, was present and thanked the programmers for their arduous work to show the film.

The only previous screening in Cuba took place during the Gibara Film Festival, where it won an award. “We made it [the documentary] because we have to apologize to the victims sometime, we made it always thinking about the man who had a bad time there, not the ones who put him there, and we thought it our duty to tell the story,” the author explained to 14ymedio. continue reading

During almost an hour of footage, the film alternates between interviews with artists and relatives close to the musician and selected archive materials to frame that era for the viewers. The testimonies attest to the strength of Milanés when facing the difficult times that came with the year 1966, as well as the talent of the renowned artist.

Pablo Milanés points out that in those times in Cuba “he was operating under a certain repressive order (sic),” one he did not like and to whom he expressed his criticisms.

The artist recalls the day he received a telegram in which he was summoned to fulfill his Military Service, although in fact he had been chosen to go “to a concentration camp” located in another province. “That was brutal for a 23-year-old boy, that was brutal,” he says.

He did not have time to say goodbye to his mother or his wife. There were guards with bayonets around the buses that transported them to the forced labor camps.

Although his preference was to continue with his music, Milanés acknowledges that at first he felt happy and satisfied to be going to fulfill his duty, but as the days passed, when he realized where he was, he thought it was a mistake.

Throughout the film, Milanes reviews moments such as the arrival of common prisoners in the camp and his worry about that, or his running off with the money collected in a recital for the inmates.

“Yes, I ran away, I ran away because we were waiting for news that there was going to be a meeting and it was going to be determined that this was a mistake.” There were already scandals at the UN, the U2s, the spy planes had already taken pictures of the camps and the only thing they did was, instead of 23 strands of wire, they went down to 14 strands [on the perimeter fence], nothing more.”

At that moment, Milanese’s voice bursts into a verse that now makes sense: “14 strands and one day separate me from my beloved, 14 strands and one day separate me from my mother and now I know who I will love.”

“I finally gave myself up because my mother was in anguish that I was going to die because I was a fugitive. I presented myself to Commander Almeida, who was my second cousin, and he did not understand anything, he said: ’I am the boss because Raúl is taking a course in the Soviet Union, and even if you are my relative, I can not do anything for you’.”

He was then sent to the La Cabaña prison where he stayed for a short time and, from there, to a “camp for escapees” in Camaguey. The trip “was a horrendous parade” because the train stopped by day, in the center of the city, and from there to the camp they went on foot. “Everyone shouting things at us on the way, and on top of that I was lame because I’d hurt my foot.”

However, in his memoirs, he highlights a group he considers the most abused. “Actually, those who had it the worst were the homesexuals, they had it even worse. One afternoon trucks came with a list, some officers named people in a lightning operation, that happened in all the Camagüey camps on the same afternoon, it was timed, they took everyone and they took them to ghettos, you can say,” he recalls.

Several decades after that unfortunate episode that the Government has never acknowledged in its real dimension, and Milanés describes the facts as macabre. “They managed to gather everyone they considered despicable in a concentration camp.” In his personal case it was for his opinions on the Revolution. “I was liberal enough to say it wherever I liked.”

In the documentary we also hear the voice of Marta Valdés, composer and performer, who remembers that at that time there was “a frightful tendency” to address political issues in music, which many resisted.

“There have been very crude people,” says Sergio Vitier. And the audience laughed.

Pablo Milanés was not able to be at yesterday’s screening. Pin Vilar apologized in his name and encouraged the audience before turning off the lights. “I hope you enjoy it because I can not guarantee you it will be shown again.”

To this day, Pablo Milanés sees things from another perspective. “As time goes by you’re gathering your own wisdom that allows you to live and survive, but you are not changing the world, which is what you thought when you were young. (…) You are already more skeptical and you do not change anything, you simply survive and do what you know how to do.”

When the screen goes dark there is a minute of silence and then applause accompanies the rolling of the documentary’s credits.

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

The State Increases Pressure on Taxi Drivers

New measures that have gone into effect have made it very difficult to catch an ’almendrón’ (shared taxi) in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 3 April 2019 — “They are tightening the net all around us” laments Heriberto Avila, a driver who plies the route between Santiago de las Vegas and an area near Fraternity Park. “First, they prohibited us from picking up passengers near the Capitol and now they are keeping us away from El Curita Park,” he complains. “We’re losing a lot of money because customers do not know where we are.”

Until it was shut down on Tuesday, the main taxi stop for almendrones — Havana’s emblematic restored 1950s American cars — had been at a park in El Curita. Now private sector transport workers will have to use pickup locations managed by the state. The provincial transport agency announced the measure in a written statement and suggested various alternatives passengers might use. It blamed the closure on repair work being done in the area and on the reorganization of transport services that have been taking place in recent months in the capital.

The measures allegedly are aimed at solving problems related to transportation, which is not operating as effectively as it should. A series of measures took effect last December that has affected workers in various sectors of the economy. These includes self-employed taxi drivers, known as boteros, who complain about the inevitably increasing costs, which affect their customers. continue reading

Within days after the regulations took effect, boteros illegally went on strike, pressuring the government and seriously impacting mobility in Havana. Since then, the number of privately owned taxis on the streets has remained low.

The government has tried to confront the situation by introducing newly imported vehicles. Last January a fleet of eighty-nine buses arrived from China along with another fleet of microbuses manufactured by the Russian company GAZ. They provide service between 6:30 A.M. and 10:00 P.M but have had little impact alleviating the transportation problems in a city where, during peak usage, passengers must wait for more than an hour before being able to board a bus.

“I have noticed an improvement in the transportation situation, although only during the hours of lower demand, such as after 9:00 A.M. and before 4:00 PM. That’s when you can see buses with empty seats,” said a retiree on Tuesday as he waited to get from an area near Ciudad Deportiva, the city’s indoor sports arena, to Old Havana.

“The minibuses are very small. They carry only twelve passengers and fill up very quickly at the starting point, so it’s very difficult to catch one along some intermediate stretch,” complains the pensioner. “They are forcing passengers to travel long distances to reach those points.”

Problems remain even for those who resort to private transport. As this publication was able to confirm in a trip carried out over the course of several days, fares for almendrones have shot up, in some cases doubling in price. “Before, I was paying ten Cuban pesos to get to Fraternity Park, to the corner of Boyeros and Tulipán. That stretch now costs me one convertible peso [twenty-four Cuban pesos],” explains Rita, a high school teacher.

“Taxi drivers come by and want to charge me one convertible peso. Transportation is in such bad shape that you have no choice. Either I pay it or I spend hours at the bus stop,” she complains. The price increase is, in her opinion, “a response to official controls but also a result of the decrease in the number of almendrones on some routes.”

Manuel, who until very recently worked near the Palace of Computation* as a buquenque (someone who manages the queue at a taxi stand), confirms the number has fallen. “I had to turn in my business license because the number of boteros had fallen so much and there wasn’t enough business to justify spending hours there for so little money,” he explains to 14ymedio.

“Since the new rules took effect on December 7, many taxi drivers have not returned to work or have decided to give up their business licenses,” he points out. “The reason is that, under these new regulations, they have lost a lot of their independence and must also buy fuel from state-owned gas stations. It’s not worth it.”

Authorities have repeatedly warned that much of the fuel used by private taxis is being siphoned off from the state sector, especially in industries such as sugar. To eliminate the black market in gasoline and diesel, drivers are now forced to use a magnetic card, which records their purchases of the product.

“The formula is simple: Previously, we were able to keep prices lower because we were buying fuel at half the price the state normally sells it. That is now increasingly difficult and the reason customers have to pay more,” explains Juan Carlos, a driver who works the route from the central Havana to the a stop in Playa.

The botero is not worried about losing customers to the state buses. “There are a lot of passengers who want to travel more comfortably and not be crowded into a bus, or who want to transport some merchandise in the trunk, or who just prefer sitting rather than standing. It doesn’t matter if the government puts a hundred or a thousand more buses on the road because private transport will continue to be in high demand.”

Translator’s note: A state-sponsored youth center which offers “the possibility of knowing and applying computation as a branch of knowledge, important for the technological and computer development” in Cuba. 

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