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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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 Person Who Fought the Hardest to Get the Building Fixed Died"

The shared dream of the neighbors is that by demolishing the building right there the new one is raised but most are already aware that this will not be the case. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 15 March 2019 — The residents finish removing their belongings from the apartments at the far end of the building on Rancho Boyeros Avenue that collapsed on Thursday, at the corner of Cerro and Colon Streets. They have been told the property is going to be demolished and that for their own safety should not stay a minute longer.

The decision came too late, after the building located in the Cerro neighborhood is already a mess of ruins and one of the 36 residents who lived in the ten affected apartments was crushed to death. Before the tragedy the authorities had decreed that these housing units did not meet the minimum security conditions and had to be destroyed.

“We had been asking the Government for more than fifteen years to repair the building but nothing, nothing happened with our complaints, we wrote to the newspapers, we went to all the offices that handle these cases but there was never a solution,” laments Julio, who is about 70, while talking to his neighbors this Friday under the shade of a mango tree.

The residents of the collapsed building try to rescue their belongings before the total demolition. (14ymedio)

Julio remembers that at dawn on Thursday he sensed a noise similar to the crashing of two trucks but when he looked out on the street he did not see anything unusual. “Suddenly I heard screams, ‘get out! get out! everyone!’, and when I opened the door of the apartment to go to the staircase, that was when I realized that I was looking at the sky and a few yards from my apartment everything had collapsed. I ran out and at that moment my only thoughts were for my daughter and my grandchildren who ten minutes earlier had left for school.”

Julio’s apartment suffered a deep crack months ago, big enough to put his hand in, he said. He called the government and they sent him to a specialist who “looked at everything and wrote a lot on some papers” but there was no further news of the matter.

“The person who died was my neighbor, a man who lived with his daughter and granddaughter, but who was alone yesterday. We were buried in the rubble.” The firefighters were slow to find us and I just asked Jehovah to get me out of there alive with my husband and my son,” Aydelin Medina tells 14ymedio while the firemen are removing her belongings from the rubble with a crane.

“We have been waiting for them to tell us something for a long time, to move us, but waiting and waiting and the building fell,” she adds. Yesterday, Medina slept in the house of a neighbor, although she says that the authorities have told them that they will give them some kind of accommodation.

In the group of neighbors who are waiting for the truck that the Government has sent to move their belongings to another place, there are only adults, including elderly people, since the children are in school at the time. In boxes and bags they have been taking everything out to the street, a small table, armchairs, fans, refrigerators, food. In all the coming and going a bag of sugar breaks and what spills to the ground serves as a snack for a stray dog.

The collapse of the property occurred near six in the morning, while the families on the second floor slept. (EFE)

The least affected apartments are those that face Colón Street but their occupants must also abandon them. A woman complains loudly in the face of pressure from the authorities to evacuate the property. “They are trying to shove us out of there, saying we have to leave now, but it is not easy to dismantle a house from one day to the next,” she says, while another neighbor answers her that at least her life was saved.

A girl arrives with tears in her eyes hugging the neighbors one by one. She is the daughter of Santiago, who died because of the collapse. Minutes before, they had been commenting that he was the person “who fought the most to get the building fixed.”

Julio explains to 14ymedio that on Thursday night they were taken “to a place beyond La Monumental where there is a villa with some small shacks.” He says that the authorities have informed them that they are to stay there “on a temporary basis” while somewhere else, they were assured, “they will build new houses” for all of them.

On Colon Street a group of neighbors waits for a truck the Government has sent to move their belongings to another place. (14ymedio)

Julio is worried about the fate of his family. “It’s very sad, we’ve always lived here, my grandchildren are in the neighborhood school and now how are we going to come and go from so far, but also other people who were there in the neigborhood, in the same conditions as us, they told us that there is nothing available there quickly, that all this takes years until it is resolved.”

The shared dream of the residents is that the building will be demolished and a new one built in the same place, but most are already aware that this is not going to happen. “Yesterday the authorities came here and they explained to us that at the moment they are looking for the place to build our houses but that there is no chance will it be here,” Julio says with great sadness.

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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 a Havana Building in Ruins Await Official Response

Yuderkis Pupo García has been trying to shore up the roof of her building for more than a month, when the hurricane made a bad building worse. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 March 2019 — Yuderkis Pupo Garcia still spends her days between the shock of the first impact of the tornado and the anguish that causes the desire to return to normal.

A resident of the building at 560 Juan Alonso street, between Infanzón and Juan Abreu, as of today she’s watched five commissions from different parts of the government parade by her house, but when she and the other affected people ask about their situation the officials cross their arms and ask for patience and calm.

The building they have inhabited for more than thirty years is falling apart and is in danger of collapse. According to the specialists who have visited the property during the last month, the greatest risk is from the large number of leaks in ceilings and walls and in the columns, which are very cracked. continue reading

The situation was ongoing, but reached a critical point after the scourge of strong winds from the tornado on January 27 in the capital. A technical opinion from 2015 found that this building, built in 1926, was in “poor condition” and recommended that the Pupo García family be moved into “provisional shelter” but the lack of space in such facilities has prevented them from moving.

The residents fear the building can collapse on them at any time. (14ymedio)

“Now the building is worse. The passing of the tornado ended up removing everything, the people from the Housing Office who came the other day said that there is no way to fix this and it needs to be demolished to the foundations, but they haven’t told us if they’re going to take us to a shelter or to other housing.  No one knows anything, meanwhile we’re in danger,” the woman denounces to 14ymedio. She is the mother of two children, one a minor and the other with serious health problems.

The residents open the doors of their apartments to anyone who comes with an interest in helping and show them the deterioration of walls, columns and architraves. The cracks, mostly vertical, are also visible on the outside of the building.

“It’s a lack of respect, first two architects who took note and left, within five days three architects arrived who also took note and left, after which two people arrived saying they were from demolition and warned that the building had to be demolished urgently before a misfortune happened, and they left and we never heard from them again,” she explains.

Pupo Garcia has no peace thinking about the possibility that the roof might fall in on any night while her family sleeps, and she has placed some beams to avoid the collapse but she knows that if they crumble all her effort will have been in vain.

After the parade of the various committees came delegate and deputy Alberto Osorio, a person they reproach for the lack of concern he has shown by the situation of their community of neighbors. According to Pupo García, the leader has visited the place and has been aware for years of the seriousness and danger that touches the lives of all people living in the building but “has never moved a finger” to expedite a solution.

The building, which currently houses about 50 people, has 21 rooms, each eighteen feet long by eleven and a half wide. The residents have complained to the Provincial Government, the Housing Physical Planning Office and the People’s Power, but in no case have they obtained a response that guarantees their safety.

In the absence of a solution, Pupo García decided to write to Miguel Díaz-Canel through the Twitter account of her eldest daughter.

“We need your help and support, we know the situation that many people are in right now, but if you do not urgently extend your hand we will be the next to be dead or the next injured,” she wrote in the social network. Her biggest concern is that the days of heavy rains are approaching and then hurricane season. “That’s why we ask him, we beg him and we implore him to help us get out of here with our families and our children alive, please, we ask, Mr. President,” she added without getting an answer.

The children play in the street among the construction materials, but the repairs do not reach everyone. (14ymedio)

Every time it is announced that a hurricane is coming, the residents of number 560 are housed in the Abel Santamaría elementary school to avoid injuries due to possible collapses, but they believe that now they are in danger every minute of the day and night.

Yuderkis Pupo García is a woman who does not give up, this week she plans to go to the Population Services Offices of the State Council to leave her complaint in writing. “We are tired of the bureaucracy and the usual run-around,” she says. She also argues that most of the neighbors “are sick people” who receive retirement or social welfare assistance and do not have the resources to look for another alternative.

Around the corner from the 560 building, along Juan Abreu Street, many are rebuilding their houses from the foundations up or repairing what was left of them. In each corner, hills of sand and mountains of blocks are still piled among the playing children and mounds of debris, while the lives of some fifty people are at risk, including children, the elderly and adults.

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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.

Victims Without Rights

Isbet Acosta Valle had been in Havana for three years when the tornado destroyed the home where she was living. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, February 19, 2019 — There are those who lost everything or almost everything in the tornado, but there are also those who can’t even legally prove that the winds on that January 27 took everything they had. Before that night, Isbet Acosta Valle lived with her daughter in a borrowed apartment but her identity card didn’t say “Havana.” She is one of the many “illegals” who live in the city, who can’t ask for help to rebuild their homes.

Born in Las Tunas, Acosta arrived in the capital with the dream of making it there. A friend offered her a modest house and told her: “Stay for however long you can.” Three years had passed by the time the storm destroyed everything and flew off with her dreams.

“I can’t make claims because my name isn’t on the papers,” she tells 14ymedio. “Unfortunately the house was made of wood and the roof of fiber cement. It was in really bad condition but at least it was something, now I’m left on the street with my seven-year-old daughter.” continue reading

In the first 19 days, no authority came by the improvised warehouse in which they were sheltering. (14ymedio)

According to data on internal migration gathered in the 2012 census, the province where the most people live who were born in another province is Havana, with 462,677 (41.6% of the emigrants).

In 1997, authorities toughened the law on the settlement of inhabitants originally from other regions of Cuba in the capital. The regulations have led thousands of them to live in illegality or settle the matter via irregular methods, like paying a landlord who adds them as a resident in a home or marrying for convenience.

Frequently the police carry out raids and check the place of residency on identity cards. If it doesn’t match a Havana address, the person can be deported to their original province. Many of them live without access to the rationed market, higher education, and jobs in the state-controlled sector. Havana natives sometimes refer to them, derogatorily, as “Palestinians.”

Isbet Acosta has become familiar with all those vagaries in the past few years, and now her conditions have worsened. She stayed in an old warehouse of interprovincial buses in the days after the tornado along with other families who have been left without a roof, but living together is complicated and privacy is null.

In the first 19 days, no authority came by the place. “We’re trying to find a solution for our housing because here we don’t have the proper conditions and there are small children, pregnant women. The state needs to give us an answer, I don’t care if it’s land to build on or materials to repair what’s here.”

In the warehouse where they spent the first days there was neither water nor electricity. (14ymedio)

The government has agreed to subsidize the price of construction materials by 50% for families who suffered total or partial collapses of their homes. However, an indispensable requisite to access these subsidized prices is being able to demonstrate ownership of the affected house, something that Acosta has never had.

To regularize her status in Havana she must first have her own home or the consent of the owner. The owner must register her at a private address, but the process includes procedures in several offices, verification of whether the house has sufficient square feet to accommodate another person, and numerous documents. In some neighborhoods an additional authorization is needed because they are considered “frozen zones.”

Without those formalities, Acosta cannot have a Havana address on her identity card, and without that requisite she remains on the margin, as well, of the possibility to request a bank loan or ask for some social help given her economic precariousness.

Despite her condition, every day the young woman appears at the Processing Office on Pedro Perna street in Luyanó, set up after the tornado, but they answer her that her case “is complicated” and “she has to wait.” At night, she sleeps between three moldy and chipped walls of the old warehouse, where she keeps her belongings in a strict order, as if she wanted to stop the chaos at least in the small space around her bed.

It wasn’t until last Friday that local authorities came with a concrete proposal for the victims sleeping in the place, the majority of them illegal. “They came early and told us to gather all our belongings because we were going that very day to a shelter in Boyeros and that’s what we did.” Everything that they had they put in small cases and they even gave away some things that they couldn’t carry.

“It was a total humiliation, we were waiting all day for the bus to come get us and nothing happened, at night another official came to tell us that we were no longer leaving for the shelter and that we had to wait.” The woman laments that they just have to “keep waiting” after the passing of the tornado.

On Friday night Acosta was desperate. She had given away her mattress because she didn’t have transportation to take it with her and she didn’t have anywhere to sleep. Saturday passed in the same way until on Sunday they were finally moved to the shelter. “We don’t have anywhere to go and for two weeks the state didn’t worry about whether we ate, whether we were alive, nothing,” she says.

As she recalls, there were days in which people came by bringing water, clothing, or food of their own initiative. “The water that some people have brought us as a donation is what we were using to clean ourselves the days when there was no water from the sink. With my daughter I had to live asking favors from neighbors to bathe her with lukewarm water because we didn’t even have electricity.”

The desperation of not having an answer has already passed, now she and her daughter are situated in a shelter that, although it doesn’t have all the conditions of the home that she lost, at least has the minimum necessary to spend the days. But Acosta is still an illegal and she fears that her situation will surface when she begins to complete some legal procedures and they will return her to Las Tunas.

Her dilemma is whether to make herself noticed and make claims to get a roof, or to keep quiet to avoid detection of the irregular status of her residency in Havana. To be or not to be, that is her quandary.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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.

Building After the Tornado

Yudelmis Urquiza with her young son, six months old. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, February 14, 2019 — Diana Curbelo has spent 15 days sleeping in her neighbor’s entryway. She passes the hours seated on a red armchair that she has put out on the sidewalk of Teresa Blanco street and at nighttime she goes into the entryway to be under a roof. A resident of the housing complex at number 118, Curbelo shares an address with another ten families.

In the building, where a month ago there were precarious little rooms, the majority of them with a light roof, piled up on one side of a hallway are the construction materials that the government provides, and on the other side the debris that they are taking out.

“The materials have come quickly, they brought everything, a brigade of workers who came here the other day and who already have everything needed. They’ve moved a lot. In total there are 11 apartments here, I live with my son and a nephew with his wife and they have a three-year-old son. They haven’t yet told me to pay anything, I haven’t signed a single paper, I only know that they are fixing my house,” says the woman. continue reading

Diana Curbelo observes the work on her house and helps where she can. (14ymedio)

At her side, one of the workers, who wears an olive green T-shirt, rests a few minutes leaning on the railing to take in a little shade. “Here they have given us all the materials we need: tools, boots, hard hats, rope. We also have everything we need for security, we cannot complain. We have on site 70% of the materials we need, and we are going forward. I think that by April we will have this finished,” he maintains.

The brigade working on the complex comes and goes through the narrow passageway that leads to the place where they are building the apartments. “They are going to build apartments with everything: bathroom, kitchen, living room, bedrooms…” explains the worker before returning to work. “The objective is that each one of these victims has their new house as soon as possible,” he adds, convinced that his labor will mean a “great improvement for all the residents” who before were living in very bad conditions.

Diana Curbelo remains seated in front of the entrance, watching the coming and going of the builders and helping where she can. “All the neighbors have been worried, they have even offered to have me stay in their houses to sleep but I have to take care of my own. If I don’t do it, who will?” she says.

The tornado surprised her family outside, celebrating the birthday of one of the children. “We were all in the middle of the party when it began to sound. We went to run to the back of the passageway and we went into the house of a neighbor who has a roof and we stayed there until everything passed. I wanted to die when I went out and saw everything destroyed. I lost the mattresses, the fans, and the kitchen. The rest I was able to recover,” she remembers.

Curbelo explains that they have not yet passed through her street to bring the new mattresses. “They tell me that I have to save the old one but imagine, I have it there among the debris. If they take it, what can I do?” she asks.

Solange Faizan and her family have also not managed to get new mattresses and the only one that survived they have lent to an elderly lady. (14ymedio)

Turning from Teresa Blanco and entering through Pedro Perna street, the view is the same. In the middle of the street are mountains of blocks, gravel, sand, steel bars, roof beams, and water tanks. On the same corner, an enormous crane demolishes a building while a man plasters a wall, another, shovel in hand, prepares the mixture and bends some steel bars.

Luck has been unequal in the distribution of materials and labor force. On Armenteros street, between Luyanó and the railroad tracks, lives Solange Faizen with her family. After the tornado their home suffered partial damages, which left the house without a roof and some walls in a bad state. Meanwhile, in the kitchen they have put down some tiles that they have been finding but explain that it is a provisional solution to be able to be in the house. “We want to put on the roof as soon as possible, because we have a little girl here with asthma and a bedridden elderly lady,” she says.

“We already have the roof, you can see it there. The architects passed by, measured, and with the paperwork they prepared for us we were able to buy the tiles and beams, the problem is that they didn’t give us cement or sand, and the builder that I contracted told me that to put down the tiles he needed those materials because he couldn’t attach those tiles without materials.

“The architects returned yesterday to see an affected wall that they hadn’t included in the report. I complained and they told me to go today at eight in the morning to the Processing Office, but now my forms don’t show up and I have to finish putting on the roof, because rainy days are coming. We told them everything, but I don’t know what they wrote down on their paper,” she explains.

Solange Faizan and her family have also been unable to get new mattresses and the only one that survived they have lent to an elderly woman, who is the one who needs it most. “I have saved here the two old and stinking mattresses, waiting to see if finally they come with the new ones they promised.”

Yudelmis Urquiza has prepared a space to be able to cook in her new home. (14ymedio)

The worst, with everything that has happened, is going from one place to another without resolving the necessary procedure. “What bothers me most is going back and forth. I don’t want them to give me anything extra, I want them to give me what I’m meant to have, but without having such a hard time. In the processing office they make you go from one table to another and you always hear the same thing: ’that is nothing to do with me’ and they pass you from one person to another without anyone resolving anything.”

The EF4 category tornado that passed through several municipalities of Havana on January 27 with winds of around 300 km/h left a toll of six dead, some 200 wounded, and around 10,000 displaced. According to the latest official figures, more than 7,700 homes were affected, including 730 total collapses; among the damage to roofs, 1,109 were total and 1,950 partial.

One of the Havanans who suffered the total collapse of her home was Yudelmis Urquiza Fernández, a young woman of 29, with two children of 11 and 6 months, respectively, on Concha street, between Infanzón and Pedro Perna. “I lived here at 909, but everything collapsed, only this part was left,” she says, pointing out what was a few days ago her house and now is only a few walls without a roof.

Bathroom of Yudelmis Urquiza’s improvised home. (14ymedio)

“It’s been more than fifteen days and nothing has happened, we’re still on the street. Many people have come and written things on paper, but they don’t give any reponse. Not Bárbara [Agón Fernández, president of the Municipal Assembly of Popular Power of the Tenth of October], not anybody. They haven’t even given us shelter,” she laments.

The first days, she says while holding the baby in her arms, she slept in front of what was her house, in a doorway. “That was only one time, because I couldn’t stay there. On the other block I found a place to go, in a business that was also affected, but the manager there allowed me to be there a few days.”

The place doesn’t fulfill even the most minimal conditions of hygiene and protection necessary to accommodate a mother with two young children. “Only a person who is in a lot of need like me would go there, what I cannot do is sleep in the street with my children. If they let me stay and they give me what I need to fix it and create the conditions for ’self-help’ I will arrange it, or if not let them give me a shelter, but it can’t go on this way,” denounces the young woman, annoyed with the institutional lack of support.

“Bárbara, every time I go to see her, tells me to stay here and not worry, that she will come to see me. But I’ve spent two weeks like that and nothing. Until when?”

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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.

Parents of the Doctor Murdered in Brazil Want to Bring Her Baby to Cuba

The husband of Laidys Sosa, identified as Dailton Gonçalves and of Brazilian nationality, confessed to the crime upon being detained by police. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, February 10, 2019 — The parents of Laidys Sosa, the Cuban doctor who was murdered last Sunday by her husband in the state of Sao Paulo, traveled this Monday to Brazil to claim custody of the young woman’s baby, as 14ymedio confirmed from sources close to the victim.

The doctor, 37, was attacked in the home where the couple lived, in the town of Mauá. According to official sources, her husband, identified as Dailton Gonçalves and of Brazilian nationality, confessed to the crime upon being detained by police.

Gonçalves, 45, fled in a vehicle after committing the murder, but he was arrested hours later by authorities on a highway several kilometers from his home. Upon being interrogated he said that he killed his wife by striking her at least 10 times with a screwdriver. continue reading

The man, who was taking medication for anxiety, said that the murder of his wife had not been a sin, “but rather a sacrifice.” After killing her, he hid the body in a wooded area.

The doctor’s parents traveled from Cuba to Brazil to ask for “the custody of the baby and to be able to bring him to the island as quickly as possible,” explained a member of Laidys Sosa’s family, “because this is the most important thing at this time.” Several colleagues and friends “raised funds to pay for the cremation” of Laidys Sosa’s body and several legal matters.

The source added that at this time the child is with the doctor’s parents and that on February 18 they have a meeting with a Brazilian judge to resolve the custody of the minor. “The paternal grandparents already signed a legal paper in which they accepted that the maternal grandparents would have custody,” pointed out the source.

The Brazilian lawyer André De Santana Correa told 14ymedio that the minor’s maternal grandparents have “every right” to assume custody if becomes impossible for the parents to protect the child.

“Without a doubt, it is a very painful case, but the right of family protects them. They are the ones who must protect the minor,” added De Santana Correa, who has several cases related to Cuban doctors in Brazil.

“She was a woman who was full of life and very hopeful for her future in Brazil,” a Cuban doctor who preferred to remain anonymous told this newspaper. The doctor, who also lives in the state of Sao Paulo after having decided not to return to Cuba, says that a few weeks ago he exchanged messages via social media with Sosa.

“She told me that she was already coming out of the most complicated moments of having had a baby and that she was eager to return to her profession,” says the doctor. “She was a very positive woman and also very caring because she used to give lots of advice about how to settle in this country, for those of us who had legal questions to resolve.”

Sosa was one of the more than 2,000 doctors who decided not to return to Cuba after Havana’s decision to withdraw from the Mais Médicos program in response to statements from the then-president elect of Brazil. Jair Bolsonaro demanded that the doctors revalidate their titles, be able to bring their family members to that country, and be given their entire salary. The Cuban government was keeping 75% of the $3,300 that Brazil was paying the doctors.

Brazil has the seventh highest rate of femicide in the world, with 4.4 murders for every 100,000 women, according to study done in 2012 under the headline Map of Violence.

In 2015 the law of femicide went into force, which provides for graver punishments in cases of crimes motivated by “discrimination against the condition of being a woman.” However, despite a greater legal rigor, 4,473 women were murdered in 2017, some 6.5% more than in 2016. Of that total, at least 946 were considered cases of femicide.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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.

Dealing With the Ruins, The Task of Many Victims of the Tornado

The house of María Elena López was fragile long before the fury of the tornado struck the island’s most populous city. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 5 February 2019 — María Elena López has spent more than a week with her “nerves on edge.” Entrenched in the back part of her home in Luyanó, Havana, she saw on January 27 how the walls were cracked and the rain came through the roof in torrents when the tornado hit. Five days later, an architect determined that her house should be demolished because of the damages it suffered that fateful night.

López lives at 169 Quiroga Street and last Friday told 14ymedio about the causes for a sadness that started long before the blowing of those 300 km/h winds that twisted the lives of thousands of Havanans that last Sunday of January.

López spent years asking for a home, between paperwork and postponements. Finally she managed to get a state-owned place that she could put in her name, commission the plans for a complete renovation, and request a subsidy to begin the work. However, the gusts of the storm destroyed her plans.

“All this cost me years of work and I’ve lost it in a few minutes,” María Elena López reflected this Monday. (14ymedio)

The help for the reconstruction that she requested took so long that this willful Havanan planted herself in front of the office of the Institute of Housing of her municipality. She didn’t move until she obtained the wood and the workers to brace the facade of the deteriorated place. “They finished the work on Wednesday and the tornado came on Sunday,” she remembers.

That coincidence saved her life. “If I hadn’t made demands as I did, the house would have come down that night with all of us inside,” she reckons. continue reading

According to official data, in the Cuban capital some 3,780 houses were damaged by the weather event and 372 of them totally collapsed. López’s house was fragile long before the fury of the tornado struck the island’s most populous city.

Now, the fight is to preserve the space. The majority of the owners affected prefer not to move from the place. Vandalism and the fear of “losing out because they aren’t there” mean that they remain among the ruins, as they wait for authorities to evaluate the damage. It is a task of patience and of nerves, where whoever gets tired will have the worst lot.

So, taking refuge in the shade cast by the only wall that remains standing in a house, underneath some tree on the sidewalk, or protected in the entryway of a neighbor, the tornado’s victims wait for a government inspection to put into numbers the damage they suffered and facilitate the purchase of construction materials at preferential prices.

Although electrical service is practically recovered in the most affected areas, the inventory of the destruction has barely begun. Especially that which details the damages suffered in domestic infrastructure, very difficult to calculate because they include not only the architectural impacts but also the lost of appliances, household items, and personal belongings.

Monday afternoon many people came to the processing office in Luyanó to obtain the documents that would permit them to access a loan. (14ymedio)

“They can help me to buy cement, but who’s going to help me buy a refrigerator, the mattress I lost, and the clothing that ended up I don’t know where,” lamented a mother of two children this Monday in Luyanó. “All this cost me years of work and I’ve lost it in a few minutes,” she reflected.

The government has noted that it will implement a discount for purchasing construction materials equivalent to 50% of the price, but official conduct on other occasions awakens mistrust. The traditional shortage of steel, sand, and bricks leads the tornado’s victims to fear that the solution could be delayed for months or decades.

At age 64 and with the tiredness of one who has traveled a difficult path, María Elena López says that five days after the tornado “nobody [from the government] has come” to her house. An architect who was inspecting a nearby house agreed to assess the damage. “He came and explained everything to me.” The verdict was like a bucket of cold water: “It has to be demolished.”

“Friday night a soldier came here, he put his hand on my shoulder and he said, don’t worry, we’re going to do your house, but I don’t even know what his name was,” she laments.

“After it’s demolished, where will I go?” López asks in a small voice. She fears that she will have to start from scratch on that bureaucratic path that she knows so well. “I have to repair the whole house but they tell me that the paperwork for the subsidy  they once awarded me but they never gave me are overdue,” she says.

Abundant in the place are long faces, nervous gestures, and gazes that don’t miss a single gesture of the state employees who fill out the forms. (14ymedio)

Near her house, the government set up the Processing Office for the victims from that area of Luyanó. Monday afternoon many people came to obtain the documents that would permit them to access a loan. Some leave satisfied, some complain of the bureaucracy, because if “a paper isn’t missing, a stamp is.”

Abundant in the place are long faces, nervous gestures, and gazes that don’t miss a single gesture of the state employees who fill out the forms. Added to the atmosphere charged with impatience are the questions that are left without answers and that no one knows how to clear up. “When will they begin to rebuild the houses?” “With this subsidy will we be able to access construction materials that are sold in stores in convertible pesos?” “All the materials that are on the list, are they actually available?”

In the improvised office on Monday, a retiree approached the table of the officials who note the information of the most affected. “I have children abroad but I don’t want to call them for this,” says the woman. “We’ve spent days in which we cannot cook or do anything, luckily people from the church bring us food each day.”

In a pocket of her bathrobe, the only garment she saved from the tornado, the woman carries a fork and a spoon, the little she is left with from what was once her kitchen, her house, and her home.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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 CDR Always Sends Help to the Same Houses," Protest the Residents of Regla

It’s a matter of going to the most affected areas to bring help to those who have lost the roof from their house and spent days sleeping in the elements. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, February 2, 2019 — In the living room of the singer Haydée Milanés a group of artists and independent journalists sorts the donations sent by friends and neighbors. Clothing, towels, sheets, toys, shoes, candles, as well as powdered milk, cans of meat, cookies, bread, and bottled water.

They have been mobilized via social media to return to the streets of the areas of Havana most affected by last Sunday’s tornado. The previous days they went to Luyanó. Now it’s time to help the people of Regla.

Among the artists one notes some well-known faces, like the musicians Jorgito Kamankola and Athanai or the film director Carlos Lechuga. At the stroke of one a caravan of eight cars filled with clothing and food goes out. continue reading

When they arrive in Regla the police block their access. The problem is resolved with a visit to the authorities by the local People’s Power, which designates a “representative of the government” to accompany the caravan.

It’s a matter of going to the most affected areas to bring help to those who have lost the roof from their house and spent days sleeping in the elements, like the residents of Calzada Vieja. They haven’t had electricity since the tornado went through that area last Sunday.

On that street utility linemen were working, assuring that “they were almost” finished. “We’re not from Havana but we’ve come to help fix this disaster,” says one of them as he accepts a bottle of water to relieve his thirst.

The “representative of the government” looks for the president of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) to see who are the most affected on those streets. She comes back with some addresses and begins to pass out the gathered articles. But very soon everyone realizes that, except for two little houses that were in very bad condition, all the homes on the street have a roof and aren’t very damaged.

Some people approach the cars asking for candles and water but the government representative yells at them: “Nobody can come here, we will go house by house.”

One of the volunteers from the caravan approaches the residents to ask where they can find houses with small children and houses without a roof. The young woman delivers water, milk, bread, candles, and cans of meat to those families.

Feelings run high and the residents begin to scream their dissent. “It’s always the same and here everybody needs help, the president of the CDR has a lot of nerve, they always send help for the same houses every time that someone comes with donations.”

Faced with that situation the representative of the government orders the caravan to withdraw and assures that she will guide the group to a new place called La Ciruela. It’s difficult to enter that area because the police have blocked off many streets.

In La Ciruela the same scene is repeated as in Calzada Vieja. There are hardly any houses without roofs, the poverty and bad living are the same as always, increased by lack of electricity. The president of the CDR also appears here, reporting on two critical cases. A young mother who lives in a house that has lost its roof and an older couple whose house half fell down. They leave them water, food, and some clothing.

“Thank you very much for coming here, my girl, I don’t like to ask for anything or make a fuss,” says Lourdes Alfonso Villegas, who lives on Gerardo Granda street in a house that has lost half its roof.

Again the group establishes that the most in need are not here. The caravan leaves the representative of the government and heads for Luyanó, which the artists know well because they passed out help in that area on two occasions this week.

In Luyanó everything is easier. Walking street by street, visiting house by house, they leave everything they have left. It’s already nighttime when they finish the deliveries. Before leaving, they take a photo at the foot of a church that has lost its belltower.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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.