With A Pension Of 240 Pesos, Raquel Survives Thanks To The Trash / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario Penton

With a system of unsustainable pensions in the medium term, economic recession and a foreseeable impact on social services as a result of the aging population, the country faces one of the biggest challenges in its history. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 6 March 2017 — At age 67, struck by old age and a miserable pension, Raquel, an engineer “trained by the Revolution,” scavenges among the garbage for the sustenance of each day. Her hands, which once drew maps and measured spaces where promising crops would grow, are now collecting cartons, cans and empty containers.

“My last name? Why? And I don’t want any photos. I have children and I had a life. I don’t want people to talk about me,” she says while agreeing to tell her story with a certain air of nostalgia and disappointment. “I never thought I would end up a dumpster diver, one of those who digs through the cans in the corners and is the object of jokes.” continue reading

Cuba has become the oldest country in the Americas, according to official data. It has been an accelerated process that surprised even the specialists, who had calculated that the problem would not become acute before 2025.

With a pension system that is unsustainable in the medium term, an economic recession and a foreseeable impact on social services as a result of the aging population, the country is confronting one of the biggest challenges in its history.

The state welfare program does not include those elderly people living under the same roof with relatives. (14ymedio)

“I receive a pension of 240 Cuban pesos a month (less than 10 dollars). From that money I have to spend 50 pesos to pay for the Haier refrigerator that the government gave me [when it switched out older, less energy efficient  models] and an additional 100 pesos for the purchase of medicines,” says Raquel.

Although she is retired, the pharmacy does not subsidize the medicines she needs for her diabetes and hypertension. The state welfare program does not include those elderly people living under the same roof with relatives.

“One of the affects on the country of the aging population is a significant increase in public spending and the decline of the population of childbearing age,” explains Juan Valdez Paz, a sociologist based on the island and author of several books on the subject.

According to the Statistical Yearbook of Cuba, health spending fell from 11.3% of GDP in 2009 to 8% in 2012.

Almost 20% of the Cuban population is over 60, and the country’s fertility rate is 1.7 children per woman. In order to compensate for the population decline, it would be necessary to raise that number to 2.4 children for every female of childbearing age. In 2015 there were 126,000 fewer active people than the previous year.

Almost 20% of the Cuban population is over 60, and the country’s fertility rate is 1.7 children per woman. (14ymedio)

For Valdés, no society is prepared for the demographic difficulties such as those facing Cuba.

One solution could be to increase production or for emigrants to return, according to the specialist. So far both possibilities seem very distant.

In the country there are almost 300 Grandparent Houses (for day care and socialization) and 144 Elder Homes, with a combined capacity of about 20,000 places. The authorities have recognized the poor hygienic and physical situation of many of these premises. Many elderly people prefer to enter the scarce 11 asylums run by religious orders that survive thanks to international aid, an example of which is the Santovenia nursing home, in Havana’s Cerro district.

The cost to use the Grandparents House facilities is 180 Cuban pesos a month, and the Elder Homes cost about 400 Cuban pesos. Social Security grants a subsidy to the elderly who demonstrate to social workers that they can’t pay the cost.

Cuba had one of the most generous and most comprehensive social security systems in Latin America, largely because of the enormous help it received from the Soviet Union, estimated by Mesa-Lago at about 65 billion dollars over 30 years.

The Family Care System allows more than 76,000 low-income elderly people to eat at subsidized prices. (14ymedio)

“Although pensions were never raised, there was an elaborate system provided by the State to facilitate access to industrial products and food at subsidized prices,” explains the economist.

“It annoys me when I hear about how well they care for older adults. They don’t give me any subsides because I live with my son, my daughter-in-law and my two grandchildren, but they have their own expenses and cannot take care of me,” says Raquel.

“I need dentures and if you don’t bring the dentist a gift they make them badly or it takes months,” she adds.

With the end of the Soviet Union and the loss of the Russian subsidy pensions were maintained but their real value fell precipitously. In 1993, the average retiree could barely buy 16% of what their pension would have bought in 1989. At the end of 2015, the purchasing power of pensioners was half of what it had been before the start of the Special Period, according to Mesa-Lago’s calculations.

Raúl Castro’s administration drastically reduced the number of beneficiaries of social assistance in a process that he called “the elimination of gratuities.” From the 582,060 beneficiaries in 2006, some 5.3% of the population, the number fell to 175,106 in 2015, some 1.5% of the population.

Several products that had previously been supplied to everyone through the ration book were also eliminated, such as soap, toothpaste and matches, and now are only available at unsubsidized prices.

In the patio of her house a retiree has created a tool to crush the cans she collects in the streets. (14ymedio)

The government has authorized some assistance programs for the elderly. The Family Care System allows more than 76,000 low-income elderly people to eat at subsidized prices, although it is a small figure considering that there are more than two million elderly people in Cuba.

Some elders receive help from churches and non-governmental organizations.

“People see me collecting cans, but they do not know that I was an avant-garde engineer and that I even traveled to the Soviet Union in 1983, in the Andropov era,” Raquel explains.

When she retired, she had no choice but to devote herself to informal tasks for a living. She cleaned the common areas of buildings inhabited by soldiers and their families in Plaza of the Revolution district, until the demands of this work and her age became incompatible.

“They asked me to wash the glass windows in a hallway on the ninth floor. It was dangerous and because I was afraid to fall, I preferred to leave it, even though they paid well,” she says.

Many elders are selling products made with peanuts or candy in the streets to supplement their income, others ask for alms. (14ymedio)

For each week of work she was paid 125 Cuban pesos, (about 5 dollars) almost half as much as her pension.

Raquel now collects raw material to sell in state-owned stores, although she confesses that she wants “like mad” to get a contract with a small private canning company to sell her empty bottles and avoid the state company and its delays.

In the patio of her house she has created a tool to crush the cans she collects in the streets.

“In January I made 3,900 Cuban pesos from beer cans. Of course, you have to deduct the 500 pesos that I paid for the place in line, because I can not sleep there lying on a porch. Each bag of cans is worth forty pesos. It is eight pesos for a kilogram of cans.”

In Cuba, there are no official statistics on poverty, and the only data available is old. In 1996 a study concluded that in Havana alone, 20.1% of the population were “at risk of not meeting some essential needs.” A survey in 2000 showed that 78% of the elderly considered their income insufficient to cover their living expenses.

The 20,000 places for care of the elderly are insufficient in a country with two million people over 60. (EFE)

Most of the older adults surveyed said their sources of income were mostly pension, support from family living in the country, something from their work and remittances from abroad.

Many elders are dedicated to selling products made with peanuts or candy on the streets to supplement their income. Others resell newspapers or search the garbage for objects they can market and a significant increase in beggars on the streets of the country’s main cities has become apparent.

“It doesn’t bother me to go out in old clothes picking up cans. The one who has to look good is my grandson, who started high school,” says Raquel.

“The boys at school sometimes make fun of him, but my grandson is very good and he is not ashamed of me, or at least he does not show it. He always comes out and defends me from mockery,” she says proudly.

The Ladies In Green Can Not Sell Their Lettuce / 14ymedio, Havana

A few minutes after noon, the Lettuce Women stood at the corner of Obispo and Mercaderes streets in Old Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 2 March 2017 — A few minutes after noon, the Lettuce Women stood on the corner of Obispo and Mercaderes streets in Old Havana. They came with their unique message that promotes healthy food and a love of animals. Under the March sun, their lettuce bikinis generated more curiosity than their environmentalist discourse.

From a lime-green suitcase, activists pulled out magazines and ad sheets to promote a vegan diet. A campaign that does not stop generating confusion in Cuba, a country obsessed with meat and where the dream of many people is to eat a steak every day.

At first the activists were surrounded by more press than public, but their scanty clothing soon caused an uproar. Under the eyes of some policemen the Ladies responded to questions from journalists and those who wanted to know what it’s like to be a vegan.

Under the eyes of some policemen the Ladies in Green responded to questions from journalists and those who wanted to know what it’s like to be a vegan. (14ymedio)

The women declared that, since their arrival on the island, they have viewed the situation of the animals with “a lot of sadness,” according to Yerica Sojo, a Puerto Rican who has been doing this for more than ten years, “there are many [animals] abandoned in the street who need help.” Some national groups do “a very good job of caring for them and promoting compassion,” like the Association for the Protection of Animals and Plants.

This Friday the Ladies in Green plan to go to different schools to chat with the students.

With regards to the Cuban diet they said it “contains a lot of animals” but also “there are many fruits, vegetables and grains that can be eaten” and that one can be vegan and “keep the Cuban culture of eating rice, beans, bananas.”

Among the recipes they distributed to the public, there were some to prepare potato croquettes or mango ceviche.

Near the place where the activists engaged with the public is the San Rafael street market. This week a head of lettuces cost about 10 Cuban pesos (CUP) in the market, which is equivalent to the amount of money a retiree receives on their pension for a full day.

Eating vegetables and legumes is often a luxury that many Cubans cannot afford. (14ymedio)

Eating vegetables and legumes is often a luxury that many Cubans cannot afford.

In the final minutes of the presentation the women took out some pens shaped like fruits and vegetables from the bottom of their suitcase and tried to distribute them among those present. However, a dozen people rushed over the suitcase and grabbed all that were left.

The Lettuce Women promised to “warm up Havana” with “advice on how to save animals, be healthy and protect the environment while being vegans.” But there were more lewd looks at their bodies than interest in their message.

Cuba Announces Exorbitant Rates for Limited Home Internet / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

”Telepunto” office of the Telecommunications Company in Obispo Street, where an Wednesday rates for home internet were announced (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerLuz Escobar, Havana, 1 March 2017 — After a two month free trial, the fees for government-run home internet service, known as “Nauta Hogar,” were announced on Wednesday. The Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) will charge between 15 and 115 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) for packages of 30 hours, depending on the connection speed, which varies 128 kilobytes and 2 megabytes. Thus, Cubans will pay, depending on the speed, the equivalent of roughly three weeks to five months wages in a state enterprise for one hour of internet a day.

Last January, the state monopoly chose 2,000 users in the Catedral and Plaza Vieja popular council areas for a pilot test of home web connectivity. Today, March 1, users have been informed of the ongoing costs for the service, but are not able to set up contracts because the computer system “is not working yet,” according to an employee of the Obispo Street Telepoint office who spoke to 14ymedio. continue reading

The worker explained that the new rates must be paid “within a period of seven days and if they are not the service will be cut.” Once interrupted, “the user has 30 days to pay and restore it.” Otherwise it will be disconnected.

After consuming the 30 hours of the initial package, customers can recharge their Nauta accounts under the same bonus terms used for wifi connections; users will be able to purchase more than one 30-hour package per month.

Until now, surfing the internet from home was a privilege reserved for senior officials, the most trustworthy professionals, and foreigners living in Cuba

Until now, surfing the internet from home was a privilege reserved for senior officials, the most trustworthy professionals, and foreigners living in Cuba. Most connections were made through the antiquated dial-up method, but the new connections will be served by faster ADSL lines.

Cuba is among the countries in the world with the lowest rate of internet access. Since July 2015, the state telecommunications monopoly has enabled public wifi hotspots, which now number more than 200 throughout the country. According to official figures, around 250,000 daily users are connected in these zones.

In recent weeks antennas for wireless connection have also been installed in several places along Havana’s Malecon, and the company is planning to extend the service to the entire perimeter of the coastal strip. For now, wifi is active along the Malecon at Hola Ola, La Piragua, 12 and Malecón, 3rd and B and Fuente de la Juventud.

Alexei Gámez: “Before Wifi This Was a Dead Town” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Alexei Gámez, a resident of Jagüey Grande, got his first computer at the age of ten. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 21 February 2017– Surrounded by cables and circuits Alexei Gámez has spent his life. From an early age he became passionate about technology despite growing up amidst the rigors of the Special Period. At age ten, he had a computer, “the kind that connected to TVs,” he recalls with a mixture of pride and irony. At that time he did not imagine that the screens and the keyboards would help to awaken in him a civic conscience.

At the beginning of this month, the name of this young man of 35 years, resident in Jagüey Grande, appeared in the digital media. Police broke into his house and after a meticulous search took the devices for wireless connection that Gámez counted among his most valuable treasures. The trigger was a Youtube channel where he teaches Cubans how to set up a wifi network with routers and NanoStations. continue reading

At that moment he crossed the line. In a country where thousands of users are plugged into wireless networks every day, the authorities turn a blind eye most of the time because of the inability to control the phenomenon. But it is one thing to connect to SNet, the largest of these communities, and another to say publicly that you do so and, in addition, to teach others how to create their own virtual web.

When the eyes of the cyber-cops focused on him, it carried no weight that at the age of 19 he had been one of a contingent of computer scientists, nor that he became the administrator of the Banco Popular de Ahorro network in Matanzas. After the raid on his home, an officer warned him that the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) accused him of “illegal economic activity,” although he was never paid a penny to distribute his knowledge.

He entered the world of politics at full speed and now says, with determination, he will be involved in it “until my last day

Since then, Gámez can not leave town without asking permission, but immobilizing a computer expert is like trying to hold back the sea.

Technology has also connected him with a new life. A few years ago he obtained one of those USB memories loaded with audiovisual content that circulate from hand to hand. Thus he met Eliécer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement. “That was the beginning of a friendship that lasts until today,” says Gamez.

He entered the world of politics at full speed and now says, with determination, he will be involved in it “until my last day,” unable to imagine any other course.

However, technology remains his main passion. “By not having access to mass media such as radio and television, because they are state media and only represent the Communist Party, we try to spread our message through a USB drive, a DVD or in the Weekly Packet,” he told this newspaper.

Computers, smartphones and tablets “have given us the opportunity to get closer to people and convey our message of how we think and how we want things to be in the future,” he explains.

For Gámez the opening of Wi-Fi zones in squares and parks of the country is still far from an efficient service. “The bandwidth is very restricted” and “clearly they have it very controlled.” With his knowledge, he intuits that navigation through Nauta service could be a more successful experience for customers, if the state telecommunications company ETECSA, that operates it, proposed it.

“I rely on the experience of whose of us who have a wireless network at the municipal level, with approximately 200 people connected and working at high speed.” Gámez says he can “watch a film” from his house even though its streaming on a computer elsewhere. “We do that with equipment of lower power” than those of the state monopoly.

“Before the wifi this was a dead town, there was nowhere to go,” he recalls.

Jagüey Grande Park is the center of the life of the municipality and the little recreation available to the residents. “When a few people get together, that’s as far as the Nauta connection goes,” complains the computer expert.

However, he believes that the installation of a Wi-Fi zone has significantly changed the life of the area. “Before wifi this was a dead town, there was nowhere to go,” he recalls. “On weekends there were several nightclubs, one for children, one for young people and one discotemba*.

Gámez played in that park as a child and evokes the times he spent amid its trees and benches. But with the passing of years, “the park was dying and was always dark,” he laments. “After the coming of the internet it’s full all the time and for the young people it’s a fixed meeting point,” he says with relief.

Like many of these netizens, Alexei Gámez manages to slip through the bars of control every day thanks to wireless networks. He does it like a mischievous child who clings to the tail of a kite called “technology.”

*Translator’s note: Discotemba = a place that plays older music for an older crowd.

Cuban Customers: Collateral Damage In The Tourism Boom / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Cuban hotels have opted to exclude Cuban tourists from ‘all inclusive’ resort deals, because they eat and drink too much. (Emmanuel Huybrechts)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 February 2017 – In the photo the couple smiles with one glass of beer in hand, all they were able to obtain after waiting in a long line at a Varadero resort. Nine years after the government allowed Cubans to enter hotels in Cuba (a right previously denied them in what was commonly called ‘tourist apartheid’), local customers continue to be discriminated against relative to foreign tourists in the midst of the current boom in tourism.

Eugenia and Guillermo, retirees from the transport sector, are trying to make up for lost time after decades of being unable to enjoy the tourist facilities of their own country. With the remittances sent by their son who emigrated and the profits on a house that they sold a few months ago, they decided to enjoy the natural beauties of the Island and its multiple hotels. continue reading

Nevertheless, the so-called smokestack-free industry is experiencing tense times caused by the increase in the number of foreign visitors. At the end of last year, the country reported a record of more than 4 million tourists, good news for the national coffers but which does not, however, represent a better situation for local customers.

“The all-inclusive was actually rationed. The initial times when you could eat and drink whatever you wanted are now just a memory”

Cuba has more than 65,000 hotel rooms and some 17,000 private houses that provide lodging. The tourist boom of recent years tests that infrastructure and the complaints accumulate, especially with regards to the facilities managed by the state or by joint ventures.

Eugenia and Guillermo were among the first customers to purchase an all-inclusive package back in 2008 to spend a weekend in a four-star hotel near the city of Holguin. They recall the experience as excellent. “It was like living a dream and enjoying what, before, only foreigners could have,” recalls Guillermo.

However, with the passage of time that initial joy was transformed into discomfort. “The prices have gone up and the quality of the facilities has decreased a lot,” comments the retiree. At the end of last year they booked four nights in Pasacaballo, a hotel in Cienfuegos from which they say they left “horrified.”

“The all-inclusive was actually rationed,” says the wife. “The initial times when you could eat and drink whatever you wanted are now just a memory.” Despite having paid for an “open bar,” the Cuban guests found themselves with their food and drink rationed.

For the retirees, that regulation of consumption reminded them of “the ration market bodegas,” they say. “We wanted to escape reality, to disconnect a few days but it turns out that we found ourselves in the same situation we wanted to escape,” Guillermo points out.

In the Pasacaballo restaurant “the main courses are limited,” he clarifies. You can only choose one meat, fish or chicken course. On arrival, each guest received a card that allowed them to consume a maximum of 64 beverages, including two liters of rum for the four nights of their stay.

Not even the Royalton Cayo Santa Maria, with five stars, is immune from these types of restrictions. “We had to supervise the domestic guests better because they were cleaning out the hotel”

The situation is repeated in other accommodations around the Island. Not even the Royalton Cayo Santa Maria, with five stars, is immune from these types of restrictions. “We had to supervise the domestic guests better because they were cleaning out the hotel,” a maid told 14ymedio, on condition of anonymity.

Managed by the Gaviota Tourism Group, a business arm of the Cuban military, special controls are placed on the accommodations of guests from Cuba. “We have lost huge amounts of towels, cups, glasses and cutlery,” complains the employee. She blames “the Cubans who come and do not understand how things work in a hotel, they think this is a boarding school in the countryside.”

“They want to eat at breakfast what they don’t consume in two months at home, so there are many excesses,” she says. “While a Canadian will breakfast on an omelet, a Cuban wants to put a hunk of cheese in their pocket, take twenty servings of bread for their room and carry off all the jam they can find.”

Maria del Pilar Macías, Director General of Quality and Operations of the Ministry of Tourism, told the official press at the end of last year that the fundamental challenge was to achieve a competitive service “without disregarding international standards” based on “quality and innovation.”

In 2014, the influx of domestic tourists to hotels reached 1.2 million guests, an increase of 23% compared to the previous year. On that occasion, the locals spent 147.3 million CUCs in those facilities, according to a report published by the National Office of Statistics and Information of Cuba (ONEI).

The Communist Party has urged in its guidelines “to expand and push the development of national tourism by creating offers that make it possible to take advantage of the infrastructure created in hotels and other recreational and historical tourist attractions.”

Eugenia and Guillermo prefer hotels with managers from another country. “They are much more attentive and do not seem to differentiate in the treatment of national tourists.” In those run by the state and under the control Gaviota the situation is different. “If you’re a national, they leave you with the word in their mouths or with half-service while they run off to look after a foreigner.”

The reason for that difference in the treatment lies in tipping. Although most are all-inclusive accommodations, foreign guests “always leave something,” comments the maid at the Royalton Cayo Santa Maria. Also, according to the employee, “there have been many incidents with Cuban clients who mistreat workers.”

An employee of Cubanacán who manages a tourism bureau at the Hotel Vedado denied that there has been an increase in rates. “We are in high season and prices are rising every year”

Varadero is the main beach resort on the island and Cubans have become the second largest group of guests in the resort, behind the Canadians. “Cuba’s customer today not only goes to standard hotels but also goes to the chain’s highest quality hotels,” said Narciso Sotolongo, deputy sales director of Meliá Hotels International in Cuba.

The Hotel Group Islazul gets the worst comments among islanders. “I dropped something on the floor and when I looked under the bed I was surprised at the amount of dirt,” Guillermo says. The curtains were old, there was no minibar in the room and for several days there was no water in the sink or shower. The manager never showed up for explanations, despite repeated customer complaints.

For the retired couple, the most difficult thing is to accept the price increases. “So before we paid between 70 and 85 Cuban convertible pesos (about the same value in $US) per night with all inclusive; now we can’t find it for less than 120 or 140 CUC,” the woman complains. An employee of Cubanacán who manages a tourism bureau at the Hotel Vedado denied that there has been an increase in rates.

“We are in the high season and prices are rising every year,” she explains to 14ymedio. “Now what is happening is that there is much more demand and the cheaper offers are sold abroad, through the internet and with a credit card.” But Eugenia and Guillermo have never connected to the great world-wide-web and only know about cash.

Faith Arrives to the Rhythm of Reggaeton / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Members of La Union: Left to right: Osmel (Mr Jacke), Misael (Dj Misa), Ramiro (Pucio) and Randoll (El Escogido). (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerLuz Escobar, Havana, 11 February 2017 – Sexists, hard and streetsmart, such are the lyrics of most reggaeton songs that are heard everywhere. Topics that speak about jealousy and rivalries, but that can also convey very different messages. Under the name La Unión (the Union), a group of young artists spread the Christian faith to the rhythm of this urban genre so popular in Cuba.

The group, founded in 2013, promotes their songs and videos through the Weekly Packet in the folder titled “Christian section.” A musical work that stands out in the Cuban panorama by combining two elements that seem opposed: religion and reggaeton.

Willing to break down those prejudices, Ramiro (Pucio), Osmel (Mr. Jacke), Randoll (El Escogido), and Misael (DJ Misa), compose and sing for a new generation of listeners born with this millennium. A generation accustomed to choosing a la carte the audiovisual materials they consume and who are very familiar with flash drives, Zapya and smart phones. continue reading

In times of vertigo in the exchange of content, the members of the Union release their songs under the label Kingdom Records, a handcrafted studio installed in the house of DJ Misa, in the Alamar neighborhood. In that zone of ugly buildings and good musicians, rap and hip-hop reigned in earlier decades.

In public performances of the Union, women dancing with lewd movements, twerking style, are not seen and the group members do not wear heavy gold chains around their necks. Even so the places where they perform are packed and fans sing along to the lyrics, which praise values such as solidarity and friendship.

In public performances of La Union, women dancing with lewd movements, twerking style, are not seen and the group members do not wear heavy gold chains around their necks.

In a conversation with 14ymedio during a promotional tour around La India, in Old Havana, the director of the group, DJ Misa, said that from the beginning they wanted to “take the message of Jesus to the Island’s youngest listeners” and they thought it “perfect” to use urban music “as a strategy” because “that is what is mostly heard in the streets.”

Currently, the DJ Misa is immersed in a whirlwind of preparations for a concert the group will perform on February 17 in the central venue Riviera. The launching of a new video clip also fills him with pride, although reaching the point they have now arrived at has not come easily.

The beginnings of the Union were not exempt from “some obstacles,” comments DJ Misa, because few people dared to “mix Christian music with reggaeton.” However, they found acceptance within the island’s millennials and the pastor of the Methodist Church of Alamar, Daniel Marín, who supported them unconditionally.

A recent survey of young Cubans found that their idols range from soccer players, like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, to reggaeton singers, like Yomil, El Chacal and el Príncipe, who are overwhelmingly popular among those under 30 years old.

In this context, Christian musicians count on an audience interested in rhythms representing reality. But it is also an audience accustomed to the ruggedness of many reggaeton songs, which praise sexism, promiscuity and frivolity. These are the themes heard in bars, cafeterias, and taxis and even during morning assemblies in Cuban schools.

Christian musicians count on an audience interested in rhythms representing reality. But it is also an audience accustomed to the ruggedness of many reggaeton songs, which praise sexism, promiscuity and frivolity.

DJ Misa explains the support they have also received from other pastors. He says it is because many young people “who are in church but no longer very interested and about to leave,” after listening to their music return with more joy. Although he laments that due to lack of resources they can only do two or three concerts a year.

Both performances and video clips are self produced and financed, says the artist, who complains “there are still no companies that promote Christian music.” Nevertheless, they have managed to perform various concerts and in August of last year filled the venue Avenida.

The young man’s production ability was self-taught, and he counts on spreading his music through social networks, such as Facebook and YouTube.

He does not discard that the Union will be televised and is thinking about presenting his next music video, Jesus Fanatic, at next year’s Lucas Awards. DJ Misa is convinced that his audiovisuals “have the same quality as the ones presented” and show a “very professional appearance.”

As they reach the small screen, these young musicians are achieving a special place in the national urban music, a place where the heavy terrain of reggaeton manages to gain spirituality and compromise.

Translated by Chavely Garcia


Airbnb, The Cuban Experience / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

The bathroom of the RentArte lodging managed by the artisan and blogger Rebeca Monzó in Nuevo Vedado, Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 February 2017 — Rustic, elegant or family friendly. These are the preferred accommodations offered by Airbnb in Cuba. The hosts, for their part, prefer serious customers who pay well, but above all value the ability to directly manage their rental, two years after the huge international private rental platform opened its services in Cuba.

“There is nothing like Airbnb,” said Jorge Ignacio Guillén, a student of economics who rents out a house in the town of Soroa, Artemisa. Surrounded by lush vegetation, orchids and birds native to the area, the accommodation is described as “rustic” and in direct contact with nature. continue reading

The young man helps his family manage the home’s profile on the California website specializing in vacation rentals. Guillén signed up a year ago and his family’s house is now is one of the more than 4,000 rental options that Airbnb claims exist on the island.

Airbnb listings in Cuba range from exclusive mansions with pool that can cost up to $1,000 a night depending on the number of rooms, to single rooms with a bed or bunk for about 10 dollars

The San Francisco-based company, created nine years ago, expanded its services to Cuba in April 2015, just months after the announcement of the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana.

The offerings on the island range from the most luxurious to the simplest. From exclusive mansions with pools that can cost up to $1,000 a night depending on the number of rooms, to single rooms with a bed or bunk for about 10 dollars*. Hot running water, coffee upon awakening or a minibar are some of the options to choose from.

Of the more than 535,000 self-employed workers in the country at the end of 2016, at least 34,000 dedicate themselves to renting homes, rooms and spaces. An unknown number offer a house or a room “under the table,” without a state license and without paying taxes.

On the island, entrepreneurs need to obtain a rental license, in accordance with the regulations on self-employment implemented in the mid-1990s. Owners of registered rentals must pay license fees and taxes deducted from personal income. These vary depending on the location of the property, the square footage allocated to the rental, and the occupancy numbers.

Airbnb registration is simple. The first step is to fill out a detailed form about the accommodation you are offering and the guests you wish to host. Within a few minutes you will receive an email welcoming you to the platform. The last step is to attract customers, who will rate the accommodation through the company’s website.

The Guillén family has wanted to do everything legally to be able to take advantage of the growth in tourism. Last year, the number of foreign visitors reached 4 million, 6% more than the 3.7 million visitors initially forecast, according to the Ministry of Tourism (Mintur).

Most of the rooms offered on Airbnb are located in Havana, but other destinations such as Trinidad, Viñales, Santiago de Cuba and Matanzas are gaining prominence. The Cuban market stands out as the fastest growing in the history of the company.

Guillén learned about the service through a friend outside the island and as soon as he had the opportunity to connect to the internet he posted his advertisement. “From then to now business improved a great deal and we are finding a lot more customers,” he tells 14ymedio. Also, the new customers “are much better, more serious and more respectful,” and “they pay more,” he summarizes.

The family is offering “a simple country house,” and puts its guests in touch with a guide service and horseback riding. After the reservation, all the information is shared via email, the most fragile part of the operation due to the low connectivity to the internet still experienced in Cuba.

House being prepared for rent on Airbnb by Jorge Ignacio Guillén in Soroa (14ymedio)

Rebeca Monzó, a craftswoman and blogger who has a room for rent on Airbnb, complains of the difficulties involved in managing the service without internet access. Although an email account on the government Nauta service has alleviated the problem, responding immediately when she receives a reservation message is complicated.

Monzó, who has made clear her preference for “stable, professional and retired couples,” will receive her first customer in February, “a Mexican filmmaker who is coming with his wife.” For this coming March she already has another confirmed reservation.

The increase in the number of days of occupation per year is one of the advantages for local entrepreneurs who have joined Airbnb. Guillen confesses that although he still has “much to learn about the management of the platform,” he does manage, through it, to “maintain a good number of reservations.”

After the difficulties of eight years of construction to get their property ready in Soroa, a beautiful natural area, the young man’s family is reaping the fruits of their labors. However, they recognize that the most difficult thing continues to be “always having on hand the necessary supplies to meet basic needs,” because “there still is no wholesale market in the country.”

In Monzó’s Havana neighborhood of Nuevo Vedado, “almost everyone who rents to tourists has signed up for the service. The customer pays from their own country directly to Airbnb,” and then “they send an Airbnb representative to the house who brings the money in cash,” she says. It is the same formula frequently used by Cubans abroad to send remittances to family on the island.

But for Monzó, the business is far from a source of great profits. “When I signed up, I wasn’t thinking about being able to buy a yacht. I was just thinking I’d like to have a well-stocked refrigerator.”

*Translator’s note: Looking at the listings on Airbnb’s site as of today, single room rental rates (two guests) appear to be concentrated in the range of about $25-$35 (with many that are more and less than that). A professional employed by the state in Cuba earns roughly $40 a month; physicians earn roughly $60 a month.


Colombia Sugar Mill, A Giant That Is Slow To Wake Up / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

The sugar mill town of Colombia in Las Tunas. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 4 February 2017 — Colombia’s sugar mill whistle sounded again at the end of January, like a giant awakened from a seven-year-long lethargy. The residents in the area breathed a sign of relief: the driving force behind the local economy seems to be the sugar mill, but technical and organizational problems have delayed its start.

The directors of the colossus announced three weeks ago that everything was ready for the industry to join the current harvest. The local press announced the start for 25 January, but the lack of some parts and other setbacks have prevented meeting that target. The peasants of the surrounding area fear that their mill will be shut down again, plunging the town into somnolence.

The sugar industry defined almost three centuries in our national life, and was the island’s main economic base, determining our language, our customs and even our identity, strongly tied to the sugar plantation and the mill. But what looked like a rising sector suffered severe reversals in the last two decades.

But all that is ancient history. Sugar production began to slide down the slope of failure. (14ymedio)

In the 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country was faced with the reality of an inefficient agroindustry, with a great technological obsolescence and an international market where the national product was worth less and less.

The peasants in the environs are afraid that their ingenuity will remain standing again, plunging the village into drowsiness

The cuts reached as far as the Colombia sugar mill, which because of its importance in production many believed would never turn off its boilers. Rogelio, 40-years-old and a neighbor of the mill, recalls how in the past, as late afternoon fell, a parade of “ragged men with machetes in their hands, tired and covered with ashes from the cane burning, passed in front of my house.”

He states that “every day at six-thirty in the afternoon the bagasse (the cane waste) filling the air forces us to close doors and windows” and that it was always “accompanied by the mill whistle” that could be heard throughout the town.

But all that is ancient history. Sugar production began to slide down the slope failure. In June last year, Noel Casañas Lugo, vice president of the Azcuba Sugar Group, acknowledged that the production of the last harvest only reached 80% of the predicted plan and remained below the 1.6 million tonnes of sugar achieved in 2015.

Vandalism affected part of the technology and the mill also lost skilled labor. (14ymedio)

Colombia is one of the four main urban centers of the province of Las Tunas and the mill began to operate in 1916. The large wooden houses built on stilts hark back to that time, as do the memories that the families pass on by word of mouth about the power of a machinery that did not stop grinding up the cane in every harvest.

The knowledge acquired in long hours of labor was transferred between generations without the involvement of any schools and the whole town revolved around the mill. It beat to the rhythm of the chimney and seemed to languish between the harvests.

The sugar industry defined almost three centuries in the national life. (14ymedio)

The Las Tunas mill was selected for its productive results as a “pilot model” to integrate into the Business Improvement plan at the end of the last century. But even that did not save it from an abrupt closure at the beginning of this millennium. Its workers, then, were given the most difficult task, one for which they were the least prepared: to stop producing sugar.

The peasants and workers tried to mitigate the situation by sowing potatoes and tobacco where before there had been cane, but the majority were unemployed. The town paused. There were neither rows of ash-covered workers nor bagasse floating in the air … and much less economic prosperity.

In 2011, the Ministry of Sugar was weakened and the new Azcuba Sugar Group was created, subordinated to the State Council. But the new institution has not been able to revitalize the sector, which is also affected by low wages, technical difficulties and the exodus of people from the countryside to urban centers.

In the last month qualified technicians have come from other provinces to readjust the framework of the industrial complex. Every time an anxious neighbor asks about the date when work will be resumed, the response is spare and imprecise: “next week.”

Colombia is one of the four main urban centers of the province of Las Tunas and the mill began operating in 1916. (14ymedio)

To meet its production forecasts, the province of Las Tunas depends on Colombia joining in the harvest, along with the Antonio Guiteras mill, which is not experiencing its best moment, and Majibacoa, which has managed to maintain a stable crop, according to a recent report from the local press.

The 17,462 tonnes of sugar called for in the plan is a challenge for an industry that has suffered such a long-term stoppage, along with vandalism of the technology and also the loss of skilled workers. Administrators have mobilized veteran workers and ensure that “all key posts of the sugar mill are covered,” according to statements to the press by Elido Suarez Nunez, head of industrial maintenance.

The town seems to be living in a carnival. Like in one of those popular festivals where it is not known if at the end of the night a colorful and friendly giant will appear surrounded by lights and sounds, or instead there will be a return to darkness and boredom.

“I Did Not Enter This House Through The Window” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

14ymedio biggerEvery night when Bisaida Azahares Correa goes to bed and looks at the ceiling, she is afraid that when the sun comes up she will have leave the house where she lives with her two children. This dwelling in the Siboney neighborhood is her only chance of not ending up sleeping on the street, but its walls are also the source of her major headaches.

The phrase “forced extraction” makes this well-spoken and straight-talking woman shudder. The first time she read those two words together was six months after her husband, Dr. Nelson Cabrera Quesada, left on a medical mission to Saudi Arabia. Since then her life has been turned upside down.

Life in the converted garage revolves around the impending eviction. A situation that contrasts with the large mansions and opulent chalets – where life seems almost bucolic – that surround the modest home of the family. continue reading

Analysts estimate that the country has a deficit of 600,000 homes, but in the last decade housing construction has fallen by 20%

A few yards away, the presence of bodyguards betrays the place where Mariela Castro lives, the daughter of the Cuban president. Nearby is also the spacious home of Armando Hart, former Minister of Culture. All are Bisaida’s neighbors, but they are not aware of the drama that defines the life of this almost 50-year-old woman.

The Cuban authorities have recognized that the housing problem is the primary social need in Cuba. Analysts estimate that the country has a deficit of 600,000 homes, but in the last decade housing construction has fallen by 20%.

In the midst of this situation, the so-called “forced removals” of those who have occupied an abandoned state “shed,” a property closed for years due to the emigration of its owner, or who have erected a house on vacant land, are frequent. But Bisaida’s case is different.

An official notification recently ordered the family to leave the property because it is owned by the University of Medical Sciences. The woman vehemently questions that statement. She says that in 2005 she settled in the house with her husband and their children to care for the doctor’s grandmother.

After the death of the lady, the couple did everything possible to regularize the situation of the house that had been given to Cabrera Quesada’s grandfather in 1979 when he worked as an administrator in the department of International Relations at the university. After living there three years, the teacher won the right to have the property separated from the institution and turned over to her

Among the worst moments Bisaida remembers is the day they showed her husband a document that declares they are illegal occupants

The law recognizes that “at the end of a housing claim” after a tenant lives there for 15 years, “the municipal Housing Directorates issue a Resolution-Title of Property in favor of the persons with the right and who agree to pay the total in 180 monthly payments.” In this case, the family says they have settled the debt with the bank.

However, the twists and turns of the bureaucracy made the legal transfer into the hands of the family impossible. The grandfather ended up retiring and emigrating to the United States, although his wife remained as the principal resident of the house until her death. Since then the family has repeatedly tried to obtain the housing papers, but they have only received threats.

Among the worst moments Bisaida remembers is the day they showed her husband a document that declares they are illegal occupants. They were given fifteen days to leave the house. Although the doctor wrote letters of complaint “to all levels,” the answer to his claim can be summed up in two intimidating words: “no place.”

The woman, who is recovering from breast and uterine cancer, says her husband “has not had the support of any of the ministries involved in his case nor of the University.”

They fear that once outside the house the authorities take advantage to block the access or place an official seal on the door

“All I want is justice, my husband’s grandparents lived here for decades and we’ve been here twelve years,” complains Bisaida. She is not demanding a gift or violating the law for her own pleasure. She only wants the house to be passed on as personal property, as stipulated in Resolution No. V-002/2014 of the Minister of Construction, Regulation of Linked Homes and Basic Means.

Their situation forces them to live virtually locked up.

“We are afraid to leave,” the woman laments. They fear that once outside the house the authorities will take advantage to block access or place an official seal on the door.

“I did not enter this house through the window,” says Bisaida. She shows the address that appears on her identity card and that matches letter by letter with the location of the small garage.

“That day, like the kids, I went out to play,” says El Sexto / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Danilo Maldonado (El Sexto) after his release. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 27 January 2017 — Since late last November Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, has lived a nightmare. He passed from one police station to another until he reached the dreaded Combinado del Este jail in Havana. His crime: to write on several walls a graffiti that read “He left,” a few hours after the death of former President Fidel Castro.

Last Saturday the street artist was released. A few hours after chatting with 14ymedio, on Thursday, the Office Immigration and Aliens renewed his passport and announced that he could leave the country. This Friday, El Sexto traveled to Miami in the company of his romantic partner.

14ymedio. How did the news of the death of Fidel Castro hit you?

El Sexto. That day they woke me up with the news and I could not believe it. The musician Gorki Aguila called me first, then other friends and then my sister who told me, “Hey, Fidel died, really.” continue reading

I dressed and, like the children, I went out to play. First I painted on a wall of a bodega in the corner of 23 and F, and also in other places until I arrived at the Habana Libre Hotel where a person who was connected to the Wi-Fi zone transmitted it live by Facebook. From then, the moment I made a graffiti with the phrase “He left” on the wall, spread.

Soon I went to my house, it was almost dawn and everything was very quiet. When I was lying down, the police opened the door of the room and took me by force. They beat me and threw me into their patrol car.

The did not give me any explanation during the arrest

14ymedio. Did they ever explain the reason for the arrest?

El Sexto. They did not give me any explanation during the arrest and they moved me to a unit in La Lisa, then to Guanabacoa, where they took my phone, which has not yet reappeared. There they talked to me about a crime of “damages. They then took me to the Zapata and C station, and later to Vivac. From there to the prison in Valle Grande where on the weekend of December 10, Human Rights Day, they put me in an isolation cell.

Then came Combinado del Este, where they received me with blows. They practically hanged me and took all the civilian clothes I had. I was forced to wear prison clothes.

14ymedio. Did you have any special surveillance in jail?

El Sexto. Every time I spoke on the phone, I was monitored. A re-educator told me they would release me soon, but I realized that it was to keep me calm and silent.

The children need see other beautiful things, different from what they see in that dogma with which they learn to read

14ymedio. How did the other prisoners react?

El Sexto. They showed incredible solidarity. I painted a lot and tried to get my drawings out of the jail. It was also good to know that so many people were watching my case. In particular, I want to thank Yulier Rodríguez, the graffiti artist, who was aware of my situation.

14ymedio. What plans do you have for now that you are back on the street?

El Sexto. The most immediate thing is to do everything to be able see my daughter. In addition, I want to compile some of the drawings I did in prison and make a book with those short texts and illustrations. The children need to see other beautiful things, different from what they see in that dogma with which they learn to read.

Taking Stock of the Flood Damage in Havana / 14ymedio

Havana is recovering after the strong flooding from the sea along Havana’s Malecon. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 24 January 2017 — The hectically busy residents of the areas bordering Havana’s Malecón, on Tuesday, tried to repair the damages left by seawater flooding over the seawall the previous day. The strong northwestern winds associated with an extensive extratropical low pressure over the state of South Carolina have submerged the dreams of many families.

“It was strong and very fast, not as moderate as they said on television. There was a lot of water flowing,” says Lázaro, a resident of Arcos Passage on 3rd Avenue and A Street in the Vedado district.

“It was not like other years because this time they did not warn us in time and the team of people who always help with the evacuation did not show up.” continue reading

Victoria, a resident of the same street, is sweeping the sand that reached to her doorway. At the same time last year there was something similar in the area, “but not so intense,” she says, tired of all the hustle and bustle.

Wet mattresses, refrigerators damaged by salt and humidity,and the lamentations of the unprepared state, are part of the scene along the Malecon

Wet mattresses, refrigerators damaged by salt and humidity, and the lamentations of the unprepared state, are part of the scene along the Malecon.

While taking a break, Victoria tells her neighbor that the water once again reached Calzada but this year it also got as far as Linea Street. She says that in her house “all night I couldn’t sleep because of the beating of the waves,” and regrets that “they have not cleaned the streets as they are doing in front of the Meliá Cohiba hotel.”

The floods went from moderate to strong in a few hours on the north coast, including the Havana Malecon, taking many unawares. Just after four in the afternoon one could see cars drifting on the water, and the sewers were black holes where the currents swirled.

In the afternoon the tides continued high on the Havana coastline. (14ymedio)

On A and B Streets water penetrated more than four blocks into the city. Several warehouses, like the one at 3rd and C, lost part of their merchandise because the workers did not have time to raise up all the sacks of rice, sugar or beans.

One family has lost everything because their house was a garage turned into a home because of the deficit of housing. “We didn’t see it coming and by the time we realized, everything was underwater,” was all that the woman managed to repeat, as she rescued swollen chairs from a mixture of seawater, mud and garbage.

Victoria, a resident, regrets that “they have not cleaned the streets as they are doing in front of the Meliá Cohiba hotel

In front of the Labiofam offices at 1st and B, cars “had all four tires in the air,” explains Ramiro, a resident, while pumping out the water that entered his garage. The man, who lives in the 110 building behind the Presidente Hotel, complains that those in charge of decontaminating the water tanks are “delayed” and in similar situations “they let some three days go by to force the residents to solve the problems on our own.”

In many private businesses the employees were busy from the early hours of the morning cleaning, getting the water out, and trying to save what wasn’t washed away with the current, while repairing the damage.

A group of people who had approached the seawall to enjoy the waves breaking over it were alerted by the whistles of police officers who guarded each block; the law enforcement officials explained to the reckless that it is very dangerous because “a stone can fly up and hit you.”

As reported by the Forecast Center of the Institute of Meteorology, coastal flooding began to decrease “gradually” from this morning, but in the early hours of the afternoon there were still heavy tidal waves.

Belkis Cantillo, Leader Of The Dignity Movement Released / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Belkis Cantillo, leader of the Dignity Movement. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 23 January 2017 — The leader of the Dignity Movement, Belkis Cantillo, who was arrested last Thursday was released Monday afternoon, as confirmed to 14ymedio by Moraima Diaz, an activist of the same movement.

Shortly after being released, in a telephone conversation with this newspaper, Cantillo explained that she was given a warning letter that he refused to sign.

According to the activist, the document stated that she could not “meet with anyone” or be visited by “counterrevolutionaries.” The police also prevented her from carrying out “public demonstrations.” continue reading

About her days in custody, she says that they removed the mattress and that she was “sleeping on the cement” which caused an “increase of the pain she already suffered due to renal colic.” The activist reports that, after insisting, she was visited by a lawyer.

After her release she was summoned to appear next Saturday before the offices of the State Security in the municipality Julio A. Mella.

According to Moraima Díaz, members of the Dignity Movement cannot leave their homes without State Security agents “persecuting them.”

“We have agents at every corner of the house. It is a police siege to which we are subjected,” she adds.

Moraima Díaz: “We have been told that if we leave the house, our families will be the ones who will pay the consequences”

“We have been told that if we leave the house, our families will be the ones who will pay the consequences,” she says from Palmarito de Cauto, a town in the province of Santiago de Cuba.

“The situation here is extreme. The police have taken the town so that there are no dissident demonstrations,” says the activist.

The women of the Dignity Movement have experienced days of intense repression since they created their movement in the Sanctuary of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre on Saturday, January 14. They call for, among other things, immediate and unconditional amnesty for all those who today are serving prison sentences for “pre-criminal dangerousness” and for this concept which they consider to be “arbitrary” to be eliminated from the Penal Code.

Amel Carlos Oliva, youth leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, told 14ymedio that in the early hours of the morning the police raided the house of Thomas Madariaga Nunez, 66, an active member of his organization.

Right now, Madariaga is in custody.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Havana, Internet Territory / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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