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.

An IMO Update Leaves Thousands of Cubans Without Messaging Services

IMO has become, in the last three years, the preferred app for Cuban families to keep in touch with relatives who have emigrated. (Flickr /CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar / Mario J. Pentón, Havana / Miami, 15 January 2019 — A recent update of the popular IMO messaging and calling application has left thousands of Cubans on both sides of the Florida Strait without communications. After the update the contacts with the American prefix disappears, inviting the user to open a link to install the application again.

“The problem with IMO coincided with the Nauta Hogar network and the Wi-Fi network throughout the country going offline, and last night I called [the state phone company] Etecsa to ask what was happening and they told me there were problems with the application,” an app user from Cienfuegos who connects through Nauta Hogar said by telephone. continue reading

IMO surpasses in popularity other videoconferencing applications, due to its stability, the ability to operate despite poor quality connections and its free services. Initially, it was used exclusively in Wi-Fi zones, but with the arrival of the internet to mobile phones, users have also started to use it on the 3G networks.

“The app is unavailable throughout the country but it has nothing to do with Etecsa,” clarified a customer service operator who identified herself as Yaneisy.

“We have been receiving calls reporting problems with IMO but we can’t do anything about it because it’s not under our control,” she said.

IMO did not immediately respond to a request for comment made by this newspaper, but in several technology forums users from other countries complained that they could not call any number in the United States through the tool.

Other instant messaging applications such as WhatsApp and Telegram are not reporting problems from the Island for calls or videoconferences, other than those derived from low connection speeds that, in some cases, cause crashes and delays in the arrival of the image and sound.

Luis Castro, a computer scientist who has a repair workshop for computers and cell phones in Havana, recommended that users “use safer alternatives such as WhatsApp, Telegram or Messenger.”

“By consuming less data, IMO is cheaper for the user’s pocket, but that’s also why the quality of the image and sound is worse, not to mention security,” he explained.

A telephone call through Etecsa’s regular service costs 1.10 CUC (Cuban convertible peso roughly equal to the US dollar) per minute to the Americas and 1.20 CUC to the rest of the world, while an Internet browsing card costs 1 CUC per hour.

Cuba allowed navigation through mobile data with 3G technology in Mid-December. The telecommunications monopoly offers several data packages between 7 and 30 CUC. You can also pay through your telephone bill at a rate of 0.10 CUC per Megabyte.

IMO in the last three years has not only become the preferred app for Cuban families to keep in touch with relatives who have emigrated, but has also played an important role for activism  on the Island, where it is used frequently to broadcast calls for assembly and to organize meetings.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

"Nobody Has Come Here"

Ada’s kitchen. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, January 31, 2019 — Through the wide esplanade of the Church of Jesus of the Mountain the residents of Mango street go to look for food. There was Fefa, who went out this Tuesday at noon along with two friends with plates in hand. They spoke under the sun, which was burning strongly, shaking the plates from side to side, the food intact without spilling.

“Are you a journalist? Good, listen to this. Nobody has come here, half of my house completely fell down, I’m sleeping in the elements, without mattresses. Now I came to the church so they could give me food because I don’t even have anything to give to my daughter. It’s a lack of respect that nobody from the government has come here, and all of us are mothers,” she says while walking down the hill that leads to her street and making a gesture with her hand for the journalist to follow her. continue reading

Mango street is long and steep and since Sunday it has been filled with debris and fallen posts. Fefa walks quickly as she yells at everyone in the reach of her voice: “Come, you have to see how Mango street is. Nobody comes down here, the government has to be here in the town, with us and not in a helicopter. Here nobody has seen how the 10 of October [municipality] is. If it weren’t for the church we would die of hunger. Ah! If it’s for other countries, right away they send help, but not for us.”

A stone fell from the roof and broke Fefa’s washing machine.

“We want a roof and mattress,” repeats Fefa insistently. Entering through the door of her house, she shows a sideboard where there is some bread covered with ants. “They haven’t sent anything, barely a bread with green ham and a Tanrico drink. Look where we are sleeping, look at the mattresses, none of them is any good now, they’re soaked. I’m a daycare teacher, revolutionary, but do you believe that this is just? Not the president of the council, not the president of the government, nobody has come. Look at the mattress of my mother, an old lady of 81 who even fought in the Sierra, and look where she is sleeping.”

She wants to show the rest of her house but from the back a voice yells: “Wait, I’m bathing, I’m bathing.” In the last room of the house, with walls but without a roof, a woman who takes water out of a can with a jar, sticks her head out several times to make sure nobody comes back and sees her naked.

Fefa keeps showing the damage to her house, like the refrigerator, which was broken in two. “They asks us for money for the federation [of Cuban women] and the CDR [Committee for the Defense of the Revolution], but to do their duty by the people no. To top it off, when the help arrives they sell it to you, no, that cannot be,” she complains.

On that same block lives Emilia Delgado Mango, an older woman, who lives with her mother and still hadn’t finished building their house “by our own effort” when the tornado came.

Emilia’s room that lost its roof. (14ymedio)

“The first night, after that day, we slept in the kitchen, which is the only one that has a roof, seated on a big easy chair. The only thing I’ve eaten is bread with cold cuts that they brought, nothing more. They didn’t say anything about going to look for lunch, and I can’t go to Reyes park because I don’t have money and I can’t leave the house alone. Hurricanes have names, Irma, Flora…but tornados don’t,” she reflects as she shows the easy chairs that she has managed to salvage and the window she grabbed before it went flying.

In Reyes park there is a point of sale for food where for 11 CUP (Cuban pesos, roughly 45¢ US) you can get a piece of chicken, rice, and yam, but Emilia Delgado doesn’t have a peso and has only eaten a piece of bread in 48 hours. They also sell cookies for 25 pesos and pork.

In the house in front of Emilia’s lives Ada Morejón, a small but robust woman, who wears on her head a white handkerchief and on the left hand the garments of her saints. “I suffer from nerves and I’m on a base of pills since that day. Here we cook with firewood. The gas pipe broke, but nobody comes here, nobody.”

The house is beautiful. The wall of the kitchen is blue and there she has all her orishas, a cross, and a virgin. On top of the refrigerator there is a stick of bread that seems to have been there forever. She grabs her pressure cooker from on top of the sideboard and looks at it: “Since I still have no electricity I don’t know if it still works, same with the refrigerator.”

Ada Morejón took a Librium and was in bed all afternoon until she heard that there was someone to talk to about what was happening.

Esteban’s room. (14ymedio)

On the heights lives Esteban Pavón Romero, but everyone calls him Jaime. “This here was left ruined, when I felt the phenomenon that day I tried to close the door. My mom was cleaning. I grabbed her and hugged her before anything, but a piece of tile fell on her and cut her hands.”

He says that between the moment when he saw his mother hurt and until the “black storm cloud” moved away were dark minutes for him. Afterward he called an ambulance “that arrived very quickly,” he assures. “I can’t complain of the hospital, magnificent. They stitched her fingers, all good. Now, here at the house the rooms were left without a roof, the patio, everything. We were asking ourselves where the posts and tiles from my roof came to land. I sent my mother to Cerro with my sister.”

He says that the same thing has happened to all his neighbors. “Here nobody has come concerned, you are the first person to enter this house. Yesterday a woman from urban reform passed by who, from the sidewalk, asked but kept going straight past, nobody has come here. We ate because all the neighbors got together and last night we made a broth there outside on the street, that’s how we are.”

And he continues: “Nobody has worried about if the children had milk. My nextdoor neighbors have several small children and they have had to sleep here in my house, which at least has a part with a roof.”

Hilda’s room and the Mango thicket. (14ymedio)

Jaime, as everyone calls him, hopes that very soon they begin to give them “at least the tiles to put on the roof” and he would like to be able to pay for them as soon as possible because, he emphasizes, “right now nobody here has a peso.”

Further on is the house of Hilda Buch and her daughter, who is pregnant although practically still a girl. Sunday night mother and daughter had gone to bed very early when, suddenly, the tornado tossed the neighbor’s mango thicket on the roof and they went out running to the other side of the house. “Here nobody has come. We collected the debris alone. My own roof can fall at any moment, the fatal night, really cold here inside, everything is wet. Touch it, either the hard floor or the mattress that is soft but wet. We’re mostly sleeping on the floor, covering ourselves with two towels.”

Buch explains that she cannot wait for a subsidy. “That’s a lot of red tape and delay.” She believes that help needs to arrive right now, because she has nothing to pay with. “My [monthly] salary is barely around 300 pesos [roughly $12 US], but there they are selling food for 11. Here in my house we don’t have even a cent, we can’t go. We ate because a friend brought us something and also the neighbor, who made a broth for everyone. Conditions are really precarious right now, there isn’t even gas to cook.”

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 Payret Manzana Will Have a Hotel but Will Keep the Cinema Says Eusebio Leal

The Payret has been closed since 2008 due to “functional deterioration and lack of constructive maintenance.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 15 January 2019 — “The Payret will continue to be a cinema for Cubans,” Eusebio Leal told the official cultural website La Jiribilla. Leal, Historian of Havana, wanted to settle the controversy over the fate of the old theater theater by confirming the construction of a hotel in the same block without affecting, according to his statements, the integrity of the theater-cinema.

“With regards to the Payret hotel, which will actually be built on that block, I declare that this will not affect the integrity of the theater-cinema at all, but rather contribute to its restoration and the reopening of it as it has always been, a public service institution,” he said. continue reading

Leal has insisted that the construction of the Manzana Payret tourist complex and the Pasaje hotel, which is part of the works commemorating the 500th anniversary of the city in 2019, will not result in an increase in theater prices.

“The maximum ticket prices will not exceed the value that is paid today for accessing similar facilities such as the Martí Theater and the Nacional de Cuba,” the Historian said in the interview.

“Recently there’s been bad faith, an unwarranted suspicion, about the future of the Payret, that ignores, first of all, the attention this venue received throughout the Revolutionary period, an era during which two very expensive restorations have been undertaken,” protests Leal.

The controversy over the fate of the Payret as a cinema began in early December when the independent newspaper Cubanet published an article warning of the possible consequences of the remodeling of the entire block where the movie theater is located.

For several weeks, writers, artists and representatives of civil society criticized the supposed decision to turn the cinema into a hotel. One of them was the singer Haydée Milanés, who published a post on her Facebook account where she emphatically urged putting a stop to the disappearance of Payret.

Also the playwright Norge Espinosa deplored the situation in his article The Things We Are About to Lose, published by Café Fuerte .

“An intelligent restorer is trained to understand that the new use of a property with heritage value (like the Payret) must also protect its history. It could be restored as a theater and that would at least alleviate the loss of other things around it,” Espinosa wrote.

Weeks later, the statements of the Director of Development of the Ministry of Tourism, José Reinaldo Daniel Alonso, fueled the controversy. The high official gave to understand that the decision depended on Tourism and, by omission, that the people in charge of Culture had little or nothing to say on the matter.

“It will be studied, it will be seen and decided, at the appropriate time, if the cinema stays or not,” he said in an interview in Cubadebate. The official said that there is “a lot of ignorance regarding these projects” pointing to the diverse opinions of concern expressed on social networks.

Built by the Catalan Joaquín Payret, in its moments of splendor the building was known as “the cathedral of Spanish cinema in Cuba.” Currently the cinema has been closed for several years and both its interior and its facade suffer a deterioration that increases daily. The marquee shows rust stains, the walls are blackened by soot and both the interior carpentry and the seating of the building have been destroyed and systematically looted.

In its almost century and a half of existence, the Payret has undergone numerous architectural adaptations and experienced times of clear decline, but since the 1950s it has become one of the most iconic cinemas in Cuba. According to La Jiribilla, during the “revolutionary process” the building benefited from two restorations, one in 1969 and one in 1981, and the article added that the cinema-theater has remained closed since 2008 due to “functional deterioration and lack of constructive maintenance.”

The building is located just a few meters from the Kempinski Manzana Hotel. The numerous and frequent investments in luxury hotels contrast with the little concern for the abandoned cinemas of Havana, not to mention the critical situation in the housing sector and the scarce investment in residential buildings where thousands of people survive among the ruins caused by decades without being able to undertake a minimum restoration. Often these buildings suffer partial or total collapses leaving entire families homeless and some of these cave-ins have even resulted in the loss of human life.

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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.

"When We Left We Had No Ceiling in the Living Room, and No Walls"

Neighbors desperately wonder how they will resolve things from now on, after the destruction caused by the tornado. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 29 January 2019 – The sun invades every last corner of the houses after the tornado took everything: ceilings, walls, electric poles, street lamps, warehouses, pharmacies, schools, markets …

Entering from Luyanó Road and turning into Teresa Blanco one arrives at a disaster area. The street full of debris, water tanks, pieces of zinc covers, trees, a television, a record player, a car with a tree trunk on top, another further up overturned with the wheels facing the sky. But the tires are gone. continue reading

Rubble is thrown down from roofs and the neighbors try to delineate a safe area on the sidewalk and give a warning every time they toss down a rock. Lucinda was leaving through the front door at the same time that her neighbor was tossing a rock the size of a soccer ball off the roof. She was saved from injury by mere seconds.

The man stopped short just as he raised the stone over his head to throw it when he saw Lucinda taking short hops from her doorway to the street and heard all the neighbors scream:! Luciiiiiiiiinda!, who continued along oblivious to what might have occurred.

Entering from Luyanó Road and turning into Teresa Blanco one arrives at a disaster area. (14ymedio)

In the main streets there are policemen, ambulances, brigades from the phone company Etecsa, electricians raising utility poles, work crews cutting trees and collecting debris, but in the side streets of the affected areas of the 10 de Octubre (10th of October) municipality there was no such hustle and bustle.

Elaine sweeps the street because she does not know what else to do, she says that when she looks at her house she dies of sadness. “My father does not stop crying, he can’t get rid of the fright from last night. We were eating when everything started and, the moment we understood that the noise we heard was not from an airplane, he put us all in the bathroom. When we left we had no ceiling in the living room, and no walls,” she recalls.

The horror is evident in her facial expression. The sidewalk is full of rubble but she insists on removing the dust that falls ceaselessly from among the ruins that surround her with her broom. “We rescued the neighbor from under the wall that had fallen on top of him. After everything happened we heard a little voice saying: ’help, help’, and between my sister and I, together with other neighbors, we got him out. Luckily he did not have any injuries.”

People removed the debris from their homes in boxes one after another and threw them out on the sidewalk. (14ymedio)

Elaine takes off her handkerchief and places it back on, she puts her hands on her head and starts crying. “Now I just found out that my cousin’s husband is in a very serious condition in the hospital. He called my cell phone. He said that last night, when he was getting out of the car here on the road, a utility pole fell on his head. They already operated and everything, but he is not well”, she says while she cries relentlessly. She puts her hands on her head, she uses her handkerchief, puts it back, and continues sweeping.

From a hallway a young woman emerges holding her son by the hand, the mother carries a black bag full of clothes and the child a small basket full of plastic toys. “I’m going to my mother’s house, there’s nothing left here, I am not  picking up anything else,” the woman said as she walked down the street stopping every now and then to rest. At midday, a helicopter was flying over the area, but nobody paid attention to it.

“You’re a journalist? Come look, come in. Take a photo of my patio, my roof, everything was destroyed, this is the only part where one can stay,” and points to the ceiling. In the bodega (grocery store) on the corner nothing is left, the blue wood walls are bare. The gocer opens his arms and shows what was left of the store while opening his arms.

A school on Pedro Perna Street was left without a roof and without walls, only the bust of José Martí remained intact on one side of the courtyard. “This was Pedro Perna, now you can’t tell what it is”, responds a young man who took pictures and took notes in a notebook.

On Remedios Street, between San Luis and Delicias,  is the house of Bárbaro Ravelo Fernández.

“When the newscast was over, a very strange noise began to get louder. Luckily I was at my neighbor’s house and his daughter said: ’It must be the car that is parking.’But forget that, it was a very strange noise that grew louder. In seconds there was a roar and I went without thinking to close the window, but something threw me backwards. My neighbor had part of the ceiling fall on his arm and now it is injured and I have a blow to the head because part of the false ceiling fell on me.

“I stayed there with them, and that’s what saved me. It did not last very long, look I have seen tornadoes out in the country but never in the city. It had a very high pressure, it was very strong, in a few seconds it razed everything. My neighbor’s house is gone, mine too, Look how it smashed my television, and my record player. It busted everything, now we’ll see what happens here in order to resolve things,” he says pointing to a pile of rubble.

A mixture of solidarity and tension floats in the air. Suddenly, in one of the street corners, a group of people screams while looking at the roof of a house. It’s a quarrel between two men because the owner of the house almost killed his daughter when he was tossing debris from the roof.

They shove each other, they argue and punch while the people down below provoke them with shouts of: “hit him, punch him”. The youngest stand on the stricken cars out in the street, the elderly stand on tiptoes to look or climb up the neighboring houses.

The small houses near the church all lost their roofs, the neighbors are outside, young people playing music with their portable speakers, mothers with children in their arms, parents looking for bread and water for their children. “The church lost its cross,” one child tells another as they play ball on the esplanade in front of the church of San Juan. “Yes, look, and the horses came out to eat,” replies the other child, pointing with his finger at the grazing animals.

On the 10 de Octubre road, the destruction was also enormous. There were crews that erected utility posts, but the danger was still present on each block. The poles that remained standing swayed and sometimes seemed ready to fall. The neighbors removed the rubbish in boxes from their houses and threw them on the sidewalk, where tree limbs and broken objects were piled up.

On Monday, none of them went to work or school. No bus passed either on Luyanó road, or on 10 de Octubre. Getting in and out of there was only possible by walking.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

Amid the Chaos in Venezuela, Cuba has No Plans to Evacuate Its Doctors

Cuban doctors during an event in the state of Carabobo, Venezuela. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón / Luz Escobar, Miami / Havana, 29 January 2019 — Kept quartered in some states and working in others, the thousands of doctors that the Cuban government maintains in Venezuela await the outcome of the conflict between the president-in-charge Juan Guaidó and ruler Nicolás Maduro, without evacuation plans.

“Since Guaidó assumed office as president, they told us that we should continue working as if nothing was happening. We are scared because nobody is guaranteeing our security and the situation is deteriorating rapidly,” says a Cuban professional, who, like the rest of her colleagues, is prohibited from speaking with the press. continue reading

Several doctors who spoke with this newspaper under condition of anonymity said they were afraid of finding themselves in the middle of a crossfire if tensions lead to a civil war. “The Venezuelan army is waiting for an invasion from the United States and the criminal gangs move with total freedom,” said a general medicine specialist in Tachira who was speaking by telephone.

“In the state of Bolívar, they looted a CDI [Comprehensive Diagnostic Center] and they took all the medical equipment.” In other offices, doctors have been forced to provide emergency services to criminals and motorizados* [Chavista paramilitaries], illustrated a third doctor .

In Caracas and some other cities the doctors were ordered to remain “quartered” while the the protests last in the country. The entire mission is strictly forbidden from going out on the streets after 4:00pm and thay have been asked to limit their contact with the opposition.

Cuba maintains a contingent of 21,700 health professionals in Venezuela which will be joined in the coming days by another 2,000 doctors that Havana had taken out of Brazil after the electoral victory of Jair Bolsonaro. In return, Venezuela subsidizes the oil it sends to the Island, which has been reduced to 30,000** barrels per day, according to Reuters, although other sources say it is 40,000. In addition to the doctors, Cuba has thousands of teachers, technicians, military advisers, electricians and construction workers in Venezuela.

The work of the doctors provides the Island with more than 10 billion dollars annually, according to official figures. Several countries have denounced this work as “slave labor”. The US Senate has asked the State Department to reactivate a special program to grant Parole (refugee status) to doctors fleeing missions while in Spain the Popular Party (opposition) urges the Socialist government of Pedro Sanchez to grant political asylum to Cuban doctor “deserters”.

On Friday, those responsible for the medical mission in Venezuela asked the coordinators to carry out “special mornings” to demand from the doctors “discipline and firmness” in the current situation, as was made known to this newspaper by three sources. In addition, courses of “reflection and debate” were held to discuss the situation in the country.

“They have kept some of the doctors quartered in the capital for fear of reprisals. Thus far they have not informed us of a plan to withdraw if Maduro leaves power,” said one doctor, who also recalled that Cuba had maintained all their staff in Venezuela even during “the coup against Chávez in 2002”.

The interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, said on Friday that Cubans “are welcome” in the country,” but demanded that they end their interference in “the armed forces and decision-making positions.”

On the island, relatives and friends of the Cuban professionals say they are worried because they have no information about what is happening in Venezuela.

“The only thing we know is what is seen in Telesur and what is said on Cuban television, that there is an attempted coup d’état and that the collaborators are doing fine,” said Joanna, daughter of a “collaborator”, via telephone from eastern Cuba.

Doctors in Venezuela also lack information about what is happening in the country.

“The internet is lousy, extremely slow, in the mission we are only allowed to view Telesur and the newscasts from Cuba. I have bought few things, in case we have to flee, but until now we have not been informed of any contingency plan” explains one of the doctors interviewed in the state of Carabobo.

Translator’s notes:
*”Moto” (from motor[cycle]) is a word for a motorbike or motorcycle; “motorizado” (“motorized”) is a reference to the paramilitaries who ride them.
**Down from a previous 100,000 barrels

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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 Microbus Route in Search of Passengers

Stop for the new microbuses at Calle 5B between 164 and 164A, in Alamar, a municipality of East Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, January 24, 2019 — “Come on, get on because we’re leaving…” Thus the microbus driver addresses the only client who this Tuesday morning is at the stop at 1st and 70th street in Havana. The news of the recently inaugurated Route 15 doesn’t seem to have yet reached the inhabitants of the capital, where for decades getting from one point to another has been a headache.

Immaculate, the seats without a spot of dirt, the new little buses arrived from Russia, are the Government’s latest bet in its attempts to get private transport off of Havana’s streets. In the domain of the almendrones [classic American cars, mostly from the 1950s, typically used as private taxis] and the pisicorres [vans or trucks adapted to transport passengers], these 12-seat vehicles stand out and provoke more than one prediction. continue reading

On the route, which begins in Playa and ends in Alamar via Avenida Carlos III and the Monumental, a few passengers get on. The majority ask loudly how long this new experiment will last: “We’re going to see in six months how they are,” is the sentence most repeated by the incredulous riders.

At the stop in the Playa municipality, only one stand with the information for the routes gives away the beginning of “operation microbus,” as some jokesters have nicknamed the new routes. With only one passenger, the driver starts up before the curious glances of passersby.

The passenger, somewhat astonished to be traveling so comfortably inside the vehicle, spends part of the journey reading all the posters inside with the details of prices for stretches of routes, streets through which the microbus travels, and the stops it makes. “That’s so that everyone knows what they have to pay and nobody is ripped off,” thinks the rider while a mother and child get on at a stop.

“It smells new, Mommy,” lets out the boy as soon as he smells the aroma of recently-opened merchandise that still fills the microbus. “We’ll see how it smells in a few months,” responds the mother. The skepticism turns into the “stone passenger” along the majority of the route, as if riders would prefer to not to get too hopeful.

Inside the microbus is all the information on the route and the prices to pay for each stretch. (14ymedio)

Made by the Russian company GAZ, the vehicles run between 6:30 am until 10:00 pm and share stops with almendrones whose owners, a few self-employed drivers, have decided to accept the new rules of the game.

In December the government approved a package of measures to regulate the work of private drivers. Among the new measures is the obligation to establish stops, travel on determined routes, and buy fuel with a magnetic card that allows a greater control on spending and consumption*.

The new rules generated a great dissent among the drivers, who pressured authorities with a strike for several days. As of that moment the flow of private taxis hasn’t stablized again and the Government has kept up the battle of wills with them by importing and putting into service new state vehicles.

The confrontation has challenged the entire city, where an average of almost a million and a half people move about each day, of which a million do so on State-owned buses. With an evident decrease in private drivers, Havanans had an end of the year “where everything collapsed at the same time,” the mother with her son on the microbus laments this Tuesday.

“The lack of flour and eggs, the rise in prices, and also the problems getting around,” explains the woman. “Now we have these microbuses but there’s no chicken anywhere,” she adds with an annoyed look. “It’s like we can’t have complete happiness, either we can get around or we can eat.”

At the top of Calle 42, the microbus now carries six people. A lady with a box full of onions, two young people who only take photos of the interior to put them on Instagram with sepia- and rose-colored filters, the passenger who got on at the beginning of the route, and the mother with her son, who at this point breathes on the window to draw little circles with his finger.

Next to the driver, the conductor is tasked with charging for the passage, which varies according to the stretch traveled. “To travel the entire route, you pay 20 pesos,” exclaims the elderly lady with the onions. “I thought that there was going to be a real reduction but prices are still very high for people.”

After the fascination of the first moment and the happiness of traveling in a clean and new bus passes, the passengers dedicate themselves to complaining about the prices of life.

The driver tries to calm the mood by saying that the advantages of the equipment cannot be denied. “These cars just arrived, I took the plastic off these seats and you all are using it for the first time,” says the driver at the top of Puente Almendares.

A young resident of Alamar recognizes that until then he had to take three cars to get to his grandfather’s house in Playa, but he doesn’t believe he could be a steady client of the microbuses because “you can’t spend 20 or 40 pesos every day on transportation.” He also complains that the initiative still wasn’t well organized and in East Havana he had seen a line of vehicles that were going out “one after another instead of doing it in a staggered way so that it would be more efficient.”

A yell from the lady with the onions interrupts him: “Stop!” she orders the driver. “I’m getting off here, I see that they [the stores] have oil.” With the sudden stop, some onion skins fall on the impeccable upholstery of the seats, and the door opens to return to a reality without novelties.

*Translator’s note: In other words, it prevents drivers from buying fuel on the black market because their purchases from the government are tracked on the card and inspectors can check if they bought enough fuel to operate the miles traveled.

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.

Residents of a Building in Havana Rebel Against Noise Aggressions

The more than two million residents of the capital city can seldom enjoy peace and silence. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 11 January 2019 — The music in the bus is deafening, the screeching noises from an illegal autorepair shop leak out through the windows of one building, and in another block the screams from a kids’ playground don’t leave the neighbors any peace. Havana is a shrill city and not even the complaints of the victims or the legal regulations manage to put the breaks on so much noice.

Despite legislation that prohibits “producing sounds, noises, smells, vibrations and other physical factors that affect or may affect human health,” the more than two million residents of the capital can seldom enjoy peace and the silence. The noise pollution is everywhere. continue reading

“When I want some quiet I leave the city because here, when it’s not cars, it’s loud music or shouting,” 14ymedio hears from Manuel, 44, who lives in Havana and has a small yoga studio in his home. “Sometimes I can not concentrate and I have to go to the Botanical Garden to be calmer.”

Manuel feels “fortunate” that his building on Marino Street, in the Plaza de la Revolución municipality, “is not one of the noisiest.” Luck that is not shared by the residents of N Street between 23 and 25, who have been engaged in a tough legal battle for years to move an amusement park which is right under their windows.

After several complaints at different times and reporting the din from the play area on social networks, the neighbors of that building decided to make their anger visible and hung a cloth outside one or the windows where their demand can be read: “On this Boulevard, capital [i.e. money] matters more than the welfare of the community, enough is enough!” says the message that is visible from the street.

“On this Boulevard, capital [i.e. money] matters more than the welfare of the community, enough is enough!” (14ymedio)

The building adjoins the so-called Boulevard D’25, an old state parking structure for vehicles converted into an area for renting spaces to self-employed workers. The building houses cafes, restaurants and craft shops, but the main attraction is an area with huge inflatable devices for children.

The area fills up on weekends, due to the few recreational options for small children in the area. “That’s when the problems begin because there is very little distance between the games and the nearest building,” a neighbor from the area who preferred anonymity told this newspaper. “It was a bad idea to install that amusement park there,” she says.

In the official press the problem of noise in the streets and buildings is frequently addressed, but most of the time citizens are held responsible. Criticisms of state entities that generate this type of environmental pollution are rarely addressed in newspapers or on national television.

The neighbors of N Street between 23 and 25 have been engaged in a tough legal battle for years to move a children’s amusement park installed next to their windows. (14ymedio)

Liane Cossío, one of the neighbors of the building, reported on the Facebook page for Neighbors of La Rampa — specifically created to denounce this type of situation — that about a year ago, “after much waiting in vain for an answer from the Government,” the neighbors of the building affected by the noise went to the management of the Department of Supervision and Control to complain.

The person they spoke to was direct: “If that park were in the courtyard of a house, we would have removed owner’s license after the first complaint from the neighbors,” but “is there with a permit from the Government and we do not have any way of telling the Government that is badly located.”

However, the insistence of those affected was almost about to pay off. An employee of the playground told 14ymedio that last June “the order to came to collect all the apparatuses for children.” Something she regretted because it is the time of the year when the most profits are made, however, as of December it is open again.

Elsewhere in the city, a park in the Playa municipality near the Casa de la Música, means the closest residents suffer the same sound attacks. A Wi-Fi hotspot has been operating in the park for a couple of years and now dozens of customers come every day to connect to the internet.

“This boulevard violates (among other things) our right to live in peace” (14ymedio)

“Even very late at night there are people who come with portable speakers and turn them on at full volume,” says Rosendo, a retiree who lives across from the once “quiet park.” “Sometimes people also come out with a few drinks from the Casa de la Música and sit on a bench to sing and shout all night.”

Such behavior can result in the offenders being fined up to 200 pesos, but Rosendo complains that when the police number is called to report shouting or the volume of a loudspeaker “they rarely send a patrol out to control the situation.”

Between January and March of last year more than 13,700 “noise promoters” were fined as part of a government strategy to reduce the high levels of noise pollution, but the problem is so widespread that it barely served to lessen it.

The residents of Rosendo have devised a strategy to get the police to come when they call for noise: they complain that some individuals are shouting slogans against the Government. “When we say that, they immediately send several police officers.” But most of the time “the speakers blare until dawn,” he laments.

Experts say that the human ear is prepared to “receive sounds from nature which are rarely recorded any louder than 60 decibels,” but in Havana noise levels are reached that not only affect the auditory system, but can also be the cause other diseases.

Excessive noise is associated with an increased risk of heart attack, as well as with other symptoms such as ringing in the ears, hearing fatigue, dizziness and stress. The World Health Organization reports that noise above 80 dB increases the aggressive behavior of individuals.

Although Havana resonates in all corners at almost at any time of the day, the most frequent schedule for these infractions is “the evening and late night, and on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, consistent with people’s times of rest,” according to a official report. Rosendo knows this well: “Here you can not sleep through the night,” he says.

During the day, the pensioner gives a nod from the doorway of his house, while a few yards away some teenagers hum the latest reggaeton accompanied by a powerful wireless speaker about 15 inches high.

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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.