In Addition to Being Expensive and Useless, the Cuban Passport is Not Edible

With a useful life of only six years, the Cuban passport must be extended twice during that time. Henry Constantin stands next to his passport taped to a wall with a banana beside him. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 12 December 2019 — Good art does not leave anyone impassive, especially if it mixes irreverence, mockery and everyday life, as demonstrated this December with the installation of a ripe banana stuck with adhesive tape to the wall at the Art Basel festival. The composition of the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan not only attracted great attention but also sold for $ 120,000. A price that has made many internet users recreate the work in their homes with what they find most valuable or ridiculous.

This is how it came to be the turn of the Cuban passport, one of the most expensive on the planet, for which an emigrant must pay more than 450 dollars if they are obtaining it from within the United States. With a useful life of only six years, the document that proves that someone is a national of this Island must be extended twice during that time, which raises its price about 320 dollars more. Something that those who have posted photos of the blue booklet with the shield of the Republic taped to a wall have not failed to observe.

“Cattelan fell short. Poor people who believe that buying $ 120,000 a banana attached to a wall by an ’artist’ is the biggest scam,” the independent journalist Henry Constantín joked on his Facebook account. The reporter believes that it is worse to pay for a Cuban passport “that you cannot even eat, and that sometimes, as in my case, it is not useful for traveling* (or for anything else).” continue reading

“And now eat it to complete the artistic act,” said an internet user after reading Constantin’s text and alluding to the final destination of the banana in Art Basel, where a man tore the fruit from the wall and ate it to the surprise of some and rejoicing of others. Soon after, a gallery employee looked for another banana, took a new strip of duct tape and stuck it on the wall. Nothing had changed, just like with the Cuban passport.

 *Translator’s note: Cuban State Security has blocked Constantin from traveling outside Cuba.

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"People Go Crazy"

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 28 November 2019 — The man on the motorcycle didn’t respect the stop sign and a vehicle hit him with such force it threw him several yars. Everyone ran to help the injured man and a gentleman offered his car to take him to the hospital. On the asphalt is a huge puddle of gasoline and a few drops of blood.

As the end of the year parties approach, “people go crazy,” pedestrians comment.

Despite the announcements and warnings to take precautions and keep alcohol consumption away from the drivers, many families will see their Christmas celebrations tarnished by the loss of a family member in a traffic accident or will have to spend holidays at the hospital taking care of a son, sister or father who was injured.

An crash occurs on the Island every 55 minutes, one person dies every 15 hours and another person is injured every hour and 15 minutes. According to official data, in the first ten months of the year 7,800 traffic accidents occurred, 460 fewer than in the same period of 2018.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Tomato Production in Cuba Tanks and Prices Soar

Tomato production in Cuba fell precipitously in 2019 due largely to the lack of fertilizer. (Photo: V.C. Nisida)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, November 24, 2019 — One of the products most sought-after by the throngs of people inundating the Cuatro Caminos Market has been the tomato, an essential ingredient in many recipes. With supplies scarce and prices for the product high, prepackaged tomato concentrate is the only option for customers who want to prepare pasta, season chickpeas or make a chicken fricasée.

Those anxiously searching for this popular item already know that the news this year has not been good. Domestic tomato production has been falling dramatically all year. The causes range from the inability to obtain fertilizer and seeds, difficulties with fuel and a delay in the planting season due to climate issues.

The official press reported that “the Ministry of Agriculture planned on delivering 79,940 tons of tomatoes” but produce markets received only 22,814, barely 28% of the planned total. continue reading

Far from the offices of official newspaper editors, long-time tomato farmers are feeling the impact that this is having on their lives. In Lajas (in Cienfuegos province), Remberto Godinez has had to devote part of his land, which six years ago was idle, to planting yuca and malanga instead of tomato, a crop which used to reign supreme on his farm.

“There’s no fertilizer, so it’s difficult to get a crop going,” Godinez explains.

“Also, insect infestations have plagued the crops this year and we have no way of combatting them. And thinking about growing a tomato under netting is just crazy. Where would we even get the cloth?”

Two years ago Godinez began experimenting with growing an “impaled” tomato, a technique that allows the plant to grow vertically. Though little used on the island, the strategy was providing Godinez with good yields and a more marketable product. “I had to give it up because finding the planting stakes was proving difficult,” he explained by phone.

He does not envision an optimistic forecast in the coming months. “It rained a lot in October so we couldn’t set up the seed beds and planting was very delayed. There won’t be as many tomatoes at the end of this year as in the past,” he notes. “I think that any family that can eat a tomato at Christmas should feel very fortunate.”

Tomato puree concentrate, known as “tomato paste,” is a popular option for many Cubans. (G. Bonomi)

The high prices for tomatoes listed on chalk boards at local produce markets back up Godinez’ claims. At Havana’s best-stocked markets — examples include the one at San Rafael Street in Central Habana, and the one at 21 and B in Vedado — for several weeks the price for tomatoes has not fallen below 25 Cuban pesos per pound, equivalent to the daily salary of a professional. In Artemisa province, where the plant is also widely cultivated, prices have exceeded 30 pesos per pound. And in Trinidad, a tourist area with high demand from restaurants and hostels, they go for 50 pesos.

Even Cuba’s most important tomato growing province, Ciego de Avila, has not escaped the crisis. According to figures published in the local press, 33,945 tons of the crop were harvested there in 2019 but ultimately only 12,450 tons were recovered from the fields.

The situation in Ciego de Avila is also reducing supplies of tomato-based products — sauces, purees and a wide variety of canned goods — because Ceballos, the country’s largest industrial processor of tomatoes, is located in the province and consumes a signficant portion of the local production.

“The technological supplies didn’t get here on time and, when they did arrived, we didn’t get everything we needed, especially nitrogen fertilizer,” says Nancy Palmero, a producer who, along with her husband and two sons, raises tomatoes on the outskirts of Moron. “We have trouble getting the tomato crop from the field because there isn’t enough fuel, or even crates.”

The worsening energy crisis Cuba has been experiencing in recent months is having a very negative impact on agriculture, a sector hit by other shortages. At the root of the crisis are dwindling supplies at gas stations and a resulting higher demand, which is partially met by black market diesel that has been illegally diverted from the resources of state farms and cooperatives.

The Ceballos company itself confirmed the setback in a recently published report. Last year the industry produced 4,565 tons of tomato-based products, including pasta, puree, sauce and other items. In the first nine months of 2019, however, the figure was only 1,339.

“The few tomatoes we manage to produce we sell out of our house,” says Nancy Palmero. “People are so desperate just to get tomato puree that they snatch them from our hands.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Strays and Kings

A stray dog that resisted the authorities slipped in the photo of the Kings of Spain walking through Old Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 15 November 2019 — The fact that the Zoonosis Canine Observation Center circulated its vehicles through several Havana municipalities to clean the city of stray dogs a few days earlier, was of little use.

The idea of a clean, organized city with no abandoned animals broke down in a second, when the Spanish royals Queen Letizia and King Felipe VI made their way through the historic center of the Cuban capital accompanied by a stray mutt that even the entourage of bodyguards, officials and journalists who accompanied the royals was not able to remove.

Some say that the dog that crossed their majesty’s path was simply a character intended to clean the image left behind by the massive collection and subsequent sacrifice of abandoned animals before the arrival of the royal couple. continue reading

Others prefer to interpret its presence as a symbol of resistance and claim of creatures that have suffered neglect, abuse and the absence of rights forever. For them, that mongrel represented all the dogs and cats that are waiting for an Animal Protection Law, regulations that more and more activists loudly demand.

So next to Felipe’s guayabera and Letizia’s impeccable dress, the tanned and somewhat dirty spine of this Havana mutt passed by. His daring presence in the real photos was overshadowed by the uproar caused by the dress of the Cuban first lady, Lis Cuesta, who stole the prominence of the day due to her inappropriate attire for the steamy Cuban sun. Regardless, whatever you want to call him: Spot, Rex, Lucky, Sparky or Champ… although it is very likely that he has no name, he slipped into the visit of the Spanish royals to Cuba.

They will leave, but he must continue to deal with the hard life on the streets of Cuba.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Authorities Blame "Hoarders" for the Incidents in Cuatro Caminos Market

State television has taken two days to pronounce, but finally it has done so, partly driven by the spread of information on the internet. (Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 19 November 2019 — “Hoarders” and an “uncontrolled avalanche” are the adjectives with which Cuban Television described the crowd gathered last Saturday at the reopening of the Cuatro Caminos Market. The official response to the riots has taken 48 hours to appear and has come through information issued on Prime Time News and prepared by the journalist Talía González.

The official information indicates “violations of the established norms for the entrance to a commercial establishment” and “the breakage of some structures and also quarrels.” In the emblematic building, built in 1920, “there were unpleasant acts of hoarding” of people “acting with total impunity,” adds the TV news.

At least one woman suffered a fracture during the stampede through the interior aisles of the mall, reopened after five years of repairs. In addition, two doors were shattered by the crowd and there was shoving and fights that forced administrators to decree the closure of the facility for several days. continue reading

“Those who caused these unfortunate incidents did not go there only to buy products for use in their homes,” but they are “part of a phenomenon that has not yet had a solution,” said the journalist, considered a voice very close to the high hierarchy of the government.

González denounced “the hoarding and subsequent resale on the street at exorbitant prices,” a black market that for decades has been one of the main sources of supply for Cubans.

The official news attributed part of the responsibility to the market managers, who did not take the appropriate measures to control the flow of customers at the entrances.

However, according to the report, the public behaved in an “uncivilized manner” and many “dedicated themselves to recording everything with their cell phones and then showing them in smear campaigns on social networks.”

In the images that have been coming to light since last Saturday, many people are seen filming the flood of customers, the blows and shoves with their mobile phones.

The dissemination through social networks of news events has forced the official press to address issues that were previously kept under control, if not hidden. The protest of the resident of Regla against the caravan of Miguel Díaz-Canel after the tornado last January and the death of the young girl, Paloma, after being given a vaccine, are some of the information that has come to light thanks to the internet.

Cuban Television considers this immediacy an “evil that we experience these days” and regrets what happened despite the efforts of the workers who had been setting up the market for reopening to the public, the day of the 500th Anniversary of Havana.

During the last months the shortage of essential products, such as food and cleaning supplies, has worsened in Cuba. In an attempt to alleviate the situation, the authorities decreed rationing in the sale of various merchandise in stores in convertible pesos, especially frozen chicken, sausages and beer.

However, the measures have failed to prevent compulsive purchases or those that aim to accumulate products and then resell them in informal networks. “It is true that the shortage of necessities during the last months in the network of stores resulted in consumers having an expectation of accessing them in the highly stocked Cuatro Caminos Market,” it acknowledges.

“But nothing justifies what happened there,” said González, who calls for  measures “to make an example of” those who provoke situations such as that experienced on Saturday in the so-called Single Market.

According to information provided by CIMEX to the official press among the most important economic damages are the breakage of three rolling doors, one of the panels of the glass door located at the entrance, and some traffic barriers that are estimated at a cost of more than $2,000. In addition, the same sources ensure that there were “losses of approximately 5,000 CUC” in damaged or stolen products.

See also:

The Cuatro Caminos Market Closes Until Next Week Due To Social “Indiscipline”

The “Resurrection” of the Cuatro Caminos Market and Free Trade in Cuba

Why the Reopening of the Cuatro Caminos Market Failed

The Cuatro Caminos Market Will be a Museum

Without Its Market Cuatro Caminos Seems Lost

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Permanent "Temporary Situation"

The lines to buy fuel in Havana have been extended again this week. (Alejandro Yanes)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 8 November 2019 — In the last week the long lines have returned to the gas stations in Havana, but this time without prior official announcement of a bad energy “temporary situation” or of an oil ship that is late reaching the island. The deficit has not been accompanied by appearances of ministers on television, speeches by Miguel Díaz-Canel or newspaper headlines calling on Cubans to “resist.” It is a shortage without narrative.

Although the national press does not mention the problem, in the long lines, which extend hundreds of yards, the annoyed customers endlessly speculate and try to find answers to what is going on. There is no shortage of the pranksters who say that “the Venezuelan ship has flat tires” and that is why it has not been able to arrive on time, or those who, in the tone of international analysts, assure that after the president’s trip to Russia, now “the freighters come from further away.”

Jokes aside, the most shared feeling in the streets is that the fluctuations in the fuel supply are a problem that has come to stay for a long time in the Cuban reality. A difficulty that does not seem to have a medium- or long-term solution. One that is as long as the lines that are now formed just outside the service stations.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

For Alicia Alonso, a Funeral Under Strict Vigilance With Few Public Attending

A security scanner has been installed at the side entrance of the “Alicia Alonso” Grand Theater of Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 19 October 2019 — The farewell to dancer Alicia Alonso, who died last Thursday in Havana at age 98, was very similar to her last moments. If the renowned interpreter of Giselle was part of the life wrapped up in power and paying homage to Cuban government, her funeral has the flavor of a farewell to a head of state or a political leader, but without the popular presence that would be expected from such a long artistic existence

Just at ten o’clock this Saturday, there was no line of people waiting in the vicinity of the Great Theater of Havana, which has been carried the name of the Prima Ballerina Assoluta for several years, and has been the place where his remains were brought so that “the people” could pay her a final tribute. Only a score of the curious were in place at that time and most were official journalists and foreign correspondents.

What is quite noticeable around the theater is the presence of a huge security device that includes patrol cars, elements of the motorized police, ambulances, firefighting equipment and, somewhat surprisingly, an entrance door with a security scanner similar to those found in airports, some government buildings and the strategic institutions of the country. continue reading

The extensive esplanade in front of the theater, from San Martín street to Neptune, remained closed with barriers. The main entrance was reserved for personalities with others required to enter through Boulevard San Rafael, where security measures were even more visible. All the equipment is even more disproportionate due to the low number of people.

The artist who was acclaimed on stage and exalted in the official obituaries that have filled the media in recent days, had not connected with the Cuban public for many years. They saw her more as a distant being, elevated to the tops of the cultural Parnassus and completely separated from the daily life of the Island. In many ways, she had been endorsed and sanctified long before she died.

So that at five in the afternoon when the funeral procession proceeds to Havana’s Colón Cemetery, for many it will be like closing the last page of a book that bears the title of 20th Century. With the death of Alicia Alonso, one of the most important artists of that century, an era of inflamed leaderships and oversized figures, also comes to an end.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by now becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

For the "Mules," Life Goes On, and So Does Business

The new measures announced on Tuesday seek to check the flight of capital. (EF)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, October 17, 2019 — Joaquín and Modesto are friends and relatives who saw from the beginning that trips to Panama to bring back to Cuba household appliances and electric motorcycles would be a successful business. Since the middle of 2018 they have worked fulfilling on-demand orders, putting an added value on the task.

“Since yesterday everyone has been looking at me with pity, like I had suffered a death in the family or an amputation. Life goes on and so does business,” says Joaquín, who has spent three of his 37 years traveling to Panama to bring back to the Island flat-screen TVs, automatic washing machines, and air conditioners, which now will become the monopoly of the Government.

The new measures announced on Tuesday seek to check the capital flight of those who, like these friends, were going to several countries in the region to buy merchandise to then resell them on the domestic black market. continue reading

Starting at the end of October there will be, thus, a parallel market in which only actually convertible currency can be used to pay, and which only those who have access to remittances or foreign currency will be able to benefit from.

Joaquín knows from experience that Cubans greatly distrust the State and that since there has been Internet access, “people know brands and prices and they aren’t going to let themselves get conned with ’made-in-I-don’t-know-where’ products.”

In the specific case of television sets, the State, he believes, has the moral obligation to bring those that comply with the frequency parameters “that are only used in Cuba and in two or three Asian countries,” and he wonders who wants to buy a flat-screen 48-inch TV to watch domestic programming. “Those who are going to buy good devices are already on Netflix or at least addicted to the weekly packet.”

Joaquín is hopeful that the State buyers will not have the necessary flexibility to attend to specific demands. “If they insist on bringing refrigerators of eleven cubic feet, which are only good for domestic use, we will offer others of twenty cubic feet, which are the ones needed for a bar or a private restaurant.”

But it still remains to be seen how these measures will be realized. “I have a restaurant and I need a professional coffeemaker and also a mixer that until now I have not been able to bring back from a trip, because they say that they are professional machines and they don’t count as personal imports,” explains Pablo Armando, an entrepreneur with an Italian food place in Havana.

“Will the state-owned import businesses authorized for us to order products from include these types of machine and devices in the catalogue of what they can bring?” asks the self-employed man. “And if one day I have to import flour or parmesan cheese that way, will they allow me?” For now, Pablo Armando continues working with an old coffeemaker that he bought secondhand on the informal market from a French diplomat who finished his mission on the island.

“The majority of us businesses have been able to open because we buy from the mules and I don’t know if the State can really compete with them when it comes to variety of supply, because the Government has a lot of barriers and limitations on what cannot be sold or owned,” he warns. “For example, will they allow a farmer to import a tractor, a stockbreeder to bring semen for insemination, or a shoemaker to import leather? No one knows.”

Modesto, Joaquín’s brother-in-law, is also a mule and has, at 47, another perspective. “What worries me is that the dollar is becoming very expensive and almost all the merchandise that we bring, we sell in CUC.” They then have to change the sales profits into dollars to continue buying in Panama. “If the dollar continues to exchange at 1.50, as they are speculating, our business is finished.”

Although he is not an economist, Modesto believes that if the Government plans to invest the money obtained in these sales in promoting national industry, only two things can happen. “Either they’ll end up without funds to continue buying, or they will have to wait many years to accumulate what is required to finance industry, which is on the floor. It strikes me that these measures have not been announced as an experiment,” he says after a pause.

Economists also have doubts about the effect of these measures. For Mauricio de Miranda Parrondo, a Cuban academic located in Colombia, the State has decided to reinforce its monopolistic capacity and compete with the self-employed with tariffs and other advantages that they do not have. Additionally he has shown that the CUC or convertible peso is not such, given that they will now allow the circulation of currency.

“Despite the insistence that they are measures meant to benefit the population, it’s worth asking how the population can access a market which only accepts dollars if their salaries are paid in Cuban pesos and total salaries would hardly be enough to approach said markets,” he wonders.

The economist believes that “the Cuban Government prefers to continue betting on unilateral transfers of resources from abroad and not on the creation of national wealth via the productive work of society.”

Meanwhile, official voices came out in support of the measures. “The resale of ACs and motorbikes is over, the businesses of salesmen in dollars fail, and Cuba attracts currency for the development of the economy,” said the national television journalist Lázaro Manuel Alonso on his Facebook account.

Luis Silva, the actor and comedian who plays the popular character Pánfilo, believes that the flourishing of the mules is fundamentally due to the elevated prices that some products have had on the retail market. “Cubans have sold ACs for 700 CUC when our State sells them for 1,000, 1,200, and 1,500. Resale?” asked the actor.

Among the commentators on the official statement, many doubt the effects of the measure. “If they have not been able to maintain a stable supply of those products until now, what guarantee is there that after a week the ACs and TVs won’t be gone?” asks Juan Marrero, one of the readers.

From now until October 20, when the new measure goes into effect, there is little time left to improvise. Joaquín and Modesto already have their tickets to go to the Colón Free Zone in Panama with a list of orders from their clients. Between the optimism of one and the restraint of the other, there is enough space for imagination and uncertainty.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.

Blackouts for Cuba’s Private Restaurants But Not for State Hotels

A private business in Havana with air conditioning (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 7 October 2019 — The owner of a spacious restaurant in Vedado walks around the premises carrying a fan to place it near a table where some customers are sweating buckets. “I am very sorry but they have put me a fixed quota of electricity and I can barely turn on the air conditioning,” the owner of the paladar (private restaurant) apologizes to the surprised tourists.

Energy cuts, caused by the drastic reduction in Venezuelan oil shipments, are affecting state activities, starting with public transport, but also private companies such as paladares and rental houses. Over the past few weeks, the authorities have met with self-employed entrepreneurs whose businesses are “higher electricity consumers,” a source from the Council of the Provincial Administration of Havana confirmed to 14ymedio.

“First we call on their conscience in these moments the country is experiencing, but also to those who have higher consumption of kilowatts we have presented a plan with a usage limit.” continue reading

Lourdes, who manages a house with three rooms for tourists in the municipality of Centro Habana, has had to adjust to the new circumstances. “Each of the rooms I rent has a minibar, an air conditioner of the kind that people call a ’split’*, and a bathroom with an electric shower to heat the water,” she says. “Now I have had to ask customers to turn on the air for just a little while and to try to bathe in cold water.”

“It is true that you have to save, you always have to save, but I pay very dearly for electricity consumption to be able to provide comfort to my customers and now they will have to suffer heat because I can not exceed the plan they have given me that is far below the needs of this business,” protests the self-employe woman.

In Cuba the consumption of each kilowatt costs .09 Cuban pesos (less than a cent USD), but when exceeding 100 and up to 150 the rate rises to 0.30 and after the 300 kilowatts consumed the price is 1.50 CUP (6 cents USD) per kilowatt. High consumers, such as pizzerias with electric ovens, large restaurants and private hostels that exceed 5,000 kilowatts per month, pay 5 CUP per kilowatt over that limit.

“I usually pay the equivalent of about 3,500 CUP each month for the electric bill,” the owner of a rental house with four rooms a few meters from the Plaza de San Francisco in Havana tells this newspaper. “Now, after the meeting we had, they have put me in a plan that I can’t exceed 2,500 kilowatts and I don’t know how I’m going to do it without affecting the service.” Self-employed people fear losing their landlord licenses if they do not comply with the savings measures that the authorities ask them to follow.

Private sector workers were hopeful about the recent visit of the Russian prime minister to the Island and the possibility that the Island’s old ally could help with the oil supply. But so far there are no official announcements that the Kremlin will send crude to Cuba and Dimitri Medvedev declined Miguel Díaz-Canel’s request to use Russian military ships to escort the Venezuelan tankers that are on the way, loaded with 3.83 million barrels of crude and fuel, according to data from Refinitiv Eikon and PDVSA.

In addition, these shipments may not be repeated if the crisis worsens in Caracas and the US is even more rigorous about applying the prohibition on delivering Venezuelan oil to Cuba.

“Although most of my clients come here to enjoy the terrace or the rooftop, they occasionally need to cool off,” explains Mary, another private landlord with a house halfway between the Museum of the Revolution and the Spanish Embassy Cuban capital. “I’m asking them to only turn on the split to sleep but I can’t force them.”

The measure does not seem to affect the state or mixed hotels yet. When 14ymedio visited the hotels England, Telegraph, Plaza, Vedado, Habana Libre, Cohiba, Packard, Apple Kempinski, President and Both Worlds, in all of them air conditioners d to operate throughout the day in common spaces such as lobbies, indoor cafes and business rooms, as well as in the rooms where customers control the use of the air conditions at their own convenience.

“This is the time for people who make fans,” says Mildred, a craftswoman who sells her products at the San José Warehouses a few meters from the Sierra Maestra Cruise Terminal. “Many businesses in this area were severely affected by the fall of the arrival of the cruise ships and now they are adding the problem of electricity consumption,” she says.

Last June the administration of Donald Trump vetoed educational group trips to Cuba and cruise ships, one of the routes that thousands of Americans used to visit the Island. Authorizations for pleasure and passenger boats, along with private flights, were also cancelled in order to reduce the dollar earnings that come to the Cuban government.

The fear is that “what seems temporary now becomes permanent,” Mildred adds. “They are asking you to lower power consumption but they are not telling you clearly how long this measure will last and people are afraid it will be for a long time, as has happened with other things. “

Facing the sea, a cafe that offers tapas based on olives, ham, cheese and some seafood has its doors wide open. “Before we had two areas for all tastes: outside with the sea breeze or inside with air conditioning,” says Lázaro Manuel, one of the waiters. “But now it’s better to be outside because we can’t turn on the air inside and it’s very hot.”

*Translator’s note: The same term is used in the U.S. It refers to a room-by-room type of air conditioner, versus ’central air.’

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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 Crisis Comes to Propaganda

Normally, the billboards remain an average of three or six months, but the terms are lengthening. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 26 September 2019 — The ‘coyuntural’ — temporary situation — has reached propaganda. Government machinery aimed at extolling the Revolution and the dissemination of its slogans has always been a key piece in which resources are invested, but this time the shortage has everything and both the billboards that run through the Island and the official press are depleted.

“Normally a billboard may be in place for three to six months without change, depending on where it is located, whether it is a current issue or if there is some urgency,” an employes of the Communist Party Publisher in Havana told 14ymedio . “In the Cuban capital we have dozens of billboards, distributed in all the municipalities, but right now we are only succeeding in replacing the more central ones,” he admits.

In the municipality of the Plaza of the Revolution, a huge sign shows a pole vaulter next to a text rejecting of the Helms-Burton law, but the billboard has been there for so long that the red background has lost its brightness without anyone having done anything to fix it. continue reading

“What affects us most right now is that we don’t have the fuel to deploy workers on the ground, remove old posters and put up-to-date ones,” the employee adds. “But we are also having a hard time getting the varied inks that are needed for this, because there is no hard currency to buy them.”

Every year, when the Government presents the report of the impact of the blockade (i.e. the American embargo) on the national economy, a campaign is launched throughout the country, which this year has been greatly affected. “Nor have we been able to fulfill the advertising plan that we planned for the celebration of Havana’s 500th anniversary,” he laments.

In the newsrooms of the official press, another of the sources of the strong propaganda of the regime, the situation is not very different. The cuts in the supply of fuel have led to local and national media to reduce their coverage in the street and to ask their employees to use their own vehicles and pay for gasoline to travel.

“I am lucky, because a year ago I bought an electric motorcycle and with that I am managing to cover some events and news,” a photojournalist who collaborates with a Havana media tells this newspaper. “I am doing this from my pocket, because when there’s a breakdown or I have a technical problem, the newspaper does not give me anything, but it is that or staying at home; and then I cannot earn any money,” he says.

The head of the medium in which this photojournalist works has asked employees to make an “effort” to avoid having to reduce the frequency of publication. “The digital version is being privileged, but that also difficult to produce, because in the office we are not allowed to turn on the air conditioning and no one can work in that heat,” he explains.

Not far from there, the Youth Labor Army agricultural market on Tulipán Street is also a true reflection of the situation of the Cuban economy. This Wednesday afternoon, most of the stalls were closed and those that were still open only had green bananas. “Only two trucks arrived today,” says Heriberto, an employee of the establishment.

“Cooperatives and state farms are bringing very little merchandise because they don’t have the fuel to transport it,” he says. “Without oil and without gasoline there is no way to get the products out of the field and bring them here.”

A seller of dry wine and vinegar, who works in a small private business where they also make pickles and jams, explains to the media that the trips they made to look for containers and stock up on fruits have had to be reduced by half because they don’t have gasoline. “I’m selling today because my husband brought me the bottles on a tricycle, if he hadn’t I wouldn’t have been able to open.”

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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.

Ingenuity: Salvation for Cuba’s Private Sector

A kilogram of cans earns 13 CUP (roughly 50¢ US), so Yoerquis needs to crush the material for many hours to earn enough money to cover his expenses. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 1 October 2019 — Yoerquis feels he’s in the lead as a collector of raw material. It has been a while since he reached into his imagination to create a tool that allows him to crush aluminum cans all day long without ending up with unbearable back pain.

The young man has an impromptu workshop in Havana’s Cerro municipality, where he does plumbing work and cuts custom tiles, but also collects aluminum. The kilogram of soft drink or beer cans earns 13 CUP (roughly 50¢ US), so Yoerquis needs to crush the material for many hours to get money that allows him to cover the expenses of his search, along with other members of the family, through several neighborhoods of Havana to collect materials.

That is why he manufactured a heavy cylinder by mixing concrete and pouring it into a plastic tank in whose center he had previously placed a two-inch metal tube. After removing the structure from the mold, he introduced another of smaller diameter and concluded his work. Now he spreads the cans out along his patio and passed the crusher over it several times. continue reading

“I could have improved the equipment by putting in some good bearings, but I prefer it rustic,” he explains as he takes pushes his invention from the end of his yard to the other, where he has arranged the cans of three full bags.

Of the more than half a million people who have a license to engage in private work in Cuba, it is estimated that more than 5,000 are dedicated to the collection of raw materials that end up being bought by the State in its more than 300 centers. Most of these workers must crush them one by one with a stone or a piece of pipe.

Yoerquis dreams of being able to buy a compactor or crusher that is not his improvised cylinder one day, but he also recognizes that “by the time it is possible” he will no longer be dedicated to this activity and will prefer to develop his other talents in cutting pipes and tiles. He hopes that there will be a construction boom on the Island and with it more “work orders” will arrive.

Dunia and Eric also feed their family thanks to their ingenuity. They met when they were both in high school and, after almost a quarter of a century together, decided to apply for a license to sell sweets and candy for children. Their greatest pride is to have created the machine with which they make cotton candy, the specialty that distinguishes them and that they sell at fairs and in the vicinity of some recreational parks.

To get around, the couple employs the old Lada that her father acquired decades ago thanks to his status as a “prominent worker.” The machine built by Eric with his own hands travels in the trunk of the Lada; it consists of an old metal basin that belonged to his grandmother, with a central motor that runs off a battery.

Without a wholesale market, self-employed workers in Cuba must also overcome the obstacles posed by the lack of machinery, devices and many of the apparatuses that facilitate their work. The shortages in state stores, high prices and the absence of certain types of markets force them to have to create many of the tools with which they make a living.

In some cases, the solution is to import the devices or pieces of them. And also to acquire them in the black market. But sometimes the needs are so specific that the situation is complicated and nobody is better placed than the workers themselves to determine what they are looking for and the characteristics they require.

In a country full of qualified engineers who drive taxis to survive, it is easy to run into an inventor. The need admits nothing else: either they create and repair with their own hands or they don’t have what they need.

The operation of Eric’s machine is simple. The sugar is placed in the center, in a smaller container, and the basin is rotated at high speed. An attached heat source causes the contents to melt and the centrifugal force achieves the rest.

“My family has been living off of this machine for years and we have very good sales in July and August, during the holiday months,” says Dunia. “At the beginning we had many problems trying to get the right speed and also to reach a temperature that helps create the cotton candy but does not burn sugar too much,” she explains.

“After some tests and several errors we managed to build what we wanted and now every time it breaks or needs maintenance we know very well how to fix it, we have even begun to build another one to have it for emergencies, like when a piece is broken that needs more time to fix,” adds Dunia.

The vein of invention comes from family. The mother raised a small amount of capital in the late 90s and early this century was making homemade ice cream that was then placed between two cookies. I sold it as an “ice cream snack,” a very popular product to provide relief in the heat.

The ice cream maker was built by Dunia’s father with an old Soviet-made Aurika washing machine that was very common in the houses of the Island during the years of greatest rapprochement between the Plaza of the Revolution and the Kremlin. With an added paddle on the engine and a built-in cooling system, the “refrigerator” produced ice cream for a decade.

Eric also designed a mold for making sweet cookies at home and another for candy. The couple hopes “the cotton candy making lasts a long time,” because the family economy depends on it. “Here you have to do everything, the product and the machine,” says Dunia. “If we do not do so, we would have to close the business because there is no place to go to buy any of this.”

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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 Buses are "Missing"

A bus stop on the outskirts of Alamar was crowded this Tuesday and for hours not a single bus came by. (Jancel Moreno)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 11 September 2019 —  She arrived just before dawn and the first half hour of waiting seemed normal, after 60 minutes passed, dawn broke and the sun began to itch and after two hours at the same stop without a ‘guagua’ — a bus –arriving, Magaly had sore feet and sweat running down her back. In Alamar, this Tuesday morning, hundreds of passengers experienced the same frustration while waiting for a bus to take them to Havana for work or school.

Recent days have been chaotic for public transport in the Cuban capital. The chronic difficulties of moving around the city have been aggravated by reasons not explained in the official press. In the streets there is talk of a deepening of the crisis, the lack of fuel and the most daring talk about when the next “ship with Venezuelan oil” will arrive in the middle of this month, something that supposedly will solve the problem. But all are simply rumors.

What does seem a reality is that mobility within this city is going through one of its worst moments of recent years, while the General Directorate of Havana Provincial Transportation offers no details about the reasons for this deterioration. The sight of buses with people hanging from the doors has returned, something were so common in the difficult years of the so-called Special Period, after the fall of the Soviet Union and the elimination of its financial support for Cuba. The races behind the buses have also returned, with children in uniforms left behind missing classes because the transport never came, and the employees who give up arriving at their offices because the buses never come. continue reading

And when a vehicle with their route number is finally sighted, then the accumulated discomfort overflows and people shout, push and complain. The drivers don’t respond to this flood of complaints and must endure the rest of the trip with loud criticisms and a crowded vehicle where passengers can barely move through the aisles.

From time to time someone remembers aloud the official promises that transport in the capital was going to improve “gradually” and the frequent headlines in the national press about buses donated by other countries or repaired and assembled on the Island.

“And why doesn’t the bus come?” a boy with a school neckerchief and a backpack was heard asking at the Alamar stop on Tuesday, after waiting with his mother for two and a half hours on the A62 route. No one answered but nobody laughed either. Only an old man with a wrinkled face dared to say “for the same reason that nothing works in this country” and not one more word had to be added.

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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 Way to Evade Price Controls

A photo of the menu of one of the private locales that promote a combo of a domestic beer with fried food. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, August 6, 2019 — It took less than seventy-two hours after the imposition of price controls on beverages in privately owned Havana cafes for their proprietors to find creative ways around them. They involve menu combos that feature a soft drink with an appetizer or a dessert.

On his Facebook page the economist Oscar Fernandez posted a photo of a menu from one such business featuring a Cuban beer and an order of fried plantains for 50 Cuban pesos (or 2 convertible pesos — roughly $2 US), which makes a mockery of the the 30 peso (1.25 convertible peso) mandated price for the beverage.

A similar combo featuring an Hollandia or Heineken also goes for 50 pesos while another combo with a soft drink and dessert at the same cafe costs 25 pesos, well above the official price of 18 pesos for a canned soft drink or sparkling water. continue reading

“Two covertible pesos for a beer at a bar (and not just a privately owned one) is a reflection of a hard inequity: there is a segment of the population that can afford to pay that price,” writes Fernandez next to the photo. “The market is like a river. No matter how hard you try, you can’t grab the water with your hands. All you can do is channel it.”

The minister of Finance and Pricing, Meisi Bolaños Weiss, does not see it that way and warns in a tweet that cafe owners “should not resort to tricks to evade pricing regulations.” She added that “complaints and reports of violations should include the date and time they were observed to insure immediate and effective action.”

Since the announcement of salary increases at the end of June, authorities have urged customers to report any privately owned establishment that raises its prices.

“It took just a few days before someone figured out how to work around that restriction,” says Evelio, a regular customer at private pizzerias in Havana. He notes that many of them “are selling what they call a completa, which includes a pizza and a beer or soda, so nothing has changed.”

“I fear that soon it will be very hard to buy a cold beer in this city just by itself, without anything else.” Evelio is not surprised by this new combo fad. “Cubans are used to state stores packaging basic necessities with low-end merchandise and selling it at very high prices for Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day.”

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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.

Statue of Nicolas Guillen Raises Controversy Over Its Lack of Resemblance to the Poet

“They achieved the miracle of turning Nicolás Guillén into another person,” an Internet user said ironically about the newly inaugurated sculpture. (Art for Excellencies)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 12 July 2019 — With a smile from ear to ear, a sparkling look, a mane grown long and a mischievous phrase sticking to his lips, is how so many remember the poet Nicolás Guillén. As of this Wednesday, however, those who pass from through the Alameda de Paula, in Old Havana, come across a statue accompanied by a sign with his name but which bears very little resemblance to the writer from Camagüey.

On July 10, on the 117th anniversary of Guillén’s birthday, the bronze piece made by the sculptor Enrique Angulo was officially inaugurated. But the image of a man who looks at the bay in a suit and tie, hardly evokes the one who was also president of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and to whom the Cuban government awarded the epithet of “national poet,” which is still attached to him in books, manuals and institutional events. continue reading

The controversy was not long in coming and a few hours after the sculpture was presented to the public, several of those who knew the poet personally have criticized the few similarities between the figure and the author of the poem Tengo.

“They have just inaugurated a statue of Nicolás Guillén in Havana, which looks nothing, absolutely nothing, like Nicolás.I have seen many pictures of the poet in different stages of his life and apart from that, I personally saw him since 1971, when he was 41 years old, and in successive years, so I have a clear image in my memory,” composer and musicologist Rodolfo De La Fuente Escalona commented on his Facebook account.

“They achieved the miracle of turning Guillen into another person,” said another Internet user who also evoked some of the poet’s most repeated verses, especially those in which he said “I have, let’s see, / I have the pleasure of going about my country / owner of all there is in it.” Now, “besides that nothing that he said came to pass, with this statue they have taken from him his true face,” he said.

“It’s better that people do not know who this sculpture man is because if they realize that he’s the one who said ’I have what I now have / a place to work / and earn what I have to eat’, they’ll come here to make a protest,” ventured a neighbor of the Alameda, who didn’t fail to notice that “Guillen has his back to the city and is looking out to the North.”

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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.

Cuban Schools Lagging in Sports

In Cuba there is a deficit of 1,736 Physical Education teachers and many sports areas are in poor condition. (Sue Kellerman)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 11 July 2019 — “Breathe deeply, touch your shoulders with your hands”, the young PE teacher instructs some children who laugh, leave the line and from time to time follow the instructions of the teacher, while they play an improvised football match with a handball.

The scene takes place in the Havana neighborhood of El Cerro, in a square with a cracked pavement with the grass growing through it. It must be one of those 10,700 sports areas with problems, of which 3,863 are evaluated as poor or bad, according to the report presented this week before the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP).

This deterioration and the deficit of 1,736 teachers of Physical Education, which the document also mentions, means that in many elementary schools physical education period has become a time to run around or have a snack, but not to do sports. continue reading

Despite the fact that every year hundreds of students graduate from the Provincial School of Physical Education (EPEF), many teachers of this subject migrate to other better-paid activities and many recent graduates do not even teach classes to fulfill their two years of social service. Some end up in the schools practicing this professions, more out of family pressures so they don’t “hang around the house doing nothing,” their true vocation.

“I started with tremendous enthusiasm but along the way I realized that this is very hard,” 14ymedio hears from Osniel Villafuente, a 23-year-old who, five years ago, began to teach Physical Education classes in a high school in San Miguel del Census. A few months passed and he lost the taste for work because “the lack of resources limits everything you dream about during the years you spend learning the profession,” he explains.

Right now, the authorities of the Ministry of Education are in a process of reforming the programs in the subject. For decades, two sports were practiced in elementary school, but after the adjustments in the program this may be expanded to six, and the teachers will choose which sports disciplines they teach, in line with the facilities of each school.

The metal frame of an old school table serves as a goal in a sports area on Carlos III Street that several schools in the area use. A student has brought his own ball to practice with his classmates. The group that arrived later was not so lucky and could only train doing some racing and some squatting.

In the absence of teachers and sports equipment, the Physical Education period is often used to snack, run or play. (James Emery)

For Osniel Villafuente the reform that the authorities seek in the subject could, instead of alleviating the problems, end up aggravating them. “With two sports it is already difficult for us to complete the study program because there are few resources. Having a ball is a problem and the areas where we do exercises are in very bad condition. So what is going to happen when new sports are incorporated?”

“In addition, we have a lack of interest among the students because they were born and live in this century, but they are receiving a course conceived and designed in the last century that is not interesting,” adds the teacher, who now works in a small workshop repairing mobile phones. “These teenagers today have grown up with video games and manga cartoons, they make fun of you when you tell them to raise an arm or raise a leg.”

The president of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (Inder), Osvaldo Vento Montiller, explained this week to parliamentarians about the need to “make the subject of Physical Education an attractive activity for students”. An urgency in an era “where digitization and computer products prevail, in which recreation is associated with a sedentary lifestyle”.

The official acknowledged that the physical education taught in schools across the island continues to generate “dissatisfaction and does not meet the expectations of students.” On the other hand, he pointed out that there is not a good recruitment of talents among children and teens to prepare them as athletes, an absence that is undermining the foundations of Cuban sport.

“I have five students out of a total of 17 who almost never come to Physical Education,” laments a teacher of the subject who twice a week trains her students in a park in the neighborhood of La Timba, near the Plaza of the Revolution. “Four other students have medical certificates that say they can not do physical education, but everyone knows they are justifications that are invented with the complicity of parents to skip this period.”

In schools where teachers are missing, it is common practice for the subject to be graded automatically with the maximum score in the students’ file. A situation that increases disrespect towards the discipline.

“My daughter has three periods without a physical education teacher and at that time what they do is go out to the playground and start playing,” laments Yanelis, mother of a student at the José Luis Arruñada elementary school in the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución. “In several meetings with the school’s management, we have demanded that the problem be solved, but we are told that they do not have teachers, that nobody wants the position.”

The mother considers that now is a good time to alleviate the situation with the salary increase announced at the end of June and that will benefit, starting this month, more than 2.7 million public workers, including employees of the Ministry of Education.

“We’re going to see if that motivates many of those graduates to go back to school and stand in front of a group,” says the woman. “If this is not the case, I do not know how this can be fixed because the longer these children do not receive Physical Education classes, the more they will have less interest in sports, something that will hold them back for the rest of their lives,” says Yanelis.

In universities the picture is not very different. In these centers of higher education the practice of sports is usually limited to students who have the ability to compete and represent their faculty in the University Games. Those who have no talent can barely access the facilities where those who already know how to play basketball, volleyball or baseball are trained, and they must settle for going around the track and doing a little warm-up.

The prominence achieved by Cuba in sports has decreased markedly in the last 20 years. We are already talking with nostalgia about the times when the Island had won trophies in all the regional events and even surpassed first world countries in the Olympics.

Yanelis is clear: “How are we going to have Olympic champions if right now there are children who spend the Physical Education shift throwing stones or playing with a mobile phone?”

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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.