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.

Did the Cuban Economy Grow 2.2% in 2018?

The shortage of agricultural products was one of the most evident signs of the economic crisis that deepened at the end of last year and that still extends over the whole Island. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, July 15, 2019 — Many economists have been seized by incredulity at the official announcement that Cuba’s Gross Domestic Product recorded an increase of 2.2% in 2018, almost double the 1.2% published last December by the same authorities.

In his speech last Saturday before Parliament, president Miguel Díaz-Canel took a surprising turn when he declared that “after concluding the calculations and reconciliations of the levels of activity that determine the performance of the economy,” they had reached the conclusion that the results had been better than expected and that the GDP had grown by 2.2%.

The change was owed mainly to the performance of the construction, public health, and agricultural sectors, according to the state-owned Cuban News Agency (ACN). Several economists call these figures into question, noting the complex economic situation of the second half of 2018, especially with the food shortages. continue reading

The economist Pedro Monreal questioned the method followed to raise the GDP. “The revision of the growth of agriculture to 2.6% is noteworthy, it radically modifies a previous estimate of a decrease of -4.9%. It’s a big variation of 7.5 points,” he pointed out.

The shortage of agricultural products was one of the most evident signs of the economic crisis that worsened at the end of last year and still extends over the whole Island. In December pork reached 70 CUP per pound in some markets in the Cuban capital, despite the government’s attempt to force it down by imposing price caps.

Monreal appeals to the figures recently published by the National Office of Statistics (ONEI) and which don’t seem to fit with the new results. “A few days ago chapter 9 of the Statistical Yearbook of 2018 had been published with information on agriculture. Those statistics were not expressed in value, but rather in physical indicators and they seemed to indicate a not very optimistic trend.”

The economist Elías Amor goes a step further in his criticism. “After the disastrous balance made previously, they’re declaring that the economy grew double what was predicted. Is that how they intend to get credibility? What are the reasons for this statistical, or perhaps political, fraud?” he writes in his blog Cubaeconomía.

Amor recalls that “since 2007 there hasn’t been recorded a polemic like this in the data on the Cuban economy. (…) At the moment, we are not going to accept the 2.2% growth in 2018. There is no reason for it,” specifies the economist, who lives in Spain.

The opinion of both specialists coincides with the warning given by the economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago in February during the Conference on Cuban and Cuban-American Affairs at Florida International University. Then, the University of Pittsburgh professor emeritus emphasized that the Island’s economy is in its worst moment since the 1990s.

Mesa-Lago also recalled that in 2006, when Raúl Castro took power, the government announced a GDP growth of 12.3%. “But it had been gradually declining until in 2018 it fell to 1.2%,” he said in reference to the figure that was modified this Saturday. “The figures become complicated,” according to Mesa-Lago, with the fact that the fiscal deficit jumped from 3.2% in 2007 to 8.7% ten years later.

On social media, users also criticized the new figure for GDP and made jokes about it. On Twitter, a user identified as Conodrum lamented that “the worst thing isn’t that they lie but that some in the hierarchy believe the lies and act in accordance with them.” While Mario J. Pentón wrote ironically on Facebook: “We have always heard that the Cuban Government puts makeup on its growth figures. This is no longer makeup, it’s total plastic surgery.”

Nor were jokes lacking among customers of the agricultural market on San Rafael street, one of the most important in Havana. “Now, yes, we have an abundant GDP, to fill the platforms, the plate, and the eyes,” laughed a lady who had come in search of an avocado but decided to leave with her bag empty when she saw the price: 15 CUP each (roughly 60¢ US, in a country with an average monthly wage of about $30).

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.

"Available," the Official Cuban Euphemism for the Unemployed

Low wages, the desire to emigrate and the informal labor sector are some of the reasons for not having a permanent job. (Pedro S.)

14ymedio bigger
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 5 July 2019 —  Official terminology in Cuba has its forbidden words. A lot of missing terms that can not be used by national officials, ministers or media. That forbidden vocabulary includes concepts such as crisis, femicide or unemployment. For Cubans who do not work, despite having the age and physical conditions to do so, the Government prefers the phrase “available workers.”

Although the official figures place unemployment below 3% on the Island, it is enough to walk the streets on a weekday during working hours to see the large numbers of people who are doing nothing. Of the 7,173,150 Cubans of working age reported in 2017 by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), only 4,474,800 worked, whether in the state, private or cooperative sector.

More than 2.7 million Cubans are in the limbo of unemployment, a situation that they have reached mainly due to the little stimulus that state salaries provide. Other influences, according to testimonies collected by 14ymedio, include the desires to emigrate, which lead people to devote most of their time to paperwork or tasks related to the departure; or involvement with some kind og informal business that provides individuals more resources than legal employment.

They are those who live on the margin, those who do not have access to a paid vacation or a pension when they get older, but who nevertheless boast of not having to “spend eight hours in one place for a few pesos a month,” as described by Pablo, 33, who only worked for two years after graduating from an engineering and spent his required social service in a state agency.

“I was offered a place, but I’ll never again work like that on a a fixed schedule,” he says. Now he devotes his time to the resale of perfumes and underwear through digital classified sites. “There are weeks that I earn more and others that I earn less but I am my own boss.” Pablo does not consider himself unemployed. “What I am is free,” he clarifies.

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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.

"What Comes Out of the Pipes Looks Like Coffee"

Camagüey residents complain about how often bad water comes out of the pipes. (La Hora de Cuba)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, 8 July 2019 — The highest summer temperatures arrive and everyone dreams of water. Whether in a glass with ice, in a comfortable pool or in the waves of the sea. These are also the moments when one faces the greatest risk of being infected with pathogens that come from bad handling of what we drink or eat, the experts warn us.

The sanitary authorities remind us throughout the year that the water that arrives through the pipes or water trucks must be treated before being consumed, warnings that are redoubled in the months of greater heat increase the consumption of prepared beverages , ice creams, slushies and cocktails.

With more than a million students on vacation and domestic life also stressed by the imperatives of heat, for many families it becomes difficult and expensive to rigorously maintain the process of water purification for the substance that comes out of the taps or is acquired by some other source of supply near their homes. continue reading

In most Cuban homes residents treat the water in some way, using methods such as filtering it through appliances with active carbon, boiling it, or adding drops of chlorine-based purifying products. But there are also many families who ingest it without subjecting it to any kind of improvement or purification.

A special report published by the University of Miami in 2017, detailing the results of almost 500 surveys of travelers arriving from the Island, determined that one of the most serious problems with the water supply mentioned was: “obsolete pipelines are so rusty that water is often contaminated.”

“Here the water comes looking like coffee, but the worst is the smell of rust,” laments Lianne Céspedes, a resident of the city of Camagüey where problems with the water supply are widely denounced by citizens. “We have two small children and for them we have to buy water from a vendor who has a well,” she tells 14ymedio.

“For the adults of the house we boil the water and filter it and all that takes a lot of work, my mother is the one who takes care of it and dedicates several hours each day to be able to guarantee that the water we drink is moderately safe,” explains Céspedes. “We can not buy water at the ’shopping’, so this is the only thing we can do.”

The purchase of water bottles is a luxury that few can afford and in the networks of state stores there have been cases of employees who falsify these containers by simply filling them with tap water. It is common for tourists to come down with cases of the so-called “traveler’s diarrhea,” a gastroenteritis that is usually caused by bacteria endemic to local water.

“I have not been able to enjoy anything, since I arrived, I’m vomiting and having diarrhea,” says Thomas, a 29-year-old German who was waiting on the weekend at the Cira García international clinic in Havana, from which he left with a prescription to buy ciprofloxacin and the recommendation to also take oral rehydration serums.

“I have no doubt where I got sick,” says the traveler. “The day I arrived I went to a small bar in Old Havana and I had two mojitos, the next morning when I got up I felt bad and I am convinced that it was ice which wasn’t made with safe water.”

Thomas’s story is so common that many private guides recommend to their customers that they notconsume any drink or cocktail with ice. “I tell them to only drink canned and bottled beverages and, preferably, directly from the container because many glasses are also poorly washed,” says Mónica, 24, an English translator who is dedicated to giving tours of Havana’s historic disctrict.

In Cuba, as in other countries of the region, the protozoa of the genera Cryptosporidium and Giardia are the parasites that cause the most common diarrheal outbreaks of water origin. People can accidentally swallow them when they drink water at recreational places, or even at home if, for some reason, it is not completely clean.

Research carried out by specialists of the Provincial Center of Hygiene and Epidemiology in Ciego de Ávila warns that in the case of Cryptosporidium the chlorination of water does not destroy it and it can “survive in incompletely filtered water.” It is transmitted through the fecal-oral route through consumption of unfiltered water, through the ingestion of food, as well as through the water in swimming pools, cow’s milk, and contaminated vegetables.”

Other medical research conducted between 2013 and 2014 in Havana and Santiago de Cuba revealed that Cubans have a low perception of the risk of acquiring Acute Diarrheal Disease (ADD). The majority of respondents said they consume the water as it arrives through the pipes, due to lack of time or resources, especially among those who do not have manufactured or liquefied gas for cooking.

“It is impossible to boil the water because here we cook with an electric stove and sometimes with a little wood in the patio,” says a neighbor from Palmarito del Cauto in Santiago de Cuba. “We had a filter that my daughter bought me the last time she came to Cuba but to keep buying the pieces and the carbon is very expensive,” she says.

Water filters, mainly manufactured in South Korea, which are sold in the network of national stores, require replacements several times a year. The authorities of the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) have also warned that these processors, manufactured with activated carbon and other elements, are not capable of eliminating the most dangerous bacteria and microorganisms.

Nor do customers inquire too much about the quality of the water used in state or private businesses that provide food services. On the central 23rd street in Havana, a small line of users waited this Saturday to buy a ’frozzen’, a light ice cream made mainly of water and flavor extracts.

“This is the cheapest thing you can take on the streets and costs three Cuban pesos (CUP — roughly 12¢ US),” a student at the nearby Faculty of Economics told this newspaper. “Everyone knows that with this price it is very difficult for this to be done with safe water, but we are already immunized,” he adds wryly. “But if I had children I would not give them a ’frozzen’ for anything in the world.”

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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.

On La Rampa, Better Not to Look Down

The public works project of the Electric Union have not taken any care to respect the works of La Rampa. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 24 June 2019 — If something differentiates Cuban nationals from tourists when they walk through the streets, it is the place where they fix their eyes. While the visitors are left looking at the beauty of the architecture or the miracle that a decrepit balcony has not yet fallen, those of us who live on this island walk around all the time looking down to avoid the gaps in the sidewalk, the puddles of sewage water and all types of common waste on public roads. This is the case almost everywhere on Havana’s La Rampa, where foreigners also like to enjoy the scenery under their shoes.

The most famous sidewalk in the Cuban capital is dotted with mosaics by national artists such as Amelia Peláez, Wifredo Lam, René Portocarrero, Hugo Consuegra, Mariano Rodríguez and Cundo Bermúdez, among others. For decades, walking along it has been like enjoying an exhibition hall without having to pay entrance fees. Although the years and the deterioration has caused it to lose some of its beauty, Havanans trusted that the stone and granite were harder than the apathy.

But a few days ago the Electric Union began to break up the pavement of 23rd Street, especially in the section between L and M and, in addition to taking pieces of the artistic works with them, they did not hesitate to carelessly fill in the outline of the images and cover parts of others with cement.

Now, everyone keeps looking down when they walk by along La Rampa, but not to admire the beauty under the feet but to see how far the mess can go. It does not matter if you are Cuban or foreigner, everyone looks at the ground and it hurts, of course it hurts.

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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.

Passengers, Victims of the War between the Government and Taxi Drivers

For decades transportation has been a big problem in Santiago de Cuba, where passengers depend primarily on delivery trucks and motorcycles to get around. (A. Masegi)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 25 June 2019 — In small cafe, located only a few yards from the Monaco Cinema and one of Havana’s most prominent private taxi stands, an employee and the cafe’s the meager clientele confirm what everyone already knows. The cab fares in the vintage 1950s cars known locally as almendrones have risen so much that customers must now choose between a pizza or a shared-taxi.

Last October the Provincial Administrative Council began an experiment that involved new rules along with economic and fiscal incentives for self-employed workers in the transportation sector. In December a package of measures took effect which regulated where they could drive, the sale of gasoline and the locations where they could pick up passengers.

Unhappy with regulations they considered to be overly restrictive, taxi drivers went on strike. For almost a week, the familiar 1950s vehicles, which have long been a mainstay of Havana’s urban landscape, were barely visible on the streets. Many drivers later returned to work but under guidelines that were not strictly legal. continue reading

A ride that used to cost 20 pesos was now being divided into two, three and even four segments. Customers were now paying 10 pesos per segment. In the best case scenario, the fare was double what a customer had been paying for the entire ride. This trick allowed driver to evade controls by fare inspectors. If a customer filed a complaint, the driver could claim he had never charged the passenger more than 20 pesos a ride.

“I work in Old Havana and live in Lisa,” says Monica Puerto, an employee at a privately owned cafe in the city’s historic center. “I’m now paying 40 pesos, twice what I used to pay. But that’s not the main problem because, in the end, I can adapt and pay for it out of my tips. What’s worse is that I cannot find a taxi that will take me all the way.”

“To get to work last Friday, I had to take three different taxis. When I add it all up, I am spending more time and more money,” says Puerto. In response, officials are increasing the number of public transport vehicles, adding twelve-seat microbuses to several routes. Demand is so high at peak hours, however, that bus stops are packed.

“It is virtually impossible to catch one in the middle of a route because people who have to travel long distances know that, if you don’t get on at the starting point, you won’t be able to get on later,” explains a nurse who takes the bus between Central Havana and Playa several times a week. “With my salary, I had a hard time paying for private taxis before but now it is impossible.”

Half hidden under the shadow of a tree on Carlos III Street, an inspector in a blue vest waits for the traffic light to turn green to pull over and inspect an almendron on this route. He stops one with three passengers and asks to see the driver’s papers. While checking to see if everything is in order, he takes the opportunity to ask the passengers how much they are being charged. The customers close ranks with the driver and state the official price.

“The problem we have is that the people themselves are complicit in their own robberies,” explains the inspector to a couple of curious onlookers. “If passengers filed a complaint when they are forced to pay twice the official rate, things would be different.” The same scenario is repeated in the next two inspections.

“Trying to create order has created chaos,” complains a mother carrying her daughter a few yards away. “The problem is not the prices the almendrones are charging. The problem is our salaries.” The woman, a housewife whose husband is a doctor on a medical mission in Africa, believes the battle between the self-employed workers and the government is hurting customers.

In Santiago de Cuba, the same is happening. On Monday, price controls began taking effect on private transport workers, mainly drivers of motorcyles and private delivery trucks with seats added to them.

Mayra Perez Gonzalez, vice-president of the provincial administrative council, has argued that the new fares are the result of work by a “multi-disciplinary commission” that seeks a “balance between the service [drivers] provide and the purchasing power of our people.”

To keep drivers of private vehicles from charging the old fares, police officials have posted uniformed officers at stops to make sure the five-peso fare limit on private trucks is being observed. “The stops are packed and there is no way to get from one point to another,” complains a Cuban Patriotic Union activist in a Youtube video.

“We already knew that this was coming because, as soon as these rules were took effect in Havana, everyone became irritated. But we thought that maybe the government had changed its mind and wouldn’t impose these prices here,” says Elsa Rojas, a resident of Palmarito del Cauto, which, she claims, “is now essentially incommunicado because of these measures.”

Rojas noted that, on Monday, she was not able to travel to the provincial capital because “there’s no transportation, not public, not private… A truck stopped at a spot far from the usual pick-up point but a fist fight broke out over who was going to get into it and the driver warned them that he was not going to make the whole trip. This is complicating everyone’s family life and we are the ones who have to pick up the pieces.”

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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 Investors, Yes, but Only if They Live Overseas

A man consults the Law of Foreign Investment in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami 8 June 2019 — The country’s official news outlets reported on Friday that “there is no impediment” to investing on the island for those living in the diaspora. Quite true, under the Foreign Investment Act, but not for Cuban nationals.

In an article in the digital news site Cubadebate, Ministry of Foreign Trade official Deborah Rivas stated that the Foreign Investment Act, adopted by the Cuban parliament in 2014, “sets no restrictions on the origin of capital.”

In the same article she noted that the Minister of Foreign Trade, Rodrigo Malmierca, had tweeted the previous week that citizens “of Cuban origin” can invest in the island. continue reading

The statements come at a time of heightened concern over the finances of the government, which owes more than 1.5 billion dollars to food suppliers according to the economics minister. The government is also facing implementation by the Trump Administration of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. Under this law US-born and naturalized Cuban citizens and can sue companies that invest in properties expropriated by Fidel Castro in the 1960s.

In the article Rivas states, “Nowhere does the Foreign Investment Act mention citizenship or place of birth but it is quite clear that the investor’s place of residence and capital should be outside of Cuba.”

“Our regulations do not stipulate a minimum amount of foreign investment capital required for approval. In each case a comprehensive analysis of the proposed project is carried out and the amount of capital to be spent corresponds to the investment to be made,” she adds.

Her statements contrast with those made by Chancellor Bruno Rodriguez at a gathering of Americans for Engagement, an organization of Cuban-Americans and US citizens which seeks improved relations between the United States and Cuba. In a 2012 meeting with Cuban-Americans interested in participating in Cuban investment projects, Rodriguez acknowledged that, while there is “a legal basis for Cuban emigres to invest, the Cuban government is not interested in investments of 100,000, 200,000 or 300,000 dollars.”

“Cuba is looking for investments of a magnitude that, as a rule, do not come from the emigre community,” he added.

According to official figures, the island needs to attract 2.5 billion dollars of foreign capital for development and has targeted several key sectors, including manufacturing, agro-business, tourism, mining, biotechnology, petroleum and renewable energy. Though every year the government publishes a business portfolio which includes hundreds of projects valued at more than ten billion dollars, they fail to attract many investors.

According to the economist Omar Everleny Perez, the main problem with foreign investments on the Island is excessive red tape, which makes the pace of business approvals “slow and bureaucratic.”

Among the problems affecting foreign investment are the dual currency system and the inability of employers to hire their own workers. Currently, the state acts as intermediary, hiring workers and retaining most of their paychecks. In response, some companies have opted to bring in foreign workers and pay them directly, guaranteeing the companies more effective quality control.

Deborah Rivas’ statements have generated a strong response on social media, especially among Cubans on the island, who lament the exclusionary nature of a law which allows expatriates to invest in companies, industries and other sectors of the economy but prevents those who live in the country from doing the same.

According to baritone and Opera de la Calle director Ulises Aquino it does not make sense to discriminate against those who remained in Cuba, “against those who did not leave, who have struggled their whole lives.” In a post on his Facebook account he defends the right “of all Cuban business people” to be respected whether they are inside or outside the country.

A computer technician, Norges Rodriguez, joined the fray when he tweeted a question: What would happen if a Cuban living abroad makes an investment on the island and then decides to move back to Cuba? “What happens to his investment?” he asks in a message linked to the Twitter account of the Cuban ambassador to the United States.

Even during the brief thaw that began during the Obama administration, some American investment projects on the island were sidelined because of conditions imposed by the Cuban side. One such case involved Cleber LLC, which wanted to assemble tractors in the so-called Mariel Special Development Zone.

In spite of receiving widespread media coverage for being the first project to be completely funded with US capital since 1959, Cuban authorities rejected the company’s proposal because of its owner, Cuban-American businessman Saul Berenthal.

Rejection of the proposed project, which had been applauded by Obama himself during his 2016 visit to the island, stemmed from Berenthal’s having obtained permanent resident status in Cuba. The repatriation process restored his rights as a citizen but at the same time prevented him from investing on the island as a foreign businessman.

“Can individuals living in the country participate in foreign investment projects? No. The law is aimed at attracting foreign investors, or Cubans living abroad whose assets are also abroad, who can provide financing, advanced technologies, markets for our products and new revenue,” explains a study on the Foreign Investment Act.

Individuals in Cuba’s budding private business sector are subject to many restrictions such as the inability to set up corporations, or to import and export. Meanwhile, the government still relies on unproductive “socialist state enterprises” as its primary means of support.

Recently, the European Union’s ambassador to Havana, Alberto Navarro, called on Cuba to allow “more commercial openness” in response to the implementation of Title III of Helms-Burton. Foreign trade minister Rivas responded to the ambassador in the official media, saying that Cuba was planning to create a “special window for foreign investment” to reduce the time spent waiting for approval of investment projects.

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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.

Cubans Say Goodbye to an Era

With the touchdown of the United Airlines plane in New York at 6:35 PM, most of its passengers were saying goodbye to an era.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, June 6, 2019 — Before departing, the ship’s bullhorn sounded and cars near the Havana Cruise Terminal responded by honking goodbye with their own horns. A group of people waved farewell and some even took out a handkerchief. The Empress of the Seas sailed away and, as the impressive structure left Cuba’s main port, an era came to an end.

On Wednesday the Trump administration implemented a travel ban on educational and cruise trips to Cuba, which thousands of Americans had used to visit the island nation that is so close yet so far away. Licenses for recreational and passenger ships were also canceled along with private air flights in an effort to deprive the Cuban government of a major source of hard currency.

However, in the streets of Havana and the areas near tourist attractions, which until recently benefitted from this flow of visitors, the economic pain seemed to be felt more by self-employed workers than the almighty state. continue reading

“Now there a lot of people affected by this,” says Sergio, a guide from a private guided tour agency who had been waiting for customers all day Wednesday but went home empty handed. In addition to dealing with the daily challenges imposed by Cuban bureaucracy — the young man’s business does not yet have a license to operate — he now has run up against another obstacle.

“We have to be discreet so that the police patrolling Old Havana don’t stop us. If they see us with a group of foreigners, they’ll slap us with a sixty-dollar fine.” In the middle of the off-season, the arrival of cruise ships offered many like Sergio the chance to earn a little hard currency in a country that in recent months has experienced increased food shortages and a rise in prices.

“The list of those affected by this is long: owners of short-term rentals, privately owned restaurants, drivers of vintage cars,” says the tour guide. A whole network of private businesses that must pay the state high taxes just to stay in business. According to Sergio, owners of the old 1950s cars that offer cruise ship passengers tours around the city must pay almost 800 dollars a month. “Those guys are screwed,” he says,

A sizable portion of economic earnings remain in the hands of officials, a situation criticized by activists and dissidents who are subjected to repression on a daily basis.

Independent journalist Boris González believes that the steps taken by Obama “were seen as somenting potentially positive” at the time but adds that those steps were taken only by one side. The Cuban government barely budged at all. “The first move should have been by the Cuban goverment. It should have lifted the blockade it has on its citizens,” he says.

González believes that, if the Cuban authorities do not lift restrictions on its citizens, “they should not be allowed to enjoy and consolidate the benefits of that policy.” He adds, “We Cubans have to keep insisting that it’s about having freedom and not about picking up the money that falls out of the government’s pocket.”

At the  table of a bar near the dark waters of the bay, Jonathan and Josephine finish off a mojito as they count the hours before their return to San Francisco. Both work at a medical insurance company and arrived in the Cuban capital as part of a group that sponsors agro-ecology projects on the outskirts of the city.

“This is the fourth time we have been here in the last three years and we’ve made a lot of friends here. Now it will be difficult to see them again,” laments Jonathan.

Josephine adds, “It’s a shame because we help the people and most of the Cubans we speak with are critical of their government and want more freedom. Now they are going to be punished as well.”

At José Martí International Airport’s Terminal 2, several miles away, dozens of American passengers are boarding a United Airlines flight to Newark. A selfie on the plane’s tarmac with Havana’s afternoon sky in the background was all that was left of a visit that no one knows when they will be able to make again.

Twenty-two-year-old Claire took a trip with two friends to see Cuba and boasted of being the first person in her family to visit the island thanks to measures adopted by Barack Obama after the diplomatic thaw that began at the end of 2014

“We came with a group visiting Baptist churces but we really we had a lot of time to see the country, have fun and visit places.” In her bag are two bottles of Havana Club rum, sealed in a plastic security bag, which she promises will be “the last souvenir we can take with us before it all ends.”

Claire and her friends heard about the end of cultural and educational trips to the island, known as “people-to-people” exchanges, while they were taking a dip at the beach at Santa Maria, east of Havana. They had been able to visit because their trip fell under one of the twelve categories of licenses issued by the US State Department, which include government business, media activities, research, and educational, religious or medical projects.

“I feel sorry for the people I met and hope these measures really help the Cuban people, though at the moment it’s hard to see if they will have positive results,” she admits. “I hope that, when I return to Cuba the next time, there will be more freedom, especially for young people. Many of them I spoke with asked me to help them leave the country and that means they do not feel good about being here.”

For activist and former Black Spring prisoner Angel Mora the measures adopted by the US administration are correct: “The money they get from these businesses will end up in the hands of those strenthening the repressive apparatus of the dictatorship.” He adds, “The public does not benefit from this type of tourism. It amounts to trafficking in properties that were confisctated from their legitimate owners.”

Moya believes the next step will be the elimination of the so-called cultural exchanges, which have resulted in many artists from the island performing on American stages in the last five years. “They serve no purpose other than to allow the Cuban regime to export its ideology and propaganda,” says the activist.

By contrast, Elaine Díaz, director of the independent digital news outlet Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism), is not happy about this action by the Trump administration. “It’s bad news for Cubans. One more measure that hurts citizens rather than the government,” she said.

With the touchdown of the United Airlines plane in New York at 6:35 PM, most of its passengers were saying goodbye to an era.

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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.

Fish Returns to Cubans’ Tables… Sort of

These two fish cost 60 Cuba pesos (CUP). (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 29 May 2019 — Just crossing the street, the aroma changes. You can smell the fish cooking in the houses of Central Havana, where the product is for sale “liberated but controlled” — that is not on the ration book, but in limited quantities — according to a sign outside the markets. On the other side of the avenue, the residents wait for the fish to be unloaded as soon as possible, because of the refrigeration problems in the butcher shops.

The product sells at 20 Cuban pesos (CUP) a pound, in amounts ranging from 1 to 3 ‘units’ per family, according to the number of members.  Its arrival in the rationed markets has generated reactions of all kinds, from those who fear that its appearance means that chicken will continue to be missing, to those who protest the amounts they are allowed to buy.

In some neighborhoods the sale of rationed fish has already started. This sign details the complex allocations of ‘liberado’ (i.e. ‘freed’ or unrationed) but ’controlado’ (controlled) fish. A family (‘nucleo’) of 1-3 people gets one fish; a family of 4-6 people gets 2fish, and a family of 7 or more gets 3 fish. (14ymedio)

On social media the internauts joke, resignedly. “I don’t know whether to eat it or to keep it as a souvenir for all the years when we won’t see one of these again,” says one user. “Before they sold ‘chicken for fish’* and now they sell ‘fish for chicken’. This country is upside down,” adds another.

While fish is already being sold in some neighborhoods, others are waiting for it to arrive, although they will barely receive a tiny bit of fish to share.

*Translator’s note: The libreta, or ration book, lists the amounts of rationed products each family or individual is entitled to. When the shopper goes to the bodega (ration store) another product may be substituted for something that is unavailable. Hence the phrase “chicken for fish,” and, in this case, its alternate, “fish for chicken.” 

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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.