‘Who Is Going to Bring Me Food If I Can’t Go Out?’

The virus is more lethal to old people. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 19 March 2020 — Every morning he greets the dawn in front of the newspaper stand. Sometimes he waits a few minutes and others for hours, but Romualdo, 79, explains that he has time because he is retired and without a family. After buying the papers, he resells them through the streets of Havana. “They tell me that I shouldn’t leave the house because of the coronavirus, but if I don’t do this, I don’t eat.”

He pays 0.20 CUP (Cuban pesos) for each copy of the official newspaper,  Granma, and then offers it to customers who don’t want to line up at the kiosk for five times that value. Although it seems a high number, it is just pennies (4 cents US) that mean little in Cuba’s expensive daily life. “There are days when I make 15 [Cuban] pesos and others that I am lucky enough to meet tourists who pays me 1 CUC  (Cuban convertible peso, roughly $1 US) for a newspaper, those are the holidays.”

With a pension that does not exceed 300 CUP per month, about $12 US, Romualdo survives on the resale of newspapers and running errands for his neighbors, such as buying their products from the rationed market and delivering them to their homes. He is what is popularly called a “messenger” who, with those extra tasks manages to “eat poorly, but eat every day,” he says. continue reading

But now, his life, which seemed to have found a precarious balance, is about to change. “I am diabetic and asthmatic, the family clinic doctor told me that I have to take care not to get the virus which is already here.” The retiree is between a rock and a hard place: “I can’t stay locked in my house because if I don’t sell my newspapers and run other errands I can’t eat. Who is going to bring me food if I can’t go out?”

The call to stay at home that is traveling the world in the face of the pandemic has reached Cuba through social networks. Many parents have decided not to send their children to school even though the Ministry of Education has not yet canceled classes, and at state workplaces, employees are trying to convince their bosses to let them work from home. But there are others who know that being locked within four walls can present other risks.

Currently, 18.3% of Cuba’s 11.1 million inhabitants are over 60 years old, which places the country among the oldest in the Americas. This demographic composition makes the Island especially vulnerable to Covid-19, as demonstrated by the incidence of mortality among the elderly in Italy and Spain, where several nursing homes have become death traps for dozens of inmates.

Biologist Amilcar Pérez Riverol warned of the seriousness of the matter in a text published on his Facebook account. “Cuba has more than 1,125,000 inhabitants between 60-69 years (estimated mortality of Covid-19 in this age group, 4.5%), more than 768,000 between 70-79 years (lethality 8.9%) and more out of 392,000 aged 80+ (18% case fatality),” he wrote. Those data give a total of “more than 2,286,000 inhabitants in the ages of risk.”

Rosa María is 72 years old and makes a living preparing homemade sweets at her home in the Güira municipality, in Artemisa, and selling them to customers in the Cuban capital. Once a week, she takes the train that leads to the small station on Calle Tulipán and offers her products in the high-rise buildings in the area, where for years some residents have made a habit of buying her guava chells, dulce de leche and homemade jams.

“I am hypertensive and for five years I have been in remission from cancer, so I am in the group of people with the highest risk from the virus,” she details. Widowed for a decade, Rosa María has always been a housewife and now receives the pension of her deceased husband. “It is not enough for me, if I do not go out to sell my sweets I will die of hunger,” she says.

Many Cuban elders survive by reselling official newspapers. (B. Atkinson)

This week, several customers didn’t even open the door for her when she knocked. “They told me that they don’t want to let anyone in and have contact with people who come from far away in case they bring the coronavirus,” laments the lady. “I was only able to sell two of the 10 candies I brought so I don’t know what I’m going to do in the next few days.”

“If they cancel the train and quarantine the country, I am going to be one of the victims, but not of the virus, rather of the lack of food and soap. In my neighborhood in Güira there are many old people who are worse off than I am because they can’t even stand up on their own. If it is difficult to buy a diaper for the elderly here in normal times, imagine now,” she details.

In nursing homes, concern grows. A nun who works as a caregiver the Santovenia Nursing Home, in the Havana municipality of Cerro, tells 14ymedio her fears.

“We are an institution with about 500 elderly residents and of them more than 300 are permanent residents here.” Most of the daily chores and care “are done by the Little Sisters of the Homeless Elderly, but there are also personnel hired for other maintenance and administration tasks. Now everyone must redouble their hygiene.”

Quinta Santovenia, a stately mansion on Calzada del Cerro, also has the support of the Ministry of Public Health and receives frequent donations from abraod from the Galician Government and the autonomous governments of Asturias and the Canary Islands. More than two decades ago, the Betania dining room was created on the site, serving the elderly who do not reside in the center but are in a vulnerable situation. Those who arrive receive not only food, but also vitamins, toiletries, clothing and medical attention.

The nuns also care for several dozen people in their homes, bring them medicine and food, and ensure that they are well. “Many are old people who live alone because their children migrated or they are living with relatives who cannot provide them with the care they need due to lack of resources or time,” says one of the nuns.

In the spacious living room, many old people from the area meet at lunchtime, and not only do they eat there but, for many, it is their only chance to have some social contact and conversation.

“We must protect them from themselves because some of them come here with a tremendous desire to speak, to hug each other and to be close because they don’t have anyone in their homes,” explains the nun. “We cannot close the dining room because we know that many of them do not have the resources to achieve even one meal a day.”

“This nursing home is one of the best in the city because a large part of the management is carried out by the Church and because we receive a lot of help and donations, but the state of other centers is truly dire,” she details. “For the most part, there are serious hygiene problems that even in normal times are potential life hazards for the elderly but are now becoming even more serious.”


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.

Cuba’s State Telecommunications Company Silent Before the Pandemic

Etecsa has not proposed any price reductions to date, should people need to be confined at home as in other countries. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 17 March 2020 — While the world implements social distancing measures and encourages teleworking to fight the spread of the coronavirus, none of this occurs in Cuba, where lack of connectivity prevents recourse to these measures that are proving effective against the spread of the epidemic elsewhere.

The support of telecommunications companies has been key in countries that have opted for people to work at home. On the other hand, on the Island this formula is practically non-existent and the high prices charged for the internet contribute to this situation.

“We do not have any [price] reduction scheduled at the moment,” an employee of the Etecsa office located on the ground floor of Havana’s Focsa building tells 14ymedio, a statement reiterated by several employees of the state telecommunications monopoly who answer the customer service numbers. Covid-19 is only alluded to on the company’s website to advertise a mobile application with information about the coronavirus. continue reading

Although the current situation on the Island is far from that experienced in Italy and Spain, the cases of infection in Cuba come from these countries. With them the Island shares a risk factor that affects the lethality of the disease, the high number of elderly people in the population.

In addition, also as in the two European States, a high percentage of the population makes a living in the service sector associated with tourism, which hinders the expansion of telework and threatens to leave many people without income, especially in the case of Cuba, where the Government lacks the financial wherewithal to borrow and offer aid.

Amazon Prime Video is another of the companies that has boosted its leisure time offerings and has made its content platform free in the areas most affected by the coronavirus in Italy. Lombardy, Piedmont, Venice and Emilia-Romagna have had access to series and movies on the streaming platform for days without having to register in advance for the company’s services. Nor is it necessary to pay the usual fee to sign up.

For its part, the Google Art Project, a partnership between the internet giant and more than 60 cultural institutions, has made available to users virtual tours of the most important museums in the world. From a mobile phone or a computer, those interested can visit these places as if they were physically on site.

“That requires a lot of megabytes and it is also audiovisual content that needs a stable and broadband connection, something that Etecsa does not manage to provide in many areas of the country,” says Mateo, a young computer engineer who is dedicated to installing applications for phones with the Android operating system. “Buying navigation packages for cell phones that could so something like this would be crazy and with the Nauta Hogar [Home internet] service it is complicated because it is not stable,” he points out.

In October of last year, official figures indicated that the Nauta Hogar service reached only 110,000 households within the Island. The price of 30 hours of navigation ranges between 15 and 70 CUC depending on speed, and beyond that users can continue browsing at a price of 0.50 CUC for each hour. A virtual visit to a museum, a movie on Netflix or watching a series on Amazon could easily cost a full day’s salary of a professional.

But through the mobile phone service, with more than 6 million subscribers across the country, it would be even more expensive. Packages of 6.5 gigabytes cost 35 CUC and 10 GB packages cost 45, figures equivalent to the monthly salary of an engineer. Both offerings are available only for the 4G network that is not yet deployed across the whole country.

At least once a month Etecsa posts a mobile balance recharge offer with an extra bonus, an option that is designed to be paid for by family or friends from abroad and bring fresh currency to the country. However, the extra bonuses that accompany the main balance cannot be used for navigation packages, only to talk on the phone and send text messages.

“Don’t even think that they are going to make an offer, if we have been crying out for internet prices [to drop] every day for months and they always have a justification for not doing it,” says Carlos Fernández, a young man who has participated on Twitter in the intense campaigns that have been carried out in the last year to try to influence the only telephone company authorized to operate in the country.

“What I fear is quite the opposite, that they take hold of all this coronavirus and cut off services so that people can’t share what is happening or report the cases of infected people they know,” he warns. “We must not forget that Etecsa is a company that does not work for the interests of its customers but rather for the interests of the Government. If the higher-ups want them to close up, they will do it  without batting an eye.”

In September of last year and when the energy crisis triggered alarms on the Island, the official media began to talk about telework. The practice is supported by the Labor Code, which went into force in June 2014, but many state companies do not try it because it demands, among other things, fluid connectivity between the employee and the center.

“They give me a number of free megabytes every month to use on my mobile,” a worker from an agency of the Ministry of Foreign Trade tells this newspaper anonymously. “Although I could do my job perfectly from home, I have to go to the office every day because those megabytes are not enough to do everything from a distance,” he regrets.

“Part of the megabytes they give me are for me to defend the Revolution in the networks, and the rest are for me to look for the data that I need for the reports, but if I tried to work from home I wouldn’t be able to connect for three days in a row,” she explains. “We have been told that we have to keep showing up for face-to-face work because the ministry does not have, at the moment, a way to guarantee teleworking.”

However, the employee fears for her health. “We are more than a dozen people breathing and moving in a closed room with air conditioning; if one has the coronavirus the others do not have any protection,” she adds. Among her hopes is that Etecsa will launch special offers in the coming days in the face of the pandemic: “It is at least what they can do with all the money they’ve earned.”


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 Cuban ’Chavito’ Smells of Death

Many private taxi drivers have chosen to accept only Cuban pesos (CUPs) as payment for their services. (Frans Persoon)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 6 March 2020 — “It’s 985 pesos,” the employee says when she brings the bill for a lunch for three people in a state restaurant in the municipality of Playa, in Havana. It exceeds the monthly salary of one of the customers, an engineer, who does not like the payment in CUP (Cuban pesos). “It is now more obvious than ever that prices have nothing to do with wages,” he complains.

Last week the Ministry of Internal Trade announced that the food services under state management can only use one currency, the CUP. Products that were previously sold in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) such as beers, soft drinks, cigars, water, ice cream, jams and other alcoholic beverages, have been priced in Cuban pesos.

The measure has triggered uncertainty about the possible short-term disappearance of the CUC, which has been losing ground since the authorities warned that the survivor of monetary unification was going to be the Cuban peso. continue reading

Since 1994 two currencies have coexisted and people have become accustomed to alternating between the devalued Cuban peso (CUP), which the state uses to pay salaries and people use to buy basic products and services; and the convertible peso (CUC), comparable to the dollar.

During the Government of Raúl Castro, from 2008 to 2018, there was much talk about monetary unification and that it would be done gradually, but to date the schedule or the moment of completion of the process has not been revealed, much less what the exchange rate will be.

“We are still getting used to this new situation,” acknowledges an employee of a small state-owned store that strives to apply the new directives that, since last week, prohibit her from charging customers in CUCs. In the business, located next to the Habana Libre hotel, food combos with pork, rice and some vegetable are sold, as well as alcoholic drinks and soft drinks. “The simple fact of calculating the income at the end of the day is already a problem because the numbers [in CUPs] are larger and errors can increase, especially when you have been working in CUCs for so many years.”

“The Cuban peso is easier to counterfeit because the paper used for many denominations is of worse quality, so we must keep our eyes peeled because people have already tried to pass some bills that were not authentic,” she adds. “Now I get a chill when I have to give a user a bill in Cuban pesos and the amount is greater than what I earn a whole month working here; before I didn’t realize it so much,” said the worker.

At a table, an Italian tourist talks with two young Cubans. They have each ordered a plate of fried pork dough, accompanied by a Belgian beer which is the only one available these days due to poor national production. Vicenzo, who lives in Milan, says that every year he comes to Cuba once or twice and that managing in CUPs bothers him.

“If before I had to change my euros into CUCs, now I also have to, then, change my CUCs into CUPs because there are services — like Panataxis — that remain exclusively in convertible pesos, while to eat or drink I need the Cuban currency [CUPs], and I’m confused the whole time… I have to go out and exchange money because I don’t have enough [in CUPs],” Vincenzo laments, when the bill arrives for 412 CUP.

The employee comments to 14ymedio that the scene is repeated almost every day. “There are people who do not know, they come, they eat and drink, and then they do not have the correct currency to pay.” A few meters away, a clever black market entrepreneur has found his niche in that difficulty. “I change 1 to 22 right now without having to an exchange kiosk,” he offers, instead of the 24 pesos of the official CUC exchange rate.

From this month the premises that provide food services under state management will now carry out all their commercial actions in CUP. (Martin Abegglen)

“Although the ’chavitos’* cannot be used here , they are still the strong currency in stores and other services, so it is convenient for me to have them,” explains the money changer. “Most of the people who accept this change are tourists, Cuban-Americans or people who don’t want to have to interrupt a lunch or a meal to change money to pay the bill.”

While the state sector is obliged to respect the new measure, in private businesses they are more flexible. “It doesn’t matter if you pay in euros, dollars, convertible pesos or Japanese yen,” says Eduardo Rodríguez, the driver of a private car that makes frequent trips from Havana to Varadero or to the Viñales tourist area. “As long as it is money there is no problem.”

However, drivers of collective taxis that run on fixed routes within the city prefer to be more cautious. “I do not accept the chavito,” warns the self-employed worker at the helm of an old patched-up Cadillac that carries passengers between the Capitol and the town of Marianao.

The authorities have warned that after the monetary unification only the Cuban peso or national currency will be maintained. (Josef Willems)

“I can’t risk ending up with too many convertible pesos and then they suddenly unify the currency and only allow each person to exchange a small amount ,” he explains. “The same day they announced that the state cafeterias and restaurants were only going to accept CUPs, I decided to do the same inside my car, because that is a sign that cannot be ignored.”

However, after the initial announcement, the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Internal Trade, Miriam Pérez, warned that sales in convertible pesos in the establishments of the state system of commerce and food services, are not related to monetary unification but are intended to create “greater control” in that commercial network. Some statements that have failed to placate the suspicions around the chavito.

“Sure, what would they say? If they publicly announce that this currency is already a corpse, nobody will want to have it in their pocket,” says Eduardo Rodríguez. “It is a danger to be saving money in chavitos because any day we could wake up with the news that they are useless, although my children and grandchildren were born with this currency and for them they were the bills that were really worth something because the other [CUPs] weren’t good for much.”

“It is not the same to say that a pizza is worth 3.50 CUCs when you put in front of the customer and then when he gets the bill he owes almost 90 CUP,” explains Wilfredo, a waiter in a state-run restaurant in Playa specializing in Italian food. “The number in Cuban pesos impresses anyone.”

*Translator’s note: “Chavito” is a slang term for a Cuban convertible peso, of disputed origin, but it is said to be a play on the name of the former Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez.


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.

Only in Cuba is the Sale of Used Cars News

Independent and foreign press gathered at the site. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 25 February 25, 2020 — At first light you could see the tired yawning faces of the people who had come to form a queue. The start of the sale of used cars for foreign currency has attracted more curious people than purchasers to the shop on 20th Street, between 1st and 3rd, in the Playa district of Havana.

The first person in the line, waiting for them to call the next customers, commented,  “I thought I had come early, but at 5 am there were more than ten people, who, I imagine, turned up last night”. The person behind him was sure that “the best deals will go in the first days, and that’s why people are impatient.”

The wide lot where the cars are parked has a reception area with AC, where there is a list with the prices of each vehicle. What doesn’t appear is the year, or the mileage, or kilometrage, of the car. “If you want to know those details, you have to stand in line and go through the process”, says an employee, through a gap in the door. continue reading

In the air conditioned reception is a list of the vehicles’ prices. (14ymedio)

The independent and foreign press have also come. Lights, cameras … and cars everywhere. Some mock the excessive coverage. “This wouldn’t be news anywhere else but Cuba”, laughs a  passer-by taking his kid to school.

In order to get in, you have to show a credit card charged with real convertible currency. Someone asks if it is also necessary to have a minimum amount on the card, and this leads to some confusion and some consultation. A few minutes later, a man confirms that “If you really want to buy something, you obviously have to have money, but for the assistants, just having some plastic is enough”.

There is an automobile-expertise competition among the onlookers, who observe from far away, and then up close. “None of those cars look more than ten years old; the problem is knowing what their mileage is”, says one of the supposed experts. Another one adds, “And it would be difficult to know because you can clock the mileage and leave it at zero”.

Nearly all the cars on show are grey. Some are small, and some are more like pick up trucks or minivans.

Nearly all the cars are grey. There are small ones, and ones which are more like pick-ups or minivans. Some are covered  in dust, and none of them have licence plates.

Some point to the cheapest models, going for about $34,000, and say they will probably will go quickest, while others consider that it is “better to pay more and get a stronger car”. Nearly everyone in the line are men, although there are some women accompanied by their husbands, and a woman shouting about the trinkets she is selling.

“When they advertised it, I thought it would be for people who import directly”, says a young man who, he makes clear, has come “just to look”. His brother, who lives in Miami, has had a car for five years and wanted to send it, but he says that “there’s no way to get it here.”

Vehicle imports are controlled by state businesses, in particular, the Cimex Corporation, a commercial arm of the military. “That’s why the prices are like that, because they control the whole situation”, is the opinion of one of the customers, summing up the conversation about the advantages and disadvantages of each car.

Most of the people waiting there seem to belong to what most people call “nouveau riche”, or “flashy”. They show off their social status in their clothes, the kind of shoes they wear, they way they show off their knowledge of cars, and, make it clear they do have a credit card with thousands of dollars deposited, in a country in which the average monthly salary is no more that $50.

Halfway through the morning, not one buyer has left with his car. The process of inspection, testing and delivery is long and tedious. “You have to check it out, right down to the spark plugs, because when you leave there’s no way to complain about anything” says a man who boasts about being an auto mechanic, and who is accompanying a friend interested in Peugeots.

Although Chinese Geely cars are cheaper, some people reject them because of their bad reputation, since they have been distributed for years at subsidised prices to the military, and Party bureaucrats and leaders, as well as the police and members of State Security.

Carlos, a young man who has been in the line since about four in the morning, explains it perfectly. “I think I’m gonna go for a Kia for $40,000; although a Geely goes for $5,000 less, it’s a car that gives you a headache to get it fixed, and also my neighbours would think I was with the state security”, he says ironically.

Translated by GH


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 Felled Tree Sprouts

Something happened to fulfill the verses of the poet Miguel Hernández and there it is, with its exciting and brittle twig. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 19 December 2019 — The arboricidal fury chopped down this old Havana flamboyant tree without compassion, perhaps under the pretext of avoiding collisions with the power line, or to protect the sidewalks from its vigorous roots or because it blocked the cool breeze from the balcony from a whimsical powerful neighbor. Your guess is as good as mine!

But, as it still had life, something happened to fulfill the verses of the poet Miguel Hernández — “I am like the felled tree that sprouts” — and there it is, with its exciting and brittle twig, challenging those who tried to annul it, who humiliated it by turning it into a garbage can.

By some strange association, typical of the positive thoughts that emerge on the eve of a new year, this greening promotes hope. As much as an attempt has been made to curtail the vocation of freedom of a people, the ability to regenerate always remains in its original substance.

The twig is fragile and must be protected from them and from us.


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.

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.


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.

"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.


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.”


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.’


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.”


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.