Vending Machines for Alcoholic Beverages

Several of these machines are located in downtown streets of Havana, accessible to anyone regardless of age. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 23 May 2017 — The campaigns against the consumption of alcohol have met an enemy. This is not an outspoken advocate of Mojitos or Cuba Libres, but of the vending machines that dispense national and imported beers simply at the introduction of a few coins. Several of these devices are located in the central streets of Havana, accessible to anyone regardless of age.

“Go get me a Heineken from the machine next door,” a father said to his little son from the doorway of a tenement on the Malecon. A few feet away, without controls or supervision, stands the automaton that catches kids’ attention because it “spits cold cans,” said one of them. No employee of the nearby restaurant, La Abadía, seems to pay attention to who uses the service.

A recent survey found that 36% of Cuban youth drink alcohol and 12% drink and smoke. Among them an alarming number begin to consume tobacco and alcohol between the ages of 11 and 13.

A common practice among parents is to encourage their sons, still minors, to have a sip of rum because “it’s a men’s thing.” For many adolescents virility is measured in the amount of “lines” of alcohol they can consume. A trend that these vending machines, without any controls, will facilitate even more.

Across the pond, in Spain, the sale of beer through the use of vending machines has been banned since 2010, according to a law enacted that same year that limits the access of alcoholic beverages to minors.

The Era Of The Compact Disc Is Over In Cuba

A place selling CDs and DVDs in the city of Camagüey. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 16 May 2017 — Hanging from the rearview mirror, the compact disc shines with the sun and swings with every bump in the street. From being highly valued as a platform for digital content, CDs and DVDs are becoming mere decorative objects, symbols of a technological era that is ending.

“Every day I sell fewer discs,” says Julian, who for almost five years had been dedicated to the trade in TV shows, movies and musicals on CDs and DVDs in Havana’s Diez de Octubre district.

With the expansion of the private sector, the streets of the country filled with stands and stores that began to offer entertainment of every kind. Colorful shelves, filled with every kind of product, have become a part of the urban landscape. continue reading

“Most of what I sell I copy directly from the computer to the device that the customer brings,” says Julian

The outlets dedicated to the trade in audiovisuals have been an alternative to the boring and ideologized television programming, but the technological advances and the saturation of the market are forcing many to close or convert to selling other things.

The competition from the Weekly Packet is tough and the CD/DVD sellers have a hard time keeping a current set of offerings. The alternative has been to go from selling CDs and DVDs to offering customers copies of materials on removable devices such as USB drives and external hard drives, but the rules governing self-employment does not encompass that form of the business.

“Most of what I sell I copy directly from the computer to the device that the customer brings,” says Julian. In a small room, located in the portal of a half-demolished house, the shelf with the disks also houses a laptop equipped with a three-terabyte hard drive.

“Here I have it all,” he details proudly to 14ymedio, while caressing the drive that “a brother living in la yuma,” (the US) brought him. The buyers can choose the amount of content they want and the subject matter.

“In this neighborhood four other places where CDs and DVDs were sold have closed,” says Julian. “We have been kept afloat thanks to direct copy,” he says.

He makes the copies “left and right” without worrying about the intellectual property rights of national and foreign artists.

On the Island, copyright is addressed in Law 14 of 1977 and applies to “scientific, artistic, literary and educational works of an original character” whatever its forms of expression, content, value or destiny. But in practice these provisions are not upheld.

Copies are made “left and right” without worrying about the intellectual property rights of national and foreign artists

An investigation carried out at the University of Granma by Marianela Paneque Mojena concludes that “sellers of reproducible CDs violate copyright with respect to the positive faculty of disclosure of the work.” Meanwhile “the copyright holders do not receive any remuneration for the CD with their authorship.” The National Copyright Center is responsible for managing intellectual property registrations and ensuring that these rights are not violated, but in practice it is nothing more than an inventory of works and authors.

This situation coexists with “an ignorance and lack of control on the part of the government bodies responsible for overseeing the work done by the sellers of reproducible discs,” assures the study.

Julian cares less about the issue of intellectual property and more about the profits from his business. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to buy the discs, because the stores are all out of them, and even the black market doesn’t have them.” An additional reason to go with another media.

The entrepreneur believes that his work is still “a business,” because it falls within the simplified tax schedule with a fixed tax of 60 Cuban pesos a month. In addition to this he contributes to social security and pays a tax for posting a sign visible in the street.

However, he believes that the business “is no longer the same, because many people download the materials from the wifi or share them for free.” He is sure that in a short time “all these disks that are now on display, will only be the images of what can be copied from the laptop.”

“What flies off the shelves are the telenovelas, first-run feature films, musicals and reality shows,” he comments. Although he also has customers who ask for “science documentaries, courses, videogames and mobile apps.”

Julian is lucky. In Havana, inspectors are still turning a blind eye to those who copy content instead of selling it already burned on CDs, but in other parts of the country it’s different.

In Havana, inspectors are still turning a blind eye to those who copy content instead of selling it already burned on CDs, but in other parts of the country it’s different

In the city of Guantánamo these sellers have been forced by the local authorities to remove from their signs the offers to “load discs or memory devices.” Many of them continue to do it, but secretly.

The main risk is losing one’s license to be a “buyer and seller of discs.” An occupation that, under the law, only includes trade in discs that respect the author’s copyright.

“Here I have everything, except pornography,” says another seller who has his stand in Infanta Street. “I work with fixed clients and I make them a folder tailored to their tastes,” he adds.

“The discs are going downhill because every day more people have a television that you can connect to a memory device,” he laments. The informal market is filled with offers of modern flat panel televisions that enter the country with travelers or mules.

“There are still people who are using a CD or DVD reader, but they are fewer and fewer, because the world is moving forward and no one wants to be left behind,” he says.

Cuba’s Private Sector Demands “Young, White and Childless”

Of the more than 535,000 people are self-employed in the country, 32% are women. (VC)

14ymedio bigger14medio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 13 May 2017 – Three employees circulate among the tables, so similar that they seem cast from the same mold. “I want to give a good image to the place,” says the owner of a flourishing cafe on 26th Street in Havana. Like him, many private businesses are imposing a standard on female employees: “Young, pretty, white and childless.”

With the boom of self-employment, new businesses are emerging everywhere, much more efficient than state services. However, there are also discriminatory patterns that privilege the physical appearance of the hired staff, above their professional abilities. continue reading

The waiters and other employees of the most prosperous businesses in the capital are mostly under 50, thin and white, and among them there is also an abundance of single women, blond and blue-eyed. The current legislation only requires that the contractor must be more than 17 years old and be a permanent resident on the Island.

The success of a business seems to be measured not only by the number of clients or revenues, but by a refined casting to choose the faces of those who serve the public. Many prefer physiognomy over the skills to serve a table or run a cash register.

The waiters and other employees of the most prosperous businesses in the capital are mostly under 50, thin and white, and among them there is also an abundance of single women, blond and blue-eyed

 Behind the scenes, physical abilities seem to fading in importance. For the positions in the kitchens the “image” demands are less, but they don’t go away. The entrepreneur is obsessed with showing “an image of success” through appearances, often gleaned from magazines and movies.

Luisa is 59 and her monthly pension doesn’t stretch far enough to support her for one week. A few months ago she decided to find a job cleaning in some of the prosperous B&Bs in Old Havana where she lives. “I thought it was a question of being healthy and doing a good job,” she told 14ymedio.

After four interviews with the owners of several rental properties, the woman was no longer so convinced that the most important thing was her efficiency. “They looked a lot at my physical presence and one told me very clearly that she would not hire anyone with dentures.” Another potential employer asked if she was “dieting” to look “better.”

The Labor Code in force since 2014 addresses this subject, but the law is useless in most cases. The right to employment is governed by “equality” and “without discrimination on the basis of skin color, gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, territorial origin, disability and any other distinction detrimental to human dignity.”

The deputy director of Employment of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, Idalmys Álvarez Mendive, says that self-employed workers “can request and receive the advice of the authorities” about their rights, but in practice very few do so.

The deputy director of Employment of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security says that self-employed “can request and receive advice from the authorities” about their rights, but very few do so

Yaimara hid her pregnancy as long as she could. “When the belly began to show the owner called and told me that I could not continue working,” says the employee, who worked for two years in an exclusive restaurant near the Habana Libre hotel. “They never made it clear to me that it was because of the child on the way, but it was obvious.”

The young woman was entitled to a maternity leave and a postnatal break period guaranteed by law, but confesses that with that money she received monthly on that benefit she could not buy “a single baby bottle.”

In the private sector, it is common to use “determined” contracts, which have a start date and an end date. When Yaimara concluded her maternity leave, she could only return to the previous job if the employer wanted her back, but her job was already occupied by another “younger and childless worker,” she said.

Of the more than 535,000 self-employed in the country, 31% are young people between 18 and 35 years of age and 32% are women, according to official data. But the figures published do not report details with regards to race and much less with regards to other physical qualities more difficult to measure.

“Many owners of private restaurants and coffee shops do not want to hire women with small children,” says Yaimara. “They are afraid that later there will be absences because the child is sick.” She recognizes that with having a family “everything becomes more difficult because in a private restaurant it is normal for an employee to work up to twelve hours each day and almost no one asks for a vacation.”

A lawyer specializing in labor issues confirmed that so far she has never received a case of litigation for the violation of the rights of a self-employed

The new Labor Code also states that “the daily working day is eight hours and on determined days there can be one additional hour per day provided it does not exceed the limit of 44 hours a week.”

A lawyer specializing in labor issues, who preferred anonymity, confirmed to this newspaper that so far she has never received a case of litigation for the violation of the rights of a self-employed. “That does not mean it does not happen all the time, but people feel that in the private sector anything goes.”

The National Labor Inspection Office has the power to impose fines of up to 2,000 Cuban pesos on offenders, in addition to closing the premises and temporarily or permanently suspending the license to operate. But, “it is not applied because workers in the non-state sector do not appeal to that mechanism,” says the lawyer.

“We must work on laws that are more closely related to what happens and that guarantee better protection for the self-employed, but the most important thing is the business culture of the owners,” she says. “They should seek efficiency and quality in employees beyond physical characteristics,” she says.

However, from dreams to reality still seems to be a very long way. “We are looking for a young, woman with a university degree with a good presence”, says an ad on a crowded classified site. In addition, they want “no children, no physical limitations.”

Cubans Are Carnivores Despite the Scarcity

While in other countries, vegetarians and vegans proliferate, many Cubans considered themselves carnivorous. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 10 May 2017 — Meat has almost magical connotations in Cuban culture. When children get sick, the grandmothers make them a good chicken soup or a broth with a piece of beef. If someone feels weak they recommend eating a steak and there is no more recurring dream for these homes than to look out for a dish where they mix the masa de cerdo, ropa vieja and tasajo.

This fascination with the meat has increased due to the shortages of the product in the last decades. The deterioration of the national livestock industry and the restrictions on farmers trading directly in beef have made this an ingredient that is missing in kitchens and highly prized in the informal market.

Families are divided between those who manage to eat meat once a week and those who only see it pass by their tables a few days a month, or even year. On this island social differences are expressed in the form of cutlets, sirloin and fillets. There are those who can barely access products derived from pork and those a little higher on the economic scale and can be permit themselves a piece of beef.

While in other countries, vegetarians and vegans proliferate, many Cubans consider themselves carnivorous. A definition that is pronounced with a certain vibe, salivating and showing teeth, especially those fangs that are used a few times a year.

A Sip Of Electricity To Keep Driving

The number of owners of electric motorcycles has grown in Cuba since Raul Castro’s government authorized them to be imported. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 8 May 2017 — The worst thing that can happen to Agustín is to have his battery go dead in the street. It is even more terrible than the failure of a headlamp or the lack of parking for his made-in-China electric motorcycle. The broken headlamp and the lack of a safe place to park can be solved with money, but the lack of energy requires more than a few banknotes slipped into the right hands.

The number of owners of electric motorcycles has grown in Cuba since Raul Castro’s government authorized them to be imported. The serious problems of transport that the island suffers have led many to choose to buy a motorina from the digital sites that ship them to the island for a price of around 1,600 CUC (roughly $1,600 US), and up to 2,500 CUC in the informal market.

However, after spending the amount, the owner must overcome other obstacles. Charging the bikes remains one of the biggest problems. Most of the service stations in the country do not yet offer the service of supplying electricity, and there are no outlets available in the streets for these purposes.

As a result, creativity explodes and entrepreneurs try to take advantage of the demand. In recent years cables have appeared to raise and lower products (and payment) from balconies, and now the sellers, instead of offering tobacco or rum, announce an hour of connection to their house’s electricity.

There are also plenty of merchants who take the opportunity to sell the thirsty driver everything from a fruit smoothie to a pizza to “recharge the human batteries,” the ones that are struggling to keep going at the controls of everyday life.

University Entrance Exams Begin With “Extraordinary Measures” Against Fraud

Most young people hope to get one of the 36,705 university slots in the regular day course. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 4 May 2017 — Early Wednesday morning Karel wasn’t sleeping. He spent it turning somersaults in bed and solving math problems. Together with thousands of students across the country, the young man presented himself at the Mathematics entrance exam for higher education. “It was complicated, but I answered all the questions,” he said smiling to his mother as he returned home.

As of this Wednesday, high school classrooms are filled with nervous gestures and students who are playing with their professional future on a piece of paper. Most have been preparing for this moment for months, and many have had to pay for a private tutor who prepares them to successfully pass the tests.

“I’m a little anxious, but I feel safe because I’ve studied a lot,” said a twelfth grader from Old Havana minutes before the buzzer announced the start of the first entrance exam. My strength is geometry and I didn’t like the problems at all,” he confessed. continue reading

The Mathematics exam started off the admission tests for Higher Education throughout the country. More than 45,000 high school graduates took part, the young men after finishing their Active Military Service, and the girls who completed Women’s Voluntary Military Service.

Between 2010 and 2015 the number of university students fell by more than half: from more than 206,000 students throughout the country to 90,691

Other applicants take the tests through competition. All, without exception, set their sights on continuing higher education in a country where university diplomas are less valued every day.

Between 2010 and 2015 the number of university students fell by more than half: from more than 206,000 students throughout the country to 90,691. The causes for this decline are manifold and the specialists do not agree, but economic imperatives are among the incentives for an increasing number of young people to prefer to go to work as soon as possible.

The situation contrasts with the massive admissions to higher education that characterized national education for decades. Previously, tens of thousands of professionals graduated, many of whom are now engaged in occupations not related to their specialties.

Finding a chemical engineer working as a bartender in a hotel or a biochemist driving a private taxi has become a “normal anomaly” in the Cuban system.

“My family cannot afford for me to be in a classroom for five more years,” says Rodney Calzadilla, 18, a food vendor in Matanzas province. The mother of the young man has a degree in Economics, but she “always told me that the most important thing is to be useful, not to have a diploma hanging on the living room wall,” he says.

Of the 539,952 Cubans who worked in the private sector at the end of January of this year, or for themselves, more than 3,000 are under the age of 20

Of the 539,952 Cubans who worked in the private sector at the end of January of this year, or for themselves, more than 3,000 are under the age of 20.

At the conclusion of the exams this May, the list will be drawn up, which also takes into account the average of students’ grades in high school. Those with the best grades and test scores have priority to choose one of the 83,840 places in higher education that are offered for the 2017-2018 school year, of which the most desired by young people are the 36,705 in the regular day course.

But the entrance exams are complicated. In June 2014, a fraud scandal shook the most important tests in Cuban education. The incident involved five pre-university teachers, a provincial-level methodologist at the Ministry of Education, a print shop worker, and another citizen not linked to educational institutions.

A year later they returned to the eye of the hurricane, when the Ministry of Education recognized that “the approach of the question 4 of the examination of Mathematics” was subject “to several interpretations.” Faced with the massive complaints from the students, the authorities were forced to evaluate only section A, discarding section B.

“This year we have taken extraordinary measures to protect the sanctity of examinations, ” a source at the Ministry of Higher Education told 14ymedio. The official, who requested anonymity, believes that “previous incidents have greatly damaged the image and confidence of students in this process, so we are committed to changing that impression.”

Next Monday the Spanish test will be administered and the calendar concludes on Thursday, May 11 with History, the most ideological subject in the curriculum

Next Monday, the Spanish test will be administered and the calendar concludes on Thursday, May 11 with History, the most ideological subject in the curriculum of the schools of the Island.

For the History exam the students are preparing themselves on this occasion on subjects related to the deceased ex-president Fidel Castro. “What goes, goes,” says María Julia, a teacher of the specialty that organizes private tutoring in Havana’s Playa district.

“The main question of the test almost always is related to some anniversary or historical figure that is important in the current year,” clarifies the teacher. “It’s clear there will be one or two questions about him, that’s for sure.” With a degree in History, María Julia has drilled her students in “the concept of Revolution” and Fidel Castro’s “biographical data.”

“For students who do poorly on the math test, the most difficult of all, it is possible to raise the average with History, which is easier,” admits the teacher. “For those who aren’t that comfortable with numbers, if they have a good grasp of politics, they have a chance on this test.”

New Bathrooms, Old Fashioned Marches

Fancy new toilets for Havana’s May Day parade replaced the former models made with cardboard. Slogan: “Fidel will always live in…” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, 1 May 2017 — Portable toilets are a part of all the demonstrations that have proliferated in Cuba for the last half century. Away from the lights and headlines, these essential and improvised restrooms alleviate the plight of thousands of people attending the ‘Marches of the Fighting People’, the Anti-Imperialist Tribunes, and the calls to support, protest or celebrate any government campaign and, of course, are a necessity during carnivals.

This year, on May 1, new models appeared, apparently imported and made of plastic, which replaced the rustics made with wood and cardboard. The previous facilities lacked roofs and the weakness of their construction did not allow them to be used for more than one event.

The new toilets are better made although the custom remains of placing them directly over the sewer drain to evacuate the waste. But they favor hygiene and privacy.

The ones in this the photo were installed in the afternoon of April 30 in the avenue Rancho Boyeros, an artery that converges in the Plaza of the Revolution. The neighbors received them with awe and some even took selfies standing in front of their novel appearance. The most daring tried the services before the pressures of the crowd filled them with that “aroma” that characterizes popular demonstrations.

3G Has Arrived In Havana

The arrival of 3G in Cuba fuels hopes for internet service on mobile phones. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 26 April 2017 — The third generation (3G) of voice and data transmission via mobile phones reached all municipalities in Havana on Monday after it was launched earlier this month in several areas of Matanzas, Villa Clara, Ciego de Avila, Pinar del Río, Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey, according to the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA).

Prepaid users in the capital are now experiencing a substantial improvement in Nauta’s e-mail service on their mobile phone, a relief after three years since the creation of this product, which has been a frequent target of criticism and complaints about its instability and slowness.

“I opened my mailbox and: abracadabra! I got all the messages at once,” a young high school student tells 14ymedio in amazement while standing in line on Tuesday to buy recharge cards at the ETECSA office on the lower level of the Focsa building. continue reading

The days are long gone when only resident foreigners and tourists could contract for mobile phone service in Cuba. One of the first measures implemented by Raul Castro when he assumed the presidency in 2008 was to allow nationals to contract for prepaid cellphone service.

Having the internet on your cellphone is normal for most people in the world, but here it seems like a dream

Since then, more than four million customers of the state monopoly have been looking forward to connecting to the internet through their mobiles. Enabling 3G coverage has set off speculation about the imminent arrival of that service to cellphones.

“They can’t wait any longer, because having the internet on your cellphone is normal for most people in the world, but here it seems like a dream,” complains Rodobaldo, an industrial engineer, 42, who travels frequently to Panama. “As soon as I get there and install my Panamanian SIM card I can surf and receive emails, but when I return to Cuba my phone doesn’t have that capability.”

In Latin America, 3G has given way to 4G, which has been available for years. Uruguay has this network in 84% of its territory, Bolivia in 67%, Peru in 61% and Mexico in 60%, according to data from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). However, in Cuba having this functionality on the mobile network still seems like a science fiction movie.

Rodobaldo is hopeful that ETECSA will soon offer packages to connect to the web from cell phones. Recently there was the first pilot project to bring internet to some 700 families (of the 2,000 initially planned) through in-home ADSL in Old Havana, but the users complain about the high prices: according to the bandwidth chosen it cost between 30 and 70 pesos for 30 hours.

“Every day there are more foreign companies offering packages so that tourists who come to the island can surf the internet from their own cellphone accounts,” an official of the state company, who preferred to remain anonymous,told this newspaper. “We have roaming agreements in more than 150 countries,” he says.

Following the beginning of the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana, announced on 17 December 2014, Barack Obama’s administration authorized US telecommunications companies to operate in Cuba.

Verizon took the first step and offered services to its users visiting the Island, and was later joined by Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T. However, the prices of browsing from one of these phones during a stay in Cuba are still very high, averaging about $2.05 per megabyte.

Surfing the web from a US cellphone is possible in Cuba, but it runs about $2.05 per Megabyte

Until the implementation of 3G, roaming services sent and received emails via Nauta and text messages using the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) connection, an enriched Global System for Mobile (GMS) communications.

Now, to be able to take advantage of 3G in Cuba, “the customer must have 3G coverage on their cellphone with the WCDMA standard on the 900 MHz frequency, which is the international standard in several European and Latin American countries,” Luis Manuel Díaz, ETECSA’s Director of Institutional Communications told the official press.

Phones that technically do not have the ability to access the new network will continue to use the 2G that “coexists without difficulty,” the company’s representative told the official newspaper Granma.

A marketing specialist for the state monopoly, Óscar López Díaz, goes further and in addition to highlighting the improvement in the connection speed for the use of the Nauta mail brought by 3G service, he believes that its arrival will enable ” future access to other services such as the Internet on phones.”

El Templete Has A New Ceiba, The Second In A Year

Havana’s El Templete has a new ceiba tree that replaces another that was planted a little over a year ago but did not thrive. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 24 April 2017 — The place where the town of San Cristóbal was founded in Havana has a new ceiba tree, the second planted there in a little more than a year. The specimen comes from the road between Managua and Boyeros, south of the Cuban capital, and comes to fill the void left at El Templete by its predecessor, planted a few days before President Barack Obama’s arrival in Cuba.

On this occasion, the arrival of the ceiba was not surrounded by the excitement that marked the planting of the previous specimen. The 8-year-old, twenty-foot tree reached its final site at midnight last Friday, an hour that specialists recommended because it is cooler, and therefore less damaging to the newly transplanted tree. It rained while the neighbors watched a crane lift the imposing tree and plant it in the historical site of the city.

Now, the waiting period for this Havana symbol begins. Will this tree be able to adapt to its new habitat? Will it survive the salt air, the compaction of the soils of the area and the rigors of urban life? No one wants to risk predicting its future, but next November, which will mark 498 years after the founding of the Villa, Havanans will need a tree to perform the ritual of walking around its trunk and making a wish.

Pedicab Drivers Can Only Work Where They Live

The traditionally complicated transport situation in the capital has become chaotic recently due to fuel restrictions and other bureaucratic measures that have affected private taxi drivers. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The transport ministry (MITRANS) has issued a new provision that obligates Havana’s pedicab drivers to have visible identification that specifies the municipality where they can operate.

The sticker carries the driver’s license number and the name of the municipality. An official calling herself Tamara explained to 14ymedio that MITRANS inspectors in the Central Havana district will ensure that “if you do not live in this municipality you can’t put the sticker on your vehicle that authorizes you to operate here.” continue reading

The office is located in a half-wrecked building on Zanja Street with a poorly painted façade and tree growing out of it, from a seed that fell into a crack in the building.

Sheathed in her blue MITRANS inspector’s uniform, Tamara barely looks up from the papers she has in front of her on her desk, to clarify that if you don’t have a license, don’t come. “In addition, they have to bring the acrylic.”

The sticker carries the driver’s license number and the name of the municipality where they are authorized to operate. (14ymedio)

The situation of transport in the capital, traditionally complicated, has become chaotic in recent times due to fuel restrictions and other bureaucratic measures that have affected private taxi drivers. Driving a pedicab is not very profitable, since drivers usually charge 1 Cuban convertible peso (roughly $1 US) for relatively short stretches, but unlike the so-called almendrones– the shared fixed route taxis whose name comes from the “almond-shape” of the classic American cars used in that service – they do not run on a fixed route and take the customers “to the door of their house.” Most of them are young people without a defined profession who work for an invisible boss who owns the equipment, and whom they have to pay more than half of what they collect daily.

A tour of the pedicab stands where the drivers usually find their customers, found that only a few drivers were displaying the identification. Very close to Chinatown a young man barely 20, who identifies himself as Yuslo, gives the impression of not feeling threatened by the new measure.

“I am a Palestinian* from Mayarí Arriba, I rent in a room in the Cerro district and I circulate around Old Havana. I don’t have an address in the capital on my identity card or license, I am a pirate who fights to survive. If things get ugly I make the sticker my own way and put it on the front of the bike,” he explains resolutely.

Most pedicab drivers are young people without a defined profession who work for an invisible boss. (14ymedio)

A little more measured and optimistic is Alberto Ramirez, who despite being in quarantine still has the energy to live from his physical effort. “We are accustomed to occasionally ‘inventing’ something of this type. A few days later the fever passes and no one remembers anything. I have my sticker to work in Old Havana because I have been living there for more than 20 years in a state shelter, but if a client asks me to take him to Coppelia (outside his district), I’ll charge him what the trip is worth and take him.”

While Alberto talks, a colleague at the pedicab stand keeps making gestures of disagreement. Finally he intervenes to say, “They are the ones who call the shots and do what they want. You don’t have to be an engineer to realize that this measure is a barbarity. It’s fine to have control but if no one cares where a minister or a chief of something lives in order to work here or there, why do they have to worry about where the unfortunates who survive from our work live? There’s no one who understands it,” protests the pedicab driver.

Without taking the time to answer another question he gets on his bike and in the worst possible mood concludes the conversation. “I’m going home. I don’t feel like working.”

*Translator’s note: Havanans call Cubans from the provinces who settle in their city “Palestinians” – a reference to the fact that without a resident permit, they are “illegals” in the city.

Green Gold From Cuba’s Fields

Last summer the price of avocado selling on the street in Havana neared 20 Cuban pesos each, the daily salary of a professional. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 7 April 2017 – A shout disturbed the morning’s tranquility. “Avocaaaaaaado!” shouted the roving salesman as he toured the streets of Central Havana. Considered the “green gold” of foods, this fruit could become an important source of income for the island, due to the high level of consumption around the world.

With the diplomatic thaw between Havana and Washington, some local farmers are hoping to export the fruit to the United States. In 2015, Americans consumed about 907,000 tonnes (metric tons) of avocadoes, twice as much as the year before. continue reading

And the phenomenon is not limited to the United States. At the international level the fruit is gaining ground; in 2013, 4.7 million tonnes of avocadoes were harvested, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), more than twice as much as two decades earlier. Mexico leads the market with 80% of world production, and in the Caribbean our neighbor the Dominican Republic harvests about 290,000 tonnes a year.

At the international level, the fruit is gaining ground; in 2013, 4.7 million tonnes of avocados were harvested, more than twice as much as two decades ago

Last December, scientists from the University of Cordoba (Spain) revealed the very high caloric value of the fruit’s pit, saying that it has “optimal qualities as a source of thermal energy comparable to other currently marketed biofuels.” The pit contains an average calorific value of 19,145 megajoules per kilogram.

In Cuba, the fruit is destined for domestic and tourist consumption, but there is no industry for processing or extraction of the oil, much appreciated in gastronomy and cosmetics. The authorities are currently seeking investors to open a pilot plant for these purposes, industry sources told 14ymedio.

In Cuba, the Antillean avocado variety is crossbred with its Guatemalan relative and although the result is large fruit with consistent mass, specialists say that it has low oil content compared to other varieties.

Private farmers distribute their crops among the markets that operate based on supply and demand and the individually-operated businesses that have flourished in the country in recent years. In this network the value of the product has experienced an upward trend in recent years.

The increase in tourism has influenced the shortages of some foods, and increased their prices, including avocados. “It’s in high demand and when it’s in season it is one of the most requested dishes, especially by foreigners,” José Miguel, a waiter in a private restaurant in Santiago de las Vegas, commented to this newspaper.

“Avocado is in high demand and when its in season it is one of the most requested dishes, especially by foreigners”

The self-employed worker says that “it is one of the products whose price has risen most steeply in recent years.” Last summer the street price of the largest avocados neared 20 Cuban pesos each (nearly one dollar US), the daily salary of a professional. “You can’t get one for five pesos any more even if you go directly to the fields.”

The state markets sell avocados by the pound, at a price that does not exceed 5 Cuban pesos (CUP), but as a rule they are small and unripe. “If you go out in the morning looking for one to eat at lunch time, you have to buy it from a pushcart vender or from a supply and demand market,” José Miguel emphasizes.

The climate has also contributed to the rise in prices. Last year was not a good year for avocado production on the island. Last September, the agronomist Emilio Farrés Armenteros, director of the Fruit Trees Division of the Agricola Business Group, told the official press that the climatic conditions were damaging the harvest.

With the country experiencing the most intense drought of the last half century, the rains did not arrive in time for the flowering of the trees. A situation exacerbated by the exhaustion of the nutrients in the soil due to the abundant production of 2015, which reached 120,000 tonnes. At the end of 2016, the avocado harvest totaled a much lower 90,000 tonnes.

Nancy and her husband are long-time avocado growers. In the area of Jagüey Grande they have a plot where they harvest three varieties of the fruit: Catalina, Wilson and Julio. The latter gives them more benefit because it has an early harvest and the trees are smaller in size than the others. However, both agree that “in the matter of taste, there is nothing to compare to the Catalina avocado.”

Farmers calculate that in a good year the harvest from each tree can bring between 3,000 and 5,000 CUP depending on the fruit produced

Farmers calculate that in a good year the harvest from each tree can bring in 3,000 to 5,000 CUP depending on the fruit produced. “We directly supply several restaurants and cafes in the area,” says Nancy. Although there are also “many wholesale buyers who take the fruit to sell in markets in Havana.”

The family aspires to be able to market their product beyond the national borders. They believe that exporting part of their crop would give them “greater profits and the possibility of investing in the farm.” They dream of earning the necessary resources for “a tractor and a new water turbine.”

However, the thaw with the United States is not enough to get Cuban avocados on American tables. In the middle of last year Barack Obama relaxed the regulations for the island’s coffee growers who sold their product to the US, and the official response from Cuba was not long in coming.

A declaration signed by farm leaders in Santiago de Cuba joined the top management of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), controlled by officialdom, in rejecting the measures implemented by the White House. Since then, no local producer has sold a single coffee bean to potential US customers.

Nevertheless, and although exporting is still an illusion, having an avocado tree guarantees the economic sustenance of many families on the island. Land with an orchard of fertile trees shoots up in price on the classified ad sites, almost like those that contain a well or a house with ceiling tiles.

Some owners have chosen to sell the full crop for a year. “ I have an arrangement with a neighbor who paid me 2,000 CUP for all the avocados in the orchard”

Some owners of avocado trees have chosen to sell a full year’s crop. “I have an arrangement with a neighbor who paid me 2,000 CUP for all the avocados in the orchard,” says Tomas Garcia, a resident of Calabazar south of the capital.

Retired from the Ministry of Construction, the man supplements his monthly pension of less than 20 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $20 US) with the sale of the tasty fruits from his patio. “One day my mother-in-law threw a seed in the trash in a corner, and then we realized that bush had sprouted.” Garcia replanted the small plant in a better place and, without knowing it, he made “the best investment in my life,” he acknowledges now.

Although he has never considered exporting his small crop, the pensioner believes that “if something is good in this country, it is avocados that need little care and can be planted in any yard.” He says that in addition to eating them from time to time he uses them to “give a shine to my hair” and his wife uses it as an anti-wrinkle mask.

“If I don’t have much to eat, I only have to cut an avocado in half and now I have a rich person’s meal instead of a poor person’s,” he said.

Ice Cream and Kilobytes

The inauguration of a Wi-Fi zone for internet access seeks to revitalize the Coppelia ice cream parlor. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 10 April 2017 – The large and little-used park around the Coppelia ice cream parlor has a new function as of a few days ago. The inauguration of a wifi zone for internet access is looking to revitalize the ice cream stand, as iconic as it is fallen into disgrace. Now, in the absence of those mythical 26 flavors, the customers will have a serving of kilobytes on side, courtesy of the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA). continue reading

Under the inclement sun, some curious came this week came in search of a few hours of “free” navigation as had been mentioned in various official media. The state monopoly only allowed access to the web at no cost during the opening day, and then an hour of navigation again cost the same as in the rest of these wireless parks: 1.50 CUC an hour (about $1.50 US, the equivalent of nearly two days pay at the average wage).

The state monopoly only allowed access to the web at no cost during the opening day and then an hour of navigation cost again 1.50 CUC

During two busy months, a brigade of construction workers installed benches, planters, lights and three reflectors for the security of the netizens. This last is one of the conditions most demanded in other areas where ETECSA offers its Nauta wifi service, where users report frequent thefts of telephones, tablets and computers, mainly at night.

Little by little word has spread and the place is beginning to fill with faces that stare closely at a screen, people who speak animatedly by videoconference and access resellers who, through the application Connectify, offer a plunge into the great world-wide web for half the state price.

It is hoped that soon, among Havanans, the word “Coppelia” will become synonymous with social networks and digital sites, instead of the mythical ice cream parlor that it once was.

It’s Never Too Late If The Movie Is Good

Authorities decided not to screen the film after its director, Jonathan Jakubowicz, suggested withdrawing it from the festival as a protest. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 30 March 2017 – After more than three months of being excluded from the Havana Film Festival, the movie Hands of Stone will be shown at La Rampa cinema in the Cuban capital. The film, based on the life of the Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán, was not shown at the festival as a punishment because its director, Jonathan Jakubowicz, expressed his solidarity with Cuban director Carlos Lechuga, whose movie Santa y Andrés was censored on the island.

For several weeks the story of the Panamanian boxer has begun to circulate widely through the popular “Weekly Packet” in a high definition copy dubbed in Spanish. Now it comes to the big screen, although its release has been accompanied by very little coverage in the official press. continue reading

Last November Jakubowicz spoke on the phone with Lechuga to share the idea of ​​removing his film from the festival’s playlist. After that call, the organizers of the event stopped responding to messages from the Venezuelan director to organize the arrival of a copy of the tape to the Island.

The discreet official projection of ‘Hands of Stone’ is a small victory for its director and for the national filmgoers

“Like the day after the death of Fidel Castro was announced, I thought that was it, so I didn’t write any more. I guess preferred to avoid the uncomfortable situation of me being in Havana, at a time of so much tension,” the director explained to 14ymedio. The organizers of the film festival said that the director “never sent the exhibition copy.”

“I felt that going to the Festival to show my film would be a hypocrisy, like when I saw international filmmakers [in Venezuela] photographing with Chavez while I was being persecuted,” he said in an interview with 14ymedio. “I was afraid to become that evil figure of the artist who supports the repressor.”

The discreet official projection of Hands of Stone is a small victory for its director and for the national filmgoers that have been waiting months to see it in the big screen. Jakubowicz predicted that “Cubans will feel the history of Durán as their own.”

The Ascent Of The Spy

The Cuban former spy Fernando González Llort in a file image. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 29 March 2017 — It was only a matter of time before the spy Fernando González Llort took over the presidency of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP). Since his return to Cuba after serving a 15-year prison sentence in the United States, many predicted his rise to that position.

In June 2014, González was appointed vice president of ICAP and on Tuesday it was announced that he was replacing Kenia Serrano Puig, who had served in the presidency of the institution for eight years. continue reading

The official note on the replacement was sparse in its goodbye to Serrano and did not include the usual formula of “she will take on other responsibilities”

The official note on the replacement was sparse in its goodbye to Serrano and did not include the usual formula of “she will take on other responsibilities.” The text didn’t even describe her “excellent performance at the head” of the institution. In the grammar of power, this reservation does not bode well for the woman.

Since their return to the island, all the members of the so-called Wasp Network have held positions in official bodies, mostly as vice-presidents. González Llort is the first to manage an organization.

In 1987, shortly after graduating with a Gold Diploma in International Political Relations, González Llort was part of a tank brigade in Angola. In the rest of his biography, he emphasizes his participation in the Wasp Network that concluded with his arrest and imprisonment in the United States.

For decades the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP) has been a front for Cuban Intelligence

For decades, ICAP has been a front for Cuban Intelligence. Since their founding, institutions of this type have existed in the rest of the socialist countries. Instead of presenting themselves with the ideological tint of the Marxist court, they wrap themselves in the clothing of friendship between peoples.

The position of ICAP president can lead its occupant to higher spheres, as was the case of Sergio Corrieri, who was part of the Central Committee of the Party and was a member of the State Council. On the other hand, Kenia Serrano, who had previously been a member of the National Bureau of the Young Communists Union (UJC), was only able to ascend to a seat in Parliament.

“Adequate Social Behavior” Is The Requirement For A Sports Contract Abroad for a Cuban Athlete

“Social behavior” is key to a contract abroad. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 18 March 2017 — To the voices that call for more autonomy for athletes, the Cuban government has just responded with a clear message. “To enter into a contract abroad, the athlete” must have “adequate social behavior,” according to Ramiro Domínguez, legal director of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER), speaking to the press

The official’s statement was accompanied by data about the number of athletes residing on the island who obtained a contract in other countries through the state entity. By the end of last year 61 agreements had been signed in different disciplines, and there are “between 200 and 300 athletes engaged temporarily in tournaments, training camps or leagues abroad,” he said. continue reading

Domínguez explained that to achieve one of these contracts the athlete must also have “good teaching and sports results, be of interest to his national federation and receive authorization from the country where he would perform.”

INDER evaluates “the athlete’s living conditions in the club” where he will play, “the right to represent Cuba when asked and his safety,” as well as a “second medical opinion in case of injury or discomfort.” The official commented that he is studying to implement a scheme for “economic compensation” that would go to the State for the training the athlete received in Cuba, and that “can be a fixed economic amount or the equivalent of 20% of the contract in question.”

He clarified that in the case of baseball, the money that the Federation collects in that way is not “to satisfy personal whims, but destined to solve problems of the sport itself.”

“One of our main goals is to prevent the athlete from being treated as merchandise,” and “every athlete hired leaves Cuba with a rigorous medical examination, anti-doping test and aware of their contractual and tax obligations, and in some cases accompanied by relatives,” Domínguez pointed out.

Alfredo Despaigne from Granma province is the emblematic example of an athlete hired by a foreign club. The player achieved a million dollar contract with the Japanese club Fukuoka Hawks of Softbank, and according to Domínguez does not have to pay the Cuban Federation of Baseball, nor INDER.

“Once he returns to the country, the athlete will comply with tax obligations, like all Cuban citizens who receive income abroad,” Domínguez had indicated in an earlier statement.