The Lack of Personnel and Maintenance Sink Government Childcare Centers

Social sectors with higher incomes seek specialized care and better infrastructure for their children. (Charles Pieters)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 16 December 2018 — Incomplete staffing and an excessively high ratio of children to teachers along with the lack of maintenance has led to remarkable deterioration in the childcare centers throughout the country, 57 years after their founding, according to the official press.

An article published this week in the newspaper Granma details the difficult time that state daycare centers are going through. Currently, these centers provide care for 18.5% of the population that is less than seven years old, about 134,000 children.

Despite the low birth rate in recent years, at least 48,000 families across the country are still waiting for their children to obtain a place at one of these centers, according to information from Mary Carmen Rojas Torres, an official of the Directorate of Education of Early Childhood in the Ministry of Education. continue reading

The closure of 36 childcare centers throughout the national territory and the deficit of specialized personnel cause many families to opt for private care, a phenomenon that has gained strength in the last two decades, especially among the sectors of society with higher incomes that seek specialized care and better infrastructure.

A resolution has been in place since last year requiring that a child enrolled in state day care be the son/daughter of an active worker,  be at least 11 months old and able to walk. Employees from military and police institutions, public health and education centers have priority, while private sector workers were set aside on the list.

The low salaries that educators receive from the state locations, less than 40 CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso, roughly $40 US) per month, means that many of the graduates in this specialty end up opening their own childcare businesses or employed in private daycare centers.

“There are 183 closed locations due to lack of personnel, which translates into a deficit of 181 educators and 2,379 teacher’s assistants,” acknowledged Yoania Falcón Suárez, an official of the Ministry of Education. To alleviate the deficit, a higher children to educator ratio was authorized and in addition staffers now get a salary increase depending on the number of children, but these measures have not solved the problem.

Carmen María is one of the more than 7,000 mothers in the city of Havana who, for months, has requested a spot in a state child care center for her one-and-a-half year-old twins. The woman works as a waitress in a private restaurant and laments that the employees of the state sector have priority for obtaining a spot.

“I’m going to wait a couple of months to see if I’m lucky and I can enroll the children in a state childcare center, because it’s cheaper, but, if not,  I’ll have to end up hiring a private caretaker in order to keep my job.” At the moment Carmen Marías children are under the care of their grandmother during her working hours.

The woman also thinks that “there has been a deterioration in the pedagogical quality of the workers in these places because before they were closer to being true teachers but now they are more like assistants who are there to take care of the children, but they do not teach them many things.”

An official of the Ministry of Education explained to 14ymedio the reasons for prioritizing the state sector. “The cuentapropistas (self-employed) have higher incomes and that is not a secret to anyone,” explains the worker of this ministry, on condition of anonymity. “In the midst of the difficulties we have with the number of locations and specialized personnel, we are trying to help — first of all — the mothers with the lowest salaries,” she says.

“We also have a policy that all those women who work in strategic state sectors can have their childcare guaranteed even if they do have to wait a long time to obtain a place,” the official added. “Childcare centers are subsidized and should benefit those who need this support, because other families can pay for a private caregiver.”

The child care educators are trained in mid-level courses in pedagogical schools for young people who have graduated from the 12th grade. At the moment there are more than 3,700 students training in these centers who are destined to occupy positions in state child care centers and preschool classrooms. But many of them will end up deserting the profession.

Rosario García has been managing a private daycare center in Candelaria for seven years. The self-employed manager explains that she has no problems hiring staff, because many educators from day care centers in the area have expressed their desire to work in her small business. For García, the greatest difficulties are on another side.

The woman considers that if private caregivers could rent larger spaces in the state’s own day care centers, have access to educational resources at preferential prices and be respected and considered by the government to be educators, that would help meet the high demand for child care.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba Risks a Christmas Without Rice on the Table

The rice imported from Vietnam is not popular among Cuban consumers (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 30 November 2018 — The end of the year is approaching and families are setting aside provisions for the December festivities. Beans, pork and salad can not be absent, but the most essential of all products is rice, the distribution of which in recent weeks has shown signs of an alarming shortage in supplies and a fall in quality.

With an annual national consumption that exceeds 700,000 tons, this essential ingredient is sold in three types of markets: the bodegas of the rationed system, stores that sell products for Cuban pesos (CUP), and the hard currency stores that only sell products in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), each of which is worth 25 Cuban pesos. Shortages currently are affecting the latter two options and the customers are complaining about the poor quality of the rice that is available.

“We have had cuts in supplies and now consumers don’t like the rice that is being sold,” admits Suanny, a grocer in a market on San Lazaro Street in Havana, where imported rice costs 5 Cuban pesos a pound (roughly 25¢ USD). “People come by and ask if it is Brazilian, but when they find out it is Vietnamese, they do not want to buy it.” continue reading

In the midst of an escalation of accusations between Havana’s Revolution Square and the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, over the Mais Medico (More Doctors) program staffed by Cuban doctors who are being recalled to Cuba, Cuban consumers fear that the diplomatic chill will affect the arrival of the highly-valued rice. Even television comedians allude to its counterpart, the food of Asian origin, as “the worst nightmare” of the coming Christmas Eve.

Vietnam is the main exporter of rice to the Island because the national harvest covers barely a third of what is consumed on the island. According to official data, more than eleven million Cubans residing in the country eat an average of 11 pounds a month, more than 130 pounds per person per year. The vast majority of diners will say they have not eaten if there is no rice on their plate, both at lunch and dinner.

Suanny explains to this newspaper that the reasons for the rejection of the Vietnamese product are varied. “Many of the grains are broken and the smell it has, even if it is washed several times, is not pleasant,” he says. “Besides, it’s a type of rice that does not cook up with individual grains, but rather is sticky, and we don’t like it that way here.” Similar opinions are heard in all the markets, with the exception of stores in convertible pesos where the origin of the rice is different.

“We mainly sell one kilogram packages from Spain and Brazil that are well accepted,” explains Yaima, administrator of a small store in Vedado. While in the rationed market and in places that sell in the local currency there is only one variety and for a price up to six times higher, “of a type that is very good for making yellow rice, paellas and even risotto, as well as others of long grain of the variety basmati and the jasmine.”

Yaima explains that the main buyers of this variety are the private restaurants (paladares), the foreigners residing in the national territory and “the so-called ‘pots’ (new rich) who want something of higher quality.” In the last month in several stores, including Yaima’s, they had to “ration the sale of rice packages to five per person because the supply is not stable.”

With the increase of the private sector in recent years, especially in the restaurants with extensive menus for foreign tourists, “the purchase of this type of rice [sold in CUC], which previously sold very slowly, has grown a lot,” says the worker. “Now it’s among the products we sell the most, after chicken, sausages and oil.”

Some of those interviewed consider that Cuban rice is barely sold in convertible peso stores due to “quality problems” and “presentation.” Also because of the obstacles that the State still puts on the private farmers before they can place their goods on the shelves of stores in the internal trade network.

Domestic rice does not enjoy customers’ favor either. In agricultural markets, its price remains at 4 CUP, cheaper than imported rice. “It’s second because it’s very dirty with small stones, seeds and also grains with husks,” explains Wilfredo del Toro, who manages a market stall in a plaza in Marianao.

It is common for consumers to spend between 20 minutes and half an hour selecting, washing and “picking” the national or Vietnamese rice before they can cook it, a time that is prolonged if the grain comes from the fields of the Island, due to the lack of sorting machines that clean the product before it reaches the markets.

“It’s not just about harvesting more quality rice in the fields, but about achieving a better finish,” explains Josué Amorín, an agricultural engineer who has been dedicated to rice harvesting in Artemisa’s Güira area for a decade. “The selection and packaging are unaddressed issues in the sale of national rice, in that almost nothing has been achieved in recent years.”

“In the end, what the buyer takes home is a product that can not compete with the one sold in stores in convertible pesos, neither in quality nor in cleanliness,” says the engineer.

The rice is moved in hoppers or bags throughout the transport chain from the fields to the markets. Once at the market stalls it is also sold in bulk, which contributes to the addition of particles and dirt to the product. In the rationed market it is common for employees to add small stones or other objects to increase the weight, which leaves them a surplus to sell in illegal networks.

Currently, with the problems of shortages that are affecting several areas of the country, the practice of adulterating the national rice has also exploded. This November the planting for the cold season has started and the problems with the quality of the seed already foretell that the goal of planting 139,000 hectares can not be met.

“The grain we have is a variety that demands a lot of water and is quite fragile,” a rice grower explains by telephone to 14ymedio from the  Aguada de Pasajeros area in Cienfuegos, who prefers anonymity. “In the technological package (a module that the State sells to the producers) we have distributed a rice for sowing that is very deteriorated.”

The farmer points to the problems with irrigation systems, “in very poor condition given the years and lack of maintenance,” together with the difficulties of drying and transporting the grain once it is harvested, as the main brakes suffered by the sector. “Getting bags [to package it in] is a headache,” he says.

The Rice Development Program, managed by the State but with a majority of producers located in cooperatives and private farms, aims to reach a production of 400,000 tons by 2020. But the forecast, according to several specialists consulted by this newspaper, seems too optimistic and even counterproductive for the country’s economy.

In the opinion of Israel Lugo Hernández, technical-productive director of the Rice Technology Division, reaching these figures depends not only on seeds and machinery, but also on how the rains behave in the coming years, especially over the territories of Granma, Camagüey and Sancti Spíritus, the regions where the grain is most sown.

For engineer Josué Amorín such a forecast is a “pure dream.” Rice production “demands water availability that is impossible to guarantee throughout the process in a country that has had serious drought problems in recent years and that, according to forecasts, may worsen in the future.” The specialist believes that “we must concentrate not on increasing the production numbers too much, but on the quality of the rice that is arriving at the tables.”

In his opinion “an appropriate combination of national production and imports would be more advisable than trying to grow everything here.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Taking Care of Children and Then Grandchildren

The role played by older people increases when one of their children emigrates. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, November 29, 2018 — Preparing snacks, picking up the girls after classes, and staying on top of keeping the school uniforms clean. A good part of the daily routine of Clara Rojos, 74, is focused on her two granddaughters, aged 10 and 11, who she has taken care of since their mother emigrated to Miami. From there she is trying to bring them over via a family reunification process that has taken more than five years.

Clara Rojas is “mother and father” to the two girls, as she explains to 14ymedio. In parks, outside schools, and in the vicinity of childcare centers, it is common to see these gray-haired heads accompanying minors. Sometimes they do it to help out the rest of the family, but in other cases they are the only support these children have.

According to an investigation conducted by the Law Faculty of Marta Abreu University, in Villa Clara, currently Cuba includes “more grandparents in the raising of grandchildren, now that, in general, both parents have a lot of work and social activity, and they spend little time with their children.” The role played by older people increases when one of their children emigrates. continue reading

For Clara Rojas, being in charge of her two granddaughters brings her many advantages and a “mountain of problems.” “I get up every day and I have the energy to go on because I can’t leave them alone,” she says. A study carried out in Germany indicates that elderly people who on an occasional or permanent basis take care of their grandchilren “tend to live longer than the elderly who don’t take care of other people.”

However, the diligent grandmother recognizes that she is a little old to share with the girls certain passions, like using new technologies, “listening to reggaeton, or helping them with their math homework.” She calculates that in the next three years, when the girls reunite with their family in Florida, she will have time to dedicate to herself and “do a bunch of unresolved things” that right now she can’t do because she doesn’t have the time.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Chicken Will Also be "Cubañol"

Currently, most imported chicken in Cuba is from the US or Brazil (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 26 November 2018 — Chicken is the food that stars on Cuban tables, beyond the traditional pork, the longed-for beef or the scarce fish. With the product shortages  having intensified in recent years, the legs and thighs of these birds have become the main source of animal protein for many families, a market that will now be entered by a Spanish production company.

The Cuban government is in negotiations with the Spanish company Kodysa to create a joint venture that will supply three out of every ten chickens consumed on the island, according to an announcement during the recently concluded official visit of Pedro Sánchez, president of the Spanish Government.

Kodysa is a construction and engineering company that also has an agri-food sector among its business areas. The multinational has poultry complexes in Andalusia and a company dedicated to the preparation of poultry products. continue reading

The first step was the signing of a memorandum of understanding to launch a 50 million euro project through which a mixed capital company will produce 400,000 fresh chickens a week for the Cuban market, a product with a broad demand which, today, is mostly imported from Brazil and the United States.

Kodysa chicken production

The Cuban poultry industry is going through a bad time, hit last September by Hurricane Irma and last May by the subtropical storm Michael, which damaged numerous chicken farms along the northern coast and in the western part of the country, although most of them were dedicated to egg production.

“We have very little production of chicken for meat consumption because of the issue of feed for growth and fattening, which is not easily achieved,” explains Luis Abreu by phone to 4ymedio. Abreu, 53, works on a poultry farm near the community of Las Terrazas in Artemisa. “Here we are dedicated to laying hens but right now we are below half of our capacity.”

Problems with the roofs of farm buildings, the supply of water to keep the hen-houses clean and the delicate issue of feed, makes it difficult for the animals to enjoy “the minimum conditions to lay all the eggs they could, much less to raise a chicken to a certain weight in a short period of time,” Abreu laments.

At the farm, a group of sorters reviews the newly hatched chicks and separates out the females, which will go to areas with special lighting to supply them with heat and later to the laying sheds to use for egg production. Those classified as males “go to feed the pigs,” says the employee.

The depressed local industry forces Cuba to import more than 80% of the food consumed on the island, including more than 120,000 tons of chicken meat. In 2017, Alberto Ramírez, president of the Cuban Society of Poultry Producers (SOCPA), confirmed to the official press that “the [national] production of meat is practically nil.”

Under the agreement with Kodysa, chickens could cover up to 30% of local demand, which includes not only domestic consumption, but also a portion of the needs of hotels and private businesses, a sector hit hard by the shortages.

The Spaniards are committed to guaranteeing the supply of animal feed, the weakest point of Cuban industry, and one that must be watched with greater zeal. “One of the main problems of meat production in Cuba is the diversion [i.e. theft] of resources from state companies to the informal market,” said Maritza Rojas, a Villa Clara native who worked for two decades as an accountant on a poultry farm, speaking to this newspaper.

“Private producers are sold barely any feed, so this product sells very well on the black market,” she explains. “Any place where chickens are raised, we have to watch the feed more than the birds, because it disappears little by little.” The accountant thinks that “it is still too expensive to produce chickens in Cuba” because of “the lack of infrastructure and so much theft.”

In the last two decades, the United States has been the greatest supplier of chicken to the Island, especially the so-called “dark meat” (thigh and leg-thigh). In November of 2017, after several months of  Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House, more than $21 million in agricultural products and food was sold to Cuba, almost $17 million of which was frozen chicken.

However, Havana must pay cash for the these products, as established by the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, which the US Congress approved in 2000.

Brazil also supplies much of the whole chicken that ends up on Cuban tables, particularly the companies Frangosul and Perdix, JBS and BRF, although political relations between Cuba and Brazil have deteriorated. Havana has a debt with the Brazilian National Development Bank of more than 600 million dollars that it has committed to settle, although this year alone it needs to renegotiate arrears in the amount of 110 million dollars for 2018.

Local production of chickens would alleviate the spending on imports and bring a fresher product to Cuban tables, but the agreement with Kodysa still has no firm date to go into effect.

*Translator’s note: Cubañol: a combination of Cuban and Spanish (español)

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Thursday of Sanchez’s Arrival

Caption: Rogelio Sierra (right), Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, and Juan Fernández Trigo (left), Spanish Ambassador to Cuba, receive the President of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sánchez, and his wife María Begoña Gómez. (EFE / Yander Zamora)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 23 November 2018 –  Thursday, when the plane of the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, landed in Cuba, began like any other day. National newspapers reproduced extensive tributes to the late leader Fidel Castro, at sunrise pharmacies  had long lines and in agricultural markets pork meat reached 55 Cuban pesos per pound, or two days’ salary for a state worker.

A brief note in the official newspaper Granma announced that Sanchez would arrive on an official visit to the island and in the centers of Spanish communities that dot the national geography, the descendants of Basques, Galicians and Asturians made the trip the main topic of the conversation. If in some places the subject was talked about intensely, among the broad social sectors that do not watch television or read the official press, the trip has barely registered.

On Monte Street, a Havana artery teeming with informal vendors and old shops converted to warehouses or stores selling in Cuban convertible pesos, Sanchez’s visit was only brought up this Thursday in connection with a desired modification of the so-called Law of the Grandchildren that permits application for Spanish citizenship to those who were left out in the prior iteration. continue reading

Lourdes, a self-employed worker who manages a small counter with scouring pads, plastic strainers and other kitchen utensils sees the arrival of Sánchez as “an opportunity to reopen to the descendants of Spaniards the process of applying for citizenship”. The seller assures that she does not want to emigrate “but to use the passport to travel to buy products in Panama and Mexico”.

The cubañoles (Cubans of Spanish descent) are the largest group of travelers who act as “mules”, Cubans who dedicate themselves to importing goods that are scarce in the networks of state enterprises. “A Spanish passport changes life for anyone,” says Lourdes.

While the news of the arrival of the president was among the headlines featured in the evening news, in the first news summary on Friday, the presence of Sanchez had to wait for news about the constitutional reform, the return of Cuban doctors from Brazil and the weather report. In the dissembled official “grammar” of communication, everything seems designed to minimize the importance of the visit.

It did not go unnoticed by attentive viewers that at the foot of the steps of the plane, Sanchez’s counterpart, Miguel Diaz-Canel, president of the Council of State, was not waiting. Instead of the ruler, the Spaniard was received upon his arrival in Havana by the Cuban Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rogelio Sierra, who accompanied him to place a wreath at the image of José Martí in the Plaza de la Revolución.

Sanchez has said his presence lays the groundwork for a possible visit to the island by the King and Queen of Spain in the setting of the 500th anniversary of the founding of  Havana that will be commemorated in November 2019. An announcement that has not escaped the sharp tongue of popular humor.

“They better hurry because at the rate of deterioration in this city they may find only ruins,” exaggerated a participant of the sports group* La Esquina Caliente (Hot Corner) in Central Park, a place through which Sanchez will walk to the Palace of the Captain Generals where this Friday he will hand over the chair of General Antonio Maceo .

A gesture of historical connotations that has been included in an agenda in which the Spanish Executive has preferred not to meet with the Cuban opposition, arguing that no European political leader has done it and that it was not about making gestures, but being effective. Sanchez and Diaz-Canel signed a memorandum by which the two countries commit to annual political contacts in which they will discuss, among other items, human rights.

In place of the dissidents, Sanchez prefers meeting with the descendants of Spaniards in the gardens of the ambassador’s residence in Havana. The guests include the layperson and editor of Cuba Possible, a moderate who is seen by the most radical opposition groups as a lightweight and by the spokesmen of the ruling party as an “enemy”. In the context of the meeting this Friday, he will be the most political figure who has been invited.

Others not invited have taken advantage of the new technologies to send Sanchez their views on the situation that exists on the island. As is the case of former political prisoner Librado Linares, who has sent an extensive missive to the Spanish president in which he takes the opportunity to denounce that part of the text of the Constitutional reform that includes articles that encourage “discrimination for political and philosophical reasons”, in addition to giving “a patent to the ’revolutionaries’ to commit outrages against the dissidents: acts of repudiation, assault against their homes, beatings, and other offenses.”

Translator’s note: The group is an informal, but unfailing, gathering of Havanans who vociferously talk about sports.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Official Cuban Press Bares Its Teeth to Jair Bolsonaro

The official media has preferred to spread testimonies and stories about the return of the doctors as a very synchronized chorus and without different chords. Text: Fewer Doctors With Bolsonaro!

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 19 November 2018 — These days the official press controlled by the Communist Party has sharpened its rhetoric after the decision by the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) to close the door on the Mais Medicos (More Doctors) in Brazil program.  The Island’s press outlets have not spared insulting president-elect Jair Bolsonaro, who, under a humanitarian pretext by which in reality he sought to distance himself politically from Havana, conditioned the continued stay of the Cuban doctors on a series of measures that the Island’s authorities did not like.

The next leader of the South American giant combines characteristics that perfectly fit the mold of the adversary of Havana’s Revolution Plaza:  defender of the military dictatorship, ultra-rightist and very critical of the Island’s government.  His profile turns him into Ronald Reagan’s perfect successor for pro-government political forces. continue reading

“We get up and it’s Bolsonaro, we lie down and it’s still Bolsonaro,” complains Yanisbel, a Havana resident of 45 years who asserts that “recently it’s not worth it to turn on the television because it’s all the same.”  The news reports are filled with interviews of Cuban doctors who describe their sacrifices and achievements during the mission in Brazil and also attacks on the “new political shift” of the — for years — allied country.

Granma, the official mouthpiece of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), has taken great pains in reports, opinion columns and bulletins in which it highlights the “lack of morality” of the next Brazilian government for questioning Havana’s actions and proclaims that “foolishness won” with the departure of the Island’s health professionals from the Mais Medicos program.

Among such profusion of words and adjectives, the readers and viewers have noticed that something important is missing.  “They have not told us the chicken of chicken with rice, and everyone knows it,” advises Duany, a self-employed barber who spent several days scrutinizing the topic with his customers.  “The Cuban press has not counted on Bolsonaro wanting our doctors to make their whole salaries and to be able to bring their relatives,” he opines.

In a country where new technologies put official censorship in check it is increasingly difficult to hide information.  “Everyone knows it, everyone talks about the same thing in the street, but the prime time newscast does not mention it,” complains Duany.  “That makes the press lose credibility and contradicts all the calls to end secrecy that some official makes from time to time on television.”

“This is the typical case that puts editorial policy to the test,” says a young graduate of the Havana Communications Department who asked for anonymity.  “The fact that the national press only reflects one opinion and one way of seeing the end of the agreement of the Ministry of Public Health with the Brazilian government is very significant.”

The young man rejects the idea that they have not interviewed “a single doctor among those who must return to Cuban who is not in agreement with MINSAP’s decision or who plans to seek the political asylum that Bolsonaro has offered.”  Nor “have they broadcast statements from relatives here who do not agree with the low salaries or the family separations that the mission imposes.”

Instead of that, the official media has preferred to broadcast statements and stories as a very synchronized chorus and without different chords.  “We fall again time after time into the same thing and later we are called to do journalism closer aligned with reality, but as if reality is not published,” complains the recent graduate.

Meanwhile, illegal parabolic antennas and other forms of information distribution are experiencing increasing usage.  “People are waiting for Bolsonaro to be able to widen the political asylum offer to other Cuban professionals or make more flexible the travel visa from the Island to that country,” speculates Ricardo, a distributor of several of the illegal signal antennas.

“Some days ago what was most in demand was the telenovelas and the series but in the last week they have asked me to transmit all the news from Florida and any program that touches on the topic of Bolsonaro,” he explains to this daily.  On the flat roof of his home in Central Havana, camouflaged behind a supposed dove cage, Ricardo has installed three antennas from which emerge yards and yards of cables that go to the living rooms of more than a hundred families.

In the official media, Bolsonaro’s counterpart is former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, who during her reign strengthened ties with Havana and provided the National Bank of Economic and Social Development with a loan of more than 680 million dollars to widen the Mariel port, the emblematic work of Raul Castro’s government.

“We have returned to the fable of the good and the bad, the hatchet man and the victim,” asserts Susana, a retiree who for more than a quarter of a century worked for the Ministry of Foreign Trade.  “This is going to last, and we are going to have Bolsonaro for a while,” says the woman with a daughter who is one of the more than 8,300 doctors who are still on Brazilian soil.

“This is like a Brazilian telanovela, by chapters, but it’s already known who is the bad guy and who plays the part of the slave Isaura,” says the woman.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Police Dogs

This graffiti has appeared in recent days on several buildings in Cuba’s capital. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 19 November 2018 — Several building facades of Central Havana display a very unique graffiti that has appeared in recent days. The image shows a uniformed National Revolutionary Police (PNR) officer accompanied by a dog with whom he shares the same face, snout, teeth and fierce gesture. Man and animal have the appearance of being alert, the ears attentive and an aggressive look, as if about to launch themselves on their prey. The graffiti alludes, without subtleties, to the police violence and aggression that characterizes this body of public order in Cuba.

For several years it has been common to see police accompanied by German shepherd dogs in the central zones of the Cuban capital. The area surrounding the Capitol, the areas near the Central Park, the busiest parts of Monte Street and even the most entertaining corners of La Rampa are a frequent stop for these officers accompanied by their dogs. Next to the whistle, the night stick and the walkie-talkie, the dog is already a distinctive sign of their presence. continue reading

That era during which television broadcast an announcement in which a small child claimed “police, police you are my friend”, has also been forgotten. Now, the members of the PNR are viewed with much distrust and fear by the population. The excesses committed during the arbitrary arrests, the fines and the detentions without cause have sufficiently stained their reputation, disseminated by the new technologies, have left testimony of the injustices or the excessive blows of these uniformed ones.

Part of that fear and suspicion has been captured by the graffiti artist in which the fierce irrationality of the animal is shared by a human being who should maintain order, not provoke violence or fear.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Praying Towards Mecca From Havana

Seeing Cuban Muslims preparing to pray in the street is no longer a strange image for passers-by. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 3 November 2018 — Readings from the Koran, the Islamic hijab, and prayers while facing towards Mecca are increasingly seen in Cuba, where the Muslim community has been growing in recent years. The initial surprise has given way to curiosity, and passersby stop to ask questions when they see an image like the one in the photo above, where men profess their faith in the middle of a populated street in the Havana neighborhood of La Timba.

Last year, Imam Yahya who is of the Sunni branch and president of the Cuban Islamic League closest to officialdom, estimated that about 5,000 Cubans are converts to Islam. The current mosque in Havana, located on Oficios Street, has become a meeting point for many tourists passing through Havana, as well as African students and diplomats based in the island. continue reading

Prayer centers have also appeared throughout the country and in small cities such as Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey there are small Muslim communities.

In the next few years one of the largest mosques in Latin America will be completed in the capital city, which will be financed by Saudi Arabia and is expected to accommodate some 10,000 Muslims.

However, “Cubans who have converted to Islam is one thing, and those who live tied to the teachings of Muhammad is quite another,” said Yasser, 52 and a resident in the Cerro municipality, speaking to this newspaper.

“As in other religions that are practiced in Cuba there are many who simulate or are two-faced in this,” laments this Havanan. “In my neighborhood we are one of at least three families of Lebanese origin,” he says, but he complains that many of the Cuban Muslims he knows “go to the mosque in the morning and at night they drink rum and dance reggaeton.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Empty Nest

The work ‘Medialuna’ reproduces the concept of the empty nest in a country with high incidences of emigration. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 8 November 2018 – There are parents who cross their fingers that their children become independent and others who sigh in the distance because their offspring have emigrated or have moved away from home. In a country where there is a deficit of more than 800,000 houses and the housing problems force several generations to live together under one roof, it is easy to think that nobody suffers from the empty nest syndrome, but it is not so.

According to the Population and Housing Census conducted in 2012, 12.6% of Cuban households are made up of single adults. Many of them have seen their children leave to go abroad or start a new life together with their partner in another house. Loneliness, depression and questions about the meaning of one’s existence appear in many of these parents. For social and medical services, recognizing these symptoms and helping those who suffer from them is essential.

“There are elderly people who come here more for the company than the food,” an employee of the Pío Pío Comedor of the Family Service System, located in the Havana municipality of Playa, tells 14ymedio. The locale offers breakfast, lunch and food to retirees with low resources in the area, but another of its functions is “to serve as a meeting place,” says the worker who works in food preparation. continue reading

Many of the elderly people who eat in Pío Pío live alone or with other older adults. “They are people who dedicated a good part of their lives to the care of their children and in a moment they were left alone,” laments the employee. In the living room, which functions as a dining room, several old people converse and one shows the photos of a son who lives in distant Hamburg.

The Cuban family has been scattering in recent years with the upturn in travel abroad and emigration. Often younger children leave in search of new horizons and with the promise of helping their parents financially.

In the case of women, the effects of this separation can be expressed with greater severity. 49.1% of older adults living in single-person households are females with a median age of 69 years. For the psychologist Miguel Lugones, mothers feel “that the home is lonely, that their children have grown up and become independent and she feels that she has lost her leading role socially.” The empty nest seems wider and more alien for them.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Hurricane Mascot

Mayabeque’s baseball team mascot represents a hurricane, those crazy winds that in the cyclonic season hit the island. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 15 October 2018 – The Mayabeque province baseball team is also known by their Hurricanes nickname, so the team mascot tries to represent those crazy winds that, in the hurricane season, hit the island.

His costume contains the yellow and red colors of the coat of arms of the province, one of the four that along with Guantanamo, Camagüey and Havana takes on an aboriginal name. The Taínos called cyclones “juracán” and represented this atmospheric phenomenon with a human face whose arms move in a spiral.

The ghostly mask that Mayabeque’s baseball mascot now puts on has the dual purpose of hiding the identity of the bearer of the symbol and bringing a certain terrifying air to the character. Both things are totally pointless, because by merely going on the field the fans of the team often shout the real name of the person who hides under the mascot accompanied by all the nice and atrocious things that occur to the public. continue reading

The bat looks like a toy, but he carries it with a lot of pride, as if he were brandishing a whirlwind like those of the aboriginal deity. There is no shortage of those who want to take a photo together with such exaggerated fury, nor those who wonder in a jocular tone who came up with this symbol, with the damage that actual hurricanes have done to Mayabeque.

In between the teasing and applause, the mascot of one of the youngest Cuban provinces is earning a place in the comments of the public that goes to the stadium to support their team.

Since January 2011 when Mayabeque province was officially established, the team’s performance this season has been the best in its brief history, which fortunately has not been highlighted so far in 2018, at least on the island, by the fury of real hurricanes.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

"We Are Going to Paralyze Havana"

The ’boteros’ (’boatmen’ i.e. taxi drivers) play a critical role in Havana’s passenger transport system. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 9 October 2018 — “Post online that this is the last almendrón* that you will see in many days,” joked the driver of an old Chevrolet that makes the route between the Parque de la Fraternidad and Santiago de Las Vegas, in Havana on Monday.

This Monday, the Council of the Provincial Administration initiated an “experiment” that includes new regulations, along with economic and fiscal incentives for the self-employed workers — popularly known as boteros (“boatmen”) — dedicated to passenger transport. The measures have already aroused more distrust than hope among customers and drivers, who are beginning to join forces in the face of the situation.

As of October 8, drivers have had to go to the municipal offices that manage work permits for the self-employed and request a new operating license. To obtain it, the drivers are required to present a contract with the state entities to acquire their fuel and proof of a bank account. continue reading

After this process, drivers can purchase tools, parts and accessories for their vehicles in a wholesale market at 20% lower prices, but a good share of the boteros consulted by this newspaper do not have faith that the state-owned stores can provide the parts they need for their automobiles, most of which are manufactured in the United States.

The official press has detailed that the experiment in Havana’s transport will be developed over four months and that, currently, the participation of operators with cars, vans and minibuses with capacity for between 4 and 14 passengers is voluntary.

Anger has motivated many boteros, who lack unions that can help them stand up to the Government and who fear losing their licenses, to decide to start a discrete work stoppage on Tuesday. However, the heavy rains in the west of the island due to Hurricane Michael will make it difficult to be clear about which ones did not go to work as a protest and which ones failed to show up because of the weather.

In the last few hours passengers hurried to board one of these vehicles — commonly more than half a century old and with innumerable patches. “I caught the last one heading for La Víbora,” this newspaper heard from Teresa, a Havana housewife who managed to travel as the sun went down while the rain did not let up.

The new measures seek to create a balance between “the interests of the population, associated with more affordable prices and safety,” and those of the carriers, “so that they do not see their incomes diminished and have access to facilities” to buy parts according to the vice minister of Transport, Marta Oramas, but customers also have their doubts.

Passengers argue that the prices of private transport are very high, although they also do not trust that the regulations will improve the situation. Sign reads: “If you don’t pay you have to get out.” (14ymedio)

“Each time they implement one of these measures, two things happen: either we the passengers pay for the ’broken dishes’ or in a short time no one respects the rules. Are we going to see what will happen in this case?” said a retiree waiting for an almendrón in Reina street. “Prices can’t continue as they are because the situation can’t be that I pay the botero more for a ride than I get from my pension for a day, but the State doesn’t manage it any better,” he protested.

Among the carrots the the Government is offering to encourage the boteros to accept the rearrangement of the routes and the taxi-stands is the sale of fuel at lower prices, between 2 and 66 cents per liter according to the type. The offer seeks to put an end to the extensive informal market that feeds on fuel stolen from state entities.

Private carriers must also comply with minimum and maximum fuel consumption standards according to the type of vehicle, its capacity and the type of fuel it uses. The calculation of gasoline or diesel will also take into account the variable of the route they have previously contracted with the state transport company to operate.

Since Monday, 26 terminals and 23 associated routes have been established, outside of which the boteros can not operate. “That takes limits mobility and autonomy, without a doubt,” laments Abigail Pacheco, 56, with 16 years in the arena of passenger transportation. “Now it will be an infraction if we go down a street that is not established or if we use a fuel that is not the one that the State sold us,” she laments.

In an unusual informative gesture, the government TV program ’Roundtable’ alluded last week to the informal call for a work stoppage, based on the comments of a viewer. However, the presenters avoided mentioning that in Cuba labor strikes are prohibited and that in more than half a century the Central Workers’ Party of Cuba (CTC) has never called a strike.

In a city with chaotic public transport, which has failed to overcome the blow represented by the end of Soviet subsidies with the demise of the USSR, and where it is normal to wait more than an hour at a bus stop, the almendrones are key to moving millions of passengers every day who need to get to their jobs, homes or schools.

“We have to stand up for ourselves because the government treats us as if we were a necessary evil, but we are the wheels of Havana, without us it stops,” says Osmel, a 38-year-old driver who decided on Tuesday to participate in the strike “with arms folded.”

“Not everyone has joined the call and the truth is that we have not been able to disseminate everything we would have liked, but at each taxi-stand the drivers know that if we continue to give way we will all end up as state workers, with a fixed salary and a boss to tell us where we must go,” he predicts.

Now, the carriers are trying to take on the fight to regain the autonomy that they have achieved since self-employment was authorized in the mid-1990s.

The measures are part of a package of 20 decrees, resolutions and rules that will come into effect on December 7, which, according to the authorities, seek to “reorder” the private sector, but entrepreneurs perceive them as a brake on the economic openings promoted by Raúl Castro.

*Translator’s note: “Almendrone” relates to “almond” and is used as a name for the classic American cars still in use in Cuba, in reference to their shape. Specifically, “almendrones” are used in the shared fixed-route taxi service widely used by Cubans whose needs are not met by regular bus service and do not own cars.

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Complaints About the Adulteration of Weight In Sales of Frozen Chicken

Halfway through 2016 authorities decreed a reduction in the prices of various foods, among them pieces of frozen chicken that are sold in boxes of between 10 and 23 kilograms. Sign: “Special Offer Sale of Boxes of Chicken With Price Reduction of 6%” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, October 2, 2018 — He arrived home hopeful, after five hours in a long line, with a box of frozen chicken thighs that he bought at the Plaza Carlos III center in Havana. When he opened it, the customer realized that it was missing at least six pieces and in their places pieces of ice had been added to fill up the holes and maintain the weight of the package.

The adulteration of the quantity of a product is a common practice in the network of stores using convertible currency in Cuba, and it has been aggravated by the commercialization of wholesale merchandise. The substitution of part of the food with ice, cardboard, or plastic is hardly surprising anymore to the indignant buyers who see how their money vanishes as they pay for a weight that isn’t the same as the real one.

This Monday, at least four customers protested being robbed of pieces of chicken in the apparently sealed boxes sold at the butcher shop on the bottom floor of Plaza de Carlos, as 14ymedio confirmed. The administration has recommended that shoppers check the weight of the package before “leaving the unit.” However, weighing it doesn’t prevent fraud. continue reading

“It’s no use to check the weight because they take out pieces and put in ice so that the box shows up on the scale at the same weight that it says on the package,” laments Omara, a 47-year-old Havana resident who claims to have suffered the loss of at least eight pieces of chicken thighs from a box that she got at the place. “It’s not just here, it happens everywhere,” she assures.

“They adulterate cleaning detergent by adding water and now we are going to have to develop x-ray vision to be able to detect if a package that seems sealed is missing chicken,” laments Omara. “Even the ones that my daughter buys via the Internet, that emigrants sell, come diluted.”

The loss of a good part of Venezuela’s economic support has aggravated the shortages and some food products have disappeared from store shelves altogether or are frequently missing.

“The boxes have the weight stamped and here there is no time to change anything inside because as soon as we load them off the truck they are sold, we don’t even warehouse the product from one day for the next because right now there is a lot of demand,” responds an employee of the shopping center who asked to remain anonymous. “If when the customer opens them, they’re missing something, it wasn’t here that it was taken out.”

The worker blames the distribution warehouses and possible robberies at the port. “Everyone blames us but this is a problem that also affects us because we have to listen to the complaints and accusations,” he explains.

In the central office of the Cimex corporation in Havana, an official tells this newspaper that it’s a matter of “imported chicken that is sold sealed,” so that the customer finds himself before “the original quality of the merchandise, which has passed through a procedure of wet freezing” which has result in “those pieces of ice that they see when they open the package.”

Nevertheless, he recognizes that “irregularities” have been found in the “surprise inspections that are carried out in the warehouses and receiving centers.” If the protocols are followed “there shouldn’t be any adulteration,” specifies the official, who didn’t want to give his name over the phone.

“Often they say that there is adulteration, but there isn’t.” The administration imposes sanctions if they detect this kind of irregularity, among them the loss of jobs, to avoid eventual removals.

Luis Jorge, 36, a regular buyer of frozen chicken pacakges for a restaurant where he works as a messenger, disagrees with the Cimex official. “If you pay close attention, you can detect where the package was opened to put in the pieces of ice,” he insists. “They’re true masters of fraud, those who do this, but even so they still leave traces.”

Halfway through 2016 the authorities decreed a light reduction in the prices of various foods. Among the products that benefited were pieces of frozen chicken sold in boxes of between 10 and 23 kilograms, a measure that incentivized buying, especially among small private businesses that offer chicken on their menus.

As months passed many families began to get the packages of chicken parts to guarantee supply amidst the shortage. Lines to buy it can last hours and most times one only finds packages of thigh and leg meat. Packages of breasts or whole chickens are the ones that are in shortest supply.

In June of this year the sale of frozen chicken was rationed in stores in convertible pesos in the Villa Clara province and they stopped selling complete packages of the product. Local authorities decreed the measure as a result of the damages caused by the subtropical storm Alberto and presented it as a short-term solution to the shortage of food. Villa Clara residents waited several weeks to be able to buy once again greater quantities of the product.

Cuba imports between 60% and 70% of the food consumed on the island, an operation that costs around $2 billion each year and which has become more complicated with the problems of liquidity that the Island is experiencing. From the United States the foods that arrive most frequently are, precisely, frozen chicken and certain grains.

During his recent visit to New York, the Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel met with American businessmen linked with the agricultural sector. “Buying food, which is known to be of good quality, produced by you for us would represent convenience and opportunities,” specified the leader during the meeting.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey
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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba’s "Slaves Without Rights" of the Youth Labor Army

EJT (Youth Labor Army) market on Calle 17 and K in Vedado (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, September 26, 2018 — Rigo, Suandy, and Alberto arrive each morning at a corner in the Capdevila neighborhood in Havana, with the order to look for breeding places of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. Barely 17 years old, they are part of the Youth Labor Army (EJT), an unarmed version of Active Military Service (SMA) that is also being questioned in the constitutional reform debates.

Founded in August of 1973 by Raúl Castro, thousands of young people under the age of 20 have ended up in the EJT over the past four decades. Their labors have concentrated fundamentally in agriculture, construction of houses, and the repair of railroad tracks. But the hard work conditions and the low compensation have put it at the center of the criticisms. continue reading

“Every day my son works for more than eight hours in a furrow producing vegetables and foods that are then sold in the Youth Labor Army markets at a much higher price than he and his companions receive for so much work,” Xiomara, a resident of the Boyeros municipality, lamented last week at a meeting to discuss the reform of the Constitution.

All over the country, and especially in the Cuban capital, the farmers’ markets managed by EJT have displaced in space and in the amount of offerings others that were privately or cooperatively administrated, which opened following the economic reforms of the 90s. Although they have slightly lower prices than their competitors, the quality of the merchandise in these businesses doesn’t please all their consumers.

“They’re an unspecialized workforce and that shows in the deterioration of production, but also in the numerous injuries that they suffer when they have to work in the fields or on railroad lines,” adds Xiomara, while at the table that presided over the debate a man punctually wrote down each phrase.

Young people who complete high school and earn a place at university are only required to spend a year mobilized in the SMA and, as a general rule, are placed in the EJT, where they only receive military training in the so-called “preliminary,” which lasts a few weeks.

Then they are relocated to EJT units, many of them without dormitories and from which they can leave every afternoon to sleep in their homes. However, their members are considered active military members and during their time in the Army they must comply with a chain of command that functions under the rules of that institution.

“Although I am happy that my son doesn’t have to have a gun, I believe that the new Constitution should offer more work options to the conscripted young people, including other tasks that they might be better at, like social work or incorporation in industrial production,” pointed out the woman.

Xiomara’s point of view was backed by various residents with adolescent children who lament that the EJT has turned into “a lucrative business where young people work hard in horrible conditions and receive salaries that aren’t enough for anything,” according to another of the meeting’s attendees.

“At least they no longer have to go to Angola as soldiers, but it’s necessary to dignify the work of these young people, because what they earn doesn’t even mean 15 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, roughly $15 USD) each month, let alone 20, but in the EJT markets they raise much more. Where does that money end up?” asked the resident. The Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) don’t report their resources and rarely publish the amounts of the profits earned with the work of their conscripts.

In 2009 thousands of young people in the EJT were assigned to the repair and maintenance of railroad lines, work for which it is difficult to find a voluntary labor force due to the difficult conditions in which it takes place.

On the outskirts of Bayamo, in the Sakenaff camp, Ruadny was one of the many young people in the area who held for the first time in his life “a pickaxe and shovel to lay a railroad tie,” he recounts now. “I wasn’t even 18 when they sent me to that unit and the truth is that after one week there I would have preferred to go to a military company,” he assures.

Demobilized two years ago from the EJT and with his sights set on emigration, the young man has no qualms in assuring that, at moments, he felt like “a slave without rights.” Ruadny remembers that they received a short training from the Eastern Railroad Company but that they arrived at the field “with very little knowledge of the work.”

“We had many cuts because, of course, the majority of the kids had never handled a pickaxe in their lives and I don’t remember that there was a union structure to protect us,” he laments. Ruadny came to make more than 500 Cuban pesos monthly for his work, less than $25. “I’m a musician, what I love most is the guitar and after that I couldn’t even play a note because my hands were so destroyed.”

The Government has deployed EJT conscripts to all those areas where the workforce fails because of the bad work conditions or low salaries. They can be seen in the coffee harvest, in clean-up operations after hurricanes, and in the building of state-owned facilities, but also in the sugar harvest, the maintenance of highways, and the remodeling of dams. The so-called “antivector” campaign, agriculture, the setup of electric lines, and communal services round out their tasks.

In 1999 a report made public during the International Work Conference in Geneva required Cuban authorities to be more transparent about the mechanism by which Cuban young people can opt to be part of the EJT and “to choose can constitute a useful guarantee.” The body reminded the Island that it needed to suppress “the use of forced labor as a method of using the workforce with the goal of economic promotion.”

For Ruady the deficiency of that right remains. “It’s true that now you can spend your military time far away from shrapnel, but they are still treated like soldiers, whoever doesn’t obey goes to the dungeon,” he assures.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

In Cuba Sugar is Imported from France

This September the sugar that has been distributed in the “basic basket” of the rationed market comes from France. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, September 23, 2018 — This September the sugar that has been distributed in the “basic basket” of the rationed market doesn’t come from Cuban fields, but rather from far-off France. The poor performance of the last sugar harvest forced the Island’s Government to import a product that, until a few years ago, was the symbol of the country.

In impeccable white bags, the sugar that has arrived in Havana stores is bringing satisfaction to consumers for its quality and cleanliness. “It’s fine, it’s not damp, and it doesn’t have any dirt,” is how Norberto, a grocer from Havana’s La Timba neighborhood near the Plaza of the Revolution, describes the product.

“We’ve had sugar from Brazil but this is the first time that we’ve gotten it from France,” adds the state employee, a fact confirmed to this newspaper by a worker from the Sugar Business Group (Azcuba) who prefers to remain anonymous. “We’ve had to buy French sugar because we’ve committed the majority of the national sugar harvest to international buyers,” he details. continue reading

Cuba has a high sugar consumption and needs around 700,000 tons annually to satisfy the demand of the rationed market, local industries, and the self-employed sector. The Island has a commercial agreement with China to sell it 400,000 tons each year, but this year the production wasn’t enough to cover both internal consumption and exports.

In the 2017-2018 sugar harvest the Island produced a little over one million tons of raw sugar, far from the 1.6 million that sector authorities had forecast. “Which didn’t permit the fulfillment of what was planned,” indicated the president of the state-controlled group Azcuba, Julio García.

The Cuban sugar industry, for decades, was the flagship of the Island’s products and the leading export. In 1991 it reached 8 million tons just before the collapse of the Soviet Union sank the Cuban economy and caused particular damage to that sector.

In the present, sugar production has been lagging, far behind tourism, remittances from emigrants, and the sale of professional services, principally in healthcare, which have displaced the former economic driving force of the Island.

In 2002 and under the mandate of Fidel Castro, a process of dismantling of dozens of sugar production centers began, under the argument that the fall in prices of the product in the international market was making the industry unsustainable. In 2011 the Ministry of Sugar was eliminated and its functions were assumed by Azcuba.

Three five-year-periods after that offensive, 64% of the centers remain closed; their workers were relocated to other positions, and the majority of the sugar plantations have been directed to other crops.

In the previous sugar harvest only 54 centers operated and the rains affected the harvest that should have finished before what was predicted, due to intense precipitation in the spring, which made the harvesting of the cane in the fields more difficult and contributed to a rapid deterioration of the product.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Animal Protection… Also for Oxen

The economic crisis has meant that for decades most work on the land is done with oxen. (A. Bielosouv)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, September 13, 2018 — One of the subjects that has come up most frequently in the meetings where the reform of the Constitution is being debated is the necessity to have a Law of Animal Protection. The majority of the people who have launched the proposal are thinking especially about the infinite number of abandoned dogs and cats in Cuba’s cities, the violence they are victims of, and the irresponsible abandonment that they suffer at the hands of their owners.

The bad working conditions of thousands of horses used for passenger transport all over the country is also on the minds of many of those demanding an end to such bad treatment and the establishment of a law that prevents excesses. However, few think about the many oxen used for farming labor all over the country, made invisible as a matter of course, but in a situation many times worse than that of those horses who pull coaches packed with people or of abandoned pets.

The long economic crisis in the country and the lack of a market selling agricultural machinery has meant that for decades the majority of work on the land is done with these animals. Without the plow, with its corresponding yoke of oxen, it wouldn’t be possible to produce many of the products sold on the stands in markets. With the lack of tractors and mechanized combine harvesters, a large percentage of the harvest in rural areas rests on the backs of these animals. continue reading

In the Matanzas plain, Rigoberto takes care of his two oxen like they are the apple of his eye. He raised them from birth and they answer to the names General and Florentino. “Without these animals my family would be even worse off,” recognizes the farmer, who grows greens and vegetables. “I take care of them like they were my own children,” the farmer shares, although he recognizes that his story isn’t very common in the surrounding area.

“On the closest cooperatives and on the state-owned farms, these animals are exploited and so they have a short life, because they aren’t given time to rest nor the food that they need,” Rigoberto believes. “When a guajiro (Cuban farmer) is the one who has a yoke of oxen, he tends to take care of them more, because it is very expensive and it will take a long time to get others.” General and Florentino sleep under a roof in an improvised shed that Rigoberto made. “You need to have a veterinarian look after them and give them fresh grass along with enriched fodder,” he points out.

However, another view appears as soon as one leaves this Matanzas man’s farm. Ribs sticking out, snouts injured by a badly placed nosering, and workdays that never seem to end is the most common lot of the area’s oxen. Those that hope, along with dogs, cats, and horses, that legislation is passed in their favor.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.