An Ordeal and More Than 6,000 Dollars to Get a US Visa in Columbia

Lisset López Rodríguez, a 38-year-old Cuban singer who lives in Miami, has spent four years in reuniting with her youngest daughter, Camila Guzmán. (José A. Iglesias)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, 7 March 2018 — The sound of a phone call broke into the monologue of Maydelin Alfonso Vázquez in the lobby of the Montecarlo hotel, about six blocks from the US embassy in Bogotá. Some of the Cubans staying there, waiting to get an immigrant visa to the United States, listened to the litany of difficulties to complete the procedures.

“Why am I shouting? I just can’t do it anymore, I’m going crazy with this,” she says in a dramatic tone and begins to sob. Alfonso “moved heaven and earth” to get the visa to travel to Colombia in Havana. She has barely two days left of the 20 that Bogota authorizes for her stay in this country but has not completed the paperwork to meet her daughter in Miami, from whom she has been separated for eight years. continue reading

“All this has been an ordeal from the time I was told in Cuba that I should apply for a visa in Colombia until I arrived here,” says Alfonso. The lack of information about the visa process in Colombia, the expensive procedures and the tensions to travel to a third country have made the process of reunification even more difficult for many Cuban families.

After announcing that more than two dozen of its officials had been victims of acoustic attacks of unknown origin, the US State Department evacuated non-essential personnel from its embassy in Havana and suspended the delivery of visas from that office. Weeks later it announced that it would process immigrant visas through its embassy in Bogotá.

“After the announcement from the United States, everyone went to the Colombian embassy in Havana, but there was no organization,” says Alfonso. The woman from Santa Clara insists that she had to go to Havana five times to process her visa to Colombia, which she only managed three days before traveling.

“What we have gone through has been very hard, more than 300 people endured an intense downpour in front of the Colombian embassy in Havana, with no place to protect us. Thanks to a lady who carried an umbrella and protected my papers I did not lose everything,” she says.

To travel to Colombia, Cubans residing on the island must present the invitation from the National Visa Center of the United States for the interview in Bogota. They are also required to have a passport-sized photo, and a photocopy of the main page of their travel document, a round-trip air ticket with a limit of 20 days that includes the stay for 10 days before and after the appointment.

Finally, Colombia requires, in order to demonstrate economic solvency, the presentation of bank account holdings for the value of 2,000 dollars or a notarized letter from the economic guarantor of the trip in the Colombian consulate in the country where they are located.

For Yackmar Domínguez and his wife Malena Fernández, the costs of the political struggle between the United States and Cuba are once again borne by families on both sides of the Florida Straits. (José A. Iglesias)

At the end of January, the Colombian embassy in Havana had delivered more than 1,100 visas to Cubans, according to statistics provided by the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to 14ymedio. Of these, almost 900 were intended for people who needed to be interviewed in Bogotá. However, the Colombian foreign minister stopped helping Cubans seeking to travel between March 2 and 12 due to legislative elections and consultations between parties in Colombia. The authorities have asked the migrants to register for their consular appointment at the US embassy in Bogotá.

“Getting here has been an ordeal,” says Lisset López Rodríguez, a 38-year-old Cuban singer who lives in Miami, and who has spent four years trying to reunite with her youngest daughter, Camila Guzmán. “The day I heard that they had canceled the procedures at the US Embassy in Cuba, I went crazy because I thought Camila was going to stay there,” she says.

Like most Cubans, Lopez learned of the decision of the United States to process visas in Bogotá through the news and had never traveled to Colombia. “I went to the Colombian consulate in Miami and they did not want to help me, I had to go back for several days and after a lot of paperwork they approved my tourist visa to accompany my daughter,” she explains.

In her opinion, throughout this process, information and transparency have been lacking. “Nobody guides you on what you have to do or helps you to make the procedures simpler, not to mention the costs,” laments López, in the absence of associations that advise for free.

“The appointment is given approximately one month in advance, you have to pay the passage to Colombia for you and your family member, including the return to Cuba, which is a ticket that is wasted if you already have an American visa. In addition, you have to pay in advance for accommodation in Bogota for 20 days, and for food and transfers, which must be done by taxi,” explains López. Along with these logistical expenses you must also pay for the medical exam which costs 220 dollars.

In total, Lopez and her daughter spent more than $6,000 on the entire process. “I never thought I would have to go to Colombia, nor spend this amount of money, but a mother’s love can do everything, at least now I’ll be with my daughter,” she says through tears.

For this Havanan, the decision of the United States to process visas in Colombia has been unfair to those residing on the island. López does not question the arguments of the State Department, but compares the current situation between the two countries with what happened during most of the Cold War. “Before there was no embassy, but the US had a consular section to help people get out to freedom, but now they don’t have even that,” she adds.

The State Department told this newspaper that they chose Bogota as the site to process visas for immigrants from Cuba because it is one of the largest embassies in Latin America. The area where it is located, in the neighborhood of Quinta Paredes, is a middle class nucleus in the Colombian capital.

“There are a lot of Cubans around here,” says Henry Caicedo, owner of a food-service business in the vicinity of the US embassy. The merchant affirms that the massive arrival of Cubans has favored local commerce. “Thanks to the Cubans, my place is full of people who are looking for good and cheap food,” he adds.

The Monte Carlo hotel and the Ambassador are mostly occupied by Cubans. The same thing happens with a good share of the establishments in the area. “This neighborhood has grown thanks to the people who come to do their paperwork at the American Embassy,” explains Luis Carlos Mogollón, an ex-military man who has become a taxi driver. “Ten years ago there were only three hotels, today you find more than one on every block,” he says.

The price of one night in a Quinta Paredes hotel usually ranges between 40 and 80 dollars. Most of the establishments offer a transport service for the procedures related to the American Embassy.

Some Bogota entrepreneurs have taken the opportunity to create travel packages. For example the Santa Cruz hotel offers: “American Visa Plan for the Cuban Community.” This hotel provides accommodation, transportation and advice for 10 days for 820 dollars.

“The attention has been good here,” Yackmart Domínguez says about the hotel service.

“Having to travel to Bogotá to do the procedures so that my family meets me in Miami has been difficult, all the money I had saved to get them established [in the US] has gone to in the passages and the stay in Colombia,” says this 38-year-old Cuban.

His wife, Malena Fernandez, who for the first time left Cuba to travel to Colombia, said she felt “shocked.” “It has been four years of pain, sadness, anguish and separation, and when I knew that I would have to postpone the interview because it would not be done in Havana, I felt like the world was falling down around me,” she adds.

Fernandez believes that the costs of the political struggle between the United States and Cuba are once again borne by families on both sides of the Florida Straits.

“If I have to go to the ends of the earth to be with my loved ones I would do it, no money can pay the value of a family,” she adds.


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 U.S. No Longer Accepts Them But Cuban Doctors Continue To Flee From Venezuela

The doctor Misael Hernández during his work as head of an intensive therapy ward in Venezuela. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Bogota, 28 February 2018 — When Dayana Suárez escaped from the medical mission in the Venezuelan state Lara, the United States’ Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) program, which was created in 2006 to provide refuge for healthcare professionals fleeing the missions entrusted by La Havana, did not already exist.

Suárez is a dentist. She arrived in Colombia just over a year ago in the hope of reconstructing her life there but the impossibility of being able to legalise her immigration status forced her to go to the jungle in order to reach the Southern border of the United States to ask for political asylum. This same decision has been made by many Cuban doctors who were stranded in Bogota after the former president Barack Obama’s sudden decision to get rid of the CMPP in January 2017.

“I knew that the Parole no longer existed but I could not stay in the hell of Venezuela, neither could I return to Cuba because I feared for my future,” states the doctor on a phone call from Mexico to 14ymedio.

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The young woman of 27 years recounts that she was part way through her journey through the Panamanian jungles with a group of Cubans who abandoned her when she was having an asthma attack. For 17 days she had to deal with impractical paths and the dangers of a tropical forest alone.

“My feet were ruined by the walking. When I left the forest I could not even open my mouth because the fear squeezed it so hard that my jaw remained closed”, she relays.

Dayana received the help of the Panamanian authorities and indigenous communities. After slightly recovering she continued her journey and now she is waiting in Mexico for a letter of safe passage that will allow her to arrive at the Southern border of the United States to ask for political asylum. It is not guaranteed that they will grant it but she has “no other choice” but to try it, in her opinion.

“I ended up with grade three herpes, but if I had to I would do this journey again because I want to achieve freedom”, the doctor said.

The presence of doctors and professionals from the island who have escaped from Venezuela is concealed by the increase in Venezuelans emigrating from their country, causing a real humanitarian crisis in Colombia. According to data from Migration Colombia, more than 550,000 Venezuelans remain in the neighbouring country, many of whom are there without documents.

For Misael Hernández, a 27 year-old doctor from the province of Guantanamo, the jungle is not the route to follow. Hernández is undocumented in Colombia after having escaped the state of Sucre last year accompanied by his Venezuelan wife.

“We grew up in Cuba with an education system that taught you to serve the State. When you go on the mission you believe that you are helping a brother country and that you will be well received there, but as soon as you step on foreign land you realise that it is all a farce, a pure demagogy”, says Hernández.

Reality, however, hit him instantaneously. Barely 15 days had passed since he graduated as a doctor when he was informed that his services were required in Venezuela. After a waiting a week in Venezuela’s Maiquetia airport for his position, they sent him to Sucre, a state which has been destroyed by crime and organised crime.

“They put me in charge of a Comprehensive Diagnosis Centre (CDI). There I had to deal with the lack of medication and equipment”, he explains.

The feet of Dayana Suárez after arriving in Mexico, after a month on the road, hoping to request political asylum on the United States border. (Courtesy)

Hernández complains that the Cuban medical mission’s Venezuelan contingents falsified the revenue and medical costs. “We had to have the rooms filled by a certain percentage and use more expensive medicines to treat infections and other common illnesses. It was the way in which the Cuban government could declare more costs to Venezuela in order to obtain more benefits”, he explains.

Cuba has medical professionals deployed in 62 countries and they are its principal source of foreign currency. According to official statistics, Cuba obtains more than 11.5 billion dollars each year for the work of its professionals overseas, but the salaries of such workers rarely exceed 60 dollars a month.

The doctor recalls that more than once criminals put a gun to his head and demanded that he bring the lifeless bodies of other criminals wounded by bullets back to life: “one day they brought one with their guts out. I had to call an ambulance and scream that he was alive, even though it was not true, in order to save my life”.

Another evening he was the victim, along with a Venezuelan nurse, of a robbery in the CDI. “We remained silent whilst they were stealing so that they did not kill us. It was terrifying”, he recounts with his voice broken.

Hernández decided to flee to Colombia along with his wife, of Venezuelan origin. In order to leave the country he had to use shortcuts because the Venezuelan border force does not allow professionals from Cuba using their official red passport to leave the country by land. Since then he has been working illegally and is in Colombia without any documentation. “It is tough. It is difficult but it will always be better than being in Venezuela”, he says.

Many doctors and Cuban professionals live in the popular areas of the Kennedy district in Bogota, the Colombian capital. They have lost hope that the United States will resume the programme that allowed them to be recognised as refugees. “Many of the doctors are in Colombia, they have not had much choice but to join us and try to work here in such conditions”, tells Hernández, who calculates that at least 1,000 Cuban professionals are in the country.

Doctor Julio César Alfonso, president of the association Solidarity without Borders, an NGO with a headquarters in Miami that is dedicated to assisting professionals from Cuba that are escaping from tertiary countries, says that they are continuing to work alongside Florida’s members of congress to restore the programme that was removed by Obama.

“If it is not the Cuban Medical Professional Parole, it will be another similar programme which will allow Cuban workers to escape from this form of slavery”, he tells 14ymedio, although he refuses to offer more details. Alfonso says that he remains in contact with dozens of doctors in third countries who are still fleeing despite the end of the North American programme.

The main obstacle to the creation of a similar programme to the Parole is, according to Alfonso, “the agenda of the current president Donald Trump”, who is looking to regulate the flow of migration to the United States.

“Cuban doctors are still fleeing despite the fact that the Parole programme no longer exists. The Cuban government always said that the doctors left because they were tempted by the United States. Well are still leaving, indicating that the programme is closer to home”.

This episode forms part of the series “the new era of Cuban migration” undertaken by 14ymedio, the New Herald and Radio Ambulante with the support of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Translated by: Hannah Copestake


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 ‘New Man’ Travels Havana on a Skateboard

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 1 March 2018 — Yojany Pérez, known as Mamerto, has afro style braids, piercings and likes extreme sports. He works fixing air conditioners and also has his own business making candy, which he delivers around Havana at top speed on his skateboard, wearing a T-shirt with the word ‘Libertad’ on it.

Mamerto, 28, is the star of Havana Skateboard Days, a feature film that portrays the new generation of teenagers and young Cubans living in a country outside official dogmas.

“When I skate it is like escaping from problems, from society, from all this,” says Pérez. Skating keeps you stable, “without losing your sanity.” Throughout the three years portrayed in the documentary, Mamerto watches Fernando, Raciel and Yoan, his racing partners, emigrate to the United States. “You’re left alone, fucking hell,” he laments.

Kristofer Ríos, director of the documentary along with Julian Moura-Busquets, chooses as the scenario the impact of the thawing of relations between Washington and Havana on 17 December 2014, and the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 2016.

The young people who appear in the film denounce the absence of real changes in the country for the new generations, such as the lack of interest on the part of the Cuban Sports Institute (INDER) with regards to the island’s skaterboarders.

Skateboarding began to be considered an Olympic sport in 2016 and is expected to be a part of the competition for the first time at the Tokyo Games in 2020. Skaters complain that the Government promotes other sports such as boxing or baseball, but that skateboarding has no official support

The 85-minute film includes scenes showing the frustration of some organizations in the United States that intended to build sites to support the development of skating in Cuba, but whose good intentions were truncated by the bureaucratic obstacles.

“You know the Cuban Adjustment Act, the political problems that exist with the Government of the United States, especially among the Miami community and its great strength due to the blockade,” responds Fidel Bonilla, an INDER representative, when an American proposes to build a skate park in Havana.

René González, one of the five spies imprisoned in the US who has been declared a national hero by the National Assembly of People’s Power, presided over the Festival on Wheels, demonstrating that politicization reaches even the first step taken to consolidate a national skateboarding  movement .

The documentary also highlights the discreet work of groups like Amigo Skate, an American association that takes dozens of skateboards to the Island every year, many times, clandestinely, to support the local movement. In Cuba there are no shops where you can buy skateboards of equipment for skateboarding.

“We do the competitions without permission and we bring the things in hidden, as if we were mules,” says Rene Lencour, founder of Amigo Skate, who lives in the United States. Lencour believes that this is not “fair,” although he is happy to see the interaction among Cuban skaters.

In February of this year René Lecour and a group of skaters created, with their own resources, ramps for the practice of skateboarding in an old building in Ciudad Libertad, a former military base turned into a school.

The youth described the leaders of the country as “grandparents” and states without fear before the cameras that the system “no longer represents them.”

The documentary includes the torchlight march, a demonstration by thousands of students commemorating the birth of José Martí headed by Raúl Castro and Nicolás Maduro. “And why do you come?” asks the filmmaker. “I come for the jevas (girls), there’s a ton of girls,” a young skater answers without thinking twice. “All this is fictitious, like in the documentaries of North Korea,” he adds.

These young people who build their own boards with very few resources have something of the spirit of that New Man who Ernesto Guevara and Fidel Castro theorized about, a subject capable of putting the interests of his group before the personal, someone who is generous and selfless.

“Each defeat is one more lesson, a life’s blow,” says Yojany Pérez, who, if he has experience in anything, it is hitting himself trying to make the most unimaginable pirouettes.

Despite the obstacles, he continues to dream of a future for the practice of skateboarding on the island and has created a workshop to create domestic boards and make the movement grow. “If you really want to do something in your country, you have to fight, if the government tells us ‘this can not be done because it is not a Cuban sport,’ we ourselves must be able to sustain ourselves.”


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.

Cienfuegos Shaken By Another Knife Crime

Friends and relatives attended the funeral of Luis Santacruz Labrada, stabbed to death in the city of Cienfuegos. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora / Mario Pentón, Cienfuegos/Miami, 24 February 2018 — He was only 23 years old with an unquenchable desire for dancing and music. Luis Santacruz Labrada literally knew each of the songs of the national reggaeton and the places where young Cienfuegueros meet. His murder by stabbing, on February 14, has shocked a city whose tranquility has been one of its greatest attractions.

“Luis danced and sang, that was his life,” says his aunt, Regla Santacruz, who lived with the young man. Although the investigation is still in progress, some relatives explained to 14ymedio that on Valentine’s Day Santacruz Labrada decided to go out to the Malecon, a popular place among young people. continue reading

“Luis had a relationship with a minor girl, but she left him for another reggaetonero named Tito. On the night of February 13, Tito and Luis met casually on the boardwalk and talked about it,” explains a close relative who prefers not to be identified.

In the early hours of February 14, Luis separated from the group of friends he was with and received a call to his cell phone. “They told him to come to a certain place and he thought it could be the ex-girlfriend, but when he got there they stabbed him,” the same source recounts.

Santacruz Labrada was stabbed four times, one of which went through a lung, according to his relatives. More than an hour after the attack he was picked up by a taxi driver who took him to the Provincial Hospital, but it was too late.

“They could not save his life. It is the second tragedy that we have had like this in the family,” says the family member. Luis’s father was killed in Havana four years ago, stabbed in the middle of a brawl.

Tito, the alleged murderer, is 16 years old and is being held in the Provincial Delegation of the Ministry of the Interior in the Pastorita district. 14ymedio talked with relatives of the alleged murderer who confessed that the enmity between the two young men “had been coming for some time.”

“Tito argued with Luis early and that day he was drunk,” said his relative, who also said that the alleged murderer will not be transferred to the provincial prison Ariza because he is under the age of majority.

14ymedio tried to confirm this version with the National Police Department of Investigations in charge of the case but the officers explained by telephone that they could not give statements to the press.

Santacruz Labrada lived in the Reina neighborhood, located on the peninsula of Majagua, a tongue of land where the Jagua port workers settled.

“Most of the boys in this area go out into the street with a knife in their pocket. People do fight with fists like they used to,” laments Yanelys Verdecia, a Cienfuegos woman from the Reina neighborhood who was shocked by the crime.

Official media are reluctant to address the issue of violence in Cuba. Nor are there statistics that allow drawing conclusions about the incidence of this social scourge. Laritza Diversent, lawyer and director of the Cubalex Legal Information Center, recently exiled to the United States, regrets that neither the opposition groups nor the government facilitate a debate on violence on the island.

“The number of violent acts is only known to the authorities, so we do not have the tools to talk as a society about the importance of this phenomenon in the country,” says the lawyer.

According to the Public Health Yearbook, 572 people died in 2016, victims of violence, but there is no data on the number of assaults without fatalities.

Diversent explains that during her time as an independent lawyer in Havana, she worked on several murder cases and the number of young people involved in these events was notable, especially in poor and marginalized neighborhoods. Article 263 of the Cuban Penal Code establishes penalties of 15 to 30 years in prison for murderers.

The city of Cienfuegos also wept last September for the murder of Leidy Maura Pacheco Mur, 18 years old. The young woman, whose baby was then only 10 months old, was kidnapped by three men from her own community in Junco Viejo. They raped her and subsequently murdered her and buried her in the Plan Mango area.

“It’s terrible that these things happen. They kicked my nephew to death a few years ago at the Rancho Luna service station and the law is still very gentle with the murderers,” Aimé Montes de Oca told this newspaper. The murderers of her relative are serving 15-year prison sentences in Ariza, the provincial prison, but once they have completed half of the sentence they can get parole if they have shown good behavior.


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

Cubans Form "Tremendous Lines" on the Borders of Chile

Cubans showing their passports at the Chilean border. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami, 16 February 2018 — The requests from Cubans seeking refuge in Chile have multiplied by a factor of thirty in a single year. According to the information provided to this newspaper by Chile’s Ministry of the Interior and Public Security, 1,603 Cubans requested that status at land borders in 2017. The previous year only 56 had done so.

“Every day, migration officials collect between 15 and 30 passports to process refugee applications, and there are tremendous lines at the border,” says José Yans Pérez, a Cuban who was part of the group of rafters who occupied a lighthouse to the south of Florida in May of 2016, who were later returned to the Island. After traveling to Guyana, in a second attempt to escape from the country, he crossed the Amazon jungle and Bolivia to emigrate to Chile. continue reading

The route through these countries is “very complex and difficult,” explains Pérez, who after several months of work managed to get his wife out of Cuba for the same journey. Their two children remain on the island. “The biggest problem is that the documents take a long time. I arrived in Chile in September and I’m still waiting for my visa,” he says.

Requests for refugee status from Cuban nationals in Chile

After the end of the United States’ wet foot/dry foot policy, announced in January 2017, thousands of Cubans who had planned to emigrate to the United States changed their destination towards the south. Countries such as Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Brazil have registered a significant increase in Cubans reaching their borders.

Chile was already an attractive destination for Cubans before the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy. The Chilean government statistics show a 77% growth in the number of permanent residence permits granted to Cubans between 2014 and 2015. However, since the change in 2017 the movement has accelerated.

According to the Chilean law, people who can prove that they are persecuted for religion, race, political opinions or ethnicity may request refuge in that country. Rodolfo Noriega, Peruvian lawyer and leader of the National Coordinator of Immigrants (CNI), believes that Cubans, as a general rule, do not qualify under this rule.

“Many Cubans ask for refuge as a way to get around the migration entry controls along the land border,” Noriega explains via telephone from Santiago de Chile.

Once inside the country, refugee applicants undergo a series of interviews in order to formalize their request. The State offers them a visa for eight months that is extended until the authorities decide whether they will be recognized as refugees or not. With this visa they can work and live legally since the process takes years, according to Noriega.

José Yans Pérez, from the group of “lighthouse rafters,” in Iquique, Chile. (Courtesy)

“If to claim refugee status you assert that your country, in this case Cuba, is persecuting you, it is absurd for you to [voluntarily] return to Cuba,” says Noriega, who points out that many of the Cuban applicants may have problems with their applications for refugee status if they decide to visit the Island.

“Many Cuban professionals, after they have a job and become professionally licensed to practice in Chile, try to change their immigration status and find that if they withdraw their refugee application they immediately return to their earlier status, that is, undocumented,” explains the lawyer.

CNI is an organization that groups together more than 70 movements for the defense of the interests of migrants in Chile and that is currently pressuring the Government to award legal status to the more than 200,000 irregular immigrants now in the country. The movement, led by Noriega, has called for a march on Sunday to demand an extraordinary procedure for the regularization of all foreigners who are in the country.

“It is not how they paint it,” says Marelys Hernán, a Cuban who arrived in Chile after spending weeks stranded in Turbo, Colombia, failing to continue on to the United States.

“Cubans think that as the United States is closed, this is the second paradise, and they are arriving in packs and with a very bad attitude. They believe they have the right to receive help and to demand refuge, but that is not the case. Many Cubans end up on the street and in charity shelters because the Chilean government does not help,” she explains.

In her new life in Chile she has had to share the fate of thousands of Venezuelans and Haitians who see in this country a second chance to start their lives over. “This is hard, honestly, but we go in search of a dream and we will achieve it,” she says with hope.


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.

Thousands of Venezuelans Flee to Colombia to Escape From Hunger

Hundreds of Venezuelans earn their living in the streets of Cúcuta carrying suitcases for their compatriots who leave Venezuela. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón/Antonio Delgado — Tens of thousands of Venezuelans cross the border with Colombia every day in search of food and work. They sell candy, bread, chewing gum and contraband gasoline. They prostitute themselves or simply ask for handouts on corners. They are the new faces of the Venezuelan migration in the Colombian city of Cúcuta, the epicenter of a humanitarian crisis triggered by hunger in the neighboring country.

“The children come alone. They don’t want to speak or say anything. They are very tight-lipped about their family history,” says Whitney Duarte, a 24-year old social worker who was helping two orphans, Henry and Steven, in a social center where they come every day to have lunch. continue reading

Duarte has been volunteering for two months in the Casa de Paso Divina Providencia, a Catholic Church home in Cúcuta that shares more than 1,000 meals daily with children, women and old Venezuelans who wander through the streets of the city.

The oldest of the orphans is 15 but has the physical build of a child of eight. To help his two little brothers, who are about five years old, he works as a cart-pusher fetching and carrying suitcases for people who cross the border.

“We know they are orphans. They come from San Cristóbal, in Venezuela. They spend the day playing in the streets of Cúcuta and, of course, they don’t go to school,” relates Duarte. The children are fed thanks to the charity of the Colombians. Steven says they escaped from Venezuela hidden in a mini-bus.

“They don’t want to speak about their family history because they fear they will be separated or returned to their country,” explains Duarte, who believes that, like the rest of the immigrants, they are “very emotionally damaged.”

Henry is thin and brown-skinned. He never smiles. He says it pays about 2,000 pesos (70 cents) to carry suitcases from Venezuela and that he feels responsible for his little brothers. Steven has six brothers, but only three crossed the border. He likes to play soccer but won’t say what he wants to do when he grows up.

“The tragedy of the parents who see that their kids have to sleep on the ground and barely have enough money to bring them a mouthful of food is terrible. There is a lot of frustration and anger among the Venezuelans,” says the social worker. The Colombian government offers protection to 23,314 Venezuelan children and adolescents.

Casa de Paso Divina Providencia distributes more than 1,000 meals a day to Venezuelans, especially migrants who are passing through, elderly people, women and children. (14ymedio)

The Casa de Paso is nothing more than a back patio rented by the local Catholic church where some barracks were constructed to provide food to more than 500 migrants every day. A group of volunteers cooks the food (pasta and soup) with firewood on one side while others distribute the food and clean utensils.

“Padre, padre, come here, he collapsed,” yells a woman. On the dirt floor lies a man of 30 who can’t even stand up. Dozens of people around him are saying that “his blood sugar dropped” from lack of food.

Jesús Alonso Rodríguez, a deacon of the local church who shares lunch with the Venezuelans, explains to 14ymedio that situations like this are common in Cúcuta: “Finding Venezuelan brothers sleeping in the streets, below bridges, at the foot of trees, sometimes with a cardboard box or something to cover themselves with — this is something you see every day.”

Alonso considers that the overflow of Venezuelans in the border areas is “out of the hands” of the local authorities, who await the arrival this Thursday of the President, Juan Manuel Santos, to help them manage a situation that becomes more difficult every day.

“Last year, the cucuteña church distributed more than 300,000 plates of food in eight locations in the city to take care of the hunger of the Venezuelans,” she says. The Casa de Paso Divina Providencia is sustained thanks to the aid the church receives from the local worshippers.

Relations with the local population have occasionally been very tense. Paola Villamizar, a young Colombian of 24 who works as a volunteer in the Casa de Paso, says that the neighbors have tried to close the center. “They accuse us of filling the place with scum and say it’s our fault that hundreds of people are hanging around, looking for food. We’re only trying to help,” she laments.

In a report presented last month in Bogotá, the General Director of Colombia Migration, Christian Krüger, estimated that there were more than 550,000 Venezuelans in the country, 62 percent more than last year.

More than 50 percent of the Venezuelans who emigrate to Colombia or use this country as a transit point to third countries come across the Simón Bolívar International Bridge, in the department of Norte de Santander, and, also, more than half are undocumented. Some 58,000 Venezuelans live in the streets of Cúcuta. Deacon Alonso believes that the official figures are too low.

An elderly Venezuelan at Casa de Paso Divina Providencia, in Cúcuta, Colombia. (14y medio)

“In Cúcuta there are between 80,000 and 100,000 Venezuelans. It’s a situation without precedent in the country,” he explains.

Many local businessman take advantage of the difficult conditions in which the migrants find themselves to hire them for half the minimum wage. This situation has shaken loose the phantoms and fears of immigration among some of the town’s workers.

“In Cúcuta, there’s not even work for the locals, much less for the Venezuelans. In the last months, crime has increased, and there are many Venezuelans who take over zones of the city to live,” says Francisco, a local taxi driver.

According to official statistics, Cúcuta ended 2017 with an unemployment rate of 14.3 percent, the highest in the country, and an indication of illegal workers at around 70% of the labor force.

Along the highway that connects the regional capital with the village of La Parada, adjacent to the Simón Bolívar International Bridge that is shared by both countries, dozens of people brandish a plastic tube in the form of a gas pump to indicate that you can buy contraband Venezuelan fuel there.

“Gasoline costs between 4,000 and 5,000 pesos a gallon ($1.50). In Venezuela it’s cheaper to buy gasoline than water. They pass it to Colombia on trails (hidden steps in the more than 2,000 km of terrestrial border that both countries share),” explains Francisco.

Carolina Sánchez is a traveling vendor. She is 33, and her skin is burned by the tropical sun. In her hands she holds six bags of bread baked in Venezuela, which she waves every time she sees a car pass by.

“I have to go out and struggle for my kids,” she says between tears. With what she sells in Colombia, she buys food for three boys who depend on her in Rubio, on the other side of the border. “It’s hard, but God has to have pity on us,” she says while regaining composure. The Colombian police already have expelled her more than once from the highway, but she keeps coming back. “They don’t let us sell because we don’t have permits.”

The exodus of Venezuelans has been taken advantage of by some bus companies, who relocated their branch offices directly to the immediate vicinity of the Simón Bolívar International Bridge. The destinations vary: Bogotá, Quito, Lima, Santiago de Chile or Buenos Aires. Everything depends on the amount of money the Venezuelan is ready to pay, always in dollars or in Colombian pesos.

Gabriela and Alexander, a young married couple, share the rent of their room with 20 other people. Hoping to find a way to get ahead, they left Venezuela less than a month ago. (14ymedio)

“A trip to Buenos Aires costs 490 dollars. If you want to go to Bogotá, it’s 125 dollars, and if you go to Peru, 230 dollars,” says one of the ticket sellers who waits for Venezuelan clients on the Colombian side of the bridge.

After waiting 24 hours near the bridge, several Venezuelans start to protest because the bus line requires patience, and they will have to sleep on the ground under a tarp. “I had to buy every dollar at 270,000 bolivars before leaving Venezuela,” says Neyla Graterol.

“Venezuela’s economic model has collapsed. We’re worse off than we were 30 years ago. The politicians are the only ones who live well while the people are dying of hunger. The only thing left for us is to get out,” laments an engineer while she waits for the transport that will take her and her family to Chile, far from the hell that her country has become.

The low price of Venezuelan oil, which has contributed to worsening the crisis of Nicolás Maduro’s government, has affected those who depend on it directly. This is the case of Renzo Morales, 33, who is “fleeing the country” to go to Peru.

Morales hopes to be able to travel with another five Venezuelan businessmen who, like him, supplied jackhammers to PDVSA (the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company), but the defaults on the part of the State petroleum business hit his business hard.

“We were broke because we were contractors for PDVSA, and the Government takes almost three years to pay us, and it’s in a currency that is being devalued day by day,” explains Morales.

The migrant hopes to make money to send to his family so they can leave the country. “I left my heart in Venezuela.” The old guys and Maduro are the only ones who can stay there,” he says, speaking fast and with the conviction that the end of chavismo is near. “This Government is going to fall. We’re coming to the end. What’s sad is that we’ll need many years to reconstruct what they have destroyed,” he says.

The most varied businesses are accommodated in Cúcuta. “I buy hair, I buy hair!” yells Javier Yoandy, 16, toward the flux of people who are coming from Táchira and crossing the bridge.

“My job is to bring Venezuelans who want to sell their hair to wigmakers,” explains this intermediary who earns a commission for his services. “The price for a good head of hair runs between 25,000 and 60,000 pesos (from nine to 25 dollars).”

The adolescent carries a border mobility card authorized by the Colombian State to regulate the situation of Venezuelans who cross the border every day for work.

A Venezuelan migrant gets rehydrated after spending hours in line to legally enter Colombia in Cúcuta. (14ymedio)

Veronica Arrocera, 23, has dark skin, mistreated by the sun, and bags under her eyes that make her look older. She says that the situation in her country dragged her into prostitution six months ago, so she could get some pesos and help her family in Venezuela, like so many other compatriots.

“I studied business administration. There are many whores here who are educated: nurses, businesswomen, teachers, everything,” she says. She doesn’t want her face recorded because she’s ashamed of her situation. Veronica earns 10,000 Colombian pesos, less than three dollars, and between 10 and 100 times less than a Colombian woman, for the same thing.

To Arrocera, the Colombian authorities act xenophobic toward them. “They hit us with pistols, they jump in aggressively. They even have hit us with hoses, and they only do that with Venezuelans,” she reports.

A few yards from the corner where Arrocera works, a closed police truck is taking away a half-dozen Venezuelans. “Here they come again. Every day it’s the same shit. We play cat and mouse until they catch me; they deport me, and I come back,” she complains.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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.

Rich in Venezuela, Beggars in Colombia

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Antonio Maria Delgado and Mario J. Pentón, Bogota, 6 February 2018  — “Venezuela … I would not wish it on even my worst enemy,” says Luis Alfredo Rivas in a bus terminal in Bogotá, with tears in his eyes.

The young man, 32, is one of the thousands of Venezuelan immigrants in Colombia who left their jobs, homes and all their possessions behind and now beg throughout the day just to collect enough coins to pay for a roof to sleep under. Despite this, many claim to be better off than before crossing the border.

As Venezuela’s economy continues to crumble, thousands of its citizens migrate to Colombia every day, sometimes walking hundreds of miles on foot through the Andes to escape the chronic shortage of food and medicine, the frequent looting and the rampant crime in their own country. continue reading

In its last report published in January, Migración Colombia estimates that more than 550,000 Venezuelans are now living in the country. In addition, according to the market research firm Consultores 21, some four million citizens have left Venezuela. The migration crisis has reached such a level that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos will travel to the border city of Cúcuta on Thursday to announce measures to address the situation.

The flight of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans from their homes reflects the impact the collapse of the national economy during Nicolás Maduro’s presidency has had on the lives of its citizens.

The once thriving oil nation, which used to provide billions in aid to its neighbors, is trapped in a spiral of hyperinflation that stood at 2,616% at the end of 2017.

“I have my house there, I have all my things there. But my and my husband’s salaries were not enough for my daughters to have breakfast, we couldn’t even give them bread,” Esperanza Tello, accompanied by her 6-year-old daughter, Edilianys Rojas, tells 14ymedio. “We live badly here, but it’s better than in Venezuela.”

Many Venezuelans who live in the streets of Bogotá have the same challenge every day: to try to collect 12,000 to 15,000 pesos (between 4 and 5 dollars) to pay for a room for the night. That is the most important thing for Tello and his family. His youngest son is 2 years old and it is cold at night in Colombia’s capital, which is 8,600 feet above sea level.

Sitting nearby in the same square, Shelby Jesús Monsalve Pérez, 29, and Alexis Romero, 22, say there have been days when they have not been able to collect the 12,000 pesos and have slept on the grass in a nearby park.

Brian Steven Tole, Edilianys Rojas and Ediangelis Alexandra Rojas, play outside one of the bus terminals in the city of Bogotá while their parents sell sweets and coffee to pay for a place to spend the night. (14ymedio)

The two former students have tried to find work, but it is very complicated, so they spend many days praying that the coins they put together are enough to eat. Despite his difficult situation, Perez claims to be more concerned about his little sister, who he left with his other brother in Caracas.

“We had a good life, but then what happened happened. I’ve talked to my brothers and they tell me that the situation is much worse now, much harder and more difficult,” Pérez said. “I feel very bad for my sister because she is there alone with my brother, I have been helping them, sending them 20,000 or 30,000 pesos (between 7 and 10 dollars) so they can eat, because there [in Venezuela] salaries are not enough.”

Rivas, the young man at the bus station, explains that the disconnect between wages and the price of food, which is mostly found on the black market, is disproportionate. “For starters, Venezuela’s minimum wage is only 190,000 bolivars per week, when a two pounds of rice costs 210,000 bolivars, so what can I do?” he says.

John Rodríguez, 29, recently arrived in Bogotá, says he knows many people who have decided to leave Venezuela because they believe there is no chance for them there. In his case, he decided to enter through Cúcuta from Valencia in November inspired by the experience of his friends.

Rodríguez walked, along with a friend, David Ortega, the 340 miles between Cúcuta and Bogotá along the roadsides.

“The Colombians have helped us along the way. We did not go hungry because they gave us food,” said Rodriguez. “I just arrived and I’m trying to find a hotel so I don’t have to sleep on the street, I don’t want to do it, but if it can’t be avoided, I’ll do it.”


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.

From a Public Urinal to a Luxury Hotel, The San Carlos is Reborn in Cienfuegos

Last Sunday, the renovated San Carlos Hotel was reopened with a four-star rating, after almost 21 years of neglect.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 19 January 2018 — Every night during the ’90s there were knocking sounds from the abandoned hotel San Carlos, which borders the market in the historic center of Cienfuegos where Joaquín Rodríguez worked as custodian. There were hardly any vestiges left of the navy blue of the façade and fragments of the cornices on the roof threatened passers-by on one of the busiest roads in the city.

“People took the tiles, the slabs on the walls, the toilets, they took out the rebar and even the bricks to use in building other things. The hotel became a ruin and the first floors were turned into a public bathroom and a place for all kinds of indecencies,” says Rodríguez, now retired.

Last Sunday, the renovated San Carlos hotel was reopened with a four-star rating, after almost 21 years of neglect. The property has been restored after an agreement signed in 2005 between the Cuban State and the Spanish hotel company Meliá, the terms of which are unknown. continue reading

San Carlos Hotel before the renovation. (14ymedio)

“The San Carlos Hotel dates from 1924. Its owner, Antonio Mata, who also owned the now-destroyed Hotel Ciervo de Oro, decided to invest 60,000 pesos at that time to provide the then-prosperous city one of the most modern buildings in the province of Las Villas,” explains Alicia, a local historian, speaking to 14ymedio.

The architect who completed the building, José Joaquín Carbonell, gave it the eclectic touch that characterizes the city by mixing various architectural styles. Later the property grew with the construction of another two floors, the last of which was the Roof Garden, a social club ofCienfuegos’ Republican.

For a long time, the San Carlos was the tallest building in the city. In the Roof Garden, a large room with large windows and excellent views of the bay “exquisite social meetings were held,” explains the historian.

Photograph from before the Revolution of San Carlos street, where the hotel is located in Cienfuegos. (DC)

The hotel had a total of six floors and 48 rooms when it was confiscated by Fidel Castro’s government at the beginning of the Revolution. Thereafter it became the property of the State, which did not allocate sufficient resources for its maintenance.

In the 1980s, a reconstruction process began that was scheduled to be completed on 26 July 1984. At that time, every province was completing some project to commemorate the assault on the Moncada barracks on that day. In the case of The San Carlos, the reconstruction was halted and the hotel closed its doors forever.

In July 2005, the historic center of Cienfuegos was declared a World Heritage Site. “Since that year, interest in knowing about our city has increased, as it is the first of the cities built in the nineteenth century to achieve this recognition,” emphasizes the historian.

That same year, recalls Joaquín Rodríguez, a state-owned construction company fenced off the busy San Carlos Avenue (it stayed that way until last month) and began to repair the building. Cimex, the state company that assumed responsibility at that time, was engaged in safeguarding the essential elements of the structure to prevent it from collapsing. In 2009, the Ministry of Tourism ordered a work stoppage “due to the economic difficulties of the country,” according to local press reports. In 2017, the state company Gran Caribe restarted the project under a collaboration agreement with Meliá.

View of The San Carlos Hotel in Cienfuegos and its once renowned Roof Garden. (skyscrapercity)

Yuri Quevedo Pupo, investment director of the Real Estate Tourism Company in Cienfuegos, explained to the local press that the hotel has begun to operate with just 20 of its 56 planned rooms. The central lobby, the lobby-bar and the bar service in the Roof Garden are also open.

According to official data, the province of Cienfuegos has 1,497 rooms in the private sector (in some 703 guest houses), plus 861 rooms in 11 state hotels.

The price of one night in the newly-opened Cienfuegos hotel starts at $182 for the simplest rooms. A bedroom with views of the city costs $191, while a suite reaches $216. None of the rooms have wifi service.

Meliá manages all of the hotels in Cienfuegos: Jagua, Palacio Azul, Perla del Mar, La Casa Verde and La Unión. According to González Garrido, only one site has been granted to another operator, Iberostar. Meliá, which has been in Cuba for 25 years, manages 40 hotels on the island overall.

The old Educator’s House, which was falling apart in the gorgeous Tureira peninsula, will become the Amanecer hotel and what was once the School of Hospitality and Tourism will be transformed into La Punta Hotel.

According to Joaquín Rodríguez, this weekend in Cienfuegos “dozens of painters” tried to embellish the building that functions as the municipal headquarters of the Communist Party next to the San Carlos hotel. “They are painting just the facades of the houses on the routes where tourists walk from the beach, but nobody looks inside.”

“I do not understand how they have money to build hotels, while a retiree who worked their whole life for the Revolution has a pension of just 253 [Cuban] pesos a month [about $10 USD],” complains Rodríguez, a victim of Hurricane Dennis that hit Cienfuegos in 2005.


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.

A Lawyer Sees Salvation in Brazil’s New Immigration Law for "Deserter" Doctors

Some Cuban doctors complain that with all the money they’ve given to the Government, they could afford to pay for their medical education several times over.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, November 24, 2017 – The new immigration law which takes effect this Wednesday in Brazil could benefit hundreds of doctors who have escaped from the Mais Medicos (More Doctors) mission in this country.

According to André De Santana Correa, a lawyer who represents 80 doctors from the Island who abandoned their mission, “the new law allows several types of protection for a Cuban doctor who is considered a deserter, on humanitarian grounds.”

De Santana told 14ymedio that he counsels all Cuban doctors who have an expired temporary visa for Brazil that they request “permission for residence with a temporary visa on humanitarian grounds.” The authorities can take into account that these professionals are prohibited from returning to Cuba for eight years, because they are considered deserters there. continue reading

“The Cuban Government’s decision to consider doctors who abandon their missions as deserters is much more than political persecution. It’s the most merciless cruelty because of what can happen to a human being who is taken away from  loved ones and his native land and, in addition, is left completely powerless, as if his life isn’t worth anything,” adds De Santana.

The new Migration Law guarantees the same rights to foreign residents as to native-born Brazilians and also facilitates the arrival of qualified workers in the country. The legislation replaces the Foreigners Statute, which dates from the time of the military dictatorship (1964-1985). It allows foreigners with higher education or the equivalent to work in Brazil without needing to have a formal employment request from a company in the country.

Official statistics state that between 2010 and 2015, the number of foreign employees increased some 131%, going from 54,333 workers to 125,535, less than some 0.5 percent of the formal work market.

“We hope that with this new law our process will continue. There are many Cuban doctors in Brazil who need this country to recognize that we are health professionals who have equal status with the doctors of other countries who are in the More Doctors program,” says Ernesto Ramírez, a health specialist who left Havana’s supervision.

Noel Fonseca, who has spent more than 20 years as a doctor and decided to stay and live in Brazil, said that he is hopeful about the new law. He, as well as his wife, were expelled from the More Doctors program for not supporting the Cuban Government. The authorities in Havana, in addition, told them that they couldn’t return to the country for eight years, and that Brazil wouldn’t allow them to work as doctors because of pressure from Cuba.

“The Cuban Ministry of Public Health threatened the Brazilian Government so that they wouldn’t permit us to stay in the More Doctors program if we deserted the mission. In turn, the Ministry of Health pressured the municipalities to not give any type of aid to the doctors,” explained Fonseca, by telephone.

While the Cuban Medical Professional Parole was in effect, the United States allowed doctors who abandoned Cuba’s official missions to emigrate legally to the U.S. During that period (2006-2016), more than 8,000 doctors benefited from the program, which was eliminated in January, 2017.

Cuban Healthcare Personnel Taking Advantage of US “Cuban Medical Professional Parole” program that allows them to settle in the United States (14ymedio)

Diana Quintas, a lawyer from the Fragomen firm in Brazil, told Agencia EFE recently that the new law “has gaps,” and that in matters such as work, the joint action of several ministries would be required.

In addition, in order to seek employment without a work offer in the South American giant, professionals from Third World countries would have to have a university degree in “professions strategic for Brazil,” without specifying what these professions are.

Many other analysts criticize putting this legislation into effect at a time when unemployment is increasing in the country and when, in practice, many of the essential services that they want to offer to immigrants Brazilians themselves don’t have.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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.

Ecuador’s Cuban Community is Involved in February 4th Referendum

At least 43,000 Cubans, many of them professionals, live in Ecuador. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 12 January 2018 — The division between correístas (supporters of former president Rafael Correa) and morenistas (supporters of current president Lenin Moreno) that runs through Ecuador, less than a month before the upcoming 7-issue referendum called by President Lenin Moreno is also reflected among Cubans residing in the country.

The polls maintain that the YES side, promoted by the current president who is asking voters to approve all seven measures, will win by a large majority, but among the Cubans consulted by 14ymedio opinions are not very clear.

“Among Cubans who reside here, there is a part of us who consider Moreno a traitor and would like to see the return of President Rafael Correa, but there is also a large group that wants change,” says Rolando Gallardo, one of the organizers of the National Alliance of Cubans in Ecuador, speaking from Quito. continue reading

The referendum called by the current president for Sunday, 4 February, includes five amendments to the constitution and seven proposals overall. Among these is the overturning the measure approved by the National Assembly at Correa’s request in 2015, which eliminated term limits for some offices, including that of president.

Among the other referendum measures are one to restructure the Council of Citizen Participation and Social Control, one of the central powers of the State, and one that would bar from public office and confiscate the assets of those who commit corruption offenses.

Good news at the beginning of they ear: @MashiRafael [Correa] comes to Ecuador this week and stays all month to “burn shoe leather”, to “go back to the grassroots working door to door” to overcome the betrayal and say NO to the cheating and unconstitutional consultation. We shall overcome! – Ricardo Patiño (@RicardoPatinoEC) January 2, 2018 [Tweet from Correa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, now Minister of National Defense]

Gallardo, a graduate in History from the University of Havana, does not hesitate to affirm that Correa “did a lot” for Ecuador, and took advantage of the oil boom to develop the country’s infrastructure. However, he rejects Correa’s authoritarianism and believes that his return to public office would do “a lot of damage to Ecuadorian democracy.”

“Having no term limits is for countries with a high level of political education, and in a nation like Ecuador, where the political views of the masses are emotional and ephemeral, it is a danger,” he says.

Some 13 million voters over the age of 16 are eligible to participate in the referendum, including foreigners with five years of legal residence in the country. At least 43,000 Cubans, many of them professionals, live in Ecuador but it is not known how many have the right to vote. They arrived starting in 2008 when Correa’s Government established the policy of universal citizenship and eliminated the visa requirement for people coming from most countries, including Cuba.

I am going to my homeland on January 4, to be with my colleagues in this fight against treason and partyocracy,’ Ever onward to victory! – Rafael Correa (@MashiRafael) January 2, 2018 [Tweet from Rafael Correa, who has been living in Belgium]

In 2015, Ecuador resumed the practice of requiring visas for Cuban citizens in response to the migration crisis that arose that year in Central America, when thousands of people left the island and headed to the United States by way of Quito, out of fear that the special migratory privileges enjoyed by Cubans under the US wet foot/dry foot policy would soon be terminated.

“Correa was the president who let us into this country and the one who cared most about Cubans. Ecuador was just a banana republic and ungovernable before he became president,” Jesus Curbelo says excitedly. Curbelo is a Cuban who has lived in Ecuador’s most populated city, Guayaquil, for five years.

“In Ecuador there is a lot of xenophobia, especially towards Cubans, because Ecuadorians believe that we have come to take away their jobs,” argues Curbelo, who graduated as a professor of mathematics on the island and who will vote against Lenin Moreno’s proposals.

“The social gains, the education and health programs that were achieved under Correa’s government will not be sustained if his legacy does not continue,” says Curbelo, who is close to the Association of Cuban Residents in Ecuador (ACURE), an organization sponsored by the Cuban Embassy in Quito.

Dr. Adrián Hernández Cruz, a Cuban living in Cuenca, believes that Moreno’s referendum provokes “sympathy among Cubans,” although he, personally, is not happy with the current president’s reforms.

Cubans entering Ecuador by year

“Lenin has maintained the same restrictions on Cubans as did the Correa government, such as the impossibility of achieving permanent legal status for many of those who came to Ecuador looking for work,” he explains. The doctor also distrusts the work of the Cuban ambassador, whom he accuses of interference in the internal affairs of the Andean country.

“Despite the fact that in the last few months there has been some opening to facilitate the process of legalization of immigrants, in the Cuban case the obstacles are maintained and, particularly in the case of professionals, they increase,” explains the doctor. “All this is just a political manipulation in order to gain popularity,” he says.

Michel Larrondo, another Cuban doctor who emigrated to Ecuador, believes that Correa supporters seek to “perpetuate themselves in power.”

“Even the former president came back from Belgium to campaign for the NO side,” he says. Although he is a supporter of the YES side, he regrets that the Cuban community “is apathetic in its great majority: many do not care about politics, it’s all the same to them whether it’s Correa or Moreno.”


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 Everglades: An Endangered Garden on the Doorstep of Miami

Scientists warn that, by the year 2100, the sea level will rise more than six feet, progressively flooding the wetlands of South Florida. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, January 3, 2018 — An immense grasslands with tones of yellow and green extends up to the horizon, and Miami’s skyscrapers can be glimpsed in the distance, like blue boulders. Far from the metropolis, where more than six million people live, one of the largest and most famous wetlands of the planet crosses to the west and south: the Everglades, an immense subtropical garden that is endangered by climate change and contamination.

On board a hovercraft, thousands of toursists every day cross only a small part of the subtropical national park, which is the largest in the U.S. With its nearly 1,500 square miles, the National Park of the Everglades is approximately the same size as the province of Guantánamo, or double the size of the state of New Jersey, on the northeast coast of the U.S.

It’s calculated that more than a million people visit these wetlands every year, and they are counted by the tens of thousands as they pass through the entrances. continue reading

“The main dangers we face are the increase in sea level and environmental contamination,” explains a tourist guide, who drives the airboat, which is a peculiar flat-bottom craft that uses an airplane propeller to avoid harming animals and the ecosystem.

Scientists warn that, by the year 2100, the sea level will rise more than six feet, progressively flooding the wetlands of South Florida. A report on Univision that quotes several experts from Florida International University indicates that the Everglades is being reduced to half its former size and receiving only one-third of the fresh water it used to receive.

Declared an International Biosphere in 1976, a World Heritage Site in 1979 and a Wetland of International Importance in 1987, the Everglades is the only place in the world where crocodiles, which can reach some five meters in length and weigh 1,100 pounds, live alongside alligators and caimans. In addition, hundreds of endemic animals like manatees, deer and pumas can be found, including invasive species such as pythons, which can reach almost 20 feet in length.

The heart of the South Florida wetlands is Lake Okeechobee. Rains from the wet season make it overflow, and the waters flow south, progressively flooding large areas of terrain.

“In the first half of the twentieth century, over 1,400 miles of canals were constructed with the aim of containing the flooding from Lake Okeechobee, and, thanks to this, cities like Miami were able to grow,” explains the guide. Beginning then, there was the desiccation of large quantities of land for urbanization and cattle ranches, as well as the construction of highways, affected the wetlands.

“The construction in 1928 of the Tamiami Trail highway caused a cut-off in the flow of water coming from the lake. There are plans to spend more than 10.5 billion dollars to raise part of the highway in order to restore that flow and to intervene for preserving the wetlands, but they are advancing slowly,” he explains.

Along the Tamiami Trail, a long road that links Miami with the west coast of the peninsula, work is underway on the constrction of bridges to permit the passage of water toward the south. It’s a project that, among other things, seeks to ensure the water sources for the city.

“If you drink a cup of tea in Miami, you’re consuming the same water that we have in the Everglades,” jokes the guide. Although his statement is an exaggeration, the flow of water in the South Florida wetlands is vital for sustaining the Bicayne aquifer, which supplies the water used in the largest city of Florida.

Owing to the porous nature of the rocks under the marsh, penetration of the sea or the contamination of particular areas has repercussions for the whole ecosystem.

The tourists protect their ears from the deafening noise of the airboat propeller by using earplugs. When the motor is turned off, there is a sepulchral silence. In the middle of the wetlands, you hear only the sound of the crickets or the buzzing of the innumerable insects that inhabit the area.

“Also living here are the American Indian Miccosukees, a tribe originally from Georgia that, with the passage of time, was displaced toward the wetlands and resisted any attempt to assimilate them for more than 100 years,” explains the guide.

The Micosukees or Mikazuki, as they also are known, were recognized throughout Cuba as a sovereign country inside the U.S., from the time a delegation of the tribe visited the island in 1959. Fidel Castro personally received the delegation and acknowledged their indigenous passport, which was later validated by other nations.

In 1962, the U.S. Government approved the tribe’s constitution, and recognized them officially as an automonous indigenous tribe to which important fiscal benefits were conceded. Today, the Miccosukees are considered one of the most prosperous indigenous groups in the U.S., with their empire of casinos, restaurants and hotels.

“The wetlands of the Everglades are a treasure for everyone, which we must protect,” said the guide upon ending the excursion near the Tamiami Trail, and he said that he dreams of making visitors aware of the importance of protecting this environment, on which his family and a good part of South Florida depend.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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

Cubans in Search of Visas Overflow Columbian Consulates in Miami and Havana

View of the waiting room of the Colombian consulate in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 8 January 2018 — The Colombian consulates in Havana and Miami have been overwhelmed in recent weeks by the number of Cubans who hope for a visa to travel to Colombia due to the transfer of immigration procedures from the US consulate in Havana to its counterpart in Bogota

“Every day we are serving a number of people much higher than normal. They usually arrive without an appointment and ask to be seen in a very short period of time. We are facing a difficult situation,” an official of the Colombian consulate told 14ymedio.

To travel to Colombia, Cubans residing in South Florida (who do not have US citizenship) need to appear at the Colombian Consulate in Miami-Dade County and request an appointment to present documents such as a photocopy of the main page of their passport and another of current extensions, a photocopy of their permanent residence permit for the United States (green card) and their airline ticket to enter and leave Colombia. The consular authorities also request their hotel reservation in Colombia and their last six months’ bank statements, including the requirement to have a minimum balance of 700 dollars. continue reading

The charge for the “visa study” is $52, and if it is approved there is another $82 charge.

José Miguel Ramos shows a page with the requirements to obtain the Colombian visa. (14ymedio)

“We do not understand why so many Cubans want to travel to Colombia if their relatives on the island are the ones who must do it to complete their procedures at the US embassy,” said a diplomatic source who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.

José Miguel Ramos, one Cuban among the dozens who pass through the consular office on a daily basis, explained to this newspaper that although he lives in Miami, he is trying to travel to Bogotá to help his wife and their five-year-old son in the procedures that the interview requires.

“My family has never left Cuba. I need to travel to reconnect with them and accompany them throughout this process. In Colombia they will have to undergo medical examinations and several procedures for which they will surely need help,” he says.

For Ramos, originally from Pinar del Río, the attention and organization in the Colombian consulate has been “excellent,” an opinion that others of his compatriots do not share.

“Last week several people spent the whole day waiting to be served and they were not,” says Maria, a 54-year-old woman who waited for more than three hours at the consulate.

“It is abusive that we have to pay for visas to Colombia when we reside in the United States. We are not to blame for the Americans moving the officials [from the US embassy in Havana to the US embassy in Bogota] or for the Government of Cuba getting into that problem with the acoustic attacks,” complained the woman. She also said was on the verge of losing her job after being absent for several days.

“My child has the interview at the US embassy in Colombia on January 23 and at the Miami consulate they wanted to give me an appointment for the end of the month. There is a lot of lack of coordination,” she adds.

Consulate officials assured this newspaper that Colombia has “nothing to do” with the transfer of the activities of the US embassy in Havana. “We are not to blame for this happening. We are trying to help the greatest number of people but always on the basis of respect and communication,” they explained.

View of the Colombian consulate in Coral Gables, Miami-Dade County Forida. (14ymedio)

“The Colombian consulate in Miami has no obligation to grant a visa to Cubans who want to reunite with their family in Bogota. To obtain the visa there is a process with requirements that must be respected,” said the consular authorities.

At the end of September 2016, the United States withdrew more than half the staff of its embassy in Cuba and canceled the issuance of visas there indefinitely, in response to the alleged “acoustic attacks” against its diplomats. Subsequently, the State Department announced that it would process immigrant visas for Cubans at its embassy in Bogota, while those of nonimmigrants could be requested at any US consulate. The Family Reunification Program for Cubans has been suspended for months.

The avalanche of Cubans requesting visas to Colombia is also happening at Colombia’s consulate in Havana. Last week hundreds of people who had consular interviews scheduled between September and December were being summoned for interviews in Bogota.

“It is very difficult to get them to coordinate the appointments between the US Embassy and the Colombian Embassy. I do not have a visa for Colombia yet and I have to travel at the end of the month,” explains Félix González, a Cuban living in Havana.

The conditions for requesting the travel document in the Cuban capital are “extremely difficult,” González explains by telephone to this newspaper.

“They ask us to upload all the documents to the website of Colombia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and doing that from here takes a lot of work,” he laments.

Cuban residents on the island must also prove that they have had at least $2,000 in a bank account for the last six months as proof of solvency, in order for the visa to be issued.


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

Cuban Government Happy Talk About the Economy is Not Convincing

An old woman shows her Cuban ration card that every year covers fewer and fewer products subsidized by the Government. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami, 23 December 2017 — Several Cuban economists consulted by 14ymedio consider the growth of 1.6% in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) announced on Thursday by Cuban Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas before the National Assembly, meeting in Havana, unlikely.

Cabrisas offered a series of growth figures including numbers for construction (+ 2.8%), tourism (+ 4.4%), transport (+ 3%) and agriculture (+ 3%). The results of 2017 mark a recovery with respect to the previous year when the Venezuelan crisis led Havana to acknowledge that the economy contracted by 0.9%.

Surprisingly, the Cuban Government data are even better than those of the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (+ 0.5%), considered by several experts as too optimistic. continue reading

“The Gross Domestic Product is not just a number, it is basically an indicator that should be reflected in the economy of individual families and should mean something about the value of what is in their pockets for daily life,” independent economist Karina Gálvez says from Pinar del Río.

Gálvez, who belongs to the Coexistence Studies Center, assures that on the Island “there is no growth that is perceptible to the people.”

“If any Cuban is asked what this growth has meant for their pockets, they will answer ‘nothing’,” the expert points out.

According to Emilio Morales, director of the Havana Consulting Group, “the performance of the Cuban economy in 2017 was bad.” Morales bases his analysis on the disastrous passage of Hurricane Irma in September, the economic crisis in Venezuela, Cuba’s main ally and benefactor, as well as the freezing of relations with the United States.

Commercial Exchanges Between Cuba and Venezuela

According to official data, the economic losses related to Hurricane Irma amount to 13.585 billion dollars. In the agricultural area there is great damage in the production of bananas and a shortage of basic products, such as eggs, is palpable, which has forced the authorities to establish contingency plans to increase production.

Morales, who is based in Miami, also points out “the decrease in exports, the low prices of nickel and sugar [in international markets] and the lack of liquidity” as some of the main problems of the Island to which he adds “the lack of payments to the usual suppliers of goods and low productivity.”

“The abandonment by the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA of 49% of the shares of the mixed company that controlled the Cienfuegos Refinery and the departure of the Brazilian company Odebrecht from the project in the sugar industry has been serious,” says the expert, who believes that the step taken by Caracas is a sample of the difficulties that the relationship between both countries is going through.

Commercial exchange between Cuba and Venezuela has reached historical lows. According to official figures, the last year (2016) it fell to 2.224 billion dollars, after exceeding 8.5 billion in 2012.

“The Venezuelan crisis has generated great uncertainty in the energy sector of the Cuban economy,” explains Morales, who believes that the Russian rapprochement is due only to a geopolitical interest and that Moscow is not willing to subsidize the Cuban economy in the way that the Soviet Union did.

Domestic fuel production has also lost steam and has been reduced to 2.8 million tons this year.

Nor is the sugar industry, another mainstay of the supposed economic recovery, living through good times. The damages from Hurricane Irma alone are calculated as losses of more than 4 billion dollars. To this must be added that this year the production plan foresaw 133,000 fewer tons than last year, already very deficient and resulting in a number comparable to that of the early years of the twentieth century.

“The recent exit of Odebrecht from the sugar industry generates a great unknown with regard to its recovery and the future of this industry in the country,” explains Morales, who believes that finding new partners is made increasingly difficult by the “financial burden and the history of defaults” on the part of the Cuban government when it comes to making promised payments to partners and lenders.

According to the economist Omar Everleny Pérez, who lives on the island, the growth figures reported by Cuba are “surprising.”

“In the first semester it grew 1%, according to official figures. I do not know what activities in the second semester could make that jump because the material production was stagnant,” says Pérez.

The export of services, the principal source of foreign currency for Cuba, thanks to the thousands of doctors, athletes and professionals working abroad, has also fallen in recent years. In 2014, the latest figure reported by the Government was 11.898 billion dollars but some experts believe that it has fallen by more than one billion dollars due to the Venezuelan crisis and the difficulties in the Mais Médicos program in Brazil, where thousands of doctors have escaped from the control of Havana, which keeps two-thirds of their salaries.

“In order to reach an adequate growth rate and start on the path of development, we need an annual growth of more than 4%, which we are still very distant from,” Pérez points out.

The economist Elías Amor, based in Spain, considers the reported GDP growth rate “false.” According to him, “the regime says that it has been achieved by tourism but this sector barely represents 6% of GDP and has no effect of pulling up the whole economy.”

“As of November, Cuba had received 4,257,754 international visitors, which reflects a growth of 19.7% over the same period in 2016,” Amor explains.

However, the growth in the number of tourists is not accompanied by greater profitability in the benefits left by visitors.

“The problem of tourism in Cuba is the low level of income received per traveler. With only $655 profit per tourist, the sector earns about half what it does in other countries in the region, and therefore appears in comparative terms as a market positioned as the lowest of all Caribbean countries,” explains Amor.

Simply growing the number of travelers without taking into account the average income per tourist is not a profitable strategy for the future, according to the economist, who points out “the high cost of investments made by the State,” such as the importing of food and other supplies, which are required to support the tourist industry.


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

Cuban Customs Can’t Keep Up With Cuban Ingenuity

A Cuban customs official scans a traveler’s belongings. (Customs)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 7 December 2017 — Ernesto Machado will never forget a cold morning in 1968 at José Martí airport in Havana. A migration officer removed her parents’ gold wedding rings while annulling her passport. “This is the property of the revolutionary government,” the woman dressed as a soldier told her, before she left Cuba to never return.

On coming to power in 1959, Fidel Castro’s government imposed severe measures to prevent money and valuable goods from leaving the country. Almost sixty years later, although the international situation is different, the customs controls remain rigorous on this issue.

“I travel to Cuba every 15 days and I take medicines, food and money to any part of the island,” says a Cuban who resides in Miami, whom we will call Juan to protect his identity. continue reading

In reality, those who constantly travel to the Island are the people who work for Juan. His mission consists of “capturing” Cubans with a Spanish passport or resident in the US but who maintain their “rights in Cuba,” that is they hold the status of permanent residents on the Island. Juan pays the traveler $300 and the traveler gives over his right — as a resident of Cuba — to pay taxes in Cuban pesos on imports of up to 100 kilograms.

“Everyone wins with this business, the person, because he goes to Cuba to see his family members or, if he lives on the island, he gets a little trip, and the agency because that is our business, sending things and money to the island,” he explains

In the case of money, an agency like Juan’s can charge up to 6% commission on amounts over 20,000 US dollars. He says that he makes several shipments a month because “there are many people buying properties in Cuba.” Areas like Old Havana and Miramar are quoting very well, he says.

On, the largest online sales platform on the island, houses sell for from 10,000 or 20,000 dollars in popular areas, and for up to $270,000 in the Havana neighborhoods of Miramar and Siboney or in the colonial city of Trinidad.

Cuban laws stipulate that you can freely import up to 5,000 US dollars per person and that for larger amounts you must fill out a declaration in Customs, without this necessarily requiring the payment of taxes. In most countries you can import up to 10,000 dollars without having to give a statement.

Juan does not care about the origin of the money he sends to Cuba nor does he follow the mechanisms to declare that cash in Miami or Havana. “Normally we send it with several people, we distribute the money to stay under the $5,000 barrier, and sometimes I send some trusted person to take in a little more, taking a risk, of course,” he says.

A report published in the official press reported that, so far this year, the General Customs of the Republic has registered 384 violations of the entry and exit of foreign exchange.

The newspaper recounts some of the cases, like a woman who hid 5,000 Swiss francs in condoms inserted in her vagina, or a man who had 32,550 euros tied to his body.

Cuban customs display of confiscated items. (Customs)

“Many are beginners in this business or try to do things without helping others, you have to live and let live,” says Juan, who according to his own testimony frequently bribes customs officials.

“I have been in business for a long time, my people are always known because we share codes. Usually when someone arrives at the airport, they offer to help you and if you accept it, things will always go well for you,” he says.

“In Cuba, there are businesses that need to take money out of the country. It’s a secret to no one that most of the products bought by the paladares [private restaurants] come from the black market. If the owners fall [in a police operation] they want to have a little piece of land on the other side, to keep something,” he explains.

According to official data, this year Customs has seized 165,816 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos), 61,660 CUP (Cuban pesos), 875 euros, 15,150 rubles, 73,822 dollars and 386 valuables (crucifixes, coins and silver bars), which travelers were trying to get out of the country.

The Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) allows each person to freely take up to 5,000 dollars out of the country. For higher amounts, an authorization from the President of the BCC is needed after verifying that the money has been lawfully earned on the island.

Buying foreign currencies inside Cuba before traveling abroad is a complicated task, although the law allows it. The banks require the customer to show a visa and an airline ticket linked to the country of the requested currency and, even so, only small amounts of foreign currency are sold.

You can always resort to the informal market but there the dollar is sold at a price that ranges between 92 and 97 cents in CUC, well above the official rate of 87 cents. On the other hand, it is strictly forbidden to remove from the country any amount of CUCs, the so-called convertible peso, which in fact has no value outside the island. The Cuban peso also has no value abroad, but it is possible to take out up to 2,000 CUP.

A few weeks ago, the American blogger Jaime Morrison, travel correspondent for BravoTV’s digital site, was arrested by the Cuban authorities, who confiscated the approximately 800 CUC he was carrying when he was about to leave the country.

“I broke this rule and I almost got sent to jail, do not let it happen to you,” the journalist said, telling the story about her experience in Havana. After a long interrogation she was able to leave the country, but without the chavitos.


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.

Official Data Confirm Degradation Of Cuba’s Health System

Emergency room in the Abel Santamaría Cuadrado Provincial Hospital of Pinar del Río. Sign: “Our doctor is there, very close to the patient, at his side. Fidel.” (Juan Carlos Fernández)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 23 November 2017 — Under a parasol printed with a reproduction of the Tropical Gypsy, María Elena has left behind her profession as a doctor to dedicate herself to selling handicraft products that she makes for tourists in Matanzas.

She graduated in 1993 but has not practiced for more than 10 years. “They pay very little [in the health system]. They demand of you too many responsibilities, and now that there are so many doctors posted to international missions, you spend your life on duty and covering for those who are out of the country,” she explains. continue reading

The national health system is one of the sources of pride for the government. For years, Fidel Castro called it one of the most important achievements of socialism in Cuba. In 1984 he created the figure of the family doctor and thousands of doctor’s homes-cum-offices were built in the countryside and cities of the country to extend personalized preventive primary care. “It has really been a revolution,” Castro boasted in 1984. Today, 30 years later, these networks are in decline due to the desertion of thousands of doctors and the abandonment of the infrastructure.

“It was a colossal and good project, in principle, the problem was that there was no way to pay for it,” explains Julio César Alfonso, president of the Solidarity Without Borders network, a Miami-based NGO for those who have abandoned international missions and do not want to return To Cuba.

Family doctors and doctors’ offices in Cuba.

“Thousands of doctors who were initially part of that network escaped when they had the opportunity while on international missions (more than 8,000 to the United States) and many others simply took off their white coats to become drivers, artisans, artists and even street vendors,” adds Alfonso

Despite the guidelines of the Ministry of Health to reorient the health system “towards primary care and its fundamental pillar, the family doctor and nurse,” in the last six years alone their number was reduced by more than 23,000, according to official figures. María Elena, the doctor turned seller of handicrafts, believes that most of her colleagues “got tired of so many calls to sacrifice.”

“The doctor is the most exploited worker in Cuba today, [the government earns] millions of dollars, making them work abroad and paying them a stipend, and those who stay here earn less than a driver or a bricklayer. I know surgeons who still have to bicycle to the hospital to operate,” emphasizes María Elena.

According to the article The Current State Of Social Welfare In Cuba by the economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago published by the think tank Cuba Possible,”In 1989 Cuban social welfare surpassed many of the socialist countries and led the majority of Latin America,” but this changed with the demise of the USSR.

Mesa-Lago believes that such levels were possible because of “the social commitment of the government and the support of the Soviet Union,” which according to his calculations disbursed some 65 billion dollars to support its ally in the Caribbean.

The current economic situation does not presage greater economic incentives for the health sector. The Cuban GDP contracted by 0.9% in 2016, among other reasons because of the crisis in Venezuela and the 18% reduction in the purchase of professional services (especially those offered by doctors), the main source of foreign exchange income for Cuba.

“Despite economic difficulties, Cuba maintains its universal and free healthcare system,” says Mesa-Lago. However, he confirms that the number of hospitals, hospital beds and medical personnel has fallen abruptly. In the case of doctors’ offices or family doctor homes-cum-offices, the number declined from 14,007 in 2007 to 10,782 in 2016.

The number of hospitals decreased by 46.6% and that of polyclinics by 9.2%. All rural hospitals and rural and urban posts were closed in 2011, with patients referred to regional hospitals, but the time and cost of transport increases and for emergency it is more risky,” adds Mesa-Lago.

Number of beds, hospitals and polyclinics in Cuba.

Regarding the quality of the services, the economist raises serious doubts about the deterioration of infrastructure and the reduction of diagnostics and costly tests. “There is a severe shortage of medicines (92.3% of basic products are unavailable), of supplies for surgery, and the patients must provide sheets, pillows and other necessities,” he adds.

According to the National Office of Statistics and Information, after the beginning of the Raulist reforms between 2008 and 2016, the number of health personnel has fallen by more than 22%. The number of technicians decreased by 54% and that of nurses by 16%. The number of doctors, however, increased 19%.

More than 40,000 doctors have been sent to work in foreign countries, so instead of having a doctor for every 127 inhabitants, as presumed by the Government, Mesa-Lago calculates that there is actually one for every 234 Cubans resident on the island, a level similar to that of 1993, the worst year of the economic crisis during the so-called Special Period, a time of severe economic crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its support for Cuba. The situation is even worse in the specialties that have more personnel working abroad.

“The export of health professionals brings the country an income of about eight billion dollars per year, but it reduces access to medical services within Cuba,” summarizes Mesa-Lago. Hence the long lines involved in waiting for healthcare services on the island and the overall degradation of the healthcare system.

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.