Kenyan and Somali Elders Try to Negotiate Release of Kidnapped Cuban Doctors

Cuban doctors Landy Rodríguez Hernández and Assel Herrera Correa, with their wives. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 13 April 2019 — The 10 elders from the community of Mandera, in northeastern Kenya, who left for Somalia to negotiate the release of two Cuban doctors kidnapped on Friday morning revealed that the doctors are alive in the neighboring country.

The Kenyan authorities made the decision to evacuate the Cuban doctors who were in the counties of Garissa and Wajir. Wajir’s governor, Abdi Mahamid, said they were ordered to evacuate the two Cuban doctors to Nairobi following a national security warning, Kenyan media reported on-line.

Cuban doctors Landy Rodríguez Hernández and Assel Herrera Correa were escorted to their work at the Hospital de Mandera when their transport was ambushed by two Toyota Probox cars. The attackers killed one of the bodyguards, while the other fled, and they kidnapped the health professionals. continue reading

The doctors were quickly transferred to neighboring Somalia, where Al Shabab, a terrorist group linked to al Qaeda, is fighting to topple the central government and establish Islamic law. The doctors performed surgeries and cared for the local population, including in the neighboring countries of Ethiopia and Somalia.

Kenya had difficulties sending national doctors due to the dangerousness of the area, where there are frequent attacks by Al Shabaab to pressure the Kenyan government to withdraw its troops from Somalia. In January, the terrorist group organized a major attack on a hotel complex in Nairobi in which 26 people died.

This has been the second kidnapping of foreigners in five months by the extremist group Al Shabab. Last November, the Italian aid worker Silvia Costanza Romano, 23, was kidnapped by armed men in the town of Chakama, near the tourist town of Malindi (east). To date, her whereabouts are unknown despite army searches.

The Government of Kenya has deployed its elite troops to search for Cubans, so far with no results. The governor of Mandera, Ali Roba, condemned the attack and asked the elders to initiate talks with their counterparts in Bulahawa and to ensure that the doctors are returned to Kenya, reported The Star.

“We call on the security agencies to do whatever is necessary to save the lives of our Cuban doctors and to bring them back from captivity. I sent my condolences to the family of the deceased officer,” he said.

Landy Rodríguez Hernández and Assel Herrera Correa are part of the contingent of 100 doctors Cuba sent to Kenya in June last year amid heavy protests from medical unions in that country.

According to the digital site Mwakilishi, Kenya pays  4,000 per month for each doctor, a higher figure than paid to their local counterparts. Generally, the Cuban government keeps 75% of the doctors’ salary. The export of health services is the main source of income of the Island, according to official figures, with an annual income of close to 10 billion dollars.

The Ministry of Public Health said in a brief official note published on Friday afternoon that it was keeping in touch with the Kenyan authorities and had created a “governmental working group” to follow up on this “sensitive issue.”

National Assembly Deputy Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of former president Raul Castro, said on Twitter that the kidnapping of doctors was “another hoax of imperialism.”

“The Islamic State responds to them, but they got into a swamp by kidnapping the Cuban doctors,” said Castro, a leader of the government’s National Center for Sex Education.

Assel Herrera Correa is a native of Puerto Padre, in the province of Las Tunas. He graduated as Integral General Practitioner he has participated in “missions” of the Cuban Government in Botswana, Brazil and Venezuela. In Cuba, he has a 17-year-old daughter, Sheyla Herrera, who attacked officials of the Ministry of Public Health in an interview with Radio and TV Martí.

“I do not know anything yet, we do not know anything,” she said, adding that no Public Health official has informed the family about her father’s condition, or what measures will be taken to return him home safely.

Landy Rodríguez Hernández is a surgeon by profession, born in Placetas, province of Villa Clara, in the center of the country. In Cuba he worked in the General Hospital of Remedios. According to the information on his social networks, he is married and has a five-year-old daughter.


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.

Panama Adds Advantages to Its Tourism Card for Cuban Shoppers

In this archive image, Panama’s security minister, Jonathan del Rosario, talks to ’14ymedio’ in his office in Panama City. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 17 March 2019 — The Government of Panama has decided to allow Cubans who have a tourism card for purchases in that country to obtain a stamped visa, according to a statement from Panama’s National Migration Service.

The new measure is established through an Executive Decree signed by the country’s president, Juan Carlos Varela, and the security minister, Jonathan del Rosario.

The stamped visa will allow those interested in visiting Panama multiple entries to the country, not just one, as has been the case to date with the tourist card. In addition, it expedites the paperwork when it is granted by the Panamanian consul in Havana, who determines the validity period of the document. continue reading

In a conversation with this newspaper, Del Rosario described the stamped visa and the tourist card as “very positive” tools and expressed the desire of the Panamanian Government to simplify the procedures to increase the visits of Cuban entrepreneurs.

The security minister also stressed that the new measure does not eliminate the sale of the tourist card, an option for tens of thousands of Cubans who travel to the Central American country every year to make purchases for private businesses on the island.

The sale of tourist cards was announced by Panama Migration last October to facilitate shopping tourism, without the need for a visa. It can be purchased by the self-employed and artisans of the Island or by those who present evidence of having traveled previously to any other country. The cards have a cost of 20 dollars, allow a single entry into the country and are valid for 30 days.

Since former Cuban president Raúl Castro expanded self-employment in 2010, the private sector in Cuba has not stopped growing. There are more than 589,000 self-employed workers on the Island, which represents about 12% of the nation’s workforce.

According to a recent report from the The Havana Consulting Group, self-employed Cubans took more than 2.3 billion dollars out of the country last year alone. The consulting group says that Panama is the second largest market for purchases by Cubans after the United States.

Cubans who already have a tourist card and want to obtain a stamped visa must meet four requirements:

  • Fill out the online application form

  • Present a current passport and a copy with the general information and entry to Panama.

  • Show a round trip flight reservation as well as the sum of 50 dollars.

  • Meet an economic solvency test never lower than 500 dollars.

Cubans who have a visa stamped on their passport can also opt to get a new one if they fill out an application form, pay $50 and present their passport, as well as a copy of the previous visa.

“This is a great advantage, I have traveled three times to Panama for purchases in the Free Trade Zone and every time I had to stand in long lines to get the tourist card,” says Ángel Álvarez, a self-employed man from Las Tunas who sells air conditioners, speaking to 14ymedio by phone.

Alvarez is among the more than 17,000 Cubans who have visited Panama so far this year, a number that is increasing. Last year, there were 57,251 Cubans arriving in that country, leaving Panamanian merchants a profit of more than 100 million dollars in the Colon Free Zone, according to figures offered by the authorities of that commercial epicenter.

“Panama is a safe country, the dollar is managed, it is much closer than Peru and you do not have to complicate your life with as many formalities to get a visa as with Mexico,” says Álvarez. Mexico, Peru and Haiti are other destinations popular among Cubans for shopping.

Despite the facilities that Panamanian immigration authorities have granted to Cubans in the last few months, there are still those on the island who are critical of the difficulties in getting an appointment at that country’s consulate in Havana. Achieving an interview via the internet is extremely complicated and in the informal market appointments to request a visa are sold for more than 300 dollars.

“We were lucky that a Panamanian friend interceded for us and they gave us the appointment at the end of last year; this week we have finally managed to obtain the visa,” said a retired Cuban couple who received the good news on Friday. They now have a Panama visa for five years of multiple entries.

“We want it, especially, to bring merchandise home to sell, because the money we receive for our retirement is very low,” says Maria. She still does not know how she will be able to compete in the informal market for clothes, footwear and household appliances, but this 64-year-old Cuban woman is happy because “at least we will be able to breathe twice a year.”

But not all Cubans go to Panama to make purchases, others also use the country as a springboard to reach the southern border of the United States through Central America and Mexico.

Angel, speaking from the city of Acuña, in Mexico, is waiting for a turn to ask for political asylum in the United States. He arrived in Mexico after crossing all of Central America on a journey that started at the Tocumen International Airport in Panama where he arrived with a tourist card for purchases.

“I filled out all my papers as self-employed and, with the money I was able to make selling my possessions in Cuba, I took to the jungle,” he says through WhatsApp. Rodriguez says he lost his job in the media on the island when he dared to criticize the system.

The number of Cubans who show up at the US border to ask for political asylum has increased. A recent report from the Border Patrol reported that, between October 1, 2018 and the end of February of this year, 6,289 Cubans had arrived on the southern border. Through the entire previous fiscal year (October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018) there were 7,079 Cubans who showed up at the border requesting asylum.

Panama is also on the obligatory itinerary of hundreds of Cubans who use the routes of undocumented migration from Chile, Guyana and Uruguay to reach the United States. Recently the country faced a migrant caravan of Cubans that was transfered to the border with Costa Rica through the “Controlled Flow” operation.


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 Press Sees Electoral Advantages in the Tornado

The head of the information department of Solvisión, Yaneysi Nolazco, requests “taking advantage of the response the state has given to the disasters caused by the tornado.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerMario J. Pentón/14ymedio, Miami/Havana, February 20, 2019 — The official press on the island has received guidance to take advantage of the tragedy of the tornado that, at the end of January, devastated Havana, in order to advance propaganda for the Yes vote in the February 24 referendum on the new constitution.

This newspaper has had access to an internal communication from the Solvisión telecenter, in Guantánamo, which gives instructions on coverage of this upcoming Sunday’s vote.

In that email, the head of Solvisión’s information department, Yaneysi Nolazco, requests “taking advantage of the response the state has given to the disasters caused by the tornado to claim that only a socialist state is capable of acting in that manner, [of] mobilizing workers […] raising awareness of young people, children, and women to offer its efforts in solidarity.” continue reading

The government has been heavily criticized for the response it gave to the tornado, which left seven dead and thousands of victims. Authorities have sold food and construction materials to the victims, which has triggered protests, some of which have spread to social media.

Nolazco asks Solvisión’s journalists to avoid the presence of electoral propaganda at the polling places, because calling for a Yes vote “isn’t the job of electoral authorities.” In the case that there are banners of this type, journalists should focus the camera “in another direction.”

The head of information asks the journalists to show the leaders “lining up to vote.”

“Right there take their statements, while interacting with residents, in some cases going forward with them inside the polling place and we’ll show everything that is happening,” she specifies.

Official journalists should interview young people and “demonstrate” that the new generations are “participating” in the referendum “not only as voters.”

Cuban authorities have promised “jail cells” to independent observers and promoters of No, who in an unprecedented and rudimentary campaign have used social media to champion their position against the ratification of the constitution approved by parliament.

In exchange for the recognition of the little private property and of foreign investment, the new constitutional text leaves intact the control of the Communist Party, postpones the decision on marriage equality, and guarantees the monopoly of the state over communication media, healthcare, and education, while at the same time affirming that “Cuba will never return to capitalism.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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.

An IMO Update Leaves Thousands of Cubans Without Messaging Services

IMO has become, in the last three years, the preferred app for Cuban families to keep in touch with relatives who have emigrated. (Flickr /CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar / Mario J. Pentón, Havana / Miami, 15 January 2019 — A recent update of the popular IMO messaging and calling application has left thousands of Cubans on both sides of the Florida Strait without communications. After the update the contacts with the American prefix disappears, inviting the user to open a link to install the application again.

“The problem with IMO coincided with the Nauta Hogar network and the Wi-Fi network throughout the country going offline, and last night I called [the state phone company] Etecsa to ask what was happening and they told me there were problems with the application,” an app user from Cienfuegos who connects through Nauta Hogar said by telephone. continue reading

IMO surpasses in popularity other videoconferencing applications, due to its stability, the ability to operate despite poor quality connections and its free services. Initially, it was used exclusively in Wi-Fi zones, but with the arrival of the internet to mobile phones, users have also started to use it on the 3G networks.

“The app is unavailable throughout the country but it has nothing to do with Etecsa,” clarified a customer service operator who identified herself as Yaneisy.

“We have been receiving calls reporting problems with IMO but we can’t do anything about it because it’s not under our control,” she said.

IMO did not immediately respond to a request for comment made by this newspaper, but in several technology forums users from other countries complained that they could not call any number in the United States through the tool.

Other instant messaging applications such as WhatsApp and Telegram are not reporting problems from the Island for calls or videoconferences, other than those derived from low connection speeds that, in some cases, cause crashes and delays in the arrival of the image and sound.

Luis Castro, a computer scientist who has a repair workshop for computers and cell phones in Havana, recommended that users “use safer alternatives such as WhatsApp, Telegram or Messenger.”

“By consuming less data, IMO is cheaper for the user’s pocket, but that’s also why the quality of the image and sound is worse, not to mention security,” he explained.

A telephone call through Etecsa’s regular service costs 1.10 CUC (Cuban convertible peso roughly equal to the US dollar) per minute to the Americas and 1.20 CUC to the rest of the world, while an Internet browsing card costs 1 CUC per hour.

Cuba allowed navigation through mobile data with 3G technology in Mid-December. The telecommunications monopoly offers several data packages between 7 and 30 CUC. You can also pay through your telephone bill at a rate of 0.10 CUC per Megabyte.

IMO in the last three years has not only become the preferred app for Cuban families to keep in touch with relatives who have emigrated, but has also played an important role for activism  on the Island, where it is used frequently to broadcast calls for assembly and to organize meetings.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria


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.

Amid the Chaos in Venezuela, Cuba has No Plans to Evacuate Its Doctors

Cuban doctors during an event in the state of Carabobo, Venezuela. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón / Luz Escobar, Miami / Havana, 29 January 2019 — Kept quartered in some states and working in others, the thousands of doctors that the Cuban government maintains in Venezuela await the outcome of the conflict between the president-in-charge Juan Guaidó and ruler Nicolás Maduro, without evacuation plans.

“Since Guaidó assumed office as president, they told us that we should continue working as if nothing was happening. We are scared because nobody is guaranteeing our security and the situation is deteriorating rapidly,” says a Cuban professional, who, like the rest of her colleagues, is prohibited from speaking with the press. continue reading

Several doctors who spoke with this newspaper under condition of anonymity said they were afraid of finding themselves in the middle of a crossfire if tensions lead to a civil war. “The Venezuelan army is waiting for an invasion from the United States and the criminal gangs move with total freedom,” said a general medicine specialist in Tachira who was speaking by telephone.

“In the state of Bolívar, they looted a CDI [Comprehensive Diagnostic Center] and they took all the medical equipment.” In other offices, doctors have been forced to provide emergency services to criminals and motorizados* [Chavista paramilitaries], illustrated a third doctor .

In Caracas and some other cities the doctors were ordered to remain “quartered” while the the protests last in the country. The entire mission is strictly forbidden from going out on the streets after 4:00pm and thay have been asked to limit their contact with the opposition.

Cuba maintains a contingent of 21,700 health professionals in Venezuela which will be joined in the coming days by another 2,000 doctors that Havana had taken out of Brazil after the electoral victory of Jair Bolsonaro. In return, Venezuela subsidizes the oil it sends to the Island, which has been reduced to 30,000** barrels per day, according to Reuters, although other sources say it is 40,000. In addition to the doctors, Cuba has thousands of teachers, technicians, military advisers, electricians and construction workers in Venezuela.

The work of the doctors provides the Island with more than 10 billion dollars annually, according to official figures. Several countries have denounced this work as “slave labor”. The US Senate has asked the State Department to reactivate a special program to grant Parole (refugee status) to doctors fleeing missions while in Spain the Popular Party (opposition) urges the Socialist government of Pedro Sanchez to grant political asylum to Cuban doctor “deserters”.

On Friday, those responsible for the medical mission in Venezuela asked the coordinators to carry out “special mornings” to demand from the doctors “discipline and firmness” in the current situation, as was made known to this newspaper by three sources. In addition, courses of “reflection and debate” were held to discuss the situation in the country.

“They have kept some of the doctors quartered in the capital for fear of reprisals. Thus far they have not informed us of a plan to withdraw if Maduro leaves power,” said one doctor, who also recalled that Cuba had maintained all their staff in Venezuela even during “the coup against Chávez in 2002”.

The interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, said on Friday that Cubans “are welcome” in the country,” but demanded that they end their interference in “the armed forces and decision-making positions.”

On the island, relatives and friends of the Cuban professionals say they are worried because they have no information about what is happening in Venezuela.

“The only thing we know is what is seen in Telesur and what is said on Cuban television, that there is an attempted coup d’état and that the collaborators are doing fine,” said Joanna, daughter of a “collaborator”, via telephone from eastern Cuba.

Doctors in Venezuela also lack information about what is happening in the country.

“The internet is lousy, extremely slow, in the mission we are only allowed to view Telesur and the newscasts from Cuba. I have bought few things, in case we have to flee, but until now we have not been informed of any contingency plan” explains one of the doctors interviewed in the state of Carabobo.

Translator’s notes:
*”Moto” (from motor[cycle]) is a word for a motorbike or motorcycle; “motorizado” (“motorized”) is a reference to the paramilitaries who ride them.
**Down from a previous 100,000 barrels

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria


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 Police Removed the Poor From the Streets of Cienfuegos During the Visit of Diaz-Canel

The authorities of Cienfuegos wanted to prevent the poor from “wandering” in the city during the visit of Miguel Díaz-Canel. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora / Mario J. Pentón, Cienfuegos / Miami, 19 January 2019 – More than twenty beggars and elderly people were picked up by the police in the streets of Cienfuegos and sent to the Psychiatric Hospital. The authorities wanted to prevent those poor people from “wandering” in the city during Thursday’s visit by the Head of State, Miguel Díaz-Canel.

Various testimonies collected by 14ymedio in Cienfuegos gave an account of the “cleaning” done by the forces of order with a bus that picked up the elderly who were on the Boulevard and other central zones of the city.

“My aunt was picked up on Wednesday, they manhandled and beat her, she still has a bandage on her leg and bruises on her face and mouth. Osniel Gómez, a policeman on the Boulevard, told me that the round up was due to the arrival of Díaz-Canel,” Martha Galán Cañizares, niece of Natividad Cañizares, reported by telephone. continue reading

Galán said her aunt appeared drugged when she picked her up at the psychiatric hospital in Cienfuegos. According to her, nobody could tell her who was responsible for the old woman’s injuries.

“My aunt raised me since I was a baby. Imagine the amount of medication they gave her that she did not even recognize me. When I told these things to the police they wanted to arrest me,” the woman added.

Although she thought about staying in front of the headquarters of the Communist Party to show Diaz-Canel what had happened to her aunt, Galán feared for the consequences.

“My fear is that afterwards they will continue harassing her. My aunt does not get involved with anyone. She is well mentally, the only thing is that she likes to walk around the city and while she is healthy I think she should do it,” she said.

Díaz-Canel visited Cienfuegos last Thursday as part of a tour that has taken him to several provinces in the country. The media presence of the president, appointed by Raúl Castro in April 2018, has grown exponentially. He visited the glucose factory, the university, the provincial hospital and the amusement park, as well as holding a meeting with the principal leaders of the region.

The social networks publish more and more photos and videos of Diaz-Canel strolling through the streets of the  major cities and small peasant villages, where people approach him to pose problems of all kinds.

“Every time a high-level visit comes, the police and the Ministry of Public Health pick up the dirty-looking people who roam the streets and take them to the Psychiatric Hospital,” says a source at the Municipal Social Security Directorate who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.

“The worst of it all is that they pick them up for a few days and then release them again on the streets without any type of asistance,” he added.

According to the same source, during Díaz-Canel’s visit at least twenty beggars and “wanderers” were picked up.

Arelys Silva, who lives in the vicinity of the Calzada de Dolores, one of the city’s main arteries, is “outraged” by the abuse of the beggars.

“Everybody knows that they take advantage of the fact those people have no one to defend them and they commit all sorts of injustices against them.” Since the arrival of Díaz-Canel, the entire scene was set up to show that things are all wonderful. These people live in a lie,” she said.

Silva says she is still waiting for Díaz-Canel to “bring back the quality” of the flour with which they are making bread or to change the filters of the city aqueduct so that the water does not arrive “with a chocolate color”.

“We have lived through decades of promises and calls for resistance but we continue with the ration book and ’eating chicken for fish’*,” she lamented.

Odalis Acea, a self-employed worker, recognized that with the arrival of Díaz-Canel, transportation and garbage collection had improved. “Even bus route 5 to Tulipán is passing by regularly, but when the president gets on his helicopter, all will revert to how it was before.”

*Translator’s note: “Eating chicken for fish” is a widespread complaint about the rationing system. Cubans can buy limited foods through their ration booklets at very low prices. The allocation is supposed to include fish but, as it almost never does, chicken is substituted. There is no explanation for why, on an island surrounded by water, fish is never available.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria


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.

Dengue and Zika Advancing in Cienfuegos

A doctor attends a child with fever in one of the attached rooms of the hospital in Cienfuegos. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora / Mario J. Pentón, Cienfuegos/Miami, December 12, 2018 –Winter hasn’t managed to contain the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is grazing freely in Cienfuegos. 198 people have been seen in the past week under suspicion of dengue, and 22 suspected cases of Zika have been recorded, which makes the province one of those most affected by the presence of the mosquito, according to official figures obtained by 14ymedio.

“We have around 200 patients with symptoms of having contracted zika or dengue,” one of the doctors directing the fight against the epidemic explained, under condition of anonymity. “Additionally, the confirmed cases in the same period of time are 33 of dengue and 25 of zika. The epidemiologic situation is difficult in the province and the population doesn’t doesn’t realize the risk.”

The most affected municipality is Cienfuegos, with 118 cases of patients with fever, because of which they have had to equip rooms and annex hospitals to attend the flow of patients. In the province, 45 sources of the mosquito Aedes aegypti have been counted, of which the majority, 40, are in the city of Cienfuegos. continue reading

Areas of Cienfuegos where the mosquitos that transmit dengue and zika are common. (14ymedio)

The city’s newspaper, 5 de Septiembre, published an article at the end of November warning about the presence of a type of dengue in the province that hadn’t been seen since 1977 and that can cause death.

Authorities classified the health situation in the province at that moment as “alarming.”

“We have some shelters in the Faculty of Medical Sciences, in the Cinco de Septiembre polytechnic, and in other areas like Caunao. We were thinking that in 15 days the situation would be resolved, but to date the outlook remains very complicated,” he added.

The majority of the annexed rooms and shelters in which the patients with fever are being hospitalized don’t have the necessary conditions for good care. The patients are being crowded together, with terrible hygiene conditions and bad food, as 14ymedio was able to confirm during a tour of those spaces. Added to this are a lack of medicine and the bad state of the equipment, some of it in a deplorable condition.

Despite the growing number of cases of dengue and zika the water leaks continue to proliferate in many neighborhoods of the city (14ymedio)

In Cienfuegos there are 25 confirmed cases of zika, a virus that causes the appearance of reddish spots on the skin that may be accompanied by mild fever, headache, conjunctivitis, muscular pains, diarrhea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

In the case of pregnancies, it is believed that zika can cause microcephaly, because of which health authorities warn pregnant women to avoid traveling to areas where the virus is present. In Cienfuegos, so far there have been confirmed 12 pregnant patients.

“The Aedes mosquito reproduces in clean waters. In Cienfuegos we have a precarious situation with the water supply, so people use tanks, buckets, barrels, and whatever they have on hand so that they don’t run out. There are areas where there has been no water for up to 15 days. This is the perfect place for sources to be generated,” warns the doctor.

“Luckily we have a health system that has its faults, but in coverage is very effective, otherwise, the situation would be worse. Until now we have not had to mourn deaths due to dengue or zika,” he added.

Numbers of cases of dengue and zika by area in Cienfuegos. (14ymedio)

Yamilka Portuondo, a Cienfuegos resident who lives in the Buena Vista neighborhood, doesn’t even remember the mosquito bite, but one morning she woke up with fever and her whole body hurt. “It was as if I had been beaten,” she explains. She spent almost a week with high fevers, abdominal pains, and weakness.

“Late at night is when the mosquitos start to go out and no one can escape them. Here there are many water leaks, that’s where they bred,” she says via telephone.

“I was in bed at home for a week. I had to commit to staying in my room with a mosquito net and not going out*. My dengue wasn’t the worst case, because of that a doctor friend of mine let me stay at home, but the majority of people have to go to the hospital,” she comments.

Her family got meat, oil, and vegetables for her diet, a luxury for the poorly supplied local markets. “My family members in Miami sent me a package of food that also helped. Dengue makes the platelets go down a lot, so doctors order a reinforced diet. Without my family I don’t know what I would have done.”

*Translator’s note: Patients can become a link in the transmission chain if uninfected mosquitos bite them, catch the virus, and then pass it on by biting other people.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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.

Alleged Murderer of Two Women in Cienfuegos Commits Suicide

A strong police presence accompanied the buriel of the alleged murdered of two women in Cienfuegos (Justo Mora)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora / Mario J. Pentón, Cienfuegos/Miami, 5 December 2018 — Rafael Garcia, alleged perpetrator of the double femicide that shook Cienfuegos last May, committed suicide on the eve of his trial, scheduled for Wednesday, several sources close to the family confirmed to 14ymedio.

The tension was thick in the air in the morning hours in the vicinity of the funeral home in the city where Garcia’s body was being prepared for burial. Policemen, relatives, friends and dozens of onlookers filled the crowded Prado Street.

“He hanged himself because he was sorry for what he did and did not want to see the faces of the relatives of the victims, he called his family from prison to tell them that he could not live there,” a neighbor of Garcia told this newspaper. continue reading

Last May, Tomasa Causse Fabat, a 64-year-old nurse, and her daughter Daylín Najarro Causse, 36, died of knife wounds inflicted by García, the younger woman’s former husband and the elder woman’s former son-in-law.

According to residents of the neighborhood of San Lazaro, where the events took place, around noon on the day of the murders Causse Fabat began shouting outside her home. Seeing her bleeding, a neighbor came to help. At that moment the daughter crossed the street and took refuge in another house to escape her ex-husband who was chasing her with a knife. He had already stabbed her multiple times in the womb. The assailant pursued her there and continued stabbing her. Then he cut her throat before the terrified eyes of the witnesses.

Causse Fabat died a few hours later in the same room where she had served as a nurse.

Najarro Causse had been married to the man that all the witnesses identified as her murderer and with whom she had a five-year-old girl. At the time of her death, she was three months pregnant by another partner.

Adrián Najarro, son and brother of the victims, told 14ymedio that Garcia’s death “does not give the family peace.”

“All this has been very hard for me, first because justice could not be done and it has stirred up the memory of everything that I experienced with my mother and my sister, and then because my niece is now also orphaned of a father,” he added.

García had been detained for alleged lascivious touching of his daughter and had just completed a year in prison when he committed the crime, explained Najarro.

“The girl herself said that her father abused her, but since they did not find evidence, they only sentenced him to one year and six months in prison for a misdemeanor, something like exhibitionism,” lamented the relatives of the victims in a previous conversation with 14ymedio.

The girl has been living in the east of the country, to get away from the tragedy, said Najarro.

The trial against Rafael García was cancelled due to his death, but the official press has not yet reported the news.

Last year Cienfuegos was the scene of several crimes that shook the 150,000 inhabitants of the city. In February, Luis Santacruz Labrada, 23, died at the hands of a minor.

In October 2017 the young Leidy Maura Pacheco Mur, aged 18, was raped by three men who later killed her. The trial was held amid extraordinary security measures and two of the murderers were sentenced to life imprisonment and a third to 30 years in prison.

The Cuban government does not publish official figures on violent acts on the island and crimes are rarely addressed by the official press. Mariela Castro, daughter of former Cuban President Raúl Castro and president of the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), said in January this year that there were no femicides in Cuba and that this was an “achievement of the Revolution” led by her father and her uncle in 1959.


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 Lack of Water Hits Several Hospitals In Central Cuba

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara Cardiocenter in the city of Santa Clara. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora / Mario J. Pentón, Cienfuegos / Miami | November 09, 2018 – The deterioration of the hydraulic infrastructure in the center of the country is hitting hard at several hospitals in the region, which cannot function normally as they suffer from daily rationing of the water supply to complete cutoffs in the supply lasting more than three days, a situation that workers and users of these centers point out.

“We have a problem with the water supply. The authorities are trying to solve it with tanker trucks, but no surgical operations have been carried out in the past three days,” a worker of the Ernesto Che Guevara Cardiocenter told 14ymedio on condition of anonymity.

This hospital complex, located in Santa Clara and the only one of its kind in the center of Cuba specializing in heart disease, has been paralyzed for more than 72 hours due to the lack of potable water. continue reading

The Cardiocenter serves patients from Villa Clara and Cienfuegos up to the province of Camagüey. The same employee explained that the problem not only affects the Cardiocenter but also all the hospital facilities in that city.

The country’s water networks are very deteriorated, authorities have said, so that other hospitals in the region also suffer similar problems. This is the case of the Cienfuegos Gustavo Aldereguía Lima Provincial Hospital and of the Camilo Cienfuegos Hospital, in Sancti Spíritus, which have had to ration water to avoid interruptions in the service.

A worker at the hospital in Cienfuegos complained that, at night, there is no water in the emergency surgical rooms and that the surgeons have to wash their hands with bags of saline. Last August, the inhabitants of this city had to face the lack of water not only in hospitals, but also in their own homes.

The facilities at these medical centers have several decades of use and have never, for all practical purposes, been repaired. This is coupled with a serious water leakage problem that is common throughout the country.

The former president of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources, Inés María Chapman Waugh, noted that every year more than 3.4 billion liters of water are lost through leaks in the country. The loss from pumping this water that ends up in puddles and small streams in the streets is valued at around five million euros, according to the official press.

“My sister is waiting for a heart valve replacement, how is it possible that they cannot operate because there is no water?” laments Luis, who waits outside the Cardiocenter.

The official press points out that in the Camilo Cienfuegos Hospital in Sancti Spíritus the 400,000 liters that are stored in the cistern are not enough to satisfy the needs since it is wasted. A recent report by the newspaper Escambray indicates that “cascades” are heard during the day, in reference to the leaks that spill all the water accumulated in the storage tanks into rooms and offices.

The director of the hospital, Eduardo Pedrosa Prado, also explained the water restrictions they endure. When the company Acueducto stops pumping water to the medical center, the decision is made to cutoff the internal pumping at 10:00 at night. The hospital runs out of water until 5:00 in the morning because otherwise the water stored in the cistern would not be sufficient for the next day.

The same routine used by the Gustavo Aldereguía Hospital in Cienfuegos is carried out in Sancti Spíritus. The nurses wash the hands of the surgeons with glassfuls of water that they extract from the gallons that they save during the day.

“We have become accustomed to this situation, but it is unhealthy and it endangers the lives of patients. We spend our lives in front of the world saying that we are a medical power and we send aid to other countries, but the truth is that nobody knows the sacrifice of those of us who work in public health,” a surgeon tells this newspaper.

The state of the bathrooms in the rooms of the provincial hospital of Cienfuegos is “lamentable”, says Ernestina Guzmán, a companion of a patient with kidney problems.

“The toilets do not have tanks. To flush you have to load a bucket of water and throw it into the toilet, and often there is not even water, so the bad smell stays around all day in the room,” she details.

Guzmán laments that the cleaning of the facilities “does not meet the needs of the hospital.” She maintains that even inmates are sent “to clean the rooms because nobody wants to work for the salaries paid by Public Health. They clean up badly and  do not even use the appropriate disinfectants for a hospital,” he complains.

“I already know that healthcare is free, but even though it is, or precisely because it is everyone’s right, hospital centers should have quality,” she adds.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria


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 Raises the Minimum Pension for the First Time in Ten Years

The sociologist Elaine Acosta believes that the increase in pensions “will not affect” the elderly, a traditionally vulnerable group. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón / Luz Escobar, Havana/Miami | 31 October 2018 — Beginning in December, Cuban pensioners who receive the minimum monthly pension of 200 Cuban pesos (equivalent to $7.50 USD) will receive 242 CUP ($9.00 USD). The increase, announced Tuesday by Belkis Delgado, Director of Prevention, Assistance and Social Work of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, is the first increase in the minimum pension in ten years. In addition, social assistance will be increased by 70 CUP ($3.00 USD).

The last time minimum pensions were increased was in 2008, when Raúl Castro raised pension and social assistance payments by 20%. At that time, the amount of the lowest benefits of this type was 164 CUP.

The measure will come into force in November, but the beneficiaries will not notice the increase until December because many of them have already received benefits for this coming month, when the increase had not yet been announced. continue reading

The official explained that the Government is working on a salary reform plan that would “not leaving anyone helpless” and facing “the low capacity to make purchases in the face of high prices in the retail market.”

The increase will affect a total of 445,748 retirees and 157,791 low-income people, and will cost 313 million pesos from the public treasury, according to the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

“Since the Raulist reforms, or guidelines, began, subsidies have been eliminated which has especially affected vulnerable groups such as the elderly.” The reduction of subsidized products available through the ration book is a good example, explains sociologist Elaine Acosta, who considers that the increase in pensions “will not affect” that social group because of the country’s current economic situation.

Acosta, of Cuban origin and resident in Miami, believes that the State has turned over responsibility for the care of the elderly to families, which also do not have enough resources to alleviate the problem.

“On the one hand you have the authorities saying they want to confront the problem of an aging population and on the other hand they eliminate subsidies and cut the beneficiaries of social assistance, we have a problem with that,” she explained.

Cuba is the country with the oldest population in Latin America, with 20.1% of people over 60 years of age. This, together with the low levels of birth and fertility, have led the Government to face the challenge of having an increasingly small group of active working people support a growing number of retirees and pensioners.

Guillermina Laso, a former worker in the textile industry in Cienfuegos described the increase as “a joke in bad taste.”

“After so many years working for this Revolution and they give us an increase of 42 pesos, which isn’t enough to buy anything,” he protests.

“Now they say that they are going to increase pensions, but they do not say that it isn’t enough to buy what we need, nor that on the other hand they take our last centavo with the prices they put on products in the state stores,” he added.

Angela Iglesias, a retiree from Sancti Spíritus, points out that the increase is barely enough for “a bottle of oil and a pack of 10 sausages.”

“How dare they publicize this increase as if it were something we should be grateful for? We have worked for years and what we receive is barely enough to eat,” she added.

The high prices in state stores that charge in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC, each worth 25 CUP) as well as low salaries, whose average barely exceeds $30 a month, are some of the criticisms that have emerged in the consultation process on the constitutional reform project.

The academic Carmelo Mesa-Lago has calculated that with the end of Soviet subsidies in the early nineties, the purchasing power of retirees was 16% of what it was in 1989. According to Mesa-Lago, the real value of pensions has not recovered and last year was close to 50% of what it was compared to the period before the crisis.

“We must emphasize that this increase occurs at a time of greater differentiation of income. In Cuba the gap between those who receive more and have access to consumption is growing and, on the other hand, there is a large population that can not meet its basic needs,” says Elaine Acosta.


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.

Prestigious Ecuadorian Surgeon Opposes Cuban Medical Mission in His Country

A Cuban doctor attends an Ecuadorian patient as part of the collaboration agreements between both countries. (Cuban Mission in Ecuador)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami, 29 September 2018 —  Bernardo Sandoval Córdova, a surgeon who is dean of the Faculty of Medicine of the International University of Ecuador, has raised the controversy over the permanence of the Cuban medical mission in that South American country.

In an opinion column published in the official government newspaper El Telégrafo, Sandoval Córdova denied that Cuban doctors are needed in Ecuador and described as “inconceivable” that a government that called itself a defender of labor rights “has exploited Cuban doctors, who are given a tiny fraction of their salary*.”

Sandoval Córdova’s statements provoked a reaction from the Cuban ambassador in Quito, Rafael Dausá, and from hundreds of Cubans and Ecuadorians on social networks. Dausá published a statement describing the article in El Telégrafo as “false and malicious.” continue reading

“Cuban doctors who work in Ecuador as part of bilateral agreements do so voluntarily. These are highly qualified specialists with long careers, who receive not only remuneration in Ecuador, but also their salary in Cuba, for the time they work in Ecuador,” the Cuban ambassador wrote.

Dausá also noted that the Government covers the cost of accommodation, vacations, transportation, health insurance and housing. “Cuban doctors do not displace Ecuadorian personnel. All the places and specialties covered by Cuban doctors are those in which there are not enough Ecuadorian professionals to meet the needs of the country,” said the diplomat.

In a telephone conversation with 14ymedio, Sandoval Córdova refuted the reply of the Cuban ambassador. According to the surgeon, as of 1970 there has been a law in Ecuador that forces new graduates to perform a social service in the field.

“In Ecuador there are 4,000 new doctors per year and there are no more than 3,500 rural health posts. Obviously there is total coverage with national doctors even in precarious conditions,” explained Sandoval Córdova. The doctor also accused the Ecuadorian government of not knowing how to manage public health and neglecting the field.

“Correa’s government wanted to support the Latin American school of medicine in Cuba from which many Ecuadorian doctors graduate. Correa wanted to get as close as possible to Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Obviously the arrival of Cuban doctors responded more to a political imperative and is without any technical or scientific purpose. I hope that today’s Government will take action on the matter,” he said.

Although the current Ecuadorian government, headed by Lenin Moreno, has not ruled on ending the Cuban medical missions promoted by his predecessor, many Cubans do not dismiss the likelihood that the president will displace Cuban professionals to offer these jobs to the local doctors.

Cuba maintains more than 700 health professionals in Ecuador. The beginning of the Cuban medical presence dates back to 2006 when Rafael Correa’s presidency inaugurated the first three ophthalmological centers of Operation Miracle, a program against blindness which was financed from Venezuela.

Under the scheme of internationalist missions, which is the main source of income for Cuba (according to official figures it brings in more than 11.5 billion dollars annually), the Cuban government keeps about 70% of the salaries paid for its specialists based in Ecuador.

Of the 2,641 dollars monthly salary agreed upon for each specialist, Havana only gives the doctors between 700 and 800 dollars for their living expenses.

Responding to Dausá, Duniel Medina Camejo, a doctor and a resident of Ecuador, said, “As always, the manipulations of the defenders of the indefensible are outrageous. Mr. Ambassador, we, the doctors that make up the community of Cuban emigrants in Ecuador and the free Cubans with whom we share our fate in half of the world, do not agree with the permanence in Ecuador of modern forms of slavery.”

Medina Camejo also noted that Cuban doctors who dare to leave their missions are punished by being denied the right to enter their own country for eight years: “They are neither volunteers nor free to choose, do not deceive our Ecuadorian brothers with that cheap speech.”

*Translator’s note: The doctors’ salaries are paid directly to the Cuban government from which they receive only a small share of the total.


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.

Canadian Producer Brings the Story of the “Idealism and Altruism” of Cuba’s “Five Spies” to the Big Screen

After denying for three years that the five spies were Cuban agents, in 2001 the Cuban Government acknowledged its control over the Wasp Network and led an international campaign for their liberation. (Juventud Rebelde)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, 12 September 2018 — The story of the five Cuban spies sentenced to prison in the United States will arrive on the big screen very soon, and twice.

A year after learning that the Frenchman Olivier Assayas had adapted Brazilian writer Fernando Morais’ book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War, the Canadian Pictou Twist Pictures and Picture Plant have partnered with the state-run Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) to bring Los Cinco (The Five) to movie theaters. The film will narrate an “inspiring story of idealism and altruism,” according to Terry Greenlaw, one of the producers, speaking to Variety magazine.

“The Five handed over the rights to their story to the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), and Pictou Twist, Picture Plant and Conquering Lion Pictures acquired them,” a spokeswoman for those producers said in a statement to 14ymedio. continue reading

The same source told this newspaper that none of the five spies living in Cuba will receive payments for the rights. After their return to the Island (three of them after being pardoned by former President Barack Obama in 2014), the spies became government officials and members of the National Assembly.

In 2014, Obama exchanged the three agents, who had been sentenced to life imprisonment for conspiracy to commit murder, for a US intelligence officer imprisoned on the island. The gesture was accompanied by the restoration of relations between the two countries.

The Cuban-Canadian co-production, with a budget of more than seven million dollars, was inspired by the book What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of The Cuban Five, by Canadian journalist Stephen Kimber. The film will be shot mainly in Cuba, but also in Colombia and Miami, and production will be finished next year.

Kimber, a fierce defender of the innocence of the five spies, wrote the book after a trip to Havana where a Cuban friend told him that “nothing will change between the United States and Cuba until they solve the problem of ‘The Five’.”

The journalist traveled to Miami, Washington and Havana to gather information about the spies. He also began to meet with them in prison and participated in meetings and conferences in favor of the freedom of the five spies in the United States.

“Receiving Stephen’s letters in prison in 2010 was encouraging for us because we knew he would tell our truth, which we believe he has done through his book,” says René González, one of the five spies.

“We believe that Stephen’s is the best book about The Five, Canadians have become our great friends and we can not think of better partners to help share our history, through cinema, with the world,” he added.

In Miami, however, the reactions to the movie have not been as warm. Orlando Gutiérrez Boronat, president of the Democratic Directorate, a group of anti-Castro organizations, said it was “an infamy.”

“You can not rewrite history that way, the real heroes were the four boys they helped to kill,” Gutierrez said in reference to the four Brothers to the Rescue pilots killed by the Cuban military as they patrolled international waters to rescue Cuban rafters.

“You have to read the transcripts of these individuals with their bosses in Havana to realize that there is nothing heroic about them, they are terrorists, of course, and the objective of that group was to commit violent actions against nonviolent opponents of that regime,” adds Gutiérrez Boronat, who was a part of the Cubans in exile who were under surveillance by Cuban intelligence agents.

The second film dedicated to the five spies will be called Wasp Network and will be directed by the Frenchman Olivier Assayas. The film will feature the performances of the renowned artists Gael García Bernal and Penélope Cruz.

Morais, a journalist and author of the book on which the film is based, investigated the case of the five Cuban spies and published his book in 2012. From the beginning he tried to show an independent perspective of Havana that included not only ‘The Five’ but also to other nine characters of the Wasp Network who collaborated in the United States and some of whom fled to the Island.

Morais has complained that his relationship with the government was not fluid and that he was not always able to interview or access the people he needed for his book.

However, in 2013, surrounded by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, then president of Brazil and a close ally of Havana, and Armando Hart and Ricardo Alarcón, Morais presented a translation of his book in Spanish at the Third International Conference for the Balance of the World, a kind of gathering of the internation left in Cuba. At that time, Morais said he hoped to “celebrate the return of The Five to Havana soon.”

“The trial against the spies lasted several months with an irrefutable amount of evidence,” said Mario de la Peña, father of the pilot of the same name who died after the downing of his plane in international waters. “They try to justify sending the spies because they supposedly protected them from violent actions on the part of the exile,” he said.

“Those spies tried to infiltrate American bases and penetrate peaceful organizations of the exile whose only sin was to be against the Castro brothers’ regime,” he added.

“Gerardo Hernández and the others were convicted not only for espionage, but for conspiracy to commit murder. They can write whatever they want now, but the evidence that they are murderers is there,” said De la Peña.


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.

Cancun, a New El Dorado for Cubans

It’s not difficult to find stores with rum or tobacco in Cancún. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Cancún, México | September 28, 2018 — The wind was barely blowing and the humidity was unbearable. Outside Terminal 2 of Cancún’s international airport, Juan Ernesto waited for his brother, who was arriving aboard an Aeroméxico flight from Havana. It was Jonathan’s first time abroad. His purpose: to buy some basic essentials in order to resell them on the Island.

“What Cuba is most lacking right now is hygiene products. Basic essentials like disposable diapers, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, and conditioner,” explains Juan Ernesto, who asks for his surname to be omitted out of fear that authorities will confiscate his purchases.

Traveling as a mule to supply the growing underground market on the Island is not legal. Cuban customs has begun an intense campaign against those bringing products to resell them. Even so, Cuban travel to countries like Mexico, Panama, Russia, and Guyana is increasing. continue reading

According to statistics provided to this newspaper by Mexico’s Tourism Ministry, in the first half of this year the number of Cubans landing in that country grew by 60.5% compared to the first half of the previous year. As of July of this year, 69,105 arrivals to Mexican airports were recorded, 26,050 more than in the same period of 2017.

Cubans traveling to Mexico by air. Left: Number of trips per year. Right: Number of trips in first semester of 2017 (left) and first semester of 2018 (right)

In 2016, there were slightly more than 100,000 entries of Cubans because of the migratory crisis. With the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy decreed by the United States at the beginning of 2017, the flow decreased but remained above 83,000.

“Getting a Mexican visa is difficult,” explains Juan Ernesto. Among the requirements set by the Mexican consulate in Havana is having a bank account that demonstrates economic solvency, a property title belonging to the interested person, and filling out a visa request online.

“Most of the time the website where you arrange the appointments isn’t working. Our visas cost around $3,000. Corruption is the order of the day in Mexico just as much as in Cuba,” he adds.

At the airport’s exit various taxi drivers offer their services. “Minivan! Minivan for 100 pesos!” yells one in the direction of a group of Cubans.

A network of businesses has been developed to serve the numerous travelers arriving from the Island. Low-cost hotels, stores that accept dollars, Mexican pesos, or Cuban convertible pesos, shipping agencies, and even job offers can be found in the Benito Juárez municipality, which the city of Cancún belongs to.

“Here there are a bunch of stores with Cuban owners where many people from the Island work. You can find anything they sell in Cuba there: clothes, electrical appliances, medicine, hygiene products,” Juan Ernesto explains to his brother.

“Right now in Cuba deodorant is hard to find. Here we buy Gillette tubes for 3.50 and we sell them there for double. Little perfumed balls for clothing cost 255 Mexican pesos (about $14) and you can sell them for up to triple,” explains the young man.

Right now in Cuba deodorant is hard to find. Here we buy Gillette tubes for 3.50 and we sell them there for double. (14ymedio)Jonathan is 25 and is finishing an engineering degree. His trip to Mexico is only for a weekend. He wants to follow in his brother’s footsteps, who thanks to the constant trips to resell products and to the self-employed work that he carries out on the Island, has a greater purchasing power than the average Cuban.

“In Cuba the Government doesn’t realize the opportunities that are being lost. It goes after self-employed people and is dedicated to a model that doesn’t work. Each of the Cubans who comes to Cancún brings at least $1,000 to spend here. That’s money that businesses on the Island are losing out on,” he says.

The young man laments that an engineer’s salary barely surpasses $30 a month, while a reseller can pay for an airplane journey and leave the country.

But it’s not going so well for all self-employed people. Some even opt to try their luck in countries like Mexico, where the daily salary is well over what they would make in Cuba in a month.

Annia is a young Cuban woman of 26 who lives in Cozumel. After various trips to Cancún, where she would buy products to bring to Matanzas, she decided to stay to work as an undocumented person.

“In Cuba I was working as a hairdresser, but with that I couldn’t get ahead. Everything that I earned went to the high cost of products and to paying bribes to inspectors,” she says.

When she had the opportunity to visit some relatives who live in Cancún, the young woman decided to remain with them. Since then she has lived in this city for three months and has worked as a waitress, salesperson in shops for Cubans, and street vendor.

A network of businesses has been developed to serve the numerous travelers arriving from the Island. (14ymedio)

“Right now I’m applying for my Mexican residency. It has cost me several thousand dollars but it’s worth it,” she says. According to Annia, the owners of the restaurant where she works are delighted that she is Cuban because it specializes in the cuisine of the Island. In addition they sell tobacco and rum.

“I haven’t felt discriminated against at all, just the opposite. People here know that we Cubans work hard,” she adds. Annia earns about eight dollars a day in her position as waitress, and she is happy because she has more opportunities to better herself than in Cuba. “At the beginning it’s always necessary to make sacrifices. I work nights and early mornings so that the immigration police don’t find me and I live with a friend to pay half the amount in rent ($150), but it’s worth it.”

“When I have my papers I will be able to work in a hotel like the other Cubans do or start my own business. I’ve already been able to send some money to my family and in the future I hope to bring them here to live with me,” she says hopefully.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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.

Father Jose Conrado Rodriguez Denounces Cuba’s “Totalitarian” System

José Conrado Rodríguez (center) during the presentation of one of his books in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 19 September 2018 — The political system in Cuba, an inheritance from the former Soviet Union, is deeply monstrous and inhuman. Caribbean totalitarianism has turned every Cuban into an executioner and at the same time into a victim and the only way to escape from the vicious circle of lies and fear – the basis of the system – is to try to live in the truth. This is one of the conclusions of the new book Resistance and Submission in Cuba , by José Conrado Rodríguez, which will be presented this Wednesday at the Ermita de la Caridad del Cobre in Miami.

With a prologue by Carlos Alberto Montaner, Universal Editions has published this book that complements the recently released Dreams and Nightmares of a Priest in Cuba. It is an analysis of communist totalitarianism from the point of view of four authors from the periphery of the Soviet empire: Czeslaw Milosz from Poland, Constantin Noica from Romania, Vaclav Havel from the Czech Republic, and Cuban Eliseo Alberto de Diego García Marruz.

“The liberating force of truth, understood as a way of life, as a purpose in life, and as a fidelity to what we are, has an intimate dimension and is related to the knowledge of ourselves,” Rodríguez explains. continue reading

The dissidence, for this author and priest, is in intimate connection with the truth, because only from a coherent life that breaks with the social rites of the system, such as repeating slogans nobody believes in, can real change be driven.

The four authors on whom Father José Conrado Rodríguez based his reflection suffered under the communist system. Milosz (1911-2004), winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980, in his work The Captive Mind analyzes the process of assimilation of totalitarianism on the part of intellectuals. The philologist Constantin Noica (1909-1987) was sentenced to 25 years in prison by the Stalinist regime of Ceaucescu in Romania. In his essay Pray for Brother Alexander, published posthumously in 1991, he makes it clear that only a life in truth and compassion can exorcise totalitarianism.

From Vaclav Havel (1936-2011), activist and, later, president of his country, Rodríguez addresses The Power Of The Powerless, an analysis of what he called post-totalitarian societies, where dictatorship goes hand in hand with ideology, where it becomes a kind of secular religion. Finally, from his compatriot Eliseo Alberto de Diego, he addresses Report Against Myself, a raw account of power in Cuba.

In a society like Cuba manipulation and lies are the basis of the system, says Rodríguez, paraphrasing Vaclav Havel. Already past the caudillo and the first stages of the revolution in which terror filled the prisons with political prisoners and brought down each of the democratic institutions, power does not need society to cohere.

If, earlier, the system tried to create a feeling of “the masses” and intensify the “fighting spirit” against an attacking enemy, the post-totalitarian society seeks to compel the population to accept the status quo.

The system will try to demonstrate “socialist legality” as a way to legitimize itself. “The function of ideology is to fill the gap between the plans of the system and the plans of life, implying that the intentions of the system derive from the needs of life, which is not true, but functions as if it were,” says Rodríguez.

Legality is one of the main weapons that the system has to defend itself. Laritza Diversent, an independent lawyer who went into exile in the United States, has detailed at least 400 laws in the Cuban criminal code that can be used against the opposition movement. In a post-totalitarian society like Cuba’s, everything is limited, controlled, well subjugated to the state apparatus, Rodríguez wrote.

Father Conrado uses Havel’s example of the self-employed person who takes a poster with a political slogan and hangs it in his window. He has not read it, the people who will visit his business will not read it either. The entrepreneur may not even agree with the content of the slogan (the likes of which abound in Cuban stores). But when he puts it in his window he has fulfilled the “social rite,” has been immunized against the suspicion of being disloyal to the system.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of cruelty that the book presents is that of Eliseo Alberto de Diego García Marruz, forced to spy on his own father, the Cuban poet Eliseo Diego. “We are at war against Yankee imperialism, Lieutenant,” he was told while serving in the Cuban army. “The Central Intelligence Agency has an exorbitant costume shop to hide spies, we can not lower our guard,” says the author in his Report Against Myself.

Before the timid objections of Diego García Marruz they gave him a report with the State Security files about his family. Former classmates, residents of the neighborhood, even exiles from Miami who visited his home had delivered reports to the all-powerful Cuban State Security.

“One against others, some over others, many Cubans were trapped in a network of mistrust,” writes Rodriguez and wonders how it is possible that in all the places where the totalitarian system has been established, the same things happened.

“How is it possible that the Russians and the Romanians, the Czechs and the Poles, the Cubans and the Chinese were victims of the same destructive mechanism? Victims and executioners: we ourselves have been transformed into these. We are the victims and the instruments of the system,” he concludes.


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.

Extrajudicial Executions Are Still Happening on the Island, According to Cuba Archive

Alejandro Pupo Echemendía, presumed killed by Cuban police officials (courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Miami, August 27, 2018 — The NGO Cuba Archive claimed this Monday that extrajudicial executions are still happening on the island, and they cited as an example the case of Alejandro Pupo Echemendía, 46, “killed by officers at a police station” in the city of Placetas (Villa Clara).

Pupo Echemendía died on August 9, two days after being detained for an offense of illegal horse racing. According to Archive Cuba, citing Abel Santiago Tamayo, another detainee, as a source, Pupo Echemendía “was demonstrating a strong attack of nerves when a police officer handcuffed him and others proceeded to beat him with sticks, canes, kicks, and crashes against the floor.” continue reading

The human rights activist Jorge Luis García Pérez, known as Antúnez, was the one who denounced the alleged murder of Pupo Echemendía via social media. Various photos published on the activist’s account show signs of violence on the corpse. Pupo Echemendía’s wife as well as other family members testified to the state in which they received the body in the morgue.

Cuba Archive claims that this case is barely the “tip of the iceberg.”

“It’s only a window into the systematic killing in Cuba’s dungeons for nearly six decades,” adds the report published on their website. Cuba Archive asserts that it has documented some 509 extrajudicial executions, 22 deaths from hunger strikes, 312 deaths from lack of medical treatment or health reasons, and 107 suicides or supposed suicides, some of which may hide other executions.

“The vast majority of prisoners’ deaths are not reported, but it is thought that the victims add up to hundreds every year. The conditions in Cuban prisons are horrifying and they don’t permit monitoring or access for independent human rights organizations, they silence witnesses and victims’ family members, and they persecute human rights defenders,” adds Cuba Archive, which says that among the cases that it has documented are those of women and children.

Cuba keeps secret the number of prisons in the country and the number of people locked up. Cuba Archive estimates that there are more than 500 prisons, not including work camps, reformatories, and facilities for minors.

The NGO, based in Miami, claims that State Security is currently developing a campaign “of threats and intimidation to cover up the murder of Alejandro Pupo.”

On August 21 Abel Santiago was threatened by the authorities and forced to record a video where he declared that “he had been manipulated.” On August 22, Pupo’s niece and her husband were detained, threatened by State Security, and forced to sign a declaration denying the events. Various human rights defenders from Placetas, including Antúnez, Arianna López Roque, and Loreto Hernández García, are being harassed and threatened by the authorities, says Cuba Archive.

The report also accounts for the death of Daniela Ramón Rodríguez, 4 years old, who died on March 26, 2013 in Juan Manuel Márquez Hospital in Havana “after a health crisis caused by police mistreatment.”

According to Cuba Archive, the girl was forced to remain with her parents who had been detained by police, accused of the crime of burglary.

“The police threatened them and insulted them in front of their daughter. Two days after the traumatic incident, the health of Daniela [who had had an open heart surgery and suffered from congenital heart disease, an enlarged heart, and aggressive pericarditis] suddenly worsened; she was in intensive care until she died two months later,” adds Cuba Archive.

“This is the Cuba hidden from the world that we must continue to make known,” concludes the document.

 Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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