The Malecon as Pier / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Image of the Cayo Hueso-Havana ferry taken 1951 (History Miami Archives and Research Center)

Image of the Cayo Hueso-Havana ferry taken 1951 (History Miami Archives and Research Center)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 21 February 2015 — Jose Manuel is 70 years old and has spent more than half his life fishing from Havana’s Malecon. For this retiree with leathery skin and eyes that have seen almost everything, it is a dream to catch sight again of that ferry that used to go to Florida and that he so liked when he was a child. “We kids used to pretend to say goodbye, and although I could never travel on it, my grandmother did every now and then.” Now, while the evening falls, the septuagenarian hopes that some fish will take the bait, and before him a sea without boats extends to infinity.

Maritime transport between Havana and Cayo Hueso came to be very common in the first half of the 20th century until it was suspended in August of 1961 as a consequence of the restrictions from the American embargo of the Island. Now, the ghost of a ferry Continue reading

Cyber-police and Firewalls to Control Cuban Internet / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Central Computer Palace across from Fraternity Park in central Havana

Central Computer Palace across from Fraternity Park in central Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, February 15 2015 – Only a few weeks after Barack Obama’s decision to allow American telecommunications companies to offer their services on the Island, Raúl Castro’s government is making it clear that the virtual world will not exist without limits. Lately, official spokespersons have taken on the task of explaining to the general public that low connectivity in the country is not due to a government decisions, and this seems to be the purpose of the First National Computerization and Cyber Security Workshop, which is scheduled to take place on the 18, 19, and 20 of February.

According to the official newspaper Granma, more than 11,000 Cuban computer scientists will participate in the event, “the majority connected through videoconferences.” The quote is directed to sketch out a countrywide regulatory cyber-police Continue reading

Follow the Trail of Flour / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A piece of bread. (14ymedio)

A piece of bread. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 9 February 2014 – “The flour trail is easy to follow,” says a retired baker whose hands, for more than five years now, haven’t mixed ingredients nor added leavening to a dough. “I left it all behind, because the administrator of the bakery where I worked changed every six months and the last one ended up in jail,” explains this sixties-something man with long arms, wearing a white cap from his days in front of on oven.

The illegal market in flour has grown in recent years. With the revival of private businesses offering varied menus, demand for “the white powder” has multiplied. It’s estimated that three of every five pizzas sold in the private cafés and restaurants are made with flour acquired in the underground Continue reading

Drug Consumption Increases in Cuba / 14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA

Screen capture from the TV report issued by Primetime News about customs work against drug trafficking

Screen capture from the TV report issued by Primetime News about customs work against drug trafficking

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 8 January 2015 – The seizure in 2014 of close to 40 tons of drugs in Cuban ports and airports belies the old official line that for decades presented narco-trafficking as a foreign phenomenon, a characteristic of the “corrupt capitalist world.” The official press boasted that the Island was not used as bridge for the introduction of narcotics into other countries.

Nevertheless, as early as the nineties, some academic studies and journalistic reports began to speak in more realistic terms about national addiction and consumption of prohibited substances. Continue reading

Here Comes the Packet, Knock, Knock / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

  • Pinar-Rio-JUAN-CARLOS-FERNANDEZ_CYMIMA20150105_0015_16Research shows that among the main forms of cultural consumption in Cuba are television, visiting with friends and listening to music

14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA, Havana, 5 January 2015 — A Cuban television special this Sunday entitled “They Call Me Cuba” addressed issues of “cultural consumption in the 21st century,” with special emphasis on the well-known weekly packet of audio-visual material that is distributed illegally throughout the country. Some specialists answered questions ranging from musical tastes to the need to impose cultural policy on the private and tourist sectors.

The results of an investigation carried out by the Juan Marinello Center have revealed that among the main forms of cultural consumption in Cuba are “television, spending time with friends and listening to music.” Pedro Emilio Moras, a researcher for that entity, said that, “The main way for the Cuban population to participate in culture is as the public, as the beneficiary of offerings, actions organized by cultural institutions.” Although he also asserted that, “We recognize that the houses where we live (…) are ideal scenarios for the cultural development of people, even our reality is the space par excellence.” Continue reading

Farmers no longer want to remain silent / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A poster invites farmers to achieve maximum efficiency and quality. (14ymedio)

A poster invites farmers to achieve maximum efficiency and quality. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA , Havana, 8 December 2014 — Far away from the television studios where they fabricate the triumphalist news, and from the air-conditioned offices where they try to plan the economy, the farmers are holding the evaluation meetings in their cooperatives, in anticipation of the 11th National Congress of Small Farmers (ANAP) to be held in May. A strong of restrictions and complaints unfolds in each one of these.

Expressed in the language of the official media, the ANAP members are currently analyzing the projections for their sector with a view to pushing economic efficiency and “reversing the outcomes of the production priorities to feed the people.” The president of ANAP, Rafael Santiesteban Pozo, has declared that the meetings will emphasize the introduction of science and technology in the cultivation of food, but the testimonies of several farmers point to other priorities.

So far only 48% of the planned meetings have been held and yet to meet are those that must be held at the municipal level, first, and then at the provincial level. But a common denominator is already taking shape in the issues raised. Among the most repeated is the concern generated by the delays in the delivery of resources to meet the agreed-upon commitments. The limited access to irrigation infrastructure and seeds, and the limitation on acquiring tractors are the main complaints.

The tobacco growers, for their part, complain about not receiving fertilizers in time, or that the framework to support the fabric covering the tobacco doesn’t have the required quality; the producers of roots and vegetables express their dissatisfaction with the lack of realism in the contract terms and in general the ANAP members don’t seem willing to shoulder the blame for the shortages or the fact that the market stands offer goods at unaffordable prices.

On the other side of the table, where the leaders sit, they insist on strengthening the management boards and work to overcome the cadres, plus the usual calls to order, discipline and demands. In this way, the functionaries’ formula for solving the serious problems in Cuban agriculture is presented in inverse order to that proposed by the men who work the land.

If these latter are essential for improving the State payments for the agricultural products, increasing the supply of inputs and lowering prices, in addition to expanding the autonomy of the farmers when it’s time to decide what they want to grow and the final destination of their crops. State leaders, for their part, are proposing to increase production at any price and they insist that only this will improve the conditions in the countryside.

We have here a deep conflict on the priorities, whether to first increase production, or to improve working conditions. What we do know is that a few months after the congress of the most important farmers’ organization in the whole country, the demands of the men in the furrows approaches the needs of a medieval country than they do of a twenty-first century economy.

Activist José Daniel Ferrer invites a journalist from The New York Times to talk / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Ernesto-LondoAo-foto-archivo_CYMIMA20141123_0004_16 (1)

Ernesto Londoño (Archive photo)

14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA, Havana, 23 November 2014 — Ernesto Londoño, the journalist to whom the six New York Times editorials on Cuba-United States relations are attributed, is in Havana. His trip was announced through the social network Twitter and has already provoked some reactions among Cuban activists.

The opposition leader José Daniel Ferrer has made public a message, which shows his concern over the fact that the reporter “only wrote about a part of the Cuban reality.”

In the note, Ferrer warns Londoño about the dangers of “moving from objective, honest balanced journalism to interest-based and biased journalism.” In the statement he invited the young man of 33 to meet. “Although I am in Santiago de Cuba, where they constantly persecute me, I am going to Havana, I would like to be able to tell you how the persecute me in the capital,” the dissident emphasized.

The text continues with several suggestions to the journalist, whom Ferrar recommends to “see it all, if they let you, talk to everyone, if they allow it, with the government, the churches, the dissidence, ordinary Cubans, visit the many slums, go to the interior, visit the eastern provinces, talk with the families of the prisoners of conscience.”

Londoño has been a member of the Editorial Board of the New York Times since last September and previously worked at the Washington Post

Some Seven Thousand Cows ‘Disappear” in Villa Clara Province / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Cows in Cuba (CC)

Cows in Cuba (CC)

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Villa Clara, 15 November 2014 – Around 7,000 head of beef cattle were presumed disappeared in the space of a year during a count carried out in ten cattle ranches in the province of Villa Clara, according to a report by the newspaper Juventud Rebelde.

The inspection, carried out by the province’s Department of Livestock Registration and revealed by the official newspaper, was carried out in a group of agricultural production cooperatives where 51 animals were found missing, whereas the State sector counted around 6,900 “not found,” which means the loss of practically the total inventory of these ranches.

Among the explanations the ranchers offered their inspectors are: deaths that could not be reported for lack of a veterinarian to issue the relevant certificate; statistical errors; and – not ruling out! – the possibility that the disappeared cows were victims of theft and illegal slaughter.

To add a touch of science fiction to the matter, as if it had to do with some kind of abduction carried out by extra-terrestrials, the possibility was mentioned that some of the vanished cattle might reappear, maybe because it will be less dangerous to get them from their hiding places without much explanation than to face up and confess where the innocent animals were kept.

Most of the missing heads of cattle were from the townships of Manicaragua, Encrucijada and Sagua La Grande.

Translator’s note: Cows in Cuba belong to the State and it is against the law to kill and eat them. This post from Miguel Iturria Medina – Is Killing a Cow Worse Than Murder – discusses the relative penalties for murder of a human being versus slaughter of a cow. This post from Yoani Sanchez — Male Heifers and Cow Suicide — discusses a creative ways to get around the law.

Translated by MLK

Education on the Market / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Start of the school year at the University of Havana, one of the education centers that would offer export of education services

Start of the school year at the University of Havana, one of the education centers that would offer export of education services

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana/November 8, 2014 — Although missing from the opportunities portfolio, “the exportation of academic services” may be a considerable field for obtaining foreign currency given the presence of more than two thousand Cuban helpers in some 14 countries, according to what Doctor Aida Terrero Lafita, director of International Relations for the Ministry of Education, set forth in a press conference.

Although the amount that this would represent for the country was not made public, the official emphasized that among those programs most in demand abroad are a literacy teaching program known as Yes, I Can, and another called Teach Your Child, intended for early childhood, and those that focus on special education.

Dr. Terrero specified that on the African continent there is a growing trend of seeking Cuban collaboration in technical and professional education, especially as related to jobs in the fields of electricity, construction and agronomy. Continue reading

“Sometimes we have to work barefoot …” says a farmer / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Farmers Market Fruit Stand (14ymedio)

Farmers Market Fruit Stand (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 6 November 2014 – A meeting that was meant to sum up achievements turned into a flood of complaints and demands. The Review Assembly of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) in Cienfuegos was the scene where some of the impediments faced by the peasantry of the region were heard.

The Assembly was held at the Martyrs of the Barbados Agricultural Production Cooperative in Rancho Luna, and the officials had to placate the attitudes of the angry farmers in the area. “They came to convince us to make a greater sacrifice, but the truth is I’m already tired of this,” explained a vegetable farmer in the region who participated in the meeting and requested anonymity.

The exodus of workers to other sectors was identified as one of the causes that have led to farm production not meeting the annual plans. The cooperative currently has 108 members, but the workforce is “unstable,” according to the local newspaper 5th of September in it digital edition this Thursday.

“The guys don’t stay with us because we don’t have housing. And they get married, have kids… create families. Then it’s logical that they seek work that can gratify their interests,” Mileydis Terencio Ramírez said at the ANAP meeting.

The official media, however, only reports a part of the anger expressed by the farmers who attended the meeting, according to what several in attendance told 14ymedio. “The working conditions here are bad, so people leave because they can’t progress,” said Lazarus, who works cultivating beans and yucca in the Rancho Luna area.

According to the official press, “nearly 75% of Cuba’s food program depends on how much the farmers can produce.” However the southern cooperative itself hasn’t been able to “satisfy the people’s real needs.” The Martyrs of Barbados has been proposed to conclude this year with 7 million pounds of product, well below the more than 22 million pounds of 1988.

Difficulties with inputs also negatively influence the fieldwork. Farmers complain of ‘high price, low quality’, and also the lack of administrative management to ensure a stable supply of products like footwear to work in agriculture.

“Now they send us 20 pairs of boots. What does that mean for 108 workers? Sometimes we have to work barefoot,” Wilfredo Arias Arias said at the meeting.

The official report in the 5th of September newspaper didn’t escape pessimism concluding that “while the debate resolved nothing, at least it hinted at the problems facing an industry, the peasantry, the job of feeing the people.”

The Swimmer Diana Nyad Returned to Cuba a Year After Her Feat / 14ymedio, Orlando Palmo

The swimmer Diana Nyad (from her Facebook page)

The swimmer Diana Nyad (from her Facebook page)

14ymedio, Havana, Orlando Palma, 29 August 2014 — Just twelve months ago, all eyes were on Diana Nyad while she swam between Cuba and Florida. This willful 64-year-old woman was the first person to cross the 100 miles from Havana to Key West without a shark cage, wetsuits or fins. A feat she tried four times, but that only on the fifth opportunity was she able to savor the taste of success. A year after her feat she has returned to the Island. She wanted to visit the place she left from, the Hemingway Marina, and meet athletes, sports authorities, and other people who collaborated in this endeavor.

“You always have to pursue your dreams,” Nyad reiterated, on touching land after 52 hours in the water. The well-known athlete had started the same crossing in 1978, but deteriorating weather conditions caused her to abandon it. Jellyfish stings and asthma came between her and her goal on the three other previous attempts. Last year she finally managed it, beating the record for the greatest distance swum by a woman without a shark cage, previously held by Penny Palfrey. The same route between the two countries had been crossed by the Australian Susie Maroney in 1997, but on that occasion with protection.

The route taken by Diana Nyad is a common route of rafters trying to reach the U.S. coast. The harsh conditions, the dangers of storm waves, and the abundant presence of sharks costs many lives each year.

Warehouses for Old People / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

An old man looks at his reflection. (14ymedio)

An old man looks at his reflection. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, August 11, 2014 – “Very soon the best businesses in Cuba will be trash and old people,” blurts out the owner of an old age home, without blushing. Places like hers aren’t recognized at all by the law, but they have emerged to meet the demand of an increasingly aging people.

It is estimated that in a decade that more than 26% of the Cuban population will be over 60. The needs of these millions of seniors will be felt in Public Health, social security, and the network of old age homes available in the country. Throughout the Island there are only 126 homes with room for fewer than 10,000 elderly, a ridiculous figure given that the demands are increasing. With regards to specialized doctors, the country has fewer than 150 geriatric specialists.

Housing problems are forcing more families to entrust the care of their grandparents to state or religious institutions. That, coupled with the economic problems and low pensions, make caring for the elderly ever more complicated for their relatives.

There is no welcome sign and if someone calls to ask for details she responds cautiously.

“My father of almost 90 got sick,” says Cary, a entrepreneur who offers services as a caregiver to the elderly. “I didn’t want to send him to a nursing home, so I had to devote myself to taking care of him full time. Then it occurred to me I could do the same for other old people.” The woman has a thriving business, where she offers clients, “breakfast, lunch, dinner and even snacks.” Continue reading