The Puzzle Of Housing In Cuba / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Construction of Housing. (DC)

Construction of Housing. (DC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 7 January 2016 — A year after the elimination of the National Housing Institute, the irregularities that led to dissolving that powerful government agency continue. Excessive paperwork and delays are an annoyance to the population that has barely seen any benefits from transferring its functions to other state agencies.

On 5 January 2015 Decree Law 322 took effect, ending the decades-long reign of the National Housing Institute. Since then, the Ministry of Construction assumed the power to govern the housing policy of the country, while other functions were given to the Institute of Physical Planning (IPF), the courts and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

During the last twelve months, 200,000 complaints have been received about procedures related to housing. This figure exceeds the documented dissatisfaction against the agency that previously dealt with these issues, as reported during last December’s session of the National Assembly. Continue reading

Hard Times for Cuban Sugar Cane Harvest / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A sugar cane field in Cuba. (Flickr / CC)

A sugar cane field in Cuba. (Flickr / CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, 28 December 2015 – Guarapo,  sugarcane juice, may be harder to get in 2016, thanks to the climate, obsolete technology and missed payments to producers, all of which are affecting the current sugar harvest, according to information presented to the National Assembly on Sunday by the directors of the AzCuba Group.

Delayed payments from the last harvest to private, lessee and cooperative producers total more than 95 million pesos and are of particular concern in the provinces of Holguin, Mayabeque, Matanzas, Camagüey and Granma. Continue reading

One Year After December 17, Who Took The Lead? / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

Raul Castro and Barrack Obama announced on December 17, 2014 the normalization of relations between Cuba and the US

Raul Castro and Barrack Obama announced on December 17, 2014 the normalization of relations between Cuba and the US

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 17 December 2015 – Several articles have already appeared alluding to the first anniversary of the normalization of relations between Cuba and the USA and evaluating the results.

For some nothing has happened: nothing has changed. But diplomatic relations were restored and there have been some institutional agreements on drug control, human trafficking and postal services.

For his part, President Obama issued several resolutions which, according to various political analysts, converted the embargo into Swiss cheese, and he started to talk about the issue of compensation, while several high-level political, diplomatic and economic delegations from the United States have come to Cuba to study and propose solutions and agreements, although little or nothing has been achieved. Continue reading

Ladies in White Headquarters Surrounded by State Security / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Kiosks selling food and drink in front of the headquarters of the Ladies in White. (bertasolerf)

Kiosks selling food and drink in front of the headquarters of the Ladies in White. (bertasolerf)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 18 December 2015 — On Friday morning, the political police surrounded the headquarters of the Ladies in White in the Havana’s Lawton district, blocking entrance to several activists who arrived for the traditional literary tea held every Friday, as confirmed to 14ymedio by Juan Angel Moya, former prisoner of the Black Spring and husband of the movement’s leader, Berta Soler.

The opposition also reported that as of last Wednesday several kiosks selling food and drink to the public were placed around the site. State Security in Cuba frequently uses this practice to close access to the homes of activists. Continue reading

The Thaw and St. Lazarus Fight Over a Date: 17D* / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

An image of Saint Lazarus in a Havana Street (14ymedio)

An image of Saint Lazarus in a Havana Street (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, 17 December 2015 — Dawn broke, this Thursday, to hundreds of pilgrims and promise keepers in the sanctuary of Rincón, south of Havana. The front pages of the world’s newspapers celebrated the first anniversary of the announcement of the thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States, while the people of the island lit candles to a figure with sores and crutches. The 17th of December has been imposed as a date of diplomacy, but in this land it is still the day of Saint Lazarus, the saint of the sick and marginalized.

Ramón Zulueta is one of the pilgrims who waited for midnight in the crowded chapel where some pray to the Catholic image, while others call it Babalu Aye. A few months ago Ramón watched his only son depart for Ecuador, a son who is now a part of the thousands of Cubans stranded on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. “I come to ask the saint to help him,” he explains to 14ymedio, holding in his hands a small wooden airplane he has brought as an offering. Continue reading

Alarm Bells on the Route of the Illegal Market / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Informal vendors of glasses, a product that comes into Cuba mostly through mules. (14ymedio)

Informal vendors of glasses, a product that comes into Cuba mostly through mules. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 27 November 2015 – Children’s clothes and sneakers were a part of the goods being called out by an illegal vendor this Thursday on Galiano Street in Havana. Although it is just four days until the migratory restrictions on Cubans announced by Ecuador take effect, alarm has already spread among merchants and “mules.”

The news of the new visa requirement for Cubans, starting on December 1, has fallen like a bucket of cold water, and not just among those who were planning to leave with Quito being the first step to their final destination: the United States. The bad news also affects a wide network in importing, distribution and sale of illegal goods that range from cleaning supplies to sophisticated appliances. Continue reading

A New Campaign For Marriage Equality Announced / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

LGBTI Pride march in the Paseo del Prado in Havana in 2011 (Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo)

LGBTI Pride march in the Paseo del Prado in Havana in 2011 (Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 25 November 2015 — After forty years together, Roberto’s partner died this year from a respiratory condition, but he will not collect a penny of the widow’s pension because in Cuba same-sex unions are not legally recognized or protected. Situations like this are in the sights of several independent organizations that demand rights for the LGBTI community, and that have just launched a campaign for marriage equality.

“We also love,” is the slogan under which different civil society groups will demand a legal framework that allows unions between people of the same sex, and equality of rights between homosexuals and heterosexuals. The initiative was presented to the press this Tuesday and will go public on the first of December. Continue reading

The Frustrated Trip of the Deported / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A group of Cubans protest in Paso Canoas, on the border of Costa Rica and Panama. (Alvaro Sanchez / courtesy / El Nuevo Herald)

A group of Cubans protest in Paso Canoas, on the border of Costa Rica and Panama. (Alvaro Sanchez / courtesy / El Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 14 November 2015 — They were seated in the back row when the passengers entered the plane. Cubana Airlines Flight 131 took off Thursday from Mexico City with four deportees on board. The Cuban bureaucracy calls them “returned by air” and they represent only a portion of those who are repatriated en route to the United States.

In recent months the number of Cubans leaving for the north has grown, as also has the number of those who are intercepted and returned to the island. Most are not dissuaded after a forced return and try again. Their worst nightmare is not immigration officials, but an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act. Continue reading

Yogurt, Scarce and Bad / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Consumers report the loss of product quality with soy yogurt due to failures in refrigeration and sanitary control. (Youtube)

Consumers report the loss of product quality with soy yogurt due to failures in refrigeration and sanitary control. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, 11 November 2015 – The shortage of soy yogurt in the regulated market has worsened in recent weeks, and this product intended for children between 7 and 13* years of age is also characterized by its low quality.

The shortage of soy yogurt has worsened in recent weeks in the regulated market where the product intended for children aged seven to thirteen years it is also characterized by its low quality.

Designated mostly for the “basic family food ration” and school meals, soy yogurt began to appear on the island in 2003, but manufacturers have never been able to fulfill their commitments for 275,500 tons annually. Continue reading

The Cancellation of A Cyber-Gathering In Camagüey Sparks Outrage / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Juan Antonio García Borrero during a conference. (Youtube)

Juan Antonio García Borrero during a conference. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Camaguey, 2 November 2015 — The peaceful city of Camagüey experienced a shock among its intellectuals this weekend. The well-known film critic Juan Antonio Garcia Borrero denounced the “intellectual conservatism” that led to the suspension of a cyber-gathering programmed for this Thursday in Café Ciudad. In his blog, Cine cubano, la pupila insomne (Cuban cinema, the insomniac pupil), the specialist reflects on the “tribal thinking and institutional self-censorship that follows from it.”

“I seem to be living a nightmare,” García Borrero said in a post, in response to being informed by the leadership of the Office of the City Historian that the gathering could not be held, “despite having been promoted in all the media.” His first reaction was to “take a breath, breathe deeply… I won’t give them the pleasure, neither those here nor there, of making me into a disaffected person,” he wrote in a brief post. Continue reading

Carcinogenic or not, Cubans Want Red Meat / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Meat for sale in the market in Camagüey. (Sun Basulto Garcia)

Meat for sale in the market in Camagüey. (Sun Basulto Garcia)

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 29 October 2015 — “For me, no one can get me to quit this bad habit, I’ve tried vegetables and beans,” intones the troubadour Ray Fernandez in one of his songs. The main character in this song is named Butcher, and he spent ten years in prison for the theft and illegal slaughter of cattle.

Despite the legal prohibitions on the island that govern the raising, slaughter and sale of cattle, and the recent declarations by the World Health Organization about the carcinogenic properties of red and processed meats, Cubans do not seem willing to give up the dream of a steak, a hamburger or a nice hash on their plates.

This week, the official press reported the findings of a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Backed by more than 800 studies conducted by 22 experts in 10 countries, the entity classified the consumption of red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The classification of processed meat was stricter; it was stated to be “carcinogenic to humans” and placed in Risk Group 1, along with tobacco, asbestos, arsenic and alcohol. Continue reading

Any Day Is A Bad Day To Die Alone / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Cuba could become the most aged country in the Americas

Cuba could become the most aged country in the Americas (14ymedio, Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 23 October 2015 — The National Funeral Home, nine at night. In one of the rooms only one person is found. A woman is rocking in the chair furthest from the coffin. She’s filing her nails. “Who was the deceased?” asks someone from the doorway. “I don’t know; I’m here waiting for my daughter who went to the bathroom,” she answers. When she gets up and leaves, the casket is left alone. No one has come for the final goodbye.

The image of a society where families take responsibility for grandparents until the end of their days has shattered in recent decades in Cuba. The aging population, economic problems and high rates of migration among the young are some of the reasons that many elderly people find themselves without family support or company. Continue reading

Education Launches a New Offensive against the “Weekly Packet” / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A Cuban accessing the “Weekly Packet” from his laptop at home (14ymedio)

A Cuban accessing the “Weekly Packet” from his laptop at home (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 25 September 2015 – Under the name To Educate Yourself, the Ministry of Education announced Thursday a collection of documentaries, films and music that it will begin distributing monthly in its learning facilities during the current academic year. In open competition with the illegal weekly packet of audio-visual material, this official rival seeks to establish itself as “an attractive offering of Cuban education” through content of “good taste.”

The compendium is aimed at those among whom the weekly packet is a hit. The majority of Cuban children and teens frequently watch cartoons, video clips, series and films that are distributed on the black market. In order to compete with those materials, the Ministry announces that its offering has “a search engine so that the user is not lost searching among more than a terabyte of data.” Continue reading

In The Medical Missions, More Hardship Than Money / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Cuban doctors who defected from missions in Venezuela demonstrated in Bogota, Colombia on 22 August. (Dened Vega 14ymedio)

Cuban doctors who defected from missions in Venezuela demonstrated in Bogota, Colombia on 22 August. (Dened Vega 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, 12 September 2015 — Tania (not her real name) is one of the 3,525 workers of the Ministry of Public Health from Camagüey who work in around 50 countries around the world. Her medical mission abroad just ended and now she is trying to readapt to her own country. However, two years away from her native province has changed this therapy and rehabilitation specialist forever.

“Despite all the difficulties I had to face there, I now have the impression that I have traveled back in time,” she explains. Her stay in Venezuela was not without setbacks. Living in a poor neighborhood in Caracas, Tania had to deal with violence, food shortages and the increasing animosity among many Venezuelans against Cubans who are on official missions.

“It never crossed my mind to escape, because I have my two children here and they would punish me so that I couldn’t see them for years” Continue reading

A Command of English Will Be An “Indispensable” Requirement For University In Cuba / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

University of Havana. (14ymedio)

University of Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma/EFE, Havana, 7 September 2015 – In the coming years, the command of English will be an “indispensable” requirement to receive a university degree in Cuba, according to an announcement made this Monday by the Minister of Higher Education on the island, Rodolfo Alarcon.

The education minister made it public along with the other changes that will begin to take effect in the 2016-17 school year, and will also include the creation of two-year programs of study. From now on English will disappear as an obligatory subject in the university class schedules, but the new rule will be implemented to the extent that the conditions are created in every province in the country.

Even though a university student has complied with all the requirements of their specialty, according to the minister, they will not receive their diploma “if they have not taken the exams to qualify as an independent speaker of this language.” Continue reading