Fines Do Not Deter, They Accumulate / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A policeman checks a street vendor’s papers and merchandise (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

A policeman checks a street vendor’s papers and merchandise (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 29 August 2015 – Outside the market at 17th and K in Havana informal vendors gather despite the police raids. Niurka is one of them and her “offering” is reduced to selling plastic bags which she offers at one Cuban peso (about 4¢ US) each. “The last time they charged me, they gave me a one thousand peso fine,” says the women about her most recent encounter. However, she says she wouldn’t think of paying it and will continue to offer her wares.

“People come here when they are planning to travel or to do some paperwork and they don’t want to have an unpaid fine,” says an employee of the Fine Payment Office of the Plaza of the Revolution municipality. In line for the payment counter, a young man named Diego carried in his hand a paper that shows the amounts for each offense. “I was sitting on a wall and a cop fined me for damage to a public ornament,” he says angrily.

“I was sitting on a wall and a cop fined me for damage to a public ornament,” he says angrily

When asked if from now on he would avoid sitting there, Diego made a defiant noise with his mouth that is popularly known as “frying an egg.” Several people in the line laughed with complicity. Those who have come there are only a part of those fined, the rest will wait until the last moment to pay their debt, or never pay it at all.

The amount of fines accumulated in the capital are not the only in the country that are high. According to the local press in Ciego de Avila, the debts to the public purse, as of the end of July, consisted of 21,600 fines totalling more than 4,473,000 pesos, still unpaid in this province. Some 90% of them are “in arrears,” that is doubled 30 days after their imposition.

The lack of collection managers to go to the homes of those in default is one of the reasons that slows down the whole process. “Before, many came and paid so that their neighbors wouldn’t see that they had been fined,” explains an employee Department of Penalties of the Provincial Department of Finance and Prices in Havana, who asked for anonymity.

The opinion of those fined is very different from the official version. Eduardo, a traveling sweets seller who works primarily in the Cerro municipality, near the corner of Infanta and Manglar, believes that “sometimes they issue fines just because they feel like it.” The self-employed man says, “They’ve penalized me for standing in one place for a few minutes while selling my products.”

Many collection managers have a system of paying for results. This means that the more fines they issue they more they earn.

Many collection managers have a system of paying for results. This means that the more fines they issue they more they earn. “At the end of the month you see them acting like crazy people trying to collect all the accumulated fines,” explains Samuel, a collective taxi driver who plies the route from Fraternity Park to Santiago de las Vegas.

The payment system is plagued with bureaucratic deficiencies and excesses, as 14ymedio was able to confirm. If a cop or an inspector imposes a fine in Havana on a citizen whose identity card shows their residence in another province, the violation will be settled in the municipality of origin. It will be a headache for this office to locate the offender and make them pay.

“I must have a fortune in fines in Sagua de Tanamo, so it’s been years since I visited my family,” confesses the illegal driver of an almendrón (a shared, fixed-route taxi). However, none of the respondents for this article have had their wages seized as a consequence of not paying their debt to the public purse, nor has any been brought before a court or held in detention.

Fines grow. They are doubled and some reach unpayable figures, but it doesn’t seem to deter many from committing an offense. “The problem is that here everything is forbidden, so people have lost respect for the law,” blurts out Niurka. And she adds defiantly, “This week I will hide myself better, so that inspectors can not see me.”

Isla De La Juventud Experiments With “Free” Sale Of Farm Supplies And Equipment / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Among the goods that fall into and illegal market include parts for agricultural machinery

Among the goods that fall into the illegal market are parts for agricultural machinery

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 5 August 2015 – For an entire year the Ministry of the Agriculture has conducted an experiment on the Isla de la Juventud (Island of Youth) with the “free” sale of inputs, specialized services, and agricultural equipment. During this time, the authorities of the sector have measured and evaluated the pros and cons of a commercial policy based on supply and demand.

The principal beneficiaries of the program have been the more than 700 farmers in the territory who received land under the government’s usufruct leasing policy. Access to tools such as machetes and sharpening files has allowed them to keep down the bad weeds and the invasive marabou in the arable lands of the special municipality. However, a deficient and unstable distribution of certain products encourages the illegal sale of these products, to which the authorities have responded with new regulatory mechanisms.

There is an increase in the levels of production and encouraging results in products such as pork, beef, eggs, milk and grains Continue reading

Without Its Market Cuatro Caminos Seems Lost / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Despite the “La Plaza”’s structural decline, its bustle and commotion where constants until it was closed in February 2014.

Despite the “La Plaza”’s structural decline, its bustle and commotion where constants until it was closed in February 2014.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 30 July 2015 — Every city has its nerve centers, and one of Havana’s is where Monte, Cristina, Arroyo, and Matadero Streets intersect, and where the “Mercado Único” (“The Only Market”), also known as “Cuatro Caminos” (“Four Roads”), is located. This nearly one hundred year-old colossus has been closed since February 2014, in the hope that a renovation project could help it regain some of its former splendor. Nevertheless, the slow pace threatens to weaken the economy of the surrounding community even more than it already is.

If the question was where to find sapodilla, eggfruit, or delicious soursop, the answer was – until a little more then a year and a half ago – “go to ‘La Plaza,’” or “The Square.” Every inhabitant of Havana knew that “going to ‘La Plaza’” meant going to the former “Mercado General de Abasto y Consumo” (“The General Dry Goods and Provisions Market”), opened to the pubic in 1920 by its original owner, businessman and politician Alfredo Hornedo Suárez. Continue reading

Holguin Hospitals Throw Away Biological Wastes in the Cemetery / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma and Fernando Donate

Broken tombstones in the Mayabe cemetery, Holguin.  (14ymedio)

Broken tombstones in the Mayabe cemetery, Holguin. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma and Fernando Donate, Holguin, 11 July 2015 – Broken tombstones, open graves, dilapidated tombs, and, here and there, scavengers that devour shallowly buried remains. This is no scene from a horror movie but images from a video that exposes the serious situation in the Mayabe Cemetery in Holguin.

Released by the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in 2014, the film was produced by journalists Nairovis Zaldivar, Yainiel Diamela Escofet and Rosaida Check, and has been distributed through the illegal “weekly packet” that circulates widely in the province without any official media picking up the story.

Almost a year later, the problem has not been solved; it was caused because the Vladimir Ilich Lenin University General Hospital, the Lucia Iniguez Landin Surgical Teaching Clinic and the Provincial Military Hospital bury their wastes in the place, since their crematoriums are not functioning. Criticism of the mismanagement of biological wastes has been heard at various levels but local authorities have not taken action in the matter.

In the investigative work the errors committed by the medical institutions depositing the remains from surgeries, abortions, amputations and tests, without proper precautions, are laid bare. For months, those who have visited the grave of a relative in the cemetery have been overwhelmed by carrion birds and other animals that helped themselves to the hospital wastes barely covered by a little dirt. Continue reading

Cuban Customs Detected 29 Drug Cases So Far This Year / 14ymedio

Watching a report broadcast by the main news about the work against drugs at customs.

Watching a report broadcast by the main news about the work against drugs at customs.

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 25 June 2015 — The General Customs of the Republic (AGR) has detected 29 drug cases since early this year, as published on Thursday in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth). In the past six months, according to official media, they have seized about 51 kilos combined of cocaine, marijuana, hashish and synthetic cannabinoids.

The most common practice for introducing substances into the country is hiding them inside flashlights, cars and spare parts, swivel chairs, TV screens, soap, screws, boxes of food, religious objects, shoes and other articles. Continue reading

Vandalism Worsens the Deteriorated Traffic Signs of Cuban Streets / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A traffic sign on the verge of disappearing. (14ymedio)

A traffic sign on the verge of disappearing. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 28 May 2015 – As a result of vandalism and slackness affecting the deficient signage of roads and streets, drivers traveling through Cuban streets must mix expertise with a guessing game.

The lack of these important roadway elements worsens with vandalism, as stated on Thursday by officials of the National Center of Traffic Engineering speaking to Juventud Rebelde (Rebel youth) newspaper. In the first four months of this year, there were 144 acts of vandalism against road signs, of which 60 occurred in urban areas.

The provinces most affected by predation are Cienfuegos, Villa Clara and Havana, with effects ranging from the most serious – causing accidents – to generating misinformation about the locations of sites or their distance. Continue reading

The Sugar Harvest Grows But Fails to Meet the Plan / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

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

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

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 29 May 2015 – As has already become a tradition, Cubans will not know how many tons of sugar are ultimately produced at the end of the 2014-2015 harvest. A summary of the report prepared by the Azcuba Sugar Group, published by the newspaper Gramna, limits itself to saying that, although the “plan is 45% below expectations,” production “experienced an 18% growth relative to the prior year’s milling.”

According to the report, sugar production grew for the fifth consecutive year but has not reached its target for a series of reasons. Among them, the delay in making repairs, attributed to the late arrival of certain resources, due in turn to the lack of deliveries on the part of the importing countries. This detail alone had as a consequence that 11 sugar mills didn’t start on time, “or started without testing the machinery in advance, which increased the breakdowns during the milling.” Continue reading

The Cuban population is aging faster than expected / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Two elderly women talking. (14YMEDIO)

Two elderly women talking. (14YMEDIO)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 28 April 2015 — In a park in Central Havana the Grandparents’ Circle meets every week for physical exercises that help to prolong a healthy life. A few yards away, the line to buy rationed bread is also filled with gray-haired people more than six decades old.

The aging of the population is moving at a more accelerated pace than foreseen by the plans developed to deal with the consequences. This issue will be addressed at the 7th International Longevity Seminar to be held at the Palace of Conventions in Havana from Monday until Thursday.

The Cuban speakers at this event will present their proposals for how the healthcare system can meet the challenges of offering high quality care to adults age 65 and older who represented 18.3% of the population in the 2013 census and could exceed 25% in 2025. The situation is aggravated if we consider that the active working population won’t exceed 60% in the same year, according to studies by the National Bureau of Statistics. Continue reading

New requirements for language schools prioritize workers / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Sculpture of Abraham Lincoln at the most popular language school in Havana. (14ymedio)

Sculpture of Abraham Lincoln at the most popular language school in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 29 April 2015 – The high demand for foreign language instruction in Cuba in recent years has forced the Ministry of Education to augment the requirements for access to language schools. Resolution Number 75 of 2015, recently published in the Official Gazette, regulates entry to these schools to people over 17, prioritizes workers, and limits students to studying one language at a time.

The regulation establishes that students who want access to this variety of adult education must have completed at least the ninth grade in high school. Only through special exceptions will the schools admit “housewives, retirees, other students in senior high schools or universities, or those not working for the social-economic interests of the locality and for the creation of an emerging workforce, requiring language school training.” Continue reading

And where did that glass of milk go? / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

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14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Orlando Palmo, Havana, 25 March 2015 — The newspaper Granma published Wednesday a comprehensive report on milk production in the province of Camagüey. This scenario is grim and confirms the downward trend in terms of delivery of this precious food. Since 2012, Camagüey’s milk production and sales to the industry have declined, both in the cooperative and private sectors.

Although in the last five paragraphs it outlined with moderate optimism the possibilities of the sector recovery program, a reading of the article, signed by journalist Miguel Febles, reveals a problem that extends across many sectors of the economy, which can be summed up in the affirmation that the bureaucracy continues to be the heaviest weight dragging down food production in Cuba.

In short, the problem is that farmers must deliver the milk they produce to a pre-determined collection center. There samples are taken to assess the quality of each delivery, which is tied to the price of the product. However, instead of paying everyone according to the quality of food they bring to the center, the quality is averaged across all deliveries and the price paid to the farmer is derived from that average. The result is to demotivate improvements in quality.

Milk production in Cuba only covers 50% of domestic demand, so the country needs to import half of the milk consumed 

One of those interviewed, Alexis Gil Perez, director general of the Provincial Dairy Company, explains that the contracts are not with individual farmers but with “the productive base.” Gil Perez argues that this does not violate any procedure. “If there are opinions or dissatisfactions, we would have to revise the documents that govern the activity, and this decision can only be taken at the national level,” he adds. “Meanwhile, we must comply with the established provisions. It is not within my powers to vary the range of what we pay for milk.”

In a ceremony held in Camagüey on 26 July 2007 {commemorating the rebel attack on the Moncada Baracks), General Raul Castro said that every Cuban would be able to drink a glass of milk. Nearly eight years after that desire failed, the immediate proposal is not even to improve the distribution of what is collected, but to stop the decline in milk production observed in that province since 2012.

Milk production in Cuba only covers 50% of domestic demand, so the country needs to import half of the milk consumed. Its distribution is controlled by the government and private companies are forbidden from trading in milk products, even in the farmer’s markets.

 

The Annual Potato Ritual / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

comprar-papas-Habana-Luz-Escobar14ymedio_CYMIMA20150309_0004_13

A line to buy potatoes in Havana. (Luz Escobar / 14ymedio)

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14ymedio, ORLANDO PALMA, Havana, 9 March 2015 — Last weekend, the arrival of the potato in several farmers markets in Havana provoked fights that recalled the despair of the most difficult years of the Special Period. Hours after the squabbles ended, it was possible to buy potatoes in the same places, but from the hands of those clever enough to speculate in the product.

The Ministry of Agriculture authorities insist that the current crop of the tuber is notably larger than last year’s, however the lines and fights to buy them also seem to have multiplied.

In the current “potato campaign” 60,000 tons of the product are expected, but precedents raise fears that this estimate will not be reached. The 2014 harvest fell significantly short of the production plan, delivering 53,300 tons instead of the 65,700 tons projected. The difference was felt on the dinner tables of Cuban families and provoked desperation in neighborhoods and Continue reading

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