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

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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

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

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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