The Two Mariels: Mega-Port and Ghetto / Polina Martinez Shvietsova

HAVANA, Cuba — The mega-port of Mariel and the impoverished town of Mariel are two sides of the “prosperous and sustainable socialism” — wealth and poverty — which Raul Castro promotes as a “solution” to Cuba’s problems.

The Brazilian company Odebrecht S.A. and Cuba’s Almacenes Universales S.A. — a subsidiary of the GAESA business group, run by the Cuban Armed Forces — make up the ZDEM business partnership. These two companies formed the Mariel Comprehensive Development Zone (ZDIM), which is managed by Almacenes Universales. Its mission is to provide services to the shipping companies that operate in the mega-port and use its container terminal. These facilities were built to meet the needs of Cuba and provide services to other countries in the area.

Brazil has agreed to provide 800 million dollars of credit subsidies to Cuba. The president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, and Raul Castro inaugurated the first phase of the port’s operation. Continue reading

Tabarich: Nostalgia for Soviet Russia / Polina Martinez Shvietsova

A restaurant catering to a thousand Russians. Or is it for the geriatric and diplomatic sets? Is the Cold War still with us?

HAVANA, Cuba — A few months ago there was a rumor making the rounds of the Cuban capital. A new Russian restaurant was about to open in Havana. The place, to be called “Tabarich” (or Tovarich in its English transliteration), would be located in Miramar, an enclave favored by the geriatric jet set, diplomats and others with access to hard currency.

Tabarich’s predecessor — the casino and cabaret Montmatre, which also catered to the elite — had been built during the era of the Cuban republic. After the revolution it became another restaurant, the Moscú (or Moscow), as part of a 1960s revitalization project for the Rampa, according to the  movie director Enrique Colina.

In the 1970s and 1980s the Moscú had a certain splendor. Several generations of Cubans, including Carmita, a resident of Guanabacoa, recall its “wide variety of dishes.” Margot, a resident of Lawton, remembers its “carved wood ceilings and the graciousness of its staff.” For others like Desiderio Navarro the memories are not so fond. “Moscú and my wallet were light years apart,” he says.

1394132670_Montmartre-calle-P-Vedado-La-HabanaA public bath in the 1980s in what had been the Moscú restaurant, formerly the Montmartre cabaret.

A fire devastated the building in 1990, which coincided, perhaps conveniently, with the fall of the Soviet bloc. “It might have been a premeditated fire,” notes Arturo, an elderly gourmet.

The cabaret Montmartre, where French singers Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier once performed.

In the 1990s relations between Russia and Cuba cooled but after 2000 they took a new turn. In 2007 the National Coordinating Committee (NCC) was formed with the blessing of the Russian embassy in Havana and Cuban authorities. It was made up of  Russian women with some Cuban-Russian members. Their goal is to preserve Russian culture and the traditions of a community numbering about 1,077 Russian speakers.

The prospect of rehabilitating the old Moscú was considered and, while it was well-received — or at least seems to have been — nothing came of it.

Tabarich opened its doors in October 2013. “I was thinking about the Russian community living in Cuba and Cubans nostalgic for the Soviet era,” its manager, Pavel, tells me, adding, “It was designed with the turmoil of that historic period in mind.”

The restaurant is owned by two brothers: Anton, who lives in Russia and provides the funding, and Andrey, who remains on the island as its business manager. The Russian dishes offered are prepared by Cuban chefs who specialize in Russian food. If you would like a Russian dish such as pelmini dumplings with Smetana sauce and a glass of Cristal beer, the bill in hard-currency will put a big dent in your pocketbook!

Cubanet, March 6, 2014 | 

The Reform Czar Doesn’t Authorize Private Cooperatives in Tourism / Polina Shvietsova Martinez

Marino Murillo, the so-called Reform Czar

Marino Murillo, the so-called Reform Czar

Marino Murillo argues that the conditions are not conducive . Afraid of private talent? Of losing control?

HAVANA, Cuba . – ComTur, an alternative project for the development of tourism, tried to start up within the law, to generate local and community development. But it has been stopped.

A source close to the project reported, “One of the members sent a letter to Minister Marino Murillo on 30 October 2012, to get approval. The minister responded with the bad news: ComTur’s legalization was not approved. According to this source, Murillo, “Noted the project, but said he still cannot authorize the formation of a private cooperative for tourist workers, because the conditions are not conducive.”

ComTur calls itself a Consulting Partnership project. It’s objective would provide advice to rural and urban communities. It would also offer its services to groups of self-employed, relative to their lodging and food offerings relative to tourist potential. They would also advise, relative to tourism, on natural and social-cultural resources in these areas.

This project was developed on the basis of the so-called “Guidelines for the economic and social policy of the party and the Revolution,” the road map of the “updating of the Cuban economic model.”

In the Guideline 264, page 33, Chapter IX, Tourism Policy, states, “To design and develop as part of the municipal initiative for the territories, attractive tourist offerings as a source of hard currency income: accommodation, food services, social, cultural and historical activities, horseback riding, rural tourism, observation of flora and fauna, among others.” Continue reading

Abortion on an Island Where Women Don’t Want to Give Birth / Polina Martínez Shvietsova

Aborto-hospital-1-300x149HAVANA, Cuba, October, www.cubanet.org – Cuba has been suffering a fertility crisis since the late seventies. And although voluntary abortion is legal, it is a problem because the island’s birthrate is below the replacement rate, with a consequent aging population.

Abortion is also a health problem, as it is used by young people as the main method of contraception.

There are young women who have had three to six interruptions. According to statistics from the National Fertility Survey (NFS) in 2009, 21% of Cuban women between 15 and 54 years have had at least one pregnancy which ended in induced abortion or a “menstrual regulation.”

Such behavior, the study indicates, is sustained by “confidence in the Cuban health system” and the right of access to such service. However, it is necessary that the public, especially young people, understand that voluntary abortion is not a method of contraception.

At the root of the problem is the increasingly earlier onset of sexual intercourse, promiscuity, the little and poor use of contraception. This brings a pregnancy which, in turn, brings an abortion, and, ultimately, infertility, as well as problems such as ectopic pregnancy, another cause of infertility in women, cervical cancer or whose occurrence is increasingly frequent at early ages.

Aborto-2Cuban women delay the age when they first give birth. Health professionals must be prepared to work with a high-risk pregnant population: women over 35 years of age.

Also keep in mind the pregnancy among teenagers. According to statistics from the Fertility Survey, about 85% of young people know that there are contraceptive methods but do not use them. While 60 % report having used the, but for the vast majority they do it sporadically.

The scarce family doctors try to persuade women of childbearing age to become pregnant. This leads to a suspicion of possible directions from the government to curb the population decrease, rather than to stimulate the birth rate, as is done in other countries.

It occurred to me to ask at random, “Does anyone know any happy young couple?” Encountering stable and happy young couples is very rare. Many couples do not want children because of unemployment, low wages, the  currency, the deterioration of housing, overcrowding with several generations living together, and a great desire to emigrate.

Polina Martínez Shvietsova

Cubanet, 5 November 2013