Cuba’s Phone Monopoly: Between Capitalism And Paternalism / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Users in the current wireless area of Holguin. (Fernando Donate Ochoa)

Users in the current wireless area of Holguin. (Fernando Donate Ochoa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 8 February 2016 — Applying the toughest rules of the market on the one hand and presenting itself as paternalistic on the other, is a game well played by the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (ETECSA). While the benefits to its customers arrive drop by drop, the rates are applied strictly to the letter, without the least compassion and with no relationship to Cuban wages.

The new Wifi zones that will be opened this year, along with the timid beginning of installing internet in private homes, barely silences customer complaints over the high costs of cellphones and the deficiencies in the service. The news that five Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) recharges will get a bonus of 10 extra minutes and 20 domestic text messages, does not appease the company’s critics. [Ed. note: 5 CUC is more than $5, while wages for state workers generally don’t exceed $20 a month.] Continue reading

Prisons in Guantanamo / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Protest action to demand the closure of the U.S. prison on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. (Amnesty International)

Protest action to demand the closure of the U.S. prison on the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. (Amnesty International)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 4 February 2016 – To the shame of the United States justice system, the prison at the Guantanamo Naval Base is 14 years old today. Since 2003, 680 detainees have arrived there, though today there are fewer than one hundred. Several of them are on hunger strike and are force fed through tubes. Prestigious media such as The New York Times have published letters from the inmates denouncing abuses; international human rights organizations have exposed the use of torture at this prison compound where the laws of no country in the world apply. President Barack Obama has promised to end this atrocity. He has not succeeded.

Not far away, on the road that runs from the provincial capital to the town of Jamaica, is Cuba’s Guantanamo Provincial Prison. It has the reputation of being the prison with the worst food in all of Cuba. Continue reading

The Full Meal / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The “full meal” at the Ranchón restaurant in the Youth Labor Army market in Havana. (14ymedio)

The “full meal” at the Ranchón restaurant in the Youth Labor Army market in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 29 January 2016 – “Give me the full meal,” a man tells the waiter who has stopped for a second at the table with the menu. No need to specify the menu item, the amounts or how you want it. The phrase “full meal” says it all: a plate with rice, some meat, a little vegetable and perhaps a salad. Service is fast, there are no details or sauces to choose from, just a little bit of everything before the infinite appetite of the diner.

The practice of eating away from home spread through many societies, where the family table was no longer featured when it came time to eat. The requirements of work and the speed of modern life have made people in many parts of the world choose to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner out. Continue reading

A Decade Of Work On Press Freedom For Cuba / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The official journalist Leandro Perez was arrested in Cuba while photographing an arrest. (Indomar Gomez / 14ymedio)

The official journalist Leandro Perez was arrested in Cuba while photographing an arrest. (Indomar Gomez / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 28 January 2016 — Journalism is a high-risk profession. Death threats and imprisonment are just around the corner for thousands of journalists throughout the world. In Cuba, as an illustrious writer said, in the last five decades “they haven’t killed journalists because they have killed journalism.” One organization defends the rights of the profession and tries to raise its voice for those who have been silenced at the microphones and in the national presses.

Ten years ago, a group of independent journalists founded the Association for Freedom of the Press (APLP) with the initial purpose of protecting the work of reporters and also to act as an independent news agency. Looking back, its members are taking stock of what it has accomplished and looking at the long road that lies ahead. Continue reading

The Land Belongs To The State … But The Work Does Not / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The invasive marabou plant takes over Cuba’s fertile land. (14ymedio)

The invasive marabou plant takes over Cuba’s fertile land. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerMr. Jose Ramon Machado Ventura met with a group of farmers leasing land under the concept of usufruct in the province of Artemisa, showing first his political skills, and, seeing that his exhortations and appeals were insufficient, moving straight to threats. “The land belongs to the state,” he said, referring to those who do not satisfy the inflexible demands: “We can take it back without much discussion.”

Under decrees issues in 2009 and 2012, the country has 279,021 lessees who occupy just under 3.5 million acres, or 22% of the agricultural land in the country, according to official data that calculates the total to be about 15.4 million acres. Continue reading

The ‘Oil-Houses’ Are Falling Apart / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Dozens of people who lost their homes received one of these houses made of PVC, as the result of an agreement between Cuba and Venezuela. (14ymedio)

Dozens of people who lost their homes received one of these houses made of PVC, as the result of an agreement between Cuba and Venezuela. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 22 January 2016 – There are no colors. Only gray and white, with some ocher tones provided by the dry gardens, planted for opening day. In this hostile landscape in the Havana municipality of Cotorro, 19 buildings were made up of petrocasas (“oil-houses’). A dream of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez that is now falling to pieces far from the headlines and press photos.

Dozens of families who lost their homes due to building collapses, fires and hurricanes were happy when they were granted an apartment in the El Molino neighborhood, They were chosen to inhabit the “homes of the future” and leave behind the homeless shelters in Central Havana and Old Havana, where they’d been crammed in for 10 to 15 years. Their gratitude was incredible, but so were their expectations. Continue reading

An “Inexplicable” Problem / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Everything seems to indicate that it is not possible to achieve a "peaceful coexistence" between the socialist system of production and a form of production and trade that responds to the rules of supply and demand. (EFE)

Everything seems to indicate that it is not possible to achieve a “peaceful coexistence” between the socialist system of production and a form of production and trade that responds to the rules of supply and demand. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 January 2016 — In recent days, after the “threat” suggested by General President Raul Castro that there would be price controls on agricultural products, the official media have been generous with reports and analysis about the rising prices and sudden shortages. We collected opinions from the protagonists – producers, vendors and consumers – to shine a light on the absence of a compelling elucidation, supported by arguments that would explain a phenomenon like this occurring in a “scientific” economic system.

Everything seems to indicate that it is not possible to achieve a “peaceful coexistence” between the socialist system of production and a form of production and trade that responds to the rules of supply and demand. Continue reading

“They See Us as a Threat” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Police operation outside the house of Pastpr Yiorvis Bravo on Friday so that he cannot support his fellow pastor whose church was demolished. (14ymedio)

Police operation outside the house of Pastpr Yiorvis Bravo on Friday so that he cannot support his fellow pastor whose church was demolished. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 11 January 2016 – The sun wasn’t even up when they heard the pounding on the door and the house became a chaos of police and demolition brigades. Amid the screams of the family’s children and the alarm of the faithful, the temple of the Fire and Dynamics evangelical movement in Camaguey was torn down, and its pastor, Bernado Quesada, was detained at the police station for hours.

On Monday, 14ymedio spoke by phone with the pastor about what happened last Friday and the current situation at his place of worship. Continue reading

Last Opportunity / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

President Raul Castro at the inauguration of the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba

President Raul Castro at the inauguration of the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Desde Aqui, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 11 January 2016 — In fewer than one hundred days Cuba’s current leaders will make public their proposals looking ahead to the year 2021. The Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba could be the last opportunity left to the self-named “historic generation of the Revolution” to make concrete proposals to solve specific problems. The conclave also represents an occasion to outline a road map of eventual relief, through the often announced, “conceptualization of the model.”

However, having the opportunity to elaborate proposals for the future is very different from counting on the receivers of the promises being able to believe in them. Continue reading

Enguayabera, Oxygen for Alamar / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The shop for Artex objects is one of the few areas of the complex that is already up and running. (14ymedio)

The shop for Artex objects is one of the few areas of the complex that is already up and running. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 9 January 2015 — A neighborhood without a church, cemetery or cultural center. That was Alamar in East Havana until late last year, when the Enguayabera recreational complex opened. A mass of concrete that for decades was an abandoned ruin, now seeks to offer the more than 100,000 people in the area a different option to boredom and alcohol.

The district’s residents are delighted with the new place, although many of its areas are not yet up and running. Since the nineties the hall, which was built to house a factory making guayabera shirts, had been converted into a public toilet and garbage dump. “The rats were driving us crazy,” said a neighbor whose ground floor apartment was affected by the abandoned factory. Continue reading

Happy Talk from Cuba’s General-President / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

"Reserves of efficiency persist in the Cuban economy," Granma newspaper, December 30, 2015

“Reserves of efficiency persist in the Cuban economy,” Granma newspaper, December 30, 2015

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 2 January 2015 – In the Cuban National Assembly of People’s Power final meeting of the year, the Minister of the Economy and the general-president himself coined a new expression. Both alluded to “reserves of efficiency” available to the Cuban economy to face the challenges of the future.

The optimistic tone of the phrase gives the impression that, starting now, the government can count on a secret weapon to guarantee the long-promised prosperous and sustainable socialism. Continue reading

Welcome, Even if Belated / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Raul Castro in the National Assembly of People's Power of Cuba.

Raul Castro in the National Assembly of People’s Power of Cuba.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 30 December 2015 — Among the surprises brought by the last session of the National Assembly of People’s Power, one could mention the announcement by the Minister of Finance and Prices, Lina Pedraza, that as of 2016 there would be an exemption from taxes on the profits of Basic Production Cooperative Units (UBPC) – other than those involved in sugar production – as well as on Credit and Service Cooperatives (CCS), as long as more than half their revenues come from agricultural production. The announcement has been well received, although there are many who believe that such a measure should have been implemented long ago and not as a temporary solution.

The more surprising surprise – forgiving the redundancy – was the inclusion of owners and lessees of land in the non-sugar sector, who in this case will be freed from annual taxes on personal income. To free those who plant and harvest Continue reading

Central American Agreement Will Transfer Cuban Migrants By Air In January / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Cubans in a hostel in La Cruz, a few yards from the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

Cubans in a hostel in La Cruz, a few yards from the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. (Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, (With information from EFE), Mexico, 28 December 2015 — A total of 250 Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica will benefit from a pilot project agreed to this Monday in Guatemala, among the member countries of the Cental American Integration System (SICA) along with Mexico, according to the office of the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs, who spoke with this newspaper. The test will take place at the beginning of January, the Foreign Ministry said, and if all goes well Cuban migrants will continue to be evacuated via this route.

After hours of meeting, the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry made a brief public statement, without offering more details, declaring, “It was agreed to undertake a pilot project of humanitarian transfers in the first week of January, and a working group has been formed that will be responsible for the necessary coordination for the first transfer.” Continue reading

Cuban Activist On The Brink Of Death After A Prolonged Hunger Strike / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Union activist Vladimir Morera Bacallao. (Source: Twitter)

Union activist Vladimir Morera Bacallao. (Source: Twitter)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 December 2015 – A blacksmith by profession, he never imagined that after so many years of fabricating bars for his neighbors’ homes, he would end up locked behind prison bars. The activist Vladimir Morera Bacallao will mark 80 days on a hunger strike this Monday, 28 December, the Day of the Holy Innocents. That is, if the authorities don’t release him or he doesn’t starve to death first.

Right now, Morera Bacallao languishes in intermediate care at the Arnaldo Milian provincial hospital in the city of Santa Clara. He was taken there less than a week ago, after his family and colleagues in the Cuban Reflection Movement (MCR) carried out a campaign demanding that the prison authorities pay attention to his case. Continue reading

2016, Expect the Unexpected / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

President Raul Castro at the inauguration of the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba

President Raul Castro at the inauguration of the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 December 2015 –The current first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba turns 85 in 2016 and, if re-elected at the Seventh Congress to be held in April, he will be seated in an unacceptable precedent, because at that age it is only appropriate to lead a circle of grandparents.

Although the First Party Conference, held in January 2012, did not specify an age limit for a functionary to serve in a political or governmental post, it did establish “limits with regards to term and ages, according to the functions and complexity of each responsibility.” Continue reading