‘14ymedio’ seen by its readers / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Printed version of 14ymedio distributed on the island through alternative networks

Printed version of 14ymedio distributed on the island through alternative networks

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 21 May 2015 – “The connection doesn’t work,” the young man tells the employee who frowns at him for making her get out of her comfortable chair. The heat is terrible and the air conditioning hasn’t worked for weeks in a State-run “Nauta” Internet room centrally located in Havana’s Plaza municipality. The woman approaches listlessly, looks at the screen, types in a some web address and the page opens with no problems. The client returns to the fray, “And why when I type in 14ymedio.com nothing happens?” A snort is heard throughout the navigation room. “Look son, it is because you can’t enter that site, you understand me?” In a few seconds the internaut has received his first lesson in censorship.

Who in Cuba reads the digital daily 14ymedio? This is the question for which the management of this medium has gone out into street to look for answers and suggestions to improve our work. We have surveyed different age groups, political viewpoints, and geographic situations, to try to trace a map of those Cubans who have in front of their eyes some of the content that we publish on the site. Continue reading

Cuba has 11,000 sources of pollution that affect water / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Ditch with sewage from the town of Guanabo, east of Havana. (Luz Escobar)

Ditch with sewage from the town of Guanabo, east of Havana. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 20 May 2015 – On World Environment Day, this coming 5 June, Cuba will have 11,000 sources of pollution that affect ground water and coastal areas. This information was updated by Odalis Goicochea, Director of the Environment at that Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA), in a press conference Monday.

The figure is very alarming, especially when we take into account our dwindling water reserves. 2014 was the driest year reported since the beginning of this century, and 2015 looks like it wants to compete for this negative record. With a long and narrow island and with no major surface or underground water resources, the country needs to do a better job of managing its waste stream to protect the water. Continue reading

Lowering the price of milk does not satisfy buyers / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

There is more rum than milk in Cuba (14ymedio)

There is more rum than milk in Cuba (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 28 April 2015 – In Cuba it is cheaper to buy a liter of rum than a kilo of powdered milk. Ever since convertible currency stores appeared in the nineties, people have been demanding price reductions for basic products. In its Monday edition, the Communist Party newspaper Granma announced a price reduction for powdered milk, but the measure has not been met with the satisfaction the authorities expected.

The new measure reduces the price of kilo of powdered milk by 15% in the hard currency stores. Now a kilo (2.2 pounds) costs 5.50 or 5.75 convertible pesos (CUCs), and a half kilo cost 2.90 or 2.80, depending on the quality of the container. The reduction, which went into effect on April 24, ranges from 0.45 to 0.85 CUC per packet, and is derived from “updating import costs,” according to sources at the Ministry of Finance and Prices. Continue reading

The Bridgettines, in the Shadows of Power / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

The Bridgettines’ Convent/Hotel in Havana. (Holidaycheck)

The Bridgettines’ Convent/Hotel in Havana. (Holidaycheck)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana 6 February 2015 — Discreet and elusive, donning gray habits and cross-adorned veils, they attend mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in Pinar del Río. The three nuns, originally from India, belong to the Order of the Most Holy Savior of Saint Bridget headed by the Italian religious Mother Tekla Famiglietti. Known as the Generalessa, Mother Tekla is one of the most influential women in the Vatican, and her ties to the Cuban government have been reinforced in the last few years.

The Bridgettines ­– a religious order of nuns founded in 1911 in Sweden by Blessed Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad – recently inaugurated a new convent in the city of Pinar del Río. A little more than a decade after opening their impressive headquarters in Havana, this religious order has now turned its attention to Cuba’s far western province. No other religious order on the Island has experienced such rapid growth, which has only been made possible thanks to the longstanding ties between the Mother Tekla and the political élite centered around Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution. Continue reading

Queens for a Night / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Painting of a woman's face (Silvia Corbelle)

Painting of a woman’s face (Silvia Corbelle)

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Camagüey, 8 March 2015 — On the kitchen table is a smeared plate of pink meringue. It’s been there since Friday afternoon, when she brought that piece of cake from the party for Women’s Day. After the celebration, the music and a boring speech from the factory director, Magaly returned to the routine of her life. To a house where a double workday awaited her, with no union, no protective laws, much less a salary. Almost sixty, she’s learned that the speeches about gender equality are just that, speeches.

In the distant year of 1869, within a few hours of the proclamation of the Guaimaro Constitution, Ana Betancourt launched a phrase that would mark women’s illusions with the processes of political change in our country. “Citizens: the woman in the dark and quiet corner of the house waited patiently and with resignation for this beautiful hour in which the new revolution broke her yoke and Continue reading

Lettuces of Lead / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Urban organic garden in Miramar, Havana (flickr)

Urban organic garden in Miramar, Havana (flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 1 March 2015 – The raised bed exhibits its curly lettuces a few meters from the rough concrete building. There is an hour to go before the urban organic garden near Hidalgo Street in the Plaza township begins its sale, but already customers are thronging to get fresh vegetables and lower prices. None of them knows that the products they will buy here are neither organic nor very safe for their health.

Urban agriculture is a phenomenon that dawned in the nineties with the rigors of the Special Period. In the words of a humorist, “We Havanans turned ourselves into peasants and planted leeks even on balconies.” The economic crisis and the inefficiency of state farms required taking advantage of empty lots in order to cultivate greens and vegetables.

The initiative helped all these years to alleviate shortages and has many defenders who emphasize their community character, so different from the mechanization of modern agriculture. Nevertheless, together with the undeniable merits are hidden serious problems that point to the contamination of the crops with wastes characteristic of urban areas. Continue reading

The Ordeal of Automated Teller Machines / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Lines at Cuban ATMs grow on weekends (14ymedio)

Lines at Cuban ATMs grow on weekends (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 23 February 2015 – The line reached the corner and was moving with agonizing slowness. They were not selling eggs or potatoes. It wasn’t even a line for seeking a visa. Those who waited just wanted access to the automatic teller, the only one working last Saturday afternoon near Havana’s Central Park.

A few days before MasterCard can be used in Cuba, many are asking how the Cuban bank network will deal with the increased demand for money if it can barely keep its service afloat for domestic users and tourists.

The congestion in front of the machines grows even though only 1.3 million magnetic cards have been issued in the country, and for the moment only retirees, customers with accounts in convertible pesos, businesses that have contracts with the bank, self-employed workers and international collaborators can get them. The rest of society continues to depend exclusively on paper currency.

“When the subject is money, people fume,” says a young man whose Saturday night hangs by a thread because of the congested ATM. Even though this weekend the temperature dropped in the city, no one seemed ready to leave before getting their cash.

The scene is repeated at most of the 550 ATMs (Automated Teller Machines or automatic tellers) of Chinese manufacture, of which 398 are in Havana. In 2013 200 new units were purchased in China, but the majority were to replace defective terminals and did not solve the serious deficit of tellers. Cash payment is still the most common method in Cuba for acquiring products and services.

The scarcity of terminals combines with the deficient functioning of the system, affected by electrical outages, frequent connection failures between the ATM and the bank and lack of cash

The terminals are only available in private businesses with great resources and obvious official backing 

Almost all the self-employed workers offer their services for cash payment. The use of point of sale terminals (TPVs) for card scanning and payment, also known as POS, is only available in private businesses with great resources and obvious official backing.

In state business networks, the landscape is different but not very promising either. Although there exist POS terminals in most big department stores and hard currency shops, their service is unstable and slow. “When a client comes to pay with a card, the line stops for minutes because sometimes the communication with the bank is down and you have to try it several times,” explains a cashier from the busy market at 70th Street and 3rd in Miramar.

In the provincial cities and above all in the townships, where they are practically non-existent, the ATM and POS situation is even worse. Tourists who travel deep into Cuba must carry cash with them, increasing the risk of theft and loss in addition to the demand for liquidity.

The problem hits natives and foreigners. “Why do they pay me on the card if in the end I have to go get the money at the bank because I can make purchases almost nowhere with this?” complains Marilin Ruiz, a former elementary school teacher who also was waiting in line on Saturday for the ATM near Central Park. The delay was so long that she wound sharing recipes for making flan without milk and knitting suggestions with another woman.

 “I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about $8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,” an old woman complained

Between the 4th and 6th of each month, Cuban retirees go to ATMs to collect their pensions. “I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about $8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,” explained Asuncion, an old woman of close to eighty years of age. Meanwhile, some kids scamper from one side to the other. They are the children of a couple waiting at the end of the line without much hope of getting money before nightfall.

“We are late for everything; when the world has spent decades using plastic, now it is that we are trying it,” laments Asuncion. The first ATMs, of French manufacture, were installed in Cuba in 1997, but after 2004 only Chinese terminals arrived.

Asuncion keeps in her wallet a Visa card that her son sent her from Madrid. “I use this only every three months when he puts a little on it for my expenses.” There are no public statistics about how many of the country’s residents might be making frequent use of debit or credit cards associated with a foreign bank account of an emigrated relative, but the phenomenon has grown in the last decade.

In the line several Chinese student also put their Asian patience to the test with the red and blue cards in hand from the Chinese banking conglomerate UnionPay. More than 3000 citizens of that country study or work on the Island, and they receive their family remittances through that channel. Also, in 2013 alone some 22,000 Chinese tourists visited Cuba.

“We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,”

“We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,” says Lazaro, a teen with tight clothes, to a friend with whom he waits in the line.

The alternative to the ATM, which might be the window of the bank branch, is not recommended. In Havana there are 90 branches of the Banco Metropolitano, but at the end of 2014 at least twelve offices were partially or completely closed because of problems ranging from leaks, sewer network blockages, danger of building collapse or other infrastructure issues. Insufficient attention and lack of trust in the banking system make many continue to prefer hiding money “under the mattress.”

The limited work schedule of banks and the scarcity of offices open on weekends cause long lines on weekends in front of ATMs. The more optimistic, however, manage to profit from the wait. Marilin managed to achieve everything by renting a room in her house to the Chinese students who must, of course, pay in cash.

Asuncion could not stand the pain in her legs and left without her money, while the couple at the end of the line had to buy some ice cream to pacify their restless children. Lazaro was luckier, and in addition to exchanging phone numbers with a French woman whom he met in the crowd, he managed to extract twenty convertible pesos from the ATM to spend that same night. At least this time the blue screen did not appear with the “out of service” announcement, nor was there a power outage and, yes, the machine had cash.

Translated by MLK

Nauta lowers its prices by 50% for Internet / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Lines in Front of Etecsa

Lines in front of Etecsa (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, 18 February 2015 — These days the line outside the State-run Nauta Internet “cafés” all over the country are much longer than usual. The reduction, to half price for Internet connection cards is the reason for such an influx. The special offering, put into effect by the State-run Cuba Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) this last 10 February, will remain in effect until this coming 10 April. Users not have to pay 2.50 CUC (convertible pesos) for one hour of Internet access, instead of the usual 5.00 CUC.

The measure has caused some excitement among customers, hoping that the special offering will be maintained to the end of the year. “It’s still expensive, but if now I have to pay half the price it means I can do twice the work Continue reading

Shortage of Condoms / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Some condoms (CC)

Some condoms (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, ROSA LOPEZ, Pinar del Rio, 12 February 2015 – People in Pinar del Rio didn’t have to wait to read about it in the newspaper Granma. For weeks the popular voice says it, louder and louder. “There are no condoms,” started to be heard like a whisper on the corners. “There are no condoms,” said the couples on hearing it and the teens warned their parents before they went out on Saturday night. “There are no condoms,” howl the pharmacy clerks when their customers dare to ask. The uproar was such that finally this Wednesday the official organ of Communist Party issued a formal answer.

Those who still have a sense of humor, after a month long shortage Continue reading

Learning to live without Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Graffiti in support of Fidel and Raul Castro “With Fidel and Raul Until the End” (14ymedio)

Graffiti in support of Fidel and Raul Castro “With Fidel and Raul Until the End” (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 8 January 2015 — A poster with Fidel Castro’s face is pasted on the glass of the deteriorated locale. Years ago, some naughty boy painted the whites of his eyes dark and the effect is intimidating, but almost nobody sees it. The man who wanted to be indispensable and omnipresent for Cubans, has come to resemble the air, which few perceive although it is everywhere.

Learning to live without Fidel Castro has been an urgent subject for many Cubans during all these years of the convalescence of the Maximum Leader. Lately, however, the rumors of his death have reappeared and there are those who have dusted off the memories or rushed to close the national chapter where he had too much of a starring role.

Adele’s family was one of the first in the Vibora neighborhood to put the phrase “This is your house, Fidel,” on the door. From then until now, this woman has worshiped the man who, in the photo hanging on the wall of her modest house, wears a beard and a military uniform. “I’m a Fidelista to the death,” she says almost angrily in front of her grandchildren who don’t seem to have come out as fervent as their grandmother. “Here, everything bad that has happened, they’ve ignored it,” explains the lady. For her, the absence of recent months is because “surely, he’s writing some book, his memoirs, or something like that.” Continue reading

“This is going to get good” / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

University of Havana (Romtomtom / Flickr)

University of Havana (Romtomtom / Flickr)

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 19 December 2014 – The semester is ending at the University of Havana, a time when everything shuts down until the middle of January. But this year is different. Expectation runs through the corridors and the central plaza on University Hill, and the high attendance, on days close to Christmas, is surprising. Many have come to school these days just to talk with their colleagues about the great news: the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States.

In the humanities departments the debate is greater. “A couple of weeks ago we held a conference about the dangers of American interference… and now this,” says a young sophomore studying sociology, who adds, “I never thought this moment would come so soon.” He has just turned twenty and, when he says “soon,” he is speaking in relation to his own life. For others, the dispute between the two countries has lasted for an eternity. Continue reading

TEDx Lands in Havana / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Herman Portocarrero, ambassador of the European Union Delegation, in Havana during his talk, “Borders Without Borders,” during TEDx Havana (Photo: 14ymedio)

Herman Portocarrero, ambassador of the European Union Delegation, in Havana during his talk, “Borders Without Borders,” during TEDx Havana (Photo: 14ymedio)

For some time, TEDx Havana had been cooking. Those of us who for years have followed the trail of this event, which mixes science, art, design, politics, education, culture and much ingenuity, were counting the days until we could hear on our national stages its stories of entrepreneurship, progress and creativity. Finally, that day arrived, to the gratification of many and the dissatisfaction of many others.

TED is a non-profit organization founded 25 years ago in California, which is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design. Its annual conference has become a feast of ideas and proposals, while the famous “TED Talks” provide a microphone to speakers who inspire their listeners to take on new projects. These talks have, over time, been sneaked into the alternative information networks in Cuba, and they have sparked a desire among the public to see these screen personalities in-person, in the here and now.

For these reasons, there was great anticipation at the news of the imminent landing in our city of that independent – and equally inspiring – part of TED, which is TEDx. The event, named InCUBAndo [“InCUBAting”], took place in the Covarrubias Hall of the National Theatre this past Saturday afternoon. Among the organizers credited in the printed program were the singer Cucú Diamante, the actor Jorge Perugorría, and Andrés Levin, music producer.

We almost did not learn of the arrival of TEDx until 24 hours prior to the curtains being drawn back at the National Theatre.

So, yes, the arrival of this program was literally a landing. The set design in the hall included some little allegorical pink airplanes – the meaning of which many in the audience wondered about – but which turned out to be part of a plastic art installation. Besides which, we almost did not learn of the arrival of TEDx until 24 hours prior to the curtains being drawn back at the National Theatre.

Some flyers distributed at the University of Havana and around the La Rampa cinema last Friday were the first signs to the Havana public that TEDx would arrive in our capital city. Actually, prior to this, the British ambassador to Cuba, Tim Cole, had already announced it on Twitter – but the news only got through to those with Internet access – of which there are very few in this “disconnected city.”

Regardless, as long as we could have TEDx, we were ready to forgive all: the haste of the arrangements, the lack of advertising, and even the “secrecy.” If the event had to occur under these conditions, well, so be it. At any rate, hundreds of Cubans arrived at the scene to hear these exceptional people who were here to tell us their life stories. One of the best presentations was the one titled “Borders Without Borders,” by the diplomat Herman Portocarrero, European Union representative in Cuba.

TEDx Havana participants greet the public at the conclusion of the presentation (Photo: 14ymedio)

TEDx Havana participants greet the public at the conclusion of the presentation (Photo: 14ymedio)

The energy in the X Alfonso Hall could be felt also from Portocarrero’s story of the birth and first steps of the Cuban Art Factory. Meanwhile the founder of the famous La Guarida restaurant tackled the difficult but gratifying path of the entrepreneur. As host, a dynamic and subtly humorous Amaury Pérez was a good link betweeb some parts of the program. Missing, however, were the voices – further away from the worlds of show business and diplomacy – of others whose ingenuity helps them to survive every day, negotiate the commonplace difficulties, and unbuckle themselves from the straightjacket of our reality.

I do not know the process that was employed to select speakers for TEDx Havana, but what I saw on the stage left me a taste of incompleteness and partiality. The dance music seemed intended to fill those voids and distract an audience that mainly had come to hear anecdotes, testimonies and life stories.

Some of the guest speakers politicized the proceedings, favoring, of course, the official line.

The worst moment was without a doubt the segment of extemporaneous versifiers Tomasita and Luis Paz – who in the middle of their improvisations sang praises to the five Cuban spies, of which three are still in prison in the United States. Up until that moment, many of us accepted the rules of TEDx Havana. Faced with the evident absences at those microphones, I believe that we had convinced ourselves that “it was all right that spaces not be politicized that way.” However, as it turned out, some of the guest speakers politicized the proceedings – favoring, of course, the official line.

Even with all the shambles, TEDx Havana leaves a good taste in the mouth – at the least a feeling that there are people not only with much to tell, but with expressiveness and composure in telling it before hundreds of attentive eyes. The experiences of this first edition will serve to better the second opportunity this event will have to take place among us.

If the organizers are open to suggestions for future TEDx events, it would be good to emphasize better and greater promotion prior to this feast of creativity and entrepreneurship. In addition, let us have transparency in the process of selecting the speakers, so that they may compete and audition in advance, from those who have created a small cottage industry of homemade preserves, to even those who, with ingenuity, laugh at censorship or dream of a Cuba where success in accomplishment is not something extraordinary, but commonplace.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison