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

Abel Prieto Attacks The “Packet” and “Technological Nomadism” / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Cuba Pavilion, where the Cultural Consumer Forum meets in Cuba: Art, Culture, Education and Technology

Cuba Pavilion, where the Cultural Consumer Forum meets in Cuba: Art, Culture, Education and Technology

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana / 1 November 2014 — Why do young people prefer video games to the high-flown revolutionary exploits that national television displays? Is the audio-visual “packet” displacing official programming? Those questions hang in the air – although without being directly enunciated – at the Forum on Cultural Consumption in Cuba: Art, Culture, Education and Technology, which is being held this weekend in the Mayo Room of the Cuba Pavilion.

Participating in the official event are Abel Prieo*, Raul Castro’s adviser on cultural topics, Miguel Barnet and other members of the Cuban Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC) and the Saiz Brothers Brigade. The meeting of intellectuals takes a critical stance in the face of an avalanche of material – uncontrolled by government – that is circulating within the country, especially through the so-called “packet” or “combo” that is distributed by alternative means.

The manifest purpose of this event is to diagnose the ways culture is consumed in Cuba and accordingly “to create an alternative platform for art, education and new technologies and in this way reach a much wider audience.”

Abel Prieto stated in one of the sessions that it seemed to him “that the intellectual position of irrational rejection of new ways of consuming culture is as harmful as that of a post-modern relativism which accepts everything as good. That relativism brings us a blurring of precisely the objectives of a cultural policy, the objectives of the humanism that today is absolutely in bad shape.”

In the forum several references were made to the topic of video games, and Prieto himself judged it as “a complex and dialectical process,” to immediately add that “some are inoffensive, but others are essentially violent and become an addiction.”

Cuba thus seems to be peeping out to the great modern debates about violence and addiction to which video games may give rise, but for the moment it is only permitted to publicly discuss a portion of those involved in the possible problem. The government’s cultural policy tries to determine from above what each Cuban sees on his television screen and what is good or bad for his subsequent social attitude.

Abel Prieto also attacked the “packet” and “technological nomadism” through storage devices like USB memory. The ex-minister of culture opined that “one of the tricks of these new ways of consuming culture is that they give the idea that the person is choosing what he wants to consume, but he does it from the paradigms that are imposed on him. Democracy and diversity are hidden beneath a trap of the hegemonic agenda of the entertainment.”

As evidence that the ruling party surrenders before the existence of those phenomena, Prieto ventured that “we have to promote more diverse and inclusive packets.” The problem is that the greater part of the Cuban people are no longer willing to have officialdom make their audiovisual menu for them.

Tedium, low-quality production, excessive ideology and secrecy have for too long characterized the audiovisual products cooked up in the laboratories of the Communist Party Central Committee Department of Revolutionary Orientation (DOR), the entity that governs television programming and the content of all national press media.

However, the recent speeches in the Forum also hint at alarm. Abel Prieto asserted that “at no time will the State cede to private individuals the decision of cultural policy.” His immediate call “to not demonize new cultural consumption in an authoritarian manner” did not manage to erase the implicit threats in his prior words.

“Hopefully knowledge and cultural information will come into fashion,” concluded Prieto, but he failed to include in that sentence the adjectives “revolutionary” or “politically correct” which always hang over every audiovisual production promoted and encouraged by the ruling party.

Regrettably, culture continues to be governed more by political statements than by demands for education or personal growth.

This morning the Forum’s sessions will continue, missing the voices that defend video games, the “packet,” and the democratization of information.

*Translator’s note: After being ousted as Minister of Culture Prieto was given the title of “Cultural Advisor.”

Translated by MLK

“I will not return to the classroom if I am not paid a decent salary,” a teacher declares / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

First day of this school year (14ymedio)

First day of this school year (14ymedio)

14ymedio, ROSA LÓPEZ, Havana | October 10, 2014 – The mass exodus of teachers from the classroom has been, according to the official press, the theme of meetings between the Education minister, Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, and her department heads. The official admitted that “there are questions that need to be addressed in our country, which will be resolved in due time when the right conditions are in place.” Her words do not placate the dissatisfaction of workers in the education sector with low salaries and poor working conditions.

According to data provided by Velázquez Cobiella, in the last school year, “427 education workers resigned because of disagreements with their evaluations; 166 because of the issue of proximity to their places of residence; 766 for failing to obtain a raise; 37 for dissatisfaction with the teaching methods; and 2,343 cited personal problems.” These statistics contrast with the widely-shared opinion that low wages are the principal cause driving teachers from the classroom.

“I told them I was leaving to care for my sick mother, but actually I just couldn’t stand the heavy workload and low salary any longer,” says Cristina Rodríguez, who taught elementary school for almost twenty years in the municipality of Cerro. Like her, many others have claimed family difficulties or health problems in order to free themselves from a burden they have found too heavy to bear.

“The highest leadership of the nation is aware of the problem and has the will to solve it, but this will be done in an orderly manner and when the country’s economy permits it,” said the minister. Her words were a bucket of ice water thrown on the education sector’s expectations for better compensation.

Around the middle of this year, public health professionals received a significant raise, which fanned the flames of hope for similar actions in other branches of service. However, the measure has not been extended to other departments.

A big unanswered question is: When can educators expect to be paid more decent salaries?

Among the criticisms that have emerged in discussions between the Education minister and other officials is the burdensome paperwork imposed on education workers. Every teacher is supposed to maintain files on incidents in the classroom, and others that include extracurricular information, such as family evaluations, community assessments, and those well-known reports that are more police-like in nature than education-related. The minister supported limiting such bureaucratic activities to the registry of assistance and evaluation, and to the students’ cumulative records.

There are approximately 10,366 educational institutions whose principal purpose is to stem the flow of teachers to other lines of work. “I will not return to the classroom if they don’t pay me a decent salary,” asserts Martha Vázquez, a special education teacher. Thousands of teachers echo this sentiment as they do other work across the country.

A big unanswered question is: When can educators expect to be paid more decent salaries that keep pace with the cost of living? In the meantime, classrooms will continue to lose valuable teachers who will end up behind the counter at a cafeteria, or in the void of unemployment.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Alert Sounded in the Informal Market / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Photo: Exterior of Terminal 2 of José Martí International Airport

Photo: Exterior of Terminal 2 of José Martí International Airport

Unauthorized vendors welcome new customs regulation with caution as they prepare to redefine strategies

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 3 September 2014 — “Call me from a land line” instructs the classified ad placed by Mauro Izquierdo, vendor of electrical household appliances. He has a wide range of items on offer, from air conditioning units to toasters, but his specialty is flat-screen TVs. This morning, his cautious response to all callers was: “Right now I’m in the midst of redefining my pricing structure until everything settles down with the new customs regulations.”

Mauro is but one strand in the complex tapestry of unauthorized vendors who are living through anxious moments with the new restrictions imposed by the General Customs of the Republic. Price increases are imminent in the black market, given that a good part of the merchandise offered through its networks enters the country via the flight baggage of so-called “mules.” “I have ceased all operations for the time being, because I don’t know if I will get the accounts with new prices that have been imposed on the airports,” the able merchant confirms.

His clients also have been preparing for the increase.”I’m finishing construction on my house and I had to run to buy lamps, bulbs and bathtub plumbing for the bathroom, because all of that might become unavailable very soon,” said Georgina M., looking to the future, as she concludes construction on a new residence in the western township of Candelaria.

14ymedio contacted approximately 20 vendors offering merchandise on classifieds sites such as Revolico and Cubisima. Although previously-listed products remained at their advertised prices, any orders going forward would come “with with new tariffs added to the price,” according to various distributors. Last week, Leticia was offering hair dryers, massage machines, and hair removers. However, now she is planning to raise prices by about 20 or 25 per cent on each product so as to be able to “finance the payments that those who bring the items into the country must make at Customs.”

The advance notice given of the new rules has allowed many people to be prepared. Rogelio, a Panataxi driver who makes trips from Terminal 2 of José Martí International Airport, refers to how even “two days before the new restrictions went into effect, what people brought was incredible — suitcases upon suitcases.” Even so, he noted that since yesterday, “travelers seem more cautious and, among those I have transported, I have seen a decrease in the amount of baggage they’re carrying.” Another taxi driver joined the conversation, saying that “people have now been made to jump through hoops.”

Even so, for other alternative vendors, the new measures barely affect their supply chain. “I buy space in the ‘containers’ of people who are on official missions, working in the embassies and consulates throughout the world, and that is how I bring in my merchandise — therefore the new rules don’t touch me,” boasted a seller of lawnmowers and commercial refrigerators, who enhances his ads with attractive photos of each unit and the guarantee that it’s “all done with proper documentation.”

It is still too early to measure the true impact on the informal market of the new customs rules, but sellers as well as merchants are preparing for the worst.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison