“We are Isolated But Not Protected”: The Truth About an Isolation Center in Cuba / Miriam Celaya

Dormitory at the isolation center (Author’s photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 30 March 2020 — On March 23rd, in his presentation on the Roundtable broadcast on all Cuban television channels, Cuban Prime Minister, Manuel Marrero Cruz, reported about new official measures that would deepen controls to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Island. Among them, it was established that all Cubans residing in the country, on their arrival from abroad, would be placed in solitary confinement to serve a mandatory two-week quarantine before returning to their respective homes.

In order to comply with this measure, said Marrero Cruz, all the necessary conditions had been created in centers specially designed for such purposes, to which travelers would be driven directly from the airport, under strict police control, and duly transported by State buses. Additionally, it was established that the travelers’ relatives would not have access to the airport to avoid any possible contagion and spread of the disease.

Unlike other practices whose compliance has not yet been verified in practice, the isolation and transfer to isolation centers of Cuban travelers went into effect immediately. continue reading

Magela was one of those Cubans who arrived back in Cuba on Tuesday, March 24th and was surprised by what seemed to her a true state of siege at José Martí Airport in Havana. The police deployment, health personnel and border authorities controlling each traveler, issuing orders and preventing their departure, evoked a Hollywood movie atmosphere.

“There was an air of uncertainty and fear among us” stated Magela. “I know that taking measures to prevent the disease from spreading in Cuba is necessary, but it is such an impressive situation to find all those personnel in their protective suits, and it is so strange to feel treated as someone with the bubonic plague that fear took hold of me. Deep down I felt a very strong wish to cry.”

However, Magela set out to assume the inevitable. In the end, she felt that undergoing quarantine was the safest thing for her and even her own family. It was reasonable and necessary, she told herself. And without protest, with other traveling Cubans like her as companions, she got on the bus that would take them to the isolation center.

“Thus, we entered the center on Tuesday afternoon. They told us that we were in El Cotorro, but I don’t know this place. It is a rural center, away from everything. If you look out the windows, all you see are fields.”

The first thing that surprised Magela at the isolation center was the forced proximity to the rest of the recluses. Several bunk beds were placed too close to each other, forcing promiscuity, as dangerous as it is unnecessary, especially in a facility that, according to those in charge of the place, has a capacity for 600 people.

“There are only around 200 here for now, in addition to the staff, but people crowd in the lines at the dining room because we are all hungry and sometimes meal waiting times are long. Even though they give us protective masks that we must use, there is not enough control over the distance between us. In addition, there are always people who are undisciplined or unaware of the risk.”

To make things worse, men and women share bathrooms on each floor, which further affects privacy. Magela believes that this results from the fact that “they,” the ones in charge, were filling the floors as travelers arrived. It seems that they did not take into account separating the bathrooms used by women from those used by men. It’s terrible.”

Another point that concerns Magela is that of cleanliness. “There are a lot of us, and hygiene is not as it should be. It has been talked about endlessly that hygiene is the most effective measure to combat the corona virus, right?  Well, that is not the case here. In general, everything looks clean, but when you look at the details you realize that the required hygiene is lacking. The mirrors are stained with soap and everyone’s splashes, the normal fluids of personal hygiene — hand, face, mouthwash — are poured in the sink and they do not receive a thorough cleaning. There is also no cleaning in the rooms or hallways.”

I asked one of the people in charge if they have not raised those concerns with management. “They tell us that nobody wants to come to clean because people are afraid of catching it.” Those confined there cannot clean either, since they do not have the resources and means of protection to do so.

It is true that they deliver protective masks and chlorinated solution daily, plus they also supplied the travelers with soap and toilet paper upon arrival, but Magela declares that “conditions were not set up as they should have been. I tell you that it is not the fault of the personnel assisting us, but I do believe that it was the duty of the State to protect us with the necessary means if this confinement was to take place.”

And after a brief pause, she adds: “They (the government and the authorities in charge) think that what they are giving us is more than sufficient and get upset when one asks a question or demands something. And if you protest, they label it a gusanería*. That is not the case.  We are asking about the reality we are living here and not about lies or insults. It turns out that in the end we are isolated but not protected. We are all very afraid of catching it because nobody knows who may or may not be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.”

Of course, no one has been tested to rule out contagion. For this, it is necessary to present symptoms, although this waiting threshold supposes the possibility of infecting others.

Magela says she understands the situation in the country, and the importance of this quarantine, but she is frustrated because she expected better conditions. “I think that the resources that have been invested despite the country’s shortages are useless, since the fundamental thing at the moment is true isolation and hygiene and we have neither.”

“For example, the protective masks are changed every day, but not so the sheets and towels. They tell us that these must come from a company, and we don’t know which or when. I believe that if nobody can come to do the cleaning or if there are no answers to our concerns, they are going to have to find some solution. Let the FAR (Revolutionary Armed Forces) or another organization respond”.

Here I feel compelled to remind Magela that, among the strengths of the Revolution that the high authorities of Cuba so much like to mention, are the mass organizations – CDR (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), FMC (Federation of Cuban Woman), and others – and also that vanguard of society, the PCC (Cuban Communist Party). Perhaps they should designate hygiene care in isolation centers a shock task for the communist militancy. After all, aren’t they the first line of defense fighters? Here is a good time to demonstrate their courage and spirit of sacrifice when the Homeland calls.

Despite everything, Magela does not want to be unfair. “Let me tell you that the food is not bad, considering the shortages that exist in Cuba. In the dining room they give us chicken, rice, beans, salad, ham, yogurt… The truth is that we have nothing to complain in that regard.”

There is also a cafeteria at the center, although not everyone is able to purchase stuff.  “How it works is that they sell us in new Cuban convertible peso (CUP), but the majority of us confined here have US dollars. Let’s remember that there is a ban on taking Cuban currency out of the country and we are returning from abroad with foreign currency.”

This is another detail that the authorities have not taken into account. Consequently, the few who have CUC or national currency – who perhaps took it on their trip abroad in violation of the provisions of the law – now have an advantage over the rest. Thus, the national adage is fulfilled, where the cheater wins, often protected by the State itself.

But there is no end to the calamities. “Another problem is mosquitoes. Although they spray every day, we cannot sleep at night because there are so many mosquitoes.” However, those who are confined on the big Island do not have mosquito nets assigned to them, which introduces the additional risk of a dengue outbreak, another health scourge that is already endemic in Cuba, striking the population with more or less intensity every year. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Magela has little data left on her phone, the balance of the service she purchased is very low, and she still wants to send me some photos. She will not be able to buy a new round of minutes/data to connect to the Internet, nor will she have a way to communicate, unless her family or friends purchase additional time, because there is no free access for the purchase of telephone cards in the center. “Upon arrival, we were told that the Cuban telephone company Etecsa would give each one of us a free 5 CUC phone card to use, but we have not received it yet. They have already told us that people from Etecsa are here, and we are hoping that they will give us the cards today.”

On the other hand, I expect more. I hope that the official practices this time are not just letters piled on paper and all the necessary conditions are created for the safety of our quarantined compatriots, especially in terms of issues related to the strictest hygiene standards, the greatest possible respect for privacy and the proper distance between quarantined inmates. These are the minimum guarantees that we must demand of a Power that professes solidarity and presents itself as humanistic, and that asserts itself as a world-class medical power. There has never been a better time to prove it.

*Gusanería (Nest of maggots) Very informal, pejorative term used when referring to counterrevolutionaries

Bathroom area (Author’s photo)
Isolation Center, Cotorro, Havana (Author’s photo)
Area around the Isolation Center is remote and rural (Author’s photo)
Waiting for food. (Author’s photo)
Interior hallway. (Author’s photo)

Sinks. (Author’s photo)

Support In Depth Reporting on Dengue Fever in Cuba

A fumigation truck in the city of Holguin spraying against the mosquitos that carry Dengue Fever. (14ymedio / Fernando Donate)

A quick reminder…

14ymedio is crowdfunding a project to prepare an in depth multimedia report on Dengue Fever in Cuba.

A modest $2,000 will get the job done. You can contribute through a campaign on Civil Media called “Boost.” Please click here; no amount is too small. continue reading

With Dengue Fever and, In Addition, Beaten

Containers overflowing with garbage on Jovellar Street in Centro Habana, a few meters from the emblematic Vedado. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach | 4 October 2019 — Although health authorities have never declared it a national epidemic, it is no secret to anyone that dengue fever has not only become endemic throughout the Island — with recurrent outbreaks that tend to get worse every summer — but that statistical data on those infected and fatalities who have been infected over the years constitute, to date,  one of the Government’s best kept secrets..

As is often the case in a country where information is the property of the political power, the state of the national health landscape is not in the public domain and the population can only avail itself of its perception to estimate the severity of the infestation.

The state of the national health landscape is not in the public domain and the population can only avail itself of its perception to estimate the severity of the infestation

A few months ago, frequent fumigations in homes and workplaces, added to door to door medical research in each health area were indicators of a greater or lesser expansion of the epidemic outbreak. This went on mostly in Havana, where the highest rates of infestation accumulate due to population concentration and poor sanitary conditions, especially in the poorest and more densely populated neighborhoods. continue reading

However, in recent weeks fuel shortages have affected fumigation cycles, distorting citizens’ perception of the real extent of the epidemic while leaving an expedited gap for the proliferation of the virus transmitting agent, the Aedes Aegypti mosquito.

Officially reluctant to recognize the existence of the epidemic, the government has abandoned its usual practice of applying punitive actions that brand the population directly responsible for the spread of the disease. On Wednesday, several measures were made public, aimed at punishing those who “contribute, through their actions and negligence to the spread of diseases” with penalties ranging from fines to jail time.

The list of potential offenders is extensive. It covers both those who refuse to allow inspection and fumigation of their homes by agents of the “anti-vector campaign” as well as family doctors who do not carry out health measures on Cuban residents returning from travel abroad, officials who profit from resources intended to eradicate the vector, and a long list that includes patients who refuse to be hospitalized for medical attention.

At first glance, the new measures seem to respond to a government concern for public health in line with the seriousness of the health situation that the capital is going through, but such a perception is misleading. In fact, it only serves to mask, by omission, the responsibility of the State in the proliferation of vectors that seriously affect health, confusing public opinion. Another one among the thousand hidden faces of a silenced epidemic.

Thus, following the practice established six decades ago, the government once more attacks the effects and not the causes. The authorities could assume the responsibilities that relate to them and provide for appropriate collection of solid wastes that accumulate throughout the capital, clean and maintain the sewage system, repair the drains of hydraulic networks and cesspools that proliferate everywhere, prune green areas systematically, create adequate and sufficient hospital conditions and maintain an ambulance fleet capable of meeting the demand for the transfer of patients to hospitals, among other essential provisions.

Instead, the government chooses to prepare, as soon as possible, a long list of potential scapegoats who will, when the time comes, atone exclusively for their own sins and those of the Government.

While diseases, guilt and punishment fall primarily on the population, it must, in addition, weather the storm without even having the conditions to avoid contagion

Another long-standing absurdity established by the authorities is the alleged sanitary control at airports under which only travelers residing in Cuba are required to undergo blood tests, while foreign visitors, national or not, enter the country without submitting to any control. Paradoxically, diseases such as AIDS, Zika, Chikungunya and tuberculosis also entered the country through these airports — as has even the African giant snail, which has now become another unbeatable pest —  without, so far, responsibilities having been purged.

While illnesses, guilt and punishment fall primarily on the population, the Cuban people must, in addition, weather the storm without even having access to minimum conditions necessary to try to stay safe from contagion.

While it is public knowledge that it is almost impossible for a large portion of Cubans to get a simple mosquito net for each family member, it is as difficult or more so to create physical window barriers using screens that prevent the insects from entering rooms, or to acquire insecticides to spray homes or repellents to apply on the skin due to the usual shortages in the markets and to the high prices of some of those products, an issue that also depends absolutely on the Government, in those rare instances when they are available.

Cuckolded and beaten, as always happens, Cubans now contemplate helplessly how the maculae of power are again swept under the carpet. Epidemics, deficiencies, sacrifices, repression and punishments remain the guarantees offered by the system. All the same, but worse, in this terribly long Cuban Middle Ages.

Translated by Norma Whiting
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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

We are on the new host

7 July 2019

Dear Readers: As you may have noticed we’ve had some problems with our site recently so we  moved to a new hosting company to try to ensure these problems don’t continue. There still may be some glitches to iron out.

Karen wants us to give a shout out to Hosting Matters for being a terrific hosting company with super-responsive support and nice people.  She uses them for many of her other sites so she’s had a long time to insure they are good folks and will do a good job keeping Translating Cuba up and running.

Although – like we said – there could still be a few glitches here and there as we shake down.  This is a very complicated site with lots of custom programming.

Three Lessons for the Cuban Opposition from the Venezuelan Struggle

Julio Borges y Carlos Vecchio, representatives of Guaidó in Washington, meet with Mike Pence. (VP)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jorge Hernández Fonseca, Lisbon, 8 March 2019 — The struggle of the Venezuelan people to liberate themselves from the Castro-Communist yoke is on the definitive path to victory. The sequence of events that have led to today contain lessons important for the struggle of the Cuban people, for the fundamental reason that the Castro regime provides the main political advisers of the Venezuelan dictatorship and the ones who direct it.

Three important lessons – among others – can be extracted as experience for the Cuban political opposition absorbed in a similar struggle to that of the Venezuelan people for their freedom.

A first lesson is related to the weight that international support has had in this struggle, recognizing, supporting, and encouraging democratic Venezuelans in their effort, above all, the almost total and unconditional support that the United States has offered. For the struggle of the Venezuelan people this is very important, because Cuban opposition sectors insist in keeping their distance from US support, to avoid the inevitable and hackneyed Communist propaganda. Being supported by the US does not mean being their puppet. continue reading

The second lesson that we Cubans must learn is the importance of the exile in the struggle for freedom. We know that the Castroite dictatorship has always sown the seed of division between “Cubans inside and Cubans outside,” a seed that has been absorbed to a certain extent by opposition sectors from within the Island. If, in the case of Chavista Venezuela there is a monolithic external support, it is in large measure the result of the work of the Cuban exile.

There is a third lesson that applies to the Cuban case, increasingly clear in the Venezuelan case. Despite the fact that all of Latin America insists on ruling out an external military solution, we Cubans know that Maduro will not hand over power if he is not forced to do so. When he was alive Fidel Castro coined a phrase that is also valid in Venezuela: “What we obtained by force, they will have to take away from us by force.” In Venezuela it’s a matter of the force being that of the Venezuelan army itself, but if that is not possible, then an outside force.

Additionally, the support for the democratic Venezuelan people to the current struggle is owed in large part to the work of American members of Congress of Cuban origin, like Marco Rubio and Miguel Díaz Balart, among other Cuban American officials, who have contributed decision-making support to the United States presidency, instructing it to take decisive actions in favor of the democracy and freedom of an oppressed and needy Venezuela, even humanitarian aid. The Venezuelan fighters inside the country feel heartfelt thanks for their Latin American brothers and sisters in key positions within the American administration, without feeling self-conscious about that support, selfless and in solidarity, as it is from fellow Latinos.

In Cuba there has been enough division over these three matters, now put on the discussion table and highlighted in the struggle of the Venezuelan people. The dictatorship of Maduro, like the Castro dictatorship, insists on placing the conflicting dichotomy between Chavismo and the US, copying the Castro regime’s outline, which repeats that the Cuban dilemma is not between the oppressed people of the Island and the oppressive dictatorship, but rather between “the Revolution and the US.” No one from the opposition within Venezuela rejects international support and much less do they reject the collaboration of the United States against Maduro. We Cubans must learn that lesson.

Translated by Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

“Joy is Coming”: The “Happy” Campaign That Promoted a NO Vote to End a Dictatorship

The power of cheerful positivity to end a dictatorship.

Lyrics

Chile joy is coming
Chile joy is coming
Chile joy is coming

Because whatever I say, I am free to think
Because I feel it’s time to win freedom
As long as there are abuses, it is time to change
Because enough of misery, I will say no

Because the rainbow is born after the storm
Because I want my ways of thinking to flourish
Because without the dictatorship, joy will come
Because I think about the future, I’m going to say NO

We say no, with the force of my voice
We say no, I sing it without fear
We say no, all together to succeed
We say no, for life and for peace

Get over death, this is the opportunity
To overcome violence with the weapons of peace
Because I believe that my country needs dignity
For a Chile and for all, we say NO

We say no, with the force of my voice
We say no, I sing it without fear
We say no, all together to succeed
We say no, for life and for peace
We say NO

Chile joy is coming
Chile joy is coming
Chile joy is coming

Translating Cuba: 288+ Translators, 426 Cuban Writers

Cuentapropista (self-employment) Cuban-style 2008. Taken in a doorway in Havana. (MJ Porter)

8 January 2019: As of today, our records show that 288 translators (who have chosen to identify themselves; many have not) have translated 426 Cubans (a number which includes mostly individual names but also organizations/groups).

THANK YOU TO EVERYONE who has made and continues to make this project possible.

On 8 January 2008, one of the project founders, on her first and only trip to Cuba, was at the Havana Malecon for a rather desultory celebration of the 49th anniversary of the bearded ones’ entry to Havana: some fireworks and a rather small crowd dutifully shouting Viva! call-and-response style.

If anyone had suggested that 11 years later…

With Yailin and Yoerky, ‘Generation Y’ Arrives at the Head of ‘Granma’ and ‘Juventud Rebelde’

Yoerky Sánchez Cuéllar, new director of ‘Juventud Rebelde’ and Yailin Orta Rivera, new director of ‘Granma’. (CC)

Both directors were born during the years of the Soviet presence on the Island, grew during the Special Period and have lived much of their lives under the dual currency system

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 December 2017 — After several weeks without someone formally in charge, the job of director of Granma, official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), was entrusted on Tuesday to Yailin Orta Rivera, who held the same position on the newspaper Juventud Rebelde.

The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the PCC issued a brief press release in which it states that Orta graduated in 2006 with a degree in Journalism from the University of Havana and began her work as an editor. At 34, the young woman’s career was on an upward trajectory within Juventud Rebelde, where she “was promoted successively to head of department, assistant director and director.”

Orta is a member of the PCC and a member of the National Committee of the Young Communists Union. Her name and photo still do not appear in the Who are we? section on Granma’s digital site. As of Wednesday, the section still includes the fired director Pelayo Terry Cuervo, even though he was removed from office almost a month ago. The reasons for his sudden removal were not stated, then or now, though speculation abounds.

Orta has been replaced at Juventud Rebelde  by Yoerky Sánchez Cuéllar, a 2007 journalism graduate from the Central University of Las Villas, who started his career as an editor for the Vanguardia newspaper in Villa Clara.

Sánchez, also 34 years old, formerly directed Alma Mater magazine, is a member of the Central Committee of the PCC and a deputy in the National Assembly. In several parliamentary sessions in which he has participated he has recited décimas – sonnet-like poems – dedicated to Fidel Castro, José Martí and socialism.

With the arrival of Orta and Sánchez, the two main newspapers of the country are now led by members of Generation Y, young people in Cuba who were born during the years of the Soviet presence on the Island, grew up during the Special Period, and have lived a good part of their lives under the dual currency system. The name of the generation comes from the tendency of at that time to give their children names beginning with “Y.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

With Water Chest-high / Camilo Venegas Yero

Playing dominoes in Cuba after Irma.

Camilo Venegas Yero (from his blog “El Fogonero”), Dominican Republic, 11 September 2017 — I found this image on a Facebook wall. It illustrates today’s Cuba like few others. In it, it is clear that the ruined country survives from catastrophe to catastrophe, without producing anything that makes it move in any direction (when you’re stuck any movement is better than nothing).

The sea, driven by Hurricane Irma, fills the streets of Havana. It would seem there is no time to lose, however this group of Havanans wastes it playing dominoes. Shortly before I saw this photo, I read a dialog between Dominicans. They commented on “the great discipline of the Cuban people.”

“It is admirable,” one of them said, “everything the Revolution does to minimize the impact of these natural disasters.” Another noted the million people evacuated, and even that a group of actors had performed to ease the stress of the refugees. continue reading

Is it perhaps that there is not a great concentration of victims in Cuba? The problem for Cubans is not the tensions of a storm, but the poverty-stricken daily life that awaits them after its passage. I was tempted to share this image with the Dominicans, but these kinds of discussions already exhaust me.

Tomorrow, when the waters return to their level, they will steal something, or buy something stolen, or – if they are fortunate enough to have a family member in exile – call them to resolve their problems. Today the sea is chest high, tomorrow it will be reality that causes the same feeling of suffocation.

That is why they can’t think of anything better to do than to sit in the water and shuffle the dominos.

Cuba Awaits Irma, One of the Most Powerful Hurricanes in its History, With Empty Markets

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez/Mario Penton, Havana-Miami, 6 September 2017 — After devastating Antigua and Barbuda, Hurricane Irma continues to approach Cuba with sustained winds of more than 180 miles/hour. The islander’s residents are anxious buy food, candles and materials to reinforce doors or windows but the chronic shortages of the last weeks are aggravated by the increase in demand.

In Baracoa, one of the cities that is most afraid of the approach of a new hurricane because it has not yet recovered from the previous one, people took to the streets this morning in search of food that does not need refrigeration and that can withstand the scourge of humidity, but found very little to buy. continue reading

“There are no cookies nor milk powder, nor are they selling candles and the bakeries have had very long lines since dawn,” Humberto López, a resident of the town whose home lost its roof during Hurricane Matthew, lamented on the phone, adding that he did not want “that monster come here.”

The Cuban economy has suffered since the beginning of the economic crisis in Venezuela. This year Raúl Castro’s government announced a cut of US $1.5 billion in imports in the first half of the year, with a direct effect on the retail market.

Despite an increase in remittances and tourism, the Cuban economy depends to a large extent on contracts signed with Caracas, which supplies some 60,000 barrels of oil a day in exchange for thousands of Cuban specialists camped out in its territory.

Cuban authorities have declared a hurricane alert for the center and east of the country, the step that precedes the hurricane alarm, just as the winds begin to beat the island. So far this century, Cuba has faced about 15 hurricanes with losses of more than 26 billion dollars, according to official figures.

Hurricanes that have hit Cuba by region. Source: National Meteorological Institute.

In the market at 3rd and 7th streets, in the west of the Cuban capital, the number of customers has not yet increased significantly, but in the the stores refrigerators this Wednesday there are only chicken pieces, hotdogs and a few packets of ground meat. The most cautious are, for the most part, owners of private businesses who don’t want to run out of supplies.

“There is no toilet paper, there are only small bottles of water and milk there is nothing for days,” laments Yusnier, a young entrepreneur who helps his mother rent three rooms to tourists. “We have to guarantee the foreigners breakfast every day and this hurricane puts everything at risk.”

These were the shelves of Nuevo Milenio market in La Timba this Wednesday. Without milk, tomato sauce or tuna, dozens of Havanans came to the store to stock up on provisions. (14ymedio)

If Irma were to hit the island as a category 5 storm on the Saffir Simpson scale, it would enter the record books as one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit the largest of the Antilles; since records have been kept, starting in 1791, only three hurricanes of this intensity have reached the Cuban coast.

According to data from the Institute of Meteorology, 115 hurricanes have hit Cuba since 1791. Of these, 14 hurricanes had an intensity in the winds between 130-156 mph, corresponding to category 4 an the scale and about 16 reached category 3 (111-129 mph).

In the main agricultural markets of the capital, people’s anxiousness to store food is already apparent. A pound of black beans, which costs the official salary of a working day in places such as San Rafael Street or 19th and B in Vedado, were selling like hot cakes as of yesterday afternoon. “It’s something that does not spoil and that can withstand rain and wind,” said a customer this morning in front of a display of chickpeas.

Left: Hurricanes that have hit Cuba by category. Right: Months in which hurricanes have hit Cuba.

On a tour of hotels near the coast of Havana it is not yet possible to see the warning signs. “The city has not yet been formally put on alert so we do not have the authority to allocate resources to cover the windows or take other protective actions,” an employee of the Deauville hotel, who preferred to remain anonymous, told this newspaper.

The cays located in the north of the island, one of the main tourist centers of the country, are among the most affected. At a time of increases in tourism, Irma could force the authorities to carry out mass evacuations of travelers from the areas in greatest danger and move them to other tourist centers, in a country with a hotel capacity, as of the end of 2015, of only 63,000 rooms.

The authorities have warned that the main dangers associated with Hurricane Irma are wind, rain and sea penetrations. In 2008 the penetration of the sea in Baracoa, the first city founded in Cuba, completely destroyed its malecón and the first row of houses of that city. That image was replayed with the scourge of Hurricane Matthew and could be repeated with the approaching passage of Irma.

Set Fire To Havana In Order To Hide The Body? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Fire at the store “La Mezclilla” (Photo archive)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 21 February 2017 – People say that when an event happens repeatedly it stops being an accident. The fire that took place on Monday, February 20th, 2017, in “La Mezclilla” store, in the neighborhood of San Leopoldo (Municipality of Centro Habana) is the third one in less than a month in a State-owned business in that municipality.

The first incidents occurred in an establishment dedicated to the assembly and sale of paintings and mirrors (Subirana Street, Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood); while the second, which took place a few days ago, started in the appliances department of the commercial complex known as La Feria de Rayo (Calle Rayo, in Chinatown). continue reading

So today’s fire adds to the mysterious tendency of “spontaneous combustion” that is becoming viral in State stores, which most suspicious Habaneros tendentiously attribute to the offensive the Comptroller General has been carrying out In different companies and that are exposing numerous pilfering, shortages and corruption, especially in centers dealing in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) or the Cuban pesos (CUP) equivalents.

Fans of Mathematics cannot avoid the temptation to relate fires directly to the offices of the comptroller, as summarized in the following axiom: “An increase in in controllers is directly proportional to an increase in state-owned businesses fires”

True or not, the causes of these strange fires have not been clarified by the authorities thus far. In fact, these fires have not even been reported in the national media, perhaps because they are attributed to an accidental and “local” character, or because – in the midst of all the material deprivation and social discontent- it is wiser not to stoke the flames.

Some residents of the buildings adjacent to the fires point out that firefighters and other specialized forces that have acted in these cases have offered them the questionable explanation that it’s possible that the buildings’ aging electrical systems have not withstood the overload caused by the “high consumption” of these establishments, which sparked the initial fire in the wires. This explanation does not convince anyone, especially taking into account that the wiring of foreign exchange stores is independent and much newer than the systems for the municipality’s residential sector and, in theory, was previously calculated on the basis of electricity usage for this type of premises.

Additionally, the plan of rigorous savings in electricity that has been applied to the foreign exchange stores for a little more than a year suggests the opposite: a decrease in consumption. For example, it is well known that all stores are required to comply with a plan of “energy indicators” which the stores cannot surpass, under penalty of losing certain bonuses. This forces store employees to turn off the air conditioning equipment according to a schedule previously established by management, and as a result employees and customers alike have to withstand the suffocating heat in the stores, which are not well ventilated, since they were designed for the constant use of air conditioning.

The chronic shortages in these businesses of late has also lightened the burden on consumption, since many freezer/refrigerators, where frozen products were once stored have been turned off and are out of service, which also tends to weaken the version of the “electrical overload “as the cause of fires.

But it happens that, in addition, there are notorious antecedents that reinforce the malicious comments at the popular level, and are feeding the rumors. No one has forgotten that a few years ago there was a big fire in the “La Puntilla” store, and it was well known in the street that the incident was initiated by a few employees who were involved in an enormous embezzlement. Setting fire to the store was the swiftest recourse they found to have the evidence for the crime disappear.

A similar case, equally silenced by the authorities, was the fire which some sources considered intentional that took place about a year ago in the basement of the popular Yumurí store (formerly known as “La Casa de los Tres Quilos [The House of the Three Pennies] located at the corner of Reina and Belascoaín Roads, also in Centro Habana, right in the marketplace department.

One does not have to be overly surprised. Cuba’s own history shows more than one example of how the displeasure of criollos has been expressed by flames. Thus, we have episodes like the Bayamo fire by the Independence Forces, the one in the city of Cárdenas, by Narciso López, and the incendiary torch that ruined the economy of not a few property and land owners in the 19th Century, among other notorious events, fruit of the pyromaniac national tradition.

In summary, whether or not the rumors are true, the fact is that several state businesses from different parts of the capital are suffering in these days a kind of fiery epidemic. If there really were a relationship between fires, embezzlement and bad management, the whole island of Cuba would be close to burning from one end to another.

Just in case, it would be advisable that, going forward, controllers begin to consider the possibility of carrying out their rigorous controls while supported by teams of firemen, cisterns and fire trucks… to see if at least they are able to do it before the flames.