“You Have To Eat A Bread That Has Dignity” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Baker Alberto Gonzalez in front of 'Salchipizza’s' oven. (14ymedio)

Baker Alberto Gonzalez in front of ‘Salchipizza’s’ oven. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 September 2015 — I just wanted to reach Carlos III Avenue. Pass quickly through Infanta Street, avoiding the propped up arcades, to catch a collective taxi and go home. This street, named for royalty, is too woven into the memories of my childhood not to lament every pothole, every sewer leak draining across the sidewalks, every balcony on the point of collapse. However, this week the avenue had a surprise for me, in the shape of a smile and the aroma of bread.

Alberto Gonzalez is an entrepreneur, “a little crazy” say those who predicted he would never launch his artisan bakery, much less in a neighborhood where many eat this staple only through their meager portion from the ration market. Determination, stubbornness and a good dose of optimism have combined so that Salchipizza, his private business, is efficient, well run, with varied offerings in the midst of this heir without the right to a throne that is Infanta Street.

Amid the bustle of customers who come to buy, Alberto gave me a moment for this interview about his personal history, the obstacles faced by the self-employed, and his dreams for the future. It comes to 14ymedio readers with the freshness of bread just out of the oven.

Yoani Sanchez. Chemical engineer, specialist in water treatment, and emigrant living in Italy for 14 years. Why did you return to Cuba?

Alberto Gonzalez. For the values ​​we are losing and because of the poor diet on the island. We Cubans eat anything. I think to open a business in a place as central as this, 562 Infanta Street between Valle and Zapata, I can help rescue those values, that culinary tradition that we have always had. A Cuban child today doesn’t know what an apple is, what bread tastes like… they only know what pizza is, or a hamburger.

A Cuban child today doesn’t know what an apple is, what bread tastes like… they only know pizza… a hamburger.

Sanchez. And why did you choose to open a bakery, when you trained as a chef and even achieved a Michelin star?

Gonzalez. I ask myself that question. Why bread? If someone searches the internet for the phrase “breads of Cuba” almost nothing shows up in the results. It is an offense that we don’t have on this island something that identifies us with respect to bread. When bread is identity, union, family.

Sanchez. Anything emotional uniting the flour, the yeast, the oven?

Gonzalez. When my grandmother died in 2011, the last phrase she uttered in life was “this is not bread.” She was in the hospital, very sick with cancer and I returned from Italy to see her at the hospital. She asked me for a piece of bread and I bought her one from one of the Sylvain bakeries. When I gave it to her to try she said, “This is not bread.” Then I ran home to knead her a special one, with her recipe for “whole wheat bread,” but she died before she could eat it. Because of this I told myself, “If I open a business in Cuba it will be to make bread.”

Sanchez. Why locate the bakery in Central Havana, a neighborhood with such precarious material circumstances?

“My biggest dream is to stand in a plaza and cook for thousands of Cubans. Whether in the Plaza of the Revolution with a giant kitchen, or in Infanta Street.”

Gonzalez. If someone wants to do something beautiful, they must start with the most ugly part. The values of the human being that we must rescue first are here. Here, people with a piece of high quality bread can begin to save themselves, to rediscover their values. It is not only about filling a hole of hunger with bread, but it has this personality. You have to eat a bread with dignity.

Sanchez. Is there a touch of madness in the decision to open this business?

Gonzalez. Yes, it’s crazy to go back to the raw ingredients. It is crazy to open a business as small as this, without resources, without knowing where you can find ingredients and having to deal with the amount of culinary ignorance on all sides.

Sanchez. I see on the menu you have cornbread, fine herbs, eggplant, fennel seed cookies and even whole wheat bread. How do you maintain such a range in the midst of the food shortages this country is experiencing?

Gonzalez. I am in the process of repatriation to Cuba and that only allows me periods of ninety days in my own country. After that the current law forces me to leave, so I go to Mexico and bring in many of the seeds, flours for those suffering from celiac disease, whole wheat, in my personal luggage.

Sanchez. What do you most need to bring in from abroad?

Gonzalez. Finocchietto (fennel), a very tasty seed that we put in some cookies.

Sanchez. You have an image here with a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. with his most famous phrase. And the dream of Alberto Gonzalez? What is it?

'Salchipizza' Bread, owned by Alberto Gonzalez. (14ymedio)

‘Salchipizza’ Bread, owned by Alberto Gonzalez. (14ymedio)

Gonzalez. My biggest dream is to stand in a plaza and cook for thousands of Cubans. Whether in the Plaza of the Revolution with a giant kitchen, or in Infanta Street. To unite all the cooks in Cuba to make a dish together and to have people come and eat for free.

Sanchez. What would you make in that case?

Gonzalez. A dish that unites Italy and Cuba: cornmeal made ​​with cheese and crab.

Sanchez. What is the main obstacle to private sector development and entrepreneurship in Cuba?

Gonzalez. The raw materials and inspectors. They still haven’t authorized wholesale markets to sell raw materials and they don’t allow self-employed people to import commercial products. There is no stability in the quality of the products. Sometimes the flour is good, other times it’s terrible. So I go to Mexico to bring the “core” and the yeast, which lets me make a higher yield bread than we offer. It I want to maintain my offerings I have to do it this way, because it’s very clear to me that the continuity of the product makes the work excellent.

Those are the major obstacles and also the taxes. For example, I have to pay a large sum—about three thousand Cuban pesos—on electricity for the oven, but I hoped that to pay taxes and be a good contributor, this bill would come with certain benefits, with discounts, but it’s not like that.

Sanchez. Are you licensed for a “bakery”?

“My license is for ‘preparer of light food.’ There is no license for a bakery. So I am always afraid of being told, ‘You can not continue in this occupation’.”

Gonzalez. The license is very general: “preparer of light food,” not something specific to bake and sell bread. There is no a license to own a bakery. So I am always afraid of being told “you cannot continue in this occupation.” I went several times to the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) to see if they could make any adjustment in the law, but it’s still the same.

Sanchez. This coming October 10 is Salchipizza’s first birthday. What is your assessment of the health of the business?

Gonzalez. I rate it as good, because I have made myself known to people. This coming year I will sell a little more.

Sanchez. A tip for those who want to open a business in Cuba?

Gonzalez. That they think twice: first, “think about it”; two “think about it” … Three, “see if you can open it.”

A Child Writes the Tragedy of a People in the Sand / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Front page of Spain's El Pais, 3 September

Front page of Spain’s El Pais, 3 September

I am innocent and I have come to the seashore 
Gaston Baquero

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 3 September 2015 – There is a boy on the beach, he does not move, he does not smile, he does not build sand castles. The life of Aylan Kurdi has been brief: only three years, but the drama of his people has lasted decades, centuries. A tragedy that sheds light on the displaced, on wars, on the overwhelming economic contrasts that mark this planet. The little head that rests in the sand encompasses the pain of those who flee, who leave everything behind, but who never arrive at their destination.

A people who escapes always understands better another who emigrates. They know the pain of saying goodbye to things that are left behind. Goodbye table. Goodbye tree. Goodbye window, from which every day they gaze upon the sunrise, and the horror. Goodbye friends. There is always a touch of innocence, of blind hope in those who leave, as if they are filled with the certainty that they will reach the other side. Continue reading

Cloud Seeding or the Sword of Voltus V / Yoani Sanchez

The Japanese anime Voltus V

The Japanese anime Voltus V

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, 28 August 2015 — Undone, with the sparks of short circuits clouding his vision and the cabin smashed into smithereens, Voltus V faced the worst end against a fearsome enemy. However, at the last minute, he drew his sword and in a clean cut slew his enemy. Japanese anime, so popular on the island during the eighties, seems to have inspired the Cuban authorities in their tendencies to hold off on certain solutions until a problem has already resulted in the worst ravages.

This has happened with the recent announcement that, as of this coming September 15, a campaign will begin to “artificially increase the rain.” Through a technique known as “cloud seeding,” Pyrocartridges will be launched from a Russian Yak-40 plane so that the water vapor particles will condense, and this condensation will produce precipitation, according to the official press.

The first reaction of many on reading the news was to wonder why they hadn’t done something like this earlier. Did the country have to get to its current state of hydrological emergency for Voltus V to draw his sword? With the dams at no more than 36% of capacity and 25 reservoirs completely dry–at the so-called “death point”–now the experts from the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH) propose to bombard the clouds? Continue reading

The Missing Statistics On Women In Cuba / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Gender violence affects an unknown number of victims in Cuba every day, but the statistics of these reprehensible acts do not come to light. (Silvia Corbelle / 14ymedio)

Gender violence affects an unknown number of victims in Cuba every day, but the statistics of these reprehensible acts do not come to light. (Silvia Corbelle / 14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, 25 August 2015 — In the neighborhood of Cayo Hueso everyone knew her as “the woman with the machete slashes.” You didn’t have to get too close to see the scars on her arms. These marks for life were made one night when her husband returned home with more alcohol than patience and, machete in hand, went after her. He was in prison for a couple of years and afterwards returned to the same tenement room where the fight had been. “He didn’t have any place else to live and the police didn’t get him out of here,” she said, apologetically. Gender violence creates an unknown number of victims every day in Cuba, but the statistics on these acts are not made public.

For weeks now, marking the 55th anniversary of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), we’ve had to hear on television and in the official press the numbers of women who have achieved administrative positions, who are at the helm of a company, a part of Parliament or who have managed to graduate from college. They stuff us full of only some of the numbers, to show that the women’s emancipation has reached this country, while remaining silent on the data about the dark side of reality, where the man commands and the woman obeys. Continue reading

Yusmila Reyna: “UNPACU’s Challenge Is To Turn Sympathizers into Activists” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

UNPACU activist Yusmila Reyna. (Facebook)

UNPACU activist Yusmila Reyna. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 August 2015 – A philologist by training, a dissident by passion, and an activist with the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) by choice, Yusmila Reyna (b. 1976) is today one of the most important figures in the opposition. She speaks slowly, moves easily through technology issues and seeks perfection in everything she does.

Since joining UNPACU, this woman has known how to leave the imprint of a part of her personality on the movement. This week we exchanged messages through the State Nauta service about the fourth anniversary of the opposition organization. In her free minutes between her young daughter and daily challenges, Yusmila responded to some questions for 14ymedio.

Sanchez. Four years after the founding of the UNPACU, what is the main challenge of the organization?

Reyna. To motivate and move thousands of Cubans to join the peaceful struggle for freedom. That is the great challenge of all opposition. Although we have achieved certain results, the reality is that we have much left to do.

Sanchez. Who are the members of UNPACU and how many are there?

Reyna. We have had many ups and downs in the course of these four years. Many have joined, but not everyone can bear the pressures of the repressive forces. Between the eastern region and Camaguey is where we are best organized. We now have about 2,500 activists. In the rest of the country we are not in a condition to establish numbers right now. In the central and western regions we are reorganizing, restructuring and trying to identify the leadership to sustain the fight. Continue reading

The Other Flag / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, in his Friday meeting with dissidents in Havana

Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, in his Friday meeting with dissidents in Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 15 August 2015 — Six hours after the hoisting of the Stars and Stripes at the US embassy along the Malecon, a similar ceremony occurred on 150th Street in the Cubanacan neighborhood where the official residence of Jeffrey DeLaurentis, charge d’affaires of that country, is located.

All of the heads of the United States Interest Section have lived in this mansion in recent years, and there is a flagpole in its garden. Across from it, congregated hundreds of guests who did not physically fit in the small space where hours earlier American and Cuban officials had witnessed the symbolic act that opened the US embassy in Havana. Continue reading

‘A Conflict of Eras Is Unfolding in Cuba’ / 14ymedio, Atlantic Monthly, Yoani Sanchez

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People gather outside the US embassy in Havana on August 14, Alexandre Meneghini / Reuters

Atlantic Monthly/14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 15 August 2015 — My grandchildren will ask, “Were you there, grandma?” The answer will be barely a monosyllable accompanied by a smile. “Yes,” I will tell them, although at the moment the flag of the United States was raised over its embassy in Havana I was gathering opinions for a story, or connected to some Internet access point. “I was there,” I will repeat.

The fact of living in Cuba on August 14 makes the more than 11 million of us participants in a historic event that transcends the raising of an insignia to the top of a flagpole. We are all here, in the epicenter of what is happening.

For my generation, as for so many other Cubans, it is the end of one stage. It does not mean that starting tomorrow everything we have dreamed of will be realized, nor that freedom will break out by the grace of a piece of cloth waving on the Malecón. Now comes the most difficult part. However, it will be that kind of uphill climb in which we cannot blame our failures on our neighbor to the north. It is the beginning of the stage of absorbing who we are, and recognizing why we have only made it this far. Continue reading

Drivel and Anniversaries: Cuban Television is a Wreck / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Cuban TV prime time news

Cuban TV prime time news

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 29 July 2015 — Twenty minutes after the start of the news, the only things they had announced were the anniversaries of historic events and obituaries. As if nothing has happened in the country now. For the evening prime time news, the world stopped fifty years ago and remains only something to remember and honor. Even the weather has mothballs. A “good night” concludes the broadcast and we viewers hold out unfounded hope for what could be the best part of the line-up. But nothing.

Cuban television is experiencing one of its worst moments. Programming oscillates between the stiffness of ideology and American programming taken without any regard for copyright. So, we go from a tearful documentary about the birth of Hugo Chavez, to the intrigue of the series Castle, where a murderer manages to escape at the last second. One channel re-broadcasts Machado Ventura’s soporific 26th of July speech, and on another some kids learn to cook recipes that could never be made in Cuba because of the lack of ingredients. Continue reading

The Revolutionary Mass is Held at Dawn / 14ymedio, 26 July 2015

The official ceremony to commemorate the assault on the Moncada Garrison was celebrated at dawn. (EFE)

The official ceremony to commemorate the assault on the Moncada Garrison was celebrated at dawn. (EFE)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 26 July 2015 — The liturgy does not change. The anniversary event for the Day of National Rebellion took place this Sunday in front of the Moncada Barracks. A script where each detail is repeated year after year, like a rite empty of emotion and surprises. The only novelty on this occasion has been the hour chosen for the start. At 5:12 in the morning National TV began the broadcast of the event from a plaza in darkness with an orator yawning in the dawn.

The second secretary of the Communist Party, Jose Ramon Ventura, was charged with the annual speech for the 26th of July. Any study of the television audience would reveal that the only viewers of the small screen at this hour were the insomniacs looking for something to entertain them and the journalists chasing headlines. Both nocturnal creatures ended up disappointed. There was no entertainment nor news. Continue reading

Cult of Personality in Cuban Parliament / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Raul-Castro-Revolucion-Nikolai-Leonov_CYMIMA20150715_0001_16

The cover of the book “Raul Castro: A Man in Revolution ‘Nikolai Leonov.

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, 15 July 2015 — The cult of personality has a thousand ways of showing itself. From the face that stares out from every schoolroom wall, to the flattery with which the government journalists refer to certain officials. It would seem, however, that the times of greatest excess in the veneration of a figure had been left behind, to the extent that the memory of Fidel Castro has languished since his forced retirement. However, the pernicious practice continues here, with its exaggeration and ridiculousness.

On Tuesday, the entire National Assembly of People’s Power dedicated itself to the presentation of the book Raul Castro: A Man in Revolution, written by the Russian Nikolai Leonov. A special session of the Parliament had as its sole purpose to attend the launch of this volume, published by Capital San Luis, and with more than 80 biographical photos, some of them previously unpublished.

Out of modesty, or because he had to lead the 11th Plenum of the Cuban Communist Party Central Committee, Raul Castro did not attend the presentation, but this does not detract from the gesture’s devotional character. This was compounded by the use of parliamentarians for purposes not included in their functions. How much did it cost for those deputies who had travel to the Palace of Conventions? With so many problems facing the country, which affect millions of people, how could a day of “the official organ of State power” be squandered to sing the praises of a single man?

Situations like yesterday are proof that the pernicious cult of personality remains intact among us, fostered by those who idolize a few and those who swell with vanity at the flattery.

Tsipras’ “Betrayal” / Yoani Sanchez

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, during an interview with state television. (Alexandros Vlachos / EFE)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, during an interview with state television. (Alexandros Vlachos / EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 14 July 2015 — A week ago he was a hero lauded by the official Cuban media, today he is a political corpse many fear to mention. Alexis Tsipras negotiated and lost. Sanity has been imposed over his his initial bravado, and the pact he is about to accept has turned him into a traitor to his own politics. The critical voices within his party are already being heard about the agreement he has closed with the Eurozone, and Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution is keeping an embarrassed silence.

A third rescue, which will be around 86 billion euros, has been approved to pull Greece out of the quagmire. The money will come accompanied by conditions that force the Greek government to raise taxes, cut pensions and engage in privatizations. Far from that intransigent posture of the man who was congratulated by Fidel Castro, “for his brilliant political victory,” in the recent referendum. Continue reading