Day 18 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba: In Quarantine and Playing Soccer

Many of those suspected of having Covid-19 are being held at the Hotel Tulipán, in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution municipality. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 April 2020 – Years ago in my neighborhood they built a hotel to house patients from the so-called Miracle Mission, but today it houses suspected cases of Covid-19. The building, built in the years of the Venezuelan oil subsidy, had become a place to receive Parliamentary deputies and the athletes of the National Baseball Series.

“Give me the ball!” shouts a shirtless young man from the other side of the fence that leads to Tulipán street, in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution municipality. The ball has crossed the wire fence and fallen a few meters from where I pass with my facemask, on my way to look for bread. “Don’t touch it much!” they tell me, an absurd recommendation.

It is a group of young people, without masks, who move at full speed through the grass that separates the ugly building from the street. They are isolated and live their own quarantine, shouting with an Argentine and Cuban accents, as I manage to discern. On the other side, nothing moves, everything is dead. Ironically, there is more animation within that perimeter where the infected are being held. continue reading

The void around the place has its explanation.

As always when “the little hotel” — as my neighbors call it — is filled with some delegation or official group, the custodians who watch the place let passersby know that they cannot access the store inside, nor the cafe and much less use the paid wifi zone provided by the Cuban Telecommunications Company (Etecsa). Without that, the place loses all grace and remains as an ugly mass on the landscape.

The second reason for so much emptiness is that the authorities have decided to close the cafe located across the street, known as El Trencito. The state sales premises are located at the 19 de Noviembre Station, which commemorates that day in 1837 when the first section of the Cuban railway opened for operation. For me, who come from a family of railroad engineers, stokers and machinists, the slow death of the place hurts me.

A decade ago they swept away the private vendors waiting with their fried snacks and sweets for the passengers; then the number of trains decreased and now, finally, they have closed the musty cafe that continued to sell soft drinks, ice cream and drinks to the people of the neighborhood. The current reason, according to neighbors, is that they want to prevent quarantined people from leaving the hotel, crossing the street and trying to buy alcoholic beverages on the other side.

That’s what we call in Cuba throwing out the sofa*. When, in order to solve a small problem, other situations and services that had nothing to do with the difficulty are eliminated. It’s like throwing the whole living room out the window. More or less what is happening in my neighborhood.

So I picked up the ball. I threw it back to the other side of the fence, I wiped my hands with a cloth with alcohol that I take with me on the few incursions that I make to the street right now. I continued to the bakery but it was already closed. I returned home.

When I entered, after taking off my shoes in the hallway and washing my hands, I reviewed the latest official statistics: 11 killed by Covid-19 in Cuba, 396 positive cases and 1,752 admitted. Numbers that, even made up, are deeply alarming.

I still had some flour left and improvised some cookies. Hard, but enough to “entertain” as my grandmother would say. We are fine, much better than those young people I saw playing soccer this morning, but with a question mark over their heads. They are in medical isolation in our neighborhood, we live in a country in permanent quarantine.

*Translator’s note: Briefly, the expression comes from a Cuban joke where a man comes home and finds his wife on the sofa getting it on with another man. His solution? He throws the sofa out the window.

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Day 17 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba: Whole Families In The Lines To Buy More Products

The trick to buying more than one product is to get in line with family members, something counterproductive in times of coronavirus. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 6 April 2020 — The shouts of a neighbor brought me out of my midmorning stupor, provoked after trying for a whole hour to call one of those customer service phones that rings and rings but nobody answers. “You have to go with your son and husband, because they are giving out two per person!” the lady bellowed from the fifth floor of our building to someone on the 12th floor.

I peered out for more details. In a neighborhood store they were selling “ground turkey meat” from Canada on Monday. In order to avoid hoarding, the authorities rationed products that until recently were sold freely. But the trick to buying more is to go with family members, something counterproductive in times of coronavirus.

From my balcony I saw them, including the grandmother, leaving to go to the store where the line began to form. A while later a friend, who had marked his place in line since the early morning, called to tell me he was outside another place to buy chicken and invited me to join him. No way, I told him, even Reinaldo has chosen to be a vegetarian these days, in the face of the dangers that lurked in these crowds. continue reading

The situation is very serious.  Covid-19 has taken nine lives on this island, while 350 people have tested positive for the disease and 8 patients remain in critical condition while four are seriously ill, according to official data. Said like this, they only seem like numbers, but in reality they are lives abruptly terminated and people who died, in the majority of cases, without being abe to say goodbye to their families.

How many were infected while standing in line? It is difficult to specify, but the today in Cuba the lines are one of the main “risk areas.” The other danger is our own recklessness. The person who is not aware of the danger and continues to move through the streets without a sense of urgency, the one who believes that nothing will happen to him if he doesn’t wash his hands frequently and the one who insists that the consumption of supplements will prevent him from getting sick.

A text with the title “Tablets of Anamu vs coronavirus” promotes the consumption of this product against the pandemic in the government-run ‘Sierra Maestra’ newspaper (Capture)

The Santiago de Cuba government-run newspaper, Sierra Maestra, is one of those that promotes natural supplements to avoid contagion. Under the title “Tablets of Anamu vs coronavirus,” this local medium says that it is “a drug that stimulates the production of interferon in the body, an essential protein to combat the presence of various pathogens such as viruses, in this case effective against Covid-19.”

The most dangerous thing about this information, similar to the announcement of homeopathic drops promoted by the Ministry of Public Health (Minsap) to “prevent contagion,, is that it comes from an official source and is endorsed by the almighty State. That someone wants to use these “therapies” as a personal decision is one thing, it is another for them to be promoted as effective in a country where a public debate on their relevance in this case has not been allowed.

Reading, researching and searching for information can prevent us from falling into the clutches of false illusions and supposed miraculous cures. One of the few positive things about this pandemic is that many of my friends and acquaintances have returned to reading, after years when finishing a book was almost impossible due to lack of time and exhaustion at the end of the workday. So, at least, let’s enjoy the books!

Today I returned to the pages of The Language of the Third Reich by Victor Klemperer, a book that takes on special meaning at the moment. My philologist colleague describes in this volume how the fascist regime exalted a rhetoric in which all the products that came out of their industries were shown as “the most modern,” “the most efficient,” “the most powerful.” It immediately reminded me of the headlines in Cuba’s national press these days.

Meanwhile, in the real dimension of life everything is less grandiose but certainly more extraordinary. The pepper seeds I sowed have sprouted on my balcony, the new dog that we picked up from the street has already destroyed her first shoe, and every day that we wake up without breathing problems we celebrate, without triumphalism but with joy.

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Day 16 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba: Homeopathy Will Not Save Us, Even If Official Television Says So

On watching official television, you may think that we live in California or Sao Paulo, due to the amount of reporting dedicated to them. (ACN)

14ymedio biggerYoani Sanchez, Havana, 5 April 2020 — I’m annoyed. Anger rises in my throat. Today I have learned that the coronavirus knocked on the door of another friend, this time a Cuban poet living in Madrid. After years of experiencing repression and censorship within the Island, Spain has been for her a terrain where she no longer had to look over her shoulder to see if the political police were following her. I hope she gets better, but the news of his situation has hit us hard.

A couple of days ago I began to look more frequently for testimonies of overcoming and survival that would help me in these dark hours, but not ones contaminated with the gruesome triumphalism of the Cuban press. That false optimism is of no use to me, because it is not impregnated with the desire to find a way out of this dark tunnel that the pandemic has created, but rather tries to score, all the time, a political gain from the emergency.

On watching official television, you may think that we live in California or Sao Paulo, due to the amount of reporting dedicated to them. The flow of negative news about the situation in other countries is staggering. With no ethics or humanism whatsoever, the broadcasters of prime time newscast even seem to gloat at the rise in victims in Madrid or Milan, something they attribute “to capitalism,” even if the scientific community points to a diminutive coronavirus. continue reading

To make matters worse, from the initial arrogance of believing that the virus was not going to affect us in Cuba as it does in other countries, officialdom has moved towards the stage of searching for the holy grail of healing. And having exhausted the hoax of the supposed effectiveness of the interferon alfa 2B is produced on the Island, that have moved on to a homeopathic solution. It would be laughable if it were not so dramatic, because we have already reached eight dead and 320 infected, according to official figures.

In a recent press conference, Francisco Durán, national director of Hygiene and Epidemiology of the Ministry of Public Health, promised that Prenvengho-Vir, a preventive homeopathic medicine, will begin to be applied on the Island as a “prophylactic measure” to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. The doctor stressed that this product helps prevent different conditions such as influenza, respiratory diseases, dengue, and emerging viral diseases or infections.

There are many serious researchers who consider homeopathy a false therapy. Although in our universities they even teach it and our health system includes it in therapeutic guides, all this is done without a scientific endorsement. Right now, speaking out against homeopathy in the Cuban Academy of Medicine is practically looking for a political problem.

In the current situation, when it is taking so long to raise awareness about the need to maintain social isolation, it seems dangerous to me to speak of prophylactic homeopathic therapy. “Don’t worry if in a few days we have a little drop,” a retiree in my building said when I went to throw out the trash today. “This is the greatest, you take it and it protects you from dengue or the flu,” he assured me. I ran scared before he wanted to make me try some concoction.

When I returned, I remembered that Sundays are cleaning days at home, whether or not we are in quarantine. But today, plans to wash, mop the floor, and give the kitchen a once over were put off until further notice. The water supply problem has gotten worse and we have to save every drop, so cleaning was reduced to the stove, a broom over the floor, and a brief swiping of dust from the furniture.

The few informal vendors that haunt the neighborhood no longer want to enter buildings. They advertise their merchandise from the street and when someone asks them to come upstairs they refuse. Today, from a window on the 14th floor, Reinaldo yelled at the top of his lungs at an informal onion vendor who was walking down the street. The shout served to guarantee our meals will be seasoned and incidentally proved to us that Reinaldo’s lung capacity is still good.

The applause at nine o’clock at night has been gradually perverted. What started in Cuba as a citizen initiative, heir to other similar ones in Italy and Spain, has ended up hijacked by officialdom. It is not surprising, but already in our neighborhood, newly voices, recently raised, try to impose political slogans on the ovation, drown the “thank you” dedicated to the doctors with cheers for the Revolution and Díaz-Canel. Regrettable.

So today, at nine o’clock at night, I will choose to recite some verses. On behalf of my sick poet friend in Madrid. For my neighbor who believes in the strength of homeopathic drops, I will have to invoke the complete Vademecum.

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Day 15 of the Covid 19 Emergency in Cuba: My Doctor Friend Has Become a Patient

Saturday, the authorities have updated the figures of Covid-19: six deaths and 288 testing positive. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 April 2020 — Today has been a bittersweet day. At home we have all felt good but a doctor friend is isolated and suspected of having Covid-19. He has spent years saving lives in a dilapidated Havana hospital but now it is his that is in danger. Very prepared and committed to his profession, he has now become a patient. My applause tonight will be dedicated to him.

This Saturday, the authorities have updated the figures for Covid-19 on the Island, which has caused six deaths and 288 people testing positive. Of particular concern are the eight critically ill patients and the three seriously ill people, confirmed by sources from the Ministry of Public Health. The incidence of the disease in medical personnel is still a question mark.

My friend, a doctor, now isolated, tells me that the official warnings came late, that the protection measures took too long to arrive and that by the time he began to feel the first symptoms, he had been crying for more work gloves for weeks. “Before this, I received three or four a day to treat all patients, but with coronavirus you can’t do it that way,” he tells me on WhatsApp, his only current link with his family and friends. continue reading

I think about him, in an place of isolation where he cannot offer attention, but receives it, and it makes me sad. As a journalist, when I imagine a situation in which I couldn’t report what is happening, the feeling I get is thoughts of impotence. The forced and necessary quarantine is not just a hard blow for the economy and mobility of a country, but also for the professions that need to be in contact with people and with reality.

So among my great proccupations, along with the health of my loved ones and my own, is the situation of people like my medical friend who has become a patient and that of so many independent reporters that I know for whom the emergency has significantly reduced their ability to work, while the repression does not spare them. There is no scheduled applause at nine o’clock every day for the press, but it turns out that without them we would know little or nothing about the sacrifice of doctors, the agony of the sick or the resilience of societies.

Personally, today I have dedicated a brief tribute to all those journalists who keep us updated. It has not been complicated, because from the time I get up, my coffee has the flavor of reporting, my life revolves around the news and up to eight out of ten calls that come into our telephone line are from someone who wants to report an event fact, a mishap or get details of some happening. Our professional life is totally merged with our personal space.

On this 14th floor we try to stay healthy for our family and for our readers. Industries stop, roads empty, discos close their doors but who could imagine a world without news right now. We have a tough challenge and an immense responsibility: Who is going to tell us what is happening?

Years ago, when my son was young, I realized that as long as I had to take care of him, I hardly got sick. If any discomfort came, it would last me a few hours, hardly a day. I understood that when you are aware that you are looking out for someone else or others, it helps to strengthen us, at least emotionally and mentally to overcome adversities. It does not mean that we become invulnerable or immune, but that we learn to cope with difficulties knowing that someone urgently needs us to be healthy.

Readers are anything but children or patients, anything but vulnerable beings, anything but people who depend on us journalists. But while they are there with their voracity for information, their criticism of each of our reports, their harsh opinions when we are wrong and their words of encouragement when we are right, getting sick in a newsroom is something that we can hardly afford.

Today the onion that I planted a few days ago on the terrace of the Editorial Office has sprouted, we have named the new dog Chiqui because she is still small although she threatens to become Maxi, and we ate the last egg we had left from rationing. “We are breathing, no one with a fever, no one with a cough,” we optimistically respond to all the friends who call.

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Day 14 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

“Maybe that’s why, now, when I hear sirens again and again, I have a feeling that reality is collapsing around me.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 3 April 2020 — The Covid-19 emergency in Cuba has its own sound or rather its “no sound.” If, before, from our house we heard the constant roar of the nearby Rancho Boyeros Avenue, now there is a rare stillness that fills everything. A “collateral benefit” of the drama we are experiencing with the emergence of the coronavirus in Cuba is the decrease in vehicle traffic on the streets.

Occasionally, with increasing frequency, that calm is broken by sirens, as happened this morning. We were sitting around the table and heard the haunting sound. “If before it was once or twice a day, now it’s every hour,” said our son. We continued sipping our coffee, but the idea that in a vehicle traveling at full speed, running all the lights without stopping, there might be someone whose life was in danger, we choked on breakfast.

When I was a little girl and official television broadcast serials where Cuban intelligence agents infiltrated the exile, sirens abounded in scenes representing the world on the other side of the Florida Straits. There were almost always older men, surrounded by young, scantily clad women, a glass of whiskey in hand, perhaps a swimming pool, and the background noise of an ambulance, fire truck, or police patrol. continue reading

That was such a used dramatic image, that in my childish mind, outside of Cuba people were always one step away from being carried away on a stretcher, seeing their house burn down or being arrested. A small sonic detail became effective ideological propaganda to tell us that it was better to be inside the Island, safeguarded by that authoritarian father who is Castroism.

Maybe that’s why, now, when I hear sirens again and again, I have a feeling that reality is collapsing around me. If we add to this that the city is quieter than usual, the alarms are more prominent and seem even more dramatic. In a country where, as of today, official figures count 269 positive cases for Covid-19 and six in critical condition, there are reasons to be concerned.

This Friday I did not have to leave home. I made some croquettes, I stretched the rice I got yesterday and some carrots, also bought on Thursday in a nearby market, saved me and I could make a very tasty sauce. The canine and feline herd had to settle for a “vegetarian” proposal and one of the onions I planted a few days ago began to sprout. Life goes on, even though the city is sunk in lethargy.

The paralysis of transportation, the closure of many industries and some of the services, has meant that this morning we woke up with a clear and beautiful sky… at least in apart of the Cuban capital. Towards the south, the airport area and Santiago de las Vegas, it looked blue and clear, but in the direction of Central Havana, Old Havana and the Bay a cloud of smoke covered the city.

The Ñico López refinery continues to spread a dark stain over the neighborhoods as a result of the processing of hydrocarbons. In a territory where other industries are idled, that language of contamination is much more noticeable. That and the sound of sirens.

I continued planting this afternoon, attentive to the noises coming from the balcony. Today, I added some coriander seeds and also transplanted some positions of aloe vera, known in Cuba as sábila, which is the species of which we have the most specimens on this 14th floor balcony. The plants will germinate, grow and we will harvest them with that ” musical band,” with the background sound of anguish.

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Day 13 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba: The Daily Fight for Food

The Covid-19 crisis has only just begun on the Island, with 233 positive cases and six deaths, but the problem of access to food is already more serious. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 2 April 2020 – A mask can be a protection and a shield. When part of the face is covered, it is easy to outwit the police. Something that shouldn’t normally matter, but that in Cuba can be vital. Now, when I blend into the crowd with my mask, I manage to mislead those who have been given the job of following me every day. Facemask and wig, facemask and hat… indecipherable formula.

So today I ventured out as a curly redhead with a ‘durako’* facemask. The neighbor who spies on me didn’t even realize it was me. I went out because we no longer have bread, we no longer have milk, we no longer have enough food for the herd that is made up of, in addition to three humans, two dogs and a cat. So, as the daily war cry on this island says: To battle!

I went out to the daily struggle, the one that those who run this country have not experienced for years, conscientiously ignore, and know that they cannot publicly acknowledge. It is the jungle, “every man for himself.” With my red curls I stand in line for chicken in a store on Calzada del Cerro. I must confess that when I faced the brawl necessary to enter, I restrained myself and missed my turn, lacking the aggressiveness to throw some elbows. I can’t do it anymore. continue reading

A crowd rushed in front of me. I tried to invoke the times when I fought, nearly coming to blows for food, but I did not succeed. I lacked the oomph. My neighbors in the Cayo Hueso tenement where I was born would disown me if I told them this. I even invoked my years, in the middle of the Special Period, when I was a boarder at the Socialist Republic of Romania High School and lived many days in which the “law of the strongest” prevailed, but today I did not manage to release my inner beast.

In the girls’ dorm where I lived in the 90s, we invented a lot of recipes to survive. I remember the day I stole an eggplant from the field where we worked and, after cutting it into slices, I put the electric iron on it, the one we used to remove wrinkles from our school uniforms. I added lemon and coriander. It was delicious. My classmates, who slept in the nearby bunks, called this “generation Y grilled steak,” in honor of the letter with which most names began at that time. That was the embryo of a blog that I founded years later.

Only he who has been hungry knows what hunger is. It is not just the howling in the stomach, the anxiety and the weakness caused by a decrease in one’s food intake. Hunger is an attitude and an emotional state: if you lack food, it is all you can think about it over and over, as happened to me and my fellow teenagers between the four walls of a concrete block in the municipality of Alquízar. Neither libido nor family mattered, we woke up and fell asleep thinking about what to put in our mouths.

Many in Cuba have spent decades feeling hunger, but all this can flare up now. Something as basic as chicken has become a luxury product. The Covid-19 crisis has only just begun on the Island, with 233 positive cases and six deaths, but according to what we read, the problem of access to food is already more serious than in the epicenters of the pandemic which Milan, Madrid and New York have become. They are living through dramatic days from the health point of view, but in our case with regards to the emergency in supplies, it’s out of the frying pan into the fire.

I no longer have an iron. Years ago I stopped trying to smooth out my clothes. Is it of any use? But today I remembered the eggplants that I ironed out in a dorm with narrow beds where nobody dared to sleep in the lower bunks because at night rats invaded all the spaces attached to the floor. Once I left some shoes and books down below and they’d been nibbled in the morning. After remembering that, I repeated to myself that I could face almost anything.

It does not matter if I am wearing a red wig and a mask that covers my entire face, I am a survivor, because I say so; all that’s left to see is what the last word is that the coronavirus has for me.

*Translator’s note: “Durako” refers to a kind of cosplay popular among young Cubans.

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Day 12 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

In Cuba, more than 200 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were announced, a figure that may skyrocket in the coming days when rapid tests will be administered. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 1 April 2020 — It was known, but on this Island the rumors are weeks ahead of the official announcements. Sometimes, many times, the so-called Radio Bemba [gossip] knows in advance what, in time, the national press will publish as news. Days ago it was clear that the parade on May 1st would not take place and, since mid-March, in state workplaces many voices cried out for its suspension.

So yesterday, when it was confirmed that “calabaza, calabaza, nadie pá la Plaza” [pumpkin, pumpkin, no one will go to the Plaza] due to the dangers of a mass gathering with the advance of Covid-19 in Cuba, few were surprised. Without a doubt, the cancellation is a wise decision in a country where more than 200 confirmed cases of the disease were announced this Wednesday, a figure that could skyrocket in the coming days when rapid tests will be administered.

The same people who, until recently, insisted that there would be a parade at any price, now are conveniently silent and repeat that “the Directorate of the country knows what it is doing,” as a neighbor I met in the hallway told me this morning.  He is the same man who assured me a decade ago that a pound of pork would drop to 8 Cuban pesos (CUP) after some measures to promote state farms, but now it is at 50 CUP. continue reading

When I was a child I liked to go to the May Day parades with my parents. In addition to the hustle and bustle and general tumult, I loved some natural juices that were distributed for free to the participants and that, if memory serves me correctly, we called Jupuro. Once a year I had the chance to drink that nectar that came in a waxed cardboard box, all of which was a surprise to me, knowing nothing of tetrapacks and aluminum cans.

But later, the childhood enthusiasm passed and I realized that as a worker I was not going to be represented in a gathering that, instead of requests and demands, sings praises to power. When I graduated from university, for a long time I earned 198 CUP per month, less than $ 10, but I never saw a single poster in that “party of the proletariat” that demanded – in the Plaza of the Revolution – better salaries.

So I stopped going a long time ago and probably will only return to the parade on an International Workers’ Day when carrying a poster denouncing wage insecurity is not prohibited in Cuba and when the great boss, called the State, stops presenting itself as the savior of the working class. In reality, it earns huge capital gains, pays miserable wages, prohibits the right to strike, and condemns us to not even having a union to represent us.

Holding my proletarian diatribe within, today I worked on the flower boxes on my balcony. The potatoes are not yet germinating and they worry me, because all my hopes of having that tuber on my table in the coming weeks are pinned on my home garden. The plants that are beautiful are the flowers of my franchipani [plumeria rubra]. When I talk about the beauty of this shrub that stands on my balcony, most of my friends ask me “do you eat it?” and no, it is not eaten, but it is food for the soul, which is also essential in this time.

I haven’t felt well today. I don’t know if it’s the stress experienced in these “times of the coronavirus” or that the body starts to resent the tensions of waiting. Nothing worrying, just that these days any discomfort sets off the alarms and what was insignificant now becomes a suspicion.

But I’m fine. I write, I sow, I go out to buy food but, in addition, along with the diminished food that I get, I get stories: anecdotes, statements and even jokes that people want to share in extreme situations.

“This happens to us because we are alive, those over there no longer have this problem,” a flower vendor I found a few meters from the wall of Havana’s Colon Cemetery told me this morning. “Here we have coronaviruses, but in the ‘face-up neighborhood’ they would give anything to be on this side,” he emphasized with something that looked like a smile, but his facemask did not allow me to see it.

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Cuban Doctors Risk Their Lives To Escape The Shortages

Cuban doctors who traveled to Lombardy in northern Italy displayed flags of both countries and a large photograph of Fidel Castro. (PresidenciaCuba)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 1 April 2020 — The applause was felt everywhere. This Sunday at nine o’clock in the evening, an ovation crossed Cuba, in tribute to the health personnel who are on the front line of confrontation with Covid-19. As in other countries affected by the pandemic, people have wanted to acknowledge the sacrifice of doctors, who in Cuba must not only deal with the risk of becoming infected, but also with the material deterioration of the hospitals and low wages.

For decades, the Cuban health system has been highly praised by official propaganda and has become almost a myth at an international level. The fact that healthcare is free of cost to all and available to all is presented as one of the great “achievements of the Revolution,” and, for many, the health of the Island is a benchmark of how the sector should be managed. However, discontent grows among Cubans about the dire state of the hospitals, where the patients themselves must bring everything from sheets to food.

As the coronavirus spreads throughout the country – where according to official figures there are already 170 people who have tested positive for the disease and six who have died— our entire health network is being tested. In support of the Cuban doctors, they have been trained in contingency and working with few resources, so they have a special capacity to deal with the shortage of supplies that is becoming even more acute right now. Many of them are “graduates” in the harsh school of chronic crisis. continue reading

This ability to do a lot with little is one of the strengths that Cuban doctors have exhibited in recent days to countries where the coronavirus is taking hundreds or thousands of lives. More than 40 nations have requested the support of the island’s health professionals, as reported by the Ministry of Public Health. A necessary request and, without a doubt, a wise decision, because they will receive doctors experienced in emergency situations.

However, it must be said that the fine print of these agreements between the Cuban Government and the countries that call for health personnel almost never makes headlines anywhere. Those doctors will provide their services in semi-slavery conditions because, of the money the hosts pay, only a tiny part will end up in their pockets.

Our self-sacrificing doctors will work, sweat, and risk their lives, but the biggest beneficiary will be a government that doesn’t show transparency about what is done with every centavo earned from medical missions. Although official voices repeat that this money is invested in improving national health facilities and services, there is no clear record and the same could go to save lives rather than to sustain the repression.

On the other hand, although the desire to heal is the main motivation of their work, these doctors will have to accept that their work is publicly dressed up in the robes of ideology. It is enough to see the images of the Cuban doctors before leaving for Italy, posing next to a portrait of Fidel Castro, to understand that their trip is also being used by the Plaza of the Revolution as a marketing operation. The authorities want to extract ideological revenue from the pandemic and spread the idea that an authoritarian model cuts freedoms but saves lives. In other words, in these regimes, it is not possible to behave oneself as a citizen, but rather as an eternal patient.

The official discourse is disrupted when one of those doctors decides not to return to the Island. From the smiling photo and the epithet “hero of the country” they will come to suffer the stigma of being considered a “deserter.” It is enough that a doctor fails to return from a mission for them to be forbidden to enter Island to be reunited with their family for eight long years and, in addition, they will lose the salary in national currency that they have already earned, which had been accumulating in a bank account in Cuba.

So why do they go to these missions where they risk their lives and where they earn so little, many will wonder. The answer is complex but worth exploring. The humanitarian vocation is part of the motivations, but there is more: Getting out of the island prison is a respite in the midst of such a hard daily life. Despite being in an emergency zone, over there they will have access to many more services and products, so they will be able to bring merchandise to Cuba that will relieve their situation and that of their family.

A few years ago I met a doctor, epidemiologist, and university professor, who accepted a medical mission in Venezuela because it was the only possibility of obtaining the resources to repair the roof of her house. On this island we have the harsh contrasts of running into a neurosurgeon who is going to operate on a brain without having had breakfast, because his salary is not enough to have a glass of milk each day, and of a nephrologist who asks his patients to buy him a snack to cope with the workday.

Despite the fact that some years ago the salary of health professionals became the highest pay in all of Cuba, right now it is very difficult to find any of them who earn more than the equivalent of 70 dollars a month, and this in a country where a liter of vegetable oil costs over $2.50 and in state stores a liter of milk costs more than $1.50. Our doctors live, practically, in penury.

All this and much more influences why they get on a plane to provide their professional services outside the country, even if they risk their lives and even though they know that the Government is going to keep most of their income. They also do it because they love their profession and one day they swore to face illness and death, because they are magnificent human beings, like all the doctors on the planet, and not because they profess an ideology or because they are members of a certain party.

They, our doctors, are the true heroes of these days and not because of what the official press says. So tonight, when the clock strikes nine, I will clap wildly for them on my balcony. I will do so to acknowledge their effort, but it will not be an ovation for the system that has condemned them to wage poverty and political docility. Come clap your hands for our white-coat heroes.

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This text was originally published by Deustche Welle’s Latin America page.

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Day 11 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

The Havana market in Boyeros and Camagüey usually has a short line but these days it’s exploded. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 31 March 2020 – Two hours of lining up and it was only possible to buy two of each product. This morning we had to go out looking for some food because our reserves were depleted. We decided to go to a market on the corner of Boyeros and Camagüey that usually has a short line, but we were wrong. The line went around the building. In coronavirus times the offers decrease and the lines multiply.

The police presence is striking. Uniforms are inside the market, near the cash register, at the door of the warehouse, outside the store. We are in an undeclared “state of siege.” Legislation is fuzzy in this case. Can we leave our houses or not? How much of the same product can we buy? Official voices impose certain measures but there is no clear legality to uphold or define them.

Tempers, in addition, are heated. In the line this morning, two customers nearly came to blows. A fight in Covid-19 times is rare. If before people swooped down and shouted right into each other’s faces, now they squabble from a distance, a hullabaloo that marks the space. Even the ritual of anger changes in Cuba these days. continue reading

I returned home with two cans of sardines and a package of flour. It is what it is. Tomorrow I will improvise some croquettes. The search for food, which has always had a special role in this country, now absorbs everything, concentrates everything, surpasses everything. From the time we wake up, our life revolves around getting food and putting it on our plates. There are two obsessions: surviving and feeding ourselves.

Even ideology seems to be fading. The demonstrations of political fervor that were so frequent a few weeks ago have been suspended or postponed. The May Day parade, in a country where the only union allowed is a transmission-line from the Power to workers, has also been canceled. Reinaldo says that he remembers something like that in 1970 when the 10 million ton sugar harvest was attempted. But I was not born yet.

Today we venture to make a family lunch and invite those relatives we suspect we will go weeks without seeing again. It was like saying goodbye but in advance. The table was the center that brought us back together and, of course, the coronavirus dominated the conversation. We speak of positive cases of the disease already reaching 186 in the country, according to official data, and that at least six people have lost their lives due to the pandemic.

Until a few days ago, those were people who shared a table with their family just as we did this Tuesday. They breathed, they had dreams and they loved, but it all ended abruptly. Understanding that fragility gives us a special strength to deal with all this, because you end up understanding the true human measure in the face of chance, disease and the environment.

Before sitting down to our plates, we all went through the rituals of handwashing, keeping our distance, and kisses that are now given only with the fingers or a gaze. We will be many days or weeks without seeing each other, but this Tuesday we decided that illness and shortages are not going to take away the memory of a lunch together.

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Day 10 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

Days in coronavirus time pass differently. Before we were dominated by anguish and today we are at the mercy of an anxiety multiplied. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 30 March 2020 — Mondays are always complicated. But this one dawned calm, with the city in a rare silence although the chimney of the Ñico López refinery had one of the tallest columns of smoke I can remember. The sound of the birds filled the dawn in this neighborhood where the fury of “cementing” each patio has not completely snatched the trees from us.

Days in coronavirus time pass differently. Before we were dominated by anguish and today we are at the mercy of an anxiety multiplied. The mother despairs because her son has to risk leaving the house and traveling on public transport; the entrepreneur is exposed to the danger of closing his business and not earning anything, or continuing to sell food and end up infected. The freelance journalist knows that his reporting capacity is currently being tested, but he is aware that censorship is mounting.

These are times when the worst and the best of each person come out. A close neighbor has hung a sign on his door so no one will knock on it, and he believes that hiding in his home will save him entirely. The problem is that the same neighbor depends on going out to buy the bread they sell in the rationed market every day, and actively participates in the meetings of the nucleus of the Communist Party maintained by retirees in the area. continue reading

He says he fought at the Bay of Pigs and that this virus was “created by the CIA.” He is neither an epidemiologist nor a doctor, but he is a fervent believer in what the national television news reports. Perhaps that is why, on Sunday night he went out onto his balcony to applaud the work of Cuban doctors, without knowing that the call for that ovation was something that had been forged in civil society and social networks, in tune with a similar gesture acted out days ago in Italy and Spain.

The clapping was heard loudly in our neighborhood, in honor of those Cubans who today are in hospitals facing Covid-19. A tough task in a country where official figures announce 170 confirmed cases of the disease and four deaths. Despite the context, there are always those who want to politically hijack the tribute to the doctors, but they are so ridiculous, and few, that they are drowned in the spontaneous applause.

Beyond those symbolic gestures, our lives change every day. It is not as if before we could use the adjective “normal” to define our existence, but it is that now the little that we felt safe in is gone or has changed. It is as if a building had its columns suddenly removed and the entire roof collapsed on its stunned residents.

If before, in order to define Cuba, it had to be emphasized that “without sugar there is no country,” now it is worth adding that “without the ‘weekly packet’” we could not guarantee that the nation that we knew until yesterday remained. For both skeptics and the credulous, it is worth announcing that since Monday the private store in our neighborhood that every week sold — religiously and without fail — that ubiquitous udiovisual compendium, has closed. It is not there, it’s gone… and we, thousands of addicts, are left in the lurch, literally staring at our blank screens.

In the afternoon, when the sun fell a little, I transplanted an oregano in the earth on my balcony, and a rosemary plant. “Rather dead than without spices,” I said to myself and touched my nose (for luck), that rare geography that the coronavirus has amputated for us because putting our fingers to our faces is a danger in these times.

Perhaps my militiaman neighbor, in partisan quarantine, will knock on my door in the next few days asking for some “flavor” to add to his food. I’ll be here. There are things that unite and tragedies are one of them.

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Day 9 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

If on Friday some of the residents of my building still survived with the ‘online’ food purchases made from abroad by their migrant children, but that is no longer possible. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 29 March 2020 — The phone rang early this Sunday and I came back from a dream. I was sheltering in a parallel reality and the ringer brought me back. On the other end of the line, a Cienfuegos inmate was reeling off his troubles. He has been sentenced to four years for “illegal slaughter of cattle*” and fears that the Covid-19 will catch him behind bars.

Right now, a Cuban prison is the worst place to experience this pandemic. In addition to overcrowding, there are problems in the water supply, poor food and difficulties in communicating with family members. A country with so many absurd prohibitions has overcrowded correctional facilities and many prisoners who should never have been behind bars.

The voice on the other end of the line tells me that he was sentenced because someone linked him to the attack on a “yearling”; the calf did not die, but the court locked him up for 48 months. All those who call me from some prison say they are innocent, but in addition to the true culpability, in this case I maintain that these are times for pardons and amnesties. continue reading

Going to jail in Cuba is not just a matter for criminals. The penal code includes the charge of “pre-criminal dangerousness,” which — in the worst style of the Minority Report movie — sends you to prison just because authorities believe you might violate the law, in the future. If the crimes of opinion and opposition are added, we are looking at a cage anyone can fall into.

Opening the bars, softening the sentences that are handed down in the coming days and eliminating so many disparate crimes from the Cuban Penal Code could be a first step. Let no one else go to prison because he is predicted to become a future criminal, either by sacrificing his own cow or by carrying a couple of pounds of shrimp* in a briefcase.

It is a time to rectify and to open the bars.

Today, the Ministry of Public Health updated the coronavirus figures in Cuba. According to official data, there are 139 positive cases and more than 2,300 people under surveillance. Behind each number there is a life. Like that of Pastor Saúl Díaz, from the small city of Remedios, in the province of Villa Clara, who was the first Cuban included in the list of deceased that has been released by the national media.

In my neighborhood, the news of that death has paralyzed many. Until recently, the coronavirus seemed like something for foreigners, a disease that came from outside but would not make a dent in nationals. Giving a name, face and voice to one of the victims has a devastating effect. “I’m not going out anymore,” a neighbor told me after I showed him the most recent video of Saúl Díaz on Facebook, as he was coughing and waiting to be hospitalized.

Today, I continued with my plantings on the terrace. Garlic and some peppers were added to the self-consumption garden. As I work the earth and prepare the seeds, I keep thinking that a few yards from my balcony stands the Ministry of Agriculture, a mass of concrete whose size is inversely proportional to the efficiency of the land in Cuba. One day, those floors will not be full of bureaucrats but of entrepreneurs… At least I dream of that.

I insist on what my hands can give because what cost five yesterday today is worth ten. Prices go up and up. If on Friday some residents of my building still survived on the online food purchases made from abroad by their migrant children, it is no longer possible. Most of these commercial portals have closed or warned that they will not be able to deliver on time.

We have all returned to the same starting line. No matter age, race, social status, access to remittances or education. We have entered the territory of survival, where nothing is written in advance. An inmate and someone who walks the streets equally frail, serving an identical sentence.

*Translator’s note: In Cuba cows belong to the State and cannot be killed by the people raising them (or anyone else) without authorization. Carrying shrimp, or cheese, or other such items is also illegal. See “Male Heifers and Cow Suicide” 

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Day 8 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

Many Cubans continue to take to the streets to line up to get food.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 28 March 2020 — Today a street vendor broke the morning silence with his proclamation of coconut and guava cakes, which he described as “original,” but few neighbors dared to go down from the concrete blocks of the neighborhood. Between the need to search for supplies and the fear of contagion, this time caution has prevailed.

And they do not exaggerate. This weekend the positive cases in Cuba have exceeded one hundred, reaching 119, and Covid-19 has already taken three lives, according to official sources, numbers which haven’t convinced many. People fear that the contagion numbers are being reported in the same way as other awkward statistics from the past.

In the end, we have lived for decades in a scenario of made-up figures, where the yeast of triumphalism is added to positive numbers so that they grow, while the stubborn indicators of the disaster are cut or silenced. When so many lies have been told, there is a risk that even if the truth is told no one will believe it. continue reading

In this case, mistrust is allied with the survival instinct and although officials insist that they are going to guarantee basic products, many citizens continue to take to the streets to line up, haul away and store food. The serious thing is that, in this task, they not only bring home some bread and rice, but also — potentially — the virus.

In our house we have reinforced the protection. Our exits are more and more sporadic and climbing the stairs to the 14th floor is a mandatory practice to avoid the congested elevator. We have suffered a couple of power outages since yesterday, but briefly. It would be very serious if, in addition to the scarce soap, we had to start looking for candles.

I keep planting vegetables and greens in any container I come across. Today it was the turn of some chili pepper seeds and others of basil. Tomorrow I will plant my first onions and some garlic cloves. I do not follow any manual, I get carried away by my “green finger,” which is useless for playing the piano but has shown good skills for agriculture. The guajira (peasant) in me blossoms these days.

I sense that private initiative will become vital in the coming weeks to avoid a famine on this Island, but it will depend on the authorities understanding the gravity of the moment and removing all obstacles to agricultural production. Only the Cuban countryside can save us, but fewer restrictions and more freedoms are urgent. Without that, we are doomed.

Once already the peasants saved us, in the 90s. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet subsidy, the Island was submerged in the lack of fuel, long blackouts and food shortages. These were years, too, of a heated political discourse that seemed more disposed to lead us towards a Kampuchea-style model than towards the necessary economic and political openness. But, when many had given up hope of improvement and after decades of stubborn nationalization of the economy, agricultural markets were reauthorized.

Guavas returned from those private producers, I tried the first canistels of my life and I was able to make the malanga puree that my son began to eat a few months after he was born. Unfortunately, that flexibilization was filled with restrictions that have weighed down the growth of the sector and the potential of our land. The Plaza of the Revolution became afraid of the guajiros. But, now, there is no other option but to open and open wide.

As I bury the seeds in various pots, I listen to the loudspeaker from a vehicle that traverses the streets of my neighborhood. “Take extreme measures, don’t be on the street and beware of the coronavirus,” you hear it say over and over. Until a few days ago, those speakers would only have broadcast political slogans, but a tiny enemy has forced them to change the script.

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Day 7 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

The challenge and the real fiesta is to wake up and breathe without difficulty every morning. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 27 March 2020 — Unlike other Fridays, on this one there are no calls to get together with friends, appointments ahead of the weekend or preparations to go out on Saturday and Sunday. During a quarantine every day is the same, they pass without much change and with little commotion. The challenge and the real fiesta is to wake up and breathe without difficulty every morning.

With 80 positive cases of coronavirus and more than 1,600 people in isolation, in Cuba we are emerging from a long torpor. A numbness derived from the delay in taking measures at the national level to slow the advance of Covid-19 and the naivety of believing that — like a hurricane — at the last minute the pandemic would change course and miss the Island.

But neither prayers, nor illusions, much less indifference, managed to twist the path of an opportunistic infectious agent that can only multiply within the cells of other organisms. Forgive me if I extend the metaphor too much, but this description reminds me of the Cuban political police, who cannot live or transcend without those they eternally watch over: the dissidents. continue reading

One would think that in times of coronavirus, the “restless boys of the Apparatus” would be sent to find out who has a fever, but no. They are still there, sending subpoenas to independent activists and journalists. In a country where there is so much to do in the midst of this crisis, State Security prefers to fight citizens than to face a microscopic thing.

Speaking of small things, today we have managed to buy a piece of mortadella that arrived at the rationed market. A slice of a mass pink in some parts, green in others, which should serve to withstand part of this quarantine. I found a fish bone just after cutting it, although the employee assured me it was made from “chicken and meat.”

While I decipher what the sausage contains, I continue sewing masks. The first ones did not suit me, but little by little I understand the proportions, the fit and the amount of fabric to use in each one. Although the World Health Organization has warned that this type of facemask does not prevent us from being infected, at least it relieves me to think that there are asymptomatic infecteds who will reduce the scope of transmission if they wear one.

I sewed one for a neighbor and stuck on the logo of his favorite soccer team, another came asking me to do a “reinforced” face mask because he works in a state cafeteria where they continue to sell food to the public, and a little girl wanted me to give a few stitches to hers — pink and sequined — that had broken in one corner. Curious, that people try to set their own guidelines in the midst of an emergency.

Days are not measured in 24 hour cycles. Every day we count the friends who have called, the onions we have left, and the pounds of rice that are diminishing. We count like maniacs the times that one of us has had to irretrievably leave the house to buy some food, go down to walk the dog, or repair the elevator in the building, as has happened to Reinaldo each of these last days.

When we return from these forays, there is no hug or welcome. A chlorine-soaked cloth awaits us in the hallway. You have to leave your shoes, go directly to the bathroom, spend a long time washing your hands, your face and getting rid of part of what you carry. Later, the rest of the family begins to approach but without violating the yard of distance.

This virus has stolen our hugs. I just hope it doesn’t take anything else away from us.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Day 6 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

On the street, there are those who walk with gloves and others who kiss when greeting each other. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 26 March 2020 — Staying at home is still the best way to defend against the enemy who is out there and who has infected 67 people in Cuba, two of whom have died, with another 1,603 in forced isolation, according to official figures published this Thursday. In a country where there is nice weather we only subtract: fewer products; fewer resources; less money… it gives the impression that the numbers of the coronavirus are the only ones that are growing.

But prices also rise. “Pork is at 50 pesos a pound,” complains a friend who called me very early to ask for a recipe for eggplant, one of the few products she was able to buy in the market before locking herself in with her 80-year-old mother to wait for the virus to pass. I gave her some advice and we agreed that she would call if she had questions.

The phone has become the social glue and the only link with many friends. These days, when a call is answered, the greeting is no longer “how are you?” but “do you feel good?” The goodbyes have also changed and we have parked the “see you later,” to replace it with “take care” and an optimistic “I’m sure we’ll see each other again.” continue reading

Two days after classes were canceled, many leisure time venues were closed and passenger transportation between provinces was suspended, my building looks like an anthill. A few floors below ours, a family took it upon themselves to do a general cleaning and there is still wood, debris and some broken toys in the hallway waiting to be thrown out.

I woke up to a “boom, boom, boom.” Some neighbor decided to pass the time in quarantine making repairs. In this concrete block where I live, inaugurated 35 years ago, infrastructure problems accumulate in the common areas and in the apartments. Many lack the resources to renovate and others the time, of which there is now a surplus.

The practice of leaving shoes outside the door, started by my neighbor Chucho, is beginning to spread, although there are suspicious people who prefer the risk of dirty soles in the house over exposing their only sneakers to the dangers of the hallway. I have bumped into people on the stairs wearing all kinds of “masks”: imported and modern, discreet, alternative, recycled, improvised or homemade.

I couldn’t stop smiling when I saw a retired woman who had sewn up a facemask using part of an old “adjuster” (bra). Creativity is triggered when the need is tight and, if health is at stake, ingenuity reaches incredible levels. “No, shame? I don’t have any, I would be ashamed if I get sick and not even my children can come close,” the lady defended herself when someone pointed out that this was not something to put over her mouth.

Reinaldo wants to make a mechanism to hoist a bag from the ground floor up to our balcony. “Everything can be very difficult and we’ll have to have something to get food and other products in without having to take the elevator or drag them up 14 flights of stairs,” he theorizes. Just thinking about the fact that we could get to that point terrifies me. It brings back bad memories.

When I was a teenager and the Soviet Union imploded, they began to talk about Option Zero in Cuba. They said it could lead to a collective stewpot in each neighborhood. Just the idea of that cauldron in the middle of the sidewalk with the ladle pouring nearly transparent broth into my bowl tormented me for years. Now, even imagining myself locked up on the 14th floor hoisting up food in a bag causes me a similar fear.

Fortunately, we have not reached that point. We are halfway between disbelief and alarm. In the street, there are those who walk with gloves and others who kiss when greeting each other. We have the one who learned to cough into his elbow, and another who sneezes with his whole mouth wide open in an elevator loaded with people. There are the obsessive handwashers and those who repeat, “you have to die of something.”

Today I have set aside some of the potatoes I had left from the ration book to plant in our small flowerbed on the balcony. “We will watch them grow and in a few weeks we will invite friends in and cook them,” I say to myself. The image of that hypothetical plate of potatoes with chopped parsley has given me hope that we will have a tomorrow.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Day 5 of the Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba

Official figures, updated this Wednesday, give 57 cases positive for the coronavirus and almost 1,500 people quarantined in Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 March 2020 – The floors are not made of wood, nor is it snowing outside, but in front of Chucho’s door there is a row of shoes. The retiree and his family have taken extreme measures to avoid contagion with the coronavirus and now, to enter his apartment – a few floors below ours – flip flops, boots, sandals and all kinds of footwear must be left in the hallway.

As the hours pass, we try to take stricter measures in our domestic space to prevent contagion, in a country where the official figures, updated this Wednesday, give 57 cases positive for the coronavirus and almost 1,500 people quarantined. While the long lines to buy food at many Cuban stores continue as usual, households opt for “zero visits” and “greater hygiene.”

Our neighborhood mobile-recharge card vendor now serves customers from behind a piece of acrylic to protect himself. “Some come because they want to buy a card from me and others because they are so lonely they could cry and they need to talk,” this merchant-turned-confessor and psychotherapist tells me with a complicit smile. continue reading

Communications become a vital point for those of us who choose to spend more and more hours locked up at home. “In recent days many users have asked if there are discounts to connect to the internet, but there’s nothing at all,” the self-employed worker tells me. Given the emergency and the forced quarantine, the dreams of lower prices for web browsing packages have been rekindled.

However, this Wednesday the official press repeated that those who ask for a reduction are just “mercenaries” and, so that there are no doubts, the official profile of Etecsa on Twitter shared the text. In other words, there are things that never change: viruses can arise, species become extinct, human beings can be born and die, but Cuba’s state telecommunications monopoly seems more focused on politics than on providing good service.

So, saving every megabyte, I have gone to the networks to find out about my friends I can’t see, thanks to their quarantine. Thus, I learned that one of them has composed a new song sparked by the confinement; someone else’s baby had a tooth come in; the grandmother of a dear friend sewed cloth masks for her entire neighborhood; and the brother of an old neighbor died of pneumonia and only one person went to the funeral home for the wake, for fear it was Covid-19.

From the bus terminal, a journalist colleague asked me desperately if I knew someone who rents a room on a long-term basis and cheaply. The young man was stranded in the capital after the cancellation of inter-provincial transport and now he is trying to find shelter while he waits. “I’m hoping the police stop me and deport me for not being legal* in Havana, to see if I can get to Camagüey that way,” he wrote.

Between these stories the days go by. The food that some had saved begins to dwindle, the exits to the street become obligatory but more and more sporadic and the vendors who, until a few days ago, shouted out their merchandise in our neighborhood have stopped — little by little — being heard. From Rancho Boyeros Avenue comes a rare silence since fewer vehicles pass.

Since the food crisis may worsen, today I planted some tomato, pepper and lettuce seeds. They will take time to bear their first fruits but at home we are preparing for a “long-winded” crisis, because the coronavirus has come to besiege us at a time when the national coffers were already empty and local enterprise is stagnated by excessive controls.

I cut the remaining piece of pumpkin to add to the last red beans I was able to buy before the supply dwindled in our neighborhood markets. I also have some sweet potatoes, which the new dog that we picked up on Friday loves when I boil them, but meanwhile my cat looks at me as if I was putting a shoe on her plate, just like those outside Chucho’s door.

In addition to the hardships, in our family we are all well: another day without cough or fever, and that is enough.

*Translator’s note: Cubans from other provinces are not allowed to live in Havana without a permit.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.