Bubble Bursts for Flights Between Cuba and the United States

Silver Airways has been forced to reduce its weekly flights to six cities in Cuba. (Silverairways.com)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 17 March 2017 — A year ago the headlines left no doubt: Cuba was Americans’ new destination and that country’s airlines fought for their piece of pie of flights to the island. After the initial enthusiasm, several of these companies have cut back on the frequency of their trips and others have seen a reduction in passengers.

In March 2016 the most important airlines in the United States requested permission from the Department of Transportation to include the island in its commercial destinations. Among them are big ones like American Airlines and Delta Air Lines, as well as United Continental Airlines, Southwest, JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, Alaska Air Group and Silver Airways. continue reading

Expectations grew and climaxed when JetBlue’s 387 flight arrived in Cuba on August 31, 2016 from Fort Lauderdale airport in southeastern Florida. The plane arrived in Santa Clara in just over an hour, completing the first commercial flight between the two countries in more than half a century.

Everything was all positive predictions at the time, and the Cuban ambassador to the United States, José Ramón Cabañas, cut the inaugural tape of the flight with JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes. In all, the routes of all the airlines reached 110 flights daily, 20 of them to Havana, the most popular destination.

For some airlines this is a test of persistence rather than speed. “Patience is the word for now,” said Gary Kelly, chief executive of Southwest Airlines

Earlier this year, American Airlines sounded the alarm when it cut its daily service by 25% and decided to use smaller planes. At the end of last year the company was operating two daily flights from Miami to Havana, Varadero and Santa Clara and daily service to Camagüey and Cienfuegos, but many of the aircraft flew with more than half of the seats empty.

Americans are still banned from traveling to the island as tourists but can travel within 12 other categories. The most used are cultural and educational exchanges. In January 2017, Cuba received 43,200 visitors from Cuba, a growth of 125% compared to the same period last year, according to Cubadebate.

However, the numbers of travelers have not grown as expected. The causes range from the slow economic changes implemented by Raúl Castro, up to the arrival of Donald Trump and the fears that have been generated before a possible reversal in diplomatic normalization between the two countries.

The low number of customers also points to Cuban-Americans’ caution in visiting the island. “With the immigration changes implemented by the Trump administration, many rumors have surfaced that exiles could have problems if they travel,” Idania Consuegra, a middle-aged Cuban living in Miami for two decades, told 14ymedio.

Frontier has announced that it will operate its last daily flight from Miami to Havana on June 4

Idania had plans to visit her family in the spring, but preferred to “cancel everything until further notice, because you do not know what will happen in this country.”

For some airlines this is a test of persistance rather than speed. “Patience is the word for now,” said Gary Kelly, chief executive of Southwest Airlines. The executive clarifies that the company had no expectations about its six daily flights to Havana and two other cities since this route had not be served for 50 years.

Silver Airways was forced to cut its weekly flights to six cities in Cuba, according to Bloomberg. The inability to sell tickets to the island through major online travel agencies such as Expedia and Priceline are some of the causes of these cuts according to company managers.

Frontier, a low-cost carrier based in Denver, Colorado, has announced that it will operate its last daily flight from Miami to Havana on June 4.

The cruise ships stay afloat

On the other hand, the president of the Norwegian Cruise company, Frank del Río, is elated due to the high sales levels of the cruises that include Cuba in its itinerary. During the Seatrade Cruise conference this week in Fort Lauderdale, the manager said he believes the island “is going to be a home run” for his company.

The declarations come a few days after the company’s first cruise arrived at the port of Havana with 1,250 passengers on March 9 on its inaugural trip to Cuba.

For the first time in its history Cuba received 4 million tourists last year

Norwegian plans to make nine more trips from the US during this year with two other of the company’s brands also participating: Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

The reception of the imposing ship was the occasion for the president of the Enterprise Cuba Travel Group of the Ministry of Tourism of the island, Jose Manuel Bisbé, to predict an increase in the number of trips of this kind.

According to the official, during 2016 88,000 cruise trip passengers visited the island and in the first two months of 2017 the number is 55,000. Visitors have arrived on the twelve cruise lines that have agreements with the country.

For the first time in its history Cuba received 4 million tourists last year, a record that represented a growth of 14.5%. For this year it is expected that the numbers will exceed 4.2 million visitors.

Lower On-Line Prices for Brazilian Meat While Cuban Government is Silent

Supermarket Treew, one of the most popular sites for shopping on the net, maintains offers for Brazilian beef. (Screencapture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 24 March 2017 – Cuba has reacted very oddly to the scandal of adulterated meat from Brazil, the island’s main provider of beef products: silence on the part of the authorities, lower prices on some on-line shopping sites, and very little public concern about possible health risks.

At the corner of Monte and Cienfuegos several customers milled around this Thursday, waiting for La Havana Butcher Shop to lower the prices on its display. “My daughter told me they were going to lower prices,” Carmen, a 78-year-old pensioner waiting on the sidewalk, told this newspaper,

Carmen’s daughter lives in Murcia, Spain and has kept abreast of all the news about the adulteration of products by the Brazilian companies JBS and BRF, the two most important in the country, which came to light through an investigation by the Federal Police. continue reading

The Cuban press has been sparing in details about “Operation Weak Meat,” but the issue has generated hopes among Cubans of a possible fall in prices of these foods, in high demand on the nation’s tables.

The digital sites that sell on the island have taken the first step and this week some of them have dropped prices on beef. “Meats imported from Brazil. With great discounts and better quality,” announced Supermarket Treew, one of the most popular internet sales sites.

The services of the company, based in Toronto, began in 1998 and are widely used by emigrants living abroad to supply their families with food, cleaning supplies and appliances; they place and pay for their orders on line and the products are delivered in Cuba. Now online products like roasts, ground beef, hamburgers and steak are showing price reductions ranging from 5% to 15%.

However, Cuba’s Ministry of Internal Commerce has not applied similar discounts in the network of domestic stores nor withdrawn these products from the shelves.

The Ministry of Internal Commerce has not applied similar discounts in the network of national stores or withdrawn products from the sale

The Department of Attention to the Population of that state entity confirmed to this newspaper, by telephone, that “no particular measure has been taken with regards to that subject. We have not ordered the suspension of the sale of meat from Brazil nor lowered prices, although each store can do so autonomously.”

The point of sale of frozen products located at Neptuno and Angeles streets continued displaying the usual prices: 10.90 CUC per one kilogram of beef, half of the monthly salary of a professional.

“I have the store’s phone number and I have called every day to know if they have put anything on sale, but nothing,” says Ignacio Luaces, an entrepreneur who runs errands for a private restaurant. “We are hoping that the goods will go on sale, but so far, no,” he told 14ymedio.

Others are concerned about the potential health implications. “Every day on TV there are lots of announcements about mosquitoes and the dangers of the diseases they transmit, but they have not said anything about it,” protests Liudmila, a medical student who plans to specialize in gastroenterology.

“Food poisoning is very dangerous and most people who buy beef for domestic consumption do it for children or the elderly,” she says. “I think it’s time for the Ministry of Public Health to make a public announcement telling people not to eat that meat.”

Doubtful Meat From Brazil Continues To Be Sold In Cuba / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Brazilian frozen chicken that was sold this Monday in the markets of Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 21 March 2017 — Cubans know a lot about adulterations. For decades they have grappled with the “diversion of resources” [i.e. stealing] from state stores and the practice of state employees acquiring products elsewhere at low prices, bringing them into the stores and selling them at high prices and keeping the profit for themselves. Hence the scandal of the altered meat that involves two Brazilian companies has hardly surprised anyone on the Island.

This Monday Brazilian meat products continued to be sold in Cuba’s retail network, where the frozen chicken of the brands Frangosul and Perdix, from the companies JBS and BRF respectively, continue to be on sale. According to an investigation by the Federal Police of Brazil, both these companies adulterated these products. continue reading

In the case of chicken, the authorities have warned that it is more of an economic fraud, consisting of adding water to the product to increase the weight, without any risks to health.

In the case of chicken, the authorities have warned that it is more of an economic fraud, consisting of adding water to the product to increase the weight, without any risks to health

The results of what was called “Carne Fraca” (“weak meat” in Portuguese), confirmed the suspicions of those who warned that something “doesn’t smell right” in the world’s largest exporter of these products. Each year Brazil exports beef worth roughly 5.5 billion dollars and chicken worth roughly 6.5 billion. This business represents 7.2% of Brazil’s Gross Domestic Product.

So far, no Cuban store or market has withdrawn the Brazilian frozen food products. On the digital sites that offer a wide range of foods that emigrants abroad can order for their families on the island, Brazilian beef and chicken remain on sale.

The official media spread the news of the scandal, focusing on the possible repercussions for President Michel Temer’s government. The Ministry of Public Health did not discuss the issue when asked by 14ymedio.

Cuba imports more than 80% of the food it consumes. For 2017, the bill for these purchases is expected to exceed $1.75 billion, $82 million more than the estimate for the previous year.

Each year, more than 120,000 tonnes of chicken meat are bought in the international market, most of it hindquarters, also called “dark parts.” Alberto Ramírez, president of the Cuban Society of Poultry Producers (SOCPA), recently confirmed to the official press that “[domestic] meat production is practically zero.”

Each year more than 120,000 tonnes of chicken meat are bought in the international market, most of it hindquarters

In 2014, several representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture visited Brazil to inspect the facilities of the dairy and beef plant managed by JBS in Mato Grosso do Sul, with a view to importing its products to the Island. Another 25 facilities approved for trade with Cuba are located in the states of Tocantins, Rondonia, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Goiás, Mato Grosso and Sao Paulo

The United States and Brazil are the countries supplying the greatest amount of frozen products to the Cuban market. Faced with the lack of supply and the lack of variety, chicken has become one of the most common foods at the table of Cubans. Only the wealthy can afford beef.

“I came to buy a piece of top round steak,” said a retired woman at the butcher’s in Plaza de Carlos III on Monday. She said, “it is a luxury that I can only allow myself from time to time.” The meat on offer in that market comes from Brazil, according to an employee who preferred anonymity, but who, so far, had received “no order to stop selling it.”

On display in the meat case are several packages with prime ground beef, stew meat, top round and tip steak. No merchandise specifies where it comes from, but local workers confirm that it has been bought from Brazil. The customers look longingly at the display; meat remains a forbidden delicacy for many, even if it is wrapped up in investigations and fraud.

“Here we work with Brazilian meat,” explains one of the waiters at the restaurant next to the Riviera cinema, formerly El Carmelo, on 23rd Street. In their menu they offer sirloin, fillet mignon, fried beef tender and ropa vieja (shredded beef in sauce), this last a very traditional dish that is in high demand among tourists.

Butcher shop in the Plaza de Carlos III in Havana. (14ymedio)

The select El Palco market, whose main customers are diplomats and foreigners living in Havana, is also “especially stocked with Brazilian meat,” points out one of the local cashiers.

Some 27 people have been arrested in Brazil, and Federal Police Commissioner Mauricio Moscardi warned of a corruption network inside the government that allowed adulterated meat to be legalized. That chain of infractions involved officials of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, to which President Temer belongs.

The main Brazilian meat producers added chemicals to meats that were “rotten” or unfit for human consumption. An extensive network of bribe payments purchased approval from the Ministry of Agriculture.

“They used acids and other chemicals, in some cases carcinogenic, to disguise the physical characteristics of the rotten product and its smell,” Moscardi explained. They treated the meat with vitamin C to give it a more “appetizing” color, along with levels of preservatives well above those allowed by health authorities.

Representatives of both companies have denied allegations by police authorities, but the alarm has spread in the international market and the companies’ stock prices have tumbled sharply.

“BFR ensures the high quality and safety of its products and guarantees that there is no risk for its consumers,” said one of the largest food companies in the world with more than 30 brands in its portfolio, Sadia, Perdigão, Qualy, Paty, Dánica, Bocatti or Confidence.

Cuban customers who are learning about the news coming from Brazil are beginning to connect the dots. “The chicken no longer came with the quality of before and had a lot of ice”

The Chilean Ministry of Agriculture announced, a few hours ago, that it would accept no more imports from the Brazilian beef market. Minister Carlos Furche explained that the measure is temporary “until the Brazilian authorities know exactly what facilities are being investigated, and of those facilities which have exported to the world and Chile,” he said.

The Chinese authorities have responded unceremoniously. The Government banned all such imports and prevented meat already shipped from being unloaded in its ports. Last year the Asian country imported 1.6 billion dollars from Brazilian meatpackers.

Europe has slowed shipments from JBS and BRF. This week the European Commissioner for Health Affairs, Vytenis Andriukaitis, will travel to Brasilia and the agenda revolves around the food scandal.

Cuban customers who are learning about the news coming from Brazil are beginning to connect the dots. “The chicken no longer came with the quality of before and had a lot of ice,” complains Luisa Cordoves, a housewife in Central Havana who says that “right now it’s better to buy the chicken boxes that come from United States, because the product tastes better. ”

She believes that the scandal will not dissuade domestic consumers from acquiring these products. “People have many needs and there is no choice: you take it or leave it.”

Santa y Andres: It’s Never Too Late If The Censorship Is Old / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Screenshot of the film ‘Santa y Andres’ by Cuban director Carlos Lechuga.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 4 March 2017 — Miami and Havana are the same city. Those censored here, in Havana, are going to end up over there; while the residents there spend their vacations here. The movies that are not allowed in the Cuban theaters find their place in Calle Ocho in Miami. Santa y Andrés, a film directed by Carlos Lechuga and censored at the Festival of New Latin American Cinema, will be presented this Sunday at the Miami Film Festival.

The film could not premiere on the Island because the authorities were bothered by its treatment of the story of a homosexual intellectual persecuted and monitored in the decade of the eighties. Without having made the necessary mea culpa for that witch hunt, officialism refuses to accept that punishment against artists once existed. continue reading

The more orthodox argued that their script distorted the facts and was unaware that many of the mistakes had been rectified

The controversy over the exclusion of the movie was unleashed for weeks and the most orthodox argued that that script distorted the facts and didn’t note that many of the mistakes had been rectified. As if it would be useful to publish a poetry book by an author whose reputation was assassinated two decades earlier and to whom the worst adjectives were attached.

The defenders of the film point out its undeniable artistic values ​​and believe that in speaking publicly of those dark moments of the national culture the movie helps to build a better future. But even the opinions of renowned directors such as Fernando Pérez have not changed the ideas of the Party machinery of the Department of Revolutionary Guidance (DOR).

In the film, the two distant worlds that represent each of the protagonists manage to find a common thread. Perhaps the greatest annoyance felt by the censors is not the treatment of the conflicted poet, but the director’s thesis that it is possible to be reconciled amid such abysmal differences.

This possibility of the protagonists conversing and embracing in spite of the ideological gulfs that separate them, may have influenced the opposition to the movie Lettuce. In a country where political hatred is the main engine that drives power, there is no room for the reconciliation promoted by the film.

The Cuban Institute of Art and Film Industry (ICAIC) simply played its role of applying scissors to the national culture, but the order was given from above. From an entity that, fortunately, is still not able to control the movies that are shown in Miami, that other Cuban province.

Otto Rivero’s March 2nd / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Otto Rivero seated behind Fidel Castro (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 2 March 2017 — Otto Rivero directed the most powerful entity in Cuba at the beginning of this century, the Battle of Ideas, but was ousted by Raúl Castro a few months after the latter assumed the presidency. Now, the former youth leader has emerged from his “pajama plan” – as such forced retirements are referred to in Cuba – to be a producer for the Covarrubias National Theater, a few yards from the Plaza of the Revolution.

Reserved and with psychological scars from his purging, Rivero navigates behind the scenes of the well-known theater. Those who do not remember his glory days cannot even imagine that the silent employee who coordinates the events was once one of the most powerful men on the island. continue reading

Behind his discreet appearance hides the man who controlled the immense resources of a “supra-ministry” with omnipotent powers, arising from the campaign for the return of the child rafter Elian Gonzalez to Cuba. A supra-ministry with the capacity to oversee gas stations, distribute air conditioners or call forth the shock troops in repudiation rallies against dissidents.

On March 2nd, but eight years ago, a brief note published in the official press gave accounts of its end

On the second day of March, but eight years ago, a brief note published in the official press gave notice of his end. The Council of State had decided to “free compañero Otto Rivero Torres of his responsibilities as vice president of the Council of Ministers.” A phrase which, for connoisseurs of the official grammar, confirmed his fall into disgrace.

Rivero’s exclusion from the “family photo” had been foreshadowed since Fidel Castro was sidelined by health problems in mid-2006. The former secretary general of the Young Communists Union (UJC) had been part of the entourage of the “Comandante’s men” and his dismissal was only a matter of time.

In the purges carried out by Raul Castro against the team loyal to his brother, others who fell included vice president Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque. But unlike in their cases, Rivero’s ousting was not the subject of an acidic public diatribe; no column by the former president in the Party newspaper accusing him of addiction to “the honey of power.”

Close witnesses report that after his dismissal, Rivero went through a real ordeal. He was detained in the cells of the dreaded Villa Marista, State Security’s headquarters in Havana. He was accused of having allowed and participated in an enormous embezzlement that sucked funds out of the Battle of Ideas. The losses totaled millions in an era when Venezuelan oil allowed every kind of excess.

Police investigators blamed his lack of control over the entity and his having allowed its resources to be squandered on luxuries, foreign travel and gifts. Embezzled products circulated in the informal market: white, red and blue shirts; refrigerators made in China; and air conditioners.

“He was interrogated endlessly and his head could not resist,” a close family source says. “When he returned home he was a zombie, he could not even speak”

“He was interrogated endlessly and his head couldn’t resist,” a close family source told 14ymedio. “When he returned home he was a zombie, he couldn’t even speak.” His mental state deteriorated to the point that he attempted suicide, but “that didn’t go well,” the relative commented.

The former vice president’s family fell into a precarious economic state. The car and chauffeur were taken away as was the supply of luxury foods. As a punishment, the authorities sent Rivero to work at the Frederick Engels printers among the ink and printing presses. But he spent weeks before showing up for work the first time, where he became a mute automaton keeping his head down.

Rivero does not give statements or respond to questions about his past. All attempts to make him talk about the subject crash into the wall of his silence. But a nervous tic in his hands appears in response to the sound of certain names. His co-workers describe him as someone “affected” who has been “under psychiatric treatment.”

Of the confidence with which he wove slogans from the dais, nothing remains. “He is very careful and avoids being seen,” a singer-songwriter who has organized several events at Covarrubias Theater tells this newspaper. “He has changed a lot physically and most of the people who pass by him do not recognize him,” says the artist, who prefers anonymity.

Before the crash, his trajectory had been meteoric. At the age of 38, he was appointed Vice-President of the Council of Ministers after leading the UJC for seven years. With a degree in Economics and a seat in the National Assembly of People’s Power, the young man ascended the power structure at full speed to stand at the right hand of the Commander-in-Chief.

At the 7th UJC Congress of the, Fidel Castro defined Rivero and his team as “an avant-garde army, an elite troop of the Revolution.” Four years later, he had become a pariah

At the 7th UJC Congress, Fidel Castro defined Rivero and his team as “an avant-garde army, an elite troop of the Revolution” for being at the forefront of the Battle of Ideas. Four years after those words, the brand-new official had become a pariah.

To accommodate the Battle of Ideas, he began to refurbish a luxurious mansion on the central corner of 23 and B in Havana’s Vedado district. Here the promising leader would spend his glory days. The arrival of Raúl Castro stopped that dream and now the property hosts the Comptroller General of the Republic. A cruel irony.

Otto Rivero’s biography has also been removed from EcuRed, a Wikipedia substitute made to measure by the ruling party. For many Cubans, that youth leader no longer exists or has been forgotten. But very close to the Council of State he was once a part of, a gray employee ruminates his fate of banishment in the dim light of a theatrical hall.

Havana Mobilizes For The Liberation Of The Spy Ana Belén Montes

Campaign image for the liberation of Ana Belén Montes. “Everyone is one country. In that ‘global country’ the principle of loving thy neighbor as much as thyself turns out to be an essential guide.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana 27 February 2017 – This Tuesday, a campaign launches in Cuba for the liberation of Ana Belén Montes, a former intelligence analyst for the United States Defense Intelligence Agency, condemned for espionage and considered a “prisoner of conscience” by the government of Havana. The initiative includes concerts, conversations, and publications on social networks with the hashtag #FreeAnaBelenMontes.

The governing party seeks to revitalize the case of the spy, who was not included on the list of prisoners pardoned by Barack Obama at the end of his term. Now, efforts are focused on “getting her released through diplomatic negotiations,” according to official sources consulted by this newspaper. continue reading

Montes was arrested in September 2001 in Washington and sentenced to 25 years in prison for espionage assisting the Havana government. Currently, after her cancer diagnosis and mastectomy, she remains imprisoned in the Federal Medical Center (FMC) in Carswell, located on a U.S. Navy Air Station in Fort Worth, Texas.

For many years, the analyst provided substantial information to the Cuban Intelligence Agency, including military data following a visit to El Salvador, which Havana passed on to the FMLN guerillas (Marabundo Martî Front for National Liberation). That information served to inform an attack on a barracks in 1987 in which 65 soldiers perished, including an American.

The analyst provided substantial information to the Cuban Intelligence Agency, including military data following a visit to El Salvador, which Havana passed on to the FMLN guerillas.

The cause for the liberation of the ex-official maintains a low profile in comparison to the media coverage that surrounded the campaign for the five Cuban spies belonging to the Red Avispa (Wasp Network). In recent months, however, a photograph of Montes has appeared in various events organized by the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the People (ICAP) and other official entities.

Last year, the life of the Pentagon spy came to the screens through an episode of ‘Declassified,’ a documentary series released on CNN. The presenter of the program, Mike Rogers, former chair of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, guided spectators through the evidence that led to Montes’ arrest.

Like a fast-paced thriller, the documentary included the clue of a purchased Toshiba laptop, which led the FBI right to the spy, found in her apartment with information revealing her connection with the Island’s intelligence services; a code table found in her bag completed part of the investigative jigsaw puzzle.

The promoters of her release rely on International Amnesty’s definition of “prisoner of conscience,” considered as an “individual that has been imprisoned for their race, religion, skin color, language, sexual orientation or beliefs, as long as they have not propagated or practiced violence.” Her Cuban defenders argue that Montes did not receive payments from the Cuban government for her services nor was she recruited through “sordid blackmail.” They define her as someone that faced risks “for love of justice and honorary solidarity for the cause of the Cuban revolution.”

In October 2015 the Cuban Committee for the Liberation of Ana Belén Montes was created in Havana. The organization relies on various global affiliates and for months its objective was to demand a “presidential pardon” for the ex-official. The members systematically sent letters to the American government seeking her liberation.

A rumor about the possible exchange of Montes for Joanne Chesimard, alias Assata Shakur, who is a refugee in Cuba and wanted for the murder of a police officer in New Jersey, faded away without it being confirmed. The fugitive, who is on the Ten Most Wanted List in the United States and for whose capture there is a posted reward of 2 million dollars, continues to live out her days in Havana.

In October 2015 the Cuban Committee for the Liberation of Ana Belén Montes was created, which relies on various global affiliates.

In the weeks leading up to Obama’s White House departure, demands for the liberation of Montes rose to new heights. “She deserves now, more than ever, a presidential pardon, now that the U.S. speaks of normalizing relations with Cuba,” declared organizers of the committee.

This Tuesday Belén Montes turns 60 years old. Her release date is anticipated to be in 2023 and nothing points to her being released before that time. 

Translated by Chavely Garcia.

Potatoes Return to the Rationed Market / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

The sale of potatoes in Santiago de Cuba. (Yosmani Mayeta / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 23 February 2017 – The unrationed distribution of potatoes, a symbol of Raul Castro’s government, has suffered a big setback. During the quarter of February, March and April, the distribution of potatoes was returned to the ration market throughout the country, with a limit of 14 pounds per person and requiring the presentation of a ration book, according to announcements made by the authorities in local media.

The measure has been taken to “ensure the population greater access to the purchase of potatoes,” says the official statement.

The purchase will be “recorded in the ration book and maintains the value of one peso”

The user will receive “14 pounds per capita (two in the first month and six in each of the two remaining months) at ​​state agricultural markets (MAE) and bodegas.” The purchase will be “recorded in the ration book and maintains the value of one peso.” continue reading

The areas that do not receive potatoes this month will be able to acquire the pounds corresponding to February along with the six pounds for March.

The potato was distributed exclusively in the controlled way until 2009 at a price of 0.45 Cuban pesos per pound, less than 2 cents US. After that, sales were uncontrolled at a price of 1 Cuban peso ($0.04 US), an amount the state described as subsidized.

Between the years 2014 and 2015, the potato harvest experienced important growth, going from a little more than 53,000 tonnes, to 123,000 tonnes. But domestic consumption also grew with the greater number of tourists coming to the country and the expansion of the private sector, especially those dedicated to food services.

The distribution of the nationally grown potato, with a lower yield than the imported, started this year in the municipalities of Artemisa, San Antonio, Guira de Melena and Alquizar, where the potatoes are grown. In the coming days potatoes will also arrive in the capital, where consumers are anxiously awaiting them.

“Something had to be done because when the potatoes came, the only ones who could buy them were the resellers and the hoarders,” complains Samuel, a retired resident of nearby Estancia Street, outside the Youth Labor Army on Tulipan Street.

For the man, “the measure favors the poorest people,” although he still thinks that “the price is very high” for those who are living on a pension. “I only get 180 Cuba pesos a month (roughly $7.20 US) and it’s not enough,” he says.

“That was a decision from above, and it surprised a lot of people here,” an official told 14ymedio

However, María Victoria, a worker at a foreign exchange store, believes that “this is a step back, because at this point the ration book doesn’t have them.” The state employee is surprised by the return of the potato to the ration market. “Instead of going forward, I think we’re going backwards,” she said.

In the Ministry of Agriculture, all the workers who enter the imposing building and the drivers who wait outside for some official are talking about potatoes. “That was a decision from above, and it surprised a lot of people here,” one of them tells 14ymedio, preferring to remain anonymous.

Last April, the Communist Party Congress ratified the Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy, among which it was agreed “to continue the orderly and gradual elimination of products on the ration book.” However, the decision has not been implemented so far.

Canary Islanders in Cuba, Islanders Two Ways / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mara and Daniel Delisau

Building of the ‘Leonor Pérez’ Canarian Association of Cuba ‘Leonor Pérez’ in Old Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata and Daniel Delisau, Havana/Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 20 February 2017 — The players arrange their dominoes on the table. Outside, the sun still floods the wide entryway on Monserrate Street in Old Havana and time seems to have stopped. The scene occurs at the Canary Island Association of Cuba, a community that languishes between nostalgia and lack of resources.

People from the Canary Island migrated to Cuba for decades. In 1862 there were 48,192 Canary Islanders in Cuba, 41.5% of the total Spaniards in the country. The flow continued, with highs and lows, and between 1898 and 1932, another 70,000 Canary Islanders arrived. continue reading

The descendants of those travelers maintain some of their customs and gather at the Association that bears the name of Jose Marti’s mother, Leonor Perez.

In the main building, there’s a cultural folk night every Thursday, with typical dances and songs although the average age of the regulars is over 60 and the younger ones rarely come, says an employee of the place. “They are older people, most of them with economic needs,” she explains to 14ymedio. “They need food and basic products like vitamins, disposable diapers, bedsore creams, wheelchairs or walkers. But we are less and less able to help them, because they’ve cut off a lot of the aid to us,” she adds.

The descendants of canaries in Cuba maintain some of their customs and gather at the Association that bears the name of the mother of José Martí, Leonor Pérez

“When they are helpless we have to send them to the Church, because this Association is going through a bad time. We can barely help them and we also have to prepare the activities we hold here,” she confessed. “This building consumes a tremendous amount of resources and keeping the doors open every day is a heroic task.”

Upstairs, sales of food and drink try to raise some cash. Coffee, soft drinks, chicken and garbanzo Milanese, says the menu board. But the food service isn’t enough to stop the institution’s decline. A deterioration hardly noticeable to the newcomer, dazzled by the majesty of the interior and the recently painted façade.

The Association has around 47,000 members throughout the country, and those who are able pay 12 Cuban pesos a month in dues. This money is barely enough to run the building, a few yards from the most luxurious hotels in Havana’s historic center, nor to maintain the association’s 14 houses across the country.

In mid-2014, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the government of the Canary Islands sent three grants worth 16,000, 9,000 and 6,000 euros for the Association, intended for a day care center for the elderly, the purchase of medications, and repairs and improvements to the Guines headquarters. But the resources were quickly depleted due to high demand, according to internal sources.

The president of the Association, Carmelo Gonzalez Acosta, traveled to the Canaries this January to remind its public administration of the need to maintain the aid and interviewed the Deputy Minister of Foreign Action, Pedro Rodríguez Zaragoza, with a view to “recovering the support of the Community Administration toward those who have Canary Island blood in their veins,” reported local media.

The Association has around 47,000 members throughout the country, and those who are able pay 12 Cuban pesos a month in dues. That money is barely enough to keep the property running

The Cuban authorities also asked the Canary Island government to help them by sending a stone mill to supply Canary descendants with gofio (flour made from roasted grains), the Cuban consul in the Canary Islands, Ulises Barquin, explained recently in an interview.

The official explained that the gofio disappeared “at the end of the 1980s with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, which was the main supplier of wheat,” but now they want to restart the production because “it goes far beyond the food aspect… it has an enormous symbolic value.”

The mill sounds like a distant promise to those who spend their hours in the spacious facility in Monserrate Street. “Before, you could come here and eat very cheaply, but we’ve lost a lot of options,” complains an old man. “Now they don’t sell custard and rice pudding for us, which I can’t eat any more because my sugar is through the roof.”

Paco, a Cuban son of the Canaries, feels grateful for being able to count on a place to “meet friends and have a good time.” His two sons emigrated to get Spanish nationality and now the old man waits to “have a place in the Canary Island vault in Havana’s Columbus Cemetery,” because his family “doesn’t have a proper tomb.”

A woman walks through the wide gate and asks the receptionist if there will be a feast for Easter. Her name is María Antonia Hernández, she is 56 years old and she is the granddaughter of a Canary Islander who came to the Island at the beginning of the 20th century. “He came looking for a better life and ended up owning a bodega in San Antonio de los Baños,” says the woman. “A short time later he married a woman from Pinar del Rio and they had eight children.”

“The behavior, the character and the way of being of the Cubans is very linked to the Canary Islands” …at present there are at least 650,000 Canary Islanders and their descendants” in Cuba

Roberto Domínguez, author of the book Ariguanabo: History, Music and Poetry, says that “the behavior, the character and the way of being of Cubans is very linked to the Canary Islands.” He calculates that at present in Cuba “there are at least 650,000 Canary Islanders of their descendants.

When she was a child and was annoyed by something, Maria Antonia Hernandez’s mother repeated with a sneer that she was acting like an “islander” like her grandfather. Although Cuba is also subject to “the damn circumstances of water everywhere,” according to the poet and playwright Virgilio Pinera, Cubans rarely self-define as islanders. In the popular language “islander” is reserved for those from the Canary Islands.

“We are the few who called them by their place of origin, because the rest of the Spaniards call them Galicians,” reflects the granddaughter of the old man. “He had a lot of friends who came from villages close to his and he loved to eat ropa vieja, but with garbanzos,” she recalls.

Hernandez tried to obtain Spanish nationality through the Law of Historical Memory, popularly known as the Law of Grandchildren, but failed to complete the paperwork with all the required documents. “My grandfather came to this country with just his clothes and always gave very little importance to the papers,” she laments.

Failure to obtain a European Community Passport has meant a severe economic blow for her. Earlier this month the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation announced the subsistence allowances for 2017, support that would have been very welcome to María Antonia Hernandez, who is retired with the equivalent of 10 euros per month.

As of January 2015, 119,662 Spaniards resided in Cuba, the vast majority of  them Cubans who obtained Spanish nationality through the law of grandchildren

Others have been luckier than this descendant of a Canary Islander. According to Cuba’s National Statistics Institute (INE), as of January 2015, 119,662 Spaniards resided in Cuba, the vast majority of them Cubans who obtained Spanish nationality through the law of grandchildren. In 2014 alone, some 5,618 nationals received their European Community passport through that route.

Maria Antonia’s grandfather was never able to return to his homeland. “He died a few days after the events of the Port of Mariel,” the migratory crisis that led thousands of Cubans to escape the island in 1980 and that came to be known in the United States as the Mariel Boatlift. “He would not have believed that the country he had come to would have turned out like this.”

“The bodega was nationalized and suffered directly from the shortage of things that he liked most: tobacco, gofio and sardines,” recalls Maria Antonia. As an inheritance he left her an old mahogany wardrobe and a three-string guitar that he played in country parties.

From Island to Island

José Luis Mosqueda is president of the Association of Cuban Residents in Gran Canaria, the second largest of the Canary Islands. The entity “was created six years ago and is meant to bring together the majority of Cubans” who reside on that other island, he comments to 14ymedio.

The group has 112 members and the last public event they celebrated was for the anniversary of José Martí, when they took flowers to a bust of him in Telde. “The mother of José Martí was from Tenerife, but her ancestors, the grandparents, were from San Mateo, in Gran Canaria,” Mosqueda proudly remarks.

Consul Ulises Barquín estimates that there are some 22,700 Cubans spread over the seven islands that make up the archipelago, “although 25 to 30% of them are not physically here” because “they left with the economic crisis or they repatriated themselves after Cuba changed its controls on travel and migration, in January 2013, eliminating the requirement for an exit permit to leave the country.

The tourists enter to take photos and eat in the cafeteria of the ‘Leonor Pérez’ Canarian Association of Cuba in Old Havana. (14ymedio)

“In actual numbers, we are around 15-16,000 Cubans living in the Canary Islands, with Tenerife having the most,” and 95% of them are regularized, says the consul.

Mosqueda emigrated to Gran Canaria 26 years ago. His sister is married to “a Canarian of those who went to Cuba to avoid military service during the Spanish Civil War,” he says. In 1961 they decided to return and soon the brother joined them.

When he arrived he began to work “in a company that polishes parquet and granite, with a friend of the family.” Later, he became independent and created “a building and renovation business,” he adds. He then set up an aluminum workshop where he has been working for 15 years.

The association that he leads, Mosqueda says, brings together those who “continue to believe that they are really Cuban and still love Cuba.”

Rural Women: Between Furrow And Domestic Labors / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Idalmis is one of many Cuban women who dedicate 71% of their working hours to unpaid domestic work. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Alquizar (Artemisa), 30 January 2017 –In Alquízar the red earth covers everything with a reddish layer. To Gladys Montero that crimson powder gets into the wrinkles of the face. “I come from the deep field,” she warns. In Cuba, 21% of women live in rural areas, wake up when the rooster crows and make their lives at the rhythm marked by the crops.

Formerly praised as a “loving guajira,” drawn in a bucolic environment or photographed with her starving children, the peasant woman no longer resembles any of these stereotypes. However, her peculiarities are scarcely heard today amidst the bustle of urban centers and macho prejudices. continue reading

Gladys is close to turning 70 and carries the memories of her childhood as “fresh as a lettuce.” As a child, she helped her parents to plant “corn, beans and squash.” She only finished the eighth grade, although she detects with a glance whether a furrow was planted with dedication or sloppily.

The female workforce in the agricultural sector represents 19.2% of the total of its workers and only 17.3% of the management positions in these areas are occupied by them

Although in 2013 more than 142,300 women worked in the fields of the island, in the popular imagination these tasks remain “a thing of men.” The female workforce in the agricultural sector represents 19.2% of the total workers and only 17.3% of the management positions in this area are occupied by them.

Inside the houses the picture is totally different. 56% of rural women are engaged in household chores. Statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture indicate that for every 100 men with stable employment in the countryside, there are scarcely 30 women.

As a young woman, Gladys also cut cane, hard work that is scary even for many men. “I gave birth to my first child very young and shortly after the second one came,” she recalls. When the children grew up, her mother became ill and she took care of her until the end of her days.

The majority of her neighbors and relatives have gone through a similar situation. Hundreds of miles from the village of Artemisa, where Gladys lives, Rosa María also lives a life in front of the fire in Florida, Camagüey. “There are nights when I go to bed, everything hurts and my feet are very swollen.”

The main problems that both must overcome each day are linked to the energy source with which they process food, the water supply, domestic violence and economic difficulties. None have a hobby, they hardly participate in social activities nor have they gone to the movies in the last ten years.

The qualitative study, Fifty Voices And Faces Of Cuban Peasant Leaders, sponsored by OXFAM-Canada and the Government of Andalusia, revealed that the empowerment of rural women is failing on the overload of domestic responsibilities and childcare, along with insufficient technical preparation and sexist stereotypes, among other factors.

For every 100 hours of men’s work, women perform 120, most of them simultaneous activities

Across the country, females devote 71% of their working hours to unpaid domestic work, according to a 2002 Time Use Survey. For every 100 hours of men’s work, women perform 120, most of them simultaneous activities. A situation that is aggravated in the towns and villages.

Specialist Mavis Álvarez Licea believes that “a still significant majority of rural men behave with a strong hegemonic masculinity.” While women “are still subjected to male power, perhaps not in the same degree and condition as their predecessors but, overtly or openly, they are repressed and discriminated against.”

Gladys Montero only finished eighth grade, although she detects with a glance when a furrow was planted with dedication. (14ymediate)

The case of Teresa González is different. From the age of 17 she began to keep the accounts at the José Antonio Echevarría credit and service cooperative at Artemisa. Today she holds the presidency. “I spent the day doing the accounts and at first the men who were in the field thought that this was not work,” she recalls. Over time she has made everyone respect her work.

In 2008, the government of Raúl Castro implemented a series of measures to revive agricultural production. Among them was the delivery of idle land in a form of leasing known as usufruct, under Decrees-Laws 259 and 300, but according to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, four years after the start of the process, of the 171,237 beneficiaries, only 9.5% were women.

Men continue to have property control over agricultural resources such as land, water, inputs and credits, and make most of the decisions. Of women, only 12,102 are landowners, for 11% of all landowners.

Men continue to have property control over agricultural resources such as land, water, inputs and credits, and make most of the decisions. Women represent only 11% of landowners

The Cuban authorities favor the figures comparing the situation between men and women in terms of access to health, education, employment and administrative positions. But little is published about the gender wage differences and the contrasts of opportunities, especially those linked to regional location.

In the middle of a furrow where she picks tomatoes, Marisol says she always has something to do. “After this comes the harvesting of garlic that pays better,” she tells 14ymedio. Her husband prefers to have her “in the house all day polishing on the floor,” but economic constraints have forced him to accept that she works in agriculture.

At her side, under the inclement sun, is Mirta, who, every day after completing the tasks of reaping and arriving at her modest house, carries the water from a nearby irrigation channel to bathe, wash clothes and cook. “We do not have a television because the current comes to us from a ‘clothesline’ (an informal wire run off someone else’s line) and the voltage is very low.”

She has not been able to convince her children to stay in that house surrounded by fields and pigsties. Her son decided to remain in the military when he finished his military service and her daughter married a man who “took her to Havana.”

_______

Editorial Note: This report was made with the support of Howard G Buffet Fund for Women Journalists  of the  International Women’s Media Foundation.

Rationing Says Goodbye To “Chicken For Fish” / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

A ration market slaughterhouse (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 23 January 2017 — The news has appeared quietly in the official media: since the beginning of this year the share of the so-called “chicken for fish*” has been eliminated from the rationed market. The measure is part of the process of the “rearrangement of the basic market basket,” as confirmed by the Camagüey newspaper Adelante in its Saturday edition.

As of January 1st of this year the distribution of chicken in rationing networks is governed by new quotas. The meat companies of each province will be responsible for the subsidized distribution of chicken meat, including the six ounces that, until last December, was arranged the Fishery Industry to replace fish. continue reading

Kenya Medina Monesti, director of the Meat Company of Camagüey, said that with this measure the population living in urban areas will receive 12 ounces of chicken per person nine times a year, while in December they will get only 8 ounces.

The distribution will be more widely spaced in rural areas, where consumers will be able to purchase the product only four times a year

In February and September there will be deliveries in urban areas only, and only for children under six years old, who will be entitled to six ounces of chicken in each of these two months.

The distribution will be spaced out more widely in rural areas, where consumers will be able to purchase the product only four times a year, “in an amount equivalent to 10.6 ounces,” according to the report.

Each consumer would receive 7 pounds and 4 ounces of chicken a year, of which 6 ounces a month would replace fish (the so-called “chicken for fish”). Consumers will now receive 1 pound and three quarts of chicken a month for adults, and 11 ounces for children under the age of 14. In this way, each person gets three quarters of a pound of chicken more than before.

In 2014 the official press confirmed that the fishing crisis, which reduced fish consumption by 75%, would be very difficult to overcome

In 2014 the official press confirmed that the fishing crisis, which reduced fish consumption by 75%, would be very difficult to overcome, so seafood would continue to be missing from the ration card.

“Today, as a practical matter, we have only the fish from our own catches and from aquaculture, which together total just over 37,000 tonnes of fish,” said industry officials cited by the newspaper Granma. This amount is well below 200,000 tonnes, mainly of mackerel from the Soviet Union, which was consumed in the 1980s on the island.

*Translator’s note: The ration market has historically provided both chicken and fish to Cubans as a part of their monthly food ration. However, for years, fish has been scarce, to the ration markets routinely substituted “chicken for fish.”

Cuba’s Real Estate Market Shaken With End of Privileged Emigration to the US / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

The real estate market has been largely fueled by homes whose owners have plans to emigrate. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, Zunilda Mata, 16 January 2017 – The sign is still hanging from the balcony. “For Sale,” it says in big letters that can be seen from the street. But Jorge no longer wants to auction off the apartment on Emilia Street in Santo Suarez. With Barack Obama’s decision to end the “Wet Foot/Dry Foot” policy, this 52-year-old Havanan has lost interest in obtaining, at any cost, the money to get him to the United States.

The buying and selling and private homes was authorized in Cuba at the end of 2011, after having been prohibited for decades. Decree-Law 288, approved at that time, allowed the transfer of property between both “Cuban natural persons living in the country,” and “permanent foreign residents of the national territory.” continue reading

After the authorization, numerous private real estate companies emerged, and a flood of classified announcements inundated the housing sections of digital commerce sites such as Revolico, Por el Techo, Cubisima and Casas Cubanas. Many of the property descriptions include, “Selling to leave, I’m in a hurry.”

“They are more likely to lower prices and accelerate the whole process, because they need the money as soon as possible”

“The housing market has been fueled largely by houses whose owners have plans to emigrate,” Juan Alberto Fonseca, an economist and manager of a small office in Vedado that helps interested people sell or buy a home, tells 14ymedio.

“That motivation makes them more likely to lower prices and accelerate the whole process, because they need the money as soon as possible,” says the specialist. The end of the program that allows Cubans to automatically obtain residence in the United States “will directly influence the number of houses in the market,” he says.

Since the implementation of the immigration reform in January 2013, some 671,000 nationals have traveled abroad. Of these, 45% have returned to the island, and of the rest, according to figures released this week in the daily official Granma, many have not yet been gone longer than 24 months, the maximum time away that had been set in the law if a citizen wanted to maintain the right to reside in Cuba. (Prior to the reforms the maximum time Cubans could remain outside the country while keeping the right to reside in the country was 11 months and, under the new agreement with the US, the Cuban government has said it will extend that time to four years.)

Official figures do not specify whether travelers or emigrants have paid for their departure from the country with the sale of a car, a house, land or other properties such as appliances, jewelry or a cemetery plot. It has become common in recent years to exchange one’s possessions for an amount that will allow emigrants pay visa fees, tickets, transportation and payment to the coyotes that lead to the US border.

“We have sold everything, we can not go back,” says Charly Medina, a Cuban who was stranded in Turbo this week and received “like a bucket of cold water” Washington’s announcement that it was eliminating the immigration privileges enjoyed by the islanders. “With the sale of our house in Santa Clara we were able to get here, but we do not have anything else,” he explains.

Charly’s story is also the story of many of those who have stayed on the road to the United States border. If they were deported to the Island they would face the harsh reality of not even having a place to sleep.

“So far we have not noticed a drop in the number of houses for sale, but we are preparing for this measure to have an impact on the market,” an employee of Zafiro Real Estate, located in the suburb of Miramar, tells 14ymedio.

The real estate agent predicts that many will remove their homes “from the listings, so it is possible that there will be a rise in prices in the coming months.” However, she believes that in the short term little will change. “The vast majority of those interested in emigrating do not yet believe that the United States will strictly uphold Obama’s provision,” she adds.

The latest official figures, which are for the year 2013, indicate that the emerging real estate market reached about 80,000 transactions that year, double that of the previous year, according to Aniuska Puente Fontanella, a specialist at the Registry Office for Property, Commerce and the Heritage of the Ministry of Justice.

The practice of two-part payments, the first in Cuba in convertible pesos and the second in dollars or euros in the destination country of the seller, has become common

The practice of two-part payments, the first in Cuba in convertible pesos (CUC) and the second in dollars or euros in the destination country of the seller, has become common in the national real estate market. The law, however, states that transactions must be made in Cuban pesos (CUP) or CUC.

Each property’s title establishes a minimum reference value in CUP for the dwelling. That is the value that is usually stated during the purchase transaction and, on that amount, the buyer pays a 4% tax on the transmission of goods and inheritance and the seller the same amount on personal income. However, the actual transaction is made for an amount that is often ten times the declared amount.

Economist Juan Alberto Fonseca explained to this newspaper that “many owners prefer that part of the money be delivered to their family in Miami, Madrid or any other city to avoid having to take too much cash through the airport if they are going to emigrate.”

What Do Cuban Children Want For Christmas? / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Buying toys for their children on Three Kings Day is an major effort for most Cuban families. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 5 January 2017 – Chocolates, toys and technology star in the letters that Cuban children are writing to the Three Kings right now. The tradition of giving gifts to children on Epiphany, the 6th of January – the day the Three Kings are believed to have reached the manger to honor Jesus’ birth – arrived with force after decades of fierce atheism, but this year the economic crisis has cut the expectations of gifts.

Patricia, 28, works in a private day care center in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood. Last week she helped the children write letters addressed to Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. “Most asked for electronic tablets, cars with batteries or video games,” she says. continue reading

The children at Patricia’s nursery are the children of parents with a high purchasing power: foreigners resident in the country or owners of private restaurants. They are willing to pay between 60 and 100 Cuban convertible pesos a month (about the same in dollars) for the care of their children and to satisfy all their whims for January 6.

However, the picture is very different in the vast majority of families. “I warned them that they have to ask for something cheap, because I have had many expenses,” says Yaimara, the mother of two girls, ages five and ten. The woman finished repairing the roof of her house and has been left in a complicated economic situation.

“The thing is, it’s not like before,” reflects Yaimara, who complains that “everything has gone up in price” and she cannot “reach into my wallet and buy toys, because now everything goes for food.”

A box with pieces to set up a small zoo costs 27.90 CUC, the monthly salary of a qualified state worker

The network of state markets is preparing for the occasion. The centrally located Carlos III Plaza in Havana has one of the toy stores most frequented lately. Inside, dolls compete with kitchen sets, costumes and small musical instruments.

A box with pieces to set up a small zoo costs 27.90 CUC, the monthly salary of a qualified state worker. Lower-income families buy plastic figurines or crystal marbles. “I’ve been saving up for this all year,” a grandmother told 14ymedio as she bought a truck with a tiny driver.

Others ask the Magi for food. “I want chocolates and soft drinks,” says Daniela, a sixth grader from a school in Cerro. Her parents warned her that “there is no money for toys” and the girl has adjusted her expectations in line with the family’s wallet.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Government supplied subsidized toys through a rationed market for industrial products. With the fall of the Soviet Union that was eliminated. Those who were children then are now parents and juggle to meet the demands of their own children.

For them, informal commercial networks are an alternative. For 25 CUC, the Revolico classified site (a kind of Cuban Craigslist) offers Lego City sets* that include three small figures: a deep sea diver and two scuba divers. Cheaper options are inflatable balls for 3 CUC, jump ropes for only 1 CUC and teddy bears for less than 5 CUC.

*Translator’s note: The Lego Deep Sea Starter Set – which appears to be the set referred to – is available for less than $10 (in some cases much less) in the United States. 25 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) is roughly $25.

Housing Construction In Cuba Remains Very Slow / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

In Havana, there have been great shortages in construction materials since last November.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 3 January 2017 – This week Luisa Bermejo’s biggest headache  will be getting the rebar she’s lacking. For months she’s been piling up stacks of cement, bricks and other materials to build an improvised room in the Cerro district of Havana. If she’s lucky she’ll soon finish her house built with her own efforts, in a year when the state plans to build fewer than 10,000 houses on the entire island.

The authorities recognize that the housing problem is the primary social need in Cuba – analysts estimate the deficit at some 600,000 homes – but in the last decade the number of homes built has fallen by 20%. In 2006, there was a historic peak of 111,373 housing units erected, but by the end of 2015 the total barely exceeded 23,000, more than half of which were built through private efforts. continue reading

With the gloomy economic announcements in the last session of the National Assembly, alarms have also been set off about the development of the housing fund in the short and medium term. In his speech to the parliamentarians, Minister of Economy and Planning Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz declared that in the next twelve months the state will only finish some 9,700 homes.

The areas prioritized for the new buildings coincide with the five municipalities affected by Hurricane Matthew in its passage across Guantanamo province, a region where more than 38,000 homes were totally or partially destroyed, and for which the government is raising international aid to rebuild them.

Homes built between 2006 and 2015. (14ymedio)

The Alaves Emergency Fund, established by the Provincial Council of Alava and the Municipality of Vitoria, in Spain’s Basque Country, just announced it will allocate 52,000 euros for schools and workplaces in the area of Cuba affected by the hurricane, but foreign aid is barely a drop in the ocean of Cuba’s housing deficit.

The difficult situation facing thousands of families has led many to stop waiting for the state’s construction plans – in the style of those undertaken in the years of the Soviet subsidy – and to seek their own solutions. A tortuous road, where the obstacles range from getting the materials to the cost of labor.

Luisa, 61, lived for six years in a place that she, her two daughters and her husband sneaked into. “There was no bathroom and we had to see to our needs in a can and empty it every day,” she tells 14ymedio. With the 2011 enactment of the law that allows the buying and selling of houses , Bermejo acquired a small piece of land near Sports City, with a rickety wooden house on it

These last three years she has dedicated to construction, spending full time locating and acquiring the materials for the house, supervising the brick layers and making with her own hands everything from formwork to mortar. “We are living amid dust and sacks, but at least it’s mine,” she reflects. So far, she has spent 2,000 Cuban Convertible pesos, a decade’s worth of the salary from her former job as a teacher, from which she retired a couple of years ago.

In the middle of last year Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, vice-president of the Councils of State and of Ministers, made clear that the solution to the problem of the house in the country resides “in individual effort”

At the beginning of the century, Vice President Carlos Lage was the official functionary in charge of the housing program. The goal, in those years, was to build 150,000 houses a year to relieve the problem. Luisa hoped to benefit from an apartment in a microbrigade building built by a social contingent, but the brief economic flourishing the island experienced with aid from Venezuela was extinguished shortly thereafter.

“We realize we have to solve this problem ourselves,” she comments. Shortly afterwards, Lage was ousted and no other face of the government took on the public commitment to families needing a roof.

Instead, in the middle of last year, Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, also vice-president of the Councils of States and of Ministers, made it clear that the solution to the housing problem in the country resides “in individual effort.”

Despite the attention, the result is insufficient. The retired teacher is now worried about problems with the supply of construction materials, with the east of the island given priority, according to decisions made in the capital. “We have a lot of problems getting pipes and everything related to electrical installation,” she explains. She also needs “tiles, concrete glue and gravel.”

Since last November, there have been weeks of shortages of building materials in Havana, a situation that could slow even further the completion of construction projects. But Luisa seems determined to finishing her own personal plan. “This year my bathroom and my own shower, even if I have to tile it with my own hands.”

American Chicken for Cuban Christmas / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

The frozen chicken ‘made in the USA’, a product in great demand in Cuba amid the rise in prices for domestic meat. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 23 December 2016 — Against all odds, two years after the beginning of the diplomatic thaw between the governments of Cuba and the United States, trade between the two countries has diminished. The Island bought 21% less food from its northern neighbor in the first four months of this year, compared to the same period in 2015.

However, this Christmas Cubans have seen frozen chicken Made in the USA reappear in the network of state markets, a product in high demand amid rising prices for domestic meat. Many have decided to change the traditional pork menu that families eat on December 31 for a plate with breast, thighs or wings.

Imports of US poultry fell by half between January and April 2016 in contrast to last year. Hence, consumers have received happily the news about the recent supply, though they fear the quantity of this yuma (American) product will decline further with the arrival of Donald Trump at the White House.

Hola Ola Technology Park Rush to Open Leaves Some Users Disappointed / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

The biggest attraction of the site, for the users of Hola Ola, is the internet access wifi zone installed around the perimeter. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 29 December 2016 — The long-awaited installation of an internet connection area on Havana’s Malecon has taken its first step. The opening of the Hola Ola Technology Park last weekend was welcomed with great enthusiasm by the state media that described the infrastructure as “the architecture of high technology.”

The center, managed by the Youth Computer and Electronics Club (JCCE), has two rooms, one of them with 15 computers and 32-inch TVs for playing computer games, and another with 15 more machines and electronic games, among them several simulators, as announced by the provincial director of the capital’s Youth Club, Brigida Baeza Bravo. In practice, a visit to the center is enough to confirm that there are about 20 computers that lack access to the internet. continue reading

It is clear that the Technology Park was opened in haste and its first breakdowns are already visible. Tuesday, the simulators for flying, driving and shooting, installed by the Ministry of the Armed Forces (Minfar), were having software problems and were unusable, pending the necessary fixes.

The end-of-year school holidays have stimulated people’s interest in bringing their children to Hola Ola (Hello Wave) to better fill their time. One employee tried to give them hope, this Tuesday, in the face of the mishap that caused the breakdown. “The machines will be repaired very soon, but the FAR (Revolutionary Armed Forces) will have to do it,” she explained.

The explanation did not seem to improve the mood of the frustrated visitors who demanded their time in at the controls or with the toy gun and, to ease the situation, the employee reminded them of the air conditioned room with video games. The line began to extend beyond the compound, where the use of a computer costs two Cuban pesos (CUP) an hour (about 8 cents US).

One mother with two small children waited her turn in the cafeteria. “No one can eat this croquette, it’s dry and they didn’t even use breadcrumbs to make it go down better,” the woman complained, having paid two Cuban pesos for the product.

Another of the services announced in the official press by Brigida Baeza is the rental of tablets, who use was intended to be free during the opening days until a reasonable fee was approved. But the option, for now, is not available to the public.

But the biggest attraction of the site, for the users of Hola Ola, is the wifi access area installed around the perimeter. The network, managed by the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa), is also not working to its full capacity, because the antennas are not operational in the back, where the barbecue is located.

There is also no place on site to buy the Nauta cards needed to connect to the internet, which also limits the experience of would-be net surfers, a problem that will be solved “very soon,” according to several employees consulted by this newspaper.

“It’s the wifi area closest to me,” said Amarilys, a Havanan of 34 who lives in the Cayo Hueso neighborhood, although she complains that “the price to connect is still very high,” despite Etecsa’s recent drop from 2 Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC) an hour (roughly $2 US) to 1.50 CUC.

The infrastructure problems affecting Hola Ola also affected its bathrooms this Tuesday, which were flooded by a water leak. Nevertheless, the desire of many citizens to connect to the internet is huge and the web surfers didn’t let any of these inconveniences ruin the kilobyte party.

Cuba is one of the countries with the least internet connectivity in the world. In the last couple of years about 1,100 internet connection points have been enabled on the island, both in navigation rooms with computers provided, and in outdoor wifi zones, but many websites critical of the government remain censored and cannot be accessed from the island, the connection speed is low, and the service suffers from frequent outages.