In The Bank or Under the Mattress? Where Do Cubans Keep Their Money?

A man tries to get money at an ATM just outside a Metropolitan Bank in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 25 May 2017 — Finding a little bottle filled with coins that her father hid in the patio was something that happened to Eneida when she was young; now she’s a retired and says that financially she’s “escachada, without a single peso in the bank.” Her family inherited an old mansion in the center of Santa Clara, and also the determination not to put their savings in the hands of the state.

Each month, the pensioner goes to the nearest ATM, takes out the amount of her retirement, equivalent to about $12, and stores it inside an old coffee can. “I prefer to have it close because in most stores there are problems paying with a magnetic card.” continue reading

The Santa Claran also fears the authorities because, in her opinion, “you never know when they will confiscate something.”

Eneida has bad memories. Her father owned a bodega that was nationalized during the 1968 Revolutionary Offensive, and before that the small business owner had lost some of his savings with the paper currency swap decreed by the government in 1961. “He kept in the house what little they didn’t take from him,” recalls his daughter.

“He kept in the house what little the state didn’t take from him,” recalls his daughter

Since then more than half a century has passed, but many citizens are still wary of putting their money in government-run institutions.

The banking system is made up of nine banks, 14 non-bank national financial institutions, nine representative offices of foreign financial institutions and one in the process of registration. For Eneida all these entities are “the same dog but with a different collar.”

In Havana, the Metropolitan Bank seeks to attract more customers at all costs, but to the mistrust of banks is added the poor service at its branches. The long lines outside the offices and the few economic incentives to keep the money in their safes discourage savers.

The interest rates approved by the Central Bank determine that a fixed-term deposit of 72 months accumulates 7% of its amount. However, the dual currency system makes that figure ridiculous.

“I saved a third of my salary for five years to pay for my daughter’s fifteenth birthday party,” says Teobaldo, a 47-year-old from Las Tunas who transports goods from private markets to paladares and cafes. “I put it in the bank and I had no problem, but I had the illusion that the money would grow more.”

Theobald came to have the equivalent of 1,800 CUC with which he paid for the drink and the food of the party, as well as the cake and the cars to make a tour of the city and the photos of the honoree. “I had to ask my brother to send me more money from the United States for clothes, flowers and the hiring of musicians,” he adds.

It is not the mistrust of young people that guides them to not having bank accounts, but the economic precariousness of the day-to-day

As soon as his daughter’s birthday came, the small entrepreneur took all of his savings from the bank. “I did not want to set off the alarms,” he explains. In 1993, the government launched an offensive known as Operation Potted Plant aimed at confiscating products and imprisoning those who possessed “illicit money.”

The crusade became a hunt against the new rich. “If you had a nice house, air-conditioning and a well-painted façade, they would come down on you,” says Teobaldo. The Operation prosecuted two brothers  for “illicit enrichment.” One of them raised pigs and the other sold gold jewelry. After several years in prison they ended up emigrating.

Younger people see it differently. It is not mistrust that guides them to not have bank accounts, but the economic precariousness of the day-to-day. “Save money?” a young student at the University of Pedagogical Sciences who works during non-school hours as a messenger to distribute the Weekly Packet, asks with disbelief.

“Having savings is a thing for the rich,” he says. Most of their his live on what the parents give them or earn their own living, “but there is not enough to save,” he says.

Neither CUPs nor CUCs, It’s Bucks That Reign in Cuba

The official change that governs the US currency is very unfavorable. In exchange houses, each dollar is traded at 0.87 cents CUC. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 3 May 2017 — The guard looks at him and dismisses him as an undercover cop. “Are you coming to change dollars? I’ll pay you at 90 cents,” he tells the customer while turning his back on the security camera at the Currency Exchange (Cadeca). At the window, that same dollar is exchanged by the government for 0.87 Cuban convertible pesos (about 87¢ US).

Possessing hard currency was heavily penalized for decades. Until its authorization, in 1993, having foreign currency in your pocket could lead to a sentence of up to four years in prison.

The new monetary policy drastically changed the economic reality of the country and the bills with the faces of Lincoln, Franklin and Washington gained prominence in everyday financial operations. The “socialist paradise” worked with “the money of the empire,” some said wryly. continue reading

A decade after that decision, the authorities decreed that commercial transactions in the island could not be made in dollars, but only in Cuban pesos (CUP) and convertible pesos (CUC), the latter known popularly as chavitos.

However, “the currency of the enemy” remains an important reference point in the informal market.

The new emerging class hordes its savings in dollars while waiting for uncertain unification of Cuba’s two currencies

Entrepreneurs, artists who sell their works in the international market and Cubans who travel abroad are some of those who prefer the greenbacks. The new emerging class hordes its savings in dollars while waiting for the uncertain unification of Cuba’s two currencies.

The official exchanger rate that governs the US currency is very unfavorable. In exchange houses, every dollar is traded at 0.87 cents CUC, a price that has not changed for years and that especially affects those who receive financial assistance from their relatives abroad, a not negligible figure for the national economy.

Remittances sent to Cuba reached a record $ 3,354 billion in 2015, according to The Havana Consulting Group (THCG). The diplomatic meltdown between the two countries and the easing introduced by the Obama administration boosted the shipment of money and with it the upsurge of the informal currency market.

In March 2016, days before the visit of President Barack Obama to the island, the Cuban government announced the end of the 10% tax it had imposed on the American currency, a decision that excited much of the population.

Days before the visit of the President Barack Obama to the Island, the Cuban government announced the end of the tax of 10% it had imposed on the American currency

However, a year has passed since that announcement, and the measure has not been implemented. The authorities of the island justify the delay by asserting that they cannot yet conduct foreign trade operations with US currency as a result of the embargo.

In the banks and tourist businesses the buying and selling of Uncle Sam’s currency proliferates, parallel to the official networks. Many state employees are the bridge between foreigners and the underground market where the currency of the “empire” is sold.

Airports, despite strict surveillance, are the ideal site for this trade. Tourists arrive, the lines to exchange money are long, and individuals carrying bulging wallets wander among the travelers whispering the service they offer.

The guards and the banks themselves are linked to the black market. They earn a commission and keep a steady stream of dollars flowing into the illegal networks.

The dollar is also king in the monetary operations of those who want to get money out of the country. The currency is especially desired by mules who travel to countries in the region, such as Panama, the United States and Mexico, to import products such as footwear and clothing.

“This is a circular business,” says Henry, an informal entrepreneur who trades dollars. “The customer earns more than if he makes the exchange at the Cadeca and we get quantities of foreign exchange that you cannot go and buy from a bank,” he says.

The sale of foreign currencies in the country’s banking network is authorized but it is a complicated process. “Today I only have 120 dollars in the box so I cannot sell you any more,” a cashier from a Metropolitan Bank on Ayestarán Street in Havana told a client in need of foreign exchange.

In some bank branches they ask the customer to show an airplane ticket that justifies their need to acquire foreign currency for a trip. “I have walked through several banks and they tell me that they cannot sell me dollars or euros because they do not have them,” a resident of Havana’s Playa municipality complained last Friday, looking for dollars for a trip to Cancun.

On digital classifieds sites, there are many offers for the sale of dollars. Most advertisers prefer quantities that exceed of $ 1,000 and 50 or 100 dollar bills

On digital classifieds sites, there are many offers for the exchange of dollars. Most advertisers prefer amounts that exceed $1,000 and 50 or 100 dollar bills. “Selling at .96 cents a dollar,” one of these makeshift bankers says in an advertisement, promising “seriousness and reliability.”

“I have a house with five rooms and aterrace in the city of Cienfuegos, I want 50,000, half in convertible pesos and the other half in dollars,” says another classified in the popular portal Revolico. The practice is becoming more and more widespread.

“I do not want my money in these little colored papers (convertible pesos),” a musician, who performs in venues with a mostly foreign audience such as Dos Gardenias and La Casa de la Música de Miramar, explains to 14ymedio. Customers tip him “almost always in euros or dollars” and what he gets in CUCs he changes for “real money.”

His goal is to save enough to “spend a three-week vacation in Moscow and bring home things and clothes for the kids.” Spare parts for his Russian-made Lada car and a one-ton capacity air conditioner complete the dreams he wants to achieve with the green bills he keeps under his mattress.

The musician worries that “even tomorrow they could announce the monetary union and I would end up losing money” if it’s in one of the two national currencies. “The US Federal Reserve is there, it has several centuries of existence and gives me more confidence than the Central Bank of Cuba.”

Home Delivery Services, A Business That Captivates Cubans

In Havana, of 458 food sales businesses listed in the ‘AlaMesa’ directory, at least 66 offer a delivery option. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 25 April 2017 — The colorful vehicle takes off when the traffic light turns green, leaving the smell of freshly baked pizza in its wake. It is one of the visible signs that private businesses are succeeding in a country where ordering food from home was a chimera until recently.

In the days of Uber Eats and Amazon, Cuban entrepreneurs use more traditional methods. Paper ads pasted in public areas, telephone numbers along with photos of delicious dishes, and classifieds on digital sites are part of the strategies of the home delivery business, known on the island by the English word: delivery. continue reading

“We started with two motorcycles and we already have five,” says Yosniel, an employee in a business in Havana’s Vibora neighborhood that offers Chinese food to order. “At the beginning we received few calls a day, but since more people heard about our offers, the phone does not stop ringing,” he adds.

AlaMesa, the most complete directory of food services on the island, has so far registered around 930 restaurants, bars, pizzerias and ice cream parlors throughout the country. In Havana, of 458 food retail businesses that appear, at least 66 offer the possibility of home delivery.

Paper ads pasted in public areas, telephone numbers along with photos of delicious dishes, and classifieds on digital sites are part of business strategies

Mamma Mia is one of them. In a beautiful house on 23rd street you can eat Italian-style pizzas and they also prepare the delivery orders for customers from several nearby districts. “When I don’t feel like going out, I phone and have it delivered,” says Victor Manuel Manuel, a dedicated customer of the place and resident of the area.

The diner believes that domestic consumers are becoming more and more enthusiastic about the possibility of ordering from afar. “People are wary if they can’t preview the food they are going to buy, but when the quality of a place has been proven, that distrust diminishes,” he says.

Víctor Manuel works with two friends in an interior design business on his own. “Sometimes we have to spend hours and hours doing drawings or designing on the computer, so having the option of having the food at the door makes the job much easier,” he says.

At the end of January of this year, 539,952 Cubans were self-employed, of whom 59,368 were engaged in the preparation or sale of food. Most in small cafes or very simple places, but sophistication and glamor also has a presence in the sector.

Home deliveries are a private sector fiefdom and for decades very few state-owned restaurants offered such a possibility. The dispatcher who arrived on a motorbike with the pizza in his hand was a “movie thing” for several generations of Cubans, until in 2008 when the opportunities for self-employment were expanded.

The dispatcher who arrived on a motorcycle with the pizza in his hand has been a ‘movie thing’ for several generations of Cubans.

Liset and her husband Esteban have a service delivering sushi to order. This April is two years since they began to bring their exotic dishes to the customers’ homes. “We have offers of a roll that includes eight portions accompanied by wasabi, ginger and Japanese soy sauce, and also comes with vegetables,” the owner tells 14ymedio.

After living for five years in Costa Rica, the couple has returned to live on the Island and enters a new terrain. “Foreign businessmen based in the country, diplomats and Cubans who want to try new flavors,” says Esteban, describing his growing clientele.

“The main way we distribute our menu is the digital classified sites, but we also have a small brochure with prices and a ‘call at any time and we’ll take care of you’ advertisement. The text warns that for ‘larger orders for more than 20 people, order 24 hours ahead’.”

“The worst is when we are at a client’s house and he tells us that he made a mistake and that he will not buy the whole order because he does not have enough money,” says Liset. Without a prior reservation through internet or the guarantee of a credit card number in some online service, sellers can be victims of “jokes and false orders,” says the entrepreneur.

However, he says the incidence of these events is “infrequent” and that in general his experience is that business “is positive.” An advantage is that, “you do not need a large place or even have to invest in setting up a restaurant, just a phone line and a good organization in the kitchen.”

The entrepreneurs are planning to implement “a system of points and customer numbers to make ordering faster.”

Loyalty programs, rebates when a customer exceeds a number of orders per month and even small gifts to the most frequent customers, are some practices that are also beginning to spread. “Customers who put in more than two orders a month, we give them an extra menu item,” said Liset and Esteban.

The entrepreneurs are planning to implement “a system of points and customer numbers to make ordering faster.” They believe that in the emerging food sector, those who are “not creative will be left out in the cold.” They are betting on home delivery and “the future of the sale of food in Cuba,” says the seller.

A colorful motorcycle with the emblem of Banana City Delivery was traveling the central avenue of Rancho Boyeros in Havana this Monday. From a collective taxi, a passenger tried to write down the telephone number to place an order. An image that two decades ago was unthinkable on Cuban streets.

Advertising On Wheels Arrives In Havana

Advertising Biky through the streets of Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 14 April 2017 — The vehicle belonging to El Biky cooperative is adorned with the images of its products and the smiling faces of some of its employees. The food center, located at the corner of Infanta and San Lázaro, is looking to conquer new new customers for its cafe, restaurant and bakery.

As it passes, the singular minibus awakens curiosity and questions. Some question whether private individuals will be allowed to do the same, or whether it is only a prerogative for the 397 non-agricultural cooperatives that are active in the country. continue reading

As for advertising and marketing, ingenuity and creativity alone are not enough; also important is the enterprise’s form of ownership and management.

For decades advertising was frowned upon by the Cuban government

For decades, advertising was frowned upon by Cuban officialdom. The existence of the rationed market, the creation of a distribution system where people “earned” the right to buy home appliances based on their loyalty to the government, and the almost total nationalization of the economy made advertisement to promote a product or service unnecessary. To talk about marketing was taken as an ideological drift with petty bourgeois tints.

With the economic reforms of the 1990s the situation began timid changes. The government itself launched publicity for trips to the island with colorful advertisements of beaches, sun and sand. The private sector was not far behind and created everything from brochures with their offers, to digital sites to attract customers. However, television maintains the sobriety of not airing commercials and the marketing is focused within the food outlets themselves, the yellow pages of the telephone directory and the internet.

At 55, Cuba’s Young Communist Union Loses Relevance But Does Not Want To Retire

Cuba’s Union of Young Communists logo has the faces of Julio Antonio Mella, Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos, all of whom died young. The slogan on the logo is “Study, Work, Rifle” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, 4 April 2017 — There was a time when its red card was a source of pride and most teenagers dreamed of entering its ranks. But those days have been left behind for the Young Communists Union (UJC), an organization that turns 55 this Tuesday, with an aging image and a noticeable decrease in its membership.

Founded in 1962, the UJC was a copycat of the Soviet Komsomols, creating a youth front that served as a quarry for the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC). In the midst of the enthusiasm of those years there were massive “processes of growth,” with the signing up of numerous members, but today many evade or reject this opportunity. continue reading

“I never questioned whether or not to enter the UJC, it was what all my classmates did and I joined,” recalls Gladys Marrero, a retired nurse who worked with the organization for more than a decade. “In those years everything was different, people believed much more what was said in the meetings,” she says.

Marrero was sanctioned in her local committee in 1980 for not participating in acts of repudiation against those who emigrated during the Mariel Boatlift

Marrero was sanctioned in her local committee in 1980 for not participating in acts of repudiation* against those who emigrated during the Mariel Boatlift. “In the polyclinic where I worked a lab technician asked to step down to be able to leave [the country] and the UJC prepared a rally to ‘say goodbye’ to her,” she remembers. She didn’t want to participate in “those antics” and turned in her card.

Of the nearly three million young people living in Cuba, according to the most recent Population and Housing Census of 2012, only 300,752 are affiliated with the UJC, which operates through 33,000 base committees across the island. The figure is much lower than almost 600,000 members who were on the rolls in 2007, when the country was in the midst of the effervescence of the Battle of Ideas.

Yosvani, 25 years old and resident of Aguada de Pasajeros in Cienfuegos, was one of the young people who enrolled in the UJC during those years. “Several municipal leaders came to our high school and said they were going to undertake massive growth throughout the country, with more than 10,000 new militants,” he tells this newspaper.

Over time, the young man lost interest because “there were too many meetings” and “they summoned us for anything.” One day he pretended that he had a serious health problem and asked for his discharge. In his local committee alone “more than half of the militants left,” he says. Some alleged family complications, but Yosvani believes they actually did it out of “lack of interest.”

In Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, several young people waiting to enter the United States also once had the organization’s red membership card in their pockets. Richard, a fictitious name to avoid retaliation, has been stranded for two months at the US border after the cancellation of the wet foot/dry foot policy that allowed Cubans who stepped foot on American soil to stay. Although he calls himself a “revolutionary” he does not plan to mention his affiliation to US immigration officials should they “reverse Obama’s decision and let the Cubans in.”

The migrant served as general secretary of his local committee and believes that “the UJC helped many young people not to fall into delinquency and to direct their lives”

The migrant, who spoke with 14ymedio through videoconferencing, served as general secretary of his local committee and believes that “the UJC helped many young people not to fall into delinquency and to direct their lives.” However, he believes that the organization “fell into a rut” although “it still has a large presence in schools and workplaces, so it could take advantage of that structure.”

In the middle of last year a young Cuban migrant was declared “inadmissible” by the US authorities because she confessed to having belonged to the Young Communists Union between 2010 and 2013.

The absence of leadership has also hampered the activity of these komsomols. Of the UJC’s dozen first secretaries since its creation, more than half ended up being ousted while they leading the UJC or in later positions. The most famous cases were Luis Orlando Domínguez (1972-1982), Carlos Lage (1982-1986) and Roberto Robaina (1986-1993). The fear of ending up like them slows down many who would like to present themselves as more active and creative. Charisma is paid for dearly in these types of responsibilities.

“People do not want to take positions inside the UJC to avoid getting into trouble,” says Yosvani. “That’s a tremendous burning,” he quips. The young man criticizes the “lack of power of the militants who go along with many things in the meetings but they do not have ability to influence decision making.”

In 2015 and during meetings of the organization before the 10th Congress, the militants expressed their concern about the UJC’s stagnation

In 2015 and during meetings of the organization before the 10th Congress, the militants expressed their concern about the UJC’s stagnation. “It needs to be a living organism that has diversity, is truly transformed and represents young people,” said Han García, a student at the Victoria de Giron [Bay of Pigs Victory] Faculty of Medical Sciences.

In an attempt to revitalize the organization and during an extraordinary meeting of the UJC in the middle of last year, the psychologist Susely Morfa González was named first secretary of the organization, replacing Yuniasky Crespo Baquero. Shortly afterwards, her meteoric rise continued when she was chosen as a deputy to the National Assembly of People’s Power and made a member of the Council of State.

The young woman had turned in a combative performance at the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April 2015, starring in several acts of repudiation in which she labeled activists and exiles who participated in a parallel event with civil society as “lackeys, mercenaries, self-financed, underpaid by imperialism.”

On Tuesday, in an interview with the official press, Morfa stated as a purpose of the UJC “to add to it so that it is an organization for everyone, so that each young person feels ever closer to it.” The secretary general estimates that among young Cubans “the vast majority is revolutionary,” although she acknowledged that “some people are questioning whether the new generations are aware of their social role.”

The UJC has set out to capture young entrepreneurs at any cost but does not seem to have found much enthusiasm

But the functional paralysis and the diminution of its ranks are not the only concerns for the leaders of the UJC. The growth of the private sector has widened the phenomenon of young people who are outside the organization’s control and who work in a system governed by the laws of supply and demand.

Of the more than half a million self-employed workers on the island, 159,563 are young. The UJC has set out to capture young entrepreneurs at any cost but does not seem to have found much enthusiasm.

“What I like about my work is that there are no meetings, no union, and I do not have to donate part of my salary to the Territorial Troop Militias, much less go to UJC meetings,” says Roland, a worker in a restaurant in Chinatown, in Havana.

“Provincial and national leaders have come to talk to the young people here to raise awareness and make them militants, but people just aren’t up for that,” he reflects. “Now life is harder than when my parents were in the UJC, you have to earn money with a lot of effort and there is no time for so many meetings,” he finishes.

*Translator’s note: This video – “Gusano” (Worm) – is about a current day repudiation rally and the opening scenes show video from the Mariel Boatlift repudiation rallies.

Anxiety Grows Over Cuba’s Gas Shortages

In Havana, drivers brought jars, bottles and all kinds of containers to store fuel. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 1 April 2017 — Rumors of a general rise in prices have sharpened shortages at gas stations this Saturday, with long lines of vehicles waiting their turn at service stations across the country.

The fuel sold at preferential prices for thousands of state employees has gone up 0.10 CUC in recent hours, but the Cuba-Petroleum Union (CUPET) maintains for the moment the prices for other customers: 1 CUC For diesel and regular gasoline, and 1.20 for premium, which has been missing for several days. continue reading

The most alarming rumors say that as of April 1 private users, except those who have rented a car from a state agency, will only be able to buy regular gas

With no official announcements, everything moves at the level of rumors and conjectures. The most alarming rumors say that as of April 1 private users, except those who have rented a car from a state agency, will only be able to buy regular gas, and in no case can they buy special high octane fuel.

“They told us there were regulations but we did not get any written information or anything,” a gas station worker at 24th and 23rd in Vedado told 14ymedio.

“There is no premium gasoline, not even for rental cars,” he says. The rental cars are mainly used by foreign tourists and Cuban emigrants who return to visit the country. “They must present the rental agreement in order to buy the product,” says the employee, but “right now they will have to buy regular gasoline because that is the only thing there is.”

In Havana, drivers come with jars and bottles and all kinds of containers to store fuel. “Hard times are coming,” said Ricardo, a private taxi driver who can’t get over his surprise. “When it finally seemed that this country was going to be on track, then look what happens,” he tells this newspaper while pointing out in the official press the news coming from Venezuela.

The driver spent six hours on Saturday in front of the Cupet service station at the corner of 25th and G in Havana waiting to refuel. His greatest fear is that there will be return to “those years of the Special Period when all of Cuba was paralyzed by lack of fuel.”

The alliance with Venezuela, promoted since Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999, finally relieved the energy shortage on the island. Caracas has been generous with the delivery of black gold to the island and in the best moments delivered up to 100,000 barrels of oil a day in exchange for medical services, sports coaches and a great deal of support from Cuba’s state security forces advising and operating in Venezuela.

But the times have changed and analysts agree that the oil quota has decreased by between 40% and 60%. This reduction negatively influenced Cuba’s economy last year, with the GDP declining by 0.9%. The recession awakens the worst ghosts of the economic crisis that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

The national production of crude has also failed to take off. According to data from Cupet, the country extracts some 4 million tons of heavy oil, which is mainly used for electricity production

The national production of crude has also failed to take off. According to data from Cupet – the state-owned fuel company – the country extracts some 4 million tons of heavy oil, which is mainly used for electricity production. Cupet estimates that crude oil reserves of about 20 billion barrels exist in the Cuban Gulf of Mexico, although the US Geological Survey suggests a lower figures.

The government expects that, by the year 2030, 24% of the country’s energy will come from renewable sources, but first it needs new infrastructure and the investment of foreign companies in the sector.

This Saturday, long lines of vehicles are waiting their turn in the service stations all over the country. (14ymedio)

Hours before midnight on Friday the anguish grew among the drivers. The service stations cut off sales to adjust the machines and to program the new prices for the so-called “magnetic card affiliates,” a group of state workers who receive the fuel at preferential prices among whom are doctors and military.

The informal fuel market is supplied with the thousands of liters that are diverted each day from those with “magnetic cards” and are resold to other drivers. Authorities are trying to stop this flow and since March 31, it is forbidden for “affiliates” to carry a container for gasoline.

But the least of the problems is the rise of the privileged tariffs or the deficit of premium gas, more expensive and therefore exclusive to a few. What keeps the population on edge is that many gas stations are totally empty, with no product for sale. “This is more and more like the past,” Ricardo said minutes before getting his turn at that pump.

 

Santiago de Cuba Hit Hard by Drought

Communities in central and eastern Cuba report losses from the drought. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymdio, Zunilda Mata, 29 March 2017 — Cuba is experiencing one of the worst droughts of the last half century and its reservoirs are at 39% capacity, a situation that affects the water supply for people, industry and agriculture. Santiago de Cuba is going through the most serious situation, according to José Antonio Hernández, director of the Department of Rational Use of the Institute of Hydraulic Resources, who spoke Wednesday on state TV.

In that eastern province some 635,000 people are supplied with water on 17 and 20 day cycles. Meanwhile, more than 81% of the agricultural area of ​​the island is affected in some way by the lack of regular irrigation. The picture is aggravated by the annual loss of 3.4 billion cubic meters of water through leaks and breaks in the supply system. continue reading

Currently, the reservoirs in at least 11 provinces are below 50% of their normal levels and “in three they do not even reach 25%,” Hernández said. In the case of Ciego de Ávila stored water stored barely fills 15% of the reservoir capacity in the territory. The supply is currently governed by a rigorous schedule, prepared by the local Aqueduct and Sewerage Management.

Reservoirs in at least 11 provinces are below 50% of their normal levels and “in three they do not even reach 25%

The Zaza dam, with the country’s largest storage capacity, is also in a difficult position. Located in Sancti Spíritus province, the dam is filled to only 14% of its capacity, the equivalent of 146 million cubic meters. The neighboring Siguaney Dam has less than one million cubic meters of usable water.

This central province has seen 69 of its supply sources dry up, 16 of them totally. This situation affects 105,821 inhabitants in more than 40 communities and urban neighborhoods of the cities of Sancti Spíritus, Trinidad and Jatibonico, according to figures offered by the local press.

“Since the first signs of the drought in the country began in mid-2014, working groups have been set up to deal with this problem,” explains Hernández, whose mission is to monitor and assess the situation in each area from the municipalities.

At the end of last year the country’s reservoirs were 1.510 million cubic meters below the historical average, a situation that has been aggravated in the first quarter of 2017 and has forced the country to expand the practice of supplying water through tanker trucks – popularly known as pipas – that deliver water neighborhood by neighborhood and block by block, to residents who collect it in every available container.

Water problems have also affected internal migration. “The fact of being able to open the spigot and have water is a luxury I can’t give myself in Palmarito de Cauto,” Raydel Rojas, a man from Santiago who recently emigrated to the capital, tells 14ymedio.

Water problems also influence internal migration

“The problem in the province and in small towns is that it becomes more difficult to pay for the water truck,” says Rojas. “You have to live day by day buying water little by little.”

In the West, the situation is not without problems either. The authorities have looked at the private swimming pools, considering them wasteful in times of drought. The entrepreneurs who rent to tourists in the area of ​​Viñales have experienced the “anti-pool” offensive with special intensity.

At the beginning of last year the Council of the Municipal Administration decreed the closing of all the pools and canceled the licenses to rent to tourists for those who resisted obeying. Over the months the situation has worsened.

“Now they carefully supervise water consumption and call to account those who have a greater consumption,” complains an entrepreneur who rents two rooms in his home in this village that attracts a lot of tourists. The innkeeper, who chose to remain anonymous, said local inspectors “have their eye on the pumps if we increase the pressure of the showers because they say it costs too much.”

Young Cuban Women Skaterboarders Defy Gravity And Machismo

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havna, 28 March 2017 — A pirouette and life is turned upside down. Another and the wheels crash against the pavement leaving a mark in their path.  Cuban women skaters defy gravity and machismo, two forces trying to make them fall. Their dreams are told in the documentary Sisters on Wheels by director Amberly Alene Ellis, currently in the United States.

The film looks at the phenomenon of skateboarders told from the experience of young Cuban women who practice a sport marked by prejudice. Not only must they deal with the animosity still provoked in some observers, but also with putting themselves in “a territory of men.” continue reading

The protagonists of Sisters on Wheels display the technical difficulties of practicing this discipline in Cuba, with few resources and places to skate for training. The young women talk about their struggle to have skateboarding recognized as a sport, far beyond an entertaining pastime.

The Amigo Skate project has helped alleviate the material hardships of some of these young women. The initiative asks, from its on-line site, for people to bring or send skateboarding equipment to the island, and facilitates events linked to the sport, in additional to concerts and the painting of murals.

A still from the film Sisters on Skates

Cuban-American René Lecour is part of the solidarity project and the director of Sisters on Wheels came to the reality of skateboarding through him. In a country where very few skateboards have been marketed and there are barely enough spare parts to fix a broken table, the practice becomes complicated. However, new technologies help, with videos and tutorials that teach spinning and other techniques.

Ellis, who traveled to the island initially to film material about women filmmakers, was attracted by the “innovation” she saw in these urban athletes and knew first hand about a similar phenomenon in her own country when “skateboarding pioneers, in the ‘80s, made their own boards with what they could find.”

“Without intending to, we moved from filmmaking to skating,” recalls the director, who believes skating becomes an act of protest for these young people in a nation where the government regulates every centimeter of reality, especially the sports scene.

The documentary, which began filming in 2015, uses skateboarding as a way to approach the national reality and in particular the changes that occurred after the thaw between the Governments of Cuba and the United States.

In the practice of skateboarding, the filmmaker sees a gesture of independence that “is seeking free expression”

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.