Long Lines at Cuban Banks For Fear of Monetary Unification

As April 19 approaches, when a new president is expected to assume office, uncertainty about ending Cuba’s dual currency system grows in the streets. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, 15 March 2018 — The last weeks have been like a heart attack for Luis, the employee who guards the door at the Metropolitan Bank (Banmet) on Galiano Street, in Havana. The flood of customers doesn’t give him a minute’s rest because “people are going nuts changing and saving money” out of fear that monetary unification is coming, he says.

Long lines in front of the bank branches are part of the Havana landscape, a city with more than two million inhabitants which receives thousands of tourists every day, who are forced to change their currency into Cuban pesos (CUP) or convertible pesos (CUC). But the demand seems to have increased in the last month. continue reading

“A lot of people come who have money saved in CUC,” says Luis, who organizes the line into several parts from early on. “The businesses are over here,” he says pointing to those who have gathered outside the branch. “Those who have come to get cash I put on this side here, and those who have personal paperwork to do with the bank on the other side,” he explains.

Most of the line is in the area for those who are going to do some operation in their bank account. “I have come to deposit about 500 CUC because I have been told that the money that is in the bank will be respected,” explains a lady who is third in line.

Last year the authorities warned in an official statement that the process of monetary unification will respect “the principle of the trust of the people who have kept their savings in Cuban banks in CUC, other international currencies and CUP remains intact.”

Julio César Reyes, general director of Banmet’s Electronic Banking, acknowledged in statements to the official press that since the beginning of this year there has been “a gradual increase in transactions” in its branches and ATMs, but the number of the latter is still insufficient to meet the demand.

Last December, during a session of the Parliament, Raúl Castro insisted on pointing out that addressing the problem of monetary duality can not be “delayed any longer.” After those words, speculations about an immediate unification of the two currencies on the Island were unleashed, after a quarter century of the dual monetary system.

As April 19 approaches, the date a new president is expected to assume office, uncertainty grows on the streets. Among the signs are private sellers that do not accept CUC for fear of devaluation, and published classified ads that display prices in dollars.

Elías Amor, a Cuban economist based in Spain, does not think it is likely that Raúl Castro will be able to carry out the unification process before he leaves power. In his opinion, the authorities know that the process is not as simple as establishing one of the two as the only official currency. It will be necessary to attend to “the mechanisms of price formation, the salary levels of the population, the purchasing power of wages,” among other factors

At the beginning of the revolutionary process, the banking entities suffered successive nationalizations, and forced and traumatic currency exchanges, which generated a particular distrust towards banks among Cubans. However, now many believe that the money circulating will be worth less after the devaluation that is expected to accompany the unification.

Another factor is that all the banks in the country are managed by the State and in the past numerous clients with significant savings were also branded as “pots” (new rich or hoarders) and legally prosecuted. An antecedent that those with more memory recall when they consider the dilemma of keeping their money in the banks or leaving it at home.

The urgency has touched the pockets of many. “I have no choice but to believe that having the money in the bank will be the best because I can’t go around buying dollars to keep under the mattress,” Yuraimy González, one of the Banmet customers on Galiano street waiting to deposit money this Wednesday, tells this newspaper.

“What I do not want to happen is that they carry out the unification, and I’m left with cash in chavitos (CUCs) and that money loses value,” explains this 38-year-old from Havana. She is a self-employed worker in a hairdressing salon, with husband who has emigrated and sends her remittances, and she is committed to “putting everything in the bank and waiting to see what happens.”

The economist Pedro Monreal believes that the unification of exchange rates in Cuba, and especially the accompanying devaluation, “should be conceived as part of a broader set of measures.” The specialist believes that if unification and devaluation were “disconnected” events with respect to other measures, “it is likely that they will not work well.”

Depositing CUCs in a bank account can only be done through a teller’s window at a bank, because in the entire capital there are only seven ATMs where cash can be deposited in Cuban pesos (CUP) and none that do that function in convertible pesos.

“Banks are overburdened because there has also been a significant reduction in the number of currency exchanges (Cadecas) in this area of Centro Habana,” laments Luis, the guard at Galiano Street. The Cadecas, where a CUC is exchanged for 24 CUP, have decreased in number and opening hours in recent years.

In mid-2017, 26 branches of the 93 Metropolitan Banks in the capital extended their service hours to cope with an increase in operations. The traditional schedule of Monday to Friday, and alternate Saturdays, from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm, was extended to 7:30 pm in at least one branch per municipality.

However, in a tour of several branches, this newspaper confirmed that the closing time is seldom respected. Electricity cuts, closures for fumigation or for priority attention to customers from state companies significantly reduce the time allocated to private users.

“The end of the month has not yet arrived, which is when branches become busier because pensions start to be paid to retirees,” warns the administrator of another local Metropolitan Bank located on Belascoaín Street, who preferred anonymity. “We’ve had weeks when at closing time there are still many people outside who have not been able to do their transactions,” he says.

“The largest number of operations we are doing are deposits, the exchange of foreign currency and the sale of stamps for legal procedures, but many people simply ask if we know the date of the unification, but we do not have an answer,” adds the worker.

“If this is the case now, at the end of the month we will have to ask for reinforcements to organize the lines and to serve the public, because we can not cope.”


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

Different Women, The Same Inequality

Regardless of their social origin, women face the same inequality in Cuba. (Luis Montemayor)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 8 March 2018 — Lucy and Maité represent two different faces of the same society. One is a worker in a private business and the other is a prostitute. Both work in the coastal town of Guanabo, east of Havana. This Thursday neither of them will join the international call for strikes convened for this March 8, although each suffers the consequences of gender inequality.

Maité was born in Esmeralda, Camagüey, shortly after the island was opened to international tourism and the dollar. As a child she dreamed of being an actress, but when she decided to move to the Cuban capital she encountered a problem. “I had to get married to get residency,” she tells 14ymedio.

Maité was blackmailed by the man who she agreed to a enter into a marriage of convenience with, and he threatened to divorce her and denounce her for illegally residing in the city if she did not sleep with him. She was just 20 years old.

“That’s how I started in this world,” she says now, wearing in a tiny skirt as she sits in a cafeteria in Guanabo where she meets her clients, most of them Italians, Canadians or Spaniards.

A few yards from where she is sitting, two policemen patrol the streets of the tourist area. Although prostitution in Cuba is not prohibited, women are often prosecuted for crimes such as “pre-criminal dangerousness” and “harassment of tourists,” and then confined to work farms to be “reformed.”

On the work farms, sex workers must work in agriculture for between one and two years, but they also receive therapy sessions and courses with the idea of distancing them from prostitution, an objective that often is not achieved.

Maité was already in one of those “open-air prisons,” as she calls them. After that she sought the “help” of a pimp. “The girls who are in this and do not have a man to defend them have a very bad time,” she says. The pimp charges her a part of her earnings and “keeps the police in line.”

The young women who work in the area, most of them arriving from other provinces, are not organized through associations and the trade union movement is controlled by the Government. “Here, no sooner does someone think of making a group or forming an organization, than they pull them off street,” says Maité.

To Maité and her colleagues staging a strike seems to be “playing with fire” although they have a long list of demands. “When I go to file a complaint at a police station, at the very least they make fun of me or threaten to put me in the dungeon for a few days.”

The government also does not include prostitution among the work activities eligible for one of the the private work licenses  authorized over the last decades. “I am like a cuentapropista (a self-employed person) but without permission, without a union and without the right to one day have a pension,” Maité complains.

A few yards away, also on Guanabo’s main street, Lucy works as an employee of a snack bar selling pizzas and snacks where, during the summer, long lines form, fed by the arrival of thousands of vacationers.

“I’ve been in this job for almost five years and it’s going well, although the days are hard.” For almost 10 hours Lucy stands behind a counter selling ham sandwiches, fruit smoothies and pizzas. “Sometimes when I get home I can’t even take off my shoes my feet are so swollen.”

This March 8, Lucy will not join the women’s strike. “I can’t, if I stop working they throw me out and private businesses have a line of people who want to work here,” she explains. The business owner is a man who has redone part of his home to operate as a snackbar.

In Cuba the private sector is currently 33% women, but at the head of businesses, female faces are not as visible. “Most women are not owners, but hired to provide services by those who have the capital, usually men,” says economist Teresa Lara.

The specialist also explains that “women perform care and food service activities.” Hairdressers, baby-care centers and food delivery are some of those occupations, but in the transportation of passengers or technical services their absence is striking.

“The owners of these businesses want good-looking women to serve the public,” confirms Lucy. The press has published several complaints of discrimination based on age, race or certain aesthetic parameters, but the practice continues and there are more and more demands.

“I have to wear this short skirt that I do not like very much, but the owner says that I sell more,” says Lucy. Curiously, Maité’s skirt also falls many inches above the knee. The tiny size of that piece of clothing, showing off a good part of their thighs, is common to both women.

The two women have something else in common. Both joined the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) at 14, the pro-government organization that includes most of the Cuban women. “I’m still ’federated’ to protect myself if I get caught a police raid,” confesses Maité. “I’m about to step down because it’s pure formality,” Lucy adds.

This March 8, the FMC has called on the ‘female trenches’ to support the Revolution and has honored its founder, Vilma Espín, who was Raúl Castro’s wife. The logo of the organization, on display everywhere this Thursday, is a woman dressed as a soldier with a rifle on her shoulder. Ready to “defend the homeland.”


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

“We Don’t Accept Payment In CUC Here”

The Cuban convertible peso (CUC) is taking the brunt of the rumors and fears of an early monetary unification. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 17 February 2018 — “I do not accept CUC,” the driver of the shared taxi warns passengers at Havana’s Fraternity Park. It is the third time that day that Lídice, 40, has heard the same phrase. The first time was from a peanut seller and then from a barber. Both refused to take his chavitos — a slang term for Cuban convertible pesos — because of the uncertainty surrounding the CUC in the face of possible monetary unification.

A few words from Raúl Castro in the Parliament last December sufficed to unleash speculations. The president explained then that without unifying the currencies it would be “difficult to advance correctly,” and Cubans have interpreted his speech as the signal that the CUC was on the way out. continue reading

The convertible peso is taking the brunt of it amid rumors and fears. Sellers and merchants have begun to reject it in some operations so as not to be left with bills that could suffer a major devaluation when the Central Bank withdraws them from circulation in exchange for Cuban pesos, which would then become the only national currency.

In just a few months the dual currency system will be a quarter of a century old, and now, not too many weeks from the change of government, announced for 19 April, people’s fears are growing before the inevitable process of monetary unification. Those who have savings accounts in CUC suspect that their balances will be affected, although the authorities have said that those who have bank deposits will not be harmed.

This situation of uncertainty and lack of liquidity, in addition to the substantial worsening of the national economy with the substantial cut in shipments of Venezuelan oil, are causing a rise in the dollar on the currency black market.

Every morning, Armando (fictitious name) stands a few yards from the Currency Exchange Booth (Cadeca) on Obispo Street, in the historic center of the city. There, with discretion, he hands out cards to the most interested customers. His private money changing business is in high demand in the parallel market.

Armando is the person to turn to for people who receive their remittances from family members abroad in dollars and do not want to settle for the Central Bank’s exchange rate, which delivers only 0.87 CUC for every dollar, after charging a commission and a 10% tax on the American currency.

The money changer buys the dollars at a price ranging between 0.91 and 0.93 CUC and then resells them at a rate between 0.94 and 0.97, depending on the amount. His main clients are the ‘mules’, who need dollars to travel abroad where they buy merchandise to sell later in Cuba.

“Don’t wait, the chavitos are short-timers,” Armando tells those in line for the Cadeca. At least two people look interested and later stay to exchange over 1,000 dollars worth.

The economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, resident in the United States, warns that “the monetary change or unification will not increase the purchasing power of the population, for that production and productivity would have to increase,” something that has not been achieved despite the timid opening to the private sector and the delivery of lands to private operators in a form of leasing known as usufruct.

In the last five years Raul Castro’s government has taken steps to reconcile the use of both currencies, such as authorizing the payment in Cuban pesos (CUP) in the state’s chain of stores called TRD — the initials in Spanish for Hard Currency Collection Store — but the unification has been postponed.

“This is without haste and with a lot of pausing,” jokes Marieta, riffing off a phrase used by Raul Castro in a key speech talking about the necessary pace of change. Marieta works in a state company that manufactures hygiene products. “In addition to my salary in CUP I receive an additional payment in convertible currency every three months,” she explains, but “the least important thing is the color of the bills, what interests me most is what can I buy with that money and the truth is that it’s very little.”

“If the 450 CUP that I earn suddenly becomes 450 dollars, then the stores will be empty,” reflects Marieta. At the moment the low salaries, which do not exceed 35 dollars per month, don’t stretch enough to buy the products that the State sells at high prices in its commercial network. The situation would change completely if the government suddenly decided that 1 CUP equals one dollar, which is the official exchange rate of the CUC, though not what is actually collected for one.

Luis, 42, a cheese maker in Alquizar, was called to a military mobilization two weeks ago as a reservist. “They had just called me when me I told my mother to buy all the dollars she could because that would protect us under the unification of the currency.”

When a senior official of the European Union commented a few days ago in Havana that the EU was willing to provide technical assistance for monetary reunification, Luis told his barracks mates that “the thing” was imminent.

But the days passed, the Artemisan finished his mobilization and has continued to sell cheese on the side of the road. “I have to accept the convertible pesos because that is what most of the customers that stop to buy have,” he acknowledges. However, his own advice applies: “In order not to accumulate too many, I invest in goods and buy dollars.”


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

Flowers Are Replacing Other Crops in Cuban Fields

On special celebrations, such as Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, the demand for flowers skyrockets. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 14 February 2018 —  In  Hoyo de Monterrey, the place where the best tobacco from Cuba is sown, a silent battle has been going on for years. The tobacco growers of the area, forced to sell their leaves to the state companies, opt increasingly for the cultivation of flowers, a production that they can manage with greater autonomy and benefits since they can avoiding trading with the state company Acopio and instead sell independently.

The breeze tickles the roses of the Pérez brothers’ farm in the municipality of San Juan y Martínez in Pinar del Rio. Among the bushes, several members of the large family are moving with great care through the rosebuds, which must be ready to leave the field on the eve of February 14. continue reading

On Valentine’s Day, known on the Island as Lovers’ Day, there is a frantic purchase of flowers, chocolates and stuffed animals and a making of restaurant reservations. With the expansion of the private sector, the gifts available for the day have expanded, but roses continue to be first among the preferences.

“This crop has its peak moments and the skill is to take advantage of them,” says Juan Pablo, one of the producers who for years had dedicated himself to the cultivation of tobacco and vegetables, but who has also, little by little, started to plant flowers. Mother’s Day and the day dedicated to teachers, on December 22, are other times of great demand.

“We basically plant roses and, within them, the variety known as Black Prince, because they are the ones that people buy the most,” the farmer points out. “In this area there are also those who make their own crosses and grafts, but we prefer to go with the sure thing.”

The flower trade is a fight against time. The degradation of the product once it leaves the furrows is accelerated due to the lack of suitable containers and preservatives. “Our flowers have a lot of aroma but deteriorate very quickly,” adds Carmelo, another Herradura producer at Consolación del Sur.

Between 1955 and 1960 Cuba exported flowers to the southern United States but the drop in rose production in Cuba has forced the import of the flower from Ecuador and Colombia to satisfy domestic demand, especially in the tourist centers, according to data contributed by Manuel García Caneiro, a specialist in nature protection and conservation.

For Garcia Caneiro, the revival of the the sector urgently requires more technology, the introduction of more clones “of the species that are suitable for the conditions here, and prioritizing tropical flowers that are stronger and more in tune with the new trends in taste.”

Selling flowers, along with candy and sweets, is still one of the most common forms of commerce on Havana streets. (14ymedio)

The final destinations of the private flower production from the area of Pinar del Río and Artemisa are the closest cities, especially Havana. “They have to get out of here the day before so they can make the trip in the afternoon or at night and be with the flower sellers by first thing in the morning,” says Carmelo.

The producer’s son has a “spider,” the two-wheeled cart pulled by a horse typical of the Cuban fields. “We put them in the spider separated in buckets of water and covered with a thin damp cloth so that the wind does not hurt them and they stay fresh,” says Carmelo.

In his fields, papayas, malangas, tobacco and cucumbers are losing the battle for space. “Now we plant mainly flowers because it is a better business and we have sellers that we supply directly,” says the grower.

“I have roses, gladioli, Chinese carnations, lilies and jasmine.” The latter is the island’s national flower and has an intense perfume, but in the farmer’s opinion “it takes a lot of work, because it is a plant that needs a lot of moisture and its petals are very fragile.”

Herradura has become the nursery of flowers this part of the country. The reasons that have led farmers to prefer this crop range from economic issues to autonomy when marketing the final product.

“I had tobacco and even potatoes but it was all a big mess afterwards to sell the harvest to the State and I suffered a lot from their failure to pay,” says Carmelo. “Since I’ve been working with flowers, it’s money in the hand every time I do business.” This farmer also sells rose bushes  planted in polyethylene bags for gardens.

With the cultivation and sale of flowers, the producer can avoid dealing with Acopio, the state company that serves as an intermediary between farmers and consumers in the case of many products. “With this I swim or sink on my own, if a harvest fails it’s my problem but if I sell it well then it’s my benefit.”

He adds, “The farmers of this area who have managed, in addition to selling the flowers, to sell the plant are the ones who are earning the most.” On Valentine’s Day Carmelo can get up to 3,000 Cuban pesos (~$120 US) in sales to distributors, but “from that you have to subtract what you invested, which is a lot.”

The initial expense, just in seeds, amounts to 2,000 CUP, but with the adult plants you can divide them, in addition to grafting. The water pump cost 6,000 CUP and opening another well about 1,000 CUP. In addition, he has planting beds for the varieties with smaller plants and has had to invest in clay tiles for around 700 CUP.

“The flowers are very demanding in terms of water supply, so I had to invest a lot in irrigation and pumps,” says the farmer. “There has to be fertilizer and the largest proportion must be organic matter so I have even had to turn my hand to making it with farm waste”.

“Earthworm castings is the best thing to keep plants healthy and many times I have to buy it from the State or from other farmers in the area who make it to sell.”

Growing flowers is also displacing the cultivation of root crops and vegetables. (14ymedio)

Carmelo’s son hits the horse with the whip and the spider begins its way to Candelaria while afternoon falls. From there all the flowers will leave for the capital in a truck loaded with the merchandise of several producers. They have to arrive before the first rays of Valentine Day begin to illuminate the city.

At dawn in Havana, Rogelio, a mechanic who exchanged his tools for petals, takes out the tricycle that he keeps in the parking lot of a Vedado building. On the sidewalk he organizes the water containers filled with the flowers that have just arrived. The aroma floods the entire area.

The vendor distributes sunflowers, gladioli, roses, carnations, jasmines and Chinese daisies by the dozens.

“I bought double what I buy on normal days and the one that sells the most is the black prince, they buy it by the dozens, that’s why the song of twelve roses …,” he says, while humming a catchy ballad popularized on the Island by the Mexican singer Lorenzo Antonio.

“I’ve been doing the same thing for 15 years,” says Rogelio, who has his fixed sales points. His hopes are that, one day, he will be able to stop having to sell on the street and instead will supply shops or hotels in the capital. “But that doesn’t happen because those places still prefer foreign flowers,” he laments.

The markets, stores and shops that sell in hard currency are full of impeccable and stylized roses that can cost up to 5 Cuban convertible pesos each (about $5 US), the salary of a week. “People think that imported flowers are prettier but they do not smell like anything.”

Along with the sale, Rogelio offers his clients recommendations. “Carry the bouquet in your hand upside down and just put it in the vase with an aspirin in the water to make it last,” he tells a client who pays for three dozen black princes at a price that would be only enough for four flowers in the markets in convertible pesos.

“We offer a much cheaper, domestic and fragrant merchandise, even the bees come here to surround the flowers, but with those that are sold in hard currency, nothing of that happens,” Rogelio says, promoting his product.

Other entrepreneurs have taken the business of selling flowers further, such as a small store near Avenida de los Presidentes, where they prepare bouquets with decorations ready to give as a gift. This Tuesday the employee could not cope. “There are people who like to give the bouquet early and they buy it today so they can give it to someone as soon as it’s light.”

The shop has prices higher than those of the street vendors but still economical compared to the state shops. For less than 2 CUC a customer takes a bouquet of daisies mixed with wildflowers and a beautiful addition of greenery.

In the state stores and hard currency stores the flowers for sale are all imported. (14ymedio)

In spite of the prices, customers also crowd into the centrally located state flower shop in the Plaza de Carlos III. “I don’t care that they don’t smell, but they last longer and I want to make my wife a gift that she can enjoy for several days,” a man who has chosen a dozen white roses justifies himself.

Something similar is believed by the employees of the Hotel Plaza, very close to Central Park, where they have adorned the entrance of the neoclassical accommodation with a huge bouquet of imported roses. “Even at Fidel Castro’s funeral the flowers came from outside,” says a Cuban guest who lives abroad and has been eyeing the flowers.

A few yards away, an exclusive flower shop offers the buds brought from Ecuador and some tourists ask a street vendor where they can buy “typical Cuban orchids for a gift,” but the man has only black prince roses.


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

Di Tú Croquettes Are Of “Dubious Quality” Says Official Press

The official media have not said if the industrial croquettes made for state establishments are sold in illegal outlets. (guantanamocity.org)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 30 January 2018 — Despite a national inspection almost two years ago, the popular state food chain Di tú continues to illegally sell “homemade” croquettes of poor quality, according to a note published in the newspaper Granma on Tuesday.

The Communist Party’s newspaper reports that following complaints from consumers the Food Production Company (Prodal), the chain’s only supplier, did a study in mid-2016 and “it was found that 75% of the food sold came from other sources.”

These croquettes, sold at 10 cents CUC and usually made with chicken, are very popular on the Island, a situation that for administrators and employees of these state-owned stores is seen as an opportunity to obtain benefits. continue reading

“It is a sound business because the croquette is what sells best in these places, and taking advantage of that margin they sell them to other people who sell them privately, and everyone shares the profits,” Berta Gonzalez, resident of the municipality Diez de October, told Granma.

As a result of this manipulation, consumers claim that Di tú’s croquettes are now smaller and the dough’s taste and appearance is not the same as before, which leads them to suspect that they have been victims of a substitution.

The official press confirms the customers’ complaints and note that these products do not meet the sanitary requirements nor have the same size or flavor as the chain’s original croquettes. In the preparation of the croquettes a series of strict parameters must be followed that detail the ingredients and preparation of this product sold in state food stalls.

Despite the technical inspections carried out by the authorities, the official media have not said whether the industrial croquettes, destined for state establishments, are also sold in illegal outlets.

To correct the situation and meet the demand the Food Industry Business Group has made investments in recent months aimed at “increasing production capacities,” Iris Quiñones, president of Prodal, told the official press.

The state entity processes about 15,000 tons of meat, poultry, fish and shellfish a year for distribution to the hotel network and the domestic market in CUC. Its production is mainly focused on picadillo, croquettes, meatballs, steak and hamburger, which also end up on the dining tables of workplaces, schools and hospitals.

Granma not only laments the “illegal act of introducing merchandise” in the state circuit and thus obtaining “a profit that does not appear in any accounting book,” but also questions where the individuals get the infrastructure to make a “homemade croquette so similar to the one really produced industrially.”

Popular inventiveness has managed to manufacture machines that mimic the finish of a state-produced croquette. Recently, the digital site El Toque told the story of a resident of Placetas, in Villa Clara, who put together one of those devices from bicycle parts, a culinary meat grinder and a piece of a plastic soda bottle.

Previously, small domestic industries dedicated to the falsification of beers and soft drinks have also been detected. However, it is the first time that officialdom has acknowledged that the cooked food offered in its network of stores also suffers from adulteration.

A hand-crafted croquette maker. (eltoque.com)


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

Rooftops That Look To The Sky

Havana’s rooftops are far from the intrusive stares in the streets below. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 25 January 2018 – Rooftops with flimsily-covered wooden ‘houses.’ Rooftops with improvised pigeon coops and the sound of fluttering throughout the day. Rooftops in litigation where the neighbors fight over a place to stretch their clotheslines. Rooftops with water tanks where the water floods when it comes at all and moss grows in the corners. Rooftops that extend Havana to the sky and seen from Google Earth reveal more than they hide.

The city grows upwards and not with new skyscrapers. Building on the roofs, extending our housing over our heads, has prevented more than one divorce in this capital where housing problems drive creativity and the opportune use of any space where a bed can be laid out, a kitchen can be set up, or a newborn’s cradle can be tucked away. Rooftops are also far from the prying eyes that haunt the street.

Private and discreet, they can become a solarium for lightly dressed tourists above the houses where rooms are rented to foreigners, a place for teenage love with the stars as a coverlet, or a territory where you can fire up certain forbidden cigarettes. If the rooftops of Havana could speak they would tell stories of survival and eroticism, of colossal fights and of mirahuecos (voyeurs) who peek out from above. They would betray the hidden life of this city.


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

Prices are Prohibitive for Direct Flights from Cuba to Trinidad and Tobago

Caribbean Airlines will connect Cuba with the small Caribbean island twice a week. (EFETurAmerica)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 17 January 2018 — The new air route that connects Cuba with Trinidad and Tobago, inaugurated last Saturday, began while both countries are negotiating new immigration regulations for Cubans, who currently do not need visas to visit that country.

After the round of negotiations between the governments of both countries in the middle of last year, and with this new direct connection by air, the Cuban community on Trinidadian territory is worried that new requirements will be imposed on their relatives who wish to visit them. continue reading

For now, the new Caribbean Airlines schedule, with a frequency of twice a week, fills a vacuum of direct flights between both nations. Previously, travelers had to make a stopover on the small Dutch island of Aruba or in Panama City and fly the flagship company of that country, Copa Airlines, with fares over $500 per ticket.

“It is now possible that Copa will lower prices because previously it had no competition for travel to Cuba,” predicts Kenia Montes de Oca, a Cuban living in Port of Spain who is hoping to regularize her residence there with refugee status.

Although the authorities of Trinidad and Tobago do not require visas for Cubans, at the airport immigration officials can deport anyone they suspect of wanting to stay illegally, a practice that has been increasing after the immigration talks held in August of last year, according to complaints from travelers compiled by this newspaper.

Montes de Oca remembers that before the direct route existed, trips through Aruba or Panama sometimes presented problems, diversions or delays.

The new service will make the trip between Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago shorter and faster, although Caribbean Airlines fares are still high compared to other destinations in the region, 14ymedio was able to confirm.

A round-trip ticket with no additional baggage fees for trips before the end of January costs roughly $752, while making the reservation for a trip nine months in advance yields a savings of only $50.

Flights to Cancun or Miami from Havana can often be purchased for under $200, but with the drawback that both Mexico and the United States require arriving Cubans to have a visa.

“I traveled to Trinidad and Tobago for the first time at the end of last year,” says Pavel, a 28-year-old Cienfuegos resident who explores shopping malls for purchases that he later resells in Cuba. “I didn’t make any money because at that time there were no direct flights and the ticket was very expensive.”

Pavel also points out that the exchange rate (1 triniteño dollar is equivalent to 0.14 US dollar) “is not favorable.” In addition, in Cuba the dollar is subject to a 13% tax, which makes the operation even more expensive.

“Obtaining a Mexican visa is very complicated for me because I was once deported from that country when I was trying to reach the border with the United States,” the merchant says. “So I have to continue with this route even if I don’t get that much business,” he adds.


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

Cuba Looks to Peru to Solve Potato Shortage

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

14ymedio biggerZunilda Mata, Havana, 22 January 2018 — Cuba is intending to buy Peru’s surplus potatoes, if and when they meet the the phytosanitary requirements for export. Peru’s Minister of Agriculture, José Arista, reported on the efforts made by the Cuban embassy in Lima during a meeting with local producers last Wednesday, which was reported in the newspaper La República on Sunday.

The information comes to light in the midst of the “cold season,” the period during which most of the Cuban potato harvest takes place, which ends more or less in March. This year the crop forecasts are not optimistic due to the intense rains of recent months and the damages caused by Hurricane Irma. continue reading

In the provinces of Matanzas, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos and Ciego de Ávila, among the most affected by the hurricane, the Agricultural Business Group (GAG)  had planned to plant 7,942 acres of potatoes during the month of October so that the product would arrive in state agricultural markets in January and February.

However, by mid-December, only 10% of the target acreage had been sown, according to the official press, due to the rains and the wetness of the land that affected the sowing of the crop.

Fabian Lozano, a farmer from Artemisa, has been engaged for five years in the harvest of the tuber but is about to surrender due to the difficulties involved in growing it. “It is a crop that demands a lot of care,” the farmer tells 14ymedio by phone. “It is not just a matter of climate but it is necessary to have a stable technological package,” he laments.

An efficient irrigation system and the availability of fertilizers and insecticides supplied on time are essential for this product to succeed, given that it is not native to the Island. Access to the seed, which is mainly imported from the Netherlands and Canada, can also become a headache.

A national variety known as Romano is more resistant to pests and is an option to ease these demanding requirements, but its performance leaves much to be desired. “It is a more resistant potato but when it comes to harvesting or reproducing, a lot is lost,” says Lozano.

Specialists expect the Romano variety to yield 600 to 660 tons (US measure) per 33 acres when the conditions are ideal, but imported specimens yield 716 tons, according to sources of the Ministry of Agriculture consulted by this newspaper.

The Artemiseño municipality of Alquízar, where Lozano lives, produces one of the largest potato crops in the country. With fertile and flat land, the growers planned to plant nearly 620 acres this season, but the authorities have not yet revealed whether the initial goal was achieved.

“We have had many problems with the seed because there is a lot of loss due to theft,” the administrator of a Basic Unit of Cooperative Production in the area, who preferred anonymity, tells this newspaper. “We work with imported seeds but we lose up to a third of it because of the diversion of resources,” he reveals.

In Cuba the potato is sown mainly through pieces of the tuber itself, which is called “seed,” a practice that helps to maintain the genetic makeup of the plant without alterations. Proper storage of the seed is crucial for the subsequent quality of the harvested food.

“Sometimes we have to guard the potato seed more closely than the cows,” laments the administrator. “When we are sowing we always have to have a group of workers bending over the furrow and another group watching so that they do not take the seed.”

In the informal market in the area, private farmers value the foreign seed greatly because “it yields more and the final product is more marketable,” Lozano says. “Here there are many producers who sell directly to the owners of private restaurants who want a nice, big, meaty and healthy potato,” he points out.

“The customer can choose between these three side dishes: rice, fried potatoes or mashed potatoes (not instant),” clarifies a letter from a private restaurant in the Havana municipality of Playa. The owners of these restaurants often have to turn to the precooked or powdered product to make up for shortages of raw potatoes.

“We have many diners who are diplomats in the area of the city where we are located, as well as tourists who know very well what a potato is in its natural state,” explains Miguel Ángel, a waiter at a private restaurant a few yards from the coast with a spectacular view of the sea.

Maintaining the supply of fresh potatoes is “more difficult than buying lobster or shrimp,” says the employee. “For years we have established an agreement with several producers to buy directly all their production and then we have to refrigerate it ourselves so that it lasts for the better part of the year.”

Potato production has plummeted on the island since 1996, when 384,000 tons were produced and the country exported the tuber. In 2015, amidst the increase in consumption due to the growth of tourism and the private sector, barely 137,000 tons were collected and the Government was forced to import 17,000 tons, almost twice as much as in 2014, according to data from the Statistical Yearbook.

The potato is a product with a strong symbolic importance for Cuban families. Until 2009 its distribution was exclusively through the rationed market at a price of 0.45 Cuban pesos (roughly 2¢ US) per pound and its cultivation was a monopoly of state entities.

In 2009, one year after Raúl Castro formally assumed the presidency, the government de-controlled the tuber and allowed — for the first time in decades — it to be planted in plots that were not under the control of the State or a cooperative. This “liberalization” of the potato became an emblem of the so-called “Raulist reforms.”

However, the official calls to achieve elf-sufficiency in potato production and the delivery of lands to private formers in a form of leasing known as usufruct as a way to cut imports did not yield the expected results. By the end of 2017, the country was importing more than 80% of the food it consumes, at an annual cost exceeding two billion dollars.

In 2017, the potato was once again regulated, although the authorities maintain that this was not a return to rationing. Each Havana consumer can only buy 14 pounds of the product spread over three months and must show their ration book, but the price per pound has risen to 1 Cuban peso (roughly 4¢ US).

The potato is the star of the black market from the middle of the month of February until well into the spring. For 1 Convertible peso (24 Cuban pesos) you can buy a bag of potatoes with about five pounds of first quality and totally clean tubers (that is you are not paying for any dirt clinging to them), just outside the same markets where potatoes are offered in a regulated manner.

Miguel Alejandro Figueras, 2007 winner of the Cuban National Economy Prize, says that “per capita potato consumption in Cuba in 1985 was about 60 pounds” annually. In 1985, “the production exceeded 330,000 tons, accounting for 44% of all the tubers consumed in the country.” Of every 10 pounds of tubers eaten at domestic tables, almost half were potatoes.

Currently per capita consumption “is, at most, about 10-11 pounds, one-sixth of thirty years ago,” says the specialist. In 2014, the potato only accounted for 3% of the total production of root vegetables and tubers.

As of 2007, the number of areas dedicated to the cultivation of Solanum tuberosum was reduced. For Miguel Alejandro Figueras the prognosis is not promising: “Every season we plant less.” The economist notes that in the VI Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba where “the 313 Guidelines” were approved for economic policy, among them 37 specific to the agricultural sector, “the potato is not mentioned in any.”

Importing potatoes from Peru can be a solution that addresses demand while the national production remains in a slump.


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

US Dollar Rises in Value Against CUC in Informal Market

In the last two weeks the dollar has gained between 2% and 3% on the Cuban convertible peso. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 6 January 2018 —  The fear of a sudden monetary unification, which would eliminate the dual currency system in Cuba, and its possible effects on the foreign exchange market is contributing to the rise in the price of the dollar in informal networks in Havana. In the last two weeks, the US currency has gained between 2% and 3% on the convertible peso, going from 0.92 to 0.95 or even 0.96 CUC per dollar.

The pressure on the exchange rate began to be noticed a few days after Raúl Castro pleaded before Parliament for the early elimination of the dual monetary system. The head of State recognized that this reform “will not magically solve the accumulated problems” but if it is not resolved “it is difficult to advance correctly” in the economic reforms that the country needs. The existence of two currencies is also a headache for the state business system.

Cubans, skilled in reading between the lines, have interpreted the words of the ruler as an ultimatum for economists to implement the plan for the unification of the two currencies circulating in the country: the Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban convertible peso* (CUC). continue reading

Several articles published in the official press feed speculation about the impending closeness of a monetary reunification. The economist Ariel Terrero said last week that “the monetary and currency duality” was “the determining obstacle today for the Cuban economy to expand its wings.”

The text, published in Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, fed the rumors about the likeihood of an imminent change. The greatest fear of the population is that the process will happen “overnight” and upset the whole scenario of the fragile domestic economy.

The uncertainty surrounding the fate of the Cuban peso, also called the national currency, has led many to take refuge in the dollar, the holding of which was decriminalized in August 1993 and which has had a different exchange rate in informal markets than that offered by the official Currency Exchanges (Cadeca). In the last five years, the price of the dollar has remained stable in the informal market, with slight fluctuations between 0.91 and 0.93 CUC.

The attraction of changing the US currency in the black market is that in the Cadecas the Government imposes a 10% tax and the seller only receives 0.87 CUC for each dollar. To justify this tax, the authorities cited the alleged difficulties in carrying out commercial transactions in that currency.

In March 2016, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez assured that the tax on the US dollar would be abolished if the obstacles created by the US embargo disappeared. The news jumped to the front pages of the foreign press, but the measure never materialized.

Families that receive remittances in the US currency frequently resort to private money changers to get a better rate. In addition, Cubans who, as of the Immigration and Travel Reform of January 2013, began to travel to Mexico, Panama or the United States to buy goods and resell them on the island, also resort to private channels to manage their currencies.

Those who have the most to lose in a devaluation of the convertible peso are those who run a private business where they accept payment in CUC and in CUP, or those who keep their savings in convertible pesos, popularly known as chavitos.

This is the case for Victoria, 81, who last week sold the Lada that had belonged to her late husband. A family in the city of Trinidad paid her 13,000 CUC in cash for the car, but the old woman has not yet wanted to deposit that money in the bank, precisely out of fear of the sudden unification of the currency.

“I have all the money in my house and I do not know what I’m going to do, because if they unite the currency from one day to the next I will lose instead of winning,” Victoria confesses to 14ymedio. “I thought about buying dollars but they have gone up in price and, in addition, the sellers with whom I have spoken only sell small amounts, at most 1,000.”

Victoria lives with the nightmare of waking up one day with the news that the CUC has suddenly disappeared. She does not want to go through that again because of what she experienced in August 1961 when the government forced a paper currency swap and cancelled all the bills in circulation, as well as limited the total amount of old bills that could be exchanged for new.

“For each family, only 200 Cuban pesos could be exchanged,” recalls the old woman, who along with her mother stood in a long line in front of the bank to obtain the new bills. “If that happens again I do not know what I’m going to do, because the money from this car is to support me for the time I have left of my life,” she says.

Several informal money changers consulted by this newspaper predict that the price of the dollar could continue to rise in the coming days in the black market. “There is high demand and people are afraid of being left with those colored papers (CUC) in their hands that might be totally worthless,” Darius, a buyer of dollars who advertises on various digital classified sites, told 14ymedio.

“Right now, every time I find someone who sells dollars, he is offering them above 0.95 CUC and yesterday I stumbled on the first one who already had a rate of 0.97.”

*Translator’s note: Although the CUC is called “convertible” it can, in fact, only be exchanged within Cuba and it is illegal to take CUCs out of the country. Additionally, although formally valued at 1-to-1 vis-a-vis the American dollar, in practice, as discussed in the article, one dollar does not buy 1 CUC.


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

Music for Everyone All the Time

A young woman walks around Havana with her portable speaker. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 18 December 2017 — Hanging from the young woman’s bag, the small speaker radiates a trap song throughout the bus, making the trip between La Víbora and Vedado into a fun disco or an acoustic martyrdom. In Cuba, where the penal code is so strict, the lax treatment that the authorities maintain toward environmental sound pollution is surprising.

The war of the decibels has been unleashed. For decades, a status symbol has been to have powerful music equipment and devices that can play sounds with more watts. That guataje (as it is popularly called) fight becomes a real hell of a life in countless buildings, neighborhoods and public spaces.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that the human ear can tolerate 55 decibels without damage to health. However, depending on the duration of exposure, noises greater than 60 decibels can cause physical discomfort, such as headaches, tachycardia, agitation in breathing and tension in the muscles. continue reading

In Cuba, the limits of what is allowed in terms of noise are generally not clearly defined. Although there is a proper standard on noise and the permitted levels in urban and rural areas, diverse specialists have denounced the “laxity” with which the issue is treated on the island.

The absence of a clear and inclusive law that covers the problem, as well as the lack of essential instruments to measure environmental pollution, make it difficult to confront the problem. Also, Cuba does not have a large number of people qualified to take noise measurements and so noise is addressed in a general way without establishing a relationship with mandatory regulatory standards.

The streets of the Cuban capital and of many provincial cities seem like a real orchestra of different sounds that range from shouting, parties at full volume without prior authorization from the police, and vehicles that circulate in the streets as if they were mobile clubs, blasting music out the windows.

Cuban law has lagged behind the times due to the growth of new technologies. The arrival in the country of wireless connection devices, powered by their own batteries and that broadcast of music, poses a serious challenge to laws that regulate the permissible levels of sounds and noise that date back to 1999.

The Environmental Law of 1997 prohibits, in its article 147, “producing sounds, noise smells and vibrations” that affect human health or damage “the quality of life of the population.”

“The technologies have advanced but the laws are still the same and that is generating a clear contradiction between the noise that an individual can make with one of those speakers and the penalty he receives, a fine of only 200 to 2,250 Cuban pesos,” Osmani Castellanos, a retired jurist, comments to 14ymedio.

For decades, a status symbol has been to have powerful music equipment and devices that can play sounds with more watts. (14ymedio)

Noise pollution violations are not subject to penal sanctions and the authorities consider noise to be of “little social danger,” a classification with which Castellanos disagrees. “When that law was established, we did not know all the negative health effects of noise, which is why it was taken as a social behavior rather than a physical aggression.”

Processing a complaint against a neighbor or state entity for generating noise can be a real ordeal for the victims of the cacophony.

“Between the terrible service and the noise this is intolerable,” a mother complained this Saturday, in a cafe near the National Aquarium west of Havana. The family, with two small children, decided to refresh themselves in one of the state’s food service businesses but ran into a “musical offering” that “doesn’t even let us hear each other talk,” laments the mother.

After several complaints, the employees lowered the volume a little of the reggaeton blasting from the café’s speakers, but even so it was almost impossible to converse at the tables located closer to the speakers. The children played in the middle of the revelry using their hands as megaphones to project their voices more strongly.

In the midst of such shrillness, the street vendors have also chosen to increase the decibels of their cries. It is increasingly common in the cities of the entire island for these merchants to have recorded the phrases with which they seek to attract more buyers.

“Ice cream bars!” is the proclamation that blares, again and again, from a small horn attached to Ricardo’s tricycle, as the ice cream seller travels the streets of Havana’s Cerro neighborhood. “I got tired of screaming and I looked for this, which is better and more professional,” he tells this newspaper.

The litany from Ricardo’s speaker sneaks through the doors and windows, awakens those who sleep, makes children demand that their parents buy them something cold to tickle their tongues and even generates the occasional shouted answers: “Turn that off!” yells an old woman from the balcony, glaring.

“In this country where so many things are forbidden, it’s a miracle that they let this invasion happen,” says the woman, her eyes still half closed from the nap that has been interrupted.


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

Diapers and Tractors Connect With Real Needs at the Havana Fair

The Havana International Fair brings 63 countries to Cuba with plans for new products. (Fihav)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 3 November 2017 – Italian diapers and Caterpillar tractors have been the stars of the 2017 Havana International Fair (Fihav), which brings together more than 3,000 entrepreneurs from 63 countries, including the United States, this Friday. Both products will have a presence on the island if conditions agreed with the manufacturers are met so that they can set up operations in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM).

In its struggle to raise more than 2.5 billion dollars in direct foreign investment, the Cuban Government is presenting a portfolio of 395 projects in 15 economic sectors at the fair.

Beyond the numbers, often fanciful, managed by the authorities, what catches the attention of Cubans interviewed by 14ymedio is the creation of Industria Arthis, a Cuban-Italian joint venture that will build the first factory for disposable diapers in Cuba. The factory is scheduled to begin production in the ZEDM in 2019. continue reading

It will be a relief for Cubans, tired of reusing disposable diapers and exposing their children to the possible infections that entails. Currently, the product routinely disappears from stores or is sold only in hard currency, so many families turn to the black market or import them to maintain a supply. The official media blame the deficit on hoarders and the poor organization of distribution, but the president himself, Raúl Castro, admitted in 2012 the inexcusable need for our own industry. “We have to do it, I do not remember how much it costs, it’s expensive, but we have to do it,” he exclaimed during a meeting of the Council of Ministers.

Daniela, the mother of a baby who by 2019 will no longer need diapers, is an expert in their reuse. “I buy the filling separately and I put it in the diaper, so I save money and avoid having to wash cloth diapers, which takes time and the expenses of detergent,” explains the young woman, who for now would settle for achieving the dream of “having at least one new disposable diaper for each day.”

The future Arthis facility will produce four sizes of children’s diapers, in addition to three sizes for adults, with the filling to reuse them. Due to the aging of the population, in a country with almost 20% of people over 60 years of age, demand grows at both ends of the demographic pyramid.

The slowness that distinguishes the entire investment process in the Island, however, foreshadows delays. The official newspaper Granma acknowledged last week that the project is still hampered by “excessive delays in the negotiating process.”

The economist Elias Amor analyzes the problem without equivocation: “For many years, decades, Castro’s economy works outside the inexorable laws of the market,” the specialist explains. “When they try to apply those laws and incorporate some rationality into business processes, they do it badly.”

The International Fair, nevertheless, celebrates another advance this year with the return of the American giant Caterpillar, hand in hand with Rimco, the Puerto Rican company and an official distributor in the Caribbean of the famous heavy machinery.

From Expocuba, the news has flown to the plains of San Juan y Martinez, in Pinar del Río, where the Perez clan received the news with enthusiasm. “We have an old tractor that has been with us for more than half a century and is full of patches,” says the family patriarch.

Cultivators of tobacco, flowers and papayas, the Perez have jealously guarded their small tractor, painted a fiery red and considered the family’s most precious possession. His obsession for years has been to get replacement parts to keep “the monster” running, as some affectionately call it.

Although the date when the industry will start up and if its equipment will be marketed directly to private producers is still unknown, the return of the brand, absent since 1959, is perceived as a great step.

Less than a kilometer from the Perez house another family looks forward to the day. “Most of the work is done by hand, with oxen or with tools such as knives and hoes,” says Serafin, who leases a plot dedicated to the cultivation of beans and vegetables.

“I’ve always wanted to have a small tractor that serves me mainly to prepare the land,” the farmer told this newspaper. “I do not care what brand it is, but of course if it is a Caterpillar so much the better, because my grandfather had one of those and it lasted a long time,” says the peasant, who, although he admits that the process may well be delayed, he supposes that with the new machinery he would be able to produce more and with more quality. “And even sell my products in other countries, who knows?” he asks hopefully.

A year ago, both farmers buried their dreams of improving technologically, when they learned that the US manufacturer of Cleber tractors had been excluded from the projects approved to settle in the ZEDM, with its small format models which are called Oggúns.

“We are not going to give up, this is a long-term,” said Saul Berenthal, co-founder of the company with Horace Clemmons, after hearing the decision of the Cuban authorities. Twelve months later, Cleber still has not been able to enter the Cuban market and now a bigger opponent, Caterpillar, is ahead of them.

During the five days that the 2017 edition of Fihav lasted, the agreements that have been made public have been numerous and in many sectors, but another of the most valued at street level is that of telecommunications.

United Telecommunication Services (UTS), a company of the ally Curaçao, signed an agreement with the national monopoly, Etecsa, to increase the bandwidth for internet service

Paul de Geus, president of UTS, explained that the company operates a network of submarine fiber optic cables that allow direct access from multiple global operators, especially in the Caribbean, Central America and the Andean countries.

“For us it is a great pride to formalize this agreement, the result of a process of several successful commercial missions coordinated between the ministry of economic affairs of our country and Cuba,” explains the UTS president.

The Government of Havana seems, with this agreement, to consolidate the search for new allies with which to improve its access to the network in the new context of the Venezuelan crisis (Caracas was the provider of the submarine cable to bring internet to the Island), and of the tension with the United States since the arrival of Donald Trump to power, which cools the possibilities of cooperation with the northern neighbor in this area.

Beyond these developments, the traditional allies in the commercial field have also wanted to make their mark in this edition of the fair. The first partner of the island, Russia, advanced in the negotiations for the reform of the railway network, a project that covers works in more than 1,100 kilometers of railroad and the supply of construction equipment, roads and transport. In addition, ACINOX Stainless Steel and Russian YUMZ signed a contract for more than 30.2 million dollars to modernize a factory producing wire rod for construction.

Spain, Cuba’s second commercial partner, took advantage of its remarkable presence at the fair to review the state of economic relations and deal with the renegotiation of debt, but also to contribute to the expansion of solar energy in Cuba, a sector that, well-managed, could become a key to national economic development.

The Spanish company Assyce Yield Energía SA will install, together with the German company EFF Solar, panels to generate 100 megawatts/hour of electricity in the western provinces of Pinar del Río, Artemisa, Mayabeque and Matanzas. Both companies signed a contract with Unión Eléctrica de Cuba for a period of 25 years, for which Assyce will supply 55 megawatts/hour to Pinar del Río and Artemisa, while EFF will deliver 45 megawatts/hour to Mayabeque and Matanzas.

This agreement is part of Havana’s strategy to reduce its dependence on the oil that Venezuela supplies at subsidized prices but in decreasing amounts. However, renewable energies will not be able to compensate in the short-term for the oil deficit created by the fall from 100,000 to 55,000 barrels that the island receives each day from Venezuela, its Bolivarian ally.

Coming Changes Emphasize the Contradictions of Cuban Migration Policy

Outside Terminal 2 of José Martí International Airport in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 30 October 2017 – On Monday, Concepción González was waiting another day at the immigration office at 3rd and 22nd Streets, in Havana’s Playa municipality. The travel and immigration measures announced this Saturday brings to reality her old dream of reuniting with her rafter son.

On Saturday, during the IV Meeting of Cuban Residents in the United States held in Washington, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez reported that as of January 1 of a package of four measures will go into effect, among which is the elimination of special permission required on the passports of Cuban emigrants living abroad in order to return to their native country. continue reading

In addition, Cuban citizens living abroad will be allowed to enter the country on pleasure boats; those who emigrated illegally will no longer (for the most part) have to wait eight years before returning; and the children of Cuban residents living abroad will no longer have to settle in Cuba to claim citizenship.

The announcement has provoked an avalanche of questions on the street about the convoluted Cuban migratory picture, questions that are reflected in the numerous comments on digital forums and social networks.

Meanwhile, the official media present the new rules as a response to the escalation of accusations about the presumed sonic attacks against the US diplomats that the administration of Donald Trump has launched and the recent cancellation by Washington of the issuance of visas in its Havana consulate.

“It was necessary for Trump to put a firm hand on the Cuban government’s determination to loosen the retrograde immigration measures imposed on its citizens abroad for decades,” says Rolando Gallardo, a resident of Quito, Ecuador, for years.

During the closing of the event, the Minister of Foreign Affairs declared: “The government of the United States closes and Cuba opens.”

“The Cuban political elite wants to expose itself to the world as the antithesis of an aggressive Trump,” political scientist Armando Chaguaceda, a Cuban emigrant, reflected in his column in the Mexican newspaper La Razón. Chaguaceda maintains that the flexibilizations seek an economic impact because “Raúl Castro and his heirs need minor allies to sustain the nascent authoritarian capitalism.”

With the repeal of the passport special authorization, which has been in force since 2004 and involves expenses of about 70 dollars to obtain it through an intermediary, 823,000 Cubans living abroad will benefit, according to official sources. Now, to enter the island, they will only need a valid national passport, renewed every two years.

From the United States, the country with the largest Cuban community, the issuance of the passport costs 375 dollars and is valid for six years. Each of the two extensions contemplated in that time costs $180 USD. With the costs of sending and processing the passport issuance process can reach 400 dollars.

The Cuban emigrants who arrived this Sunday at José Martí International Airport in Havana learned about the news there. “It took me a long time to get the authorization and this is the first time I’ve use it, but I’m glad that next year it won’t be necessary,” Yantier, 28, who lives in the Dominican Republic told this newspaper.

“It was a bit humiliating to ask permission to enter my own country,” adds the young man. Many of his friends “have had to behave well and not talk about politics publicly to ensure that they will put this stamp on their passport,” he says, and he believes that the new measures can help more people dare to say what they think.

Just a few hours before the official announcement, the authorities did not allow the widow of opposition leader Oswaldo Payá to enter the country despite her passport having the required authorization. Ofelia Acevedo denounced that in spite of having her documents in order and complying with the law, she was forced to return from Havana to Miami without being given any explanation of why she could not enter Cuba.

One of the doubts that remains to be resolved since Saturday is whether the government of the Island will allow the entry of opposition leaders in exile and former political prisoners who left the country, as is the case of many of those prosecuted during the Black Spring of 2003.

Pablo Pacheco, one of the former prisoners of the Black Spring, a member of the Cause of the 75 released in 2010 and now living in the United States, wrote on his Facebook page, “Bruno Rodriguez, I don’t believe you, I don’t believe that all Cubans are included in these supposed benefits.”

The authorization of entry and exit to Cubans living abroad on recreational boats through the Hemingway and Gaviota-Varadero International Tourist Marinas, something that was totally forbidden for years, also generates confusion among those affected.

“If I sail on my yacht from Miami to Havana, I can enter,” a Cuban emigrant reflected on social networks. “However, if I take advantage of my stay in Cuba to do the repatriation process and obtain a Cuban identity card, what will happen? Can I be a resident on the island and still have my yacht in the Marina Hemingway?” he asked.

Nationals living on the island are forbidden to have motor boats in these exclusive recreational marinas, so the new measures highlight even more the contradictions between “the different types of Cubans,” according to this emigrant.

Emigrants who have not undergone the repatriation process still have no right to buy property in Cuba or participate in elections, traditional demands of the Cuban exile. Nor is the double nationality they have obtained in their second homeland recognized, so they must enter the country with their Cuban passport.

Concepción González’s rafter son, who left in a poor boat to Miami from the western area of ​​the Havana coast in 2012, could benefit from the measure that abolishes the period of prohibition of entry to Cuba in the eight years after emigration illegal.

“I have not seen him for more than five years and I thought we had to wait for another three,” the mother tells 14ymedio.

However, for professionals who deserted medical missions or diplomatic missions or while traveling in sports or other delegations, the situation does not change. The restriction of entry to the Island is maintained against them during the first eight years after their departure. Nor does the picture change for those who left through the United States Naval Base in Guantánamo.

Another of the measures to be eliminated as of January is a requirement for the children of Cubans living abroad, who until now have had to live for 90 days on the island to be eligible for the citizenship of their parents.

Flexibility is a “double-edged sword” for Cuban families living in countries that do not grant birthright citizenship, as Spain does with some conditions, and as is widespread in Europe. The Civil Code of that country allows granting citizenship by “simple presumption” to children of foreign parents who lack nationality but who are permanent residents.

Now, that argument will not be able to be used to claim Spanish nationality as long as the island’s consulate will process the nationalization even if the child has never set foot on Cuban territory. This situation could be repeated in other countries with similar laws.

In spite of the doubts and the situations that still do not find answers after the new migratory measures, this weekend in innumerable Cuban homes the happiness about reuniting with their relatives has allowed people to park their questions for a while.

“I count the days remaining in this year until I see my son,” Concepción González confesses. “I know that many mothers still do not have that joy, but I trust that more openings of this kind will come,” she says. “They can not close any more, so they just have to open.”

Bank Loans Do Not Fix the Lives of Those Affected by Irma

Following Hurricane Irma, which flooded part of Havana, residents tried to save their furniture and appliances by drying them outdoors. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 20 October 2017 — On a corner of Centro Habana an old sofa displays its swollen slats and next to it lie the paddles of a fan. These are the remains left by Hurricane Irma’s flooding of the area, the belongings of families that now apply for bank loans to recover, although the money barely covers a part of the damages.

At the Metropolitan Bank on Galiano at San Jose Streets, customers gathered on Friday looking for answers. News spread by several national media the previous day revived the expectations of those who lost their furniture and appliances when the fury of the sea covered the streets of the San Leopoldo neighborhood. continue reading

The vice president of the Central Bank of Cuba, Francisco Mayobre, told the Cuban News Agency (ACN) that, hours after the hurricane, survivors had been given loans totalling 28,700,000 Cuban pesos (CUP) “for the acquisition of material resources” for the construction and repair of homes.

The official pointed out that in one week, from 9 to 16 October, the total amount of credits allocated doubled “due to progress in the process of identifying the affected families, and through the intense efforts of bank workers to approve the loans within 24 hours.”

Mayobre also detailed that up to now, 9,054 loans have been paid out to people from the banks of Credit and Commerce, Popular Savings and Metropolitan. “The largest amount of money loaned out is concentrated in Villa Clara, Ciego de Ávila and Sancti Spíritus,” the provinces most damaged by the storm.

According to the current exchange rate governing transactions between Cuban pesos (CUP) and convertible pesos (CUC), the amount borrowed represents only 1,195,833 CUC (slightly less than two million dollars) and amounts to an average of 132 CUC (about the same in dollars) for each beneficiary.

The majority of those affected use the money to buy construction materials because bank loans have not yet been authorized for the purchase of household appliances and other household goods, although there are those who dare to buy other types of products with the money they borrowed, despite the risk of being subject to an inspection.

In mid-September, the government announced that it will finance 50% of the price of construction materials for those affected by the total or partial destruction of their homes after the hurricane. 

However, the products this benefit can be used to purchase are only those sold by the state, where the choices are few and supply is affected by corruption and diversion of resources (i.e. theft).

“I lost the kitchen counter because of the sea,” says Luisa Sampedro, a resident of San Lázaro Street, who laments, “they tell me that they only have floor tiles, so I’ll have to do it with that or go to the ‘mall’,” (stores selling in convertible pesos, which Cubans call by the English word).

A square yard of the tiles that Sampedro needs for his counter costs about 20 CUC in the hardware stores that sell in convertible pesos, so a loan from the bank is only enough to buy fewer than seven square meters. “It’s not enough money,” he says.

It was recently announced that the European Commission has approved a $826,000 project to repair damaged houses in the municipality of Yaguajay, but Sampedro does not believe that he will benefit from the initiative to be implemented by the United Nations Development Program UNDP).

“There are too many people with problems,” he says. “I live in a low lying area where there is a lot of humidity and I have to cover the walls halfway up in tile,” he says. He has not yet decided whether to go to the bank to apply for a loan and can not do so until he has been accepted as an applicant, a long and tortuous process.

An employee of the banking branch at Galiano and San José Street told 14ymedio that “work groups have been formed for the victims in each People’s Council” area. Those affected in San Leopoldo should go to an office on Dragones street to request that an inspector visit their home and prepare a “technical file.”

“From there the process begins and here in the bank we can grant the loan,” emphasizes the worker.

The bank is the last step of a broad working group that dictates who is a victim. The loans that are given to these people charge 2.5% interest and do not require guarantors.

Meanwhile, some of those affected by the hurricane are desperate for the state to begin officially granting credit for the purchase of appliances and other household items.

A few yards from the house of Luisa Sampedro, a family shelters their old Soviet-made Aurika brand washing machine from the sun. “We spent days and days seeing if we could manage to fix it,” says the owner of the house. The woman insists that she cannot afford to acquire a new machine.

In state stores a semi-automatic washing machine is around 250 CUC and the most sophisticated can exceed 600. “I can’t ask for a bank loan to pay that,” explains the Havanan. “The only thing left is to see if I can repair the machine myself or to pay a mechanic to see what he can do.”

Children play hide and seek around the metal casing. From time to time the grandmother of the family asks a neighbor if he knows where the social workers are who are “writing down the effects. Her dream is to get the loan in her name. “I have only a few years left and no one is going to charge me on the other side,” she said.

Cemetery Vault For Sale, Deceased Included

Colón (Columbus) Cemetery in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 14 October 2017 — “In this street there are five vaults for sale,” says Boris Fernandez as he walks through Colón (Columbus) Cemetery in Havana. “That one has the granite stone but people with money prefer marble,” he explains. His business is “to guarantee rest in the afterlife,” this salesman who lives off the funeral business tells 14ymedio.

“The first time I sold a grave was almost by accident,” recalls the former engineer, now a real estate agent for the afterlife. “In 2011 I was contacted by a lady who wanted to get rid of everything to leave the country. The first thing I found for her was a buyer for the family vault,” he says. continue reading

The cremation of corpses is a strong competitor for the traditional burials managed by Fernandez. In 2013, 5,045 bodies were incinerated throughout the country. However, “there are still many people who prefer to spend eternity in a beautiful place like this tomb,” he explains as he points to a gravestone with bronze letters.

Over the years, the dealer has become a specialist in his services and each satisfied customer in turn recommends new customers. “I have learned to price tombs, vaults and ossuaries because there are many details to keep in mind.” He has studied “even a little art history” to determine styles and influences.

“This one here has rounded lines and the vault includes two art deco gardens,” he says, describing a tomb next to the central chapel of Cuba’s largest graveyard. “That is worth at least 5,000 CUC [Cuban convertible pesos, roughly the same in dollars] because it has Carrara marble, coming from Italy and is highly treasured for its whiteness.”

The sellers are mostly people who come from families of ancient ancestry who “are going through hell to survive economically and decide to get rid of the family vault,” or they might be “people who want to emigrate and need ‘to complete’ [get a certain amount of money] for the passage,” explains the funeral director.

The transfer process must be done before a notary, but the vast majority of those involved prefer to simply hand over the title deed even if it is still in the name of someone who died more than a hundred years ago. “Whoever has the papers is the owner, it’s as simple as that,” explains Fernández.

“These are exchanges often done in a rush, and all it takes is to deliver the documents for the new owner to take possession of the place,” he points out. “So far I have not had any clients who got into trouble and I have helped many people find a place for their dead.”

The cemetery authorities are aware that economic inequalities are emerging once again in one of the most luxurious cemeteries in Latin America. “There is a lot of business in sales but there are areas that are frozen because they belong to the heritage area,” explains one of the guides that runs the tours for tourists.

The cemetery authorities are aware that economic inequalities are emerging once again in one of the most luxurious cemeteries in Latin America. (14ymedio)

“We have more turnover in the tombs that are not the most striking and that belonged to families of the republican bourgeoisie,” he clarifies. “The main reason is economic, because very few people get rid of something like that because they do not have time to take care of it or they do not care anymore.”

“We have had cases of people who have sold the vault even with the deceased inside,” Fernandez notes with alarm, as he accompanies visitors on a tour of the most famous burials in the site.

This reality is confirmed by Abelardo, a resident of Columbus Street near the capital’s largest cemetery who dedicates himself to the business of selling tombstones, flower boxes and vases. “People have come for help selling a tomb but insist that the buyer must commit to leaving the remains that are in the ossuary,” he details.

“In that case a special price is set and the new owner gives his word not to remove the bones of the previous family, it is a gentlemen’s agreement,” he says.

In addition to the grave ornaments he sells in the doorway of his house, Abelardo has contacts for all kinds of tasks related to the deceased. “We offer natural and plastic flowers, demand for the the latter has greatly increased after the campaigns against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito [transmitter of dengue virus and other diseases] which has removed many vases with water from the cemetery.”

“I also have a friend who does the spiritual cleansing of the tomb so that the new owners can use it without bad influences,” he adds to his string of offers. “For Catholics he does with prayers, for the Santeros [practitioners of Santería] he has an offering that includes a cleansing with herbs, and if they are spiritualists then the ceremony can include candles and glasses with water.”

The increase in the sale of tombs is not a phenomenon that occurs only in the capital, but rather is widespread in the country’s cemeteries.

“I also have a friend who does the spiritual cleansing of the tomb so that the new owners can use it without bad influences”. (14ymedio)

Niliana is selling a family vault of five square meters “in the best area of ​​the Tomás Acea Cemetery in Cienfuegos,” she emphasizes. Because the cemetery is further away from the city, prices are lower, but still remain inaccessible to those who live off their official salaries.

For 560 CUC, the buyer can bury his relatives in a cemetery declared a “National Heritage site since 1978 for its artistic, architectural, historical and environmental values,” explains the owner.

At double that price a much more modest tomb is marketed in Colón Cemetery. “It is like with houses, the location determines the price,” clarifies Boris Fernandez. “The one with the best economic situation can choose a good street or be next to a famous vault.”

“Now I have a client who is a painter who wants a tomb with a tree that gives him shade and as close as possible to the Chapel,” he says. “My job is to please him: I bring the place and he brings the dead.”


Thousands of Cubans Despair Over Suspension of Visas to USA

Older people came to the embassy looking for news. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 3 October 2017 — Communicating by phone with the US embassy in Havana has become an impossible task. From all parts of the island thousands of people are trying to find out what will happen to the consular interviews they had scheduled before the indefinite suspension of the issuing of visas by the embassy in Havana.

María Encarnación, known as Caruca, sunk into hopelessness when her daughter called her to give her the news. “My blood pressure went up because I had my consular appointment scheduled for October and now no one knows how to give me an explanation,” this retired 67-year-old tells 14ymedio.

After several hours of attempts, Caruca managed to speak with an employee of the US consulate, which upset her state of mind still further. “All operations are canceled until further notice,” the voice warned on the other end of the phone line. “This could be solved in a week or it could take years, we do not know,” she was told. continue reading

The cancellation of consular activity returns the imposing building that houses the embassy to a condition similar to that before 1977, at which time an agreement between Fidel Castro and Jimmy Carter allowed it to function as a US Interests Section in Havana. Since then, tens of thousands of people have applied for visas at its windows.

During the 2016 fiscal year, the United States approved visa applications for 14,291 Cubans, who took trips related to family, business, exchange or cultural and sporting events, among other categories. A much lower figure than the 22,797 visas granted in the same period of 2015 and the 41,001 in 2014.

A spokeswoman for the State Department explains the drastic reduction as an effect of “the extension, from six months to five years of the validity of the B2 visa for Cuban nationals.” However, since last January, when Barack Obama eliminated the wet foot/dry foot policy – which allowed Cubans who arrived on US soil without or without a visa to stay – many feared visa restrictions were imminent.

“I almost fell over when I heard what they told me on the phone. So I decided to come to Havana because I’ve been thinking that something like this would happen,” explains Caruca. She borrowed money, rented a private car from Los Palacios, in Pinar del Rio, where she lives with her husband and her son who remains in Cuba, to get to the capital as soon as possible.

“I was outside the embassy at dawn to wait for someone to come out and show their face,” she said Monday, in the small park where visa applicants have congregated for years. The place, still showing the traces of the wreckage left by Hurricane Irma, is no longer an area where hope and advice are offered “to succeed in the interview.”

Now, those who wait have a distressed look, trembling voices and their mobiles ringing constantly with calls from Miami, New York or Houston. “What do you want me to do mi’ja, if it can’t be done it can’t be done,” a man who said he had traveled from Jatibonico, in Ciego de Avila, shouted into his cell phone.

“It says that we have to check the website of the embassy, ​​that all the information will be there,” he says, his voice getting even louder. The sun burns and some of those waiting take shelter under the shade of the trees, others take off their shoes while sitting on the benches. “This is going to be a while so better get comfortable,” he says.

After eleven o’clock in the morning, a Cuban official leaves the US consulate and is surrounded by people anxious for news. “All the interviews are canceled,” she repeated emphatically. A man wants to explain that his case is urgent because his brother has been admitted to a Texas hospital and this is perhaps his last chance to say goodbye.

The cancellation of the interviews puts at risk the number of visas that the consular section is supposed deliver each year in the Island. According to the migratory agreements signed between both countries in 1994 and 1995, the US must stamp 20,000 annual immigrant visas for Cuban applicants.

“Don’t you guys listen?” the employee repeats. The phrase makes Caruca’s blood pressure shoot up, while the most equanimous of the group start to sweat and the voice of a woman breaks as she just tries to say, “No, it can’t be like this, there has to be a mistake.”

One woman, who has arrived from Havana’s Marianao municipality and had an interview scheduled for Monday afternoon, complains, “I want to know if they are going to give me back the money,” demanding repayment for the appointment fee paid by her family in the United States, but the official has no answers and again recommends to consult the web.

A small business that will fill out the visa application forms. (14ymedio)

For the surrounding businesses the news has been a blow. “We have gone out of business overnight,” says Diosdado, who helps his wife and daughter fill out the complex visa application forms. “Normally it was non-stop here, one customer after another and now nobody is coming,” he protests as he gestures to his empty room.

Some families in the area also subsisted on renting rooms to visa applicants. Some of their customers continue to arrive as they come to find out the status of their visa applications, explains the owner of a house with two rooms for rent, but “soon no one will come.”

Others have taken advantage of the stampede of Americans leaving to upgrade their furniture, appliances and food supplies. US officials returning home have held ‘yard sales’ in their homes offering all kinds of goods, with news of the events spread by email between Cuban employees of the US embassy and their friends and acquaintances.

“I bought a drill and a refrigerator,” says an embassy maintenance worker who learned of one of the sales in a mansion of Miramar. “I also managed to buy some chairs for the dining room and a battery lamp for when I don’t have electricity.” Although everything was acquired at a good price, the man regrets that now he will be out of work.

“Working with the yumas was good because they are very respectful, they give away many things and also the conditions of work were excellent,” says the employee who preferred anonymity and who says that his work helped him to get a visa when he wanted to and spend some vacation time in Orlando, Florida.

Now, the building where he worked for more than a decade has slowly been vacated. “Before the announcement on Friday many officials had already gone and this week the stampede will be great,” he says. “The consulate is one of the areas with the greatest reduction in staff and very few want to stay until everything is clear.”

The Cuban government says it has nothing to do with the acoustic attacks suffered by 21 US diplomats. In the official media the issue has been handled as something of minor importance, although on the street people aren’t talking about anything else.

A coffee vendor approaches the park a few yards from the Embassy and offers his merchandise in small plastic cups. “For the moment I keep selling because a lot of people are coming to find out about their interviews, but I do not know how long this will last.” A few yards away, the Cuban policemen who guard the diplomatic headquarters seem more tense than normal.

“They are afraid that this area will fill up with people complaining and protesting,” says the coffee vendor. “There is nothing that annoys a Cuban more than a cancelled trip,” he says. “Cubans can pass on quiet needs, lose their home in a hurricane and remain silent, but when it comes to a visa, they shout,” he reflects.

A woman of 60 asks for two coffees. She grabs them and relates that she has travelled 14 hours from Manzanillo, in Granma province. She had an interview scheduled on Monday for a residence visa for reunification with her son. Her plans have been ruined and her son insists to her, on the phone, that she approach the Embassy. “They don’t let you, I can’t,” she answers in a sob.

Afternoon falls and some are ready to stay until they receive a response. The people in the park, once envied for being close to a trip abroad, are now a bundle of frustrations and fears.