Young People In Cuba Start Drinking Earlier / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

45% of Cubans over 15 consume alcoholic beverages. (Luz Escobar)
45% of Cubans over 15 consume alcoholic beverages. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 18 January 2016 – From the bar home, from home to the bar, so passes the life of Fico, a Havanan of 65 who has struggled for more than two decades against alcoholism. His situation is frequently repeated in a society where more than 45% of those over age 15 drink alcohol, according to research by the National Unit for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention published this Monday in the official press.

Cubans between 15 and 44 are the most frequent consumers of alcohol. Differences in consumption between the sexes are also narrowing, and drinking is no longer a “man’s thing” as was erroneously believed until recently. continue reading

The most recent studies warn that Cuban women are increasing their consumption of alcohol. The share of men who drink is 47% while for women it is more than 19%. In the case of women, they suffer greater rejection, being in a macho society, and they wait longer to seek expert help.

Experts also warn that alcohol does more harm to women because they have less body fluid than men. The saturation or condensation of substances in the body is higher and the level of toxicity faster and more intense for women.

A survey in 2014 showed that consumption before age 15 is more common in men than women, with rates of 11% vs. 3% respectively.

Alcoholism is among the top ten causes of death in Cuba. In late 2015, a report form the National Transportation Directorate detailed that in that year in Cuba, 17 people had lost their lives and more than 140 were injured in traffic accidents where it was shown that some of the parties had higher levels of alcohol than permitted.

Urban areas have the highest rates of alcohol consumption, both for men and women, but overall the highest rates were recorded in the central region of the country, where 53% of men are drinkers.

Education also influences consumption, as women with higher levels of education levels consumed more alcohol, some 24% more than those with the least schooling. Among men, however, the opposite phenomenon occurs and the highest percentage of drinkers is among those with little education.

Health officials are calling on the Community Mental Health Centers and specialized consultations in polyclinics to make a call to help those in need of treatment or counseling for alcohol issues.

There are more than 200 Alcoholics Anonymous groups in the country, with the entry of that organization into Cuba dating back to 1993; they mainly hold their meetings in facilities provided by Catholic and evangelical churches.

In the Labyrinth of Taxes / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

This year the Cuban Tax Office has added the ability for taxpayers to send their statements by email.
This year the Cuban Tax Office has added the ability for taxpayers to send their statements by email.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 13 January 2016 – Several scribbled papers and a severe headache is what Claribel got this Monday, when the self-employed dressmaker started to fill out her tax form. With the recent start of the tax campaign for the 2015 tax year, doubts are arising about how best to comply with the duties to the Treasury.

Officials of the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) call on people not to delay and to pay their taxes before the 30 April, deadline. The chief of the state entity, Yamile Perez Diaz, criticized those delinquent during a press conference last week, although she added that “greater discipline and a tax-paying culture” is evident in the country. continue reading

This year ONAT has added the ability for taxpayers to send the main form, known as DJ-08, by email. The move could speed up receipt of the document and guarantee that it reaches the right hands, instead of getting lost in the inefficient Cuban postal service.

However, the improvements announced are not enough for people like Claribel, who for most of her life only heard about taxes as an evil of the capitalist past. For her, filling out the declaration presents obstacles almost impossible to overcome. “Next year I’ll hire someone to help me even though I will have to give them give part of my earnings,” she says.

Mairell Naranjo offers financial advice to small private businesses and also handles all of the license holder’s ONAT paperwork. Her specialty is the payment of monthly and quarterly taxes, plus the preparation of the tax return.

Services like those offered by Naranjo are well received among the the country’s 496,400 self-employed. Computerized tools that help keep track of a business and accurately calculate profits and taxes have also begun to be available.

Under the name Cuentapro, a tax program sold on the informal market that allows “efficient management of accounts,” according to Alexander, the young man who created it. It keeps a thorough record of payments to employees, costs for buying goods, and un-taxed earnings, letting the self-employed person know “what goes into our pocket and what we have to give ONAT,” says one of the sellers of the software.

Like every year, those who meet their tax obligations before 28 February will be entitled to a discount of 5%. Last year, only 67% of taxpayers filed for this benefit.

In 2015, the gross income declared by the self-employed totaled 3.825 billion Cuban pesos. This represented an increase of one billion over the previous year. However, 68,000 taxpayers were called to account by ONAT for declaring incomes below those estimated by the tax administration itself.

Number of Self-employed in Cuba is Dropping / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Sale and preparation of food is the sector with the highest number of self-employment licenses. (14ymedio)
Sale and preparation of food is the sector with the highest number of self-employment licenses. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio Zunilda Mata, Havana, 11 January 2016 – The number of self-employed workers in Cuba decreased throughout 2015, as confirmed by the official press on Monday. In the middle of last year there were 504,600 people working for themselves, while at the end of December the number was 496,400.

Of those working in the private sector, 65% are in the provinces of Havana, Matanzas, Villa Clara, Camaguey, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba, as detailed in a report by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. continue reading

Among the activities with the greatest weight in the private sector are preaparing and selling food, with 56,270 licenses granted; the transport of freight and passengers with 50,482 self-employed workers; and the leasing of houses, rooms and spaces with a total of 28,634 self-employed people.

These occupations are followed by telecommunication agents, which total 24,195 across the island, while contract workers total 114,000, 22% of self-employed Cubans.

In its report, the ministry states that of the total number of people authorized to be self-employed, at least 17% are paid by the state sector. Youth and women account for 30% of all self-employed in the country and retirees represent 12%.

At present, there are just over 200 activities approved for this type of non-state labor. The high taxes, the absence of a wholesale market, the excessive controls and the inability to import commercial goods, hinder the performance of the sector.

The decrease in the number of self-employed could be interpreted as hitting the “natural limit” in self-employment since the flexibilities initiated in 2010. However, specialists at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security expect the number to grow “gradually,” and that added to this form of management will be “a set of dining establishments and services to the population” that will remain under state ownership.

More Than 10,000 Food Services Paralyzed In Villa Clara For Health Infractions / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Hygiene rules require workers to protect food from human hair and not to take money with the same hand that served the food. (EFE)
Hygiene rules require workers to protect food from human hair and not to take money with the same hand that served the food. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 8 January 2015 – More than 10,000 services in Villa Clara have been paralyzed for health infractions, according to a report from the Department of Health Inspection Control published in the official press on Wednesday.

In addition, the repeated failure of 11 establishments to comply with the health regulations has led to their being brought to court. These businesses many not open again until the health violations are resolved.

Food exposed for hours, undercooked meat, and inadequate cleaning are some of the most common health infractions detected in2015 in state and private food services in the province. The inspections led to the closure of 19 food establishments in Villa Clara, the withdrawal of 1,200 licenses for self-employment, and the imposition of 13,000 fines. continue reading

As revealed to the press by Manuel Santos, a department official in Villa Clara, centers for the processing and sale of food, including snack bars, restaurants, coffee shoos and workers dining rooms, have been affected by the preventive measures.

Another of the most common infractions is committed by employees who serve food with their hands, without correctly using protective clothing designed for kitchens and food service. To this is added the placing of raw meat near sausages and smoked meats, increasing the risk of salmonella, a disease caused by a bacterium that causes severe diarrhea, vomiting and headache.

The drought affecting the country has aggravated the problems in hygiene in many places serving food, as their water supply has diminished in recent months. Other difficulties, including acquiring detergent, transport, and appropriate refrigeration equipment affect both government and private businesses.

Health standard violations storing, handling and preparation of food put consumers’ health at risk. First Deputy Health Minister Jose Angel Portal Miranda confirmed in the National Assembly, last December, that acute diarrheal diseases had decreased by 13.5% in 2015 over the previous year, but not as much as in 2014 when they were down 25.6% compared to 2013.

In recent weeks television has reinforced messages urging consumers to avoid eating foods that have not been properly protected, or that have some into contact with dust or flies. The adds alert staff not to handle food with the same hand that touches money.

Cellphones Widen Social Differences in Cuba / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

A 'clinic' to repair cellphones. (14ymedio)
A ‘clinic’ to repair cellphones. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 28 December 2015 – A house in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, a German Shepherd dog, or a Rolex watch were some of the most prestigious status symbols in Cuba some years ago. But with the new technologies, these now include having a latest generation computer or cellphone. Cellphones increasingly reflect the purchasing power of their owners.

Some 800,000 new mobile phone lines have been established in the country this year, but only 324,400 physical phones have sold through the State networks. The difference suggests that more than half of the phones in customers’ hands have been acquired through illegal networks or brought in from abroad. continue reading

The limited number of models available and the high prices for cellphones in the State stores contrasts with the diversity offered by the informal market. While the illegal networks offer latest generation models and operating systems that support the installation of apps, the “Telepuntos” of the Telecommunications Company of Cuba SA (ETECSA) display a limited supply of outdated models at prohibitive prices.

“We have everything, original and Chinese imitations of almost all the phone models on the market,” says “El Micky,” a technology seller exhibiting his wares in a doorway on centrally located Carlos III Street in Havana. “Most buyers are looking for touch phones, although we also have simpler models with large keys, targeted more towards older people,” the young man explains.

Prices in the black market vary according to the performance of the device. “We have them from 15 CUC (under $20), to the iPhone 6 Plus, which is hard to find for under 450 CUC,” El Micky elaborates, adding that the most popular are the ones with removable micro SD memory because customers want, “to put their own music or videos on the phone, or save files.”

State phone offerings are a very different picture. Currently the only models available cost more than 50 CUC, are made by Alcatel, and feature technology several years out-of-date.

“Few people buy these phones, because right there in the doorway there are illegal vendors selling something cheaper and of better quality,” an employee of a State Telepunto located in the Miramar Trade Center told 14ymedio. On the other side of the window two men with a backpack where whispering what they had for sale, among them the latest Samsung Galaxy phones which just appeared in the international market.

Last Tuesday, Cuban television also addressed this issue through a report presented by journalist Manuel Lazaro Alonso. Yisel Fernandez, head of ETECSA’s marketing department, said in the program that they are selling “about five different cell phone models ranging from 37 to 166 CUC.”

State prices are related to “the quality of the products we sell. Our company is charged, of course, with finding phones with better features, better benefits,” added Fernandez. Customers, however, do not feel the same.

“I also need a phone I can use to connect in the wifi zones, and these models won’t let me do that,” said a customer who, after waiting in a long line outside the Bishop Street Telepoint found that they had run out of the device he wanted.” I’ll have to check on Revolico [Cuba’s illegal “Craiglist”] to see what I can find,” concluded the young man.

The State telephone monopoly has never offered plans that include the phone when a customer contracts for service. “Here everything has to be paid for in advance, and they don’t offer any incentives,” complained José Manuel, a 47-year-old Spaniard working for a Cuban joint venture company. “I recently managed to change my pre-paid mobile for a contract plan, but I am able to do that because I am a foreigner with a work contract here, but Cubans can’t do it.”

The problems, however, don’t end with the purchase of the physical phone. Customers complain that there are few spare parts and limited services provided by the State-owned repair shops.

Since 2008, the year when Cubans were legally allowed to open a cell phone contract, prices to activate a line have been dropping. There have also been ​​some reductions in the cost per minute for national and international calls or for sending text messages, but cellphone service still remains a luxury for many people .

With the recent opening of the wifi hotspots that provide access to international e-mail and digital pages, the modernity and performance of handsets has become a determining factor. This is now the border that separates the true internaut from the disconnected Cuban.

Teacher’s Day in Cuba: Gifts and Taking Stock / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Secondary school students during a cultural activity. (14ymedio)
Secondary school students during a cultural activity. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 22 December 2015 – On Tuesday there will be no classes in any elementary or secondary school in Cuba. Educator’s Day is a time of celebration, when teachers receive congratulations and gifts. The practice does not compensate for the rigors of the profession, but at least it is a gesture of thanks from parents and students toward professionals who suffer from low salaries and the precarious material conditions of their classrooms.

In the more than 10,350 educational institutions throughout the country, this will be a day of celebration and taking stock. The 2015-2016 school year has barely made it to the end of its first semester, but since the beginning has been hobbled by the deficit of thousands of teachers at the front of the classrooms. Last September, only 95.2% of the demand for teachers was met, but the situation has worsened as the weeks have passed and more teachers have deserted the profession. continue reading

Better economic rewards would contribute to reducing the movement to other work, most education professionals agree. Teachers have been waiting for years for a pay increase consistent with the effort they expend, but its coming has been postponed over and over.

“I have been putting off retiring, waiting for a raise, but I can’t wait any longer,” says Melba, 68, a fourth grade teacher in a Havana primary school. After more than three decades of work, the educator says she stays in her job “for love of the profession.” And she adds, “Many of my students today are the children of others I’ve had in the classroom, so I owe it to them.”

In 2014, workers in the public health sector were given a wage increase, some of them seeing a doubling of their salaries to more than 1,000 Cuban pesos a month, the equivalent of about $40 US. However, personnel in the Ministry of Education have not enjoyed a similar benefit.

The authorities in the sector have seized on student volunteers to fill the void left in classrooms by the continued migration of professionals towards better paid activities. More than 10,000 students are helping to meet the deficit in classroom teachers right now, the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) reported last Wednesday.

Substitutes, however, fail to resolve the problem. “They do not come with sufficient preparation and do not last long in the job,” the director of a primary school in Havana’s Cerro district told 14ymedio. “Previously teachers loved their work and prepared the students in different subjects, as well as passing on ethical values, and this is harder and harder to find,” explained an official who asked to remain anonymous.

Yosvel, who served as a teacher of Spanish and literature for a decade, now manufactures footwear for the casual market. “I loved my job, but I love my family and I could no longer bring home the little I was earning,” he says. However, he says he is willing to return to his profession if a salary increase is decreed, because “this is the most beautiful job in the world.”

On the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, where thousands of Cubans throng on their way to the United States, Yordon “the prof” sleeps on a makeshift mattress. Born in Sancti Spiritus and trained in the pedagogical institute in his province, he spent four years teaching teach math at a junior high school, but now longs “to work at least in construction in Miami.”

The exodus and desertions affect the whole country, although the situation is more difficult for teachers in the capital and in Matanzas province, according to Minister of Education Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella. Education authorities call for a greater sacrifice and awareness from teachers, but the slogans do not seem sufficient to keep them in front of the blackboard.

In a message sent by the minister for Educator’s Day, she calls on teachers to march “in the vanguard embracing the future.” She adds, “The success of our socialism will depend largely on what we are capable of doing.” The text was read at the morning assembly at countless Cuban schools this morning, a few minutes before the teachers entered the classrooms to share a piece of cake and refreshments.

“Today is one of those days when I was glad I hadn’t asked to retire, but the rest of the year I think about it all the time,” says Melba, whose students, this Tuesday, have brought her gifts ranging from scented soaps to a pen-shaped USB flash drive.

A Math Test Shielded Against Fraud / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Students waiting to access the admission examination in mathematics at Havana’s José Miguel Pérez High School. (14ymedio)
Students waiting to access the admission examination in mathematics at Havana’s José Miguel Pérez High School. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunida Mata, Havana 28 april 2015 — “This is more protected than Plaza of the revolution,” a teenager joked this Monday just before sitting down for the math test for college admission. Yesterday, dozens of schools across the country held the difficult test to enter higher education. The rigor of the evaluation content has increased this year, after a string of cases of fraud that marred last year’s test.

The National Committee of Admission and Job Placement of the Ministry of Higher Education made a prior call for “discipline, punctuality and rigor” in order to carry out the process of University admission. This time, control measures have also been reinforced to deliver and protect the sheets containing the admission exams. “The chain of custody has been guaranteed,” a teacher boasted this Monday outside Old Havana High School as she answered the questions of curious parents who gathered at the site in the early hours of the morning. continue reading

Rigor has not only been expressed in greater control measures for the distribution of the exams but also in the difficulty of the tests. “They made it a difficult test,” complained a young man at the exit; for him the “math problems were complicated and the equation questions had some kind of trick.” In conversation with 14ymedio, several students expressed their suspicions that the complexity of the examination was intended to serve as a “warning” so that last year’s irregularities wouldn’t happen again.

The Municipal People’s Court of Marianao imposed, last November, heavy penalties for those responsible for leaking tests in the process of higher education admission for the academic year 2014-2015 in the province of Havana. A similar event happened at the Faculty of Medicine of Santiago de Cuba, where second year Anatomy and Statistics tests were leaked along with the fourth year English test and the well-known state test that all sixth year students must cope with.

Teachers and methodologists involved in the scandal were sentenced to from 18 months up to 8 years in prison. During the police investigation, it came out that several of these teachers trained groups of students, without legal authorization, based on the leaked test questions. The figure of the tutor – a teacher privately contracted by families, outside of the schools – has become famous in Cuba to prop up the deterioration of teaching quality in the schools themselves. 

The figure of the tutor – a teacher privately contracted by families, outside of the schools – has become famous in Cuba to prop up the deterioration of teaching quality in the schools themselves.

The events led to a new math test held on May 6, 2014, to the modification of the Spanish and history tests and to the “extraordinary repeat test for these three subjects,” as Granma newspaper explained at that time. Repeating the state test and the indefinite invalidation of the diplomas of the medical students involved in the leaking also occurred in Santiago de Cuba.

In order to avoid the repetition of such incidents in yesterday’s math exam, examination sheets were distributed to officials and managers during the weekend in sealed envelopes, requiring a signature to open them. “This year we have managed to avoid that teachers have prior access to questions; only school principals and heads of Departments are allowed to handle the exams”, assured a methodologist from the Playa municipality.

The official press echoed the words of René Sánchez, President of the National Committee on Admission and Work Placement of the Ministry of Higher Education, for whom the current round of testing is characterized by “transparency” and “purity.” As the official explained, we should now add that there is no access “to the fraudulent” in the slogan “The University is for Revolutionaries.”

This year, the majority of university openings correspond to medical, pedagogical, technical and agricultural majors. High School graduates compete for a total of 57,375 spaces in daytime course options and the so-called “encounter courses” – that is courses where students attend classes. Although there are more places than students for the examinations, much of what is offered is not of interest to young people. The pedagogical and agricultural careers are considered among the worst and students foresee them as a road to sacrifice with low wages and little social recognition.

In a few days, once the results of the tests are published, students may request a requalification process of a review of their scores.

The Spanish examination for University admission will be held on 30 April, and on May 4 that of Cuban history. In the meantime, the repeats for all these tests will take place between June 18 to 24.

Translated by Alberto