Farmers With More Than Ten Cows Will Have to Inseminate Them to Increase the Birth Rate

The cattle population of Cuba has fallen up to 70% compared to the years of the Soviet subsidy. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 23 February 2018 — Cuban farmers who have more than ten cows will be required to employ artificial insemination techniques to increase the birth rate of their herds and the production of meat and milk, the Business Group of the Island’s Livestock reported this Thursday.

To that end, 347 technicians are currently being trained in insemination in the western provinces of Pinar del Río, Artemisa, and Mayabeque, the central provinces of Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, and Camagüey, and the eastern provinces of Las Tunas, Granma, Santiago de Cuba, and Guantánamo, explained specialist Carlos Acosta. continue reading

They are also working on the certification of guarantees for the use of technology for artificial insemination or the use of a genetic stud from registered mothers, as well as in the creation of breeding points to contribute to the improvement of the existing livestock mass, indicated the expert.

In agreement with Acosta, 75% of the females included in the plan of artificial reproduction belong to the private sector, according to a quote from the report of the state Cuban Agency of News (ACN).

It also showed that livestock technicians and producers participate in workshops related to food, reproduction, genetics, and bovine health.

It specified that with the purpose of facilitating the activity of the veterinarians and the technicians of the sector, it foresaw the acquisition of modes of transport and thermoses to store liquid nitrogen, a product utilized in the conservation of bovine semen.

Cuba has some 17 million doses of frozen bovine semen, from more than 30 species, which comply with the standards of quality to develop livestock, according to experts from the Management of Artificial Insemination, belonging to the Cattle-Raising Group.

Translated by: Emilee Sullivan 

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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: Private Enterprise Could Be the Solution / Iván García

Designers in the shop, Clandestina, Old Havana. Taken from The “Revolution” of the Entrepreneurs, Cubanosomos, February 4, 2018.

Iván García, 19February 2018 — Pescao Designs, a project that is intended to offer decorative solutions to foreign businessmen, state-owned operations and small private businesses, began operation five years ago in the house of the founder, on Carmen 16 Street, in La Víbora, a neighborhood 30 minutes by car from the center of Havana.

Their initial equipment was technologically backward, but indispensable. Equipment that gave the impression it was antediluvian. The boss, Carlos, a 41-year-old automation engineer, seemed a lot like an orchestra conductor. He operated the machinery and looked over new contracts, which he organized at night, and he cleaned the garage that served as his office. continue reading

A family loan and a credit from the State bank, Metropolitano, were the capital with which he began to operate. “In the modern world, design is fundamental in all facets of life. Any design project in the U.S. or Europe counts on an investment of a million dollars or euros. I began with less than 20,000 dollars, which is nothing for this type of business. I learned along the way, and I substituted creativity for money.”

In spite of the olive-green Regime’s restrictions on small private business in Cuba, his business enjoys fame, credibility and good financial health. Carlos built an attractive air-conditioned office in a large house adjacent to his home. He has 12 workers on his staff. They were in charge of designing popular television programs, like Sonando in Cuba (Dreaming in Cuba), En Familia (In the Family) and La Colmenita (The Little Beehive). Also, he designed the stands for Havana Club and other businesses in the International Fair of Havana. Dozens of bars, cafeterias and private restaurants request his design services, for interior decoration up to menus and employee uniforms.

However, because of the restrictions and prohibitions on imports, equipment, state-of-the-art machinery, raw material and supplies are more expensive for private businessmen.

“Any piece of last-generation machinery costs more than a quarter of a million dollars. You have to buy the ink cartridges, 3-D design equipment and other material  from middlemen who charge very large commissions. The ideal would be to import it directly from the wholesalers in Panama or Mexico, at much lower prices,” says Carlos.

When you chat with private businesses, one of their demands is authorization from the Government to import equipment or to accept credit from foreign banks.

Another problem to solve, considers René, the owner of a shop that offers software applications and computer equipment repair, is to eliminate “the stupid prohibition on allowing professionals to open their own business. It obliges many entrepreneurs to make false declarations on their taxes or to open a business under a license that isn’t theirs. In practice, in spite of the prohibition, thousands of professionals are working for themselves under the table. And they aren’t paying taxes.

“The most intelligent thing to do would be to legalize the whole framework, because it brings a value-added that the businesses of lodging, home restaurants and other services don’t generate. It’s absurd that the Government is putting brakes on progress. They should give up the primitive idea that being rich is a perverse crime. The State should combat poverty. And the function of the private sector is to create wealth.”

Since professionals don’t have the Regime’s consent to open a business, those that exist function in a judicial limbo, or illegally. Sahily, a lawyer, dreams about having a law office that advises foreign firms and private business owners and helps them to negotiate the bureaucratic process.

“The Government must understand that it cannot be both judge and defendant. Foreign businessmen don’t trust the State to handle legal matters. They prefer private law firms to advise them. But right now, the Government hasn’t figured out that if they want to see foreign investment grow, they have to change the law and permit the participation of private individuals, if they really want to interest company owners in establishing businesses in Cuba.”

Enrique, an architect with 10 years of experience, thinks that “now is the time for the State to permit architects and designers to create their own firms. We need a master plan for construction. There are Cubans who can now afford designs for their houses and businesses. This way a better quality would be guaranteed, and it would overcome the improvisation and present sloppiness in housing construction in the hands of private workers without a professional adviser.”

In December 2016, a group of private businessmen had a meeting with officials at the National Office of Tax Administration, the institution that governs private work in Cuba.

A well-informed source told Diarío Las Américas that “all the limitations by the Government that presently exist were considered, and innovative proposals were presented. If the private sector has shown anything, it’s that in services like consulting, among others, it functions better than the State. In the last seven years, we have never stopped growing. It’s calculated that more than 1,200,000 Cubans  work in non-agricultural cooperatives or in private businesses. I believe we have earned the right to have the Government listen to us. In this first meeting, there were no commitments, but the Government officials took notes.”

As in any facet of life, private workers aspire to grow in quantity and quality. They think that private business isn’t the problem; it could be the solution to things that don’t function in Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Social Assistance or Fabiola’s Mistakes

Fabiola decided to make use of the elderly care systems that exist in Havana. (Orden de Malta)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 February 2018 — In an impulse of good faith or perhaps with some excess optimism, Fabiola arrived at the social services department of the Van Troi polyclinic in Centro Habana one October morning with a medical certificate to register her mother – a bed-ridden octogenarian with senile dementia – in order to receive the support that, as proclaimed by the Cuban authorities, these terminal patients are entitled to. Making that decision was her first mistake.

Weeks before, a doctor from that same health institution had made the recommendation, considering that it was “a right due the old woman, a widow and pensioner,” and something that might help Fabiola mitigate, to some extent, the high retail costs of disposable diapers which her mother’s severe incontinence demands. continue reading

The request might help Fabiola mitigate, to some extent, the high retail costs of disposable diapers which her mother’s severe incontinence demanded

It was for this reason that Fabiola decided to go through the process, knowing that, aside from the high cost of adult diapers, there are often cyclical crises due to shortages of such an essential product.

She also knew that in the neighboring municipality of Old Havana there is a regular system of elderly care, a service introduced by the City Historian, by virtue of which the coveted diapers for elderly bed-ridden residents of that municipality are distributed, with duly accredited prior medical certification.

All this is possible, of course, “subject to availability,” a pretext coined by some astute official, which is almost as useful as “the imperialist blockade” since it can be conveniently applied by official institutions in the face of any shortage situation.

However, Fabiola thought that the public health system, and in particular social services, because of their unique and national character, would function the same way in each municipality, and decided to try her luck in hers. Her second mistake was, then, to attribute some margin of efficiency and functionality to an official institution.

Almost four months later, after a telephone call and after thoroughly confirming personal details of the patients and Fabiola – labeled “caretaker” – a kindly clinic employee notified her that “it was her turn to pick up the module” in the establishment assigned to her, where she had to go and present the “receiver of the benefits” to get the expected help.

The new ‘module’ consisted of 12 bars of soap, one and a half meter of antiseptic fabric to fashion a strap for the patient’s bed, a rubber bed pad and a thin, small towel.  No diapers.

The employee explained that “that is all there is.”  After all, she punctuated, “it’s free and it’s something.” And she also said that the modules could be accessed every six months, as long as the patient’s medical certificate was presented that would certify the patient’s status.

The new ‘module’ consisted of 12 bars of soap, one and a half meter of antiseptic fabric to fashion a strap for the patient’s bed, a rubber bed pad and a thin, small towel

With her ephemeral exercise of faith deflated, and after recognizing her unjustifiable slip, Fabiola decided to close and forget that chapter. She would continue as before, resolving everything necessary on her own, attending to her mother with the same specialist doctors, who were her friends, and made house calls to her mother, and – if necessary – appeal to her relatives abroad to get whatever medicine or help they might need.

But believing that she would be unscathed when using the system’s controls was the third and most naïve of her mistakes. Because when Fabiola – who for decades stayed out of the government’s health system – gave in to the temptation to officially register her mother’s “case,” she was not only attributing credibility to a proven ineffective institution, but was making an attempt against one of her most precious personal assets: her privacy.

It turns out that the Cuban socio-political regime is precisely designed to invade one’s privacy, to blur the individual into “the mass” and to create in the population that humiliating feeling of commune or flock in need of the Government’s protection, which favors in the first place the acquiescent assimilation of official controls disguised as “protection of the population” – invasions of private spaces by fumigators and inspectors under the pretext of eliminating vectors (which are never eradicated), or untimely and unsolicited visits from the family doctor or nurse, among other intrusions – and collaterally establishes as a social norm of mutual vigilance, promiscuity, vulgar egalitarianism, envy and mistrust among neighbors, for all of which there are mass organizations, the different meetings of the so-called People’s Power and all the institutional entelechies conceived by Castro over decades of totalitarian power.

The “third age” (14ymedio)

Now, since she applied for Social Assistance “help,” automatically turning her mother into a statistic of the system, Fabiola – who is a rare Cuban journalist who does not belong to any political or mass organization, does not vote, does not participate in neighborhood meetings or popular festivals, does not like gossiping or personal confidences, does not meddle in the lives of others or give advice and does not cause discomfort or allow the invasion of neighbors or strangers into her home – has started to feel that her house is a kind of besieged square, under the merciless harassment of state officials.

With her candor, Fabiola and her family had fallen into the system’s networks, which now tried to breach her impenetrable privacy, something that in Cuba is considered a remnant of a decadent bourgeois, incongruent with the project of eternal socialism to which we Cubans aspire, according to the Constitution.

As a result, in recent weeks the doctor and the family nurse have insisted (in vain) on intruding in her house at any time of the day to “see the patient”

As a result, in recent weeks the doctor and the family nurse have insisted (in vain) on intruding into her home at any time of the day to “see the patient,” while the municipal Social Assistance office has recently sent her an employee with an extensive questionnaire that sought to collect, in addition to the personal data of those who inhabit the house, the income of each one and its origin, the occupations, the number and brand of electrical appliances they own, how many rooms they have, monthly expenses for gas, electricity, food, and a host of intimate details that Fabiola, true to her custom, refused to answer.

“Tell your bosses that none of that is any of their business, and that it’s already very clear that I never should have and will never again request your ridiculous ‘module,’ so don’t send me anyone else because I will not see them. Do you ask all these indiscreet questions to the bunch of decrepit old men who rule this country? Or do they not need those alms? Because many of them are old enough for adult diapers. Also tell them that my mother is perfectly well taken care of, and it’s not thanks to the Revolution”.

The young official, stunned, feverishly took notes on a blank piece of paper writing, perhaps for the first time, an official report without information. She felt uncomfortable and frustrated, and probably thought that Fabiola was as crazy as her mother. Which could be true, because Fabiola has the extravagant madness of behaving like a free individual in a slave society. In fact, this has always been the greatest of her abilities.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

My Experience with the Health Care System in the United States

Delivery room in a hospital in Virginia, United States. (Eliécer Ávila)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliécer Ávila, Virginia, 19 February 2018 — By now my first child, Elisa, has been born, after having withstood the stress and the ups and downs that we faced as a family during the first months of pregnancy in Cuba.

At the beginning we were afraid, because no one manages to completely remove himself from all of that omnipresent propaganda that suggests that anyone can die from a lack of medical attention in the United States. Despite the enouraging messages of my very dear friends, deep down we were uncertain about how it would be possible to integrate ourselves in the health care system and have the pregnancy monitored until the time of delivery. We also questioned ourselves about what would happen after. continue reading

We do not have refugee status, or a social security number, or the support of political organizations or foundations, and had less-than-sufficient money to take the expenses of the whole process on ourselves. We immediately set off for the nearest health center, and there we were given information about what we should do in this situation. After filling out three forms and being attended to by two secretaries, we were already heading off towards the clinic that would be, from that point on, our hospital center for the next four months.

The cost of birth was assumed by the State through Medicaid. Starting at that moment and continuing through the next five years, part of our daughter’s medical coverage is covered through this insurance. Apart from this, we receive alimentary support through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC, as it is abbreviated in English), which is also of a public nature and finds help for low-income women.

Given that we did not have an income and were existing on the lowest step of the health system’s standard of living, we planned to find ourselves with basic medical care that was probably lacking many comforts that an official insurance plan guaranteed.

We were tremendously surprised upon entering through the doors of the medical center. The quality of the infrastructure, where each detail ran properly, the extreme cleanliness that provided a pristine environment, and the organization of the internal processes of the place made us feel absolutely secure and comfortable.

It should be noted that, in the immense majority of cases, the patients that shared the waiting rooms with us for a few minutes were Central Americans and African Americans, some accompanied by several children and waiting for the next.

Beyond the physical aspect–the equipment used, the internet access, the instruments, most of which were disposable for safety–I have concentrated on those parts which every health system in the world should keep in mind, and I do not doubt that at one point in time these formed part of the good practices of the Cuban healthcare system, before all of the deterioration, budget cuts, and lack of incentives destroyed the quality of care until it reached the current disaster level.

Each weekly appointment is coordinated with the patient and her family to find the most convenient days and times. Once it has been set, you receive a written record. When the date approaches, you receive an email or an SMS as a reminder. There is also the possibility to reschedule the appointment.

In the consultation, everything flows naturally. Without screams in the hallway, or people sweeping your feet. No one smokes in the establishment, and the language used is extremely cordial, human, and respectful.

Each patient and her companion meet alone with the doctor or the nurse. Before each important question they consult the patient, and nothing ventures outside of this framework. In fact, before each important question the specialists ask the patient if they would like their companion, be it their husband or their wife, to be present. If any check is necessary, everyone leaves the room except for the doctor.

Experiencing this type of treatment causes me to remember when I was an adolescent and I developed two growths on my knee and my elbow, I imagine from taking baths in rivers and stagnant dams. I took quite a difficult dermatological turn and, while I was waiting in the endless line in the hallway, on foot, at three in the afternoon without lunch, the nurse who had taken my details came out and called for me, yelling: “The boy from the country, the one with the pimples!”. Everyone present, including two very beautiful girls who I had been admiring, searched for me among the crowd to know who “the one with the pimples” was. Before the third call and sweating with shame I answered with another yell to the woman: “Well, I have a wart: could it be me?” To which she responded, “Obviously, moron. How many Eliécer Ávila del Yareys do you believe there are here, son? Go on!”

Among the giggles, I entered the consultation, in which there were three cubicles and they were waiting for me in the last one to burn it off. In the first there was a woman with her legs open; in the following I recognized the voice of one of my classmates who was speaking about a fever following a curettage; and in the last there was a gray-haired man who screamed at me: “Fuck, you’re the son of a Chinese! Look at how they beat you.” All this in the midst of the laughs of the front cubicles. The whole towns knew of the works and miracles that happened in that hospital.

Here, each step of treatment, whether a lab test or physical adjustment, is explained to you in detail so that you understand it and then decide whether or not you authorize the doctor to do it. Your body is an individual temple over which you exercise complete sovereignity. In fact, many people refuse certain traditional practices and opt instead for natural and even spiritual versions of certain methods. They respect it completely, always reminding you that you act under your own responsibility.

We were not accustomed to having options, and it was difficult for us to choose. In Cuba, we have never been asked if we want this or that, if we give consent to be touched, or even if they could examine us.

Coming from Cuba, we were used to others making decisions for us, even about our health. We did not have control over what happened, and many times we were not even able to give an account if there had been any negligence. In the U.S., the opposite has happened and, sometimes, this respect toward the patient can be overwhelming for someone who is not accustomed to it, although they end up accepting it.

I do not pretend that this testimony makes a comprehensive comparison between the health care systems of Cuba and the U.S. It addresses our personal experience and I do not doubt that on the Island, at least as far as human capital is concerned, we would have received appropriate attention.

My desire is that every Cuban can enjoy true quality of medical attention on the Island, such as that which we have come to know. This is something that I believe depends on the Government that prevails in our country and on the political and economic system that we construct.

Translated by: Emilee Sullivan

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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.

Maduro Invites Himself To The Summit And Cuba Calls His Exclusion "Unbelievable"

14ymedio bigger14ymedio (with information from news agencies), Havana, February 15, 2018 — The President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, said this Thursday that he will be attending the next Summit of the Americas, which will be celebrated in Lima on April 13 and 14, “come hell or high water,” in order to, he added, tell “the truth” about his country.

“They don’t want to see me in Lima, but they’re going to see me. Because rain or shine, by air, ground or sea, I will arrive at the Summit of the Americas with the truth about Simón Bolívar’s fatherland,” Maduro affirmed in a press conference with international media. continue reading

Perú, as the host country, announced this past Tuesday that the presence of Maduro at the Summit “will not be welcome,” a decision supported by those known as the “Lima Group,” which encompasses several countries of the region.

Faced with this measure, on Thursday Cuba “categorically” rejected the Peruvian Government’s decision to exclude the Venezuelan President from the Summit and reaffirmed Cuba’s “unwavering” support for its principal political ally in Latin America.

In a declaration by the Foreign Minister, published on the front pages of the official newspapers, Granma and Juventud Rebelde, the Island also “energetically” condemned the Lima Group’s statement, which demanded that Maduro set a new electoral time table in rejection of the official presidential elections organized by the ruling party.

For the Island, it is “unusual and unbelievable” that a supposed unconstitutional rupture in the democratic order in Venezuela be used as a “pretext” when this country “has just convoked presidential elections, like they were demanding.”

Cuba, which was invited for the first time to the Summit of the Americas in 2015 after its expulsion from the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1962, still has not confirmed its attendance at the conclave in Lima.

The decision to leave Venezuela out of the Summit is based on the Declaration of Québec of 2001, “that indicates that the breakdown of democracy constitutes an insuperable obstacle for the participation of a state in the Summit of the Americas,” as the Foreign Minister of Perú, Cayetana Aljovín, said then.

Faced with this, the Chief Executive of Venezuela has stated that he received from his Peruvian counterpart, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, “several letters,” the last one “yesterday at 4:00 in the afternoon…inviting me to the Summit of the Americas.”

The President showed the attending media the letter that he said arrived yesterday afternoon, in which it can be read that Kuczynski extended the invitation to Maduro to participate in the Summit of the Americas in a missive dated November 11, 2017.

“It’s a group that exists and doesn’t exist. That brings out comunications and pretends that they are orders that we fulfill. In Venezuela we command ourselves, not Kuczynski nor (the Colombian President, Juan Manuel) Santos,” he added.

“Venezuela doesn’t depend on the Lima Group for anything. Thank God, we have a country that is totally and absolutely independent,” he said.

The Lima Group is composed of Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Brazil and Costa Rica, plus the recent additions of the United States, Guyana and Santa Lucia.

This group was created in August 2017, faced with the impossibility of approving resolutions on Venezuela in the OAS, because of the blockade on the part of the Caribbean countries.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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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.

Luis Manuel Otero: From Athlete to Dissident Artist / Iván García

Iván García and Luis Manuel Otero, photo by Yanelys Núñez

Ivan Garcia, 15 February 2018 — He’s like a character out of a dark novel by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez. He turned 30 on December 2, 2017, and the life of Luis Manuel Otero has been marked by survival.

He still remembers the 12-hour blackouts when he was a kid, in the middle of the Special Period. The empty, grimy pots and the unmistakable color of El Pilar, his neighborhood in the Havana municipality of Cerro.

The section of Romay Street, from Monte to Zequeira, doesn’t even go 100 yards. It’s narrow and unpaved. The houses are one-story. The only building that had three floors collapsed from lack of maintenance. continue reading

The house of the Otero Alcántara family, at number 57, is typical of early 20th century construction, with tall pillars and large windows. Throughout the night, women are sitting in the doorway, gossiping, while the men take up a collection to buy a liter of bad rum, steal detergent from the Sabatés factory or kill the boredom with a game of baseball in the old Cerro Stadium.

Luis Manuel grew up there, on a poor block full of tenement housing, where drugs and psychotropics are a rite of passage, the young people are abakuás (devotees of the African religion) and problems are solved with guns or machetes.

His father, Luis Otero, used to be a dangerous guy. He always was mixed up in legal problems, and jail became his second home. In prison he became a welder, and the last time he left the Combinado del Este prison, he promised he wouldn’t return.

María del Carmen, the mother of the artist and a construction technician, is a “struggler,” like most Cuban women. When she was pregnant with Luis Manuel, his father was in jail.

“Let’s see what happens,” she said to herself. She acted as mother and father for a long time. Perhaps because of maternal overprotection, she opted to bring him up behind closed doors at home.

Luis Manuel Oteros, a mulatto with an adolescent expression, gestures with his mouth and mentions that to escape from that reclusive life, “I made my own wooden toys. I had this gift from the time I was little. I don’t know who I inherited it from, because there’s no other sculptor or visual artist in my family. I spent hours and hours talking alone. I created scenes and imaginary characters. And from childhood, I vowed to be someone in life,” he said, seated on a wooden stool and leaning against the wall of his studio on San Isidro in Old Havana.

Then he went to school. “I spent primary at Romualdo la Cuesta and secondary at Nguyen Van Troi. I always had a piece of wood in my hands. My grandmother was working in Viviendas, and this was during the years when Cubans decided to emigrate. The State confiscated their property, and many people gave her things, used clothing and household appliances. So we had a washing machine, but I hardly ever had shoes, only one pair that almost always was torn. I went to school wearing hideous boots or plastic shoes,” remembers Otero, and adds:

“I was nine or 10 years old, and like all the kids in the area, we were looking for a way to make money to help out at home, to buy things or go to parties on weekends. A friend and I from the neighborhood decided to remove bricks from buildings and abandoned houses. At that time, recycled bricks were selling for three pesos on the black market, but we sold them for two. One afternoon, my mother caught me doing this and beat me with a rope all the way home.”

Before getting involved with visual arts, Otero spent four or five years training as a mid-distance runner on a clay court at the Ciudad Deportiva.

“I wanted to get ahead. I appreciated the discipline and commitment of sports. I ran the 1,500 and 5,000 meter-dash. I had prospects. I was training hard to reach my goal: to escape from poverty. But in a competition in Santiago de Cuba, in spite of being the favorite, I came in fourth. I wasn’t programmed for losing. So I decided to study and try sculpture and the visual arts.”

In his free time, he and a friend sold DVDs for three convertible pesos in the streets of Nuevo Vedado, and he made wood carvings. “A cane that I made ended up at a workshop that Victor Fowler had in La Vibora. I was 17 and started to become serious about sculpture. I attended many workshops. I always had a tremendous desire to learn, study, better myself. I’m a self-taught artist and a lover of Cuban history. I also slipped into the courses offered by the Instituto Superior de Arte. It was an exciting world.

“When I went home, I went back to reality. Mediating the fights and blows between my father and mother or the problems that my younger brother had,” remembers Luis Manuel, leaning on an ancient VEF-207 radio of the Soviet era, dressed in mustard-colored pants and a white pullover with the faces of the Indian Hatuey, José Martí, Fidel Castro and the peaceful opponent, Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara had an exposition for the first time in a gallery in Cerro, on the Avenida 20 de Mayo, in 2011. “I called it, ’Heroes are no burden.’ It was wooden statues of men from the trunk up, without legs. I dedicated it to the soldiers who were mutilated during the war in Angola. I personally invited a dozen combatants who had been in the struggle. I was tense, waiting to see what the reaction would be, but the show was very well received.”

The statue from which the “Heroes are no burden” exposition took its name (Havana Times)

He had already begun his political activism by then. “I had too many questions without answers. I saw that the expectations of society were not taken into account. I had no way out. Everything was a bunch of blah, blah,blah, speeches with no meaning. In private, the majority of artists recognized that things should change. Cuba is crazy. It’s also true that there’s a lot of opportunism in the artistic world. Hustling is normal in this environment. I saw that something should be done,” commented Otero, in a deliberate tone.

And he decided to work on his art with a new focus. December 17, 2014 was a date to remember. “That noon I was amazed to see Raúl Castro and Barack Obama on television. I felt that a new epoch was beginning. That the worst was behind us. That a stage of reconciliation and national reconstruction would begin. That was the feeling among most people: that there would be more negotiations, that finally we would have a better level of life. People had tremendous hope. It was a dream that was contagious.”

But the Regime put obstacles in the way. The greatest optimism passed to the worst pessimism. The resumption of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. was purely an illusion. More press headlines than concrete initiatives that will improve the quality of life of Cubans.

Luis Manuel Otero remembers that Rubén del Valle, the Vice Minister of Culture, “said, and no one told me, I was still here, that they were going to need several shiploads to be able to sell all the works of Cuban culture. The feeling that many artists had was that in the biennials and events, Americans would start buying valuable artistic pieces. I wanted to make something, to be in fashion. My sin was in being naive.”

Barely one month before, on November 25, 2014, Otero performed downtown on Calle 23, on the Rampa, which was noted in the international press. “At that time I had an American girlfriend. The intention of the performance was to ask her to marry me at a wifi site that had become popular, with no privacy and people screaming and asking for money and other things from their families. I did a stripper act on the corner of L and 23, accompanied by two mariachis. On that occasion, perhaps out of surprise, State Security didn’t interrupt me.”

A little after this, he broke up with her and started courting Yanelys Núñez, who had a degree in art history, and a main piece in her present project at the Museum of Dissidence. Otero is like a box with push-buttons: hyperactive, suggestive and creative. In the middle of a conversation, an idea of his next performance came to him.

“Sometimes I take two or three days tossing around an idea for a work. And it’s in the middle of the night that a concrete idea comes to me. Then I wake up Yanelys and we go to work. With the last one, the Testament of Fidel Castro, it was more or less like that. The George Pompidou Center in Paris asked me for a sample that I was going to make. What occurred to me was the testament of Fidel inside a bottle of Havana Club rum. I implied that at the end of his life, he repented of all the harm he did,” emphasizes Alcántrara.

Right now it’s not at all clear to him. But perhaps before, during or after the succession directed by Raúl Castro, he will start a new project. April, Luis Manuel speculates, could be the month he gets lucky.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Virtual Wall of the Mexican Embassy in Havana / Iván García

Mexican Consulate in Havana.

Iván García, 8 February 2018 — It was Sofia’s fifteenth birthday. Between her parents and relatives living abroad, they saved $3,700, enough to pay for a week in a four star hotel in Cancún.  After finding out via international media about the brutal violence devastating nearly all the Mexican states, they decided to change their planes and go to Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic.

“But the Dominican Embassy requires a guarantee from a resident in the country if you want to go there. And we didn’t know anybody there. We decided to give Mexico a try. What a business! In theory, it is a straightforward process. You make an appointment, which is free, on the embassy website  in Havana.  You download a pdf form which you can fill in at home or at an internet room. And you should get an appointment for the interview in two or three weeks from the consulate. continue reading

“But, in practice, the site is blocked. We tried at all hours up to early morning. When we went personally to the embassy, they told us that was the only way you could do it. It was then that we realised the web of corruption that had been set up between the Mexican officials and the Cubans in the area,” we were told by Pedro, father of the fifteen year old, who then added:

“People we know, who travel to Mexico as ’drug mules’, told us don’t even try to do it online, and that the surest way is to pay 300 or 350 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) to someone living near the embassy, who will guarantee you an appointment and a ten year visa. I wasn’t interested in a ten year visa, or working as a mule. I only wanted a visa for a week for my daughter’s fifteenth. We ended up going to Veradero [in Cuba].”

For the last month, I have been looking into this matter, which doesn’t just affect the Mexican embassy. Some people interviewed have said that the Panama diplomats charge under the counter bribes to Cubans who want to do illegal things.

“You pay $300 or $400.  They like foreign currency, although they also accept convertible pesos. If you pay, you almost certainly will get your visa for ten years, which is fabulous for those of us who are up to this kind of ’business’, as it guarantees you enough time to be a ’mule’. You get back the cost of the bribe on the first or second trip. These kind of bribes are normal in Central America (except Costa Rica), but most of all in Mexico, where corruption is a way of life,” says Alberto, who has been earning his living moving illegal stuff around for the last seven years.

According to the news agencies, in 2016 Cubans spent more than $100 million buying things in Colón, which is a city situated at the entry to the Panama Canal.

But let’s go back to the Mexican Embassy, at 518, Northwest 12th Street and the corner of 7th Avenue, in Havana’s pleasant Miramar area in the west of the capital. An elegantly-dressed lady who says she has worked in a Cuban Ministry, thinks that “it’s a good transaction for both parties: as well as getting you your appointment at the consulate, I can guarantee you a visa for ten years. Do you know how much money they charge you for that type of visa? Seems to me that 300 CUC is cheap.”

When I ask her how much money I need to pay the consular official, she smiles before answering. “Listen honey, are you a journalist, or a policeman?” What you want is a visa. And I am the person who can help you get it.”

A source told me that at least two Mexican officials receive money for illegal activities. “In the embassy surrounds there have been scuffles between people having to wait their turn, but the police deal with it swiftly. There are people who have been swindled and there was a case of a man who complained to the G-2 [Cuban State Security]. But nothing happens to these people. They have diplomatic immunity. The worst that can happen is they are kicked off the island.”

Several times I called the Mexican Embassy on the phone to get their comments. Not one official replied.

Generally speaking, the embassies of first world countries in Cuba don’t have these problems. The government has tried to point fingers at corrupt US officials, but has never been able to show any evidence.

Someone who is friendly with Latino diplomats tells us “The US Embassy runs like an atomic clock. With the Americans, there is no sex. They are incorruptible. Even the ones who pay accounts for $20 have to get them authorised by the government. All the to-do with appointments and visas is dealt with by the embassies and consulates of the Latin American countries, the ones who tell us publicly they are our brothers, but in practice put a thousand and one obstacles in the way to stop Cubans going to their countries. But the Mexican officials are the most corrupt.”

On this site, dozens of  people, giving their names and last names, have left comments about the allegedly corrupt arrangements. That’s what Yirina Delgado did: “I know that you don’t care about my opinion here, because lots of people complain and don’t see any improvements, or even get a reply from the embassy. You are jerking people off  who want to get a visa. The web page works up to the moment when you are due to get it,  and then it is blocked … stop playing around with people and defrauding them.”

As far as she is concerned, says Elizabeth Gutiérrez, “It’s a lack of respect … I can’t get an appointment. They do that so that later they can sell you one on the side.”  Others complain they have been ripped off.

Yolanda, who is a housewife, goes to Mexico every year, where her children and grandchildren are. She makes it clear that the corruption in the Mexican Embassy in Cuba “is nothing new in a country where there is systemic corruption and the most corrupt are the politicians and the police. Once I heard about a mayor who applied for a position, who said publicly, “I have stolen, but not very much.”

Cubans who work as “mules” are ready to pay 300 CUC under the table to get a 10 year visa to Mexico. But, for Sofía, the fifteen year old girl, her parents decided not to go to  Cancún, because they do not accept the corrupt procedures.

Translated by GH

Cuba Commissions China to Fabricate a Prototype Marabou Harvester

Sacks stacked with marabou coal after the disassembly of the oven. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 9 February 2018 — Cuba has commissioned China, one of its principal economic allies, to fabricate a prototype harvester for marabou, an invasive plant also known as sicklebush which is seen as a plague on the Island’s fields, so it can be used as raw material for vegetal coal and be exported to the U.S., Europe and other countries.

The model was designed by Cuban engineers and will be constructed in a Chinese industrial park, based on an evaluation of three different machine technologies, tested in the central provinces of Camagüey and Ciego de Ávila. continue reading

After a period of testing, the definitive version of the harvester will be assembled in a factory in the east of the Island, according to the state news agency Prensa Latina.

The Director of Agricultural Engineering for the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture, José Suárez, explained that local engineers also are working on the installation of a group of processing plants for the drying of rice, beans and corn.

The Island’s aspiration is that its industry can produce all the equipment and construct the different facilities that the agricultural sector demands.

It’s estimated that 20 percent of the cultivable land of Cuba is covered by marabou (Dichrostachys cinerea), an African species that was introduced in the middle of the nineteenth century. It propagated rapidly since there was no disease to curb its spread, and it is very resistant to drought and high temperatures.

Now considered “the thorny gold of Cuba,” marabou has stopped being a threat and is seen as an opportunity for export, a source of clean energy and raw material for bioelectric plants.

The fabrication of vegetal coal is not a factor in deforestation, and its processing begins in private agricultural cooperatives that cut down the marabou and process it in handcrafted ovens in a natural way.

Cuba exports annually some 80,000 tons of marabou vegetal coal, principally to European countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal, and also to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and Israel.

This product was the first one to be exported to the U.S. in more than 50 years, after the official resumption of diplomatic ties between both countries, with a first shipment in January, 2017, of two containers with 40 tons of vegetal coal.

Last November, the State business CubaExport signed a new contract with the U.S. company, Coabana Trading LLC, for the export of another 40 tons of the product.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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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.

Thousands of Venezuelans Flee to Colombia to Escape From Hunger

Hundreds of Venezuelans earn their living in the streets of Cúcuta carrying suitcases for their compatriots who leave Venezuela. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón/Antonio Delgado — Tens of thousands of Venezuelans cross the border with Colombia every day in search of food and work. They sell candy, bread, chewing gum and contraband gasoline. They prostitute themselves or simply ask for handouts on corners. They are the new faces of the Venezuelan migration in the Colombian city of Cúcuta, the epicenter of a humanitarian crisis triggered by hunger in the neighboring country.

“The children come alone. They don’t want to speak or say anything. They are very tight-lipped about their family history,” says Whitney Duarte, a 24-year old social worker who was helping two orphans, Henry and Steven, in a social center where they come every day to have lunch. continue reading

Duarte has been volunteering for two months in the Casa de Paso Divina Providencia, a Catholic Church home in Cúcuta that shares more than 1,000 meals daily with children, women and old Venezuelans who wander through the streets of the city.

The oldest of the orphans is 15 but has the physical build of a child of eight. To help his two little brothers, who are about five years old, he works as a cart-pusher fetching and carrying suitcases for people who cross the border.

“We know they are orphans. They come from San Cristóbal, in Venezuela. They spend the day playing in the streets of Cúcuta and, of course, they don’t go to school,” relates Duarte. The children are fed thanks to the charity of the Colombians. Steven says they escaped from Venezuela hidden in a mini-bus.

“They don’t want to speak about their family history because they fear they will be separated or returned to their country,” explains Duarte, who believes that, like the rest of the immigrants, they are “very emotionally damaged.”

Henry is thin and brown-skinned. He never smiles. He says it pays about 2,000 pesos (70 cents) to carry suitcases from Venezuela and that he feels responsible for his little brothers. Steven has six brothers, but only three crossed the border. He likes to play soccer but won’t say what he wants to do when he grows up.

“The tragedy of the parents who see that their kids have to sleep on the ground and barely have enough money to bring them a mouthful of food is terrible. There is a lot of frustration and anger among the Venezuelans,” says the social worker. The Colombian government offers protection to 23,314 Venezuelan children and adolescents.

Casa de Paso Divina Providencia distributes more than 1,000 meals a day to Venezuelans, especially migrants who are passing through, elderly people, women and children. (14ymedio)

The Casa de Paso is nothing more than a back patio rented by the local Catholic church where some barracks were constructed to provide food to more than 500 migrants every day. A group of volunteers cooks the food (pasta and soup) with firewood on one side while others distribute the food and clean utensils.

“Padre, padre, come here, he collapsed,” yells a woman. On the dirt floor lies a man of 30 who can’t even stand up. Dozens of people around him are saying that “his blood sugar dropped” from lack of food.

Jesús Alonso Rodríguez, a deacon of the local church who shares lunch with the Venezuelans, explains to 14ymedio that situations like this are common in Cúcuta: “Finding Venezuelan brothers sleeping in the streets, below bridges, at the foot of trees, sometimes with a cardboard box or something to cover themselves with — this is something you see every day.”

Alonso considers that the overflow of Venezuelans in the border areas is “out of the hands” of the local authorities, who await the arrival this Thursday of the President, Juan Manuel Santos, to help them manage a situation that becomes more difficult every day.

“Last year, the cucuteña church distributed more than 300,000 plates of food in eight locations in the city to take care of the hunger of the Venezuelans,” she says. The Casa de Paso Divina Providencia is sustained thanks to the aid the church receives from the local worshippers.

Relations with the local population have occasionally been very tense. Paola Villamizar, a young Colombian of 24 who works as a volunteer in the Casa de Paso, says that the neighbors have tried to close the center. “They accuse us of filling the place with scum and say it’s our fault that hundreds of people are hanging around, looking for food. We’re only trying to help,” she laments.

In a report presented last month in Bogotá, the General Director of Colombia Migration, Christian Krüger, estimated that there were more than 550,000 Venezuelans in the country, 62 percent more than last year.

More than 50 percent of the Venezuelans who emigrate to Colombia or use this country as a transit point to third countries come across the Simón Bolívar International Bridge, in the department of Norte de Santander, and, also, more than half are undocumented. Some 58,000 Venezuelans live in the streets of Cúcuta. Deacon Alonso believes that the official figures are too low.

An elderly Venezuelan at Casa de Paso Divina Providencia, in Cúcuta, Colombia. (14y medio)

“In Cúcuta there are between 80,000 and 100,000 Venezuelans. It’s a situation without precedent in the country,” he explains.

Many local businessman take advantage of the difficult conditions in which the migrants find themselves to hire them for half the minimum wage. This situation has shaken loose the phantoms and fears of immigration among some of the town’s workers.

“In Cúcuta, there’s not even work for the locals, much less for the Venezuelans. In the last months, crime has increased, and there are many Venezuelans who take over zones of the city to live,” says Francisco, a local taxi driver.

According to official statistics, Cúcuta ended 2017 with an unemployment rate of 14.3 percent, the highest in the country, and an indication of illegal workers at around 70% of the labor force.

Along the highway that connects the regional capital with the village of La Parada, adjacent to the Simón Bolívar International Bridge that is shared by both countries, dozens of people brandish a plastic tube in the form of a gas pump to indicate that you can buy contraband Venezuelan fuel there.

“Gasoline costs between 4,000 and 5,000 pesos a gallon ($1.50). In Venezuela it’s cheaper to buy gasoline than water. They pass it to Colombia on trails (hidden steps in the more than 2,000 km of terrestrial border that both countries share),” explains Francisco.

Carolina Sánchez is a traveling vendor. She is 33, and her skin is burned by the tropical sun. In her hands she holds six bags of bread baked in Venezuela, which she waves every time she sees a car pass by.

“I have to go out and struggle for my kids,” she says between tears. With what she sells in Colombia, she buys food for three boys who depend on her in Rubio, on the other side of the border. “It’s hard, but God has to have pity on us,” she says while regaining composure. The Colombian police already have expelled her more than once from the highway, but she keeps coming back. “They don’t let us sell because we don’t have permits.”

The exodus of Venezuelans has been taken advantage of by some bus companies, who relocated their branch offices directly to the immediate vicinity of the Simón Bolívar International Bridge. The destinations vary: Bogotá, Quito, Lima, Santiago de Chile or Buenos Aires. Everything depends on the amount of money the Venezuelan is ready to pay, always in dollars or in Colombian pesos.

Gabriela and Alexander, a young married couple, share the rent of their room with 20 other people. Hoping to find a way to get ahead, they left Venezuela less than a month ago. (14ymedio)

“A trip to Buenos Aires costs 490 dollars. If you want to go to Bogotá, it’s 125 dollars, and if you go to Peru, 230 dollars,” says one of the ticket sellers who waits for Venezuelan clients on the Colombian side of the bridge.

After waiting 24 hours near the bridge, several Venezuelans start to protest because the bus line requires patience, and they will have to sleep on the ground under a tarp. “I had to buy every dollar at 270,000 bolivars before leaving Venezuela,” says Neyla Graterol.

“Venezuela’s economic model has collapsed. We’re worse off than we were 30 years ago. The politicians are the only ones who live well while the people are dying of hunger. The only thing left for us is to get out,” laments an engineer while she waits for the transport that will take her and her family to Chile, far from the hell that her country has become.

The low price of Venezuelan oil, which has contributed to worsening the crisis of Nicolás Maduro’s government, has affected those who depend on it directly. This is the case of Renzo Morales, 33, who is “fleeing the country” to go to Peru.

Morales hopes to be able to travel with another five Venezuelan businessmen who, like him, supplied jackhammers to PDVSA (the Venezuelan state-owned oil and natural gas company), but the defaults on the part of the State petroleum business hit his business hard.

“We were broke because we were contractors for PDVSA, and the Government takes almost three years to pay us, and it’s in a currency that is being devalued day by day,” explains Morales.

The migrant hopes to make money to send to his family so they can leave the country. “I left my heart in Venezuela.” The old guys and Maduro are the only ones who can stay there,” he says, speaking fast and with the conviction that the end of chavismo is near. “This Government is going to fall. We’re coming to the end. What’s sad is that we’ll need many years to reconstruct what they have destroyed,” he says.

The most varied businesses are accommodated in Cúcuta. “I buy hair, I buy hair!” yells Javier Yoandy, 16, toward the flux of people who are coming from Táchira and crossing the bridge.

“My job is to bring Venezuelans who want to sell their hair to wigmakers,” explains this intermediary who earns a commission for his services. “The price for a good head of hair runs between 25,000 and 60,000 pesos (from nine to 25 dollars).”

The adolescent carries a border mobility card authorized by the Colombian State to regulate the situation of Venezuelans who cross the border every day for work.

A Venezuelan migrant gets rehydrated after spending hours in line to legally enter Colombia in Cúcuta. (14ymedio)

Veronica Arrocera, 23, has dark skin, mistreated by the sun, and bags under her eyes that make her look older. She says that the situation in her country dragged her into prostitution six months ago, so she could get some pesos and help her family in Venezuela, like so many other compatriots.

“I studied business administration. There are many whores here who are educated: nurses, businesswomen, teachers, everything,” she says. She doesn’t want her face recorded because she’s ashamed of her situation. Veronica earns 10,000 Colombian pesos, less than three dollars, and between 10 and 100 times less than a Colombian woman, for the same thing.

To Arrocera, the Colombian authorities act xenophobic toward them. “They hit us with pistols, they jump in aggressively. They even have hit us with hoses, and they only do that with Venezuelans,” she reports.

A few yards from the corner where Arrocera works, a closed police truck is taking away a half-dozen Venezuelans. “Here they come again. Every day it’s the same shit. We play cat and mouse until they catch me; they deport me, and I come back,” she complains.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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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.

The Death of a Young Man Who Fell Into a Coma Because of Medical Negligence in a Cuban Jail / Juan Juan Almeida

Raidel García Otero

Juan Juan Almeida, 31 January 2018 —  The young Cuban, Raidel García Otero, who was reported on Friday to be comatose, as a result of alleged medical negligence and irresponsibility on the part of the Cuban prison authorities, died on January 23rd at 3:10 pm, in the company of his family and doctors in the Salvador Allende hospital in Havana.

A hospital source told Martí Noticias that he “Died as a result of a multiple organ failure.  His organs were collapsing up until the point when he was pronounced clinically dead. I want to scream, I want to cry.” continue reading

His sister,  Mariela García Otero, submitted a formal complaint to Doctor Sara Infante, Head of Medical Services in the Ministry of the Interior, on the basis of medical negligence in the prison

García Otero, a 29 year old economic technician in a military company, had been under arrest, as the subject of a restraint order, in the Valle Grande jail since October 27th.

Last January 15th, his mother Delia Otero, and his father, who worked in the administration section of the official Juventud Rebelde newspaper, were worried as they hadn’t received their usual Monday call. Therefore, they phoned the prison and were told that the kid had a cold.

A family friend told Marti Noticias “On Tuesday, January 16th, one of Raidel’s companions rang the family and told them the young man was in a bad way and hadn’t received proper medical attention. His parents went to the prison but got no information, and they wouldn’t let them see him either.”

The friend said that it wasn’t until the Friday of that week that the prison phoned to say that the young man had been admitted to the Salvador Allende Hospital, in Old Quinta Covadonga, in Cerro.

The evidence said that at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, January 19th, García Otero was moved, in critical condition, from Valle Grande prison to Covadonga.

The last medical report on 23rd January, at 2:00 a.m.,  to Martí Noticias, said that the young man had necrosis of the legs, brain damage, and was entering organ failure.

The deceased prisoner’s twin brother, Reinaldo García Otero, explained that he “suffered multiple failures and was receiving blood transfusions.”

He added that “His legs were black, none of his organs were responding, he was in a bad way, and was in a coma from when he entered the hospital.”

A military spokesman, identified as Lt. Henry Mendoza, spoke to Radio Martí  about the medical attention he had received: “This comrade, this ill person, received  substantial medical attention, from when he fell ill until he passed away, and the appropriate drugs were  administered.”

On being asked what medicines were administered, he replied “I can’t say what the drugs were, I am not a doctor, I am just  duty officer Lt. Henry Mendoza.”

Translated by GH

The Teacher From Central Valley / Fernando Dámaso

Tomas Estrada Palma, the first president after the independence of Cuba. (University of Miami)

Fernando Damaso, 24 January 2018 — This year will mark 116 since the founding of the Republic on 20 May 1902. Although it was the time of the nation’s greatest progress and development–with important economic and social achievements, including health and education–this period has been systematically discredited and distorted during the last 60 years when only its defects have been written and spoken about. The same has happened with its presidents. To better understand them, I start the publication of their biographical sketches and presidential periods. Here is the first:

The Teacher from Central Valley: Tomás Estrada Palma

As early the first months of the year 1959, the new authorities had already launched a campaign against the history of the Republic, demonizing or legitimizing figures and deeds according to their political interests. One of the first victims was the first President of the Republic. continue reading

Don Tomás Estrada Palma was immortalized in statues and busts in cities and towns, and his name appeared on streets, schools, and even a sugar milling company. Such an honor was bestowed by those who knew him and those who, with the approval of the majority of Cubans, respected his accomplishments since 1868. In Havana, his bronze figure was placed on a pedestal on the Avenida de los Presidentes, between 5th and Calzada streets, in the Vedado district.

“The revisers of History” began an attack on him and other personalities who did not share their political and ideological tendencies. Estrada Palma’s statue was cut at the ankles and removed, leaving his shoes on the pedestal as evidence of the vandalism. His likeness and name also were expunged from other public spaces and, if he is mentioned today, it is only to revile him. Why so much hatred, more than a century after his physical life, against the first President?

Palma’s empty pedastal, only his shoes remain. Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Tomás Estrada Palma was born in Bayamo in 1835 and was among the first who joined the war against Spain when hostilities began on 10 December 1868. In the then-Free City Hall of Bayamo, he was its first mayor and defended the abolition of slavery (which had been proclaimed by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes), but in a gradual manner.

At the hearing on 27 October 1873 in Bijagual (Jiguaní) to depose de Céspedes as President of the Republic in Arms, conducted during the Chamber of Representatives session led by Salvador Cisneros Betancourt as deputy, Estrada Palma accused de Cespedes of “attempting to undermine the unassailable rights of the people,” and of practicing a system of favoritism by awarding military ranks to debtors and undeserving friends, endangering high-level collective interests. At the site, with more than 2,000 rebel troops, were Major General Calixto García, Generals Calvar and Modesto Díaz, and Brigadier Antonio Maceo. Along with Manuel Sanguily, Máximo Gómez, and other important leaders, Estrada Palma met with Vicente García in Loma de Sevilla, following the revolt of Lagunas de Varona, so that the latter would desist from his rebel activities and respect the authority of Juan Bautista Spotorno, the recently-designated President.

On 29 March 1876, Estrada Palma was elected President of the Republic In Arms in his own right by the Chamber of Representatives to succeed Spotorno, and due to Francisco Vicente Aguilera’s inability to return to Cuba to occupy the post. On 19 October 1877, he was taken prisoner by the Spanish in Tasajeras (Holguín). Francisco Javier de Céspedes, having taken as Interim President, could not prevent the demoralization of the revolutionary troops; the Chamber of Representatives elected as his substitute, to the surprise of all, Vicente García, the rebel from Lagunas de Varona and Santa Rita, to whom it feel to reach an accord with the Spanish General Arsenio Martínez Campos and forge the Pact of Zanjón.

Tomás Estrada Palma remained imprisoned in Spain until the signing of the Pact, which won him his liberty and later relocated to the United States, where he worked in education and ran a prestigious school in Central Valley, near New York City. He established political and personal ties with José Martí,* with whom he worked closely in pro-independence activities and who designated him (upon traveling to Santo Domingo en route to Cuba) as Delegate of the Cuban Revolutionary Party.

In 1901, upon Generalísimo Máximo Gómez’ refusal to run as a candidate for the upcoming elections, Estrada Palma was nominated by his party (with Gómez’ support) to face off against the other proposed candidate, Bartolomé Masó. On 31 December 1901, while residing in the US, Estrada Palma was elected as the first President of the Republic soon to be established. He returned on 17 April and assumed the office on the very birthday of the Republic of Cuba: 20 May 1902.

During his presidency, Estrada Palma continued the reorganization of the Public Administration begun by the US provisional military government in Cuba. He allocated major resources to education, bringing to 3,712 the number of schools and classrooms, creating Kindergarten schools, summer schools for teacher training, and the National Library.

He devoted attention to the development and protection of industries, improving public safety and the prison system, construction of communication lines, and obtained compensation for the members of the Liberating Army by way of a $35-million credit. It fell to him to confront the first labor strike in the Republic, that of tobacco workers calling for better salaries in November 1902, which was suppressed due to the country’s lack of means to satisfy their demands.

In February 1903, Estrada Palma ratified the Cuban-American Treaty of Relations, which insured against any economic disaster and conceded spaces within the national territory for the installation of naval and coal bases. This action reduced the initial requirement of concessions in Cienfuegos, Nipe, Bahía Honda and Guantánamo to only two (Guantánamo y Bahía Honda) and, finally, to only one–in Guantánamo–  with a larger expanse.

During his presidential period of 1902-1906, Estrada Palma practiced irreproachable honesty, did not give or nor permit “botellas”** (public-sector positions which paid salaries for no work), reduced the Republic’s expenditures, maintained a just and flourishing annual budget, the sugar industry was rebuilt ***, public services were well-run, and citizens’ rights were respected.

Estrada Palma’s principal errors were of a personal and political nature, having presumed that nobody but he possessed the competencies to execute the presidency (an affliction that runs throughout our history, taken to the extreme in the last 56 years) and listening to those surrounding him who petitioned him to run for re-election. To achieve this objective he allowed frauds in the partial elections of February and, even worse, in the general ones, forcing the withdrawal of the Liberal Party which was putting forth José Miguel Gómez for President y Alfredo Zayas as his running mate.

On 20 May 1906, Estrada Palma once again assumed the presidency of the Republic against the wishes of most citizens, who wanted a change, and which provoked the so-called “Little War of August” incited by the Liberal Party. Unable to stop the events, Estrada Palma sought the US government’s intervention, which was denied, and he was ordered to resolve the situation through agreements with the opposition. He did not comply and again demanded US action from President Theodore Roosevelt, who refused and tried to remain neutral–although, to protect North American interests and citizens, sent ships, some troops, and a mediator.

Faced with this situation, Estrada Palma resigned, leaving a power vacuum which the Congress was unable to fill for not convening nor electing a President. This seemingly irresponsible behavior brought about the Second North American Occupation, which began on 19 September 1906 and lasted until 28 January 1909.

Some historians accuse Estrada Palma of having ordered the assassination of Quintín Banderas. Banderas was the brave, but undisciplined and troubled, Mambí general who had been sanctioned several times, had a summary judgment pending against him and was relieved of his command for the final 11 months of the last war, for which he did not receive back pay when the Republic was established. The accusation, supported by no type of evidence, does not fit in with Estrada Palma’s personality.

Tomás Estrada Palma, removed from power, retired to a country estate on the outskirts of Bayamo, where he died two years later, on 4 November 1908. He was interred in the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba, near the tomb of José Martí. Despite the political mistakes he committed towards the end of his presidential period, the austerity, honesty, and patriotism that Estrada Palma maintained during the major part of his life make him one of the noblest Cuban figures of his time.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Translator’s Notes:
* José Martí lived in exile in New York at various times while garnering support for Cuba’s independence from Spain.
** “Botella” literally translates as “bottles,” but in this context is used as Cuban slang for sinecures.
*** Which had been decimated during the Wars for Independence.

Trump, UN and OAS Asked To Not Recognize Transfer of Power In Cuba Without Free Elections

Activist Rosa María Payá in front of the new Cuban Embassy in Washington. (Twitter)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Miami, 7 February 2018 — On Tuesday, February 6, the Miami-Dade County Commission requested that the United States Government, the Organization of American States and the United Nations not recognize a possible transfer of power in Cuba if it is not the result of free elections.

The petition was contained in a resolution supported by Commissioner José Díaz on the occasion of tribute paid by the Miami-Dade Commission to the Cuban dissident, Rosa Maria Payá, for her work as the founder and coordinator of the Cuba Decide campaign. continue reading

The campaign is aimed at mobilizing the Cuban people to organize a binding plebiscite in which citizens can decide on the political system they want, according to an official of the Miami-Dade Commission.

In the resolution, which was unanimously approved, the Commission adopted Rosa Maria Payá’s call for the United States Government, the United Nations and the Organization of American States to “not recognize any succession of power in Cuba without free and multiparty elections that restore the self-determination of the Cuban people.”

Since Raúl Castro announced his intention to step down from the presidency, it is expected that his successor will be elected in a vote without opposition candidates on the electoral ballot.

“The Cuban people deserve the right to decide their own future in free, open and multiparty elections, not by a simulated vote orchestrated by the Communist regime,” said Commissioner Díaz.

Payá, the daughter of the dissident, Oswaldo Payá, who died in an automobile crash that his family believes was provoked by Castro agents in 2012, said that Cubans “need” the international community to support them in order to prevent a “dynastic succession” in Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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Snubbed / Miriam Celaya

Cuban spy René González in an archive picture (AFP)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 31 January 2018 — These days, one of the famous “five heroes” of Cuba, René González (61 years old), has once again achieved prominence in the social networks. This time, however, his renewed notoriety is not related to the honors of his past glories when – like his four companions – he became the epitome of revolutionary patriotism as a “prisoner of the Empire” by the work and grace of the last (and longest) of the onerous ideological battles contrived by Castro I.

On the contrary, René’s return to the public arena is the result of the unbearable humiliation of not having been included in the list of 605 selected as candidates for deputies, a privilege enjoyed by only two of the five spies: Gerardo Hernández and Fernando González, although all of them had previously received the corresponding “document” as chosen from their respective syndicates for said objective. continue reading

Protests were immediate. The objections were initiated through the Facebook page of an official journalist who received a long reply from the wife of the victim, Mrs. Olga Salanueva, expanding the matter in detail. Numerous fans of the former spies posted their comments on the same social network and on some websites that have joined the debate on the case, collaterally revealing other demons that lie beneath the national opinion and are far more significant than the exclusion – another supposed “injustice” – suffered by a simple, utilitarian and disposable element of the Castro regime, or as they are often called, “useful idiots” like René González or the other two who were omitted.

The OnCuba website published an extensive article that starts in an apologetic journey about the five infiltrated agents of the State Security who were imprisoned in the US, and ends with their return to Cuba, meandering through the cyclopean campaign and the mobilizations deployed in Cuba and abroad in favor of their release. The legal defense costs, the artificial insemination of the wife of Gerardo Hernández at a private clinic, the frequent trips of the family members of the prisoners and the large support group put together by Cuban government officials around the world, remains an absolute secret to this day.

The truth is that, after Mrs. Salanueva resentment, it is perfectly established that her husband was in a position to assume the candidacy and eventually the position as deputy, something that the five “deserve” since all “are more tried than chocolate” and “it is in very bad taste to try to establish differences” among them. In fact, the style in which Salanueva expresses her displeasure seems to suggest a peculiar way of interpreting the deputy position: more as a recognition award for her husband’s merits (and those of his heroic “brothers”) than as a mandate to the service of the people and the nation.

Obviously, Salanueva longs for the times when, as prisoners in US jails, all of them had the same rank and their families received similar attentions and benefits, and she now objects that some are now considered bigger heroes than others and that the perks are not shared uniformly.

An unequal treatment that – although she does not express it directly – is also evident in the position that each of them was assigned upon their return to Cuba. In René’s case, he was assigned a post as irrelevant and obscure as the vice-presidency of the José Martí Cultural Society, but one which he has fully complied with “despite his task having nothing to do with his vocation, and his not being able to even exercise the profession he loves,” affirms his angry wife.

However, all the gossip and disagreements are unprecedented inasmuch as they break with the usual acquiescence of the “revolutionary” ranks and indicate that an indeterminate number of subjects of the pro-government sector is willing to question the status quo strongly and to demand explanations.

Furthermore, those who support what we might call the new cause of the Five – or perhaps we should say of the Three – are demanding rights of political participation, at least in relation to the representation they aspire to have in Parliament, beyond the “political measures” of a National Candidacy Commission – which, as the Electoral Law stipulates, has the prerogative to nominate 50% of the deputy candidates – whose legitimacy is left unquestioned, since it only pursues “the satisfaction and safeguard of the current real power”.

And who is the subject of that “current real power”? It is not mentioned, but inferred. In any case, it is the “formal leaders who absorb political activity in Cuba today,” specified in the OnCuba text as those who lack the “tremendous accumulation of popular sympathy” – OnCuba states – that the five former spies, in their role as “potential leaders” do have.

It would seem that by repeating the lie “the people are sovereign” some of the faithful in the Castro regime have come to believe it and really want to wear the crown, something like an unthinkable advance in the era of Castro I, but an unequivocal indicator of the state of dissatisfaction of broad social sectors, even though there are still those who naively believe that Cuban deputies – that strange amalgam made up of bureaucrats, artists, intellectuals, “sports glories” and machete yielding millionaires in a country where there isn’t even sugarcane left, and now even recycled spies – really have the capacity to make political decisions.

Those who consider all this cyber-bullying a trivial matter should take into account that in conditions in Cuba, after almost 60 years of totalitarianism in which the governing dome and its institutions have kept everything under control concerning the electoral system and “elected” parliamentarians, it seems like a real surprise to have such an avalanche of criticism and demands from a social base that defines itself as revolutionary, that manifests itself impatient for the hope of a “never materializing” electoral reform and that should grant them greater participation in the political decisions of the country.

Anyway, and taking into consideration that there are a mere 80 days remaining until the general-president Raul Castro leaves his position at the head of the Cuban government, such an uproar among his hardened revolutionary troops must be worrisome. Just in case, on the night of Thursday, January 25th, a few hours after the beginning of the cyber protest, the nobody’s hero was unveiled: René González appeared on a TV special news broadcast about the upcoming celebration of Martí’s birthday celebration, as if to demonstrate implicitly that his fidelity to the regime is above all proven. Including degradation and oblivion. Certainly not!

Translated by Norma Whiting

Two Months Without Coppelia Ice Cream in Camaguey

Workers at the state-run Coppelia ice cream parlour relax over lunch, as they have no customers because they have no ice cream. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerRicardo Fernández, Camagüey, 29 January 2018 — The ice cream parlor Copellia in the city of  Camagüey has become an empty passageway between two main streets. Only the occasional passerby wanders into the empty building to access the Italian restaurant and three small shops on the floors above.

At midday the employees take advantage of the calm hour in the previously crowded room, moving a table outside to enjoy a relaxed lunch without the pressure of waiting on customers.

The same scene repeats itself throughout the different ice cream parlors that were regularly supplied by the Helados Coppelia factory belonging to the Camagüey Dairy Products Company. continue reading

Two months after an ammonia leak in the factory, the industry has still not restarted and local consumers have been forced to depend on the private market to acquire the product. In the Cuban province with the strongest livestock tradition the ice cream parlors remain totally empty.

On the 29th of November last year an incident in the machinery room of the plant resulted in the release of this chemical substance which, according to authorities, does not present a health risk for either the workers or the residents of surrounding areas.

The directors of the industry have not given an expected date for the reactivation of production and no one knows when they will again supply the region’s state food service establishments. In the ice cream parlors and the TRDs (state run retail stores) the absence of ice cream is felt.

The incident came as a surprise to almost no one. The economic crisis, the scarcity of resources and the lack of technological renovation have caused a rampant deterioration in the province’s dairy industry, resulting in a decline in productive capacity.

Last March, the managing director of the company, Alexis Gil Perez, told the official press that only in the last few months have they succeeded in resuming the maintenance process but that still “not all of the accumulated problems have been solved.”

The state industry has the capacity to process up to 400,000 liters of milk a day, but the drought and problems of infrastructure have contributed to make the average production of the past year little more than 100,000 liters a day. The province of Camaguey accounts for 25% of Cuba’s total dairy production.

The Camaguey Provincial Dairy Products Company consists of 16 entities, including pasteurization plants, collection and cooling centers, mixing mills ,and cheese, ice cream and powdered milk factories.

The continued repairing of obsolete machinery has allowed production to be maintained for decades, but the technical difficulties continue to be numerous, especially concerning refrigeration and transportation to sites of distribution or sale.

Only three years have passed since the announcement of the assembly of a new evaporative condenser and ammonia system aiming to improve the refrigeration system of the industry Coppelia. The investment included the remodeling of the refrigerators and air conditioning of the sites of production.

With the paralysis of the plant following last November’s incident, the programmed maintenance has been moved up to this January and includes the installation of a new boiler and other equipment for the refrigeration system.

The major beneficiaries of the lack of ice cream in the state-owned shops are the private sellers who have long lines of customers. (14ymedio)

Local consumers hope that in a few weeks the factory will resume production, but the process drags on without any sign of an end date.

“In the beginning they brought ice cream in from Nuevitas, but the small factory barely manages to satisfy the demands of that municipality,” explained a customer of the main Coppelia ice cream parlor who prefers anonymity.

In the municipality of Subanicu in Camagüey, there is another small industry that produces ice cream for local consumption in a limited quantity. The plant, using Argentine technology, only possesses two flavor mixers and on good days achieves only 100 gallons in eight hours.

“What we are offering is mango soda. They have told us that the factory will be ready for production next month, but it is not certain,” a worker added, in the middle of the empty store.

The halting of the second largest ice cream factory in the country is not a source of bother for everyone. The indirect beneficiaries are workers who make ice cream independently.

Almost right across from Coppelia itself, on Antonio Maceo street, a large line forms in front of a small private establishment. “I’ve been here waiting for ten minutes because I’m craving ice cream,” says Yusleysi Gil. “It’s a little more expensive, but the flavor and presentation are better,” comparatively.

The reverse is happening in the TRDs, which receive the ice cream containers supplied to the factory in Camaguey. The typical refrigerators with glass covers that earlier displayed the varieties of Nestle ice cream, now just display their silver bottom.

The informal market has taken advantage of the success of this business and in neighborhoods nearby sellers offer pints of an artisanal ice cream that owe nothing to the state industry.

A privately owned, alternative ice cream maker can cost between 1000 and 3000 CUC (Cuban Pesos) in the classifieds.

Although the required investment is high, some local entrepreneurs are toying with the idea of joining the sale of ice cream in a city where the temperatures are rising and cold products are lacking.

 Translated by Geoffrey Ballinger

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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.

Raúl Castro is Leaving Without Solving Anything

Raul Castro looks towards the camera at one of his last official acts as president of Cuba. (EFE/Alejandro Ernesto)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 30 January 2018 — Last December 21st, when general-president Raúl Castro announced the extension of his term for 55 days longer than expected, few believed in the silly pretext for such a decision: the damages caused by the passage of Hurricane Irma and the calendar for nominating municipal delegates.

One of the theories that started to circulate immediately as a culprit for the delay was the disagreement between two alleged trends among the top leadership: one, reformist (the so-called “Raulistas”), which aims to give a boost to both the private sector and to state companies and cooperatives, and a second one, with conservative tendencies (the “Fidelistas”), represented by the most reactionary sectors of the leadership, which would oppose such apertures because they consider them a threat for the survival of the Revolution. The latter are determined to maintain central jurisdiction, increase controls and continue to be rooted in the ideological orthodoxy of the Cold War era. continue reading

Some analysts argue that the confrontation between both tendencies is what has caused the advances and setbacks of the limited lead-ins to the euphemistically called self-employment (private sector), whose restraint restrictions and current setbacks seem to indicate an eventual predominance in power of the most conservative tendency.

One of the theories that immediately circulated to account for the delay was the disagreement between two supposed tendencies in the top leadership: one reformist, and the other conservative

However, a more objective analysis of the Cuban reality, based on the experience of the last decade, from the time Raúl Castro assumed power, in any case, shows that the struggle has been taking place between two equally conservative tendencies, only with different degrees of stubbornness, but whose common final goal is the preservation of the status quo that guarantees the retention of power in the elite group of the anointed that includes both factions.

Consequently, the Cuban political class – that socially differentiated and privileged caste – does not include a sector headed by Raúl Castro with a true reformist vocation and a desire for profound changes. Those who interpret it thus, seem to forget the strategic position that the current president occupied during the 47 years of government under his brother and mentor.

What clearly seems to exist is a segment that is more reactionary than any other within the same caste of anointed ones, whose common interest – the preservation of their political and economic power – seems to be much stronger than their differences, regardless of whether there are gut struggles aiming to divide shares of power, previously a one-man show, but currently showing clear signs of fractioning.

Differences exist in methods, rather than in ends, used to prolong, as long as possible, the greater share of the power of the elite. The most lucid understand that the changes that urgently need to be implemented in Cuba have the double edge of being, at the same time, the only possible way to ease and eventually beat the economic crisis, the catalyst that would accelerate the collapse of the so-called “Cuban socialism.” At this point, it is fitting to remember the general-president’s not so casual phrase that he was not put in his position “to destroy the Revolution.”

It is likely that, regardless of their stances, both positions favor a search for pacts rather than a disruption that might sweep the board

It is likely that, regardless of their position as “reformists” or “Stalinists” in Cuba’s ever unknown political front, both positions favor the search for pacts rather than a disruption that could end up sweeping the board, especially with “the historic” octogenarian gerontocracy, who have been directly responsible for all the disasters of the last 60 years. In such a case, the arranged equilibrium between these two sectors of the same caste would have prevented the progress of the self-proclaimed liberal measures introduced by Raúl Castro in the first half of his term, between 2008 and 2013.

Those who, years ago, bet on Raul Castro’s supposed pragmatic spirit and his fictional organizational capabilities to at least aspire to economic advances in Cuba, have been let down. The general crisis has deepened, while the gap between the Government and the governed widens day by day.

What is most paradoxical in this case is that, if the general-president – despite his bleak past – had had just minimal audacity and independence, he could have established himself as the facilitator of a peaceful and orderly transition towards democracy in Cuba. To this end, he was holding such aces as the vast majority of Cubans’ desire for change, the willingness of the US to establish dialogue, the relaxation of Barrack Obama’s government views towards relations with Cuba and the rapprochement of the European Union. However, he chose to maintain a position of subordination before the dark shadow of his brother and of all the elements that sabotaged his proposals.

Consequently, if there is something the olive-green baby brother has shown all these years of lost opportunities, it has been his mediocrity and insecurities at the time of assuming the helm, as well as his cowardice to take on the challenge. That is the true legacy he will leave for History.

If there’s something the olive-green baby brother has shown all these years, it has been his mediocrity and insecurities at the time of assuming the helm, as well as his cowardice to take on the challenge

However, though not meaning to establish absolute judgment, it is quite unlikely that the outgoing president will surprise us with some solution that he has not proposed in the previous ten years, so clumsily dilapidated. There are 80 days left of Raúl Castro’s government – at least in his visible period at the head of government – and the inefficiency of his mandate is an established fact.

The volume of pending issues that he will leave his successor –monetary unification, electoral law and economic reforms, elimination of the ration card, increase in foreign investment, or the simple promise of a daily glass of milk for every Cuban, among many more – far surpasses the funds that he will leave in the nation’s coffers when he finally makes the symbolic handover of the presidential chair.

It is possible that the 55 days of the “Raulista” moratorium, from February 24th to April 19th, will have more to do with the shuffling of cards of an undoubtedly difficult succession than with any strategic proposal for the future Government, which – supposedly – is already outlined in the Party Guidelines and will guarantee the continuity of the Castro legacy until 2030, at least at the legal level.

It is very possible that the new president of 11 million Cubans will “ask permission” of the Assembly to keep the old general as permanent adviser to the “new” Government

If the purest dictatorial tradition remains – and to date there are reasons to suppose that’s what will happen – on April 19th, when the 605 parliamentarians elect the person who will figure as president of 11 million Cubans, he “will ask the permission” of the Assembly to keep the old general as permanent adviser to the “new” Government; a pernicious and permanent contract, not written or recognized in the Constitution or the Electoral Law, but one that would legitimize de facto the perpetuation of the dictatorship from the shadows of a simulated retirement.

For those of us who have lived through almost six decades of the Castro regime, April will not bring many surprises, but there is no doubt that the departure of the general-president projects a certain and inexplicable sense of relief within the opposition in Cuba. Not because the new president means a promise of prosperity and bliss, but because the lineage of the Castros has marked a disastrous sign in the hearts of Cubans. Many of us want to think that the era of the darkest and longest dictatorship is becoming blurred and that it will continue to fall in the future. Until its end.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.