The Spread of Coronavirus in Cuba: Factors For and Against / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 26 March 2020 — In the case of Cuba, what factors influence, positively or negatively, the spread of the current Corona Virus pandemic? The response to this question depends on a number of factors in any country, and ours cannot be an exception. The norm of displacement caused by globalization make it such that no country in the 21st century is immune to the infiltration of this disease, but in our case there are complicated circumstances that any analysis has to take into consideration.

Among the conditions named for slowing down and/or stopping the advance of this pandemic within Cuba we have to mention the standardized National Health System, which favors a rapid and centralized making of decisions to be implemented with the necessary urgency, such as an operative feedback of disease-related statistics in real time. The existence of a single public Education System already creates the potential for authorities to temporarily postpone the school year; while the measure is well oriented, insufficient access to students due to our limited internet coverage works against it.

In this sense it will be just as necessary to maintain the closure of all borders, the strict quarantining of Cubans returning from abroad and limiting, to its possible minimum, any inter-provincial movement, all of this strengthened by the concurrence of a political system with authoritarian elements and a population conditioned to obey after six decade of absolutism, which should facilitate, at least in theory, any massive confinement measures, such as the closure of all enterprises that the State, as absolute master, deems necessary. continue reading

When considering the factors that favor the spread of COVID-19, the first to cite, paradoxically, derives from what should be our primary strength, the National Health System, but in this case with regards to the atrocious deterioration of the hospital infrastructure, something evident in practically all the healthcare centers of a country that for six decades has hoisted it as a flag of propaganda, an “excellence” that it is not, thanks to the administrative decadence that has accumulated on all its levels.

Here I am not talking about the lack of advanced equipment; I am talking about half-ruined public and private hospitals, I am talking about makeshift offices in old agricultural stands, whose conditions, at other latitudes, would be shut down as a health hazard, without running water, barely conditioned with a coat of quicklime, poorly lit and with even worse ventilation. I am talking about the scarcity or absolute lack of supplies, from lab chemicals to a long list of medications whose absences in our pharmacies had already become endemic.

To all of this we have to add the dissatisfaction of health care workers with multiple professional frustrations, multiplied tenfold by the constant exodus of colleagues, either as Medical Mission officials or as emigrants, which leaves those who remain working in Cuba with an arduous overload of under-compensated work, professionals whose altruism and and elevated human quality – in which I have absolute confidence – has been poorly matched by a system that disrespects them with a miserable salary, not to mention the preventable lack of the most basic protective measures, already unacceptable before the crisis that draws near, that will place health personnel in a situation of immeasurably high risk.

It follows, logically, that this vulnerable system could collapse in the event that the situation worsens, as has occurred in the tens of countries where COVID-19 has already caused, on a global level, hundreds of thousands of infections and the threat of causing tens, if not hundreds of thousands of death- hundreds of those already registered among medical personnel – even in the first world and within health care systems more organized and sufficient than our own

To these inescapable objective and subjective conditions of our health infrastructure one must add the current economic and social condition of the country. Cuba is passing through a critical scarcity of food and other basic products, baptized by Diaz-Canel with the euphemism “relevant period” –  only comparable with the saddest stage of the “special period” under Fidel Castro during the 90s. This perennial and brutal shortage obligates 90 percent of Cubans to expose themselves to the very real and highly probable risk of contagion in the constant, chaotic and tumultuous lines to buy anything from a frozen piece of chicken to a roll of toilet paper or any other product for our daily struggle.

In a country unfamiliar with the idea of making single shopping trips, this general shortage presents a golden opportunity for COVID-19 to do its deed in every corner of the island, first running amok within these lines and being carried back to many grandparents, its typical protagonists. In a country where the informal economy predominates and the black market sets the rhythm, these 90 % of families will continue to go out each day to put their daily meal on the table, not because this has worsened with the coronavirus, but rather because it has been this way for the last 60 years.

Under such circumstances it will be difficult to persuade a population to follow a certain policy because of global events: the inevitability of massive confinement as the only effective method up until now for controlling the pandemic. And all this in middle of the perennial and much lamentable situation of housing- to this day one of the gravest issues of this country- that imposes the forced overcrowding of three or four generations under the same roof, something that will, without a doubt, act as a key factor in the spread of the virus.

Cuba has already reported more than 50 cases, and the statistical models predict an exponential spreading pattern for COVID-19, one which anticipates a rapid increase in its incidence through the next two or three weeks, with an epidemiological peak that no one can determine yet, as seen in countries like Italy, Spain and the US.

A low perception of risk among the population, favored to a large extent by the trivializing discourse of the authorities in Havana, conspires against the security of all, especially now, when the most effective course of action would be to adopt the strictest containment measures, when the fire has not yet become widespread and could still be prevented from spreading to the rest of the forest. While it is possibly not necessary to be so alarmist, it would be much worse and more absurd to be importunately confident in the face of imminent danger. Prevention is the key word. This is the moment to apply massive confinement measures, at least in the capital of the country and in each municipality with confirmed COVID-19 cases. Better early than late: experience shows this strategy as the only way to stop tragedy.

 Translated by: Geoffrey Ballinger

Monica Baro: "You Can’t Sacrifice Yourself for a Utopia" / Ivan Garcia

Iván García, Havana, December 9th, 2019 — This interview is the fruit of much bargaining. In various profiles that Journal of The Americas aims to publish on independent Cuban journalists of different generations, the name Monica Baro is underlined in red.

The plan was to open the season with an interview of the brilliant young reporter from Havana, who at 31 years of age publishes El Estornudo (The Sneeze), a digital publication of narrative journalism. But Monica was impossible to catch. When she was not travelling abroad, she had a lot of work. Time and again she postponed the date of the interview. I refused to give up.

Finally, on Tuesday, December 3rd, we managed to meet at the Cafe Fortuna, on First and 24th Street in Miramar, a neighborhood in the west of Havana caressed by the breeze from the Atlantic Ocean. The locale was decorated in a vintage style, dimly lit with poems by Chaplin adorning the walls. The servers were dressed in 1950s sailor outfits. continue reading

Twelve minutes after the agreed-upon hour, Monica appeared in black jeans covered in patches. Her hair hung loose and she wore a plastic Made in China watch, a white pullover emblazoned with an image of Frida Khalo, a smile and glasses that gave her a quirky, intellectual air. Monica was in her element.

I heard her name mentioned for the first time in 2014. It was a hot afternoon in summer, in a bar a stone’s throw from the Bay of Havana, where we, a group of independent journalists, would go to drink beers once a month. We would speak about our families, baseball and soccer, as well as local and international politics. But the majority of our time we dedicated to talking about journalism. I don’t recall if it was Jorge Olivera or Victor Manuel Dominguez who mentioned an interview that a Monica Baro had published in OnCuba.

When I read the interview, I found myself more interested in the questions the reporter was asking than the interviewee’s responses. Reading the byline at the end I learned that the reporter was a recently graduated journalist. She had worked in the publication Bohemia and at the Institute of Philosophy. A short while later, as I was revising articles in the Wi-Fi park of La Vibora, I stumbled across Monica again, this time in the independent newspaper Periodismo de Barrio, with a report on a woman who lived in extreme poverty in deep Havana.

Already, journalist cliques were babbling about Monica Baro. It was clear that she was in another league. And then the awards began to pile up. The last, the Gabo Prize, she received in October 2019 in Colombia for her investigation ‘La sangre nunca fue amarilla‘ (The Blood Was Never Yellow), published in Periodismo de Barrio in February of this month.

But Monica remained shrouded in her natural humility, dodging spotlights and praise. When she sat on the stool at Cafe Fortuna, after the usual greeting, she ordered a refreshment. I made the most of it and told her she was more difficult to trap than a politician. She smiled, tilted her head and we began to film.

Iván García: Monica, are you planning to leave, to emigrate?

Monica Baro: Not so far. I am not sure if I will stay in Cuba indefinitely, it is impossible to tell. You never know where you’ll end up.

Iván García: I am going to describe to you two hypothetical scenarios. One, Cuba 2059, Monica, grandmother to a couple of grandchildren, prepares to cover the centennial of the disaster called the Cuban Revolution for El Esturnudo. Second scenario, Monica, 71 years old, already retired, remembered for her contributions to Cuban narrative journalism. Which scenario do you think the future will bring? Do you sincerely believe there is a solution for Cuba?

Monica Baro: I believe so. There are those that think that Cuba will change in two years. Others say five, ten. The truth is that I don’t know how much time Cuba will need to democratize and become a country that respects political liberties and freedom of expression. To be a decent country, where people can have a future and develop themselves openly. But I persevere. This is not something that gives me pause. I think that one has to be in a place one wants to be and is happy.

If I am here it is not because I feel a certain commitment to a certain cause or to the democratization of the country. I am in Cuba because the work that I do here makes me happy. The day that this work no longer makes me happy, I’ll leave.

For a long time the government, and the most rancid left on the continent, have wanted to inoculate us with the idea that you have to sacrifice yourself and everything for the cause and put the interests of society in front of the interests of the individual. And I believe that this is not healthy for any cause. I believe that causes have to be the ones that make people happy.

If you are defending human rights, the freedom of expression and independent journalism, it is because it makes you happy. When I worked for the review Bohemia, I interviewed Pepe Mujica at a CELAC event, and something he said stuck with me: “A generation cannot sacrifice itself for a utopia.”

It is the same on the individual level. You cannot sacrifice yourself for a utopia. For me, utopia is the present. It is not the future. It’s today. And for me, since I graduated in journalism in 2012, every day that I have been in Cuba I have been living in my own utopia, my happiness.

Iván García: Independent, free and alternative journalism, as you call it, arose at the end of the 1980s. Afterward, in the 1990s a number of independent journalism agencies were established that abused the use of the opinion column. But, at the same time, street journalism began, with reports and chronicles from that other island that the regime tries to ignore.

In 2007 the blog Generation Y was started by Yoani Sanchez, which undoubtably marked a new era in freelance journalism with the appearance of new digital publications.

With the relaxation of tensions of the Obama era in 2014, a wave of talented journalists surged forward, exploring that which I call the new Cuban narrative journalism. This is a deliciously different kind of journalism of undeniable quality, and it has awakened suspicions in some independent journalists of the barricade, decidedly anti-Castro. It is said that this new group does not compromise, that they are a fifth column that rejects the current themes of Cuban society and look a bit from above the shoulders of the rest. What is your take on this topic?

Monica Baro: I think this is another political miseducation that we have inherited from the government. We think that we have the authority to judge the political and social leanings of other people. In issuing judgement, we believe ourselves to be the judge of others. It is sad, a culture that we have to overcome, to be constantly questioning that if you are committed to this, I am more committed than you are, a logic that really shocks me.

I make a fair effort not to fall into this vicious cycle, but I don’t want to claim that I am a stranger to this culture. I was educated in Cuban schools, I was indoctrinated, we are part of the same society. One should always question their way of interacting with others, their way of conversing, their way of treating people who are different and think differently than you. And it shouldn’t be that you put yourself in a position of moral superiority to issue judgement, since those who judge believe that they have the moral superiority to do it.

Iván García: Do you believe that this has happened?

Monica Baro: Yes, of course. All those who can say that El Estornudo, Periodismo de Barrio or El Toque are not more radical media, because they don’t deal with more political themes, are obviously making judgements. And for me there is a logical explanation: these media are drawing a border between activism and journalism. I am aware that there are some media that do both simultaneously. I understand that there are publications that engage in political activism. I myself have engaged in political activism on social media in defense of political liberties, freedom of the press and of expression.

In a way, when you create independent journalism in a country where there is no freedom of the press you are defending the right to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. But you have to know there is still a border between journalism and activism. It is important to respect this, as it is what guarantees that what you publish as a journalist has more credibility.

Genre journalists are here for a reason. When you want to give your opinion, you do so. When you go to investigate, you investigate. You demonstrate with facts, you contrast your sources, using various sources if you are going to denounce something.

You try to respect these genres that are here for a reason. And also respect a profession that has rules and norms that are not by choice. They are there to ensure that, first, you protect yourself, second, you protect your sources, and, third, the information that you publish has the effect you are looking for. This is not to say that a journalist, when they leave their office, goes and serves in a political party, of course. But you have to know where the limits are.

Iván García: I am going to give you some bad news and the good news. Digital journalism, just like traditional journalism, has not recovered from the crisis that the introduction of new technology created. The majority of media has not found an effective business model. And the worst part is that, for the past ten years, even now, Chinese media has been using robots as presenters.

They say that artificial intelligence and robots will substitute for a large number of journalists, in particular those who write news. I suspect that the journalists that will remain are those who can tell stories differently, to be read by an audience of readers nostalgic for the Sunday paper.

The good news is that this kind of advanced technology will take a while to reach Cuba. Has the though ever crossed your mind to abandon journalism and take refuge in literature or poetry?

Monica Baro: I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever leave journalism. What I want is to tell stories, and journalism gives me this space. Nonetheless, at some point I would love to write literature. In fact, when I first started to write as a child of eleven years, I did not start as a reporter. I liked to write stories and novels. When I was twelve I wrote pages and pages of things. This was where I started, with fiction. But my main interest is telling stories. I would love to write screenplays, but without completely giving up on journalism. The only difference would be that one contains fact and the other fiction.

Iván García: Do you think that social media is harmful to serious journalism?

Monica Baro: Social media is a tool used by people. I do not see it as something abstract, as it has its own life. I do think that we have to educate ourselves about the use of social media, especially when it comes to the consumption of news and information.

Many people say “I read it on the internet,” but the internet is not a source of information. We have to know how to identify which sources are trustworthy, why they are trustworthy or not. People have to learn how to consume journalism. To look up the sources and citations from news articles.

I think that schools should include, as another required subject, a course on how to protect yourself on the internet and how to consume information from the internet. But I don’t believe that journalism will disappear, as journalism does not just inform people but also helps them to understand. Literary journalism is trying to provide something different, other focuses. It does not just aim to give cold hard facts.

Iván García: But then this happens: a joke or fake news generates thousands of comments on social media. Regardless, a deep and entertaining piece like ‘La sangre nunca fue amarilla’, which you published in Periodismo de Barrio, and was awarded the Gabo Prize for Journalism, barely had comments on the site.

Feedback, when there is any, stays in the intellectual world. And then something strange and dangerous happens–those who read your article begin to think themselves reporters and communication professionals. And these articles never reach the people they were aimed at. Not even through reposts.

Monica Baro: This report, ‘La sangre nunca fue amarilla’, took me three years, between research and editing. Of course at times one can feel a bit decieved. But I keep insisting.

The server brought something to eat. Monica mentioned that she’s a fan of cinema.

“From when, on the 5th of December, the annual Cinema Festival starts in La Habana and until it ends on the 15th, I turn off my cellphone. I love classic black-and-white films. Every night I go to see a movie.”

She enjoyed Joaquin Phoenix’s version of the Joker. She loves Tarantino.

“Have you seen his latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?” I asked.

“No, how was it?” She wanted to know.

“Very good, Tarantino in his purest form.” I said.

We finished eating and returned to the task at hand. She told me that State Security had detained her only once.

“It was in Guantanamo, in 2016, during Hurricane Matthew. I am also regulated (restricted from travelling abroad). At least for now.”

She doesn’t see herself as a political figure. “It’s not my responsibility. Politicians, democracy, have to come to different agreements to be able to govern. I prefer to judge them as a citizen from the perspective of journalism.”

She has her habits and manias. “Before sitting down to write, preferably in the morning, I have to bathe, then I drink coffee and burn some incense, in that order. I don’t have to isolate myself. I can write just the same in an airport at peak hours. I read a lot, at all times,” she confessed.

She respects political columnists. She thinks that they should have broad historical knowledge, a lot of information and a good analytical capacity to write. But they also have to be willing to jump in and give their opinion in any them when needed. Monica Baro is one of the forty Cuban women who signed a letter petitioning an Integral Law against Gender Violence and last November she presented to the National Assembly of Popular Power.

Night had fallen in La Habana. I bid farewell to one of the young voices for change in Cuba. A woman fighting for a different kind of journalism. And for democracy in her country.

Text and Photography: Iván García

Note: On the 5th of December, after this interview, it was announced that four Cubans, the journalists Mónica Baró Sánchez and Carlos Manuel Álvarez, the filmmaker José Luis Aparicio Ferrera and the environmental entrepreneur Alexander López were included in the list of 100 young Latinos who believe in and inspire a better world, created by the periodical Avianca. About Monica, the Colombian publication wrote that the Cuban woman, connected to alternative media like Periodismo de Barrio, El Estornudo and El Toque, won the Gabo Prize of Journalism in 2019 in the Best Article category for her report “La sangre nunca fue amarilla.”

 Translated by: Geoffrey Ballinger

Causes and Effects of the Embargo / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, Havana — On the 4th of January, 1959, the Constitution of 1940 was modified without the knowledge of the Cuban people. On the 10th of January, the death penalty and seizure of property was established for “political misdemeanors,” leaving the interpretation of which open to the executors.

On the 7th of February the Basic Law was published, abolishing in actuality the Constitution of 1940, articulated in a completely vengeful and repressive manner. On the 5th of April the CTC (Workers Central Union of Cuba) declared the right to strike “unnecessary,” even though the workers had not been consulted.

On the 19th of April, with Cuban participation, military intervention was undertaken in Panama. On the 13th of June and the 14th of August the same occurred in Santo Domingo and Haiti, respectively. All were failures. On the 23rd of December “post-scripts” began to appear in newspapers, the first limits on the freedom of press. continue reading

Between the 4th and the 13th of February of 1960 Anastas Mikoyan, the Prime Minister of the USSR, visited Havana and signed the first Cuba-USSR agreement. On the 17th of February BANFIAC (Bank of Agricultural and Industrial Promotion), BANDES (Bank of Economic and Social Development), and the FNC (National Financier of Cuba), institutions of the Bank System created under the Constitution of 1940 by the government of Dr. Carlos Prio Socarras and developed under the government of Fulgencio Batista, disappeared. In that same month of February, newspapers, journals, the radio and the television were “nationalized,” totally eliminating the freedom of press.

On the 1st of May “Elections for what?” was set up, approved by the population present during the act of the Civil Square. Between June and the 6th of August, 36 central sugar companies, the Electricity Company, the Telephone Company and 17 banks, all North American property, were nationalized without compensation or with unacceptable offers of compensation (not to be paid before a period of 30 years, through bonuses, with a fund created by 25% of the value of sugar that the United States would buy at a fixed annual quota of over 3 million tons, at a price not lower than 5.75 American cents per English pound).

On the 13th of September the government of the United States announced that, if the program of “nationalization” were to continue, they would place an embargo on Cuba. On the 13th of October, by Law 890, 105 central sugar companies, important industrial businesses (Crusellas, Sabates, Hatuey, La Tropical, La Polar, Sarra, Taquechel, Johnson, large department stores, the railroads, 18 distilleries, among them Bacardi and Arechabala) as well as 376 other Cuban companies and industries, were expropriated.

By Law 891 the Cuban and foreign bank systems and, by another law, 273 more companies, were nationalized, and the Urban Reform Law was passed, lowering rents and, in continuation, eliminating private property beyond housing. On the 19th of October the government of the United States established the embargo, with exception of certain medicines and foodstuffs.

On the 24th of October the Cuban government expropriated the remaining 166 North American businesses. On the 16th of December, the USA cancelled the Cuban sugar quota. On the 31st of December a Cuban military insurgence began in Algeria in relation with its border war with Morocco.

On the 8th of January 1961, relations between Cuba and the USA broke off. Between the 15th and the 19th of April the military action at the Bay of Pigs occurred, ending in failure for the government of the United States of America. On the 25th of April, a total embargo on Cuba was established.

On the 1st of May private education was nationalized, later carried out on the 6th of June. On the 5th of August national monetary reform was undertaken, freezing bank accounts and reducing them to a maximum of 10 000 pesos, handing over only 200 pesos per person. On the 17th of September the priests were deported and placed on the ship “Covadonga.”

On the 25th of January, 1962 Cuba was expelled from the OAS. From the 22nd to the 28th of October the so-called “Missle Crisis” occured, ending with an agreement between the USA and the USSR that excluded Cuba.

On the 13th of August 1968 the so-called “Revolutionary Offensive” was declared, “nationalizing” more than 50,000 micro-businesses, totally eliminating private property.

Between the 2nd of January, 1969 and the 20th of May, 1970, the “Ten Million Ton Sugar Harvest” failed, dealing a mortal blow to the sugar industry.

On the 23rd of April 1971, cultural repression and intolerance was instigated by the First Congress of Education and Culture. On the 30th of July they restricted access to universities to “revolutionaries” only.

In August 1972 “parametración” was established, resulting in the expulsion of around 300 actors and directors for theater, radio, and television from their posts. On the 22nd of November the State reorganized itself along Soviet lines (instead of Ministries there were Committees).

On July 29th, 1975, the OAS revoked the sanctions against Cuba and, in August, President Gerald Ford realized a partial lift of the embargo. Cuba’s military intervention in Angola began on the 12th of October, putting an end to the brief thaw between Cuba and the United States.

On the 18th of March 1977, President James Carter authorized travel to Cuba and established the US Interest Section, giving way to a new opening in relations. In November Cuba sent troops to Ethiopia to participate in the Ogaden War against Somalia, further frustrating this opening.

On the 14th of December 1984, the United States and Cuba signed an agreement awarding 20,000 American visas annually to Cubans.

On the 9th of November 1989 the Berlin Wall fell.

On the 7th of May Cuba announced its withdrawal from Angola and Ethiopia. With the disappearance of the Eastern European Socialist Camp, and the ending of huge subsidies to the Island, a Special Period in Times of Peace was declared, establishing 14 restrictive measures making life even more difficult for Cubans.

On the 8th of December, 1991, the USSR collapsed and on the 9th of December Soviet troops withdrew from Cuba.

On the 12th of March, 1996, the Helms-Burton act was enacted in response to the demolition of planes belonging to “Brothers to the Rescue,” ending the brief thaw in relations during the Clinton administration.

On the 18th of October 2001 the retiring of the spy base “Lourdes” is announced.

On the 12th of January 2002 the liquidation of the sugar industry began, by means of work ironically named “Alvaro Reynoso,” who was defender of the same industry.

On the 18th of December 2014 relations between Cuba and the US are reestablished. During the Obama administration a number of cooperative agreements are reached, despite “Cuban immobility.”

On the first of January, 2016, with the advent of the Trump administration, relations chilled, a process that continues to this day.

 Translated by Geoffrey Ballinger

Selling Purified Water Prohibited in Santa Clara

EcoFinca was founded in 2016, but its project for purified water has been put on hold by the bureaucracy.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/Mario J. Pentón, Havana/Miami, 23 September 2019 — Getting access to potable water in a big city like Santa Clara is no easy matter, but even more difficult still is getting purified water, which is highly beneficial for patients diagnosed with cancer or other diseases that weaken the immune system.

EcoFinca, a project headed by Ana Rosa Cardoso Gomez, began to pruduce purified water by means of reverse osmosis technology and market it to the general public. The resulting revenue allowed them to distribute this product, free of charge, to around 70 patients “with liver or oncological conditions.” Nevertheless, they did not foresee that a mess of regulations would derail the business.

A source close to the family, who wishes to maintain their anonymity for fear of the authorities, recounts that EcoFinca spent three years battling with the state to allow them to continue carrying out their mission. continue reading

“We made an ecological farm from a sun-beaten wasteland. We teach farmers how to cultivate the land, we research solutions for blights, and turn the wasteland into a productive garden. Fruits, vegetables, leafy greens. We produce everything that is scarce in this country. We even implemented a ’Green Sunday’ to educate new generations on how to protect the environment,” the source commented.

Problems with authorities began in 2017 when EcoFinca began to sell purified water with a food vendor’s license. “Through reverse osmosis, with the help of imported equipment, we produce a product that is 100% free of bacteria, viruses, salts and dozens of other harmful agents,” the source explained.

The Ministry of Public Health granted the organization a sanitary license for the consumption of purified water, which they sold for 60 Cuban pesos from their doorstep, while the state sells it at a price of 2.75 CUC (69 Cuban pesos) in state stores. With the money produced from the sale of purified water to the public the organization was able to give the same product free of charge to a group of patients at the Jose Luis Miranda pediatric hospital and the Mariana Grajales gynecological-obstetric hospital.

However, the law prohibits the sale of water bottled by self-employed individuals as it considers “the access to potable water [to be] a human right that is the responsibility of the State.”

Ines Maria Chapman Waugh, then the president of the National institute of Hydraulic Resources and the current vice president of the Cuban Government, wrote a letter to the authorities of Villa Clara, cited by the weekly paper Vanguardia, where she noted that “the sale of water cannot become a medium for profit.”

According to officials, the business violates measure No. 58 of 2017, issued by the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources, which prohibits the sale of bottled water by native persons.

“In our country water is sold at subsidized prices, in such a manner that everyone can afford it,” the official explained.

A water vendor’s license exists in Cuba, though it does not include purification and bottling, only transport from one place to another. EcoFinca attempted to obtain a license to sell water but was unable to, even though they have their own well. When the State prohibited them from bottling they continued to deliver in bulk, but in the last months the authorities of Villa Clara have pressured them to stop their distribution completely.

“It is free for all patients and customers with an illness, small children and senior citizens with disabilities, but they have to come pick it up here at EcoFinca,” the source reiterated.

“The equipment that we use to purify water is imported from the United States. They have threatened to confiscate it. Filters, turbines, replacement parts…we bought all of this through a lot of sacrifice,” they added.

For Felicia, one of the beneficiaries of the purified water produced by EcoFinca, the regulations “don’t make sense.”

“The president [Miguel] Diaz-Canel has spent his life talking about replacing imports and producing more. Here in Santa Clara there is a family that is producing, that is thinking as the country does. What do the leaders do? They suffocate them. This is why we make no progress, because we are hindering ourselves,” she said indignantly in a telephone call.

Felicia says that the water that comes from the taps of Santa Clara sometimes looks like chocolate because of the amount of dirt in it. “A sick person cannot drink that water. There are times when I don’t even know if I am washing myself or getting myself dirty when I shower,” she adds with irony.

For Erick Perez Tadeo, subdelegate of the State Inspector of Hydraulic Resources in Villa Clara, in contrast, the problem is clearer than water. “They [the workers of EcoFinca] consider water as a foodstuff as they say that they process it. I could say that this water could be considered a foodstuff when they are preparing a refreshment or another kind of sustenance. The water they provide from the Aqueduct Network is a natural resource,” he said to the weekly newspaper Vanguardia.

“If you want to give water to someone with health issues, there is no problem; what you cannot do is market a single liter, you cannot profit from goods of the State,” he concluded with all the authority granted by his post.

Translated by: Geoffrey Ballinger

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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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