They Donate Blood for Bread with Ham / Cubanet, Pablo Gonzalez

cubanet square logoCubanet, Pablo Gonzalez, Havana, 20 March 2015 – Each state enterprise has to deliver a quantity of blood donations each month in order to comply with the rule established by the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP). Each clinic has to make one hundred donations per month.

Donor in Cuba, where the sanitary conditions leave much to be desired (photo PG)

Donor in Cuba, where the sanitary conditions leave much to be desired (photo PG)

The pressure that MINSAP and the Committees in Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) put on the clinics makes their workers go out into the streets desperately searching for donors.

Without doing any prior testing they carry out the blood extractions with poor medical instrumentation.

Voluntary blood donation in Cuba, begun in 1962, has grown to reach and exceed the target set by the World Health Organization for one donation for each 20 inhabitants. According to the Granma newspaper, blood donations exceeded what was planned in the last two years.

Donor Yasmany Machado, 27 years of age from Sancti Spiritus in the Fomento Province, commented on this report in Granma on the web page of the daily itself:

“Since 2005 I have been a blood donor more than 20 times for the benefit of others. Now I ask myself the following question: Are donors encouraged by MINSAP and the CDRs? Is it perhaps resolved with a role for the district? Why does MINSAP not worry about the health of the donors?” Continue reading

Heavy Police Operation against Merchants and Carriers / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 21 March 2015 — Since early this Saturday, a heavy police operation had as its objective self-employed workers, street vendors and private carriers in Santiago de Cuba. The forces of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) reported that the raid was aimed against high meat prices in the farmer’s markets and the sale of potatoes in illegal distribution networks.

Most of the arrests and fines occurred in the Venceremos and Altamira suburbs of Santiago de Cuba. The uniformed agents arrived in the first hours of the morning and demanded the vendors show their licenses for engaging in commercial activity. Until midday, the toll of the operation was the seizure of dozens of kilograms of pork meat and thousands of pesos in fines.

Romilio Jardines, vendor of meat and agricultural products, was fined 700 Cuban pesos, although he said that his merchandise was not removed. Nevertheless, he affirmed that “they came prepared in case one refused.” The operation included special forces known as “black berets” who surrounded the area’s markets and the main streets of both suburbs. Continue reading

Wheeling and Dealing with Plastic / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Plastic footwear stall at the market of La Cuevita (14ymedio)

Plastic footwear stall at the market of La Cuevita (14ymedio)

Markets all over the Island are supplied with objects made on the illegal circuit of a material mostly derived from industrial waste or leftovers from the dump

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 20 March 2015 – At the market of La Cuevita in San Miguel del Padron, some thousand people from all over the Island daily buy household goods, flip-flops and toys, all made of plastic. The purchasers come especially from rural areas where the economic situation is more precarious and the only thing that abounds is scarcity.

In order to sell in the market it is necessary to have a state license and a letter signed by the producers, also authorized, from whom the articles must be bought. The inspectors who pass through the sales stalls may require this letter, but in practice they pass with hand extended seeking money in exchange for not imposing a fine of 1,500 pesos on whomever Continue reading

Fidel Castro Warns That Venezuela Has Latin America’s Best Equipped Army / 14ymedio

Cartoon bubble:  "Forget about the Gringos; don’t worry, boy, I have the control!" Cartoon by Manuel Guillen (La Prensa, Nicaragua)

Cartoon bubble: “Forget about the Gringos; don’t worry, boy, I have the control!” Cartoon by Manuel Guillen (La Prensa, Nicaragua)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, 17 March 2015 – Coinciding with this Tuesday’s meeting in Caracas of the Summit for the Bolivarian Alliance for America (ALBA) to analyze the latest confrontation between the United States and Venezuela, Fidel Castro has written a letter published by the newspaper Granma in which he praises the attitude of the “heroic people of Bolivar and Chavez” and reminds us that “Venezuela has the best equipped soldiers and officers of Latin America.

The Cuban ex-president stresses the “exemplary discipline and the spirit of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces,” and concludes that “whatever the imperialism of the United States does, it can never count on doing what it did during so many years,” referring to the military coups that occurred in Latin America in the 20th Century. “When you met with those officers in recent days, you could tell they are ready to give their last drop of blood for Continue reading

Union of Young Communists (UJC): Who Is For That? / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

9th Congress of the UJC (EFE)

9th Congress of the UJC (EFE)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 24 February 2015 — The only thing Damian shares with Karl Marx may be the thick beard. In everything else, the Havana engineering student is quite different from the German philosopher who wrote Das Kapital. And the main contrast between them is found in their ways of thinking because for this young man who enjoys sporting the lumberjack style – the “lumberjack” fashion is spreading through the capital – the last thing he wants to talk about is class struggle, historical demands or communism. “Who is for that?” he asks.

To judge by his tone, it seems few. Instead, youngsters like Damian and his girlfriend, or the friends with whom they usually meet in places like the Bertold Brecht café theater or the Cuban Art Factory, prefer to talk about European football leagues while drinking beer paid for in hard currency. Things like the 10th Congress of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) appear nowhere in their conversations, despite the official propaganda that has been unleashed in an intense campaign about the event. According to the press permitted in Cuba, this “will be a congress that looks like Cuban youth.”

Adhering strictly to that maxim, for starters, a good part of the delegates to the Congress must come from abroad, given the number of people who are leaving Cuba. Of the almost half million who have emigrated in the last ten years, a high percentage are young Continue reading

Rationing in Venezuela: A ‘Déjà vu’ for Cubans / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

The ration book (14ymedio)

The ration book (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, Miriam Celaya, 11 March 2015 — Commissar Nicolas Maduro, president of Venezuela to the misfortune of its people and – let’s admit it – also for the prolongation of our own misfortune, has just announced recently the installation of 20,000 digital fingerprint readers in state food markets and in several private sector retail chains that, according to him, adopted the initiative “voluntarily” after meetings held with the government.

Let’s draw a merciful veil over the aforementioned secret meetings and imagine the atmosphere that must have reigned there in the midst of the “permanent economic war” that Venezuela suffers, the successive “soft coups” that have been provoked almost bi-weekly in that South American nation – according to the president’s denunciations – and the growing repression of opposition factions and civil society that demonstrate publicly and openly against the government. Continue reading

Lettuces of Lead / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Urban organic garden in Miramar, Havana (flickr)

Urban organic garden in Miramar, Havana (flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 1 March 2015 – The raised bed exhibits its curly lettuces a few meters from the rough concrete building. There is an hour to go before the urban organic garden near Hidalgo Street in the Plaza township begins its sale, but already customers are thronging to get fresh vegetables and lower prices. None of them knows that the products they will buy here are neither organic nor very safe for their health.

Urban agriculture is a phenomenon that dawned in the nineties with the rigors of the Special Period. In the words of a humorist, “We Havanans turned ourselves into peasants and planted leeks even on balconies.” The economic crisis and the inefficiency of state farms required taking advantage of empty lots in order to cultivate greens and vegetables.

The initiative helped all these years to alleviate shortages and has many defenders who emphasize their community character, so different from the mechanization of modern agriculture. Nevertheless, together with the undeniable merits are hidden serious problems that point to the contamination of the crops with wastes characteristic of urban areas. Continue reading

Birds of Ill Omen / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

A young man with a tablet

A young man with a tablet

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, 28 February 2015 — A topic that is raised for discussion these days is the obsolete argument that some official voices never stop repeating at every opportunity they have to strain relations between Cuba and the United States or rather between Cuba and the Outside World. I am referring to the supposed “need” of implementing “appropriate measures designed to avoid the penetration that the enemy hopes to make into Cuban society.”

Just a few days ago, in the context of the first National Workshop on Computing and Cyber-Security held in Havana, with the physical or virtual presence of thousands of computer engineers, really absurd speeches Continue reading

Amnesty International Denounces Increase in Arbitrary Detentions in Cuba / 14ymedio

Members of State Security arrest women from the Ladies in White organization (Ernesto Mastruscusa/EFE)

Members of State Security arrest women from the Ladies in White organization (Ernesto Mastruscusa/EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 February 2015 — Short-duration detentions increased considerably in Cuba in 2014, according to the annual report published today by Amnesty International. The human rights organization, with headquarters in London, emphasizes that the situation with respect to freedom of expression, association and assembly, infringed on by criminal prosecutions for political reasons, did not improve. Amnesty International expects, nevertheless, that the announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Island and the United States may help produce a significant change in the matter of human rights.

The report highlights the 27% increase in short-duration detentions last year, according to data from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which counted almost 9,000 brief arrests. The Ladies in White organization suffers the most from this type of repression Continue reading

The Ordeal of Automated Teller Machines / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Lines at Cuban ATMs grow on weekends (14ymedio)

Lines at Cuban ATMs grow on weekends (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 23 February 2015 – The line reached the corner and was moving with agonizing slowness. They were not selling eggs or potatoes. It wasn’t even a line for seeking a visa. Those who waited just wanted access to the automatic teller, the only one working last Saturday afternoon near Havana’s Central Park.

A few days before MasterCard can be used in Cuba, many are asking how the Cuban bank network will deal with the increased demand for money if it can barely keep its service afloat for domestic users and tourists.

The congestion in front of the machines grows even though only 1.3 million magnetic cards have been issued in the country, and for the moment only retirees, customers with accounts in convertible pesos, businesses that have contracts with the bank, self-employed workers and international collaborators can get them. The rest of society continues to depend exclusively on paper currency.

“When the subject is money, people fume,” says a young man whose Saturday night hangs by a thread because of the congested ATM. Even though this weekend the temperature dropped in the city, no one seemed ready to leave before getting their cash.

The scene is repeated at most of the 550 ATMs (Automated Teller Machines or automatic tellers) of Chinese manufacture, of which 398 are in Havana. In 2013 200 new units were purchased in China, but the majority were to replace defective terminals and did not solve the serious deficit of tellers. Cash payment is still the most common method in Cuba for acquiring products and services.

The scarcity of terminals combines with the deficient functioning of the system, affected by electrical outages, frequent connection failures between the ATM and the bank and lack of cash

The terminals are only available in private businesses with great resources and obvious official backing 

Almost all the self-employed workers offer their services for cash payment. The use of point of sale terminals (TPVs) for card scanning and payment, also known as POS, is only available in private businesses with great resources and obvious official backing.

In state business networks, the landscape is different but not very promising either. Although there exist POS terminals in most big department stores and hard currency shops, their service is unstable and slow. “When a client comes to pay with a card, the line stops for minutes because sometimes the communication with the bank is down and you have to try it several times,” explains a cashier from the busy market at 70th Street and 3rd in Miramar.

In the provincial cities and above all in the townships, where they are practically non-existent, the ATM and POS situation is even worse. Tourists who travel deep into Cuba must carry cash with them, increasing the risk of theft and loss in addition to the demand for liquidity.

The problem hits natives and foreigners. “Why do they pay me on the card if in the end I have to go get the money at the bank because I can make purchases almost nowhere with this?” complains Marilin Ruiz, a former elementary school teacher who also was waiting in line on Saturday for the ATM near Central Park. The delay was so long that she wound sharing recipes for making flan without milk and knitting suggestions with another woman.

 “I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about $8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,” an old woman complained

Between the 4th and 6th of each month, Cuban retirees go to ATMs to collect their pensions. “I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about $8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,” explained Asuncion, an old woman of close to eighty years of age. Meanwhile, some kids scamper from one side to the other. They are the children of a couple waiting at the end of the line without much hope of getting money before nightfall.

“We are late for everything; when the world has spent decades using plastic, now it is that we are trying it,” laments Asuncion. The first ATMs, of French manufacture, were installed in Cuba in 1997, but after 2004 only Chinese terminals arrived.

Asuncion keeps in her wallet a Visa card that her son sent her from Madrid. “I use this only every three months when he puts a little on it for my expenses.” There are no public statistics about how many of the country’s residents might be making frequent use of debit or credit cards associated with a foreign bank account of an emigrated relative, but the phenomenon has grown in the last decade.

In the line several Chinese student also put their Asian patience to the test with the red and blue cards in hand from the Chinese banking conglomerate UnionPay. More than 3000 citizens of that country study or work on the Island, and they receive their family remittances through that channel. Also, in 2013 alone some 22,000 Chinese tourists visited Cuba.

“We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,”

“We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,” says Lazaro, a teen with tight clothes, to a friend with whom he waits in the line.

The alternative to the ATM, which might be the window of the bank branch, is not recommended. In Havana there are 90 branches of the Banco Metropolitano, but at the end of 2014 at least twelve offices were partially or completely closed because of problems ranging from leaks, sewer network blockages, danger of building collapse or other infrastructure issues. Insufficient attention and lack of trust in the banking system make many continue to prefer hiding money “under the mattress.”

The limited work schedule of banks and the scarcity of offices open on weekends cause long lines on weekends in front of ATMs. The more optimistic, however, manage to profit from the wait. Marilin managed to achieve everything by renting a room in her house to the Chinese students who must, of course, pay in cash.

Asuncion could not stand the pain in her legs and left without her money, while the couple at the end of the line had to buy some ice cream to pacify their restless children. Lazaro was luckier, and in addition to exchanging phone numbers with a French woman whom he met in the crowd, he managed to extract twenty convertible pesos from the ATM to spend that same night. At least this time the blue screen did not appear with the “out of service” announcement, nor was there a power outage and, yes, the machine had cash.

Translated by MLK

Why Do Cubans Continue To Be Spaniards? / 14ymedio, Ferran Nunez

Treaty of Paris 1898

Treaty of Paris 1898 (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ferrán Nuñez, Paris, 21 February 2015 — With the signing of the Treaty of Paris of 1898, Spain ceded or sold the last pieces of its former empire where, in the time of Carlos V, “the sun never set.” This treaty, as has already been proven by Pedro Albizu Campos, had several legal defects that made it invalid. Curiously, no Spanish politician has used these arguments to challenge it outright. This is due to two main factors: The first, ignorance, and the second, of equal weight, reality. Spain today, as it has been for the last 115 years, is not in any shape to oppose the “Pax Americana.”

However, today this legal fissure acquires an unexpected dimension. Spain, through various laws, decrees and circulars, has decided to re-establish the rights of nationality for many of its former citizens who lost their nationality for different reasons in the last century (and even earlier, as is the case of the Sephardic Jews). Over time this worthwhile path is going to turn out partial and incomplete because unfathomable depths of injustice Continue reading

The Malecon as Pier / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Image of the Cayo Hueso-Havana ferry taken 1951 (History Miami Archives and Research Center)

Image of the Cayo Hueso-Havana ferry taken 1951 (History Miami Archives and Research Center)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 21 February 2015 — Jose Manuel is 70 years old and has spent more than half his life fishing from Havana’s Malecon. For this retiree with leathery skin and eyes that have seen almost everything, it is a dream to catch sight again of that ferry that used to go to Florida and that he so liked when he was a child. “We kids used to pretend to say goodbye, and although I could never travel on it, my grandmother did every now and then.” Now, while the evening falls, the septuagenarian hopes that some fish will take the bait, and before him a sea without boats extends to infinity.

Maritime transport between Havana and Cayo Hueso came to be very common in the first half of the 20th century until it was suspended in August of 1961 as a consequence of the restrictions from the American embargo of the Island. Now, the ghost of a ferry Continue reading