Cuban Phone Company’s ‘Comprehensive Repair’ Affects Email and Internet Services

The interruption also affected Internet navigation on WIFI access points (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14YMEDIO, Havana, July 20, 20108–Another interruption in Cuba’s Nauta email and Internet services left thousands of users without communication on Friday. The failure is the second in less than three weeks that affected several official digital sites, like the newspaper Granma, the national email Nauta, and the WIFI zones of Internet connection, according to 14ymedio.

“They’re doing a comprehensive repair on the whole cellphone service to improve the network,” an employee of the state communications company Etecsa explained to this newspaper. “Many clients have called because they’re having problems, and we’re asking that they don’t try to access the WIFI network for the moment to avoid leaving the session open and continue consuming their balances without really being connected,” he added. continue reading

According to the employee, “The repair work started on Friday morning and is expected to take up to Monday night,” although the only telephone company in the country didn’t issue a notice to alert its clients nor did it apologize on social media for the inconvenience.

The interruption in service has unleashed a barrage of criticism of the State monopoly and also has generated some hope that the repairs are related to preparations for cellphone Internet service.

Cuba is one of the most backward countries in this hemisphere as far as Internet connectivity is concerned. Only 4.5 million citizens, around 40 percent of the population, can access the Web, according to official data, and independent experts find even that figure very questionable.

This past July 3, another Etecsa failure left the country without the company’s Nauta email service, and technical problems also affected the official newspapers, Granma, Trabajadores and Juventud Rebelde, which are hosted on national servers.

At this time the company is not clarifying what kind of problems they are confronting, but technical failures in the State monopoly are common, although it’s not often they affect newspapers like Granma, the offiicial voice of the Communist Party.

One week earlier, a fire in an Etecsa building caused a blackout in mobile telephone service in the provinces of the center of the country and Pinar del Río. More than 1.5 million cellphone lines remained sithout service after the disaster in Santa Clara.

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.

Internet from the Shore / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 16 March 2018 — (Text published in the bulletin of the 2018 Internet Freedom Festival) Cell phones have been used commercially in the world since 1995, but we Cubans couldn’t have our own cell phones until 2009. Internet access through prepaid cards in public places dates from 2015. In Cuba, the year 2017 will be remembered for the introduction of 3G technology and access to the Internet for the first time from home via ADSL-fixed telephone lines.

The only telecommunications business that operates in the country announces an increase in access, but it comes at the cost of high prices, censorship of pages critical of the Government and self-censorship, with the user suspecting that all navigation is traceable. continue reading

I learned about the Internet in 2009, during a trip to Spain, and it was love at first sight. When I went back to Cuba, I decided to open a blog, and I asked my neighbor, the blogger Yoani Sánchez, for help. I spent months posting blindly thanks to friends abroad who uploaded the contents from content I emailed to them.

My first time on the Internet in Cuba, I wasted a prepaid card that gave me an hour of connection from a hotel, since I was so nervous and inept that I forgot the password and spent an hour of virtual onanism rereading my posts, discovering the comments…and nothing more.

I had to learn how to swim in those waters, as they say. I had to “empower myself” to be not just someone who reads email and opens a page on Facebook. Studying came to me easily because it encourages the illusion that I’m not getting Alzheimer’s like I feel with my son (I have to say that I came to motherhood late) when we’re discussing applications and programs.

And together with this familiarity that I established with the Internet, I became conscious that it’s a tool that is too powerful to be left in the hands of governments and/or businesses. As a Cuban, I feel that they have denied us entrance into the 21st century, that this digital divide is difficult to remedy and is even more serious in a literate population with a high rate of middle and higher education, which, in addition, is growing old.

We can’t blame our technological backwardness on the Blockade-Embargo (what it’s called varies according to one’s viewpoint) alone or to the long dispute between the governments of Cuba and the United States, although it has its part.

Beyond the material limitations that it supposes, there exists a domestic political will to keep us isolated and uninformed. José Martí, our greatest thinker, said it simply: “Don’t believe; read,” but we Cubans don’t want to be spoon-fed bits of information seasoned by the governmental point of view. That day when I forgot my password, I decided not only to swim, but also to help others who look out from the shore.

Translated by Regina Anavy

No More Appointments For Visas To Panama Until The End Of May

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, 17 March 2018 — The website of the Panamanian Government for visa procedures has collapsed due to extremely high demand, especially from Cubans and Venezuelans. Javier Carrillo, the Migration Director General, has confirmed this to 14ymedio.

“We set up this site to offer 50 daily appointments in our Havana consulate, but demand is very high and the system shut down as soon as we ran out of availability,” said Carrillo by telephone from Panama City. continue reading

The Panamanian authorities created the website in the middle of last year after doubling the number of visas for Cuban citizens to 1,000 per month. Eight thousand residents of the Island benefited from the new measure in 2017.

“We already have the whole month of May full. We post the dates two or three months in advance so people have time to get their papers,” explains Carillo. “In one hour we ran out of appointments, leaving a lot of people hanging. In April we’ll open up to take care of the next two months.”

Number of Cubans traveling to Panama. Source: Panama Migration Service

When the appointment dates run out, the system automatically eliminates the button “fill in the form” and only the words “reprint appointment” appear.

The electronic system allows someone to ask for an appointment to get a “stamped” visa in the Panamanian consulates in Cuba, Venezuela and China. In the case of Cubans as well as Venezuelans, it’s very difficult to get an appointment because the quota fills up. This doesn’t happen with China, which has much less demand.

Screenshot of the Panama Migration page without the button to fill out the form. (CC)

On average, by year, more than 10,600 Cubans have visited Panama. In 2017 there were more than 71,700 Cubans who chose Panama as an option for tourism or purchases, while in 2010 there were barely 6,000. Cubans who live in the U.S. or who have European citizenship don’t require a visa to travel to Panama.

Panama was a country of transit for thousands of Cubans who left for the U.S. during the last migratory crisis. After the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy in January 2017, more than 300 Cubans remained stranded there, and they received material support from Panama to return to Cuba.

For Zenia Escalona, the possibility of getting an appointment online to be interviewed in the Embassy of Panama in Havana is a great advantage. Zenia, 52, tried for more than six months to schedule an appointment by telephone, but was unsuccessful.

“On Thursdays, the phone was always busy. Half of Cuba was calling. It was terrible,” explains Escalona, who lives in Trinidad and wants to go to Panama to make purchases in the duty-free zone of Colón. Before the online platform existed, the Embassy of Panama in Havana scheduled appointments only by telephone on Thursdays at a certain time.

Ed. Note: Our apologies for not having subtitles for the two videos in this article.

Escalona got her passport last year to take advantage of the benefits of importing in the national money that Cubans who live on the Island have. “Customs allows you to bring back 100 kg of non-commercial imports by paying the taxes in Cuban pesos. That’s the advantage we who live here have. You leave, you buy clothing, shoes, televisions and air conditioners, and then you can resell them and make a little money,” she explains.

Although connecting to the Internet on the Island is generally complicated, because it’s done in public spots, Escalona says that “it’s worth the trouble” to pay a dollar to try to access the Panama Migration page.

The trips of Cubans to the duty-free zone of the Panama Canal and to other popular destinations like Cancún to buy things has flourished since the Cuban Government, in 2013, passed a law that eliminated the exit permit, which for decades prevented Cubans from traveling freely.

Faced with the absence of a wholesale market for the private sector in Cuba, many entrepreneurs pay the passge for mules to buy merchandise they need for their businesses at an affordable price.

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.

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

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

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.

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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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.

Authorities in Cabaiguan Suspend More than 50 Cart Vendor Licenses

The Municipal Administration Council (CAM) also encourages buyers to denounce operators who break the rules. (DC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havna, 23 January 2018 — The local authorities in Cabaiguán, Sancti Spíritus Province, have become serious about sales from ambulatory cart vendors. Since the end of last year, more than 50 contracts with the carretilleros have been rescinded for violating the regulated prices imposed by the State, according to the official press. In addition, the carts that have remained have been moved away from the State’s “Red Tent” farm market, and an undetermined number of pounds of merchandise for sale (“not just a few,” according to the press) has been confiscated.

The newspaper Escambray put on the table, in its notice this Monday, the complaints of the carretilleros, who argue that it is impossible to sell at the regulated price if they want to earn something, contrary to the municipal authorities, who claim nonpayment to the State business, Acopio, for stolen produce or abuse of the consumer. continue reading

According to the local publication, in spite of efforts to control the imports of basic foods, the laws have been continually violated in the face of the laxness of the authorities and the citizens. For this reason, the Council of Municipal Administration (CAM) also encourages the buyers to denounce the carretilleros who break the rules.

“In December we made the decision, coordinated with Urban Agriculture, to not have any more contracts with the mobile points of this organism and to leave only the fixed points that have been a local investment. This was owing to price violations, fundamentally, and because they weren’t complying with the regulations of Urban Agriculture, which establish that they are mobile cart vendors, who can’t be within at least 200 meters of a State entity — and they were in front of the Red Tent — and that they should be linked to an organopónico*, because their purpose was to sell the production from those places,” Carlos Puentes Molina, Vice President of the CAM that manages the distribution of goods and consumption, told Escambray.

The text also said that they took measures against the ambulatory vendors who violated “the scope of the activity,” meaning that they cannot eastablish themselves in a fixed area. “Just in this area there were six who were reprimanded and preventive measures were taken,” says Elianni Silot López, municipal director of Work and Social Security.

The official press maintains that when the food was at the market in Cabaiguán, “at payable prices” (i.e. regulated), it sold in barely one hour. In addition, the police intervened in three stores and confiscated enough merchandise to fill two trucks.

The local police continue to monitor “every Sunday at the fair (…) to verify that it is selling in accord with the list of prices.”

In the whole province, the Integral Supervision Direction had imposed, at the end of 2017, 84 fines for price violations (a total of 9,000 pesos) and collected another 25,000 pesos in sanctions against cuentapropistas, self-employed persons, who were engaged in business without a license.

Since the end of 2016, the enforcement of controls on prices was extended from the province of Artemisa to the rest of the Island. Most consumers celebrated the much lower prices, but now they lament the decrease in quality and supply after the arrival of regulated prices in the markets.

The measure, which put producers and intermediaries on alert, was taken after a session of the National Assembly that took place in December 2016, in which the subject of the price of food provoked numerous discussions. In answer to the claim by several deputies, Raúl Castro said that measures would be taken to close the gap between prices and salaries.

Translator’s note:

*Cuban system of urban agriculure using organic gardens. It first arose as a community response to lack of food security during the Special Period after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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.

Cuba Recognizes Immigration Advance with U.S. But Requests End to Cuban Adjustment Act

Cuban rafters being repatriated by the United States Coast Guard. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, 12 January 2018 — Cuba has recognized the advance that was made for immigration connections with the U.S. with the repeal, a year ago, of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, which offered preferential treatment to Cuban citizens, but insisted that “normalization” would not take place while the Cuban Adjustment Act continues in effect.

The end of “wet foot/dry foot” was “one of the most transcendental steps” in the new stage that both countries are going through after the official reestablishment of relations after more than a half-century of staunch hostility, according to an article published this Friday in the state newspaper Granma in a supplement dedicated to the anniversary of the development.

The official organ of the governing Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) recognized that the end of “wet foot/dry foot” policy has reduced “almost to zero” the “illegal exits by makeshift means.” continue reading

Introduced in 1995, this policy was the result of an agreement between the administration of U.S. ex-President Bill Clinton with Havana, and the revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act, in effect since 1966, which authorizes Cubans to receive permanent residence after one year of their stay in the U.S.

“Wet foot/dry foot” guaranteed refuge to all Cubans who managed to step foot on the territory of the U.S., either in a regular or irregular way (“dry foot”), but committed the U.S. to send back those detained at sea (“wet foot”).

This was, for years, an incentive for thousands of Cubans to launch themselves into the sea on fragile boats with the hope of crossing the Straits of Florida and touching land.

An article in Granma about the “convulsive history” of migration between the two nations, separated by 90 miles of sea, recalls that the Cuban State considers this policy as “a stimulus for irregular emigration, the trafficking of migrants and irregular entrances to the U.S. from Third World countries.”

“Upon admitting them (Cubans) automatically on their territory, [the U.S.] gave them preferential and unique treatment that citizens from other countries don’t receive, so that it was also inciting illegal exits,” said an official communication of the Cuban Government released on January 12, 2017 and cited this Friday by the newspaper.

Its implementation “caused an immigration crisis, the hijacking of boats and planes and the commission of crimes, like human trafficking, slavery, immigration fraud and violence, with a growing destabilizing extraterritorial impact on other countries of the region used as transit points.”

It also mentioned, as an advance in bilateral immigration relations, the end to the program of Parole for Cuban Doctors, which incentivized the abandonment of medical missions in third countries, principally in Latin America.

In spite of this, for the Island, “it is impossible to think about the normalization of immigration relations between the two countries without the North American Congress putting an end” to the Cuban Law of Adjustment.

Together with the end of the U.S. embargo, or “blockade,” the repeal of this law is one of the principal demands of the Cuban Government for normalizing all its relations with its neighbor to the north.

The article also mentions the present tension in bilateral relations owing to the shift in policies of President Donald Trump’s administration, that try to reverse the advances of the “thaw” accomplished by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and the Cuban leader Raúl Castro.

Faced with this position, Cuba has expressed its desire to continue communication and has affirmed that “the solution is up to the U.S.”

More than 896,000 Cubans have come legally to the U.S., of a total of 2.6 million who have left the Island since the immigration reforms  were put into effect in Cuba five years ago, abolishing the requirement for an exit permit.

Since January 1, Cuba has eliminated the residence requirement for children of Cubans born in the Exterior to receive citizenship, eliminated the requirement for a passport stamp from a Cuban consulate abroad for Cuban citizens to re-enter their country and authorized the entrance via yachts for Cubans who have emigrated, although this restriction is still in effect for those who live on the Island.

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.

A Curious Fact about Bachelet’s Visit to Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 19 January 2018 — As part of President Michelle Bachelet’s recently concluded visit to Havana, a Chile-Cuba Business Seminar was held.

During the activity, celebrated Monday, January 8, in a room at the Hotel Nacional, the Chilean president met with several businesspeople of her country who reside on the island. Among those present were Ángel Domper, Manuel Tomás Gahona, Guillermo Leiva and others.

Note that Ángel Domper was married to the Cuban veterinarian, Celia Guevara, one of deceased guerrillero Che Guevara’s daughters.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuban Government Plans Blow Against Management of Non-Agricultural Cooperatives / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 12 January 2018 — The Cuban Government is preparing a new blow to restrict the rights conceded to non-agricultural cooperatives of production (CNAs), specifically those devoted to the construction sector.

According to information obtained by Martí News, the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers is developing a set of new judicial regulations with a view to controling the boom in this type of non-agricultural production association. One of the steps would be intended to complicate the process for the forming of these consortiums.

“The CNAs didn’t appear on the Cuban scene as a natural phenomenon regulated by the laws of the market, but rather as a result of an emergency strategy to attenuate the effects of the constant national crisis,” said a source from Havana who is linked to criminal proceedings against the owner of one of these private associations. “But some members of these associations drive around in rented autos, and the Government is trying to put the brakes on them by means of legal instruments that asphyxiate this enterprise.” continue reading

The source noted that the Council of State implemented, as an experiment, Decree Laws No. 305 and 306, No. 309 of the Council of Ministers, and another series of regulations for the forming, registration, functioning and termination of the non-agricultural production cooperatives and the services of 222 private activities.

The poor profitability and lack of autonomy of State businesses, among other factors, allowed the private entitites to achieve a real importance in the business system in a short time. They work efficiently, but they constitute an impediment to State businesses, because they show they do well, and they fearlessly exhibit the wealth they acquire.

On December 12, 2017, there appeared in the Gaceta Oficial Extraordinaria No. 58, a group of laws that intended to improve the business system by conceding a larger autonomy to State businesses. Even so, State production has not responded in the manner expected, because even with their increase in strength, they are incapable of guaranteeing service, quality and delivery times, according to the State authorities themselves.

However, the non-State sector continues to visibly increase productivity and labor discipline, which is why they have publicly received important contracts for the design and remodeling of tourism hotels, winning out over the now-stagnant State businesses.

“These corporations have better builders, do better work and, in certain cases, get permission to import machinery from China and other countries. However, the form in which they were originally designed and the experimental character of the whole legal basis mean they are badly limited,” argues an attorney who requested anonymity.

The lawyer explained that no legal way exists for two private cooperatives to join together to organize complementary activities to add value to their products or services. They have to acquire everything through the State businesses, and this doesn’t work.

“They have to violate the rules if the Government doesn’t expand the legal framework. How can you buy the necessary raw material like cement, sand, gravel, marble for the floors or wood for the formwork?” asked the lawyer.

“In this fradulent way,” he added, “they control the people in the cooperatives by submitting them to constant fiscal audits, which are practically impossible to pass. They now have closed some, and their members are in court.”

“We hope this will change, or we shall soon see the end of the private initiative,” the witness concluded.

This past August, the Ministry of Finance and Prices revoked the formation conceded to the Scenius Cooperative, an accounting service, and approved its termination for “repeated violations committed by the cooperative in its fulfillment of the approved social reach.”

The CAN experiment began in 2013, and presently there are only 429 of them in existence in the whole country, according to official figures.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Dollar Strengthens In Cuba In Anticipation Of Currency Unification / Iván García

Source: América Tevé.

Ed. Note: This article talks about Cuba’s two currencies, the Cuban peso and the Cuban convertible peso, and the potential ‘unification’ of the two currencies. The Cuban peso is also called “national money” and by the acronym “CUP.” The Cuban convertible peso (“CUC”) only came into use in 1994. It is not convertible outside the country and so has no ‘market-based’ exchange rate in world currency markets. The CUP is officially pegged at 24 per CUC. The dollar/CUC exchange rate is officially one-to-one but the actual official exchange rate varies according to exchange fees and taxes applied to the transaction, as discussed in the article; the unofficial exchange rate varies according to the vagaries of the underground market. The Cuban government has promised, for years, to unify the currencies, but has not yet done so.

Iván García, 18 January 2018  — In the illegal world of the foreign exchange market on the Island, any rumor or leaking of information rings alarms. In addition to taking advantage of the gaps that cause the artificial state exchange rate for the U.S. dollar, an astute loan shark is always attentive to fluctuations in the exchange rates.

Ignacio, a guy who wears retro sunglasses, tight jeans and low-cut sports shoes, is one of those who takes advantage of the most minimal information.

“I’m romancing the manager of a bank. And some days ago she told me that there are movements in the bullpen. Probably before April 19 — the supposed date of Raúl Castro’s retirement — the government will execute the unification of the currency. continue reading

The girl told me that already there have been several meetings, and in them it was said that people with bank accounts wouldn’t lose money after the financial adjustments. Nor would those who prefer to keep their money at home. For them they would pay 24 Cuban pesos for every convertible peso, but only up to a certain amount (it’s said 7 million CUC). Those who have their deposits in dollars can exchange them at two pesos per dollar.”

With this unconfirmed information, Ignacio, along with several friends involved in clandestine exchange operations, started to buy the dollar at 0.97 CUC. The Central Bank of Cuba pays 0.87 CUC, justifying the Castro brothers’ tax under the pretext of the U.S. embargo.

But it’s a longer story. After the arrival of the bearded Fidel Castro, the exchange of the dollar and other hard currency was converted into an absurdity that distorted the national economy.

Before 1959, the dollar had an exchange rate of one for one with the Cuban peso.

“It was supported by a growing productivity, a vigorous economy and a powerful private empresarial elite. Fidel took this exchange rate as a reference and kept it for a time. Meanwhile, the Cuban economy was stumbling, because of the “blockade,” bad strategies of the managers or systemic failures caused by an economic plan that was copied from the Soviet Union. If they would have let the dollar float against the peso, in 1970, for example, a dollar would have been worth 50 Cuban pesos, at least. The illegal exchange market, in an empricial way, moves in accord with the law of supply and demand of the dollar. With greenbacks being prohibited until 1993, these financial operations were very dangerous: If the police caught you, you could go to jail for three to five years,” says Hiram, an ex-officer of the Central Bank.

Julio Antonio, an older gentleman who has spent four decades in the business of buying and selling hard currency, above all the dollar, adds more details:

“In the ’80s, they called the money changers jineteros (hustlers). On the streets of Vedado, and on beaches like Varadero and Santa María del Mar, east of Havana, we were buying dollars directly from the few tourists who came to Cuba. At that time, a peso was worth four dollars. The State was buying them one for one. And many foreigners, so that their money would go further, weren’t selling them to us. When the Special Period arrived in the ’90s the dollar shot up and was selling at one dollar for 150 pesos. Later, the government fixed it at 24 pesos. But we were paying under the table one or two on top of that, because the people going on internationalist missions in Venezuela, Ecuador and South Africa, among other countries, needed dollars to buy stuff cheap and then resell it in Cuba. We have always been two steps ahead of the State’s exhange rate.”

In the autumn of 2005, Fidel Castro, punched a table in anger, because the U.S. Treasury Department had detected a Cuban account with 5 billion dollars in the Swiss bank UBS, supposedly for exchanging old bills for new ones, and he resolved to decree a “revolutionary” tax on the money of Enemy Número Uno.

The tax rate was 20 percent, lowered to 10 percent when Raúl Castro began governing.

“If a dollar cost 80 cents, on the street it was being bought at 90. Now that the government buys it at 87 cents, under the table it’s bought at 90, at least [on the street]. It depends how many dollars are in circulation. But the stable non-official rate is 95 cents, although at certain times, it goes up to 97 and 98, since there is a strong demand from the “mules” who travel to Central America, Mexico or Russia. With the rumor that is being spread, I assure you that when the two monies are unified, the dollar will be worth 10 or 15 pesos. And I might be short,” Ignacio analyzes.

Dagoberto, licensed in tourism, considers that “this exchange rate, in addition to being false, is counterproductive. This is reflected in expenditures by tourists. The ones who come to Cuba spend on average $655 [USD]. Those who go to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic spend more than $1,200, almost double. One reason is that they drive up the prices for tourists. To this, add the fact that in Cuba’s hard currency shops everything is too expensive, with taxes between 240 and 400 percent. The ideal, to attract more dollars, euros, pounds or Swiss francs, is to adjust the money to a real reference.”

According to a source at a branch of the Banco Metropolitano, “Since July they have been postponing the contracts with State enterprises, whether they are in hard currency or the national money. It’s a sign that monetary unification is on the way. At the latest, before 2018 is over. It’s noticeable in the current private accounts. Many clients are keeping their money in pesos, since even though they’ve been told that they won’t be affected by the unification, there are always fears and prejudices in the population.”

For experienced loan sharks, “the best way to keep savings or monetary earnings of a private business is in dollars or euros, jewels, preferably of gold, and works of art. What’s coming looks ugly. An increasing inflation and more money than products to buy. The Cuban economy is in a bad way,” predicts Julio Antonio.

Financial experts say that if you want to apply a reasonable economic strategy, the distortions caused by the dual currency ought to come to an end. What’s not clear is what will happen afterwards.

Translated by Regina Anavy

A Lawyer Sees Salvation in Brazil’s New Immigration Law for "Deserter" Doctors

Some Cuban doctors complain that with all the money they’ve given to the Government, they could afford to pay for their medical education several times over.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, November 24, 2017 – The new immigration law which takes effect this Wednesday in Brazil could benefit hundreds of doctors who have escaped from the Mais Medicos (More Doctors) mission in this country.

According to André De Santana Correa, a lawyer who represents 80 doctors from the Island who abandoned their mission, “the new law allows several types of protection for a Cuban doctor who is considered a deserter, on humanitarian grounds.”

De Santana told 14ymedio that he counsels all Cuban doctors who have an expired temporary visa for Brazil that they request “permission for residence with a temporary visa on humanitarian grounds.” The authorities can take into account that these professionals are prohibited from returning to Cuba for eight years, because they are considered deserters there. continue reading

“The Cuban Government’s decision to consider doctors who abandon their missions as deserters is much more than political persecution. It’s the most merciless cruelty because of what can happen to a human being who is taken away from  loved ones and his native land and, in addition, is left completely powerless, as if his life isn’t worth anything,” adds De Santana.

The new Migration Law guarantees the same rights to foreign residents as to native-born Brazilians and also facilitates the arrival of qualified workers in the country. The legislation replaces the Foreigners Statute, which dates from the time of the military dictatorship (1964-1985). It allows foreigners with higher education or the equivalent to work in Brazil without needing to have a formal employment request from a company in the country.

Official statistics state that between 2010 and 2015, the number of foreign employees increased some 131%, going from 54,333 workers to 125,535, less than some 0.5 percent of the formal work market.

“We hope that with this new law our process will continue. There are many Cuban doctors in Brazil who need this country to recognize that we are health professionals who have equal status with the doctors of other countries who are in the More Doctors program,” says Ernesto Ramírez, a health specialist who left Havana’s supervision.

Noel Fonseca, who has spent more than 20 years as a doctor and decided to stay and live in Brazil, said that he is hopeful about the new law. He, as well as his wife, were expelled from the More Doctors program for not supporting the Cuban Government. The authorities in Havana, in addition, told them that they couldn’t return to the country for eight years, and that Brazil wouldn’t allow them to work as doctors because of pressure from Cuba.

“The Cuban Ministry of Public Health threatened the Brazilian Government so that they wouldn’t permit us to stay in the More Doctors program if we deserted the mission. In turn, the Ministry of Health pressured the municipalities to not give any type of aid to the doctors,” explained Fonseca, by telephone.

While the Cuban Medical Professional Parole was in effect, the United States allowed doctors who abandoned Cuba’s official missions to emigrate legally to the U.S. During that period (2006-2016), more than 8,000 doctors benefited from the program, which was eliminated in January, 2017.

Cuban Healthcare Personnel Taking Advantage of US “Cuban Medical Professional Parole” program that allows them to settle in the United States (14ymedio)

Diana Quintas, a lawyer from the Fragomen firm in Brazil, told Agencia EFE recently that the new law “has gaps,” and that in matters such as work, the joint action of several ministries would be required.

In addition, in order to seek employment without a work offer in the South American giant, professionals from Third World countries would have to have a university degree in “professions strategic for Brazil,” without specifying what these professions are.

Many other analysts criticize putting this legislation into effect at a time when unemployment is increasing in the country and when, in practice, many of the essential services that they want to offer to immigrants Brazilians themselves don’t have.

Translated by Regina Anavy
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