Flour Shortage Affects Thousands of Private Businesses in Cuba

The Cuban milling industry is going through a bad time because of the lack of raw material and problems with infrastructure. (Imsa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, November 18, 2018 — First eggs went missing, then it was sugar’s turn, and now it’s wheat flour that has been added to the list of products that are lacking in Cuban markets. The valuable ingredient is the basis of many recipes that are sold in private businesses, like sweets, breads, and pizzas, and so its absence puts the menus of these cafes and private restaurants in crisis.

The problems started in the middle of this year, when the lack of spare parts for mills and a drop in the arrival of raw material caused a shortage of wheat flour, as Jesús Rodríguez, first vice president of the Business Group of Food Industry (GEIA), told the official press at that time.

After the crisis generated by the deficit of the product in the markets for several weeks, authorities decided to import 15,000 additional tons to guarantee the preparation of bread for the rationed market and bread bound for social assistance. However, the hard currency stores remained secondary in the distribution. continue reading

Without a wholesale market to go to, the self-employed must buy from the network of retail businesses. “A few months ago we could still find a 5-kilo bag of flour but now not even the 1-kilo is available,” laments Jesús Ruiz, a vendor of sweets on Calle Infanta in Havana.

“For our business flour is the main ingredient, because pastries, cakes, and all the other sweets that we sell are made from flour,” the entrepreneur explains to 14ymedio. “When there is none, we can only remain open selling soft drinks and shakes, so we have a lot of losses, it’s as if they have taken away the oxygen that allows us to breathe as a cafe,” he points out.

Traditionally many owners of private businesses go to the black market to stock up on flour. The product arrives in the informal business network after being diverted [i.e. stolen] from bakeries on the rationed system and other state centers. However, the deficit of the past few months has sharpened the administrative controls and notably diminished the illegal sale of flour.

The shortage of the crucial ingredient “isn’t going to have a short-term solution,” according to an employee of the José Antonio Echevarría mill in Havana, one of the principal wheat processing centers in the country. The source, who preferred to remain anonymous, attributes the deficit to the “terrible situation of the infrastructure” of the industry.

“The spare parts that we were waiting for haven’t arrived, and the mill is far below its capacity, it’s only milling to satisfy the demand of the subsidiary services, like the one-pound loaf and whatever is bound for schools or work centers,” he clarifies. “From the 500 tons daily that we were expecting to be processing by this time of the year, we aren’t doing even a fifth of that.”

“But it’s not only a problem of parts, but also that the transporting of cereals via Cuba Railways and other methods isn’t functioning well,” adds the mill worker. “Sometimes the merchandise stays in our warehouses and deteriorates because they don’t come to pick it up in time.” Nevertheless, he emphasizes that the whole situation has worsened in the past few weeks because of the lack of raw material.

“There’s no money to buy wheat and even if we had a great industry with all new equipment, we can’t make miracles if there aren’t products to put through the mills,” he specifies. “Wheat flour is considered a strategic line of goods and it is like this for us, what will remain for other industries that aren’t prioritized,” he questions.

Something similar is happening at the Turcios Lima plant, also in the capital, which for the past few years hasn’t managed to regain the 130 tons of wheat that it obtained once a day. The other three mills, out of the five in the country, are located in Matanzas, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba, all of them in a deteriorated technical state.

In the portfolio of opportunities for foreign investment is included the assembly of a wheat mill for processing 300,000 tons of flour each year at a cost of $120 million, but the offer has generated little interest until now.

“Most affected are the businesses that sell Italian food,” says Ricardo Valdés, courier at a restaurant specializing in pizza and pasta in Havana’s Chinatown. “The flour reserves that we had for some emergency are running out and we don’t know if we are going to be able to remain open by the end of the year,” he tells this newspaper.

In the Milling Factory of Havana, located in the Regla municipality, the telephones haven’t stopped ringing in the last few weeks with calls from self-employed people worried about the supply of the product. The joint-venture, specializing in flours, semolina, and wheat bran, processes the majority of the merchandise that ends up on the shelves of stores that sell in convertible pesos.

In the last year packages of flour of a foreign make, originating primarily in Italy and Spain but also Mexico, have also arrived at these businesses. “We don’t have foreign flour now, either, because we ran out even though it’s more expensive than the nationally produced kind,” assures an employee of La Puntilla market, one of the best stocked in the capital.

“When we put out a few packets they run out right away because the self-employed take them,” says the employee. “We’ve had to put limits on purchases so that people don’t take 10 or 20 packets at once, but this doesn’t solve the problem.”

A few meters away, a private business offers empanadas, pizzas, and churros. “We are going to stay open until we run out of our last bag of flour but after that we will have to close,” says the owner. The self-employed man believes that a solution could be allowing people to import the product in a private manner. “But that would be asking a lot because they don’t allow us commercial import.”

The entire vast framework of businesses, small shops, points of sale, and the most sophisticated restaurants that operate on a basis of flour wait for the state to manage to revive production or permit private people to bring in the basic ingredient from other countries.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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.

Independent Media “Open The Doors Of Imagination And Creativity”

Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez graduated in 2015 from the University of Marta Abreu in Santa Clara and went on to work at the newspaper ’Vanguardia.’ (Yariel Valdés González)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Miami, November 11, 2018 — Two years after several young journalists from the newspaper Vanguardia in Villa Clara wrote a letter strongly criticizing the operation of the official media, 14ymedio spoke with one of the signers of that document to discover the motives that led them to write it and the consequences that it had in their professional lives.

Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez Martínez graduated in 2015 from the University of Marta Abreu in Santa Clara and went on to work at the newspaper Vanguardia, the provincial organ of the Cuban Communist Party in the Villa Clara. Now, when he speaks about the letter that changed his life, he makes clear that he does it in a personal capacity and not in the name of the group of writers. continue reading

The recent graduates arrived at the newspaper “with the desire to change everything” but they collided with censorship, which he calls “terrible.” The editorial disorder also affected them and in that environment of hostility they decided to write the letter in which they ennumerated their concerns and criticisms regarding the official news spaces.

In the text they reported, among other subjects, that many media outlet bosses rejected articles on social problems because the ideas expressed in them were not in line with “the interests of the country at the current time,” or because they were “too critical.”

Today Rodríguez believes that the only error was signing the letter in the name of the Foundation Committee of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) of the newspaper and he believes that it would have been better for it to appear signed only with the names of each journalist. “The structures of the UJC, at the municipal and provincial level, harassed us and tried to convince us to sign and publish a mea culpa,” he laments.

The text of the retraction was written but never saw the light of day because it didn’t placate the authorities, since it only regretted that the missive had been leaked. “We wrote that letter not to publish it on the internet, but rather to read it in the framework of the Provincial Plenary Session of the Cuban Journalists’ Union in Villa Clara in 2016,” explains Rodríguez.

The publication of the document had the effect of a fragmentation bomb among the journalistic and literary circles of Villa Clara. Various intellectuals circulated emails asking that the young people not be harassed and standing in solidarity with the proposals, but the official Cuban Journalists’ Union (Upec) considered it an intolerable act of “protest.”

The director of the newspaper ’Vanguardia’ warned the young reporters not to collaborate with independent media. (Capture)

“It was hell,” recalls Rodríguez. Following the letter’s publication in various digital media outlets, representatives of the municipal and provincial UJC reproached them for having violated the procedures of the organization, although they were never able to prove that they were responsible for the leak of the text to the independent media.

In reality the letter had been conceived for the Provincial Plenary Session of Upec and sought to reaffirm, specifically, the right of reporters to continue collaborating with independent media in the style of El Toque and OnCuba. “The director of the newspaper told us that we couldn’t collaborate with them but we responded that the laws don’t prohibit it.”

Rodríguez recognizes that it wasn’t only a question of publishing in spaces with greater editorial liberties. “Working in other outlets also helped us to live because with 345 Cuban pesos a month, around $14, nobody lives.” With the salary he was receiving at the Vanguardia newspaper he didn’t have enough “even to pay for the trip from home to work.”

Now, he recalls the moment during the meeting with Upec when one of the signers of the letter rose, began to read it, and all the others put themselves behind her so that she would not be alone. After that in the hallways the other reporters moved away when they saw them or watched them with looks of fear as if they had done something very dangerous.

The climate of pressures became oppressive and as soon as Rodríguez finished his social service he asked for leave from the Vanguardia newspaper. The majority of the other signers who stayed “were leaving sanctioned for different reasons” and the authorities “used very different pretexts” to get rid of them.

Currently Rodríguez is part of the team of Tremenda Nota, a magazine focused on minorities, where he works as editor and reporter. “The advantage of working in independent media is that it opens the doors of imagination and creativity.” Contrary to when one works at an official newspaper where “the doors are shut and you crash into impassable walls.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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.

Cuban Stranded in a Colombian Airport is Forced to Return to the Island

This video is not subtitled

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, November 4, 2018 — The Cuban Lázaro Miguel Gutiérrez Bacallao had to board an airplane bound for Cuba this Friday after remaining stranded in El Dorado airport, in Bogotá, Colombia, since October 14, as confirmed to 14ymedio by an official of Colombian Migration.

The source explained that Gutiérrez Bacallao was not deported because he never entered Colombian territory and specified that he had only been “returned” to the Island. “Not having a Colombian visa, he never entered our territory and so he was not deported but rather transported to his country. Cuba did its procedures to verify that indeed it was a matter of a countryman of theirs and then accepted his entry,” he said. continue reading

A friend of Gutiérrez Bacallao told this newspaper that the migrant was already home in Cuba, with his family. “They let him enter without any problems at José Martí airport. He’s calm, apparently happy. In a few days he’ll have his identity card. He let me know yesterday in a voice message at 9pm,” explained the source.

Lázaro Miguel Gutiérrez Bacallao spent 20 days sleeping on chairs in the waiting area of El Dorado airport. The loss of Cuban residency, after spending several years living away from the Island*, and the rejection by Mexican authorities of his entry to the country, placed this Pinar del Río native in a legal limbo that has been resolved this Friday.

Cuban migratory legislation determines that a national loses his permanent residency on the Island if he spends more than 24 months abroad. From that moment he needs an entry permit that the Government may or may not grant arbitrarily and based on motives that may be economic but may also be political.

Gutiérrez Bacallao lived for six years in Ecuador and, at the beginning of this October, decided to embark on the route toward the United States to reunite with his current partner.

He passed trhough Peru and Brazil before arriving in Cancún (Mexico) from Bogotá but Mexican authorities, upon finding irregularities in part of his documentation, decided to reject his entry into the country and returned him to Colombia.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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 Looks for Investors Ready to Take Risks

This Monday Díaz-Canel inaugurated the 36th edition of the International Fair of Havana (Fihav). (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, October 30, 2018 — “Now it’s a high-risk investment but I hope that in five years everything changes for the better.” That’s the hope expressed by an Italian businessman who has invested in the Island, stumbling over the habitual difficulties of doing business in Cuba.

“Since I first became interested until I was finally able to start work here, two and a half years passed,” laments the investor who has opted for the sector of hygiene and skincare products. “This isn’t a market for people who come trying to do business quickly, and you have to use the official language very well,” he specifies.

With the 36th edition of the International Fair of Havana (Fihav), the authorities want to present the image of a country open to foreign capital in the middle of an especially complicated panorama for the Cuban economy, which faces once again the challenge of attracting a greater number of foreign investors to the Island to solve the liquidity crisis. continue reading

After the approval of a foreign investment law in 2014, businessmen have been very timid and, instead of the $2 billion annually that the Government was expecting, only $1.3 billion had come at the end of 2016.

In 2017 authorities announced that $2.3 billion in investment had come in during that exercise, but not even the arrival of that capital managed to lift up the economy suffering from the cuts in petroleum shipments from Venezuela and the inflated debts with numerous creditors.

The slowness in the approval of investments burdens the arrival of cash, to which is added a complex bureaucracy in which “there are many civil servants of the third or fourth level who don’t decide anything but waste a lot of time,” continues the Italian businessmen who prefered to remain anonymous.

The businessman insists that, right now, the Cuban side owes him “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in late payments, but that he has continued importing merchandise to the Island in the hopes of being able to recoup his money and remain in the country with his sights set on the future.

In an interview with the official press, the Minister of Foreign Business and Investment in Cuba, Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz, insisted on the protection of sovereignty in the policies of investment. “We, nevertheless, are not going to sell the country. We are going to develop this process in agreement with our laws, and with our policies,” he warned.

Malmierca urged that people not despair in face of the slow results of the ZEDM and clarified that “it is conceived for a long-term development” and is “a project for 50 years of development.” His declarations have increased skepticism among Cubans, tired of waiting for the economy to experience an upturn.

The signature work of ex-president Raúl Castro, the Special Zone of Development of Mariel (ZEDM), has also not offered the expected fruits. Until now the place anticipates investments from 15 countries and 37 approved business projects, much less than projected.

The increase in shortages of food, the rise in prices of agricultural products, and the new restrictions for the private sector complicate still further the internal scene of the Island.

Expocuba, created as a showcase in the 80s during the greatest closeness with the Soviet Union, now takes in 2,500 businessmen from more than 60 countries and also the presence of the mandatory Miguel Díaz-Canel, who made the inaugural speech and has developed an intense agenda of meetings with representatives from delegations, among them the Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami, and Yuri Borisov, Vice Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.

Spain is the most-represented country in Fihav with 112 businesses, 63 of them grouped in the official pavilion, 29 in the Basque country pavilion, and 20-something distributed among the rest of the exposition’s perimeter. The Spanish presence is also accompanied by the recently named ambassador, Juan Fernández Trigo, and in a few days the president of the Spanish government, Pedro Sánchez, will come to the Island.

The Cuban economist Elías Amor, settled in Spain, has a very critical opinion on Fihav. “If the Cuban economy wants to export more, it must forget about parties and fairs and dedicate itself to increase productivity,” he says in his blog Cubaeconomía.

For the specialist, the Island “needs to increase its exports of products if it wants to correct the grave deficit in its external accounts,” but since 2011 the number of sales abroad “has done nothing more than fall” in a nominal drop of 59%.

Amor recommends that to raise exports, Cuba must “produce better and know how to sell what is produced, they have to train the working population, introduce modern technologies, and do things well and not more cheaply.”

The mammoth state socialist business continues dominating the economic landscape of the Island, where the existence of two currencies also slows down many interested in investing. Failure to pay and judicial insecurity are some of the other motives that dissuade foreign businessmen from putting their money in the country.

For the economist Omar Everleny Pérez, more flexible legislation to favor the arrival of foreign capital is not enough, but rather Cuba needs “a new mentality in orientation of the economic policymakers and of the risks that need to be taken for Cuba to join the international circuits of business and investment.”

Recently the Havana Government made a small payment of the third installment of a renegotiated debt of 2.6 billion to 14 countries. The initial amount of 11.1 billion was restructured to be paid until 2033, of which $60 million has already been paid in 2017 and close to 70 in 2018 so far.

Fihav is also developing amidst the debates in neighborhoods and workplaces in which the project of constitutional reform is discussed. One of the most-questioned points in the text has been, exactly, that which doesn’t include nationals among the businessmen who can invest in the Island.

Numerous voices have been raised across the country to demand recognition of the right of Cubans living inside and out of the country to invest in industry, tourism, services, and other key sectors.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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.14ymedio bigger

The ‘Chicken’ of ‘Rice with Chicken’ / Somos+

Somos+, Germain Gonzalez, 13 October, 2018 — There’s a certain surprise in digital media over the active participation of the Cuban population in the “debates” about the project of the constitution. The surprise is valid because in reality the “revolutionary” enthusiasm is minimal. The “electoral” processes as well as in the status reports from the delegates, the meetings of the organizations of the masses in the neighborhoods, workplaces and schools can be characterized by their formal structure. The population attends and completes this necessary process for the inspections carried out in their vicinity in order to get a job, scholarship, promotion, trip abroad, etc. The religious services of all creeds usually show greater attendance and happiness among the parishioners.

What’s certain is that Cubans, even with the extremely limited amount of information offered by the media, which is also scarce, biased, incomplete, and generally untruthful, feel anxious since something could improve or worsen. Like Pánfilo, the popular television character, who searched fruitlessly in the tabloid of project information for the quota of chicken or other rationed foods. continue reading

What’s certain is that the assemblies and their “debates,” just like the elections turn out “bread with nothing.” The uncomfortable explanations — of having something — stop right there, the media spreads only the favorable ones, and the chicken [i.e. not chicken but a substitute] of ’rice with chicken’ isn’t even mentioned: the “superior guiding power of society and the State” party, article five that takes away all validity from the rest of the monstrosity, if it had any.

Therefore the discussion of the rest of the article ends up an intellectual exercise. The referendum having taken place, and the final version of the thingamajig approved, in the first meeting of the political executive committee that presides over it throws out an idea, it’s approved — unanimously — the formal party processes are carried out (secretariat, full central committee), it’s presented to the National Assembly of Peoples Power (ordinary or extraordinary session according to the urgency), and this most docile parliament in universal history will approve the changes to the recently debuted constitution — unanimously — or simply as today they will do whatever is a good idea, taking notice of this.

Does anyone doubt it? Here goes an example:

On September 10, 1993, the political executive committee agrees on the creation of the Basic Units of Cooperative Production (UBPC) from the state-owned agricultural entities affected by gigantism, inefficiency, not economically and environmentally sustainable in the new situation created by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the European socialist camp the loss of the subsidies they gave to Cuba.

Ten days later Decree 143 is issued by the Council of State; in the next session of the assembly the Decree is approved, without questions and unanimously.

Regardless of being a terrible law, full of contradictions and incongruencies, it made available assets of billions of pesos, including 1.7 million hectares of agricultural land, hundreds of thousands of workers, and many millions of pesos of production, starting from the unappealable decision of an organ of power whose members have no practical nor theoretical experience in agricultural administration. Result: the cooperatives created are not profitible for the most part and agricultural production in clear retreat.

This example is not an isolated fact, the deterioration of the socioeconomic situation of the country is related to the system that gives ones man, or at most a small team, absolute powers for life, fulfilling the José Martí’s premonition:

Any wide and long-exercised power degenerates into caste. With caste comes interests, high positions, the fear of losing them, intrigues to hold on to them. The castes interweave, and they act tough to each other. (O.C. t9, p 340)

For example, the cooperative is master of production but had to sell it to the Company that the State designated at fixed prices, so for this reason, is it or is it not the master? The necessary supplies are received in the same manner, the rules for their functioning are so bureaucratic that there is almost no difference from a state entity, in short, all of the principles of cooperativism are violated.

Among the elders is the defenestration of the sugar industry; the “battle of ideas” with the creation of a super ministry, in the practical fount of corruption and waste of resources; martial decisions of great magnitude even for a power with interference in the internal affairs of other states or in conflicts between sovereign nations, etc.

In the brief historical existence of “real socialism” similar catastrophic actions abound: the forced collectivization of Stalin, the great “leap forward” of Mao are examples of absurd decisions that caused millions of death by hunger.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

On a Fractured Identity

Havana’s La Rampa and Calle 23 during the Republican era. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Vicente Echerri, New York | October 20, 2018 — The destruction — and transformation — of the Cuban nation has become not only a commonplace, but a perennial lamentation among our own. Those of us who live in exile hardly have another subject, especially those who identify with the so-called “historic exile,” although many of us arrived twenty years later.

The Cuban identity that we cling to, that we are used to identifying with, isn’t, of course, the country that we left behind around the end of the 70s; not even, in other cases, ten or fifteen years before that date; but rather the republic that preceded Castroism and that Castroism froze in the memory and the longings of more than a generation, while forcing an entire society into a totalitarian permanence.

Paradoxically, that freezing that takes place, above all, in our minds, in our consciousness, contrasts with a radical transformation of the essential in Cuba — or that such as what we have — that doesn’t stop in the suppression of fundamental liberties, nor in the destruction of the entire economy, private and public, nor in the aggression against the environment; but rather, anxious to rewrite history and replace the past, in a society orphaned of its natural ruling classes, the State induces, through malice or through lack, the collective debasement of citizens’ customs, commonness as a norm of social commerce, larceny as natural compensation, and prostitution as a redeeming aspiration. Impotent and horrified, many of us have witnessed this shipwreck, whose consequences, like a hangover, also arrive to this shore to alter — if not to contaminate — our understanding of what it is to be Cuban. continue reading

Out of our love and stubbornness, there exists another Cuba from this side of the sea: a community deeply entrenched in the time of nostalgia, incapable of renouncing even the most insignificant of the memories that it hoards and that it considers inseparable from the national identity that we want to see restored to its inherent territory, as if this half century were nothing more than a bad dream.

We want, because I include myself among them, to be returned to the country that we lost — by whom? we don’t well know if Divine Providence or “the Americans” that, at times, can end up being confused — and to be allowed, in an act of love and discipline, to return to the Cubans from there (and some of those who went) the lost manners, the authentic patriotism, the morals that seem to have been drained in some sinkhole, the will to participate actively in the political life of one’s country, the decorum, in short, that is an essential ingredient of robust and prosperous societies.

But what’s certain is that the great majority of Cubans corrupt themselves, according to our criteria and, at the same time, we lack the political instruments that are indispensable for even trying to revert that process of corruption. Cuba has been transformed into something else without our being able to do anything, or nothing that can really have a genuine effect. Additionally, time (that of our freezing and that of the destruction of our country and its nation, one and the same) works against us.

On the eve of ten, of twenty years (that have to pass more rapidly than we would like), those who retain our vision of Cuba will be many fewer than today, while those that have incorporated the features of debasement will have grown by millions. In this race against time, the figures alone go against us. If another generation passes waiting for Cuba to return to the real time of history, there will remain almost nobody to tell about the illusion of our aspiration.

So, has Cuba been lost? Is Castroism — not the communist regime that has by now proven to be a universal fiasco, but rather its social and moral consequences — irreversible? Is it perhaps naive to try — and even to put some effort in it, as we have done, each one with the methods and talents at his disposal — to restore the nation (I mean to say, the body of institutions, traditions, customs, behavior, etc.) that we once had?

Giving space to pessimism, I dare to respond affirmatively to these questions. The totalitarian devastation leaves the Cuban people without foundations or models and, as a consequence, easy prey for domination. Those who don’t compromise, those who remember how things were, emigrate in the vast majority, and that emigration accelerates the poverty and alienation of those who stay.

Theirs is the harsh reality of the institutionalized misery, vassalage, and despicable skepticism that this generates. For us, a series of dreams of what was our country, of what it could have become, of what we still would like it to be. Rarely has the reality of two segments of the same nation been so distinct.

In its origins, Cuba was also a dream, a dream of a group of aristocrats and intellectuals close to them, whose comfort, in the majority of cases, also carried the stigma of slave labor. They had read, they had traveled, they aspired for the plantations they lived on to be a more efficient and educated — in the beginning, not even much more just and independent.

The colonial power closed all avenues to the rich and cultured creole who felt himself a pariah in his own land, and the Cuban nation rose as a distinct entity, separate from Spain, and that separation would end up paying for itself with a lot of blood.

The definition of Cuba is a European chimera, certainly a dream of distinguished white people who popularized that idea, who sell it, who propagate it, who preach it, who end up imposing it. The rest of the population are manual workers, peasants, Spanish shopkeepers — or their children — and slaves.

In the middle of the 19th century, the black population, if we only count the slaves, almost equaled the white and, together with the free black population, was greater than the white. Although the blending wasn’t as obvious as it is currently, it already existed at the borders of these communities. Cuba is rich, it’s true, but its wealth has been made on the sweat and blood and backs of hundreds of thousands of slaves.

Those who dream of Cuba aspire to the perfection of a European republic in the middle of a Caribbean plantation. I don’t blame them, I too have always dreamed of the same. The wars of independence, which served as a crucible for melting many prejudices and accelerating democracy, also served to consecrate the prominent institutions of the patrician ideal of the nation: a straitjacket — to use a metaphor — that they imposed on the black slaves and Spanish shopkeepers; an ideal with which one had to live, with institutions forged for a class that it was a duty to imitate.

Castroism dynamited that social contract, pillaged the wealth that the authority’s code of laws offered, demonized the past, satirized the paradigms, usurped public power, adulterated traditions. Citizens, lacking these references of identity, of these traditional parameters, turned into a herd. Those who didn’t consent were executed or imprisoned, or went into exile, or were consumed in the silence of their inner exile.

The new generations grow up lacking supports, authentic models, rigorous archetypes of improvement. They set themselves to dissimulation, ostentatious and caricature-like loyalty to a spurious regime to obtain privileges that, in the majority of cases, are ridiculous, as much as or more than the stones of glass beads with which the Spanish once bought the gold of the Indians. The degradation of the people is universal. The material and moral condition of Cubans subjected to Castroism can be summed up in one word: miserable.

It’s worth asking: are these scraped together men and women, whose manner of speaking we sometimes don’t recognize, an essential and prominent part of the Cuban people? Are they, these descendents of slaves and of shopkeepers who have been exploited and conned for half a century in the name of a crazed project, our compatriots? Are these millions of individuals debased by the totalitarian administration who, deprived of archetypes, sink into amorality and skepticism, our brothers?

I, who have always believed and still believe in the validity of the national ideal that our great men of the 19th century handed down to us, don’t hestitate in answering yes. However much we can’t recognize ourselves in their voices, in their gestures, in their conduct, in their lack of faith in the nation, they are our flesh and blood, part of that people to which we belong in agony like an extension of our being and without with we would feel much diminished.

They, the Cubans of the other shore — as much as many who come to this one in the midst of the continuous shipwreck — have been disfigured by the actions of history, but they are still intimate and dear to us, like a substantial part of an entity that covers us and surpasses us, that roots us and explains us.

The future of our beloved country doesn’t have to be exactly like we have dreamed in this long exile. Maybe the sacred ways whose absence we have deplored so much will never again be restored. Traditions are altered with new ingredients, in the same way that languages transform and customs evolve. The catastrophe that has happened in Cuba, responsible for so much death and imprisonment and exile and debasement, is not something that we can erase like a nightmare in order to start over.

We have in front of us the bitter pill of the reformulation of what it is to be Cuban, which, of course, is not a task exclusive to us, those from this shore, built in absolute repositories of an invariable tradition and ready to impose it from the podium of some fabulous tribunal, but rather of all sorts of voices and individuals, with a variety of contributions and visions, of principles and objectives, of ambitions and compromises.

The transformations that a people can suffer — sometimes for the worse — in the history of their development are not susceptible to being ignored: neither the jurist, nor the politician, nor the philosopher, nor the historian can permit himself that luxury. If only certain things hadn’t happened!

But, as we well know, history is not what could have been, but rather what was, and its consequences are palpable. If we compare what happened in Cuba’s recent history with more drastic historical events, we can even find some basis for optimism.

Let’s think, for example, about the Spanish conquest of America and what its impact meant on indigenous cultures, the most advanced, because those of the Caribbean ended up simply abolished.

What profound trauma should the Incan and Aztec priests, princes, and poets not have suffered in face of that shock that destroyed their temples and their codes, dominated their languages, suppressed their gods and their hierarchic strata, and even changed their names? I’m sure that there were many members of those cultures who lived and died dreaming of the return of the old worship and of the restitution of their ancestral customs, of a worldview that by then was never to return.

Likewise, in Elizabethan England, how many would not have waited from a long exile, or from a fearful underground, the return of what they supposed was the true faith, the return of the monasteries and abbeys, the celebration of legitimate worship subject to the Roman pope, the return of that world, in short, that the frustration and anger of Henry VIII had undone? But in England there would be no new monasteries until 300 years later, and the Roman mass would never again be celebrated in the old cathedrals of the kingdom. So radical and definitive can certain changes be.

The French Revolution — that has been so exalted and venerated by militant republicanism — wanted to remake everything and, in a spirit of change, changed not only the configuration of the State, but even the name of the months of the year and the length of the week and, of course, the national anthem and the flag and the political division of the country and a thousand other things. France would not again be the same, nor would the rest of Europe and thus the whole world, thanks to that monstrosity of the revolution that was Bonaparte and despite the fifteen years of Bourbon restoration that followed his overthrow.

How many, how many — we think — lived and died in the France of the 19th century and even that of the 20th, dreaming of the return of the Ancien Régime, hoping that the hateful rosette that represented the shirtless ones and the regicides would be lowered once and for all, and that once again the lilies that had distinguished the French kings since the high Middle Ages would cover the countryside.

Fortunately for us, and despite the drastic process of transformation and deterioration that has taken place in our country in the last fifty-something years, the visible symbols that identify us have not seemed to change: the official name of the State hasn’t changed, nor the flag, nor the shield, nor the anthem. This isn’t much, certainly, but it’s something, a sphere of common understanding from which to start.

Neither have those in charge in Cuba rejected the place and the words of the founding heroes, especially that of José Martí, even though they have manipulated his doctrine and have wanted to make him an accomplice to infamy. Martí’s discourse on Cuba and his political vision — deeply democratic — can still serve to extend a bridge — precarious, but a bridge nonetheless — between these two shores of our fractured national identity.

There’s no room, it’s true, for excessive optimism nor for the triumphalist visions that sometimes encourage us. Cuba will not be waiting for us, in some moment of an improbable future, like a docile material on which to imprint the vision of our society, more perfect and idealized, additionally, than what never was; to realize the old dream of waking up sleeping beauty and finding that everything revives around it. That is not possible. That never, in history, has been possible.

However, neither does that reality leave us without a task. There is still a job to do, I believe, in face of this devastation that afflicts us. We preserve our vision. We’ve had time to ponder the weaknesses, political and social, that brought us, as a people, to this point of disfigurement. We still have a trace of enthusiasm and dedication, we are still repositories of civic knowledge that our people from over there — because they are part of us and our pain — have maybe forgotten, forced by the difficulties of their lives; or almost certainly reinvented amidst their atrocious circumstances.

Between us we have to return to reformulate Cuba when this nightmare ends, and even before it ends, from the very moment in which we plan to cross this abyss, with the contributions of all and the voices of all. Martí said it wisely: “from the rights and opinions of all its children is a people made, and not from the rights and opinions of a single class of its children.” How difficult it is to renounce, in front of the terrible uprooting, the grip of our truth, of our solutions, of our arrogant sufficiency, to acquire the generosity and humility that a common undertaking imposes!

Editorial note: Making the most of the debate over the Constitution and the Cuban people, we reproduce this text with the authorization of the author, who read it on November 23, 2010, at the Association of Cuban Ex-Political Prisoners of New York-New Jersey.

 Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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.

Fidel Castro’s Big Mistake

Fidel Castro’s big mistake was not trusting in his people. (EFE/Alejandro Ernest)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, David D Omni ZF, Havana, October 17, 2018 — I believe that the big mistake of Fidel Castro, like so many others who remain in power for a long time, was not trusting in his people, getting them accustomed to paternalism, and mutilating the initiatives of the entire society.

He was the great economist, the great politician, the great artist, the great Father close to a godly being, on which an entire people depended. Such a display of ego, tending to mutilate the natural diversity of the wide human spectrum, based on a transparent messianic complex, brought as a consequence a deep crisis of values in our society.

No citizen born in Cuba from 1959 on with his own irrepressible ideas found support under the mantle of the great Father who prohibited strikes, parties, or any other social demonstration that would stray from the guidelines of the only ruling party. The constant emigration and repression of free-thinkers, over several decades, has left us an orphan society. continue reading

Father is no longer, but before leaving he cloned himself in all the legal institutions of our Island. All businesses, politics, art, and education are in the power of two or three generals of the army. Now it falls upon the shoulders of Cuban civil society, extremely limited and stigmatized, to fight with courage to plant scarce but fertile seeds in this arid land that Father left us.

In any case, along with considering the consequences of a prolonged Fidel, it is also important to refer to the role of civil society. First it is, then it thinks, then it does, and then it has, being evident that in order to give it’s necessary to have.

To give money, it’s necessary to have money, to give peace it’s necessary to have peace, to offer love it’s necessary to have it in one’s chest, and to give liberty it’s necessary to possess it.

Hypocrisy is a clear example of giving what one doesn’t have. The list of politicians who speak of peace and have armies, of artists who speak of community without knowing service, and of leaders who speak of purity while keeping seeds of tyranny in their hearts, is long.

Most of us are on this list, so for that reason I cannot speak of the future of my Island and not interfere with the world. Yes, I see a future, but what future comes just as one has planned? The future is in the vigilance of our present actions, there are no guaranteed strategies, but it’s proven that the sincere action of one who cannot live without honor leaves profound marks on history.

It’s certain that in my country the lack of democracy is a major issue, but it’s not more certain than the capacity of acting in liberty that dwells in the will of man. When we blame our problems on persons and situations other than ourselves, we give away our power. If the root of the problem isn’t in us, neither is the power to resolve it.

I don’t believe that these are times to wait for democratic platforms that the Government isn’t interested in creating, so for that my deepest respect for Cuban civil society which, under blows and arbitrary detentions, decides to take the reins of liberty in its hands, and yes, is creating democratic spaces even though the Government tries to minimize them.

Every people has its way of making history according to its culture, in the case of the Cuban people I’d like to make a little historical summary. In the wars of independence in the 19th century, when we were still a colony of Spain, there was a minority of fighters for liberty. Only when they marched triumphantly through the streets did the people join them.

In the 20th century there were other minorities who, until achieving victory, didn’t obtain the support of the passionate mass. Today, there is another minority, which the majority of the people doesn’t even know.

I have the privilege of being part of this civil society, which additionally is peaceful and one day not far off will march triumphantly. Already the tree of the Cuban Revolution grew, gave its fruits, and died long before Fidel. When I say “died” I don’t do so poetically, the same founders of this revolution ended up drenched in corruption and those who weren’t, are maintained, since by now working honorably in this country is impossible.

Our frustrated fathers are the example of the future that awaits us if we keep supporting this empty revolution. Today’s young people see an example to follow in a hotel waiter, in a tour guide, or in a raft on the sea, the engineers and teachers today are street vendors of anything that can be slipped past the police in order to live.

Those who keep studying for some degree know clearly that in Cuba there will be no future. Every day various planes from various provinces of the country leave filled with Cubans who do not plan on coming back.

I only see hope in what we are capable of doing, if we want democracy, it’s time to have democracy in our homes, if we want prosperity it’s time to create unions and independent societies, if we want liberty, it’s time to walk with our heads held high shouting to the four winds an emancipating cry.

All this is illegal in Cuba, but it’s authentic and inherent to the soul, and only civil society has been capable of carrying this cross and bearing the stigma. The current Cuban civil society is the bearer of the legacy of Félix Varela y José Martí, and it doesn’t surprise me that it is slandered, persecuted, and feared by many. The many will later join along with the slanderers and persecutors who since time immemorial have moved in mobs without even knowing what it is to be human, unique, diverse, and creative; everything that a mob is not.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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.

Havana Turns 500 With its Infrastructure and Services Anchored in Time

At the point of turning half a millenium old, Havana is many cities in one. (Aris Gionis)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, October 15, 2018 — Havana is many cities in one. Tourists see it as a theme park of the past, with old cars and “beautiful” ruins; those who were born here more than five decades ago recall its endless nights and lament its deterioration; while young people consider it like a jungle where one must survive or flee.

The city, at the point of turning 500 years old, doesn’t leave anyone indifferent. Its wide coastal avenue, with the emblematic Wall of Malecón, is one of the great attractions of a metropolis that the sea breeze refreshes from time to time. For the majority of foreign visitors, the city is reduced to Old Havana, Central Havana, and Plaza of the Revolution. Few venture farther out, to shining Cerro, the old and stately La Víbora, or the deteriorated San Miguel del Padrón.

However, for those who live in this old town founded in 1519, the neighborhoods of the city are like pieces of a badly-fit-together kaleidoscope that reveals social differences, the greater or lesser attention of the authorities, and even the racial composition of its inhabitants. All of them long to see an improvement in “the capital of all Cubans.” continue reading

“In this city they’ve hardly built any new roads, beltways, tunnels, or bridges in 60 years,” notes Niurka Peraza, a graduate in civil engineering who has been self-employed for the last six years as an interior designer. “And notice that I say ’hardly’ but I could be more categorical and say ’nothing at all.’”

The tunnel of Havana Bay, its two close cousins that cross to the other side of the Almendares River, and the “elevated” bridges of Calle 100 are part of a past glory of construction that has not been repeated again. The avenues and roads are still the same that Havanans have walked for the last half century.

For the young architect “that lack of expansion and evolution in the roads and infrastructure directed at improving traffic affects the life of all Havanans, even in the smallest details. It’s seen in the dangerous traffic circles, where there are continuous accidents, in the collapse of transport when one of the tunnels from the Republican era fills with water. And new alternatives haven’t been created,” she explains.

Peraza thinks that Havana “needs an urgent investment in roads because now the problem isn’t seen as so serious because the car volume is relatively small in comparison with other cities, but we could be arriving at a rupture point, a crisis point.”

The well-known actor Luis Alberto García exploded last week on Facebook about the situation of the roads. “Why? Why do the citizens of this country, pedestrians, passengers, and drivers have to be exposed to these dangers on the highways and streets that are in such poor shape, without the slightest safety conditions for our lives?” he demanded. The performer from Clandestinos and the saga of Nicanor O’Donnell seemed indignant because resources keep being directed at building hotels rather than repairing the streets.

Nieves Suárez, resident of Cayo Hueso in Central Havana, is one of the many who view as a “major problem the collection of trash and the lack of hygiene” and says that she feels ashamed when she travels around other cities in the country and finds them cleaner and better cared for. “Meanwhile, this looks like a pigsty,” she protests.

Havana generates 20,000 cubic meters (m3) of solid waste each day, classified as 15,000 of urban waste, 3,000 of debris, and 2,000 in tree prunings, in addition to other types of trash. Although the quantity isn’t very high for a city of two million inhabitants, a good part of the waste ends up on the pavement, in abandoned lots, or on the sidewalk.

Despite those problems, Suárez doesn’t want to move to another area of the Island. “The best opportunities are here, because this is a very centralized country, if you’re not in Havana you miss almost everything.” One of her children recently emigrated, “thanks to a tourist he met at the Malecón. Can you imagine that in Aguada de Pasajeros?” she reflects.

The problem of the trash is directly connected with that of the water supply. Havana has suffered for decades from instability of water access in homes. Residents have developed mechanisms that range from the popular wheeled carts with which they move tanks of water from one neighborhood to another, to learning to bathe with the minimum amound of liquid.

“If it wasn’t for that problem I would feel very good here, because the area has been restored and honestly there are buildings that have remained very pretty,” confesses Esperanza González, resident of Calle Cuba, in Old Havana. “We’ve had to put more tanks inside the house and washing with the water from the sink is a luxury because it uses a lot. You have to do it by little jugfuls.”

From González’s window you can see part of the bay, an area that once saw the hustle and bustle of cargo ships coming and going. Now, there are only mainly cruise ships and small fishing boats. “They say that they’re going to turn it into a big recreation zone, but as long as we Cubans are unable [i.e. forbidden] to go on yacht trips and get to know our coast, that will be very difficult,” the Havanan believes.

Traveling by sea is a fantasy that seems unreachable and that few think about when they need to catch a bus at rush hour.

Starting in 2016 the Government undertook a reordering of the routes and frequencies of passenger transport inside the city, but two years later Havanans are exasperated in face of the small progress and the lack of improvements.

In that time, the number of buses fell. While in 2016 the capital had 858 buses in circulation, 339 of those articulated, currently there are only 792, 260 articulated. The result is long lines at stops and the irritation of the population, which sees itself forced to turn to private shared fixed-route taxis, which have disproportionate fares in relation to salaries.

For the 500th anniversary of the city’s founding, which will be celebrated in November of 2019, a broad program of repairs and cultural activities is expected, but Havanans are skeptical. “They’ll stay in the same places as always, Old Havana, the most touristy streets, and the avenues where foreign visitors walk,” laments Nieves Suárez.

“Something will touch us, but it might only be music and fanfare, because I don’t believe that the problem of leaks and the bad state of the plumbing is going to be fixed in a year when it has had decades of deterioration,” predicts Suárez.

For the architect Niurka Peraza, the date is “an opportunity. For a city, celebrating 500 years is a great challenge, and this can help the authorities as well as the inhabitants value more what we have. In the case of the Government that translates into more investments, and in the case of the citizens, into more care.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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.

Complaints About the Adulteration of Weight In Sales of Frozen Chicken

Halfway through 2016 authorities decreed a reduction in the prices of various foods, among them pieces of frozen chicken that are sold in boxes of between 10 and 23 kilograms. Sign: “Special Offer Sale of Boxes of Chicken With Price Reduction of 6%” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, October 2, 2018 — He arrived home hopeful, after five hours in a long line, with a box of frozen chicken thighs that he bought at the Plaza Carlos III center in Havana. When he opened it, the customer realized that it was missing at least six pieces and in their places pieces of ice had been added to fill up the holes and maintain the weight of the package.

The adulteration of the quantity of a product is a common practice in the network of stores using convertible currency in Cuba, and it has been aggravated by the commercialization of wholesale merchandise. The substitution of part of the food with ice, cardboard, or plastic is hardly surprising anymore to the indignant buyers who see how their money vanishes as they pay for a weight that isn’t the same as the real one.

This Monday, at least four customers protested being robbed of pieces of chicken in the apparently sealed boxes sold at the butcher shop on the bottom floor of Plaza de Carlos, as 14ymedio confirmed. The administration has recommended that shoppers check the weight of the package before “leaving the unit.” However, weighing it doesn’t prevent fraud. continue reading

“It’s no use to check the weight because they take out pieces and put in ice so that the box shows up on the scale at the same weight that it says on the package,” laments Omara, a 47-year-old Havana resident who claims to have suffered the loss of at least eight pieces of chicken thighs from a box that she got at the place. “It’s not just here, it happens everywhere,” she assures.

“They adulterate cleaning detergent by adding water and now we are going to have to develop x-ray vision to be able to detect if a package that seems sealed is missing chicken,” laments Omara. “Even the ones that my daughter buys via the Internet, that emigrants sell, come diluted.”

The loss of a good part of Venezuela’s economic support has aggravated the shortages and some food products have disappeared from store shelves altogether or are frequently missing.

“The boxes have the weight stamped and here there is no time to change anything inside because as soon as we load them off the truck they are sold, we don’t even warehouse the product from one day for the next because right now there is a lot of demand,” responds an employee of the shopping center who asked to remain anonymous. “If when the customer opens them, they’re missing something, it wasn’t here that it was taken out.”

The worker blames the distribution warehouses and possible robberies at the port. “Everyone blames us but this is a problem that also affects us because we have to listen to the complaints and accusations,” he explains.

In the central office of the Cimex corporation in Havana, an official tells this newspaper that it’s a matter of “imported chicken that is sold sealed,” so that the customer finds himself before “the original quality of the merchandise, which has passed through a procedure of wet freezing” which has result in “those pieces of ice that they see when they open the package.”

Nevertheless, he recognizes that “irregularities” have been found in the “surprise inspections that are carried out in the warehouses and receiving centers.” If the protocols are followed “there shouldn’t be any adulteration,” specifies the official, who didn’t want to give his name over the phone.

“Often they say that there is adulteration, but there isn’t.” The administration imposes sanctions if they detect this kind of irregularity, among them the loss of jobs, to avoid eventual removals.

Luis Jorge, 36, a regular buyer of frozen chicken pacakges for a restaurant where he works as a messenger, disagrees with the Cimex official. “If you pay close attention, you can detect where the package was opened to put in the pieces of ice,” he insists. “They’re true masters of fraud, those who do this, but even so they still leave traces.”

Halfway through 2016 the authorities decreed a light reduction in the prices of various foods. Among the products that benefited were pieces of frozen chicken sold in boxes of between 10 and 23 kilograms, a measure that incentivized buying, especially among small private businesses that offer chicken on their menus.

As months passed many families began to get the packages of chicken parts to guarantee supply amidst the shortage. Lines to buy it can last hours and most times one only finds packages of thigh and leg meat. Packages of breasts or whole chickens are the ones that are in shortest supply.

In June of this year the sale of frozen chicken was rationed in stores in convertible pesos in the Villa Clara province and they stopped selling complete packages of the product. Local authorities decreed the measure as a result of the damages caused by the subtropical storm Alberto and presented it as a short-term solution to the shortage of food. Villa Clara residents waited several weeks to be able to buy once again greater quantities of the product.

Cuba imports between 60% and 70% of the food consumed on the island, an operation that costs around $2 billion each year and which has become more complicated with the problems of liquidity that the Island is experiencing. From the United States the foods that arrive most frequently are, precisely, frozen chicken and certain grains.

During his recent visit to New York, the Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel met with American businessmen linked with the agricultural sector. “Buying food, which is known to be of good quality, produced by you for us would represent convenience and opportunities,” specified the leader during the meeting.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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.

Six Years in Prison for Violating the Embargo

The Ubiquiti NanoStation M2 amplifies the signal of a wifi network and is used in Cuba to bring internet to homes. (bionic)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, October 2, 2018 — Bryan Evan Singer, 46, was sentenced last Thursday in the United States to 78 months of prison for violating the Cuban embargo by trying to take hundreds of electronic devices to the Island from the south of Florida. Additionally, the convicted man was accused of making false declarations to federal authorities and lying about the quantity of merchandise.

Singer attempted to travel to the Island on May 2, 2017 aboard La Mala, according to the statement from the Southern Florida District court. Law enforcement officials, in an inspection before the vessel set sail from Stock Island, found a hidden compartment underneath a screwed-down bed in the boat’s cabin.

In the compartment they found hundreds of electronic devices, among them more than 300 Ubiquiti NanoStation M2, valued at more than $30,000. continue reading

The Ubiquiti Nanostation Networks are devices that amplify wifi signals up to several kilometers, which are often used to give internet coverage in big concerts and rural areas. Each one of the devices can receive or send wifi signals at a distance of six miles into the surrounding area.

“These devices require a license to be exported to Cuban because their capacities threaten national security. Singer never applied for nor obtained a license to export these devices to Cuba,” pointed out the office of the Southern District.

Since the Cuban Government installed the first wifi zones in the Island’s parks in 2013, dozens of clandestine networks have appeared. Cubans use the NanoStation to bring wireless signals from the wifi zones to other areas without coverage, in order to surf the internet from home, because of which the Cuban Government prohibits their import as well as that of other devices with a similar function. Until now the country has around 700 points of wireless connection and the state-owned monopoly, Etecsa, charges the equivalent of a dollar for an hour of connection, close to a day’s wages for the average Cuban worker.

Singer told the Miami Herald that it wasn’t the first time that he had taken merchandise to Cuba and that he had a person on the island “to leave it with,” although he maintains that he never did business with shipments and that he was doing it to “support the Cuban people.”

“On September 27, 2018, the lead judge of the District Court of the United States, K. Michael Moore, sentenced Singer to 78 months of prison, to be followed by supervised release,” stated the Court.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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.

Ex-Attorney General Juan Escalona Dies in Havana

The ex-attorney general of the Republic, Juan Escalona

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September 30, 2018 — The ex-attorney general of the Republic, Juan Escalona, known for the high-profile trial of General Arnaldo Ochoa, died Friday in Havana of bronchopneumonia. Escalona was 87 and found himself retired eight years ago when he was “liberated from his position” after more than 20 years as Attorney General.

State television reported his death and emphasized his “example of modesty, honesty,” and “complete dedication to his profession,” as well as his “infinite loyalty” to ex-ruler Fidel Castro. However, dissident political movements and human rights activists remember him for his determined persecution and the criminalization of the opposition.

Escalona was the prosecutor in the trial against Arnaldo Ochoa in 1989, [see subtitled video below] where the general and three other service members were sentenced to execution by firing squad for drug trafficking. The prosector concentrated all of his efforts in safeguarding the figures of the Castro brothers, supreme leaders of the State and the Army. continue reading

“Years ago I learned that the fundamental thing is the Revolution. I’m a little piece in this process and at the end one feels sorry for in any case being capable of carrying out a mission as delicate and disagreeable as this one,” said Escalona in an interview with the official newspaper Granma on the trial against Ochoa.

Escalona was considered one of the “historic ones” in power. Born in 1931, he joined the Frank País Second Eastern Front, commanded by Raúl Castro in the mountains of the east of the country. Escalona, a notary in those years, was charged with marrying Raúl Castro to Vilma Espín in the mountain range. In 1959 he was Raúl Castro’s adjutant at the head of the Army and was named chief of the Military Staff of the Western Army.

Before assuming the post of Attorney General, Escalona was Minister of Justice from 1983 to 1990. He also acted as president of the National Assembly of Popular Power from 1990 to 1993. During Fidel Castro’s African campaigns, Escalona played an important role at the head of the leadership of the General Military Staff from Havana.

The Brigadier-General traveled on numerous occasions to Moscow and to socialist countries seeking support for the African campaigns. He was also charged with negotiating the opening of an airport in Guyana for the Cuban army, once they were displaced from the island of Granada.

Part of the legacy of Escalona, which many knew as “pool of blood,” is the law of Obligatory Military Service, imposed in 1963 and valid still today. Escalona also left his mark on the laws of the popular tribunals, the notary profession, associations, civil registries, the new Civil Code, and Decree 87, which permitted the review of the tribunals’ sentences.

Of orthodox thought, he was identified as part of the “hard line” of the Communist Party. During his term as Attorney General he lamented in an interview with the official press that “some comrades” placed in positions with access to hard currency, changed “even the way they dressed.”

“I’m of the opinion that there are some people who don’t believe this process can continue forward much longer and who are creating the personal conditions to get out of this world. We’ve had to confront, and we are still processing, some cases in the famous fight against the rich,” he added.

As state television reported, he received varied honors “for his contributions to the defense of the homeland, his career and loyalty to the revolutionary cause.” At the time of his death he was a member of the Communist Party, whose Central Committee he was a part of from 1980 to 2011.

Note: Escalona is prominent in the subtitled video below. Skip to minute 34 to watch an exchange between him and Arnaldo Ochoa. 

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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.

Official Journalist Boris Fuentes Stars In Another Episode Of "Revolutionary Foolishness" In The US

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September 30, 2018 — The official journalist Boris Fuentes starred in another episode of what is by now known as “revolutionary foolishness.” While Mario Vallejo, a journalist for Univisión, was covering a demonstration against the embargo in New York, Fuentes tried to snatch his phone and threatened to smash his face in for filming him.

The altercation began when Vallejo approached a group of demonstrators who were protesting against the embargo and started filming with his cellphone. Journalists from the official Cuban media outlets began to set upon Vallejo with the cameras. “Can’t you see me well enough? So why are you filming me?” Vallejo asked Fuentes.

The official journalist answered that it was the cameraman who was filming and asked him why he was there. Vallejo answered that he was doing his job as a journalist. continue reading

“You’re also telling the story badly, so that’s why we are here,” Fuentes told him.

Vallejo told him that Cuban television is introducing Miguel Díaz-Canel as a president-elect. “When was he elected?” he asked.

When Fuentes realized that he was being filmed, he tried to snatch away the phone.

“I’ll smash your face in,” Fuentes spat, and he accused Vallejo of having come to “provoke.”

After receiving various insults, Vallejo withdrew and published the video on Facebook, which has generated more than a hundred comments and has been shared hundreds of times.

“What a lack of respect in the land of liberty. And this poor man doesn’t know the meaning of that word,” said one of the commenters.

Another said that the official journalist thought that he was in Cuba, “where they can’t even record.”

“It’s a shame that they give visas to these imbeciles, while those who really deserve one have to go to another country to apply for one and often aren’t accepted,” added the commenter.

Last Wednesday several journalists from American media outlets were denied entry to Riverside church, in New York, where the Cuban president Díaz-Canel and the Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro were scheduled to give a speech. Reporters from Univisión, Telemundo, and the New Herald were removed by security personnel and in a video spread by the journalists one can hear how the officials asking them to leave accused the media outlets from south Florida of trying to “instigate people.”

Mario Vallejo was the same journalist who, in 2015, interviewed Sucelys Morfa González in Panama during the Summit of the Americas. Morfa, later promoted to first secretary of the Union of Young Communists, was part of the Cuban delegation that with shouts and blows prevented several events from being held.

During the interview with Vallejo, visibly exacerbated, Morfa insisted that she was a graduate in psychology, that the Cubans were “rich,” and that the delegation had paid for their tickets to protest at the summit. The video of the interview went viral and ever since the leader has been known as the “millionaire psychologist.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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.

Cuban Bishops Will Publish A Pastoral Letter On Constitutional Reform

Cuban bishops will give their official opinion on constitutional reform (COCC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, September 28, 2018 — The Catholic Church in Cuba is preparing a pastoral letter to make clear its position on the constitutional reform promoted by the Government. In a telephone conversation with this newspaper, Wilfred Pino, archbishop of Camagüey, explained that for the moment each diocese (administrative unit of the Church) is doing its own reflection on the document.

“Each bishop has been saying what he believes on the matter in his diocese. As a Conference we are going to declare ourselves, but it’s not something to be rushed because the consultation process and the referendum are planned for February of next year,” indicated the religious figure.

Pino, 68, added that he has been pleased to see that the people are expressing themselves in a spontaneous manner without fear of reprisals in the meetings that the Government has organized to debate the reform proposal, which includes controversial subjects like marriage equality, the recognition of private property, the elimination of the term Communism, and term limits for the Government. continue reading

“People have talked about salaries that aren’t enough and many have expressed their doubts about marriage equality, which is something that is being talked about for the first time in Cuba,” he added.

The archbishop published this week a letter titled My modest opinion where he suggested that the word “marriage” not be used to define the legal union between persons of the same sex. In the text, Pino used as an example several countries in the European Union where some type of legal union is recognized without using the word “marriage,” with the goal that both persons have the same rights before the law.

Remembering the words of John Paul II, who asked Cubans to take care of families, Pino reviews “the anti-birth mentality” prevalent in the country. He also goes over timely matters like low salaries (the average salary is $30.60 per month) and gives concrete examples on how this affects the stabilities of families and the country.

In ten exclamations the archbishop points out matters that worry the country, like the low birthrate, corruption, the constant exodus, overcrowding in homes, prison overpopulation, drug addiction, and alcoholism.

“I think that each one of us Cubans must express our opinion on what is being debated. And when the day of the vote comes, vote Yes or No according to the dictates of one’s own conscience,” adds Pino.

Pino’s position seems much more flexible regarding marriage equality than that of his fellow churchman, Dionisio García, archbishop of Santiago de Cuba.

García published at the end of August a document where he said that “to ignore what nature has given us or to go against the laws and written processes always brings lamentable consequences.”

The prelate insisted that the idea that rejecting gay marriage comes only from Christians is “simplistic and false” and branded the desire to reform the Constitution to permit it as “cultural imperialism.”

Article 68 has provoked controversy as well among evangelical churches, some of which even signed a document rejecting marriage equality, arguing that it was not in accordance with the ideals of communist countries.

A good part of the Cuban opposition has reported that the argument around Article 68 may eclipse more important matters like political liberties, the perpetuation of the Communist Party in power, and the human rights situation.

Wilfredo Pino said that the Catholic Church would continue its reflection on the political and civil rights of the Cuban people. The archbishop of Camagüey confirmed that the document being prepared will also deal with those matters.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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.

Cancun, a New El Dorado for Cubans

It’s not difficult to find stores with rum or tobacco in Cancún. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, Cancún, México | September 28, 2018 — The wind was barely blowing and the humidity was unbearable. Outside Terminal 2 of Cancún’s international airport, Juan Ernesto waited for his brother, who was arriving aboard an Aeroméxico flight from Havana. It was Jonathan’s first time abroad. His purpose: to buy some basic essentials in order to resell them on the Island.

“What Cuba is most lacking right now is hygiene products. Basic essentials like disposable diapers, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, and conditioner,” explains Juan Ernesto, who asks for his surname to be omitted out of fear that authorities will confiscate his purchases.

Traveling as a mule to supply the growing underground market on the Island is not legal. Cuban customs has begun an intense campaign against those bringing products to resell them. Even so, Cuban travel to countries like Mexico, Panama, Russia, and Guyana is increasing. continue reading

According to statistics provided to this newspaper by Mexico’s Tourism Ministry, in the first half of this year the number of Cubans landing in that country grew by 60.5% compared to the first half of the previous year. As of July of this year, 69,105 arrivals to Mexican airports were recorded, 26,050 more than in the same period of 2017.

Cubans traveling to Mexico by air. Left: Number of trips per year. Right: Number of trips in first semester of 2017 (left) and first semester of 2018 (right)

In 2016, there were slightly more than 100,000 entries of Cubans because of the migratory crisis. With the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy decreed by the United States at the beginning of 2017, the flow decreased but remained above 83,000.

“Getting a Mexican visa is difficult,” explains Juan Ernesto. Among the requirements set by the Mexican consulate in Havana is having a bank account that demonstrates economic solvency, a property title belonging to the interested person, and filling out a visa request online.

“Most of the time the website where you arrange the appointments isn’t working. Our visas cost around $3,000. Corruption is the order of the day in Mexico just as much as in Cuba,” he adds.

At the airport’s exit various taxi drivers offer their services. “Minivan! Minivan for 100 pesos!” yells one in the direction of a group of Cubans.

A network of businesses has been developed to serve the numerous travelers arriving from the Island. Low-cost hotels, stores that accept dollars, Mexican pesos, or Cuban convertible pesos, shipping agencies, and even job offers can be found in the Benito Juárez municipality, which the city of Cancún belongs to.

“Here there are a bunch of stores with Cuban owners where many people from the Island work. You can find anything they sell in Cuba there: clothes, electrical appliances, medicine, hygiene products,” Juan Ernesto explains to his brother.

“Right now in Cuba deodorant is hard to find. Here we buy Gillette tubes for 3.50 and we sell them there for double. Little perfumed balls for clothing cost 255 Mexican pesos (about $14) and you can sell them for up to triple,” explains the young man.

Right now in Cuba deodorant is hard to find. Here we buy Gillette tubes for 3.50 and we sell them there for double. (14ymedio)Jonathan is 25 and is finishing an engineering degree. His trip to Mexico is only for a weekend. He wants to follow in his brother’s footsteps, who thanks to the constant trips to resell products and to the self-employed work that he carries out on the Island, has a greater purchasing power than the average Cuban.

“In Cuba the Government doesn’t realize the opportunities that are being lost. It goes after self-employed people and is dedicated to a model that doesn’t work. Each of the Cubans who comes to Cancún brings at least $1,000 to spend here. That’s money that businesses on the Island are losing out on,” he says.

The young man laments that an engineer’s salary barely surpasses $30 a month, while a reseller can pay for an airplane journey and leave the country.

But it’s not going so well for all self-employed people. Some even opt to try their luck in countries like Mexico, where the daily salary is well over what they would make in Cuba in a month.

Annia is a young Cuban woman of 26 who lives in Cozumel. After various trips to Cancún, where she would buy products to bring to Matanzas, she decided to stay to work as an undocumented person.

“In Cuba I was working as a hairdresser, but with that I couldn’t get ahead. Everything that I earned went to the high cost of products and to paying bribes to inspectors,” she says.

When she had the opportunity to visit some relatives who live in Cancún, the young woman decided to remain with them. Since then she has lived in this city for three months and has worked as a waitress, salesperson in shops for Cubans, and street vendor.

A network of businesses has been developed to serve the numerous travelers arriving from the Island. (14ymedio)

“Right now I’m applying for my Mexican residency. It has cost me several thousand dollars but it’s worth it,” she says. According to Annia, the owners of the restaurant where she works are delighted that she is Cuban because it specializes in the cuisine of the Island. In addition they sell tobacco and rum.

“I haven’t felt discriminated against at all, just the opposite. People here know that we Cubans work hard,” she adds. Annia earns about eight dollars a day in her position as waitress, and she is happy because she has more opportunities to better herself than in Cuba. “At the beginning it’s always necessary to make sacrifices. I work nights and early mornings so that the immigration police don’t find me and I live with a friend to pay half the amount in rent ($150), but it’s worth it.”

“When I have my papers I will be able to work in a hotel like the other Cubans do or start my own business. I’ve already been able to send some money to my family and in the future I hope to bring them here to live with me,” she says hopefully.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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.

Daniel Ortega in the Prison of a Book

Daniel Ortega has kept a low profile with regards to what is exposed of his private life in the media.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, September 26, 2018 — In the middle of the acute political crisis that is happening in Nicaragua, the Nicaraguan journalist and writer Fabián Medina Sánchez has released the book Prisoner 198, a biography of Daniel Ortega where the author has set out to speak about the facts without trying to convince anyone of whether the character is a good or bad person.

Despite having been one of the most influential politicians in the Central American country in the last fifty years, including four terms as president, Daniel Ortega has kept a low profile with regards to what is exposed of his private life in the media. A notable exception is an interview that he gave in 1987 to Playboy magazine where he confessed: “It was like the cell was always with me.” continue reading

In the portrait of the controversial commander-become-president, sketched in this book it seems like Ortega has not managed to get rid of the overwhelming sensation of being incarcerated. According to Fabián Medina, this condition “has marked his whole life, from family and romantic relations, to his vices, manias, and form of exercising power.”

For five years the author undertook an investigation that not only included checking journalistic texts, books, and historical documents, but also interviews with hundreds of people close to Daniel Ortega who shared with him prison, war, conspiracies, and power.

Among these testimonies one that stands out is that of Carlos Guadamuz, a childhood friend who later was murdered in still-unclear circumstances. The author also relied on a pair of interviews that he was able to carry out with Ortega during the years that he was away from power, but he never received a response to a request for a new exchange by the time he had plans to write this biography.

The number 198 identified Daniel Ortega when he entered the Modelo prison at the beginning of 1968, where he remained for seven years after being found guilty of robbing a bank. He remained there until he traveled to Cuba as the result of a rescue operation carried out by a commando group of the Sandinista Front.

The first murder that he committed, the tortures he was subjected to, his quarrels with other leaders of the Sandinista Front, his maneuvers to remain in power, and his relationships with diverse women are narrated in this work with a journalistic, pleasant, and precise style.

The figure of his wife Rosario Murillo accompanies Ortega in these pages with the full weight of her influence. Perhaps a character of great complexity who deserves a separate book.

The milestones in which the reader can immerse himself most deeply in the life of Daniel Ortega are the electoral defeat of 1990, the heart attack he suffered four years later, the charge of sexual abuse made by his stepdaughter Zoilamérica, and finally the popular rebellion initiated in April of 2018.

Among the situations in Daniel Ortega’s life that are not investigated deeply in Prisoner 198, his relationship with Cuba deserves mention. In this country he not only received military training, as mentioned in the book, but he also found support to oust Somoza and become the key figure of the Sandinistas because he was Fidel Castro’s favorite in that movement.

Obviously the final destiny of Daniel Ortega does not appear in this biography because in real life it still remains a matter to be decided. Many in Nicaragua would like to see him subjected to a judicial process and finally imprisoned, but justice sometimes comes late. At least in these pages he will remain locked up to be judged by readers.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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.