Housing In Cuba / Somos+, German Gonzalez

Somos+, Germán M. González, 11 November 2018

Absolute power equals absolute responsibility: the socio-economic situation of the country is disastrous, party & government admits it: Who will answer for that?

In the final days of this October, several references to the subject of housing appeared in the official Cuban media. Published first is that Pinar del Rio lacks more than ten thousand homes in order to fully recover from “prior hurricanes,” we are talking at a minimum of at least 10 years, and later, in the public version of a meeting of the council of ministers the “president” announced the proposal of building homes at a rate of 50 thousand per year. Let’s look at some background.

The universal right to decent and adequate housing is reflected in international and multilateral documents and agreements, as well as in the legislation of many countries, including national constitutions. Recognized in this manner, the human right to adequate housing — and its environment – is of fundamental importance for the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights. Let’s look at the current situation in Cuba according to official sources.

The official newspaper Granma (January 25, 2018) reports that 47% of homes are inadequate, only exceeded in Latin America by Brazil (64%) and far higher than Argentina (22%) and Chile (23%). In addition, in the latter two countries, due to their climate, considering a home adequate implies many more requirements than in our sub-tropical archipelago. continue reading

The pace of construction has declined in the last twelve years, from more than 111,000 units in 2006 to fewer than 22,000 in 2017 (denying the claimed efficiency of the raulista term of office) according to the Cuban Statistical Yearbook (AEC), the smallest amount since statistics became available. Graphic view:

In its June 1st edition, Granma offers chilling data:

Housing pending solution: Grand Total/Total Collapses — Hurricanes prior to Sandy (2012): 42,000/25,000; Hurricane Sandy (2012): 36,000/14,000; Hurricane Matthew (2016): 8,000/7,000; Hurricane Irma (2017): 115,000/15,000.

In total, there are 201,000 homes affected; of those 61,000 were total collapses; 42,000 and 25,000, respectively, occurred before 2012.

In summary, if the pace expected by Díaz-Canel is reached, it would take four years to replace the homes affected by hurricanes and then ten years to repair the “not adequate” ones, plus an indeterminate period for impacts from new hurricanes and the currently adequate homes that, due to the passage of time and the poor quality of construction of the last 60 years, will inevitably deteriorate.

Add to this that the projected Diaz-Canelian pace is 2-1/2 times greater than what was achieved in the last five years as an annual average, plus the aforementioned unpredictable destructions and deteriorations, and the hopes of decent housing for most Cubans is more than remote.

A problem without a solution? For sure, under the current mandate of the “five” and their dogmas that are only effective for maintaining power.

The liberalization of the economy, the creation of a real estate market with modern credit system included, and above all the restitution to millions of Cuban diaspora members of their civil, political and economic rights with the consequent financial injection would surely give better results — in this and any other socioeconomic spheres — than the diffuse Díaz-Canelian dreams, which are nothing more than a badly copied version of the thousands of similar promises made by the Castro brothers… and look where we are after sixty years of listening to them.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

Nobody Knows How To Eradicate Pollution From Cuba’s Agabama and Sipiabo Rivers

The official press criticizes the obsolete infrastructure, which contributes to the poor state of the waters. (Escambray)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 November 2018 — Three months after the local press in Sancti Spíritus denounced the contamination of several tributaries of the Agabama and Sipiabo rivers, surrounding the municipality of Fomento, swimming has been banned in those waters by the authorities,  due to the lack of action and the exchange of accusations between different institutions that have not yet resolved the situation.

“What have the main entities done to take action to counteract the pollution of the aquifers? What factors have contributed to the phenomenon that instead of  improving it is getting worse?”, questions an article in the Escambray newspaper, which notes that about five years ago bacteriological analysis of the water began.

Last July, the Provincial Center of Hygiene, Epidemiology and Microbiology reported that they had carried out analyses of 10 water samples in the swimming areas of Balnerario, Ramblazo and Campismo Popular La Hormiga, whose waters are fed by the Agabama and Sipiabo rivers. In all of them  “the presence of total coliform bacteria and fecal coliform over the permissible parameters” were found, the official media reports. continue reading

Among the causes of the pollution reported by the Ministry of Public Health in October are the discharge of domestic wastewater and the excrement of pigs raised by individuals in their homes. Although experts from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (Citma) maintain the hypothesis that the Agabama River is contaminated from Santa Clara.

The local press argues that, according to the provisions of Law No. 124 of Terrestrial Waters that governs the management of this resource and guarantees its protection and quality, the power to ensure the quality of water is the responsibility of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH), Citma, the Ministry of Public Health, and the local bodies of the People’s Power. These organizations do not know how to come to agreement in order to to solve the water problem in Fomento.

“I was unaware of the magnitude of the closure of the swimming areas due to the contamination of surface waters,” the Provincial sub-delegate for Hydraulic Resources,Yusliadys Lorenzo Coca, told Escambray.

The Hydraulic Utilization Company does not seem to know anything about the situation, either. The technical director of the entity, Francisco Hernández Lorenzo, said that he also did not know about the imbalance, alleging that they are responsible for the sources of the supply. When the local journalists reminded him that the company is the owner of the water, the manager placed blame on a higher institution. “Public Health should have communicated to do a joint study, because this has an impact on the population,” he replied.

Citma, for its part, placed the responsibility on other institutions. “Who is responsible for taking action?, those who use the water and manage it: Hydraulic Resources, Agriculture, Azcuba, local bodies of the People’s Power,” said Néstor Álvarez Cruz, director of the Environmental Unit in Sancti Spíritus.

“While in the law there are many that bear responsibility, in practice few take action on the matter, and the solution may take as many years as the pollution lasts,” the Escambray article points out in conclusion, while denouncing the lack of knowledge on the part of the competent authorities, the lack of organization and the obsolescence of the infrastructure.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The US Coast Guard Repatriates 37 Cuban Rafters

The passengers on the boat consisted of 29 men and 8 women. (US Coast Guard)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 November 2018 — The 37 Cuban migrants traveling in a boat heading north towards the United States were intercepted on Sunday by the Coast Guard Service of that country and repatriated to Cuba. The passengers of the boat, which was located by an air patrol, were 29 men and 8 women, according to a statement from the rescue service.

The Coast Guard patrol boat William Trump intercepted the rafters after they were located and the crew proceeded to embark them onto the ship, where they received food, water and medical attention. One of the migrants was treated for headaches.

“Many times these intercepted vessels are overloaded and unsafe, and the risk is simply not worth the possible reward,” said Lt. James Hodges, of the Coast Guard’s Seventh District, who said he was proud of those who participated in the mission.

The US armed forces’ rescue service notes in the statement that, since the 1st of October, 82 Cuban migrants have tried to enter the United States illegally by sea. During the 2018 fiscal year, which ends on September 30 for the administration of that country, 296 migrants tried to illegally migrate to the United States.

“These statistics represent the total number of interceptions in the Straits of Florida, the Caribbean and Atlantic waters,” the institution explained.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Lack of Water Hits Several Hospitals In Central Cuba

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara Cardiocenter in the city of Santa Clara. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora / Mario J. Pentón, Cienfuegos / Miami | November 09, 2018 – The deterioration of the hydraulic infrastructure in the center of the country is hitting hard at several hospitals in the region, which cannot function normally as they suffer from daily rationing of the water supply to complete cutoffs in the supply lasting more than three days, a situation that workers and users of these centers point out.

“We have a problem with the water supply. The authorities are trying to solve it with tanker trucks, but no surgical operations have been carried out in the past three days,” a worker of the Ernesto Che Guevara Cardiocenter told 14ymedio on condition of anonymity.

This hospital complex, located in Santa Clara and the only one of its kind in the center of Cuba specializing in heart disease, has been paralyzed for more than 72 hours due to the lack of potable water. continue reading

The Cardiocenter serves patients from Villa Clara and Cienfuegos up to the province of Camagüey. The same employee explained that the problem not only affects the Cardiocenter but also all the hospital facilities in that city.

The country’s water networks are very deteriorated, authorities have said, so that other hospitals in the region also suffer similar problems. This is the case of the Cienfuegos Gustavo Aldereguía Lima Provincial Hospital and of the Camilo Cienfuegos Hospital, in Sancti Spíritus, which have had to ration water to avoid interruptions in the service.

A worker at the hospital in Cienfuegos complained that, at night, there is no water in the emergency surgical rooms and that the surgeons have to wash their hands with bags of saline. Last August, the inhabitants of this city had to face the lack of water not only in hospitals, but also in their own homes.

The facilities at these medical centers have several decades of use and have never, for all practical purposes, been repaired. This is coupled with a serious water leakage problem that is common throughout the country.

The former president of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources, Inés María Chapman Waugh, noted that every year more than 3.4 billion liters of water are lost through leaks in the country. The loss from pumping this water that ends up in puddles and small streams in the streets is valued at around five million euros, according to the official press.

“My sister is waiting for a heart valve replacement, how is it possible that they cannot operate because there is no water?” laments Luis, who waits outside the Cardiocenter.

The official press points out that in the Camilo Cienfuegos Hospital in Sancti Spíritus the 400,000 liters that are stored in the cistern are not enough to satisfy the needs since it is wasted. A recent report by the newspaper Escambray indicates that “cascades” are heard during the day, in reference to the leaks that spill all the water accumulated in the storage tanks into rooms and offices.

The director of the hospital, Eduardo Pedrosa Prado, also explained the water restrictions they endure. When the company Acueducto stops pumping water to the medical center, the decision is made to cutoff the internal pumping at 10:00 at night. The hospital runs out of water until 5:00 in the morning because otherwise the water stored in the cistern would not be sufficient for the next day.

The same routine used by the Gustavo Aldereguía Hospital in Cienfuegos is carried out in Sancti Spíritus. The nurses wash the hands of the surgeons with glassfuls of water that they extract from the gallons that they save during the day.

“We have become accustomed to this situation, but it is unhealthy and it endangers the lives of patients. We spend our lives in front of the world saying that we are a medical power and we send aid to other countries, but the truth is that nobody knows the sacrifice of those of us who work in public health,” a surgeon tells this newspaper.

The state of the bathrooms in the rooms of the provincial hospital of Cienfuegos is “lamentable”, says Ernestina Guzmán, a companion of a patient with kidney problems.

“The toilets do not have tanks. To flush you have to load a bucket of water and throw it into the toilet, and often there is not even water, so the bad smell stays around all day in the room,” she details.

Guzmán laments that the cleaning of the facilities “does not meet the needs of the hospital.” She maintains that even inmates are sent “to clean the rooms because nobody wants to work for the salaries paid by Public Health. They clean up badly and  do not even use the appropriate disinfectants for a hospital,” he complains.

“I already know that healthcare is free, but even though it is, or precisely because it is everyone’s right, hospital centers should have quality,” she adds.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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 Sip in The Versailles: Coffee and Elections

Exiles from five decades ago, young people who mix English with Spanish and newcomers from the island gathered at the famous Cuban exile restaurant in Miami. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Miami, 8 November 2018 — The Versailles smells of coffee, intense and short like those drunk copiously by some of those who on Tuesday night awaited the election results in Florida. Exiles from five decades ago, young people who mix English with Spanish and newcomers from the island who finished a sip as the results became known, little by little, about the numbers from the ballot boxes.

Autumn does not exist in Miami and on this Tuesday night, sweat ran down the forehead of Julita, a Cuban woman who has been in Florida for two years after entering through the border with Mexico when the wet foot/dry foot policy was still in effect. On the outskirts of the most emblematic Cuban exile restaurant, the woman laughed, danced a few steps and waved a small flag of the island.

The joy of Julita, 68, did not spring from the fact that her favorite candidates had won at the polls, because in reality she does not yet have a US passport and cannot vote in the elections. However, it was the first election she lived in the land of Uncle Sam and it was all a surprise for her, a former militant of the Communist Party who now avoids talking about her past. continue reading

With two naturalized children already in the United States, the Cuban woman has had intense weeks. “I had to tell my family that we were not going to talk about politics at the table because we always ended up fighting,” she says, surprised by the passion that these mid-term elections have unleashed, but at the same time enjoying “the heated discussions that occurred.”

Cuban Americans in Florida experienced a tense environment before legislative elections in which there were several surprises and numerous disappointments. “I voted for María Elvira Salazar because she is very charismatic and she is also Cuban,” says Rodolfo Morejón, another Cuban who was finishing coffee outside of Versailles while waiting for the final tally to be published.

Social networks had boiled over for weeks in a real pitched battle where many friends came to insult each other, lifelong acquaintances were blocked and every demonstration for or against a candidate raised disgust on all sides.

Salazar, a well known figure inside and outside the island due to her long career as a journalist on Florida television, was one of the losers on Tuesday, where the pulse for the 27th district was won by her opponent Donna Shalala, former president of the University of Miami. The victory of the latter can be read in terms of a “de-cubanization of politics” in the city with the most exiles from the island.

Shalala met to celebrate with her supporters at the Woman’s Club of Coral Gables. From there she spoke to her followers who did not take their eyes off a huge screen that was broadcasting the results and shouted euphorically every time there was a victory for the Democratic Party and an area of the map of the United States was colored blue.

“The best one won,” shouted one of her voters assembled in the The Versailles and who was adorned in the blue color of the Democrats and wearing a baseball cap with the flag of the solitary star. “It does not matter if you are Cuban or American, young or old, more charismatic or less charismatic, what matters is that you are a decent and hardworking person,” he added loudly.

Donna Shalala, former president of the University of Miami, won the race for the seat in the U.S. Congress from Florida’s 27th District. (14ymedio)

Annie Betancourt, a 70-year-old Democrat, was also pleased that Shalala won the seat that Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had vacated. “She conducted a positive campaign based on her knowledge, she is a person with government experience and in the political issues that matter to the voters of the district, such as health and education”, says this Cuban resident of the United States since 1960, who was a state representative in Tallahassee.

The tumult also reached the island, where through illegal satellite dishes many followed the step by step process, more out of curiosity than real interest. In the neighborhood of Centro Habana, María Eugenia and Gerardo, both retired and with children living in Florida, stayed all night glued to the television so as not to miss “the spectacle”.

“We do not understand much, but at least you see that the people care about who will be their representatives and are going to the polls enthusiastically,” says María Eugenia, who after midnight saw the last part through a cable that a neighbor, 200 meters away, rents for 20 dollars a month to enjoy totally American programming.

“Now when my daughter calls me I can comment as if I had been there,” says the retired woman who admits she has not participated in the neighborhood discussions about the new constitution. “No, why, going or not going will not change anything, that’s why it’s so different.”

Hundreds of kilometers away from the banned satellite dish and the retirees who were watching  the elections like those who watch a show, the Versailles café loses neither the heat nor the intensity. To the extent that losers and winners are confirmed, it tastes more bitter for some and sweeter for others.

The night is finished off by a young Cuban-American girl who carries in her hand a stamp that says “I Voted”. She mixes her words in Spanish and English and celebrates the importance of going to vote because for her “every voice is important” and “although we do not all think alike, it is good to go out and express what we want with the vote”.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Empty Nest

The work ‘Medialuna’ reproduces the concept of the empty nest in a country with high incidences of emigration. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 8 November 2018 – There are parents who cross their fingers that their children become independent and others who sigh in the distance because their offspring have emigrated or have moved away from home. In a country where there is a deficit of more than 800,000 houses and the housing problems force several generations to live together under one roof, it is easy to think that nobody suffers from the empty nest syndrome, but it is not so.

According to the Population and Housing Census conducted in 2012, 12.6% of Cuban households are made up of single adults. Many of them have seen their children leave to go abroad or start a new life together with their partner in another house. Loneliness, depression and questions about the meaning of one’s existence appear in many of these parents. For social and medical services, recognizing these symptoms and helping those who suffer from them is essential.

“There are elderly people who come here more for the company than the food,” an employee of the Pío Pío Comedor of the Family Service System, located in the Havana municipality of Playa, tells 14ymedio. The locale offers breakfast, lunch and food to retirees with low resources in the area, but another of its functions is “to serve as a meeting place,” says the worker who works in food preparation. continue reading

Many of the elderly people who eat in Pío Pío live alone or with other older adults. “They are people who dedicated a good part of their lives to the care of their children and in a moment they were left alone,” laments the employee. In the living room, which functions as a dining room, several old people converse and one shows the photos of a son who lives in distant Hamburg.

The Cuban family has been scattering in recent years with the upturn in travel abroad and emigration. Often younger children leave in search of new horizons and with the promise of helping their parents financially.

In the case of women, the effects of this separation can be expressed with greater severity. 49.1% of older adults living in single-person households are females with a median age of 69 years. For the psychologist Miguel Lugones, mothers feel “that the home is lonely, that their children have grown up and become independent and she feels that she has lost her leading role socially.” The empty nest seems wider and more alien for them.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

Goodbye Friend

Antonio Tang and Florentino Aspillaga (right) in South Florida in 1993. (Antonio Tang)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Antonio Tang Baez, Montreal | October 23, 2018 – “Au revoir, mon ami,” I said to the most wanted deserter of the Cuban intelligence services on the banks of the Seine, in the center of Paris. I left him to his fate, while he walked calmly during a campaign of denunciation in the French capital against Cuban espionage maneuvers.

Those were the final chapters of the Cold War, the first years of the 90s. The world was in transition and the ex-Major of the Ministry of the Interior Florentino Aspillaga Lombard was on the cusp of his work in neutralizing the Cuban special services. For my part, in full youth, I did not consider at that time that it was a risk to leave the most wanted man in Havana alone in the middle of Paris. “After all,” I thought, “the job of a spy-catcher is not the same as that of a chaperone.”

I got the news of the death of someone who was a great friend, Florentino. His sudden death made me look back with nostalgia to the times when we dreamed of a free homeland and we thought it was possible in the short run. Destiny had in store for us a wait that still continues, but I still see it thru the lens of the past, in San Juan Puerto Rico. continue reading

At that time we had information that Puerto Rican separatist groups had discovered his presence on the island and were preparing to carry out another attack against the well-known Cuban deserter, who had already been wounded on a previous occasion in London by an agent from Havana.

Former officers of Cuban Intelligence, Florentino Aspillaga (left) with Enrique García, in Montreal in 1992. (La Presse)

Aspillaga and I were there denouncing the Cuban interference in the independence referendum that was going to take place on that island. Once again I had to participate in the operation because my friend always required my presence despite my youth and complete ignorance of the art of espionage.

In the middle of the “evacuation” from San Juan to Miami, the bodyguards pushed us into the vehicles and insisted: “Get in the car and take the flight we have booked for you. You and your friend are in danger.” I remember my strong protest, because I still had two nights at the Casino Hotel where I was staying, arguing that no one was looking for me, but my arguments fell on deaf ears and I finished my last two days of the operation in a boring Holiday Inn in Miami.

Florentino always forgave my rookie mistakes. He never allowed many photographs. The distrust and paranoia of the intelligence officer always accompanied him. However, he was never annoyed with me for taking pictures. He had a heart and a human sensibility that surpassed the vicissitudes of his profession. Memories are so many and so scattered when a friend from youth is lost. Together we fight for a better Cuba. Today his death surprises me and I can only say with pain: Goodbye, friend.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

Cubana de Aviacion Resumes Flights to Guantanamo, Baracoa and Camaguey

The resumption of the routes will be covered by model ATR 72-500 aircraft. (Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 October 2018 – Cubana de Aviación announced on Wednesday the restoration of three of its domestic routes starting on October 28. In a statement, the airline reported that air links will resume between Havana and the cities of Guantánamo, Baracoa and Camagüey.

Ticket sales are available in the sales offices as of this past Monday, as confirmed to this newspaper by the commercial office of Cubana de Aviación in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood.

The flights to Guantanamo, with a price of 228 CUP (Cuban pesos, roughly $9 US), will leave every Wednesday and Sunday, while those going to Baracoa, which will cost 270 pesos, will depart on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The frequency of the route to Camagüey, whose ticket price is 138 CUP, will be reduced to a single trip per week every Tuesday. continue reading

A worker from one of the commercial offices where the tickets for these routes are sold confirmed to 14ymedio that prices are still the same as those in effect prior to the cancellation of these routes.

The information desk of the company at the José Martí International Airport in Havana also informed this newspaper that the routes will be covered with model ATR 72-500 aircraft.

The airline has announced that it will gradually inform about the restoration of other national routes “in accordance with the normalization of conditions in each destination”.

The company refers in this manner to the suspension of all flights in the national territory that took place at the end of March of this year due to the lack of aircraft to cover the routes within the country.

At that time news of the cancellation of the flights took time to broadcast in the national media and the airline also did not report the situation quickly, which caused uncertainty among travelers who had a ticket to fly on Cubana de Aviación.

In the past, as a result of customer complaints about partial cancellations of departing flights, airline executives have had to face criticism, citing that “the technical problems of the aircrafts” are the main causes of delays and cancellations.

On May 18, a month and a half after the cancellation of all domestic flights, a Boeing 737 of the Mexican airline Global Air, and leased by Cubana de Aviación, crashed shortly after takeoff from Havana airport while heading to Holguin. In the accident, 112 of the 113 people traveling on board died, including passengers and crew.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

Letter from the Editors to the Members of ’14ymedio’

We are aware of the concerns of some who wish to collaborate with us but fear that their personal data would end up in inappropriate hands. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 October 2018 — A year ago this newspaper launched a membership program to consolidate the independent economic model that we have bet on from the beginning. As you know, 14ymedio does not accept money from any government and intends to serve only its readers.

Throughout this year we have received concerns from some people who want to collaborate with us but feared that their personal data would end up in inappropriate hands, with the consequences that this implies in Cuba.

In order to reassure our readers we would like to explain how we manage our databases. continue reading

The majority of our editorial office members are in Cuba, along with various collaborators in Miami and Madrid who are responsible for the publication of the texts and the refresh of the cover throughout the day. They can do this because they have  good internet connections.

Everything related to the names and personal data of those who participate in our membership program is handled from Miami and Madrid, without going through Cuba at any moment. The subscribers’ information is not kept nor stored in the national territory or on Cuban servers. On the other hand, the funds received are used to pay the salaries of the staff in Havana and the correspondents in the provinces, as well as for communications, transportation and other expenses within the Island.

Our MailChimp service is always handled with the utmost caution from computers connected far from the controls of the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa).

We have suffered firsthand from the surveillance of State Security and, for this reason, we take very seriously the protection of personal data of each and every person.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

US Funds to Rescue the National Art Schools of Cuba

The Quibú River as it passes through the National Art School. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 20 October 2018 — After passing by the Quibú River and in the middle of the growth of the out of control grass, reddish vaults emerge that look like the ruins of a lost city. They are part of the National Art Schools of Cuba that the Getty Foundation, of the United States, wants to rescue with a donation of $195,000, after decades of deterioration.

The group of buildings that today make up the University of the Arts, conceived at the beginning of the 60s as the Cubanacán Arts Schools have gone more than half a century with hardly any repairs or investments. In that time some specific repairs have been made, but the lack of a budget forced the closing of several sites.

Mold and plants grow on walls and domes, a situation made worse by bats and vandalism. (14ymedio)

The School of Visual Arts is in better condition, but in the rest of the buildings mold and vegetation grow on the walls and domes, a situation made worse by bats and vandalism. Walking through the corridors of the school seems more like a trip to an archaeological dig than a complex less than six decades old. continue reading

Despite the deterioration, the place still evokes that era of pharaonic projects in which the government planned to place Cuba at the head of the countries of the region and even the world. Imbued with that competitive spirit, Fidel Castro decided to build the “most beautiful Art Schools of the World” on the old grounds of the Country Club.

Castro’s enthusiasm did not last long and in 1965 the works were left without government support. Thus were born some of the first “modern ruins” of Havana. An unfinished complex that the Getty Foundation wants to aid, although much more is needed than the amount donated to repair the damage done by time and carelessness.

At least repairs are currently being made in the dance building and “new boards have been installed and painted,” says one student. (14ymedio)

With its Catalan vaults, its bricks and terracotta tiles, the buildings have been severely affected by the floods of the Quibú River. Plants have done the same. In 2014, the architect José Mosquera suggested the “cutting and elimination of the plants that thrive in the vaults and galleries” but the weeds continue to grow on several roofs.

It is common to hear students say things like “be careful don’t step in there” or “don’t go in that place, the roof may fall”. All of them seek accommodation in the still functional parts of the buildings conceived by the Cuban architect Ricardo Porro with the Italians Roberto Gottardi and Vittorio Garatti.

The National Art Schools were born as a project of Fidel Castro but over time they lost official favor and with it funding. (14ymedio)

Some years ago, the students themselves cleared rubble and vegetation from the areas of the School of Ballet, where the circus school was later located. With the aid of machetes, sticks and screwdrivers, they cleaned up the galleries. “We were reluctant to let those spaces die,” says Rey, who was a student at the center and now works as a professor.

The young man feels relieved that at least in the building destined for dance, repairs are currently being made and “new boards have been installed and painted”. Behind that process, he points out, “are the students, the professors and also the State.”

The building that serves as a dorm, of Soviet inspiration, contrasts sharply with the rest of the school. (14ymedio)

Other students have not been as lucky and study several subjects in the area of the dorms, buildings of Soviet architecture that contrast with the original facilities. “The spaces are different, the energy of the space is different, the square is not a very inspiring place,” says Rey.

The announcement of the donation to repair some areas has aroused certain expectations that sites that have become unserviceable over the years will be rehabilitated. “The teachers tell me how this place used to be, but now it does not resemble it much,” says a young woman who began studying dance in September.

The students of the National Art Schools often have to take classes in other spaces because the rooms destined for teaching are in terrible conditions. (14ymedio)

“Not only do they have to repair roofs and walls, but the school needs to modernize because even finding an electrical outlet that works now is complicated,” she complains. With the emergence of new technologies it’s the rare student that does not have a phone, a speaker or a laptop that needs to be charged every once in a while.

“It’s a very beautiful place but it has to become a functional place, which right now it is not,” says the young woman. Among her colleagues, the most common opinion is that it is necessary to “reenvision the school, place it in the 21st century”, but “that is not solved only with a budget, it takes will”.

The domes of the National Art Schools, one of its symbols, do not escape the deterioration. (14ymedio)

The complex, which was considered a National Monument in 2013, is a magnet for photographers and video clip makers, because of that mixture of beauty and decadence that surrounds everything. For those who sneak in to take pictures without permission, a strict security guard threatens to call the police if they do not leave as soon as possible.

But, despite the controls and deterioration, the site remains an island within the city, a kind of artistic retreat. “The school is a space of inspiration”, Rey says emotionally, “because these open areas, with trees, these materials that are close to an appearance of little elaboration, connect one with the essence of nature”.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Lack of Journalism Freedom Stays the Same Under Diaz-Canel

A little over a year ago, Miguel Díaz-Canel harshly criticized the independent press of the Island. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 October 2018 — Nothing has changed for freedom of the press on the island since Miguel Díaz-Canel became president last April. This is the conclusion reached by the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) in its report presented this Friday at the organization’s General Assembly that will continue until the 22nd in Buenos Aires.

“Censorship seems to have increased,” says the report written by the Camagueyan journalist and director of the magazine La Hora de Cuba  Henry Constantin, who was unable to leave the island to present it. continue reading

The IAPA recalls that Diaz-Canel, who a little more than a year ago harshly criticized the independent press, acceded to the presidency “in the midst of a tsunami of police repression and months of continuous psychological torture against the independent press,” and that the constitutional reform whose approval is scheduled for February 24 “maintains serious limitations on freedom of the press and of expression.”

On this last point, the report makes reference to the controversial proposal for the reform of Article 60 of the Constitution. Although the new text recognizes the freedom of the press for citizens, the media will continue to be “socialist property of all the people, which ensures its use for the service of the whole society.” In addition, “the State establishes the principles of organization and functioning for all means of social communication”.

Government tactics to silence independent journalists have not diminished either, according to the report of the association, which indicates that short-term detentions and the use of subpoenas for interrogation in the offices of the Ministry of the Interior (Minint) are common and aim to intimidate these professionals.

The IAPA affirms that although men are detained more frequently and for longer periods, “it is the women to whom the Minint applies the most prolonged punishments, especially those who have children.” It specifically quotes the case of economist Karina Gálvez, also a member of the editorial board of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), who is serving a three-year sentence for tax evasion and is not authorized to practice her profession.

The “frequency and aggressiveness” of verbal harassment against independent journalists in public has also increased, according to the report, which sets forth the case of Iris Mariño. The photographer and reporter at La Hora de Cuba “suffered continuous sexual harassment, in the form of stalking, filming, touching and even kissing from agents of the State Security,” the article reads.

According to the IAPA, not only have searches of the homes of independent journalists increased, but so has the pressure on tenants who are kicked out of their rental homes. In addition, the report states that “State Security has carried out defamatory campaigns against communicators in the areas where they live or on the Internet.”

Other repressive practices of State Security, such as the confiscation of personal and work property, the prohibition against leaving the country or the interrogations or “exhaustive reviews during airport stops” remain almost unchanged.

In its report, the IAPA does not minimize the importance of the new technologies so that independent reporters can carry out their work, and notes that “a score of media websites focused on the country as well as international newspaper organizations” continue to be blocked on the island. And it also points out that “the prices and the poor geographic reach of Internet access prevent the use of the web to inform or share information,” alluding to the low quality of the service provided by the Telecommunications Company of Cuba monopoly, Etecsa.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The President of Spain Will Visit Cuba on November 22 and 23

Pedro Sánchez and Miguel Díaz-Canel at their meeting in New York during the UN General Assembly. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 October 2018 – The President of Spain, Pedro Sánchez, will visit Cuba November 22 and 23, the first visit by a Spanish president to the island in 32 years. The trip, according to the newspaper El País, citing diplomatic sources, was agreed to during a meeting with President Miguel Díaz-Canel when the UN General Assembly was in session.

“Since then, the staffs of both leaders have been working to finalize their respective agendas,” reads the note. At first it was suggested that Pedro Sánchez visit Havana as part of his trip to Guatemala, where he will participate in the Ibero-American Summit, but this was not possible. continue reading

El País calculates that, given the revised schedule, the Spanish president will have to cross the Atlantic three times in little more than two weeks. First to travel to Guatemala between November 15 and 16, then to go to Cuba on the 22nd and 23rd and, finally, between November 30 and December 1 to attend the G20 summit in Buenos Aires.

The sources consulted pointed out that the surprising thing is not that a Spanish president will visit Cuba, but that none has done so in more than three decades,” according to the note. The last time a head of government of that European country visited Havana was the socialist Felipe González in November 1986. Later, in 1999, the then president José María Aznar visited the island with King Juan Carlos to attend the Ibero-American Summit but it was not an official visit.

Now, the objective of the visit of the Spanish President aims to normalize relations with the island, which with the arrival last April of Diaz-Canel to the presidency isn’t governed by the Castro brothers after the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.

Predictably, Pedro Sánchez will not only meet with the Cuban president, but also with members of the Spanish community who have settled in Cuba and with representatives of the more than 200 companies operating in the country. It is not known if he will hold meetings with the opposition or independent civil society groups.

“A visit (to Cuba) from the King is pending which, if it were to take place, would be the first in history by a Spanish monarch.” If Sanchez’s visit is successful, Felipe VI could travel in 2019, coinciding with the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana”, the El País note speculates.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The UN Calls For "Adequate Reparations" For Ariel Ruiz Urquiola For His "Arbitrary Detention"

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola has received help from organizations such as Amnesty International and several well-known personalities. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 October 2018 – The arrest of biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola was arbitrary according to the report prepared by the United Nations (UN) Working Group dedicated to this matter. The document asks the Government of Cuba to grant him “adequate reparations,” including immediate unconditional release.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considers that the arrest of Ruiz Urquiola contravened up to three articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and asks Havana to take “the necessary measures” to solve “without delay” the case “in accordance with the relevant international standards.”

The reports prepared by this UN body are intended to define whether an arbitrary detention is in accordance with the standards of international law and make recommendations to governments who may or may not take them into consideration. continue reading

The document, which has already been sent to Havana, will be published in full in the coming weeks, but the information was released by the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), which describes it as a “strong setback” for the government in a press release from the organization based in Madrid.

The UN document asks the Cuban government to present, within six months, information on whether it has guaranteed the unconditional release of the scientist, if compensation has been granted, if it has investigated the violation of his rights and approved legislative amendments that achieve “harmonization of the laws and practices of the government with its international obligations.”

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, who continues his project in Viñales (Pinar del Río) after been released an “extrapenal license,” which means he can be returned to prison at any time, denounces having received pressure and threats from the State Security to return to Havana and affirms that the government of Cuba “is unable to compensate for all the damage” that it has caused him.

The scientist was sentenced to one year in jail for disrespect after an altercation with officials, but has always argued that his case was due to a government plan to destroy his ecological project.

During his career, the biologist had repeatedly denounced the damage to the Cuban ecosystem, such as the indiscriminate felling of trees, the hunting of endangered species and the dumping of toxic substances in the waters of the valley of Viñales.

His family, moreover, has affirmed that it is about revenge on the family, since the father, Máximo Omar Ruiz Matoses, was a high official of the Cuban army and served 17 years in prison for opposing the regime.

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola received help from organizations such as Amnesty International and well-known personalities such as the Bishop of Pinar del Rio, Jorge Serpa, and even the troubadour Silvio Rodríguez, who asked that the case be analyzed with “maturity and dialogue.” “I am going to live my life as a social and honest being, which is what I am,” Ruiz Urquiola said after learning about the UN decision.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Hurricane Mascot

Mayabeque’s baseball team mascot represents a hurricane, those crazy winds that in the cyclonic season hit the island. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 15 October 2018 – The Mayabeque province baseball team is also known by their Hurricanes nickname, so the team mascot tries to represent those crazy winds that, in the hurricane season, hit the island.

His costume contains the yellow and red colors of the coat of arms of the province, one of the four that along with Guantanamo, Camagüey and Havana takes on an aboriginal name. The Taínos called cyclones “juracán” and represented this atmospheric phenomenon with a human face whose arms move in a spiral.

The ghostly mask that Mayabeque’s baseball mascot now puts on has the dual purpose of hiding the identity of the bearer of the symbol and bringing a certain terrifying air to the character. Both things are totally pointless, because by merely going on the field the fans of the team often shout the real name of the person who hides under the mascot accompanied by all the nice and atrocious things that occur to the public. continue reading

The bat looks like a toy, but he carries it with a lot of pride, as if he were brandishing a whirlwind like those of the aboriginal deity. There is no shortage of those who want to take a photo together with such exaggerated fury, nor those who wonder in a jocular tone who came up with this symbol, with the damage that actual hurricanes have done to Mayabeque.

In between the teasing and applause, the mascot of one of the youngest Cuban provinces is earning a place in the comments of the public that goes to the stadium to support their team.

Since January 2011 when Mayabeque province was officially established, the team’s performance this season has been the best in its brief history, which fortunately has not been highlighted so far in 2018, at least on the island, by the fury of real hurricanes.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

Bolsonaro and Cuba

Jair Bolsonaro, candidate for President of Brazil (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 14 October 2018 – Jair Messias Bolsonaro could be the President of Brazil on October 28th. The Brazilians see themselves in the mirror of their Venezuelan neighbors and they are terrified. The most trustworthy polls give him a 75% chance of winning the elections … as long as he does not rest on his laurels. At the end of the day, he took a 17 point lead over Fernando Haddad, the man selected from prison by Lula da Silva. He won 46 to 29. Democracy is like that: it is often about choosing the least bad option.

Bolsonaro is full of prejudices. He says he prefers to have a dead son rather than a homosexua one. What a cruel stupidity! He says that if he sees two men kissing on the street he would be willing to assault them. Although his time in the Armed Forces was not exemplary — he spent 17 years there and only attained captain as a paratrooper and artilleryman — and although he dares to say that the mistake of the military dictatorship was to torture the detainees, when they could have killed them, his candidacy is better than that of Haddad’s. continue reading

Why? Because Bolsonaro does not mind contradicting himself. He says absurd things that will not have a practical result. He has also made deeply racist remarks, but chose as his vice president a mestizo former general.

The vulgarities that he has uttered against women were not expressed by a misogynist, but by a disrespectful and mouthy guy who has married three times and maintains an intense family life.

And because his homophobia clashes with a tradition of tolerance that makes Brazil one of the most open nations in sexual matters. One of the few that allows marriage between people of the same sex. Against that backdrop, fortunately, he will not be able to reject gays.

There are many reasons to prefer Bolsonaro. Lula presided over a cave of bandits, not a decent government. He has been the main culprit of the devaluation of the Brazilian political class. If the shameless actions of the usual suspects are very serious, those committed by a person of humble origin who promised to clean up public life and did the opposite are worse. What was expected of a labor leader who asked for the votes to face the rot is total honesty in the conduct of official affairs. In Dante’s Inferno there was a terrible place for the hypocrites.

His business transactions with the usual corrupt ones, as demonstrated in the Lava Jato (Car Wash) operation, is unforgivable. He let his ideological cronies from Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, El Salvador and the Ecuador of Rafael Correa steal. His two governments and that of Dilma Rousseff were a cesspool. Presumably, he summoned Haddad to finish the job. First, the professor and former mayor of Sao Paulo would free him from the sentence of 12 years in prison and then the looting of the Brazilians would continue right away.

According to El Nuevo Herald, Cuba is horrified that Bolsonaro may be selected by the Brazilians. The former congressman has said that he is not in agreement with continuing to pay the Castro dictatorship — Fidel is still alive for ideological purposes — for the doctors Brazil rents.

This is a crime that contravenes the international agreements of the International Labour Organization signed by Cuba and Brazil. They are slaves in white coats. That rent is Havana’s main source of income and it looks like the disgusting business that slavers did in Cuba in the 19th century.

The Castros, who embarked on the most unproductive system in the world, make ends meet with the excesses that they charge their friends and accomplices for the hire of doctors, soldiers, sports coaches, spies and other species that they breed in their revolutionary nurseries.

They sell those services with the ignoble purpose of financing the idyllic life that is given to an oligarchy that perhaps reaches three thousand officers of the Armed Forces and the Communist Party, while the country falls to pieces.

It is very likely that Bolsonaro will put an end to this illegal trade in human beings. The function of this hiring is not to improve the health of poor Brazilians, but to subsidize the parasitic Cuban political leadeship.

We will see what happens on January 1, 2019, when Bolsonaro will begin to govern. That day, by the way, will mark 60 years since the beginning of the Cuban nightmare.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.