The Dollar Seizes the Carlos III Shopping Center in Havana

The place, also popularly known as “the palace of consumption”, had been closed for months due to the pandemic.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez / Mario J. Pentón, Havana / Miami, 12 October 2020 — Carlos III Plaza Commercial, one of the largest shopping areas in the Cuban capital, reopened this Monday with an important change: from now on you can only buy in foreign currency. The same has happened with most of the large stores in cities in the country’s interior.

“Ten stores are open at the moment. All of them have a sign in front of them saying that they only accept MLC (freely convertible currency — that is US dollars, euros and other foreign money). There are clothing stores, household supplies, hardware and other items. Other stores are also getting ready to sell in hard currency,” a customer who visited the facilities early in the morning told 14ymedio.

It is one of the largest shopping centers in Havana, also popularly known as “the palace of consumption” and located on an important avenue. It had been closed for months and in recent weeks it was rumored it might reopen as a hard currency store. continue reading

It was an open secret that the remodeling the imposing building was undergoing was intended to make it ready for the new genre of commercial establishment, which began at the end of last year, when The Executive opened its first electrical appliances stores and then ones for food and toiletries in foreign currencies in order to alleviate the country’s deep financial liquidity crisis.

For over two decades, Plaza Carlos III has been the commercial heart of Centro Habana, especially in the neighborhoods of Pueblo Nuevo, Cayo Hueso and Los Sitios. Along with the official product lines in their stores, there is an extensive network of informal vendors and private businesses who survive thanks to the flow of customers who shop there every day.

Before being reopened with great fanfare in the 90’s and starting to sell in dollars and later in convertible pesos, the Plaza was but a shadow of what we see today. “They had a dirty agricultural market on the ground floor, a fishmonger on the first floor, and the rest of the building was a state-owned company dedicated to making teaching tools such as dolls to instruct in the structure of human organs,” Luisa, a who lives in nearby Peñalver street tells 14ymedio.

It is not the first dollarization of Carlos III, it already happened in the 90’s, before changing to CUC. (14ymedio)

“This neighborhood came back to life when Carlos III was turned into a shopping center in the 90’s. Most of the people here shop or survive thanks to that place,” adds the lady. “Although the government changed the name of the street many years ago to Avenida Salvador Allende, nobody has ever called it that, and when they reopened the Plaza, they named it after the King of Spain.”

Others believe that the new sales method will save Carlos III from the deterioration it had experienced in recent years. “This had become a place for drunks and fights, especially the ground floor area, which had several cafeterias where one couldn’t even go because there were aggressive people drinking beer all the time,” says Orestes, a resident of Calle Salud, who used to take his grandchildren there to play on electronic devices until “the situation became untenable.”

Orestes believes that now, “with a smaller customer base and enjoying a better economic position, it is possible that the environment will improve,” although he acknowledges that he will not be able to shop there for now. “I don’t have access to foreign currency, but this is not the first dollarization of Carlos III. When they opened it in the 90’s, you paid in fulas (slang for dollars) and it seemed to me that I would never be able to shop there, but in the end, I became a regular customer, so I am hoping that now it starts out for a few and then the dollarization might spread.”

The news of the market reopening as a foreign currency store started to spread on the very day that the national television is expected to broadcast a special program announcing new economic measures. But still, many of the residents in the vicinity don’t know of the important change that is taking place inside the Plaza, the only remodeled work in Cuba in the last half century that bears the name of a Spanish king.

In the rest of the country, the dollar is also strengthening. In Cienfuegos, the population has seen how, one by one, the dollar has been conquering the largest stores in the city.

“We are going to be left with no place to shop. La Mimbre, La Pecera, La Nueva Isla, Imago, Mercado Habana, Eureka… everything will sell in dollars, a currency in which I don’t trade in or have the means to obtain,” says Mercedes Bernal, a 51-year-old state worker.

“The other day I went to a store and saw so many products and such a short line that I was amazed. When I asked about the price of an item, I was told it was in dollars and it needed to be paid by a magnetic card. I don’t know how long we are going to be able to hold on,” she adds.

At the moment, 10 stores are open in Plaza Carlos III, all of them take freely convertible currency. (14ymedio)

In Cienfuegos, the lines to create bank accounts in dollars are very long, and begin at dawn. The bank only allows 50 customers per day, and delivery dates for the cards are slated for the second week of December.

“Customers do not need to bring dollars to open the account. Only their identity card is enough. The objective of these accounts is for their relatives to eventually send them transfers from abroad so that they can shop in MLC stores,” an employee of Banco Popular de Ahorros told El Nuevo Herald by phone.

For Felicia Carballo from the Pastorita neighborhood and for others who don’t have access to said currency, the situation is becoming increasingly complicated.

“In the Pastorita points-of-sale there is nothing. No soap, no deodorant, nothing. It seems that the TRD stores [where you buy in Cuban convertible pesos – CUC] became the property of Ciego Montero*, because all they have is water,” he commented.

*Translator’s note: Ciego Montero is a Cuban brand of bottled water, part of Nestle’s Waters, owned by the Cuban society Los Portales.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Birth of a Definition: The Historic Generation

Raúl Castro is still the first secretary of the PCC and, if his endurance continues, he will remain so until April of 2021. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 4 October 2020 — This October 3rd marked the 55th anniversary of the creation of the first Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. The selection of this hundred people followed a scrutiny that only allowed those who had had some participation in the uprising against the previous dictatorship to be promoted, as long as they showed absolute loyalty to Fidel Castro and embraced, even if just in appearance, the Marxist-Leninist ideology.

What is referred to today as “the historic generation of the revolution” got its credentials that day.

If someone were to ask what requirements are needed to appear as a registered member of that generation, no one will probably know how to give a categorical answer, whether he is an academic, a former combatant or a member of the Party. It is a nebulous definition in which a few names are clear and others are not. But the truth is that, although not all out of the 100 chosen carry that label — sometimes simplified as “historic ones” — all who pride themselves on deserving it appear on that list. continue reading

Fidel Castro mentioned in public for the first time the idea of creating a unitary entity that would bring together the forces that had fought against the Batista tyranny.

In his speech to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the assault on the Moncada barracks, delivered on July 26, 1961 in the Sports City in Santiago de Cuba, Fidel Castro mentioned for the first time in public the idea of creating a unitary entity that would bring together the forces who had fought against the Batista tyranny: The July 26 Movement, the Revolutionary Directorate and the Popular Socialist Party.

With this decision, other groups were left out of the distribution of power, including the so-called “Triple A,” a derivation of the Authentic Party led by the ousted president Carlos Prío Socarrás, and with it, all those who tried to find a peaceful way out of the Batista dictatorship.

With the entities chosen by Castro, the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI) were founded as a preliminary basis for the creation of a closer political group.

Barely two months after the speech in Santiago de Cuba, the process of dissolution of the involved entities began, but it was not until March 8, 1962 that the National Directorate of the ORI was presented with 24 members of the three mentioned organizations.

On March 26,  after an acute crisis that year, Fidel Castro decided not to wait any longer and turned the ORI into the United Party of the Socialist Revolution of Cuba (PURSC) and, incidentally, placed himself at the head of the new entity. On October 3, 1965, its name was changed to the current Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), and only then was its first Central Committee introduced.

With this decision, other groups were left out of the distribution of power, among them the so-called “Triple A,, a derivation of the Authentic Party led by the ousted president Carlos Prío Socarrás

Strictly from an age point of view, this generation generally includes those born between 1915 and 1940. But the oldest on the list was a member of the former Popular Socialist Party, Juan Marinello, now deceased, who was born in 1898; while the youngest ones were a group of five combatants from the Sierra Maestra born after 1940, whose only active survivor is now General Leopoldo Cintra Frías.

Of that list of 100 founders of the Central Committee, only eight men remain active, 65% have died, the rest are in obscure retirement or have been ousted. There are at least twenty names that don’t even have a file in Ecured, “the Cuban Wikipedia.”

Of the eight active ones, only four maintain real power: Raúl Castro, who is still the first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, who, if nature helps him will continue to do so until the eighth Party Congress is held on April, 2021, when he will be two months away from turning 90; the second in command in this organization is José Ramón Machado Ventura, who this October will become a nonagenarian; Leopoldo Cintra Frías, current Minister of the Armed Forces, who is only nine months away from turning 80, and Ramiro Valdés, vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers, who at 88 years of age is in enviable physical shape.

On October 3rd, 1965 the current name of the Cuban Communist Party was adopted and only then was its first Central Committee presented. (Archive)

The remaining four active, but with very little decision-making power, are Guillermo García Frías (b. 1928), director of the National Company for the Protection of Flora and Fauna; Major General Ramón Pardo Guerra (b. 1932), chief of the National Civil Defense General Staff; Julio Camacho Aguilera (b. 1924), who serves as Director of the Office for the Fundamental Development of the Guanahacabibes Peninsula, and Enrique Lusson, who is a member of parliament.

Of the eight active ones, only four maintain real power: Raúl Castro is still The First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba

For the youngest in Cuba, any official who is over 70 years of age can also be considered “historic,” although strictly speaking, it is not appropriate to for him be included in the revolutionary Parnassus of the Historic Generation. Such is the case of characters of some importance and of a certain age, such as Salvador Valdés Mesa (b. 1941), current Vice President of the Republic, who entered the Central Committee of the PCC in its fourth Congress in 1991; Esteban Lazo (b. 1944), current president of the National Assembly of People’s Power, who attained entry to the CC in the first Congress of 1975, as did Ulises Rosales del Toro (b. 1942), who was recently released from his responsibilities as vice president of the Council of Ministers and was appointed director of the Program for Versatile Plants Program.

In addition to the unappealable knowledge of biology, he who belongs in history will be in charge of judging each one for their own actions. Belonging to that generation presumes to assume not only “the glory that has been lived” — as stated in the official speech — but also all the guilt. The new faces that have landed in power, under the motto “we are the continuity,” must know that they also carry those responsibilities. With the same degree of guilt.

They carry on their shoulders the actions of the historic ones.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

A Debate for Democracy in Cuba: The End Does Not Justify the Means

Celaya believes that A debate that does not imitate the pathetic Trump vs Biden media show. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana | 2 October 2020 — Fresh off the networks, saturated today by the echoes of the unfortunate show (supposedly a debate) between United States presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and with their clothes still torn by the attacks of the always furious Trumpist pack – those worthy imitators of the purest Castro style who accept no other position other than unconditional support for their idol – I have made note of an article by colleague Reinaldo Escobar Casas that brings me back to what is really important on this side of the Florida Strait: a reality so overwhelming that it far exceeds the convenience of the triumph of one or another candidate in the US presidential elections on November 3rd.

In agreement with my colleague Escobar Casas, and as a Cuban residing in Cuba, I have no preference for any of the American candidates. It’s clear to me that neither one nor the other has a commitment to achieve democracy in Cuba beyond speeches and intentions for electoral purposes. It is not their responsibility to solve the pressing problems that suffocate Cubans from all areas of national life, of which successive US administrations are not the cause.

I am clear that neither one nor the other is committed to achieving democracy in Cuba, beyond speeches and intentions for electoral purposes

After 61 years of dictatorship and in the midst of the most serious crisis of the socioeconomic and political system established by force of voluntarism and repression, it would be naive to attribute the eventual collapse of the Castro regime to the good or bad will of an American president, without denying that the policies of that country, as the great power that it is, have some influence, not only on this limited and close geography and on the lives of its inhabitants, but also — for better and for worse — have a relevant impact throughout the world. continue reading

I absolutely agree with Escobar Casas when he declares the need for a debate that matters to us as Cubans, when he focuses his aspirations for matters to change in Cuba, for political disagreement to be decriminalized and for all of us to have the right to an opinion for or against those who govern us, and that, in the economic realm, those who are capable of producing the things we need in order to live are given the freedom to do it. This should be an inalienable direction for all of us who, through thick and thin, continue to push the wall of the Castro regime from inside and outside of Cuba, although we well know that, in light of the current reality of the Island, our aspirations for the moment are chimerical.

However, I cannot agree with Escobar in what seems to be the justification of the means to an end. In fact, the scenarios for exiting the Cuban crisis in the face of one or another U.S. policy are as opposite as the human and social costs that would arise from them.

In his article, Escobar welcomes equally the “strangulation” caused by a resurgence of sanctions as well as a “rapprochement” that forces the regime to change, since his priority — and I know he is sincere — is the prosperity and welfare of this country “where my children and my grandchildren will live for many years.” Personally, I will always opt for the least possible traumatic exit for Cubans, against the grain of being aware that in Cuba this variable seems less and less likely.

What moral authority aids us in subjecting others to the deficiencies that those of us who have some financial support to cope with the crisis don’t experience?

Let us take, then, two situations, A and B, where A would be the eventual triumph of Trump and, consequently, a fierce claw capable of suffocating the Castro regime’s tentacles and, incidentally, all Cubans who in some way depend on economic support, remittances, food packages, etc., which ultimately will always benefit, to some extent, the elite who receive the dividends. The question, then, would be: to what extent are we willing to sacrifice economic survival or to bear the cost of deprivation for ordinary Cubans in order to force change? Is it legal to assume chaos and human losses as the “collateral damage” necessary for these changes? What moral authority aids us in subjecting others to the deficiencies that those of us who have some financial support to cope with the crisis don’t experience?

And, taking it to a more extreme level, is there any guarantee that the dissident sectors, the opposition, the press and the independent civil society are safe from the worst repression in the extreme case of social chaos?

Furthermore, in a scenario of chaos and anarchy caused by famine and in the absence of guarantees and social tension, who would assume control and ensure a minimum social order? That possibility, which may now seem like a dramatic exaggeration, is still an almost tangible threat.

The other extreme, option B, would be the gradual, political and orderly transition that, despite everything, remains the most reasonable because it does not make use of Cubans as hostages on the road to democratization, but rather facilitates their insertion as economic actors and politicians of the changes, provided that this policy is implemented in a complete, intelligent and duly conditioned way, toward effective steps in the matter of human rights by the Castro leadership. This was the step that was omitted during the thaw of the Obama era and that contributed to the withdrawal of the regime.

The weak point, in the case of either A or B, is the absence of effective proposals and strengths in the opposition sectors, generally attentive — it is fair to admit — to the policies of the White House. There is no plan C or “Cuban proposal.” In this sense, it is worth reviewing recent statements by some of the so-called opposition leaders, where a common denominator is striking: they all seem to agree on what a US administration should do with regard to Cuba, but not one of them has their own plan to implement in any scenario that we may encounter, whether in the face of a policy of rapprochement or confrontation from the powerful northern neighbor.

Waiting continues to be the watchword in a scenario that, beyond our wills, keeps us tied down, as passive hostages of foreign policies

In short, everything leans towards eternal passivity or contemplation, waiting for two eventualities, neither of which will depend on the opposition’s effective actions: 1) Wait to see what the United States powers decide to do and 2) Wait to see how much the hierarchs of dictatorial power in Cuba are weakened from these policies. Waiting continues to be the watchword in a scenario that, beyond our wills, keeps us dependent, as passive hostages of foreign policies, to such an extent that a policy of suffocation may seem equally valuable as one of rapprochement, as long as it promotes changes that are not within our power to control. I couldn’t disagree more.

In the end, and as far as the subject is concerned, we urgently need a broad and inclusive national debate in Cuba in which the entire society participates and all interests are present, regardless of political or ideological constraints. A debate that does not imitate the pathetic Trump vs Biden media show, which we witnessed on September 30th. Because the best and worst we Cubans have is that much remains to be said here, and everything remains to be done, especially the transition to democracy. And it has been a dream held for so long and so pregnant with sacrifices that different means to achieve it cannot deliver the same result.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Afternoon I Found Out I Was in Quarantine

The building under isolation is located in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 23 September 2020 — No authorized representative came to knock on my door. I found out from my neighbor. “Hey, did you hear they locked us up?” That was it.

I leaned out the window and saw the building’s “political factions” [the ‘watchdogs’] gathered in the park at the entrance and went downstairs to ask. A neighbor on the eighth floor has tested positive for Covid-19. Now “he is hospitalized and his family is quarantined,” they explained.

It was 6:30 and there was not much time to do essential tasks, because starting at 7:00 pm, under the terms of the Havana curfew, no one is allowed out on the street. continue reading

I wasn’t the only one who had questions to ask. Many neighbors who learned about the confinement like I did came down to clarify their doubts.

“Each case will be seen individually, but do not worry, madam, people with emergencies and important medical appointments will be allowed to leave without problems”

An elderly woman with her son explained that on Thursday she had an important appointment with the doctor, another man said that he could not miss work because it was essential, and a retiree asked permission to go and get bread and stop by the cashier to get some cash. “Each case will be seen individually, but do not worry, madam, people with emergencies and important medical appointments will be allowed to leave without problems,” he replied.

I wanted to know, above all, if the residents could at least go to the bakery, since as of this Wednesday the tents that are set up in these cases for the sale of food and other basic necessities have not yet been installed in the building.

Today is my eldest daughter’s birthday, and just yesterday I ordered a cake and some pizzas from a delivery service to bring today so we can celebrate, without guests, but with a small candle.

“Do not worry, we will solve that; it is the first day and there are still many things to organize,” a lady from the Neighborhood Council, who was jotting down in a notebook the concerns of all the neighbors, said to me.

“It will be 14 days of quarantine, take it easy, this will go on for a while,” she told me.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

In San Leopoldo, an Outbreak of Covid-19 Forces the Closure of Several Streets

The outbreak is located in the vicinity of The Manduley Polyclinic, in the San Leopoldo neighborhood of Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana | 19 September 2020 — An outbreak of Covid-19 in the surroundings of The Manduley Polyclinic, in the San Leopoldo neighborhood of Centro Habana, is straining the health situation in a densely populated area with numerous slums. Fourteen positive cases have been detected in the area, and residents fear that the number will grow in the coming hours.

This Saturday morning the area surrounding the Marcio Manduley Polyclinic was abuzz with people and a strong police presence was evident. At the nearby pharmacy, about 50 residents of the area were waiting to buy medicine. There were also long lines to buy food and agricultural products in several nearby streets.

A police car was patrolling the area and calling to passersby to keep their distance, while at the nearby Ideal Market, employees dispatch the food wearing not only masks but also plastic face shields. A group of workers constantly add a chlorine solution to the areas that users might touch. continue reading

In the Cuban capital there are currently 131 spotlight controls “with reinforcement measures, and they are followed up.” (14ymedio)

“All this has also coincided with problems in the water supply,” laments Carmita, a Gervasio Street resident. “We have had problems in my house with the water supply, so no one can maintain proper hygiene.” The woman has two relatives among the patients who have tested positive, and insists that the neighborhood is “a time bomb” due to its hygienic problems.

“In this block we have four tenements and around the polyclinic there are many more slums where people live in crowded conditions and there are also several broken sewer pits on the sidewalks”, she explains to 14ymedio. “This neighborhood has been forgotten for years, the only thing that happens here is bad news: floods, landslides, dengue cases and now the coronavirus.”

This Friday, the Minister of Public Health, José Ángel Portal Miranda, explained that the outbreak in the San Leopoldo neighborhood started with “an operator of the surveillance and vector control campaign who had been a contact with confirmed cases in Old Havana.”

For his part, the city governor, Reinaldo García Zapata, explained that the 14 cases are concentrated in three dwellings located in three blocks belonging to the health area of The Manduley Polyclinic, a health center on San Lázaro Street and a few meters from Havana’s Malecón.

“Three more blocks” were added to the area that was initially under quarantine, where samples have been taken from 219 people suspected of being infected, explained García Zapata in a report broadcast Friday night on national television.

The area that was initially under quarantine was increased by “three more blocks,” where samples have been taken from 219 people. (14ymedio)

A few blocks above the polyclinic and in the opposite direction to the sea, the fences close an area comprised of San Miguel, San Rafael and San José streets from the corner of these with Lealtad and up to nearby Manrique. A strong police presence guards access to the place where only health personnel, and some employees who sell food for residents who cannot leave the area, can pass.

In the Cuban capital there are currently 131 cluster controls “with reinforcement measures, and they are followed up” according to a report from the official press that also recognized the problems with the water supply that “is solved with fixing the pipes, and the water has already started to be pumped again from Paso Seco supply source,” explains the Tribuna de La Habana.

The increase in positive cases in the city has led the authorities to re-evaluate the transfer of patients to isolation centers. Luis Antonio Torres Iríbar, president of the Provincial Defense Council, asked to review and make proposals so that the contacts of suspected cases are isolated in their own homes, under the supervision of family doctors.

Translated by: Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

“They Completely Locked Us Up, But We Were Spared Having to Stand in Lines”

The 12-story building, located at Tulipán and 39th Street, in Nuevo Vedado, has been under quarantine since last week. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 September 2020 — “I had never eaten better or so easily,” says Ivis with a big smile, despite being locked up for a week with hundreds of families in one of the largest buildings in Havana. The 12-story housing complex located at Calle Tulipán and 39th in Nuevo Vedado is cordoned off by yellow ribbon on all four sides and all access points are guarded by the Police.

“I have not had to stand on line, because they bring us everything down here,” says the woman, who lives with her husband, two daughters and her mother. “There are boxes with prepared food, they have been selling five chicken thighs and backs for three days and also one day they came with 10 sausages, a ham roll, two packages of croquettes and two bottles of oil, dry wine and vinegar. Every day they bring soft drinks, yogurt, compote, jam, meats, 10 rolls per family unit, but they also sell bread with ham or cheese.”

“Only the first three days were we able to go out in the morning to run errands, but since they set up the kiosks, they locked us up totally. The good thing is that we were spared the lines,” adds Ivis. continue reading

With three independent entrances, an outdoor park as a common area, a bank and a nearby Wi-Fi zone, residents in the building have feared for weeks that the coronavirus would reach their building.

“My husband has been out of work before; he is a driver and has been at home for a while, getting paid 60% of his salary, but nobody here can go to work, that I know. What I can’t tell you is whether other people are being paid their whole salary or only a part,” she explains.

Although this is not the tallest building in the area, where 18, 20 and 26 stories are commonplace, this prefabricated building, built in the 1980’s and inspired by Eastern European architecture, houses some 500 apartments. When it was being built, three 12-storey buildings were joined, one next to the other, ending up with what the neighbors jokingly call “the serpent,” “the horizontal ghetto,” or “the worm.”

With three separate entrances, an outdoor park as a common area, a bank and a nearby Wi-Fi zone, building residents have feared for weeks that the coronavirus would reach its densely populated structure. But the confinement also has its positive side, with a special supply of food in an area with a sketchy network of shops and markets.

Residents say that everything is “very organized” and that shopping is conducted by floor. “They come, they give you a ticket and when it’s your turn, you go down.”

“They come, they give you a ticket and when it’s time for your apartment, you go downstairs. There are people who don’t want to buy everything. For example, my neighbor, who lives alone with her husband, receives the same quotas as us, and there are five of us. They are retired, they do not have enough money to buy everything they are allowed to get, so sometimes they give us their ticket; in exchange we give them a part of what we buy.”

Ivis explains that one day they found four packages of detergent and five soaps for sale. “I hadn’t bought detergent for months and that’s how I solved my problem. What they haven’t brought is shampoo and toothpaste,” she said.

Another neighbor says that the closing caught her visiting her mother’s house, who lives in Alamar. “Imagine arriving and finding your building closed. Luckily, the confinement was not total those first days, so I was able to return to my house with my daughter,” she said.

“The other day I went to buy chicken at the Tulipán store and it turned out that it was closed because the employees had been given the task of preparing packages to sell to residents of the twelve floors,” said a neighbor from a nearby building.

This Monday, in El Vedado, another building woke up in the same situation. It is the América Building, on the corner of N and 27th, a seven-story building with high population density since many apartments have been divided into two.

“Here, they explained that between Tuesday and Wednesday they would set up the kiosk in the lobby to shop without having to go out and that they would randomly test us for the coronavirus, though not all the residents,” a tenant of the building told this newspaper.

Since the pandemic began in Cuba, no mandatory quarantine has been declared at the national level, but entire neighborhoods, shops, workplaces, houses and multi-family buildings have been isolated to avoid contagion. Havana has had more than 2,800 positive cases and an incidence rate of 131.4 per 100,000 inhabitants.

The rest of the streets on the Island, however, are still full of people in search of food and lining up for hours, a situation that the Government has not been able to resolve amid great shortages of basic products. What it has done is increase control over the population through fines and restrictions.

Translator: Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Trials Designed to Set an Example Overwhelm a Court of Law in Havana

The express legal process seeks not only to convict offenders, but also to send a message to the rest of the public. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 September 2020 — If it weren’t for the pandemic, it would seem that the group gathered on 23rd Street is waiting for a bus. But this Friday, people in front of the Municipal Court at the Plaza de la Revolución were waiting to find out the fate of their relatives, detained for allegedly violating the measures decreed in Havana to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Dozens of eyes did not lose sight of the arrival of police vehicles, the movement of the uniformed men, or the shout that, from time to time, a policeman would voice from the front door of a large house on the opposite sidewalk. At any time, a son, a brother or a father might be transferred to the site to be tried for failing to comply with Decree 14/2020.

“Here we are, waiting for them to bring our son but they tell us that it will be later, that now they are bringing the people from Cerro and we are from Centro Habana,” Marta, a woman who is waiting, leaning on a wall on 23rd Street with her husband and two children, tells 14ymedio. continue reading

Some have settled on the sidewalk, others have been able to bring a small plastic bench, a bottle of water and lots of patience for the long hours of waiting. They are people from all social classes and neighborhoods in Havana. What little unites them is the anxiety of not knowing what happened to the relative who did not return home and they found out shortly after he was detained.

Some have settled on the sidewalk, others have been able to bring a small plastic bench, a bottle of water and a lot of patience for the long hours of waiting

Under her umbrella, Marta harshly criticizes the injustice that has been committed against her son. “They are telling families that the penalties are always less severe for people who are employed, but I do not understand. My 21-year-old son lost his job like many others because of this Covid.”

From across the street, an officer yells: “Reinaldo, Reinaldo.” Last names are not necessary because several members of a family spring up and cross the light traffic on the avenue, under a sun that can melt stones. Only a relative can access the oral hearing. “Go in, since you are his mother, we will be waiting for you out here,” someone says. The woman, escorted by two officers, enters the house.

Inside, the trial takes place, a quick process that seeks not only to convict the offenders but also to send a message to the rest of the public. The trials are designed to serve as an example, to warn others not to hang out on the streets without a mask, not to go out after the curfew has started, and not to try to shop in stores outside their municipality.

The front yard of the courthouse is packed with waiting uniformed police officers, looking bored and tired, dozing with their elbows on their knees. Two small buses, the kind traditionally used for the transfer of prisoners, are parked outside.

The front yard of the courthouse is packed with uniformed policemen who wait, they look bored and tired

“They are the sector leaders, who are pressured to come and give testimony of the offense committed,” says another woman. “Here they conduct trials from everywhere, from Cerro as well as from Plaza or Centro Habana,” she adds. “I still don’t know why they took my brother. I know he’s here because I got a call last night.”

A young woman, with a little girl in her arms, approaches the group. In a timid voice, she explains that her husband was taken away on the 21st of last month and asks several questions: “Do you know what sanctions they are handing out? Do you have any idea where they will transfer him after this?” A buzz of solidarity is heard, but a voice calls for calm.

The young mother needs to go to the bathroom. “Wait, I’ll come with you,” offers another woman, who leaves her purse in the hands of her husband before crossing the deserted avenue again. They return to the subject when they return. The conversation is full of unanswered questions. Nobody knows which prison they are taking the detainees to, nor what penalties they are applying.

“According to what they have told me, the punishment depends a lot on the circumstances and the person”, says a man who had not spoken up to that point. Silence runs through the group. Perhaps each one calculates the situation of his relative. Does he work or not work? Does he have a criminal record?

Some take refuge in the hope that their relative will walk out of the trial with just a fine, cross the sidewalk and they will hug in the September sun. The officer’s shout breaks the brief silence. “Maykel, Maykel” is heard, and a woman with a small child crosses the sidewalk.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

“When You are Censored, All Doors Close and the Locksmith Keeps All the Keys”

Omar Mena has authored over 11 albums since he began his career in rap more than a decade ago. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 September 2020 — Omar Mena is an artist without fear when it comes to expressing himself. The author of more than 11 albums since he began his career in rap more than a decade ago, he is known in his genre as El Analista [The Analyst].  Mena has always been at the side of the most complicated causes that have been defended within the culture in recent times: the fight against Decree 349, the support for the campaign that called for the freedom of the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the vote to petition the rejection of the Constitution, among others.

After a lot of struggling from one place to another, today he resides with his family in Santa Clara, from where he talks with 14ymedio about the challenges of being a free artist in Cuba and about the projects he has defended to stay active in the world of hip hop.

Question. What were your beginnings in music like, and what prompted you to rap?

Answer. I started to do rap in 2008, recording an album at the Real 70 production company. I’ve been in this field for twelve years. Initially I was a rocker, I really liked rock and I had my band, but I was always rebellious, what I liked was expressing what I felt. The issue was already complicated with the members. There were four of us and some began to be afraid because of what I said in my lyrics. So I decided to do rap. After my first album I recorded in some Santa Clara studios and later in one that I put together myself. continue reading

Question. Where can you hear hip hop in Santa Clara?

Answer. Santa Clara does not have spaces specifically for hip hop, the usual clubs in the city are the only spaces rappers have. For example, at the AHS there are about two clubs a month and one in El Mejunje de Silverio

When you have my kind of lyrics, you live with censorship from the beginning. The Government never guaranteed me anything with respect to my work or my music, I have always created independently

Question. Due to the lyrics and the free expression of the songs that you write, you have suffered censorship from the institution, what did this mean for your career? How did you experience it? What hit you the most?

Answer. In this genre, censorship is not something that affects an artist’s career much. When you have the lyrics that I have, you live with censorship from the beginning. The Government never guaranteed me almost anything with respect to my work or my music, I have always created in an independent manner.

What hurts is the dimension that censorship brings, the worst censorship is the one exercised by the artist against the censored artist. I have directed events when I belonged to the institution and brought censored artists such as David D’omni or the Patriot Squad and everyone participated, but if there are no artists from those who remain in the institutions who are committed to Cuban society, that censorship will be the one that will continue to hit the most, because no one can prevent an artist from being brave and inviting you; what can happen, at most they will tell him that he is responsible and that’s it.

What also happens is that censorship is a machine: they not only go against your work but against you.

Question. I suppose that resuming your career independently has closed many doors for you, what new experiences did creation outside the institution bring to you?

Answer. After censorship arrived, I spent almost a year devising a new strategy, because it was always clear to me that it was not going to stop. When you are censored, all doors close and the locksmith keeps all the keys. then there is nowhere to perform, you need to create doors and options and that’s what I did.

What hurts is the scope that censorship brings, the worst censorship is the one exercised by the artist against the censored artist

I created a project called Genesis Club. Initially it was only about supporting artists in their work, holding improvement workshops, helping them to record their albums but then it evolved into another period.

I have a large patio so that’s where I built my stage. It has been the most special thing that has happened to me in my life, one for the artists who have performed there and another for the support of the people of the neighborhood. It is not the same to sing for people who have the same problems than for those who attend so they can party. In a club everyone goes to drink their bottle and the neighborhood people attend out of curiosity and pay close attention to everything that’s said.

That is what the Government fears, new comments said in the neighborhood and the neighborhood starts to think, reflecting on what happens there. It is one of the most special things that has happened to me.

The issue of repression has been more complicated, let’s call a spade a spade. I am not a politician, I am an artist, I do not belong to a party, I am just an independent thinker, a young man with his own way of thinking and who expresses it without fear. It is not a question of being brave, it is a commitment that I think must be taken. Everyone should give themselves the personal satisfaction of saying what they think and that is my case.

What the Government is afraid of, what new idea can be spoken in the neighborhood and the neighborhood is left thinking, reflecting on what is expressed there

Whenever a rumor goes around or with each demonstration that social networks or the opposition calls for, two policemen get stationed in front of my house to prevent me from going out. When the Clandestinos thing was going around they stationed them there too.  It’s crazy.

It is difficult for me to understand that they do that to an artist, especially when they control everything. They know that I don’t belong to any party and yet I’m being repressed. Personally, it does not affect me, I can live quietly, I am free and I am at peace.

Question. Do you agree with the idea that a rapper from the provinces is at a disadvantage compared to one from Havana to achieve success in his career?

Answer. It is relative. Initially, I lived in Havana and I never achieved what I did later here in my province. Everything is where you pump it out, where you put effort to work. The thing about Havana is that there are 400 rappers there, but you can come to your province and make yourself noticed, I don’t see that as impossible.

It is true that there are more opportunities there, but it is possible. Life is a line, which may curve, but it will always go to its point, if something is there for you it will happen, everything depends on the effort you put into it, I do not agree that opportunities exist only in Havana.

When I’ve had to make an important video I have gone to Havana, like the one from 349, the one about “no to the Constitution”, I have gone and been videoed, when the issue of Luis Manuel’s freedom the same thing happened, shot the video, they counted on me from my province.

Question. Having created a concert space in the house where you live with your family, what consequences has it brought you? How has it worked so far?

Answer. The creation of space in the house has not brought me many problems, just a few citations, the normal that one lives with daily. I think it is done to make you feel the intimidation and surveillance. They always ask me about what I’m going to do and I always answer the same thing: I’m going to make art.

A State Security officer told me that they had an order to prosecute me, but that they were going to give me the opportunity to do the concert. I left calmly and told them that I was going to make art that day.

During the first concert they threatened to send me to prison if something was said on stage that was not in accordance with the Revolution’s discourse. A State Security officer told me that they had an order to prosecute me, but that they were going to give me the opportunity to do the concert. I left calmly and told them that that day I was going to make art and that the next day they would do what they had to do.

David, Soandry, the neighborhood Hip Hopper came to the concert, what went on, went on.  What they said was going to be said was said and nothing happened, many police cars patrolling, watching.

Every time I do a concert it’s the same. They come up here and come to ask my permission. Then they schedule me with the head of the sector to ask me what I live on and things like that, but they have no way to cross my threshold. I follow the rules, the schedules, it is at my house, it is not in the street, I do not interrupt the public space.

We’re here to make art, it is a free space, the neighborhood supports me immensely, they help me in a huge way, they fill up the audience space, they have never disappointed me. I live two kilometers from the park and people come from there. I have never before sung for as many audiences as I have here and there is always an atmosphere full of freedom.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Two Bags of Food for a Six Hour Wait

The line at the agricultural market on Tulipán Street was slow and unbearable this Saturday. There was only cucumber, squash, julienned sweet potatoes and some eggplants on the shelves. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 6 September 2020 — At five in the morning this Saturday, Beatriz Delgado went out to the streets in search of food for her family. It is already two in the afternoon and she is still standing on line to buy groceries and some vegetables. Her daily routine has become more difficult with the new restrictions to slow the rebound of covid-19.

Since last Tuesday, residents of Havana have been trying to adjust to the curfew. From seven at night to five in the morning the city is deserted. Only police, firefighters, ambulances and some cars with special permits can be seen. It is a radical change when compared to the very intense early mornings before this ban.

“I used to go out with a friend of mine after watching the soap opera and we would stand from that time in a couple of lines, sometimes without really knowing why. It didn’t matter, because anything is needed: shampoo, chicken, ground meat, tooth paste,” explains Delgado, who is 63-years-old. continue reading

Bakery on Calle Infanta, Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

“The lines would form starting in the afternoon, and getting up early in order to get a good number was useless; even so, we never got a number smaller than 60,, explains this Havana resident, for whom the curfew means fewer possibilities of being able fill her bag.

COVID-19 in Havana: An Alibi to Perpetuate the Castro Pandemic / Miriam Celaya

Between seven in the evening and five in the morning, mobility for people and vehicles is prohibited in Havana (photo: ADN Cuba)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 September 2020 — The new bundle of measures that begins to rule for 15 days in the Cuban capital starting today, Tuesday, September 1st, comes to place a new marble slab on the spirit of the capital after five harrowing months of an epidemic whose end is a period as unknown as that of the food crisis that Cuba was undergoing long before the start of the pandemic.

With the pretext of controlling the current outbreak of COVID-19, which has spread “with intense transmission” in all the municipalities of the Cuban capital, Reinaldo García Zapata, Havana’s governor, in his response by videoconference at the national TV’s Round Table last Thursday, August 27th, declared that the previous measures and actions were not enough to control the contagion.

He explained that “there has been a lack of discipline on the part of people who did not act reasonably and (also) there are institutions that did not fulfill their guiding roles and their leadership”, all of which led to a re-outbreak of the disease and we returned to the previous stage in the course of this week, “of endemic transmission”, but with a much more complex situation than in the previous stage, since there are 6 open sources of contagion and a greater dispersion of cases in the capital. continue reading

Without wishing to immerse myself in the murkiness of the official figures, nor to return to the subject of the highest incurable level of vice of the authorities, to evade their great share of responsibility in this setback — excess of triumphalism, anticipated de-escalation, haste in the opening of hotels with the sole purpose of making money regardless of the risks, just to mention the most obvious ones — the rigor of the new restrictions does not bear a proportional relationship to the number of infections when compared to the capital’s population of more than two million.

Nor does it seem reasonable that the authorities have set a period of just 15 days (in the first instance) to stop a re-outbreak that the Minister of Health himself declared could become “uncontrollable.” Something smells rotten.

Even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the country’s and the capital’s senior leaders in their presumed intention to deepen controls in order to protect the health of the people, and without denying the priority of maintaining the fence over such a dangerous disease, it is obvious that the new commandments abound in criticism by and prohibitions to the population – some of them bordering on the absurd or exaggerated – and focus on disciplinary measures for those who dare to transgress these taboos, but the obligations and responsibilities that the authorities must fulfill have been left in an extremely diffuse limbo, as usual.

Let us take, for example, the omission of the functions that the different instances of the government and the Ministry of Health would be obliged to guarantee in terms of material, hygiene and service conditions, both at the hospital level and at the so-called “isolation centers”, taking into account the numerous complaints issued by those admitted to these places during phase I of the outbreak.

Another dark point is the responsibility that those same authorities have to transfer people to hospitals requiring urgent attention, not necessarily cases related to the Covid virus, especially between the hours of seven in the afternoon to five in the morning during which mobility of people and vehicles is expressly prohibited, under penalty of loss of registration and circulation to unauthorized vehicles traveling during those times.

Furthermore, in accordance with the new restrictions, the Governor has been empowered “with a legal instrument that allows the application of severe fines against various cases of social indiscipline” during this period. Said fines must be paid within a period not exceeding 10 days, otherwise, the original amount will be doubled, and if not paid within 30 days, the offenders will be subject to criminal charges. All this in a scenario of economic and social paralysis where the majority of the State workers remain furloughed, receiving 60% of their salary and in some cases receiving no income, while workers in the private sector (the self-employed) have not received any financial help at all).

As expected, the arbitrary and biased nature of the official provisions and their application, as well as the “impunity from the top” are perfectly reflected in the absence of entities or legal mechanisms with the capacity to sanction authorities at any level, including the Governor himself, in the event that those authorities or their subordinates are the ones who (again) violate the regulations or fail to fulfill their unstated obligations.

In any case, the next two weeks will be a real challenge for law enforcement officials in charge of implementation in the most complex theater of operations and, demonstrably, one of the most difficult to control for law enforcement officials: the Cuban capital. A veritable testing ground — to paraphrase a friend who defined it this way — where those same agents have dealt, with little or no success, with illegalities, the informal market (“immortal”, I should say) and corruption, when they have not formed part of that long chain.

And this is precisely where the new restrictions are ultimately aimed: refining and reinforcing repressive structures. The draconian measures that will rule in Havana in the next two weeks rather suggest a trial exercise to oil — as far as possible — the repressive mechanisms in the face of possible sources of disturbances that could occur in the coming months, not due to claims of a political nature, taking into account the civic circumstances and political ignorance of “the masses”, but because of the unstoppable advance of the shortage crisis that threatens to worsen and that will hit the poorest households with greater force.

Curfew, severe sanctions, watertight separation of the population (each isolated in its municipality), drastic limitation of movement of people and vehicles, perhaps they could be part of a tactic aimed at facilitating the response to the popular discontent. More than the control of COVID-19, a twisted strategy to perpetuate a much more virulent and damaging epidemic: that of the Castro legacy.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Clandestinos: a Scandalous Silence

Image of a bust of José Martí supposedly covered in pig’s blood, released by the Clandestinos group at the beginning of the year. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 September 2020 — Popular voices state that sometimes forgetting is healthier than remembering. This maxim could well be applied to the case of a supposed anti-Castro organization that upset the social networks in the first days of January of this year with its coming out appearance using a controversial method of rebellion: covering with pig’s blood several busts of José Martí and the occasional public billboard in which the image of the deceased Castro appeared.

Either because of the intangibility of the Clandestinos – the name by which the group was known — or because of their unexpected appearance, because they hid their identity using masks that completely covered their faces, because they always acted during night hours and because, in addition, they shot short videos that were later published on social networks to record their alleged activities, the truth is that these elusive rebels captured the attention of Internet users and of multiple digital media, unleashing fierce debates between supporters and detractors and breaking the usual apathy of the Cuban political opposition scene.

There were many angry voices criticizing what they considered a serious desecration of the memory of the most revered Cuban of all time – José Martí, it is understood — but it must be recognized that Clandestinos managed to attract the sympathy of a large part of the emigration and of activists of different ideologies, as well as activists of the most diverse agendas and several independent journalists within the Island who, with absolute lack of judgment, joined the hashtag #TodosSomosClandestinos [#We’re are all Clandestinos] and began to share videos and photos of the alleged actions of the new freedom champions. continue reading

 There certainly never was in the opposition universe of the Castro era another group so ghostly, with such a meteoric rise, such a resounding fall or such an ephemeral life

Furthermore, during the first week of the year, and with the irrational passion that characterizes the national temperament, questioning the very existence of the Clandestinos or launching any reasoning that could cast a shadow of suspicion on the heroes of the moment or their actions — which no one could even contrast — to the most radical spirits it was the equivalent of the worst betrayal of the anti-Castro cause, if not a test of “being at the service of the dictatorship.”

However, the mirage was short-lived. There was never in the opposition universe of the Castro era another group so ghostly for sure, with such a meteoric rise, such a resounding fall or such a fleeting life. Barely a week elapsed between the appearance of the first video of Clandestinos in cyberspace, on January 1st, until the official note was issued through the National Television News (NTV), on the 8th of the same month, reporting on the capture of the authors of those “acts of vandalism”.

Now without theatrical masks and without a hint of glamour, the images of Panter Rodríguez Baró and Yoel Prieto Tamayo, the alleged Clandestinos, were exposed in the media monopoly of the Castro press. Following the typical State Security scheme, both were classified as antisocial with a criminal record for possession and consumption of drugs, whose actions, financed by the usual villains — that is, “stateless people” from Florida — were part of “a dirty media maneuver to make believe that there is a climate of insecurity and violence in Cuba. ”

Judging by the corresponding report with which these “victories” of the Plaza de la Revolución are usually accompanied, that group of anonymous warriors of national scope turned out to be a duo restricted to Havana.

And so, devoid of a single applause or tears, the drama ended. In stark contrast to the scramble they had sparked during their brief stint on the media scene, a tombstone of silence and oblivion has since closed over the Clandestinos.

Interestingly, in the six months since then, not one of their passionate supporters has called for a campaign for the release of these courageous anti-Castro fighters. Nobody wonders where they are or what state they are in, locked in the dark cells of State Security, if they really are there. In fact, the names of Panter and Yoel are not even on the lists of politically motivated prisoners that are regularly updated by different organizations.

Since the arrest and the beginning of the criminal investigation process of the case, the official media has not mentioned a word about the topic

No less intriguing is the silence from the opposite end of the spectrum. Since the arrest and the beginning of the criminal investigation process of the case, the official media have not mentioned a word about the issue, despite the fact that, in the heat of that comical report, the most seasoned revolutionaries went so far as to suggest the application of the death penalty against the conspicuous masked men for the crime of affront to the fatherland.

It is suspicious at least that tarnishing the memory of the National Hero represents a minor crime — and therefore able to be postponed — compared to crimes as abominable as the hoarding of onions, the resale of toiletries, the dealing in auto parts, the illegal trafficking of people’s spaces waiting in lines or cheese making, which in recent times and almost every day occupies a priority in the final minutes of the TV news.

This time, although for different reasons, one of those exceptional coincidences is apparently taking place in which opposite extremes — the Castro regime, by some obscure interest and its most staunch adversaries on both sides of the Florida Strait, by perception of the ridiculous – opted for the same strategy: to spread a pious mantle on an issue that may be uncomfortable for both sides.

We have yet to see if in the near future the Clandestinos return to the fore and the Cuban authorities mount a model mock trial. Although, personally, I would still have reservations. Who knows if, as a colleague pointed out, one day we will recognize Panter or Yoel serving as custodians in a foreign embassy in Havana. It is known that the decisions of State Security are inscrutable.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

From Ubre Blanca to the “Bici-agro”, the Absurd News of the Revolution / Ernesto Perez Chang

The “bici-agro” as presented by the official media. (Foto: EICMA Cuba / Twitter)

Cubanet, Ernesto Pérez Chang, Havana, 13 August 2020 — They invented the bici-agro in Ciego de Ávila, the local press announced, and the TV National News repeated it in spite of how ridiculous the news item was.

In essence, the “great invention” is nothing more than an ordinary tricycle to market food on the streets, a pedal cart as “sophisticated” as the “Palmiche” can be, that bizarre CUJAE* “robot” creation which flooded social media with memes, since it was nothing more than a rough hot table on wheels.

If there is something “attractive”  — rather than “alarming” —  both in the news about the “agricultural-bike”, as well as in the one about the “thermos on wheels”, it is not the objects themselves but the news as such, since it is possible to find similar artifacts anywhere in the universe without the best media editor finding them newsworthy, much less in a global context where there’s talk of Mars missions, of injectable nanorobots to fight cancer and 5G and even 6G wireless connections. continue reading

What is striking is that there is not an iota of sarcasm in the press release, and that in reality they are trying to sneak in something totally pathetic as proof of Cuban “creativity” in “difficult moments”, even as an “achievement of the Revolution and socialism”, from which a moderately suspicious reader could deduce that the national disaster is so gigantic that it is already too difficult for the Ideological Department of the Communist Party — which “guides” the work of the official press — to find other “encouraging news” to fuel its usual smugness.

A number of more grotesque news items have flourished these past few months in the regime-financed press, just when the crisis is hitting bottom and the threat of a social outbreak is increasing with the August heat, the empty stomachs and the psychological imbalances caused by confinement.

And it is not that the coronavirus has charred the noggins of a few “communicators” around here, but rather that they are a “continuity” of that old guard of reporters who, in the midst of the crisis at the Peruvian Embassy and the Mariel Boatlift “preferred” to make front page headlines about a cow named “Ubre Blanca” (White Udder).  At the end of that same decade, when the Soviet Union was collapsing, ruling party member Arleen Rodríguez Derivet — back then a TV reporter in the city of Guantánamo — made her appearance, becoming “famous” for discovering a “talking dog.”

The ridiculous weighs heavy and is stronger than news. It is a manipulative formula that rarely fails and is a daily practice in the official press. Using the previous examples, let us think that anyone in Cuba today who experienced those decades of the 80’s and 90’s from a distance and from their understanding of what was read, seen and heard in the regime’s press and not by any other means, knows more about Ubre Blanca and the “talking dog” than about what really happened at the Peruvian Embassy or about the real causes that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Even the executions of generals at the start of the most critical decade for the Cuban economy were engulfed by cheers and fireworks of a whimsical Pan American Games that sucked the few foreign reserves that remained from the Soviet Era. However, bevies of Cubans flocked to buy “tocopanes” (the tocororo, Cuban national bird, chosen as mascot), and for weeks, front pages of newspapers were flooded with the subject of Cuba’s increasing wins of sports medals, while on the margins of the state-run newspaper Granma’s second page the daily report on the sugar harvest disappeared, and the standardized distribution table of “the gutless dog”, “the soybean hamburger meat” and the kerosene bottle to face blackouts began to appear.

There were no social networks, leaving the country was almost impossible, the independent press was just an embryo, torn between a forced delivery or being aborted. Thus, the “ordinary” Cuban, away from the epicenter of the hottest events, perceived the times and contexts only through the ideologizing sieve of the official press. Its routine spanned from the Cuban cow that produced more milk than any “imperialist cow” and stories about the first Cuban in the cosmos.

Meanwhile, just a few steps from the avenue where the daily caravan of luxury cars that led Fidel Castro from his family residence to the Palace of the Revolution, a crowd packed into an embassy showed the world that socialism was hell.

But, like beings from another planet, the naive looked to the skies trying to distinguish the Russian spaceship among the stars, they entertained themselves in teaching the dog to speak in the hope of appearing on television, or they dreamed of at least one day achieving the privileges of a dairy cow, which was just asking for too much.

There is no doubt that those Cubans will be able to tell us about the mass exodus, about the “marches of the fighting people” and about the “Special Period” that came after the demise of the USSSR. But those things have probably faded from their memories as something residual and unimportant, without the intensity that, in contrast, the powerful images that the absurd and the ridiculous do possess, as did the indelicate idea of an animal “blessed by the Commander in Chief” which, consequently, lived in a way that was unattainable to any Cuban, even if he pretended to be more mute, docile and productive than Ubre Blanca.

In a hamlet of very poor people, far in the Villa Clara hills, there was, or may still exist, a museum whose main attraction was a stuffed mule rumored to have belonged to Ernesto (Che) Guevara during the uprising.   In order to preserve it for “History”, they kept it in an air-conditioned urn, which was a real luxury in this rural town, with scant electricity for basic household matters.

Those who have visited the place say that the town inhabitants, especially children, go to the museum on intensely hot days to lean their bodies against the glass and thus cool off a bit. They could care less about the beast on display or its former owner, but think only of the cold that provides them, for a fleeting, short-lived moment, the relief that is impossible to have at home.

In living conditions in Cuba today, in which the streets are like a pot over a live fire, hermetically closed and with very few escape valves, the reports in the official press about the “bici-agro”, the “robotic” wheelbarrow of the CUJAE and other “super gadgets”, apparently so alienated and ridiculous in essence, could pretend to be like that cold urn which, like a diversion, calms the spirits of the very hot children. But these are other times and the people, now much more suspicious, will immediately realize that the enthusiasm for a “bici-agro” is nothing more than madness. Much like worshiping a refrigerated, dead mule.

Translated by Norma Whiting

*CUJAE =   José Antonio Echeverría Technical University of Havana

Cuba, Monetary Unification and “The Horizon” for its Destiny / Miriam Celaya

The Cuban Economy and the Dual Monetary System. (Photo AFP)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 August 2020 — A note recently published by the official Cuban press discusses once again the much harped on and, so far, unresolved issue of monetary unification, through an interview conducted by its author with various specialists from the Central Bank of Cuba.

Said officials agreed on the importance of monetary and exchange unification as a “necessary, although not sufficient, condition to reorder and update the national economy,” and offered their vision on the origins of the dual currency and its historical antecedents, with an explanation about what would be the ideal economic environment of the country for (finally) money to fulfill its functions.

It would be useless to repeat what was said by the experts, who are, after all, government officials whose speech does not differ from the countless explanations poured out on this controversial issue since 2011 when the then General-President had an epiphany and declared that it was time to unify the two national currencies. Almost ten years later, the miracle has not yet to take place. continue reading

It would be expected that these senior bureaucrats of the national coffers, protagonists of the reference note, would have offered us some advance on the solution strategies that — supposedly — are being applied to cut the Gordian knot of the monetary and exchange rate duality. Or, at the very least, they should have clarified where we stand in the steps and stages that were supposedly planned in the “Guidelines,” and that would be taking place to make possible (if only!) the long-awaited unification.

We would have appreciated being enlightened in the midst of a reality so chaotic and obscure that the currencies — far from being unified — continue to diversify. The recent irruption of foreign currencies in the national trading system multiplies the distortions, deepening the devaluation of Cuban currencies, strengthening the black exchange market and reinforcing the already large social gaps existing between the poorer sectors, who have no access to foreign currency and those who are better off (the “privileged”) and may rely on some source of income in foreign currency.

In other words, the most damaging thing at a social level today, beyond the financial, is no longer the old problem of the existence of two currencies, but the coexistence of two types of currencies: on the one hand, the local ones (CUP and CUC), with a physical presence in the depressed national commerce, without real value and without financial backing, a sad imitation of the old tokens issued by sugar mills with colonial heritage.  On the other, foreign currencies, with real value but with only virtual presence (overlapping dollarization), and privileged within the national trading system itself (commercial apartheid) with the provision of markets exclusively for those who have access to them through debit cards attached to bank accounts in freely convertible currency.

Obviously, although the urgency of gaining control over hard currencies foreign exchange is undeniable, which, according to vernacular experts, should theoretically help accelerate monetary unification, this would be an extremely long process in practice, due to the internal economic crisis aggravated by the severe global economic one related to the COVID-19 pandemic, concurrent  with unpredictable social costs.  All that, taking into account the tension and the growing discontent in Cuba, the increase in repressive measures and police and para-police controls, and the evident distancing between “the government” and “the governed”.

So, in the midst of such a storm “cleaning up internal finances” and “creating an ideal environment for Cuban money to fulfill its functions” will be quite unlikely — to use a nice adjective — unless the hierarchs have some trick up their sleeve, which has never been favorable for common Cubans.

Despite all this, and with regard to the illusory monetary unification, Karina Cruz Simón, a specialist in the Directorate of Economic Studies, offered premises that constitute pure chimeras in light of the current situation. The “key”, the expert suggests, is to stabilize the national currency.  This may be achieved, among other factors, by “ensuring that the money issuance processes correspond to the evolution of the real or productive economy.”

What this official does not mention is how she thinks such a spell can be performed. As if it had not been sufficiently proven throughout the entire Castro experiment that a “real or productive” economy urgently requires promoting a profound transformation of property relations in Cuba without further delay: another equally complex and long-standing distortion that began since the very dawn of the so-called Revolution which has been the basis of the national economic disaster.

Achieving this “favorable scenario so that the Cuban peso can fulfill its functions and preserve macroeconomic balances” does not depend only (or magically) on the factors mentioned by Cruz Simón, which is also unattainable if Cuba does not open up to the market economy and if, simultaneously, the economic, political and social rights of its citizens are not recognized so that they can participate as protagonists and not as hostages in the new economic scenario.

The fundamental obstacle to advancing on both sides of the necessary unification and revaluation of the national currency — economics and finance — is the obsolete and proven failed principle of “general economic planning”, which is the new euphemism when referring to a centralized economy.

In reality, all the “renovating” proposals launched so far by the political Power in order to “get the economy moving” only tend to shield this failed official centralism and to perpetuate the privileges of Power. It is this stubbornness that prevents the economy from advancing in the first place and, in the last place, makes monetary unification possible. When you have lived 60 years in totalitarianism and uninterrupted economic disasters, it is not necessary to be a specialist in the field to understand it that way.

However, so we are not faulted as unfair, it will be necessary to recognize some coherence. Already the very heading of the state-owned newspaper Granma’s note announced it bluntly: the monetary unification of Cuba is “on the horizon”… And it is known that the horizon is an imaginary and unattainable line. It is on this line that Power has always placed all its promises of prosperity, and where our destinies continue. At least they have never lied to us about that.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba: The “Strategy” of Desperation

(Photo: Estudios Revolución)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 19 July 2020 — If I had to briefly describe the general impression that emerges from the new Economic and Social Strategy of the Cuba’s upper echelons of power, I would choose three preliminary adjectives: wrong, late and incomplete.

It is wrong because it continues to estimate in a foreign currency what they call “impulse to the economic development of the country” – more noteworthy, in the “enemy’s” foreign currency which supposedly generates all the ills – and in items that are not related at all to the results of the production of the (ruined) national industry: family remittances from abroad, the eternally “potential” foreign investment capital and the eventual foreign tourism income, now disappeared.

It is late because each and every one of the proposed guidelines, such as the “flexibilities” announced for the private sector, financial “autonomy” for state-owned companies, the introduction of micro and small and medium-sized companies, among other measures could and should have been implemented many years ago, especially during the thaw period, with the administration of the then-US President, Barack Obama, when the Castro regime had its best opportunity to implement these and other changes. continue reading

On the other hand, the official proposal for economic reforms in the current national and international context (though it is noteworthy that the term “reforms” was not uttered), far from projecting an alleged interest of the power claque to expand the economic potential of citizens or a real desire for change, only evidences despair and a sense of urgency to increase hard currencies.

But perhaps the most relevant feature of this official strategy, which they now offer as the holy grail to try to revive the depressed economy, is its incompleteness. And here, it is worth dwelling on several root considerations when it comes to economic efficiency.

According to the leaders of the Castro court, the priority objective of all the theoretical-strategic scaffolding – which until now is only about that: theory and intentions – is food production. In fact, the spokesman of the constituents of the Political Bureau of the PCC, comrade Díaz-Canel, in his scolding speech before the Council of Ministers on the morning of July 16th made reference to the urgent need to achieve “food sovereignty”, a kind of religious invocation resulting from the delusions of the Deceased-in-Chief, whose status has never advanced beyond that of a chimera, and who only sounds yet again like a bad omen in the current scenario.

But, getting to the heart of the matter, producing food at a level that satisfies domestic demand, substitutes imports and even generates income from exports – as these hallucinated ones claim – necessarily goes through the everlasting problem of property relations over land, a critical point of which no mention was made on last Thursday’s Roundtable television program.

If the farmer is not the legitimate owner of the land he works; if, in addition, laws (not simple paper “strategies”) that grant legal nature and protection to the producer are not implemented; if the inopportune interventions of the State that establish price limits, criminalize commerce or impose leonine taxes are not irreversibly suspended; in short, if, simultaneously with the “flexibilities” in the economy, the corresponding civil and political rights are not recognized for citizens, there will be no effective progress, nor will the necessary and profound changes take place.

The official rhetoric, so worn and rotten that its seams seem to pop, deserves a full stop.  About said rhetoric I will only mention some brushstrokes that stand out in the midst of the ideological patch that preceded the information on the masterful “Strategy”, through the intervention (in effigy) of the president by appointment, which makes clear the absence of a compass of a political power that weighs itself down as obsolete and ineffective.

When Díaz-Canel, in his parliament, reminiscent of a “Cantinflas”* movie plot, declares that “to benefit everyone, sometimes you have to take measures that seem to favor a few but in the long run favor everyone”, and when the differentiation of access to goods is established as a norm and services according to the income of citizens, privileging those who receive foreign exchange – to the detriment of the state worker who receives his salary in national currency (CUP) and the most humble sectors of society, without access to remittances or other income – and establishing the bases for a new and deeper social gap between the poor and the rich, are in fact establishing the same “neoliberal” strategies that have been so widely criticized by the seat of power when it comes to other governments in other latitudes.

But if, to add to the humiliation, the official media offers to the most disadvantaged the promise of two “additional” pounds of rice and six ounces of beans, to be distributed for two months through the ration card, then discrimination is compounded by insult.

Hopefully, all of us Cubans, here or overseas, will finally place ourselves at the height of the conflict. This time it is worth paraphrasing the maker of national ruin to tell those who humiliate and insult us from the seat of power that we don’t want them; we don’t need them.

*Translator’s note: Cantinflesco: A term derived from Mexican actor Mario Moreno Cantiflas’ movie genre: laughable, ridiculous, caricature-like.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Medications Crisis in Cuba: Rationing vs. Reasoning / Miriam Celaya

Pharmacy in Cuba (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 June 2020 – Another hot summer day has barely dawned in the city, but dozens of people are already gathered in the vestibule at the Carlos III Pharmacy in Central Havana. The day before, the drugs were “unloaded” and since quantity and variety of the assortment never meets demand, exactly every ten days an anxious human conglomerate fills the area and its surroundings for several hours.

In the past three to four years, drug shortages have become an increasingly tricky topic at this medical powerhouse. The impact of the crisis is such that neither the pharmaceutical industry nor the importing companies -both monopolies of the State- are able to insure even those drugs assigned to patients with chronic diseases, acquired through the Controlled Medicines Acquisition Card, popularly known as “the big card”.

“I warn you that only part of the Enalapril arrived, and antihistamines or dipyrone, medformin, or psychotropic drugs didn’t arrive either, so those who come looking for this already know it, and don’t bother to line up!”, warns one of the pharmacy employees, who has come out to face the crowd like a gladiator before lions. The answer, in effect, is a kind of collective roar. Discontent spreads. continue reading

Moments later the same employee returns to the crowded vestibule to report, with the same subtlety, about the great “solution” that pharmacies are going to apply to the shortage of medicines: “Shut up and pay attention here, so you can’t later say that you didn’t know!” Right after that, he makes an announcement that only half of the dose prescribed by the corresponding doctor will be filled for each card. And he ends with an absolutely irrational warning: “So save [your medicines]!”

The supposedly altruistic idea is that with this rationing of what has already been rationed, a greater number of patients have the possibility of acquiring part of the medicine that is required to treat their ailment. The bad news is that, in practice – and by the grace of the authority of the administrators of destitution – what this achieves is the multiplication of the number of people who cannot duly comply  with what is indicated by a trained physician, and consequently, the risks of health complications that are derived, increase.  Numerous of these cases include extremely serious events, such as cerebral or cardiovascular infarctions, hypercholesterolemia, hyperglycemia and kidney problems, just to mention a few.

Thus, the alternative to these shortages ignores such a basic principle that can be stated simply and mathematically: consuming half the dose equals twice the risk for patients. Because it so happens that there are no half-hypertensive, half-cardiac or half-diabetic cases. Health problems cannot be adapted to the inadequacy of the medicine market.

If it were not for the highly vaunted benefits of a Revolution that leaves no one helpless, we could imagine that we are witnessing a scenario of neo-Malthusianism, where the excess of population added to the increasing scarcity of resources imposes an inevitable socio-demographic selection: the weakest, the old, the ones with lowest incomes and the sick will be the decimated sectors and only the most solvent, strong, young and healthy will survive without further damage, be it or not- or not necessarily-  a State policy.

It is obvious that, despite the accelerated aging of the population in Cuba and with that the increase in chronic patients with diseases related to advanced age, an effective government strategy was never devised to alleviate the stumbling blocks of the fragile national pharmaceutical industry or to protect the so-called “pharmacological groups by control cards”.

Going back in time and appealing to the long history of shortages on the Island, there are numerous drugs that have disappeared from the shelves since the 1990’s, never to return. Even those that were once available over the counter began to be sold by prescription only, a situation that remains to this day. Pharmacy supplies have never come close to what it was until 1989, despite frequent official promises for improvements or recovery of the industry.

Furthermore, the crisis has become so severe that eventually the official press has been forced to bring up the matter. Thus, for example, on 3 February 2018, the article On the Pharmacy Counter (by Julio Martínez Molina) appeared on the digital page of the State newspaper Granma, reporting that in 2017 dozens of shortages of drugs had been reported in throughout the country that year, and the persistence of “the absence of high demand pharmacological items” had been acknowledged, among them hypotensive, antidepressant, anti-ulcer medications and many more.

The BioCubaFarma association reported that the instability in drug deliveries was due to “the lack of adequate financing to pay suppliers of raw materials, packaging materials and expenses.” There was no lack of the favorite “blockade” among the causes for the pothole, which forced “the use of third countries to acquire equipment, American-made spare parts, chemical reagents, etc.”

Other data pointed to interesting figures: of the 801 drugs that make up “the basic picture” of Cuba’s drug demand, BioCubaFarma was responsible for 63%. In total, 505 medicines were produced by the National Pharmaceutical Industry and 286 were imported by the Ministry of Health (MINSAP); while of the 370 lines that were distributed to the pharmacy network, 301 were domestically produced and 69 imported.

Despite everything, explained authorities in the pharmaceutical industry, the critical situation “would change gradually” (would improve), up to the recovery of the production and distribution of medicines, which should take place around the first quarter of 2019.

But BioCubaFarma officials also suggested that the doctors carry some of the responsibility for not being sufficiently informed about the supplies of the drugs they prescribed to patients. “If the doctor has the correct information about the difficulties of a certain medicine, he should avoid prescribing it.”

The real problem, beyond this colossal simplicity, was, and still is, the almost absolute shortage of entire groups of medications, including antibiotics to fight infections or analgesics for pain relief which has caused many doctors – at the risk of being penalized – to recommend to their patients to arrange for their own medicines through family or friends overseas.

In 2018, during a presentation before the National Assembly, the then Minister of Public Health, Roberto Morales Ojeda, beckoned to “combat the misuse of medical prescriptions”, an exhortation that automatically led to the rationing of the doctors’ prescription books. After that, they would receive a limited number of these in order to tackle mismanagement among corrupt doctors and medicine smugglers, a business that had been confirmed for years and that grew in direct proportion to the decrease in supply in legal networks.

This was the rampant official strategy designed to eradicate the wide and deep hole of illegal maneuvers that let medicines slip through pharmacy networks, aggravating shortages and feeding the informal market. Simultaneously, a limit was also placed on the number of medications that could be indicated in each prescription, which – oh, paradox! – forced doctors to issue a greater number of prescriptions to each patient.

The result of so much nonsense was immediate: the drug smugglers diversified their strategies, but survived, while the insane rationalization of prescription books had a null, if not counterproductive effect, in the control of medications.

Meanwhile, more than two years after BioCubaFarma’s triumphant promises, and far from improving, the shortage of medicines in Cuba has deepened and is headed to getting even worse. Because at the end of the day it is not a medication crisis but a system whose disease has no cure.

Just around noon, the Carlos III’s Pharmacy had run out of medications. The line scatters, among whispers, complaints, and resigned faces. The curtain falls on a scene that will repeat itself in exactly ten days.

Translated by Norma Whiting