Havana, Black on Black

Havana at night, after the hurricane (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 September 2017 — Thousands of residents in Havana spent their fourth day without electricity or water supplies, on Wednesday, as a result of the damage left by Hurricane Irma. Brigades of electrical linemen are working to restore the energy supply, but the slow pace of the work, given its complexity in some stretches, brings despair to those who have been unable to take a shower since last Saturday, who must climb to high floors without elevator service, or who yearn to eat something other than canned food or cookies.

In the area of Vedado where hotels, hospitals and government administrative buildings are located, electrical services have been restored, but neighborhoods such as Nuevo Vedado, La Timba, La Viibora, along with extensive areas of the municipality Playa and parts of Centro Habana are still in the dark. Under these circumstances, the middle of the night is the most difficult time of day, with the complete lack of light, and the intense September heat with temperatures over 85 degrees.

To find relief from the heatwave, many residents in the neighborhoods suffering blackouts have placed their mattresses on terraces, balconies and roofs. Garbage collection is also affected and mountains of trash, fallen tree trunks and branches pile up on the corners. National television continues to broadcast an extensive program dedicated to reporting the damage left by the hurricane and the recovery process, but in much of the capital people are oblivious to this information due to lack of electricity.

An unusual silence extends where even the TVs fail to bring a ray of light.

Irma Damaged 4,288 Houses In Havana, With 157 Total Collapses And 986 Partial Collapses

Numerous trees have fallen in Havana because of the strong winds of Hurricane Irma. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 13 September 2017 — A total of 4,288 homes in Havana were damaged during the passage of the mighty Hurricane Irma, with 157 total collapses and 986 partial collapses, according to preliminary official reports published Wednesday in the island’s press.

In the Cuban capital, the state newspaper Granma said there were 818 roofs destroyed and another 1,555 affected, as reported in meeting of the Havana Defense Council attended by top government figures, the ruling Communist Party (PCC) and the Armed Forces.

“In the face of this situation, the roofs of the buildings are being restored, where there is damage of this type, and two premises have already been set up, one in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo and another in La Lisa, with the aim of housing the affected families,” said Granma. continue reading

The report does not specify where the damaged homes are located, but the areas of Havana most affected by the hurricane were the neighborhoods of Vedado, Centro Habana, Habana Vieja and Miramar, where the sea penetrated almost 330 yards inland.

Centro Habana and Habana Vieja, both in the founding area of ​​the city, both have a large number of old houses in poor condition.

Of the 10 people who died in Cuba as a result of the hurricane, most of them lost their lives due to building collapses.

Irma hit the capital on Saturday night and its hurricane force winds also caused serious damage to the electrical service, with electrical poles and lines fallen, as a result of which many areas of the capital have remained without electricity or water for more than 72 hours.

In Havana, nine food preparation centers have been set up in eight municipalities, “in order to guarantee the food supply, especially for the sheltered families, at a reasonable price.”

Medical coverage has also been guaranteed and the health system “continues to strive to prevent epidemics,” provincial officials said.

In Havana there are still hundreds of fallen trees, some obstructing traffic in the middle of busy main roads, such as Tercera Avenue in Miramar, along with others where electrical poles and lines have fallen over the roadway.

The streets closest to the coast still have stones and sand washed up by the sea, and on the sidewalks there are mattresses, clothes and appliances set out under the sun.

Lessons From Irma

Hopelessness has settled in for thousands of Cubans who know well how long it will for the island to recover from Irma, especially if there are no political initiatives. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 September 2017 — There is a rare calm in Havana after the passing of Hurricane Irma. So many years of crisis leave a certain resignation in citizens in the face of new tragedies. The country of this September is not the same as that of a few weeks ago, and yet it is very familiar because it is in the state of emergency in which we have always lived.

Irma’s capriciousness has left us some certainties. The first of these has to do with that bridge of tragedy that united Cuba and Florida during the difficult days of winds, floods and power outages. Nature connected what politics has separated for decades.

In small Cuban towns, when many families did not know if they would survive through the night on Sunday, countless thoughts went out to their relatives in Miami who were waiting for the arrival of the hurricane. The same thing happened in the opposite direction. Hearts on the island and the peninsula beat as one, suffered in sync and shared the misfortune. continue reading

On the other hand, Cuba’s complex national situation has taken on an unexpected variable since the weekend. Just before the name of the next president is known– in advance of Raul Castro’s commitment to leave the presidency in February of 2018– and when many analysts insisted that all that was left was the “plain sailing” of a tightly planned transfer of leadership, the country is a pile of ruins and the future leader is heir to an immense mortgage.

The loss of at least ten human lives is the most tragic outcome of the hurricane, but Irma’s most palpable victim has been hope. The victims know that recovering a refrigerator, a mattress or a kitchen lost in the water could cost them the rest of their lives. Their expectations in the short and medium term are rock-bottom.

The lack of liquidity in the national coffers and the lack of supply in the markets, which made daily life difficult before Irma’s arrival, became deeper with this climatic shockwave. Predictions of GDP growth – which last year ended in negative numbers – are no longer realistic and the tourism sector will take months to recover.

The feeling that invades millions of people throughout the nation is that even more difficult days are to come. Times of famine, hardship and social tension. Only a generous about-face from power, along with international solidarity, could shorten the deadlines for a recovery that is expected to be long and complex.

Foreign aid will do its part, but the government must make important decisions to alleviate the suffering of those who have lost all or a good part of their property. Removing restrictions on personal imports and allowing commercial imports into private hands would help to bring huge resources into the country in the coming months.

In times like these it is urgent that vehicles, construction materials, medicines in large quantities and agricultural machinery can be brought in from outside.

The granting of licenses for self-employment needs to be unfrozen, the number of occupations allowed expanded, and a moratorium established on the payment of taxes in the most affected areas. These measures can help to rebuild the nation’s economic fabric.

International organizations need to be able to channel their aid directly and with less bureaucracy. This is the only way to prevent resources from ending up in provincial headquarters, in institutional stores where the “subtraction of resources” (i.e. management and employee theft) depletes their quantity, or on store shelves where they are sold at prices inaccessible to the poorest.

In the coming weeks, the government has the opportunity to demonstrate that it can cede areas of economic control for the sake of a less delayed recovery. The last page of Raul Castro’s book as head of the country is blank. Now he must decide whether to fill it with gestures of control or openings, whether he will contribute to the sinking of the island or help to revive it.

A Lot of Manipulation / Fernando Dámaso

Jose Marti’s mausoleum in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, Santiago de Cuba (ReginaBeardsley.com)

Fernando Damaso, 5 September 2017 — The manipulation of José Martí — whom we Cubans call “the Apostle — not just his life but also his ideas, has been progressive. Accused, in 1953, of being the “intellectual author” of the attack on the Moncada Barracks, and the assailants self-styled the “centenary generation” (it being 100 years since his birth), from 1959 on he was “unchained”.

The “Lenin-Martí” rooms (Lenin first and then Martí) in the military bases were there until the disappearance of the Soviet Union, embellished with “Martí-Ho Chi Minh Days”, when we felt like “giving our blood for Vietnam”.

Cautiously at first, when the Apostle was still thought of as a liberal-democrat, but distanced from socialism, in the eyes of the more dogmatic, they soon began to ascribe to him ideas he had never had, in order to convince us that now, had he been alive, he would have been a socialist. continue reading

In reinventing history and attributing merits or defects to their subjects, in accordance with the political convenience of the moment, our leaders have been very good at getting submissive historians to endorse their opinions.

Look at the absurdity they have propagated, that “before, we would have been like them, and now they would have been like us”, which is totally appropriate to the process of “baloneyfication”, which started then and has continued to the present day.

At a particular moment difficult to pin down exactly, during the period of the personality cult, the ideas of the “Maximum Leader” started to be considered as continuations of those of Martí, and that he was his best disciple.

Now, both of them, with their remains (bones and ashes), near to each other in the same cemetery, are presented as indivisible, where one cannot exist without the other, and they even affirm that Cuba cannot be thought of without them.

Without asking his permission, they have put an annoying travelling companion beside Martí. This soup (or rather an indigestible stew) of homeland, nation, party, Martí and “historic leader”, is what they offer to the younger people in the country, trying to gain their eternal commitment, without freedom of choice, and conditioned by conveniently manipulated facts.

Translated by GH

Cuba After the Hurricane: The Drowning of San Leopoldo

San Gervasio Street in Central Havana was completely flooded and some went swimming. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana/Cienfuegos, 12 September 2017 — The air smells of damp and feces. Using a shovel without a handle, Óscar Rodríguez’s family is shoveling the mud out of all the corners of their house on Gervasio Street, a few yards from Havana’s Malecon, an area recently flooded by Hurricane Irma. Everyone is working on the task, the children, the grandmother, and the neighbor who comes over to help.

“I’ve lived in this place since I was born and I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Rodríguez. “We have had floods but they haven’t gone past the door.” This time the sea respected nothing. “We lost two mattresses, the refrigerator got quite wet and the TV fell into the water when we tried to move it to a higher place,” he says.

Rodriguez’s wife circles the water tank in the yard. “We do not have water to drink or to cook because everything is contaminated with the sea and with the contents of the sewage pipes,” he explains. The dog stays put on the stairs leading to the loft platform, guarding it well. continue reading

The area where the family lives is supplied by underground electricity, an undeniable advantage for decades for the residents of the San Leopoldo district, which has suffered fewer interruptions than areas are supplied through poles and wires which experience the breaks caused by the winds. But Hurricane Irma has changed the situation.

“They say that electricity will take longer to come back in the underground area because we have to wait for everything down there to dry,” says Rodríguez. They have been without electricity for more than 72 hours and have squeezed every last drop of energy out of everything they had in the house.

“We started with batteries and a flashlight, then we went to candles and now we are getting light from an old kerosene lamp,” he adds. For cooking, the family has a small liquefied gas cylinder that it tries to use as sparingly as possible.

“We had to boil water here for a baby who lives in the next corridor because that family was left with nothing and they have nothing to cook with,” he says.

The hurricane gave the national energy system a real blow. Most of the Cuban thermoelectric plants, with the exception of Renté in Santiago de Cuba and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes in Cienfuegos, are located on the north coast, the strip most damaged by the hurricane in its trajectory on the Island.

The officials of the Electricity Union have clarified that it is not enough to live in an area where the hurricane had fewer direct effects, because the problem is power generation.

The truth of this is evident in Cienfuegos, where, despite being out of the path of Irma, there is not enough energy to restart the thermoelectric plant.

“I do not know what’s worse, the conjunctivitis outbreak or the lack of electricity,” says Olga Lydia Ulloa, a scientist who hopes that the engineers of the power company will manage to restart the city’s power plan and “turn on the light.”

Like most of the island, Cienfuegos has been without electricity for three days. In some places the destruction of the high tension towers and the electricity poles augurs weeks for the recovery.

The director of the Provincial Electricity Office, Ricardo García Parra, told the local press that work is being done intensely with the area’s generators to get the thermoelectric plant working.

“In recent weeks there has been an epidemic of zika and conjunctivitis in the village and, to top it off, the hurricane has left us with no lights; we have little kids and nothing to cook with,” says Ulloa.

Most Cubans were forced to use electricity as their only cooking option after the “energy revolution” promoted by the late President Fidel Castro. Although the unrationed sale of liquefied gas to households has been allowed in recent years, the price is high for an average worker, which limits access.

Private markets also have electric service thanks to generators that work with fuel oil and diesel, but only two provincial hospitals in the territory and its surrounding areas had electricity as of Tuesday.

Despite the disaster, in Havana there is room for hope. The Máximo Gómez Thermoelectric Power Plant of Mariel, one of those affected, was ready to begin service on Monday, after intense hours of repairs and hundreds of thousands of residents in Havana are hopeful that this energy colossus will bring them out of the dark .

The tracks left by “the days of the water”

But now, “the worst is the smell, there is no one who can stand it,” says Óscar Rodríguez as he removes pieces of wood, paper and some crushed beer cans from the mud. “At first it smelled of the sea, but as the waters receded this plague has come and now even we smell like this,” he laments.

San Leopoldo after Irma (EFE)

No one has showered since last Friday. They all try to drink little water so they do not use up the “strategic reserves,” as Grandma calls them, and continue look for some belongings, such as shoes and an identity card that seem to have gone with the flow.

Outside, some kids are enthusiastic about the day they swam down Gervasio Street, the dips in Maceo Park and how the wall of the Malecon disappeared after being covered by the sea. They have not had classes this Monday and nobody knows when they will reopen the schools in the area. At the moment the priorities seem to be different.

The epidemiological situation has been deteriorating since the floods began. The area, one of the most densely populated in the whole of the country, has a great number of buildings where dozens of families live in crowded conditions. Now, most of those residents are stationed outside their homes because the heat and bad smell make it unbearable to stay inside.

Others do not want to be in their homes for fear that the old walls will end up collapsing when they dry. “This is on the verge of pure miracle,” a resident of a tenement at San Lázaro and Lealtad streets tells this newspaper. The narrow, winding hallway is still wet. The rooms on either side have their doors open and waterlogged belonging are set out everywhere under the sun to dry.

The image is like a ship with ragged sails and tired-eyed sailors on no fixed course. The neighborhood of San Leopoldo continues to experience its own shipwreck a few hours after the waters recede.

With Water Chest-high / Camilo Venegas Yero

Playing dominoes in Cuba after Irma.

Camilo Venegas Yero (from his blog “El Fogonero”), Dominican Republic, 11 September 2017 — I found this image on a Facebook wall. It illustrates today’s Cuba like few others. In it, it is clear that the ruined country survives from catastrophe to catastrophe, without producing anything that makes it move in any direction (when you’re stuck any movement is better than nothing).

The sea, driven by Hurricane Irma, fills the streets of Havana. It would seem there is no time to lose, however this group of Havanans wastes it playing dominoes. Shortly before I saw this photo, I read a dialog between Dominicans. They commented on “the great discipline of the Cuban people.”

“It is admirable,” one of them said, “everything the Revolution does to minimize the impact of these natural disasters.” Another noted the million people evacuated, and even that a group of actors had performed to ease the stress of the refugees. continue reading

Is it perhaps that there is not a great concentration of victims in Cuba? The problem for Cubans is not the tensions of a storm, but the poverty-stricken daily life that awaits them after its passage. I was tempted to share this image with the Dominicans, but these kinds of discussions already exhaust me.

Tomorrow, when the waters return to their level, they will steal something, or buy something stolen, or – if they are fortunate enough to have a family member in exile – call them to resolve their problems. Today the sea is chest high, tomorrow it will be reality that causes the same feeling of suffocation.

That is why they can’t think of anything better to do than to sit in the water and shuffle the dominos.

Charging Cell Phones Becomes the Obsession of Thousands of Camagüeyans Without Electricity

A woman in Havana used her phone to photograph the damage left by Irma. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Camaguey, 11 September 2017 – Yosvani has been in a long line for an hour outside the polyclinic, though he is not sick or injured. Hurricane Irma left him with no electricity and he is anxious to recharge his cell phone battery to try to communicate with his friends and family and to find out how they are. Hundreds of residents have been crowding the Camagüey’s emergency rooms since Saturday to benefit from the generators installed there.

Since the lights went out, something more than 48 hours ago, Yosvani knows nothing of his family on Florida beach, one of the places most affected by the powerful hurricane that touched down in Cuban territory as a category five. “I’m going crazy,” he says in the endless line to which everyone arrives with a charger and a mobile phone or a tablet in hand.

“Right now there are two things in this city that are worth their weight in gold: drinking water and a connection where you can charge a cell phone,” says the young man. Everyone in the line has a story of desperation. continue reading

“My parents are from Esmeralda and they say that their world is gone, but I have not even been able to find out if they managed to evacuate in time,” explains Roxana, a woman in Camagüey with two children whose home was also damaged. “We lost many roof tiles and the yard is devastated, with all the trees on the ground,” she laments.

When her turn in line arrives, Roxana opens her bag and takes out three cell phones. “They are from my neighbors, who can’t come here and urgently need to receive calls from their children in Miami,” she says. She plugs in each phone and watches with relief as the battery bars grow. “One, two, three …” she says softly.

Those behind her in line try to rush those in front of the prized outlet. “Don’t wait to fill the battery, just take a little bit and leave something for the rest, everyone has the need to communicate,” complains a man.

A pregnant woman approaches to ask to be be allowed to cut the line, but a hullabaloo ensues. “Everyone here has a different tragedy. The person who doesn’t have missing relatives is a missing person for their family,” complains another who is waiting.

Most of the light roofs in the village of Esmeralda in Camagüey are on the ground after Hurricane Irma. (Courtesy)

The nurses come and go trying to get around the line that fills the hallway. Medical staff dislike the crowds that fill the corridors, but they understand that, for many, electricity is now the best cure, the most sought after remedy.

Between 2004 and 2014, the Government imported 52,292 generators at a value of 1.3 billion dollars. The commissioning of these units was one of the last campaigns promoted by Fidel Castro. Over time, the deterioration and theft of fuel has diminished their use, but in moments of massive electrical cuts they regain their importance.

“Last night they brought in an extension with multiple sockets and the load was so heavy that they burned out the outlet,” complains polyclinic security staffer Rodolfo Ramírez Esquivel to 14ymedio,” so we only allow people to connect equipment and not extensions.”

However, the need to recharge the devices is so pressing that many people ignore the recommendations. “I brought an eight-outlet powerstrip and put it in my backpack with the cellphones of my entire family without them noticing, because outside the backpack I was charging two more,” says a resident.

Everyone fears that the electricity cuts will be prolonged due to the serious damages suffered by the electrical lines in Camagüey province. Some have tried alternative ways to recharge their cellphones without having to go to the polyclinics.

“Days before the hurricane a cousin emailed me a trick to charge a cell phone with a 9-volt battery, so I started looking around my house and I found one that solved the problem a little,” says a young man standing in line with his mother to use the clinic’s outlets.

The damage to poles, transformers and cables has been so extensive in the central and eastern part of the country that Raúl Castro, who is also president of the National Defense Council, ordered that support brigades be created in each municipality to “guarantee the restoration of the electricity” according to an official note.

Those in Camagüey who are starting their third day without power greeted the news with displeasure. The weather is still humid although the rains have stopped. The streets remain covered with a mixture of mud, leaves and tree branches. On the stands in the markets there is nothing but bananas and some tiny papayas that must have fallen due to the winds.

A woman walks past the polyclinic with a bag of eggs and a group surrounds her to inquire anxiously where she bought them. Provisions are unavailable and agriculture in the area has suffered a devastating blow that will take months to recover. Most affected are bananas, but beans and vegetables have also suffered.

The chicken farms on the outskirts of the city are the scene of massive deaths, several of them have lost their roofs and are flooded, according to testimonies of several farmers in the area. Hopefully there will be images circulating in the next few days, when neighbors recharge their mobiles and send them out.

Every kilowatt is worth whatever people ask for it and more, in a city where public transport has been cancelled and electric motorbikes are the only way that many can get around.

“There are places where they do not let you connect to recharge [a motorbike], but there are always people willing to help,” explains Yusnier Ramirez, a young man in line to recharge his cell phone at the medical post in front of Plaza Méndez. “There are also those who recharge their motorbikes, but for that we have to pay,” he says.

The urgency to reactivate cell phones grows due to the failures in city’s fixed-line phone network.

“I’ve been waiting for more than two hours,” says another Camagüeyan outside an emergency room. The young man tried to use a rustic solar panel to revive his device, but was unsuccessful. “This polyclinic looks like a disaster zone, but the consultation rooms are empty,” he explains. “We are all here to recharge our mobiles.”

At Least 10 Dead In Cuba After Hurricane Irma

The municipality of Esmeralda in Camagüey was among those most affected by Hurricane Irma. (Courtesy)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 11 September 2017 – At least ten people have died in Cuba as a consequence of Hurricane Irma, according to information received this Monday from Cuba’s Civil Defense General Staff.

Most of those who died were killed in building collapses, seven of them in Havana, as the hurricane caused heavy flooding on the north coast of the country.

In a message addressed to the population, Raul Castro appealed to the “Cuban people’s spirit of resistance and victory” after the “devastating” hurricane, which caused “severe damage” to the country, according to a statement published in the official newspaper Gramma. continue reading

Castro emphasized that under these circumstances “the unity of Cubans, solidarity between neighbors and the discipline of the guidelines issued by the Civil Defense General Staff have prevailed.”

Castro said that the cyclone has caused “damage to homes, the electrical system and agriculture,” and also hit some of the island’s “tourist destinations.”

“These have been difficult days for our people, who just a few hours ago have seen the effort to forcefully respond to this blow from a devastating hurricane,” the country’s president added.

As a result of Irma’s passage through the most popular tourist destinations in the country, the tourist company Thomas Cook reported Monday that it will evacuate more than 2,000 United Kingdom tourists from Cuba and will send additional personnel to Cuba to coordinate assistance to the passengers.

“We are working on an evacuation plan for our 2,350 customers in Varadero to bring them home in the coming days. We have an additional 26 members of our special assistance team waiting to fly from the UK to provide additional support to our customers as soon as we can reach the airports in Cuba,” said the company’s statement.

This measure was taken after several tourists complained about the lack of information about their situation.

On the other hand, a spokeswoman for the tour operator Thompson said that tourists arriving in Cuba will continue with their holidays as planned because the hurricane has already passed.

On Friday and Saturday Irma was a category 4 storm as it punished the north coast of Cuba from east to west, causing serious flooding on the coast and forcing the evacuation of 1.7 million people.

Freedom in Cuba from a Bird’s Eye View / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 2 September 2017 — After the experience of a trip to Cuba, the Peruvian columnist Alfredo Bullard remains convinced that the solution to the Cuban problem involves everything from liberation from the government of Donald Trump to more business activity and travel by Americans to the island.

I believe that expressing an opinion without deep knowledge of an issue is not something that a responsible journalist should do, at least not one whose column appears in a newspaper aimed at millions of readers. This is a luxury reserved for modest digital news sites like Ciudano Cero (Citizen Zero) but incompatible with the expectations of respected publications. In such cases, success depends on research and prior, careful study, especially when dealing with a dictatorship that has long exhibited an extraordinary talent for deception and disingenuousness. continue reading

Bullard’s first mistake was in presuming that freedom, an elusive and abstract concept, can be achieved so easily — one might almost say physically — by doing someting as simple as dropping leaflets over Havana’s seaside promenade, the Malecón. But it does not make sense when dealing with closed societies such as Cuba and North Korea. In these instances, any analysis must first and foremost take into account decades of indiscriminate indoctrination that has caused untold moral harm and turned citizens into apathetic and uncritical masses, stript of their civic involvement. These are wounds that will take virtually a generation to overcome and whose ultimate conequence is the awful weight of social apathy caused by too many decades of unchecked abuse of power.

To claim that it is private businesses — hostals, restaurants and cafes for example — where the greatest battle of ideas is taking place in Cuba today suggests a total ignorance of our reality. To say something like that indicates an almost complete misreading of Cuban affairs. It ignores the reckless activism waged for many years and decades by Cuba’s political opposition, which has fought a continuous, uphill battle against one of the best organized and most repressive intelligence agencies the world has ever seen.

In fact, it is precisely these businesses where I would least expect to find open or even casual discussions critical of the Castro-communist regime. It is an axiom, written in stone at the entrance to each of these establishments, that their very survival is dependent on their owners’ complete acquiescence to authority, something even the lowliest employee knows all too well, the sine qua non. The threat of immediate closure has always proven to be a highly effective tool of social coercion.

I challenge anyone to look online and find even one anti-establishment webpage maintained by one of these entrepreneurs and I will calmly put my right hand under the guillotine with all the confidence in the world. I will then raise my hand intact as evidence that a flourishing private sector without political reforms would not necessarily lead to a greater array of dissenting opinions. At least not given the current rules of the game.

It seems Bullard is completely unaware that all the wealth generated by businesses and travelers from the U.S., which he claims would lead to greater freedom, would go directly into the hands of the Castro regime, not to the country’s people. It is a unmitigated error to look for the causes of our misfortune outside of Cuba. It is not about Donald Trump, nor the persistence of the American embargo, nor the shortage of American tourists. No, the essential causes of all our ills is always be found in the obsessions of four senile old men who from the Plaza of the Revolucion keep an entire country in a state of backwardness with their capricious whims and penurious personal interests.

Our columnist is mistaken if he believes that casual contact with tourists is enough to ignite and maintain this enthusiasm for private business. If that is what he thinks, he is totally ignorant of our experience. In fact, our entrepreneurial spirit was never completely snuffed out. There are hundreds if not thousands of clandestine workshops and businesses nurtured by the black market behind the back of the autocratic state. They can serve you with a beer on a back patio as they repair your Sputnik and put it into orbit. A notable example? Our celebrated almendrones — restored American cars from the 1950s — those sixty-year old testaments to Creole ingenuity, which does not give out even in the most trying circumstances. It is precisely that spirit that intimidates those in power and is the reason they tie our hands.

Does Mr. Bullard believe that enthusiasm is all it takes for an entrepreneur to keep a business in Cuba open without the existence of a basic wholesale market, in the midst of the worst shortages in our history and when faced with an army of inspectors on constant attack and armed with a body of absurd laws whose only purpose is to hinder success? Every enterprise of this type in Cuba gets by on pure courage, with no thanks to the Castro government but rather in spite of it.

According to analyses like that of Bullard, not taking advantage of “openings” that the Cuban government is “allowing” in order to bring freedom to the island is a stupid political strategy. However, so is not being aware that these so-called openings are nothing more than a pure scam, glitz intended to deceive the world. There is nothing authentic, certain or sincere to be found in them. Coming from a naive beginner, these comments could be taken as a baffling dispaly of myopia, but not from a professional journalist.

Or perhaps Bullard is ignoring the fact that, of every one-hundred private businesses that register in Cuba, no less than eighty close within a few months. Are Cubans bad managers? No. The regime itself has admitted that its strategy is to prevent the “accumulation of wealth” — in other words, to prevent people from being prosperous — at all costs. At the beginning of August, Raúl Castro issued a clear warning by launching an offensive against the private sector, canceling business licenses for dozens of previously allowed activities.

Where but in Havana are laws drafted that restrain Cuba’s private sector economy, ignore farmers’ management decisions and prohibit the free sale of their products, resulting in half the nation’s crops rotting in the field? What good is a livestock farmer’s “enthusiasm” if current laws severely restrict his economic growth? What openings are people talking about when there are dozens of legal tools designed specifically to thwart the success of non-state initiatives, tools used over and over to seize the properties of “backsliders”?

Who drafts the laws that handcuff our most cherished civil and political rights? Washington perhaps? No, all these aberrations have been crafted in Havana. What purpose is served when the eagerness and desire of Cuban exiles to invest in their own country is banned  for decades by the bad faith of the implacable dictatorship? No purpose is served.

It is neither Trump nor his predecessors who have deprived the Cuban nation of its accumulated wealth. It is the bad faith of the Castro brothers.

Blithely expressing an opinion about Cuba today — a society crushed by a totalitarian dictatorship in which things are never as they seem — will always carry a high risk of error. Bullard’s point of view overlooks one key detail: the dictatorship itself.

Live: Hurricane Irma Hits Center Of Cuba Hard

In Havana, Hurricane Irma has begun to cause the first damage with falling electric poles and broken tree branches. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 September 2017 — Hurricane Irma advanced through the archipelago north of the province of Camagüey early this morning, where it touched land in Cayo Romano on Friday night with winds up to 160 miles per hour.

Irma is the first category 5 hurricane whose eye has touched Cuban territory since 1932. On Saturday morning, its maximum sustained winds fell and it became a category three hurricane on the Saffir Simpson scale. Its expanse affected the entire national territory.

In some regions of Camagüey winds have exceeded 60 mph. (14ymedio)

In the municipalities of Esmeralda and Chambas the rains and the winds have been felt strongly since the dawn of this Saturday and according to reports of the local radio the 13 evacuation centers with the territory of Camagüey are crowded. continue reading

The president of the Government in Camagüey, Isabel González Cárdenas, informed the official media that in the town of Esmeralda there are “severe damages to roofs and facades of state institutions and private houses, fallen trees, breaks in the electrical service, and partial and total building collapses.”

Residents take advantage of a pause in the rains to evaluate the damages in the city of Camagüey. (14ymedio)

As it passes through the province of Camagüey, Irma is causing damage in almost all municipalities.

The slum area popularly called La Fabela in the Bobes neighborhood west of Camagüey was flooded as the waters of the San Pedro River overflowed, but many residents refused to be evacuated for fear of being prevented from returning to their homes.

“There was no way to prepare for this,” said Liset Ávila, 28, who lost all her belongings when the river began to flood. “The wind was terrifying, but what did the most damage was the water, I’ve lost everything,” she laments.

A few yards away, Rafael Suárez does not regret having stayed despite the fact that he can barely move through the water. “I did not evacuate because these houses are illegal and it was very likely that we would not be allowed to return,” he told this newspaper. “Now we only have to wait for the water to go down and start rebuilding what was left.”

For Irma Cáceres what happened is as unfortunate as it is unprecedented. “I’ve never seen such a disaster,” she says, and heading down the street in search of her house of which she can barely see the roof.

The boulevard of the city of Santa Clara has suffered major damage from the passage of Hurricane Irma. (Guillermo Fariñas / Twitter)

René Fernández Quiroga, a resident of Santa Cruz del Sur, told this newspaper that “tropical storm winds are being felt, there are many fallen trees, telephone cables have fallen and some homes have lost their roofs in the Jacinto González neighborhood.”

During the morning Punta Alegre, sustained winds exceeding 90 mph and there are serious coastal floods, larger than any of the local people remember.

Magalys Cabrera, a resident of that municipality, commented to the 14ymedio via telephone that she has not dared to leave her house but can hear from indoors “the roar of collapsing roofs.”

In the early hours of Saturday, Cabrera peered into her yard and noted with alarm that “all the fruit trees are on the ground,” a situation repeated among the nearest homes.

In Florida municipality, damage reaches the South Coast, where at least 300 inhabitants of this well-known beach have had to be moved to higher areas due to the intense penetrations of the sea that began in the earliest hours of the morning.

Sea penetrations and strong winds have destroyed part of the hotel infrastructure in the area, as well as private homes.

Yulián Arencibia, a specialist at the local meteorological station, said that in the last hours there had been gusts of 85 mph and sustained winds of around 50 mph. Rain gauges recorded over than five inches in just six hours.

According to the meteorology institute, Irma will continue to move slowly (at about 9 mph) to the west and later will turn towards the west-northwest. Hurricane-force winds may be felt as far as Matanzas, while Havana will have coastal flooding on the Malecon due to the penetration of the sea.

Caibarién, Villa Clara, also has suffered greatly as a result of the persistent rains and the winds that have increased since dawn. The sea penetrated about a third of a mile inland and there are reported gusts of 132 mph and sustained winds of 100 mph.

In the Cuban capital people line up in desperation at markets and bakeries in search of provisions. (14ymedio)

The city has lost much of its electrical and telephone lines, which have fallen before the storm, and numerous houses have collapsed. To this alarming scenario is added coastal flooding in the low-lying areas.

In the city of Gibara in Holguin, strong wind gusts have affected dozens of homes and state facilities, according to official sources and the local hospital lost its doors due to flooding.

On the north coast of Ciego de Avila, there have been 16 to 23 foot waves and strong penetrations of the sea.

The greatest damages so far are in the northern keys, where the tourist resorts of Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo are located. More than 30,000 tourists staying in the area have been evacuated and the winds have knocked down most of the hotel structures.

The most powerful cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic has led to the evacuation of more one million people in Cuba so far.

Given this situation, Civil Defense declared the Alarm Phase for the provinces of Mayabeque, Havana and Artemisa, the Alert Phase for Pinar del Río, and the Information Phase for the Special Municipality of the Isla de la Juventud; the remainder of the country has been declared in the Alarm phase.

The municipality of Candelaria in Mayabeque dawned cloudy this Saturday and desperation seized the inhabitants before the advance of the hurricane. In state markets there are long lines to buy eggs and ham, the only products available.

There are no cookies or milk, and bread normally sold unrationed has been temporarily rationed to avoid hoarding. The agricultural markets this morning were offering only sweet potatoes and bananas, while in the state cafes there were only cigars and rum.

Havanans get ready 

The waves have increased on Havana’s Malecon and almost no one is seen walking on the streets, nor is there any traffic. Authorities estimate that about 10,000 people from the height of the Tunnel on Linea Street up to 23rd, plus from the Malecon to Linea Street will be flooded out. Of these 10,000 people, it is estimated that some 7,000 will be placed in the 19 shelters that have been established in the Plaza de la Revolución municipality. The other 3,000 people who reside in this area will move to the homes of family and friends.

The first branches of trees that are falling in the Cuban capital under the winds of Hurricane Irma. (14ymedio)
The police blocked access to Havana’s Malecón where the waves are many feet high. (14ymedio)


Cubans Ask Cachita To “Take Pity” On The Island

Thousands of parishioners participated this Friday in the procession for the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, Patroness of Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 9 September 2017 — While the winds were pummeling the eastern and central parts of the island, thousands of faithful devotees gathered this Friday in Havana to participate in the procession for the Virgin of the Charity of Cobre, Cuba’s Patron Saint, which is celebrated every 8th September. To the traditional requests for prosperity and health, this year an added request was that Hurricane Irma not cause serious damage to the country.

The diocesan sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity, located in the municipality of Central Havana, received thousands of parishioners with flowers and candles. Some also wore yellow clothing in allusion to Ochún, the orisha of santería with which the Virgin of Charity of Cobre is syncretized. continue reading

The image of Cachita, as the island’s patroness is popularly known, left the church shortly after six o’clock in the evening on a procession through several nearby streets. Along the way, there was no lack of devotional displays with petals of flowers thrown from the balconies and songs.

“I came to ask for Cuba and Miami,” Estervina, 82, who had gone to the procession accompanied by three grandchildren, told 14ymedio. “My two children live in Florida and I’m begging Cachita to take pity and dissolve the hurricane.” In her hands, the old woman carried a bouquet of sunflowers.

Others chose to light candles inside the church, although these days the informal market has been depleted of such products due to the high demand sparked by preparations to protect against the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic.

Finding candles for the Virgin of the Charity of Cobre has been especially difficult this year due to the high demand for candles to prepare for Hurricane Irma. (14ymedio)

“Better times will come and I’ll bring you more candles, but this year I only had this one,” says Jorge Luis, a fervent devotee of Cachita. The man prayed inside the church and in his entreaties included “finally having a home of his own and taking a trip abroad.”

From the province of Holguín, Jorge Luis was worried this Friday by the situation of his family in the city of Gibara. “Irma is nearly there and I have come so that the Virgin may help my people to move forward without serious damage, that they do not have physical injuries and that their house is not damaged,” he says.

The archbishop of Havana, Juan de la Caridad García, was also part of the procession with priests and nuns of various congregations, and later he officiated the mass in the temple of Calle Salud y Manrique. During the pilgrimage invocations were made to the importance of family and reconciliation among Cubans.

The procession was heavily guarded by uniformed police officers and plainclothes agents, but no incidents occurred.

This year it was not possible to carry out the traditional procession in Santiago de Cuba, from the Basilica del Cobre, due to the deterioration of the weather conditions.

Cuban Students Rebel Against the Uniformity of the Classrooms

Students are asked to “eliminate” their dyed hair if they want to enter the classroom. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 September 2017 – The return to class, for thousands of children and young people, means a return to the discipline of school after two months of vacation. This September, school directors have focused their crusade against fingernails and hair painted bright colors, and students are forced to get haircuts or remove the enamel to conform to the regulations.

In July and August, far from the classrooms, many teenagers chose the strident tones of summer fashion. Red, green, blue and purple have been a trend in hair and phosphorescent colors are favored for fingernails, a rainbow that the schools are not willing to accept.

“I do not want to see anyone here with phosphorescent nails or hair dyed in colors,” warned a fifth-grade teacher on Monday, at the entrance of her classroom in a school in the Plaza de Revolución municipality. The scene has been repeated in schools all over the island, which stick to regulations to limit the creativity of students. continue reading

Julio Mojena, the father of twins residing in the Havana neighborhood of Cerro, considers the restrictions arbitrary since there is no written rule that specifically states them. His sons dyed their hair in August and now, he laments, “they can’t go to class until they get haircuts… In my time it was the length of the hair and the earrings, now it’s the color. What will it be tomorrow?” he asks.

“Each school can make adjustments to school regulations” depending “on the characteristics of their community,” a Ministry of Education official, who prefers to remain anonymous, told 14ymedio by phone.

Although there is no specific regulation on hair color, nails or any other detail, the official maintains that “in the schools uniformity is demanded” in the physical aspect of the student body and that this detail is supported by the general regulations.

The official acknowledges that there was a time when the length of males’ hair was strictly regulated, but that now they may “wear their mane to the collar.” Formerly males’ hair could be no more than just over an inch long.

In the eighties the crusade against hair length and the maintenance of aesthetic uniformity among students even jumped to the pages of the official newspapers. However, the José Martí Pioneer Organization (for elementary schools) and the Federation of Middle School Students did not mediate in favor of those they represent and the students did not win that symbolic battle for differentiation.

Nevertheless, controls have softened over the years, especially since the economic crisis forced families to substitute parts of the school uniform for home-made ones or to buy their children’s school shoes in the hard currency markets as a result of a breakdown in the supply of manufactured products in the ration market.

Now it is common to see students in the regulated garments modified with pleats, raised hems or adjusted sleeves.

Nor do girls and young women escape the restrictions. “In this classroom you come to study and those nails decorated with figures or painted with phosphorescent colors distract the attention of other students,” a Spanish teacher tells his students at Baragua Protest Junior High School in Central Havana.

So far this year, at least ten girls from the school say they have had problems with the manicure they were wearing when the school year began. In contrast, the pressure for them is less in terms of hair; if they dye their hair blond or red it is ignored, although other tones, such as violet, blue or green may not be.

“Reality evolves faster than school regulations,” explains Zulema Vázquez, a sociologist with two school age children. “The teaching authorities have a mentality from the last century and are not prepared to deal with the new situations that are taking place,” she says.

The specialist considers that any attempt at uniformity in terms of physical appearance eventually causes children and adolescents to find more sophisticated ways to differentiate themselves. “It can be the length of the skirt, a piercing, adjustments made to a blouse, the color or the length of the hair, but in one way or another, they will find a way to break the monotony,” argues Vázquez.

María Molina, mother of a teenager in Cienfuegos, told 14ymedio that her 14-year-old son was unable to start the school year at José Gregorio Technological Institute where he is training to be a “teacher of agriculture,” because his teacher and the school’s principal did not allow him to attend with his dyed hair.

According to Molina, the teacher and the director warned that “if you don’t cut your hair or dye it black” he would not be admitted. The mother tried to negotiate an intermediate solution and proposed that the young man cut his hair a little every week until the dyed part disappears, but her alternative was not accepted.

“As a mother I feel frustrated, I called the provincial and municipal education department and everyone repeats that we have to respect the school regulations,” she concludes with irritation.

“This Town Can’t Stand Another Hurricane”

At 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, coastal flooding began in Baracoa. (Venceremos / @ PrensaGtmo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 September 2017 — In El Girasol, a town on the outskirts of the Cuban city of Guantánamo, residents look up at the sky with fear. Most of the houses in the area “can’t stand another hurricane,” warns Yoanni Beltrán, owner of a house with cardboard walls and a light roof that, as of Thursday, has already begun to suffer from the rains associated with Hurricane Irma.

At midnight, the storm was 125 miles northeast of Punta de Maisí on the eastern end of the island and workers at La Rusa hotel felt they were experiencing a déjà vu from Hurricane Matthew, which last October tore the roof off that emblematic lodging. continue reading

“We are here, but we are not offering services because right now it’s about preserving the place to avoid its getting damaged again,” a local employee told this newspaper by phone. Hours after that call, staff were also evacuated in the face of deteriorating weather conditions.

The situation during the afternoon was very different. Juannier Rodríguez Matos, a resident of the city, told 14ymedio that people seemed “too trusting” because the eye of the storm will not pass through the area. “The most worried are those who have spent almost a year living in shelters because they lost everything with Matthew, and now the solution to their problem may be delayed,” said the young man.

At 11:30 p.m. on Thursday night, coastal flooding began in Baracoa and the roofs of several houses collapsed under the force of the winds. Most of the residents in the lower parts of the municipality and within 45 miles of the coast have left their homes to go to shelters, caves, military refuges or the homes of other family members.

In other Guantanamo towns the evacuation continues at a more leisurely pace. “A group of neighbors had the initiative for us to shelter in a kindergarten,” Yoanni Beltran told this newspaper. “A lieutenant colonel of the Civil Defense said that we had to leave and wait for the order to arrive so we can do it.”

Although weather conditions in El Girasol have not deteriorated to the point of building collapses or falling trees, residents fear that the situation will worsen and they will be trapped amid the winds and rain.

The dangers associated with Irma have not loosened police controls or lessened repression. Maykel González, a contributor to the Diario de Cuba site attempted to interview evacuees in Isabela de Sagua; he and his colleague Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez were arrested for reporting.

The police forced the two reporters to erase their interviews and also forced them to undress for a meticulous body search, a situation similar to that experienced by the Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism) team when it tried to cover the damage left by Matthew last October.

In Santiago de Cuba, where the effects of the hurricane had not yet been felt as of midnight Thursday, more than 75,000 people had been evacuated, and in the province of Camagüey 130 shelters are available for those living in areas of greatest danger.

Nora Gonzalez, a resident of Santa Lucia beach in Camagüey, summarized her fears in a more than eloquent way, for this newspaper. “Today you are someone who boasts of prosperity and in a few hours a hurricane passes and you are no longer anyone. The worst thing is that you do not have the strength to start from the beginning.”

Cuba’s Most Pressing Problems / Eduardo Martinez

Trash overflowing and collecting around the available dumpsters at Aquila and Estrella Streets in Havana. Photo by Orlando Freire Santana

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez El Cerro, Havana, 5 September 2017 — We list here the most pressing problems faced by average Cubans:

1-A greatly reduced ration book of subsidized foods. High prices in the markets. Very little on offer in the stores. Relatively cheap goods of horrendous quality. In an island surrounded by water there is no fish. Fishing is not permitted.

2-Total sustained inflation of 1000%. Constant reduction of the average Cuban’s buying power. continue reading

3-Almost total absence of locally produced or imported cosmetics and perfumes. Scarce, poor and expensive supply of clothing and shoes. Shortages of detergents, toilet paper, soaps, etc.

4-Terrible public transportation in a constant state of decay. Very expensive taxis. Private alternative drivers greatly harassed by police and inspectors who stringently enforce technical and aesthetic standards for which they provide no support.

5-Extremely high and burdensome taxes imposed on all private businesses, absence of incentives, no wholesale market, absence of low tariffs, barriers to importing, excessive and corrupt bureaucracy, great number of regulations and prohibitions that obstruct free enterprise, etc.

6-Abysmal state of the never-finished National Highway and of urban and rural roads throughout the country, where no work to reverse this situation can be seen. Advanced and irrecoverable (in terms of planning and current economic possibilities) deterioration of the housing stock and all urban infrastructure. Railway lines that are technologically backward, save those that have to do with access to the Port of Mariel.

7-Obsolete airports. New and more severe customs restrictions on the entry of merchandise and products when in fact the opposite should be the case, if the objective is to incentivize minimal but effective commerce. Impossibility of importation by private individuals or entities.

8-Dual monetary system*. When the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is eliminated it will leave only the Cuban Peso (CUP) along with the exorbitantly high current prices. A median monthly salary consists of little more than 300 CUP monthly, while the cost of living for that same period is 2500 CUP.

9-High unemployment, not officially recognized.

10-The presence on the streets of a high number of uniformed police officers, members of State Security, and of inspectors who obstruct private enterprise and public life.

11-Exceedingly high emigration, especially of young and highly qualified professionals. Very low birth rate and very rapid aging of the population.

12-High housing deficit. Scarce and very expensive construction materials. Properties being bought-up by foreigners hiding behind national residents, incentivized by (for them) low real estate prices compared with those in their own countries.

13-Highly censored news media that don’t report on many matters of national and international interest. Scant possibility of accessing the Internet. Dreadful radio and television programming. Culture that is mediated and restricted by a Ministry that inhibits and prohibits more than it encourages, supports or represents.

14-Bad education with non-systematic improvisation of evaluative measures (such as oral exams for the 12th grade). Low expectations of students, indifference and apathy on their part for a future devoid of interest.

15-Bad medical and health services throughout the Island in light of the acute shortage of professionals for so many residents. Chronic absence of primary and secondary medications. An abusive black market in health care and products. The appalling state of public hospitals. Full waiting rooms but an extreme dearth of personnel given the exporting of the healthcare labor force to work in foreign countries in exchange for hard currency paid directly to the government.

16-Very little possibility of accessing recreation centers.

17-Violence, aggressiveness and widespread coarseness in the streets. High social indiscipline as a consequence of the sharp and sustained economic crisis in the country. The appearance of uncollected trash heaps around insufficient or very deteriorated garbage cans–founts of stink, mosquitoes and disease–on the corners of not very privileged or centrally located neighborhoods. The appearance of legions of dumpster divers (barehanded garbage pickers, usually old or chronically displaced persons) in search of recyclable aluminum cans, empty soda bottles that can be sold to private entrepreneurs, remains of edible food, anything that can be sold to unsuspecting buyers, etc. These ladies and gentlemen care little about order and hygiene, and they contribute to the nation’s urban disaster.

18-The ruling class is not interested in any type of aid from the North Americans, for they fear that–as will happen anyway, as is in fact already happening–their power will quickly slip through their fingers, and in six months time this country will become another Puerto Rico.


Translator’s Notes:

*Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos (CUP), worth about 4 cents US, and Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC), each worth 25 Cuban pesos, or about one dollar US. It has been a longstanding, but as yet unfulfilled, promise of the government to move to a single currency.

Translated By:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison