Luis Felipe Rojas, 14 March 2017 — A poet writes to unpick puzzles, to sell and buy other questions. The Cuban poet Magali Alabau came to Miami this Friday 10th March to give a reading from her book “Fatal Attraction” (Betania, 2016). She did it in La Esquina de las Palabras Lounge, which was founded and run by the poet Joaquín Gálvez in Café Demetrio in Coral Gables.
Alabau, a stage actress, who didn’t decide to write until she hit 40, has a voice which slides words around to tell a story which is forgotten here in the north, which all of us in exile are seeking – everyone in exile is seeking. Her sense of direction as she weighs every step becomes a necessity. “Poetry is the foundation through the word, and in the word”, states Heidegger when he embraces the poetry of Hölderlin, and it is precisely in that tone of voice that Magali Alabau has proposed to construct and name her domain, nomatter how small … or resonant … or large it seems to us. There is no other foundation which is not a word.
“This foreign body / which is, during the day, / only involuntary movements, prayer which starts / and doesn’t finish.” continue reading
What is praiseworthy in a poet who lowers her head to give herself to others, to not look back, and to follow those voices which will call to her all her life? Nothing, we can reply, if we understand the ancient profession rebuilt time and time again on the graves of other voices, of other authors.
The mistakes of friendship, the errors of custom, pseudo love, and violence, flow through this book like a flood. In Magali’s voice we encounter accidents and not human characteristics. It is a text without makeup, for which we should be thankful. “I can hear you behind me / harping on about supposed predictions. / I laugh at you, yes, I laugh”, she says to death.
Alabau lives in New York and is the author of a dozen books of poems, with a special mention for “Hermanas”, which won the Poesía Latina Prize in 1992; “Electra, Clitemnestra” (Ed. El Maitén, Chile, 1986) and “Hemos llegado a Ilión” (Betania,, 19922), among others.
I studied at a Camilito [one of the Camilo Cienfuegos Military Academies]. But for financial reasons, I had to drop out and start working. My father washed his hands of me and my mom did the best she could. When I used to go out on the weekends, I would come home with no shoes. It was very hard.
I started working as a bicycle taxi driver approximately four years ago. My work hours are around 7AM to 5PM, and I pay 3 CUC [equivalent to $3.00 U.S.] a day for the bicycle rental. Clients call me or look for me because I have a reputation for being trustworthy and honest. Thanks to them I always have work.
What I’d really like is the restaurant business, to be a bartender or something like that. I’ve always wanted to better myself professionally, but if I were attending night school I couldn’t work past 1pm. That wouldn’t allow me to earn enough money to accomplish the goals I’ve set. If I continue down this path, ten years from now, I’m not going to be much good to anyone unless my quality of life changes for the better.
I have thought about leaving Cuba. I love my country, but there is so much that needs to be changed and no one knows where to start. My dream is to have my own business. I’m willing to make sacrifices. But I don’t want to do it for no reason.
Translated by Mayra Condo, Karlina Cordero, Stephanie Desouza
My name is Ángel Martínez and my dream was to become a cameraman. I always thought about photography. Just like you, my friends made fun of me, but I was stubborn and I started to work as a television assistant in 1954. I got to know the best of the culture of that time. At work, I was the first one in and the last one out. That’s how I climbed up the ladder till I earned the title of cameraman (…)
Many years later in the middle of the Special Period [the early 1990s], they retired me. They explained that they were concerned about me making a mistake behind the cameras, and that I was of retirement age. They gave me this bicycle, which helps me get around and sell my goods [on the bike are paper cones filled with peanuts]. It’s not a lot of money but it’s some. At least enough to pay taxes and keep a little over 260 pesos, which is my pension. They convinced me, but I swear that even now that the equipment is more modern, as long as I’m mentally fit, I will keep on dreaming.
Translated by Maite Arias, Tamara Belmeni and Jorge Caceres
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 March 2017 — A year ago Cuba had a once in a lifetime opportunity. US President Barack Obama came to the island willing to turn the page on political confrontation. The gesture transcended the diplomatic situation, but Raul Castro – fearful of losing control – responded by putting the brakes on economic reforms and raising the levels of ideological discourse and repression.
Nations are not presented with opportunities every year, nor even every century. The decision to entrench itself and not to undertake political flexibilizations has been the Plaza of the Revolution’s most egotistical measure of recent times. Failure to know how to take advantage of the end of public belligerence with our neighbor to the north will bring this country lasting and unpredictable consequences. continue reading
These effects will not be suffered by the so-called “historic generation” – those at the forefront of the 1950s Revolution – now diminished by the rigors of biology and desertions. Rather than the generals in olive-green, the ones who will pay the price will be those who are still sleeping in their cradles or spinning their tops in the streets of the island. They don’t know it, but in the last twelve months a short-sighted octogenarian tricked them out of a share of their future.
The greatest waste has been not exploiting the international moment, the excitement about foreign investments, and the expectations everywhere in Cuba of taking the first steps towards democratic change without violence or chaos. It was not the job of the White House to encourage or provoke such transformations, but its good mood was a propitious setting for them to be less traumatic.
Instead, the white rose Obama extended to Castro in his historic speech in Havana’s Gran Teatro has faded, beset by hesitations and fears. Now, it is our job to explain to these Cubans of tomorrow why we were at a turning point in our history and we threw it away.
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 March 2017 — Putting aside the passions of supporters and detractors of the policies drawn up by President Barack Obama for Cuba, there is no doubt that, for better or worse, it set indelible before and after benchmarks in the lives of the Cuban people.
The first benchmark was the reestablishment of relations after half a century of confrontation, which – although it did not even come close to the high expectations of Cubans – did manage to expose the Cuban dictatorship to the scrutiny of international public opinion, thus demonstrating that the regime is the true obstacle to the wellbeing and happiness of Cubans. continue reading
Consequently, although Cubans are no freer, after two years of rapprochement with the former “imperialist enemy,” the Castro regime has run out of arguments to justify the absence of economic, political and social rights, and thus has lost credibility in the International forums and in political circles, where it is being openly questioned.
Just a few days before leaving the White House, Obama took another decisive step by repealing the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, giving up immigration privileges for Cubans in the US, and thereby crushing the hopes of an large number of Cubans who aspired to enjoy the rights and prosperity in that destination, that they can only dream about now, and are unable to demand in their own country.
Thus, in two years, these two Cuban exceptions which seemed eternal, suddenly disappeared: an old dictatorship, long tolerated by the international community when it was considered the “small, heroic and defenseless victim resisting the onslaught of the strongest of world powers,” and the people – equally victimized, persecuted, helpless and subjugated by the dictatorship enthroned in power – who were forced to emigrate, deserving the consubstantial privilege, above that of any other immigrants, to live quietly in the territory of the United States, no longer setting foot in Cuba.
Thus, in the future, the Castro regime can be considered as what it really is: a prosaic dictatorship without heroic attire, while those Cubans who flee it without making the slightest effort to face it, will not be described as “politically persecuted,” but as any other run of the mill immigrants, such as those throughout the world who aspire to enjoy the wellbeing and opportunities that residing in the most developed country on the planet offers. No more, no less.
That is to say, though Barack Obama did not improve or worsen the Cuban crisis, we, nevertheless, must thank him for putting things in their right perspective, whether we like it or not. But it may be that some, or perhaps too many, find it much more comfortable to steer the direct burden of the current state of affairs in Cuba – including increases in repression – while others (more astute) here and there toss their hair and tear their patriotic garments against the “betrayal” of the former leader, generally with the untenable intention of making a political career or of continuing to thrive in the Cuban calamity.
These are the “hard hand” theorists who will attempt to use it as a trump card to overthrow the Castro dictatorship, this time with the hypothetical support of the new US President, as if that strategy had not proved ineffective during the previous 50 years.
The sad paradox is that, judging from the present reality, the Castro way of government – like other known dictatorships – will not “fall,” defeated by the indignant people, fed up with poverty and oppression. Neither will it be crushed by the tenacious struggle of the opposition or the pressures of some foreign government. Most likely, instead of falling, the Castro regime will gently slide down of its own accord into another advantageous form of existence in a different socioeconomic setting.
For, while not a few Cuban groups from both shores wear themselves out and gloat over mutual reproaches and useless lamentations, the olive green mafia continues behind the scenes, distributing the pie, quietly accommodating itself in the best positions and palming its cards under our clueless noses, to continue to enjoy the benefits and the privileges of power when the last remnants of the shabby backdrop of “socialism, Castro style,” which is all that barely remains of the glorious revolutionary project, will finally fall.
To the surprise of the army of disinherited survivors of the communist experiment, the progeny of the historical generation and their accompanying generals could emerge, transmuted into tycoons and entrepreneurs, thus consummating the cycle of the swindle that begun in 1959. This is, so far, the most likely scenario.
Perhaps by then 60 years of totalitarianism would have elapsed, and eleven presidents will have passed through the White House, but until today, only one of them, Barack Obama, will have influenced, in such a defining way, in the political future of Cuba.
14ymedio, Havana, 21 March 2017 – This Tuesday, the Cuban government prevented Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White movement, from traveling outside the country because of an unpaid fine for for an alleged infraction “against public adornment.” Meanwhile, the authorities accuse her of having thrown “papers in the street,” which the regime opponent clarified to 14ymedio were “leaflets.”
Soler took advantage of the action to denounce the disappearance, this Tuesday, of her husband, the activist Angel Moya. “We consider that he is ‘disappeared’ because when he left the house he was being followed,” she detailed. “Today I am calling him and his phone is shut off or outside the coverage area.” continue reading
“This morning I was supposed to travel to the United States, first to Miami and then to California,” said Soler. However, after passing through the immigration booth and security controls at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, she was intercepted by an immigration official who asked her to accompany him to an office.
The official told Soler that they would not let her board the plane because she had not paid a fine for “throwing papers into the street.” According to Decree 272, whoever “throws into the public street waste such as papers, wrappings, food waste, packaging and the like,” will have a fine of 50 pesos and must “pick them up immediately.”
“Here, the person who owes the Cuban people freedom is Raul Castro,” Soler replied to the accusation. She claims that it was sheets with political slogans. “The fine is from last September, after that I went to Panama and the United States, so I don’t understand this now,” the dissident complains.
The activist was planning to meet in California with David Kaye, United Nations rapporteur for freedom of expression. Instead of Soler, the activist Leticia Ramos will attend the meeting
Last year, when the Aguilera Police Station informed Soler about the fine, she signed a document informing her of the contravention with an ironic “Down you-know-who,” and threw it in the agents’ faces, telling them: “I do not accept any inappropriate fines.”
Subsequently, Soler was informed that the unpaid fine could be doubled, and it was suggested that the police could exchange each Cuba peso (approximately 4 cents US) of the fine for one day in jail or instead not let her travel on Tuesday.
The activist was planning to meet in California with David Kaye, United Nations rapporteur for freedom of expression. Instead of Soler, Lady in White Leticia Ramos will attend the meeting.
“In the report we list all those fines that they assign to us inappropriately,” reflects Soler. “They are illegal and violate the Republic’s penal code,” a situation that is complemented by “the harassment, the threat and violence that is unleashed against our families, against our children and our husbands to try to get us to stop our activism.”
This month marks a year since the Lady in White was prevented from attending mass at Santa Rita parish, and also blocked from attending the Sunday marches on 5th Avenue, a traditional route that goes back to the origins of the movement after the repressive wave of 2003, known as the Black Spring.
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 21 March 2017 — Cubans know a lot about adulterations. For decades they have grappled with the “diversion of resources” [i.e. stealing] from state stores and the practice of state employees acquiring products elsewhere at low prices, bringing them into the stores and selling them at high prices and keeping the profit for themselves. Hence the scandal of the altered meat that involves two Brazilian companies has hardly surprised anyone on the Island.
This Monday Brazilian meat products continued to be sold in Cuba’s retail network, where the frozen chicken of the brands Frangosul and Perdix, from the companies JBS and BRF respectively, continue to be on sale. According to an investigation by the Federal Police of Brazil, both these companies adulterated these products. continue reading
In the case of chicken, the authorities have warned that it is more of an economic fraud, consisting of adding water to the product to increase the weight, without any risks to health.
In the case of chicken, the authorities have warned that it is more of an economic fraud, consisting of adding water to the product to increase the weight, without any risks to health
The results of what was called “Carne Fraca” (“weak meat” in Portuguese), confirmed the suspicions of those who warned that something “doesn’t smell right” in the world’s largest exporter of these products. Each year Brazil exports beef worth roughly 5.5 billion dollars and chicken worth roughly 6.5 billion. This business represents 7.2% of Brazil’s Gross Domestic Product.
So far, no Cuban store or market has withdrawn the Brazilian frozen food products. On the digital sites that offer a wide range of foods that emigrants abroad can order for their families on the island, Brazilian beef and chicken remain on sale.
The official media spread the news of the scandal, focusing on the possible repercussions for President Michel Temer’s government. The Ministry of Public Health did not discuss the issue when asked by 14ymedio.
Cuba imports more than 80% of the food it consumes. For 2017, the bill for these purchases is expected to exceed $1.75 billion, $82 million more than the estimate for the previous year.
Each year, more than 120,000 tonnes of chicken meat are bought in the international market, most of it hindquarters, also called “dark parts.” Alberto Ramírez, president of the Cuban Society of Poultry Producers (SOCPA), recently confirmed to the official press that “[domestic] meat production is practically zero.”
Each year more than 120,000 tonnes of chicken meat are bought in the international market, most of it hindquarters
In 2014, several representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture visited Brazil to inspect the facilities of the dairy and beef plant managed by JBS in Mato Grosso do Sul, with a view to importing its products to the Island. Another 25 facilities approved for trade with Cuba are located in the states of Tocantins, Rondonia, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul, Goiás, Mato Grosso and Sao Paulo
The United States and Brazil are the countries supplying the greatest amount of frozen products to the Cuban market. Faced with the lack of supply and the lack of variety, chicken has become one of the most common foods at the table of Cubans. Only the wealthy can afford beef.
“I came to buy a piece of top round steak,” said a retired woman at the butcher’s in Plaza de Carlos III on Monday. She said, “it is a luxury that I can only allow myself from time to time.” The meat on offer in that market comes from Brazil, according to an employee who preferred anonymity, but who, so far, had received “no order to stop selling it.”
On display in the meat case are several packages with prime ground beef, stew meat, top round and tip steak. No merchandise specifies where it comes from, but local workers confirm that it has been bought from Brazil. The customers look longingly at the display; meat remains a forbidden delicacy for many, even if it is wrapped up in investigations and fraud.
“Here we work with Brazilian meat,” explains one of the waiters at the restaurant next to the Riviera cinema, formerly El Carmelo, on 23rd Street. In their menu they offer sirloin, fillet mignon, fried beef tender and ropa vieja (shredded beef in sauce), this last a very traditional dish that is in high demand among tourists.
The select El Palco market, whose main customers are diplomats and foreigners living in Havana, is also “especially stocked with Brazilian meat,” points out one of the local cashiers.
Some 27 people have been arrested in Brazil, and Federal Police Commissioner Mauricio Moscardi warned of a corruption network inside the government that allowed adulterated meat to be legalized. That chain of infractions involved officials of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, to which President Temer belongs.
The main Brazilian meat producers added chemicals to meats that were “rotten” or unfit for human consumption. An extensive network of bribe payments purchased approval from the Ministry of Agriculture.
“They used acids and other chemicals, in some cases carcinogenic, to disguise the physical characteristics of the rotten product and its smell,” Moscardi explained. They treated the meat with vitamin C to give it a more “appetizing” color, along with levels of preservatives well above those allowed by health authorities.
Representatives of both companies have denied allegations by police authorities, but the alarm has spread in the international market and the companies’ stock prices have tumbled sharply.
“BFR ensures the high quality and safety of its products and guarantees that there is no risk for its consumers,” said one of the largest food companies in the world with more than 30 brands in its portfolio, Sadia, Perdigão, Qualy, Paty, Dánica, Bocatti or Confidence.
Cuban customers who are learning about the news coming from Brazil are beginning to connect the dots. “The chicken no longer came with the quality of before and had a lot of ice”
The Chilean Ministry of Agriculture announced, a few hours ago, that it would accept no more imports from the Brazilian beef market. Minister Carlos Furche explained that the measure is temporary “until the Brazilian authorities know exactly what facilities are being investigated, and of those facilities which have exported to the world and Chile,” he said.
The Chinese authorities have responded unceremoniously. The Government banned all such imports and prevented meat already shipped from being unloaded in its ports. Last year the Asian country imported 1.6 billion dollars from Brazilian meatpackers.
Europe has slowed shipments from JBS and BRF. This week the European Commissioner for Health Affairs, Vytenis Andriukaitis, will travel to Brasilia and the agenda revolves around the food scandal.
Cuban customers who are learning about the news coming from Brazil are beginning to connect the dots. “The chicken no longer came with the quality of before and had a lot of ice,” complains Luisa Cordoves, a housewife in Central Havana who says that “right now it’s better to buy the chicken boxes that come from United States, because the product tastes better. ”
She believes that the scandal will not dissuade domestic consumers from acquiring these products. “People have many needs and there is no choice: you take it or leave it.”
Iván García Quintero, Havana, 19 March 2017 — When the summons arrived for an interview with a police official, the girl’s puzzled family thought it was a mistake.
Let’s call them Kenia, Pedro, and Camila. They are neighbors of mine and prefer to remain anonymous.
Kenia was summoned to a police station on Finlay street, in the Sevillano District, near the State Security barracks known as Villa Marista.
“When I arrived, the man started harassing and threatening me, saying that I hung around with foreigners. Then he wanted to get information about Ivan García, ’a known counterrevolutionary that we’ve been investigating for five years.’ He wanted to know details about his private life, about where he got the money to repair his house. He also asked my opinion about his work as an independent journalist. At one point he described him as a ’terrorist’ and said that both he and his mother were ’conspirators.’ continue reading
“I was in a state of shock. I told him that he is a friend of mine and my family, and that if what he said is true, why didn’t he arrest him. The officer who interviewed me— young, hostile, and with a military haircut — replied that for now they had no evidence, but they were contacting people like me to collaborate with them and give them more information. I refused to be an informant,” says Kenya.
They were more direct with Pedro. “They accused me of giving confidential information to Ivan Garcia. I told them that I had been retired for four years. They threatened to open a file on me for collaborating on some of the news stories written by Ivan. At the end of the meeting, they warned me to be careful not to say anything to Ivan, because ’he might get off scot-free, but you, Pedro, old as you are, you could die in jail.’”
Without providing any evidence, they issued Camila a warning for harassing tourists and prostitution. “I didn’t sign it. But they told me that if I keep associating with Ivan I will be prosecuted for prostitution. I was accused of pimping and, together with Ivan, of controlling several prostitutes who, in return for money, offered information about their work. All that is a scandalous lie. Out of fear, I promised to delete Ivan’s phone from my contact list. ”
All three were warned that they would soon be summoned again. I told them that when they were, to let me know so I could go with them. If you want to know about me, cite me; it is despicable to intimidate innocent people.
In March 1991, four years before I began writing as an independent journalist at Cuba Press, I was detained for two weeks in a cell at Villa Marista, the headquarters of the State Security Department. They accused me of “enemy propaganda.” I was never tried, but beginning in 1991, for whatever reason, I was detained.
Then there was a period of less harassment until October 22, 2008, when at the intersection of Prado and Teniente Rey, a Colombian colleague handed me some books sent by Ernesto McCausland, a prestigious Colombian journalist, writer, and filmmaker (deceased in 2012). The Colombian and I were arrested by the police and placed in a patrol car. He was released immediately, but they took me to the station at Zanja and Lealtad and kept me in solitary confinement for 11 hours. I recounted this in State of Siege.
Two years later, August 2010, brought the first harassment by Military Counterintelligence. I was then writing for El Mundo.es/América, which published three denunciations, the first titled Citación oficial. Three years later, I would again be harassed by the secret police. On February 18, 2013, Diario Las Américas published, on its front page, “Las Américas Journalist harassed by the Cuban government.” Continuing evidence of this remains posted on the blogsite Desde La Habana.
State Security knows where to find me. They have my phone number and the address where I live. I wait for them.
Iván García, 17 March 2017 — On a wooden shelf are displayed two bottles of liquid detergent, a dozen packs of Populares cigarettes, a packet of coffee, and, on a hastily-drawn poster, a quotation from the deceased Fidel Castro.
Past 10:30 am, the hot bodega [in this case a store where rationed items are sold] is like a steam oven. Luisa, the saleswoman, seated on a plastic chair, tries to start up a rusty residential fan. In the background can be heard the baritone voice of an announcer narrating a soap opera scene.
In the bodega’s storeroom, stacked in random heaps, are 10 or 12 bags of rice, a half-empty container of vegetable oil, and several bags of powdered milk that the State provides exclusively for children younger than 7 years of age and for individuals who possess medical documentation of having cancer or some other grave illness. continue reading
Sitting on the stoop at the store’s entrance, two dirty guys knock back mouthfuls of rum from a small jug while a stray dog, old and ragged, urinates on the door. The monotony of the surreal panorama is broken when the saleswoman hurls a piece of hose at the dog to frighten it away.
After a while, customers begin arriving, nylon bags dangling from their forearms and ration books in their hands.
To all who were born in Cuba, the regime sells 7 pounds of rice, 20 ounces of black beans, a pouch of coffee blended with peas, a half-pound of vegetable oil, and 1 pound of chicken per month–and on a daily basis one bread roll, almost always poorly made.
This subsidized market basket, if consumed in small portions at lunch or dinner, will probably last 10 or 12 days. After that, for the remainder of the month, people are on their own. Housewives and mothers who, after getting home from work, must turn on the stove should be given prizes for creativity.
To feed a family requires 90 percent of the household income. Those who make a low salary (which is the majority of the population) have no choice but to purchase average to low-quality merchandise offered by the State. Those who receive remittances from family or friends abroad in hard currency can purchase higher-quality products.
The ration book, which was implemented in March 1962, is the reason that thousands of Cubans have not died of hunger. Although what they eat remains a mystery.
Luisa the saleswoman says that “for four months now, the rice we get at the bodega is dreadful. Nobody can eat it. Not even the best cook could make it better. It sticks, forming a sludge, and it tastes like hell. And don’t even mention the beans. They’ve been taken from the state reserves, where they’ve been stored for ages. They have a terrible smell. And you could try cooking them for four or five hours and they still wouldn’t soften. This is rice and beans that pigs would not eat.”
But Diego and María, a couple of pensioners who between the two of them take in the equivalent of 25 dollars a month, cannot afford the luxury of discarding the subsidized rice.
“I mix it with the rice that’s sold at 4 Cuban pesos per pound; it’s pretty good, and this way we can eat it. If you live in Cuba you can’t be picky. You have to eat what they give you, or what you can find,” María emphasizes.
If you go around inside any state-run cafeteria, you will note that hygienic standards are nonexistent: stacks of cold-cut sandwiches, fritters or portions of fried fish on aluminum trays surrounded by a chorus of flies.
The elderly, those great losers in Raúl Castro’s timid economic reforms, tend to eat foods of low nutritional value and worse preparation, just to lessen their hunger.
There is a chain of state-run dining halls on the Island that serve lunch and dinner to more than a half-million people who are in extreme poverty.
One of these facilities can be found in the old bar Diana, located on the busy and dirty Calzada Diez de Octubre street. The rations cost 1 Cuban peso. According to a Social Security roster provided to the administrator, about 100 Havana residents–almost all low-income elderly people–are served there daily.
At two steel tables covered with cheap cloths, three women and four men, holding their old metal bowls, await the day’s rations. “The food isn’t worth mentioning. A bit of rice, often hard, watery beans, and a croquette or a boiled egg. Sometimes they give you a little piece of chicken,” says Eusebio, a retired railway engineer who lives by himself.
A dozen people interviewed complain more about their bad luck, about having no money and being dirt-poor, than about the bad cooking. “Yes, it’s bad, but at least in these dining rooms we can count on getting lunch and dinner,” notes Gladys, a single mother of four daughters who receives Social Security.
A staff member admits that “it’s very difficult to cook well without seasonings and condiments. Nor do we get vegetables and fruits. On top of that, the administrator and the cooks make off with the oil and the chicken when we get them.”
In Cuba, what is bad, unpleasant and incorrect goes beyond food preparation. You can find it in the dirty stands that hold vegetables and fruits, in the sale of unwrapped goods, or the adulteration of standards for making sausages and weighing them appropriately at the point of sale.
“It shows a lack of respect towards the population. Anything that you buy in Cuban pesos is of horrible quality. It’s the same for clothing, hardware items or household items. In general, what is sold to the people is shit. Look at these bags of watery yogurt,” Mildred points out while standing in line at a state store to buy whipped yogurt at 15 Cuban pesos per bag.
Even when purchases are made with convertible pesos*, it is hard in Cuba to buy items of assured quality.
But Cubans, who must eat, dress and enjoy their leisure time by paying for it with the national currency– the Cuban peso–must make do with devalued merchandise. They are third-class citizens in their own country.
Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison
*Translator’s note: Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos, worth about 4 cents US, and Cuban Convertible pesos, 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.
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, 17 March 2017 — As part of the restoration work of the National Capitol, seven palms were planted at the beginning of last year on the Paseo del Prado median facing the famous Havana building. The section that goes from Fraternity Park to near Neptune Street was then decked out with the national tree, but this lasted for only a short time.
The planting took place during the days before the visit of the American president Barack Obama, in which the city lived a dizzying swirl of construction and beautification. The Department of Forestry of the Ministry of Agriculture chose the trees that would be transplanted and experts in the matter offered advice for their rapid acclimatization. continue reading
With precision, the construction workers made wide planting areas surrounded by paving stones while the nearest neighbors debated whether or not to have these plants that, although they are not native to the Cuban archipelago, are consecrated in the left pavilion of the coat of arms of the Republic.
Within a year of their planting, the palms were dying one by one. They were planted in the appropriate soil and neighbors say they were watered frequently despite the city’s water shortage, but they did not survive the transplanting.
Those who claim to know certain intimacies of nature ensure that before relocating a palm tree to a new site it is necessary to mark on its trunk a sign that shows which side faces the sun. The tree should be placed in the same direction. Failure to do so, results in the plume of leaves looking “disheveled” at the first light of dawn.
No one can assure that this requirement was met. Like other facts that become a “state secret,” no public official has felt it necessary to offer an explanation for the mass death. At the same time another transplanted tree died, the young ceiba that was replanted a year ago in the Plaza de Armas of Old Havana and that honors the foundation of the city.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 19 March 2017 – It rained when the presidential plane touched down on the tarmac at Havana’s Airport. On 20 March 2016, Barack Obama began a historic visit to the island that awakened hopes and sparked questions. One year after that visit, Cubans are taking stock of what happened and, in particular, what did not happen.
The tenant of the White House evoked waves of enthusiasm during his tour of Havana’s streets. His official agenda included talking with young entrepreneurs, he appeared on a comedy TV show, he visited a private restaurant, and he met with representatives from civil society. They were intense days during which popular illusions reached historic records.
However, Obama’s decision to eliminate the wet foot/dry foot policy before the end of his term in January, caused that sympathy to plummet. Now, inquiring about his legacy on Cuban streets leads to answers mostly filled with criticism, resentment or a sense of betrayal. continue reading
“I lost my life,” Luis Pedroso, a soundman by profession, tells 14ymedio, He sold all his property to pay for an illegal trip to the United States. He left Cuba for the Dominican Republic, and then crossed Mexico and arrived at the border in Nuevo Laredo, on 12 January when the immigration policy that benefitted Cubans was no longer in force.
“What did he do that for?” asks Pedroso, about the act of the Democrat. “We Cubans gave him our hearts and he betrayed us,” he says. The man sleeps on the couch of his sister’s house waiting to “make money again to leave.” He thinks “Trump is less sympathetic,” but perhaps, “will get more loyal.”
The months following the presidential visit, the emigration of Cubans to the United States continued its growing trend. More than 50,000 Cubans entered US territory during fiscal year 2016, according to the Office of Field Operations of the Customs and Border Protection Service.
Norma works as a saleswoman in a private coffee shop in Havana’s Chinatown. She recalls that in the days when Obama was on the island, “people were going crazy all over to try to see him.” She was among the hundreds of people who crowded along the Paseo del Prado when word spread that The Beast (Obama’s armored car) would pass by with the presidential family.
The woman was especially hopeful about the economic benefits that could come from the trip. “It seemed that everything would be fixed and that we self-employed workers would be able to import and bring products from over there,” she reflects. But, “everything is stuck,” is continues.
The entrepreneur would like to bring an “ice cream machine” from the United States, and “ask for a loan or find an investor who wants to put money into a small business.” However, the customs restrictions imposed on the Cuban side make commercial imports difficult, and there is no easy way to send supplies to the island from the United States.
Nor have expectations in the countryside been met. Luis Garcia, a farmer dedicated to planting rice outside Cienfuegos believes that “everything has been greatly delayed.” The flexibilities implemented by Obama from the beginning of the diplomatic thaw were mainly directed toward the private and agricultural sectors, but “the benefits haven’t appeared,” said the farmer.
The Cienfueguero continues to plow the land with an old yoke of oxen and recalls that “there was much talk about the arrival of “resources, tractors and seeds, but everything remains the same.” Nevertheless he believes that “Obama has been the best president of the United States with regards to us, a man of integrity,” he says.
The activists, who talked with Obama on that occasion and behind closed doors, are also taking stock after twelve months.
For Dagoberto Valdés, director of the independent magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), the main result of the trip was “to show that ‘the enemy’ used as a weapon in the Cuban government’s narrative was willing to offer a white rose,” as Obama demonstrated in his speech at Havana’s Gran Teatro.
The speech, broadcast live, is considered by many as “the best part of the visit,” says Valdez, who recognizes that “a year later, unfortunately, the situation in Cuba is worsening.” He cites an increase in repression, the attacks on the United States in the official discourse, which continues to be one of “trenches and confrontation.”
The opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa was also at that table at the US Embassy in Havana. He points out that after the arrival of the Democrat there was an emphasis on “an awareness that our problems are our problems, not problems caused by the United States.” Obama helped to defuse the “historic tension” between “democracy and nationalism.”
On the other hand, the regime opponent Martha Beatriz who was traveling during the historic visit, sums up the impact of Obama’s trip as “none.” While “he left everyone filled with hopes,” on the contrary, “what he did was to put a final end to the wet foot/dry foot policy.”
The former prisoner of the Black Spring believes that the visit “is not something that is remembered gratefully right now.” When it happened, “everyone was very happy and filled with hopes, but a year later it’s completely different,” she emphasized.
The columnist Miriam Celaya believes that beyond “being in favor or against” Obama’s actions toward the island “there is one thing that is undeniable, and that is that he marked the Cuban policy of the last fifty years like no other American president.”
Celaya believes that the Democrat “ended the exceptionality” of the Cuban issue “by taking away the government’s foreign enemy.” A situation that has the Plaza of the Revolution “forced to render accounts. Ending the wet foot/dry foot policy,” also contributed to ending “the emigration preference for Cubans in the United States.”
“Any policy towards Cuba framed by US politicians, as long as this system lasts, will have as an obligatory reference this parting of the waters achieved by Obama,” the independent journalist says.
Celaya believes that the population developed “tremendous expectations that are now completely deflated. Many see Obama as the beloved and the hated,” an attitude that puts “the solutions in the United States, as if they have to come from outside,” she says.
The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer, believes that Obama “did everything possible to help the people out of the deep crisis in which Castroism has plunged us,” but “the regime closed all the doors”.
The outgoing president urged Raúl Castro “to open up to his people, to allow the people to recover the spaces” but instead, the authorities remain “in their old position of controlling everything and doing nothing that endangers the total control they have over society. ”
“What’s up, Cuba?” Obama tweeted when his plane was about to land in Cuba. Today, listening to that question generates more concerns than certainties.
Juan Juan Almeida, 16 March 2017 — Specialists from MINAGRI, the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture, tell us that planting seeds inside or near to the Cuban cave network could quickly guarantee food production, which would help to satisfy the ever-increasing requirements of the Cuban population.
Another insane initiative, launched by the Ministry of agriculture, focuses on sustainable solutions to environmental problems, optimising energy and water, improving productivity, and using human waste as compost.
It is not a new idea. Millions of years ago man took advantage of the humidity in caves and their surroundings. How is it possible that today, in the 21st century, the Cuban government is trying to return to the agriculture of the cavemen?
The insane move, which includes training and the creation of laboratories for studying the quality of water in each cave area of the island, emerged as a response to a presumptuous and pushy ministerial debate on the use of water in agriculture that took place last February, where Inés María Chapman, President of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources spoke about the serious situation regarding this natural resource, and Norberto Espinosa Carro, director of the Livestock Business Group, discussed the development programme being undertaken in the middle of straitened economic circumstances.
Anyone traveling to Cuba, even as a tourist, will know that the island has one of the largest cave systems in the world, 70 per cent of its territory, with the exception of Las Tunas, is composed of limestone and calcareous rock, natural phenomenon that leads to the formation of caverns. I doubt that farmers want to return to the caves, or that the MINAGRI can guarantee an underground irrigation system when, over more than 50 years, it hasn’t been able to guarantee even one-third of the national food requirement on fertile ground.
“It is called permaculture and it is a fashionable nonsense brought here by this new Minister from his trip to Europe. And that is exactly one of our biggest problems, the lack of organization, and Ministerial fantasies”, as we are told by one of the managers of the Institute of Agricultural Engineering Research.
“In Cuba”, he concludes, “the problem is not the water or moisture, but the poor support for the beneficial owner of the UBPC Cooperative, the absence of liquidity, the poor utilization of agricultural land, the very bad selection of water sources used for irrigation and drainage, the thousand and one legal restrictions which prevent farmers enjoying a better life, such as building their own home on the land where they work, the poor livestock management and shortage of cattle feed, the shortage of manpower and technically-qualified personnel, the scarcity of supplies and tools, the unavailability of machinery to prepare the soil, the lack of spare parts in the areas where they work, the deficit of qualified technical staff and work force, the lack of inputs and tools, the non-availability of machinery for the preparation of the land, the lack of spare parts, and the long-running errors in allocating transport for agricultural marketing. That’s all”
Apologies to our readers that this video is not subtitled. Before the shouts of “bravo” Lasso says, that the free healthcare system in Ecuador provided by the government should be in the hands of Ecuadorian doctors. His other statements are reported in the article.
14ymedio (with information from Diana Ramos), Quito, 17 March 2017 – Guillermo Lasso, a candidate for president of Ecuador, is against the Cuban medical missions in his country and promised to end them, should he triumph in the upcoming run-off election.
“We must end this slavery of one government negotiating with another that pays poverty-level wages for the services” provided by professionals. He also stressed that Cuban professionals “displace” Ecuadorians in their own country.
“In my government there will be no policy that persecutes any professional sector in Ecuador,” he said on Tuesday, during a visit to Luis Vernaza Hospital in Guayaquil, the candidate’s hometown.
On February 10, Movimiento X Cuba, a civil society group composed of Cuban health professionals based in Ecuador, asked the future president to end the Cuban medical presence there.
“We advocate that Cuban doctors be free and able to decide their own future, their country of residence, and have the freedom necessary to exercise such a dignified profession,” the movement said in a statement.
Some 600 Cuban doctors are working in Ecuador and the Ecuadorian government pays 2,700 dollars a month for each one. From this, the Cuban Ministry of Public Health pays individual doctors barely 800 dollars, with the rest going into the coffers of the state. Profits from this leasing out of medical and other professionals is one of the Cuban government’s largest source of revenue.
Acure, an association of pro-Castro Cubans in Ecuador, spoke out against the “malicious and provocative statement of Movimiento X Cuba” and insisted that doctors from the island have provided medical care “to more than four and a half million Ecuadorian patients,” emphasizing the provision of eye operations and kidney transplants.
“Cuba has trained, free of charge, more than 6,000 Ecuadorian specialists in its universities,” Acure said.
Dr. Daniel Medina, president of Movimiento X Cuba, who defines himself as an opponent of the Cuban government, asked for protection for “all migrants who seek freedom and flee totalitarian regimes like those in Cuba and Venezuela.”
Juan Juan Almeida, 13 March 2017 — The appointment of architect Perla Rosa Rosales Aguirreurreta to succeed historian Eusebio Leal as head of Havana’s Office of the Historian is the most recent example of the Cuban regime’s making strategic decisions whose sole purpose is to implement a very well-organized dynastic succession plan.
In order to further strengthen their hold on every corner of the country, family members of high-ranking military officials and leaders of the Cuban Revolution are inheriting key posts and strategic positions in the political power structure controlled by the Castro family.
For example, Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart, eldest child of the late Fidel Castro, is scientific advisor to his uncle, General Raúl Castro. The general’s daughter, Mariela Castro Espín, is president of the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) and a deputy in the National Assembly of People’s Power, the country’s unicameral parliament and supreme body of state power. continue reading
Alejandro Castro Espín, youngest child of Raúl Castro, is an advisor to the National Commission for Defense and National Security.
Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja — former son-in-law of Raúl Castro and father of two of the general’s grandchildren — is CEO of the Business Administration Group and head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces Department V.
Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz — the son of Isidoro Malmierca Peoli, who was Minister of Foreign Affairs — is the Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment in Cuba.
Ernesto Daniel Plasencia — son of Colonel Santiago Plasencia and close friend of Raúl Castro — is a diplomat who recently concluded a stint as the Cuban ambassador to Qatar.
Leopoldo Cintra González — son of Army General and Revolutionary Armed Forces Minister Leopoldo Cintras Frías — is the commercial vice-president of the Habanos Corporation.
Listing every member of this fraternity would be impossible. However, the case of Rosales Aguirreurreta — daughter of General Ulises Rosales del Toro, vice-president of the Council of Ministers, founder of the Communist Party of Cuba and member of the Politburo — stands out not only for being the most recent example but also for being among the most significant.
It seemed at first that the Office of the Historian would be exempt from the hostile and ruthless takeover of Habanaguanex and Havana’s historic city center by the Cuban military.*
But the distrustful people who control the reigns of power in the country leave nothing to chance.
The talented and very hard-working Leal, who was recently awarded an honorary doctorate by Mexico’s Casa Lamm, held an enviable position which has now been turned over to the daughter of one of the dictatorship’s longtime generals. She is a successor with strong genetic ties to both the party and military.
At this point it is worth remembering that in December 1988 a trilateral accord was signed between Angola, South Africa and Cuba in which all parties agreed to accept Namibian independence, recognize South Africa, halt support to the UNITA rebels and pull Cuban troops out of Angola.
Three days later, General Rosales del Toro, a career military officer — one unsuited to his career — who was not convinced of the effectiveness of dialogue to achieve reliable results, took a proposal back to Cuba that called for negotiations with the United States and an end to years of hostility. Instead of receiving a response, he was ordered under pressure to preside over the 1989 military trial of General Arnaldo Ochoa.**
“Perla, who is also known by a pseudonym I shouldn’t repeat, studied in the former Soviet Union and spent time working there. She started off in the investment department and moved up the ladder until she evenutally became deputy director. When Leal fell ill, she automatically took over,” says a longtime restorer from the Office of the Historian who, for obvious reasons, prefers to remain anonymous.
“She appears to be a woman who is prepared. But she doesn’t travel alone. A few days ago, we had an emergency meeting in which we were introduced to a new twenty-something Perla: a civil engineer who is Perla’s daughter and General Rosales’ granddaughter. It seems, so we were told, that she is a very intelligent young woman who is emerging as another future head of this institution, which already practically levitates on a kind of forgetfulness,” says the worker in an observation that mixes jest and resignation.
*Translator’s note: The Office of the Historian is a governmental agency dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings in Old Havana, several of them now profitable tourist hotels. In 2016 the agency and its restored properties were taken over by Habaguanex, a hotel chain company operated by the Cuban military, in what some saw as a hostile land grab.
**Arnaldo T. Ochoa Sánchez was a prominent Cuban general who was executed by the government of Fidel Castro after being found guilty of a variety of crimes including drug smuggling and treason.
Regina Coyula, 7 February 2017 — Today is the worldwide observance of Safer Internet Day. Best practices should guide navigation for the benefit of the user; thus, she would never have the sour sensation that her Facebook page has been taken down for having undesirable content or that he has lost access to his email account containing all his correspondence–not to mention the disaster of a hacked web page–and all for not selecting a password other than “password” or “1234.”
Often when I speak of these matters, people stare at me in surprise or with frank indifference and think that “my contents are not secret.” I always say that mine aren’t either, but to maintain the security and privacy of my data is my right, even more so in a country where intrusive (bad) practices are part of daily life.