More Than 100,000 People Are ‘Illegal’ in Cuba

A woman looks out the window of an apartment in Havana. (El Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 21 December 2017 — The authorities have put a number on Cubans living in an “illegal” situation in their own country: there are 107,200, of whom 52,800 have been in this situation for more than 20 years. This was reported Thursday by the president of Physical Planning, Samuel Rodiles Planas, during the plenary session of the Parliament meeting this week in Havana.

The Cuban government considers people who reside somewhere other than at the address where they are registered in the Identity Card Office to be “illegal.” In cities such as Havana, completing an address transfer is a complex process that requires approval from the Municipal Administration Council, so many migrants from the elsewhere in the country reside in the capital city clandestinely. continue reading

Rodiles Planas also said that 127,000 urban illegalities were reported in 2017, of which the Cuban capital accounts for more than 40,000. Other cities with a high ‘crime’ rate in this regard are Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Artemisa and Matanzas, with more than 10,000 each.

Rodiles Planas, who is a Division General in the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), also attributed the problem to the “lack of demand, control and monitoring by the municipal governments’ confrontation group.” In addition, he highlighted the deficit of means of transport in the municipal physical planning headquarters.

Most of the urban illegalities are concentrated in the field of construction, according to the official press, which mentions new works and violations of licenses and projects as some of the main violations committed.

Cuba needs at least one million new homes, as recognized by the authorities. Construction plans have fallen dramatically since the 1980s and the deterioration of the existing building stock is plain to see.

During 2017, the State planned the construction of only 9,700 homes. Added to this is the damage caused by natural disasters such as Hurricane Irma, which destroyed 158,554 dwelling units, according to preliminary data.

In some provinces like Havana, the housing deficit has caused many people to settle in marginal neighborhoods popularly known as ‘llega y pon’ – literally ‘arrive and put (down)’ – that is, squatter settlements. The authorities raise all kinds of obstacles to internal migration, especially from the eastern part of the country, but fail to prevent it.

It is estimated that in Havana, with some 2.1 million inhabitants, there is a deficit of 206,000 homes, while in Santiago de Cuba, where half a million people live, 103,000 homes need to be built.

This week Raul Castro acknowledged the problem of housing and asked the plenary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party to give a “greater boost” to the housing situation in the country.

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

Cuba’s 2018 Sugar Harvest At Risk Due to a Shortage of Cane in the Fields

Operators of the Case combines made in Brazil have been directed to cut the raw sugar cane two centimeters below the surface. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 January 2018 — The ravages of Hurricane Irma on Cuban agriculture have left a serious impact on the sugar sector that will influence the results of the upcoming harvest. With some 835,000 acres of cane fallen and broken, in addition to another 227,000 flooded, 45% of the sown cane was affected, according to official sources.

The lack of raw material has forced the directors of the state-owned Azcuba Azucarero Group to demand that “not a piece of cane can be lost in the fields,” and to guide the mechanized cutting as close to the ground as possible.

“The objective is to make the most of the cane we have today,” Azcuba’s director of Institutional Communication, Liobel Pérez, told the local press. The entity has not published a forecast for the tons that it expects to produce in this harvest, although the executive admitted that “it is very obvious that the plans will not be achieved.” continue reading

Pérez explained that he has directed the operators of the Case brand cane cutting machines, manufactured in Brazil, to cut the cane two centimeters below the surface. The Brazilian combines are used in 60% of the cuts on the Island and have an efficiency superior to the machines assembled in Cuba.

KTP combines, manufactured domestically, harvest 38% of the cane and the macheteros, who cut manually, account for the 2% remaining on the sugar plantations. In both cases, the Azcuba directs that the cane be cut “at ground level” for a higher yield.

When the cane is cut very low, the lower internodes which are very rich in sugar are harvested and that increases the production and the final yield. During the 1970 harvest, when Fidel Castro’s government failed to reach its declared ten million ton goal, one of the slogans was, to cut “Low and in one stroke.”

Perez pointed out that cutting below the ground with the Case combines does not harm the life of the plant in the cane fields, but only “if they have been planted correctly.” In the current sugar harvest, which began last November, a total of 53 sugar mills will participate, of which 30 are up and running with the rest expected to be incorporated throughout this month.

The ravages of the hurricane are not the only obstacles on the way to the harvest that has just begun. In recent years many sugar mills have been dismantled and of the 156 which the country had until the 1980s, now only 61 remain.

The area of ​​fields planted with cane has also been drastically reduced from five million acres to about 1.8 million today. This fall in numbers has meant that the sugar trade now accounts for only 5% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

The sugar industry bottomed out during the 2009-2010 harvest when only 1.1 million tons of the product were produced, the lowest figure in 105 years. Since then the Government has proposed to relaunch the industry and take advantage of the rise in prices in the international market. However, in the last harvest only 85% of the plan was met and the official media had to lower the number of tons harvested, which analysts placed at 1.8 million gross tons of sugar.

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

Raul Castro Postpones His Retirement / Iván García

Raúl Castro Ruz, José Ramón Machado Ventura, Esteban Lazo and Miguel Díaz-Canel. Taken from France 24.

Ivan Garcia, 9 January 2017 — Jumping from a conversation about football one about Cuban domestic politics is not exactly an exercise in rational balance. That is why Eduardo, a veterinarian in a cooperative outside Havana, responded with a prolonged silence when the street debate took an unexpected turn.

The group was chatting in a corner in Havana’s La Víbora neighborhood about Lionel Messi’s Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid, when Carlos, a friend of Eduardo’s, started a monologue about how difficult it is in Cuba to be able to have breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then the subject of daily hardships stole the rostrum.

César, a bank employee, says: “The hardships start with low wages and lack of food, followed by a lack of housing and transport problems. The list is longer. Every day it becomes harder to live here.” continue reading

On the street, the tirades against Raúl Castro are often bitter and even offensive. His brother, the late populist caudillo, continues to arouse some respect among Cubans, be they apolitical or detractors of the Castro regime.

But Raul, handpicked by Fidel after he stepped aside on 31 July 2006 due to health problems, does not inspire the same consideration among ordinary people. Without restrictions, not a few Habaneros, mostly marginal, call him ‘Raula’ — the feminine version of his name — question his manhood and tell jokes about his sexuality.

There is a popular perception that Raúl is more repressive than his brother. “If he has to bring the tanks out on the street so that this shit does not fall, he’ll do it without thinking twice about it,” says a newspaper salesman.

Those who ever had dealings with Raúl Castro, such as the writer Juan Juan Almeida and the former state television journalist Lissette Bustamante, had a chance to experience little-known facets of the current president: that of a father and a grandfather who worships his children and grandchildren, an organized man who knows how to listen.

Nikolai Leonov, an old fox of the KGB who met the General in the ’50s when he was a simple Socialist Youth activist, in a report to the Soviet intelligence portrayed him full-length: an eternal conspirator.

With discretion, Raul Castro, has participated all the witch hunts and purges that have occurred in these 59 years of revolution. From the execution of the pilots of the Batista air force and the microfaction process to the Ochoa case and the dismissal of Carlos Lage and Felipe Pérez Roque.

“Raúl is more communist than his brother. Fidel only believed in him. If he wants, Raul can be cruel, but he has his feet on the ground,” says a person who knew him when he was a minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).

Despite his repulsive reputation and without much political talent, in his eleven years at the helm of Cuba’s destiny, he authorized broader economic reforms than in the Castro I phase and repealed absurd regulations that made Cubans third-rate citizens in their own country, such as the legalization of the purchase and sale of cars and houses, travel abroad and being about to stay in exclusive hotels formerly open only to foreign tourists.

Although he has maintained the repression against the dissidence on the island and Cuban interference in Venezuela, Castro II negotiated Cuba’s financial debt with various countries on favorable terms and managed to reestablish diplomatic relations with the United States without giving an inch in his obsolete political principles.

According to credible sources, Raúl Castro’s decision to withdraw from power is unappealable. But as long as he lives, he will remain the first secretary of the Communist Party and, from the shadows, will play an important role in the sewers of power. “That’s what he likes. Manipulating the strings of power, from behind the power, ” says a former official.

The postponement of his retirement does not seem to be a delaying move. Some analysts believe that the current state of affairs, crisis in Venezuela, setbacks in relations with the United States and an economy on the razor’s edge, could have influenced Raúl to reconsider his decision to retire in February 2018.

The former official believes that “there has been more noise outside than inside. I think that this postponement is due to the fact that the elections of the municipal candidates were delayed due to Hurricane Irma. The deadlines that remain until February are very narrow to be able to elect the new deputies. I do not think it’s Raúl’s move to stay as president for two more months.”

Daniel, a barber, does not care when Raúl is going to retire or who will replace him. “We will keep the same style of government that has never worked. The Cubans will continue going through hell to get food. What interests me, and I suppose the people also, is that there are changes that really improve our lives, not the happy talk story they’ve been feeding us for 59 years. ”

What should be of interest to scholars of Cuba is the lack of charisma and meager qualities of the new batch of politicians in the country. Almost everyone feels uncomfortable before the cameras. Their speeches are mechanistic and trite. They make up for their poor creativity by cutting and pasting phrases from speeches delivered by Fidel Castro.

They never smile in their appearances. They are always serious, as if in a bad mood and their pathetic expression screams for an image consultant. But what most concerns citizens is that they have no idea how a nation is managed efficiently.

The great problem of Cuba is not Raúl Castro. It is what comes after.

New Locomotives in Cuba: Investment, Waste or Corruption? / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 28 November 2017 — The first seven Russian TGM 8 locomotives arrived in Cuba last week as part of a questionable railway development project that includes another 28 by 2018.

Cuba’s primary official media from the Granma newspaper to the Cubadebate site and the Russian Sputnik reported the arrival of the first seven of 15 locomotives in a lot that will be completed this year. Each locomotive has a price of $ 1.7 million dollars.

But the acquisition of this equipment has been a real question for railway transport specialists from the government’s own ranks. continue reading

Cuba is a country with over 5,000 miles of railroad right-of-way and the government purchase has materialized in a relatively short period, despite the high cost of the investment.

“Someone is making money but in the highest spheres waste is not a crime, and transportation, in everyone’s view, seems a problem that deserves to continue to have money spent on it,” said a Havana-based source from the Ministry of Economy and Planning (MEP).

In 2006, the Cuban authorities authorized the start of a national program, supervised by the Ministry of Transportation (MITRANS) and MEP, to restore and develop the national rail system.

The process was structured in phases:

1.  Restoration and maintenance of the trackways.

2.  Restoration and modernization of locomotives and freight cars.

3.  Modernization of railway maintenance facilities.

All of these being investments necessary to recover passenger transport.

In an obvious breach of the established order, on January 14 of that year, the government imported the first locomotives of the Chinese brand DF7G-C.

Some $15 million dollars was invested in 12 modern engines with 2,500 horsepower and automated systems. The problem was that, even with easy payment, the contract of sale between the Cuban railways Union (UFC) and the Chinese company never came to fruition.

Another similar number of Chinese locomotives were expected to arrive but never did so. It was reported that funding sources had failed, although the money was approved. But it never reached its destination nor did it return to the state coffers.

It apparently remained in some dark pocket. Now, in what seems like a cycle, the history of 2006 repeats itself, but this time between the Russian company, SINARA Transport Machines, and the Cuban import company, TRADEX.

In Cuba there are trains categorized as short and medium distance; the rest are nationals: Havana-Santiago de Cuba; Havana direct to Bayamo-Manzanillo; Havana-Guantanamo; Santiago de Cuba to Santa Clara; as well as the service from Havana to Sancti Spíritus.

“We do not need as many locomotives. The urgency is to improve the state of the central trackways, the restoration of the railroad, the terrible health and safety conditions of the cars, and the repair of the railway stations, many of which have leaky roofs and lack drinking water,” the source added.

The only thing that exists is the investment, which was made in its entirety, for the construction of high-quality double track that connects the Port of Mariel and the facilities of that Special Development Zone with the national rail system.

The Man of the Year and the Usual Vice

To avoid the sentence of 19 years in prison, Marcelo Odebrecht has betrayed his accomplices in his capacity as an “effective collaborator of justice.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 31 December 2017 — Marcelo Odebrecht is the man of the year in Latin America. This Brazilian engineer born in 1968, grandson of the founder of a huge business conglomerate, is the prince of the planet’s bribe-mongers. To avoid a sentence of 19 years in prison, something he accomplished just a few days ago, he has betrayed his accomplices in his capacity as an “effective collaborator of justice,” destabilizing many of our countries, showing (much to their dismay) the miseries and cynicism of many politicians and officials.

The Odebrecht Organization was a huge civil engineering company, with almost 200,000 workers and a turnover of more than 40 billion dollars, of which it has already lost a third. It operated in a score of countries, some of them with a GDP lower than the company’s income, but the bulk of its operations and its bribes were carried out in Brazil.

It distributed a total of about one billion dollars. In absolute terms, the most corrupt country outside Brazil was Venezuela (98 million), something totally predictable, because its government is a kind of vile toilet, but the Latin American nations that received the most per capita in bribes were Panama (59 million) and the Dominican Republic (92 million). continue reading

The modus operandi was simple. The Odebrecht men detected a candidate with possibilities and began to negotiate. Brazil had large advertising and magnificent campaign cabinets. That great expertise was placed at the service of the person chosen together with important amounts to cover the cost of the operation.

All that the candidate had to do, once elected at the polls, was to approve the large budgets and entrust Odebrecht with the execution of the planned public works. The enormous amount was paid for by the taxes paid by the people or by loans that would have to be faced someday.

The Odebrecht Brazilians, on the other hand, did a good job on the roads, tunnels or whatever, and took care to pay seriously what was agreed to in Switzerland, in Andorra or in some other tax haven, carefully organizing the logistics of corruption. They kept their word. Theirs was not to deceive politicians or to rob the thieves, but to provide them with the famous secret slogan of “steal, but produce,” while increasing the turnover year after year.

You could trust the words of mobsters endowed with silk ties and five thousand dollar suits. They lacked ideological color. Without the slightest scruple they agreed with Venezuelan Nicolás Maduro or the Ecuadorian Jorge Glas, Rafael Correa’s vice president — apostles of 21st Century Socialism — natural enemies of the private market economy, of which the Odebrecht company was the quintessence.

The problem, of course, is not Odebrecht, but the mentality that prevails in Latin America. On a more modest scale, it is like this, through bribes, small or large, that most of our governments have worked since time immemorial, with a terrible aggravation: our societies do not care. Corruption appears at the end of the list of the evils that should be eradicated in most surveys. In Mexico they have come to affirm, seriously, that “corruption is just another way of distributing income.”

Why does this lack of principles happen in our world? Maybe, because most of the Ibero-Americans — including the Brazilians — do not perceive clearly that public money is contributed by all of us and corruption is as if they had put their hands in our pockets and stolen our wallets. What happens with the State does not concern us.

Perhaps, because the cynicism is total and we take for granted that the government is going to steal and it does not worry us, as long as it is “our own” that is enriched with the resources of others. We are victims of a clear moral anomie.

Undoubtedly, because patronage, that small bribe granted by the government, is a form of corruption, a type of harmful behavior, in which millions of Latin Americans are trained.

That is why it is not surprising that, despite Lava Jato (Wash the Calf), as the judicial operation against corruption was called in Brazil, once again they chose Lula da Silva, who today heads the polls despite his dirty business. Years ago the Peronists in neighboring Argentina said in a graffiti that time has not erased and that reveals the drama at the heart of it: “Sodomite or thief we want Perón.”

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

Political Correctness and Moral Relativity

Sign: “Death to the Invader.” It is not politically correct to brag about wanting to achieve political power through violence.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 8 January 2018 — In this century it is impossible to fit into the mold of the politically correct if one exhibits racist, homophobic, sexist or xenophobic attitudes, or when one boasts of wanting to achieve political power through violence. These criteria have been extended in recent years to a large number of states, institutions, the media, academic circles and citizens of the planet.

Thanks to this awareness, terrorism-like phenomena as a political weapon, the ablation of the clitoris, violence as a liberating resource and religious intolerance have all lost the prestige granted them by that moral relativism that justified them for centuries in the name of “cultural reasons” or ” sacred traditions” or “sovereignty of nations” or “historical circumstances.”

However, there is a serious danger in trying to translate these modern parameters into the past. When history is revised in a schematic way based on the rules of the present, very little can be saved from those years and few figures of the national “pantheon” would remain standing. continue reading

Under this prism, José Martí ends up being labeled as macho, he is disqualified due to violence and for the idea that “rights are not begged for, but conquered at the edge of a machete,” as is Antonio Maceo, for the intolerance represented by the phrase “you keep that document, we do not want to know about it,” which he said to the Spanish general Arsenio Martínez Campos in the Baraguá Protest.

In a review of the lyrics of the songs of the traditional trova there are “pearls” of impropriety such as the mockery of people with physical disabilities: “Simon, you can’t dance the cha cha chá because you have gimpy legs”; while racism makes itself at home on issues such as “They call me the little black guy from the batey because for me work is an enemy.”

The songs people fell in love with almost a century ago also encouraged and praised, many times, the excessive consumption of alcohol as a symbol of masculine gallantry: “Yesterday’s drunken bender is already over, this is another drunken bender I’m on today.” A proselytizing of drink and the local bar that, fortunately, today is frowned upon.

An excavation with the new moral tools could reach as far as the plastic arts and censorship of The Rape of the Mulatas, by the painter Carlos Enríquez, for having drawn on the face of women that slight smile that makes them seem to be provoking their kidnappings and making them the sweet accomplices of their captors. If this criterion is followed, most of the halls of the National Museum of Fine Arts should be closed immediately.

In the case of language, the same thing happens. The promulgators of strict inclusivity don’t care much for jokes. Like a young tourist guide from Havana who, thinking he was being nice, decided to assure a group of retired Germans that he considered himself a feminist because he only liked women. They nearly hit him before he could rectify it by saying it had been “just a joke.”

In the official media, orthodoxy regarding how to refer to Fidel Castro has fluctuated. For years the announcers were obliged to mention each of the hierarchies of his innumerable positions: “Maximum Leader of the Revolution, Commander in Chief, First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, President of the Councils of State and of Ministers”…

Today, however, he is reduced to the epithets of “historical leader” or “eternal commander in chief,” but barely a millimeter separates him from those designations while calling him by name and surname can still lead to mistrust.

The desire to be more correct than others is usually nuanced by the ideological prism and does not escape the distortion that introduces moral relativism, which indistinctly leads to considering insults or adulation appropriate, as the case may be.

Hence, in certain environments of the political opposition, the same thing occurs. For many activists it is not “politically correct” to use the expression “the government” to refer to the authorities. If you do not say “the dictatorship” or better “the bloody tyranny of the Castro brothers” you can end up on the list of accomplices.

The vocabulary becomes more demanding when speaking directly of a public figure. According to the most strict dissident allowed terms, one cannot call the elder Castro brother “ex-president” when he only deserves to be mentioned as “the dictator” and the allusion to his younger brother must always be accompanied by the clarification of “heir of the dynasty,” as if it were not enough to hang on him the ironic stigma of “General President.”

When it comes to policing the militancy of language, there will always be a reductionist formula to appeal to that ends in a speech full of slogans. There are those who speak in blocks, they always say the same thing, they do not move even a millimeter away from the language coined for each thing, as if they feared being caught for having had “a linguistic weakness.” Once the words are read or heard, it is enough, because with such a small arsenal of words they repeat themselves until they yawn.

In the case of information-related work, the phenomenon becomes more complex. How should journalists report an arrest? “Agents of State Security led an opponent to jail,” or perhaps they should write, “The henchmen of ‘citizen insecurity’ kidnapped a democracy activist and locked him in a Castro dungeon.”

The problem is that so many adjectives end up confusing rather than informing. Something similar happened to a dissident on Twitter when he wrote: “The regime calls for the electoral simulation for next March 11.” Several of the clueless believed that it was a pilot test for the elections of the National Assembly, when in reality the reporting militant wanted to say that it was an electoral “farce.”

In the midst of so many rules of how to call each thing, it is worth noting that the very definition “independent journalism” should be considered a redundancy. Since the only honest way to practice this profession is without a mandate from the spheres of government, oblivious to any partisanship, without genuflections to terminology and liberated from the corsets of all extreme political correctness, be it oficialista or oppositional.

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

Raul Castro Will Do Everything Possible To Preserve His Immunity / Juan Juan Almeida

Raul Castro with his grandson/bodyguard who is always at his side.

Juan Juan Almeida — The world has taken many turns since February 24, 2013, General Raul Castro himself officially announced that he would retire at the end of his second term in 2018. But a few days ago I read an article in the press where an experienced analyst suggest, as his own opinion, the possibility that the “Excelentísimo” General in Chief will not keep his word and May delay the handing over of the throne.

So much clarity dazzles. Very intelligent people often make the mistake of elaborating theories so lofty that they end up levitating, and when they lose contact with the ground they can mistake a Dalmatian dog for a Holstein cow, simply from looking at the spots.

It is a dissolute sovereign who associatea the concept of realpolitik with that strange ability that Cuban rulers have to keep themselves in power. continue reading

It is unquestionable that from 2013 to today the world political map has undergone some changes. The current price of oil has destroyed Venezuela’s political ability to act, the Port of Mariel megaproject in Cuba is constantly trembling on the verge of collapse due to lack of investors, and the rhetoric of President Donald Trump against Castro has placed the panorama of relations between Cuba and the United States at risk. But nothing can stop or slow the thousand miles per hour at which our planet revolves on its axis, nor the 18 miles per second at which it moves around the sun.

Speculation is the main sauce of political analysts, but time is unstoppable. I understand that our island is one of the countries that has one of the most elderly populations in the world, and that this reality not only exhausted the already slight financial sustainability of the Cuban pension system, it also affected the vision of many scholars who are determined to make the concept of “the third age” disappear, which may be why they cannot see that Raul Castro is an old man, at 86, and one who, unfortunately for him, does not have the health of the legendary Superman.

Of course he’s leaving. It is only necessary to reread the press to remember that among the agreements of the VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, (April 2016), it was agreed to set a limit of two consecutive 5-year terms as the maximum for one person in the performance of the “fundamental political and state positions” (according to the Central Committee, Secretariat and Political Bureau), and an establishment of 60 years as the age limit for members of the Central Committee, although people up to age 70 years may hold leadership positions in the party.

On that same date, Raul Castro, with skill and a bit of a joke, said from his rostrum “anyone out there who is 70-years-old, knows that he will not join the Central Committee in the next Congress.”

So, in 2018, not only will Raúl leave, but so will the vice-president of the Councils of State and Ministers, José Ramón Machado Ventura (who is 87 years old), and the Commander of the Revolution Ramiro Valdés Menéndez, will also ’cash in his ticket’ because of old age given that he is 85.

Added to this, we will lose Army Corps General Leopoldo “Polo” Cintra Frias (76), and alsoArmy Corps General Álvaro López Miera (74) and almost all the geriatric members of the current Nomenklatura.

Paradoxically, this final little epic in which we will see the Castro era come to a close could not be more hoped for. And if General Raul Castro stays at the head of the Communist Party as some prophesy he will, it will not be “to defend the island from the return of the ghost of the Cold War” but for the simple reason of ensuring he maintains immunity for all his past and present actions.

Upon leaving the presidency, he will lose his influence over the leadership little by little because the old leaders, those who fused their allegiance in the struggles of the Sierra Maestra, will be dead. The intermediate group, those who were forged in the wars that Cuba sustained in Nicaragua, Ethiopia and/or Angola, are retiring; and the rest, those of the wheeler-dealer group, who grew up and were educated competing in the market of influences, will find that it does not occur to any of them, not even jokingly, to hinder the useful present in order to cling to a past that has no future.

More Than One Million US Tourists Visited Cuba in 2017

More than one million American tourists visited Cuba in 2017 (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, 7 January 2018 —  In 2017, more than 1.07 million travelers from the United States arrived in Cuba, which represents a 71% increase compared to the previous year. This data is deduced from the information provided by  the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s General Director for the United States, Josefina Vidal, after correcting an error in official’s calculation; the official report made a mistake in simple addition and added 100,000 non-existent tourists.

Of these travelers, 453,905 are Cuban residents in the United States. The other visitors, 619,523, are other Americans, which represents an increase of 119% compared to the previous year (282,621) (not the 217% as stated by Josefina Vidal in her tweet).

This increase occurs despite the restrictions imposed by the United States embargo on its residents, who cannot travel freely to the Island. continue reading

Cuba and the United States reestablished relations in July 2015, after which the two former enemies entered a new stage of normalization within which commercial flights, cruises and resumption of travel were approved.

This bilateral approach resulted in a “boom” in the visits to the formerly “forbidden island,” which in 2017 registered a historical record of 4.7 million foreign tourists.

Currently both countries are experiencing a climate of renewed tension in their relations, due to the sudden turn in Washington’s policy promoted by the administration of President Donald Trump.

In September, Trump ordered the withdrawal of almost all the diplomats from the US Embassy in Havana due to the danger posed by the alleged sonic attacks directed at US personnel.

For that reason Washington issued an alert to its citizens not to travel to Cuba and last November approved new restrictions on individual trips to the island.

Yesterday Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez received Republican Senator Jeff Flake in the Cuban capital, one of the main promoters before Congress of a bill that proposes the elimination of restrictions on travel to Cuba by Americans.

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

The Blindness Of Michelle Bachelet

Michelle Bachelet, the president of Chile, has an old sentimental commitment to Castroism. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 7 January 2018 — Nine years ago, Michelle Bachelet met with Fidel Castro during his convalescence. The Chilean president left that meeting stating that she had seen the former president lively and “handling a lot of information.” Her words were used by the Plaza of the Revolution to spread a lie: that the Commander in Chief was in good health.

This January, a new visit from Bachelet could lend itself to spreading another fallacy: that the Government of Raúl Castro still has numerous allies in the region beyond its unconditional supporters Nicolás Maduro, Daniel Ortega and Evo Morales, when in fact the circle of comrades in Latin America it is very diminished, like never before in the last decade.

A few weeks before delivering the presidential sash to Sebastián Piñera, the Chilean leader arrived in Cuba on Sunday to close a cycle of loyalty that rests more on emotional attachment than on political pragmatism. Her closeness to Havana is marked by an ideological nostalgia that clouds her view and her ability to recognize the lack of rights that mark the lives of Cubans. continue reading

Bachelet is a comfortable fellow traveler for the island’s authorities, because she has never made public any criticisms or democratic demands. One of the few flare-ups that occurred between the two governments was caused by Fidel Castro when, after the Bachelet’s visit in 2009, he criticized Chile’s position in the border dispute, dating back to the 19th century, that blocked Bolivia’s access to the sea. At that time, the Chilean president expressed her annoyance over those statements.

In each of her two terms Bachelet avoided showing sympathy for the cause of Cuban dissidents and has declined any contact with the countless activists from the island who have visited her country in recent years. From her mouth, there has never been any condemnation of the political repression systematically carried out by Raúl Castro, even when the victims are women.

In his case, blindness and silence before the absence of freedoms in Cuba are not derived from ignorance. The Chilean press and the innumerable emigrants from the island in the southern country have let her know that her allies in Havana have been in power for almost six decades, forbidding other parties, repressing opponents and pushing their critics into exile.

The president, who a few weeks ago called her political adversary to congratulate him for having won in the second round of the presidential elections, knows that the lack of routine transfers of power sickens societies, impoverishes the solutions to any country’s problems, and entrenches one group in the highest spheres of power, a power that then ends up supplanting the name and will of the nation.

With her personal history, which includes the death of her father in prison, going underground and into exile, it is difficult to understand why the Chilean president does not face her Cuban counterpart and demand democratic changes, and much more so now that she herself is leaving power. That contradiction between her biography and her passivity before the Cuban dictatorship can only be understood from loyalty.

Bachelet has an old sentimental commitment to Castroism, although in her heart she knows that all that is left of the olive-green bearded ones, who once filled her dreams, is an immobilized gerontocracy. Calling on them publicly to respect the rights of their citizens would be like demolishing that utopia that she sighed for in her youth.

Like many other leftist politicians, the Chilean believes that if she points to the Plaza of the Revolution as a regime that violates human rights, it would be akin to going over to the side of the “right” and betraying her ideals. In order to maintain an ideological pose, she has been capable of choking back any signs and remaining silent before the acts of repudiation, arbitrary arrests and criminalization of thinking differently.

This Sunday began Bachelet’s last opportunity to amend her indifference and be consistent with her libertarian and democratic pedigree. One phrase, a few words, a meeting with activists, a tweet of commitment to the Cuban people and not to the Government, would be enough to repair her previous complicity.

Only with a gesture of this nature, will the visit of the Chilean president have been worth more than rubber stamping a memorandum of intention, closing some commercial agreement and serving Raul Castro to mask the growing loneliness that surrounds him in Latin America.

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

Cuba’s Vice-minister of Communications Says Censorship Does Not Limit Access to the Internet

Wilfredo González, Cuba’s vice-minister of communications, describes as a “challenge” the application of a policy on cybersecurity. (MINCOM)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 January 2017 — The Vice-minister of Communications, Wilfredo González, assured that there is no limitation “from the political point of view” for Cubans accessing the Internet, according to statements published on Tuesday by the official media Cubahoy.

Participating in a conversation with the state news outlet in which he spoke about the steps taken in the process of computerization of society during the past year, González highlighted the role played by the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) with regards to “institutional connectivity.”

In relation to the expansion of the number of Wi-Fi zones for Internet connection, the official explained that there are about 500 of these zones throughout the country along with the 650 navigation rooms with fixed terminals installed by Etecsa. continue reading

González emphasized that with regard to the increase in the number of Wi-Fi zones, the concept will continue to be “to share, and not to exclude, as an imperative of society, and of the Revolution.”

For the Communications official, the 10,000 home-based internet connections, provided through the Nauta Hogar service, are still “few,” but according to the forecast that number will increase in 2018.

The possibility of accessing the internet from mobile phones was not included in González’s projections for this year, although a few days before the end of the year the president of the state telecommunications monopoly, Mayra Arevich, suggested this possibility during an interview.

In his statements, the vice minister described as a “challenge” the implementation of a policy on cybersecurity. The strategy should aim to “protect the benefits, not only of the Revolution, but also the citizens’ data,” the official said.

As of last November, Etecsa had reimbursed more than 5,300 CUC to customers of its Wi-Fi service who had been victims of theft of their account balances while trying to connect to the service. According to the news agency EFE, in 2015 the head of the anti-fraud department of the state monopoly said that the company did not have a valid security certificate to protect the operations of its users.

The vice-minister also did not mention the innumerable digital sites that have been blocked on the island’s servers, nor did he refer to another type of censorship over content, based on keywords, that the Government applies to messaging by electronic mail or text messages (SMS) between mobile devices.

In 2017, Cuba finished once again among the last five positions of the 65 countries examined by Freedom House in its annual report on Internet freedom.

The Island was awarded 79 negative points (on a scale where 100 represents the worst position), which places the Government of Raul Castro as a serious violator of freedom on the web, behind only China, Ethiopia, Syria and Iran, according to the report of the American NGO.

According to Freedom House, the rate of Internet penetration in Cuba is only 38.8%, despite the growth since 2015 in the number of Wi-Fi zones and the reduction in the tariff from 2 CUC to 1 CUC per hour of navigation (in a country where state salaries rarely exceed 40 CUC per month).

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

US Dollar Rises in Value Against CUC in Informal Market

In the last two weeks the dollar has gained between 2% and 3% on the Cuban convertible peso. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 6 January 2018 —  The fear of a sudden monetary unification, which would eliminate the dual currency system in Cuba, and its possible effects on the foreign exchange market is contributing to the rise in the price of the dollar in informal networks in Havana. In the last two weeks, the US currency has gained between 2% and 3% on the convertible peso, going from 0.92 to 0.95 or even 0.96 CUC per dollar.

The pressure on the exchange rate began to be noticed a few days after Raúl Castro pleaded before Parliament for the early elimination of the dual monetary system. The head of State recognized that this reform “will not magically solve the accumulated problems” but if it is not resolved “it is difficult to advance correctly” in the economic reforms that the country needs. The existence of two currencies is also a headache for the state business system.

Cubans, skilled in reading between the lines, have interpreted the words of the ruler as an ultimatum for economists to implement the plan for the unification of the two currencies circulating in the country: the Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban convertible peso* (CUC). continue reading

Several articles published in the official press feed speculation about the impending closeness of a monetary reunification. The economist Ariel Terrero said last week that “the monetary and currency duality” was “the determining obstacle today for the Cuban economy to expand its wings.”

The text, published in Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, fed the rumors about the likeihood of an imminent change. The greatest fear of the population is that the process will happen “overnight” and upset the whole scenario of the fragile domestic economy.

The uncertainty surrounding the fate of the Cuban peso, also called the national currency, has led many to take refuge in the dollar, the holding of which was decriminalized in August 1993 and which has had a different exchange rate in informal markets than that offered by the official Currency Exchanges (Cadeca). In the last five years, the price of the dollar has remained stable in the informal market, with slight fluctuations between 0.91 and 0.93 CUC.

The attraction of changing the US currency in the black market is that in the Cadecas the Government imposes a 10% tax and the seller only receives 0.87 CUC for each dollar. To justify this tax, the authorities cited the alleged difficulties in carrying out commercial transactions in that currency.

In March 2016, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez assured that the tax on the US dollar would be abolished if the obstacles created by the US embargo disappeared. The news jumped to the front pages of the foreign press, but the measure never materialized.

Families that receive remittances in the US currency frequently resort to private money changers to get a better rate. In addition, Cubans who, as of the Immigration and Travel Reform of January 2013, began to travel to Mexico, Panama or the United States to buy goods and resell them on the island, also resort to private channels to manage their currencies.

Those who have the most to lose in a devaluation of the convertible peso are those who run a private business where they accept payment in CUC and in CUP, or those who keep their savings in convertible pesos, popularly known as chavitos.

This is the case for Victoria, 81, who last week sold the Lada that had belonged to her late husband. A family in the city of Trinidad paid her 13,000 CUC in cash for the car, but the old woman has not yet wanted to deposit that money in the bank, precisely out of fear of the sudden unification of the currency.

“I have all the money in my house and I do not know what I’m going to do, because if they unite the currency from one day to the next I will lose instead of winning,” Victoria confesses to 14ymedio. “I thought about buying dollars but they have gone up in price and, in addition, the sellers with whom I have spoken only sell small amounts, at most 1,000.”

Victoria lives with the nightmare of waking up one day with the news that the CUC has suddenly disappeared. She does not want to go through that again because of what she experienced in August 1961 when the government forced a paper currency swap and cancelled all the bills in circulation, as well as limited the total amount of old bills that could be exchanged for new.

“For each family, only 200 Cuban pesos could be exchanged,” recalls the old woman, who along with her mother stood in a long line in front of the bank to obtain the new bills. “If that happens again I do not know what I’m going to do, because the money from this car is to support me for the time I have left of my life,” she says.

Several informal money changers consulted by this newspaper predict that the price of the dollar could continue to rise in the coming days in the black market. “There is high demand and people are afraid of being left with those colored papers (CUC) in their hands that might be totally worthless,” Darius, a buyer of dollars who advertises on various digital classified sites, told 14ymedio.

“Right now, every time I find someone who sells dollars, he is offering them above 0.95 CUC and yesterday I stumbled on the first one who already had a rate of 0.97.”

*Translator’s note: Although the CUC is called “convertible” it can, in fact, only be exchanged within Cuba and it is illegal to take CUCs out of the country. Additionally, although formally valued at 1-to-1 vis-a-vis the American dollar, in practice, as discussed in the article, one dollar does not buy 1 CUC.

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

Corruption Scandal Shakes Up Popular Havana Brewery / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 19 December 2017 — A police operation at the popular Factoría Plaza Vieja Brewery, in the historic center of Havana, caused the temporary closure of the establishment and the arrest of several people who are being prosecuted on charges of corruption.

According to reports obtained by Martí Noticias, the process began when one of the staff members, after having a money dispute with the management, decided to complain to those in charge and, not getting an answer to their disagreement, reported part of what happened at the police station at Cuba and Chacón Streets, in Old Havana.

“There, one of the investigators, thinking of the future and eager for a promotion, looked into the issue and used the informant as a kind of unpaid mercenary to prepare their own case of corruption,” said a source who requested anonymity. continue reading

But the copy of the police report, which asks for authorization to investigate, was received at the head office of the business group led by Brigadier General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, president of the state-run Business Administration Group SA (GAESA) .

The investigation into the brewery is ongoing.

“During the investigation, data on a chain of illegalities came to light where the same modus operandi is repeated. A group of employees have been reporting losses and taking out cash, governed by their own rules and those of other executives of the company who, due to their position, are beyond the scope of our responsibility,” says the report, according to a source from the sector who asked not to be identified.

The brewery has now reopened its doors to domestic and foreign tourists.

Some of the workers are among those detained for allegedly swindling millions of dollars from the national economy, and it is expected that the process will involve several GAESA executives, who have controlled the management of Corporación Habaguanex SA since July 2016.

Located on one of the corners of the old Plaza Vieja, specifically where Muralla and San Ignacio converge, the Factoría Plaza Vieja brewery was founded by Eusebio Leal, the Historian of Havana, and the firm Habaguanex SA, on June 6, 2003

And although today in Havana there is another brewery, located in the old wood and tobacco warehouse, the Factoría Plaza Vieja was the first of its kind and rapidly became famous, which led to the opening a new space with similar operations.

Since its creation, Factoría Plaza Vieja has been visited daily by hundreds of habaneros and tourists who love the taste of beer and enjoy Cuban cuisine in a pleasant environment in Havana’s old quarter.

However, the establishment has already been overshadowed by scandals on two other occasions. The first, shortly after its opening, when some of its workers were accused of adding marijuana to the fermentation process of dark beer along with hops, barley and water; and in May 2012, for another case of corruption that ended up sending several of its employees to prison.

Cuba Will Reduce Health Workers Abroad to Avoid Desertions / Juan Juan Almeida

Cuban medical personnel preparing to leave to work in foreign countries, a huge source of revenue to the Cuban government.

Juan Juan Almeida, 5 January 2018 — The Cuban government plans to implement as soon as possible a group of measures aimed at reducing the number of health workers who work as non-physicians and desert from missions abroad.

According to information obtained by Martí Noticias, the authorities of the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) issued a resolution that must be consulted and approved by all provincial and municipal directors and deputy heads of Public Health, Medical Assistance and Collaboration Departments.

The circular makes it very clear that the highest incidence of deserters from Cuban medical aid postings abroad are those who are not working in posts directly related to healthcare delivery,” said a source linked to MINSAP from Havana. continue reading

The document confirms the country’s top management level of concern regarding the increase in the desertions of the workers (who are not doctors) from the missions, or who, during the missions, focus on arranging individual contracts with the intention of earning money, and providing services that are not even related to healthcare.

The two-page circular was leaked from emails sent to the heads of the provincial health directorates, and could soon become an addendum to Resolution No. 279/2014, which regulates the “Procedure for the development of the availability of human resources that provide medical and health services abroad.”

The measure reflects the need of the Cuban government to increase control over those collaborators (not physicians) who have already completed work abroad, in order to prevent them from repeating missions.

The reactions have not been long in coming from within Cuba.

“So from now on, before preparing each file for the personnel who will travel abroad to support the collaboration from non-medical specialties, we will be required to have a more rigorous control. The idea is to reduce the number of these types of workers, to prevent those who have already done so from traveling abroad again, and thus to cut off the relations they were able to establish during their earlier stay abroad,” said a source consulted by Martí Noticias.

During 2016, the Cuban economy received income from the ‘leasing’ of professional services abroad, mainly health, that totaled over $11.5 billion in US dollars, a figure that far exceeded the estimated income from tourism, which contributed $2.8 billion to the national economy.

“The medical mission is one of the fundamental programs of Cuban public health, it is part of our principles of solidarity, it greatly helps to sustain the country’s economy, it offers a bonus that benefits the volunteer and, above all, it is the basis for the training of better professionals,” added the interviewee. “But every defection or flight, represents a concern for the Cuban authorities because white-coat diplomacy is also an effective tool for political influence.”

Among the restricted data that have escaped into the public domain is the peculiarity that, before the document becomes a resolution, several collaborators of non-medical specialties have shown their dissatisfaction by raising complaints through letters addressed to José Ramón Machado Ventura, second secretary of the Communist Party and vice president of the Council of State and Ministers that serves the Health sector.

More than 50,000 Cuban collaborators currently serve in 67 countries, about 25,000 of whom are doctors.

Selection Begins for Cuban Assembly Candidates Who Will Vote for Raul Castro’s Successor

Raúl Castro being appluaded in the National Assembly, in Havana. To the right, Cuban first vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canal. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havna, 5 January 2018 — The process to designate the candidates for the deputy positions that will make up the new National Assembly of People’s Power in Cuba, as well as the provincial Assemblies, began this Friday with consultations to the 12,515 municipal delegates selected in the elections on November 26.

The new Parliament will be the one that votes in April on the proposal of a new president to replace the current president, Raul Castro, 86, who will retire after two terms. However, before this happens provincial and general elections must be held, the dates for which have not yet been announced.

Between this Friday and January 14, the municipal delegates will be consulted on the proposals for “pre-candidates” to provincial delegate and deputy seats for their respective territories; some lists have been prepared by the provincial and national candidates commissions, according to a note from the state-owned Cuban News Agency (ACN). continue reading

There are 12,640 potential candidates on the lists who were, in turn, selected at meetings of the country’s mass organizations, all of whom are pro-government.

The Cuban Electoral Law establishes that up to 50% of the national deputies can be elected from among the municipal and provincial delegates, while the rest are proposed by social organizations.

“Personalities, outstanding workers, housewives, peasants, leaders and members of the armed institutions” are some of the profiles that these organizations can choose, says the ACN.

Once the regional and general elections are held, the new National Assembly will be formed, which in turn will propose and vote for the main government positions of the country, including the president and vice-president.

The start date of the new legislature was scheduled for February 24, but last December the Assembly, in response to a proposal from the State Council, approved extending the current mandate by two months due to the ravages caused in September by Hurricane Irma, which resulted in 13 billion dollars in loses in Cuba.

The new Parliament will be formed on April 19 and will be in charge of electing the country’s new president, an appointment that is the source of great anticipation because for the first time in six decades the ruler of the island will not carry the surname Castro.

“When the National Assembly is constituted I will have finished my second and last term at the head of the State and the Government, and Cuba will have a new president,” said Raul Castro before the National Assembly last December, in the year’s last plenary session.

Although there has been no official confirmation, it is expected that it will be the current first vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, 57, who will relieve the younger Castro and occupy the presidency.

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

Denying Citizenship to Children of Cuban Opponents is An "Aberration"

For the leader of the Democracy Movement, Ramón Saúl Sánchez, the new law represents an “aberration and another indication of how the Cuban regime discriminates against Cubans.” (El Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Miami, 3 January 2018 — Representatives of the Cuban exile community in Miami, on Wednesday, called Cuba’s new immigration rules “abusive and aberrant”; the rules would allow children born abroad to Cuban parents to qualify for Cuban citizenship, but would deny it to such children of parents opposed to the ideology of the regime.

“The nationality of a country can not depend on the ideology of the one presiding over the country, that’s ridiculous,” lamented Ramón Saúl Sánchez, president of the Democracy Movement.

The dissident told EFE that the new code represents an “aberration and another indication of how the Cuban regime discriminates against Cubans and violates human rights, not only of adults but of children.” continue reading

For the opponent Rosa María Payá, “it is a further demonstration of the political ‘apartheid’ imposed on all Cubans by the dynastic regime in Havana.”

She added that it is further evidence that the Cuban dictatorship “will not reform itself in order to democratize itself. With or without Castros in the presidency, the regime will continue to treat the people not as sovereign citizens but as if they were state property.”

Elizardo Sánchez, leader of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, who is in Miami, spoke in the same vein.

Sánchez told EFE that “going after” family members, including children and the elderly, of opponents has been a “usual practice” of the Castro regime during the almost six decades it has been in power.

“Now they have dared to put it in black and white,” said the dissident, stating that it does not “surprise me at all.”

“How is it possible that based on the ideology that the child may have in the future, beforehand, and even before birth, it is already legislated that this child, this Cuban, will not be able receive their citizenship,” lamented Ramón Saúl Sánchez.

The leader of the Democracy Movement affirmed that decree law 352, which came into effect on Monday, represents a new “scandal and abuse” of the regime that “violates” all kinds of international agreements.

The Foreign Ministry of Cuba announced last October changes in its migration policy, aimed at facilitating visits to the island of the Cuban diaspora and expediting the obtaining of citizenship for the children of Cubans born abroad.

Thus, it eliminated “the requirement of residency,” so that “children of Cubans living abroad, who were born abroad, can obtain Cuban citizenship and an identity document.”

However, the decree opens the possibility of denying citizenship “when the interested party, the Cuban father or mother or legal representatives of minors (…), have committed acts or carried out actions against the political, social and economic foundations of the Cuban State.”

The president of the Democracy Movement noted that he has been denied entry to Cuba several times, despite being a Cuban citizen because his “ideology is different from that of the regime.”

He lamented that this time the law goes further and is “so arrogant” that they have codified “that a Cuban child ceases to be so by virtue of the ideology of his parent.”

“For those who had hope of change and reform, like me, after sixty years of dictatorship, this is another blow by the Cuban regime against the rights of children and Cubans in general,” he added.

The decree is “a true monument to the coarse sincerity of Cuban-style socialism,” said Cuban student and blogger Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo.

The announcement of the Cuban Foreign Ministry was made in contrast to the decision of Donald Trump’s administration to cut its diplomatic staff in Havana and suspend the issuance of visas from there for Cubans who wish to travel to the United States.

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