Renewal of Vows: The Red Scarf

Cuban schoolchildren during the ceremony where they take on the red scarf. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 14 June 2018 –Three decades later, the woman is facing a familiar scene. A row of children dressed in their elementary school uniforms receive the new red scarf that replaces the blue one they had previously knotted around their necks. Like a déjà vu, she listens to her daughter repeat the same slogan she shouted out in her own childhood. The little girl, one knee on the ground, swears to follow the example of Ernesto Che Guevara, just like her mother had promised to do so long ago.

The school’s morning assembly started early this Thursday, June 14, the day chosen for the initiation of students who completed the third grade. They now become part of the José Martí Pioneers Organization and have started down a path where ideological excesses and political manipulation will follow them forever. The ceremony has all the traces of a religious initiation, almost mystical, despite of its being centered on an atheist guerrilla, who this very day would have turned 90. continue reading

To conclude the moment, the loudspeakers broadcast a song dedicated to Fidel Castro at full volume. “Louder, Louder!” the school principal shouts to the students, who must sing the boring tune verse by verse. “Louder, louder to be heard up there!,” he reiterates as he points to the sky, where, he believes, his Commander-in-Chief must have gone.

The music is over, the children shout the slogan that they will repeat in the coming years: “Pioneers for Communism, we will be like Che.” Then they leave the ranks and return to the unruly games of any child. The political “renewal of vows” is over.

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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.

Human Rights Group: "Cuba Has 120 Political Prisoners"

The Cuban Government refuses to cooperate with international bodies that are experts in prisons. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 11 June 2018 — The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) estimates that there as many as 120 political prisoners in Cuba in a report published on Monday. The independent group states that this figure “is very difficult to arrive at when the Government of Cuba refuses to cooperate” with international organizations.

On the island there are between 65,000 and 70,000 people imprisoned and it is “very difficult to define an exact number of political prisoners because they are intermixed,” the report states. “The Castro Gulag is composed of between 150 and 180 high security prisons, correctional centers, settlements and camps.”

This high number of prisons located throughout the Island make up what, in the opinion of the Commission, is a “huge and top-heavy prison system.” continue reading

Cuban authorities refuse to collaborate with international organizations such as the International Red Cross, United Nations agencies or other organizations that can monitor real data inside the prisons.

“In the total of 120 people imprisoned for political reasons, recognized as of May 31,” the CCDHRN has identified “96 people who are opponents of or disaffected toward the regime and 24 prisoners who are accused of employing or planning to use some form of force or violence to perform acts against the security of the State.”

The report emphasizes that the country urgently needs a Law of the Penitentiary System, and “at the same time the Government of the Island must demilitarize the system and subordinate it to a civil organization.”

The report contains two appendices, one that lists “the cases of ten former prisoners of conscience, released on parole — the so-called “extra-penal license” — who remain subject to all kinds of draconian measures, including the prohibition to travel freely abroad with the right to return to Cuba.”

The second appendix details the “21 prisoners who have served between 15 and 27 years in the prisons of the Island under the known subhuman and degrading conditions that prevail in all of them.”

“They are, without a doubt, some of the oldest political prisoners in the Western Hemisphere,” concludes the text’s introduction.

The figure of 120 is slightly lower than the 140 political prisoners that the CCDHRN had estimated on the island as of May 2017.

In March 2016, during the visit of US President Barack Obama to Cuba, a journalist questioned Raúl Castro at a press conference about the existence of political prisoners on the island. “Give me the list of political prisoners now, to release them. Or give it to me after the press conference and before nightfall they will be released,” the leader replied.

Castro, who traditionally did not answer questions from the national or international press, was visibly annoyed by the question from CNN reporter Jim Acosta.

Amnesty International (AI) contends that the Havana government uses ambiguous legal terms to punish dissidents.

“The laws regarding ’public disorder’, ’contempt’, ’lack of respect’, ’dangerousness’ and ’aggression’ are used to prosecute or threaten to prosecute, for political reasons, opponents of the government,” Amnesty International said in its report on Cuba.

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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.

Cuban Bishops Express "Their Good Wishes" in a Message to Miguel Diaz-Canel

The Cuban bishops entrusted the new Government to the Virgin of Charity. (COCC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami | Junio 12, 2018 — The Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba (COCC) sent a private message to recently appointed president Miguel Díaz-Canel “in support of the eminent national service he had assumed,” as confirmed by the president of the Episcopal Conference, Emilio Aranguren, to 14ymedio.

“I sent him a simple epistolary greeting expressing good wishes in support of the eminent national service that he had assumed and I included a quote from the Pope’s speech in Cesena on October 1, 2017 in which he alludes to good politics,” explained the Bishop of the Diocese of Holguín.

In Cesna, Pope Francis defined good politics as “neither servant nor patron, but friend and collaborator, neither fearful or reckless, but responsible and therefore courageous and prudent at the same time.” continue reading

Francis also emphasized the need to increase the participation of people, “their inclusion and progressive participation” in the search for the good of the entire community.

“A politics that can harmonize the legitimate aspirations of individuals and groups keeping the rudder firmly in the interest of all citizens,” the Pope added.

The Cuban bishops, including the first black prelate in the history of Cuba, entrusted the new Government to the Virgin of Charity, the image of Mary that Catholics venerate as the patroness of Cuba. Aranguren said that the new president responded to the gesture with a brief message in which he showed his appreciation for the communication received.

As part of an Extraordinary Assembly of the COCC, the official site of the Catholic Church on the island, Aranguren revealed the established communication with the new government, which caused speculation on the sites of the independent Cuban press.

The Catholic Church has traditionally had the largest number of faithful in the country. According to data from the Pontifical Yearbook, more than half of Cubans are baptized under Catholic rites, although participation in Sunday services is relatively small.

The Cuban bishops have, in the past, issued numerous criticisms of the Government. With the turn towards the Soviet Union and the implantation of Marxism-Leninism as an official ideology, the Church hardened its discourse in favor of individual liberties. In 1993 the pastoral letter Love Hopes All Things — in which the Cuban clergy denounced the difficult conditions in which the people lived and the harassment of State Security — provoked an angry reaction from the government, which carried out massive demonstrations against the Church.

In 2013 the bishops published Hope Does Not Disappoint, a critical and hopeful look at the national reality, in which they recommended, among other things, replacing the paternalist state with a participatory one and creating a new political order with the participation of all the actors of society and promoting the creative potential of 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.

Che’s Face Sets Off a New Controversy in Rosario

Trolleybus Line Q honors Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara in his hometown of Rosario, Argentina, on his 90th birthday. (@ MonicaFein)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Havana, 12 June 2018 – The image of Ernesto Che Guevara has reawakened a controversy in Rosario, his hometown, ninety years after his birth. As of this Monday, the Q Line trolleybuses circulate through this Argentinian city with the guerrilla’s face plastered on the vehicles.

The Mayor of Rosario, Monica Fein, announced on her Twitter account that the images on the buses are meant as a tribute on the anniversary of Guevara’s birth, and invited citizens to join the commemorative activities with the hashtag #90VecesChe.

Among the events published on the city’s official website are “The Che Route,” a series of offerings in the square that bears his name, art shows and musical presentations. continue reading

According to the local press, the controversy immediately broke out on social networks between supporters and detractors. The councilman from the Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition, Gabriel Chumpitaz, opposed the measure, posting on Twitter that the municipality “should honor Rosarinos who through their daily activities enhance our city, and not spend money on this figure who is so controversial and who brought nothing to Rosario.”

Last year, Fundación Bases, a liberal non-profit organization in the city, collected signatures to remove the monument to Che Guevara in Rosario.

“The murderous legacy of communism and this figure do not deserve homages from the state, of a party-ideological nature, financed by taxes paid by all citizens,” read the petition published on the Change.org platform, which obtained around 3,400 signatures but did not achieve its goal of removing the statue.

Guevarismo in Cuba resulted in 10,723 people killed by the communist regime, 78,000 dead trying to escape the island, 14,000 dead in military interventions abroad, 5,300 dead in the Escambray rebellion (mostly peasants and children), persecution of intellectuals, homosexuals and dissidents,” said the petition, which also called for the elimination of other tributes to the Argentine guerrilla, such as plaques and murals.

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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.

Fear of Losing Political Control Explains Cuba’s Technological Backwardness

Video: Cuba’s Minister of Communications talking about the implementation of cellular internet. (Not subtitled)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 June 2018 — Facing a mountain of medical records the nurse looks for the patient’s history. She flips through the pages, pulls out the folders, but the clinical report does not appear. “It’ll have to be done again,” she tells the disgruntled gentleman who, that very morning, had read in the official press about the “advances in computerization” in Cuba’s Public Health system.

The VI Latin American Telecommunications Congress, held in Varadero, is serving these days as a launch pad for triumphant headlines in the official press. Those who pay attention only to the reports emerging from this technology congress may come to believe that, on the island, many procedures are accessibly by a click, but the reality is very different. continue reading

A country where the vast majority of people have never completed an online financial transaction, never been able to buy a product from a virtual store, and do not know the enormous potential of distance courses that would allow them to learn from home, cannot be categorized as a computerized nation.

To this we add the poverty level wages that prevent many professionals from signing up on international online resource sites related to their fields, where they could keep abreast of the latest trends. Paying a day’s salary to connect for one hour in a public wifi zone is not an indicator of a connected society, but rather an indicator of the economic penalty that weighs on Cuban internet users.

On the one hand, the Deputy Minister of Education, Rolando Forneiro Rodríguez, stood in front of congress delegates painting an optimistic scenario with a large number of teachers for the subject of Computer Science. However, on the other hand, in countless schools in the country students’ so-called ‘machine time’ comes with an absence of teachers and the deterioration of infrastructure.

Children under the age of ten learn more about technology by exchanging video clips through mobile apps such as Zapya than they do attending boring computer classes where ideology is intertwined with HTML code and the computer programs offered on the official list have more to do with politics than with fun.

For more than two decades, the teaching of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has also suffered from the Government’s attempts to create a “corralito” – a little corral – of filtered content. Those intentions are responsible for sites such as Ecured, a poor imitation of Wikipedia; the unpopular Mochila (Backpack) created to compete with the weekly packet and the failed Tendedera (Clothesline) born to wipe away Facebook.

At a time when the internet is strengthening its role as an environment for activism and a place for debate on issues as hot as the contradictions of democracy, racism or gender violence, Cuban authorities are still trying to domesticate the network and lock the Island’s users into their little guarded plot.

In hospitals and polyclinics the picture is similar. The bulky bureaucracy of the Public Health system still works with paper. The loss of a single sheet can mean months of delay in a treatment and medical appointments, most of the time, are first come first served, to the discomfort of the sick and their relatives.

In the classrooms of the faculties of medicine, the blackboard, the chalks and the plastic models of the human body have not given way to other technologies that might  make the Island’s doctors modern professionals. Saving lives, today, can also happen due to the dominance of devices such as mobile phones or the ability to search for information in the great world wide web.

The fear of the social impact of connectivity and the loss of political control that would be implied by access to other news channels has been the real brake on Cubans’ ability to disembark in the 21st century, an era characterized precisely by social networks, digital content consumption and connectivity.

This fear of the ruling party has a cost not only in national economic development but also in quality of life and education. We don’t have to wait to see result of that delay because it is already visible in each classroom and during each consultation.

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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.

Of Traitors and Opportunists / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 11 June 2018 — In the Granma newspaper of June 6th of this year, there is an article by the historian Rolando Rodríguez, under the title “A Hero Courageous Before Every Test,” referred to the patriot Ramón Leocadio Bonachea. In one of its paragraphs it is stated that “he was part of the escort of Major Ignacio Agramonte and participated in the rescue of the man who would later be traitor Julio Sanguily.” No arguments or evidence are offered for the accusation.

As I learned in school and after I read different historians, “Julio Sanguily was one of the most prominent figures of the Revolution of 1868. Taken prisoner by the Spaniards on October 8, 1871, he was rescued by Ignacio Agramonte at the head of 35 men, in a brave and reckless charge. Subsequently, his left foot was crippled and his right hand atrophied, and though he wanted to participate in the War of 1895, he could not do so, being held in prison by the Spaniards and locked in a dungeon in La Cabaña Fortress on February 24, dying in 1906.” continue reading

Regardless of his fondness for the game, which brought him enough problems, I do not understand that he was designated as a traitor. I do not know where this accusation would have come from, although for a few years now, the history of Cuba has been suffering a lot of manipulation and distortion by political interests, and the word “traitor” is applied too often. Events and important personalities of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century are questioned and distorted, and their place is occupied by less important events and personalities.

Due to this, General Narciso López is accused of being an annexationist, although there is no document, declaration or fact that proves it. There is also talk and writings about General Antonio Maceo of the Baraguá Protest on 15 March 1878, but nothing is said of Maceo on 9 May 1878 (55 days later), when he left the fight and left for Jamaica in the gunboat “Fernando el Católico,” placed at his disposal by the Spanish general Martínez Campos.

Nor does anyone speak or write about 28 May 1878 (19 days later), when the Baraguá Protesters accepted the terms of the Zanjón Pact and laid down their arms, with the exception of Brigadier Ramón Leocadio Bonachea, who prolonged a futile resistance eleven months longer, in areas of Camagüey and Las Villas.

And if that wasn’t enough, even José Martí himself, in a stage of exacerbated dogmatism, was questioned for not communicating Marxist ideas and criticizing them. In other words, the “historical opportunism” has grown like the invasive marabou weed.

It would be interesting if Cuban historians, so concerned about the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, decided to jump over the wall of 31 December 1958 and begin to judge the events and personalities of these last sixty years, which are also history, with its lights and its shadows.

Cubana de Aviacian in the Crosshairs / Ivan Garcia

Cubana de Aviación airplane at the Havana airport. Taken from Tico Times.

Iván García, 1 June 2018 — Although the chances of an accident are one in a thousand, Rigoberto González and his wife refused to travel by plane in the state-owned company Cubana de Aviación to Santiago de Cuba, 957 kilometers east of Havana, and opted to travel on an interprovincial highway to the eastern city.

“With the thunder storm, I prefer to travel on a ground ball, by land, rather than a flyball. The impression on the street is that the old planes of Cubana de Aviación are flying coffins. The flight is relatively cheap, around 200 Cuban pesos — the equivalent of 9 dollars — and the trip lasts one hour. But as a result of the last plane crash, through social networks and the foreign press, I learned that the problem goes beyond outdated airplanes and a shortage of spare parts. Besides bad work, it is said that there is corruption and negligence,” Rigoberto says. continue reading

The fatal accident, which occurred on May 18 in Havana, coincided with the rise of the Internet on the island. If previously the regime of Fidel Castro, thanks to the tight control of the entire state press, could manipulate local public opinion at will, now Facebook, Twitter, social networks, blogs, alternative sites and international media, have opened a considerable gap in the wall of disinformation designed by the olive green autocracy, which no longer holds water.

Newspapers from Florida such as Diario Las Américas and El Nuevo Herald, and websites like Martí Noticias, have published about the irregularities of the turbulent company Global Air. Information published in the Mexican press, which has included reports of pilots and inspectors of Cubana de Aviación warning not to lease Global Air. These reviews have had an impact on the Island.

Authorities of civil aviation in Guyana, Honduras and Chile, had already banned the Boeing 727-200 from flying in their territory in Havana. The official Cuban press has not published a line on this.

Germán, a barber, believes that “it is incongruous, that with all the news on the Internet about that company, that the Cuban press does not reflect it. I suspect that there is some complicity between the officials of Cubana de Aviación and Global Air. If they had difficulties once in 2010 in Santa Clara, and has had a series of problems in other countries, it is inexplicable that our authorities have hired them again. ”

Sara, a bank employee, points out that “the Institute of Civil Aeronautics has been having problems for some time, including cases of corruption, such as that of its president, General Rogelio Acevedo, dismissed in 2010 and rumored to have stolen millions of dollars. To this is added the bad service, delays in the flight schedules and an old-fashioned aerial fleet with no replacement parts. It amazes me that they have not shut down. This tragic accident could have been avoided if its leaders had been more responsible.”

Four Cubana de Aviación accidents happened on the island in the last 16 years (March 2002, October 2010, November 2010 and May 2018) with a total of 203 deaths, in a company that operates a handful of international and domestic flights that merits a serious and deep investigation.

“In Cuba, corruption is tolerated. Six or seven years ago, several operators of the Sol y Son tourism company, with the complicity of Civil Aviation officials, implemented an under the table import business from Mexico. The poor maintenance of the airplanes and the contracting with airlines that offer bribes to corrupt Cuban officials, is added to terrible service at the airports. They break a flat screen TV and don’t compensate travelers for stealing their suitcases. Recently, due to delays in a flight, almost a hundred Canadian tourists were stranded in Cayo Coco,” says a former airport worker.

According to an official of the Civil Aeronautics of Cuba, “the state press has not published the information and rumors circulating about Global Air and its apparent deficiencies, pending the conclusion of the investigation of international experts. The Cuban authorities are also conducting a thorough examination. You have to be patient and not say things that can not be proven.”

A segment of ordinary Cubans consider that the new hand-picked president Miguel Diaz-Canel should pound his fist on the table and, if it exists, reveal the alleged corrupt framework and the deficiencies of the sector.

“He has to prove that he is not a simple puppet and clean up the shit in a decisive way. If he does, it would increase its popularity,” says Pablo, a hospital custodian.

“Nothing is going to change as long as things do not change in Cuba. Cubana de Aviación is the reflection of the system we have, which does not work. Neither Díaz-Canel nor Mandrake the Magician can reverse that reality, as long as the system does not change,” emphasizes Damián, a taxi driver, who suggests “forming a joint venture airline with Canada or any developed nation in Europe. And to close Cubana de Aviación, an unsafe company, that does not meet with its schedules and provides bad service.”

There are more than a few in Cuba who think the same as the Havana taxi driver.

Photographer and Activist Claudio Fuentes Released 24 Hours After His Arrest

The Cuban opponent Claudio Fuentes. (María Matienzo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 June 2018 — More than 24 hours after he was arrested, opposition photographer Claudio Fuentes was released in Havana, opposition sources confirmed to this newspaper. The dissident was subjected to an intense interrogation filled with threats toward his rebellious work. Activists of the Patriotic Union of Cuba confirmed to 14ymedio the release of Zaqueo Báez, who was also arrested on Friday when he was trying to visit a political prisoner in Holguin.

“Since yesterday morning we had been trying to call him by phone and we could not establish contact with him,” said former political prisoner Ángel Moya. “As the day progressed, we learned that he was being detained,” he adds. continue reading

An officer on duty at the San Miguel del Padrón police station informed the family via telephone that the activist was being held at that station, but “when they got there, they were told he was not there.”

On several occasions, he has also been the victim of arbitrary arrests and other repressive actions, such as confiscation of his means of work.

Among his most famous works are the filming of several interviews with Cuban activists for the documentary Patria o muerte (2016), directed by filmmaker Olatz López Garmendia and premiered by the American production company HBO.

In an interview he criticized those artists of the Island who “spend their time, like peacocks, on their own work and generally that work has its back to a reality that has already collapsed.” A behavior that has led him to feel “shame” for that guild and that pushed him to “go another way.”

Fuentes also collaborated in the edition of the debate program Razones Ciudadanas (Citizens’ Reasons), which for two years issued several episodes in which activists and dissidents discussed hot topics of the Cuban reality such as the press, internet access and racism.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) verified 128 arbitrary short-term detentions for political reasons last May.

During these arrests, “the peaceful dissidents were interned, as always, under inhuman and degrading conditions, in the police barracks designed for such ends,” denounced the independent organization.

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he 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 Meat Hasn’t Arrived and Less is Expected"

The private restaurants, known in Cuba as ’paladares’, are among the most affected by the rationing in the quantities of products that are given to each customer in the Villa Clara shops. (Lime)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Santa Clara, 11 June 2018 — The markets of Villa Clara started the day this Monday under new measures of control over the sale of food. Local authorities imposed price caps on agricultural markets and rationed products previously sold outside the ration market throughout the province as a result of the damages caused by the subtropical storm Alberto.

The measure, agreed on June 7, has been met with conflicting opinions among the residents of the region. Some receive it as a short-term solution to the shortage of food, but others fear it will continue over time and boost the black market.

The Villa Clara Provincial Administration Council (CAP) justified the new controls as a way to “avoid hoarding and speculation,” according to information published in the local press. Although the duration of the measures has not been specified, it is known that they will be in effect for at least three months, as the authorities have announced that they will be reviewed on a quarterly basis. continue reading

The price reductions are mandatory, ranging from 20% to 80% of the prices of some products before the heavy rains, and include the state agricultural markets, and those managed as cooperatives and privately, along with the so-called ’points of sale’ (smaller) and the cart vendors.

Among the regulated goods are rice and beans, as well as root crops, vegetables and pork. One pound of the latter can not be sold for more than 16 Cuban pesos, a price that is almost 40% less than before the passage of the storm Alberto.

Of the products derived from pigs, among which is also lard, only 10 pounds can be sold to each consumer.

The independent swine sector does not welcome the establishment of these maximum prices. “What many breeders are going to do is sell the animals as soon as they are weaned, rather than care for them until they are ready to be slaughtered,” Amancio, a resident of Santa Clara’s periphery, explains to 14ymedio.

“For weeks I’ve only been selling piglets for people to raise themselves because we have problems with the feed and because many families want to guarantee having the animal in their yard,” says the producer. “A price of 16 pesos a pound doesn’t make sense as a business for anyone, neither the person who breeds it nor for the one that sells it,” he affirms.

However, among pensioners and people with lower incomes, the CAP decision has been well received. “The abuse is over,” reiterated a pensioner outside La Feria market on Sunday morning, one of the most popular in Santa Clara. “They were taking advantage of the rains to raise prices and this puts an end to it,” says the woman.

With very little available on the stands, at La Feria only a few pieces of pork were sold this weekend. “The meat isn’t coming and less is expected,” Maikel, an employee, told this newspaper. “The guajiros prefer to sell it directly to paladares (private restaurants), coffee shops and fixed customers,” he says.

Outside the market, a man who was offering two lemons for 1 Cuban peso (CUP) — a higher price than the 2.50 CUP per pound required by the new regulations — disappeared with his merchandise when he saw a policeman arrive in the area.

Groups of inspectors patrol the markets to avoid violating the prices established by the CAP. The Ministry of the Interior has been involved in these reviews in which “the pertinent measures will be taken in the face of violations or breaches of the agreement.”

The new regulations also address sales in the so-called hard currency stores, the “shopping.” In the case of the stores of the state chains CARIBE, CIMEX and Palmares, the sale of food, cleaning products and beverages has been regulated up to certain amounts per client.

Some of the limits in the network of state retail stores are ten cans of soda, four liters of water and a kilogram of cheese . Villa Clara residents can only buy five soaps per person and two floor-cleaning clothes.

The sale of frozen chicken by the box has also been suspended, a measure that self-employed workers who work in the food sector do not not look on kindly.

“It is an emergency situation but they haven’t informed us how long this measure will continue, which reduces many chances to buy merchandise to maintain our businesses,” laments Enrique Proenza, an employee of a restaurant who was trying without success, this Sunday, to buy several kilos of chicken.

“The fear people have is that this measure will be in force for a long time and ends up ruining the cafes and paladares in the area,” he laments. “Anyway, some are already planning to go to Matanzas or Havana to buy the products needed to keep their businesses open.”

Last November, in the neighboring province of Cienfuegos, food prices were decreed as a result of the damage to agriculture from Hurricane Irma.

Regulations

1. Rationing of the sale of products [previously] unrationed in parallel markets, food bodegas, is as related below:

• Rice: 10 pounds per customer. 
• Beans: 5 pounds per customer. 
• Fine salt: 2 kilograms per customer. 
• Refined and raw sugar: 10 pounds of each type per customer. 
• Peas: 5 pounds per customer. 
• Crackers or cookies: 2 packages of any weight per customer. 
• Soft drinks: 10 units (bags, cans, small bottles) per customer. 
• Soft drinks in boxes of 1500 ml: 2 per customer. 
• Jams (Africanitas, sorbetos and others): 5 packages per customer. 
• Soda cookies: 1 – 80 CUP bag per customer. 
• Dulce de leche and chocolate: 2 units per customer. 
• Cheese: 1 kg per customer. 
• Frozen chicken: 5 kg per customer.

2. The sale of boxes of frozen chicken is suspended. The [chicken] will be sold fractionally according to the per capita limits established above.

3. Maintain, in the case of eggs, the regulated sale of the family basket at a rate of 5 units per consumer, and the same per capita as that sold at 1.10 CUP. At the conclusion of the sales cycles, they will be sold unrationed and in equal proportions to the consumers [registered at each outlet], writing it down in the supply book to avoid hoarding.

4. In the case of the Cleaning and Hygiene products that are sold in the network of Non-Food Products Sales Stores, the following is regulated:

• Lis and Daily Soap: 5 units of each assortment per client. 
• Liquid detergent in 1 liter or similar containers: 2 bottles per customer. 
• Floor cloths: 2 units per customer. 
• Toothpaste: 2 tubes per client. 
• Chlorine (packed or bulk): 2 liters per customer.

TRD Caribe-CIMEX:

1. Ration the sale, in all our Commercial Units, Points of Sale and Kiosks, of the following products:

• Fine iodized salt: 2 packages per customer.

• Crackers or cookies: 5 packages of any weight per customer.

• Jams: 5 packets per customer.

• Soft drinks: 10 units (cans, 330 ml bottles, instant) per customer.

• Soft drinks over 1500 ml: 2 bottles per customer.

• Malts and juices: 10 units per customer.

• 500 ml water: 10 units per client.

• Water 4 liters: 2 units per customer.

• Cheese: 1 kg per customer.

• Sausages: 1 kg per customer.

• Processed chicken: 2 packages per customer.

• Sausages: 5 packages per customer.

• Toilet soaps: 5 units per client.

• Detergent powder up to 250 gr: 5 packages per customer.

• Detergent powder up to 1000 gr: 2 packages per customer.

• Floor cloths: 2 units per customer.

• Toothpaste: 2 units per client.

2. The outlets that sell the chicken for the bulk mode will only sell the amount of 5 kg.

3. The sale of frozen chicken by boxes is suspended.

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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.

Instar Launches First Independent Fund For Audiovisual Creation In Cuba

The artist Tania Bruguera (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 11 June 2018 – The Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism (Instar) has launched the first independent fund for the creation of audiovisuals in Cuba. The call for project proposals has been posted on the project’s online site, created by the artist Tania Bruguera, and is open from June 8 to September 8, 2018.

Instar invites “filmmakers and aspiring filmmakers” from all over the country to participate in the first edition of PM: INSTAR fund for audiovisuals in Cuba, the site announces. Those interested can submit unpublished projects that should be the first short film by the director.

Applications are open in fiction, documentary and new media categories, while the projects must not exceed 30 minutes. The projects selected in each category will receive a cash amount of 5,000 CUC. continue reading

The Fund seeks to “promote the diversity of voices in the independent Cuban audiovisual sector, promote directors, producers and script writers from under-represented communities and their stories.”

Although “the topic is free and uncensored,” the organizers will give “priority to projects about pressing social issues in Cuba today and in the future” and “innovative methods of audiovisual production will be evaluated and, in the case of the documentary, the rigor of the investigation,” will be considered.

Similarly, the evaluation will consider “projects that assume in their budgets fair pay to the work teams and decent filming conditions.” A frequent complaint in the guild of filmmakers in Cuba is the low salaries and the appalling conditions of the state sector.

Those interested in participating should send their projects by email in PDF format to the electronic address: INSTARaudiovisuales@artivismo.org. The subject line must include the name of the project and a pseudonym.

Instar, based in Havana, is a “space for civic literacy on the Island that emerged as a result of the public action #YoTambienExijo,” which Bruguera carried out in 2014.

Initial reactions to the call from Cuban filmmakers on social networks have been positive. “Excited,” wrote producer Marta María Ramírez on her Facebook profile.

One of the petitions launched by the group El Cardumen in its recent statement “Words from Cardumen, declaration of young Cuban filmmakers,” included among its demands that national institutions create a promotion fund for the production of national cinema. However, Bárbara Betancourt Martínez, Director of Cultural Programs at the Ministry of Culture, described the young people’s statement as “anarchic demagoguery” and stated that they were motivated only by the intention to “raise a hubbub.”

The request for the creation of the fund is a common denominator in the minds of Cuban filmmakers and was one of the demands from the assemblies of filmmakers who made up the G-20.

PM was a documentary by Saba Cabrera Infante and Orlando Jiménez, censored in 1961, because for just a few minutes it showed Cubans dancing and drinking in bars.

The image annoyed the government and the censorship of the film gave rise to a sequence of events eventually became “the PM case.” It was in this context that Fidel Castro condemned intellectuals at the beginning of his mandate, and in a major speech declared: “Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing,” which established the rules that define the cultural policy of the Government still today.

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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.

"If the Price of Food Keeps Going Up in Cuba…" / Ivan Garcia

Agromercado at 19th and B, Vedado, Havana. Taken from Havana Times

Ivan Garcia, 7 June 2018 — Despite the cloudy sky, the rains and the fact that the sun has been hidden for two weeks, the flow of people into the private farm market at 19th and B in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood does not diminish.

The market, painted green and yellow, with neat stalls and corny drawings of fruit, vegetables and pork legs on the walls, is probably one of the few places in Havana where you can buy oranges and grapefruit, citrus fruits that, at least in the capital, appear to be heading to extinction.

Or delicacies like strawberries, soursops, canistels, mangoes, pineapples, fruits and vegetables out of season and strings of gigantic onions. Also, shavings of guayos and shelled or ground peanuts. continue reading

The bananas do not have black spots and the guavas are not bruised or semi-rotten. The pork loin is fresh, as are the rams’ legs and the rabbit. Luisa, a chubby brunette with feet swollen by diabetes, who lives in a tenement on Calle 17, calls the market “the museum.”

Mi’jo, you come here to look, not to buy. This market is for millionaires. Five years ago, in Havana, a pound of unroasted peanuts cost 7 to 8 pesos. Now it costs 17 or 20 pesos and is almost never available. Here at 19th and B they always have them, at 18 pesos. I sell roasted peanuts on the street and it is not a business to buy peanuts at that price to sell them by the paper cone for a peso. That’s why you see very few people selling peanuts now. It occurred to me to make plastic bags and sell them for 5 Cuban pesos or 25 cents in chavitos (0.25 cuc). Foreigners who rent in this area pay me 0.50 cents and that’s how I get by.”

But it is not only peanuts that have doubled its price in the last five years.

“It’s all foods,” says Alberto, a retired engineer. And he offers details: “Except for sweet potatoes and yucca, to which we should build a monument, the prices of the rest of the agricultural and meat products have skyrocketed, and even at those very expensive prices you can’t find them. In 2013, a pound of pork loin was 35 pesos and now it costs 50. If you want to eat tomatoes out of season you must pay 20 pesos a pound. Two pounds of clean shrimp costs 10 CUC. And the pound of fish like hogfish, needlefish or emperorfish isn’t less than 2.50 CUC. I have my two children in the United States and each one sends me $200 per month. And all the money goes into food, maintaining the house and paying for electricity, because I have two air conditioners and the bill is around one thousand (Cuban) pesos a month.”

The official press, benevolent to the point of indolence, in its news and newspapers usually smothers Cubans with crop statistics and pork production records.

According to the regime’s media, in 2017 more than 190 thousand tons of pork were produced and by 2018, 250 thousand tons are forecast.

Eugenia, who cleans the floor in a polyclinic and earns a monthly salary equivalent to $19, packs pork liver for her children’s lunch because it is cheaper than meat, and asks: “Where is the trick? The list doesn’t line up with the cost. On television they say that the production of almost everything increases, but the truth is that prices do not stop rising. If the prices of food continue to rise, we will have to snack on the money, because in this country they sell to everybody very dearly: private individuals, state food markets and foreign currency stores. ”

Putting four plates of food on the table in Cuba is a titanic task.

Deborah, a dietitian, explains that “the quality of food leaves much to be desired. We eat too much flour and foods that provide very little nutrients. People have to eat what they have, not what they want. Dieting is very difficult, due to the high prices and because in the markets they do not sell specific foods for those who need or want to diet. That statistic that 40% of the population is overweight or obese is deceptive. Even families with fat wallets do not eat well. There are leaders who are fat because they eat a lot, not because they eat healthily. ”

Carlos, a sociologist, points out that “80% of the household budget is spent on food. Those who earn little buy the cheapest and most harmful, such as carbohydrates and fats. Those who earn more, eat more, but not always with quality. Above fruits and vegetables, meat is prioritized, especially pork, the most abundant. Fish is barely eaten. The fundamental proteins eaten by Cubans come from pork, eggs and chicken.”

Relative to the prices of ten years ago, all food has gone up between 15 and 40 percent.

“This means, says Sergio, an economist, that if we add the price increases in other products, and look at the purchasing capacity of 100 dollars in the year 2000, in 2018 it is equivalent to 55 or 60 dollars. Families that receive remittances need more money to buy the same amount of food they bought 18 years ago. That is one of the reasons, among others, why the sending of dollars from the United States increases. And to this we add that they are sending their relatives money not only to feed themselves, but also to pay for their cell phone and internet, and sending them medicines that are scarce in the Island.”

Olga, a high school math teacher, hopes that newly appointed president Miguel Diaz-Canel “does something to solve the food issue. I have seen that he is talking to people in neighborhoods and workplaces. It is good that he has gotten out of the office and is watching and listening, but so far he has not said what he is going to do to make it so Cubans live better.”

And in Cuba, people usually spend several hours scouring markets and stores in search of food. Sometimes they have the money but there isn’t any of what they are looking for. Or there is, but they do not have money or they do not have enough.

Cubans want prosperity to be something more than a slogan of the regime.

Cuba’s Real Estate Market Is Going Through Tough Times

On the Paseo del Prado in Havana, an open-air classifiedad site, for every ten sellers there are two buyers. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymeido, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 10 June 2018 — On the web site Revolico, with more than 40,000 classified ads for houses for sale, thousands of ads are maintained for months without finding a buyer.  The lack of money, the slowdown of the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States together with the freeze on the delivery of licenses to the private sector have shrunken the Island’s real estate market.

At the end of 2011, when Raul Castro’s government authorized the sale of houses after decades of prohibition, a frenzy overtook many Cubans ready to acquire or get rid of a house.  The measure was a starting point in a country with 3,700,000 dwellings, some 85% of them the property of individuals. continue reading

Fewer than two years after the ban was lifted, the emerging real estate market reached some 80,000 transactions, according to information offered then by Aniuska Puente Fontanella, specialist from the Directorate of the Commercial Property Registry and of Assets of the Ministry of Justice.

Now the scene is different.  Although there are no new official figures about the behavior of the sector, sellers complain of less demand and buyers complain of high prices.  Real estate agents point to a deceleration of the sector.

On Paseo del Prado in Havana, an outdoor site for classified ads, for every ten sellers there are two buyers.  “There’s a lot on offer and little demand,” Luis Oscar Gomez, a permutero (broker) who ended up in real estate management.  “Five years ago it was different because there were many more people buying,” he recalls.

“Many people who were buying did it because they believed that the country was going to fill up with Americans, but that hasn’t happened.”

“Others bought in order to do business, like starting a restaurant or a guesthouse for foreigners but right now they are not giving out licenses for that, which discourages investment in houses,” adds Gomez.  The end of the US wet foot/dry foot policy also is, in his judgment, a factor that negatively influences the market.

“May people sold houses at lower prices in order to pay for leaving the country, but now that has diminished with the closing of the path to the United States and the road to emigrate is longer because the fees have increased,” he adds.  “A house that three years ago went for 50,000 dollars, now that same family wants 75,000.”

Nevertheless, Gomez recognizes that “many sellers also have had to repeatedly lower their prices because there is no money for buying.”  In his judgment, the lack of liquidity, due to the fall in tourism and “the country’s situation which does not improve and the possibility of saving money for a house is very difficult in this situation.”

A few meters from the Paseo del Prado, a wide colonial mansion with columns and arches has a “For Sale” sign hanging on the balcony.  “We have spent a year waiting, but this is the kind of house that is bought for business because it is located in Old Havana and has very big rooms, perfect for a restaurant or tourist rental,” explains Rosa, the owner.

“I had a buyer who was enchanted but last August when they stopped giving licenses for self-employed work the man changed his mind,” she recalls.  “Spending 80,000 CUC on a house like this and not being able to make money is crazy.”

The boom in private real estate firms arising from the liberalization of the section has also experienced a slump.

Many of those private offices, which operate under a manager’s license for the sale and exchange of homes, have been closed.  Some because they were left behind by the intense competition, others prosecuted in the courts when it was proven that they charged the client a commission for the transaction, something prohibited by the law.

In practice, these managers pocket between 10% and 25% of the total figure that the buyer pays, but legally they can only charge for connecting and informing people interested in carrying out these kinds of deals.

“The whole real estate market is fed also buy the construction sector,” points out Loraine Garcia, an employee of one of the real estate firms closed by the police.  “The new houses that go on sale greatly influence the dynamism of that market in any part of the world but in Cuba that is an element that suffers a lot of stagnation.”

Cuba registered a deficit of more than 880,000 houses at the end of 2016, and last year only 21,827 new houses were finished, according to data from the National Statistics Office.

“The market is tainted because hardly any new houses come on, and the offerings that have not met with success are mostly houses that are too much above the buyers’ means,” adds Garcia.

“Houses that are under 30,000 CUC did not move much at first,” but with the passage of time “those houses changed hands and those that were higher than that were left for sale and have less demand,” she points out.

Garcia thinks that the changes in the tax rates for these operations also have burdened the market.

Initially the authorities set a 4% tax on the exchange of goods and estates to those buying and on personal income of those who sold.  In practice, however, a good number of transactions were made with amounts much higher than the figure declared in order to avoid the taxes.

In 2017 the Ministry of Finance and Prices tried to correct the problem and modified the payment of taxes on the sale and donation of dwelling between individuals.  Now the value of the encumbrance is established by its characteristics, location and size and not the amount reflected as the value of the property.

“Many camouflaged a sale as if it were a gift in order to pay lower taxes, but right now that is almost impossible because the law establishes the family ties that are needed to do something like that,” explains the former real estate agent.

In spite of those setbacks, Garcia believes that the housing market “is going to raise its head.”  Her hopes are based on the fact that “these types of swings are normal, and a real estate boom cannot be maintained permanently,” but “if the country opens investment and permits small or medium businesses, sales will take off again.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

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

A New Constitution / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso,6 June 2018 — The history of Cuban constitutions is an interesting one. All of them — beginning with the Guáimaro constitution (1869), continuing on to Jimaguayú constitution (1895), the Yaya and Santa Cruz constitutions (1897 and 1898), the constitution of 1901, and the constitutional reforms of 1928 and 1940 — left open the possibility that they could be modified, in whole or in part, in accordance with changes that had occured since their ratifications and implementations. This was the case even in the socialist constitution of 1976 and in its reforms of 1992 and 2002, when the arbitrary article about “the irrevocability of the socialist system” was added on.

There are now indications that, in the draft of the newest Magna Carta, the article defining “the role of the Communist Party as the “organized vanguard and leading force of society and the State” will remain unchanged. continue reading

Just as the Platt Amendment remained in force in the 1901 constitution until 1934, the intention now is to retain the “Castro Amendment” as a compulsory straitjacket on present and future generations. The “historical assumption” is that socialism was accepted by our sovereign people when in fact it was imposed on April 16, 1961 in an event with a few hundred armed and ardent militiamen on the corner of 23rd and 12th streets in the capital’s Vedado district without consulting the the Cuban people. This was subsequently ratified in the 1976 constitution by an “exercise in popular approval,” which more closely resembled a farse than a legal action, in response to a tirade by the president, who urged Cubans to sign his decree at tables set up in every neighborhood of the country.

Certainly, when any political, economic or social system comes to power, it tries to secure its interests and legally shield itself by drafting its own constitution. This was the case in Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union as well as in the latter’s satellite countries. However, sooner or later, they all came to an end and were replaced by other constitutions to address the new realities. The same has happened in other systems, which reformed or changed constitutions based on the needs at the time.

What is interesting is that the restrictions and prohibitions imposed by these articles serve no purpose. Times change, other men will modify them and, if they decide to shed the burden of socialism, they will change them entirely.

It is also pedantic and arrogant to think of themselves as framers of the “absolute constitution.” Such a position only demonstrates how out of touch people become when they exercise absolute power for too long.

Havana’s Sickness

Havana looks sick. Dirty, stinking, clogged with waste. It seems like a lie to call it a marvelous city. (BDLG)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Laidi Fernandez de Juan, Havana, 7 June 2018 — Havana looks sick. Dirty, stinking, clogged with waste. It seems like a lie to call it a marvelous city. When I walk around the city, an immense grief replaces the contemplation of its most sacred buildings, those that we used to show to others as an example of our architectural eclecticism.

Instead of pointing out: “Look at the beauty of art deco,” “Look at those nineteenth-century gates,” “Those decorative lances that point to the sky are called guardavecinos (neighbor guards),” “There are no portals in the world comparable to these,” we make our way around hills of trash, we avoid walking under balconies whose miraculous static is an imminent threat, and, worst of all, we must cover our noses and mouths, because flies swarm, and an unbearable stench greets us in many blocks. continue reading

As a sign of indolence bordering on impudence, I come across signs that say “Do not throw garbage. PNR (People’s Revolutionary Police)” which are barely visible because they have been buried by empty cans, the remains of toilets, broken flower pots, wet cartons, mattresses that have lost their springs, and other debris. The trash bins, their original covers missing and overflowing, adorn the corners or the middle of the street: macabre decorations.

The neighborhood of El Vedado, so noble, wooded and magnificent, is a part of the mess. Its sidewalks, cracked and with holes big enough to swallow Moby Dick, aggravate the walker and offer nothing but danger. Aside from the displeasure it is all proof of how little we care about anyone. Or, to be more exact, how little we care for ourselves, how weak is our self-love.

Canine droppings force us to constantly avoid nasty mounds, which, if you count the potholes, roots, garbage, and cracks in the street, instead of going for a walk to ward off daily tensions, we are burdened with new discomforts. Far from motivating us, it makes us depressed to tour the neighborhood. It is not the recommended endorphins that flood us, but rather unpleasant odors, pitfalls and sounds. We can’t ignore the frightful noise that assails us, in sync with the stink of dead animals and the vision of a city that appears to have been bombed.

In Havana there is no shoe that can resist the attacks of the pavement, no skeleton that can stand up to the zigzags required to walk, no olfactory cells that do not ache, no ears that can withstand the decibels of reggaeton, no retinas that can block the pain of the images that assail the pupils.

In the end, the heart shrinks. Because we do not love each other. Because nobody seems pained by so much injustice, and because we always believe it is not our fault. And while it is true that there is nothing we can do in construction, concrete, sand, cement and bricks, it is also true that we are responsible for the repugnance, the dirt, the open filth, and “what someone else did” that we try to shield ourselves from.

And no matter how much it hurts to admit it, the only thing that seems cared for is that space where some private business has planted their sign. Some in doubtful taste, others laudable, perhaps overloaded with lights or soberly adorned, the stretch of a block that leads to the creation of a private business, the work of someone self-employed, is clean and sown with flowers. Like a city oasis those few square yards remind us that we are in a city and not on a battlefield.

And that is when we ask ourselves, is this the only way to rescue our magnificence of yesteryear. Is this how we will protect the legacy of a marvelous city? Or will we succumb to grief, reluctance and apathy?

Today, Havana is almost a nightmare from which we have a civic duty to awaken once and for all. Because this is our cradle, our house, our foundation. We must wake up to love Havana, before it reaches its five hundred years so sick, so absorbed in this unforgivable oblivion.

This text was initially published in the Boletín del Centro Pablo.

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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.

Candelario Martinez, A Cuban Doctor Working in Venezuela, is Murdered

The whole community was alarmed when they heard cries of help from Candelario Martínez’s roommate. (upatadigital)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 7 June 2018 —  Venezuelan police are investigating the murder of the Cuban doctor Candelario Martinez, 54, who served as director of a Comprehensive Diagnostic Center. The crime occurred in the Salto Angel residential estate, located in Unare, an area of eastern Venezuela known for high rates of violence.

According to local media reports, neighbors were alarmed when they heard the cries for help from Martínez’s roommate, who found the body with a bullet in the head and a cut on the face. continue reading

Bolivar State Police are not ruling out that the motive for the crime was robbery. Among the victim’s belongings that have not been found are his car, a Ford Fiesta Power, and several household items. According to local reports, the locks of the house were not forced.

The body was taken to the Pathological Anatomy Unit to perform the forensic autopsy. So far, the Cuban Medical Mission in Venezuela has not issued a statement on the matter.

Cuba maintains a large group of professionals in Venezuela, working in the so-called “missions” that are part of a collaboration agreement between both countries and that Caracas pays for with the oil that it sends to the Island. The export of professional services is the main source of income in the Cuban economy. According to official figures, Cuba’s national treasury takes in about 10 billion dollars annually for the services of Cuban medical personnel, who are sent to many different countries.

Venezuela is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. In 2017 there were almost 27,000 murders, of which more than 5,000 were attributed to the security forces. That same year 20% of the population was a victim of crime, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence.

Although the contract terms of the Cuban medical collaboration are not public, in other cases of murders in Venezuela it has been discovered that the relatives of the Cuban victims do not receive compensation.

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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.