Investing in Cuba

“The only advice I would give to Pepe Perez is that, if he wants to invest his saving in a farm, it would be better if he did so in another country where he would not run so many risks and where his rights as a property owner and as an investor are protected by law.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Manuel Hernandez, Havana, 9 January 2021 — Havana-born Manuel Hernandez is the first prize winner of the Cuban Entrepreneur Competition, organized by the Cuban Observatory of Conflicts and Apretaste! The contest asked applicants to give advice to a fictional Cuban-Canadian, Pepe Perez, on investing in the island.

“With the money I’ve saved, I want to buy a hundred cows, a truck, a tractor and a lot of work tools. I will charter a boat and leave Cuba, buy a farm with my cousin and produce meat, milk, cheese, fruits and vegetables,” said Pepe Perez.

“Which blockade is more likely ruin my plans: the external or the internal” the participants must answer.

After analyzing the problems a ’Pepe Perez’ might encounter in implementing his project, Manuel Hernandez came to a compelling conclusion: better to invest in another country.

The submission

In response to the question posed by Pepe Perez, I will proceed to analyze the difficulties that his economic investment project in Cuba will face, both those arising from the United States embargo and those caused by the lack of opportunities for foreign investment in Cuba as a consequence of the restrictions imposed by the island’s government and the prevailing bureaucratic corruption. continue reading

To do this, I will present a theoretical situation in which Pepe Perez is confronting and solving each of these problems only to fall into the next trap. I regret that my presentation is a bit long but the competition rules do not stipulate limits on length. Therefore, I assume that that this should not cause any inconvenience. Any resemblance to the current reality of Cuba is purely intentional.

Let me begin by noting that Pepe Perez cannot under any circumstances fulfill his desire to buy a farm in Cuba. According to the Agrarian Reform laws of 1959 and 1960, land in Cuba is not an alienable asset. Therefore, it cannot be bought or sold. Only the state, state-owned companies, agricultural cooperatives (which are essentially a form of state property in disguise) and individual owners who acquired it as a result of the Agrarian Reform laws or inherited it from their parents can own land in Cuba.

Individual owners may only retain ownership of their land if they continue to use it for agricultural production. When they get old and are no longer in a position to continue working their land, they must hand it over to their children to continue working on it. If they have no children, or if their children are unwilling to engage in full-time agricultural work, the state simply confiscates the land.

They may not sell their lands to another farmer who is interested in acquiring them, only to the state, and at a price determined by government officials. They can also hand over the property to the state in exchange for a lifetime pension. This pension protects the owner, his widow and his minor children, if any. It ends upon the death of the owner and his wife, and when his children reach adulthood.

It is clear, therefore, that Pepe Perez cannot buy a farm in Cuba. He cannot hold land in trust because he does not reside in the country. He can only try to reach some sort of agreement with the state to rent the farm he wants. And that was not even possible until a few years ago when only foreign investors, not Cuban emigrants, were allowed to do this. The economic crisis in Cuba and the urgency to find investors, however, led the government to do away with this restriction. Pepe Perez can currently propose an investment project to the state.

I should point out that Cuban law does not allow for, except in rare instances when it is in the state’s overriding interest, the existence of wholly foreign-owned companies. In other words, in the event his investment proposal is accepted, Pepe Perez will be forced to enter into a public-private partnership in which the Cuban state will own at least 51% of the value of the company. The state will retain the right to make adjustments to production plans as it sees fit. It could also decide at any given moment to switch from producing “meat, milk, cheese, fruit and vegetables,” as Pepe Perez wants to do, to producing something else that better suits the interests of the state.

But let us suppose that Pepe Perez is so eager to invest his savings in his native country that he is willing to accept these draconian conditions. The state will then offer properties for our investor to lease so that Pepe Pérez can choose the one that best suits his purposes. It is at this point that our hero could become entangled in the web that is the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

I should point out that he is not a U.S. citizen but rather a Canadian citizen and, therefore, is not required to apply for a license from the Treasury Department in order to invest in Cuba. Nevertheless, according to the Cuban constitution, as long as he is on Cuban soil, he does not enjoy the protections of another country’s citizenship. This means that, in the event of a legal dispute with the Cuban state, he will not be entitled to consular assistance or legal representation by a foreign law firm. He will only be able to contract the services of a lawyer from a Cuban Collective Cuban Law Firm.

How then could U.S. law affect him? It is very simple. If the farm that he decides to rent from the Cuban state is under litigation because it was illegally confiscated from a Cuban national living in the United States as a result of the Agrarian Reform laws, then Pepe Perez’s company could be subject to a lawsuit under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which protects the property rights of U.S. nationals.

However, if Pepe Perez has received good legal advice, he should not face major problems over a possible claim. Once the Cuban Ministry for Foreign Investment has provided a list of lands available for lease, he would go to the Interior Ministry’s Land Registry office to inquire about the legal status of the land he wishes to lease.

He has just fallen into the swampy terrain of the Cuban bureaucracy. Assuming that the applicant has all his legal documentation in order, he is still dependent on the goodwill of the officials who will handle to it. Most likely, he will have to pay a hefty bribe to these officials to do their job.

Legal actions in Cuba, as in any country, are subject to deadlines. Junior-level officials at every institution know this and deliberately slow down the approval of applications to force the interested party to offer them incentives to process the paperwork quickly.

Pepe Perez would have an alternative. He can publicize what he wants to do. I would recommend that he take out a classified ad in Spanish and English in a national newspaper in the United States such as the New York Times. I would recommend that he also publish it in a newspaper with circulation in the state of Florida such as El Nuevo Herald. The ad should indicate that he intends to lease these lands in Cuba in case anyone has property rights to them.

He would post the ad once a week for four weeks, indicating how someone can contact his lawyers. This way, should someone come forward with a claim to the property he wants to lease, he can decide not to invest. In the event that there is no response, this announcement will give his attorneys a good legal argument for any claims he might face in the future. Except in unusual cases, Pepe Perez, a Cuban-Canadian citizen, should not face major problems due to the embargo.

Now let us suppose that he has managed successfully overcome all these obstacles. Cuban authorities have approved his investment proposal, the land that he wants to rent is not subject to any kind of legal claim and Pepe Perez is on the road to setting up a joint venture. Does this mean that everything is going smoothly? Not at all! In Cuba nothing is that simple. First of all, our investor expressed his desire to share the ownership of the company with his cousin in Cuba, or at least to make him manager of the business. However, he probably can’t even hire him as a salaried employee.

Joint ventures in Cuba are not allowed hire their staffs directly. They must select them from available candidates at a “job bank.” In other words, from a state-owned employment company that provides qualified labor to foreign entrepreneurs. The employment company demands high wages in foreign currency for the employees it hires, acts as an intermediary between them and the entrepreneur, and then pays them what it considers appropriate in the national currency, which is the very devalued Cuban peso. In short, workers receive only a tiny portion of the salaries they earn from their work, obviously a very clear form of exploitation.

Because Pepe Perez has only a 49% share of his company, he will be forced to accept the administrator whom the state, as the majority stakeholder, appoints. If he wants to hire his cousin anyway, he probably will have pay a substantial bribe to someone at the “job bank” to add his cousin to the workforce. Suppose he has already made it and his cousin is just another employee of his farm.

Let us suppose that he has managed to do that and his cousin is now an employee at the farm. He is not the manager but he is the person trusted to look after his interests. Even so, he cannot pay him what he wants because the job bank takes care of that. So, in addition to the money he pays to the state employment agency, he must shell out an additional amount each month as incentive pay for his cousin and the other workers he has hired.

Finally, Pepe Pérez has managed to weather the storm. He has obtained permission from the General Directorate of Immigration to repatriate to Cuba and permission from the Ministry for Foreign Investment to create his joint venture. After encountering some difficulties, he has obtained a lease to the farm and must now begin importing the supplies he needs.

He has to charter a boat, buy “a hundred cows, a truck, a tractor and a lot of work tools,” and import them. He must then obtain permission from port authorities to dock the ship. And, of course, he must also obtain approval from the Customs Service of the Republic of Cuba to bring these items into the country, for which he will first need a wholesale commercial import license. Our investor would also do well to budget for all the illicit payments he will have to make.

On top of all this, he needs a special permit from the Transportation Ministry to bring a truck and tractor into Cuba. He must then go to the General Directorate of Traffic to apply for a permit to operate each vehicle. Cows, for their part, must be certified by an inspector from the Institute of Veterinary Medicine to ensure that they do not bring any animal diseases into the country. If he wants all these procedures to go smoothly, it would help to make some payments to all these institutions.

In the future he will need other imports, such as seeds, fertilizers, milking machines, pasteurizers, milk cartons and other items. Each time he will have to go through the same process, including the bribes. It is also quite possible that the Cuban government will not allow him to import these things directly, that he will have to use the services of an import business run by the Ministry of Foreign Commerce.

This will increase his operating costs. It will also make it impossible for him to import supplies from the United States, where products are of higher quality and prices are lower. As a private citizen, he could acquire all of this without restrictions but, being forced to use the services of a state-owned import company, makes it unlikely he will be able to conduct commercial sales operations in the United States.

Finally, Pepe Perez manages to successfully navigate these turbulent waters and his business has been set up the way he wants. There remains one small problem: the state can impose production targets on agricultural businesses in Cuba that they must fulfill. In other words, the joint venture must turn over a large portion of its output to a company operated by the Ministry of Agriculture at the prices set by the state.The joint venture will only be able to sell the remaining surplus after fulfilling the demands previously established by company officials.

This means that Pepe Perez must first deliver to the state the milk it demands before being able to use the surplus to produce cheese. To be able to slaughter some of his cows for meat production, he must first apply for the required permits. Pepe Pérez will also be impacted by pilfering on the part of his workers, who will probably subtract part of the company’s output to meet their needs.

Nevertheless, Pepe Perez is a brilliant businessman and so he works things out and makes money. He must deposit the income in an account at a bank owned by the Cuban state, from which he makes deductions to cover taxes, salaries, services, supplies and any other expenses he might incur. This should not present a problem so long as his deductions are in Cuban pesos (CUP) or convertible pesos* (CUC).

The problem will be when he wants to withdraw funds in hard currency to purchase supplies in another country or when he simply wants to transfer funds to an overseas account. Cuban banks usually claim they do not have enough currency available in the vault so the applicant must be placed on a waiting list for the currency to appear. Additionally, if someone wants to take more than $5,000 in cash out of the country, he or she will need a special license from the National Bank of Cuba.

Finally, if Pepe Perez’s business fails and he wants to liquidate its assets, his only option is to sell it to the Cuban state for a price that the state determines. And it would behoove him be patient because the Cuban state is usually extremely slow at paying off its debts.

Considering all the project’s many challenges, the only advice I would give Pepe Perez is that, if he wants to invest his savings in a farm, it would be better to do so in any other country in the world, where his capital is not subject to so much risk and where his rights as a property owner and investor are guaranteed by law. I trust Pepe Perez to be prudent and not expose himself to the risks of failure and loss of his savings, which have cost him years of sacrifice and hard work. Good luck, my friend!

Note: The prize for this winning entry was $1,000.

*Translator’s note: Since this contest submission, the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) has been withdrawn from circulation. Cubans have until June to convert whatever remaining CUCs they possess. 

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

The Official Story, Live: Triple Payments to Producers Without Raising Prices on Consumers

The Youth Labor Army (EJT) market in Havana, this November. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 January 2021 — The governor of Havana approved an increase from 200% to 350% in the prices paid to agricultural producers but promised not to “raise the prices of retail sales (…) in most products, in order to protect to the population.” The resolution, which has come into force with the new year, sets the producer purchase prices, wholesale prices and maximum retail prices in pesos, both for state and private markets.

The authorities assure that the rise in prices is due to the intention of “stimulating the income of producers as the main link in the production and marketing chain.”

In contrast, it is not clear how consumer prices can be maintained if producers receive a 200% or more increase.

Since its launch, more than six years ago, 14ymedio has published every week the prices of the most common products found in various points of sale located throughout the Island, not only in the capital. Although it is true that there are no significant differences between the prices of recent weeks in Havana markets and those announced as of January 1 for the consumer, it remains to be explained how the purchase price can be raised for the producer without increasing it for the consumer. continue reading

What we have seen is with the list of available products that comes to the newsroom from all the provinces, the number of available products has decreased extremely, especially in recent weeks.

The resolution, published by Tribuna de La Habana, is accompanied by a PDF of a price list, divided into sections, on which the notable ones include bananas (most at between 2 and 4 pesos per pound), garlic at 47, and onions at between 10 and 28 depending on the type, beans, 14 for black and 16 for red, and chickpeas, 35 pesos per pound.

Citrus fruits also appear, such as oranges at 10, lemons at 13, beans at 8, and sweet peppers at 11, among many others.

“In the case of covered and packaged products, up to 20% above the approved retail sale price will be applied and when the covered products are cut and packed, up to 50% above the approved retail price will be applied,” said the official media Tribuna de La Habana.

The complaints have not taken long to appear among the readers of the official newspaper. “The dollar is at 24 (pesos) but there is no availability in the banks… at those prices, after the workers collect their salary increases, there needs to be availability of the products in the markets,” said one, knowing that for months the shops have been more bare than usual.

Others advocate openly for the free market and point out that prices regulate themselves with free competition. “They say that man is the only animal that stumbles twice on the same stone, but here they stumble 100 times and they have not learned that capping the prices is what causes greater scarcity.”

“Prices are very far from reality, the black market will continue to impose its statutes and the pockets of ordinary Cubans will continue to pay times above the prices published here”, considers another reader.

“Now they hide the products and sell them for higher prices, whoever wants to buy a lemon, for example, must go and look for the seller who is hiding it. Because it is a chain from the field, where oil and other materials make the things they have look for more expensive, under the table, like a welding rod, an angle to repair machines etc. to the producer pays dearly for everything and must sell dearly to the retailer and the carrier. It is a chain that multiplies the price at each link.”

Despite the criticism, the majority of readers of the state newspaper are in favor of the intervention, but their concerns are in the usual failure to act that occurs with these types of measures and they ask for greater control and penalties.

“Who will control this? Today the carts are selling a head of garlic for 10 pesos, nothing is by the pound, but they are not afraid, they do what they want. Come to Alturas de Belén, Marianao, and you will see. If severe measures aren’t taken, respect for the laws, the rules, will never be achieved,” writes a user in this regard.

Others even detail the most common tricks to circumvent a law that until now has shown to stimulate very little supply in the market. “Sounds good to me, I just hope that surnames do not start to appear on the products, for example Creole lemon from ’My Grandmother’s Farm’, 100 pesos per pound. As with the ham that was Viking ham its whole life and now there are 25 specials of every kind: sausages, meatloaf and I don’t know how many other things. And, of course, all are more expensive than the old famous Viking”

“I congratulate your reasoning because it is what happens in the long run: Class A carrot, 20 pesos per pound; black cassava with white rind, 10 pesos per pound; black Narnian beans, 25 pesos per pound; Macondo tomato, 20 pesos the pound; … and so on,” jokes another reader.

Many others ask that the measure taken in the capital be extended to the rest of the provinces and some even take advantage of the occasion to demonstrate against Havanacentralism. “Will Havana be Cuba? The measures that are taken only for the capital are always pronounced and, in the other provinces, everyone roaming around without respect. Please, where there are fewer things is in the provinces and the prices are sky high. Take measures for the country, not just for Havana,” protests a reader.

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

The ‘Mules’ Suffer Another Blow With the New Flight Restrictions in Cuba

Among the products brought by the ’mules’, the products that ’flew off the shelves’ were “coffee, soap, toothpaste, bouillon cubes, cumin and oregano, and hair care products.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 January 2021 — Cuban commerce was just beginning to take off when it suffered another blow. The Government of Havana’s restrictions on the number of flights that can come to Cuba, which came into force on January 1, has been bad news for the mules who feed Cuba’s informal networks, and bad news for their customers.

“We thought that the reduction of flights was not going to be so hard but for Copa Airlines, of the 20 weekly flights they flew before, only three are left,” laments Randy, a 43-year-old from Havana who managed to travel in December, after the restart of regular flights at the José Martí International Airport in Havana.

“I flew out, I did a lot of shopping because I went with my wife, but the products flew out of our hands. People were like crazy,” he explains to 14ymedio. Randy details that among the products they brought were “coffee, soap, toothpaste, bouillon cubes, cumin and oregano, and hair care products.” continue reading

Panama is one of the most popular destinations for Cubans who shop abroad. In 2018, the manager of the Colon Free Zone, Manuel Grimaldo, acknowledged that more than 15,000 Cubans were arriving annually at that time and spending about 100 million dollars. In view of the success, the Panamanian Government authorized a five-year visa and multiple entries for residents of the island.

“I had already bought another ticket to go in the middle of this month, but I don’t know how my situation will turn out now,” he laments. “On the airline’s website they tell me that I won’t lose my money and that I can reschedule my flight until December 31 of this year, but my urgency was to go now because I left merchandise I bought there and they were orders from people who already paid me.”

Offers for many products that had returned to the classifieds pages with the reinstatement of flights are now sold out and advertisers are quick to warn interested parties that, until further notice or until travel is normalized, the situation will remain the same.

The eight months with Cuban airspace closed hit the informal traders hard in 2020. Many of them had to reconvert themselves into resellers of products bought in national stores, or into coleros (people who stand in line for others for pay), or messengers for food delivery businesses, using electric motorcycles imported from abroad.

The reopening of the country’s main international airport, which began on November 15 in Havana, was a brief relief for them. The rise in the number of cases of Covid-19, many of them caught from people who came from abroad, forced the authorities to make decisions. But this time, they chose not to cancel all commercial flights as they had in April, but to reduce the flow of travelers from the countries believed to be the main importers of the virus to the Island.

The Panamanian Embassy in Havana posted on its Facebook page, “The Government of Cuba reported that, given the current national epidemiological situation, the frequency of flights from certain countries, including Panama, will be reduced. As of January 1, 2021, the number of flights to and from Panama will be reduced, by virtue of a decision of the Government of Cuba. The frequency of flights will gradually resume when the Cuban health authorities determine it.”

In the list of countries that are most affected by reductions in the number of flights are the shopping destinations most visited by Cubans: the United States, Mexico, Panama, Bahamas, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. There are no restrictions for other nations that have appeared frequently in the statistics of imported cases of Covid-19 such as Russia. The United Kingdom and South Africa are countries with a new strain of Covid-19 on which there are strong international restrictions, and which is not in Cuba. The first is one of the main sources of European tourism to the Island.

Some airlines have done worse, such as Air Century, which has had to indefinitely suspend all the flights it made every Tuesday between Santo Domingo and Havana. “We deeply regret the inconvenience that this measure, beyond the control of the company, may cause in their plans. Affected passengers may reschedule their flight dates,” explained the company, which made several telephone numbers available to customers.

“My sister bought me the ticket from there to spend her birthday together and, incidentally, bring some merchandise, but she has been calling the numbers provided by Air Century for days and there is no way to communicate,” Lisandra, a woman from Matanzas, told this newspaper. She travels up to five times a year to the Dominican Republic to bring products. “I was left with a packed suitcase and no hope of traveling soon.”

With their luggage packed, the customers of the 20 weekly flights that the Mexican company Viva Aerobús has suspended have also stayed. “Passengers who have a ticket purchased on any of the suspended flights should contact the travel agency with which they made their purchase to be rescheduled to the closest flight and route with availability,” the company detailed on its Facebook account.

Mexico’s Viva Aerobús has substantially reduced its flights but maintains the connection between Havana and Cancun. The itinerary between Cancun and Camagüey will be flown only on Wednesdays, between Cancun and Holguín, on Tuesdays, and between Mexico City and Havana, on Saturdays.

“I had already booked the apartment where I was going to stay and everything,” explains a Cuban clothing and footwear supplier who, before the pandemic, made the itinerary between Havana and Cancun up to three times a week to supply his goods to the informal market. “Now I will have to wait, but the hardest part is all the dreams I had for myself. Go to the stores, eat a whole chicken or a good beef steak without lining up.”

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

2020 Was the Hardest Year for Cuba, Says Human Rights Group

The arrest of journalist and writer Carlos Manuel Álvarez in the city of Cárdenas, in early December. (Screen Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 January 2021 —  The Cuban Center for Human Rights (CCDH) is forceful in its December report: the year that has just ended has been “the hardest” for the Island. The reasons, according to the organization led by Marta Beatriz Roque, are not only due to the cCovid-19 pandemic, but to “the scarcity, the lack of freedoms and the repressed life that the Cuban leads, basically dedicated to subsisting.”

In his introduction to the document, Roque predicts that 2021 “will involve a labor and economic panorama considered one of the worst in the history of the nation, in the midst of a scene of exacerbated social conflicts.”

The report recalls that on December 10, the regime took to the streets to “celebrate” Human Rights Day, while State Security kept independent journalists and activists under siege. continue reading

It also emphasizes that the Government continues to harass the participants in the San Isidro headquarters in November, with the aim of “prohibiting them from leaving” their homes, including Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Ileana Hernández, Esteban Rodríguez, Maykel Castillo, Omara Ruiz Urquiola, Anamelys Ramos, Zuleydis Gómez Cepero and Héctor Luis Valdés Corcho.

Mention is also made of the return to acts of repudiation in a generalized manner “to try to demoralize citizens who disagree within the country.”

Apart from reproducing the list of 138 political prisoners compiled by Prisoners Defenders, CCDH includes 103 arbitrary arrests carried out by State Security in December (slightly less than the 119 in November) and 144 acts of harassment. Among those arrested was the chief editor of 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, detained for more than five hours on December 11.

The report covers the so-called ’Ordering Task,’ the measures that came into force on January 1 to, according to the Government, face the crisis, including the elimination of the double currency, and whose first consequence has been an increase in the prices of telecommunications, transport and some foods.

Regarding the economic and social situation, the CCDH echoes various unpublished citizen complaints, for example the one made by Liudmila Maya about the theft of luggage from travelers who have just arrived in Cuba through the José Martí International Airport.

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

In Havana, Face-to-Face Classes Will Be Held Only in the Afternoon in Secondary Schools

In pandemic times, according to the official press, teachers will also join students to receive virtual classes. (ACN)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 January 2021 — Secondary schools in Havana will have a reduction in hours due to the rebound in COVID-9 cases throughout the country, especially in the capital.

Starting next week, as detailed by some of the schools that convened a meeting for parents this Thursday, students will only have classes from Tuesday to Friday, from 12 pm to 4 pm (except on Tuesdays, when the schedule is extended to 5 pm).

Given some parents’ concerns about the decrease in school hours, taking into account the setbacks due to months long school closings brought about by the pandemic, the teacher explained that students will have morning “virtual classes” to compensate, which should be followed as a complement to the classes.

The virtual classes, they reported, begin next week and will be broadcast Monday through Friday on the Havana Channel from 8 am to 12 pm. The subjects will be Physics, Biology, Civic Education, History, Geography, Mathematics, Chemistry and Spanish. Saturday will be used for “vocational training” classes, dedicated to guiding students in their studies after finishing high school. continue reading

Parents were not told specifically what content will be provided in this remote mode

However, parents were not told specifically what content will be provided in this remote mode. The last course was only used to guide the evaluative work and consolidate the content that had already previously been given.

Therefore, parents’ skepticism is logical. “I am very concerned about this measure, I see a drastic reduction in the hours/classes and, honestly, we all know that a virtual class is not the same as having a teacher in front of the classroom, especially when teaching new content,” complained one of the parents at the meeting.

A teacher responded: “We have to make sure that the children do not miss the virtual classes and that they take notes, it is very important. I am going to review the notebooks to make sure that everyone is up to date, if any child has problems with the television and the box, you can come to the library, we will be showing it here.”

Parents are also concerned about other issues, such as the price of school lunch in day care centers as a result of the so-called “Ordering Task.”

This Friday, The Ministry of Education published on its official site that the monthly rates will remain as they have been until now: a maximum of 40 pesos for the child care center service and 7 pesos for students who stay for lunch at the school study centers.

The difficult health situation affects the entire country, which this Friday reached 344 new cases Covid-19 new cases, surpassing the record set last Monday of 316 daily infections. The accumulated total in Cuba is 13,823 positives and 148 deaths from Covid-19.

 Of the total cases on this day, 238 were contacts of confirmed cases, 69 with a source of infection abroad and 37 without a specified source of infection.

Of the total cases today, 238 were contacts of confirmed cases, 69 with a source of infection abroad and 37 without a specified source of infection. Of the 275 local-transmission cases of the day, 168 (61%) are linked to international travelers, totaling 2,160, which represents 61.9% of the total local-transmission cases since November 15th.

This Thursday, the Provincial Defense Council approved a group of new measures to “counteract the spread of the coronavirus” in Havana. Carlos Alberto Martínez Blanco, provincial director of Health, considered that in this way it could “increase the perception of risk among the population, and limit the possible transmission of the disease.”

Specifically, it was proposed to “de-concentrate points of sale of products to avoid conglomeration of people, reduce public activities, in addition to maintaining restrictions in bars and restaurants and in holding private parties.”

Regular visits to hospital institutions are also prohibited and the idea of being the same companion throughout the patient’s stay should be maintained. Martínez Blanco also pointed out that clinical-epidemiological, as well as laboratory surveillance, is being reinforced. It is also expected that investigations by medical students will resume to search for suspects.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

Threats to Merchants in Cuba Continue: The Worst is Yet to Come

As Cuba’s economic situation worsens, citizens are faced the with markets that are closed because there is nothing to sell. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerElías Amor Bravo, Economist, 7 January 2021 —  The official Castroist press continues its campaign of defamation, harassment and demolition of humble entrepreneurs dedicated to commerce, who only want to work and serve the people. Dislocating reality and creating a false sense towards these private sellers, labeling them a “crowd of profiteers” and accusing them of increasing agricultural prices and miscellaneous items in a “disproportionate” way, the Cuban government is making attempt is made to foster a climate of rejection by the people while at the same time defending the repressive actions of the government. It’s a good thing that the people are not fooled

The first thing one has to ask the Greek chorus of clerks of the Castro regime who attack the merchants who just want to survive, one today and another tomorrow, is why are the merchants successful selling to people even at high prices, or, for example, what makes the consumers pay those astronomical prices that the state newspaper Granma denounces in an article titled, “The people’s retaining wall”?

People who buy food and other products from these “profiteers” do so, even knowing that the prices are expensive. You don’t have to think much about the answer. They do it because it is where they are sure they can find what they need to make one proper meal a day, or because the product that has long disappeared from state stores. That is the reason and no other. The regime can say what it wants, but if these high-priced sellers survive it is because the trading system as a whole facilitates their activity, which, on the other hand, is commonly used by many buyers. continue reading

Moral. If the authorities begin to develop actions to put an end to what they call “the excesses that lacerate, above all, the compatriots with the lowest incomes,” what follows is what Cubans know, because they have been suffering from it for 62 years: A lack of products and return to deprivation and scarcity. There is no other reason. Then the situation would be worse.

If the Greek chorus who write in Granma want to end what they describe as “abuses,” the solution is no longer the stick, repression and confiscation of the merchandise, but quite the opposite. Increasing the goods that are available to the population will automatically lower prices. Liberalizing the practice of trade and wholesale and retail activity in this sector, authorizing private franchises, would increase professionalism and quality of service. Putting an end to the regulated, controlled, intervened, centralized prices of a ministry that has no justification, is another necessary measure to make the market work efficiently.

There is no alternative to this model which, on the other hand, does not have to do with socialism or capitalism, but with the quality of life of the people and their prosperity. It is almost certain that what the “thousand abusers,” persecuted and harassed by the communist state’s State Security arm, want is precisely that: freedom of establishment, operation and activity. Depending only on the consumer they want to serve and listening to their messages. Without the usual interference from the government. It’s that easy.

The numerous incidents that Granma refers to in the article entitled “The people’s retaining wall” give a good account of this. The more the repression, seizures and ban on the commercial activity of the sellers, those who remain will have more incentive to alter prices severely. The adjustment of supply and demand, spontaneously, in short, economic freedom, is the best sterilizer of these situations of imbalance. The communist authorities only end up worsening it with their repressive policies that, on the other hand, entail a cost, because it is necessary to pay inspectors, policemen, guards etc.

The article says that where the repression of the revolutionary police has been unleashed, ” the abusive salesmen frown and even blaspheme” while “the people who go out to stock up, appreciate and applaud that action, because they have had the opportunity to access, without excessive outlays, food, fruit, vegetables, ham, and mutton and pork.” The conflict is served, because that access to the merchandise does not usually last long and when the goods run out, penury and scarcity return.

Granma points out the importance of the collaboration of good sellers in the fight against “price alterations” and emphasizes that “denunciations” is the only way to solve these problems. People must report what they call “unscrupulous procedures that affect the community,” and this, they say, is a civic attitude. It is already known what the denunciation means in Cuba because several generations of Cubans have had to live with this false civility that ends up being a painful “quítate tu pa ponerme yo” [get out of the way and make way for me] with unfortunate consequences, since it can mean imprisonment or exile for those reported.

So encouraging this type of repressive practices does not help to provide more supply at low prices. Consumers want the security of going to the market and buying what they need, no more. They don’t want to run around watching everyone and reporting them. The person spends 12 or 14 hours a day in charge of his small sales operation, does it because it compensates him. Nobody forces him to do so. The alternative is to go fishing, but not everyone prefers that alternative, and in a country there must be space for everyone.

Nobody is defending speculation and hoarding operations, or practices contrary to public health or fraudulent, based on illicit sales. Commerce is an activity of honest and helpful people who want to serve their fellow citizens and in return, obtain a profit. If this is not understood, the worst is yet to come.

Why? Because the “Ordering Task” opens an uncertain space for price increases that the authorities will not be able to control with their intervention systems. And so, before labeling as violations or alterations certain decisions that will be inevitable, it is convenient to put the brakes on the Provincial Labor and Social Security agencies who are in charge of these matters so that the evils do not get worse.

Granma concludes by pointing out that “it is necessary to banish selfishness and the exclusive search for personal benefit that moves some to fish in the troubled river of the needs of the majority, abusively raising prices,” and this phrase sums up the philosophy behind of the actions of the communist government, but falls under its own weight.

Again, we must insist hat there is nothing selfish about someone who dedicates 12 or 14 hours a day to serving their fellow citizens. Trade must be accompanied by profitability, because otherwise, no one will be interested in dedicating themselves to it.

Finally, if the needs of the Cubans resemble a “troubled river,” someone with high responsibility for the direction of the economy should be answerable for that. The usual thing is that the needs of the majority are attended to on a regular basis, without shortage, without the absence of products, without tension and much less, long lines or waits.

This is the source of the problem: the availability of goods, the provision of which also has to be rewarded so that it is worth the effort to produce them.

As long as this is not recognized, the Cuban economy will continue in its vicious cycle.

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

Cuba Closes State Stores That Sell Unrationed Bread

In a tour of several stores in the municipalities of Centro Habana and Plaza de la Revolución, this newspaper found that all state outlets for unrationed bread are closed. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 January 2021 – With a bag of bread now costing 35 or 40 pesos, the so-called “Ordering Task” has left many children without a snack this week.

“There is no unrationed bread in any state bakery, in the private ones they offering some but not every day and also it is very expensive. The package of 8 buns that cost 25 pesos now costs 35 or 40,” says Leonardo Álvarez, the father of a boy who attends the fifth grade in a school in Centro Habana.

“We are making a tremendous effort so that my son can take a snack to school every day,” the man complains. “Meanwhile, at the hardware store on the corner they are selling electric motorcycles for $1,500. What do those who run this country think that we are going to eat, motorcycles? ”

“I can’t find anything that I can afford. Yesterday my son had to take some sugar water for a snack and just the bread from the ration store. A yogurt costs 30 pesos, a drink is 35, the bakery crackers and breadsticks are 30, the small package of sweet cookies is 115 and soda is 90. I can’t do that,” he laments.

In private businesses, the bag of 8 buns is priced at 35 or 40 pesos, a situation that has left many children without a snack this week. (14ymedio)

In a tour of several stores in the Havana municipalities of Centro Habana and Plaza de la Revolución, this newspaper found that all state outlets for unrationed bread are closed.

“I have only seen the State selling unrationed bread in seedy cafeterias, bread with cheese at 8 pesos, with mayonnaise at 7, with a spread at 5,” Álvarez concedes. “The thing is that I don’t trust what they put in the spreads and I don’t want to put my son’s health at risk, I prefer that he just have the bread.”

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

The Dangerous Strategy of Advance and Retreat

Since January 1, rationed bread has been sold at one peso in Havana, twenty times last year’s price (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 9 January 2021 — She turns around and leaves empty-handed. The old woman has approached the employee of a state bakery on a crowded El Cerro street to ask her, almost in a whisper, if she can sell her the bread at half price, but the clerk is inflexible. “They are watching us, my dear,” she tells her and behind her shoulder a sign indicates that the rationed product now sells for one peso as of January 1st, twenty times the value it had until last year.

Seven hours later, the same worker gathers up a good part of the day’s bread which has remained unsold because many of the residents of the neighborhood cannot or do not want to pay the new price for a product of poor quality and small size. A woman takes the opportunity to comment to another that “if things continue like this they will also have to back down on this measure and lower it a bit,” as the authorities did with the electricity rates and the price of a scoop of ice cream at the country’s iconic Copellia ice cream parlors.

A few years ago, it was unthinkable that a measure taken by the government would be adjusted or lowered shortly after it was announced. In the years when a man with a beard and extreme voluntarism dominated the public scene of this country, the decrees were strictly applied and the decisions taken in his office were put into motion with an obstinacy that led the country over several precipices with their correspondingly traumatic falls. continue reading

Now, perhaps due to opportunism or as a way of appearing to listen to the population more than they really do, Cuban leaders have been given to announcing second rounds or revisions for decisions previously presented as highly studied and impossible to postpone. The most skeptical point out that this attitude displays the same cynicism of the executioner who comforts the victim by assuring him that he will only deliver one cut to the neck with his sharp ax, instead of two or three.

So, in recent days we have seen how the kilowatt went from the new price of 0.40 pesos to down 0.33 for the consumers with the lowest overall usage, and how a scoop of ice cream at Coppelia shot up to seven pesos and then was readjusted to five. Such ups and downs have not gone unnoticed by anyone. In every line and on every corner, there are those who declare themselves aware of these official tricks, knowing in advance that the reported rate was just a ruse and they are proud to have warned their acquaintances that it was all a maneuver so people would end up rejoicing in a reduction that was actually an increase.

Could be. Deciphering a Power that has based part of its management on a lack of transparency and secrecy is like trying to ask the stars what will be the price for a pound of sweet potatoes at the end of this year.

If it was all a ruse to test how far the population could endure this neoliberal package, this trick is creating a very dangerous side effect for the regime. Like a disused muscle that one day begins to exercise and tries challenges for its new strength, Cubans have also read these readjustments as backward steps that officialdom has had to take after the avalanche of complaints from citizens. In other words, many have interpreted it as a fear of losing power among the men at the helm of the national ship, leading them to adjust their course a few millimeters to please their tired and emaciated sailors.

“We are going to complain on the social networks, we are going to stop buying bread at that price so you’ll see how, next week, they’ll announce on the Roundtable program that the price has been lowered,” a resident of the El Cerro neighborhood told her friend, when she asked why there was so much bread left right now in the state store at the corner by her house. “The child who doesn’t cry, no mama,” her friend reminded her.

When the protest muscle begins to warm up, the demands grow and, finally, there is no one who can stop it.

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

Diaz-Canel vs Ordinary Cubans: Equal Before the Law?

Díaz-Canel appearing on the Roundtable TV show on Cuban State television (pre-pandemic) (Twitter)

Cubalex, Lawyer Julio Alfredo Ferrer Tamayo I myself, Julio Alfredo Ferrer, filed a complaint against President Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez with the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic (FGR) for the crime of spreading epidemics. José Luis Reyes Blanco, promoted in August 2019 to FGR prosecutor by the State Council, quoted me and responded verbally.

Reyes Blanco argued that the president’s conduct did not constitute an administrative or contraventional offense nor did it typify the crime of Spreading of Epidemic, because there was no contagion or transmission of the epidemic. In view of the institution representing this criminal figure, according to doctrinal definitions, it was a crime of concrete danger.

Such an argument is an error and an attempt to guarantee impunity to public officials to the detriment of the right to equality and non-discrimination of Cuban citizens. continue reading

Debate of recognized experts on criminal law on the differences between “abstract danger” and “danger”

According to Doctor of Legal Sciences Renén Quirós Pírez, the classification of offenses of danger into “abstract” and “concrete” by Santiago Mir Puig had obscured the issue. He added that Gonzalo Rodríguez Mourullo understood that it was a contradiction to continue talking about abstract danger where there was indeed a concrete danger.

According to Dr. Quirós, the terminological question did not change the concepts. The jurist defined crimes of “concrete” danger as those in which the danger to the good as protected by criminal law is a requirement of the crime itself or one of its constituent elements. He exemplifies it with the following crime from the Cuban Penal Code:

“It is punishable by deprivation of liberty from three months to one year, or a fine of one hundred to three hundred shares*, or both, for: while having the responsibility of the operation of a drinking water supply for the population, for negligence or non-compliance with established standards, damages the quality of the water, endangering the health of the population.” [1].

This crime is of concrete danger, because the standard requires that the person who commits it, either by negligence or non-compliance with established standards, damages the quality of the water.

Crimes of “abstract” danger are those in which the act is punished because the behavior itself is dangerous. It adds, that action or omission is prohibited, because it creates a situation in which it is possible to damage the good, as protected by criminal law. The person driving a vehicle in a state of alcoholic intoxication is punished, even if in such a state he does not run over or injure someone or cause damage [2].

The Danger in the Crime of “Spreading Epidemics”

The Penal Code sanctions with imprisonment of three months to one year or a fine of between 100 and 15 thousand pesos to “in breach of measures or provisions issued by the appropriate health authorities for the prevention and control of communicable diseases and programs or campaigns for the control or eradication of serious or dangerous diseases or epidemics” [3].

On 27 May 2020, the First Criminal Chamber of the Provincial People’s Court of Cienfuegos ratified the one-year and six-month penalty of deprivation of liberty for Keilylli de la Mora Valle for a number of crimes, including the spreading of epidemics.

The Appellate Sentencing Act says “that the crime of spreading epidemics only requires that the perpetrator fails to comply with the measures provided by health authorities for the prevention and control of epidemics, and the prosecutor argued that, “in the case under review the accused actually failed to comply with one of those measures which is the correct, permanent use of a mask when taking to the streets…”

President Díaz-Canel Bermúdez also did not wear the mask correctly or maintain social distancing, when on November 29, 2020 he participated in the rally called “TANGANAZO”in Parque Trillo. He wore a mask like a bib while delivering a short speech, practically on top of the people gathered there.

All, including the highest executive authority of the Cuban nation, broke the measures or provisions issued by the appropriate health authorities in order to confront Covid-19. The Ministry of Public Health established as mandatory the correct use of the mask outside homes or places of residence, and social distancing in all public and private spaces[4].

Following the judgment sustained by the First Criminal Chamber of the Provincial People’s Court of Cienfuegos, regarding the danger in the crime of Spread of Epidemic, the President of the Republic must be held criminally liable in the same way as Keilylli de la Mora Valle, who was imprisoned for less dangerous acts than those committed by Díaz-Canel Bermúdez.

The right to equality before the law

The Public Prosecutor’s Office should seek the same legal treatment that it gave to the President of the Republic, to all those who like De la Mora Valle were punished for the crime of Spreading of Epidemic. It should push forward in favor of these others, the Review procedure before the Supreme Court, by requesting annulment of sanctions and compensating those who were unjustly imprisoned.

In the television program Mesa Redonda (Roundtable) of June 6, 2020, the Attorney General of the Republic, Yamila Peña Ojeda, reported that the spreading of epidemics was one of the criminal conducts associated with the pandemic, and that by then they had referred 1,868 criminal cases to the courts. Rubén Remigio Ferro, President of the Supreme Court, noted that 1,856 people were tried and 1,839 sanctioned for failing to comply with health measures to deal with COVID-19.

This issue is of vital importance to Cubans, especially to those imprisoned for the same crime for which the President of the Republic was exculpated. I take this opportunity to convene all the jurists inside and outside the Island to offer their considerations on the corrupt actions of the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

[1] Paragraph ch) of Section 1 of Article 194 of the Penal Code

[2] Paragraph a) of Section 1 of Article 181 of the Penal Code

[3] Paragraph 1 of Article 187 of the Penal Code

[4] Paragraphs a) and c) of Section “Tercero” of Resolution 128/2020 of the Ministry of Public Health

*Translator’s note: In Cuban legal codes fines are expressed as “shares.” In this way the definition of a “share” can be changed in one place, and all the fines throughout the code are automatically changed.

Translated by Hombre de Paz

Cuban and Central American Migrants Clash on Mexico’s Southern Border

Between January and November 2020, 4,893 Cubans had requested asylum in Mexico, according to data published by the Comar. (News from Chiapas)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lorey Saman, Mexico, 7 January 2021 — A group of Cubans stranded in Tapachula, in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico, got into a fight this Tuesday in front of the main entrance of the offices of the National Institute of Migration (INM), when they tried complete the paperwork for a humanitarian visa that allows them enter the country legally and continue their journey to the northern border to request asylum in the United States.

According to an account published in Chiapas News, the confrontation, which involved more than 1,000 Central American and Cuban migrants, began with angry shouts of “they do not want to respect the line, back, back, respect the line.”

The newspaper details that there was an exchange of “bumps and scratches” during the discussion to obtain a position in line. Many migrants who had started their paperwork on December 23 had to wait until this week to complete it because the offices closed for several days.

Fidel Hernández, a Salvadoran who was standing in line, pointed out that the Cubans had drawn up a long list of hundreds of them and that they were not allowing Central Americans to enter. He said that in the confrontation there were several injured and that the Cubans also hit each other.

A week earlier, Chiapas News reported that around 400 migrants from Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Cuba remained at the 21st Century Migration Station in Tapachula without optimal sanitary conditions due to the pandemic.

When people who are detained in the federal station can leave, they request refugee status before the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance (Comar). The process allows them to legally stay for 45 days in the city and in that time they can appeal to the Mexican immigration authorities far a humanitarian visa.

Cubans continue to enter Mexico from the south despite the closing of the borders of the Central American countries due to the pandemic. Between January and November 2020, 4,893 had requested asylum, according to data published by Comar. The island is surpassed only by Honduras with 13,404 applicants and by the 5,314 people from Haiti. In that period, only 670 Cubans successfully achieved recognition as refugees.

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“The Rice from the Bodega is So Bad I Don’t Even Want It for Free and It’s Six Pesos”

The elderly suffer the most from the price increase in Cuba since January 1st. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, Luz Escobar, 7 January 2021 — “It’s 130 pesos,” Lucinda Torres, a resident of Havana’s La Timba neighborhood, heard the clerk say, as she finished her shopping at the rationed market for the month of January on Wednesday. “Before I came with 20 or 30 pesos and my rationbook and it was enough for almost all my purchases. The prices have multiplied by about 10 times and my retirement has barely increased four,” Torres calculates on the fly.

“I don’t understand what they are doing to us, they want to implant capitalism in us, but in communism,” she says.

This first week of the year has been a headache for many Cubans, but especially for the elderly, who now have to shell out hundreds of pesos to take home the basic basket that the Government sells in the ration stores. Rice is between 6 and 10 pesos a pound, beans are between 14 and 16, minced meat at twenty, one bread roll for a peso, it all adds up to an account that does not make ends meet.

An employee with more than 20 years of experience working in front of the public in a ration store in the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución explains to 14ymedio that what causes the most concern are the high prices compared to the quality of service and products.

“Since I hung up the sign with the new prices, people have not stopped complaining, most of all the elderly,” he says. “They are partly right. For example, the rice that came this month is so bad that I don’t even want it for free; it’s broken, dirty and wet. If you’re going to pay a few pennies for it, that’s fine, but not six or seven pesos.” continue reading

Similar complaints also came to the ‘normed’ bread sold in bakeries, an 80-gram roll was 5 centavos before, now it’s one peso. Due to its poor quality, this staple food has been the main target of criticism from the population for decades, since it went from the ‘liberated’ (unrationed) market to the rationed market in the 1990s.

In some localities the bread sits on the counters unsold, thus illustrating the displeasure of many. In Ciego de Ávila in recent days, state trade officials reported that they had to “redefine the destination of some 8,000 rolls” of bread because the customers would not buy them.

Prices established by the Ministry of Internal Commerce for the ‘regulated’ family basket in the ration system. (14ymedio)

In that same province, the director of the Business Group of Commerce, Reinaldo Frómeta Romero, explained to the local media that the new food prices in the Family Attention System (SAF) have resulted in many of those registered in that system have not been helped in recent days. In these facilities, many elderly people who survive on low incomes eat their daily meals there without having to spend large sums of money.

In Havana, at the SAF establishment located on 39th Street, in the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución, an employee told this newspaper that almost no one has visited the premises since January 1. According to official data, this project serves 1,445 establishments throughout the country with a total of 77,661 registered users, including 36,298 retirees, 6,251 people with disabilities and 12,773 on social assistance.

“I know almost all of them, they come here every day in search of their lunch and their food. Nothing we sold was more than one peso and now it costs several pesos.” The man shows the price list and the ration of rice that used to cost 20 centavos is now two pesos and the bean ration is three, “a figure that most of those who come here cannot pay daily,” he says.

“Pensions went up, it is true but it happens that many of my clients do not even have a government salary, they survive doing work under the table or collecting raw materials that they later sell,” he adds.

According to official data from the Ministry of Internal Trade, the new menu costs between 8 and 13 pesos, that is, between 496 and 806 pesos per month.

The head of that ministry, Betsy Díaz Velázquez, speaking the Roundtable TV program, said that five provinces reported a reduction in visits to these facilities, due to the increase in prices, among them Santiago de Cuba, Las Tunas, Cienfuegos and the Isle of Youth. In the case three of them, more than 50% of those surveyed did not come to buy food, and in the last two the number was 49%.

The minimum pension that the Government has set starting January is 1,528 pesos but the prices for electricity, gas, transportation, fixed-line telephones, water and other basic services also increased.

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

Instar Offers Four Spaces for ‘Coworking’ at its Headquarters in Old Havana

The four spaces will be used to hold workshops, meetings, master classes, and public events. (Facebook / Instar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 January 2020 — The Hannah Arendt International Institute of Artivism (Instar) has made available to other independent projects three spaces for coworking, shared offices, at its headquarters in Old Havana, according to an announcement published this Tuesday on its social networks.

In a country marked by a housing deficit and few places for the development of independent initiatives, Instar seeks to support the growing demand for facilities to meet and work during the development of projects that do not enjoy the favor of officialdom.

“We have two types of spaces, short-term, for people who need a few hours to work with their team or hold a workshop, of those we have three,” artist Tania Bruguera told 14ymedio. “We are also going to have a space for people who need to do long-term projects, for example a week to finish a project with your team and you need to come every day and leave work items in the space.”

The artist commented that “a computer, a sound system, a projector and of course, the Instar library,” will also be available to the participants. continue reading

The practice of so-called coworking has spread internationally in recent years, but in Cuba it has only just begun hand in hand with entrepreneurs and spurred by the economic crisis that has deepened with the pandemic. So far, there are few initiatives of this type on the island aimed at civil society, independent artists, and activism.

The four locations will be used to hold workshops, meetings, master classes, and public events. The artist also explained that those interested only have to send an email to Instar to organize the schedules according to the availability that exists, “it’s free,” Bruguera said.

“It is known that the independent world in Cuba works under a constant state of siege and in precariousness because it cannot aspire to certain perks that the Government gives to other projects and we wanted to support that,” the artist declared.

“Collaborative work is a solution for the inconveniences of isolation and independence inherent to the experience of working at home,” the statement explained, detailing the new opportunity as “an outlet” for artists or activists in search of a venue.

The text emphasizes that work rules will be established very soon, “for peaceful coexistence with the rest of the projects involved.” The announcement concludes with, “The doors of Tejadillo 214 are open for you.”

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

“This Year the Three Kings Cannot Satisfy the Requests of the Children” in Cuba

Given the shortage in the stores, many parents have chosen this year to give their children sweets. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 6 January 2021 — After a week of lining up for oil, chicken, detergent and shampoo, Idania Herrera has very little desire to stand in another line. But Three Kings Day is more important than any fatigue and the little ones await their gift.

“I am tormented, I can’t find anything for the children,” the young mother told this newspaper when there were barely hours left until January 6th, the day Cuban children receive their “Christmas” presents.

The woman explains that in recent years she solved the gift problem through a friend who brought items from Panama, but with the almost complete disappearance of the ‘mules’ due to the Covid restrictions, there are no alternatives. “Yesterday I went to several stores in Centro Habana and I didn’t find anything, it’s a disgrace. Fortunately, my son was saved, because a Telegram group sold some discs of his favorite games for xBox at 250 pesos each.”

She still had her daughter. To find her a gift, she first did a search on digital classifieds sites. Informal trade networks, in principle, offer varied options, with prices ranging from 70 pesos for a counterfeit Barbie to a some skates at 5,000. continue reading

However, Herrera says that on the on-line site Revolico “there were some little things” for children but they did not convince her: “ugly dolls” at 200 pesos or “huge stuffed animals” at exorbitant prices. Her last hope was in the shops of the Playa municipality and she went there in the late morning of this Tuesday to try her luck.

Another mother who made the same journey, however, remembers that in the Playa municipality the panorama was not very different than in Centro Habana. She says she arrived at the store at 3rd and 70th at 10:00 in the morning and by the time she managed to enter it was 8:00 at night and that was hard-won because they wanted to close earlier with the justification that the connection was very slow.

“When I entered there were only shreds left and the cheese, apples, cookies were gone,” she laments. “How sad, I stood there firmly until the end to buy some sweets for my child to give them for Three Kings Day since there is nothing else and the only thing I got was a package of assorted candies at $4.95.”

“He is small, but I hope he understands that this year the Three Kings cannot accommodate requests,” the woman continues. “It saddens me to think how many children will not have that long-awaited visit because their moms simply cannot buy them something and also run their errands. How sad and disappointed I am about everything we are experiencing,” she says.

Along the same lines, another Cuban declared: “This year if the Kings do not go to a foreign exchange store beforehand, they will come with empty camels, because the only place where there are sweet cookies, chocolates and somewhat varied candies is in the MLC,” referring to the stores that only take hard currency, and even that must be presented in the form of a bank card.

“I have been working as a mule for more than eight years and normally the months of December and January are very good for sales, but this year has been precisely the worst season to sell. We can hardly travel, few people can come, a disaster for the business” says a merchant who refuses to give his name. She explains that she has her network “with reliable people” because she does not want to fall from grace. “I am very careful with myself, I have seen the great fall for going crazy, and here the last thing that can happen to you is to fall into a hospital or in jail,” she says.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the government had special sales on subsidized toys at this time through the rationed market for industrial products, an option that collapsed with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Limara Ramírez, who was allowed to choose when she was little one “basic” toy and one “non-basic” toy, today is the mother of a seven-year-old girl: “Now everything is very different than when my parents had me, everything is so expensive that the money goes to basic needs and in putting a plate of food on the table.”

A father defeated by tradition and shortages confesses: “This year I had to tell him that the Kings were mom and dad. At first he didn’t believe us, like how did they get Nutella if there isn’t any here, I had to tell him that it cost me an arm and a leg.”

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

“We’re Not Moving From Here,” Insist Travelers Stranded at Havana’s Airport

A video shows the chaos that exists in Terminal 2 of Havana’s airport. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 January 2020 — Hundreds of travelers are stranded in Cuba after the Government’s January 1st decision to reduce flights to and from the United States and five other countries, to try to stop the rebound of Covid-19 on the island.

Hundreds of travelers arrived in the country in December and were scheduled to return in the first days of January, but their flights were canceled at Terminal 2 of the José Martí International Airport in Havana.

“My brother and I have been here for two full days, feeling cold and thirsty to see if we can leave,” Sayuri, a Cuban living in Texas who has not been able to leave Havana due to lack of flights, tells this newspaper.

“We signed up on a list and we have a number over 300 but we aren’t moving from here, although they told us that they would call us by phone, because there is a lot of corruption and people who pay are put ahead of others.” The emigrant says that climbing quickly in the list “costs between 150 and 200 dollars right now.” continue reading

A video that has gone viral on digital platforms shows the chaos that exists in Terminal 2 of the capital city’s airport, where desperate travelers crowd, without social distancing and without knowing what will happen to their return tickets. They have come to the airport with their luggage and are looking for answers.

The government’s announcement to reduce the entry of travelers brought with it a wave of cancellations of airlines flying to the island.

Terminal 2, which connects the Cuban capital with the United States, the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas and Germany, is not in a position to hold so many people, it is narrow and looks like a “container,” with few food options and bathrooms.

The other countries affected by the reduction in flights (Mexico, Panama, Haiti, Bahamas and the Dominican Republic) also serve as stopovers for travelers passing through a third country to avoid US sanctions.

The Cuban government asserted that international travelers’ contacts with other people represent “71.5% of the total cases detected in recent weeks, the vast majority associated with Cuban citizens” from the countries that were restricted.

From January 10, the health authorities will require a negative PCR test for covid-19 from all international travelers. The requirement includes that the test be carried out in a certified laboratory in the country of origin and carried out within a period of 72 hours before arrival in Cuba.

The official number of daily infections of Covid-19 on the island has remained at more than 160 for six days. This Wednesday the Ministry of Health reported 201 new cases, of which 123 were contacts of confirmed cases, 65 arrived infected from abroad and 13 without a specified source of infection.

Since the pandemic began last March, the country has confirmed 13,165 people with Coronavirus and 148 have died from the disease (in a population of just over 11 million). Currently, all provinces are infected and 1,746 patients remain as active cases.

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

January 1, 2021: Cuba’s Communist Regime at the Crossroads

Fireworks in Havana 12 years ago for the 50th Anniversary of the Revolution. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

14ymedio biggerElías Amor Bravo, Economist, 1 January 2021 — The political heirs of the revolution’s first-generation leaders already have their own legend. After a speech by President Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cubans will henceforth associate January 1 with not one but two great failures in their nation’s recent history.

The results of the first — the triumph of the Revolution, which marked its 62nd anniversary at the beginning of the year — are so familiar that there is no point discussing them. The second, the beginning of the currency unification process, was announced with great fanfare by Raúl Castro himself after having written an article for Granma about the fall of Batista.

Seen from a historical perspective, this January 1 will represent the greatest accumulation of failures to befall a nation that, unfortunately, no longer knows in which direction it is moving. And while it is true that communists around the world still defend the Cuba’s revolutionary experiment, none to date have risked setting up residence in the paradise of the world’s poor, to live under the same conditions as the ordinary Cuban. continue reading

No, It’s much better to keep defending the “wonders” of the Castro regime from a comfortable office at a public relations firm in Madrid, collecting more than 5,000 euros a month for defending the indefensible.

And as it becomes increasingly difficult for these dreamers of the Cuban communist nightmare to find arguments to justify their defense of the regime, Cubans waste their time waiting in lines, unless they can pay someone else to do it for them. Those same Cubans, fed up with rationing and shortages, publicly defend pushcart vendors, whom Granma will later accuse of being speculators, against harassment by state security. They also worry about the salary or pension increases that they will not see until the middle of the month.

Added to these people’s misery is Covid-19, which continues on mercilessly, the absence of tourists in the middle of the busy season and the steady decrease in remittances that was already beginning to have a noticeable impact in November.

And now, amid messages of goodwill at year’s end, the leaders of this failed 62-year-old experiment have taken to promoting currency unification as the new national frontier. Prime Minister Manuel Marrero has been the most creative. On Twitter he expressed the conviction that “the People showed their spirit of resistance, demonstrating that YES WE COULD, YES WE CAN and YES WE ALWAYS WILL.” The question to Marrero should be: What could, can and will do we supposedly do? It is no surprise that messages like these contribute to an increasing uncertainty many Cubans have about their future.

Someone else who did not waste time was communist leader Ramiro Valdés, who rather than mentioning currency unification, returned to the basics, clearly demonstrating in which sector power lies. “We are marking the 62nd anniversary of the Revolution. It will continue to be a beacon in the fight against imperialism, oppression and injustice. That is why the people defend it and why it has many friends overseas.” That, I must to say, is open to debate. It is the kind of lighthouse whose lantern has become increasingly dim and distant. A beacon that, every time it tries to guide a ship, steers it to disaster. Just look at Venezuela.

2021 is going to be an important year for Cubans and the time for resolutions has come. Those of us who truly love Cuba, those of us who know how to distinguish between the island that gave us birth and the government that has been in power for sixty-two years, are not going to fall for its subterfuges. Though the government is a failure, it will not succeed in dragging down the nation. In Cuba there are many people outside of politics who feel, like me, that if democratic and pluralistic elections were held, they could really test the current government’s level of popular support. Ramiro Valdés knows this. That is why he talks about the people defending the Revolution. But what percentage? How many Cubans?

Equating Cuba with its regime is a ploy used by its cheerleaders when writing in support of Castroism but which should, at this point, no longer confuse us. Or allow us to fall for the regime’s propaganda traps. There are many Cuban alternatives to Castroism. Out there is a pluralistic, vigorous and competitive society, when the conditions are right for it.

This is the time for New Year’s resolutions.Cuba deserves a better future and this blog, which is celebrating its first decade, wishes all readers a VERY HAPPY 2021.

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