14ymedio Headline News Summary: Venezuela Quadruples Oil Exports to Cuba in May

A Venezuelan oil tanker. (Pdvsa.com)

 , Venezuela, 24

Details (in Spanish) are here.

A note to TranslatingCuba.com readers: The purpose of our project is to translate independent Cubans writing from the Island. In addition to its own articles, 14ymedio also publishes syndicated articles which we rarely translate. In the interest of ensuring our readers get critical news about Cuba from whatever source, we are going to experiment with these “News Summaries.”

’Cuba Posible’ Dissolves Its Board of Directors Due to "Too Difficult" Circumstances

Lenier González and Roberto Veiga have been the most visible faces within the ’Cuba Posible’ project. (14ymedio)

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14ymedio, Havana, 20 May 2019 — The promoters of the Cuba Posible (Possible Cuba) project announced Monday the dissolution of its board of directors, the cancellation of its association registration in Spain and the cessation of new publications on its digital site. “We will not be able to execute, at least for who knows how long, the work in the way it has been managed,” they said in a statement.

In statements to 14ymedio, the organization’s director, Roberto Veiga, said that “the nucleus of actors that make Cuba Posible insist on maintaining the project and will continue working in a way that is feasible in the midst of the current circumstances,” but recognizes that these are “too difficult.”

Cuba Posible exists and will exist as long as one of those who authentically builds it every day remains, which is not just Lenier González and me,” he clarifies. continue reading

In the statement published this May 20, they denounce that “the Cuba Posible Ideas Laboratory is traveling through a very arid desert” and in the midst of “the greatest darkness of night,” adding, “A set of actors has used all the mechanisms and methods of powerful institutions to undo our work opportunities.”

In September of last year, Roberto Veiga and Lenier González, director and deputy director of the project, had detailed in an interview with 14ymedio the attempts by the authorities of the Island to strangle Cuba Posible, the misunderstandings of the Catholic Church, and the suspicions of the more radical sectors of the opposition. Some circumstances that, despite being adverse, had not caused them to cancel the project.

However, they now claim that the pressures have “dismantled and broken, in an acute manner, the most basic internal conditions necessary to develop the work, as well as the network of collaborators and the interlocutions within the Island.” A phenomenon that extends outside Cuba where “it has been impossible to access financing for a long time.”

This negative scenario has led the promoters of the project to cancel the registation of the Association in Spain, since maintaining it “would cost a financial figure impossible to own.” They have also dissolved the Assembly and the Board of Directors of Cuba Posible, while the website, with serious technical and programming implications, will remain as a “file of all the work done.”

The note clarifies that “Cuba Posible, even under such conditions, will not disappear, will not fail to support the country.” It will persist, at least, in the search for a “mini-confluence” between “diverse opinions” on “core issues” of the Cuban society. ” To maintain that presence, it will act as a “diverse community.”

Veiga and González became known as of 2005, when under the aegis of the Catholic Church they assumed the responsibility of the magazine Espacio Laical (Lay Space) which, more than a religious publication in print and digital version, worked for a decade as a “zone of tolerance for political debate.”

In 2014 they were both requested to resign from the magazine’s board, because the Catholic Church came to recommend that they should reduce their “excessive political profile,” Veiga later acknowledged. After leaving Laical Space they founded Cuba Posible, as a space of greater plurality and debate.

The new project was framed in the midst of the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana and the end of the European Common Position with respect to the island. Veiga and González became an obligatory reference for a reformist sector willing to dialogue with all parties and were harshly criticized by those who accused them of representing a “third way” — apart from the ruling party and the opposition — and of trying to become, surreptitiously, a political force.

Soon after, the first public attacks from digital sites managed by official spokespersons began. In numerous texts the two men and their project were linked to destabilizing projects orchestrated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the origin of their funding was questioned and they were accused of intentions to destabilize the country.

In the blog La Pupila Insomne (The Sleepless Pupil), a digital space focused on denigrating the critics of the Cuban process, Cuba Posible was accused of undertaking “evidently counterrevolutionary work” and of being “a project armed with US funding.”

This campaign to execute the project’s reputation resulted in many collaborators who worked in state academic institutions distancing themselves from the project. González denounced that the defamation campaigns against Cuba Posible, which came to be reflected in a meeting of the rector of the University of Havana with all the deans and faculty where the men were linked with the US administration and accused of intentions to overthrow the Cuban regime.

In recent months, most of the employees who refused to leave the project were expelled from their jobs and few of the group remain in the country. “Although they do not blame us for their situation, we feel that we have an enormous responsibility,” says González.

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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.

Havana’s Anti-Imperialist Platform is Being Demolished to Build Office Buildings

On Monday afternoon heavy equipment had already knocked down some of the concrete columns of the structure. (14ymedio)

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14ymedio, Havana, 21 May 2019 — The Anti-Imperialist Platform, a symbol of Fidel Castro’s Battle of Ideas, will be replaced by something much more prosaic: two two-story buildings designed to house offices. The construction manager and several workers involved in the dismantling of the monument told 14ymedio that this is the future that awaits the emblematic place, the dismantling of which has been a topic of conversation in recent days.

On Monday afternoon heavy equipment had already knocked down some of the concrete columns of its structure. One of the brigade chiefs who has worked there since last week said the order is to demolish everything, including the “Hill of Flags.” “We ourselves spent nine days lifting the arches into place, and now they told us we had to come and tear them down,” he explained.

The José Martí Anti-Imperialist Platform of Havana was built in 2000 and was known by Cubans as “the protestódromo” (protest-dome) because in its beginnings it served as the venue for the events and marches that demanded the return of Elián González to the island. continue reading

Later it was used for concerts and political events of all kinds. Its arches were directed to what was then the United States Interests Section, now the Embassy, and in fact one of the reasons it was built was to cover the illuminated sign that the US building had installed on its facade which operated as a news ticker, scrolling world news items to inform Cuban citizens about events censored by Cuban television.

The “Mount of Flags” was added six years after the creation of the bandstand, and had 138 flagpoles and the same number of flags. Initially the flags were black with a white star in the middle, meant to represent Cubans killed by terrorism. Later Cuban flags were flown. It was erected over what was previously a parking lot in front of the US Interests Section and was inaugurated on February 6, 2006 by Fidel Castro.

Thus, the set was finalized for an intense political campaign that included everything from weekly public events, known as Tribunas Abiertas, to the “social workers” program.

The Mount of Flags was added six years after the creation of the Platform. (14ymedio)

The worker engaged on Monday in the dismantling said that “the sculpture of José Marí carrying the child stays.” There is no official information on the reasons for the demolition, nor for the construction plans. Nor do the neighbors of site have any knowledge about the actions.

The Mount of Flags was added six years after the creation of the platform.

“They didn’t tell us anything here, one day we got up and there they were, knocking down everything,” said a resident in the area.

The Platform was built in 80 days after 24-hour days in which almost 2,000 workers participated, including technicians, architects and engineers from various provinces of the country.

The work included vertical steel towers and arches of the same material placed on the site from front to back. The towers and arches are mounted on two-meter high concrete foundations that are already being demolished. The floor, conceived with the colors of the Cuban flag — red, blue and white — is also being removed.

After the most political period of the use of the platform, some important concerts were held there, including Manu Chao, the Air Supply duo, Calle 13, Olga Tañón, Audioslave and, more recently, the packed concert of DJ Diplo and Major Lazer.

The monument’s proximity to the sea required regular maintenance of the huge arches and the rest of the infrastructure, but over the years these repairs were spaced out and the Anti-imperialist Platform quickly deteriorated and showed the damages caused by the sun and salt spray.

In September of last year, a report published on the Cubanet site showed the poor condition of the dressing rooms and the structure of the stage. The weather phenomena of recent years also contributed to the destruction of a work that symbolized an era of continuous calls to attend official demonstrations.

Photos of the “Protestodrome” during a concert in January 2008:

The red lights in the middle of the photo are the news ticker on the U.S. Interest Section behind the site. The non-controversial news being scrolled that evening was that the mountain climber Edmund Hillary had died. The flagpoles are empty.
A longer view. This event was a free concert but not a major one.  The Malecon and the ocean are to the right.

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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.

Take Over in Venezuela

Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez during a state visit to Caracas in 2000.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luis Nieto, Montevideo, May 14, 2019 — Hugo Chavez’s first visit to Uruguay might have gone unnoticed but for two local politicians: General Liber Seregni refused to meet with the leader of a military coup and Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro, a man was always on the lookout for a soldier with whom he could share power, had long championed him.

Standing atop a mountain of foreign money, Chavez laid the foundations for his 21st century version of socialism at a time when the Marxist-Leninist model had collapsed all over the world, as if struck by lightning. A Venezuelan soldier, who had made a name for himself by attempting a coup d’etat against a social-democratic president, suddenly took on the gargantuan task of finding a new path to achieving socialism, and of redefining socialism itself.

Two classic socialist pamphlets — Lenin’s What Is to Be Done? and Mao’s Little Red Book — seemed outmoded after Lieutenant Colonel Chavez believed he had found a formula in those billions of dollars which later were lost to bribes, theft, gifts and purchases of goodwill that could tilt the scales of any international organization. Much of that fortune went to a business partner willing to share its revolutionary know-how: Fidel Castro’s Cuba. continue reading

Until it collapsed, the Soviet Union paid the Cuban government the equivalent of roughly five billion dollars a year to turn the island into one big aircraft carrier stationed a few miles off the coast of its main enemy. But by 1990, as the Eastern European Socialist Bloc collapsed, things had started to go very badly for Castro and his countrymen. No solution had appeared on the horizon until a somewhat unsophisticated soldier swaggered into Castro’s office, desperate to be seen as a comrade. Chavez did not make a good impression on Castro. He was not to Castro’s taste but his petroleum was. He came from a country on which Castro had long set his sights, so the Cuban leader lent his support in the form of guerilla fighters.

In his over-exuberance, Chavez made a proposal to Fidel Castro that they unify their two countries. The island’s strongman latched onto the idea immediately but had no intention of publicizing it. As it turned out, things happened as Chavez had proposed, but on Fidel Castro’s terms: in the form of medical help to a friendly country.

The Cuban government gave Ramiro Valdes, one of the original leaders of the Cuban revolution, the task of getting 20,000 Cuban soldiers into Venezuela. Valdes then took command of the unofficial new country, appropriating its anthems, flags and diplomatic missions, and setting a single military command structure. Only after the current president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, and his deputies took charge of the resistance did the scope of Cuba’s intervention become widely known.

Is there a moral justification for spying on a foreign government, meddling in its politics and influencing its political parties because of some perceived “good.” What is the “noble goal”? Is socialism as we know it a dream to be pursued or a nightmare from which we are never allowed to wake up?

Of course, the vast majority of Uruguayans reject the notion of a another country such as the United States, whether the president be Trump or Obama, determining the direction and manner we choose to legitimately exercise the right to elect our leaders.

But it is also true that the reason the Uruguayan left ruminates so furiously is because it has run out of formulas to copy and paste. The smell of gunpowder still lingers on, because once all the bloodsuckers are exterminated, the world should be a paradise for all humanity, singing with our fists held high. But that has not come to pass.

On his deathbed Chavez named Maduro as his successor. The choice was between Maduro or Diosdado Cabello. He had no doubt that the former bus driver from Caracas would make a good workers’ president. Cabello, by contrast, had never enjoyed a friendly relationship with the Cubans.

Maduro is the product of a Cuban political training center run by the Union of Young Communists while the current minister of defense, Vladimir Padrino Lopez, is a member of the first graduating class of a school run by the Cuban army for senior Venezuelan officials. Cabello was left to deal with narcotrafficking, a political bomb always about to go off.

The threat of invasion from the United States is somewhat like the tale of the bogeyman. In fact, it is just as dangerous to let Cuba remain there, eternalizing the crisis, with the result being hunger, misery and death. The Cuban regime’s needs to squeeze out every last drop of Venezuelan wealth to pay for the failure of its socialist model.

Juan Guaidó and his deputies in the National Assembly advance and retreat before trying again, both in Venezuela and abroad. It is the struggle of David against Goliath.

Meanwhile, in a meeting on Friday, May 3, member countries of the Lima Group — Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cost Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru — passed a resolution asking Cuba to play a role in resolving the Venezuelan conflict.

Finally, somebody gets it. The opposition’s improvisational approach has called its strategy into question. After the president of the Venezuelan parliament issued an executive order for the release of Leopoldo Lopez, representatives of the Lima Group countries adopted three measures in support of  the National Assembly: 1) an investigation into money laundering by business associates, relatives and officials with ties to the Maduro government, 2) actions aimed at those countries propping up the regime (Russia, China, Turkey and Cuba) to convince them that supporting Maduro is not the best option and 3) support for the agenda of the Venezuelan parliament, specifically its calls for Maduro to step aside, a transitional government and free elections.

None of this was possible a few months ago.  The courage and the successes of the deputies of the National Assembly have opened the way, although some only consider their mistakes.

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Editor’s note: This editorial was previously published in the Uruguayan weekly Voces and is reproduced here with permission of the author.

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

The Government Announces Catfish Paste to Be Used in Processed Meats

Food processing center at Calzada de Dolores.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jorge A. Gómez and Mario J. Pentón, Cienfuegos / Miami , 17 May 2019 — Juan Manes Suárez, a specialist at the Provincial Gastronomy Company, told workers that, starting next Monday, catfish paste would be used in the production of processed ham, sausage and chorizo due to “the shortage of animals available for slaughter and retail sale.”

He added that the croquettes and hamburgers produced for the retail market would be made with rice flour or sweet potatoes due to a shortage of wheat flour, which he attributed to “the economic problems the country is experiencing.”

Just a day earlier, the minister of internal trade, Betsy Díaz Velázquez, had stated on Twitter that producing alternative foods would be given high-priority in order to address retail supply shortages, though she offered no further details in response to skepticism expressed by Twitter followers who challenged her. continue reading

On the Cuban television show Round Table Díaz Velázquez blamed the shortages on the United States, which recently decided to enforce Titles III and IV of the Helms-Burton Act for the first time. She claimed that the current situation is temporary and that the decision to increase rationing is “supported by the people.”

“Everyone has to wait in line,” says Yaquelin Contreras, a 26-year-old Cienfuegos resident. “Things just get worse and worse. We are the country of lines. I spent two hours outside the Mercado Habana waiting to buy chicken. Just as I got to the front door, they ran out. Later, the same thing happened when I went to buy cooking oil at Casa Mimbre.”

Contreras also regrets the austerity measures, especially since customers are already burdened by poor conditions at retail establishments.

“All the stores and workplaces have banned air conditioning to save money,” she says. “They put fifty or a hundred people in a hermetically sealed office to process paperwork. The heat is unbearable. It’s unsanitary and people who work there are always in a bad mood.”

For months supplies of medications have also been lower than normal in Cuba.

Iris Hourruitiner, a retiree living in the Buena Vista neighborhood, believes she is seeing a return to the days of the “Special Period.”

“On television they are constantly saying that everything will be all right. I remember that’s what they said in the 1990s. I still have some recipes from those days for beefsteak made from grapefruit rinds. Thank God I learned to make sugar cane liquor from green tomatoes. I am well-prepared for this second Special Period,” she jokes.

Hourruitiner, a fervent Catholic, regrets that the government does not allow charitable organizations such as Caritas to have a greater presence on the island. “People have been going hungry in Cuba for the last sixty years. The government knows this but doesn’t want to solve the problem. If they were allowed, there are institutions that could provide food. If [the government] really cared about people’s suffering, it ought to let other dispassionate parties help.”

Shortages also extend to other sectors of the market such as pharmaceuticals. Enalapril, Atenolol, hydrochlorothiazide, Dipironas, and metformin have been unavailable for approximately four months. Discussions among patients in line at pharmacies to obtain these drugs have led authorities to intervene in order to bring some order to the long lines.

Cuba is experiencing severe rationing of food and other essential products. Failure to pay what it owes to its main suppliers (now totalling 1.5 billion dollars), the debacle of the Maduro regime (its principal benefactor and ally), and the increase in sanctions by the United States have backed the island’s fragile economy into a corner.

Among the newly rationed products are chicken, eggs, rice, beans, soap and tooth paste. Even in hard currency stores customers are limited in the number of products they may buy, which has led to long lines throughout the island.

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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.

‘14ymedio’: Five Years Since That First Day

The 14ymedio newsroom, located in this building in Havana, has been home to a great deal of work, nerves and time pressures these last five years.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 21 May 2019 – Today is 14ymedio’s birthday. This “informational creature” celebrates its five years of existence between the challenges that remain to be achieved and the satisfaction of having come this far. For any publication to survive five years is a test of maturity, but in the case of Cuba, where the independent media are prohibited and censored, it is a true act of boldness and persistence.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since that May 21, 2014. The dawns became intense, coffee cups accumulated on the tables of our newsroom in Havana, the stories to be told multiplied and, more than once, our journalistic work led to one of the reporters on our team behind the bars of a dungeon, arbitrarily detained.

In this time we, too, have changed. The reports, notes and interviews we did left a mark on the entire editorial board. We said goodbye to some colleagues who emigrated, we tried to console others who decided not to continue publishing for fear of reprisals, and we welcomed new faces. We broke several forecasts that predicted barely a few months of existence, and convinced some skeptics that what we have is information, good journalism and the press. continue reading

At the beginning all our editorial communications were made through the Nauta email system, there were no Wi-Fi zones in parks and squares, the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana had not begun, cruise ships had not yet docked in Cuban ports, and Fidel Castro continued to publish his delirious ‘Reflections’ in the official press.

In this time, we also extended to other platforms and now part of our content is disseminated through instant messaging such as WhatsApp and Telegram. We inaugurated an information podcast, and we maintain a weekly e-mail newsletter, routinely issue a PDF of the week’s news every Friday, engage in numerous collaborations with various media, and opened a membership program.

There was no shortage of tough days. Moments when it seemed like we were not going to make it. There are still many of those, but every comment left by a reader, a word of encouragement that we hear in the streets or from social networks, someone who manages to make their story visible through our pages and solve their problem, are the greatest stimuli to continue.

The pillars that sustain us remain solid: to perform better journalism every day and to maintain our economic independence, without receiving a penny from governments, parties or groups in power. Our objective is intact. Like the dinosaur in Augusto Monterroso’s story*, we want Cuba to embark on the path of democratic change and for 14ymedio to be there, accompanying citizens with information.

*Translator’s note: Monterroso’s story, in its entirety, reads: “When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.”

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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.

Billboards Versus Laws

In some corners of Havana a sports-inspired billboard criticizes the Helms-Burton Act. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 16 April 2019 — As in the old days of the most heated ideological battles, the Cuban regime has again called on the propaganda machinery to use it against the activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.

But Cuba is not experiencing a time of many resources, and with the state coffers all but empty, the authorities have not been able to much more than criticize the posture of the United States in the media and on billboards.

The era of massive demosntrations filling the “Anti-Imperialist Tribune” in front of the United States Embassy along the coast, and canceling classes so that the students could participate in these acts of revolutionary reaffirmation seems to have remained in the past. Nor are there resources to distribute thousands of T-shirts with patriotic slogans or mockeries of the US president.

The ideological scaffolding seems to be in the doldrums, at least in terms of resources.

In some corners of Havana a sports-inspired billboards criticizes the claims against companies that engaged in business with properties confiscated after Fidel Castro’s arrival inn power. With dull colors and the final letters almost incomplete, the poster is a clear symbol of the times, a time when even the prioritized ideological battle faces economic hardships.

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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 Police Search for Person Responsible for LGBTI March

A soldier organizes the repression while dozens of activists film the unprecedented LGBTI march on Saturday in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 May 2019 — The Cuban Police are looking for the person responsible for the LGBTI march last Saturday, which has been a real headache to the authorities. If the government sponsored Cuban National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex) thought that their call for a boycott of the march would help to close ranks with officialdom, the force used against protesters who claimed diversity in a festive atmosphere has served to put the international media focus on an authority that represses homosexuals.

Now, with the disaster consummated, the Plaza of the Revolution tries to locate some kind of leader who came up with the idea of marching as an alternative to the cancelled Conga Against Homophobia. This Thursday, the designer and LGBT activist, Roberto Ramos Mori, was arrested at the entrance to his workplace in Old Havana, the gallery workshop La Marca, by agents of the State Security.

Around 5:30 in the afternoon, a man who did not identify himself, handcuffed Ramos and put him in a vehicle in the presence of his colleagues after warning him: “You calm down.” continue reading

Ramos was detained for approximately four hours, according to what he told 14ymedio. “They took me to the Zanja Police Station, nothing happened in the car, there was no violence. At the station they made me wait a tremendous amount of time for the investigator, who did not arrive,” he says. The designer is one of those activists of the LGBTI community who participated in the march last week in Prado.

“They are looking for the manager [of the 11 May March],” he says. The activist explains that, when the investigator arrived at the station, they took him to an interrogation room, where the officer told him: “I know it was you who organized the march.” “I was there but I did not organize anything,” Ramos replied.

The designer maintains that he was “aware that he was breaking the law” when he decided to attend the independent demonstration, but that “there are times when one has to say it’s time.”

During the interrogation they wanted to know his relationship with other people who participated in the march but he didn’t know them. “They asked me if I knew Oscar Casanella or Urquiola, but I have nothing to do with them, my friends are a bunch of tattoo geeks,” he says. He adds that if he knew about Urquiola it is “because of everything that happened to him,” recently.

“I did not like that they did not officially cite me, I did not like that they went to La Marca, my place of work, and they handcuffed me and took me in a private car in front of my colleagues who did not understand what was happening,” denounces Ramos.

In fact, before taking him off in handcuffs, one of the officers, dressed in civilian clothes, entered La Marca asking Ramos to accompany him to show him some designs because he wanted to get a tattoo. When he refused to do it the man asked him to bring him the drawings and insisted on dealing only with him in the car. Finally, he took him off in handcuffs.

Artists and work colleagues mobilized on the networks in solidarity with the designer and demanded his release.

The LGBTI march last Saturday was suppressed by the forces of State Security and the police working jointly after it marched successfully from Central Park to Prado and the Malecón. Since the march had been called via social networks, the authorities were looking for a person responsible for the initiative, but activists and supporters insist that it was something spontaneous and without leaders.

The director of the National Center for Sexual Education, Mariela Castro Espin, Raul Castro’s daughter, described those who promoted the march as “lackeys of mercenary activism” and said that everything had been organized from Miami and Matanzas, but she was not able to show a single proof of her accusation.

Roberto Ramos Mori, 44, as well as an activist, is well known in the world of culture for his creative work. He graduated in Industrial Design from the Higher Institute of Design in the specialty of clothing. He worked as a designer at the El Público Theater Company and is coordinator at La Marca studio, where he also organizes concerts and community activities.

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

The Scene of the Disaster

The place where the plane crashed on 18 May 2018 (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 May 2019 — Charred tree trunks and an abandoned hut is the landscape that marks the site where, a year ago, 112 people lost their lives as a result of the fall of flight DMJ-972, on its way to the province of Holguín.

“Once again life can be born when in dreams and fire we were surprised by death…” reads one of the walls. Just below, the remains of what seems to have been a floral offering, and all around a disturbing silence that is only interrupted by the fearsome roar of another plane that has just taken off from the nearby airport.

To get here I followed the instructions of a private taxi driver took the family of one of the deceased to the place: “If you go on the P12 bus to Santiago de las Vegas, you will get off at Eduardo Garcia high school (two stops before the Mulgoba station.) Walk about 300 meters to where there is a fork and turn left where the Civil Aviation Services company (Servac) is. When you get to the train line, turn left and walk along it and there, at about 30 meters, you will see everything.” continue reading

A very high, burnt out coconut tree is the first thing you see when you get to the place. (14ymedio)

A very high burnt out coconut tree is the first thing you notice. Between the train line and the ground where the impact occurred there is a ditch. A singed bottle of sunscreen suggests that they did not pick up everything. It is the same scene from those dramatic videos uploaded to social networks. I close my eyes and can see a stretcher carried by four men with a green sheet covering a body with the leg hanging down, as in Huidobro’s verse: “…hypnotizes reality like the wheel that keeps turning after the catastrophe.”

The few neighbors do not want to comment. “This was filled with journalists and everyone asked the same thing,” says a woman who is taking her granddaughter to school. “The truth is, I do not even want to remember, I think about the dead and the crying of their relatives, nobody is prepared for that.”

On my way back, I talk to an employee of the Servac Company. In order not to look like a journalist, and to start the conversation, I ask him if there are any positions open for custodians and the man responds. “Do you remember the plane that fell a year ago? Well, look, since then they have already kicked out about a hundred people. And not because they were to blame for something, but because there were no more flights so they didn’t need their work… How would there be jobs?!”

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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.

Tragic Crash on Havana’s Malecon Leaves Three Dead and Dozens Injured

A wounded man is taken to the hospital after a tragic crash on Havana’s Malecón. (Ricardo Gómez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 May 2019 — In the late night hours of Sunday mornng three people died and 21 were injured in Havana after being run over by a classic American car, known on the island as an “almendrone*”, veered off the road and  and climbed the sidewalk in the area of 23rd Street and the Malecón, a busy area during the early hours on weekends.

The director of Calixto García hospital, Edilberto González, explained that five of the injured people admitted remain in serious condition, four of them were operated on and a young woman is serious to critical. Three minors were referred to the Juan Manuel Márquez Pediatric Hospital.

So far, the names of three of the deceased have been announced: Ulises Canales López, Franklin Baket Hernández (52 years old and a resident in Guantanamo) and Osmany González Claro, 45 years old and residing in Guanabacoa, Havana. continue reading

In addition, he reported that among the injured people treated in that hospital are two foreigners with orthopedic injuries — whose identities and nationalities were not detailed in the report.

The specialist indicated that most of the injuries of the patients injured in by the crash were in the limbs, skull and trauma in the abdomen. The causes of the crash are being investigated by the authorities.

One of the witnesses of the crash told 14ymedio that “an American car lost its brakes, climbed the sidewalk and then continued along the wall, killing people.”

“It was horrible,” said the woman, still shocked by the crash. In the social networks videos and photographs are circulated where bodies can be seen on the ground with people shouting shortly after the events, while the police tried to cordon off the area.

This massive crash is one more in a series of crashes in Cuba. In 2018, 10,070 crashes were recorded in Cuba, leaving 683 dead and 7,730 injured, with a frequency of one every 52 minutes, according to data from the National Road Safety Commission.

The country has a high rate of traffic crashes attributed, among other factors, to the advanced age of the fleet (most of the vehicles in circulation are more than 20 years old and many more than 60 years old) and the precarious vehicle maintenance that is frequently carried out in an makeshift way.

During the mandatory inspections carried out in 2018, “technical deficiencies” were detected in 44% of the cars tested (63,966), mainly due to the braking system, steering and lights.

In addition, more than 36,000 vehicle circulation permits were withdrawn due to lact of updated technical checks.

Among the main causes of crashes, the National Road Safety Commission identifies improper overtaking, not paying attention to the control of the car, violation of the right of way, speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol and technical defects.

*Translator’s note: The classic American cars still common in Cuba are nicknamed “almendrones” in reference to their “almond” shape.

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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.

"Good Morning to My Customers"

The bus ticket agency located at 41st and 30th streets in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 May 2019 — Maybe because the National Bus Ticket Agency on 41st street at the corner of 30th in Havana’s Playa municipality is next to a theater, you might think that what happens every day at 8 o’clock in the morning is a performance, designed to mock of several things at the same time: the bureaucracy, the authoritarianism and especially the disparagement on anyone calling themselves a customer, but who does not happen to be a user, more or less subsidized.

The truth is that it is a ritual that takes place in the ticket reservation offices of the capital whose purpose is to guide the aspiring passengers to learn about their dwindling rights and their overwhelming obligations.

His arrival on the stage happens with punctuality. Dressed soberly, perfectly shaved and pronouncing all the letters of all the words, the actor, that is the second administrator of the Agency, is placed in  corner protected from the inclement sun which, at 8 o’clock in the morning attacks the facade of the building at an almost horizontal angle. A discreet earring in his left ear gives him an air of tolerant and understanding person. continue reading

He utters the same phrase in a low voice every morning. “Good morning to my customers” and he pauses, often rehearsed, because he knows that those who have remained at the edge of the tumult can not hear him and as everyone wants to receive their “clear directions” he manages to divide his audience into two parts, on the one side the undisciplined who do not shut up and the obedient ones who demand silence.

His customers have spent most of the night in a line with the intention of having a place that allows them to get a ticket to another province for the desired date. Some clever people have arrived even earlier and are dedicated to selling their places in the line to the unsuspecting who appeared at the time of opening.

“Good morning to my customers,” he repeats, almost condescending and then informs them that today is Saturday and consequently the Agency concludes its work at eleven-thirty in the morning.

“Our jobs is to sell the tickets for trips between today and August 15, and I speak of the outward trips that are sold 90 days in advance, because as you know, the returns are sold 105 days in advance, that is, from today until August 30.”

Every time he says “from today” he knows that he is stating a formality because in real life those who have spent the early morning waiting at the office have come to buy a ticket for August 15th and returning by the 30th. Because everyone knows that it would be a miracle if there were any tickets left for any of the days before that, much less for today or tomorrow.

An employee of the ticket agency details the intricate details, one by one, to buy a ticket. (14ymedio)

Then he says something that gives hope to those present: “As you know on Saturday we sell the same dates as on Friday, so yesterday we were also offering for the same days as today, and today we will sell what was left from yesterday… if there was anything left “

Undoubtedly, this man is a professional communicator and knows that he must offer certain warnings, for example, he explains to his clients that when they speak of one-way tickets, they refer to those leaving Havana and that those for a Return are those that come from other provinces ending in the capital.

He is respectful when he says “when you go to the ticket office you must have enough money to pay for the ticket.” He adds that they must pay in national currency because the CUC (Cuban convertible peso) is not accepted here and that if they are short a peso they can not buy the desired ticket.

From time to time he is silent and glares at those who have dared to interrupt him, but he does not get upset, he just recommends that they listen to him because when they are in front of the window it will be too late.

He feels it necessary to indicate to those who listen to him that when they talk to the clerk at the ticket office, they should do so through the hole in the glass and that when they tell the date they should say it with numbers, first the day and then the month. To avoid regrettable confusions. It specifies that June is month 6, July is month 7 and August is month 8.

When he thinks he has said almost everything, the person in charge of informing the clients makes it known that the priorities or privileges in the line are duly regulated.

“In the first place the physically disabled, with their corresponding identification (physical handicap card), those who only come to reinstate their passage because they changed their trip, employees and inmates showing their pass.

Aware of the sensibility sparked by a woman with a babe-in-arms or a pregnant one, he clarifies that the Agency does not include these among the priorities and that is “a matter of the line.” Before the innocent and surprised spectators he confesses: “Some pregnant women or women with babies in their arms come here and buy tickets for the whole family, but not for themselves.”

Finally the diligent employee makes it known that only 4 seats are sold in each car and that if someone has paid money to a “colero” to stand in line for them, they should know that this does not guarantee that they will get a ticket.

Before saying goodbye, he gladly offers to answer any question, which he does with kindness and knowledge.

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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.

142 Congolese Students Who Protested in Havana Sent Home

The police broke into the university campus of the Salvador Allende School of Medicine in Havana to end the protest. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 May 2019 — This Wednesday afternoon, 142 Congolese students who protested in Havana for the non-payment of their scholarships were repatriated. The police took the young people to the José Martí International Airport in paddy wagons, some of them belonging to the Santiago de las Vegas police station, 14ymedio was able to confirm.

The students were moved at the end of April to the Machurrucutu Hotel, located in the Bauta municipality of the province of Artemisa. The place has traditionally been used to house and train Cuban doctors who go on a mission to Venezuela because of its proximity to the airport in Havana.

“We are heavily guarded as if we were prisoners, they do not let us leave or allow anyone to visit us,” one of the youths told this newspaper. “The situation is very oppressive and they treat us as if we were murderers when all we were doing was demanding our rights.” continue reading

From the hotel, the young people were taken to the airport without being able to say goodbye to theircolleagues who remained in Cuba. “We’re leaving with what we’re wearing because they did not allow us to pick up our belongings or say goodbye to our friends,” added the source, who preferred anonymity.

At the airport, an immigration service was set up in front of the airplane ladder to avoid having contact with the rest of the passengers who waited in the terminal.

The Cuban official press also reported the transfer and stated that “66 students who had violently demanded late fees in their scholarships before the Embassy of the Congo in Havana” are on the list of those expelled.

“These students crossed the red line, showed an unpleasant behavior, incuding on social networks and we saw one of them fight with a Cuban policeman,” added Jean-Claude Gakosso, Congolese Foreign Minister.

“The Cuban authorities no longer want them in their territory,” he added during a meeting on Tuesday with the parents of these students.

The cause of the repatriation of the other 76 students is described as “having registered a succession of failures (academic), both in Medicine and in learning the official language of Cuba (Spanish),” explained Bruno Jean-Richard Itua, Minister of Higher Education of the African country.

Gakosso was recently in Havana to talk with the Cuban authorities about the crisis triggered by the students’ protest, an event of great repercussion on national public opinion and in some cases international.

In early April, the protest organized by this group of medical students was repressed by a strong deployment of the National Revolutionary Police along with special troops and officers of the Ministry of the Interior (Minint). The Congolese demanded the payment of their scholarships that had been delayed over 27 months and better conditions in the university residences.

The Congolese students began with a protest strike of not attending class, to which the authorities reacted with surveillance in the student residences. Finally, the operation was moved to the campus of the Salvador Allende school in the Altahabana district of Boyeros municipality.

The students recorded images that they spread through social networks in which they showed riot police running towards the protest area, previously cordoned off by a group of uniformed men. A police officer came to point a gun at two students, one of whom assaulted another of the agents while he was arrested.

The Ministry of Public Health issued a note hours later in the official press explaining that the “incidents” caused by the Congolese students due to the “difficulties faced by the Ministry of Higher Education in their country (…) to pay their stipend “became violent” yesterday, which required police intervention. The note highlighted that “indiscipline will not be allowed and the appropriate measures will be adopted.”

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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.

IAPA Sees No Reason to Celebrate International Press Freedom Day

Mauren Barriga and Leonardo Muñoz, and the Spaniard Gonzalo Domínguez. The three journalists were arrested in Caracas in 2019. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 May 2019 — The president of the Inter-American Press Association, María Elvira Domínguez, has broadcast a message for World Press Freedom Day in which she says that it is not a day “to celebrate in our Americas” where the murder of journalists, arrests and censorship continue to restrict the work of informing.

“We can not celebrate when the authoritarian regimes of Daniel Ortega, Nicolás Maduro and Miguel Díaz-Canel repress, censure freedom of the press, freedom of expression and the right of citizens to freedom of assembly and to demonstrate peacefully,” the director of the Colombian newspaper El País also emphasized.

Dominguez remembers journalists Miguel Mora and Lucía Pineda, who “are still in jail in Nicaragua without due process” and also the alarming figures of reporters who lost their lives in the region. “Since May 2018, 26 journalists were killed in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Honduras and the United States, crimes perpetrated by corrupt officials, organized crime gangs and criminals who wanted to silence their complaints,” he adds. continue reading

“Nor can we have peace of mind when in countries like Mexico the system of protection and security of journalists has failed and is inefficient, we can not be satisfied when the majority of crimes against journalists occur in total impunity,” laments the president of the IAPA.

As an additional concern, Dominguez notes the existence of “stigmatization campaigns carried out by democratic leaders that seek to reduce the credibility of the press to govern with greater comfort, as has been happening in Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and the United States.”

In these circumstances it is impossible, says the journalist, to have “peace when freedom of the press and expression are besieged by violent discussions that occur in social networks, as well as polarization.” In his text, he denounces “the tendentious dissemination of information that seeks to twist elections through false news disseminated by battalions of bots and cybermilitants.”

In the midst of the turbulent situation in Venezuela, the president of the IAPA regrets that official censorship disrespects the right of Venezuelans to access information through any media and platform available, while the Nicaraguan regime “has leveled, closed and confiscated media and as a result of official harassment more than 60 journalists sought refuge in other countries.”

Canada also came in for criticism on this day of Freedom of the Press. Dominguez says that in that country “there is still a tendency to persecute journalists to reveal their sources.” Meanwhile, in nations such as Chile, Colombia and Costa Rica “bills are promoted that would affect the practice of journalism” and in Argentina “the right to privacy is applied in a discriminatory manner.” For its part, in Bolivia “the media is economically suffocated” and in Peru “public access to government information is restricted” and “opinion is criminalized” as in many other countries of the Americas.

World Press Freedom Day was established in commemoration of the Windhoek Declaration, a document that contains principles on the defense of freedom of the press, drafted in 1991 during a meeting of African journalists promoted by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO).

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

"The Fridges Are on Vacation": The Obsessive Search for Meat Products in Cuba

In the larger markets like Carlos III meat supplies arrive more frequently, but the lines are long and contentious. “There is some kind of scuffle hear every day when they put out the chicken and sausages,” says one of the guards. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 25 April 2019 — “Is there meat?” asks a customer outside a market in Havana. “No, the refrigerators are still on vacation,” the employee, who has heard the same question a dozen times in the last hour, says ironically. In the midst of the famine of food supplies, the first to disappear from the shelves have been all those of animal origin.

Cubans have a long and painful obsession with flesh. During the crisis of the ’90s they tried to recreate it with other products, some of which weren’t even food. Today, in the midst of the shortages of chicken, pork and sausages that currently affects the whole island, the effort is being repeated, with an endless coming and going to the stores and markets.

“I got up at four in the morning to look for pork but when I arrived at the counter nothing but butter and orejas were left,” Lala Garcia tells 14ymedio. Garcia is a neighbor of the Youth Labor Market (EJT) on 17th Street in Havana’s El Vedado neighborhood, who had to be satisfied “with some chicken bouillon cubes to make some croquettes.” continue reading

Garcia inherited the recipe from an aunt who made it frequently during the Special Period: “You only need old bread, an egg, a little nutmeg and two small bouillon cubes to make up to 20 croquettes,” she explains proudly. “That’s the closest thing to a protein [of animal origin] that we will eat this week in my house.”

The crisis of the ’90s led to a “multiplication of substitute products and a decrease in the quality of products in general and protein in particular”, including “fricandel (sausage based on fishmeal) or minced meat that is textured or enriched (with soy flour and meat scraps),” according to a study by anthropologist Margalida Mulet Pascual.

History repeats itself for many, like Virgilio Fuentes, 78, who says he was lucky because he managed to get a pack of ten hot dogs in a store in convertible pesos. “With this I have my grandson’s food for several days,” he tells this newspaper. “One day I prepare two dogs in sauce, another I grate them and make a Chinese sauce (soy) and the third day  I slice and fry them on both sides.”

Fuentes was a teacher at a secondary school when the Soviet Union imploded and the island lost the huge subsidy that came to it from the Eastern European socialist camp. “I learned to make steak with the white part of the grapefruit, to prepare a good forcemeat with wheat flour or a plate of shredded “beef” from shredded banana peel.”

The retiree regrets that now there is less and less supply in the butcher shops and lists some products that have also been disappearing, such as “turkey hash, hamburgers and even the cans of spam, which solved a lot of problems because they can be prepared in various ways.” Now “only the cans of sardines are left but they are very expensive, at 2 CUC each (Cuban convertible pesos – roughly worth $1 each), and I have a pension of 300 CUP (Cuban pesos) (about 12 CUC)” per month.

The refrigerators in most stores are empty. (14ymedio)

A study carried out in 2017 by the Ministry of Agriculture and the United Nations Program for Development determined that “in Cuba there is an unmet demand for animal protein for feeding the population.” This dissatisfaction becomes more evident in the case of beef,” because “the consumption of this product has been deeply rooted in the food culture of the country and is the product that has suffered the most from the effects of the crisis.”

According to figures offered in the study, the amount of beef that each Cuban eats each year barely reaches 7.3 pounds, far from the 19 pounds consumed in the 1980s when the product was imported at very preferential prices from the countries belonging to the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CAME) of which the Island was also a member.

Although recent studies confirm that the consumption of animal protein is not necessary for proper health, beef has become a recurring dream for many Cubans who see it as an unattainable delicacy.

“The last time I could eat a beef steak was at an all-inclusive hotel in Varadero, when my brother who lives in Miami came and invited the whole family,” recalls Osmani, a 30-year-old who was born just when the Special Period crisis began.

“Every time I meet with my friends we end up talking about food, and especially meat, roasts, grills and chops,” he says with a smile. “We all end up salivating, and then the problem comes because we have to go back to the house and face a plate of rice with beans or maybe a croquettes of ’mystery meat’,” he says.

Among the reasons that Osmani yearns to emigrate outside the Island is just being able to eat meat more frequently. “I want to fulfill the old dream of one day eating breakfast with meat, eating meat at lunch and dinner with meat,” he says and touches one of his eye teeth. “I have to use this which nature gave me, because at the rhythm I eat here, they will atrophy on me.”

At the end of last year, the authorities announced that they were trying to stop the fall in pig production but the lack of liquidity has prevented buying the animal feed necessary for raising pigs abroad. In Candelaria, Artemisa, a town that has traditionally been dedicated to farming and raising pigs, many producers have had to sell their animals when they are just a few weeks old because they do not have feed to keep them.

“When the sow gave birth we had no food to give the piglets so we had to sell them when they were very small and also slaughter the mother,” Onelio Suarez tells 14ymedio. Suarez is a producer who insists he had twenty pigs in fattening barely two years ago. “Recovering will cost me a year,” he says.

“Even if we get a lot of feed for the pigs, the producers here need at least a year to recover the cycle of births and fattening that has been severed,” he says. “That’s why the cost of pork has exploded everywhere and will continue to rise,” he says.

In several agricultural markets in Havana the price of a pound of boneless pork has reached 60 CUP, the salary of two days of a professional. “As there is not much frozen chicken in the shopping centers there is an even greater demand for pork and that has complicated the situation much more,” says Suarez. “This has been going on for a while and the production is not going to meet the demand.”

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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.

500th Anniversary of the City of Havana

Fountain of the Indian Woman, a symbol of Havana

Rebeca Monzo, 13 May 2019 — As its 500th anniversary approaches, the City of St. Christopher of Havana has been named a “wonder city.”*

Unfortunately, to date, very few reconstruction projects are being carried out to mark the anniversary. Over the past sixty years the city has not been adequately maintained or cleaned. As a result, many architecturally significant buildings have been lost while others are in a total state of decrepitude.

Waste and refuse continue to pile up in every neighborhood of the city despite the fact that Japan recently donated a hundred garbage trucks to Cuba. So far, more than twenty of them have been received, with the rest scheduled to arrive sometime this year. But they are barely visible because, apparently, they have been idled and garbage collection has been paralyzed due to the gasoline shortage.

To make matters worse, though thousands of streets and sidewalks are in a state of complete disrepair, very few have been fixed. Bulbs in public street lamps have been replaced with LEDs but the installation was not done properly. Instead of burying the wires underground, as was done on major thoroughfares such as Linea Street and Avenue 26 in Nuevo Vedado, they have been left exposed like clothes lines. They hang from post to post, or from socket to socket, on poles that been left leaning or that are in poor condition.

Another sensitive issue at the moment is the scarcity of basic foodstuffs as well as the high prices charged for them. People are forced to wait in incessantly long lines for food and cleaning products to arrive.

How is it then possible for official media outlets (print and digital, radio and television) to talk about and promote a grand celebration of the 500th anniversary of a city where the population is so adversely affected.

Concerts, culture clubs, musical events and other activities are planned to celebrate, with song and stridency, an anniversary that has not brought people cleanliness, order, solvency or economic stability.

Author’s addendum: In Havana there are 169 impoverished neighborhoods, more than 1,000 barracks and tenements and 696 buildings in critical condition.

*Translator’s note: The designation was awarded by the Swiss-based New7­Wonders Foundation