Cuba’s Ruling Party Looks With Relief on China’s Communist Party Congress

The Cuban government sees a reliable ally in China, whose present Congress is a sign of continuity and stability. (EFE / How Hwee Young)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 October 2017 — When the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, with its hammer and sickle as the dominant element in the decor, opened in the Great Hall of Peking in Beijing, the Cuban government breathed a sigh of relief. Havana is betting that the partisan meeting guarantees the continuity of the system in the Asian giant and puts the power of the United States against the ropes.

Raul Castro’s government needs the Chinese Party’s conclave to consolidate Beijing’s leading role internationally and for “the Chinese solution” to renew the air of the communist utopia in the face of the “advance of neoliberalism.” The motto of Chinese President Xi Jinping, “a modestly affluent society,” is reflected in the version here of “a prosperous and sustainable socialism.”

With these expectations, national orthodoxy felt at ease with the opening speech of Xi Jinping, who proclaimed to 2,300 delegates that in the next five years they will continue the same policies as in his first five-year term, although more markedly so, and that there will be no space for divergence.

This last point is reassuring to the island’s Government, which has copied many of the Chinese repressive methods, especially those related to internet control, censorship of digital sites, and creating a large army of cyber cops to control or influence the opinions of the internauts.

The island’s government has copied many of China’s repressive methods, such as internet control, digital censorship, and creating a large army of cybercops

However, the most important thing for the Cuban Communist Party is to be able to count on its Chinese counterpart amid a changing international landscape, looking ahead to Raul Castro’s pending departure from the presidency this coming February. Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House, and his backtracking in the diplomatic thaw between both nations, also forces looking in another direction, especially with a Venezuela that every day sinks more deeply into economic problems and political volatility.

The stable ally is China, whose present Congress is a sign of continuity and stability, a power far enough away not to pose a threat to sovereignty and ready to speak up for Havana in international forums. It is a country that ventures to sign economic agreements with the island, though without the magnanimous generosity of the former Soviet Union.

The current relationship between the two regimes is marked by a certain amount of amnesia that makes them forget that years ago the Chinese were not seen in these parts as allies, but as a danger to the cause of communism. Today’s friends were rejected until very recently.

In early 1965, Fidel Castro denounced the distribution of political propaganda by the embassy of the People’s Republic of China among high commanders of the Armed Forces and, a few months later, the Cuban leader ranted against the Asian nation over the decline in its rice sales to the Island.

In 1977, Castro said in an interview with CNN that Mao Zedong “destroyed with his feet what he had created with his head over many years,” an act that “one day the people of China and the Communist Party of China will have to recognize,” he predicted.

After decades of estrangement in the relationship, Havana and Beijing again approached each other in 1989

After decades of estrangement in the relationship, Havana and Beijing again approached each other in 1989 and six years later Fidel Castro made his first state visit to China. References to the disagreements were erased from official books and publications.

Nowadays it is difficult to find in any library one of those manuals prepared by the Communist Party of Cuba in which it called Maoism a “counterrevolutionary current.” The Soviet-produced documentary titled The Long Night Over China has also conveniently gone out of circulation.

This week, when several Chinese-language students approached the Chinese embassy to request published documents about the XIX Congress, they were not even invited in. They were just told that they should make an appointment in advance. In addition to that incident, ordinary Cubans have hardly raised their expectations of what will come out of the Congress in Beijing.

In general, Cubans are convinced that the Chinese wall will not collapse like the Berlin Wall and that the reforms brought about by the current congress will not bring democracy to that country. For its part, the Plaza of the Revolution knows that the island will not have an ally like the Soviet Union, but Raul Castro is relieved to confirm that he is not alone on the planet.

Cuba and Its Perennial Shortages / Iván García

Diario Las Américas

14ymedio biggerIvan Garcia, 17 October 2017 — Chest pains, migraines and inflamed feet alerted Oneida’s family that the 82-year-old with a long history of diabetes and cancer was not well.

Her children rushed her to the emergency room at Miguel Enriquez Hospital, in the Luyano neighborhood in south Havana, where their mother was admitted to intermediate intensive care.

The team of specialists who attended Oneida asked if the family had relatives or friends abroad who could buy medicines unavailable in the country, because after two months without the required treatments the lady was experiencing imbalances in her body. continue reading

“This time she was saved from death, but if she continues not taking the required medications, the story may be different,” said one of the doctors who attended my mother,” says Ernesto, Oneida’s son. “For four months now, three of the medicines the old woman takes are missing from pharmacies and hospital supplies. I have no relatives abroad. I’m working with the church people to try to get it. My mother, moreover, must follow a strict diet and because of the scarcity of food, it is very complicated. ”

Diario Las Américas asked Yanisbel, the administrator of a pharmacy in the municipality Diez de Octubre, the most populous in the capital, how many medicines are missing and whether it was known when the public health authorities think they might remedy the deficit.

“I run a main pharmacy and there are about 162 drugs missing. Some have been missing for a year. Others arrive at intervals and in small quantities. Essential medicines, such as salbutamol sprays for asthmatics or Enalapril for hypertensives, didn’t come in for three months. A group of 40 to 50 medications ranging from antihistamines to those intended for diabetics for circulatory problems, which are distributed through a card to patients who must take them consistently, haven’t been available for months,” she says.

Eugenia, a retiree, spent about eight months without treating an eruption on her arms, legs and back for lack of Clobetasol lotion. “In the end, I had to spend almost 10 chavitos (CUC – Cuban convertible pesos) from the money my niece sent me and buy it at the international pharmacy in the Habana Libre Hotel. She recently sent me several tubes of Clobetazol and the rash went away. Many medicines are gone and you can’t even find them under the table.”

The underground market, where there is generally a better supply than in the state retail network, doesn’t have the medications either.

“The reason is simple. If there are no medicines in the Public Health warehouses, you will not find medicines on the street. All medicines sold [under the table] come from hospitals and state stores. A few of us live off those sales. But for almost a year the shortage of medicines has ‘kept us quiet’,” says a  worker at a drug store.

The absence of medications is not attributable to Hurricane Irma. “Several Chinese suppliers who sold us the raw material have stopped the imports because of repeated defaults on the payments. That is the fundamental reason our pharmaceutical industry has entered into crisis,” says an official of the Reinaldo Gutiérrez Laboratory.

But shortages go beyond medicines. If you make a tour of the country’s shops and markets you will notice the absence of essential foods in the Cuban diet.

In a small foreign exchange establishment located on Calzada de Diez Octubre at Lagueruela, the shelves are packed with three products: vegetable oil, rum and mayonnaise imported from the United States. In the meat fridge, there are only pork burgers, at 0.70 CUC each.

“Before Irma there was already a shortage, but after the hurricane passed, shortages became more acute. Now we are lacking ground meat, chicken, sausages, canned sardines, spaghetti and soda crackers, among others. At one meeting they told us that these products were destined for the victims of the cyclone, as if the rest of us Cubans don’t have mouths,” says a clerk.

Yamila, a 55-year-old engineer, told me that she visited “all the markets of Centro Habana, Habana Vieja and Vedado to buy food and all I could buy was two packs of chicken and one of beef liver. They had toilet paper for sale in La Época, on Galiano Street, and the lines were tremendous. It looked like they were giving out visas to the United States.”

With the extraordinary capacity of government officials to evade reality, Diario Las Americas spoke with a manager of TRD Caribe, the network of stores run by GAESA, the military emporium that controls 80 percent of Cuba’s hard currency businesses, the causes of shortages and their possible solution.

The man cleared his throat a couple of times, answered a phone call on his cell phone and then started to answer. “First we have to take into account that Irma was not an ordinary hurricane. It affected 13 of the 16 Cuban provinces, almost the whole country,” he says, opening his eyes. After a pause he adds:

“Having said this, then we must take into account that a certain existing shortage is attributable to the transfer of products to areas most affected or to hoarding by unscrupulous people who are then dedicated to resell it.” 

“But the shortage has been going on for over a year. And toilet paper, which is sold exclusively in hard currency, is not essential for families who lost their homes. Or is it because Hurricane Irma affected several warehouses of tourism supplies, they were forced to transfer toilet paper to the hotels?” I ask him.

“There is no such shortage, and if it exists it is occasional. It happens that with the increase of private businesses, demand exceeds supply. As for toilet paper there was a problem in its production for lack of imported raw material. But the ship is already in port and in a few months the deficit will be overcome. It has nothing to do with tourism,” said the official with an optimistic speech.

Two Cubas coexist. That of the official narrative that the country has the winds in its sails, and the real one, where the price of food is high, many medicines scarce, and the substitute for toilet paper is usually torn pages of the newspaper Granma.

“The State Doesn’t Pay Me, So I Sell On My Own,” Say the Candelaria Guajiros

In the informal market it is difficult to find an avocado for less than 5 CUP. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Bertha K Guillen, Candelaria, 18 October 2017 — A year ago the smell of guava filled the road where Santiago Hernandez was waiting for the state company Acopio (Collection) to sell the fruit he produced. With the passing of days the flies showed up and the smell turned to rot, but the truck never appeared. Now, like many others in San Cristóbal (Artemisa province), this private producer prefers to risk the informal market.

The streets and roads of Artemiseño towns are the scene of an economic battle of the deaf. The police control farmers in the area, which has a long agricultural tradition, not allowing them to sell their crops on their own, but forcing them to deliver them to the official entities; nevertheless illegal trade continues to increase. continue reading

The frequent delays in transportation and the Acopia’s successive failure to pay the farmers discourages them from following the legal process to market their crops. “Before I let them rot again I prefer to sell them for a few cents,” Hernandez tells 14ymedio.

“The maximum price they pay us for avocados is 1 CUP per pound”

The campesino is not only annoyed by the problems of transportation and lack of packaging that Acopio blames for each delay, but also by the prices set for his merchandise and the continuous problems of weighing the product that “always go against of the man from the fields,” he says.

“The maximum price they pay us for avocados is 1 CUP [Cuban peso, roughly 4¢ US] per pound, so a quintal [100 pounds] comes out at 100 [$4 US],” he laments. In the informal market it is difficult to find this delicious fruit for less than 5 CUP each. “Normally they don’t sell for less than 10 CUP each, but in order to earn that much money, I have to sell ten pounds.”

“In the street I can raise or lower the price according to what suits me, whether due to the quality of the avocados or because there is a lot of supply, but with the State everything is very bureaucratic,” says the farmer. The Council of the Municipal Administration meets every month to check if it should modify some of the prices, but the State has imposed maximums that cannot be exceeded.

“The more production there is of a product in an area, the lower Acopio’s purchase price, that’s how it works,” says Hernández. The campesino says he does not understand “such a simple” formula when it comes to fruits and vegetables that mostly end up in Havana, with high consumption in homes and private restaurants.

It is not only private producers and those who lease state-owned lands that feel dissatisfied with the strict provisions under which they must sell their crops. Farmers organized in Agricultural Production Cooperatives (CPA) and Credit and Service Cooperatives (CCS) must also comply with the rules requiring them to deliver a good part of their crops directly to Acopio or to the companies of the Ministry of the Food Industry (MINAL) that process fruit industrially.

Farmers organized in cooperatives must also comply with the rules and to deliver a good part of their crops directly to Acopio or to the Ministry

In the middle of this year, more than 2,600 metric tons of mangoes were lost in the fields of Guantánamo due to lack of packaging and problems associated with processing plant breakdowns. The news raised a wave of indignation among consumers and the issue was even debated in the National Assembly of People’s Power.

However, what happened is nothing new and the scenario is repeated throughout the Cuban countryside. According to a report published by Mundubat a non-governmental organization for development aid based in the Basque Country (Spain), 57% of food produced in Cuba is lost before it reaches the consumer.

The problems are worse for seasonal products such as mangoes, tomatoes and avocados. The latter has entered October in the final stretch of its harvest and it is precisely the provinces of Artemisa and Mayabeque that obtain a greater harvest.

In 2016 there was a drop in avocado production, which barely exceeded 90,000 tons, about 30,000 less than in 2015, while this year the abundant rains have favored the growth and ripening of the fruit. Rainfall has even managed to keep the trees growing at this time of year.

“Now the problem is not the trees, nor the climate, but the man,” complains Amancio, a Candelarian who has been “tied to the furrow.” More than a decade ago, when Raul Castro came to power in Cuba, this composed farmer thought that the problems of the state-owned company Acopio were going to be solved.

“Everybody said that the General was going to put an end to Acopio and that we could sell our crops directly, but in reality everything is still very bureaucratic and the prices they put on our products are ridiculous,” says the farmer who specializes in food crops and fruit trees.

Ignoring the established process, Amancio leaves each morning early on his tractor to sell the last avocados of the harvest. The biggest risk is being stopped by the police and having his merchandise seized and the least serious rosk is to run into an inspector and receive a fine.

Each product is placed in a category, where only those labeled “premium” will be paid for at the maximum price

“More than three months ago I sold some bananas to Acopio and they still haven’t paid me, so I prefer to go on my own,” he explains to this newspaper. The farmer also complains about the high standards that the State applies to evaluating his fruits. Each product is placed in a category, where only those labeled “premium” will be paid for at the maximum price.

“If the inspector sees a spot on a banana or that day does not feel like paying you much, he tells you that the merchandise is second rate or doesn’t have quality, then the months of work go by the wayside and you just have to wait for them to pay you, someday, an amount far below what you spent on production,” reflects Amancio.

The farmer recalls that Nelson Concepción Cruz, general director of Acopio National Union, affirmed in the parliamentary sessions of last July that “the system of collection has been reordered by new equipment and the weighing system has been gradually restored.”

With the passage of the months little has changed and the operation is still a frequent target of farmers’ criticism, claiming lack of precision in the weighing, which goes against them, the obsolescence of the weighing devices and manipulation of the scales. They also point to an excess of subjectivity when it comes to categorizing the quality of fruits, vegetables, grains and root crops.

After Hurricane Irma and the rains associated with several tropical storms, the Artemisean producers come out more strongly to sell merchandise whose days are numbered

After Hurricane Irma and the rains associated with several tropical storms, the Artemisean producers come out more strongly to sell merchandise whose days are numbered. “I’m going through the nearest villages to sell what I can,” says Ramon, another producer from the region. “What I have is avocados and I sell them for up to 3 CUP, at least I do not lose all the merchandise.”

A few days ago the police gave him a warning about selling on his own. “I went out with the cart full of bananas and a patrol stopped me,” he says. “They took me to Los Palacios and forced me to sell for a few cents,” recalls the farmer. “They told me that the people needed it more, but what they do not realize is that I also have needs,” he says.

Cuba is among the countries with the lowest agricultural yield in Latin America, despite the fact that “the cooperative sector already has 80% of the land and produces more than 90% of the country’s food”, according to the Mundabat report, production “only meets 20% of the needs of the population.”

Santiago, Amancio and Ramón believe they know, from their own experience, the reason for such low numbers.

Cemetery Vault For Sale, Deceased Included

Colón (Columbus) Cemetery in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 14 October 2017 — “In this street there are five vaults for sale,” says Boris Fernandez as he walks through Colón (Columbus) Cemetery in Havana. “That one has the granite stone but people with money prefer marble,” he explains. His business is “to guarantee rest in the afterlife,” this salesman who lives off the funeral business tells 14ymedio.

“The first time I sold a grave was almost by accident,” recalls the former engineer, now a real estate agent for the afterlife. “In 2011 I was contacted by a lady who wanted to get rid of everything to leave the country. The first thing I found for her was a buyer for the family vault,” he says. continue reading

The cremation of corpses is a strong competitor for the traditional burials managed by Fernandez. In 2013, 5,045 bodies were incinerated throughout the country. However, “there are still many people who prefer to spend eternity in a beautiful place like this tomb,” he explains as he points to a gravestone with bronze letters.

Over the years, the dealer has become a specialist in his services and each satisfied customer in turn recommends new customers. “I have learned to price tombs, vaults and ossuaries because there are many details to keep in mind.” He has studied “even a little art history” to determine styles and influences.

“This one here has rounded lines and the vault includes two art deco gardens,” he says, describing a tomb next to the central chapel of Cuba’s largest graveyard. “That is worth at least 5,000 CUC [Cuban convertible pesos, roughly the same in dollars] because it has Carrara marble, coming from Italy and is highly treasured for its whiteness.”

The sellers are mostly people who come from families of ancient ancestry who “are going through hell to survive economically and decide to get rid of the family vault,” or they might be “people who want to emigrate and need ‘to complete’ [get a certain amount of money] for the passage,” explains the funeral director.

The transfer process must be done before a notary, but the vast majority of those involved prefer to simply hand over the title deed even if it is still in the name of someone who died more than a hundred years ago. “Whoever has the papers is the owner, it’s as simple as that,” explains Fernández.

“These are exchanges often done in a rush, and all it takes is to deliver the documents for the new owner to take possession of the place,” he points out. “So far I have not had any clients who got into trouble and I have helped many people find a place for their dead.”

The cemetery authorities are aware that economic inequalities are emerging once again in one of the most luxurious cemeteries in Latin America. “There is a lot of business in sales but there are areas that are frozen because they belong to the heritage area,” explains one of the guides that runs the tours for tourists.

The cemetery authorities are aware that economic inequalities are emerging once again in one of the most luxurious cemeteries in Latin America. (14ymedio)

“We have more turnover in the tombs that are not the most striking and that belonged to families of the republican bourgeoisie,” he clarifies. “The main reason is economic, because very few people get rid of something like that because they do not have time to take care of it or they do not care anymore.”

“We have had cases of people who have sold the vault even with the deceased inside,” Fernandez notes with alarm, as he accompanies visitors on a tour of the most famous burials in the site.

This reality is confirmed by Abelardo, a resident of Columbus Street near the capital’s largest cemetery who dedicates himself to the business of selling tombstones, flower boxes and vases. “People have come for help selling a tomb but insist that the buyer must commit to leaving the remains that are in the ossuary,” he details.

“In that case a special price is set and the new owner gives his word not to remove the bones of the previous family, it is a gentlemen’s agreement,” he says.

In addition to the grave ornaments he sells in the doorway of his house, Abelardo has contacts for all kinds of tasks related to the deceased. “We offer natural and plastic flowers, demand for the the latter has greatly increased after the campaigns against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito [transmitter of dengue virus and other diseases] which has removed many vases with water from the cemetery.”

“I also have a friend who does the spiritual cleansing of the tomb so that the new owners can use it without bad influences,” he adds to his string of offers. “For Catholics he does with prayers, for the Santeros [practitioners of Santería] he has an offering that includes a cleansing with herbs, and if they are spiritualists then the ceremony can include candles and glasses with water.”

The increase in the sale of tombs is not a phenomenon that occurs only in the capital, but rather is widespread in the country’s cemeteries.

“I also have a friend who does the spiritual cleansing of the tomb so that the new owners can use it without bad influences”. (14ymedio)

Niliana is selling a family vault of five square meters “in the best area of ​​the Tomás Acea Cemetery in Cienfuegos,” she emphasizes. Because the cemetery is further away from the city, prices are lower, but still remain inaccessible to those who live off their official salaries.

For 560 CUC, the buyer can bury his relatives in a cemetery declared a “National Heritage site since 1978 for its artistic, architectural, historical and environmental values,” explains the owner.

At double that price a much more modest tomb is marketed in Colón Cemetery. “It is like with houses, the location determines the price,” clarifies Boris Fernandez. “The one with the best economic situation can choose a good street or be next to a famous vault.”

“Now I have a client who is a painter who wants a tomb with a tree that gives him shade and as close as possible to the Chapel,” he says. “My job is to please him: I bring the place and he brings the dead.”

 

Cuba’s ‘Convivencia’ Project Celebrates Its First Decade

The Convivencia Project on-line. (Screen capture)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 October 2017 — It was April 2007 and a time of dark days. The most stagnant part of the Catholic Church intervened in the magazine Vitral (Stained Glass Window), shifting it away from its marked social mission. In the face of the hijacking, the editors jumped ship and months later founded the Proyecto Convivencia (Coexistence Project), which celebrates this October a decade of constant work.

The new publication was born under the influence of its predecessor, which had arisen in 1994 and came to have a circulation of 12,000 copies. However, from the beginning it became clear that the magazine Convivencia would be much more than a mere reflection of that stained glass window that stopped shining for diversity and reflected only pastoral issues. continue reading

In an environment of great debate and intense listening, the Catholic layman Dagoberto Valdés and his collaborators, working from Pinar del Rio, raised the first roof beams that would later cover not only that new publication, but also a project of civic development and a study center, both under the same name.

With the slogan “A threshold for citizenship and civil society in Cuba,” this triad has been a fresh wind in an independent sector where political approaches excessively prevail over social ones. Offering proposals rather than complaints became a part of the unique editorial and investigative seal of the project.

Unlike its predecessor, Convivencia placed its bets more on a digital presence. In times of blogging and Twitter accounts, its editorial board has relied on new technologies, and the web portal born of that vision has just updated its design, as well as offered more dynamic access to its content.

However, the biggest difference has been traveling the difficult road of offering information and opinion without the protection of the Church. To this difficulty is added that of maintaining a moderate profile in the midst of the polarization of Cuban society, the pressures of State Security and an intense campaign to discredit the project.

Seven years before Bishop Jorge Enrique Serpa Pérez forced a change of course on the Catholic publication, Valdés had been subjected to a harsh assault from two publishers of the official newspaper Granma, but the worst was yet to come. That was just the preamble to a sequence of interrogations and threats.

In this decade, members of Convivencia have experienced various forms of harassment. From constant police citations to a court’s latest decision to sentence Karina Gálvez, one of the leading publishers, to three years’ imprisonment and to confiscate her house which served as a headquarters.

Nor has there been a lack of criticism from other civil society groups in response to Convivencia’s approach of dialog, always maintained by the Pinar del Rio team, its position in favor of the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States, and its use of respectful language toward any figure or institution. The project has paid a heavy price for its restraint.

In this landscape, the work of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC), which over a number of meetings has outlined an impressive reservoir of ideas and proposals for the future of the island, stands out. Culture, education, the media and economy are at the center of the analysis of this Cuban think tank, that labors without a lot of commotion, but without pause.

Together, the CEC, the civic center and the magazine seek “not only to educate citizens to exercise their own sovereignty but also work to have a vision of the future that will help to rebuild the nation,” Dagoberto Valdés proudly states. The man that the official propaganda calls a “mercenary” has only one obsession: to think about Cuba.

Today’s context is also very different than it was when the editors of today’s Convivencia began their work on the previous publication, at the end of the last century. Now, the spectrum of publications that address the issue of Cuba has grown both inside and outside the Island. Approaches have also diversified and readers have a flood of options from which to choose.

Other independent think tanks have also emerged and terms such as “community,” “civility” and “consensus” have become commonplace in the discourse of national activists. That light that began to peek through the stained glass of a magazine from Pinar del Rio, is today a common good that everyone shares.

Convivencia faces the challenges of surviving and growing: to avoid letting the repression make them adopt a discourse of denunciation rather than one of proposals; to overcome with their work the silence some want to impose on their very existence; to progress despite the insults others apply to their work; and to maintain their equanimity in times of hysteria.

The roof that began to rise in October of 2007 is complete, but within its interior there are still many subjects to address and innumerable situations on which to meditate. There is time for all that, because as emphasized in a recent statement the members of Convivencia Project, they have no plans to leave Cuba, Pinar del Rio or their civic space.

See also:

The Experiment of Hope, Francis Sanchez

Between the Gun and the Cassock, Miriam Celaya

Cuban Artists Warned Not To Stage An Independent Biennial

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara in his workshop in Cuba. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 October 2017 — In a note published on its website and distributed through institutional emails, the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) warns its members that “some unscrupulous people” are organizing an independent Biennial after the postponement of event originally planned for 2018.

The XIII Havana Biennial was postponed to 2019 due to “the very serious damage caused by Hurricane Irma to the country’s system of cultural institutions ” according to a declaration of the National Council of Plastic Arts published at the end of September and also initialed by the Wilfredo Lam Center for Contemporary Art. continue reading

Several young artists, who are not in agreement with the postponement, have decided to go ahead with the organization of an independent event called the Havana Biennial 2018. The artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is one of the most visible faces of this initiative.

Otero Alcántara commented to 14ymedio that they have “the support of several artists and independent galleries” to carry out the exhibitions and workshops. The young man believes the official artists union is annoyed because “it it an interesting and decisive moment” to hold the independent Biennial. “Strong energy has been generated” around the idea and “the majority of those consulted support it,” he says.

In the response note circulated by the UNEAC, the executive of the Association of Plastic Artists points out that the organizers of the independent proposal “can not divide us” and that the members of the official organization understand and support the decision to postpone the Biennial.

“We strongly support Raul’s call to our people,” concludes the statement, which stresses that “we will go forward in all fields, despite cyclones and blockades.”

The artist Leonardo Salgado, harshly criticized the declaration of the official organization and described as “opportunist” the intention to blame the cancellation of the XIII Havana Biennial on Hurricane Irma.

Salgado points out that “the obsolete, obsessive and unsustainable” will of the Cuban government to “organize and direct all political, economic and social activities” is what has plunged the country into stagnation and proposes that the government allow the Independent Biennial, at least to raise funds.

“Why does UNEAC not defend and embody the interests of the artists it represents in front of a government that only prioritizes political, economic and social immobility?” the artist asks in a chain of responses to the official communication.

“If expressing freely what we think is called provocation, how can we dialogue? If the institutions that represent us call us unscrupulous for asking for the floor, through whom do we do it?”

The last edition of the Havana Biennial was held between May and June 2015 and had as its theme “Between idea and experience.” In its three decades of life, the artistic event has gone through different stages; at some points creative effervescence prevailed but at others the strongest influences were the nefarious effects of economic crisis and censorship.

Candelaria Runs Out Of Medicines

The outskirts of the place were a hive of customers who tried to reach the counter shouting and shoving. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Bertha K. Guillen, Candelaria, 13 October 2017 — The main pharmacy in Candelaria, a city in Cuba’s Artemisa province, looks like an overturned hornet’s nest when new medications arrive. Meanwhile, the area’s chronically ill spend their days in uncertainty due to the shortage of a growing number of drugs, a situation echoed in the ‘informal’ market.

“There is no Enalapril left or right,” lamented a retiree who waited for several hours this Wednesday to find out if the pills critical to those with hypertension had arrived. “I’m going to have to continue using herbal concoctions,” she lamented. continue reading

Since 2015, the deficit of drugs has worsened due to the country’s lack of liquidity. The Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industry Group (BioCubaFarma) attributes the problems to the shortages of raw material due to the long-standing non-payment of foreign suppliers.

“We did not have the necessary financing to pay the debts incurred,” Teresita Rodríguez Cabrera, vice president of the group, told the official press in late 2016. The official said that the industry was working to improve supply, but a year later the situation has worsened.

“Six months ago we had 97 drugs missing at this pharmacy,” says an employee of the Candelaria dispensary who prefers anonymity. “In the last three months the figure has reached an alarming number and we are now lacking 157.”

According to this source, analgesics, hypertension pills, diabetes pills, antibiotics and eye drops are among the most affected, “precisely because they are the most in demand.” The employee says that the managers of the branch assured them that the situation would normalize as of September, but the expected return to normal has not materialized.

“As of today, only a few drugs have arrived and in insufficient quantities,” the employee emphasizes.

The medications sold on presentation of a control card, known as a tarjetón,

are among those in shortest supply. The State subsidizes all pharmaceutical products and regulates the quantities that each consumer can buy, even when it comes to medications that don’t require a prescription.

The police had to come to the pharmacy to calm the building commotion. (14ymedio)

In the small villages near Candelaria several pharmacies have closed their doors permanently due to the lack of supply, which overloads the dispensaries that remain in operation.

The administration of the Municipal Main Pharmacy has taken measures to avoid the crowds that form when supplies arrive. These guidelines also seek to curb the hoarding of products, many of which end up on the black market.

This Wednesday, outside the pharmacy a hive of customers tried to reach the counter, screaming and shoving. In a near brawl won by the strongest, people with disabilities, pregnant women and the elderly had to retreat to avoid getting elbowed.

The pharmacy workers responded by closing the place down and calling the police to restore order. Buyers who clustered at the small window to ask questions also received no response and for hours no employee picked up the phone.

The pharmacy administration is determined to sell only one prescription of each drug per person, a decision that bothered those like Milagros, 64, who stood in line from nine o’clock on Tuesday night and had hoped to receive enough medication to last until the next supplies came in.

A few blocks away, the Catholic church also lacks the supplies to meet the demand for medicines. For several years the parishes have supplied the needy with non-prescription products that come from donations from abroad. In the last half year, however, the arrival of these donations has also declined.

“For months we’ve gotten nothing more than vitamins and some other things and those only in small quantities,” Olimpia, the women in charge of drug distribution at the Artemis church, tells 14ymedio. Hurricane Irma has affected many provinces of the country, causing much of the aid to be channeled to those areas.

In these circumstances, many Candelarians settle for trying to relieve their skin itches or lower their blood pressure through the traditional infusions that their grandmothers abandoned years ago.

US Citizen Sentenced to 13 Years for Espionage in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Alina López Miyares

Juan Juan Almeida, 10 October 2017 — A US citizen and her husband, a former Cuban diplomat, were sentenced to long prison terms by a military court in Havana on espionage charges.

Alina López Miyares and her spouse, Félix Martín Milanés Fajardo, were sentenced to 13 and 17 years in prison, respectively, in a summary proceeding that took place behind closed doors, according to reports obtained by Martí Noticias. continue reading

The trial was held in the Court of Justice of the Military Court, located in Marianao, on October 2, with the relatives of the accused forbidden to be in the court.

The process, delayed twice, came three days after the United Statesdecided to withdraw most of its diplomatic staff from its embassy in Havana, amid growing bilateral tensions over acoustic attacks on 22 members of its legation .

López Milanés was arrested last January at the Havana airport when she was about to travel to Miami. In December 2016, her husband, Milanese Fajardo, a retired Cuban diplomat  had been arrested; he worked at the Permanent Cuban Mission to the United Nations in New York. They met in New York and have been married for over 10 years.

Both were being investigated by Department 1 of Cuban Counterintelligence under suspicion of providing information of a secret nature, the use of which could damage state security, according to a source related to the case.

López Miyares was born in Havana in 1959 and left Cuba when he was 8 years old. She was educated in the United States, obtained three doctorates and is a teacher by profession. Shee had recently been repatriated to Cuba.

The trial, registered as Case Number 1 of 2017, took place between 10 am and 2 pm. The inmates arrived at the military court in separate cars, handcuffed and guarded by officers in olive-green uniforms. The defense was undertaken by criminal lawyer Abel Alejandro Solá López.

The mother of López Miyares, who lives in Miami, was able to see her daughter at the entrance to the courtroom, but could not witness the trial, said a source consulted by Martí Noticias.

For the crime of espionage, the prosecution requested 30 years of deprivation of liberty and an equal term of abstention of rights.

“During the investigative process, the prisoners were pressured to modify their statements and influence the prosecutor’s decision,” the source said.

The court handed down a sentence of 13 years for Lopez Miyares and 17 for Milanés Fajardo. The final resolution will be signed on 24 October and the parties will certainly agree to appeal the sentence.

Measuring Internet Censorship in Cuba / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula (Report from the Ooni Team) — Last May, members of the Open Observatory of the Network Interference Project (Ooni), traveled to Cuba and performed a series of tests measuring the performance of the internet at eight connection points in Havana, Santa Clara and Santiago de Cuba, with the goal of measuring the censorship of the internet.

As part of that study, they were able to confirm the blocking of 41 websites. Many of these sites include news agencies and blogs, as well as sites in favor ofdemocracy and human rights. Many of the blocked sites, directly or indirectly, express criticism of the Cuban government. However, other sites that also express criticism were found to be unblocked. continue reading

Web proxys, like Anonymous, were blocked, which limits the ability of Cubans to bypass censorship. The Tor network was accessible, probably because Cuba has relatively few Tor users.

Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology was found. Through latency measurements, we have been able to confirm that the blocking server is most likely to be found in Havana (and, certainly in Cuba). Only the HTTP version of the sites to be blocked was found, which could allow users to bypass censorship simply by accessing them via HTTPS. Most blocked sites, however, do not support HTTPS.

Skype was blocked. By examining packet traces, we have been able to determine that the DPI middlebox blocks Skype by means of RST injection. Other popular communication tools, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, were accessible.

It was also found that the Chinese provider Huawei is supporting the Internet infrastructure of Cuba. The server header of blocked sites, for example, pointed to Huawei equipent. It is not yet clear, although internet censorship in the country does indeed apply.

Finally, it was discovered by chance that Google is blocking the Google App Engine from Cuba (when trying to run END).

In general, internet censorship does not appear to be particularly sophisticated in Cuba. The high cost of the internet and the limited availability of public WiFi access points across the country remain the main obstacles to internet access. But as the internet landscape of Cuba evolves, techniques and practices around internet censorship will evolve.Therefore, we believe it is important to continue measuring networks with ooniprobe in Cuba and other parts of the world.

Thanks for reading our latest report — we are happy to answer any questions.

~ The Ooni team

You can read the report here.

Cubans Will Now Have to Go to Colombia to Apply for an Immigrant Visa for the US

Cubans can apply for a United States in person in Colombia.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 October 2017 — The US embassy in Bogotá will assume the work of issuing immigrant visas to Cubans for as long as the process is suspended at the embassy in Havana as a result of the reduction of personnel that took place because of the acoustic attacks that affected embassy workers.

“Due to the suspension of immigrant visa services at the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba, the United States Department of State has designated the US Embassy in Bogotá, Colombia to process immigrant visas for Cuban residents,” a State Department press release said. continue reading

The press release points out that it is still unclear when the interviews for Cuban applicants at the Bogota embassy will begin to be scheduled.

“Due to the suspension of immigrant visa services at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, the U.S. Department of State has designated the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia to process immigrant visas for residents of Cuba. At this time, we are determining when we can begin scheduling Cuban applicants for interviews at Embassy Bogota. If NVC has not scheduled your case at Embassy Havana, they will schedule your visa interview at Embassy Bogota. NVC will send you, your petitioner, and your agent/attorney (if applicable) an email or letter noting the interview location, date and time. Please contact NVC through the  Ask NVC  online contact form for your updated status,” it said.

The statement also explains that if the person applying for the visa has not yet been interviewed they will be contacted “soon.” For those who have already been interviewed, the US Embassy in Havana will contact them to provide “additional instructions” and those who have not yet had their visa applications approved will have to contact the Citizenship and Immigration Service. United States Immigration (USCIS ) to learn the updated status of their case.

The statement adds that the headquarters of Havana will handle diplomatic visas, official or unusual emergency cases in which the applicant has a serious illness requiring treatment in the United States.

“We understand that this is a significant change and a nuisance for visa applicants, but the number of consular officials in Cuba at this time does not allow us to continue with normal visa operations in Havana,” it adds.

The existence of this alternative opens a door for thousands of Cubans who were waiting with uncertainty for a way to get to the US. However, the requirement to go to Bogotá greatly complicates the process, and Colombia also requires visas for Cuban citizens.

Since the migration crisis reached its peak in late 2015, Colombia has increased the number of requirements for visa applicants applying at its consulate in Havana. The appointments to be seen in that country’s consular headquarters are also difficult to obtain and the visa application form must be completed via the internet, a step already difficult for many nationals.

In August of last year Colombian police arrested 35 suspects forming an international network involved in the trafficking of more than 3,200 migrants from Colombia to the United States and Canada. The traffickers were led by two Cubans who controlled the transfer of migrants from the island, mostly to the United States.

The United States also announced Thursday that it will keep active the program that allows Americans and permanent residents to apply for permission for their relatives in Cuba to visit them, but has not yet revealed how it will proceed to process the requests.

The Sonic Attacks Began With Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro was the only person who could give orders without consulting his younger brother Raul. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jorge Hernandez Fonseca, Miami, 6 October 2017 — The mystery surrounding the so-called “sonic attacks” perpetrated in Cuba against US and Canadian diplomats, set off a major diplomatic crisis between the US government and the Cuban dictatorship of Raúl Castro. Now Cuba suggests that such attacks belong to “science fiction”, although they do not deny categorically.

The analysis I will do on the basis of the following clue: who would benefit from the crisis that these attacks would provoke? With this premise we deduce that there are two sectors that would take advantage of the developing crisis: on the one hand, the most anticommunist sector of the anti-Castro exile in the United States, and on the other the most conservative sector within the Cuban communists. continue reading

There are third countries probably involved in the plot, such as China or Russia; but we concentrate the analysis on the sectors closest to the “Cuban problem” without ruling out another possibility, although logic indicates that the interest in these attacks must come from the international actors.

Official Cuba suggests that the CIA could be the cause of the attacks, but what interests would that agency have above the interests of its country? It could be, but it seems unlikely. The Cuban exile could be the source, but does the exile have enough power to execute such an operation from the outside? It’s unlikely.

The Communist sectors within Cuba interested in derailing relations with the US seem to be the most likely to organize such an operation, including because they have all the means and are acting inside their country. As these attacks began during the Obama administration – and even when Fidel Castro was still alive – it seems very likely that he was the one who directed the attacks for the following reasons: no one other than the deceased dictator could have given that order without consulting Raul Castro, or even, with consulting him. No one, apart from the retired dictator, was personally more interested in thwarting the rapprochement with the US, as he stated in writing and was public and notorious about.

Thus, the dictatorship of Raul Castro now has no way out of the problem. It fails if it speaks the truth, and fails – as it is doing now – if it doesn’t speak it. There is no other hypothesis with more force that explains such a mystery. It is well-known of the ancestry

The ascendance of a special security body commanded by the deceased dictator is well known, a body faithful to him, and very probably it was them, under his orders, who executed the attacks, to provoke an estrangement between both countries, contradicting his brother.

No one but Fidel Castro – neither the CIA, nor the Cuban exile, nor Russia or China – can be more satisfied, enjoying from his grave the current estrangement between Cuba and the United States.

Venezuela Finances Russian Oil Coming To Cuba

Refinery in Cienfuego, Cuba. (5 de September)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 12 October 2017 — Russia is again aiding Cuba and, as with the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, the aid comes in the form of oil. Moscow is trying to compensate for the collapse of Venezuelan shipments, but part of the bill comes from Caracas, says Jorge Piñón, director of the International Energy Center at the University of Texas.

According to the Russian news agency Tass, last weekend the Kremlin agreed with the Palace of the Revolution to increase the supply of oil and develop cooperation in the extraction sector in Cuba. continue reading

“This is a triangulation of an agreement signed in 2016 and extended this year. Rosneft (a joint-venture company majority-owned by the Russian government) has loaned PDVSA (the Venezuelan state oil company) between four and five billion dollars in recent years, “says Piñón. “Part of the 250,000 tonnes of diesel that Rosneft pledged in May to deliver to Cuba was funded in the back office through the triangulation of the agreement with PDVSA.”

Piñón’s thesis is also supported by statements from Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak, who last May put as a condition on shipments of oil to the island that they must have a secure source of funding.

During the Soviet era, Cuba received more than $40 billion in subsidies and contracted a $35 billion debt that Russia condoned by 90 percent in 2014. At that time the USSR was sending oil to the Island, which the Cuban authorities partially re-exported to the international price. It did the same with a part of the shipments of Venezuela, that reached 100,000 barrels a day before falling to a little more than half that.

In addition to supplying oil and diesel, Rosneft intends to fulfill an unfinished promise of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez: the modernization of the Cienfuegos refinery, the largest in the country, operating at half speed because of the fall of the Venezuelan oil deliveries.

According to several analysts, Caracas sends 55,000 barrels of oil daily to Havana, far from the 87,000 it supplied last year and the 100,000 barrels supplied during the life of Hugo Chavez. In return, Havana sells to Caracas, at very inflated prices, its doctors serving on medical missions and other professionals providing other types of service.

Under the government of Nicolás Maduro the payment through this model has abruptly dropped. Cuba has not published its earnings from the export of services since 2014 but, as economists Carmelo Mesa-Lago and Omar Everleny Pérez have reported, these earnings have fallen by more than 1.3 billion dollars in recent years.

Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas said in July that the country was forced to import 99.6 million dollars in fuels so far this year due to non-compliances in the delivery of petroleum products from Caracas. Last year, Cuba was forced to import fuel from Algeria, and Raul Castro himself sent a letter to Vladimir Putin asking for a stable supply from Russia.

Jorge Piñón believes that it will be difficult for Cuba to find another Venezuela like that of Hugo Chavez willing to pay its oil bill: “The value of the Cuban oil deficit is approximately 1.1 billion dollars a year if we value a barrel at 45 dollars. Who and how is that bill to be paid?” he asks, since Havana does not have the financial resources.

Neither does he believe that Russia will assume the cost of refurbishing the Cienfuegos refinery, which the expert says needs between three and five billion dollars of investment.

“For example, we have the great Refinery of the Pacific, in Ecuador, that for the last ten years has been looking for partners after the Venezuelans ‘embarked’,” he cites as an example.

Data provided by the National Bureau of Statistics and Information show that oil production on the island has steadily declined over the last decade. In 2015 (latest figures published), Cuba produced 2,822,000 tonnes of crude oil, some 202,800 tonnes less than in 2010.

National oil production in Cuba. Source: National Bureau of Statistics and Information

National oil production in Cuba. Source: National Bureau of Statistics and Information

National production barely covers 48% of energy demand, as reported by the authorities of the Cuba Petroleum Union in an interview with the national press. The cost of extracting a barrel of oil on the Island is around $14, but it is of low quality and therefore needs to be mixed with other fuels to be used.

The deposits in operation are located in the north-western fringe of the island. After more than 40 years of operation the yield of the wells has fallen, which is reflected in the volume of extracted oil.

On the other hand, some of the most important deposits are located in Varadero, the main tourist center of the country, which makes it difficult to extract, according to authorities, who estimate to 11 billion barrels of oil reserves in that area of ​​the country.

Cuba’s biggest bet is its exclusive economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico (about 112,000 square kilometers), open to foreign investment since 1999, with high costs and investment risks in the Gulf’s deep waters. Russians, Canadians and Venezuelans have invested there without much results. This week, however, the Australian company Melbana Energy will begin exploration of the oil wells it has identified in the northern coast of Cuba.

Revolutionary Desecration

Going forward, the remains of Céspedes and Grajales will be next to those of Fidel Castro and José Martí (Christian Pirkl – Eigenes Werk/Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 10 October 2017 — In a simple note consisting only of four paragraphs, the official Cuban press reported yesterday a fact as unexpected as it was unusual: this Tuesday, coinciding with the 149th anniversary of the beginning of the War of Independence, “the political act and military ceremony of the burial of the remains of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and Mariana Grajales” will take place in the cemetery Santa Ifigenia, in Santiago de Cuba.

As if it were not sufficiently offensive to the memory of José Martí – who devoted his life to, and met his death in pursuit of the dream of a republic of free Cubans – the imposition, in the vicinity of the beautiful funerary monument that honors his memory, of a horrible mortuary rock that contains the remains of the autocrat that destroyed the brief republican mirage and cut off all civil liberties, now the Cuban authorities have granted themselves the right to dispose of the mortal remains of other heroes of the nation, as if this were their particular legacy, and not the whole nation’s spiritual heritage. continue reading

146 years ago, eight medical students were executed for an alleged crime against the tomb of a Spanish journalist in colonial Cuba

And they obviously do it with the implicit intention of expanding the cult to the Deceased in Chief, his majesty, Castro I, equating him to the founding fathers of the Cuban nation, if not subordinating the founding fathers around him.

But the impunity of the olive-green cupola is as immense as its arrogance. Suffice it to remember that 146 years ago, eight medical students were executed for an alleged crime against the tomb of a Spanish journalist in colonial Cuba.

Such costly mobilization of funerary monuments – of Céspedes and of Mariana – is even more unfathomable in a country where material and financial deficiencies are ever more pressing, and where a very strong hurricane destroyed a significant part of the housing base of the most humble and insolvent Cubans. Only “so that, in the future, the Cuban people and foreign visitors can pay tribute in a more expeditious way, to both, the National Hero José Martí on one side and on the other, the Historical Leader of the Cuban Revolution, Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruz…”

It seems that the mortal remains of the Father of our Nation, which were disturbed and publicly exposed in Santiago de Cuba by the Spanish colonial power in 1874, haven’t yet found their well-deserved rest.

The official greed in quest of dollars does not stop at anything. It’s here that the historical memory of the nation, this time using the bones of the most noteworthy deceased, is subordinated to the tourist industry.

But in their decision to mobilize official necrophilia in the service of the particular interests of the Government, it is not only ordinary Cubans that have been excluded. Manuel Hilario de Céspedes and García Menocal, Bishop of Matanzas and descendant of the Father of the Nation’s lineage, was not consulted about it. Neither were other important ecclesiastical authorities, such as Juan de Dios, Auxiliary Bishop of Havana and Secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba.

Nothing is sacred to the Cuban autocracy: neither memories, nor the nation’s heroes, nor the symbols they pretend to honor, nor the heir children of the national history

Oscar Márquez, the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba, was not only not previously informed of the exhumation, but his office has yet to receive any requests to officiate in a Catholic ceremony honoring the remains of such distinguished, undeniably Catholic, Cubans, which demonstrates the rampant contempt of the military elite for all values, feelings and traditions of the nation.

However, the desecration of important tombs and the patriotic memory of the nation is an old practice for that autocracy. For example, in 1987, after the death of an old communist leader who became a faithful servant of the Castro regime, Blas Roca Calderío, his body was buried at Cacahual, of all places, very close to the mausoleum that holds the remains of General Antonio Maceo Grajales, one of the most important heroes of the Cuban wars of independence, in what constituted a sharp affront to all those who erected his mausoleum from public and private donations.

Nothing is sacred to the Cuban autocracy: neither the memories, nor the nation’s heroes, nor the symbols they pretend to honor, nor the children who are the inheritors of the national history. When, on October 10th this conspiracy is finally consummated, the Government will just have added one more injury against Cuba. However, the worst affront is not the desecration of power, but the acquiescent silence of those who should be the true guardians of the historical memory that gave birth to us as a people: Cubans.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban VP Diaz-Canel Calls “Acoustic Attacks” Issue “Extraordinary Humbug”

Raúl Castro (4th from left) took a back seat to his heir apparent, Vice-President Diaz-Canel (2nd from left), who carried the weight of the ceremony. (EFE / Alejandro Ernesto)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 October 2017 – A sober ceremony this Sunday was the official tribute for the 50th anniversary of the death of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. Cuban first vice-president Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez deliver the main speech in the city of Santa Clara and called the information about the acoustic attacks suffered by US diplomats in Cuba “extraordinary humbug.”

“Some spokespeople and the media lend themselves to offering extraordinary humbug without any evidence in order to discredit the impeccable performance of our country,” he said. Díaz-Canel stressed the island’s status as “a safe destination for foreign visitors, including Americans.” continue reading

However, he avoided referring directly to the recent warning from the United States government to its citizens, where it recommends not staying in the Hotel Nacional and the Hotel Capri in Havana, both scenes of some of the attacks suffered by US diplomatic staff.

The warning from Washington goes straight to the heart of one of the most important economic activities for the island, which last year surpassed 4 million visitors for the first time. The State Department announcements along with damages caused by Hurricane Irma threaten the forecast of 4.7 million tourists projected for 2017.

Díaz-Canel, Raúl Castro’s apparent dauphin to succeed him to the presidency of the country in February of next year, took the opportunity to reiterate the island’s unconditional solidarity with the government of Nicolás Maduro and with the “Bolivarian and Chavista” people of Venezuela and highlighted the qualities of Ernesto Guevara, whom he described as “exceptional revolutionary.”

The vice president spoke in his address about “the difficult times” of the present and pointed out that “there is a recurrent resort to destabilization and policies of ‘regime change’ against legitimately constituted governments.”

Díaz-Canel said that losses of the Latin American left in recent years is “an evident expression” of the “neo-liberal capitalist colonization plans.”

Raul Castro attended the event after a long absence from appearing in public. The fact that, to date, he has not visited the areas affected by Hurricane Irma had sparked strong speculation about his health.

Castro, dressed in military uniform, remained in the front row of the audience and deposited a white rose over the niche placed in Che Guevara Plaza 20 years ago where lie, according to the official version, the remains of the guerrilla and several of his Cuban colleagues.

The mausoleum, inaugurated in October 1997, was restored this year and has become a place of pilgrimage for leftist militants and a regular destination on the tourist routes in the center of the island. So far it has been visited by 4.7 million people.

Meliá Reopens Hotels In Varadero Northern Cuban Keys After Hurricane Irma

The Meliá Jardines del Rey will repoen November 1st, the Meliá Cayo Coco will open on the 4th, and the Sol Cayo Guillermo on the 15th. (Meliacuba)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Havana, 11 October 2017 — The Spanish group Meliá announced Wednesday that it will reopen eleven hotels in Cuba beginning on October 15, two of them in the resort of Varadero and the rest in the keys of the center-north of the island, areas devastated by Hurricane Irma.

“Meliá Cuba announces the reopening of hotels affected by Hurricane Irma in Cayo Santa María, Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo and Varadero,” the company said in a statement sent to EFE. continue reading

The company, based in Mallorca, offered thanks to the “cooperation of the Cuban tourism authorities” which made it possible to identify “in a short period of time the facilities that suffered damages due to the intense storm.”

The group also announced that it will offer “renovated products for the peak season,” due to the improvements made in the facilities during the almost month-long closure.

The first to resume services will be the Meliá Peninsula Varadero and the Paradisus Varadero, which will reopen on October 15.

Following will be those in Cayo Santa María (Villa Clara province); the Meliá Cayo Santa María and Meliá Las Dunas hotels will be open on November 1, while the Meliá Buenavista and the Sol Cayo Santa María will resume operations on November 15.

In the Jardines del Rey archipelago, where Irma touched down as a category 5 hurricane – the maximum on the Saffir-Simpson scale – the Sol Cayo Coco will reopen on October 17 followed three days later by the Meliá Cayo Guillermo.

The Meliá Jardines del Rey will restart its services on November 1, and will be followed by the Meliá Cayo Coco opening on the 4th and the Sol Cayo Guillermo on the 15th.

Between August 8 and 10, the powerful Hurricane Irma hit the Cuban coast from east to west, affecting 13 of the island’s 15 provinces, causing 10 deaths and substantial material damages to housing, infrastructure and agriculture.

More than 1.8 million people were evacuated to safe places, including thousands of vacationers along the north coast of the country, who were relocated to Trinidad (south) and Varadero, about 90 miles from Havana, which was also affected by the storm.