Cuba’s Agricultural Markets Can’t Keep Up After the End of the Year

Empty pallets or ones with only a single product have become a frequent scene in Cuban agricultural markets. (Klaussi)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 14 January 2019 — The lack of goods in Cuban agricultural markets after the year-end celebrations is almost a Christmas tradition, but this time, the recovery is slow in coming. The Ejército Juvenil del Trabajo (EJT / Youth Labor Army) market on 17th Street in El Vedado is one of more than 170 places that sell agricultural products in the capital that has for the past two weeks lacked adequate stock.

“A combination of several factors are affecting us a lot in obtaining provisions,” Gerardo Gómez explained to 14ymedio; Gómez is a private truck driver who supplies merchandise to the market on San Rafael Street, one of the most important in Havana after the closure of Cuatros Caminos.

“There is always, at the end of the year, a reduction in the offerings, because there is little work done in the fields and the truck drivers also do not like to transport during the holidays,” adds Gómez. “But this year we have the additional issue of problems with transportation because police controls have increased at the access roads to the city.”

In recent months the authorities have stepped up inspections of cargo vehicles entering the capital to reduce the arrival of products in the informal markets. The controls also seek to reduce the consumption of fuel stolen from state companies that often ends up in the hands of private carriers.

Last December, a series of measures came into play that regulate the consumption of gasoline and diesel for private transportation owners destined for the transfer of passengers. “That is affecting us a lot because there was a lot of merchandise that also came in via the almendrones (a name that refers to the ’almond’ shape of the cars from the 1950’s used in this service) or the trucks that transport people (many trucks in Cuba are used for passenger service),” said the driver and mentioned smaller products such as onions and garlic.

Gómez adds that this situation is worsened because “there is a serious problem with animal feed and that is why very little meat is coming to this market”. On the premises at San Rafael Street the price of a pound of boneless pork reached a historical record at the beginning of January, when it rose to 60 cuban pesos, the equivalent of three days’ salary of a professional.

In a small paladar (private restaurant) near the market, the owners juggle to provide salads. “We were able to find fresh lettuce and cabbage but we had to buy canned pepper and beans from the stores,” says Carmina, who works at the Sabor Criollo restaurant.

The canned vegetables that Carmina acquired came from Spain. “They are expensive but what else are we going to do if we do not find the product in the agricultural markets,” laments the woman. Cuba spends more than 2 billion dollars every year importing food and more than 80% of the food consumed on the Island comes from abroad.

“Even the carrots we had to buy in cans because the supply in the markets is very unstable, sometimes they have it and sometimes they don’t. Now we have to go very early to the markets to obtain something because there is little merchandise and it runs out quickly,” she laments.

On December 25, Cuban first vice-president, Salvador Valdés Mesa, visited the Villoldo complex, in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, where the state agricultural market La Palma is located. His presence was reported in the official press — which also tweeted the news with a link to the article and photo of Valdés Mesa — and this generated an avalanche of criticism from readers because the photo showed him standing in front of displays full of products.

Now, the market shown in the images as overflowing with products, is also suffering  from the reduction in supply. “What we have right now is plantains, green tomatoes and some very small eggplants”, one of the workers of the place tells this newspaper by telephone. “We do not have pork for sale but perhaps by the weekend we will get a supply,” he concludes.

Employees and customers are hoping the situation improves. “We are giving it time to see if sales pick up,” says Luisa, 72, who goes the Tulipán Street EJT market. “It is true that at every year-end many products are unavailable but we are almost to the middle of January and the supply has not improved”.

The retiree says she is hopeful about the application of the new tax on idle land that took effect earlier this year in the provinces of Artemisa, Mayabeque and Matanzas. “There are many people who have land and are not using it to plant food,” laments Luisa. “This can push them to produce.”

However, Carmina believes that the problem is more complex than unproductive lands. “The entire supply chain is damaged, because of the lack of feed for the animals or fertilizers for the crops, the transportation does not work efficiently and the prices are very high,” she summarizes.

At the paladar where she works, they are seriously considering “removing some dishes from the menu because they can’t guarantee their availability with this lack of supply”.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

Dozens of Employees of the Company in Charge of Cleanliness of Havana Detained

Some of the managers of the company in charge of collecting and treating waste in Havana are in provisional detention. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14January 2019 — A hundred employees of the Communal Resources of Havana Company are involved in a new case of financial fraud and face charges of embezzlement, falsification of documents and “spread of diseases” as published this Monday in Cubanet, which cites sources linked to the state agency.

Some managers of the company in charge of collecting and treating waste products have been in provisional detention as of the end of 2018, when the Prosecutor’s Office of Havana opened an investigation of more than a dozen high-ranking officials as a result of inspections and audits ordered by government. continue reading

The authorities detected anomalies in the records of several units, especially those in charge of the collection of solid waste.

“There is talk of payments higher than 20 or 30 Cuban pesos per cubic meter of garbage pick-up when the standard should be between 10 and 15 pesos (…), the volumes of trashed collected aren’t what they should be. According to the figures that exists today in the records, there shouldn’t be a single piece of paper thrown in the streets and on the contrary, what you see is a horror,” a source from the Municipal Administration of Finance of Arroyo Naranjo told Cubanet.

The same source states that there are other irregularities such as employee numbers and inflated wages or fraud in hiring.

The official press has not mentioned the investigation, which is ongoing. The Prosecutor’s Office could request sentences of up to 10 years, like in prior cases, Cubanet affirms.

In 2009, the Government created the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic to stop corruption and the diversion of resources. In 2017, in the 361 entities supervised by comptroller Gladys Bejerano Portela, economic losses amounting to more than one million pesos and 47 criminal acts were detected, implicating 1,265 individuals.

In 2011, Raul Castro asserted that “corruption is today one of the main enemies of the Revolution, much more harmful than the subversive and interventionist activity of the United States Government and its allies inside and outside the country.”

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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

"A Final Opportunity Is Being Opened To Ortega. There Won’t Be Any More Than That."

Vivanco believes there are the  votes to expel the Ortega regime because there is a consensus about its ” widespread and systematic abuse.”  (Johanna Zárate/Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Bow, Washington, January 14, 2019 — The extraordinary session of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) on Nicaragua was closely followed by José Miguel Vivanco, director of the Division of the Americas at Human Rights Watch. He was in the same room with the ambassadors and representatives of the American countries, which this Friday carried out a “collective evaluation” as a first step to implement the Inter-American Democratic Charter to the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.

For the expert, “an opportunity, a final opportunity, is being opened” for Ortega to redirect the course of Nicaragua. To “move from a dictatorial system to a democratic system,” before the OAS expels the regime from the regional body, for which – Vivanco believes – there are the 24 votes necessary, given that among the countries “there is a greater consensus” that the situation in Nicaragua is one of “impunity, brutality, and widespread and systematic abuse” against the opposition. continue reading

“If the Government doesn’t show signs of being ready to agree to the petitions that can be made within the scope of the OAS, then there will be no other solution than the definitive implementation of the Democratic Charter,” assured Vivanco, who spoke to [Nicaraguan digital outlet] Confidencial from his office in Washington.

Confidencial: What is your assessment of the extraordinary session on Nicaragua, in the Permanent Council of the OAS? Did they initiate the invocation of the Democratic Charter?

José Miguel Vivanco: It was really important because thanks to this meeting being held, the OAS initiates the implementation of the Democratic Charter to Nicaragua, to Ortega’s government.

The Democratic Charter demands in Article 20 that for it to be implemented, some sort of collective evaluation must be done of the conditions of human rights and public and democratic freedoms in any country of the member states of the OAS. That was precisely the objective of this meeting.

As of this session, political and diplomatic procedures can be carried out by member states, by the Working Group that currently exists for Nicaragua, and also by the secretary general of the OAS. For example, freeing political prisoners, putting an end to censorship and persecution of independent media outlets, reestablishing democratic order and public liberties, the independence of the judiciary, or a petition so that human rights bodies from the United Nations or OAS can be allowed access to the country.

If the Government doesn’t show signs of being ready to agree to the petitions that can be made within the scope of the OAS, then there will be no other solution than the definitive implementation of the Democratic Charter, for which 24 votes are required.

Confidencial: Do the political conditions exist to get the 24 votes in the OAS with the new position that López Obrador’s government in Mexico has adopted?

Vivanco: It’s not going to be easy for that quorum to be reached, but I don’t see it as impossible. I understand perfectly that Mexico has changed its position; that under the current government of Manuel López Obrador, which controls and guides Mexico’s foreign policy, is the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs, whether or not they violate human rights. Something that is really archaic, belonging to the principles of the last century. Mexico demonstrated it today (Friday) because it stood out by its absence, didn’t open its mouth, didn’t make the smallest comment. It was in total silence throughout the entire session.

I believe that despite the new position–lamentable, reactionary–of the current government of Mexico, the votes may indeed be there, because there is a greater and greater consensus that the situation in Nicaragua is one of impunity, brutality, and widespread and systematic abuse against those who don’t agree with the current regime.

Confidencial: How are the political terms of the OAS planned in relation to Nicaragua, if Ortega has made it clear that he has no political will to hold talks?

Vivanco: Indeed, Ortega in fact has demonstrated a dictatorial attitude, typical of a despot, that he is not prepared to exercise power in a manner respectful of legal values and of the obligations appropriate to the rule of law, to a democratic state.

Here an opportunity is being opened, I would say a final opportunity, there won’t be any more than that. Once again, they implement, in the OAS, the Democratic Charter to anyone.

The other country that is under the implementation of the Democratic Charter is Venezuela, in that case so far the quorum–that is, the 24 votes–has not existed, because of the pressure that Venezuela exerts on the countries of the Caribbean. But it is a country that is more and more isolated, discredited, and with less and less support.

Nicaragua is not Venezuela, it’s not an oil power. It doesn’t have the political muscle that Venezuela has so far shown, even in ruins. For Nicaragua, the road becomes more difficult.

Confidencial: Will a new commission be created or will it be the same Working Group of the OAS, which Ortega’s government refused entry, that carries out the diplomatic procedures in Nicaragua?

Vivanco: The OAS already created the Working Group for Nicaragua, made up of 12 member states of the OAS, including Mexico, which has not withdrawn from that group.

I don’t believe that a new group will be created, that one will arise. The Working Group for Nicaragua is precisely the one that has the mandate, the obligation, and the duty to continue reporting, to the rest of the nations of the OAS, the advances and setbacks experienced in political matters and human rights in Nicaragua.

Confidencial: The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI, for its Spanish acronym) concluded that “crimes against humanity” have been committed in Nicaragua. How can they be prosecuted if that country doesn’t accept the International Criminal Court?

Vivanco: It’s true that, not having ratified the Rome Statute, Nicaragua, unlike Venezuela, cannot be brought before the International Criminal Court, even if there is evidence that crimes against humanity have been committed, but there are other ways, like for example the Security Council of the United Nations, where a debate can be opened. I know that among the permanent members of the UN Security Council are Russia and China, which could serve to veto any effort against Nicaragua, but that remains to be seen. International relations, assessments that are made at a multilateral level, are always very complex and depend on innumerable factors.

I believe that GIEI’s report can be very useful before the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.

Confidencial: The resignation of the magistrate Rafael Solís from the judiciary and from the FSLN [Sandinista National Liberation Front] has surprised the leaders in power in Nicaragua. What international effect will this break have?

Vivanco: It depends on what the Supreme Court magistrate can provide. It’s necessary to understand that this is someone who until yesterday was part of the Supreme Court and who was in his position while atrocious acts were being done and committed in Nicaragua, and he continued participating as a magistrate of the Supreme Court.

We’re still lacking information to better understand the role he played during those months. Whether or not there was an internal debate; he says that the decisions that affect the courts are made by the Executive, it would be good for him to provide more information that would serve to better understand the responsibilities of certain other authorities, other than Ortega and Murillo, who we obviously know are, in the end, the ones who control the country and run it as if it were their private estate.

Confidencial: The sanctions derived from the Nica Act and the possible authorization of the Democratic Charter can weaken the regime, but Ortega clings to power like Nicolás Maduro. Is the situation of Nicaragua comparable to that of Venezuela, to project that Ortega could remain in power until 2021?

Vivanco: The Nica Act, which is a kind of Magnitsky law dedicated exclusively to Nicaragua, allows sanctions of the corrupt and violators of human rights, where it turns them into practically toxic personages. That is to say, the sanctions can be really draconian, and we believe that many of those who make up part of this dictatorial regime deserve it, because of the responsibilities that they have for extremely grave violations and for covering up these acts.

It’s an extraordinary tool, that is not available for Venezuela, that is not available for other nations in the world. It has the support of Democrats and Republicans, here there is no doubt in any sector that we are facing a ruthless regime. In that way, I have great hopes that the Nica Act can serve to compel the regime to move from a dictatorial system to a democratic system.

Confidencial: So you don’t see a parallel between Nicaragua and Venezuela, do you see it as a possibility that Ortega can leave before 2021?

Vivanco: I don’t see any, there is no relation between one case and the other, except that the atrocities are similar. We are talking about two populist dictators, who they say are leftwing and who seek to remain in power at any price, where they are prepared to use brutal repression, if that is the only way to preserve power, and where additionally power is totally concentrated, there are neither authorities nor judiciaries nor democratic institutions to anticipate or sanction abuses.

But, they are two cases that do not have points in common, from the point of view of what are the strategies, and of what will be the future of these two dictatorial regimes and their relation with the rest of the world.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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Editors’ note: this text was originally published by the Nicaraguan digital outlet Confidencial, which has authorized us to reproduce it here.

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 Revolution Does Not Want To Be Tweeted

María Hergueta

Yoani Sanchez, New York Times, Havana, 13 January 2019 — A young man posts images of a flood in Centro Habana on social networks. From the internet come complaints from neighbors who are clamoring for an official response and for repairs to the sewer network. Sixty years after the triumph of the Revolution, Cubans are prohibited from expressing their dissatisfaction in public plazas, but take advantage of virtual spaces to call out the government.

On 6 December, the more than eleven million people who inhabit this island began to travel a new path. Like the day we gave birth to a child, or a close relative died, or we learned of the death of Fidel Castro, all Cubans remember what we were doing at the moment that web browsing service burst onto our cellphones.

A package allowing 4 gigs of navigation costs 30 dollars a month, the equivalent of the entire monthly salary of a professional. The high prices leave a good part of the population unable to access the service. Many Cubans face a dilemma; connect or eat; chat with a friend or replace a light bulb; watch a video on YouTube or pay a shared taxi to get to work. This is the new “capitalism.com” of a Revolution that fears being tweeted for lack of news to talk about or results to show. continue reading

We all know how and when this new stage of connectivity began, but few venture to predict how far it will go. To imagine that scenario, right now, must be the worst nightmare for the Plaza of the Revolution.

It is an irony that a large part of the internet surfers’ phone bills are paid by the emigrants who want to maintain contact with their families. Those who were criticized by the official discourse for not staying to build the utopia are now the main economic support of those who remained here. Popular humor has not missed the contradiction and portrays the exiles with a play on words: “De traidores a traedólares” – from traitors to dollar-bringers.

With the passing years the pressure has been growing from these Cubans all over the world, together with the pressure from within, to be able to access the web and maintain greater communications between both shores. In 2015, when the first wireless connection zones opened in Cuba’s plazas and parks, thousands of customers filled those spaces to chat, connect with relatives who have emigrated, and enjoy the vertigo of connectivity.

This image of collective euphoria contrasted with the first internet rooms that opened at the beginning of this century and offered services exclusively to tourists or foreigners living on the island. From one of those sites, located in emblematic Havana Capitol, in April of 2007 I published the first text in my blog Generation Y.

Wearing sandals and the astonished look of someone who had just landed on the island, with enough sunscreen to make the security guards believe I’d arrived from far off Europe, I mumbled some words in a mix of clumsy Spanish and harsh German which allowed me to buy my first card to sit in front on a state computer and upload the post of my baptism as a blogger.

Those were the years in which an army of cyber-combatants was created, ready to fill the comment sections of critical sites with revolutionary slogans, attack opponents using pseudonyms, and spread doubts about the morality of the dissidents, with the high level rage of a real “reputation assassination,” but this time without going through the courts or needing bullets: a blistering attack purely by tweets.

A figure who stood out in those moments of fierce ideological battle against new the technologies was the revolutionary commander Ramiro Valdés, who defined with harsh words the relationship of the historical generation with the new phenomena that arrived with cellphones, USB memories and the computers Cubans assembled from spare parts they bought on the black market.

The internet is a “wild colt” that “should and can be tamed,” said the feared soldier, when he served as Minister of Information Technology and Communications. That premise of confronting information technologies as an enemy and seeing digital spaces as a place to conquer dominated the government’s attitude to the network for more than a decade.

The pioneers of independent blogs were plagued by accusations that we were “cybermercenaries” trained by the US Central Intelligence Agency, and in the University of Information Sciences, Operation Truth was created to bring the influence of the official version to forums and virtual debates. National television presented us, the first Cuban tweeters, as the new outpost of the United States to attack the Revolution.

From that fierce battle for digital expression I came away with some personal and social scars.

Now I do not have to speak with a fake accent to connect to the Internet, but the official intolerance towards free expression has changed little and the work of independent reporters remains a central focus of the attacks of the political police. The “digital plaza,” that section of cyberspace made up especially by social networks where Cubans who can not meet physically express their political ideas, has helped us to narrate the reality of deep Cuba from all its diversity.

Access to 3G telephony has allowed many Cubans to use the Internet to ask for a No vote in the referendum on the new Constitution, to denounce Decree 349 – which restricts artistic expression – and to question the method by which Miguel Díaz-Canel was installed as president. But in parliament, public spaces and centers of power one still hears a single discourse.

Without his own political agenda, Díaz-Canel wanted to mark a difference, at least aesthetically and technologically, from his predecessors. The first man who does not have the surname Castro in the presidency of the country for more than half a century, he opened a Twitter account and has ordered all cabinet ministers to do the same. But the 58-year-old engineer, handpicked by Raúl Castro and the few remaining octogenarians of the historical generation, only use the networks to reaffirm the continuity of the political model, to repeat the official phraseology and to attack their ideological adversaries.

The new president uses the old discourse and the worn out oratory of the Castros in new clothes: HTML code. But despite that, his presence on the Internet can hardly help the oxidized lungs of a twentieth century revolution come alive, through breathing the oxygen of new technologies.

Young people who complain about the quality of the bread on the rationed market, dissidents who record a violent arrest, passengers of a bus that can’t provide service to a huge crowd bothered by the poor state of public transport, and the objections on Facebook walls to every word pronounced by the deputies of the National Assembly, are some of the phenomena that are being seen since the internet reached Cuban cellphones.

In fact, the cost of connectivity is passing a very negative bill to a government that has been unable to get on the bandwagon of modernity.

Activism will grow with connectivity, although opponents and independent journalists must continue circumventing the censorship. Greater access to the Internet will allow for the reconciling of positions and a coming together – at least digitally – in a country where the right to free association is restricted. But, above all, it will weaken control over information by a system that began by trying to change everything and that, today, fears any novelty that offers the slightest change.

El Triunfo Bridge in Sagua La Grande is About to be Defeated by Apathy

The state of the El Triunfo (Triumph) bridge has deteriorated with the passing of decades and the lack of maintenance. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Julia Mézenov, Sagua la Grande | 9 January 2019, 2019 – With its rusty structure and missing stretches of rails, the El Triunfo (Triumph) bridge in Sagua la Grande has become a source of concern for the population. The local authorities have not fulfilled their promises to maintain the symbol of this city in the province of Villa Clara.

This work of enginnering, which has lost its former splendor, connects Centro Victoria with Barrio San Juan. Thousands of people pass through it every day, including students from the elementary and middle schools and the only high school in Sagua la Grande.

The importance of this bridge in the daily life of the Sagüeros is such that the majority have expressed a desire in the new year for the repair of El Triunfo that combines safety and functionality with its lost beauty. continue reading

However, it does not seem to be a priority for the local powers that be. The neighbors consulted by 14ymedio lament that for more than five years the authorities have promised capital improvement, but nothing has happened.

To alleviate the flow of people, bicycles and motorcycles (which to cross El Triunfo must be pushed by hand) the so-called “floating bridge” was enabled. In mid-2018 after the heavy floods caused by the subtropical storm Alberto, the old bridge was reopened due to the need to channel the influx of passers-by, since most of the businesses, welfare and work centers are located on one of the banks of the Sagua la Grande river. However, the bridge — one of the few with the Pratt beam technology (one of the most modern of its time) that remains on the Island with its original infrastructure — was reopened without having any improvements made.

“When a disaster happens, then they will begin to take measures,” explains Olguita González, a neighbor of Sagua la Grande who has been crossing El Triunfo every day for more than 40 years. “One day it will not hold up anymore, because, although the passage of trucks is prohibited, that does not guarantee anything, it is very old.”

Located in an area declared a national monument in 2011, El Triunfo was the scene of exciment when the victorious troops of General José Luis Robau passed through it after the end of the War of 1895 against Spain. At that time the bridge, which was then made of wood, was renamed, and, years later, in 1905, the structure was changed to the current one, made of iron.

“If Robau came back now, he would fall into the river,” says Gonzalez ironically, worried about the number of children and elderly people passing through.

With the rising waters of the Sagua la Grande River, thousands of people from the Popular Council of San Juan-Finalet are left practically incommunicado. The deteriorated bridge is the only link when there is a slight flood in the area, since the Carrillo bridge floods and the Clara Barton bridge disappeared, submerged by the waters in 1996.

The last announcement about a possible repair was made in February 2018 in the local press. Elvis Perez Casola, then head of the Investment Department of the Resources of Communal Services Unit, assured that the technical and material means to undertake the work were secured, but nothing else has been said and the neighbors are still in doubt about when the longed for repairs will occur.

That frustrating promise was already déjà vu to another that an official made two years ago when he said: “The subordination of local investments are 100% fulfilled in anticipation of the payment to the builders of the El Triunfo bridge. The rehabilitation work has not started to date due to difficulties of the construction company.”

Since then it has rained, the waters of the river have risen several times, rust and deterioration have continued their advance and the defeat of El Triunfo becomes even more humiliating.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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 "Yes" Campaign Invades Cuba’s High Schools and Universities

The Government is seeking to attract Yes votes among the youngest voters for the February 24 referendum. Shown here: Young people in front of the famous steps of the University of Havana.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, January 11, 2019 — Meetings, morning assemblies, and talks in high school courses and university faculties all over the country are some of the strategies that the Cuban Government has put into practice to promote the Yes vote among the youngest voters, especially those who, in the February 24 referendum on the new Constitution, will cast a vote at the polls for the first time.

Since classes resumed in January, after the end of year break, the official Yes campaign for the new Constitution has landed in upper secondary and university classrooms via conferences, discussion groups, and classes. Professors call for the ratification of the Constitution in order to “maintain the achievements of the Revolution” and “keep the country from falling into the enemy’s hands,” according to students’ testimonies gathered by 14ymedio. continue reading

The promotion of the Yes vote extends to activities organized by the Secondary School Students’ Federation (FEEM) and the University Students’ Federation (FEU).

Additionally, the subject has come up at school morning assemblies in all State institutions, where harangues and calls to “support the Revolution” with a Yes vote are abundant.

“They informed us of the new content of the Defense Preparation course last Monday at the morning assembly,” a 12th grade student in a high school program in Old Havana tells this newspaper. “We already had the first class and the whole time they talked to us of the importance of voting Yes because that was the only way to protect the homeland from its enemies and to be able to keep healthcare and education free,” he adds.

The teenager, who turned 16 in November, assures that the professor teaching the material asserted that “a No is counterrevolutionary” and those who “vote No want to destroy the country and all the achievements of the Revolution.” The class segment on this subject lasted 45 minutes and “the whole time was about the importance of attending the referendum and not letting oneself be influenced by those who are calling for a No vote.”

Other testimonies gathered in Santiago de Cuba, Villa Clara, and Sancti Spíritus confirm that it is a strategy at the national level of which the Ministries of Education and of Higher Education refused to give details to questions from this newspaper.

In Santa Clara, Jean Carlo, 16, has already heard two talks on the subject in his high school program. “At the first one a man dressed as a soldier came and joined the professor and said that from the United States they were financing counterrevolutionaries to promote the campaign for No,” he remembers.

“The other time it was taught by the history teacher and she explained to us that we are in a very important moment for the Revolution, and if it was the responsibility of some to attack the Moncada Barracks and of others to fight in Girón (the Bay of Pigs), it’s our responsibility to fight so that Yes wins in the referendum.”

In universities all over the Island, which in the 2018-2019 school year have some 240,000 students, the official Yes campaign has also begun in classrooms, even though until the last days of January, students in higher education take their final exams of the semester and only come to the institutions to do reviews or take exams.

“Every day they say something, in some review (for exams) or in some appeal from the FEU,” says Brandon, 21, who is enrolled in one of the faculties of the iconic University Hill in the nation’s flagship university in Havana. “The students listen but almost nobody asks or says anything, they only hear,” he emphasizes.

The situation recalls the so-called Battle of Ideas, an ideological turn of the screw that Fidel Castro pushed at the beginning of this century. The intense campaign included weekly public actions, known as Open Forums, the creation of a red guard of very aggressive young people, known as “social workers,” and more political activities in schools.

However, with Raúl Castro’s arrival to power many of those programs broke up for lack of resources. “It’s not that ideology has been relaxed in schools, much less in universities, but that there weren’t funds to sustain all that propagandistic machinery,” believes Katty, a recent graduate in pedagogy.

In the last week the Cuban Government has intensified its Yes campaign on national media and has placed advertisements for Yes at baseball games and in the news on national television. However, promoters of No or of abstention do not appear in any of these settings.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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

Cuba and the Castro Constitution: To Vote ‘No’ or To Not Vote?

Ballot boxes in Cuba (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 10 January 2019 — We are less than two months away from the referendum that will be submitted to Cuban citizens to consider whether to “ratify” or not the constitutional reform already approved unanimously by the National Assembly. Social networks have been the scene of a bitter controversy among those who encourage the campaign for a massive vote against the “new” spurious constitution written by the scribes of the Castro regime and, at the opposite extreme, those who advocate a massive absence at the polls.

Each one of the proposals has its own arguments. Those who support not going to the polls (an option that in electoral terms equals abstention), consider the exercise of the vote as a “legitimation of the dictatorship,” assuming that both the newly drafted Constitution and the official electoral apparatus constitute a fraud in themselves — which does not cease tobe true — and that to vote in such conditions is to “play the game” of the government. At the same time, several of those who lead in the support for abstention state that the “legitimate” alternative would be to take to the streets and march against the Castro regime. continue reading

However, would the option of “street march abstention” be viable? It does not seem so. At least, past experience does not favor it. It is acknowledged that — beyond supposed political compromises with the “Revolution” — the overwhelming majority of voters in Cuba go to the polls for fear of “finger-pointing” and retaliation. For decades, the pressure of the authorities on the electorate has been felt both through the enormous and suffocating Castro propaganda and in the figure of minor “agitators,” be they elements of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution or little pioneers (children) sent door to door to urge the more morose to vote.

Nor is it a secret to anyone that, if fraud is involved, the authorities may well use the ballots of those absent in their favor by marking them with a resounding “Yes,” which makes it clear that abstaining does not constitute a guarantee of success.

Not to mention achieving a chimeric popular mass march in rebellion against the elections or against the regime. It is unthinkable that an electorate fearful of the simple act of refusing to vote will have the courage to take to the streets to march and face the fury of the Castro repressive forces. Leaving aside other essential considerations such as the lack of sufficient convening power to mobilize a critical mass of Cubans, or the absence of leaderships adversarial to the regime that are recognized by the crowds, it could be affirmed that the option to abstain and/or march is (almost) absolutely unfeasible.

Meanwhile, the proposal to attend and cast a NO vote has some elements in its favor. In principle, the initial call was born from civil society through social networks, not from opposition political parties or organizations of any political tendency. It is an authentic citizen reaction that has been drawing more consensus than dissent among Cubans from all shores, whose campaign has been so fast and viral that it was even anticipated, and put the dictatorial regime on the defensive, forcing its powerful propaganda machinery to a hasty campaign for the YES vote.

As an additional benefit, the spontaneity and speed of the “YoVotoNo” (IVoteNo) campaign has prevented leaders or groups of any denomination from monopolizing its leadership and from “assuming” or taking credit for its course. This seemingly insignificant detail favors the participation of Cubans who do not feel identified with the opposition or who are suspicious of leaders they are not familiar with, but who also reject the dictatorship and aspire to changes within the country, without suggesting the rejection of opponents or the participation of dissidents.

The official discourse – that the YoVotoNo option is a “proposal of the enemy” – collapses with the mere fact that it does not require external financing or financing of any nature: it is the simple, voluntary and straightforward exercise of a citizen’s right, the right to vote, one of the few that we still have and that, judging by the virulence of the Castro regime’s discourse, now stands as a threat to its totalitarian reign, based on unanimity in obedience.

And that is another indisputable strategic advantage of the negative vote: it does not suppose risks of repression, since it is founded on citizens’ right to the secret vote recognized in the Electoral Law. It is impossible to prohibit or hinder the participation of every the Cuban voter on the Island in the referendum, contrary to what happens with street demonstrations that may end up dissolved or simply prevented from being carried out by the repressive forces of the dictatorship.

As for the alleged “legitimation of the tyranny” and of its Constitution, it is just the opposite in this case: the NO strategy is based on using the weapons of the system itself, not to legitimize it, but to empower the citizen vote. That is to say, that the citizen himself legitimizes his rejection of the aforementioned Constitution through his vote, not thanks to the Castro electoral law, but in spite of it.

A strategy whose closest antecedent was – saving the differences – the Varela Project, promoted from the end of the 1990s by Oswaldo Payá, who advocated political reforms based on the Constitution itself, and whose repercussions ultimately meant a political cost significant for the dictatorship, although by virtue of legal subterfuges the initial objective of its promoters was not achieved.

In the current case, however, we are facing a different scenario with very objective favorable circumstances to confront the regime in its own ballot boxes. First, because the referendum call is official, which would make each ballot a legitimate vote, and secondly because almost two decades of failures have accumulated in the system. The shortcomings, despair and frustrations of the population have multiplied, the historical leadership has disappeared, we are at the beginning of another economic schism, the failure of the system is evident after 60 years and the “Revolution” does not have the minimum capital of faith among the majority of Cubans.

Add to this the disenchantment of those who created some expectation around the so-called “popular consultation” and whose suggestions or dissatisfactions were not taken into account in the final result: the LGTBI groups that were literally mocked with the suppression of Article 68; the artists who have rebelled publicly against Decree 349 – now in moratorium but not abolished; and the private transporters who recently staged a sit-down strike in the Cuban capital.  An approximate idea of all the popular discontent that is growing within the island will be apparent.

This suggests that, although it is difficult (though not impossible) to impose the “no vote” at the polls, due to the oiled propaganda machinery and electoral Power fraud, the current conditions are propitious to reach a considerable number of negative ballots against the Castro regime, which means a triumph in itself, because not only would the authorities be forced to commit the most scandalous of frauds, but because the larger the quantity of negative votes the more it would make it virtually impossible to alter all the scrutiny processes, and they will have to at least accept a significant part of the votes opposing the proposal.

Some detractors of the YoVotoNo initiative have suggested that the Castro regime would only accept, at most, the existence of 20% of negative votes. If that is so, they forget that we would be talking about almost two million voters with adverse votes. Recognizing them officially would open the door to future steps and legitimate claims of that broad social sector that does not feel represented in the Constitution and that, consequently, would push for new spaces and freedoms. Almost two million adverse votes mean a deep fissure that would disprove the official discourse of the “unity of the people around their Revolution” and place the true Cuban civil society on stage. The social strength would be greater if the results were higher, in the case where a massive poll turnout to cast NO votes occurred.

It is worth noting, in addition, that contrary to all apparent logic, the Castro regime, in its infinite arrogance, has always relied on fear, apathy, indifference, the fatigue of ordinary Cubans, and also on the eternal internal divisions between the different dissident groups and the opposition. That is why capitalizing on that confidence of the power’s claque in the abject national inertia, and turning it against itself is even more feasible than trying to capitalize late popular discontent in terms of political interests of particular sectors or groups.

A force that multiplies with the support of many emigrated Cubans, who have been encouraging the campaign YoVotoNo from the outside, which indicates that it far exceeds the “legal” limits of the simple exercise of the vote – a right that emigrants lack – to become an axis of unity in rejection of the Castro regime. Probably no opposition proposal had managed to attract so much solidarity and cohesion among Cubans from such different sectors and thoughts as this simple citizen initiative, and that fact alone indicates that in Cuba a before and after may be possible, even from the ballot box.

 (Miriam Celaya, residing in Cuba, is currently visiting the U.S.)

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Authorities Blame the Driver for the Viazul Bus Crash

Luis Ladrón de Guevara, director of transport of passengers for the Ministry of Transport in Cuba, gave a press conference in Havana. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)

14ymedio biggerEFE / 14ymedio, Havana, 11 January 2018 – The Government of Cuba signaled this Friday that the 55-year old driver was directly responsible for a tragic bus crash; he was accused of having lost control of the vehicle for not taking appropriate safety measures resulting in a toll of seven dead and dozens injured.

“Direct responsibility of the driver in this unfortunate event has been determined,” the Ministry of the Interior (Minint) wrote in a press release in state media, in which it offered news on the investigation of the crash that occurred Thursday afternoon in the province of Guantánamo, the fourth on Cuban roads that involved a passenger bus in less than a month. continue reading

The bus driver, who has 25 years of experience in the sector, allegedly failed to comply with the section of the Road and Traffic Code that requires slowing down or stopping if required by traffic, the state of the road or visibility, and driving with extreme caution in adverse conditions, according to the Minint.

The Viazul state company bus with 40 passengers on board overturned at approximately 4:00 p.m. after the driver lost control on a curve at kilometer 22 of the Guantanamo-Baracoa highway, where the pavement was wet and slippery, authorities of the Ministry of Transport (Mitrans) explained during a press conference.

The driver could face “criminal and administrative sanctions” if it is determined that he committed a crime, said the transport director of Mitrans, Luis Ladrón de Guevara.

In any case, he noted that it is still premature to draw conclusions and indicated that a commission has been created composed of officials from state/local agencies and Víazul to investigate the event in more detail.

Three Cubans, two Argentinian women, a German woman and a French man lost their lives in the accident, which also left 33 injured.

Of the injured, five are in serious condition: a Spanish woman, a French woman and three Cubans, while a three-year-old Spanish child suffered multiple injuries but remains stable.

The list of injured also includes another Spanish man, nine more Cubans, three Argentinian men, two Mexican men and twelve citizens from the United Kingdom, Canada, the US, the Netherlands, France and Germany.

The incident Thursday was the second massive crash reported in the eastern region of Cuba so far this week, after a crash between a bus and a passenger train left twelve injured on January 8.

In addition, on December 27, two people were killed and 33 injured in a traffic crash involving a truck with a trailer loaded with sugarcane and a passenger bus from the state company Astro. On December 12 another incident, again involving a passenger bus, left three dead and 29 injured in the vicinity of Mayarí, in the province of Holguín.

Traffic crashes are the fifth leading cause of mortality in Cuba, where last year one was recorded every 47 minutes, for an average of one death every 12 hours.

In 2018 the number of catastrophic crashes soared alarmingly in the country, which has recorded more than 4,400 deaths since 2012, according to official data.

The most recent report shows that between January and October of 2018 there were more than 8,000 traffic crashes on the island.

Most are attributed to a lack of attention by the driver, ignoring the right of way or speeding, but contributing factors are the poor conditions of the roads and the aging fleet of motor vehicles in the Caribbean country, with cars more than 50 years old on the road.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

Internet in Cuba: "The Cubans Abroad Pay For It" / Ivan Garcia

Photo: Taken from Infobae

Iván García, 10 December 2018 — Internet for free in Cuba? Well, the devil is in the details. If you talk to Joel, an urban bus driver, you will know that the problem is not just that you have to recharge your mobile phone account with 7 CUC (roughly $7 US), if you want to have at least 600 MB available to surf the internet.

“The biggest drawback is that my cell phone is from the dark ages and it does not pick up the 3G signal. Then I will have to connect by 2G, which takes a century to establish the connection. And buying a phone for myself is no less than 200 CUC,” says Joel, who drives an articulated Chinese-made Yutong bus on the P-10 route. continue reading

Like Joel, “between a million and a half and two million people will not be able to access the new service quickly because they can not connect to 3G, and because 2G does not guarantee a quality connection,” says Deisy, an engineer for ETECSA, the State communications company.

Several students talk about the opening of the Internet on mobile phones in a small stairway at the entrance to René O’Reine High School, in the neighborhood of La Víbora, south of Havana. Andro asks “how long does the 600 MB (the cheapest package) last and is it possible to download audiovisuals?” Melissa replies that her “mom works at ETECSA and they give her 5 gigabytes and if she downloads applications or music videos, it is used up in ten days.”

Two years ago, to Nélida, a housewife, the Internet sounded like science fiction. “But my son who resides in Miami sent me an iPhone 8 that when connected is a cannon. I take care of it like a treasure. Three times a week I talk to my two children, my son who lives in Miami and my daughter in Spain. Sometimes we go as a whole family with folding chairs and a blanket to park ourselves in the grass of the park, as if we were at a picnic.

“They are the ones who recharge my cell phone with 40 CUC per month and also with a 40 CUC the card to surf the internet. I do not know how many gigs I will consume monthly, I suppose that ETECSA designs those services to be so expensive because the Cubans who live abroad pay for it.”

Deisy, the ETECSA engineer, agrees with the Havana housewife: “It is true that part of the services offered by the company, such as mobile telephone service, internet browsing and now data internet, are sold at prices that a worker [in Cuba] cannot afford on their salary. These services can be paid for by self-employed people and people who have relatives and friends abroad.

“However, right now in Cuba there are more than five million mobile lines and between three and four million citizens frequently connect to the Internet. It is very expensive, but Cubans or their relatives abroad pay for these services and ETECSA takes advantage of the mother-lode and increases its profits. Internet is a necessity.”

Luis Carlos, a university student, believes that “the news is not that there is internet for mobile phones in Cuba. The news is the high prices. Any specialist or professional who systematically uses internet for their work spends more than 4 gigabytes that cost 30 CUC, the average monthly salary here. It is a shame that the government talks about their working on behalf of the people and in order to the demands of the poorest.

“ETECSA long ago stopped being a company that prioritizes social services to the most humble. Like any capitalist company, what they are looking for is profits. And at what prices. They want to sell you internet as if it were a luxury item. The Internet is not just for talking with friends and reading the foreign press. The Internet is economy, business and commerce.”

In their statements, Mayra Arevich and Tania Velázquez, president of ETECSA and vice president of marketing for the company, justify the high prices because “the company is spending important resources to modernize the infrastructure that provides Internet services. And that equipment is paid for in dollars.”

Natasha, a waitress in the restaurant of a five-star hotel, does not agree with this assessment from ETECSA officials. “If we had to award a prize to the three most unpopular state agencies in Cuba, without a doubt, ETECSA and the Ministries of Internal Trade and Transport would take the trophy. It’s a shame to make that statement on television. Some 80 percent of the convertible pesos that circulate in the country are backed by the exchange of foreign currencies. If that’s not the case where do they come from, because only a small portion of workers get a bonus of between 10 and 35 CUC on their waters. That is a very small amount of money not backed by hard currency. For that reason and for many other things, ordinary people are fed up with the government and its leaders.”

Eddy, a high school teacher, believes that “the government has to take off the mask. Once and for all let them say that this is state capitalism, because it works as such. Those who are most favored are those who do not work and families that receive dollars from the former ’worms’*. Cuba is a country that is upside down. The professionals, intellectuals and workers live worse than street vendors and private food sellers. The Internet is a business for ETECSA. Why don’t they put internet in elementary, secondary and high schools and in the homes of teachers?”

An ETECSA specialist acknowledges that “ordinary people are right. ETECSA works poorly and the prices are sky high. But in the end, as disciplined soldiers, people contract for a mobile line and open an internet account. According to a study, from the opening of data internet it is expected that, within two years, 7 or 8 million users will have mobile accounts, since from their cellphones they will be able to access innumerable services, from browsing online to paying for electricity.”

ETECSA, having no competition, leaves Cubans without options. Take it or leave it. It’s that simple

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro and his regime coined the use of the term “gusanos” or “worms” for Cubans who left the country. These former “worms” are now supporting their country with their remittances to family still in Cuba.

A Fire at La Benefica Hospital Forces Evacuation of a Majority of Patients

Trained firefighters and hospital workers helped control the flames. (ACN)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 11 January 2019 — The Miguel Enríquez Clinical Surgical Teaching Hospital of Havana suffered a fire on Thursday night that forced the immediate evacuation of some patients. This Friday morning personnel were still working on the resumption of services and the cleaning of the damaged areas.

As reported by the official press, the incident began in the “ventilation shaft of the acute care area” of the hospital institution, located in the municipality of 10 de Octubre and more popularly known as La Benéfica. The incident affected the electricity and about 100 beds located between the second and seventh floors.

The trained forces of firefighters and hospital workers helped to control the flames so that they did not spread to other areas of the building to where most of the patients were evacuated. Those hospitalized with more serious conditions were transferred to nearby facilities, hospital director Jorge Daniel Poyo explained to the press.

No other details are known currently about what occurred but the cause of the fire is already under investigation as well as an assessment of the damage it caused.

Last year two other health facilities were also affected by fires, the Hospital Oncológico and the Pediatric Marfán, both located in Havana.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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 Babalawos Predict a Bad Year for Agriculture

Babalawos gathered for the announcement of the Letter of the Year. (Facebook/Juan Blanco)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 2, 2018 — Cuban babalawos [Yoruba spiritual title for a Santeria priest] have again predicted a year of difficulties, especially in the agricultural sector, but also for natural phenomenons, venereal diseases, and migratory conflicts, according to the Letter of the Year published by the Yoruba Cultural Association of the Island (ACYC).

The prediction, which since 2016 the ACYC has made jointly with the independent Commission of the Letter of the Year, was shared this Tuesday after a foretaste was announced at the end of the year, and afterwards the babalawos met for the opening ceremony of 2019 that was presided over by the priest of Ifá Ángel Custodio Padrón. continue reading

The Letter of the Year, the series of predictions that priests of the Yoruba religion make every January, is much anticipated by practitioners of Santeria and by the population in general. This year it explains that the orisha Oshún–syncretized in the Catholic religion with the patron saint of Cuba, the Virgin of Charity of El Cobre–will reign. The deity will be accompanied by Oggún, who represents blacksmiths, wars, technology, and surgeons.

In the recommendations included in the text, the babalawos call for respecting elders and seeking religious training; avoiding problems with the law; making better use of agricultural resources; and avoiding confrontations and quarrels.

The Letter predicts an increase of sexually transmitted diseases, along with malignant diseases of the colon, and rectum, among others.

In January of last year an intense controversy was sparked after the publication of the Letter of the Year of 2018, for its calls to “not conspire” and to respect authority, something that various babalawos branded as taking the side of the Government.

The Free Yorubas Association, an independent group made up of priests of this religion, classified that Letter as “totally manipulated and keeping with the interests of atheist materialist tyranny” and labeled the babalawos who wrote it as lacking “moral religious authority to speak in the name of Yorubas and publish predictions that affect the present and future” of the country.

Letter of the Year 2019

Ruling Sign: Oshe Ogunda

First Witness: Ika Ogunda

Second Witness: Osa Kuleya

Prophetic Prayer: Osorbu Iku Intori Ogu.

Orula Onire: Adimu (a yam cut into two halves and rubbed with red palm oil, along with a coconut split in two and two candles)

Otan Onishe Ara: Sarayeye with a chicken and it is given to Oggun, with the other ingredients and it is bathed with herbs of Paraldo.

Otan deity that rules: Oshun

Accompanying deity: Oggun Otan

Flag: Yellow with green borders

Ebbo: 1 kid (for Elegba), 5 small gourds, to which is added indigo, honey, palm oil, bone breaking stick, and blood of the goat, and it is hung on the door, and the other ingredients.

Other ingredents: (Later bathe with ewe still alive)

Governing divinity: OCHUN.

Accompanying deity: OGGUN.

Flag of the year: Yellow with green borders

Sayings of the Sign:

– It is not finished with the same knife.

– The arrow is not let fly without first going to the battlefield.

– What is left is not returned to and collected.

Illnesses which increase in rate:

-Illnesses of the stomach and intestines

-Increase of the rate of sexually transmitted diseases

-Impotence at a young age, as a consequence of prostate problems in men

-Malignant diseases of the colon and rectum.

Events of Social Interest:

-Problems will continue in the agricultural sector fundamentally in the production of food, produce, and vegetables as a consequence of the poor fertilization of the soil.

-Incursions of seawater that can produce floods and landslides. Increase of migratory conflicts.

-The danger and threats of natural catastrophes of all types will continue.

Recommendations:

-Sign that warns of the danger that wastefulness can cause.

-It is recommended to avoid the poor utilization of chemical products in agricultural production.

– Caution with epidemics and illnesses.

– Avoid confrontations and quarrels.

– It is recommended to maintain an adequate religious ethic.

– It’s necessary to seek cooperation and help one another to achieve the outlined objectives.

– Respect elders and seek religious training.

– Avoid problems with the law.

– Increase of venereal diseases as a product of sexual debauchery.

– Make better use of agricultural resources.

– An equilibrium is recommended in all spheres.

– It is recommended to strengthen oggun. (look to godparents for this).

– It’s necessary to be careful with excessive consent of parents with their children.

– Parents must pay careful attention to the care and education of children.

– Self medication is prohibited.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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.

Massive Accident in Guantanamo Leaves Six Dead

A massive accident took place in the vicinity of kilometer 25 of the Guantanamo-Baracoa highway, in which six people died. (ACN)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 January 2019 –  A massive accident occurred this Thursday afternoon near the hill of La Herradura in the vicinity of kilometer 25 of the Guantánamo-Baracoa highway, leaving six people dead and about thirty injured.

The accident occurred when a Chinese-make Yutong bus from the Vía Azul company, which traveled the route from Baracoa to Havana, overturned after the bus lost control when the driver executed a maneuver to overtake another vehicle, some of the witnesses explained to the official press. continue reading

Dr. Yoandris Reyes, deputy surgical director of the Agostino Neto hospital in the city of Guantanamo, said that the facility received 33 injured and said that most came with orthopedic trauma, blows or friction burns. He added that there are five patients with code red, at high risk for their lives and that three of them received surgical care and two remain in the Intensive Care Unit.

A multidisciplinary team was activated in the health facility after the accident and specialists of the Ministry of the Interior were investigating other details of the event at the incident site.

It is the fourth accident on Cuban roads that involves a passenger bus in less than a month.

On December 27, two people were killed and 33 injured in a traffic crash involving a truck with a trailer loaded with sugarcane and a passenger bus from the state company Astro. On December 12 another crash, also with a passenger bus, left three dead and 29 injured in the vicinity of Mayarí, in the province of Holguín.

Also this week a passenger bus of the state company Transtur collided with a train at a railway-level crossing on the Bayamo-Las Tunas highway, a crash that left 12 injured.

In 2017, 11,187 traffic crashes were recorded in the country, leaving 750 dead and 7,999 injured, according to reports from the National Road Safety Commission. Since 2012, according to the same source, more than 4,400 deaths have been reported on Cuban roads. Three days ago, Minister of Transport Adel Yzquierdo was removed from his post a position he held since 2015.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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

A Constitution to Institutionalize the Dictatorship

More than three million copies of the constitutional text are for sale. The referendum will be held on February 24. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, January 10, 2019 — A close reading of the final version of the new Constitution of the Republic, which will be submitted to a referendum on February 24, allows the conclusion that none of the 760 changes made by the drafting commission does anything to alter the negative opinion that was held of the draft.

Perhaps the best example was the change suffered by Article 5 and not just because of the return of the concept of communism that generated so much discussion, but the mocking introduction of the conjunction “and” to substitute the hyphen in the word “Marxist-Leninist.” According to the explanation, “in the opinion of various academics it was a formulation with a Stalinist tinge.” continue reading

In second place is the balancing act performed to make the controversial Article 68 disappear and in its place introduce similar precepts in Article 82. The celebration that the most conservative anticipated for the supposed victory was frustrated upon realizing that the door that would open the path to marriage equality had only changed places.

However, for the LGBT community the new article also has a bittersweet flavor since it sets a period of up to two years to define who can get married. This postponement evidently seeks to prevent a negative vote in the referendum from those opposed to these unions.

Another change that has passed unnoticed is that regarding legal rights (Article 49), which previously indicated that “no person can be obligated to testify against himself, his spouse, or relatives up to the fourth degree of consanguinity and second of affinity,” while now (Article 95) “common-law partner” is included.

In Article 95 itself the order is expressed that in a penal process, persons can have access to “legal assistance from the beginning of the process.” This has perhaps been one of the most-exhibited aspects as a demonstration of the respect toward rights in the future, but it shows the lack of due-process guarantees from which numerous citizens have suffered since that precept was eliminated.

It would be worthwhile to do a study of the ups and downs that the concept of “concentration of ownership” has been subjected to. Since its appearance in the guidelines of the VI Congress, passing through what was added in the VII Congress’s version and later in the Conceptualization of the Model project, the topic arrived at the final version of the Constitution rather decaffeinated.

Article 22 of the draft said: “The State regulates that no concentration of ownership exists in legal persons or non-state entities, in order to preserve the limits compatible with the socialist values of equity and social justice.”

In the new version Article 30 says this: “The concentration of ownership in legal persons or non-state entities is regulated by the State, which additionally guarantees a more and more just redistribution of wealth in order to preserve the limits…”

Having maintained the concept of the irrevocability of the socialist system and the position of the only Party as the ruling political force justifies the assessment that the main thing that should have changed has not changed.

With the validity of those two pillars any attempt to compare the draft submitted to debate with the final version approved by Parliament is a true waste of time, even when one has the noble intent of itemizing the details that can be considered positive to contrast them with the negative. In addition to a sterile exercise it can be considered a pernicious habit.

The truly useful thing seems to be using space, energy, and talent to find a way to prevent the definitive insitutionalization of the dictatorship. There remains little time and it’s necessary to hurry up and settle on a consensus so that Cubans don’t suffer the same fate as the unsuspecting rabbits from the fable, who wasted their precious opportunity to save themselves debating over the breed of the hunting dogs drawing near.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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.

Substituting Yam, Yucca, and Cuban Ingenuity for Flour

Caption: Rationed bread sold in the neighborhood of Cojímar, east Havana. (Iliana Hernández)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 4 January 2019 — The old recipes from the Special Period are back in fashion. The lack of flour has led state-owned bakeries to turn to yams, private confectioners opt for recipes with yucca, and more than one family invents some substitute in order to have breakfast.

The shortage of flour has worsened in the last two months despite official promises of a prompt improvement. Cubans have become imbued with the spirit of Nitza Villapol, a well-known chef who, in the 90s, had to improvise dozens of dishes with few resources in front of the cameras of national television.

“For the end of the year we would like to make a panetela (cake) topped with meringue, but we have neither flour nor eggs, so we prefer some yucca buñuelos (fritters),” Silvia Domínguez, a Havana woman of 62 who fears that “the hard years” have returned, tells 14ymedio. The recipe for the dessert that the family finally made took an egg, at least, although they had to add a bit of vinegar with baking soda so that “it would be perfect.” continue reading

Croquettes have been one of the classic appetizers in the New Year’s Eve dinner of the Domínguez family, but this year they had to change the flour base for a puree of instant potatoes that they received from an emigrant relative. “When we don’t have it, we have to invent, and in the end we had a nice time at the celebration, but it’s very tiring having to do this every day,” she laments.

The national recipe book of recent decades has been marked by necesssity and it’s habitual that every Cuban knows how to fry an egg without oil, reach the consistency of a flan with half the eggs, or color a yellow rice with multivitamins bought at state-owned pharmacies. But in the case of flour, an ingredient included in many recipes, substitution is more difficult.

Leticia Romero doesn’t like the bread sold on the ration book and prefers to buy it in private bakeries in her neighborhood of Vedado or from unrationed sales at State-owned places, but since November both options have been difficult to find and this 56-year-old woman, who lives with her mother and her sister, has had to settle for the rationed product.

“When they first put it out for sale in the morning there are enormous lines and it’s a lot of work for me to stand in line, because I have to run to get to work,” laments Romero. Two months ago she always bought bread in the afternoons, when she was returning home, but now it’s impossible. “At that time the bakery is a desert and there’s nothing,” she explains to this newspaper.

After experiencing a severe crisis in bread sales at the national level in November and December, Havana has slightly recuperated production of this product in the bakeries of the rationed market and in those of the Cuban Bread Chain it’s possible to buy it at limited hours, although the supply is still not stable and the shortage of flours in stores persists.

In many of the bakery and confectionary businesses of the private sector in the capital, what’s available for sale has diminished. Outside one of them, close to Avenida 26, a customer says that now the only thing there is sweet and salty cookies. “Bread goes fast, those who have private cafes or restaurants take it by the box,” she insists.

In the province of Santiago de Cuba the supply of sweets and breads also improved during the past week, especially the unrationed sale. The government took great pains to improve the supply in the city where the principal ceremony for the 60th anniversary of the Cuban revolution was held. Now, Santiago residents, who also complain of the quality of the rationed product, fear that with the festivities over the supply will collapse.

Katherine Mojena, resident of the Altamira neighborhood, says that the rationed bread has a dark color and a bad flavor. “Those who know say that it’s made of flour from yams. The unrationed bread is not like that. At least not in the most central bakeries. There are almost never bread rolls which are the cheapest. The bread they do have is 3.50 CUP, which is bread with a hard crust, oval-shaped, which here for years we have called ’special’ bread. In convertible pesos there are some wonderful bread rolls: white, soft, a delicious flavor, and an excellent quality.”

In the bakery of Antilla, in the province of Holguín, a sign placed on the door reads: “There is no flour, Happy 2019.” Roberto Santana, a resident of the municipality who shared the image on social media, condemned the situation. “What happiness can there be in a town when the only bakery that sells unrationed bread puts up a sign like this at the beginning of the year? I don’t know whether to call it ignorance or blackmail of the people.”

“If the Government doesn’t pay providers and if they don’t lack bread on their tables, what do you call it? Surely it’s not social equality. This, my friends, is not socialism. There is no happiness without food,” added Santana.

An employee of the bakery, tired of having to give the same answer again and again to customers, explained this Friday via telephone to 14ymedio that the place is not offering any products because it lacks raw material. “Maybe it will come later,” she suggests.

Heriberto Núñez, a candy maker who distributes his merchandise in the municipality San Miguel del Padrón from an old Soviet-era bicycle, resists stopping his business because of the lack of flour. “I’m getting old bread from a state-owned canteen and I process it to make pudding,” he says. “I only need some grated lemon rind, powdered milk, and sugar to make a tasty product.” He doesn’t add eggs “because there aren’t any, not even in spiritual centers.”

Núñez assures that he has a long experience of substituting ingredients. “I worked many years selling tomato sauce the least of which was tomato, because I made it with beets, yams, and coloring,” he remembers. “I’m practiced in this, but if we also lose the old bread, then I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

In the plastic box he carries attached to his bicycle, this Wednesday he was transporting caramel coconut balls, peanut nougat, and yucca fritters. “Nothing with flour, and much less puff pastry sweets, which need quality ingredients. This is the time for sweets in syrup or sugared fruits, but for filled pastries we will have to wait.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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.

Etecsa Charges for But Then Blocks Messages for the "No" Vote and Abstention in the Referendum

Text messages with the phrases “YoVotoNO” (ImVotingNo), “YoNoVoto” (ImNotVoting), or with the word “abstention” are charged for by Etecsa but do not arrive to their destination. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 January 2019 — The battle to win the constitutional referendum of February 24 has led the Cuban Government to take all types of actions. Along with advertisements for “I’m voting Yes” at baseball games and the avalanche of messages of support on social media, it has opted for censorship of text messages that include calls to vote No or to abstain.

Mobile phone customers who have sent a text message with the phrases “YoVotoNo” (ImVotingNo), “YoNoVoto” (ImNotVoting), or with the word “abstention” (with or without the accent in the Spanish spelling) are indignant because the text never reached its recipient. 14ymedio has confirmed this situation with a test that included more than fifty users in ten provinces. continue reading

That test showed that combinations that include the numeral symbol, in the manner of hashtags on social media (#YoVotoNo and #YoNoVoto), are also “clipped” by the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa), a state-owned monopoly that in the past has seen itself involved in other cases of censorship and of blocking telephone services against activists.

The contract that every user of Etecsa’s mobile network signs upon purchasing a mobile phone line includes a paragraph in which it makes clear that among the causes for the termination of service is that it be used for a purpose “that threatens morality, public order, the security of the State, or aids in committing criminal activities.”

However, no customer has been warned that messages will be submitted to a content filter or that part of their correspondence will be blocked if they mention the name of opposition figures, spread slogans uncomfortable for the government, or promote an electoral stance different from that of the government.

The current censorship of words and phrases does not extend to messaging services like WhatsApp, Telegram, or Facebook Messenger which the government cannot intercept in as easy a manner as it can control the text messages sent via Etecsa. For that reason many activists promoting “No” in the referendum or a voting boycott have moved toward these tools.

“I realized that something was happening because I went to send my sister who lives in Havana a message with the comment that a friend of mine made on Facebook about the referendum,” a cellphone user who wished to remain anonymous told 14ymedio. The text included the tag #YoNoVoto and never arrived to its destination, although the 0.9 CUC for the delivery was subtracted from the sender’s cellphone credit.

“After that I sent her various combinations of that same phrase and it was only delivered when I changed the ’o’ to a zero and I substituted the final vowel with a period,” says the source. “I spent the early morning hours checking with other friends and the result was the same,” the source concludes.

After that first claim, this newspaper communicated with the service number for Etecsa (118) to investigate what happened. The employee who answered the call insisted that there hadn’t been previous reports of problems with text messaging and emphasized that “Etecsa is not currently doing any maintenance work, so all messages should arrive on time.”

When asked directly about a possible censorship of text message content, the state-employed worker declined to respond and said she knew “nothing about that matter.” Other calls, made at different times this weekend, produced similar results.

It’s not the first time that Etecsa has censored messages based on content. In September this newspaper revealed in a comprehensive report that all text messages that contained references to “human rights,” “hunger strike,” “democracy,” “repression,” or the names of the most well-known activists in the country, were never received even though they were charged for.

At that time, 14ymedio did tests from accounts of very dissimular users, who ranged from opposition figures and activists to people with no links to independent movements. In all cases, messages that contained certain expressions were lost along the way.

Arnulfo Marrero, second in command at the Etecsa plant at 19 and B in Vedado, Havana, appeared at that time surprised by the complaint presented by two reporters from this newspaper. “We don’t have anything to do with that, you should address the Ministry of Communications (Micom),” explained the official.

“Micom is who governs the communications policy, because we here have no say. The only thing I can do is report this,” warned Marrero.

With more than five million cellphone users, Etecsa does not seem prepared to give in on the ideological control of the messages circulating on its network and continues to expand its extensive history of text message censorship via a “list of key words.” Now new terms have been added to that list of phrases and terms that, it seems, will continue to grow in the future.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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.