Cuba Only Produces 59 Percent of the Medications Necessary for Public Health

At the beginning of the year, 136 medicines from the basic catalog were lacking and an improvement was expected in the middle of the year. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Havana, 15 May 2022 — The Cuban biopharmaceutical industry has only produced 59% of the basic catalog of medicines destined for the public health system, so far this year, official media reported this Saturday.

The president of the state business group BioCubaFarma, Eduardo Martínez, explained that of the “basic list of medicines” of 627 products, “369 are currently produced,” according to the official newspaper Granma. As of April, “143 medicines are missing in one or more provinces.”

According to Martínez, “among the main causes of drug shortages are the unavailability of raw materials and necessary materials (94%) and plant shutdowns due to breakage or maintenance (6%).”

Martínez reiterated that behind the non-availability of supplies are often the economic sanctions of the United States against Cuba.

In January, 136 medicines were lacking out of the 359 that BioCuba Farma provides to the basic table each month, and it was expected that by the middle of this year the outlook would improve. In 2021 only 121 drugs were produced, on average. continue reading

During the past year, there was a serious shortage of basic medicines, which affected treatments for diseases such as arthritis, as well as antihistamines, anxiolytics and antidepressants.

The shortage of basic products, such as food and medicine, was one of the main economic elements in the anti-government protests of July 11, the largest in decades.

On the other hand, the Cuban authorities also announced this Saturday that they are extending the possibility for travelers to bring food, toiletries and medicines to the island without tariff limits, “as accompanied luggage.” This extension will be from July 1 to December 31, 2022, according to Cuban General Customs on its website.

This measure was announced after the protests of July 11 of last year and was extended until June 30, 2022, by the Ministry of Finance and Prices. Now, the ministry assures that they maintain this temporary decision to relax the limitations “taking into account that the conditions that supported this measure are maintained.”

The current legislation in Cuba on the importation of luggage consists of a complex system of points and weight limits that establishes tariffs on excess items brought by travelers.

In the case of medicines, up to 10 kilograms are allowed to be brought into the country.

____________

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

Five Young Cubans Arrested for La Guinera Protests are Released

The young Emiyoslán Román Rodríguez was released after an appeal. (DarcyBo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 May 2022 — Five young people from La Güinera, in Havana, who received sentences for the popular protests of July 12, were released after an appeal, according to an announcement by the Cubalex Legal Information Center and the activist Salomé García. Those released had received sentences of between nine and 18 years in prison.

The young people are Marlon Brando Díaz Oliva, 20 years old, whom the Prosecutor’s Office had asked for 15 years in prison, but who received a sentence of 18. Also the young Marco Antonio Alfonso Breto, 19 years old, who denounced having been tortured with cigarette burns and for whom the Prosecutor’s Office requested 15 years in prison and who received a nine-year sentence.

Others of the young people released are Fran Daniel Roy Sotolongo, 19, Yensy Jorge Machado González and Emiyoslan Román Rodríguez, both 18.

Roy Sotolongo was charged with assault, bodily harm, public disorder, damage, incitement to commit a crime, and sedition. The Prosecutor requested 15 years in prison and he was sentenced to nine. When he was arrested he was in the Compulsory Military Service and initially, his case was transferred to the Military Prosecutor’s Office.

“However, this body rejected it, alleging that in this criminal process the majority of those involved are civilians, therefore, they would be prosecuted under ordinary justice for the alleged crime of sedition on a date yet to be determined,” according to the data collected by Cubalex about him. continue reading

Machado González was also sentenced to nine years in prison for the crimes of public disorder, attack and instigation to commit a crime, but in October of last year, the Prosecutor’s Office changed the charges to the crime of sedition.

As for the young Román Rodríguez, sentenced to 12 years in prison, when he was arrested he was subjected to interrogations and his possible membership in foreign organizations, especially those based in Miami, was questioned. The young man was captured along with his two brothers. His case was brought before the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, according to activist Darcy Bo.

“This means that during the last two weeks the Cuban State has been subject to very serious reviews that have not been carried out for several years. Minors deprived of their liberty are a key issue on which each of these groups of international experts demanded accurate and detailed information,” Bo wrote in a Facebook post.

On Friday, the United Nations Committee on Torture described the high number of arrests in Cuba as “alarming” and declared that the State had taken measures “manifestly contrary to the Convention against Torture.”

Before the release of the five youths, the activist Salomé García, questioned that other protesters who were also captured in La Güinera and not released, such as Eloy Bárbaro Cardoso, an 18-year-old university student, as well as Brunelvis Cabrera and Dariel García. “Enough of mock justice, we know that the institutions are not independent, free them all,” Garcia demanded on Facebook.

____________

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

Cuba Continues to Build Hotels with Money of Unknown Origin and for Non-Existent Tourists

Hotel Grand Aston La Habana, recently built by Gaesa on the Malecón. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 May 2022 — More than 8,930 rooms of the almost 78,000 that Cuba has will remain empty in 2022. The Cuban economist Pedro Monreal, reports that some 1,473 million dollars were invested in these rooms, without revealing the origin of this investment.

Monreal suggests adopting “a pause” in hotel investments and targeting the island’s priorities. “Receiving 2.5 million international visitors in 2022, ’would leave a surplus’ of more than half of Cuba’s hotel rooms,” says the economist on his Twitter account. He calculates that only 32 tourists will rotate per room in 2022, compared to 69 in 2018.

Meanwhile, the economist also points out, investment in agricultural activities and in the sugar industry plummeted, with a fall of 50.8% in the first, and 80% in the second, “with respect to the relative weight they had in the total investment the previous year.”

It was the minister of the branch, Juan Carlos García Granda, last week at the inauguration of the FitCuba International Tourism Fair, who gave the exact number of tourist rooms that the Island has: 77,809, in a total of 240 hotels. Of these, he boasted, 59,000 have a Wi-Fi connection.

These numbers contrast with the dire state of the sector, which has not raised its head since the appearance of covid-19. Although the Cuban government foresees a recovery and the arrival of some 2.5 million travelers, the truth is that in the first quarter of this year only some 313,908 vacationers arrived on the island, a tiny number when compared to the same quarter last year, the year’s best, before the pandemic. continue reading

In all of last year, the Island received a total of 573,944 international travelers, 60% less than in all of 2020. A few days ago, the Government presented the more than 450,000 tourists received until April as a success, since it is seven times more than the number that arrived last year in the same period, but the comparison is misleading, since with respect to 2019 the difference is more than one million.

Due to the invasion in Ukraine, Cuba has also lost the Russian tourist market, which had grown, while the arrival of Canadians, who were the main source of travelers before the pandemic, followed by Americans, collapsed. These last two nationalities continue to lead arrivals on the Island, but in much smaller numbers than in previous years.

With this evidence on the table, last week the Prime Minister, Manuel Marrero, rectified the too optimistic forecasts for 2022 of his own colleague in charge of tourism, García Granda, and stated that, in reality, the recovery will have to wait until 2023.

Added to the above is the explosion at the Saratoga Hotel on May 6 in Havana, which caused the death of at least 46 people and has perhaps irreparably damaged the facilities that were about to reopen to receive tourists after a long closure due to the pandemic.

In this unfavorable context, many wonder why the Government continues to invest enormous sums in a sector with poor short-term prospects. “New hotel investment is not justified in a context of food insecurity,” writes Monreal. “The reasonable thing would be to modify the current pattern of investment to reassign to the agricultural sector (and other activities as well) what today is dedicated to building hotels that are going to operate with a low occupancy rate,” adds the economist.

The origin of the funds dedicated to the construction of hotels remains a mystery since the Government has not announced any large-scale foreign investment in this sector controlled by the military-controlled Grupo de Administración Empresarial SA (Gaesa).

____________

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

Cuban Parliament Approves a Criminal Code which Prohibits External Support for Independent Press

In contrast to the Family Code, this project will not be put to a referendum. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 15 May 2022 — On Sunday, Cuba’s National Assembly of the People’s Power (ANPP) approved, in an extraordinary session, Cuba’s new Criminal Code, which includes penalties of up to three years for those who insult senior public officials and prohibits foreign financing for media outlets.

The delegates approved the project in a session attended by Miguel Díaz-Canel, and the country’s former ruler, Raúl Castro (2008-2018).

Activists and opponents believe this reform will silence social protest and independent journalism.

Its proponents, on the other hand, describe it as “providing guarantees” and updated, since the previous version — from 1987 — did not include environmental crimes, cybercrimes or gender-based violence.

Originally, the project should have been voted on by the ANPP in April, but for unknown reasons, its passing in the Legislature was delayed.

The new code, which takes effect 90 days from its publication in the Gaceta Oficial de la República, includes 37 new crimes such as “public disorder” to penalize “disturbances of that nature produced in groups or individually.” continue reading

The president of the People’s Supreme Court on the Island, Ruben Remigio Ferro, stressed as he presented the law at the Parliamentary plenary that it strengthens the rigor of the penalties related to corruption.

Thus, he stated that it establishes the maximum penalty of life in prison and maintains the possibility of applying the death penalty, as an exception in 23 types of criminal cases.

It also includes penalties of up to ten years in prison for anyone who, “supports, encourages, finances, provides, receives or has in their possession funds, material or financial resources,” of non governmental organizations or international institutions that could be used to “pay for activities against the State and its constitutional order.”

The new criminal code has not received as much state media coverage as the Family Code, a reform which is also currently being processed in the ANPP after a three-month public consultative process during which the content of the document was explained.

In contrast to the Family Code, this project will not be put to a referendum.

Translated by: Silvia Suárez 

____________

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

Sissi Abascal, the Young Woman Sentenced to Six Years in Prison for Painting ‘Patria y Vida’ on a Sheet

Annia Zamora and her daughter Sissi Abascal. (Courtesy)

114ymedio bigger4ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 14 May 2022 — At the age of 16, Sissi Abascal Zamora was not, like any other teenager, walking with her friends or wearing new clothes. At that age she became part of the Ladies in White Movement and she lived between arrests and police operations. On July 11, 2021, her participation in the popular protests of that day led her to prison with a six-year sentence.

Her mother, Annia Zamora Carmenate, has no doubts: “Sissi is a political prisoner.” From that quiet girl, who differed from her brothers for being very calm, she became one of the most consistent activists in the province of Matanzas. In the little town of Carlos Rojas, the young woman – on 11J (July 11th) she was 23 years old – starred in an intense demonstration together with dozens of neighbors.

“That day we were at home and I connected to the internet through my cell phone. There I began to see the videos of the demonstrations, first in San Antonio de los Baños and then in Havana, so I told my husband, Armando Abascal Serrano,” about it, Zamora details to 14ymedio. “Then Sissi tells me that people were gathering in the Carlos Rojas park.”

The family lives on the outskirts of the town and when they got out on the road there were already other people waiting for them. “They know that on other occasions we have also protested.” In November 2020, the Abascal family was part of the group of residents of that community, belonging to the Jovellanos municipality, who demonstrated in the streets against the long blackouts.

Since a long time earlier, saying the surname Abascal among the neighbors is like remembering that the first name of the town was Cimarrones, after the slaves who did not accept the stocks or the whip of the foreman and escaped to the surrounding mountains. But these rebels of today are not facing slavers with dogs, but policemen who brandish their tonfas and lock them up in dungeons.

“We kept going and arrived at the park. That was tremendous. Everyone joined in. Right away, two State Security officers appeared and took my husband to the station in front of the park.” The arrest emboldened the protesters. “We were joined by people that we had never seen at other demonstrations we’ve carried out.”

Sissi climbed onto a bench, “suddenly a sheet appeared. We put it on the sidewalk and wrote ‘Patria y Vida’ [Homeland and Life] on it.” She took off her shoelaces and I gave her mine too. With that we tied the fabric to a branch of a flamboyan tree on one side and on the other we tied it to a crutch. We put the sign on a bicycle and started to go around the park.”

That month of July the town of Carlos Rojas, like the whole Island, was experiencing critical days. “In the municipality of Jovellanos there was a very intense outbreak of covid-19, we had no medication, the isolation centers had very poor conditions,” Zamora recalls. The lack of freedoms was combined with the economic crisis and the epidemiological situation. That Sunday patience reached the limit. continue reading

Zamora closes her eyes and seems to be living that day again. “The people gathered in the park and shouted Food! Freedom! Down with the dictatorship! We want medicines,” also “Patria y Vida!, that slogan was the one that was repeated the most, the one that will go down in history: there were old people, children and many young people too.”

Popular protests on July 11, 2021 in the town of Carlos Rojas, in the municipality of Jovellanos. (Courtesy)

Then the patrol car arrived to transfer Armando Abascal Serrano from the town police station to Jovellanos. “People stood in front of the vehicle to prevent it moving, but the police dealt many blows and finally took him away,” she says. The rest of the afternoon, those who remained continued to repeat slogans until around 6:30 pm when a bus and a truck with shock troops arrived.

“In the bus and the truck were Yonaikis Villegas Oviedo, the mayor of Jovellanos, also the representative of the Communist Party, the director of the Inder (National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation), members of the political police dressed in civilian clothes, members of the Government, the Party and the head of the Communals,” lists the mother.

“They came with sticks and stones in their hands, later we learned that they were even carrying bottles. It was a very strong aggression. They hit me and I fell against the bicycle that held the sheet, Sissi fell on me.” Zamora adds that the Communal official attacked her in the head, eyes, arms and her belly. “I had just had surgery and I fainted, so I could no longer see my daughters.”

When she came to, she heard someone yelling at her that Lisi, her other daughter, was injured after receiving several bottle blows to the head. The mother ran to the Polyclinic and on the way her shoes came off, the shoes whose laces had helped tie the sign. There she found her daughter, who was having her head bandaged. “She also had one hand with the fingers turned backwards that the orthopedist had to treat to put them back forwards.”

Shortly after, Sissi also arrived at the Polyclinic, having been beaten. Half an hour later the three women were transferred in an ambulance to Jovellanos. “There were many injured there because the police had distributed many blows. They gave my daughter Lisi a certificate of injuries, because they had to give her stitches on the head wound, but they did not want to give Sissi and me anything.”

Moment in which Lisi Abascal, Sissi’s sister, is attacked by an official mob, then she receives sutures on her head after being hit with a bottle. (Collage)

That day they were able to return home and on Tuesday, July 13, they went to the municipal police station to file a complaint for the injuries against Lisi. “Even today, ten months later, neither the police nor the Prosecutor’s Office give details, they always evade,” laments Zamora.

The family patriarch was missing for 14 days. “We took him some clothes to the Jovellanos police station and they stole them, they never gave them to him. He was imprisoned for two months in the Combinado del Sur and then he was fined,” explains the woman. “On September 20 in the morning, an official from the Municipal Court of Jovellanos arrived and she knocked on the door of our house. She had in her hands a prosecutor’s request for a six-year sentence against Sissi.”

The trial took place on November 3. In the trial, they judged not only the young woman, but also Frank Ernesto Trujillo Hervis and Yoendris Torres Corría,ann 11J protesters. “Frank — when my daughter was being beaten — he pulled her out of the group of women. He is now sentenced to six years in prison.”

At the trial in the Municipal Court of Jovellanos, Zamora attended as a witness: “I went in, made my statement and then I could only return to hear the conclusions. It almost gave me a heart attack to hear so many lies. The prosecutor Odilia Casallas García lied blatantly. She said that since 1959 no one had been mistreated and beaten by the police in Cuba.”

Sissi’s sister couldn’t stand that, she got up from her seat and contradicted the Prosecutor. “Our family has been hit many times. I still have stitches on my head from being hit with a bottle.” Immediately the guards took her out of the room.

The mayor of the Ministry of the Interior, Silvia Martínez Montero, accused Sissi of attack and contempt, although the family insists that this officer was not present on Sunday in Carlos Rojas park. “The trial was a farce, a clown show. Not even the defense attorneys could do their job,” Zamora denounces.

The Labiotec women’s prison, where Sissi Abascal is imprisoned in the province of Matanzas, and Annia Zamora with a bag of food to take to the visit with her daughter. (Collage)

The appeal trial was held on December 27, under an intense security operation, and the sentence of six years in prison was confirmed. The young woman was confined in the Matanzas women’s prison, Labiotec. “It’s a nasty, sad place. It has two buildings and she’s in one of them in cubicle three on the third floor.”

But during the phone calls, the young woman’s great concern is not the prison conditions but her family. To calm her mother, she reiterates: “Don’t worry, remember how many dungeons, beatings and detentions I have experienced.” She also wants to know details of the other prisoners of that historic day of protests.

When Annia Zamora Carmenate asks her daughter what she wants her to bring in the food bag that she tries to prepare for each visit, the young woman asks for little or nothing. Although her mother insists, she responds in monosyllables. In those moments, she returns to being the shy and quiet girl from the town of Carlos Rojas.

____________

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

Cuban Migration Part 7 – To Mexico City, a 17-hour Trip, Standing on a Bus

We had to make the trip to Mexico City like animals. Among us there were two pregnant women. (El Sol de Cuernavaca)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Alejandro Mena Ortiz, 29 April 2022 — On the third day in Villahermosa, in the state of Tabasco, they prepared a bag for us with a snack and explained that the bus trip to Mexico City was going to be a bit long. We would have between 15 and 24 hours ahead of us, depending on how many checkpoints we had to clear. We carried sandwiches in bags, plus fruit, an energy drink and water, in addition to what we bought ourselves: cookies, Doritos, energy bars, chocolates, things like that, to stave off hunger.

At around 7, they had us say goodbye to the family, turn off our cell phones and hand them over. They took us out of the house in several vehicles, because there were about 50 of us, and transported us to a place on the outskirts of Villahermosa, in the middle of a grass field, where they put us against a concrete wall in an abandoned building. There were three buses: the first two were full of people who came from other warehouses, and we would occupy the last bus.

Added to the uncertainty of being incommunicado was the Mexicans’ lack of friendliness. “Get down, get down! Get close to the wall, closer!” they shouted. This was because if a drone flew by, we could be seen. According to what they told us, the authorities manage to know how many people are in a vehicle by the number of turned-on cell phones they detect, and that is why they took them away from us.

We were there for about 15 or 20 minutes in total darkness, until they put the women and children on the bus. While we men waited on the ground, other vehicles kept arriving with more people, up to two or three cars, with 18 or 20 people. In the end, there were a lot of people on that bus. Three women sat in seats for two (because they had to be seated) and the men sat on the floor, some wedged into each other’s legs. After 20 minutes, my butt was already hurting and I thought: how am I going to last 20 or 30 hours like this!

Suddenly, the alarm went off because the air conditioning was broken. Although they tried to fix it, they couldn’t, so after being idle and ready to get started, it couldn’t be done. The cars that had dropped us off came back and picked us up, and the next day the story repeated itself.

When I got off, I felt as if my legs, my spine and my neck had been hit with a bat, and my eyes were swollen

Except that we were the last ones that time, and, when we were going to get on the bus we didn’t fit. Half of us were put in the suitcase compartment with others who were already there, about 15 people packed down there, and they put me on the bus with another four guys. They managed to get us in and close the door while pushing, shoving and screaming.

That’s how we had to make the 17-hour trip to Mexico City, like animals. Among us, there were two pregnant women. continue reading

We had no phones; we didn’t know what time it was and we couldn’t open the curtains. I was trying to joke and some people laughed, but we had 17 hours standing ahead of us, tightly packed, with leg cramps and sleepy.

Around 10 in the morning we arrived at the Mexican capital, which is a very impressive city. I was surprised by its sheer size. They took us to a warehouse on the outskirts that did not have even the slightest facilities. There were not only the 130 or 140 who came on that bus, but an additional 60 others arrived.

When I got off, I felt as if I had been hit with a wooden pole on my legs, my spine, my neck, plus my eyes were swollen. I ordered coffee, but they only had what they call “American,” not espresso, which is what I wanted, so I had to settle.

They gave us back our phones and I was able to talk to my family. On the other end of the call, they were crying and getting emotional, but I just told them: “I need to rest, let me rest.” When we got to the bedrooms, we got hit with another bucket of cold water (another nasty surprise): there was a large space and they had thin, dirty, very dirty mattresses on the floor. So much so that I wondered how I was going to sleep there. I was so tired that I finally slept four hours, I couldn’t take it anymore.

I thought then that it was time for a bath, but there were only three bathrooms for more than two hundred people. There were lines for everything: to use the toilets, to bathe with freezing cold water. I was afraid of getting sick, because the children began to run fevers and get diarrhea, and many adults too, so I decided not to bathe. I bought wet wipes and with that, I scoured myself.

I would tell myself: “OK, that’s it, it is what it is, this is not a tourist trip.”

I slept with a sweater on, with the coat that I had bought in Guatemala with a hood, pants with socks, and I covered myself with the blankets that they had given us, but even so, it was not enough and I woke up with cramps. It was extremely cold in that place.

Also, the food was no longer so generous. I didn’t like the Mexican tortillas, which is what they gave us. A little chicken with a tortilla, a little meat with a tortilla, some spaghetti… with a tortilla. And I couldn’t even eat. Luckily, they also had things for sale, so one day I sent for a Burger King Whopper. It was the first time I was going to try the famous Whooper, and when I did, I thought: Wow, incredibly delicious. It’s like the TV commercials or the series on  El Paquete*. I ate it with great pleasure, it settled in my stomach and, at least that day, I ate well.

While we waited to leave, I met a man who lived in Nicaragua, not too bad, but he believed that because of Ortega the whole country was being destroyed and that there was no way back from that situation, so his wife, who spent three months in prison at the border, went first. And now he was going.

I also struck up a conversation with two brothers from Ocotal, although one lived in Managua, who left because one of them got into drug problems and they no longer had anything to do there. One had taken part in the 2018 demonstrations, something similar to what happened in Cuba on July 11th, and he told me that many people were hoping that Ortega would eventually leave. Since in the end there was no change, he decided to leave because he did not want to live in a dictatorship. And that was the only Nicaraguan I met on the road who said something like that to me. The others didn’t make mention of politics at all. 

I didn’t want to say that I had a fever, because in that case, they would not allow me to leave, but a Honduran noticed: “Hey, are you feeling sick? Do you need something, can I help you?”

I started to feel very sick: I had trouble breathing, I felt pain in my chest. They told us it would be two days, but we had already been there four or five. I even called my cousin in the United States and told him: “I can’t, I don’t think I’ll be able to. This is not normal. There are a lot of people here, it’s very crowded.”

One day I started with a fever and had to buy medicine. We were very afraid that it was COVID, in very crowded conditions, with more than 200 people together, but it turned out to be a stomach infection.

I didn’t want to say that I had a fever, because in that case, they would not allow me to leave, but a Honduran noticed: “Hey, are you feeling sick? Do you need something, can I help you?” I explained to him what was happening to me, but the worst thing was that I was beginning to have a panic attack, and he told me: “Hey, pal, don’t… don’t feel that way, come on right here,” sit like that, lie down here.” And that gave me great encouragement. My attack began to subside – your mind plays tricks on you – and all thanks to this Honduran friend, who I continue to be in touch with today.

One fine day they came and told us that, at dawn, we would leave for Monterrey, without explanations of how it was going to be or anything. I took out the last 250 Mexican pesos I had left and bought medicine, cookies and Electrolytes. They woke us up at 10 that night and took us out in some vans, one of those little buses that can carry around 18 or 20 people. In a place quite close by, on a very dark street, they quickly allowed us to get off, we threw our backpacks in the trunk of the bus and, running, we got in.

That time, I thought we weren’t going to be overcrowded, but I was wrong. More and more people kept coming in, too many. And it was that way the whole trip to Monterrey, 15 horrible hours of travel.

Tomorrow

In Monterrey, each cartel assigns a code to its migrants

*Translator’s note: El Paquete, or The Packet, delivered once a week for $6.50, has become the primary way Cubans receive illegally recorded American media, news and entertainment.

____________

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

One of the Ninety-Nine Injured in the Saratogo Hotel Explosion Has Died

Twenty-three of those who died in the explosion on Thursday worked at the hotel. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 May 2022 — Saturday’s explosion at the Saratoga hotel a week ago has taken another life according to an announcement by the Ministry of Public Health. This raises the death toll to forty-six.

The victim was Jose Antonio Ferrer Acanda, a 63-year-old Havana resident, who was taken to Calixto Garcia Hospital in the city’s Vedado district.

As of 10:00 on Friday, thirteen people remain hospitalized, four of them minors. Two are in serious condition, one critical and another stable.

Twenty-three of those who died in the explosion on Thursday worked at the hotel. The rest were passing through the building, lived in neighboring buildings, or were pedestrians who had the terrible misfortune of walking past the hotel at the exact moment of the blast. The explosion has been attributed to improper handling of liquified natural gas during transfer from a delivery truck to the Saratoga’s storage tank

Among the victims was a Spanish citizen, whose remains arrived in her native country on Thursday.

The explosion occurred on Friday, May 6, around 10:50 AM and sent shock waves throughout Havana. That day the hotel was conducting interviews in anticipation of the hotel’s scheduled reopening on May 10, with employees and job applicants present in the Human Resources area.

Responding to pressure from social media, and seven days after the tragedy, the Cuban government announced a period of mourning to be observed from at 6:00 AM on May 13 and until midnight on May 14. During such periods, flags are typically lowered to half-mast, and public performances and festivities are suspended.

____________

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

Cuban Pork Production Fell by More than 50 Percent in 2021, Confirming the Failure of the 63 Measures

Viands* have stabilized, but beans, corn, fruit and, above all, rice have fallen. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 10 May 2022 — Pork production in Cuba fell by 53.5% in 2021 compared to the previous year, to just 132.9 tons. The collapse is not a surprise, but the publication this Monday of the food production data for the previous year has left a trail of bad news for the Government, since they confirm that, at least to date, the 63 measures designed to improve the industry have failed.

Bovine meat also fell, 13.5%, fresh milk by 16% and eggs by 10.5%. Poultry is another one that suffers the most, with a decrease of 20.8%, while mutton takes another hit, down 32.5%.

The report was released by the Cuban economist Pedro Monreal, who pointed out that these data are even more serious than those of agricultural products. In this subsector there is greater stagnation and only viands*, bananas and vegetables resist, but corn (7.2%), beans (7.3%), citrus (14.5%) and fruit trees  (10.8%) fall. The worst blow, however, is for rice, the main ingredient in Cuban cuisine, which in 2021 barely produced 225.8 tons, 15.3% less than last year.

His colleague, also an economist residing in Spain, Elías Amor, has responded with a simple calculation. “With these data, the agricultural GDP in constant prices will have fallen by more than 15%, confirming the recession in the sector and the failure of the 63 measures.” continue reading

The drop in agricultural production in 2021 was expected, in the absence of official figures. The disaggregated data that was becoming known in each province did not bode well and the products, absent from market platforms, were enough for the population to know that the year was disastrous.

The pandemic, which during the summer of 2021 was especially harsh on the Island, did not help a broken system either, and the relief from US sanctions, long awaited by the authorities with Biden’s victory in the November 2020 elections, did not arrive.

The main solution for the authorities went through the vaunted 63 measures, announced in April 2021, which included reductions in electricity costs, the use of water, improvements in state payments, more attractive credits for the sector, the creation of a Agricultural Development Bank and a reform of the insurance system.

It also included, the famous package, relaxations for the sale of meat and dairy products. The possibility was opened for producers to sell their cheeses, yogurts and meats directly “even to stores [that take payment only] in freely convertible currency (MLC),” as long as they first comply with the delivery plan agreed with the State.

However, disagreements were not long in coming. The producers who managed to reach the desired figures lamented the lack of payment, either due to bureaucratic issues or due to the lack of liquidity that prevented them from obtaining the money in hard currency, more and more precious in the face of the collapse of the Cuban peso and the lack of a market in that currency.

In February of this year, the authorities considered that the measures were going well. “All the measures are important and have an impact on greater production in the country,” said the Minister of the Food Industry, Manuel Sobrino Martínez, who admitted that some productions had had a great decrease in recent years, such as milk, and for that reason prioritized measures included “livestock production and marketing policy.” The price of milk was even increased, months later, to try to stimulate the producer, but that has not worked either.

When evaluating the impact of the 63 measures, the authorities considered that the foundations had been laid and that efforts had to be made. Sobrino even added that it was necessary to achieve “control in the fulfillment of contracts based on the implemented policy” and that the other priority, without giving more details, “is political-ideological work.” But so far none of this has served to improve the indicators, and many Cubans wonder what good the food safety law that the government is preparing will do if it’s been decades since they haven’t been able to choose what they serve on their tables.

*Translator’s note: In Cuba “viand” refers to fruits and roots rich in carbohydrates, among which the best known are cassava, pumpkin, banana, potato, sweet potato and taro. (Source: ashepamicuba.com)

____________

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

After Days of Popular Demands, Official Mourning is Decreed in Cuba for the Victims of the Saratoga Hotel Explosion

The Government decreed national mourning after the discovery of victim number 45 was announced. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 May 2022 — On Thursday, almost a week after the explosion of the Saratoga hotel in Havana, the Cuban government decreed official mourning. It has done so just after the announcement of the discovery of the body of the last of the victims who were listed as missing in the explosion. There are a total of 45 dead.

“Due to the profound pain of our people in the face of the unfortunate accident that occurred at the Saratoga Hotel on May 6,” says a brief note in the official press, “and after the rescue and salvage actions have been completed,” President Miguel Díaz-Canel “agreed to declare an official mourning from 6:00 a.m. on May 13 until 12:00 p.m. on May 14.”

The authorities did not pronounce, however, a national mourning, which, in addition to the lowering of the flags to half-staff, would mean the suspension of all public shows and festive activities.

For days the pressure had grown on social networks for the authorities to decree the mourning. However, a decision of this nature could have included the cancellation of official events, notably the visit to the island of the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or at least a good part of his program. continue reading

The details and images of a dinner enlivened by an orchestra last Sunday at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana generated deep indignation. A smiling Miguel Díaz-Canel along with several officials from the Mexican delegation fueled the displeasure among the population.

The popular actor and humorist Ulises Toirac was one of those who reacted angrily to the images of the celebrations. “It goes beyond a lack of sensitivity and respect. It encompasses a lack of reason and shame. Celebration and bad music with 40 dead compatriots? Dozens of injured, many with scars for life? With the rescuers still working? With memory fresh? With people in mourning (without an order) and the world sending messages of condolence? Coño, but how fucked are we!” he wrote on his Facebook wall. In a short time, the publication exceeded half a thousand comments, most of them related to Toirac’s opinion.

____________

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

The Faces of the 45 Victims of the Gas Explosion in Havana’s Saratoga Hotel

The Saratoga hotel fatalities are more than a number. However, little is known of their personal stories. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 May 2022 — On Thursday the rescue services found the body of the last person listed as missing since the explosion, last Friday, in the Saratoga Hotel, bringing the death toll to 45.

The fatalities are more than a number. However, little is known of their personal histories.

With the support of social networks and some calls to relatives and friends of the victims, 14ymedio has compiled data and photos to put faces to the figures. Starting with the statistics, it has been possible to determine that at least 23 were hotel workers, while the others were passing through the facilities, lived in neighboring buildings or were pedestrians who had the misfortune to pass in front of the hotel at the precise moment of the terrible explosion, attributed to poor handling in the transfer of liquefied gas from a truck to the Saratoga tank.

Five of the employees worked in the kitchens, three in the technical services, three in the gastronomy area, another three in the economic area. Two were at reception, another two in security, and two more on the board of directors. The last three were linked to the areas of accommodation, marketing and insurance.

The day the accident occurred, interviews were being held to hire new staff, with a view to the reopening of the hotel on Tuesday, May 10, hence the presence of several Human Resources employees and job candidates.

But who were the victims really? What did they like to do and who will miss them the most?

One of the deceased for whom more information is available is the only one who is not Cuban, the Spanish Cristina López-Cerón Ugarte, 29, whose ashes will arrive in her country this Thursday. The young woman, originally from Viveiro (Lugo), lived in As Pontes (A Coruña), where she was a bank employee. She lived with her boyfriend César Román Santalla, with whom she had traveled to Cuba and who is currently among the hospitalized. The explosion, according to what her mother told the Galician press, probably surprised them on their first walk around the island, where they planned to spend a week off after the hospitalization of a family member and the previous admission of another.

Among the particularly painful cases are the deaths of Erick Girón Molina, 35, and his partner Vianka Yaniel Matos, a 40-year-old from Havana. He worked at the Comandante Ernesto Che Guevara nickel factory as a machine operator at the Calcination and Sinter plant, and although there is not much information, it is foreseeable that they found themselves in the surroundings by chance, since her daughter, María Alejandra, 11 years old, is one of the hospitalized minors. Both were buried in Moa. continue reading

Another family involved in the incident is José Carlos Chapman Serrano, a 36-year-old from Holguín and a welder, who was with his son, Jonef José Chapman Izquierdo, 10 years old, who also died in the explosion.

A lot of information has also come out about one of the Saratoga receptionists, Juan Carlos Haza Martínez, a 50-year-old from Havana. A full member of the Masonic lodge Hijos de la Viuda, which has deeply lamented the loss, Haza was a graduate of the Special Troops and held positions both in the brigade’s exploration platoon and in the intelligence section. After that, he held different positions in tourism facilities in the capital, including the Parque Central hotel and the Panorama, before joining the Saratoga.

Two of the fatalities, as expected, were the drivers of the gas pipe involved in the explosion. Orlando Vargas Bring, known among his relatives as Landy, was 58 years old and lived in the Havana municipality of La Lisa. The other is Julián Pupo Castellano, who at 34 years old leaves three children, according to his partner, Yanet Sánchez, and his brother-in-law and great friend Jesús Manuel Sánchez. “We will never forget you, I swear that your name will never be forgotten,” the latter wrote on his social networks.

Another hotel employee was Ramón Toribio Señor Vergara, known as Mochi, 65 years old and also from Havana. “He was one of the first fatalities of the accident that occurred at the Saratoga Hotel. Husband, father and friends of all,” lamented Nelson Valdés, through Facebook. “A great person, very cheerful and cordial. Charming,” said Linnet Astencio, who stated that they were co-workers in the same establishment.

Juan Fraginals Martín, 30 years old, worked as a cook. He was from Havana and was planning to get married soon and was repairing the house that he would live in with his wife, according to his friends. Before finding his body, Prince of Peace Church had asked its congregation to pray for him to be found safe.

Also working in the kitchens of the Saratoga was Rafael Viga Torres, 50, who had studied at the School of Hospitality and Tourism at the Hotel Sevilla, in Old Havana. His friends used to say, half seriously, half jokingly, that he was the best cook in Cuba. He had at least one adult son, also Rafael, who has received hundreds of messages of condolences in the midst of a silence only broken by his new profile picture on Facebook, an image hugging his father.

Noy Guzmán Suárez is the third kitchen worker who died in the incident. Originally from Cerro, in Havana, and 44 years old, he studied at Ignacio Agramonte. Very fond of football and the FC Barcelona team, his colleagues refer to him as “the joy of the kitchen.”

The fourth cook is the last fatal victim rescued, and identified this Thursday, Yosmany Hernández Temo.

Just a year ago, Felicia Simón Maure was seen in a photo on her social networks in a beautiful yellow dress, smiling along with a phrase: “I am a woman who is happy with life.” She is 57 years old and originally from Havana, she worked in the human resources area of ​​the hotel.

The residents of number 609, adjacent to the hotel, were unlucky. Juan Carlos Díaz Álvarez, 55, was a delegate from the Popular Power constituency and his home collapsed in the explosion. His dog Chuza was pulled from under the rubble, still alive, days after the collapse. In the collapse of 15 of the building’s 27 apartments, María Consuelo Alard Valdés, 77, also died; she lived with her dog Sultan de Ella, who was found alive. Although her granddaughter did not move from the park in front of the hotel hoping she would be found alive, it was not to be.

Ernesto Cárdenas Gómez, 33, a native of Havana, was at the Saratoga occasionally, inspecting a carpentry project that was underway in the lobbyHe worked only part-time as part of the Ensamble cooperative, of the Fund for Cultural Assets, and wore overalls. He had studied in the 2017-2018 academic year at the San Gerónimo University College in Havana, which opened a book of condolences in his name.

Also belonging to the ensemble was Daniel Cruz Cárdenas, 25 years old, a native of Havana, who at the time of the explosion was working on the ground floor of the hotel.

Although the accounting offices were on the first floor of the hotel, on the day of the explosion Claudia Castellanos Antuch, who worked in that department, was in the basement with two other colleagues. The young woman, 30, had grown up in the Havana neighborhood of La Víbora and she had a four-year-old daughter. The father of the child, a resident outside the island, wrote some emotional words when Castellanos’ body was identified: “May we find comfort and strength in our daughter’s smile to pass this terrible ordeal that life put us through.”

Luciana Sierra Garro, 54, was from Havana and worked in the hotel’s Human Resources department. She had previously had a job as an administrator at the José Lezama Lima bookstore and later as a commercial inspector. She had also worked at the Bartolomé Masó school, the Provincial Book Center and at the Provincial Housing offices.

Yenisleidy Morales Armenteros, 34, also from Havana, worked three blocks from the place. Her family began to inquire about her whereabouts after the explosion, losing telephone contact with her. Apparently the woman is one of the passers-by who was hit by the fragments of the facade that flew in various directions.

María Isabel Bullain Montes de Oca was called “Mari” by her friends and was 29 years old. She graduated in 2017 from the Faculty of Tourism of Havana, she worked in the establishment. She was an only child and two days before the explosion she was seen posing for a photo with beautiful blue earrings made by the Omi project, a women’s sewing, knitting and accessories startup.

Misael Sánchez Mantilla, 48 years old, a native of Havana, worked in supplies at the Saratoga Hotel. He was passionate about Cuban history and belonged to the Guerra de Cuba group on Facebook that deals with historical issues. His son is a medical student and he thanked all those who had expressed their solidarity and interest after the accident, in the area of ​​the rescue operation where he was at all times.

The body of Yassel Díaz Vázquez, 38, a hotel employee, was found under the rubble three days after the explosion. His sister, Thalía López, after learning of the confirmation of his death, wrote on Facebook: “What injustice, so much negligence.” Several of his friends shared a message in which they demanded “all kinds of explanations, compensation, justice. What they do with one more hotel matters little to the soul of the city.”

Odalys Barrera González, a 57-year-old from Havana, has been honored on social networks by numerous colleagues who worked with her at the state-owned car rental company Transgaviota and have remembered her as a great mother and daughter. “She was a very happy person and always attentive to everyone,” lamented one of her friends. She was a current employee of the Saratoga.

Mélanie Laura Mosqueda Chacón, 17, also from Havana, was with her best friend, Lorena Mas Llorente, who is currently hospitalized, when the explosion occurred. She was studying at the School of Hospitality and Tourism Girón in the municipality of Playa.

Luisa Guilbeau Arrastia, 39 years old, from Havana, had a 10-year-old girl and worked at the Morro Cabaña Military Historical Park; her colleagues expressed their mourning for her with great affection. “She was distinguished by her cheerful and jovial character. Her co-workers, immersed in deep sadness, wish to convey to her family and friends their deepest condolences.” Her former mother-in-law has publicly joined that pain and has asked that, from wherever she is, she guide the steps of her granddaughter.

Leaney Sencio Hecheverría, a hotel worker, was 47 years old. Her friends called her Lea or Muchy and those who lived outside the Island made every effort to spread her image during the long days that she was missing.

María del Pilar Monzón González, 56, from Havana, had recently worked at the Saratoga. She had previously been a specialist in charge of the Quality Management process at the Empresa Viajero de Centro Habana. Her workmates, who called her Mary Pili, have sent more than 3,000 messages of support to her children and grandchildren.

Natyelis de la Caridad Brito Ibarzabal was barely 15 years old, studying in the municipality of Cerro, Havana. Her mother, Carmen, works at the Ministry of Internal Trade and her brother published several photos hugging Natyelis, some images that provoked more than a hundred comments, from friends, neighbors and relatives stunned by her early departure.

Manuel Eugenio Linares Sosa, 38, was known as Manolito on the block where he grew up, although friends called him Manu. He lived in the Bahía district, in the eastern part of Havana, and was a computer scientist by training.

Adriana Josué Díaz, 52, worked at the Saratoga as a security employee after having passed through the Ambos Mundos hotel. She had a daughter, Yanelis Yon Josué.

Milton Lorenzo Ventura Narbona, hotel worker, 67 years old, a native of Havana. He studied at the Marianao Manolito Aguiar high school and at the Ciudad Libertad facilities where his classmates remember him as an excellent student, a condition that also led him to study in the Soviet Union. He was head of Maintenance at the Kohly Hotel. He was among the first bodies identified after the explosion.

Alexis Lufriu Herrera worked in Security at the hotel and was there as an employee of the Cuban company of Specialized Protection Services SA (SEPSA). His friends from high school and work colleagues called him “El Lufri”. His specialty was monitoring through closed-circuit cameras and, before the Saratoga, he had worked in other hotels such as the Atlántico on the eastern beaches of Havana and in Villa Los Pinos. He was born on November 19, 49 years ago.

Luillys Oquendo Díaz had very bad luck, who was starting a job just the day of the explosion. “He was happy, because he started working as a cook that day, and nothing less than at the Saratoga Hotel! Everyone in the family desperately awaits news, because at his young age, 34 years old, Luillys has two children who want to hug him with intensity,” said one of his acquaintances when they were still looking for him alive.

Image posted by Maylín Quesada of the May Day parade with her colleagues from the Hotel Saratoga. (MQV)

Maylin Quesada Velazco had not yet turned 31 years old. On May 1, she paraded in the Plaza de la Revolución with her colleagues from the hotel carrying a Saratoga flag, where she worked on the financial side. Ella’s brother Jorge, who lives in Santos Suárez, will take care of her niece Ainoa, the daughter Maylin leaves behind and whom he wants to adopt. The young woman has been buried in the Colón cemetery, next to her father Jorge Emilio.

It has been impossible to find out details about the lives of four Havanans: José Salvador Mesa Sánchez and Juan Antonio Alfonso Delgado , both 77 years old; Dayanaisi Valdés Figueroa, 28, and Chanel Stephanie Hernández Díaz, only 15.

However, we know that Aivis Chang Cruz, 44 years old and a resident of Centro Habana, was called “La China” and worked in the once-luxurious Anacaona restaurant. Also, that she left a little girl orphaned.

Alexis Armando Velázquez Martiatu, 53, from Havana, worked at the General Security and Protection Agency.

Susel Torres García was identified this Wednesday: she was 50 years old and was a hotel waitress. Another waitress, Shady Cobas Mesa, was the last victim found, this Thursday.

Finally, Julio Jesús Trujillo Navarro, 19, was employed in the hotel renovation works, which were about to end before this Tuesday, for the reopening that could never be.

____________

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

The Saratoga Hotel’s Decline Began as Soon as the Military Took It Over

The Hotel Saratoga in all its splendor, in March 2014, after it had been restored. (CC/LukaszKatlewa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodriguez / Olea Gallardo, Havana, 11 May 2022 — Though an explosion at the luxurious Saratoga Hotel last Friday led to the deaths of at least forty-three people and the destruction of an iconic Havana landmark, the seeds of its demise were planted within its walls much earlier.

Specifically, this was in 2016,  when the Armed Forces Ministry seized the property from Habaguanex — a company had been operating under the auspices of the then all-powerful Office of the Historian of Havana, directed by Eusebio Leal — and handed over to the Gaviota group.

Leal’s agency had been successfully operating a number of tourist-related commercial properties when they were taken over by the Revolutionary Armed Forces Business Administration Group (Gaesa), led by Raul Castro’s former son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja.

“The Gaviota people were driving the Saratoga into the ground,” claims one former employee, a man in his forties who prefers to remain anonymous. He quit working there two years ago and swears he will never go back. “Everything became run down and they weren’t taking care of anything,” he reports. continue reading

This was a far cry from 2005, when the Saratoga — built in 1880 and operated as a hotel at the corner of Prado and Dragones since 1933 — reopened as modern five-star establishment after a long period of decline that began with the triumph of the Cuban revolution. The restoration was carried out the Office of the Historian and financed by foreign investors.

One of those investors, who prefers to remain anonymous, tells 14ymedio that the tab for refurbishing the Saratoga — part of an ambitious plan by Leal to restore Havana’s historic city center — was on the order of fifteen million dollars.

“An English developer sought out investors in several European countries, including Spain,” he explains. That developer was Coral Capital, a company founded by Amado Fakhre, an Anglo-Argentinian with roots in Lebanon. “We liked this project because we always believed, and still believe, in the future of  Cuba,” says the investor. “And we never thought the current governent would last this long.”

According to this investor, however, everything changed once the property was transferred to Gaviota. “It all went downhill from there,” he says, though he acknowledges that investors also realized that the developers, led by Fakhre, did not have much experience in the hotel business. “They tried to make agreements with international [hotel] chains but were not successful. And, on the whole, the way they handled the negotiation with Gaviota was disastrous.”

The relationship of Fakhre and Stephen Purvis, his partner at Coral Capital, with the Cuban military brings to mind the popular fable about the frog who agrees to transport a snake across a river only to be stung by the scorpion in mid-stream, dooming them both. The two men were arrested — first in 2011 and again in 2012 — and accused of bribery. They remained in detention until their trial in 2013, when they were found guilty of “misdemeanor corruption” and released.

However, some media outlets report that Fakhre was forced to sign a confession stating that he had been detained for “having revealed state secrets” and spent twenty months being interrogated by the political police in a government safe house.

According to a 2016 article published in Vice, his business had invested a total of tweny-eight million dollars in the Saratoga.

Eusebio Leal’s star shone brightly even when Fidel was still in power and it did not dim until a long time thereafter. A flattering 2009 article in the official press noted that Habaguanex, which was created in 1994, operated no fewer than 300 tourist facilities. These included restaurants, shops, markets, cafes and lodgings with a total capacity of 546 rooms. These operations were touted as examples of “sustainable” development, whose profits went to “both the rescue of buildings that make up the Historic Center and to various social programs.”

“One morning, the elderly were invited to an extravagant breakfast at Casas Museos as part of a cultural event. And this was no run-of-the mill event,” reports a dancer who who worked with the Office of Humanitarian Affairs, which was also affiliated with the Office of the Historian

“Everything was carefully worked out,” she explains. “Partnership agreements and donations from from overseas as well as the income that Habaguanex generated as a company from all its hard-currency stores and hotels.”

“Not just anyone worked for them,” says the artist, who defends the management skills of Eusebio Leal, who died of cancer on July 31, 2021. “The Office of the Historian was a country within a country. They were powerful but they did things well. I worked there for many years and I know the efforts that were made.”

“In the end, they were audited and everything was taken away from them,” she says, alluding to the moment the Armed Forces took control of Habaguanex’s most attractive assets.

Once its foreign investors pulled out, the Hotel Saratogo languished under Gaviota’s management. Other former employees report deteriorating working conditions and the loss of financial incentives that the hotel’s foreign managers often provided on an informal basis to their workers in addition to their salaries.

“The first thing to go at the Saratoga was the art. But before that was the class,” says another former employee. “When it was part foreign-owned and part Habanguanex-owned, the Anacaona restaurant on the ground floor was packed on Christmas Eve. But under Gaviota, it wasn’t even a shadow of its former self.”

Gaviota — proprietor of the luxurious Grand Hotel Manzana and manager of the Kempinski — has close to sixty hotels and villas throughout the island with close to 30,000 bedrooms, most of which are administered by foreign companies.

It is the operations under foreign management that enjoy the best reputations while the hotels over which the military conglomerate has exclusive control have not managed to achieve the same level of customer satisfaction.

____________

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

21st Century Fascism and Cuba

All authoritarian caudillos need to match their personal ambitions with a certain dose of ideology. Billboard: “The Party is the soul of the Revolution” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yunior García Aguilera, Madrid, 12 May 2022 — I will try to avoid falling into Godwin’s law, according to which, any discussion on the internet that is prolonged leads to the possibility that someone will call someone else a fascist, or compare them to Hitler and the Nazis. However, in the Cuban context a variation of this law usually occurs. If we examine the debates on social networks, we will find that, in almost all cases, someone will insult another by calling them a “communist,” without ever having read a single page of Capital.  

Although it seems obvious, it is necessary to clarify that, beyond the Marxist theories and the rhetoric of those who have claimed to follow their doctrines, communism has never really existed. Marx was closer to Nostradamus than to Hegel. His works might have qualified as mystical lyricism rather than science, but there is always someone willing to take fiction too seriously. The Marxists who survived him would not show such patience for history to take its spontaneous course. If the hated capitalism did not die a natural death, it had to be assassinated.

Lenin modified his readings of the German philosopher as much as he could to make them fit his context. And then Stalin would see to it that all the nightmares that old Marx had refused to speak out loud would come true. If the Soviet experiment did not collapse at that very moment, it was because another monster appeared on the scene that would monopolize universal repudiation: Adolf Hitler.

Fidel Castro triumphantly entered Havana in January 1959. He managed to get a white dove to perch on his shoulder, he swore that he was not a communist to any journalist who asked him the uncomfortable question, he repeated ad nauseam that his revolution was green like the palms, but ended up diving headfirst into the red pool. Was Ángel Castro’s son really a communist? If one examines the phrases of the bearded man, the fascist readings of him immediately come to light.

From the Moncada Statement itself, where he ends with his famous “Condemn me, it doesn’t matter, history will absolve me,” the similarities with Hitler’s Mein Kampf are noticeable . Later, when continue reading

official censorship was regulated in his Words to Intellectuals, Mussolini’s voice would appear behind it. “With the Revolution everything, against the Revolution nothing” is nothing more than an echo of the Duce’s speech: “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State”. Fidel Castro used against his opponents the same derogatory term used by Hitler against the Jews: maggots. And the phrase “Work will make you men” that was read at the entrance to the forced labor camps where homosexuals and religious believers were imprisoned in Cuba, reminds us of the fateful phrase about Auschwitz: Arbeit macht frei.

All authoritarian caudillos need to match their personal ambitions with a certain dose of ideology. And fascism is the one that best suits their tyrannical aspirations, but it is too discredited. The rhetoric of solidarity and social justice sounds more pleasant to innocent ears. But the truth is that Cuba is closer to State Corporatism than to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The poor workers in Cuba have no say in the matter. And the leaders of the Political Bureau are closer to the conservative prototype than to contemporary liberals. To add insult to injury, the infamous Rapid Response Squads are now trying to be replaced by the Red Scarves, a much more blatant carbon copy of the Blackshirts or Brownshirts.

The international left has been running out of causes, after spending its ideological arsenal against globalization. The world is upside down. The great champion of capitalism today is China, a country governed by a communist party. The Asian giant is also the country that pollutes the environment the most, sparing no effort in exploiting and repressing its large population, while surplus value fills their coffers.

The heralded Socialism of the 21st Century, proposed by Chávez, ended up plunging Venezuela into the most painful misery of its history. The Nicaraguan orteguismo [Ortega regime] could not be more despotic, locking up all its political opponents and assuming fraud as the norm. Putin’s Russia shamelessly shows its imperialist face, launching its troops into Ukraine and threatening the planet with nuclear holocaust, while his lackeys applaud him.

The problem of the world today is not left or right, let’s grow up. The problem is authoritarianism, of any color. That is the Fascism of the 21st Century.

____________

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

Up to Nine Years in Prison for July 11th (11J) Protestors in Santiago de Cuba

Image of the July 11 protests in Santiago de Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 11 May 2022 — Four July 11th (11J) demonstrators in Santiago de Cuba have been sentenced to between nine and five years in prison, while a fifth, who was part of the same file, was released with a fine of 3,000 pesos. The trial was held five months ago and some of the defendants had been in pre-trial detention for ten months.

Ibrahim Ariel González Hodelin and Ronal Luis González Ramos, both 22 years old, received the highest sentences, although the Prosecutor’s Office had requested up to 15 years in prison for them for the crimes of public disorder, contempt and attack, according to Cubanet.

The two sentenced to nine years in prison were arrested in the vicinity of Paseo Martí and have been in provisional prison since June 17, according to data from Cubalex.

Joel Tor Caballero, 33, and Frank Ernesto Mourlot Speck, 29, also received five years in prison, both for the crimes of public disorder and contempt. For both, the Public Ministry requested seven years in prison.

On July 11, Caballero was on Paseo Martí when the National Revolutionary Police took the keys to his motorcycle and he began shouting slogans, according to Cubalex. His wife, Daily González, recounted in a Facebook post that they also took all his belongings. Two days later she received a text message on her cell phone: “Daily, tell Joel to call this number urgently, it’s from the provincial DTI, otherwise he won’t be able to drive anymore.” continue reading

In this way he was summoned and arrested, according to his testimony. “Around 1:30 pm a patrol arrived and he was forced to get in, they did not allow me to accompany him, they told me not to worry that they would only interview him and he would return home after three days at most.” However, since that day Caballero has been in the Boniato prison.

“They just killed the illusion I had when I received the news that 10 months of being separated were not enough, but that five years still await us,” González wrote on May 5, when the conviction, dated May 3, was made public.

One of the five, Idalberto Fonden Roma, 24, was the only one released with a fine of 3,000 pesos. For him, the Prosecutor’s Office requested two years in prison for the crime of disobedience.

The sentences of up to 12 years for some 15 demonstrators in Palma Soriano, in Santiago de Cuba, who also participated in the peaceful protests of July 11 last year, were also recently made public.

The latest report by Prisoners Defenders (PD) indicates that there were 1,015 political prisoners in Cuba as of April 2022. The document highlights that in the last 12 months, since May 1 of last year, some 1,218 people have suffered political imprisonment and around 874 remain in prison for the July 11 protests.

____________

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

Despite the Controversy, Mexico will Contract for 500 Cuban Doctors and Buy Vaccines Without WHO Endorsement

Mexico will send the new Cuban health brigade to areas of “the mountain of Guerrero.” (Cubadebate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 May 2022 — The Government of Mexico announced this Monday the contracting of more than 500 Cuban doctors and the acquisition of covid-19 vaccines targeted to children two years of age and older.

According to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in his daily press conference, these actions are part of the health agreements reached with his counterpart, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, during his visit to the island.

López Obrador said that Mexico has a “deficit of specialists” and there are health workers who do not want to move to remote areas, so Cuban pediatricians will have “the Mountain of Guerrero” as their base of work, one of the most contentious points in the country, not not only because it is the poorest area – with rates similar to those of deep Africa – but also because of the presence of several cartels that dispute the movement of drugs, which make it a permanent source of insecurity, as well as other problems, such as the sale of girls in marriage in some indigenous communities.

In addition, he announced the acquisition of doses of Cuban vaccines against covid that still do not have the endorsement of the World Health Organization (WHO), targeted to children. continue reading

When asked about which of the vaccines it would be, he replied: “Abdala, I think that’s the name.” On the Island, a combination of Soberana 02 and Soberana Plus was applied for pediatric patients two years of age and older.

Regarding the possible problems that this aid to Cuba could cause in Mexico’s relations with the United States, López Obrador assured that he has not received “any complaint”: “Whenever I speak with President (Joe) Biden, the issue comes up that it is a relationship between equals and that they are respectful of the sovereignty of Mexico.”

The statements of the Mexican president did not take long to raise negative reactions. “It is an agreement that does not benefit Mexico at all and it is going to cost us, from money from the treasury, to health (if not lives),” the consultant for health issues Xavier Tello said on his social networks. “General practitioners going to do residencies in Cuba. This was already proposed (imposed) since last year and it was a failure,” said Tello, referring to the fiasco of Conacyt scholarships to study on the island.

“This true absurdity is just a way to validate the human trade and slavery that the dictatorship promotes, with the island’s doctors,” said the specialist.

“Politics continues to make Mexico’s health sick,” the internist, infectologist and 2020 National Health Award winner Francisco Moreno Sánchez posted on his Twitter account. “Health problems cannot be solved by contracting for 500 Cuban doctors.”

Laurie Ann Ximénez-Fyvie, a researcher in microbiology, described as “incredible” the decision of the Government of Mexico, just a few days after the Health Institute for Well-being (Insabi) was singled out for forcing doctors to resign who had a contract with another dependency, when this is not stipulated in the law.

The hiring of doctors from the Island has been marked by opacity and controversy. In 2020, brigades were sent, according to the Mexican authorities, in support of the coronavirus pandemic. Schools and public opinion questioned them for not being prepared to face the health emergency, and doing little work, and the fact that their presence cost almost eight million dollars. This Saturday, the Cuban official press itself gave the exact number of doctors it sent to Mexico for that contingency, between 2020 and 2021: 1,479.

To contract for 585 of them, “without title,” as reported in September 2021 by the opposition National Action Party (PAN) Mexico and Cuba “orchestrated a fraud” of 255,873,177 million pesos (about 12,692,940 million dollars) to the detriment of the Mexican health budget.

The coordinator of the PAN in the Senate, Julen Rementería, published documents obtained through the transparency portal specified that for each Cuban health worker Mexico disbursed about 21,700 dollars, while a Mexican doctor earns about 843 dollars at the Mexican Social Security Institute.

____________

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

Cuban State Security Prevents Farinas from Leaving Santa Clara After His Trip to Europe and the U.S.

Fariñas was arrested on Tuesday at the airport, upon his return to the Island, and was released after hours of interrogation. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 12 May 2022 — Cuban opponent, Guillermo Coco Fariñas, explained on Wednesday that he has been freed after being interrogated for several hours by security forces upon his return to Havana from a trip to Europe and the U.S.

The 2010 recipient of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought stated on Facebook that it involved a “cohersive interrogation” and that the “punishment” for his political tour will be that he will be unable to leave his city, Santa Clara.

“For those of us who struggle for democracy and freedom in Cuba, it is a right to conduct politics in this way,” said Fariñas, despite his sanction.

The opponent confirmed that State Security agents accused him of influencing U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision not to invite Cuba to the Summit of the Americas.

They also criticized his contribution to the recent declaration of the European Union on Cuba. “For them, that was intolerable,” he added.

Finally, according to Fariñas, they believed that the opponent was behind the coordination of various generations of Cuban exiles and the involvement of business owners in pro-democratic activities on the Island. continue reading

Fariñas was arrested on Tuesday afternoon, as he was leaving Havana’s José Martí International airport, where he had just landed after his international trip.

The opponent was returning to Cuba following a two-month trip — “successful” in his judgement — which took him to the U.S. and Europe, where he met with various political representatives and activists to talk about the situation in his country.

During his trip, the leader of the United Antitotalitarian Front (Fantu) denounced the repression in Cuba, especially as a result of the antigovernment protests of July 11th.

The Sakharov Prize winner stated that the social situation in the country is “a pressure cooker without an escape valve” and that new protests are possible. Fariñas had planned the trip for mid-January, but was unable to travel because he received the Cuban-made vaccines, which are not recognized in the U.S. A month later, he was able to fly.

In recent months, Fariñas had denounced several detentions, sometimes held in a hospital in Santa Clara, where he lives, for unsolicited medical treatment.

Translated by: Silvia Suárez 

____________

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