Havana’s Capitol: The Other Face of the Restoration

Two weeks before the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana, the Facade and Rear Gardens of the south side of the Capitol (photo: Amelia)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 4 November 2019 — There are those who would swear that everything in Cuba, from the most solemn to the most mundane act, has an air of a one-act farce. The dramatic and the jocular intermingle in a scenario full of contrasts and absurdities, in a reality that far exceeds any fiction plot.

These days, the metal fences that covered the gardens of the southern area of the National Capitol were finally removed, and the neighbors who reside in the popular (and populous) neighborhood that runs behind the monumental building, glance curiously at the feverish restoration activity. There is an intense agitation, since there are only two weeks left for the 500th Anniversary of the Cuban capital, to be celebrated on November 16th, and the delivery of this iconic building is one of the highlights of the event.

“I think they will not finish it on time”, says a septuagenarian of humble appearance who says he is a retired construction frame worker, who returns daily to contemplate the work. “I, who worked all my life in construction, tell you that a lot of work is still missing. Now they are in earthworks because they removed all the old tiles in the garden in order to restore them. Then they have to tamp, press them firmly and fuse them so that these tile slabs remain fixed. Add to that all the landscaping, and not counting the windows that have yet to be installed and the facade that is still covered and must be finished.” continue reading

And he points to a huge mesh cloth that covers a portion of the rear facade and numerous empty openings where all the blinds should already be in place. “They are going to have to work in 24-hour shifts and still doing it that way they might be able to complete just what shows. Just cosmetic work, the same as always happens.”

Nearby, there is a standing policeman on duty facing the work.  Police surveillance is permanent, as well as the presence of guards at a nearby checkpoint, to prevent the usual shoplifting of construction materials: the illegal sale of cement, stone dust, joists, etc., is a constant in every construction job in Cuba.

“This has been difficult here from the beginning,” says a lady who also watches the work. “I live here back on Amistad Street, and several neighbors of mine tried to get some cement and other things… but nothing. There is great vigilance with that, and there are people in this neighborhood whose houses need repairs, because they are falling down… There are no materials for the unfortunate.”

Occasionally, some official media have made reference to the intervention of foreign capital and the support of private institutions to achieve the restoration of this building, paradoxically the most important symbol of Republican Cuba, crushed after the 1959 revolution.

The Castro regime, unable to create their own symbols that can compete in quality and beauty with those of the past, is trying now to appropriate allegories that are completely alien to them. Since they failed to completely destroy the city that they despise – and those who despise them – they prefer to make use of its meaning and its unyielding architectural wealth.

According to government sources, the German company MD Projektmanagement, owned by Michel Diegmann, is responsible for the restoration work. However, nobody fully knows the total amount of the investment, although everyone infers that the sum must be in the millions. “With half the money that this cost, a lot of buildings in Centro Habana could have been repaired,” the same woman muses next to me.

The restoration of the dome alone, exquisitely coated with pieces of gold leaf on copper sheets, is the result of a large donation from the Russian Federation. The work undertaken to return it to its former splendor was carried out by specialists from that country, assisted by Cuban personnel.

The southern facade of the building is still missing windows and the gardens need to be completed (photo: Amelia)

Re-inaugurated August 30th by the City Historian, the golden dome contrasts sharply since then with the poverty of its “backyard”, that is, the collapsed roofs and facades of the adjoining buildings, hidden behind the architectural magnificence not only of the Capitol, but also of the Havana Prado, the Havana Lyceum, the Grand Theater, the Saratoga Hotel, the Fountain of the Indian Woman, and the Central and Fraternity parks. A majestic urban complex that flanks and conceals the ugly face of gloom, the crust of decay, accentuated after 60 years of neglect that the authorities do not want the world to see.

And it is not that it is wrong to rescue those symbols, buildings, squares and spaces that made this city beautiful; quite the opposite. We just need to not forget that Havana, like any city, is much more than the sum of its architectural symbols and historical spaces.

The beauty of cities, what makes them peculiar or “marvelous”, lies in the soul of their people, in the spirit of those who inhabit them. To artificially brighten the old trappings of our city for one occasion, as if it were a showcase to display it to the world, while prosperity and freedoms are still forbidden to Cubans who live it, love it and suffer it, it’s not worth a thing.

Statements of Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Against the "Blockade" Relegate Felipe VI to the Background

The king and queen of Spain closed their trip in Santiago de Cuba paying tribute to the fallen soldiers of the war of 1898. (Casa Real)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, November 15, 2019 — Breaking the tradition of Spanish diplomacy of using the word “embargo” for the economic restrictions that the US maintains over Cuba, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, spoke yesterday of a “blockade.” “We are going to call things by their name,” he stressed.

The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and next head of European diplomacy expressed his “categorical rejection” of the blockade and, especially, of the application of the Helms-Burton law, which Spain “will fight” for being “an abuse of power” not in accordance with international law for the sanctions it imposes.

Borrell strongly criticized the attitude of the government of Donald Trump in a conversation with journalists in Havana in which he took stock of the historic trip of the Spanish king and queen to Cuba, the first of a bilateral character of a monarch. continue reading

On the meetings held with the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel during Felipe VI’s visit, Borrell remarked that this was one of the main issues tackled. “We don’t accept and we will fight the extraterritorial measures they are trying to impose, because it is not in accordance with international law to impose extraterritorial sanctions.”

“Make laws and apply them to your citizens, but to the rest of the world it is an abuse of power that the European Union has condemned,” reprimanded Borrell, who on December 1 will assume his new role in the EU.

In his new responsibility, he anticipated that he will maintain the line of opposition already established by Brussels against the imposition of sanctions at this point, as happens in the case of Iran. “A different line won’t come with me. It’s already passed,” he pointed out.

On how the Trump administration will take Spain’s criticisms, Borrell declared: “The Americans’ discomfort? They won’t find it funny at all.”

However, he reminded that some media outlets publicized in recent weeks that the US was going to impose sanctions on Spain for its alleged financial support of the government of the Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, which Borrell has described as “fake news.”

“I don’t know if that ’fake news’ was a hard pinch. But it had no basis, nor foundation. The State Department guaranteed to us that it was an invention. We aren’t making any direct statement, nor an indirect one,” clarified the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Borrell insisted that the Helms-Burton law poses a “grave” problem for Spanish companies, with which yesterday, Wednesday, the king met to learn their concerns; and he added that it causes nonpayments to Spanish companies, estimated at more than 300 million euros, on the part of Cuban authorities because of the lack of financial liquidity, although he assessed that they have “the greatest will” to resolve them.

The minister praised the “enormous determination” with which it is confronting the economic problems facing it, especially, as regards tourism, with the loss of almost a million travelers, the suspensions of flights, and the energy shortage.

Against Trump’s policy, Borrell compared the “great opening” imagined by the mandate of Barack Obama in the White House, which “generated a hope of normalization in the world’s economic relations with Cuba” and “eased tensions.”

Additionally, he emphasized his contribution in the Cuban regime’s facilitating the business of private workers. “They are the yeast of change, which little by little are creating an attitude, although still with many restrictions,” he pointed out.

Regarding Felipe VI’s words on Wednesday in the presence of Díaz-Canel, the Spanish minister affirmed that the king said “everything that he had to say” and that his defense of democracy and human rights were set out in a “polite and cooperative” manner.

According to Borrell, what Felipe VI expressed was that democracy and the system of free enterprise “have worked well” for Spain and that this model is the basis of human rights. “He said it in a polite and cooperative manner and, as was said, it was a milestone in what can be expected from a royal visit from Spain to Cuba,” assessed the minister.

Borrell remarked that for a top-level visit, in which “the issues that allow agreements to be reached are not discussed, it marked a point that some thought wasn’t going to happen and others demanded,” in allusion to the criticisms that the visit generated in the Spanish opposition, interpreting it as an endorsement of the Cuban regime.

The king’s words “reflect a will of accompaniment and an absolute rejection of outside interferences,” he affirmed. He also indicated that the Cuban leader knew what the king was going to say — “we spoke before of these issues, we were on the same wavelenght” — while being conscious that Spain and Cuba have different political systems.

The minister clarified that Cuba “is not the only one-party country in the world” and that, in fact, the multi-party models “represent an anomaly” on an international scale. Asked why the government doesn’t also defend democracy expressly when it visits countries like Morocco or China, Borrell responded: “When we go, we’ll see what we say.”

Although only the king’s speech appeared on the dinner program, the government was not surprised that Díaz-Canel also took the floor to defend the socialist model and the path that Cubans have chosen “of their own will.” “It was planned that he would speak. If it hadn’t been, there would have been news,” justified the minister.

Borrell remarked that the visit has allowed them to address “sensitive subjects in a direct and cordial manner.” In his opinion, it has been “an open, frank, and unrestricted dialogue.”

On the fact that Felipe VI didn’t meet with the opposition during his stay on the island, Borrell explained that it is a matter that “escapes the interlocution of a head of state” and that it competes with the governments and the Spanish embassy in Cuba.

The minister also explained that the anniversary of Havana was “a golden opportunity that couldn’t be missed” to “correct an institutional anomaly” and normalize relations with a country like Cuba that is part of the Iberoamerican community of nations and that was the only one that the king and queen hadn’t visited in a bilateral manner.

“Some like it and others don’t, it’s time and it has to be,” he resolved, not without reminding that the stage of normalization began several years ago, after the disagreements of the time of José María Aznar’s government. That policy “gave no result” emphasized Borrell, and it was ended.

Borrell also spoke on the intention to recuperate the Cultural Center of Spain in Havana, whose administration was assumed by the Cuban state in 2003 as a response to the diplomatic disagreement with the European Union.

“We would be delighted to be able to reopen the cultural center that was closed. Contacts have been started for it,” he indicated. “Cultural collaboration has to continue being an essential element of our relationship,” stressed the king, who today visited with the queen the National Museum of Fine Arts to see the self-portrait of Francisco de Goya transferred by the Prado Museum.

That visit was the close to Felipe VI and Queen Letizia’s activities in Havana, going to the National Museum of Fine Arts accompanied by the Vice Minister of Culture, Fernando Rojas, and the director of the institution, Jorge Fernández.

“We want them to know our great works and so, on this trip, we have the privilege of offering to the Cuban people the impressive portrait of Goy that will be housed in the Museum of Fine Arts in the next weeks,” said King Felipe, who underlined the importance of cultural collaboration as an “essential element” of the bilateral relationship.

The king and queen concluded the visit in Santiago de Cuba this Thursday, before the queen left for Spain while Felipe VI heads for the United States to attend the anniversary of Georgetown University, where he studied for two years.

The closing act of the visit was the most emotional for the king and queen on this trip, paying tribute to the Spanish soldiers fallen in two of the battles that brought to an end the Spanish colonial empire.

The Spanish monarchs visited the Castillo del Morro, the fortress that could never be taken by sea and from which the bay in which the Spanish ships were massacred in that battle on July 3, 1898 can be seen. The battle had as its objective the taking of Santiago by American troops.

Felipe VI and Letizia listened to the explanations from those in charge of conservation of that space on the development of the events, posed in front of a plaque commemorating their presence in the place, and gifted in the name of Spain the painting by Juan Arias entitled The sea that unites us, which symbolizes the union between the Spanish and Cuban peoples that the Atlantic represents.

With a solemn touch of prayer and with the king and queen in front of the flags of Spain and Cuba, the fallen of that battle were remembered while a narrator assured that “the heroic actions of the members of the Spanish Armada, always guided by loyalty and love for Spain, will always be remembered as an example of courage, valor, and honor.”

The king explained that his presence in what was the first capital of the crown in Cuba would be a tribute to the Spaniards, Cubans, and Americans fallen there in 1898. He also said that he would keep in mind the words of the father of the Cuban nation, José Martí, that that was a war without hatred.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera


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.

Chile Deports Dozens Of Cubans And Venezuelans, Some Linked To The Recent Protests

Of the 50 foreigners deported from Chile, 30 were Cuban and nine Venezuelan. (Government of Chile)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, November 18 2019 — Chile deported 50 foreigners from the country, including 30 Cubans and nine Venezuelans for staying irregularly in the South American nation, or having committed crimes in the recent protests that have shaken the country, according to the O’Higgins Region government.

“Violence has undoubtedly been the worst part of the recent demonstrations in Chile. It’s a reality that is no different for the O’Higgins region, despite the call from different sectors, including the citizens themselves, to put an end to this action and promote a social agenda that meets the legitimate demands that triggered the crisis that the country is going through,” explains an official statement. continue reading

“In this context, five out of the total of 50 foreign citizens were detained and put at the disposal of the justice system for looting and, as well, for being involved in riots, attacking the authorities and erecting barricades,” the government’s report adds.

Protests broke out in Chile on October 18 after an increase in Santiago’s Metro fare. Since then, there have been repeated demonstrations against inequality, poverty and in favor of a new Constitution that would take the place of the one inherited from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Some 23 people have died since the crisis erupted, and more than 2,300 civilians have been injured.

In the first few days of the protests the government decreed a state of emergency and a curfew in an attempt to curb the most severe protests since the return of democracy in 1990. In recent weeks there have been multiple cases of immense violence, with looting, fires, destruction of public property and bloody clashes between demonstrators and police forces, creating a further questioning of the repression.

Translated by: Rafael Osorio


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.

Why the Reopening of the Cuatro Caminos Market Failed

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 18 November 2019 — Economists and analysts will say otherwise, but Amalia, 68, has her own version of events. This Saturday she decided to visit the Mercado de Cuatro Caminos, in Havana, to observe with her own eyes the reopening of the most important commercial center in the Cuban capital. “When I saw the tumult I didn’t want to enter but the crowd pushed me inside and I climbed the stairs, without moving my feet, to the first floor.”

Driven by the human energy of an avalanche of customers, the retiree ended up in front of an appliance store although she did not want to buy “neither a rice cooker nor a refrigerator,” she says. After being closed for five years, the so-called Single Market was the scene on Saturday of a popular escalation, a taking of the Bastille with a commercial touch, a revolution of customers desperate to buy everything that is lacking in other stores on this island.

The responsibility for what happened — several injured, dozens frustrated and hundreds disappointed by the temporary closure — rests primarily with the authorities. In the next few days the official press will try to convince us that it was “social indiscipline” or the hand of “counterrevolutionary elements” that caused the collapse of such a grand opening, but you just have to live in the Cuban reality to know what happened. continue reading

For weeks, the depressed Havana markets, especially the stores in selling in hard currency, had suffered an intensification of their shortages. One only had to ask the employees to hear something like: “They came and took the chicken breasts and the toilet paper for Cuatro Caminos.” Using the old strategy of “undressing one saint to dress another,” the Government played the card of using the reopening of the commercial center as a showcase to demonstrate an economic capacity it does not possess.

Although a “smart platform” was installed inside to control electricity and climate, as the State newspaper Granma hyped with great emphasis, it occurred to no one to design a simple mechanism to organize the line outside the premises, at least for the opening day of sales to the public. Thin ropes could have helped manage the line that began to form at dawn on Saturday. The human storm surge was already a tsunami by the time the market opened.

It is not possible to create a bubble of efficiency, prosperity and cleanliness in the middle of a city and a country that is falling to pieces. Previous examples, such as the Plaza de Carlos III, the Trasval Hardware Store on Galiano Street or the Ultra Store, one of the first department stores to open after the decriminalization of the dollar in the 1990s, are today a sad memory of what could have been. The shortages, grime and deterioration of their infrastructure complete the day to day of these businesses.

The Single Market is also located in one of the areas with the highest population density in the city, not to mention Cuba. It was enough to calculate that the surrounding neighbors would come on the first day of operation to know that the number of customers at the time of opening the doors would be counted by thousands, not tens or hundreds.

If you add to that the triumphant images that they broadcast on the TV News, with varieties of frozen chicken that right now can’t be found anywhere, some pristine pallets with malangas that mothers spend weeks trying to buy for their babies, shelves with packages of powdered milk, bags of detergent and the mundane cans of beer that are so scarce, the perfect storm was ready.

After two in the afternoon, Amelia tried to leave Cuatro Caminos and the inferno it had become. A can of wall paint overturned by the crowd had turned part of the halls into a series of footprints that ran desperately in one direction or another. The sandals she was wearing couldn’t take it and broke while she was trying to find the door to escape from there. With the empty bag, her painted feet and the conviction that “no one will come back here,” she returned home.

Its story is just one more, but Cuatro Caminos failed on its first day mainly because in Cuba the political class lives very far from reality, does not step foot on the streets, does not line up or know how long a liter of cooking oil or a can of tomato sauce lasts. They, up there, have not only lost the economic north a long time ago, but also the ability to intuit how people will act.

See also: Cuatro Caminos Market Closes Until Next Week Due to “Social Indiscipline”

See also: Cuatro Caminos Market and Free Trade in Cuba / Elías Amor Bravo


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 Cuatro Caminos Market Closes Until Next Week Due To Social "Indiscipline"

Residents from the vicinity of Cuatro Caminos Market noticed the police presence in the area from early in the morning. (Alain Alemany/Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 November 2019 — What was going to be the most important commercial opening coinciding with the celebration of Havana’s half millennium has been marred after it was announced that the Cuatro Caminos Market would close after the first day of its reopening to the public. The arrival of thousands of people since the early hours of this Saturday overflowed the infrastructure of the most important market in the Cuban capital.

People running through the corridors to be first in line at the one of the stores inside, at least one woman with a broken arm, two doors shattered by the crowd, shoves that brought down several elderly people, collapsed shelves, and multiple complaints characterized the first day after the resumption of sales to the public in the imposing building, 14ymedio was able to confirm.

With a great drumroll the opening had been announced weeks in advance for the shopping center, also known as the Single Market, after a profound restauration of the old building. But the crowd that was waiting to buy some of the products that can’t be found in the rest of the stores in the city collapsed the place and forced the authorities to close it for a few days. continue reading

A few hours after opening its doors, a note from the market management signed by its general manager, Ania Peralta de Armas, and published on the CIMEX Corporation’s Facebook account, announced the closure “before the massiveness of the public.” The market will suspend its services until “next week,” the statement adds. “The decision is correct as a result of the indiscipline and the mistreatment of the installation,” the entity justified, responding to a comment on the announcement.

“On Thursday the butcher shop appeared on the television news and it looked like it was very well stocked so my mom and I arranged to wake up very early,” said Dagmara Ruiz, a Havana resident of the nearby Los Sitios neighborhood. “We arrived at six in the morning and although the morning was a little cold there were already a lot of people lining up.”

Cuatro Caminos is one of the nerve points of Havana and not only because of its commercial importance, but also its urban location. The market is within a huge block bounded by four streets — Monte, Cristina, Arroyo and Matadero — and with a high population density in the surrounding area, for decades this commercial center has been the main source of livelihood for hundreds of families, transporters and vendors living in the surrounding area.

This November 16, on the day of the 500th anniversary of Havana, as the opening hours approached “the line began to be disorganized and the police presence became very heavy,” Ruiz laments. “All this was to be expected because all the stores have shortages and people are desperate for some products that are nowhere to be found.” She gives as an example “chicken breasts, detergent, tomato puree and toilet paper.”

Only two days ago the official newspaper Granma described the market as a place where “modernity and tradition” mix. The newspaper said the place would be open this Saturday from nine in the morning until eight at night. Customers could buy a variety of products that ranged from home appliances, through meat products, to fruits and vegetables.

But the experience of Yondiel, age 28 and a resident of the Mulgoba neighborhood, was very different. The young man lost his wallet in the tumult outside the Plaza after waiting for almost five hours to enter. “There were several quarrels and although there were patrols with police all around, everyone was very anxious.”

“The problem is that they collected a lot of the merchandise that was in other stores to bring it here and in the Boyeros and Camagüey market the refrigerators are empty,” he adds. “That’s why we had to come here to get sausages and some chicken.”

The nearly 100-year-old architectural colossus, built in 1920, had been closed since February 2014 and underwent a restoration to return it to its former splendor. With the restoration, its two plants were operational, the first dedicated to warehouses and refrigerators, the butcher shop, an agricultural market and a canned food shop.

The market’s second floor was packed on opening day. (Migue Ro./Twitter)

On the second floor are now household supplies, hardware and household appliances, as well as a cafeteria, an information bureau and an office to receive remittances through Western Union.

“A lot of social indiscipline and a lot of disregard,” is how a Havana woman defined it, after she arrived there this morning with her mother, who is in her seventies. “I had to leave because they were going to knock my mom down, people were crazy trying to get into the stores and fill their baskets with food,” she explains to this newspaper.

The residents near the Plaza de Cuatro Caminos, who have spent for more than five years waiting for the reopening of a commercial space that was the heart of the neighborhood, are not astonished by what happened on Saturday. “We saw it coming, because they had announced it a lot on television and shown full shelves and a lot of food,” acknowledges a resident of a neighboring street who set up his living room as a parking lot for customers’ bicycles and motorbikes.

The arrival of thousands of people starting the early hours of this Saturday overflowed the infrastructure of the most important market in the Cuban capital. (Capture)

“This market has always had the problem of not enough parking in the surrounding area for the number of customers that can arrive in one day.” Now, with the rise of electric motorbikes, called ’motorinas’, that have begun to be sold, including in the recently opened foreign currency stores, “there are many people interested in coming to buy and they don’t want to lose their their motorinas in the attempt,” he says.

The neighbor relates part of what happened on the first opening day of the famous market. “It was like a human river and as they opened some entrances people entered running.”

On the top floor, the sisters Katia and Karla lined up to enter the appliances department but after noon they decided to leave because “there were many people and everything was very slow.” Born at the end of the last century, the two young women remember the Cuatro Caminos plaza they knew as girls.

“It is as if they had exchanged one place for another; that one was dirty and full of flies and this one seems to be in another country, all clean and illuminated,” Katia tells 14ymedio. However, she fears that “this is nothing more than for the inauguration because it is very difficult to maintain something like this without spending a lot of money every day on repairs and maintenance,” she says.

The young women offered the Trasval hardware store as an example. It is located on Galiano Street in an old building that was a Woolworth or Ten Cent chain. “When it was inaugurated it was spectacular but now it is not worth the trouble to go there: the air conditioning is barely working, the floor is broken in several places and the supply of goods is very poor,” Katia adds.

The fear that the Plaza de Cuatro Caminos will lose its “fijador,” or ‘fixer’ — as stability or permanence of quality if popularly called — is a shared concern and one that contributed to swelling the flood of customers this Saturday when the place remained open until past seven at night. “If I don’t buy it today, I don’t know if there will be tomorrow,” an old woman who came in search of ground beef repeated at least three times.

See also: Cuatro Caminos Market and Free Trade in Cuba / Elías Amor Bravo


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.

Government Unveils New Measures to Control Cuba’s Private Sector

According to the State newspaper “Granma,” these regulations were negotiated at the end of 2018 with the entrepreneurs.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor, Valencia | 6 November 2019 — Cuban entrepreneurs cannot catch a break. The regime does not want the independent economy to flourish in Cuba, not even during critical times like right now, when the productivity of the private sector has clearly demonstrated to be superior to the economy under communist control. Gaceta Oficial just published a new series of regulations that limit, control and stifle even more the individual entrepreneurial activities in Cuba.

Granma says in this regard that the implementation of these rules was negotiated at the end of 2018 with self-employed workers. The opinions and suggestions of the population were also received and the newspaper also refers to letters received in the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. Caution. We already know how these things work in Cuba; it is believed, for example, that an “assembly of several neighbors of a certain block” can serve to form an organ of democratic representation. The field of public opinion in Cuba is far from what we know in the rest of the world.

Granma says that these measures aim to “incorporate new activities, compact and refine the reach of some and simplify procedures.”  And this at a particularly difficult time in which the economy is heading towards a deep recession as a result of the reduction in low-priced oil supplies from Venezuela and the impact of lower worldwide growth on internal activity, a time of special difficulty that does not lend itself to policies of this type. continue reading

Specifically, six new activities have been added to the list of allowable work for the self-employed, namely: operator and/or lessor of equipment for artistic production, casting agent, and artistic production assistant. Nobody knows  what sense it makes to approve occupations in dribs and drabs, particularly where these occupations are already being carried out in the field of the informal economy or independently, and why this anachronistic and interventional procedure is not liberalized once and for all, in determining what private activities Cubans can engage in. Specifically, these occupations belonging to the cultural field represent a small fraction of all employment associated with this sector, which has important potentials in Cuba.

Similarly, the activity of certified translator and interpreter is approved. Interesting. An activity that is questioned in many countries by modern information technologies (electronic devices integrated in the external ear) that can lead to the destruction of employment in this sector, which has to be adapted more to cultural mediation than to administrative work. Once again, and as has been the case in the last 60 years, the communist regime of Cuba, every time it moves, places itself to the rear of world economic activity.

Finally, the activity of commercial fisherman and producer-seller of food products has been approved, which includes the production and sale of sausages, smoked foods, preserves and the like. Apparently they had been forgotten in some previous approval. They love to grab the bull by the horns.

While these activities are approved, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security announced a “new regulation aimed at unifying activities and modifying the scope of those that are related” which, they say, increases “the range of services, which can to be provided under the same authorization.”

Several examples. Starting now, “the activities of craftsman, saddle-maker, producer, footwear seller are integrated, and the seller of artificial flowers is also incorporated, a practice currently integrated to that of florist. Similarly, the locksmith activity can exercise the electronic locksmith activity, and in the case of the water carrier, the sale of ice is allowed.

Once again, it is necessary to insist on the same, why not leave the freelance workers to establish the associations and collaborations that are more interesting and profitable for their businesses? Why does the communist state intervene and authorize processes such as those described, and many others, that are included in the norm published in the official Gazette?

What the Cuban leaders do not understand is that as soon as these “authorizations” are approved, demands for others are already appearing. The reason is very simple: the market, independent free enterprise goes much faster than the bureaucratic dinosaur state created in Cuba by Fidel Castro and now managed by his heirs.

Economic freedom does not require the State to say whether auto bodyworkers can be independent or not of the carriers, or if the repairers of mechanical equipment have to be electricians at the same time, and if the decorators can organize birthday parties.

Reaching these levels in the control of economic activity is nothing more than showing the communist regime’s distrust of free enterprise and the independent work of Cubans. In short, the fear that the economy will acquire sufficient dimensions to stand up to communist political power and demand concessions, as in democratic and free countries.

Keeping self-employment under control, the latest official data is 617,974 people, just over 12% of the country’s employed population, which ensures the regime a dominant role in the economy and society, which is the dominant note of Castroism.

The published rules also incorporate references to vacations that the self-employed person can offer the hired worker and set deadlines for exits abroad (applicable only when the would-be traveler is not “regulated,” and the exercise of said right contained in the Castro constitution is prohibited), limiting the hiring of a spouse, or relatives of first and second degree of consanguinity (children, parents, brothers, grandchildren and grandparents), or relatives of the first degree of affinity (son-in-law, daughter-in-law, in-laws, in-laws). And most surprisingly, an authorization for independent workers to commercialize the result of their work. Amazing.

Regulations have been established for contractual relations between self-employed workers and non-agricultural cooperatives with legal entities, which may be financed in the two currencies in circulation. Measures designed to promote the productive chain of the different economic actors. If this is so, it would not be necessary to regulate anything, and an in-depth liberalization of these agreements would allow private agents to develop the most appropriate formulas for their interests and needs.

Finally, certain tax and fiscal aspects were approved that logically try to obtain more income from the exercise of independent private activity, which limits its growth and consolidation.

Nothing new under the sun. Since the initial launch in 2007 of self-employment, Government action on its subsequent dynamic has been reluctant and hesitant. These measures confirm it. Instead of liberalizing the sector, respecting the economic human rights of Cubans, and supporting independent work and entrepreneurs with a modern and efficient structure, similar to that of other countries in the world, the regime is determined to maintain control with the “carrot and the stick.” Then they say that the problem is the blockade, as they call the American embargo, but even they don’t believe that.

Editorial Note: This text was originally published on the Cubaeconomics blog  and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.


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500 Years of What?

My paternal grandfather, the Cuban independence guerrilla soldier Alcibíades Escobar, whose machete my family guards as an heirloom, wouldn’t have forgiven me. (Archivo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, November 15, 2019 — A little after noon on November 15, right on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana, a young man, who identified himself (verbally) as a Counterintelligence agent, told me that he had orders not to let me leave my house.

I explained to him that he would be committing a crime called compulsion, classified in the Penal Code in Article 286 stipulating that “whoever by other means, impedes another from doing what the law does not prohibit or from exercising his rights, is sanctioned with prison for three months to a year or a fine of one to three hundred in fees.”

But it was useless. continue reading

I’ll leave the anecdotal details of the affront for another time, what I don’t want to overlook is how counterproductive it is that the highest authorities in the country officially celebrate the 500th anniversary of the moment of Cuba’s colonization by Spain and continue refusing to commemorate, as is proper, the date of May 20 which ended Spanish dominion over the island.

They allowed the King of Spain to lay flowers for his dead in Santiago de Cuba, fallen after the attack of the American Admiral Sampson (allied with Cuban independence fighters) during the crucial sinking of the fleet of Admiral Cervera on July 3, 1898. But they don’t allow this descendent of Cuban independence fighters to leave his house, they don’t intend on spoiling the party for those nostalgic for the colony.

My paternal grandfather, the Cuban independence guerrilla soldier Alcibíades Escobar, whose machete my family guards as an heirloom, wouldn’t have forgiven me for celebrating this success of the Spanish, nor would he understand why I can’t put out a flag on my balcony on Independence Day.

Today, at the stroke of midnight, Miguel Díaz-Canel will probably go around the symbolic ceiba tree that marks the site of the founding the city. At his side will be Mr. Eusebio Leal, who once confessed to me that he was a monarchist and that his king was Fidel Castro. I have witnesses. “Spain mustn’t lose Cuba for the second time,” warned the Spanish media a year ago.

I feel sorry for this young man who could be my grandson, who was given the order to not let me leave my house on this day. He was friendly and for that reason I explained to him that he shouldn’t worry too much about violating the aforementioned Article 286 of the Penal Code, because he and the others accompanying him in the operation could cover themselves with the argument of “due obedience.” Ah! But he didn’t like that I told him that he was obedient. Hopes remain.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera


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The Masks of Havana

King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia Ortiz (couple to the right)  with Lis Cuesta and Miguel Díaz-Canel at the dinner held at the headquarters of Cuba’s State Council.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 17 November 2019 — Havana was a city of carnivals and masks. Although the times of revelry passed long ago, this city is covered – whenever necessary – with convenient layers of makeup. Years ago, when a pope visited the island, the authorities painted the facades and cleaned the streets through which the caravan of His Holiness would travel from the airport to the historic center, a partial restoration that did not escape popular humor, which renamed the route la vía Sacra, the Sacred Way.

Another example of the capacity for masking are all those thousands, millions of photos made by tourists in which the only things that appear are an old Chevrolet of the last century, restored buildings, and mojitos with a lot of rum and little memory. To know the city that beats underneath you have to remove layers like peeling an onion, or use the corrosive makeup remover of objectivity. Unfortunately, only a few visitors are willing to work in facial and cultural archeology. At the end of the day they come for a short time, for a time that is only a sigh.

This November, the rouge has again been smeared over a city with more than two million inhabitants which has arrived at 500th year since its founding. “Facial” touch-ups have included the collection and mass slaughter of stray dogs, the inauguration of some architectural works that had been under repair for years, and a ban on dissidents and activists to going outside on the eve and the day of celebration of the celebration of the half-millennium of the Villa of San Cristóbal de La Habana. continue reading

But even if they had only applied a thin layer of lipstick, the Spanish royals Felipe VI and Letizia Ortiz would have been unable to discover very much on their two-day state visit to the Island. With an agenda planned millimetrically, their majesties could barely get away from the scheduled streets, prepared scenes and filtered guests. Even in their meeting with representatives of civil society, missing were human rights activists, opposition leaders and even independent journalists from the media most stigmatized by the ruling party.

However, like with the best makeup, sometimes a brief tear spoils everything. Cosmetics turned out to be too little cover reality and on the day when the Spanish royals strolled through Old Havana a street dog managed to cross in front of the royal couple and sneak into a photo of this visit, a nod perhaps to all those others who had died to “clean” the image of a city where an Animal Protection Law remains a painful chimera.

The national cleaning for the visit and the celebrations also included the arrest of uncomfortable citizens, those in the style of the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. Weeks before, and as part of the daily lack of rights, the independent journalist Roberto Quiñones and the opposition leader José Daniel Ferrer had been locked up and continue to be held, so far without the intermediation of international organizations nor a hypothetical request for clemency from the Spanish Crown.

Havana, like all Cuba, is a sequence of makeup and masks. On the epidermis, very high, are the bright colors of the ruling party; but below – with just the slightest scraping – emerges the hard gray of reality, the dark shadow of a country dominated by an authoritarianism without shades.


Note: This article was  initially published in Deutsche Welle in Spanish and is reproduced in this blog.

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Reflections on Post-Castro Cuba

The book is published under the auspices of the Cuba Program of the Sergio Arboleda University.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, November 14, 2019 — Are we in the midst of a transition? Are we moving forward or backwards? Is this the beginning of new era? These are among the pressing questions addressed in a new book, Cuba Post-Castro: Mirage or Reality? published under the auspices of the Cuban Studies Program at Sergio Arboleda University. A team of thirteen authors from various disciplines discuss in eight chapters what they describe as “diverse views of a society in transition.”

The work was compiled by Sergio Angel, a professor at the School of Politics and International Relations at Sergio Arboleda University in Colombia and the Cuban historian Armando Chaguaceda.

A very well documented introduction, “Reflections on the First Year Díaz-Canel’s Government” by Nicolás Alejandro Liendo and Camilo González, lays bare the tensions between the competing desires for change and continuity in what the authors refer to as “the post-charismatic period,” beginning the death of Fidel Castro. continue reading

The book approaches the topic from a variety of political, economic and cultural angles. Miguel Díaz-Canel’s nomination as president is observed through the lens of the social sciences and the humanities, including sociology, history, political science, law and philosophy.

Three chapters are devoted to analyzing the results of a June 2018 public opinion survey conducted on the island by CubaData, an online market research firm, in which Cubans’ opinions on the current economic and political situation in their country are presented.

The country’s new constitution, which took effect on October 10, 2018, is analyzed from legal and political points of view, and in terms of its implications for the economy. The ebbs and flows of censorship in the country’s intellectual life — from the dark moments of the gray five-year period to the recent adoption of decree 349 — are also considered.

The paralysis of Cuba’s political-economic model, which preserves basic characteristics of the communist system, is perhaps one of the topics on which the authors’ views most align. Although they acknowledge the changes that have occurred, they seem to agree that Díaz-Canel’s role in updating the model seems “insignificant” and that he remains “subordinate to the authority of Raúl Castro and the inner circle of leaders within the Cuban Communist Party and the Revolutionary Armed Forces. ”

Most of the book’s scholars believe the democratizing trends remain very fragile and that the few substantial political reforms taken in recent years must be evaluated in the context of timid economic changes.

The missing chapter in this compilation is the one that should have referred to the role that the political opposition plays in the conversion to democracy.  Mentioned only tangentially, the topic “shines by its absence” in the midst of excellent analyses that meet the most rigorous demands of the academy.  Also missing is one of the most important aspects of Cuban reality: the dispute with the United States and its undeniable impact on the evolution of a supposed transition.

Probably this book is already on the list of prohibited texts that Cuban Customs updates with extreme dedication in order to prevent the arrival of fresh ideas that might feed the debate.  Nevertheless, it should be required reading in the schools where the political cadres of the Cuban Communist Party and public employees are trained.


From the Newsroom: The book can be acquired here.

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The "Resurrection" of the Cuatro Caminos Market and Free Trade in Cuba

Cuatro Caminos Market clock.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, 15 November 2019 — The beautiful published images of the rehabilitation of the Cuatro Caminos Market and resumption of operations at the service of Cubans is one of the few pieces of good news coming from that troubled country.

After almost half a century of paralysis, after the confiscations and expropriations from their rightful owners by the communists, the state owner of this facility has given a boost to the building for its rehabilitation, and best of all, it is now possible sell diverse products, which leads us to ask ourselves, for how long?

The Cuatro Caminos Market was already known to me when, as a young child — but one of great understandings — I accompanied my grandfather on his business in Havana. I remember, then, that there were still some products in the different stalls, whose former owners had now become slaves who worked for the state, and as a result, it had lost the joy, the yelling, the heat and the sounds that, according to my grandfather, had characterized the market and its people in previous decades. continue reading

There, people gathered daily not only to buy but to enjoy conversations and relationships in the surrounding bars and cafes, many of them also closed by their former owners who could do nothing but flee the country to avoid repression or jail.

In those years and under the watchful eye of the communists, always dressed in the exhausting olive green and patrolling the streets with their weapons aimed at civilians, information could still be obtained from the events that the official Castro press hid from Cubans. The market was a space for life. And because of that, it was extinguished and died.

Now the resurrection is attempted and we will see how it goes. Photographs in the state newspaper Granma show spaces full of merchandise but, as Cubans know well, it can be an illusion for a day and a lament for months.

The fact is that a hundred years after its founding and fifty after its sentencing by the communist regime, the Cuatro Caminos Market has come back to life, and this is great news. Hopefully it will recover its commercial value, its joy, its ability to gather and summon citizens to that activity as peaceful and necessary as choosing the goods and products that fill their shopping baskets. An activity banned for decades by communism, which was responsible for exchanging it for the dramatic ration book.

So when, this Saturday the 16th, the market reopens its doors to Havanans, its capacity to summon will be seen, and also to be seen is if what communist authorities say will really be fulfilled. Dreams don’t always come true, sometimes they become sad nightmares.

Why do I talk about this? Because trade as a human activity requires the existence of production, supply, goods that can be sold to buyers. In addition, the goods must be continually delivered to the stores. And their quality must be fresh so that buyers do not abandon the place or change their preferences.  And really, does anyone believe that the existing economic system in Cuba can sustain this simple operating model?

Honestly, I have my doubts, seeing the experience of the last decades. If the option is to sell in hard currencies, then there could be some future for the Cuatro Caminos, especially for those who receive remittances, but if the sales are conducted in Cuban pesos, it will not take long to see the empty shelves.

The CIMEX Group responsible for the restoration of the building, which apparently will be managed by a foreign company, has pulled out all the stops, but they should know that goods that are not produced cannot arrive at the market. However much money has been invested in rehabilitation, according to its previous design, the important thing is what exists within the premises and the structure of the economic and trade relations. Relations in which the state must be on the sidelines, turning their execution over to private agents. As simple as that.

It is useless to have an intelligent platform for the control of electricity, and climate controls with photovoltaic panels, if at any moment a blackout lets everything stored in that industrial cold deteriorate. There is no use in opening the place for the most extended hours, or 51 sales terminals, or several plants for services, if the shelves are empty of merchandise. Who will have an interest in keeping something going if it will never be theirs?

In truth, this story published in Granma seems more like “counting the chickens before they hatch” than an event to celebrate, as I said at the beginning, although it is good news that the historical heritage is restored.  At best it could have another dedication, but that is for another article. I talked a long time ago about a Convent Garden in Havana. I maintain that option, now that I see how the building looks.

The communist authorities want to achieve a lot of things that make no sense or reason, much less justification, and the worst is that the State is still sticking its nose into free trade economic activity through CIMEX.

Property rights and freedom of enterprise are the vectors that move markets such as Cuatro Caminos in all countries of the world. They already did it before 1959. If they do not want chaos, destruction and abandonment to return, there is no other way than privatization and profit-oriented management.

All the rest is a fairy tale.


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If You Leave, You Will Be Arrested

Note: The “video” is audio only — there are no images

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 November 2019 — Two of Cuba’s State Security agents have been stationed, since Friday morning, at the entrance of the building where Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar live in Havana to prevent the two 14ymedio journalists from going outside.

One of the agents, who did not identify himself, replied that he was “licensed in Law” when Escobar explained to him, on Saturday, that, by not letting him leave his home, he was committing a crime of “duress” according to Article 286 of the Criminal Code.

“Today you will probably stay home, right? To avoid arrests, to avoid a group of things, not to reach other extremes,” said the agent.

This is the transcript of the conversation: 

Agent: Good morning.

Reinaldo: Good morning.

Agent: I recommend your staying here.

Reinaldo: What are you telling me?

Agent: That I recommend your staying here.

Reinaldo: I don’t know what you want to tell me with this.

Agent: Are you not Yoani (Sánchez)’s husband?

Reinaldo: I am Reinaldo Escobar, Yoani’s husband.

Agent: I am telling you that I recommend that you stay here. continue reading

Reinaldo: I hear your recommendation, but I don’t understand. Explain it to me better.

Agent: But how do you want me to explain it to you? You know how it is today. I am not here for pleasure.

Reinaldo: I don’t know who you are. I do not know you.

Agent: Well, I’m telling you, I’m the official here.

Reinaldo: What is your name, who are you, can you identify yourself?

Agent: I can identify myself but that won’t tell you much anyway. Not everyone is going to come and tell you that he suggests you not go out.

Reinaldo: You can say it however you want.

Agent: I said good morning, in a civil manner. I am suggesting. You determine what you want. Understand? As a suggestion.

Reinaldo: But what happens if I don’t accept your suggestion.

Agent: Ah, I don’t know. You know how it is today.

Reinaldo: I don’t know what you are saying to me about today. What is happening today?

Agent: What is happening today? I imagine that my colleagues who have spoken with you and Yoani have told you that today you are probably going to stay in the house, right? To avoid arrests, to avoid a group of things that… not to reach other extremes.

Reinaldo: Read this [and hands him a paper where he has copied Article 52 of the Constitution and a fragment of Article 286 of the Criminal Code detailing the crime of “coercion”].

Agent: Yes, of course, I know it. I know it, I have a law degree

Reinaldo: Then you know that you are violating Article 286.

Agent: No, I am not violating it

Reinaldo: Of course, you are preventing that…

Agent: No, preventing means that I hinder you right now, that you take some action. I stand in front of you. I told you good morning in a civil manner…

Reinaldo: Okay, but you’re telling me that if I go out that door then you proceed to do something else.

Agent: No, I said “I suggest.”

Reinaldo: Ah, then I’m going out because you are not my dad.

Agent: No, of course.

ReinaldoWhere are they going to detain me when I leave and for how long is this, until what day is this?

Agent: No, I don’t know. I can not tell you. I am here fulfilling a function.

ReinaldoWhat would you do.

Agent I’m going to tell you right now.

Reinaldo: What do you do in case I want to leave. So I can know.

Agent: (Makes a phone call). Hey, you hear me. Reinaldo is here in front of me, he wants to leave and I am telling him that today is not an appropriate day for that.

Reinaldo: The question is what happens if I go out?

Agent: (Talking on the phone) No, he has not done anything we are talking and he wants to know what can happen to him if he goes out.

Reinaldo: What does your compañero say?

Agent: That if you leave they will detain you. That if you leave they will detain you.


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Trivago Removes Several Cuban Hotels From Its Search Engine, Including the Havana Libre

Last June, the Rivero Mestre LLP law firm, based in Coral Gables, Miami, filed a lawsuiit against Trivago (from the “Trivago Buisness Blog”).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, November 9, 2019 — The German company Trivago has removed several hotels that operate in Cuba from its search engine, after the United States activated Title III of the Helms-Burton Law. Trivago was sued some months ago for “trafficking in stolen property” on the Island.

Among the accommodations affected by this decision are the emblematic Hotel Tryp Habana Libre in Vedado and others managed by the Spanish firms Iberostar and Meliá. From now on, an important group of Cuban hotels will not be available when people search on the Trivago site.

The large Spanish hotels operating on the Island realize that the new restrictions may cause problems. Some of them have announced to their shareholders “possible losses at year-end,” according to the Spanish daily, La Información. continue reading

The Meliá firm is one of the most affected because the numerous establishments it manages in Cuba have lost visibility on this important tourist search engine. In its last quarterly report, its directors announced that “they expected an impact from Trivago’s recent decision to remove its numerous group of hotels in Cuba from its sales channels.”

It points out that “all these circumstances point to a reduction in the RevPAR — Revenue for Available Room — for digital media compared to the year before.” Meliá adds that the most affected hotels will be the ones located in Holguín, Cayo Largo and Havana, three of the largest tourist zones on the Island.

This blow is added to the drop in occupancy and income that hotels in Cuba have been experiencing for months. According to the closing data for the first nine months of the year, the first indicator descended more than five points to 53% and the RevPAR was lowered by 9.8% to 42.7 euros, a situation that spread to other companies like Iberostar and Barceló, which together with Meliá add up to 70% of the accommodations in Cuba.

Last June the law firm Rivero Mestre LLP, headquartered in Coral Gables, Florida, filed suit against Trivago for trafficking in property confiscated by the Fidel Castro regime at the beginning of the 1960s. Trivago, headquartered in Dusseldorf, Germany, earned approximately 1.2 billion dollars last year.

Meanwhile, in the first nine months of 2019, the number of tourists who came to Cuba continued to fall, especially from the European Union. The National Office of Statistics for Cuba published figures up to September 2019 showing that 3.3 million people traveled to the Island, a loss of 6% compared to the same period in 2018 (213,151 fewer visitors).

The worst data for tourism to Cuba comes from Europe. Five large travel agencies posted lower rates: for Italy, a dramatic drop of 25.8%; for the UK, 25.7%; and, significantly for Germany, 13.9%, France 13.5% and Spain 13.3%.

Cuba doesn’t recognize the legal validity of the Helms-Burton Law and guarantees foreign investors State support, although it’s not clear how Cuba could defend them in a U.S. court. For its part, the European Union, as the principal foreign investor, has promised the Cuban Government that it will oppose the sanctions dictated by the U.S. courts against the businesses on the Old Continent.

Among the subjects discussed during the King of Spain’s visit to Cuba was the situation of the Spanish businesses on the Island, which face difficulties caused by the strengthening of the U.S. embargo, but also the defaults on payments owed on the part of Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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Successes and Mistakes of a Royal Visit

Before leaving for Santiago, Felipe VI of Spain met with Raúl Castro. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 November 2019 — This Thursday the three-day state visit by the Spanish Royals King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia to Cuba concluded, a stay that from before its beginning was surrounded by controversy and, now concluded, will continue to be subject to criticism, interpretations, grievances and redress.

We must recognize that the visit of the Royals was a small break in the Cuban information agenda, which had been dominated for weeks by the problems arising from the energy crisis and the ideological excesses to which the official press has accustomed us. For those of us who work in newsrooms, Felipe VI and Letizia became a brief distraction, a new topic that broke into our daily lives with more drums and cymbals than medium and long term effects.

However, after the excitement of those days, and beyond the thematic relief that it represented for the press, it is also worth highlighting some dark areas of this trip that were hidden by the official press and which, of course, had no place in the Twitter account of the Royal House. continue reading

After Felipe VI and Letizia’s plane took off from Havana to Santiago de Cuba, the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara was released from one of the many arrests he has suffered throughout this year. The Royals went to offer flowers to the Spaniards who fell at the end of our wars of independence, without even knowing that a young artist was detained in a dungeon so that he would not pester the visit of such illustrious guests with one of his ‘performances.’

In Santiago de Cuba, the opponent José Daniel Ferrer did not experience the same luck. The Royals left and still the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, arrested on October 1, remains imprisoned. Although it can be intuited that in the closed-door talks with Miguel Díaz-Canel, the King conveyed his concern and interceded for the release of the former prisoner of the Black Spring, no public statement confirms this.

In “there was talk of everything,” a phrase repeated by Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell to describe to the accredited press the meeting between the monarch and the newly appointed President of the Republic, almost anything and nothing can fit: they talked about the weather, of non-payments to Spanish businesses, of the soft credits that the Motherland will give to the Island… or some demands regarding human rights, citizen liberties and the need to decriminalize dissent on this Island were also sneaked in. We will never know, or it will be a very long time before we know.

What we do know is that, so far, the official Cuban press has not fully reprinted the speech Felipe VI gave at the dinner he offered last Wednesday night for Diaz-Canel and his wife at the Palace of the Captains General. It is hard to believe that the Spanish authorities did not try to convince their Cuban hosts to make the words of the monarch known, and without censorship, through the press of the Island.

While in 2016 Barack Obama made a speech in a cultural symbol such as the Great Theater of Havana, before hundreds of guests and it was broadcast in its entirety on national television, the Bourbon spoke behind closed doors, for a select public, and the next morning no official media had spread his words. However, thanks to social networks and the foreign press, some of us were able know what was said there.

The address of that night saves part of this unfortunate trip, because — among other things — Felipe VI delivered very necessary phrases about the existence of institutions that represent all citizens, and about citizens being able to express their preferences for themselves and find in these institutions “adequate respect for the integrity of their rights, including the ability to freely express their ideas, freedom of association and of assembly.”

But that was a pearl in the middle of the great pile of litter of this trip.

The meeting with part of Cuban civil society subtracted more than it added. From that meeting, however, we have the general report made by independent journalists who were included in the guest list and who informed the Royals of the penalties and obstacles associated with exercising their profession in Cuba outside the state channels. Another point in favor of this visit, but — as even the participants say – it was a very short meeting in which they were barely able to touch on some very comprehensive and essential themes and ideas.

But it was the meeting with Raúl Castro that was the great blunder of this visit. Not initially included in the official program, Felipe VI agreed to that appointment with Castro in response to a request made by Díaz-Canel during the dinner. Afterwards it was described as a private meeting, but the presence of the flags and the foreign ministers of both countries gave it an official character. A real “trap” that led the King to allow the politicization of what until then had been presented as a cultural journey. Or is it perhaps not political to meet with the secretary general of a political entity, especially when the entity is the only authorized party?

Put in the balance of life, public relations and history, the mistakes weigh more than the successes in this Royal trip. We will have to see how it is interpreted with the passing of the weeks and the years, but at the moment it seems that the Plaza of the Revolution scored several points in its favor, gaining legitimacy, getting Philip VI and Letizia to pose before the image of Che Guevara, paving the way for financial assistance totaling more than 57 million, palming the words of the King, and at the last minute sneaking Castro on the agenda. And the Zarzuela Palace? Fine thank you, so far only a speech that few Cubans have been able to read is on the ledger in their favor.


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The 701 Cuban Healthcare Workers In Bolivia Are "Safe" According to the Head of the Brigade

Morales always promoted the Cuban medical agreements that, he said, would allow the country to save a lot of money. (evoespueblo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, November 12, 2019 — The 701 Cuban healthcare workers in Bolivia are safe, as the person in charge of that medical brigade, Yoandra Muro, informed Cuban television. The workers, who are spread out in different areas all over the country, receive food and have their living situations secured, added the chief of the mission.

Amidst the tension that Bolivia is experiencing, where confrontations between opponents and supporters of Morales have followed his resignation forced by the army after accusations of electoral fraud, the Cuban healthcare workers are being informed “with understanding of what is happening and are rising to the challenge of the moment,” according to the Ministry of Public Health.

“All the decisions are made together, as we are accustomed to do in situations like this, with discipline,” said Muro Valle. “We are keeping ourselves informed, all the security measures are taken, in our homes, of protection, everyone has food and the necessary resources to remain in the country. But also, we are keeping in constant communication, receiving instructions from our country,” affirmed the official. continue reading

Since February 2006 Cuban doctors have been deployed in Bolivia carrying out services that are described as a “provision” of the agreements signed between Morales’s government and that of Havana. The doctors stay, as is normal, in rural areas whose mayor’s offices provide lodging, food, and supplies.

One of the most relevant contributions is that of the ophthalmology team. Since the program, called Mission Miracle began, 719,000 Bolivian and foreign patients have recovered their sight or improved their vision through this project, according to Cuban health authorities.

The doctors receive around $1,000 a month for their services, as Muro told the Bolivian press a few months ago, so, according to the normal scheme of Havana’s agreements, the government can be earning around $3,000 of the remainder of what La Paz pays per worker.

“We will continue lending services in those places where they are required, as a demonstration of solidarity and an act of hope,” she said at that time. The agreements could be harmed in the case of a change of government in Bolivia, as has already happened in Brazil.

If, as Havana has affirmed, the doctors find themselves informed, it’s likely that they will do that via the official press, which follows live what is happening in the Andean country after Morales’s exit.

The official line of the government in Havana is that there has been a coup d’etat brought about by the OAS, which today Cuba’s official newspaper Granma accuses of being an instrument in the service of the US government. “Institution conceived tailored to the interests of the United States, financed and propped up by those who serve as hosts in Washington, it has shown its claws in the conception, organization, and execution of the coup d’etat.”

According to an opinion column also published in the official organ of the Communist Party, what happened in Bolivia leaves several lessons, among them that a well-functioning economy is not a guarantee of stability because “the right and imperialism will never accept a government that does not put itself at the service of their interests,” that it’s necessary to detect in time the messages of those “independent media” that “destroy the reputations of popular leaders,” and that the security forces are “controlled by numerous agencies, military and civilian, of the government of the United States.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera


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 Archive Regrets the "Shameful Amnesia" of the Spanish Royalty

The Spanish royals landing in Korea, their last official trip before Cuba at the end of October. (Casa Real)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, November 12 2019 — The non-governmental organization Cuba Archive has categorized the visit of the Spanish royals, King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Havana together with “the representatives of the regime” that for decades “has usurped the sovereignty of the Cuban people,”as “shameful real amnesia” in a statement released on Monday.

A few hours before the plane carrying the Spanish royals landed in the Cuban capital to begin their state visit, Cuba Archive warned that the government of the island “has committed crimes against its people and deployed violence against many other peoples.”

“The royals will visit the Loma de San Juan in Santiago de Cuba to honor the Spaniards who fell in the Spanish-American War of 1898,” the text details. “However, the program does not mention the 71 Cubans shot there on January 12, 1959 by direct order of Raul Castro.” continue reading

The Miami-based NGO explains that in January 1959, after Fulgencio Batista fled the country, members of his regime’s police and armed forces “were subjected to a summary ’trial’ (circus) without defense lawyers or evidence. “That same morning, they were taken in trucks to the Loma de San Juan and lined up in pairs, shot in front of a newly dug grave.”

The statement adds that this shooting left “loved ones devastated and many orphans. The massacre was ordered to sow terror in Cuba.”

Cuba Archive also says that “there is no act to remember the Spanish victims of the Cuban dictatorship,” in Felipe IV and Letizia’s program, which lists at least nine names but warns that “it is thought that there are many more.”

The document also includes five names of Spanish-Cubans who “fell in combat against the dictatorship in the province of Las Villas.”

On the other hand, on Monday the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu) published a letter in which its members expressed concern that the royal visit will be interpreted as a gesture of approval “to the communist regime of the only party that we have suffered for sixty years on the island, and is in frontal opposition to the values of freedom, plurality and reconciliation that made Spain overcome its last period of dictatorship.”

In the letter, the activists detail the case of  José Daniel Ferrer, the leader of Unpacu, who has been in custody since October 1st. They made a humanitarian request to the royals to intercede for his release and recall that, in 2003, he was part of the group of 75 opponents prosecuted during the Black Spring.

The signatories of the letter warn that a gesture of that sort made by the royals “would represent a very important contribution for the present and future of Cuba.” Among the signatories are the wife of the opposition leader, Nelva Ortega Tamayo, and his brother, Luis Enrique Ferrer.

Last week, Unpacu issued a statement recounting Ferrer’s encounter with his family in the Aguadores prison in the province of Santiago de Cuba. According to the document, although the meeting lasted only five minutes, the dissident mentioned everything that he has experienced in prison the last month “very hastily.”

The visit ended when Ferrer “tore apart the prison uniform that had been forcibly put on him, at which point the family was able to examine the signs of torture all over his body,” the text states. The dissident leader also said that he is forced to live in the same cell with another prisoner who beats him every time he protests.

Amnesty International sent a letter to King Philip VI, asking him, in his bilateral meetings with the Cuban authorities, to take an interest in the dissident.

Translated by: Rafael Osorio


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.