Roof of the Partagas Tobacco Factory in Havana Collapses

The facade of the Partagás factory, on Industria street in Havana. (Flickr / Aaron May)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 July 2020 — This week the roof of the building of the Partagás tobacco factory in Havana collapsed, a few yards from the Capitol building, according to the website Cigar aficionado. The property has been undergoing a restoration process since 2011 and houses the La Casa del Habano store on its ground floor.

“The collapse of the roof did not affect La Casa del Habano inside the main entrance to the old factory,” said the website, but the business premises have been closed since the collapse and sources from the state monopoly Habano SA state that the salesroom “will move to a new location.”

“No one was injured in the incident, but as a precaution, the entire building has been closed until its structural integrity can be verified,” the note added. The building, located at number 520 Calle Industria, is considered a historical site for tobacco lovers and also a building of high architectural value for its Baroque-reminiscent façade.

The factory was founded in 1845 by the Spaniard Jaime Buenaventura Ambrós Partagás y Ravell and it was in the building on Industria Street that the figure of the “tobacco shop reader” emerged for the first time. The readers — ’lectores’ in Cuba — read aloud from newspapers and novels to entertain the cigar makers while they do their work. The factory was installed in the iconic building at the beginning of the 20th century.

Before 1959, the Partagás brand was the second largest tobacco producer in Cuba with 4.8% of total production, second only to Menéndez, García and Compañía, managers of the H. Upmann and Montecristo brands. After Fidel Castro came to power, the factory was nationalized and became state property.

For years, along with the production of cigars, the place became an active museum, where tourists could enjoy guided walks through the different stages of cigar manufacturing, including rolling, pressing, placing the rings and packaging.

Since the start of the restoration of the building, the manufacture of cigars has moved to another location.

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Empty Buses, No Customers for Coppelia, This is How Phase 1 Post-Covid Begins in Havana

Public transport begins to circulate after months of being shut down by measures against the Covid-19 pandemic. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar / Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 4 July 2020 — “It seems like a lie to me, I hadn’t waited even five minutes at the bus stop and the bus arrived and best of all, it was practically empty.” In front of the Bus Terminal, Rocío shared her joy when she boarded the P12 route this Friday, the first day of the implementation of Post-Covid Phase 1 in Havana.

She sits next to a friend who is with her, takes out her cell phone, stretches out her hand and they take a selfie: “So they won’t tell me later that I made it up.”

Public transport is beginning to circulate after months of being shut down by measures against the Covid-19 pandemic. Before the passengers, all wearing a mask, who are waiting at the stop can get on, an inspector from the Ministry of Transport walks the inside of the from end to end, makes a count, points to a checklist and determines that only 12 people can ride. continue reading

At the door, the driver’s assistant drops a few drops of chlorinated water into each passenger’s hands as he collects the fare.

There are 109 routes in circulation, in addition to the ferry services for crossing the bay, the bike-bus for the tunnel and the road taxi service. (14ymedio)

On some of the main arteries of the capital, such as 23rd Street, Carlos III or Boyeros, traffic is livelier this Friday, although still scarce. As reported by the official press, 109 bus routes are in service, in addition to the ferry services for the crossing of the bay, the bike-bus for the tunnel, and the road taxi service provided by the minibuses, known as gazelles. The measure to restart transport was one of the most anticipated, especially to regain mobility between municipalities.

“For months I have had to walk from El Vedado to Playa to visit my sister and look at me now, I am alone in this gazelle,” says a lady before getting into a road taxi at the corner of Linea and L.

Similarly, as the city entered this first phase of reopening, some markets have opened their doors. At the Agua y Jabón (Water and Soap) store on Obispo Street in Old Havana, several customers lined up eager to learn what was for sale.

“I’m waiting to see what’s there, because for weeks I haven’t gotten detergent, soap, or shampoo,” says a lady who has just joined the long line waiting in the sun. “I hope at least that’s what they put out.” The lines are more overflowing than ever. Throughout Obispo Street, the morning rush of employees in many markets is focused on rearranging merchandise and cleaning windows and floors.

On the menu board that announces what’s available at Coppelia there is only one ice cream flavor: orange-pineapple. (14ymedio)

Other points of the city have also recovered their routine, such as the Coppelia ice cream parlor. “Look at me, look at me, I entered without waiting a single minute in line,” says Darío, a teenager who almost jogs over to one of the courts on the ground floor. On the menu board that announces Coppelia’s flavors there is only one: orange-pineapple.

The handicrafts fair on La Rampa also opened initially this Friday, but later, the police forced them to close the stalls on the grounds that the first phase of reopening does not include sales in privately-run spaces located in squares and parks, in order to avoid crowds.

Before that happened, an artisan was pushing his cart with a friend, and after arranging the merchandise at his stall, he couldn’t help but share his joy. “I was going crazy waiting to bring my table here, from home I hardly sold anything; it is not the same: what is not exhibited is not sold,” he explained. “Right now there is little tourism, so I have loaded up with the products that sell more to Cubans: dresses, wallets, jewelry and shoes.”

“Find me some flip flops to walk around the house and some sandals,” asks Darío’s first customer. “Mine are broken and I couldn’t buy new ones.” But the enthusiasm was short-lived and an hour later the merchant had to collect all the products and leave.

The craft fair in La Rampa also initially opened this Friday, but later the police forced the stands to be closed. (14ymedio)

During the last weeks, due to the restrictions imposed in the country by the pandemic, stores were not selling any products that weren’t necessary for basic household cleaning and food. So there is a lot of accumulated need for clothes, shoes, household supplies and hardware.

The bureaucracy, meanwhile, takes its time. On Friday, in the office of the Directorate of Identification, Immigration and Foreigners located on Calle 17 in Havana’s El Vedado neighborhood, the receptionist only shooed away the flies and answered the questions of those who arrived.

“We have not yet begun to carry out procedures, but come on Monday and we may already be open for the preparation of passports,” the employee repeated. With more than three months of the border being closed and the failure to issue these travel documents, many frequent travelers express their despair.

“They have given extensions to the time one is allowed to be outside of Cuba [without losing the right to return], a moratorium on paying for self-employment licenses, but it has not occurred to them to extend the expiration date of the passports,” Rebeca, a resident of the capital whose passport expired in April, told this newspaper.

“I have lost months without being able to leave and now I have to renew my passport as if everything had been normal in this time,” added Rebeca. “That is not right, because the same government that reviews the document at the airport so that I can leave the country knows that it has been months that people cannot renew or get a passport.” Cuba’s is the most expensive passport in the world in relation to purchasing power: it costs 100 CUC (roughly three month’s salary), with two extensions allowed at 20 CUC each. for a term of six years.

The Cubatur office, on the ground floor of the Habana Libre hotel, is now open to buy tour packages. (14ymedio)

In the nearby Cubatur office the Friday countdown to the reopening generated a line to buy tour packages. In the basement of the emblematic Habana Libre hotel, a dozen people waited for the offers of accommodation in the provinces, where the residents of the capital could not go until now.

“I can’t take it anymore, I have to take a few days somewhere even if it’s two stars,” commented a woman who identified herself as an employee of a foreign firm that has “been out of work for three months and with the future horizon in gray with black stitching.”

“I know it is time to save every penny, but right now I need to be with my family in a place where I don’t have to stand in line for food, find a way to make do in the kitchen, or have someone knock on my door every day to track the pandemic. I’m going to the worst hotel, as long as it’s not my home.”

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Cuba Silences Ruiz Urquiola at the UN with the Support of China, Venezuela and North Korea

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola tries to speak in the United Nations amid the constant interruptions of the Cuban delegation.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 July 2020 — The Cuban delegation blocked Ariel Ruiz Urquiola’s speech at the United Nations Human Rights Council three times this Friday in Geneva. The activist began to speak around 11:25 in the morning denouncing the Cuban medical missions as human trafficking. Just a few seconds later, Cuba asked to speak to raise a “point of order” (Articles 113 and 7 of the rules) and asked the presiding officer to withdraw the activist’s words.

The scuffle continued when Ruiz Urquiola spoke again, as he carried on with his plea as if nothing was happening, to which the Cuban delegation intervened again. This time, Venezuela, China, North Korea and Eritrea followed them, demanding that the speaker address the topic on the agenda, child trafficking, and said it was a violation of the agenda that the speaker used his time for other matters. Meanwhile, Australia asked for the floor to support the presentation of the Cuban biologist requesting that he be allowed to go on.

Ruiz Urquiola continued, this time arguing that Cuba denies medical treatment to opponents, such as his sister (an oncology patient) and himself, who claims to be a victim of HIV inoculation in an island hospital. But the interruptions returned in the same vein demanding that the vice president’s authority be respected by returning to the agenda item. During all of Ruiz Urquiola’s attempts to speak, the Cuban delegation banged on the table to make it difficult for parliament to listen. continue reading

Finally, after up to three interruptions, Ruiz Urquiola had to end his speach because his 90 seconds, the time available to each speaker, had expired.

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola had managed to speak thanks to a ceding of time by the NGO UN Watch. The order of the day indicated that the topic planned for this conference, which started yesterday, was trafficking in persons, specifically women and children.

After the countries spoke, it was the turn of the non-governmental organizations. When it was his turn to speak, Ruiz Urquiola established the link with the theme of the day by tying it to the working conditions to which the Cuban healthcare workers participating in missions abroad are subjected. However, the Cuban delegation said that medical cooperation has no relationship and the speaker only sought to divert attention by criticizing the Government, which they considered “a lack of respect” for the plenary.

Ruiz Urquiola was granted the NGO UN Watch’s turn to speak after spending several days protesting, including with a hunger and thirst strike, in front of the office of the High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, to whom he wanted to deliver a letter asking her to present his case “without intermediaries in plenary, as a victim of a crime against humanity, of torture, by the Cuban dictatorship.”

In the letter, the activist highlighted Cuba’s breaches of its commitments to human rights and insisted on the unfairness of his detention, as well as his status as a prisoner of conscience recognized by Amnesty International.

Tom Haeck, an official of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, spoke with the scientist and assured him that he would try to convince is contacts so that he could present his case and be heard.

A biologist and doctor of science, Urquiola has participated in several research projects on Cuban biodiversity, especially related to marine and terrestrial species. He was expelled from the Center for Marine Research under the official excuse of unexcused absences, but, according to the scientist, it was a plot against him for not being “reliable” for the authorities of the scientific center due to his political inclinations.

Urquiola has previously conducted at least three other hunger strikes. One of them was in front of the Oncology Hospital in Havana, when his sister, Omara, was not given a medicine for the cancer she suffers from. The other two were carried out during his arrest in 2018 when he was sentenced to one year in prison for the alleged crime of “contempt.” On that occasion, the fast ended with the liberation of the scientist.

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Ruiz Urquiola Proposes a Campaign for the Return of Cuban Exiles to Besiege the Government

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola at the entrance to the United Nations headquarters in Geneva.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 July 2020 —  Ariel Ruiz Urquiola today proposed to Cuban exiles that they return to the Island all at the same time to limit the Government’s ability to react. The biologist and activist, who has called his proposal Operation Return, has spoken in Geneva from the esplanade in front of the United Nations headquarters where his intervention, scheduled for the plenary session this Thursday, has been postponed until tomorrow.

“Long live free Cuba,” Ruiz Urquiola has demanded, dressed in a shirt and tie and holding a flag of the Island on which Justice4Ariel and No+ [More] Dictatorship could be read. “They may imprison some people, but if all Cubans living outside of Cuba unite, they cannot imprison us all, they cannot kill us all. I think that would be an unprecedented way of peacefully destroying a dictatorial regime which has been in power for six decades,” he said in his plea.

At the end of the morning session in Geneva, with Ruiz Urquiola not yet having spoken, many of his followers expressed their concern, but the activist has clarified that his presentation was postponed, presumably, without the time limit that he was going to have today. The activist, who smiled as he presented his accreditation and explained in detail the good attention he received, has taken the opportunity to reject the today’s presentation by the Cuban delegation in regards to human trafficking. The biologist recalled that medical brigades are comparable to this type of crime. continue reading

Subsequently, the activist has once again asked Cubans living outside the island to participate in Operation Return, an idea that had been previously raised by other exiles. “It is up to us to remove them, put them out with peaceful and civic activities. They cannot control us any more. Freedom or liberation,” he cried. “They will be able to crush one ant but they cannot crush all the ants, we are three million and we cannot live like rats.”

A week ago, UN Watch assured the activist that he could use his speaking time before the United Nations Human Rights Council after Ruiz Urquiola protested at the office of the High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, to whom wanted to deliver a letter asking to present his case “without intermediaries in plenary, as a victim of a crime against humanity, of torture, by the Cuban dictatorship.”

In the letter, the activist stressed that Cuba has been a member of the UN Human Rights Council since 2006 and that, although it has signed international covenants on Civil and Political Rights, as well as Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2008, these have not been still ratified by Havana.

Furthermore, he recalled that, in May 2018, the working group on Arbitrary Detention supported his complaint when he was detained for a year and that Amnesty International recognized him as a prisoner of conscience.

In December 2019, the activist reported to several German NGOs that his country’s government inoculated him with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Ruiz Urquiola insists that he has medical evidence that a strain of the virus was inoculated at the Abel Santamaría Provincial Hospital in Pinar del Río, when he was in the final phase of his previous hunger and thirst strike. “All tests are in the hands of Swiss and German infectologists,” said Ruiz Urquiola.

Tom Haeck, an official of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, approached last Wednesday to speak with the scientist, who had started a hunger and thirst strike to demand his positions and who the Swiss police had to ask to leave. This morning, the agents also approached the group of Cubans to inquire about the reasons for the recording at the United Nations headquarters.

Haeck, in charge of Mexico, Cuba and Brazil in the agency, listened to the Ruiz Urquiola demands and assured that he would try to convince his contacts so that the activist could present his case and be heard.

A biologist and doctor of science, Urquiola has participated in several research projects on Cuban biodiversity, especially related to marine and terrestrial species. He was expelled from the Center for Marine Research under the official excuse of unexcused absences, but, according to the scientist, it was a plot against him for not being “reliable” for the authorities of the scientific center due to his political inclinations.

Urquiola has previously conducted at least three other hunger strikes. One of them was in front of the Oncology Hospital in Havana, when his sister, Omara, was not given a medicine for the cancer she suffers from. The other two were carried out during his arrest in 2018 when he was sentenced to one year in prison for the alleged crime of “contempt.” On that occasion, the fast ended with the liberation of the scientist.

The plenary session this Thursday has dedicated a space to the situation of human rights in Nicaragua. Bachelet has stated that there continue to be “persistent human rights violations against those whom the (Nicaraguan) government perceives as opponents, including human rights defenders, journalists, social leaders and political voices.”

“The right to peaceful assembly continues to be systematically curtailed with police deployments, arbitrary arrests and attacks by pro-government elements when critics of the government try to peacefully meet,” he said, among others.

In addition, regarding the pandemic, which was analyzed in today’s session, “there is little transparency and lack of clarity in public information on cases” of Covid-19. Government measures do not conform to the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the Nicaraguan medical community, especially regarding physical distancing, and the pandemic has increased violence against women, added the high commissioner.

The Nicaraguan delegation defended itself against both accusations and accused the High Commissioner of not taking into account the authorities’ version. “Nicaragua, in addition to fighting the pandemic, must also combat disinformation and hatred campaigns emanating from sectors adverse to the Government of reconciliation and national unity,” it said.

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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.

Fishermen in Matanzas, Cuba

The old fishermen are humble people with salt-tanned skin. (Roma Díaz)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Roma Díaz, Boca de Camarioca, 2 July 2020 —  Watching the small boats on the quay is a real spectacle, listening to the stories of old fishermen, of humble people with salt-tanned skin, reveals the absolute connection between people and the sea.

As sunset approaches and some of the fishermen go out to look for their catch, my camera lens captures these images and the click of the shutter breaks the silence. Despite the rustic look and stench of the bay, my eyes focus only on capturing the surroundings.

With the incessant sweat caused by the hot summer days and in precarious conditions, the fishermen go out daily in search of a good tide. Most of them in a small boat, which they call a “paca-paca” because of the deafening noise it constantly emits.

With a doubt, the ancient activity of fishing is for many a hobby, but for others it has become a resource for survival.

Snappers, parrots or yellowtails are caught in this area. (Roma Díaz)

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Mules Fear New Customs Restrictions May Be Permanent

“Mules” at the airport in Georgetown, Guyana. (14ymedio)

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14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguín, June 27, 2020 — Miguel envisioned his prosperous business going bankrupt when authorities announced on March 2 that, due to Covid-19, residents of Cuba would not be able to travel abroad until further notice. He now fears that travel and import restrictions will remain in place long after the pandemic is over.

For six years the Holguín resident, who prefers to use a pseudonym to avoid trouble, travels to Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Russia and Panama to buy household appliances, clothing, footwear and other merchandise that he then sells on the informal market.

Over time, Miguel learned how to get around customs barriers, avoid having his goods confiscated and overcome the endless hassles inherent in being a “mule,” a profession that operates in a legally gray area. continue reading

Although importing a limited number of products is legal — up to three mobile telephones or two computers — reselling them on the black market can result in fines, confiscations and jail time.

The 2013 Immigration Reform Act that made it easier for Cubans to travel overseas but mules have never had to face anything like the Covid-19 pandemic, which has all but decimated their businesses.

In Cuba there are thousands of people like Miguel who buy products in other countries that are scarce on the island. They typically travel to nations that do not require them to have a visa. Back home they get their goods through customs by claiming them as personal belongings before later selling them on the black market.

It is difficult to say exactly how many private importers sell their merchandise in Holguín province. Those involved in the business avoid giving details and guard their identities to avoid being prosecuted.

Importers often pay family members or friends to travel with them so they can bring back more merchandise. It is common for them to set up support networks and to travel overseas in groups in order to reduce lodging expenses

But since the borders were closed at the end of March, this army of mules has been on hold. The people involved in this trade fear that, even it things return to normal after the Covid-19 pandemic, authorities will keep the restrictions in place, hindering their operations.

Among the government decisions announced that March 24, there was one that caused particular unease: Cubans who were still abroad could return to the island, but, if they did, they would not be allowed to bring back more than one suitcase and one carry-on bag.

This announcement brought Sylvia to the verge of collapse. The Holguín resident was in Haiti at the time, buying clothing, footwear and various hardware products. It was her third trip to the poorest country in Latin America, where — because she was of African descent and spoke French — she could buy goods more easily.

Silvia had to leave a large portion of her purchases behind, with her cousin. Her biggest worry now is paying off her expenses. “I don’t know when I will be able to go back and, with what I brought with me, I am not recouping the money I invested,” she says.

For Silvia such unforeseen circumstances are nothing new. As an importer she is used to the risks that come with this kind of work. On her previous trip, in early 2020, more than half of the items she bought were seized by authorities during a police raid in Holguín.

“It was my bad luck to borrow money for this trip,” she says. But with restrictions now preventing many of these products from entering Cuba, Silvia does not plan on sitting idly by. She and her husband are looking into other kinds of informal business in order to stay afloat.

One of the options she is considering is selling products that command three times the price normally charged on the informal market. Scarcity has driven prices up but, in the midst of a public health emergency, what buyers are prioritizing is food.

Silvia suspects that the government’s decision to limit the amount of baggage that can be brought in is not a coincidence and worries the restrictions could be extended. She believes that the authorities took advantage of the pandemic to do away with jobs like hers. “They’ve been wanting to get rid of us for a long time and the coronavirus gave them the perfect excuse,” she says.

Marisol is another informal merchant who fears for the future of mules, an occupation that has allowed her to make a living until now. Before the borders closed, she was in Guyana, where she bought clothes and shoes. “The day before my flight, customs restrictions took effect and I had to leave a lot of what I bought at the house I was renting.”

Marisol has had to start taking sleeping pills because her anxieties have prevented her from getting a good night’s rest. She is afraid that she will not be able to recover her merchandise or recoup the money she has invested but she is especially afraid of what the future holds.

But it is not just the mules who are worried. After three months without imports, the effects are beginning to be seen in the streets of Holguín. Prices in the informal market have risen while product availability has fallen. Costs for the most commonly imported items — clothing and footwear — have skyrocketed.

“We will look like we’re starving and in rags,” says a woman who has visited several clandestine points of sale in Holguín looking for a pair of tennis shoes for her son.

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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 Tourism Opens Up on the Whole Island Except the Capital

The three-star Hotel Porto Santo, in Baracoa, is one of those that will open to national tourism on July 1.

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14ymedio, Havana, June 29, 2020 – On July 1, only some three-star hotels will open and in no case will inhabitants of Havana be able to reserve them yet. So tourism will start again on the Island after three months of being paralyzed by the Covid-19 epidemic.

With the provinces entering the first stage of the de-escalation, some tourist businesses have started to sell their services. But, if you’re from the capital, where reopening still hasn’t begun, you can’t even make a reservation.

For example, Gaviota, part of the Gaesa military consortium, has already begun offering packages for national tourism in some hotels, the majority of them three stars. The higher-range facilities are available only to foreigners. continue reading

“Today I read that now they opened Varadero and you can reserve in some hotels, but if you’re from Havana, you still don’t qualify,” Lidia Domínguez, a resident of the municipality of Playa, told 14ymedio via Messenger.

“For the opening of tourism to the internal market, Cuban citizens and resident foreigners in the country can stay at the hotel Porto Santo in Baracoa, Villa Pinares de Mayari in Holguín, Villa Gaviota Santiago and the Tourist Complex Topes de Collantes,” the press official said.

According to Trip Advisor, these hotels are described as “middle range,” and most of them receive the worst scores from clients.

Gaviota clarifies that the rest of the hotels and destinations “will begin operations gradually based on demand and the epidemiological conditions of the country.”

Cubanacán also announced this weekend that 13 of its three-star installations already have offers available for the Cuban public, among them Los Jazmines and the hotel Rancho San Vicente, in Pinar del Río; the hotel Caracol and Gran Club Santa Lucía in Camagüey; Atlántico Guardalavaca in Holguín and the Versalles and Brisas del Mar in Santiago de Cuba.

It also explained that restarting operations for international tourism will occur only in the second phase, and only in zones like Cayo Largo, Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo, Cayo Cruz and Cayo Santa María, all with high-range hotels.

Foreign tourists won’t be able in this stage to do city tourism, so they will have to limit their stay to the environment on the key where they find lodging. The information doesn’t clarify whether their family, friends or next of kin, or Cuban residents abroad who stay on the keys would have the possibility of going to visit those guest houses.

The residents of Matanzas already entered the first post-pandemic phase on Tuesday, and they can go the beach in Varadero, according to Ivis Fernández Peña, a delegate of the Ministry of Tourism in this region. “You always have to maintain the physical distance required,” warned the official.

In addition, he said that sales in the reservation bureaus will begin this Wednesday for Islazul and Gran Caribe in Varadero. He also pointed out that only when the demand of clients reaches 60% capacity, will others open, but gradually.

The president of Islazul, Rasiel Tovar, told the press last Tuesday that reservations can be made at points of sale and also on Islazul’s web page.

“We’ve been waiting for this news for some time at home, but we still don’t think we can reserve in any hotel, because none of our favorites are available right now. So we’re all going to Varadero to spend the day with the family on the beach,” Janet Meneses told 14ymedio from Matanzas.

“You have to take advantage now because when people from Havana can come it will be full of  buses so that weekends will bring hundreds of people to spend the day and everything will be full. Here they said that you have to keep a distance, but I still don’t know how they’re going to accomplish this,” she added.

The Government issued the order to close its borders and most tourism services since March 24, with the goal of minimizing the entry of coronavirus cases to the country.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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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 Aborted Protest

A police operation at Mónica Baró’s house. (M.B./Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 1 July 2020 — It was going to be a Tuesday like any other amid the restrictions imposed in Havana by the pandemic. A day of long lines to try to buy food, of walking enormous distances in the absence of public transport and of calling friends to find out if they are in good health and if the coronavirus had not knocked on their doors. But the official repression to avoid a peaceful protest made the last day of June break the mold of any routine.

By 11:00 in the morning, on a corner that is the left atrium of the heart of the Cuban capital, activists of various tendencies had gathered. They sought to raise their voices for numerous reasons, but especially for the death — last week — of a young black man at the hands of the police. A shot in the back ended the life of Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano and to the outrage over his murder was added the irritation that the  official press barely reported the news and the authorities justified what happened as an act of self-defense on the part of the officer, while describing Hernández as an aggressive criminal.

The event, which occurred in the poor neighborhood of Guanabacoa, has fueled a popular anger that has been incubating for decades. It is a social unrest that has been reached for multiple reasons. The police excesses and racial discrimination that continue to mark the attitudes of those in uniforms towards citizens are part of what motivates this anger, but added to this is the discomfort caused by the repressive turn of the screw applied by the Government which it justifies by the Covid-19 health emergency. A feeling of suffocation runs through the country, where, on top of the virus, the economic situation has deteriorated significantly in recent months.

This Tuesday’s protest sought to show some of that annoyance, in a national context where the official Cuban media has exploited to extremes the death of the American George Floyd, with numerous public figures in Cuba condemning the excessive violence used against an African American during his arrest in Minneapolis. The same informational spaces and voices on this Island which, until a few days ago, did not hide their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, now remain in complicit silence before the bullet that struck the young Cuban. For mote in the eye of others is always easier to denounce than the enormous beam of responsibility blocking your own vision.

At the time when the protest in Havana was due to start on June 30, the meeting place was surrounded by police and military personnel, the homes of numerous activists were guarded, and several artists and independent reporters were detained. With a disproportionate deployment, the regime aborted the initiative before any of those heading to the protest could even reach the corner of 23rd and L streets. The arrests were joined by the cutting of telephone service and verbal threats. Amidst the crisis of shortages hitting the country, the repressors spared no resources to prevent a peaceful demonstration.

Only hours later the first releases began, but on Tuesday things had definitely gone wrong.

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This text was originally published by Deustche Welle’s Latin America page .

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The Andorran Press Mocks the Cuban Medical Brigade

The medical brigade with the Andorran Minister of Health, Joan Martínez Benazet. (Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, July 1, 2020 — The last members of the medical brigade in Andorra now fly back to Cuba without having made the least mention of the two members who abandoned the mission this past week. The head of the group, Luis Enrique Pérez Ulloa, said goodbye to the European principality with self-praise, affirming that they are leaving “with their duty accomplished.”

The health workers left Andorra in a bus around 4:30 in the morning this Wednesday for Spain, which has a connection only by highway, and they boarded a flight in Barcelona to take them to Havana, where they hope to be received with honors by the the Government general staff.

According to the official press, which dedicated a lot of coverage to the brigade’s work but didn’t mention the defection of two of its members, the Minister of Health of Andorra, Joan Martínez Benazet, said good-bye to the group at the Hotel Panorama, where they were staying. continue reading

“It’s been a luxury to have the Cuban medical brigade in Andorra,” said the Minister in a video recorded by Prensa Latina, calling it a “sister brigade.” We had a rate of infection of 1,100 persons per 100,000 inhabitants, the equivalent of the most affected cities in Europe,” he said. Martínez Benazet attributed the “rapid control” of the pandemic as well as the ability to treat everyone who was sick without exclusion to the discipline of citizens, the good condition of the health system and the reinforcement from the Cuban health workers.

The number of positive cases detected in Andorra is barely 855, and of these it is known that 52 died and 799 recovered. According to official data, the country’s rate of deaths per 100,000 inhabitants is the third highest in the world, behind San Marino and Belgium and ahead of the UK, Spain and Italy.

Pérez Ulloa related the great achievements of the Cuban brigade, among them that there were more than 64,170 individual instances of providing treatment to a patient. In addition, treatment for cases of Covid-19 were listed as “a total of 178 medical procedures, including mechanical ventilation and deep venous treatments, two temporary pacemaker implants essentially by our professionals (…), four pleurectomies  (pleural drainage), nine continuous dialyses, 19 deep vein thrombosis interventions, 14 treatments for airway disease, 31 mechanical ventilations, 56 anesthetic procedures, 14 hemodialysis catheter insertions and more than 540 patients recovered,” he added.

En Andorra, poco acostumbrados a los panegíricos de Cubadebate, la prensa ha mostrado su perplejidad, incluso llegando a la burla en el caso del diario Altaveu.

In Andorra, little accustomed to the panegyrics of Cubadebate, the press showed its bewilderment and, in the case of the daily Altaveu, even resorted to mockery

“If you read the assessment that the media of the Castro Regime has of the delegation (…), it is thanks to Cuba and the Cuban health workers, that the pandemic, the coronavirus, hasn’t swallowed up Andorra and the Andorrans. It’s been a miracle. (…) The figures are such that it’s evident that the brigade has saved the principality from Covid as, in his day, Charlemagne (medieval emperor who determined Andorran independence and the configuration of Europe) saved these latitudes from other threats,” recites the text.

Furthermore, the article, entitled “The Cuban health workers leave ‘with their duty accomplished’ ” raises doubts about the quantity of treatments cited by Pérez Ulloa.

“Supposedly they treated 821 critically ill patients in the Intensive Care Unit of the Nostra Senyora de Meritxell hospital. It’s obvious and it’s clear that the entire ICU of the hospital hasn’t treated this number of patients, there’s just no way. Its collapse would have been brutal. But in Cuba, of course, they will be heroes. They have been decisive in the recovery of more than 700 patients, which is the total number of all officially counted cases cured, and the Cuban health workers saw barely 20% of them,” the article said.

Altaveu also notes the silence around the “deserters.” “ ‘We return in good health, none of us has fallen ill and we have given the best of ourselves’,” stated the nurse, Leidysbet López. They all return minus two, it’s now known, but not one word was said about the defections. Clearly, it’s as if they didn’t exist,” the newspaper says.

This past Wednesday the leading story was the defection of Dariel Romero, one of the leaders of the brigade, a military doctor with family members in politics. The anesthesiologist presumably fled to Spain, where he has family members, with a Cuban nurse whose identity is unknown and with whom he is suspected of having a sentimental relationship that began in Andorra.

Although the details aren’t yet known, this personal situation, along with the climate of discontent with the Cuban consul in Barcelona, Alain González, who supervised the brigade in an authoritarian manner, are among the decisive factors for the “desertions,” according to Andorran sources.

The 39 Cuban health workers arrived in March in the small European state, a tax haven of almost 80,000 people situated in the Pyrenees between Spain and France, as a result of a contract whose terms are still unknown and which was financed by a millionaire family linked to Andorra, the Sirkias.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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Detentions and Threats to Prevent a Demonstration in Front of the Yara Cinema

The zone around the cinema, at the corner of Avenue 23 and L, in the center of the capital, threatened to be overrun by agents of the Ministry of the Interior. (Facebook/Jesús Jank Curbelo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, June 30, 2020 – Several activists have denounced detentions and threats this Tuesday after being prevented from attending the demonstration called for 11:00 in front of the Yara cinema in Havana, to request justice for the murder of Hansel Ernesto Hernández at the hands of the police this past Thursday.

The zone around the cinema, at the intersection between Avenue 23 and L, in the center of the capital, threatened to be overrun by agents of the Ministry of the Interior, according to several witnesses. One of them said that in the streets next to the theater, there were several buses with soldiers inside, one of them with only women, dressed in green.

The artist Tania Bruguera was detained early in the morning by agents of State Security when she left home, according to her Facebook page. continue reading

“Tania Bruguera was taken (we still don’t know if it was by soldiers or police dressed as civilians – a kidnapping) leaving her house at this precise moment (6:17 Cuban time) to prevent her presence at the peaceful demonstration that will take place today in several points of the country against #PoliceViolence,” said the publication.

Other activists, artists and independent journalists also reported on their networks, with the hashtag #30JunioCuba, that they were surrounded at their homes or received warnings from State Security to not go out in the street today.

The writer Ariel Maceo Téllez says that two State Security agents woke him up to tell him that he was under house arrest for eight hours without clarifying the reason. In the same way, the independent journalist María Matienzo said on her social networks that a “supposed Major Alejandro” knocked on her door to prohibit her from leaving for the whole day.

The activist Juan Antonio Madrazo Luna, coordinator of the Citizens Committee for Racial Integration, said on his Facebook page that the night before, he went to throw out the garbage and was “kidnapped” by agents of State Security and a police official and taken to the police station.

“Now at 5:30, Major Alejandro interrogated me to tell me that my movement was limited, that I wasn’t to leave my house today, that they’re not going to allow the protest, that there won’t be rebelliousness of any kind, and that whoever protests today will be detained even for “propagation of the epidemic,” he said.

He says he was “escorted” to his home and they warned him that he could be criminally prosecuted “under the Law in Time of Emergency and War”.

The journalist of the digital magazine El Estornudo, Abraham Jiménez Enoa, also said that he is under “house arrest.”

“Several State Security agents dressed in civilian clothing and a patrol car with four officers were stationed on the ground floor of my house to prevent me from going out to cover the march protesting the death of Hansel Hernández,” the reporter complained.

The film maker, Carlos Lechuga, wrote this morning: “I woke up smoking an exquisite cigar so that the smoke would keep away the fat agent they had stationed outside my house.”

The organizers of the protest are asking for justice in the case of Hansel Ernesto Hernández, but also for the activist, Ariel Ruiz Urquiola, who will speak this Thursday at the headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, and for Silverio Portal Contreras, a member of the opposition organization “Cuba Independent and Democratic,” and a prisoner since 2018, for humanitarian reasons due to his health.

Besides the concentration in Havana, the promoters have called on people to come out in every province.

Hernández’s death was discovered last Thursday when his aunt reported the facts on social media. The young man, 27 years old, had an altercation with the police, who went beyond what was necessary, and he was killed by an agent’s gunshot.

According to the official version, published in Tribuna de La Habana three days later, Hernández was caught robbing spare parts from a bus. A patrol tried to intercept him, and he responded by throwing stones, after which the police discharged a weapon.

According to the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH), with headquarters in Madrid, although the official version was adjusted to the facts, there was no proportionality in the police act.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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Human Rights Group Asks Cuban Government for Transparency in Case of Young Black Man Killed by Police

Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano resided in Guanabacoa and was 27 years old. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 June 2020 — The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH), based in Madrid, has demanded transparency from the Cuban Government in the case of the death, at the hands of the Police, of the young black man Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano.

“The version given by the Ministry of the Interior confirms that Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano died as a result of police shooting. The story, which is intended to justify police action, is hardly credible and has significant discrepancies with the versions of the facts at the popular level which affirm, for example, that he was shot in the back,” said the OCDH.
Hernández’s death happened last Thursday when his aunt denounced the events, which were reported by the independent press.

The Government, through the official local newspaper Tribuna de La Habana, acknowledged what had happened although, according to their account, the victim was “a citizen who had stolen parts and accessories from a bus stop” caught “red handed” by a police patrol which tried to catch him and, during the chase, Hernandez threw stones at them and was then shot, causing his death. continue reading

The OCDH emphasizes that, even sticking to the official version, “it is very difficult to justify the alleged proportionality in the response” of the agent who shot the young man dead. “We wonder how Hernández Galiano went from fleeing to avoid being captured to becoming a real and imminent threat to the life of the police officer, what the other officer was doing in the meantime, or what other method of neutralization they used before going on to shoot.”

The human rights organization believes that in the government version there is an attempt to “discredit the victim with real or alleged criminal records” and rejects the bellicose official language.

“We also do not understand why the official statement in one part refers to the police as ‘the military’ and in another part speaks of ‘our combatants’, when it is not a fact the Army which intervened and, to our knowledge, the country is not at war,” it stresses.

The OCDH recalls that last year, in June 2019, another black citizen Raidel Vidal Caignet, 27, was killed by the police in Holguín.

“The death of these citizens is closely linked to the repressive scenario that the country is experiencing, where the police act with impunity with methods that are currently questioned throughout the world,” they lament.

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A Young Man Dies in Guanabacoa Presumably at the Hands of the Police

Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano. (Facebook/Maykel Osorbo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 June 2020 — The death of Hansel Ernesto Hernández Galiano, allegedly at the hands of the police, has shocked the La Lima neighborhood in Guanabacoa in the city of Havana. According to the deceased’s aunt, Lenia Patiño, the 26-year-old was hit by a bullet fired by men in uniform.

“We, the family members, ask for mercy that this cruel act at the hands of our supposed national security may in no way go unpunished,” Patiño demanded in a text that she published on her Facebook profile on Thursday afternoon. However, the woman did not specify the initial reason for the altercation between Hernández and the agents.

“Because a police officer, a uniform, does not give the right to murder anyone in such a way,” added the woman in a text that immediately accumulated hundreds of comments. Some of the Internet users said that Hernández worked at the Guanabacoa bus terminal and that he was a “very calm” young man. A neighbor, who works in the same workplace as the father of the deceased, confirmed this information to 14ymedio. continue reading

“Why then did they have to go to their firearm and take a son from a mother, a father, a nephew from his aunt, a brother from his younger sister,” questioned Patiño, who insisted that the young man “was never armed.”

According to other sources, the bullet that the young man received entered him in the back “near the left kidney and came out from the right side of his chest.” The wake was held the same Wednesday night at the Guanabacoa funeral parlor. Witnesses present at the scene tell of a fight between the relatives of the deceased and some police officers who approached to give their condolences.

Several commentators demanded that the national television report the incident, as it did with the death of two police officers and the injuries suffered by two others a few weeks ago in Calabazar, south of the Cuban capital. “Put it on TV as they did with the one who killed the police,” demanded Internet user Lisandra Navarro.

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For the First Time Cuba Sends a Medical Mission to a French Territory

The Cuban medical mission arriving at the airport in Martinique. (Twitter/@CTM_Martinique)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, June 26, 2020 – A brigade of 15 Cuban doctors arrived this Friday for the first time in a French territory, the island of Martinique in the Antilles, to strengthen the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The President of the Martinique Collective receives on the airport runway the Medical Brigade of Cuba that arrived on this territory to offer medical assistance to confront Covid-19,” the Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the Cuban Chancellor, Eugenio Martínez, informed the local press.

The mission will last three months and will cover the lack of specialists in areas like pneumology, infectious disease, radiology and intensive medicine, according to Martinique authorities. continue reading

The daily France-Antilles published on its front page that the delegation of Cuban health workers arrived in Martinique at noon on Friday, on a special flight of Air Antilles Express, and was received with honors by the President of the Executive Council, Alfred Marie-Jeanne.

The newspaper explained that the doctors, “expected since April,” would work in the University Hospital Center in the Saint-Paul Clinic on the island.

The French Parliament approved, last year, a project to reform the health system that included a process whereby the territories of the French Antilles could contract doctors and health workers outside the European Union, in order to facilitate the recruitment of Cuban specialists. At the time, they expressly mentioned the sponsors, the senators from Guadeloupe and Martinique, Dominique Théophile and Catherine Conconne, respectively.

In addition to the contingent sent to Martinique, Cuba sent this Friday another two medical brigades of its “Henry Reeve” international contingent, to Anguilla, in the Caribbean, and to Guinea-Bissau, in Africa, State media reported.

The brigades that will provide service in Anguilla consist of five health workers, while the one going to Guinea-Bissau has 23 health professionals who will be added to another Cuban brigade working in that country, according to the Cuban News Agency.

Havana has 29,000 health workers in 59 countries, including some 3,300 who participate in the battle against Covid-19 in 29 nations. Last Saturday, one of the doctors, who held an important position in the brigade deployed to Andorra, defected along with a nurse.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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At Least 16 Ships Carrying Venezuelan Oil Navigate Without Direction on the High Seas

The United States has threatened to increase its list of sanctioned entities if they collaborate in the commerce and transport of oil from the Venezuelan state enterprise, PDVSA. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Havana, June 27, 2020 – At least 16 vessels transporting a total of 18.1 million barrels of Venezuelan crude and fuel are trapped in the waters of several countries, according to what Reuters published this Saturday with data from Refinitiv Eikon, a financial analysis platform.

The buyer countries avoid them to prevent possible sanctions on the part of the United States, which is hardening its pressure in order to reduce exports of oil from Venezuela, the principal source of income for the government of Nicolás Maduro.

Last week, for example, Washington imposed sanctions against two Mexican companies, among them Libre Abordo, under the accusation of “transporting petroleum robbed from the Venezuelan people,” and helping the regime of Maduro to get around the restrictions. The Treasury Department, in addition, has threatened to increase its list of sanctioned entities if they collaborate in the commerce and transport of crude from the Venezuelan state enterprise, PDVSA. continue reading

The United States also penalized five captains of Iranian ships with the blockade of activities in United States territory and the prohibition of operating in its waters, for having delivered 1.5 million barrels of oil to the South American country.

With things as they are, some ships have been on the high seas for more than six months, says Reuters, without being able to unload in any port, since the petroleum “rarely is offloaded in tanks without having a defined buyer.” While they wait, each vessel incurs heavy charges for delays. According to a shipping-line source in the British agency, the tariff for the delay of a ship that transports Venezuelan oil is at least 30,000 dollars per day.

Former clients of PDVSA, affirms Reuters, are worried because sanctions are imposed even for completing permitted transactions, like the payment of debt with oil or the exchange for food.

The difficult situation of exports from Venezuela is aggravated, concludes the agency, by the over-supply of the market, which  permits buyers to acquire crude that is less-risky than the Iranian or Venezuelan.

Last February, Venezuela denounced the United States before the International Criminal Court for the sanctions, accusing Washington of committing “crimes against humanity.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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The Risks and Insecurity of Being a Doctor in Cuba

In training sessions, doctors are warned about publishing images that could slander the health system. (flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Cynthia de la Cantera, Havana, June 23, 2020 — Ernesto is considered an “old dog” in his profession as a primary doctor. However, he still remembers how he and his colleagues were “tattooed with fire” after the authorities warned them during a training session about Covid-19 protocols. “Be careful about publishing a photo or information that doesn’t agree with what is official, because notice will be taken at the highest level of what is said.”

The “inappropriate” photo or information refers, in his opinion, to the precariousness of the health system and the working conditions for medical personnel. The polyclinics don’t have bathrooms or rooms in a condition where doctors, who dedicate seven days a week to their jobs for barely 1,600 pesos a month, can rest, and this hampers the performance of all health measures. In addition, once they leave the hospital, the doctors encounter the same problems as the rest of the population: shortages and lines.

Access to medical sources and hospital centers in Cuba requires permission from the Ministry of Public Health, which already has been denied to the independent press under normal conditions. Now that health personnel are at the center of media attention, a public statement with the author’s identity can propitiate a sanction or expulsion from the health system, depending on the seriousness of the offense. continue reading

Ernesto, who uses a pseudonym, explains how his day usually goes. It begins at 7:00 in the morning in an apartment with three rooms, one for a nurse and two for consultations. “We don’t have water in the bathroom; nor in the sinks or the toilet. We have to get it in buckets.”

His first job is to fill out a sheet of paper, writing down the names of patients who are waiting by “medical groups,” a system of categories implemented by the Ministry to classify the population according to risks and vulnerabilities. “I have to see a minimum of 20 patients a day. If I don’t, my work isn’t considered productive.”

At 9:00 am, the medical students arrive and perform their surveys. Ernesto distributes forms and they must visit all the houses to learn how many people live there, their ages and symptoms. This system is based on the epidemiological vigilance that already was done for zika and dengue.

“After the first weeks the neighbors were calling me because the students weren’t coming by every day (as they were supposed to), but they were still handing in daily reports. Falsifying them is easy: first they fill out a complete questionnaire, well done, with all the data, and before handing it in, they take a photo. Then they use this as a template and visit the houses only a couple of times per week,” he laments.

Ernest tried to rotate the students to avoid the trap, but the faculty agreed that they should investigate in fixed areas to get to know their patients, with a maximum of 40 homes. “As you might understand, there are times they go and times they don’t,” he says.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the number of Ernesto’s patients has gone down, and he is already beginning to note the return to normality. “Most are older adults who come for prescriptions. They request the same thing two or three times, because there is a lack of medication and their prescription expires.” The doctor complains that the authorities haven’t approved extensions for prescriptions as they have for other things. “If I haven’t written 100 expired prescriptions, I haven’t written any. It’s a waste of time and incalculable resources since this country is so poor,” he complains.

Among the most requested medicines are analgesics like dipyrone and naproxen, antibiotics like gentamicin and triamcinolone, and sedatives like lorazepam, which aren’t available.

After lunch, Ernesto visits nearby patients who live alone and those who have declared symptoms to visitors or by the mobile application. “With these last, I have gone by and sometimes arrive and they tell me there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re bored, or they only wanted to see if the application really worked. Almost all are elderly adults. I ask them to imagine how it would be if they really needed me and I was visiting another person that falsified symptoms,” he says, although the application itself indicates that giving false information is subject to sanctions imposed by the law.

When he finishes his paperwork in the polyclinic, he concludes his day and lingers with his colleagues, chatting during the hour or hour and a half he spends waiting for the bus that drops off the medical personnel. Some of them, according to the municipality where they live, must wait for two or three hours.

Ernesto thinks he contracted coronavirus a couple of months ago after coming into contact with an Italian woman from Bologna. One week later, he was at the polyclinic with fever, a headache and fatigue, and they sent him to the Luis Díaz Soto military hospital in Havana. “The doctor looked at me and said, with a straight face, ‘What you have is tonsillitis. Go home’. He knew that I was a doctor because of the referral. The following day they disinfected my house, and I spent 21 days in quarantine. They didn’t do an analysis; I never knew what I had.”

The doctor believes that cases like his allow them to improve the statistics, although he says he doesn’t know of other cases of apparent omission of registering someone contaminated by the virus. “I don’t like to speak about politics, because everything is always misinterpreted, but the way they have of defending the system is by saying ‘look how we are managing the pandemic’.”

In this country they have already reported two outbreaks of contagion in hospital centers, both in Mantanzas. A local media gave details about the working conditions and lack of hygiene, and the scarcity of protective equipment that contributed to the outbreak in the Comandante Faustino Pérez hospital. The floor where the focal point originated had lacked water from more than a year. In addition, with all the personnel isolated in the hospital to avoid new contagion, the number of doctors available in the province was reduced, and the workload of the rest was increased, until a brigade from Mayabque had to be sent to help.

Milena is a medical student, in her last year, and she practices on the front line, but she fears for her pregnancy. “It really gets ugly when you begin to count between 25 and 30 ambulances a day that bring in patients with respiratory symptoms. They authorize specific consultations for them, so they enter on the other side of the hospital. They put me in the emergency room, but still, occasionally, suspicious cases arrive that way, and you have to examine them to do a pre-diagnosis.”

The young woman notes the influence of the international missions on the loss of professionals in Cuba. The Government maintains personnel in 59 countries, 3,300 in the 29 nations where they participate in the struggle against Covid-19, adding up to a reduction of some 29,000 health workers in Cuba.

“They formed groups to go relieve them. The intensive care specialists, internists, gynecologists and pediatricians were obligated to go, but the rest of them went voluntarily. After they took doctors for the missions they had to create more groups because there weren’t enough. No one knew what was going to happen,” she remembers.

“I was really afraid because the security measures weren’t great. They only gave you one cloth mask, the green kind, for the whole shift of 24 hours. They didn’t give out gowns or caps, not even eyeglasses. Only after the donations [of the Chinese Government] did things improve a bit. But still we were worried that some patient would arrive who didn’t have symptoms, coming for something else, and that one of us would get infected,” she says. She brings from home four or five masks, two protective suits, a pair of gloves and a surgical cap.

The Ministry of Health retired personnel over 60 years old with 60% of their salary because they were a group at risk, but not anyone pregnant, since it hasn’t been determined that the virus causes anomalies or severe complications, but Milena is afraid because the immune system is depressed during gestation. “In the case of Covid-19, you can have pneumonia or bronchial pneumonia, which is very dangerous for the life of the mother and the baby,” she says.

These fears have led some health workers who still haven’t reached their second trimester to present medical certificates that permit them to be absent until their due date. Then they extend them to week 34, when they can benefit from paid leave. But Milena had to go back after the first expiration date because she’s a student. “If I don’t fulfill the requirement of 80% attendance, I lose the right to my diploma,” she explains.

Mariela, a family doctor who practices in the Havana municipality of Revolution Plaza, is worried about the Program of Infant Maternal Attention. “The pregnant and lactating women take a series of courses each trimester, a level of monitoring that is one of the most exhausting there is.” This means more tests, more consults, more follow-ups, more information and reports. There’s no rest.

Before she was working from Monday to Friday and Saturdays until 12:00, but now she also has to work on Sundays, for the daily surveys. “No one expected this. And it’s not considered overtime. If we don’t do it like that, cases occur. But from my point of view, you get exhausted, because it’s not just Covid-19. You have a population with other diseases and follow-up programs. In addition, there are medical emergencies, the elderly, those who live alone, the following of contacts and those whom you have to see every day,” she says.

When health workers are tired, Mariela points out, they stop fulfilling the protocols with the same rigor, and now she can only rest in the days following emergencies in the polyclinic, four times a month.

“Have they told you when you could officially rest?”

‘No, I don’t know; I suppose it’s when all this ends.”

Francisco Durán, the head of the Department of Epidemiology of the Ministry of Public Health, has explained that the epidemic would be considered concluded 28 days after the last positive case, the time that corresponds to two periods of incubation of the new virus.

Meanwhile, Havana is full of posters that highlight the triumphant battle against the pandemic. Some include photographs of Fidel Castro and José Martí. There is one where several doctors appear with green masks keeping a distance; the first of them holds a Cuban flag.

It’s very probable that the photo was taken at the time of farewell for a medical brigade leaving on their mission. The text says: “For Cuba, together we will win.” The message is repeated in the State media to remind us that they are our heroes: those who wear the white coats. And really they are, but not for their unconditional support and discipline, but rather because they work without adequate means, without pay for extra hours, without days of rest and without being able to enjoy their families.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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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.