Writer Rafael Alcides Dies in Havana at the Age of 85

Rafael Alcides was born in Barrancas on June 9, 1933 (La mala letra)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 June 2018 — Ten days after his 85th birthday and after a long battle with cancer, the poet Rafael Alcides died at his home in Nuevo Vedado on Tuesday afternoon, his son Rafael confirmed to 14ymedio. Sources close to the family explained that there will be no funeral and that his ashes will be scattered in Barrancas, in the east of the island, where he was born on 9 June 1933.

“He did not like tributes,” says filmmaker Miguel Coyula and author of the documentary Nadie, based on an interview with Alcides that lasted more than two hours. With this work, presented in the independent gallery El Círculo in Havana, Coyula addressed the biography of the poet and novelist, especially his long years as a censored writer. continue reading

Rafael Alcides began his literary career with the magazine Ciclón (Cyclone) and successfully published some 60 books, including Himnos de montaña  (Mountain Hymns) (1961) and La pata de palo (The Wooden Leg) (1967).

He began his fall from grace with the regime when, in the 80s, the poet set aside ideology and expanded to less political issues, publishing Agradecido como un perro (Grateful as a Dog) (1983), Y se mueren y vuelven y se mueren (They Die and Come Back and Die Again ) (1988), Noche en el recuerdo (A Night to Remember) (1989), Nadie (Nobody) (1993).

By 1983, when his poetry collection Agradecido como un perro appeared, the author had already suffered, for decades, the institutional silence that greeted his work, because of his openly critical positions on the Cuban Government.

From 1993 on, he abandoned all publishing collaborations on the Island and in 2011 he won the Breton Café & Bodegas Olarra de Prosa Española Award.

In 2014 his books published in Spain were seized from his wife, the blogger Regina Coyula, every time she tried to bring them into Cuba. For this reason he submitted his resignation from the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), which he had been a member of for years, saying that banning from the island his books published abroad was the same thing as banning him as author.

The poet published a letter, which he addressed to Miguel Barnet (president of UNEAC), in which he explained his reasons and returned the Commemorative Medal of the 50th anniversary of the UNEAC, which he had been granted as a founder of that government institution.

The letter to Barnet makes clear the ideological disenchantment of one of the most important poets of the 50s Generation: “Among these memories are those of the good friends I made among the members of the Association back then, treasures of my youth that are all that remain of that great, failed dream, people I love though they do not think the way I do, and who love me also, even if they dare not visit me.”

In speaking of the writer and poet, Cuban writer Virgilio López Lemus says that when Alcides published Agradecido como un perro he became a reference poet for the generations born between 1946 and 1970. López Lemus describes this work as a “long and intense poem in which the lyrical subject appears in a confessional attitude and at the same time as a witness, where he includes social life, family life, love and friendship (or is it one of the two?), and above all the warmth of a man who expresses himself with his skin open to the world, whether he receives wounds or caresses.”

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

Here Come The Limes, There Goes The Soap

The price of limes has dropped from two Cuban pesos for one fruit, to five pesos a pound. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana | June 18, 2018 — Finally, the limes have arrived. They returned after an inexplicable absence, the result of a month’s long shortage during which they became coveted items in kitchens and bars. In the terminology of rationing, it is said that the precious citrus fruits “came to” or are now “leaving” the market stalls.

With an abundance that cannot be exaggerated, these days limes can be found on most produce market shelves, all green and glistening. From a high of two pesos for one lime, the cost has been reduced to five pesos for an entire pound. As a result, customers are taking advantage of the low prices by stocking up in anticipation of hard times ahead. continue reading

An essential ingredient in lime-based drinks, mojo criollo marinades and avocado salads is once again available.

There is a catch, however. Just as limes were making a triumphal comeback, soap began disappearing. There is no discernible cause-and-effect relationship between the recovery of the citrus harvest and the disappearance of this essential element of personal hygiene, which cannot be found even in the most expensive shopping malls.

Sometimes it is dry wine and beer, toilet paper or cassavas, matches or dishwashing detergent. It is as though it were all scientific planned. It’s like that old joke about the socialist hell: the sinners cannot be punished because some key component of torture, such as oil for the pot or wood for the fire, is always in short supply.

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

Giving Birth at 40, Late Motherhood in Cuba

While fertility rates in Cuba decrease in most age groups, the downward trend does not occur among women who are between 35 and 39 and between 40 and 44 years old. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 June 2018 — Marcel runs through the park while his mother follows him everywhere and, between races, sits on a bench to rest. She is 47 with a small son who hasn’t started school yet. She is one of the many Cubans who preferred to give birth in her 40s despite the risks, social prejudice and “the fatigue that comes with age,” she tells 14ymedio.

They are women who do not have the energy of a twenty-year-old and are already combing gray hair, but have in their favor greater maturity, family stability and professional development. Many of these late mothers have been wanting to get pregnant for decades, others waited for better conditions to bring a child into the world, and for some of them, the arrival of a baby was a surprise. continue reading

When they show up pregnant at the OB-GYN clinics they are called “elderly” and talked to about risks and problems. Because along with social prejudices that see motherhood as something exclusive to young women, they must also face a public health system that has a hard time adapting to a global phenomenon: the postponement of pregnancies.

When they show up pregnant at the OB-GYN clinics they are called “elderly” and talked to about risks and problems. (14ymedio)

Grisell Rodríguez Gómez, a psychologist and researcher at the Center for Demographic Studies of the University of Havana, has studied this trend on the island. “The fertility of women over 30 years of age began to rise” explains the specialist, who says there is currently “a greater presence of mothers in these ages,” in Cuba. The Cuban health system considers any woman who is expecting a baby after the age of 35 as a “high risk” patient, although it is not contraindicated to conceive a child at this stage of life. “My doctor at the Family Clinic cried to high heaven and predicted a rather dark picture for me,” says Marcel’s mother. 

“I was the first pregnant woman in her 40s she had cared for and she was very nervous, because doctors are very demanding when it comes to a baby that is coming… There is still a very narrow mentality about motherhood at this age and they see us as a phenomenon, an abnormality, sick mothers,” she emphasized.

Little by little, society has had to get used to the presence of these mature women who push a baby stroller and are not grandmothers. The economic crisis of the 90s has been one of the triggers causing the postponement of motherhood, because many women preferred to wait for better times, according to several specialists consulted by this newspaper.

The Cuban health system has had to get used to the presence of these mature women who push a baby stroller and are not grandmothers. (14ymedio)

While the fertility rates in Cuba decrease in each age group, the downward trend does not occur among women between 35 and 39 and between 40 to 44 years old, who have steadily shown an increase in motherhood in recent decades, as proven by data collected by the National Statistics Office.

At 39, Ariadna López is preparing to enter her fourth decade of life with a newborn baby in her arms. She is now seven months along and one day she woke up with the suspicion that her second son was coming ten years after she had her first. A new relationship had started and her husband was happy with the announcement.

“The family doctor was scared at first,” recalls Lopez. “When I gave her the news, she raised his eyebrows in concern,” especially because now the Public Health authorities in the municipality of Habana del Este where she resides, “are in a tizzy because they have an old pregnant woman, which is a headache.” Lopez immediately began a strict plan of prenatal vitamins and folic acid. If it had been a planned pregnancy it would have been better to start with this regimen even before conceiving the baby to ensure the correct development and functioning of the brain of the fetus. 

The feminist activist Marta María Ramírez recently announced her pregnancy on social networks. At 42, each consultation has been a battle to stop them from treating her “with fear because of the risks involved in pregnancy” at her age. She is tired of hearing phrases like “let’s have a look at your problem” and she prefers not to know the biological sex of the baby until the delivery, something difficult for the medical staff to understand and accept.

According to a study conducted by several specialists and published in the Cuban Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, “a woman in good health” and “with adequate prenatal care” is very likely “to have a happy delivery and a healthy child” although they clarify that the health system of the Island must prepare itself to deal with the tendency to become pregnant later in life.

Society has had to get used little by little to the presence of these mature women who carry a baby stroller and are not grandmothers. (14ymedio)

“Many of these pregnancies are not spontaneous but occur in mothers who have had fertility treatment for many years,” explains Kenia Ferrán, a Cuban obstetrician who worked for years in the public health system until in 2017 she emigrated to Ecuador. of these pregnancies begin from the beginning because there is a high rate of spontaneous abortions among women over 40.”

If they manage to overcome the first trimester of pregnancy,”they still face the high possibility of suffering from gestational diabetes and hypertension, problems that affect not only the health of the pregnant woman but also the baby,” Ferrán said. “Genetic risks are also high, such as the presence of chromosomal alterations such as Down syndrome.” 

However, Ferran says that in her professional life she has treated “many women who decided to become mothers after 40 and in most cases everything has gone very well. The most important thing is the follow-up and above all, ethically, to respect the decision that the woman has made. We are here to accompany her on that trip, not to criticize her.”

Some of the women she cared for in her clinic “waited to have a place to have a child, because the housing difficulties force many of them to postpone the moment.” The economic situation and “dreams of emigrating” also influence the decision, along with “the desire to take more advantage of professional opportunities in the 20s and 30s,” she says.

Beatriz Medina, 41, has two children from a first marriage and this week she visited the Ramón González Coro Gynecology-Obstetric Hospital in Havana to ask for advice about a new pregnancy. “Among the problems they told me is the chance that the child will beborn underweight or that I deliver early,” she says, and immediately says that she is not afraid.

Medina, however, does not feel so confident about what will come next. “I estimate that at 60 I will still be taking care of a young man and the generational abyss will be tremendous.” The mother is concerned “that she she won’t live to see him develop his professional life, be an adult, have his own children,” although she believes that she will have “more maturity to educate him and more resources to support him.”

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

“We Can Hardly Sleep With the Mosquito Bombardment”

Two young people of the Youth Labor Army with the fumigation equipment. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 18 June 2018 — “We used to complain because they were always coming and knocking on the door every week to fumigate and make sure you didn’t have standing water, or a vase of spiritual water or a water tank without a cover,” says Diosdado, 68, who lives in La Timba neighborhood a few yards from the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana.

“But this year, from the times the rains started, they have only come by once and have not finished fumigating all the houses because they ran out of the product,” he adds. “We can hardly sleep with the bombardment from the mosquitos, because this area has a lot of vegetation and there are also many places where rain accumulates, and families with small children have to use mosquito nets all night.” continue reading

The abundant rains of recent weeks have not only left Havana with hundreds of homes at risk of collapse but also plunged it into a wave of mosquitoes that residents fear contribute to the spread of diseases such as Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue. The fumigation, which a few years ago was intense at this time of year, has decreased due to the crisis that the country is experiencing.

Until last summer, fumigations inside and outside homes were common. The image of vehicles that left a trail of smoke while driving through the main avenues of the capital became part of the urban landscape. Inspections in the residential areas were also repeated several times a month in search of the feared Aedes aegypti mosquito, a vector of these diseases.

A workers’ bag for the antivectorial campaign, especially the students of the University of Medical Sciences who do the work voluntarily. (14ymedio)

La Timba is a neighborhood that is densely populated with people with low economic resources, and several residents visited the nearby polyclinic April 19. “We have gone several times but the answer is that right now there is little product to fumigate and that it is very difficult for the country, which does not have the resources to carry out massive campaigns like before,” explains Diosdado.

A source from the hospital confirms with this version to 14ymedio. “The rate of infestation in this area exceeds 0.15 and we are prioritizing the most affected parts but we can’t cover everything,” explains a polyclinic worker who preferred anonymity. “Last week they sent us some liquid to fumigate and we are administering it where it is most urgent.”

“In every municipality in the city, the presence of the Aedes aegypti mosquito has been detected,” the source points out. “We are trying to cover the entire capital in the most effective way with what little we have,” she says. “It is not only the liquid to fumigate but also the fuel to start the ‘backpack-motors’ (as the fumigation equipment is popularly known).”

The Cuban economy is still burdened by the worsening of the crisis in Venezuela, which has led to a reduction in bilateral trade and the supply of oil to the island.

Cubans identify fumigation against mosquitoes with the era when Fidel Castro ran the country, because in those years the antivector campaigns were so intense many were annoyed by them. People complained that the inspectors constantly invaded the privacy of their home in search of Aedes aegypti, and were also concerned about the other evils associated with the frequent administration of insecticides.

“The cases of allergy and asthma skyrocketed in those years when it was constantly sprayed,” recalls Yander, a nurse who worked for a decade in the emergency room in a Centro Habana hospital. “We also had several patients who arrived because they had slipped on the liquid left behind on the floor of their house after the fumigation, and one even broke his hip.”

However, Yander says that “all those evils were minor compared to the risk we now have with Dengue and Zika.” The nurse adds that “seeing less fumigation and inspections, people lower their guard and have a lower perception of risk, which is why it is important to warn of the danger.”

Many families have decided to fight the mosquito with their own resources and use small household sprays bought in hard currency stores that promise to kill all insects, or other simpler recipes to avoid bites.

“When we sit down to watch television we put alcohol on our legs and arms to scare off mosquitoes, it’s not perfect but it works,” says Maritza, a retired resident in the Cerro neighborhood, near the well-known Manila Park, an area very affected by the presence of insects.

Orders from the Island to the community of Cuban émigrés, especially those based in South Florida, have increased, asking for incense, lotions and other repellent products and there are many ways to send parcels to the Island. The black market has a wide variety of products, but the prices are out of reach for the poorest families.

“We depend on state fumigation because we can not pay for an anti-mosquito spray that costs more than 3 CUC (roughly $3 US), which is a third of my monthly pension,” says Maritza. “That’s why we use this alcohol, which can be bought in pharmacies much cheaper but it doesn’t totally protect us.”

Hundreds of workers in the antivector campaign have been reassigned to other tasks and in the Provincial Health Department complaints pour in from the residents in the neighborhoods hardest hit by the swarms of mosquitoes. Given the lack of resources, the authorities are appealing to the discipline of the population to inspect their own homes, a practice known in the bureaucratic language as “auto focal.”

A poster stuck up at the entrances of several multifamily buildings in Nuevo Vedado calls for extreme measures, “combat the mosquito” and “immediately report any symptoms” of possible infection. However, unlike other occasions, this medical warning is not accompanied by a fumigation calendar for the area.

In 2017, an extremely dry year on the Island, there was a notable decrease in confirmed cases of Dengue fever. The infections fell by 68% compared to 2016, as reported by the official media at the time. During this period, Zika virus transmission also decreased and there were no reports of a single patient with Chikungunya.

Due to its humid climate, Cuba is a country prone to the proliferation of these arboviruses, a situation that gets worse during the summer with the rains and the greater mobility of the population taking advantage of school holidays to travel between provinces and contributing* to the propagation of these diseases.

Translator’s note: The cycle of infection for dengue and chikungunya requires a female mosquito to bite a person who is infected. Within about a week, the mosquito becomes infected and can then pass it on when it bites other people. These two diseases are not contagious person-to-person or mosquito-to-mosquito. Zika, however, although it is transmitted in the same way, can also be transmitted person-to-person through sex, and it can be transmitted to a child during pregnancy potentially resulting in birth defects than can be very severe.

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

Occupancy Rate at Manzana Kempenski Luxury Hotel Under 20%, Say Staffers

Most of the customers who come to the bar do so to admire the view of the city and the ‘infinity’ style pool. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, La Habana | Junio 19, 2018 — None of the customers who were enjoying the bar and pool on the rooftop of the Manzana Kempinski Hotel this Monday were staying at the accommodation. The luxurious colossus across from Havana’s Central Park is below 20% occupancy according to the calculations of its workers, due to the slowdown in tourism in Cuba and the high prices of the establishment.

Opened in May of last year, with 246 rooms, of which 172 are standard, the Manzana Kempinski is apparently performing far below its projections. Despite this, the general manager, Xavier Destribats, said a couple of weeks ago that the Swiss hotel group in working on several other projects the state-owned Gaviota company. continue reading

“We have bet on Cuba and we will continue to grow with Gaviota with a second hotel and maybe a third one,” Kempinski’s director told Cuban state television. Destribats was optimistic about the results of the luxury hotel which, he said, has customers from markets such as France, Spain, Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and China. However, he did not provide any occupation data and the employees believe it is underperforming.

“This seems like a museum, one of those that is very beautiful but almost empty,” a waitress told 14ymedio on condition of anonymity.

“We are afraid that there will be cuts in personnel and that they will send us home, as has happened with other hotels,” explains the employee who receives a little more than 300 Cuban pesos per month (less than $ 15) for her work. “Last week several clients who came to an event saved us, but they are about to leave,” she laments.

Located in an historic area, the hotel occupied the old Manzana de Gómez shopping center, a name Havanans still use to refer to the place. After several years of repairs it went from being an aged and dirty building to emerge with all its impressive architectural details restored.

In the Manzana bar you can find cold and imported beer, a luxury difficult to locate in the rest of the city. (14ymedio)

“Most of the guests who come to the bar come to admire the view of the city and the ’infinity’ style pool that attracts many fora  little refresher,” says the bartender. “It is very peaceful up here and since we are open until midnight it’s a place for the tourists to go after they leave the concerts or the cultural activities in the area.”

“Many people come to look and browse because the restoration process was very painstaking and the hotel has spaces that make you want to stay, but putting your hand in your pocket to rent a room is a real stretch,” a waitress explained to this newspaper.

“If there are few guests, it makes no sense to work here, because the most important thing for us is the tips that the workers share at the end of the day, but in the last weeks it has been very poor,” she complains.

The employee calculates that the hotel is now below 20% occupancy, which other employees of the hotel and those working in the tourism sector confirm. “At the moment this seems like an investment for the long-term, because the hotel has little demand because of its prices,” confirms Katy Ramos, tour package manager.

The clumsy launch of the Manzana is the fault of factors that go beyond its prices. “There is always someone willing to pay dearly for good service, but what is happening has nothing to do with the hotel but with the whole country,” says Ramos. “There is a fall in the number of tourists which is very worrying to all of us who live off this business.”

None of the customers who enjoyed the bar and pool on the rooftop of the Manzana Kempinski Hotel this Monday were staying there. (14ymedio)

Tourism is Cuba’s second largest source of income, behind the sale of professional services abroad, and contributes 10% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in addition to generating half a million jobs. For the private sector it is also an important pillar that supports everything from rental houses, to private restaurants, private taxis and guide services.

From January through May of this year, Cuba has counted more than 2.1 million foreign tourists, 93% of those who had arrived during the same period in 2017. However, the figure “includes Cuban Americans who come to visit their families and also people who come to events and congresses, but don’t otherwise engage in tourism,” says Ramos.

The Government, however, maintains the official projections for 2018 of five million visitors with the aim of breaking the previous records of almost 4.7 and 4.5 million travelers in 2017 and 2016, respectively.

But the winds that blew away the diplomatic thaw between Havana and Washington, which attracted all sorts of celebrities to the island, seem to have changed course.

At the end of 2017, the United States Government announced that it would enforce a promise made by President Donald Trump in June of that same year, to crack down on commercial and personal travel of Americans to the Island.

The US Treasury published a list of more than 100 companies, which included restaurants and two rum distilleries, that travelers from that country may not visit. Several tourism agencies and at least 84 hotels throughout the Island appear on that list and the Manzana Kempinski is one of them.

Although it is managed by the German company Kempinski, based in Switzerland, the property is owned by the Cuban military corporation GAESA, which appears on the blacklist drafted by the Trump administration.

However, even if they are not staying at the site due to lack of resources or fear of penalties, many customers come in search of good services and the impressive supplies of the Manzana.

In the midst of the shortage of food and other products that have characterized the last weeks on the island, dozens of tourists come to the hotel every day in search of a good meal or those drinks that are scarce elsewhere.

In a city “where there is a scarcity of almost everything, this is a haven of comfort,” says Empar, a Spaniard who on Father’s Day Sunday was enjoying a cold imported beer on the terrace after “having walked through several stores and markets without finding anything I wanted. “

“I came for the views but of course I can not pay what they ask for a room,” he told 14ymedio. A night in the Patio room, the cheapest in the entire hotel, cost about $440 without breakfast, while the most exclusive, the corner suite goes for $1,355.

“It’s a shame that despite being half empty they do not offer a significant reduction in prices, because that would make many customers like me feel encouraged to stay,” says Empar.

Cuba is now in its low season of foreign tourism, because in the summer months people choose destinations cooler than the hot tropical sun of the island. These are the same months when nationals have a chance to be tourists because of the school holidays.

But the Manzana Kempinski is beyond the pockets of Cubans living on the island, where an average salary does not exceed the equivalent of 30 dollars a month. “Before leaving it empty they could lower the prices and fill it with Cubans,” joked Humberto, a baseball fan reconverted to football supporter during the World Cup in Russia and a visitor to the nearby sports club, known as La Esquina Caliente.

This character of “forbidden apple (manzana)” due to its stratospheric rates, has earned the accommodation many criticisms, especially for the contrast between its luxurious conditions and the neighborhood that surrounds it, plagued with serious housing problems.

The young artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara put on three artistic performances at the luxury hotel. In the first of them, he questioned the disappearance of the bust of the communist leader Julio Antonio Mella, previously stationed there; in the second he brandished a sledge hammer a few inches from the window of an exclusive store in the basement of the building; and in the third he ran a raffle to win a night in the only five-star hotel in the country, which was won by a young man about to enter to Compulsory Military Service.

“That may have been the first and only ordinary Cuban who has slept in those beds,” speculates Humberto, while gazing from the Central Park toward the empty entrance of the Manzana Kempinski.

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

Eight More Deaths in Cuba From the Rains, Which Damaged 9,972 Homes

Heavy rains from subtropical storm Alberto caused major loss of lives, homes and crops. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, via EFE, Havana, 6 June 2018 — Cuba reported this Wednesday the death of one of the two people who disappeared in the intense rains of last week, and 8 deaths were added to the previous total. The rains also damaged 9,972 homes, of which 486 were total collapses, according to information provided in a meeting led by Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel.

With the passage of subtropical storm Alberto, which caused serious flooding and left 115 communities in the eastern and central part of the Island completely cut off, the additional deaths included seven men and one woman died in the provinces of Pinar del Río, Matanzas, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara and Ciego de Ávila, according to official reports.

Last Saturday, initial reports from the General Staff of Civil Defense included a missing a 17-year-old from Villa Clara who might have been swept away by the Arimao River, and a 51-year-old man missing in Chambas, Ciego of Ávila. Both provinces are in the center of the country. continue reading

The state newspaper Granma did not specify today in its report of the meeting — held on Monday — which of the two is the now known to have died.

Díaz-Canel asked the interior minister, Vice Admiral Julio César Gandarilla, to carry out “a detailed analysis, case by case, to determine the causes that caused those regrettable events,” Granma noted.

The Cuban president said, “there are acts of social indiscipline and recklessness” despite “the constant calls to order” to the population by the authorities of the island, which issues warnings before, during and after the passage of meteorological phenomena.

Diaz-Canel also insisted “that the country should remain alert as intense rains have been predicted in the coming days, for which they must be prepared.”

Due to the storm, 62,000 people were evacuated in the western and central parts of the Island.

Preliminary reports put the homes affected by the rains at 9,972 — of which 486 were totally demolished — according to the Minister of Construction, René Mesa, who assured that they have already allocated resources to compensate for the damages.

In Cuba’s central zone some 700 kilometers of roads were damaged, most of them flooded, so that even today nine places in the Sancti Spiritus province remain isolated.

The “most difficult scenario,” according to the official report, is access to the community of Zaza del Medio, the bridge to which was partially destroyed by the flood waters of the Zaza River.

Due to heavy rainfall, Cuba lost 1,500 hectares of beans, while some 10,000 hectares of other food crops were affected.

“At present, everything is being harvested and taken directly to the markets,” said the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Julio García.

There is also “intensive” work underway to minimize possible losses affecting about 5,000 hectares of rice that continues under water in the western province of Pinar del Río. In addition, 600 tons of rice under water in Ciego de Avila cannot be harvested.

In that same territory, where about 70% of the tobacco harvested on the island is produced, more than 150 hectares of the leaf have been lost, which serves as raw material for the famous Cuban cigars whose export is an important source of hard currency for the country’s coffers.

During the meeting it was also stated that the epidemiological situation on the island “is under control” and “so far no outbreak of disease has occurred,” said Health Minister Roberto Morales.

The intense rains of storm Alberto have filled Cuba’s dams, where some 5 million cubic meters of water are stored, a situation that contrasts with last year, in which the island experienced one of the worst droughts in the last 110 years.

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

Mobile Phone Recharges in Cuba Are a Headache for Relatives in Miami

The video is not subtitled.  The woman is repeating over and over “don’t ask me for a recharge.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Pentón, Miami | Junio 15, 2018 — “My little brother, toss me a refill.” “Asere, I need a little help.” “Compadre, they are only twenty pesitos.” These are some of the most common phrases repeated every month on the social networks of people living in Cuba. They are addressed to friends, relatives and even strangers abroad, the only ones who can take advantage of the promotions offered by the state communications monopoly Etecsa.

As if it were a hunting season, the gun is that of the telecommunications company itself. “Etecsa informs that a recharge with a bonus will be valid from June 11 to 15. If you recharge 20 you get 60,” says a text message that the company sends to its users’ mobiles on the Island. From then on, the desperate search for benefactors abroad begins. continue reading

“The refills have no name. Every month I have to get strong because if I don’t they bleed me dry,” says Yuralay Batista, a Cuban who has lived in Miami for three years. “Imagine this, the other day a woman who says she was in daycare with me, sent me a friend request, asking if I could help her with a recharge,” she said.

Another Cuban who recently exploded in response to requests for reloads was Nairovis Brooks López, a woman from Santiago who went on Facebook Live to protest against the massive number of requests she received. The video went viral and currently exceeds 360,000 views.

Cubans have had cell phone access only relatively recently. After years of its being a privilege of diplomats, tourists and top leaders of the Communist Party, in 2008 Raúl Castro allowed the use of these telephones to be extended to the population.

In just a decade the country already has more than five million cell phone lines and Etecsa has announced that in the near future it will allow users to surf the internet via smartphones, although it has not revealed the prices.

The costs of mobile phone serve are very high relative to the average monthly salary of the Island, which is just 29.5 CUC, according to official figures. Contracting for a mobile line costs about 40 CUC and a minute of conversation is 0.40 cents CUC, almost half the average wage of a full working day in state companies.

“Etecsa is growing at the expense of the work of people abroad,” said Batista.

Alain González, who resides in Hialeah, told this newspaper that he considers it “an abuse” that Cubans living on the island can not have the right to recharge their mobile phone in national currency and qualify for the Etecsa promotions.

González, who has been working in a factory for five years, travels frequently to the island and admits that he frequently recharges the cell phones of family and friends because that allows them to “keep in touch.”

“My mother lives in Centro Habana. With the recharge she calls me once a week. It’s cheaper than me calling her from the United States,” he says. “Having a landline in Cuba is a luxury. That’s my way of helping,” he adds.

Another important element with regards to the recharges to the Island is that the balances on people’s cellphone accounts have started to be used as a virtual currency. In a country where most transactions have to be made with notes or coins, the use of this tool, for which Etecsa charges 0.30 cents of CUC has grown exponentially.

Some economists have estimated that the state monopoly has realized profits exceeding 2 billion dollars from prepaid cellphone service. More than half of the country’s telephone lines are maintained by recharges from abroad, the sources add.

Etecsa does not provide data on the number of top-ups or the profits obtained through them, but Tania Velázquez, vice president of Business Strategy and Technologies for the company, told the national media that the company prioritizes services with payments from abroad to capture foreign exchange.

The official figures in just 20% of the top-ups made from abroad despite the avalanche of petitions protested by Cubans living abroad.

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

Cuba Has Debts with More than 250 Spanish Companies, says Jaime Garcia-Legaz

The Melia Cohiba Hotel in Havana, Cuba.

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 14 June 2018 — Spanish companies with a presence in Cuba seek to overcome the financial difficulties they face in order to maintain their privileged position in the market and increase investment, said visiting company representatives this Thursday in Havana.

“Cuba is a market and a country of the future, and when it is finally integrated into the global market, we Spanish companies have to be first in line,” said Alfredo Bonet, international director for the Spanish Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the XXII Spanish-Cuban Business Committee begun today in Havana.

Representatives of the Spanish business sector and its Cuban counterparts addressed, on the first day of the meeting, ways to overcome “the financial difficulties of the last two years,” according to Bonet, which affect approximately 250 Spanish companies with presence on the Island.

Specifically it has to do with the “the Cuban public sector’s unpaid debts” to these companies, explained the Spanish co-president of the bilateral committee, Jamie Garcia-Legaz, a problem that makes continued business projects as well as new investments on the Island difficult.

“The Cuban government is making every effort that is within its reach in order to make payments, although the macro-economic situation does not help either,” said Garcia-Legaz in relation to the recent bump Cuba experienced as a consequence of the deep crisis of recent years in Venezuela, its principal partner and defender in the region.

Thus, both parties have put in place financial tools in recent years, like the lines of support from COFIDES for the internationalization of small and medium businesses and especially the exchange fund created with 400 million dollars of debt that Spain forgave Cuba in 2015.

This fund, which still finances five operations and is looking at another five, “has permitted co-financing investments by Spanish companies and helping finance everything possible in local currency,” according to the international director of the Chamber of Commerce.

The Bilateral Committee meetings are held annually, though no meeting was held in 2017, and are the main channel of dialogue and connection between the Spanish businesses and Cuban authorities.

During Thursday’s work day, Garcia-Legaz and his Cuban counterpart at the head of the committee, Orlando Hernandez, signed the work program for 2018 and 2019, and tomorrow will conclude the meeting with institutional visits by the Spanish delegation made up of by 88 members.

After China and Venezuela, Spain is Cuba’s third commercial partner, to which it exports about 900 million euros’ of various products, from food to parts and machinery, according to data from the Chamber.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

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

Aurora Suite: An App That Makes a Mockery of Censorship

Cubans connect to the internet on state-owned Wi-Fi networks installed outdoors. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 June 2018 — Aurora Suite is one of the latest applications taking Cuba by storm. Its ease of use and its ability to circumvent censorship of digital sites on national servers have made it an excellent alternative for web browsing.

The application was created to work with the Android operating system, the most popular on the island, and uses the Nauta email service as an intermediary to connect users with the internet. All the architecture on which this ingenious application is based begins and ends in the email inbox.

Its developers take pride in producing “applications that complement the mail services of Nauta de Cuba,” bringing to email a “great added value and enriching its possibilities.” continue reading

The first contact with this application makes a good impression. The simple design guides users in the first steps to convert a mobile phone without access to the network into a terminal from which they can access any web address, even those blocked by the Cuban government.

Once the application is installed, — Version 6.1.0 can be downloaded from the developers page, the Google Play store or through any acquaintance who has it on their phone — the user will get a two-day free trial to explore its advantages and disadvantages.

A user uses the Aurora Suite ‘app’ to surf the Internet from his Nauta email. (14ymedio)

The application contains the Mozilla Firefox browser. When the desired URL is entered, in the background, Aurora Suite sends the request to load the page through the Nauta mailbox. Although a bit slower than the direct online experience, the advantage of being able to visit digital sites from a Cuban cellphone makes the delay easily tolerable.

This operation through email is what allows Aurora Suite to be unaffected by blocked sites. Censorship of content, especially news portals unfavorable to the authorities or opponents’ blogs, can be overridden and the pages can be read with this tool.

Once the 48 hours of free use are up, the customer will receive a message advising them that they must switch to a paid subscription to continue. For a price of 5 CUC per month, users receive about 100 megabytes of downloaded content, good within that month.

The use of mobile transfer as a virtual currency or cashless payment is an interesting feature of this Aurora Suite, because it allows users to renew the subscription every month. As of June 5, the government-run Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) — the only one available to Cubans on the island — allows customers to make three daily balance transfers between cell lines instead of the previous limit of one transfer per day.

All the benefits of Aurora Suite, however, are based on a point that many users perceive as a vulnerability: the operation of Nauta mail, managed by Etecsa. With frequent service interruptions, network saturation and other technology glitches, Nauta’s service routinely fails to perform reliably.

Problems with the 3G network signal, which is not yet widespread throughout the country, also limit the reach of the app. Users moving between zones with 2G and 3G will notice data services go in and out, connections drop, and the time to download a page increases.

Another element users must keep in mind is that registering for the service requires entering into the app the access data for one’s Nauta mailbox. For those who prefer to keep a strict control of the personal information that allows them to access to their email, this is a consideration.

Some users of Aurora Suite have also reported that after registering they begin to receive unwanted emails, which apparently are generated automatically. In most cases these are messages with news taken from the Cuban press, both official and independent. Because internet time is so expensive in Cuba — roughly a day’s average pay for one hour of access — users prefer not to receive unwanted content, ads and spam.

Despite these weaknesses and the added annoyances, this application is an alternative for those who do not want to continue waiting for Etecsa to fulfill its announced promise to enable web browsing on mobile phones before the end of this year.

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

Mariel, the Cuban Hong Kong That Never Became One

The Mariel Special Development Zone.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 14 June 2018 — In 2014, Raúl Castro, who promoted the deepest economic reforms since the establishment of the socialist system in Cuba, surrounded by his allies Dilma Rousseff, Evo Morales and Nicolás Maduro, promoted the largest project of his mandate, the creation of a Special Development Zone in the Port of Mariel.

Four years and a Brazilian investment of more than one billion dollars later, the zone that promised to turn Cuba into the Caribbean Hong Kong languishes, waiting for investors, according to Emilio Morales, director of Havana Consulting Group.

“The idea of developing a special zone in the Port of Mariel is good; the problem has been in the management, and (thanks to the thaw with the United States) no Latin American country has had in just two years the number of entrepreneurs, presidents and delegations that have visited Cuba, but they did not know how to take advantage of it,” Morales said in a telephone conversation with 14ymedio. continue reading

Mariel was built at a time when the diplomatic thaw with the United States allowed one to foresee the end of the embargo. The most modern port in the Caribbean could accommodate the huge Super-Panamax ships for which the port’s entrance channel was dredged to a 60 foot depth and a modern container terminal was built.

The resistance of the Republicans in the US Congress against lifting the sanctions, the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House and the decline in trade with Caracas, which according to most experts subsidized the battered economy of the island, undid Raúl Castro’s star project.

The Cuban economy, rigidly controlled from the highest power, remains inefficient. The management of the businesses in the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) is under the control of State officials. “Private enterprise is essential for the future development of Cuba and Mariel. But because the only owner is the State, nobody pays for a wrong decision, the money is not theirs, nor the risk, therefore, it remains something abstract, which is called the State,” adds Morales.

At the end of March there were only 35 approved companies (five of them Cuban), of which 10 were in operation and 25 in the process of investment. The official newspaper Granma reported that so far the ZEDM has captured 1.191 billion dollars, only 9.5% of the 12.5 billion dollars that had been planned, at a rate of 2.5 billion per year.

The causes of the poor performance of the industrial zone that promised to accelerate the national economy have to be looked for in “an excessive bureaucracy, a complicated decision-making process that delays the follow-up of the investment offers from foreign companies, and delays in the completion of the infrastructure,” Morales highlighted in an article recently published in Martí Noticias.

The government itself acknowledged in March that the ZEDM is not going “as fast” as the country needs. President Miguel Díaz-Canel, this week, reviewed the program of foreign investments and exports together with a group of ministers and officials of the sector.

“We must make things more feasible, more viable, less cumbersome,” the president said in relation to the obstacles that delay the investment process. Díaz-Canel later expressed his bewilderment about the slowness with which decisions made in the Council of Ministers or in the National Assembly are applied to the project.

The Mariel works were financed by the Brazilian State, at that time governed by the Workers’ Party, an ally of Havana. The multi-million dollar contract was awarded to Odebrecht, the same company whose bribery practices to secure public contracts shook the foundations of many corrupt governments in Latin America. In Cuba, no investigation related to the multinational has been opened to date.

To Emilio Morales, much of Mariel’s failure can be seen in the small number of jobs it has achieved. “This state project has only created 4,888 jobs, compared to more than 570,000 that were generated by the granting of licenses to small private companies,” (cuentapropismo, or self-employment), he says, justifying his idea of opening up opportunities in the ZEDM to the private sector within the Island.

“It’s not possible that they would create a special economic zone in Mariel and leave out the Cubans themselves, without any chance of investing in it. National entrepreneurs should be privileged first, and then the foreigners,” he emphasizes.

The US company Cleber LLC, the first company with 100% North American capital that was going to be in Mariel, ended up being rejected by the Cuban government. The project of the Cuban-American businessman Saul Berenthal and his partner Horace Clemmons sought to assemble Oggún tractors, designed for small farmers to make the land more productive.

“Mariel had several prospects: first to process oil from the northern part of Cuba, to create industrial parks with import facilities and repatriate capital. In addition, Cuba’s geographical position places it at the center of major routes, which could facilitate the establishment of a free trade zone,” says Morales. All these opportunities are still present, but the weight of the State chokes them.

The Mariel Special Development Zone was inaugurated during the 2nd CELAC Summit in 2014, an international organization promoted from the socialist Venezuela of Hugo Chávez, excluding the United States and Canada. Four years later, the CELAC is being dismembered, Chávez has died, Venezuela is plunged into an unprecedented crisis and most of the governments of the region (including the Brazilian) have changed their ideological sign.

“Political decisions cannot continue to govern the Cuban economy because the market has its own rules: the State must — as the Vietnamese advised — liberate the productive forces of the nation and not want to absorb everything,” Morales says.

Video: Raul Castro during the opening of the Mariel Special Development Zone. Not subtitled.

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

Cuba’s ‘Special Period’: Past, Present and Future

What is feared when people talk about the Special Period are the prolonged blackouts, the collapse of public transport and the closure of industries. (Havana Leaks)

14ymedio biggerReinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 June 2018 — The terminology of officialdom has its euphemisms and its unknowns, among the latter is whether it is politically correct to speak of the ‘Special Period‘ as a thing of the past, an question that became clear in the review published on Tuesday by the state-run newspaper Granma, that discussed Raúl Castro’s meeting with Cuban Communist Party (PCC) leaders. The article alludes to “the difficult moments experienced during the years of the special period,” with the verb in the simple past tense.

Although it is true that in none of the three PCC congresses held in the last 21 years, nor in any session of Parliament or the Council of Ministers, nor even in the ‘conceptualization’ of the country’s socialist model, has the official end of the so-called ‘Special Period’ been officially decreed. And we also know that, in practice, the terrible situation suffered in the first half of the 1990s is no longer suffered. continue reading

The reason for this limbo in definitions with regards to the finalization or the continuity of the Special Period occurs, in particular, because to decree its end it would not be enough to establish that its consequences have ceased or decreased, but it would be necessary to reverse the economic policies established at that time with the declared purpose of “saving the conquests of the Revolution.”

Either those policies — presented in provisional dress — are reversed, or the measures that were announced as temporary are considered permanent.

Reversing the policies would mean, among other things, reversing the opening to foreign capital, the permission to engage in self-employment, and the new business forms characterized by a greater degree of decentralization. It would be necessary to penalize the possession of foreign currency and to return to rigid five-year plans. But for this to happen, to return to the previous situation, the Soviet Union and Comecon would need to be resuscitated.

The problem becomes a political-ideological issue because the aspiration to return to the “promising past” is impossible; to do so it would have to be proclaimed that Cuban socialism does not intend to comply with the rules theorized by its creators and that the invisible laws of the market bring better results.

The reasons that forced Cuba’s leaders to decree the Special Period, or — and it’s one and the same — to partially accept compliance with the laws of the market, are not only the collapse of the socialist camp or the hardening of the American embargo. They respond in equal measure to the accumulation of errors resulting from voluntarism and the continued failure to take responsibility for the means of production that are described as social property, but which in reality have become the private property of the state.

When, from time to time, rumors about the specter of “a new Special Period” threaten to reappear, what is being talked about, what is feared, are the prolonged blackouts, the collapse of public transport, the closure of industries, the reappearance of polyneuritis, and the disappearance of products from the market. However, this set of damages is not the precise definition of that era, but rather the aftermath of a disaster that tried to attenuate itself through decrees of insufficient measures.

The ill-fated fruits of that policy, clinging to a refusal to make concessions on certain principles considered inviolable, are now in sight. Foreign investment has not reached fantastical heights, non-state forms of production are still tied to arbitrary guardianships that impede their full development, tourism is a mirage in which the number of visitors grows without proportionally raising profits, the Mariel Special Development Zone has not taken off, it has not been possible to eliminate the dual currency system, and salaries are further than ever from being enough to ensure the daily survival of the working family.

To all this, uncontrollable external factors are added, such as the frustration of the brief hopes that emerged with the thaw between Cuba and the United States, together with the difficult situation in Venezuela that has brought about a cut in aid flowing to Cuba from that country.

These are now, without a doubt, the least tragic moments of the late Special Period. The exhaustion of those provisional solutions, however, means that Cuba’s leaders must take responsibility and confess that the now deflated life preservers that kept the country afloat in the midst of the storm can not be the territory on which the future is built.

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

Human Rights Group: "Cuba Has 120 Political Prisoners"

The Cuban Government refuses to cooperate with international bodies that are experts in prisons. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 11 June 2018 — The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) estimates that there as many as 120 political prisoners in Cuba in a report published on Monday. The independent group states that this figure “is very difficult to arrive at when the Government of Cuba refuses to cooperate” with international organizations.

On the island there are between 65,000 and 70,000 people imprisoned and it is “very difficult to define an exact number of political prisoners because they are intermixed,” the report states. “The Castro Gulag is composed of between 150 and 180 high security prisons, correctional centers, settlements and camps.”

This high number of prisons located throughout the Island make up what, in the opinion of the Commission, is a “huge and top-heavy prison system.” continue reading

Cuban authorities refuse to collaborate with international organizations such as the International Red Cross, United Nations agencies or other organizations that can monitor real data inside the prisons.

“In the total of 120 people imprisoned for political reasons, recognized as of May 31,” the CCDHRN has identified “96 people who are opponents of or disaffected toward the regime and 24 prisoners who are accused of employing or planning to use some form of force or violence to perform acts against the security of the State.”

The report emphasizes that the country urgently needs a Law of the Penitentiary System, and “at the same time the Government of the Island must demilitarize the system and subordinate it to a civil organization.”

The report contains two appendices, one that lists “the cases of ten former prisoners of conscience, released on parole — the so-called “extra-penal license” — who remain subject to all kinds of draconian measures, including the prohibition to travel freely abroad with the right to return to Cuba.”

The second appendix details the “21 prisoners who have served between 15 and 27 years in the prisons of the Island under the known subhuman and degrading conditions that prevail in all of them.”

“They are, without a doubt, some of the oldest political prisoners in the Western Hemisphere,” concludes the text’s introduction.

The figure of 120 is slightly lower than the 140 political prisoners that the CCDHRN had estimated on the island as of May 2017.

In March 2016, during the visit of US President Barack Obama to Cuba, a journalist questioned Raúl Castro at a press conference about the existence of political prisoners on the island. “Give me the list of political prisoners now, to release them. Or give it to me after the press conference and before nightfall they will be released,” the leader replied.

Castro, who traditionally did not answer questions from the national or international press, was visibly annoyed by the question from CNN reporter Jim Acosta.

Amnesty International (AI) contends that the Havana government uses ambiguous legal terms to punish dissidents.

“The laws regarding ’public disorder’, ’contempt’, ’lack of respect’, ’dangerousness’ and ’aggression’ are used to prosecute or threaten to prosecute, for political reasons, opponents of the government,” Amnesty International said in its report on Cuba.

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

Cuban Bishops Express "Their Good Wishes" in a Message to Miguel Diaz-Canel

The Cuban bishops entrusted the new Government to the Virgin of Charity. (COCC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami | Junio 12, 2018 — The Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba (COCC) sent a private message to recently appointed president Miguel Díaz-Canel “in support of the eminent national service he had assumed,” as confirmed by the president of the Episcopal Conference, Emilio Aranguren, to 14ymedio.

“I sent him a simple epistolary greeting expressing good wishes in support of the eminent national service that he had assumed and I included a quote from the Pope’s speech in Cesena on October 1, 2017 in which he alludes to good politics,” explained the Bishop of the Diocese of Holguín.

In Cesna, Pope Francis defined good politics as “neither servant nor patron, but friend and collaborator, neither fearful or reckless, but responsible and therefore courageous and prudent at the same time.” continue reading

Francis also emphasized the need to increase the participation of people, “their inclusion and progressive participation” in the search for the good of the entire community.

“A politics that can harmonize the legitimate aspirations of individuals and groups keeping the rudder firmly in the interest of all citizens,” the Pope added.

The Cuban bishops, including the first black prelate in the history of Cuba, entrusted the new Government to the Virgin of Charity, the image of Mary that Catholics venerate as the patroness of Cuba. Aranguren said that the new president responded to the gesture with a brief message in which he showed his appreciation for the communication received.

As part of an Extraordinary Assembly of the COCC, the official site of the Catholic Church on the island, Aranguren revealed the established communication with the new government, which caused speculation on the sites of the independent Cuban press.

The Catholic Church has traditionally had the largest number of faithful in the country. According to data from the Pontifical Yearbook, more than half of Cubans are baptized under Catholic rites, although participation in Sunday services is relatively small.

The Cuban bishops have, in the past, issued numerous criticisms of the Government. With the turn towards the Soviet Union and the implantation of Marxism-Leninism as an official ideology, the Church hardened its discourse in favor of individual liberties. In 1993 the pastoral letter Love Hopes All Things — in which the Cuban clergy denounced the difficult conditions in which the people lived and the harassment of State Security — provoked an angry reaction from the government, which carried out massive demonstrations against the Church.

In 2013 the bishops published Hope Does Not Disappoint, a critical and hopeful look at the national reality, in which they recommended, among other things, replacing the paternalist state with a participatory one and creating a new political order with the participation of all the actors of society and promoting the creative potential of the country.

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

Che’s Face Sets Off a New Controversy in Rosario

Trolleybus Line Q honors Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara in his hometown of Rosario, Argentina, on his 90th birthday. (@ MonicaFein)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Havana, 12 June 2018 – The image of Ernesto Che Guevara has reawakened a controversy in Rosario, his hometown, ninety years after his birth. As of this Monday, the Q Line trolleybuses circulate through this Argentinian city with the guerrilla’s face plastered on the vehicles.

The Mayor of Rosario, Monica Fein, announced on her Twitter account that the images on the buses are meant as a tribute on the anniversary of Guevara’s birth, and invited citizens to join the commemorative activities with the hashtag #90VecesChe.

Among the events published on the city’s official website are “The Che Route,” a series of offerings in the square that bears his name, art shows and musical presentations. continue reading

According to the local press, the controversy immediately broke out on social networks between supporters and detractors. The councilman from the Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition, Gabriel Chumpitaz, opposed the measure, posting on Twitter that the municipality “should honor Rosarinos who through their daily activities enhance our city, and not spend money on this figure who is so controversial and who brought nothing to Rosario.”

Last year, Fundación Bases, a liberal non-profit organization in the city, collected signatures to remove the monument to Che Guevara in Rosario.

“The murderous legacy of communism and this figure do not deserve homages from the state, of a party-ideological nature, financed by taxes paid by all citizens,” read the petition published on the Change.org platform, which obtained around 3,400 signatures but did not achieve its goal of removing the statue.

Guevarismo in Cuba resulted in 10,723 people killed by the communist regime, 78,000 dead trying to escape the island, 14,000 dead in military interventions abroad, 5,300 dead in the Escambray rebellion (mostly peasants and children), persecution of intellectuals, homosexuals and dissidents,” said the petition, which also called for the elimination of other tributes to the Argentine guerrilla, such as plaques and murals.

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

Fear of Losing Political Control Explains Cuba’s Technological Backwardness

Video: Cuba’s Minister of Communications talking about the implementation of cellular internet. (Not subtitled)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 June 2018 — Facing a mountain of medical records the nurse looks for the patient’s history. She flips through the pages, pulls out the folders, but the clinical report does not appear. “It’ll have to be done again,” she tells the disgruntled gentleman who, that very morning, had read in the official press about the “advances in computerization” in Cuba’s Public Health system.

The VI Latin American Telecommunications Congress, held in Varadero, is serving these days as a launch pad for triumphant headlines in the official press. Those who pay attention only to the reports emerging from this technology congress may come to believe that, on the island, many procedures are accessibly by a click, but the reality is very different. continue reading

A country where the vast majority of people have never completed an online financial transaction, never been able to buy a product from a virtual store, and do not know the enormous potential of distance courses that would allow them to learn from home, cannot be categorized as a computerized nation.

To this we add the poverty level wages that prevent many professionals from signing up on international online resource sites related to their fields, where they could keep abreast of the latest trends. Paying a day’s salary to connect for one hour in a public wifi zone is not an indicator of a connected society, but rather an indicator of the economic penalty that weighs on Cuban internet users.

On the one hand, the Deputy Minister of Education, Rolando Forneiro Rodríguez, stood in front of congress delegates painting an optimistic scenario with a large number of teachers for the subject of Computer Science. However, on the other hand, in countless schools in the country students’ so-called ‘machine time’ comes with an absence of teachers and the deterioration of infrastructure.

Children under the age of ten learn more about technology by exchanging video clips through mobile apps such as Zapya than they do attending boring computer classes where ideology is intertwined with HTML code and the computer programs offered on the official list have more to do with politics than with fun.

For more than two decades, the teaching of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has also suffered from the Government’s attempts to create a “corralito” – a little corral – of filtered content. Those intentions are responsible for sites such as Ecured, a poor imitation of Wikipedia; the unpopular Mochila (Backpack) created to compete with the weekly packet and the failed Tendedera (Clothesline) born to wipe away Facebook.

At a time when the internet is strengthening its role as an environment for activism and a place for debate on issues as hot as the contradictions of democracy, racism or gender violence, Cuban authorities are still trying to domesticate the network and lock the Island’s users into their little guarded plot.

In hospitals and polyclinics the picture is similar. The bulky bureaucracy of the Public Health system still works with paper. The loss of a single sheet can mean months of delay in a treatment and medical appointments, most of the time, are first come first served, to the discomfort of the sick and their relatives.

In the classrooms of the faculties of medicine, the blackboard, the chalks and the plastic models of the human body have not given way to other technologies that might  make the Island’s doctors modern professionals. Saving lives, today, can also happen due to the dominance of devices such as mobile phones or the ability to search for information in the great world wide web.

The fear of the social impact of connectivity and the loss of political control that would be implied by access to other news channels has been the real brake on Cubans’ ability to disembark in the 21st century, an era characterized precisely by social networks, digital content consumption and connectivity.

This fear of the ruling party has a cost not only in national economic development but also in quality of life and education. We don’t have to wait to see result of that delay because it is already visible in each classroom and during each consultation.

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