Virginia Dandan, The Expert Who Asks No Questions

The UN Rapporteur on Human Rights and International Solidarity, Virginia Dandan, with the president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP), Fernando González. (EFE / Joaquín Hernández)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 15 July 2017 — The visit to Cuba by United Nations expert on Human Rights, Virginia Dandan, ended this Friday. The press conference she offered before leaving fueled expectations, after spending several days in an intense program of meetings and activities “on the ground.”

In her statements, however, the official from the Philippines made no mention of the human rights situation on the island, but merely praised its system of international cooperation. In passing, she regretted the country’s limitations in accessing new technology, due to the US embargo.

Her analytical myopia revived the criticism of many towards international agencies linked, or not, to the United Nations. An international “bureaucracy” that no longer responds to its original meaning and has become a lever of influence for some governments to manipulate its mechanisms and officials. continue reading

This practice came to a head when representatives from North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba joined the Permanent Council on Human Rights in Geneva. That these confessed violators occupy such responsibilities is not the most worrisome, rather it is that the rest of the world accepts it without pressing for their immediate dismissal.

In her statements, the Philippine official made no mention of the situation of human rights on the island, but merely praised its system of international cooperation

After that, there is little room for astonishment, but Mrs. Dandan has succeeded in sparking outrage against the agency she represents. Despite being an expert, she allowed herself to speak from disinformation about a government that does not hide from – and even prides itself on – violating the fundamental rights of its citizens.

It would have been enough for the expert to search in the social networks to find evidence of the situation Cubans live in. She would have seen the videos with the mobs gathered by the government shouting “down the human rights” and images of police searches where copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are taken as “proof” of the crime of subversive activity.

If, before arriving in Cuba, Dandan did not have time to check the internet, just looking out the window of the vehicle that brought her from the airport to the city she would have noticed the cult of personality that crushes, bores and frightens. The numerous billboards and posters that along the way impose the image of the two brothers who have ruled the country for almost 60 years are a distinctive detail of a totalitarianism, and should not have gone unnoticed by her keen eye.

On the other hand, Mrs. Dandan specializes in the area of ​​education but did not go out into the streets of Havana to ask a child about the teaching of human rights in his or her school, or, more precisely, the rights of the child. Instead, she preferred meetings in the comfortable halls of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with Peoples or in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Undoubtedly, the Government of Raúl Castro estimated the usefulness of the expert’s visit and scheduled it to take place a few days after seeing the new Bilateral Agreement with the European Union

The expert could have inquired of any passer-by whether they belonged to one party or another, or who their favorite candidate is for the upcoming election, to receive the disturbing answer that there is only one party and the president is not directly elected. But was Virginia Dandan willing to listen to that part of reality?

Undoubtedly, the Government of Raúl Castro estimated the usefulness of the expert’s visit and scheduled it to take place a few days after seeing the new Bilateral Agreement with the European Union and its clause regarding respect for human rights that have so greatly bothered officialdom.

This situation coincided with the change of rhetoric of the United States and the new policy of Donald Trump towards the Island. “A good moment,” the Place of the Revolution surely must have thought, to pull out a letter and generate some positive headlines about human rights.

However, the opinion of the chosen expert has been so precarious and biased to make the diagnosis that she didn’t even manage to amortize the investment made by the Government to cover her days spent on the island.

In the case of Cuba, Dandan lost the opportunity to put her ear closer to parents, elders, young people, entrepreneurs trying to carry out an independent project and activists who report frequent human rights violations. She preferred to listen to the victimizers instead of the victims.

Ethical Defense Of Migration

Migrants cross the Guatemalan border with Mexico. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Azel, Miami, 18 July 2017 — In an earlier article I argued that migration is an individual right; an expression of the desire for freedom to improve one’s quality of life. At that time, I wanted to emphasize the libertarian defense of open immigration, taking care to clarify that open immigration is not the equivalent of uncontrolled immigration. It does not imply guaranteeing the right to eligibility for citizenship, social benefits or other governmental services.

I defined open immigration only as the right of people to freedom of movement to enter a country by places established for inspection, where specific reviews are made to protect the nation from diseases, enemies, and crimes. People have the right to cross a border seeking freedom and happiness. But borders mean something. continue reading

People have the right to cross a border seeking freedom and happiness. But borders mean something.

Here I want to focus on the ethical aspect of open immigration based on the book by Michael Huemer Intuition Ethics. Let’s start with an experiment of reflection. Imagine that Juan, hungry and poor, goes to the local market to buy food with the little money he has. There, the salesman is happy to do business that allows Juan to meet his needs.

You, knowing Juan’s intentions, forcibly interrupt his movement, to prevent him from reaching the market. Unable to reach it, Juan remains hungry.

Your conduct is morally wrong because now you are responsible for Juan’s hunger. This reflection provides an analogy to the government’s restriction of immigration. Note that potential immigrants would like to travel to a country where there are entrepreneurs eager to hire them for mutual benefit. And governments use armed border guards to prevent by force those people from entering the country to work. But note also that your treatment of Juan would not be morally permissible even if some of the following conditions were present:

  1. If you want to prevent people who are already in the market having to compete with Juan for the products of food stores.
  2. If you are concerned that Juan influences the culture of the market in ways you disapprove.
  3. If you were concerned that, given your program to help the poor, you would have to give Juan free food by taking it away from others who are in your program.

These considerations are analogous to: (1) Immigrants taking jobs from low-skilled native workers. (2) Immigrants changing the local culture. (3) Immigrants using government services. These considerations do not justify their actions to prevent Juan from reaching the market. Their actions are immoral from the point of view of moral realism. However, there are other moral focuses.

Moral realism holds that some values ​​are objectively true. That is, the truth of those values ​​does not depend on one’s attitudes. But not everyone accepts moral realism. Relativists, for example, consider that what is right or wrong must be determined by what society approves or disapproves. For a relativist, the truth depends on the culture of each person. Others, like the subjectivists, consider that what is good, bad, right or wrong, depends on people’s attitudes.

Libertarians, always distrustful of authority, defend open immigration with the premise that governments must adopt the same ethical standards as people

Libertarians, always distrustful of authority, defend open immigration with the premise that governments must adopt the same ethical standards as people. In contrast, based on some variant of the “social contract” theory, non-libertarians believe that governments are exempt from the moral restraints that apply to people. Under the theory of the social contract we all have implicitly agreed to grant the government the right to the monopoly use of force in exchange for protection. We have accepted, in an implicit contract, that the Government acts immorally.

But social contract theory does not provide a satisfactory explanation for why the government should be exempt from the moral rules that apply to the rest of us. These rules imply a commitment to the moral equality of individuals, a supreme respect for individual dignity and rights, and reluctance to use force or coercion. In other words, these libertarian values ​​demand that Juan be allowed to come to the market without hindrance.

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José Azel is Senior Researcher at the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, and author of the book Mañana in Cuba.

It Is No Longer Forbidden To Get Rich In Cuba

The MarAdentro paladar (private restaurant) in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 July 2017 — The most controversial point of the Conceptualization Of The Economic And Social Model has been changed with discretion and without public announcements. The concentration of property and wealth that was prohibited in its first version, is only regulated in the final document, released after the last session of Parliament.

The change of formulation, which is of major importance, has passed without pain or glory in the national and foreign press. However, that relaxation entails a victory for the reformist forces within the official apparatus. A triumph that paves the way for the mid-sized private company on the island.

The definitive version of the Conceptualization has few essential differences when compared to its first proposal released in May 2016. The “most discussed” document in the nation’s history has become old to the extent that the internal and external reality outstrips it in momentum. continue reading

Perhaps the fear its becoming irrelevant led its drafters to prefer the present tense to formulate precepts and principles for future application. A grammatical style that has confused more than one naïf, who took what they dreamed of achieving and projected it as already done.

To avoid pressures, the managers of the document also clarified that it isn’t about a “finished and static template,” but rather an “active and perfectible pattern.” This condition avoids dogmatic interpretations, but it also gives the Conceptualization a very comfortable elasticity for those who implement it.

Despite the vagueness of certain concepts, one of the statements in the text provoked strong arguments from the beginning. Item 104 of the original version read: “The concentration of property and wealth in natural or legal persons is not allowed.” A bucket of cold water for the entrepreneurs.

During the months that the document was discussed at Communist Party headquarters and among other chosen ones, no other matter provoked more debate. Some warned of the dangers of categorically denying this accumulation of wealth, and others pointed to it as the end of the present system. The latter just lost the game.

The new version softens the prohibition and clarifies that the concentration of property and material and financial wealth in non-state natural or legal persons will be regulated. The change in nuance shows that pragmatism prevailed above orthodoxy.

However, there is also no carte blanche so that a citizen can create a restaurant franchise or purchase numerous homes for rent. The Conceptualization is not deprived of the excessive scrupulousness of the official discourse that praises humility and stigmatizes the prosperous, but nor does it allow itself to be owned by those who promote strict egalitarianism.

If in the initial version of a starring element of the text was the absence of the concept of “exploitation of man by man,” whose eradication is the main objective of the socialist system, now it continues to be present through a euphemism.

In Cuba, “ownership by non-state ownership and management of part of the surplus of the work of contracted persons is allowed,” it reads; but immediately clarifies that “socialist relations of production prevail.” Something very different from what happens in “social systems based on the exploitation of the work of others,” according to this new version.

With its patches and changes, the Conceptualization has ended up being a demonstration of the different tendencies of those who participated in its final development. A sequence of ideas to please both reformers and conservatives, to sit well with both dogmatists and innovators. The editors intuited that Thomas More did not get his head cut off for writing Utopia, but for being disloyal to the King.

The concept of privatization that is presented in its pages is a good example of these contradictions. It talks of “temporary transfer of ownership or management of certain means of production owned by all the people to non-state economic actors” and goes on to warn immediately that such a transfer should not “compromise the principles of our socialism.”

To calm those who fear the distribution of the pie, the document pointed out in its first version that the state retains the capacity for strategic decision or domination over these means. Something softened in the final version, where it “maintains the exercise of the principal powers that correspond to him by virtue of the status of representative of the owner.”

The changes in the text show the fluctuations in the coming course and also its anchors in the past. The current Conceptualization presents as “particularly relevant antecedents” the Programmatic Platform born from the First Congress of the Communist Party and the Program of the Cuban Communist Party that was issued in 1986. At first, however, the document only recognized as precedent “History Will Absolve Me.”

The nuances introduced in the new version are the result of what has happened in the last year: the death of former President Fidel Castro, the crisis of the leftist governments in Latin America and the coming to power of an unpredictable actor in the United States. The document that was born to be letters chiseled in marble now looks like an elastic canvas full of patches and gaps.

The Simple Story Of Roof Sealant

Short circuits in ceiling lamps, leaks and stains are some of the consequences of poor placement of a sealing cover on the roof. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana 20 July 2017 — One day they came carrying rolls of roof paper to waterproof the roof of this concrete block where we live with more than a hundred families. Those state employees were deaf to the warnings. “We do not need coverage here,” some neighbors told them. “No apartment leaks when it rains,” said others. However, the installation continued its course without listening to the citizens, like all directions “from above.”

There was no way to convince the authorities that this multifamily building, built in the years of the Soviet subsidy, had other emergencies. Water pipes have collapsed over the years and the lightning rod has been inactive for decades. “What we have is a roof sealer and that is what we are going to install,” said the head of the team of workers who for several days toiled over our heads. continue reading

Shortly after, the cover began to breakdown in several places. The rainwater accumulated underneath and, as it could not evaporate in the sun, leaked into the houses. The residents on the top floors have suffered all kinds of problems as a result from that awkward decision. Short circuits in ceiling lamps, leaks and yellow stains that increasingly cover a larger area in the ceilings. What should have been a solution, has become a real headache.

Now the community is battling to remove the sealing sheets, but the authority to do so does not arrive at the same speed with which some bureaucrats ordered it to be installed. The most daring residents have ripped off the pieces above their own apartments, while the most cautious wait for official directions from above.

During the years the cover has remained in place, several areas of the roof have been filled with mold and have developed cracks due to moisture, a damage that, now, each affected resident must repair with the resources of their own pockets.

A few yards away, in the neighborhood of La Timba, several families have been demanding that they be given roof paper — at affordable prices — to repair their homes. With summer rains, their homes “get wetter inside than outside,” they say. Some have approached our concrete building to get what we obtained in the lottery of state inefficiency.

The history of this sealing or roof paper is just one of the thousands of absurdities that Cubans are forced to deal with every day. A sample of how the country’s resources are wasted on superfluous tasks designed to fill in the numbers or meet irrational goals while the real difficulties are avoided or hidden.

The useless roof covering has not only left significant damage in several apartments, but has further hurt the decision-making ability of a community, a group of neighbors that does not even have sufficient autonomy to remove the shreds of the mistake that remain on our roof.

‘Fidget Spinner’, The Toy That Has Taken The World By Storm, Arrives In Cuba

Samuel, 9, playing with his ‘fidget spinner’. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 17 July 2017 — Samuel is nine years old and has broken several of the windows in his building playing ball. His nearest neighbors see that he is very calm these days since his mother gave him a Fidget Spinner, a fad toy that some schools in the US, UK or Argentina have had to ban because of the distractions they cause among students. The toy has just landed in Cuba.

Simple and hypnotic, the little amusement with bearings can spin for several minutes. There are lights, phosphorescent colors, patterns and it even can emit repetitive tunes. In reality it is like the old yoyos or the spinning tops have returned, this time made of plastic.

Until a few weeks ago there were only a few specimens on the island, but in the summer vacation its presence has multiplied and it has become one of the most common requests from children to their parents. Although not yet sold in the legal market, illegal networks have versions for all tastes. continue reading

“It is said that it can help to alleviate the deficit of attention but it does not convince to me, because I have not seen any scientific work that demonstrates it”

The spinner was created in 1993 by the American Catherine Hettinger, age 62, who suffers from myasthenia, a disease that weakens muscles and generates fatigue. Her difficulties led her to create this game for her daughter to be distracted and it is believed to combat anxiety and attention deficit problems, coming to be used in the US as a therapeutic toy even though its benefits are not credited on a scientific basis.

“I just saw one, although I had read about the subject,” says Maria Antonia, 69, a retired psychiatrist who specializes in working with children. “It is said that it can help to ease attention deficit, but I’m not convinced because I have not seen any scientific work that demonstrates it,” she clarifies.

In Cuban schools it has not yet started to be a problem, but the spinner has been banned in schools of several countries. “It distracts students while they are in class and that conspires against the learning process,” says the psychiatrist.

“In the last weeks of the course a student started to bring one to classes and I had to take it from him and call his parents,” recalls Mercedes, a second-grade teacher in the Plaza de la Revolución municipality. The educator says that she did not do it “because it was bad, but because all the students were fascinated and wanted to spin it all the time.”

In many countries, businesses promote it as an ideal anti-anxiety device, to achieve greater concentration and also in cases of autism and hyperactivity. Forbes magazine considers it an indispensable toy for the office and it is among the most popular item on Amazon.

José Carlos, 38, travels as a “mule” between Havana and Panama City at least twice a month. Since May he began to add the famous spinners to the merchandise he imports. “First I brought one to my son and then the neighbors ordered them from me, but now I bring them to sell,” he says.

Small, cheap and light, the funny little toys are the perfect product to go through customs without major problems

Small, cheap and light, the funny little toys are the perfect product to go through customs without major problems. “I bring some made only of plastic, others of plastic and metal and the most sophisticated with lights,” says José Carlos. In his last importing trp he managed to introduce fifty units in the country.

“They sell between 5 and 15 CUC depending on the model,” a solid business if you consider that they cost between 2 and 3 dollars in Panama. “With the sale of these toys I think that I will be able to complete fixing the bathroom in my house, so I hope that the excitement lasts a long time,” he says.

José Carlos does not fear state competition, because the toy sales network managed by the Ministry of Internal Commerce has, in his opinion, a poor and outdated supply. “When the products arrive here, they are no longer fashionable out there,” he mocks.

The problems in the production and sale of toys in Cuba fueled debate in the last session of Parliament, when Deputy Aymara Guzman, President of the José Martí Pioneers Organization, acknowledged that the Government does not have a defined strategy for its “production, distribution and sales.”

The circulation of toys in the state market decreased from about 118 million pesos worth in 2012, to just over 94 million today. The fall has been noticed in the lack of variety and in the long lines outside the stores when Three Kings Day approaches, the day Cuban children are given Christmas presents. The demand has grown, fueled by families with higher incomes or who receive remittances from family abroad.

The high costs and the low quality of the goods in the children’s stores has led to many parents choosing to buy toys manufactured by the self-employed, or imported through the illegal market. This situation generated complaints among parliamentarians, who called for the state to have a greater presence in toy market.

The circulation of toys in the state market decreased from about 118 million pesos worth in 2012, to just over 94 million today

In a park in Havana’s La Timba neighborhood, two girls are taking turns passing the object from the tip of their index fingers to the tip of their noses. For more than an hour they try pirouettes and possible movements. Another child looks at them with a mixture of hope and envy.

But the taste for spinners is not just children’s thing. Among some young people it has become an essential object that accompanies them on their nights out and meetings with friends. This Saturday, some were incessantly roaming around Havana’s Calle G, where countless urban tribes gather every weekend.

“It relaxes me and I can’t look away when it’s spinning,” Jennifer, 16, tells 14ymedio. The young woman proudly says that she was the first person to have one of these toys in her La Lisa neighborhood. “This is the latest, what you have to have not to be out of it,” she says.

In the middle of the night, some lights are seen on both sides of the central street as more young people arrive. Pedestrians are alternately curious and surprised at the peculiar object. “It’s even good for attracting a date because it attracts a lot of people,” says Jennifer.

Havana, Nostalgia Capital

Any former times were better, is a refrain that is being fulfilled to the letter in Cuba.(Lahabana.com)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 July 2017 — The walls full of photographs of old city landscapes and a whole host of famous artists from the Cuban Republic, record album covers from the same period, and old advertising posters from the 40’s and 50’s.

In a central space, an old off-duty Victrola captures the prominence of the small restaurant. On the tablecloths, old long-playing vinyl records double as tray holders, while the coasters are vinyl 45’s.

In this private business –as in many similar ones that began to proliferate in Old Havana and in other parts of the city since the so-called “Raul reforms” — the whole atmosphere exudes that unmistakable inspiration on the past, a cult that has been seizing the capital as an epidemic. “Any former times were better,” states a refrain that is being fulfilled in Cuba. continue reading

But it is not just any past. No. Because, curiously, these enthusiastic private entrepreneurs show no interest in appealing to the socialist aesthetic of Soviet encouragement that occupied thirty years of Cuban national life without silencing the native spirit. There are no matrioskas, balalaikas or “Russian dolls” characters decorating the stained glass or interiors of these businesses or on piñatas and private catering salons dedicated to children’s parties.

The paradox is that, after almost six decades of Castro regime, the republican liberal ideal is returning, camouflaged in its cultural symbols. (CC)

There’s nothing that evokes the indestructible Cuban-Soviet friendship of an era when almost all the members of that Cuban proto-entrepreneur were born, who today prefer to revive the Republic’s prosperity of strong Yankee influence and forget the hard years of drunken rule on the Island.

That explains why one can find decorations of a Benny Moré’s album cover and not ones of Van Van or Isaac Delgado in any of these environments. The glossy and smiling face of Kid Chocolate may be staring at us from the walls, but not the face of Teófilo Stevenson.

There is no doubt, glamour is a Western capitalist product. Although, as is the case, it is a glamour as old and encased as that of Cuba in the 1950’s, which — as is always the case in societies without rights, where mediocrity prevails — ends up being a model that tends to be standardized.

Because, as usually happens in the presence of any opportunity to thrive advantageously, there is no shortage of scoundrels who have decided to take advantage of the new lode that offers this sort of aesthetic for nostalgia to extract their own revenues, as is clear from a detailed announcement published in the very popular web site Revolico, where for the price of 25 CUC, or its equivalence in CUP (625 pesos), you can buy a collection of 27,000 Cuban photographs from before 1959, “for the walls of your business.”

The paradox is that, after almost six decades of Castro regime, the republican liberal ideal is returning, camouflaged in its cultural symbols. (CC)

“The history of our country lives through image,” a message tries to encourage while promoting the sale of a “wide selection of photos of cafes, hotels, streets, houses, monuments, shops, historical sites and main streets and avenues of the Cuban capital.”

Such an offer is not limited to photographs, but also includes “old maps, postcards, bus lines, architectural drawings, prints, very good quality scans of old beer advertisements such as Cristal, Hatuey and Polar, the loose propaganda of Cigar brands, hotels, casinos, beverages and much more that constitute a large and valuable treasure trove of value.” A whole cult to the pre-revolutionary past that shows the persistence of a lost paradigm, the more ingrained and endearing, the more decadent and ill-fated the present and the more uncertain and gloomy the future.

The paradox is that, after almost six decades of Castro regime, during which the ruling power spent the greater part of its efforts trying to erase the era of the 57 years of the Republic — “pseudo republic”, they call it — trying to impose a model (this one is truly “pseudo” socialist), falsely proletarian and alien to the national culture and aspirations, the liberal ideal of the Republic is returning, camouflaged in its cultural symbols, and today it grows as a cult to the memory of those “better times,” when prosperity and wealth were  plausible goals and not crimes.

As a result, and in view of the inability to project a promising future, the much-vilified Republic has become the symbol of paradise lost, and returns to occupy a place of preference in the collective imagination, despite the fact that more than 70% of Cubans today were born after 1959 and have been (de)formed under the doctrine of austerity and sacrifice.

While ideological battles and blistering anti-imperialist speeches continue to occupy public spaces, the enterprising class and the chameleonic Castro power cupola invent themselves a marketing Cuba. (CC)

However, the use of symbols pertaining to the Republic is not exclusive to the small niches of the private economy. The mediocrity and lack of imagination also reach the almighty State-Government-Party that almost controls the entertainment industry. Recreating the past before 1959 has become a very lucrative source of income even for the slayers of the Republic themselves, especially since American tourism became the main target of socialist marketing.

This is demonstrated, for example, by the careful reconstruction of old hotels, bars and other spaces destined for international tourism, which for decades were decadent localities or simple ruins, whose architecture and interior spaces were recently rescued to recreate the elegance and style of the ambiance of pre-revolutionary Cuba.

In this way, while ideological battles and fiery anti-imperialist discourses are maintained in public spaces and in the official press, for the indoctrination and control of the native proletarians and for the sake of regional progress, both the nascent entrepreneurial class and the chameleonic Castro regime have invented themselves a marketing Cuba, a parallel reality disguised as Republican era tradition and artificially rescued for the solace and delight of foreign visitors, who pay in dollars for attending this kind of theme park: a country frozen in the middle of the twentieth century.

And it is not necessary to deny a past that, which, for better or worse, is part of Cuban culture and history and represents a period of prosperity and expectations of that young nation. What is truly sad is that six decades under the regime have left us with the legacy of a people who, instead of pushing towards the future, assumes the past as a paradigm that, beyond its lights and democratic conquests, was sufficiently imperfect to incubate in its core the longest dictatorship in the hemisphere, in whose hands the destinies of all Cubans continue to be. It’s a shame.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Daniel Ortega Resuscitated ‘Somocismo’*

Demonstrations against Somoza’s dictatorship in the late 1970s. (El Heraldo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Hector Mairena, Managua Nicaragua, 18 July 2017 – July 19th marks the 38th anniversary of the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship, without a doubt the most important date in Nicaraguan history. However, its meaning and consequences – even its ultimate causes – are still under discussion. Divergent opinions emerge not only because of the political and social contradictions of Nicaraguan society, but also because many of its protagonists see their personal experience through the lens of their narrative and interpretation of what happened.

The greatest alteration, however, has come from the propaganda interests of the Ortega regime, which has perverted the equitable analysis of the events. As Fidel Castro once said, “history is a byproduct of facts,” and the official version is written by power, altering or denying facts, removing or placing protagonists.

The overthrow of Somocismo was achieved through innumerable acts of individual and collective heroism, and it is precisely for that reason that one side has tried to mythologize it, while the other demonizes it, which is understandable in a society given to attributing extraordinary events to providential causes. continue reading

But it was not a miracle, nor was it a spontaneous event. It was the outcome of a decades long conflict between democratic and dictatorial forces. And just as this day of the struggle for democracy was not the first – because the history preceding July 1979 is abundant in guerrillas and uprisings that raised democratic flags – nor would it be the last.

The overthrow of the Somoza regime was only possible when the joint actions of the democratic forces and the massive involvement of the population crystalized in the final phase of the armed insurrection in a favorable international context. Thus, it was possible to resolve the main contradiction that had existed in Nicaraguan society since the 1930s, between democracy and dictatorship.

In the social sphere, the anti-Somoza participants embraced a wide range that reached the extremes of society: from the sectors of the bourgeoisie excluded from a share of power, to the lumpen proletariat. An unquestionable success of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), and the insurrectional faction in particular, consisted in cementing that alliance on the basis of a democratic program that aroused an unprecedented and unrepeatable national consensus

Although the Sandinistas were the hegemonic force, it is necessary to remember, although it seems obvious, that they were not the only ones in the anti-dictatorial fusion.

One the political plane, two large blocks joined in the objective of that historical moment. On the one hand, the center-left block articulated in the People United Movement (MPU)/National Patriotic Front (FPN); and that of the democratic right grouped in the Broad Opposition Front (FAO).

On the military plane, the FSLN, with its three expressions, had absolute dominance, although in the final insurrection smaller units of the Nicaraguan Socialist Party (PSN) operated through the so-called People’s Military Organization (OMP), subordinate to the Sandinista command and tiny groups of the Maoist Popular Action Movement (MAP), which acted on the margins.

Special mention should be made of the media and journalists, which for decades were a daily vehicle of denunciation against the Somoza regime. It is impossible to hide the role played by La Prensa and its director Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, or that played by Radio Corporation and other broadcasters. Although their role is beyond dispute, today the Ortega version disdains it.

The overthrow of Somocismo, which was required to open the way to a democratic process, became the Sandinista Popular Revolution. Political pluralism, one of the three pillars of the program called for by the anti-Somoza alliance, was soon shunted to a lesser role at the convenience of the Sandinistas, and was only tolerated to the extent that it did not jeopardize the new power.

The consequences were not long in coming. Already in the first post-Somoza year there began a rapid settling of political forces around a new conflict between the Sandistas and the Anti-Sandinistas. The mistakes made in economic management, the loss of the social base of the peasants, and an early alignment with socialist countries – despite the formal non-alignment of the country’s foreign policy – ended up destroying the consensus.

The open intervention of the Reagan administration was a spur to the remnants of the defeated Somoza Army and to dissent in the countryside. The confrontation was radicalized, the social conquests foundered and civil war ensued, the consequences of which divided and bled the country to the limit.

With the withdrawal of military support from the USSR – already in its own terminal crisis – with the economy of the country destroyed by the war, and especially with the majority of citizens calling for a change, by the late 1980s the FSLN was helplessly forced to convene early elections. The results opened up once again the possibility of leading the country towards a democratic process, a path that the Ortega regime, allied with the corrupt liberalism, would destroy, in the same way that it destroyed the old FSLN to turn it into a group of docile subordinates, under the command of a family.

Although July 19, 1979 meant the end of the Somoza regime, its cultural heritage survived in practice and in the subconscious of important sectors of the population and even among militants and leaders of the FSLN. Thus, the Revolution did not manage to banish that disastrous legacy of Somocismo. In the last decade it has sprouted again under Daniel Ortega’s return to power, which has reversed the democratic conquests and resurrected the practices of the defeated regime.

New wine – and not so new – in old wineskins. Thus, and this time not by a miracle, it is already in an irreversible process of decomposition.

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Editorial Note: This article was published in the blog of Héctor Mairena

*Translator’s note: ‘Somocismo’ refers to the movement to try to reestablish the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza which was overthrown in Nicaragua in 1979.

Mass Celebrated At Ladies In White Headquarters ‘For The Freedom Of The Cuban People’

The priests Castor Álvarez and José Conrado Rodríguez celebrate Mass at the Ladies in White headquarters in Havana. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 June 2017 — On Monday afternoon, in the presence of 27 people, priests Jose Conrado Rodríguez and Castor Álvarez celebrated a mass at the Ladies in White headquarters Havana’s Lawton neighborhood.

Berta Soler, leader of the women’s group, explained via telephone that they gathered at the building with “a lot of discretion” to avoid State Security preventing the Mass. “It was very important to hear from those two priests, as we are not able to get to the church, the church has to come to us.”

José Conrado Rodríguez told 14ymedio that the Mass was also a way to show that they both support “the right of the Ladies in White to attend Mass every Sunday” in the Church of Santa Rita, in the Cuban capital. continue reading

“That is also part of religious freedom and the right that people have to practice their faith,” added Castor Alvarez, who presided at the mass with Rodriguez.

“We feel as priests a concern to bring our faith to Cuban society,” added Alvarez, a native of Camagüey and for whom it was a joy to be able to share with the activists and “pray together for the freedom of the Cuban people.”

“We are part of the people and we want to enjoy freedoms, we want them to let us have peace and tranquility and share all the good that we Cubans have in order to progress,” added the pastor.

Along with the Ladies in White, attending the mass were the former prisoner of the Black Spring, Angel Moya, the activist Raul Borges, and the opponent Yosvany Martinez, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

For more than a year, the political police have prevented this civil society group from attending Santa Rita Church and carrying out its Sunday walk on Fifth Avenue.

The Year Of The Lost Mangos

There are hardly any mangos in Havana markets while in the east of the country they are rotting. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 18 July 2017 — “Everything smells like rotten mango,” says Pascual Rojas, who lives on the outskirts of Manuel Tames, a Guantanamo municipality where part of the mango harvest has been lost, leaving a total of 2,600 metric tons of rotten fruit in recent weeks.

“The rains of May and June were already announcing what was coming to us,” explains this peasant born among the furrows and pigsties. “For years we haven’t seen anything like this, where the bushes yield so much fruit,” but “it all turns into flies and garbage,” he complains.

In the deep countryside, where the farmers know how to interpret the signs of each plant and animal, the groves filled with mango trees were a source of worry to more than one. “I told my brother that it would be very difficult to get all that fruit to the people,” recalls Rojas, who considers what has happened to be a “crime.” continue reading

“This is a area where there are different varieties of mango, but the mameyson, manga and bizcochuelo are much harvested,” with the latter being very popular for its sweetness and immortalized in the traditional songbook. “All that sweetness has become bitterness,” complains Rojas, who has seen how “mountains of mangos became black and filled with bugs.”

The rainfall of recent weeks has been a boon to Cuban agriculture, experiencing its worst drought in more than a century. Farmers in the area also managed to keep the pests such as anthracnose – a fungal disease – under control. And they have worked to ameliorate the aging of the plantations, but the faltering state framework was again not up to par.

The largest losses are found in the mango crops of the credit and service cooperatives in areas near Bayate (Popular Council of El Salvador) and Manuel Tames, which could not efficiently process the crops with the state-run canning industry .

More than a third of the 6,794 metric tons of mango that were contracted for with producers in the area ended up being spoiled during the month of June, according to a Ramón Sánchez Ocaña, a fruit specialist at the Provincial Delegation Of Agriculture, speaking to the local newspaper Venceremos.

The official explained that the factory located in San Antonio del Sur started operations 20 days after the planned date. The other plant, located in El Guaso, was also working at half of its capacity because of a shortage of cans in which to pack the pulp. To the technical problems was added the inefficiency of the state service in charge of haulage and collection.

“We had many problems with transportation and truck breakdowns,” an employee of the Acopio Provincial Transportation Base in Guantanamo, who requested anonymity, told 14ymedio. The problems were mainly due to “breakdowns and complications in fuel supply,” he says.

“We took a big hit on boxes, because if we don’t have them we can’t bring the mangos to the factory in good shape,” he adds. He blames the several factors that joined together to cause the disaster on the “bad organization” of the state company.

This opinion is shared by Manuel, a farmer living in the vicinity of the Ángel Bouza Credit and Services Cooperative, one of the most affected by the losses. “Here the pigs have had to eat mangos morning noon and night, because there is nothing else we can do with so many mangos,” he says.

“Even the children, instead of throwing stones, were throwing mangos because they became worthless when we realized that they would not be able to transport all these boxes from here,” he explains. “This happens every year, and this time the television came to film it and then shared it with the National Assembly, but it is nothing new,” laments the farmer.

Little is said about the producers’ losses. “There are people here who are thousands of pesos in debt because they had put a lot of money into this harvest,” adds Manuel. “My brother-in-law lost more than 5,000 pesos with all this and who is going to pay back that money now?”

During the last session of Parliament the heavy losses reported provoked criticism among the deputies and annoyance among the consumers in the agricultural markets who saw the news on the national media.

“In Havana I have to pay between 3 and 5 CUP (Cuban pesos) for a medium mango, but in the East they are rotting without anyone being able to eat them,” complains Clara Carvajal, 71. The images transmitted on the national television “are pitiful,” she adds.

On the island the mango has a seasonal consumption cycle, which starts after the rains of May and ends in September. “Mangos are only available for a few months and nevertheless the State gives itself the luxury of leaving them in the fields.”

Far from Guantánamo, in the municipalities of Güira and Alquízar (Artemisa province), where they produce fruits and vegetables for the capital, the situation is also worrying.

“If we don’t do some serious work it will be the same here,” said a farmer with a basket of mangos on a small cart pulled by horses. “This is the year of the lost mangos,” he says while pointing out the branches loaded with tasty fruit that rise along the side of the road.

The Day They Shot Ochoa

A screen shot of General Arnaldo Ochoa at the televised trial where he was sentenced to death by firing squad. (CC)

14ymedio, Marta Requeiro, Miami, 15 July 2017 — July 13, 1989, began with a morning of radiant sun, however since that day, the fear of injustice and a terrible coldness stole from me that peak of inner tranquility that I might have had and for a long time now has crushed me.

I did not hear the shots, nor screams, much less the smothered moans, but somewhere in Havana they escaped through the orifices caused by the bullets, or perhaps through their half opened mouths as they collapsed the souls of the four Cubans who had been executed.

The maximum penalty for a crime that could have been paid for with prison. For me, an injustice in the midst of the 20th century in a country that talked about justice. continue reading

The neighborhood, and I dare say the people, began their day like any other. I remember that I cared for my children as usual, taking one to school and their other to daycare.

Those of us who knew what was going to happen stood watch in the silence of the morning, that began to feel dense and irritating when we though about what happened without being able to speak openly of the conflict that, we felt, had been brought to an exaggerated end.

Four soldiers betrayed Fidel Castro’s revolution, sufficient for such a sentence. That was the biggest of the reasons, and so it remains.

Just after nine o’clock in the morning the radio reported that General Arnaldo Ochoa, Colonel Antonio de la Guardia, Major Amado Padron, and Captain Jorge Martinez had been shot dead in a military compound, a unit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

From that moment I had the lucidity to understand that the four faces that had been waiting for us during the long sessions of the televised trial had ceased to exist. It was not even a mitigating factor that Ochoa, the man who won the Ethiopian war against Somalia and risked his life on so many occasions for Cuba, would be no more.

Fidel Castro in the company of General Arnaldo Ochoa. (CC)

We were told that they had all carried out operations during the last year and a half in which they transferred tons of cocaine produced in Medellín to the United States, and through their ties with Pablo Escobar they had plans to carry out new and more ambitious shipments. Hence, what would have been a matter to be resolved within the tight circle of the armed forces became a matter of maximum betrayal of the country.

Fidel Castro tried with that decision to launder his own image and that of the Revolution, while at the same time reinforcing his authority and the discipline of the armed forces at a time when Soviet perestroika had isolated Cuba from the rest of the socialist countries.

Knowing the rebellious personality the main soldier executed, Ochoa and the subsequent dismissal of those in high positions of the government administration, some came to think that the Ochoa case was in fact an aborted military coup.

And I ask myself: how many did the Revolution betray afterwards? How many crimes did they commit and of what scale which, although we suspect, have not seen the light of day and will not be known until the regime falls.

Today it is 28 years. The bodies were never seen.

The Mistakes of Raúl Castro

Raul Castro announced that he would step down in 2018, ten years after assuming power. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 15 July 2017 – In his most recent public speech before Parliament, General-President Raul Castro offered a self-criticism about “political deviations” under which the private sector and cooperatives are governed. “Mistakes are mistakes, and they are mistakes… they are my mistakes in the first place, because I am a part of this decision,” he emphasized.

In the list of mistakes he didn’t mention, he should have put in first place the absence of a wholesale market to serve these forms of economic management. It that option existed, honest entrepreneurs wouldn’t have to turn to the diversion of state resources to get raw materials and equipment to allow them to produce goods and services in a profitable way.

The greatest advance in this direction has been opening shopping centers were goods are sold “wholesale,” meaning in large volume sacks or boxes, but with the retail price per unit unchanged. continue reading

If, in addition, self-employed workers were allowed to legally import and export commercially, with the required customs facilities, then these forms of management would be on an equal footing with the state companies, and be able to perform efficiently.

The underreporting of income to evade taxes is a problem that exists in most countries where citizens must pay tribute to the state treasury. As a rule, evasion of these payments is seen as a dishonest act where taxes are fair, and as an act of self-defense where the state tries to suck the blood out of entrepreneurs.

When governments have the vocation to grow the private sector, they reduce taxes, whose only role is to redistribute wealth and increase the financial capacity for social spending, but not to act as a drag to reduce individuals’ ability to grow and prosper.

Raúl Castro’s most profound mistake, when he decided to expand self-employment and the experiment of non-agricultural cooperatives, has been to do so with the purpose of depriving the state of “non-strategic activities, to generate jobs, deploy initiatives and contribute to the efficiency of the national economy in the interest of the development of our socialism.”

This opportunistic vision, of using an element alien to the economic model as the fuel to advance it, generates insurmountable contradictions. An entrepreneur who starts a business is interested in increasing his profits (according to Karl Marx) and growth. He does not care that hiring workers will reduce unemployment and that their particular efficiency will have repercussions on the country’s economy. Much less, that his good performance contributes to perfecting a system that takes advantage of his success in a circumstantial way.

The entrepreneur dreams that in his country there are laws that protect his freedom to do business, that his money is safe in the banks, and that he has the right to import and export, to receive investments, to open branches, to patent innovations without fear of unappealable seizures or sudden changes in the rules of the game. Without fearing a report will arrive on the president’s desk detailing how many times he has traveled abroad.

The entrepreneur would also like to be able to choose as a member of parliament someone proposing such laws and defending the interests of the private sector, which he does not see as a necessary evil, but as the main engine to advance the country. Not understanding this is Raul Castro’s principal mistake.

Average Wages Rise but Nobody in Cuba Lives on Their Salary

Currently, it would take the earnings of an entire month for a Cuban worker to buy 10.3 chickens, OR 7.6 tanks of liquefied gas for their stoves. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton and Luz Escobar, Miami and Havana, 14 July 2017 — Ileana Sánchez is anxiously rummaging through her tattered wallet, looking for some bills to buy a toy slate for her seven-year-old granddaughter who dreams of becoming a teacher. She has had to save for months to get the 20 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, roughly $20 US) that the gift costs, since her monthly salary as a state inspector is only 315 CUP (Cuban pesos), about 12 dollars.

At the end of June, the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI) reported that the average salary at national level reached 740 CUP per month, slightly more than 29 CUC. However, the increase in the average salary does not represent a real improvement in the living conditions of the worker, who continues to be able to access many goods and services only through remittances sent from family abroad, savings and withdrawals.

Average Monthly Wages in Cuba: 2017-2017. 25 Cuban pesos = $1 US

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“I do not know who makes that much money, nor what they base these figures on, because not even with the wages my husband earns working in food service for 240 CUP a month, along with my wages, do we get that much,” says Sanchez.

The ONEI explains that the average monthly salary is “the average amount of direct wages earned by a worker in a month.” The calculation excludes earning in CUC. However, the average salary is inflated by the increases in “strategic” sectors, such as has happened in healthcare, where the pay has been more than doubled, while in other areas of the economy wages have remained practically unchanged for over a decade.

“If you buy food you can not buy clothes, if you buy clothes you can not eat, we live every day thinking about how to come up with ways survive,” she says in anguish.

Most Cubans do not support themselves on what they earn in jobs working for the state, which employs 80% of the country’s workforce.

President Raúl Castro himself acknowledged that wages “do not satisfy all the needs of the worker and his family” and, in one of his most critical speeches about the national reality in 2013, he said that “a part of society” had become accustomed to stealing from the state.

Sanchez, on the other hand, justifies the thefts and believes that the “those who live better” are those who have access to dollars or those who receive remittances. “Anyone who doesn’t have a family member abroad or is a leader, is out of luck,” she says.

According to the economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, when speaking of an increase in the average wage, a distinction must be made between the nominal wage, that is, the amount of money people receive, and the real wage, adjusted for inflation.

A recent study published by the academic shows that although the nominal wage has grown steadily in recent years, the real wage of a Cuban is 63% lower than it was in 1989, when Cuba was subsidized by the Soviet Union and the government had various social protection programs. At present, the entire month’s salary of a worker is only enough to buy 10.3 whole chickens or 7.6 tanks of liquefied gas.

Among retirees and pensioners, the situation is worse. The elderly can barely buy 16% of what a pension benefit would buy before the most difficult years of the so-called Special Period – the years of economic crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union – according to Mesa-Lago.

Or by another measure, spending an entire month’s salary a worker can only afford 19 hours of internet connection in the Wi-Fi zones enabled by the state telecommunications monopoly, Etecsa, or 84.5 minutes of local calls through cell phones.

What an entire month’s salary will buy in Cuba (only ONE of these things): 84.5 minutes of cellphone service, 10.3 chickens, 74 shared fixed-route taxi rides, 5.5 kg powdered milk, 29 national beers, 6.7 tanks of liquified natural gas

To buy a two-room apartment in a building built in 1936 in the central and coveted Havana neighborhood of Vedado a worker would need to save their entire salary for 98 years, while a Soviet-made Lada car from the time of Brezhnev would cost the equivalent of 52 years of work.

However, the island’s real estate market has grown in recent years at the hands of private sector workers who accumulate hard currency, or by investments made by the Cuban diaspora. In remittances alone, more than three billion dollars arrives in Cuba every year.

According to Ileana Sánchez, before this panorama many people look for work in the areas related to state food services or administration where they can steal from the state, or jobs that provide contact with international tourists such as in the hotels.

Other coveted jobs in the private sphere are the paladares – private restaurants – and renting rooms and homes to tourists where you can get tips. The “search” (as the theft is called) has become a more powerful incentive to accept a job than the salary itself.

Average monthly salary in Cuba by sector

Although, according to the document published by the ONEI, workers in the tourism and defense sector earn 556 and 510 pesos on average, many of them receive as a bonus a certain amount of CUC monthly that is not reflected in the statistics, and they also have access to more expensive food and electrical appliances than does the rest of the population.

Among the best paid jobs in CUP, in order of income, are those in the sugar industry, with 1,246 CUP on a monthly basis, and in agriculture with 1,218. Among the worst paid jobs according to the ONEI are those working in education, with 533 CUP, and in culture with 511.

For Miguel Roque, 48, a native of Guantánamo, low wages in the eastern part of the country are driving migration to other provinces. He has lived for 12 years in the Nuclear City, just a few kilometers from Juraguá, in the province of Cienfuegos, where the Soviet Union began to build a nuclear plant that was never finished.

“The East is another world. If you work here, imagine yourself there. A place stopped in time,” he explains. Roque works as a bricklayer in Cienfuegos although he aspires to emigrate to Havana in the coming months, where “work abounds and more things can be achieved.”

Average monthly salary by Cuban province. The lowest, 668.4 Cuban pesos, is the equivalent of $26.75 US, and the highest, 796.4 Cuban pesos, is the equivalent of $31.85.

The provinces where average wages are highest, according to the ONEI, are Ciego de Avila (816 CUP), Villa Clara (808 CUP) and Matanzas (806 CUP), while the lowest paid are Guantanamo (633 CUP) and Isla de la Juventud (655 CUP).

“Salary increases in the east of the country are not enough to fill the gaps with the eastern and central provinces,” explains Cuban sociologist Elaine Acosta, who believes that cuts in the social services budgets are aggravating the inequalities that result from the wage differences.

“It is no coincidence that the eastern provinces have the lowest figures on the Human Development Index,” he asserts.

Work Accident Takes The Lives Of Two Cuban Builders In Caibarién

Hotel Commercio in Caibarién, in the reconstruction to which two workers died. (Radio Caibarién)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 11 July 2017 — The collapse of a wall during the reconstruction of the Hotel Commercio in Caibarién, in the province of Villa Clara, cost two workers their lives on Tuesday and left eight others injured. The crew was working on rehabilitating the property, as confirmed to 14ymedio by a resident who lives nearby.

The work accident occurred when a wall collapsed which caused a part of the second floor of the build to collapse, the local press reported.

The deceased are Dorian Toledo Pascual, 40, and Felix Morales Dominguez, 28, both residents of Caibarién. According to statements by the authorities, both were buried under the hotel debris. The builder Richard López Pérez is in critical condition and Andrés Estévez Báez, is in serious condition.

The less serious injured are at Caibarién Hospital, where all the injured received first aid, 14ymedio confirmed by telephone.

After the accident, several fire rescue crews deployed to search through the debris, where they found the workers trapped in the rubble, but two of them were found dead.

For years, the Hotel Comercio has experienced a long process of deterioration. The current rehabilitation work is intended to allow it to to reopen its doors at the end of 2018.

Bread In Cuba’s Rationed Market Is An Unsolved Problem

The capital has 367 establishments dedicated to producing “ration bread.” Most with serious technical difficulties. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 9 July 2017 — With a sharp knife and the skill of a surgeon, Luis Garmendia, 68, slices the bread from the rationed market into six small slices. Like so many Cubans, this retiree cannot afford to buy from the liberated (unsubsidized) bakeries and considers that, every day, the quality of the basic product is “worse.”

In the Havana neighborhood of Cerro, where Garmendia lives, the ration bread ‘starred’ in the last assembly of accountability with the local People’s Power delegate. “Since I started going to those meetings, the same problem arises, but it is not solved,” he protests.

The capital has 367 establishments dedicated to producing “ration bread.” Most have serious technical difficulties, according to a recent report on national television. In the last three years at least 150 of them have been renovated but customer dissatisfaction continues to grow. continue reading

The taste, size and texture of the popular food are at the center of customer criticisms. Hard, rubbery, and weighing less than the required 80 grams (2.8 ounces), are the characteristics most commonly used to describe “ration bread.” Its poor quality has become a staple in the repertoire of comedians.

With more than 7,500 workers in the capital and a daily consumption of 200 tons of flour, the Provincial Food Company is directly responsible for the rationed bread. (14ymedio)

The product’s bad reputation leads families that are more financially comfortable to avoid consuming it. “Now we Cubans are divided between those who can eat flavorful bread and those of us who have to make do with this, subsidized and flavorless,” says Garmendia while displaying a bread roll this Friday.

According to María Victoria Rabelo, director general of the Cuban Milling Company, “It is sad and frustrating to hear the opinions of the population,” regarding the rationed product. Her entity is in charge of producing and commercializing the wheat flour used throughout the country for the manufacture of bread, confectionery and its derivatives.

In the informal market flour is highly valued especially by private business owners who make pizzas, sweets and breads. The diversion of resources from state-owned establishments has become the main source of supply to the retail sector and affects the quality of the regulated product.

“I have to take care of each sack of flour as if it were gold,” says the manager of a bakery in Marianao’s neighborhood, who preferred anonymity. “They also steal other ingredients involved in the process, such as the improver, fats and yeast,” he details.

“I am the third administrator to have this establishment in five years, the others exploited it to steal,” says the state employee. For years the business of state bakeries “has been robust, because there is a lack of controls and demand has grown as there are more cafes and restaurants,” he says.

The profession of baker has been a gold mine. In spite of the low salaries in the sector, which doesn’t exceed 30 CUC a month, there is a high demand to work in these establishments. “I know people have become millionaires with the resale of ingredients or of the product,” says the administrator.

Hard, rubbery and undersized, are the characteristics that are most heard when the rationed bread is described. (14ymedio)

“There are places where employees at the counter pocketed at least 400 CUP per day just selling the bread that is destined for the basic basket under the table.” Inside, near the ovens, “workers can get away every day with up to 800 Cuban pesos [Ed. note: more than the average monthly wage],” he confirms.

Each ingredient has its own market. “The baked bread is much sought after by paladares (private restaurants), coffee shops and people who organize parties,” he adds. While “the yeast and improver end up in the business of selling pizza and the fats have a wider clientele.”

The administrator of the bakery on Calle 19 and 30 in Playa, Reina Angurica, believes that in order to avoid embezzlement, she must “talk to the workers, communicate with them and not allow illegal productions.” In their place they meet weekly “to talk about the short-term problems of the bakery and to eradicate them,” she told the national media.

The Cuban Milling Company imports 800,000 tons of wheat each year which is processed in five mills throughout the country, three of which are in Havana. “Strong wheat or corrector” is mixed with “weak” wheat to produce the flour sold to the food industry.

The ration market bread is made with a “weak or medium strength flour” ideal for achieving soft texture. However, the wheat blend has been affected by import irregularities and the state bakers are only receiving strong flour, more suitable for a sturdier bread.

“Now we Cubans are divided between those who can eat flavorful bread and those of us who have to make do with this, subsidized and flavorless.” (14ymedio)

With more than 7,500 workers in the capital and a daily consumption of 200 tons of flour, the Provincial Food Industry Company is directly responsible for the ration bread. But the entity is floundering everywhere because of the lack of control, hygiene problems and the poor quality of its products.

In some 1,359 inspections carried out in the last months in the facilities of this state company, there were 712 disciplinary measures imposed for irregularities in the preparation of the product. The problems detected ranged from indisciplines and diversion of resources to lack of cleanliness.

For María Victoria Rabelo, from the Cuban Milling Company, the technological difficulties or the problems with the raw material are not the keys to understanding the current situation: one must “dignify the profession and, without speaking with demagoguery, bring love to what we do,” she says with determination.

But in Cerro, where Garmendia is waiting every day for a miracle to improve the rationed bread, the words of the official sound like Utopia. “I do not want anything fancy, I just want it to be tasty and softer, nothing more,” says the retiree.

Taxi Driver Arrested In Havana After Being Accused Of Racism

After leaving, the complainant took a photograph of the car with her cell phone and noted the number of the license plate, which facilitated the arrest of the driver by the police. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 10 July 2017 – The driver of a private taxi was arrested after being accused of racial discrimination by Yanay Aguirre Calderín, according to a report Monday in the weekly paper Trabajadores (Workers). The event has generated numerous articles in the official press which is making an example of the case.

On 2 July, the same weekly published an article by Calderín, a law student who is black, where she related how she engaged the taxi and was treated aggressively by the drive due to the color of her skin.

According to prosecutor Rafael Ángel Soler López, head of the Office of Attention to the Citizenry of the Attorney General’s Office, “We cannot yet anticipate what the end of the process will be,” since they are now “investigating to be able to prove the criminal act before the courts.” continue reading

The Cuban Penal Code establishes a penalty of between six months and two years of deprivation of liberty, or a fine of between 200 and 500 CUP, to anyone who denies “on the grounds of sex, race, color or national origin the exercise or enjoyment of the rights of equality established in the Constitution.”

Aguirre Calderín, who does not specify the exact date of the events, took the private car on Avenida 41, in the Marianao municipality, but when she wanted to change her destination, the driver reacted “very upset” and “very violently.” The young woman explains that at that moment the driver shouted that “every time there is a black person in his car it’s the same” and that for that reason “he could not stand them.”

Calderín then rebuked the driver, whom she accused of offending her, to which the taxi driver responded by asking the passenger to get out of the car before arriving at the place initially designated by her. At that moment the complainant took a photograph of the car with her cell phone and noted the number of the license plate, which facilitated the arrest of the driver by the police.