Weeks before Yusniel Pupo Carralero was detained, members of the local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, retired officers of the Armed Forces and militants of the Communist Party tried to discredit his candidacy. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 September 2017 — The independent candidate Yusniel Pupo Carralero denounced on Wednesday that he had been detained by State Security to prevent him from participating in the People’s Power Nominating Assembly for his district in the municipality of San Juan y Martinez in Pinar del Río.

Once communications were restored in his town after Hurricane Irma, the 34-year-old activist explained by phone to 14ymedio that two officers with the rank of captain, known as Orestes Ayala and Juan Perez, intercepted him while he was walking from his house to the area outside La Estrella bodega, where he was planning to go to the meeting, last Wednesday at 8 PM.

“I was kidnapped in a green car with a private plates,” he says. The vehicle “circled for about two hours and after that time I was released about 8 miles from town, on the road to Punta de Carta,” he says. continue reading

A few months ago, Pupo Carralero was motivated by the #Otro18 (Another 2018) campaign for independent candidates to represent their communities. In the event that he was elected as a delegate, he proposed to “act in the interests of the people and to try to find solutions.”

Even before aspiring to that position, many in his district nicknamed him Delegate because when there is a problem the neighbors come to him. “They know that I am the counterpart of the Delegate [of People’s Power], that I am always on him, demanding that he perform,” he says.

In the weeks prior to his detention, the activist learned that Captain Ayala met with several members of the local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, retired officers of the Armed Forces and members of the Communist Party of the Celia Sánchez neighborhood to discredit his candidacy.

The participants in that meeting with the State Security were warned that Pupo Carralero, a tobacco grower, has also been the president of the peasant committee of the Independent and Democratic Cuba opposition organization for five years.

The same situation has been experienced by other independent candidates, who in a recent declaration denounced “the discrediting campaigns” coming from the authorities that aim to prevent them from becoming nominated as delegates in the municipal elections.

In the Assembly, while Pupo Carralero was being held by State Security, a resident named Rodolfo Pérez Mena “started talking to other voters to encourage them” to propose him as a candidate, but the police sector chief, Lieutenant Brito, “intimidated him by telling him to shut up,” he told this newspaper.

Since that incident several residents have avoided greeting the activist when they see him on the street. “Even my family feels afraid,” he reflects. “Sometimes life becomes a little complicated in the neighborhood in the face of so much harassment, but we have to keep fighting.”

Manuel Cuesta Morúa, the main promoter of the #Otro18 platform, believes that events of this nature are “complete violations of the Electoral Law.” The government “seems determined to prevent citizens, polls and ballots from being the ones who choose the representatives,” he denounces to 14ymedio.

Cuesta Morúa warned that “in all cases where the government tries to prevent the presentation of independent candidates, the result will be the establishment of municipal assemblies tainted by lack of legitimacy.”

Cuban Economist Karina Gálvez Sentenced To Three Years In Prison

The case against Karina Galvez, of the Center for Coexistence Studies, began on 11 January when she was detained for a week at the Technical Directorate of Criminal Investigation of Pinar del Río. (Screen Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 September 2017 — Economist Karina Gálvez was sentenced Thursday by the Municipal Court of the city of Pinar del Rio to three years of deprivation of liberty and the confiscation of her home for the crime of tax evasion, a member of the Center for Coexistence Studies CEC) confirmed 14ymedio. A court decision that ensures that it does not surprise him and that he was waiting.

“Although after the trial, which was clearly won by the defense lawyers, we had hoped that the penalty would decrease somewhat with respect to the prosecutor’s request,” explains the economist. continue reading

Ultimately, “the court accepted the requests for sanctions proposed by the prosecution,” the CEC said in a statement. This does not mean, however, that the economist must go to prison, since the sentence contemplates that the sentence of deprivation of freedom can be replaced by three years of house arrest.

The trial against Gálvez began on 11 January when she was detained for a week at the province’s Technical Department of Criminal Investigation and her house was sealed.

Karina Gálvez’s house was also the headquarters of the Center for Coexistence studies (CEC) and with its seizure the independent project lost its meeting place for the second time. In 2009, the yard of the house of Galvez’s parents, where their members met, was also confiscated and closed.

The property is now at the disposition of the Municipal Housing Department, subordinate to the Council of the Administration of the Municipality of Pinar del Río.

The court ruling says that the conviction seeks to “make the defendant understand” the seriousness of the crime and also “serve to education the people in general.”

In addition, Gálvez has been banned from exercising the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in electoral processes, as well as lost “the right to hold management positions in the organs corresponding to the political-administrative activity of the State.”

She is also prohibited “from being issued a passport and leaving from the national territory until the penalties imposed have been completed,” says the document that the court sent to her on Thursday through her defense lawyer.

The sentence states that this type of punishment is applied individually and in “its type and extent” is for the purpose of “repressing, re-educating and preventing the commission of new offenses.”

As of this Thursday Gálvez has ten days to appeal. After that time the sentence will be signed against her and she must wait for the appointment with an implementation judge.

“I still have not decided if I’m going to appeal, I’m thinking about it,” says the economist. “The person who presided over my trial is the president of the Provincial Court, so I would have to appeal to a judge who is subordinate to him,” and that “would be a formality.”

Gálvez has denounced, in recent months, an escalation of pressure by the authorities, which includes numerous interrogations in the provincial Immigration and Aliens Department, where they inquired about the motivations of her trips off the island.

Other members of the CEC have been summoned by the police and have received warnings, including the director of the publication, Dagoberto Valdés, who was told by an official last October that from that moment his life will be “very difficult.”

The CEC organizes training courses for citizens and civil society and, in a recent public statement, its members assured that they will not leave Cuba or the Church and that they will continue to “work for the country.”

A Hurricane Called Communism

An old woman sitting in front of her home waits for the electricity to return in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 17 September 2017 — In the middle of the hurricane I received a mysterious photo of Fidel Castro. At the top it said: “Fidel resurrected.” Below the portrait the mystery was clarified: “His name is Irma.” The Commander was reincarnated as a ferocious hurricane.

The joke has a serious basis Juan Manuel Cao, one of America TeVe’s leading journalists, explained it to me. Communism and hurricanes have many things in common. They leave society that suffers them without electricity, without food, without medicines, without clothes, without gasoline. The drinking water becomes an elusive trickle that fades with skill of Houdini. They are magicians. Everything disappears. Socialism is like this.

But both catastrophes differ in one key detail: hurricanes last only a few days and people look forward to the end of the water and the wind. Communism, on the other hand, lasts an eternity and, little by little, hopes of seeing the end vanish. We Cubans have been suffering for 58 years. Venezuelans, although they have not yet reached the sea of ​​happiness, as announced by Hugo Chávez, began the journey almost 20 years ago. They are already close to the goal. May God take them confessed. continue reading

The Cuban Human Rights Foundation, chaired by Tony Costa, in a bulletin written by the historian Juan Antonio Blanco, adds a forceful denunciation in response to statements by dictator Raul Castro. The general explained that almost all the resources available to Cuba in the last quarter of 2017 will be used to rebuild the hotel infrastructure destroyed by Hurricane Irma.

The companies, almost all foreign, co-directed by Cuban generals, will have priority. If a street or a building has to be fixed, a power line or telephone has to be fixed, it will not be the Cubans, but the foreigners. It has always been like this. It is the government, without consulting the citizens, who will decide how it will spend the resources generated by the work of Cubans.

When these catastrophes occur, the cruel absurdity of the systems in which the government, owner of all property, of all resources, and of all decision-making mechanisms, chooses the certain bad luck of its subjects.

In societies in which private property prevails, citizens protect their assets through insurance, and if they do not have it, they acquire loans to repair their homes or estates. They do not expect the State to solve their most urgent needs because they know, as Ronald Reagan used to say, that there is no more dangerous creature than the one who tells us: “I am a representative of the government and I have come to solve your problems.”

In Cuba there are thousands of victims of hurricanes that happened six, seven or ten years ago, and who continue to live in temporary shelters that are falling apart. Often the aid that comes from abroad is then sold in dollars in special stores.

I remember a shocking revelation made me by Jaime Ortega, very upset, who was then bishop and soon cardinal, in the nineties, at my house in Madrid: when Germany, already reunited, tried to give thousands of tons of powdered milk, to be distributed by the Catholic charity Caritas, and their diplomats in Havana learned that the government sold these coveted gifts, the indignant representative of the Cuban government, a deputy foreign trade minister named Raul Taladrid, on the instructions of Fidel Castro, uttered a tremendous sentence that should pass to the universal history of infamy: “Cuban children will drink water with ashes before milk distributed by the Church.”

Now it was Irma’s turn. Little by little the country will erode sharply, from hurricane to hurricane, from storm to storm, until it becomes an incomprehensible ruin, as long as the current system continues. I am not surprised by the bitter joke. Fidel reincarnated in “Irma.” Tomorrow it will be as “Manuel” or “Carmen.” Until Cuba is a fuzzy memory, or until this chastened society can get rid of the heavy chain and take the long road to national reconstruction away from the socialist utopia.

Cubans Hope For Customs Moratorium After Irma

There is growing demand for a moratorium on import tariffs for food, clothing, footwear and household appliances. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 19 September 2017 – Planning what to bring and filling their suitcases with their purchases abroad is the obsession of any Cuban who returns to the island. After Hurricane Irma, the victims and self-employed are waiting for the General Customs of the Republic (AGR) to relax customs fees so they can bring articles and merchandise into the country.

More than a week after the hurricane touched down on Cuban territory, there is growing demand for a moratorium on import duties on food, clothing, footwear and appliances. The AGR has not yet issued any official information that points to or rejects an immediate change in its regulations.

This Monday seemed like a normal day at José Martí International Airport’s Terminal 3, but travelers and their companions demanded more strongly than at other times the right to expand the amount of luggage that each passenger can bring. continue reading

“In my town, Yaguajay, there are people who have lost everything,” Raiza Rojas, 43, told this newspaper. “Getting here was an odyssey, but the return of my brother who was visiting Miami is vital for my family,” she says. His relatives, sitting on the stairs connecting the ground floor with the first floor, waited anxiously.

“My kids were left only with the shoes they had on, and in my house the washing machine and the refrigerator were ruined,” Rojas explains. Her dream is that “the Government will allow it all to be brought in from outside, because here the stores are experiencing extreme shortages and the products are very expensive.”

The list of gifts that the Rojas family hopes to receive includes “tomato paste in tubes that do not need refrigeration, detergent, soap, candles, cumin powder and reading glasses” that were lost during the storm. “We are also hoping for painkillers, aspirins and some heartburn pills because the pharmacies are bare.”

Any traveler can bring up to 22 pounds of duty-free medicines, but must pack them separately and keep them in their original containers. “That’s nothing, because in my family there are four seniors and two are chronic patients who need many medicines,” adds Rojas.

The woman hopes that in the short term “people can bring medicines, food and also cars that are needed right now to rebuild this country.”

However, customs controls continued to be governed by the standards implemented in mid-2014.

“I have two suitcases, one for food and another because I brought a drill,” a Cuban recently arrived from Cancun, where he spent the weekend shopping, told 14ymedio. “I thought that after the hurricane I would not have problems with tools and food but I was wrong,” he adds.

The traveler had to pay customs fees equal to the cost of the drill in convertible currency because it was his second import this year. “I explained to the official that this drill is for domestic use, to fix some windows that the winds of the cyclone loosened, but I still had to pay 50 CUC,” laments the man.

“It cost me more to bring it into the country than to buy it in Mexico,” he complains. “With these prices people are discouraged and in the end the loser is the country because the families have less to face the inclement weather with,” he says.

A few yards from the waiting room of the main terminal in Havana, the parcel agencies also continue to be governed by the rules in force for three years.

In the customer service office of the Aerovaradero company at the airport, an employee who identifies himself as Yasser responds bluntly: “Everything is consistent with the Official Gazette and [we have not] received any document that expands the volume of cargo that can come in unaccompanied nor its costs in customs,” he says.

The worker confirms that in the last hours he has registered numerous calls from customers interested in being recipients of personal donations from abroad to relieve the damages that the hurricane left them. However, “the General Customs of the Republic is the only one authorized to make changes” in the rates and quantities that can be received, Yasser says.

Even Pedro Acosta, owner of the Docilla Ceci private restaurant at the Havana Deportivo Casino, has gotten comments from people calling for “expanding the coverage to bring things,” he tells this newspaper. However he believes that the authorities “are not going to do it and if they take any such action it would be only temporarily because of the situation left by Hurricane Irma.”

Acosta says he feels pessimistic and has the impression that “the tendency is to close it down more and more and for people bring things from abroad individually.” In his opinion, among the reasons for strangling the mules” is the official intention to “not benefit the private sector,” he says. The mules include people who bring things into the country just for the price of their own ticket, along with others who charge by the pound and make a business of it.

Were he able to import with more freedom, this private businessman would prioritize “refrigeration articles that are very expensive here and are not of good quality,” he says. He would also like to import products such as different types of meat, condiments and other items that he can barely find in the stores.

At the end of August, Customs categorically denied a rumor about the possible implementation of more restrictive provisions for the clearance of travelers’ luggage. The state agency called the spread of this false news “erroneous and malicious.”

“Cuban Customs will always inform in advance, by all means available to us, any changes we may impose,” said the official statement.

Now, many count the hours waiting for another announcement, but this time “to open, not to close,” said Pedro Acosta.

Charcoal, the Expensive and Only Cooking Fuel After Irma

Sacks stacked with charcoal made from the invasive marabou weed. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Zunilda Mata, Havana, 18 September 2017 — Black smoke from charcoal rises from an improvised fire in Dinora’s yard, which is close to the area most affected by Hurricane Irma in Caibarién, in the province of Villa Clara. In addition to half her house being on the ground, her new problem now is to cook without electricity or gas, in a place where local producers have increased the prices of this fuel, after energy shortages in the region caused by the hurricane.

Two years ago, Dinora’s family was among the province’s 4,902 families who were able to buy an induction cooker, a lidded casserole, a jug, a frying pan and coffee pot for 500 Cuban pesos (CUP) on credit, which the state bank is assured of being repaid through deductions from wages and pensions.

“There has been no electricity for more than a week and I had to go back to cooking with charcoal,” she says via telephone. continue reading

The charcoal, made mainly from marabou, is managed primarily by state companies that pay the local producers – who have self-employment licenses that allow them to produce it – and then mostly export it. A small part of the production is left in the hands of the carboneros, for their own use and for private sales with prices governed by supply and demand. “While before Irma a sack of charcoal cost 25 CUP in Caibarién, now that same amount is now worth twelve times more.”

“A sack of charcoal can’t be found for less than 300 CUP,” Dinora explains to 14ymedio. “My monthly pension isn’t even that much, so when I run out of this, I do not know what I’m going to do,” says the retiree, adding that she plans to use the fallen branches and logs that Irma left in her yard to be able to boil water and prepare food.

The so-called Energy Revolution, promoted by the late Fidel Castro at the beginning of the 21st century, replaced the distribution of kerosene and alcohol in the rationed market, which had been used for cooking in rural areas, with electrical appliances, such as hot plates and electric water heaters. Consequently, the installation of gas conduits was shut down and citizens came to rely on these new devices, useless in cases when the electricity fails.

Now, after Irma’s damage to the power grid, smoke from charcoal fires fills hundreds of houses and yards in the central area, in the absence of any other cooking fuel. It is not a question of choice but of necessity. The less fortunate do not even have a few coals to ignite and must settle for eating cookies or canned food.

The residents in this coastal town are impatient at the slowness of the restoration of basic services, as they continue with the access roads cut off, electrical poles on the ground and more than 4,000 homes totally or partially collapsed. “It seems as if they have forgotten us,” Dinora complains.

Independent journalist Pedro Manuel González shares this feeling of abandonment and regrets that in the first days after the storm the brigades of linemen and trash collectors were transferred to the tourist areas. “Caibarién is forgotten and has no priority in the national emergency,” he said.

Caibarién after the passage of Hurricane Irma. (Pedry Roxana)

Just 72 hours after Hurricane Irma, the 14-mile causeway that connects the tourist area of Cayo Coco with the nearby province of Ciego de Avila was repaired. A priority that has bothered many residents in Caibarién.

Francisco Carralero, a resident of the Van Troi neighborhood, is annoyed by that priority and complains that in Caibarién “everything is going very slowly.” He treasures a tank that he managed to buy last June when the province began the sale of liquefied gas. He rented the cylinder for 400 CUP and refilled it for another 110. “Thanks to that, it has been possible to pour a little coffee in this block,” he says.

“Now a full tank can’t be had for less than 1,000 CUP and no one can even find one,” explains Carralero. “He who has gas is a privileged one, because most of the residents of this neighborhood have not been able to light their stoves for more than a week.”

“Heat” and “chill” are two verbs difficult to conjugate these days in the area. In the informal market blocks of ice taken from the state lobster company are sold at about 300 CUP each. “He who has money gets cold water and he who doesn’t has to deal with it,” adds Carralero.

The losses are not only in infrastructure but also in food and resources.

“Everything I had in the refrigerator was spoiled because I didn’t have time to consume it,” explains the Villaclareño. In his area only some buildings have recovered electrical service and, he protests, they still have not received “any type of free food supply.”

The town’s pizzeria sells a serving of spaghetti for 5 CUP, the same price they charged before the arrival of the hurricane. Several distribution points in the city offer beans, rice and pork loin at 12 CUP, but the distribution of food at no cost is limited to those who were sheltered in state centers.

The dream of many neighbors is that there will be aid promised by the World Food Program (WFP), which will allocate US $5.7 million to “supplement the food needs of 664,000 people” in Cuba, according to remarks from Executive Director David Beasley during a recent visit to the island.

“We are in a critical situation and we have to start distributing food and water as soon as possible because people here are at their limit, many have been left with nothing,” explains Carralero, who fears that “the bureaucracy will delay the aid that is urgently needed right now.”

“This is a disaster zone and needs humanitarian assistance as soon as possible,” he explains. “If the situation continues, we will have to start dismantling the few pieces of furniture we have left to be able to cook,” he warns.

Raul Castro, Who Still Has Not Visited Those Affected By Irma, Tells Cubans: “We Will Move Forward”

Some 180,000 cubic yards of trash have been collected in Havana including trees, roofs, debris, poles and electricity and communications cables. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio (with agency information), Havana, 15 September 201 — Raúl Castro still has not visited any of the many areas affected by Hurricane Irma this past weekend and remains entrenched in the Palace of the Revolution, where on Wednesday night he led a meeting of the highest level officials to evaluate the damages caused by the hurricane, according to a report in the official press on Friday.

“The blow was very strong and spread throughout most of the country, but with the hard work that is being done, we will once again move forward,” Castro said, according to an article that filled the entire cover pages of both the Granma and Juventud Rebelde newspapers

The country entered a recession in 2016 for the first time in almost a quarter of a century and although in the first half of this year it experienced a slight recovery, the passage of the hurricane set the stage for a strong setback for the island’s exhausted economy. continue reading

Raúl Castro also “recognized the arduous work deployed in each of the places affected by the devastating meteorological event,” and said that he “has worked very hard” and asked that Cubans learn from experience to “be prepared.”

The president noted that the “intense” hurricane season in the Caribbean, “a clear product of climate change,” does not end until November 30.

The state press stressed that, “the army general called to continue working without rest, to face the problems with serenity and to keep the people informed by all possible means on the situation that the country faces.”

In addition, the president added, “there is a need to deal with problems with intelligence” taken from the “best experiences” applied after the passage of other hurricanes such as Sandy (2012), which battered Santiago de Cuba, or Matthew (2016) which caused serious damage when crossing the eastern end of the island.

These are the first communications from the Cuban president aired since last Monday, when he sent a written message to the population in which he appealed to the “spirit of resistance and victory of the Cubans” and recognized the “severe damages” caused by Irma.

Meanwhile, the government continues to assess the damage caused by the storm, which has left roughly two million cubic yards of solid waste in the streets of Havana, where 180,000 cubic yards were collected on Thursday, including trees, roofs, debris, poles and electricity and communications cables.

The cleaning of the capital is being carried out by the 19,240 workers of the state-owned communal services company, with 731 trucks and 12 cranes, supported by brigades from the Armed Forces, the Navy, inmates and voluntary state workers, according to Juventud Rebelde.

The Ministry of Education also reported the blow suffered by several universities. Those in the center of the country — Martha Abreu, of Villa Clara; José Martí, of Sancti Spíritus; Máximo Gómez Báez of Ciego de Avila and Ignacio Agramonte of Camagüey — will receive resources to repair damages according to the level of deterioration, said Minister José Saborido.

In the case of the University of Camagüey, the minister said that the greatest damage is located in the loss of about 10,000 feet of waterproofing which, for the moment, leaves exposed about 800 beds in student residences.

During a tour of its facilities, the head of Higher Education in Cuba said that the center “did not experience major impacts on equipment,” but there were some broken windows in dorms, classrooms and laboratories, as well as the loss of zinc tiles in the gym at the site of the Manuel Piti Fajardo Physical Culture facility.

Saborido set the reopening of the university for next Monday, when the current school year will be gradually restarted, as the necessary conditions are restored.

The impact caused severe, unquantified effects, including more than 1,700 elementary, secondary and pre-university schools affected by the rains and the strong winds that came with the hurricane.

The Minister of Education, Ena Elsa Velázquez, told the official media that the most damaged schools are in Havana, Matanzas and Villa Clara; while the greatest damage was recorded in Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey, and the main damages are in roofs, doors, broken windows, and contaminated water tanks.

Velázquez explained that the school year will be progressively resumed in the country, as the hygiene conditions and the availability of safe water stabilize, and in schools with serious damages students will be relocated to other facilities or family homes to continue classes.

The country has 10,698 educational centers and of them 510 were destined for people evacuated during the passage of the hurricane. Many schools that were converted to shelters for victims still remain occupied, so, according to the minister, alternative places need to be found to teach classes.

In Havana, the areas most damaged by the hurricane were Centro Habana, Habana Vieja, Vedado and Playa, where the sea penetrated nearly 1,000 feet inland and the hurricane winds caused total and partial collapses of houses. More than 4,400 homes in the city were affected prior to Wednesday, when another 21 total collapses were added to the 157 already reported, along with 9 partial collapses and 82 additional damaged roofs.

According to the official information, Havana’s electrical network was restored by Thursday to 86% of its coverage, although some areas of the city have been without service since last Saturday, including Playa and Plaza de la Revolución. The authorities insisted that by yesterday, Thursday, electricity would be restored throughout the capital.

The water supply was also brought on line and at the moment the four main water supply services to the population of Havana, with a coverage of 90%, are stable and working. However, some 14,600 people are still supplied by tanker trucks.

The supply of fuel is also normalized in the city, where more than 265,000 gallons have been distributed to service stations, the official report said.

Across the island, the hurricane knocked down some 2,400 communications poles, and thousands of others supporting the power lines, many taken down by fallen trees.

Irma, which touched down first on Cuba’s northwest keys as a category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, left 10 dead on the Island, mostly due to house collapses.

After Hurricane Irma, Sending Help to Family in Cuba is Complicated

Residents of Animas Street seek relief from the intense heat sitting on the sidewalk, because of the lack of electricity (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Nora Gamez, Mimi Whitefield, Mario Penton, Miami, 17 September 2017 – Concerned that the Cuban government does not usually accept donations from the United States, the Cuban-American community is looking for alternatives to help their families on the island, which has been devastated by the passage of Hurricane Irma.

According to a preliminary evaluation by the United Nations, 3.1 million people have no running water. Although the government has offered no estimates, thousands are without homes, destroyed by the fury of the winds or the floods. In the capital alone around 4,200 homes were damaged and in the province of Camaguey, where the eye of the hurricane passed over, 7,900 homes were damaged. According to the official press, some 26,000 people are still in shelters. Some have returned to their villages, despite their houses being in ruins.

Idanis Martín, 34, has lived for the past two years in West Kendall in Florida but the rest of her family resides on Goicuría Street in Caibarién, in Villa Clara, one of the places hardest hit by the hurricane which touched down in Cuba as a category 5. continue reading

“Everything there was destroyed. My family says there’s not a bush left standing in the village,” she told 14ymedio by phone. “The little [food] they had spoiled,” because of lack of electricity. “They told me that the last box of chickens sent to them rotted when there were more than half left,” she added.

Still recovering from Irma’s passage over south Florida, this Tuesday she sent her family ground beef, a box of chicken and pork cutlets that she bought online at Supermarket 23 for some 130 dollars.

Although their digital site doesn’t say so, Supermarket23 is probably one of the multiple Cuban government sites that, from Canada, allow people to buy products and foods very hard to get in the shortage-plagued markets of the island, although at higher prices.

“They deliver it right to the door of the house. It takes between a week and 15 days and is very useful because they don’t have to go to the hard currency stores,” explains Martin, who works in Miami in an agency that provides services to the elderly.

“Those of us who have a little more have to help those who have nothing,” he says.

“Other Cubans in Miami are going to the package agencies to help their families on the island, but the process is slow due to the damage to ports and airports on both sides of the Florida Straits.

Yudelkis Barcelo, manager of Envíos y Más Express, an agency that sends packages to Cuba with a location in Miami, said there still hasn’t been an appreciable increase in the number of packages to the island after Irma and that the restoration of the flow of goods between the two countries “will take time.”

“We don’t have the infrastructure ready. The airport and the ports are now recovering from the hurricane. It’s still going to take a little time to get back to normal,” she said.

Reopening the airports on the island will facilitate the shipment of food and other humanitarian supplies. The government has received donations from other countries, among them Venezuela, Vietnam and Panama. Jose Marti International Airport reopened Tuesday, but Santa Clara airport, which suffered severe damages, will not be open for flights until the end of October, said American Airlines spokesperson Marta Pantin.

Several organizations in the United States are campaigning to raise funds and provisions with the idea of ​​helping Cubans. But without government approval, US organizations will not be able to ship large quantities of food. It is time to find creative solutions.

After Irma left Cuba for Florida, the Cuban American National Foundation got in touch with civil society groups it works with in Matanzas, east of Havana.

“We said we were going to send them money and they said: ‘We need food,'” said Pepe Hernández, president of the Foundation.

So the Foundation plans to work with package agencies or employ so-called “mules” to deliver essential items. Some mules charge only the ticket price to and from the island for carrying 100 pounds of merchandise; others charge between four and six dollars a pound, Hernandez said.

Hernandez explains that the Foundation is also evaluating other ways to help the inhabitants of the island. One of the initiatives is to cover the costs of those who want to send money through Western Union to Cuba. With the help of civil society organizations, they also plan to come to the aid of people in need, not necessarily linked to opponents.

“Civil society groups plan to go to affected areas and identify families in need,” he said. “They will take their names, numbers and addresses, and then we will send each family $100 through Western Union,” which has 450 offices throughout Cuba.

The Foundation also seeks to push for an assistance program that provides funding to Cubans who need to make repairs to their homes. The program, which provides up to $1,200 in assistance, has made it possible to repair 60 homes so far.

“Now we hope to intensify this program and we hope there will be more donations,” Hernandez said. “So far, the Government has not given us any problems with this program.”

But this is not always the case when it comes to sending aid from the United States, especially if it comes from the Miami community. When Hurricane Matthew struck Guantanamo Province, in the east of the country, the Catholic Church was not authorized to receive planes on the Island with food donations from the Archdiocese of Miami or from Catholic Relief Services based in Baltimore.

The Archbishop of Miami, Thomas Wenski, said he was finally able to make a cash donation to the bishop of the Diocese of Guantanamo but without a wholesale market on the island and with supply problems in the network of supermarkets controlled by the state, he had to buy the necessary products abroad.

Other initiatives to raise money and send it to Cuba, such as the one promoted by the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights based in Madrid, rely on the Catholic Church for the distribution of aid on the island, the only institution, beyond the state, with an independent infrastructure to do so. Different agencies of the UN have a presence in Cuba but they must coordinate the delivery of donations with the state.

The Archdiocese of Miami is accepting financial donations through Catholic Charities and other entities to help the residents of the Florida Keys and Caribbean Islands whipped by Irma’s fury, including Cuba.

“We have food and water available but we cannot send them until they tell us they need them and the ports and airports are open to receive them,” said Mary Ross Agosta, Director of Communications for the archdiocese.

Wenski said he planned to go to Cuba for the inauguration of the new bishop of Ciego de Ávila on 30 September, and hoped to better understand the needs of Cubans and “see how we can help them.”

Although many in Florida are still recovering from the damage caused by the hurricane, Wenski acknowledged that he had seen “a lot of generosity. There is a great spirit of solidarity. We are all breathing with relief in Miami because we avoided the worst of Irma and that can inspire generosity. ”

“We will see if it changes this time and Cuba is willing to accept donations,” Wenski said.

CubaOne Foundation, based in Miami, and Give2Cuba, based in Seattle, have taken another path. Working together, both are seeking volunteers to raise money through the Crowdrise platform and bring provisions to help the victims on the island, especially in the provinces of Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spíritus and Santa Clara, most affected by the hurricane.

CubaOne has organized several trips of young Cuban-Americans to know the Island and Give2Cuba took humanitarian aid to Baracoa, very affected by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Giancarlo Sopo, co-founder of CubaOne and president of its board, explained that the trip, authorized by the United States Department of the Treasury under the category of people to people, would take place in October. But before that, CubaOne has joined the 3:05 Cafecito campaign to collect food, medicine and other supplies and send them to Cuba through Cáritas.

“Our community is concerned about the Cuban people,” said Sopo, “and we will do everything possible to support them during this difficult time.”

To donate to the victims of Hurricane Irma in Cuba:

Archdiocese of Miami: To donate to Catholic Charities, visit www.ccadm.org and https://give.adomdevelopment.org/irma.

CubaOne Foundation: To register for the humanitarian aid trip to Cuba, visit the organization’s website http://cubaone.org/irma-relief/

CubaOne and 3:05 Cafecito are collecting food, medicine and other necessities, at 1549 SW 8th Street, second floor, from 10 am to 7 pm.


This article is part of a collaboration agreement between the south Florida newspaper El Nuevo Herald, and 14ymedio.

Aimara Peña: “I want to hear what the citizens have to say”

Aimara Peña, a spiritual activist who will stand as a candidate for the elections. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana 16 September 2017 — Aimara Peña was a little over 16 when she enrolled in a degree to qualify as a primary school teacher, but in the last semester of the course she was expelled from the Pedagogical University of Sancti Spiritus for her incipient political activism.

Now, the young woman seeks to represent her constituency as a delegate to the People’s Power. To achieve this, she will have to be proposed at one of the nomination meetings for candidates in the Las Pozas community, where she lives with her husband and two children, aged four and nine.

Peña has extensive experience in the reporting of human rights violations, the exercise of citizen journalism and work as an independent librarian. Works that have allowed her to know the exigencies of her neighbors. continue reading

Six kilometers from the provincial capital, Las Pozas, with 2,000 in habitants, has bus service only until six in the afternoon and lacks private carriers to alleviate the situation. The activist intends to seek a solution to this problem if she is elected.

Aimara Peña joined the Network of Electoral Facilitators whose main purpose is to ensure that citizens – ones with the will to represent the true interests of the population – occupy positions in these basic structures of People’s Power.

“The idea of ​​being a delegate always appealed to me,” explains the young woman who, at just 27, decided to run “to show that the work we do as activists is completely legal.”

With her attitude she also wants to motivate those people whom she energized to participate in the electoral process. “They are afraid and some are also undecided, so I wanted to set the example.”

The spiritual activist is dedicated “to listening to everything citizens have to say.” She believes that “at present the functions of the delegates are very limited despite being public figures in direct contact with the population and the only one that Cubans elect [directly].”

Peña is convinced that his main duty “is to help make the role of the district delegate a truly important one.” Until now the authorities use it as a channel to transmit information to the people but the delegate must work to “demand from the government what the people want,” she explains. “We have to start reversing that equation.”

Peña knows what she is facing. Although she has not received direct threats so far, not even an “unofficial visit,” she has received signals that the Party and Government organs are trying to deal with her candidacy by spreading negative rumors about her.

Something that does not kill her dream: “I think I have all the qualifications to present myself, and at least until now they have respected that, I hope that during the assembly, which still has no fixed date, things continue as before.”

In the Nominating Assembly, voters will have vote by an open show of hands and the fear of reprisals can have a negative effect.

“To some extent, many people close to me feel a little fear, because this is a decision that also involves the family, but my parents and my husband support me, they have been a pillar to strengthen me,” says the enthusiastic young woman.

If, in addition to being proposed, she manages to get the majority of hands to raise for her in that assembly, the name of Peña will appear on a ballot. Her photo and biographical data will be displayed in the same electoral district where a ballot box will collect the sentiment of the 754 voters of Pozas’s District 23.

“A lot of people will be afraid to raise their hands in my favor in the assembly, but once that barrier is overcome, the chances will be greater with the secret ballot.” She doesn’t doubt that if her name reaches the secret ballot in the next round her neighbors will vote for her. “All this, what I have been working for so long, will bear fruit,” she said.

The Strength That Weakens Us

Line to buy unrationed bread after the passage of Hurricane Irma through Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 September 2017 — The passage of the devastating Hurricane Irma along the northern coast of Cuba and the subsequent recovery process have underscored the strength of a powerful state and the fragility of a deprived citizenry.

In each of the 14 provinces affected, from Guantanamo to Artemisa, substantial resources were mobilized almost immediately to restore power and communication networks, to reopen blocked roads and to collect solid waste. Following the order issued from the highest governmental body, priorities were established to restore the accommodation capacity of affected tourist centers and to make hospitals and schools fully operational.

Inside the thousands of houses hit by the fury of the winds or flooded by the penetrations of the sea, the drama unfolds at a different speed. In each of them, insignificant in appearance, are the possessions treasured by a housewife in her kitchen, clothing, mattresses, old furniture inherited from ancestors, appliances, and a long list of personal belongings, acquired through unimaginable sacrifice; everything that was once irreplaceable, has suddenly become unrecoverable. continue reading

The almighty state presents itself as generous with what it considers essential, so it “advanced” the monthly quota for the rationed market and sells food “at reasonable prices” in the most vulnerable areas. But speaking in legal terms, the state “does not know” what the citizens obtain through the intricate roads of the black market, nor is it aware of the backpack sent by a relative in Miami, shoes bought in the hard currency market, the television delivered by a mule who traveled from Panama or the computer sold by a neighbor before leaving the country.

Many losses cannot even be declared because of the fear of becoming a confessed recipient of goods acquired by illegal means.

Another aspect that emphasizes the fragility of those affected is the huge difference between the real cost and the legal price of the properties. What the buyer paid for a house or car can be 2000% higher than the value officially recorded for it, so that when quantifying the total damage or destruction, the true damage caused to the victim is never reflected.

In a nation of the dispossessed, the resilience of individuals and families affected by natural disasters depends on what the all-owning state assigns to everyone under the rules of distribution imposed by egalitarianism.

Those who, by one means or another, have achieved economic empowerment do not have a guarantee that assures them prompt reparations for the damages. This emerging middle class, which rose after Raul Castro’s timid reforms, is marked by the concept of self-sufficiency, which means that everyone must face the risks of entrepreneurship as best they can by themselves.

It will soon be reported that the hotels in the keys are even better than they were before Irma passed through, that air-conditioned buses filled with foreigners are already circulating along the causeways, and that all the airports are in service. What will never be known is how many snack bars, repair shops, restaurants and privately rented homes have disappeared.

The power of the state should not rest on the fragility of its citizens.

Cubans Are Disgusted By Government’s Management After Irma

Kiosk in Animus Street selling foods for hurricane victims in Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 14 September 2017 – In Cuba’s capital city dozens of victims of Hurricane Irma surround an improvised kiosk clutching plastic bowls and bottles. The authorities have set up several stands that offer soup, rice with a protein and bottled water to anxious residents.

With prices of 2 Cuban pesos (CUP) for the ration of soup, and 8 CUP for a little box with rice and some meat and vegetables, the kiosks in different places are selling food prepared for the victims. However, the complaints are growing in the face of a distribution that many consider should be done at no cost.

“I don’t have a single centavo, I spent everything I had buying cookies and candles before the hurricane and now I don’t have anything,” laments Coralia, a resident of Marques Gonzales Street who was heading to La Inmaculada Church on San Lazaro Street this Wednesday, looking for help. continue reading

The mark left on the city by the sea is still visible on the facades of Lagunas Street, near Belascoain, one of the areas where the floods in Havana did the most damage. But these stains are only the visible marks of the drama. The most difficult effects are evident inside the houses, with the lack of water and shortage of food.

“This morning I ate the last egg I had left, which had miraculously survived because it was unrefrigerated for more than three days,” Eneida, a retiree of 73 told 14ymedio. “I have nothing left and I do not have the money to buy what the government is selling,” she says.

La Inmaculada, a centrally located church, lost its imposing and emblematic main doors under the force of the waves that poured over the wall of the Malecon. Since the winds stopped blowing dozens of parishioners and neighbors have come asking for some food and clothing, but the chapel is simply not equipped.

State kiosks in different parts of Havana sell prepared food for the victims. (14ymedio)

Rosario, the chapel receptionist describes the situation as “terrible.” “We have no water, the dining room where we normally serve food to about 25 elders from the area has not been able to function for several days and these people can not even get here because of the ongoing conditions in the neighborhood,” she says.

“Through the side gate we are collecting donations of any kind: clothes, food and kitchen equipment, because there are people here who have lost everything,” the woman emphasizes. Other churches are also mobilizing to alleviate what is taking shape as a humanitarian drama. “Many people are arriving in a very complicated situation,” Rosario says.

In the midst of these shortages, between Tuesday and Wednesday Cuba received 10 tons of humanitarian aid from Venezuela in the form of non-perishable food, medicines and drinking water, as well as another 2.2 tons chartered by plane from Panama, which mainly contains hygiene and food items.

One of the blue tents set up by the island’s authorities to sell food is just a few steps away from the well-known funeral home at Calzada and K Streets in Vedado. The residents of the lower floors and the improvised structures in the old semi-underground parking areas were the most harmed in that area, which is along the low part of the coast where the sea advanced several blocks and left significant damage in numerous houses.

Among them is Yazmín, the mother of two children and a worker for a state company. “In my house nothing is left that is usable, all the furniture got wet and my children lost even their school books,” she laments.

Yazmín had hoped that schools would resume classes on Thursday to “see if they offer food more cheaply,” but the schools in the area have delayed opening their doors until Monday. “With the children I do not have much mobility and we will have line up for a bit of soup,” she said, resigned.

A can of sardines at these stands costs 18 CUP, the equivalent of a day’s wages for a state employee, while ground beef is an unaffordable 65 CUP a pound. (14ymedio)

In Ánimas Street in the San Leopoldo district, another kiosk is selling a similar menu. Dozens of people wait in line to take home the first serving of hot food they will have eaten since last Saturday. Water is also for sale at 11.75 CUP a pint or 48.75 CUP for a 5 quart bottle, a price that those affected by Hurricane consider excessive.

“How can they be selling water? I do not understand that they do not distribute all this for free because they know that the people of this neighborhood don’t even have a pot to piss in,” complains Rigoberto Núñez, a 57-year-old neighbor whose water tank has been contaminated. Among the personal items he lost with the flooding was his wallet, he says. “I do not know if I lost it or if it was stolen, but now I do not have a single centavo,” he adds.

A can of sardines at the kiosks cost 18 CUP, the equivalent of a day’s wages for a state employe, while ground beef is 65 CUP a pound, an amount most people can’t pay.

While people waited in line on Thursday to buy a serving of food – limited in quantities to “avoid hoarding,” says one of the employees who sells it – the rumor spread that the Church of La Caridad in Manrique is helping with medicines and some milk to those most affected.

In a stampede, some leave in the direction of the chapel in search of those resources that have now become the greatest obsession for thousands of the storm’s victims.


Hundreds of Havanans Protest in Neighborhood Five Days Without Electricity or Water / Updated

Hundreds of Havana protesters gathered in the streets of the Diez de Octubre neighborhood after five days without electricity. (Facebook Andy Michel Fonseca)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 13 September 2017 — Hundreds of people demonstrated in Havana’s Diez de Octubre neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon, protesting the lack of electricity and water after Hurricane Irma. The protest began spontaneously, according to witnesses who spoke with 14ymedio.

“We want light! we want water!” and “The people, united, will never be defeated!” were the slogans shouted by the crowd, demanding basic services suspended since Saturday when the hurricane struck the island with winds over 125 miles an hour.

Among the slogans the demonstrators shouted there was also heard the cry of “Let Raul come!” calling for the president to visit the affected areas. So far, the leader has limited himself to sending a message of support to the citizenry, but has not visited the areas damaged by Hurricane Irma. continue reading

“From noon, the police closed (the main thoroughfare) Calzada de Diez de Octubre, because things got hot there,” one of the private taxi drivers serving the area told 14ymedio.

Only a few minutes after the protest began, dozens police officers and special troops arrived. (Facebook)

Dozens of officers of the Revolutionary National Police (PNR) and special troops known as Black Berets arrived at the scene after a few minutes of protest, but the protesters were not intimidated and continued their demands.

A neighbor of Santos Suárez park said that the demonstrators were around her house for “some hours” and from there they went towards the main thoroughfare, Calzada de Diez de Octubre, continuing to protest as they came up against a police barrier that prevented their passage.

“People got tired of the government’s bad management and came out to protest. There was no alternative,” she added.

However, one protester said there were no arrests for the protests and that the uniformed officers withdrew with the promise to restore basic services “as soon as possible.”

After the protest, police patrols remain in the area. (14ymedio)

“There was fear, nobody knew who was who because many policemen in civilian clothes arrived,” says another of the demonstrators.

As of 5:30 PM when 14ymedio was able to check the situation just hours after the demonstrations began, authorities had sent work teams from the electricity company and reestablished electricty and the water supply.

“Fidel had his flaws but he put on his foot down when these things happened and went out to the streets to solve the problems,” said an old woman.

After the protest, police patrols remained in the area and, according to the neighbors, many of the people found at key points in the area “look like they are state security.”

By about six o’clock in the afternoon a tense calm was felt. (14ymedio)

By about six o’clock in the afternoon a tense calm was felt. Some people took the opportunity to wash down the entryways in the area, and only spoke in low voices about what had happened just a few hours earlier.

Public protests are severely punished in Cuba. Last July 26, three activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba challenged the authorities with banners denouncing “58 years of deceit, hunger and misery” in front of the Cathedral of Santiago de Cuba. After being arrested following a “savage beating,” the activists, who demanded freedom of expression, assembly and the press are being held in prison awaiting trial.

Daniel Llorente, another protester who on May Day ran with a US flag in front of the government parade is still confined to the capital’s Psychiatric Hospital.

The biggest protest in the island’s history during the rule of the brothers Fidel and Raúl Castro – known as the Maleconazo – occurred in August 1994 when hundreds of people confronted the police in Havana with sticks and stones, looting shops and calling for an end to socialism.

Havana, Black on Black

Havana at night, after the hurricane (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 September 2017 — Thousands of residents in Havana spent their fourth day without electricity or water supplies, on Wednesday, as a result of the damage left by Hurricane Irma. Brigades of electrical linemen are working to restore the energy supply, but the slow pace of the work, given its complexity in some stretches, brings despair to those who have been unable to take a shower since last Saturday, who must climb to high floors without elevator service, or who yearn to eat something other than canned food or cookies.

In the area of Vedado where hotels, hospitals and government administrative buildings are located, electrical services have been restored, but neighborhoods such as Nuevo Vedado, La Timba, La Viibora, along with extensive areas of the municipality Playa and parts of Centro Habana are still in the dark. Under these circumstances, the middle of the night is the most difficult time of day, with the complete lack of light, and the intense September heat with temperatures over 85 degrees.

To find relief from the heatwave, many residents in the neighborhoods suffering blackouts have placed their mattresses on terraces, balconies and roofs. Garbage collection is also affected and mountains of trash, fallen tree trunks and branches pile up on the corners. National television continues to broadcast an extensive program dedicated to reporting the damage left by the hurricane and the recovery process, but in much of the capital people are oblivious to this information due to lack of electricity.

An unusual silence extends where even the TVs fail to bring a ray of light.

Irma Damaged 4,288 Houses In Havana, With 157 Total Collapses And 986 Partial Collapses

Numerous trees have fallen in Havana because of the strong winds of Hurricane Irma. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 13 September 2017 — A total of 4,288 homes in Havana were damaged during the passage of the mighty Hurricane Irma, with 157 total collapses and 986 partial collapses, according to preliminary official reports published Wednesday in the island’s press.

In the Cuban capital, the state newspaper Granma said there were 818 roofs destroyed and another 1,555 affected, as reported in meeting of the Havana Defense Council attended by top government figures, the ruling Communist Party (PCC) and the Armed Forces.

“In the face of this situation, the roofs of the buildings are being restored, where there is damage of this type, and two premises have already been set up, one in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo and another in La Lisa, with the aim of housing the affected families,” said Granma. continue reading

The report does not specify where the damaged homes are located, but the areas of Havana most affected by the hurricane were the neighborhoods of Vedado, Centro Habana, Habana Vieja and Miramar, where the sea penetrated almost 330 yards inland.

Centro Habana and Habana Vieja, both in the founding area of ​​the city, both have a large number of old houses in poor condition.

Of the 10 people who died in Cuba as a result of the hurricane, most of them lost their lives due to building collapses.

Irma hit the capital on Saturday night and its hurricane force winds also caused serious damage to the electrical service, with electrical poles and lines fallen, as a result of which many areas of the capital have remained without electricity or water for more than 72 hours.

In Havana, nine food preparation centers have been set up in eight municipalities, “in order to guarantee the food supply, especially for the sheltered families, at a reasonable price.”

Medical coverage has also been guaranteed and the health system “continues to strive to prevent epidemics,” provincial officials said.

In Havana there are still hundreds of fallen trees, some obstructing traffic in the middle of busy main roads, such as Tercera Avenue in Miramar, along with others where electrical poles and lines have fallen over the roadway.

The streets closest to the coast still have stones and sand washed up by the sea, and on the sidewalks there are mattresses, clothes and appliances set out under the sun.