In Search Of The Owner Of The City / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco

Camagüey is one of Cuba's largest cities and is more than 500 years old (14ymedio)
Camagüey is one of Cuba’s largest cities and is more than 500 years old (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Camagüey, 21 May 2016 — Every city rests on the man who safeguards it. He can be called mayor, administrator or public official; ultimately the label is the least important. This is his charge, like the steward of the millionaire’s mansion. His obligation lies in the zeal with which he is able to optimize the performance of the city’s people. For this he counts on public economic resources and the necessary personnel.

He is, almost always—as he always should be—the ideal citizen. He is the man everyone knows, who knows everyone’s name and where they live, because, among his reasons for being, his priority is to be ready to hear the needs of the last inhabitant of the village at any time. continue reading

However, in Camagüey this citizen never shows his face, no one knows his name, or where he resides; and worse, when we assume who he is and where he is, it is impossible to address him and we can not establish a dialogue with him even through the press.

The certainty of not having been democratically elected lies in that nobody knows him. Despite his phantasmagoric existence, when he takes measures in search of “perfecting” the city, they are arbitrary and counterproductive. I have given this man the name: “The Owner of the City.”

Camagüey, despite its narrow winding streets due to its five hundred years of existence, was a city where it was easy to circulate. Dozens of traffic lights ordered the path of the cars, police officers took care of traffic violations, to the point that the least of its alleys was accessible to traffic, and both the sidewalks and the pavement were kept clean and in perfect state of repair. It is said that Camagüey once qualified as one of the most beautiful cities in the country. Above all, at any hour of the night or in the earliest hours of the morning, the citizenry enjoyed a high level of security.

The Camagüey of today is far from what it once was. The Owner of the City is pleased to close streets for the slightest reason. Martí Street, an important artery through the historic center and the main route to the east for the fire brigade, has been permanently blocked in front of Agramonte Park. An outdoor café has been placed in the street to serve international tourism, as the snacks sold there are priced in hard currency not attainable by ordinary Cubans.

Also to attract tourists, they have unearthed the rails that were sleeping under El Gallo Plazoleta, so that the visitors can see that there were once trams in the city, although the result has been too turn this into the most inconvenient and dangerous crossing—over those sharp steel strips—and on occasion bicycles and motorcycles come to grief there.

The parking lot at Merced Plaza—now called Workers Plaza—was dismantled and vintage benches have been placed around the central ceiba tree, so that those who visit us will have the most beautiful image of the place, although cars in the business center of the province now have to park on another street, under permanent guard. It seems, that the Owner of the City wants to convert Camagüey into a showcase for tourism, to the detriment of its permanent residents.

The most important streets in the center—Cisneros, Independencia and San Esteban—have been closed for many months under the pretext of repairing the abutting buildings, and Republica Street has been modified into a boulevard for pedestrians only, while San Martin Street is in such a state of disrepair that it is very difficult to travel on it, without anyone showing any interest in its restoration.

Everyone who knows this city could intuit that these being the exclusive thoroughfares of the historic center, its viability is reduced by nearly half and thus its potential, while intersecting streets are overburdened by traffic.

If we add to that the reductions in parking spaces in the plazas, forcing parking to the left of the narrow lanes in the Historic Center, this leaves only a tiny space where not even a bicycle or a pedicab can get through—the common vehicles of residents—causing heavy volumes prone to traffic jams. There are only four traffic lights in the city, three of them on the central highway. In “peak” hours traffic in the non-preferential directions suffers long delays because of this lack.

The narrow sidewalks of old Camagüey are mostly damaged, obstructed by structures placed to shore up the buildings, or by the theft of the utility covers. They are filled with dog excrement which is everywhere due to the lack of discipline among unethical people and the absence of inspectors capable of correcting the bad habits of animal owners.

People walk in the street more than on the sidewalks. No one respects the rules of circulation: not only do cyclists and pedicabs ride against traffic, but motorbikes and cars, very dangerously, do the same thing, turning the city into something very like a rural village.

More could be said of the current Camagüey. There remains much to be censored, but the shortage of publishing space makes it impossible. I am barely permitted to make a call to the Owner of the City asking him to consider these constructive criticisms and to begin his necessary labor. To ensure that this urban honeycomb shelters not only international tourism, but also its more than 300,000 inhabitants, his work is urgently needed along with more rigorous and effective attention.

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Editor ‘s Note: This text was originally published in the blog La Furia de los Vientos (The Fury of the Winds) and is reproduced here with permission of the author

Filmmakers Reaffirm Their Demands / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

A meeting of the Cuban Filmmakers G20 group held last year in the Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Center. Standing is Juan Carlos Cremata a recently censored Cuban filmmaker. (14ymedio)
A meeting of the Cuban Filmmakers G20 group held last year in the Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Center. Standing is Juan Carlos Cremata a recently censored Cuban filmmaker. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 21 May 2016 – Three years after the first meeting of the G20, a group of Cuban filmmakers who are demanding a Film Law, the group continues to wait for an institutional response that addresses their demands. This week a letter was made public reaffirming their demands for greater recognition for filmmakers and the legalization of independent productions, among other benefits.

Ignored by the official media and frowned upon by the authorities who should be responding to these demands, the group has also been transformed over its three years of existence. Exhausted, worn out and with the responsibility of other commitments, a group that formerly contained 22 names now has only eight members. continue reading

However, those who remain in the independent group believe that only united can they achieve the objective of having filmmakers’ expectations valued, and address everyone’s proposals in a practical way,” says the letter. They see that in this way they will be able to “confront the tasks ahead quickly, efficiently and responsibly.”

The artists make it clear that the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) should not disappear, but rather be transformed. The group recognizes the institution as the “rector of the film industry in the country” but clarifies that by saying that “the ICAIC is all of us.”

The highlight of their demands is the creation of a new Film Law to give a “cultural and legal coherence to the film and audiovisual system in the country.”

In earlier statements the filmmakers stressed the urgency of seeking better management and regulation of financial relations, banking and taxes for their work in a “transparent and efficient” way, in a context in which producers who not tied to the ICAIC now work without legal or institutional support.

The filmmakers see as a ray of hope the use of the word “cinema” in one of the new Guidelines emerging from the 7th Communist Party Congress held earlier this year. In addition, comments on the concept of new forms of economic management, made by Raul Castro at the Party Congress, have fueled hopes that audiovisual creators could be included.

The document that has circulated this week by email summarizes the events of the past three years and says that the effort has both “found support and run into misunderstandings.” The objectives that led to the creation of the G20 “have not been realized,” note the authors of the letter.

At the head of the mission to overcome misunderstandings and multiply support around the demands of filmmakers, are Manuel Perez Paredes and Fernando Perez—both winners of the National Film Award—Jorge Luis Sánchez, Magda González Grau, Dean Luis Reyes, Pedro Luis Rodriguez, Mijaíl Rodriguez and, although his name does not initially appear as a signatory of the letter, the filmmaker Enrique (Kiki) Álvarez.

The group emphasizes in its missive that it will continue “faithful to its founding objectives.” It also says that it will revisit the “meetings and exchanges among artists of three generations,” which it qualifies as “one of the most legitimate conquests of these three years.” These meetings take place in the Fresa y Chocolate Cultural Center in Havana.

The current legislation on cinema dates from 1959, when the ICAIC was founded, but the emergence of new technologies, the appearance of independent producers and the economic problems being experienced by the ICAIC, along with the notorious cases of institutional censorship, have exposed cracks in the regulations.

“The only chance for Cuban cinema to overcome its current ethical and aesthetic poverty is a Film Law with all and for the good of all*,” director Kiki Alvarez told 14ymedio. “The rest, the circumstantial debates, are detours, delays and we never know anymore who favors them,” he added.

*Translator’s note: A quote from José Martí repeated without cease by the Castros.

Revolutions and Democracy / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Entry of Fidel Castro into Havana in 1959 (Camilo Cienfuegos, Fidel Castro and (in profile) Huber Matos). (File)
Entry of Fidel Castro into Havana in 1959 (Camilo Cienfuegos, Fidel Castro and (in profile) Huber Matos). (File)

We observe a man who always speaks of patriotism and he is never patriotic, or only with regards to those of a certain class or certain party. We should fear him, because no one shows more faithfulness nor speaks more strongly against robbery than the thieves themselves.

Felix Varela (in El Habanero, 1824)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 19 May 2016 – Observing the tranquil surface of Cuban society offers a misleading impression. The stagnation is localized only in the government and in the party; and even there it is not very reliable. There is no doubt that many party members participated in and observed the 7th Congress of Cuban Communist Party (PCC) hoping for changes and, watching the direction of the presidential table, dutifully (and resignedly, why not) voted one more time unanimously.

Outside this context, where one thing is said but what is thought may be something else, there is right now a very interesting debate in which all parties believe themselves to be right. The most commonly used concepts to defend opposing theses can be covered in the perceptions of revolution and democracy, which each person conceptualizes according to his or her own line of thinking. continue reading

There are generalities that are inherent in the concept itself. In the case of the concept of revolution, it involves a drastic change within a historic concept to break with a state of things that is generally unjust. Although it is a collective project, revolutions don’t always enjoy massive support; it is not until it is resolved that the great majority of citizens are included.

That said, from the official positions of the Cuban government they are still talking about the Revolution that overthrew the Batista tyranny and initiated profound changes in Cuba as a continuing event. This group believes itself still within the revolutionary morass, but can a country live permanently in a revolution?

One immediate consequence of a social revolution is chaos; everything is changing, and after a nation experiences a revolutionary process it needs stability to return to the path of progress, a natural aspiration of society and of the individual.

The 1959 Revolution became a government many years ago and its young leaders are, today, old men who in their long time in power ensured mechanisms for the control of the country. It could be nostalgia for not having been there or it could be comfort with the idea of having made mistakes and implemented bad policies, all justified as an appropriate effect of the revolutionary moment.

It is here that democracy intervenes. Whatever kind it is, it must characterize itself because popular decisions are effective; directly or through the leaders elected through voting. And also through debate. One can’t insist on continuing to wear children’s clothes when one is an adult. Norberto Bobbio’s concept is always widely accepted: without recognized and protected human rights there cannot be a real democracy, and when we are citizens of the world, and not of one state, we are closer to peace.

We do not live in a democratic country, however much they want to minimize the lack of freedoms and blame it on the “blockade,” the “imperialist threat” and novelties such as “opinion surveys” or “media wars.” Because democracy is an umbrella that should also protect minorities of every kind.

We can see vestiges of Marxism-Leninism in this stumbling march toward capitalism without democracy, we see in the free state version of the idea enclosed in this disturbing paragraph of a letter from Engels to August Bebel, regarding power and those who oppose it: “So long as the proletariat still makes use of the state, it makes use of it, not for the purpose of freedom, but of keeping down its enemies and, as soon as there can be any question of freedom, the state as such ceases to exist.”

Where are the rights of minorities? How do we know if they are real minorities? So far, certainly, the public support for the government has been a matter of trust, but the suspicion showed by the government when asked for transparency is striking.

From the polemics that are shared among websites and from closed-door meetings to emails and the chorus of the interested, and from there to the classic rumor on the street, it is clear that there is an imperative to widen the debate. Patriotism is not a state monopoly nor is it reflected only in talking about history and honoring symbols, much less in the cult of personality, which by the way, this year promises North Korean dimensions.

One of the ideas that is addressed in this debate is the danger posed by “non-revolutionary transitions in the name of democracy,” but we know that this is a concern of the hardline defenders of that model that they stubbornly insist on calling socialist; ‘they’ being those who consider themselves anti-imperialists, those who “won’t budge an inch,” and who sleep peacefully without looking for other culprits for the collapse that surrounds them on all sides.

My concern as a citizen is not having democracy in the name of the Revolution.

Rules to Prevent Debate / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Merchants at El Trigal protested closing of the market. (14ymedio)
Merchants at El Trigal protested closing of the market. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 May 2016 — A small protest convoy and a demand by a group of bicycle taxi (pedicab) operators at the Plaza of the Revolution; indignation and astonishment among producers and traders about the arbitrary and unannounced closing of the wholesale market for agricultural products in the capital; irritation of several citizens who verbally attacked the policemen who were trying to maltreat a blind and helpless beggar, who was at the Carlos III marketplace; a sit down strike led by workers at a cigar factory in the city of Holguín over wages… These are some of the events that demonstrate both the state of dissatisfaction and frustration that are taking shape in Cuba’s population, the emergence of a sense of questioning the system and the incipient rebellion against the power and the authorities that represent it.

It is without a doubt, good news. The bad news is that social balance becomes dangerously fragile in a society where rights and prosperity have been banned, where institutions respond fully to the interests of the parasite power, where any opposition to the government is illegal and where public debate and dialogue between the power and “governed” are non-existent. continue reading

As the social tension grows and the government increases the obstacles, uncertainty becomes greater as to ways a conflict could be unleash that would elude institutional control.

If the power caste did not suffer from the colossal blindness of its proverbial arrogance, it would have enough lucidity to interpret the current signs

It seems that the above facts are insignificant and isolated amid the general acquiescence of Cubans with respect to their government. However, such events were unthinkable just five years ago, and even less so during the period prior to July 30, 2006, when the “Proclamation” was made public, which declared Fidel Castro’s supposed temporary withdrawal from the presidential chaise lounge, which he had intended to be his for life. The proclamation gave some hope to the people about improvements in their living conditions.

If the power caste did not suffer from the colossal blindness of its proverbial arrogance, it would have enough lucidity to interpret the current signs, especially when the still timely efforts of the people’s protests are taking place just weeks after the conclusion of the last Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, where presumably national economic and socio-political strategies were drawn for at least until 2030. A moderately insightful Government would at least have the perception that the social acceptance of its eternal monologue had ended and that the urgencies of the national reality far outweigh the temporary and strategic limits set by the Party Guidelines.

Like it or not, the lords of power must understand that the Cuban crisis demands changes dictated from social slogans, not from the Palace of the Revolution, and that such changes must occur willingly–that is, starting from a real national debate from which a transitional covenant might emerge–or by force, when an undesirable social explosion could take place due to the unstoppable deterioration of the population’s living conditions, with unpredictable consequences.

It turns out that autocracies are not designed for public scrutiny. Far from establishing a national dialogue which would, in principle, act as an escape valve for frustrations, the last page of the Party newspaper Granma on Tuesday May 17th, 2016 contained an article which is the absolute denial of this possibility. The article is titled Rules for Debate or Matter of Principles, signed by a (let’s use the term they prefer) “revolutionary intellectual” by the name of Rafael Cruz Ramos, which establishes two simple “rules” for an imaginary debate which, by the way, the reader never catches a glimpse of.

In Cuba, we know, all money is cursed, unless it is blessed and managed by the leaders of the Castro-cracy

Summarizing a substantial verbal extraction that fills an entire page with what might have been said in a few paragraphs, Mr. Cruz tries unsuccessfully to enunciate a first rule, designed not to establish the basis or topics for that nonexistent debate-monologue of his, but what will not be included in it, under any circumstances.

We should not ever debate with “those who come to us carrying a political fragmentation grenade ready to have it explode in the heart of the country, of the Republic, of the motherland, in order to destroy the socialist system under construction and restore the archaic and worn-out capitalist system” Cruz Ramos assures us, though no one knows what authority or supranational power this unknown subject has that he can issue such categorical guidelines.

The second rule is also set from denial, and validating the same old Castro-style singsongs: “We will not deal with anyone who is funded, backed, or supported by the terrorist anti-Cuban money from Miami or any other nation, including those of old Europe”. Because in Cuba we already know that all money is cursed unless it is blessed and managed by the leaders of the Castro-cracy, who will later distribute some loose change or other prizes among its most faithful servants. This may well be Mr. Cruz Ramos’s case.

The article is extremely emotional and perhaps because of that it is extremely vague. It is hard to figure out what he means by “we,” what topics would be subject to debate, who would participate, who would carry the dangerous “political fragmentation grenade” or what it consists of. Instead, it can be assumed that there will be no debate with anyone who is not on the side of the political power. Therefore, from this point any possibility for debate is null.

Cruz Ramos could have saved his efforts. Because if we are talking about a debate, it would be a discussion between two or more individuals, groups, etc., on topics or issues of public interest, in which a moderator and audience would also participate. It may be oral, written, or take place in an internet forum, but in all cases certain rules and recommendations must be observed that will allow for the development of the discussions, and, in the best of cases, making agreements.

The standards and recommendations are universal and unavoidable for the development of any discussion, and consist of observing principles as basic as not imposing one’s personal views, making a point through argument and counter-argument, listening carefully to others, without interrupting or underestimating their criteria, being brief and concise, respecting differences, speaking freely, expressing ourselves clearly, using appropriate vocabulary, avoiding verbal or physical attacks as well as mocking and other behaviors that might disqualify the antagonist, among others.

Cruz Ramos does not propose a debate, but total commitment of Cubans to the Government

But Cruz Ramos violates every one of these rules, ending exactly in the opposite corner: he disqualifies a priori the potential antagonist, he refuses to listen to arguments other than his own, he has no argument but argues, criticizes in the abstract without offering concrete proposals, he extends unnecessarily without managing to explain or make himself clearly understood. Cruz Ramos does not propose a debate, but total commitment of Cubans to the Government

On the other hand, his convoluted discourse mixes dissimilar topics and out of context references, distorting facts, history, characters and his and others’ realities. An apparent inconsistency which is, nevertheless, perfectly consistent with the system he defends. So, to refute each and every one of the passionate lines of Rules for Debate… would be as extensive as it would be unproductive, especially when it becomes obvious that this is his intention: to distract from the essence, which is the failure of the Cuban sociopolitical system imposed on Cubans more than half a century ago.

But, at least it is useful to note what is unable to be concealed of the conjunction of two great fears of the Government cupula: the real possibility that popular protests might become more generalized–which is not or does not have the same political costs to strike dissident demonstrations or repress poor people for whom, de jure, the Revolution was created more than half a century ago–and the impossibility of further delaying, without consequences, a broad and inclusive debate over Cuba’s destinies.

It becomes clear that if the Castro regime does not feel capable of withstanding the test of a national debate, then its weakness is as great as its arrogance. But if, in addition, the best of its think-tanks, in order to deal with that eventuality carry the same argumentative-theoretical baggage as Rafael Cruz Ramos, the debate can already be considered lost.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Fidel And Raul Castro “Are Very, Very Spanish” / 14ymedio

José Manuel García-Margallo during the interview in the Breakfasts program on Spanish Television (TVE). (Video Capture)
José Manuel García-Margallo during the interview in the Breakfasts program on Spanish Television (TVE). (Video Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 18 May 2016 — The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, José Manuel García-Margallo, in an interview on Spanish Television on Wednesday, defended his meeting with Raul Castro in Cuba, recalling the ties that unite the two countries, among them the “Spanishness” of the Castros.

“In Cuba, apart from human relationships, Fidel and Raul’s father was a soldier who fought with our troops [on the Spanish side] in [Cuba’s war of] independence, and then turned. They are very very Spanish,” he said. continue reading

The minister appeared on TVE’s “Breakfasts,” a program on a state channel dedicated to political analysis, on his return from a trip to Cuba and Ecuador. Among the questions raised during the interview, García-Margallo was asked about his meeting with the Cuban president and the possible image of legitimizing the regime that this might have sent. The foreign minister asked that his meeting with Raul Castro be seen in context, recalling that Castro had also met recently with Pope Francis and the president of the United States, Barack Obama, as well as representatives from many European countries.

“We have initialed an important chapter in European Union-Cuba [relations] in which we are talking about human rights. In addition, we have normal contact with civil society. Therefore, incorporating this whole chapter of human rights in the agreement is a good sign and Spain cannot be, being who we are and what we have been in Cuba, the only country that is reticent and decides not to go,” defended the minister.

García-Margallo pointed out that Spain is the island’s third largest trading partner, behind only China and Venezuela, and companies in his country manage 90% of the 5-star hotels in Cuba, and 60% of all hotels. In addition, he said Spanish companies are negotiating tenders for the construction of four airports in Cuba, a country with many opportunities for infrastructure. “With Cuba we have such a special relationship that it would be very bad if Spain sat on the sidelines and we let everyone else on the right and the left get ahead of us,” he affirmed.

García-Margallo has framed Spain’s relationship with Cuba in different historical contexts, from the European Union Common Position (promoted in 1996 by former president José María Aznar) up to the new relations of the EU and the US with the island. In addition, he recalled that his position on human rights is clear and was defended by himself during speech on his previous visit to Havana. “The Cuban people, at this moment, primarily want progress and economic development, and we are going to help them in this change,” he concluded.

With regards to Venezuela, García-Margallo announced in this television interview the return to Caracas of the Spanish ambassador, Antonio Perez Hernandez. The minister gave instructions this same morning for the ambassador’s return to Venezuela; he left last April in protest at the “insults” of President Nicolas Maduro toward Spain’s prime minister, Mariano Rajoy. The Venezuelan president called the Spanish president “racist, corrupt trash and colonialist garbage.”

The chief of Spanish diplomacy explained that the reason for the return of the ambassador is the presence or 400,000 citizens with dual nationality who “need protection.” In addition, he said that former Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is in the country and that Albert Rivera, leader of the Citizens Party, will travel there next Monday.

Venezuela is in an “absolutely impossible” situation, Garcia-Margallo said, adding that “we must deploy the foreign service.”

Jose Daniel Ferrer Gets a Passport / 14ymedio

José Daniel Ferrer with his passport with a visa for the US. (14ymedio)
José Daniel Ferrer with his passport with a visa for the US. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 18 May 2016 – Government opponent José Daniel Ferrer received his new passport on Tuesday, and will be able to travel outside the country for the first time. The former prisoner of the Black Spring has permission to leave the country only once, according to information from Cuban authorities. During his trip he plans to visit the United States and several European countries, according to what he told this newspaper.

The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) will fly to Florida on Wednesday, where his plans to visit his mother and brother, Luis Enrique Ferrer, also a former political prisoner. “I want to see many good Cubans, especially those who in one way or another support the cause of the democratization of Cuba. I want to hug them,” he said.

Ferrer also plans to go to the Swiss city of Geneva, to appear before the United Nations Human Rights Council, and then he will visit Spain. “If I have the time I want to go to Poland, to the Gdansk shipyards, where the great demonstrations of the Solidarity Union took place,” he told 14ymedio.

Earlier this year, Ferrer received, along with other former political prisoners, the Homo Homini Prize awarded each year by the Czech NGO People in Need, for his contribution “in an outstanding way to the promotion of human rights, democracy and the non-violent resolution of political conflicts.” None of the award recipients were able to attend to the award ceremony because of travel restrictions imposed on them by the Cuban government.

Pedicabs, A Battle For The Streets / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Pedicab in Havana. (14ymedio)
Pedicab in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 16 May 2016 — A fine drizzle falls on the city and Felix, a pedicab driver for 22 years, takes advantage of the chance to take a break. Beside Havana’s Capitol building the man recalls a protest held last Monday by a group of his colleagues in the Plaza of the Revolution. They were demanding the right to use several streets that are now closed to their tricycles, along with less harassment from inspectors.

From a pocket in his fanny-pack he extracts a wad of papers and displays them with chagrin. They are the traffic fines that have been imposed on him so far this year, some thirty folded gray papers from the many he displays. Every one bears a stamp where we can read the word “paid.” continue reading

“Every day I have to keep all these receipts with me,” the man explains, and recalls that once he had to spend three nights in the police station because the data base of traffic fines hadn’t been updated with his information. “They work very badly, sometimes after paying, your name still shows up on the list of the defaulters,” comments Felix.

While he details the police harassment they receive, another pedicab driver arrives. The driver, Alejandro, joins the conversation and points out that even though they pay for a license to do their work, they don’t have “the right to travel on many of the important streets, like Galiano, Reina and Monte.”

Those three major arteries connect several districts and for decades have been the principal thoroughfares for this mode of transport, greatly used by Cubans for short distances. However, the pedicab drivers complain that the travel restrictions have been imposed on them under the justification of moving traffic at a higher speed on the avenues.

Yaseil Rodriguez, who has made his living pedaling for nearly a decade, says that the authorities have informed them that these vehicles move “very slowly.” A justification that does not convince him. “We aren’t allowed on these streets and the horse-drawn carts full of tourists managed by Eusebio Leal are?”

Pedicab drivers in Havana. From left to right, Yasiel Rodríguez, Noslen López y Hector Hernández. (14ymedio)
Pedicab drivers in Havana. From left to right, Yasiel Rodríguez, Noslen López y Hector Hernández. (14ymedio)

Rodriguez enumerates the streets where it is no longer possible to travel in a pedicab: “Monte, Monserrate, Zulueta, Prado, Egido, Industria, San Lázaro, la Avenida del Puerto y Cuba.” This latter “was a street in Old Havana where we were always able to travel without problems.”

The fines imposed for violating these restrictions range from 700 to 1,500 Cuban pesos. The police pay special attention to keeping the pedicabs outside the area around Fraternity Park. But the fines are not the most severe punishment; the worst is having the vehicle held at the police station until the driver pays or clarifies the situation.

Many pedicab drivers consider the application of the law “excessive.” This disagreement led to some forty of them traveling in a caravan to the Plaza of the Revolution on 10 May, with the intention to demand an end “to the abuse” against the drivers. So far they have received no response from the authorities.

For Nolsen Lopez, another young pedicab drivers, the pressure has become unbearable. “You have to travel looking on all sides as if you were transporting arms or drugs,” he said, explaining the stress he experiences during the workday. The man complains of the excessive cost to keep pedaling, because “you have to pay these fines, pay for the license, pay into social security, insurance, and if I get sick I have to use my savings because they don’t give you anything in these cases.”

Among the demands these self-employed workers are championing is also a reopening of the licenses to practice the occupation. The young man says that at the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) it’s been ”four and a half years without their issuing permission to drive a pedicab.” For that reason they must work under the category of “helper,” a condition that limits their work even more.

“If the authorities do not respond on this issue, on Tuesday we will go to the Plaza again,” said Lopez, who did not take part in the first protest. “This time I’ll go because abuse has to end, if more of us go, it’s much better.”

 

Cuban Phone Company to Block “Blacklisted” Phones / 14ymedio

Cuba’s phone company says that its new measures are to prevent fraudulent use of lost or stolen phones. (DC)
Cuba’s phone company says that its new measures are to prevent fraudulent use of lost or stolen phones. (DC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 May 2016 – Cuba’s government-owned phone company, Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETECSA), has announced that starting this Wednesday, May 18, new rules will come into effect for cellphones which will more strongly control their use.

According to the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), the measures will include an automatic blocking of a line if the SIM card inserted in the phone is on the “blacklist.” continue reading

According to that official newspaper, the new regulation is the result on an “increase in reports associated with criminal acts including theft and/or loss of cellphones, fraudulent changing of the IMEI (International Mobile Station Equipment) code which allows each mobile phone to be uniquely identified worldwide, which is done by unscrupulous citizens to facilitate the illegal use of these cellphones which are on the blacklist (blocked), and the desire to protect the population from the acts of these teams [of thieves].”

Owners of a line whose phone has been stolen or lost, according to the official note, can ask to have their device included on the “blacklist,” “upon presentation of documentation that validates the ownership or property.” ETECSA has made available through its website (www.etecsa.cu), it says, a site where you can find out if your phone is on the blacklist, by entering the IMEI, which can be obtained by dialing *#06#.

If the line is blocked, the owner has five days to “appear in ETECSA’s commercial offices and to clarify the causes of the event in order to unlock the line,” otherwise the service will be cancelled.

In addition, the new measures establish that users who have an IMEI that “is not valid (incorrect IMEI numbering)” must replace their device by this Wednesday. The newspaper warned that “those customers who are in this situation will be notified promptly by phone.”

Cellphone repair workshops managed by private individuals have become very popular in Cuba in recent years. One of their most provided services is unlocking devices that have been blocked by the phone company, or devices that have been stolen.

Cuban Government Announces New Set of Price Reductions / 14ymedio

A store that sells in convertible pesos, Havana. (EFE)
A store that sells in convertible pesos, Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 17 May 2016 – The Cuban government has published an “official note” announcing price reductions for products sold in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) which will go into effect on Tuesday. The measure is aimed at “gradually increasing the purchasing power of the Cuban pesos (CUP),” explained the Ministry of Finances and Prices in the announcement read on primetime television news this Monday.

Among the products that will benefit from the reductions is powdered milk, the price of which was reduced by 9%, and liquid milk which was reduced by 20%. continue reading

“Powdered milk in half-kilo tri-laminate bags is reduced from 2.90 CUC to 2.65 CUC [the average monthly wage in Cuba is the equivalent of about 20-25 CUC]. The same product, in a half-kilo lithographed nylon bag is 2.55 CUC,” the note offered as an example.

The decision includes offering some items wholesale in several stores of the government-run chains TRD-Caribe and CIMEX, which already sell chicken in large boxes. Starting now, milk will also be added to this with “powdered milk in a 25 kilo sack for 119.85 CUC.”

The drop in prices will include “custards, jellies, grain rice, dried beans and canned goods (meat, seafood, fruit and vegetables) between 25% and 30%,” the note detailed.

In addition, children’s footwear will be reduced approximately 6%, a decision the government defines as part of “the societal strategies to address the effects of the current demographic dynamics.”

In late April, the government announced a reduction in the prices of various foods and other commodities sold in stores in convertible pesos (CUC) and national currency (CUP). The move came at a time of growing popular disconnect in the rising cost of living and shortages.

See also:

 

El Trigal Wholesale Market’s Last Day / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

A cart driver at the El Trigal wholesale agricultural market in Havana (14ymedio)
A cart driver at the El Trigal wholesale agricultural market in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 14 May 2016 — The line of trucks extends along the embankment that provides access to the only wholesale agricultural market in Havana. But unlike other days, the farmers who have come with their merchandise neither unload it nor sell it. The place is surrounded by police and someone is passing out a flyer confirming the announcement on TV primetime news: El Trigal market has closed.

Many of those who congregated this Friday in front of the access to large space hadn’t heard the “bad news.” They came with their boxes and sacks loaded with farm products and found the employees as surprised as they were over the suspension of sales in the 292 spaces where, until a few hours ago, beans, onions, avocados and other fruits and vegetables were for sale. continue reading

The driver of a truck loaded with mangos almost begged the custodians of El Trigal to let him sell his merchandise. “I came from Santiago de Cuba and now the whole trip is wasted,” complained the man. “I’m a farmer,” he clarified, to avoid being labeled an “intermediary.” An inspector warned him that if he stayed in the vicinity he would be fined and his product would be confiscated.

After noon the place is a beehive of dissatisfaction and complaints. “Boris Fuentes, the wine writer for Cuba Dice was here,” said one of the carters, a man who until Thursday made a living carrying merchandise from the trucks to the stalls and pallets. The young man recalled when an official reporter wanted to record a program about the high prices of food in a market conceived to lower the cost of basic food supplies.

“People insulted him and asked him why he didn’t do a story about the high prices in the [officially-named] Hard Currency Collection Stores run by the State,” said a carter. A few yards away, Diosbel Castro Rodriguez, 24, can’t quite believe he has lost the job that supports his family. “As long as I work and can feed my family everything is fine. But I have two kids and now without work I can’t stop thinking about what I can do,” insinuates the man.

Rodriguez Castro repeated the claim of many others in El Trigal: “They can’t do this from one day to the next, they have to give us some time, so we can look for other work,” he laments.

Yerandy Diaz, a resident of Fortuna, believes that it was on purpose that the place was closed without any notice to users and facility workers so they “did not have time for anything, for protests or to go anywhere.” According to him, the president of the cooperative that managed the market, Carlos Sablon Sosa, was called to an emergency meeting late on Thursday afternoon.

A group of vendors waiting for El Trigal to be reopened because of people’s pressure
A group of vendors waiting for El Trigal to be reopened because of people’s pressure

While Sablon Sosa was in the meeting a group of inspectors showed up and passed out a paper confirming the closure. “They came here with two police cars to intimidate people and make sure there wasn’t any hassle,” recalls Yerandy Diaz.

Working in the place were 66 carters who paid license fees to exercise their occupation, more than 30 vendors and a hundred people in the dining areas, and “over a thousand peasants who come here to sell every week,” said Diaz. All have been perplexed by the government’s decision to suspend sales.

“We have officially become unemployed, up in the air, they have not given us another alternative work,” Diaz complains facing the police as tempers begin to flare. The young man criticizes the lack of transparency because the TV news reported it was being closed “for illegalities but they didn’t detail them.”

The line of trucks continues to grow, spending hours in front of the door of El Trigal trying to convince the inspectors and the police that “at least give us one last chance to sell what we already brought here,” but authorities do not give in.

Yorenny Cobas, a resident of Fortuna, was carter at El Trigal and explains that he worked moving the product from one place to another. “We charge for the service at the time we provide it, depending on the load, it can be 10, 15 or 20 Cuban pesos; we pay for a license that costs 200 pesos a month, plus more than 87 pesos for social security and 60 pesos a day every time we work, for renting the cooperative’s truck.”

The carter, without much hope, questions an inspector. “Do you know how many families are now left with nothing?” He considers that what happened with El Trigal will bring out “more illegalities” because the farmers “will try to bring the merchandise and sell it.”

The evening falls and El Trigal remains closed, there is another police car and on the market access road a farmer tries, at a whisper, to sell his mangoes at a liquidation price.

El Trigal Wholesale Agricultural Market Closes Its Doors / 14ymedio

Empty stalls at El Trigal market. (14ymedio)
Empty stalls at El Trigal market. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 May 2016 – Less than three years after it opened, the El Trigal agricultural market closed its doors this Friday after it was announced on primetime television news last night by the vice president of the provincial government, Luis Carlos Gongora Dominguez.

Located in Havana’s Boyeros municipality, the center had been heavily criticized by the official press itself in recent months, for its high prices and their possible causes. An article published on the Cubadebate site today enumerated the irregularities that occurred in the market, such as “violations, bad management, corruption, lack of control.” continue reading

Gongora Dominguez said that the sale of agricultural products would cease “temporarily” and the agricultural cooperative that manages the place would also be dissolved, because of “a group of irregularities” that were presented.

The vice president of the provincial government did not detail the causes that have led to the closure of El Trigal, and the television news just announced that in the coming days they will explain to people what happened through “Cuba Dice” (Cuba Says), an information segment that addresses issues such as shortages, the diversion of resources and bureaucratic excesses, from an official point of view.

With the closing of El Trigal many of the retail agricultural markets lost their source of supply in the Cuban capital, including local markets and pushcart vendors.

The El Trigal market, with 16,000 square meters and 292 stalls, was opened with great fanfare in December of 2013, and was created with the purpose, among others, of “eliminating obstacles to the marketing of agricultural products.” The cooperative that managed El Trigal was established with ten partners and the place was basically conceived to concentrate the production from Artemisa and Mayabeque provinces for distribution in Havana.

However, high prices and shortages in that market have been the reality in the just over two years of the life of El Trigal.

Rousseff’s Ouster Will Have a Negative Impact On The Cuban Economy / 14ymedio

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. (Facebook)
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. (Facebook)

14ymedio/Agencies, Havana, 13 May 2016 — The suspension of the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, is bad news for Cuba, which, despite detente with Washington, is feeling the effects of the recession affecting its allies in South America and Africa. Brazil will review its short-term policy toward the island, as revealed on Friday to Reuters, by a diplomat from that country who was stationed in Havana.

Over the past 13 years, the Government of Brazil provided Havana with at least 1.75 billion dollars in loans on favorable terms, resulting in criticism from the opposition, which is also angered by the “More Doctors” program, which sent some 11,400 Cuban doctors to work in Brazil. continue reading

These projects will be reexamined after the vote in the Brazilian Senate this Thursday and the ouster of president Rousseff for allegedly falsifying public accounts.

“There will be a short-term review of our policy toward Cuba because the money has run out. All this is not on hold,” said a Brazilian diplomat who asked to remain anonymous.

Some of the Brazilian loans were spent on the expansion of the Mariel Special Development zone, with repayment periods of 25 years at rates of between 4.4% and 6.9%, according to official data from Brazil. The detractors of this policy believe that the terms of the agreements have been extremely generous to a country like Cuba, with recognized solvency problems.

It is not expected that the interim government led by Michel Temer will end the collaboration with the with the Cuban doctors program working in Brazil since 2013, although it will not contract with new doctors. “This model of cooperation is debatable and he will not support, although I doubt they throw the Cuban doctors out of the country,” a diplomatic source told Reuters.

Last month, Rousseff extended the health services contract for three years, a measure that is currently pending in Congress.

Cuban medical personnel work in some of the remotest regions of Brazil, where they enjoy the support of local authorities. The holding of municipal elections in October is one of the factors that Congress should consider before opting for a drastic interruption of the program of cooperation.

Allies like Venezuela, Brazil and Angola have been used their enormous oil revenue during the boom years—now diminished by the very low price per barrel—to pay for medical and educational services from Cuba, making these a principal source of hard currency for the island..

The thaw reached by President Raul Castro with the United States has been a boost for tourism, but revenue from this sector accounts for only about a third of the seven billion earned in 2014 through the export of health and education services.

The Government of Cuba began to cut imports and request longer deadlines for payment to foreign suppliers last year, and is falling behind in its obligations this year, according to Western diplomats and businessmen. “Clearly, they have a liquidity problem. Some of our companies receive payments and others do not,” a European ambassador told Reuters on Monday.

The official forecast points to a slowdown in economic growth for 2016 compared to 4% increase recorded last year.

Hundreds of Cuban Migrants Are Stuck in Panama Without $805 to Travel to Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cuban migrants stranded in Panama are waiting to buy their tickets to Mexico. (Courtesy)
Cuban migrants stranded in Panama are waiting to buy their tickets to Mexico. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 13 May 2016 — More than 300 Cuban migrants cannot pay their passage to Mexico or have only part of the money, a source in the Panamanian government who requested anonymity told 14ymedio on Friday. The migrants are in a temporary shelter prepared by the authorities in Gualaca (Chiriqui province), and so far it has not been decided what will happen with those who don’t manage to get together the $805 that Panama’s Copa Airlines is asking to take them to Ciudad Juarez.

Yuneisis Martell, a woman from Villa Clara stranded in Panama, says chagrined, “The majority have already left, those of us who are left are those who have nothing.” continue reading

“I don’t know what they are going to do with us, the problem is that many of us here lost money on the way, with the assaults, and what we had left went to paying for the stay and food in Pasa Canoas,” on the border with Costa Rica.

In recent days, more than 1,000 Cubans have flown to Ciudad Juarez, or are in the process of doing so, according to sources in the National Migration Service. Last Monday, the Panamanian government started the transfer of more than 3,800 Cubans who had been stranded in their country, as part of an agreement with Mexico.

Xiegdel Candanedo, representative of Caritas’ Social Pastoral in the Chiriqui province, told 14ymedio that this organization, belonging to the Catholic Church, will continue to support the Cubans. According Candanedo, the ministry has so far donated food, medicine and clothing, collaborating with the National Migration Service and the National Civil Protection Service.

Candanedo said his organization “is not in a position to spend thousands of dollars to help Cubans to reach the United States,” but said that at least four or five passages have been paid for by private donors through Caritas. “Today we have learned of the case of a family that has the resources to buy tickets for the parents, but needs to find the money for the passage of the child,” he said.

For Keila Ortega the hours in Gualaca don’t pass. Every time she sees a compañero leave the refuge, while she remains stuck there, she feels more desperate. “My friends have turned their backs on me and those who could help me right now are in a very difficult situation. They’ve already done enough.”

The women fears that in the end she’ll remain trapped in Panama. “There are those who say the Cuban-American members of Congress can’t help us. I would like anyone reading this to remember that they, too, came from Cuba in the same situation as we are in, and it might touch their hearts,” she said.

A Miami businessman is making efforts to collaborate with helping these migrants, although he declined to comment as long as his plans aren’t firm.

In the Dark / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Residents of #2 Bernaza Street, between Obispo and O'Reilly, were victims of an accident caused by the Electric Company at the site of repairs
Residents of #2 Bernaza Street, between Obispo and O’Reilly, were victims of an accident caused by the Electric Company at the site of repairs

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 13 May 2016 — The municipality of Old Havana had its ancient underground water and electrical systems renovated last year. The streets were dug up to replace the pipes and wiring. Beyond the mess and the dust, these works have brought the residents two precious services, services without which it is unthinkable to live in a modern city. But the happiness has not been felt everywhere.

Residents of #2 Bernaza Street, between Obispo and O’Reilly, were victims of an accident caused by the Electric Company at the site of the repairs. An overload destroyed electrical appliances; a few stabilizers managed to protect a few. The jolt didn’t even spare many appliances protected by their owners’ surge protectors. continue reading

The building remained dark for several days and the residents organized to complain. The Electric Company blamed the Havana Water Company, which was able to prove its innocence, so the Electric Company was obliged to replace—“when there is availability”—the burned out appliances and to extend new wiring to the meters.

From the meters onward, that is to every apartment, is being litigated, so the majority of the residents, watching the days tick by without power, decided to resolve it themselves and to pay the Electric Company workers under the counter to connect their homes. With the wiring outside, almost all the residents have had makeshift electrical service for months now. But there are stubborn residents, or those who don’t have the 100 CUC (roughly $100 US) that it would cost to pay the electrical workers, and with faith in the power of justice, they have decided to take their case through institutional channels.

Those who have now lacked electricity for six months are finding the institutions unresponsive. The delegate to the People’s Power showed up on the day of the accident, but is surely engaged in the many other problems of her constituency. There was silence in response to letters to the Municipal and Provincial People’s Power. Silence in response to the section for complaint letters at the newspapers Juventud Rebel and Granma. Silence in response to a letter to the similar section at the Havana Channel. And silence in response to letters to the Electric Company. All this correspondence has been the victim of these residents’ “darkness syndrome,” and they haven’t received even an acknowledgement of receipt.

Only the Prosecutor took the time to rule that the residents are right and that the Electric Company is responsible, but this has not resulted in any change for those affected.

And in an event that is not without irony, the electric bills, which should show a “zero” for electrical usage, have arrived with an “approximate use” calculation, which after the accident caused by the Company last November is applied to the residents who have connected themselves to the electricity. Sparking new trips to the Basic Electricity Office in Old Havana to explain to them what they should obviously be very aware of.

One of the residents rests his hopes on managing to get an interview with the Minister of Basic Industry, which controls the Electric Company. His effort began through a friend who has a friend who is a friend of the minister, but after waiting three months for this improbable event, he went to the ministry in person and asked for an interview. He was assured that even though it is delayed, the minister deals with cases like his, so he feels optimistic that the blackout he is suffering will be resolved.

After learning about this event, we can make some inferences that go beyond who is responsible and what the deadlines for resolution are:

  • Most of the neighbors have no confidence in the institutions and decide to resolve the problem on their own
  • The pathetic complaint mechanisms available to citizens do not work
  • The capacity of some to resign themselves to such things is worthy of a study that could explain certain social behaviors, well beyond those related to a simple outage

Coppelia Puts Makeup on the Shortages / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Those who knew the centrally located ice cream parlor during its first decades of life complain that after the remodeling the presentation, variety and taste of the products on offer has not improved. (14ymedio)
Those who knew the centrally located ice cream parlor during its first decades of life complain that after the remodeling the presentation, variety and taste of the products on offer has not improved. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 May 2016 – Havanans enjoyed a certain freshness twice this weekend. Not only did the thermometers drop a few degrees, but the emblematic Coppelia ice cream parlor, located in the heart of the capital, reopened its doors after being closed for repairs for several weeks. The work is part of the 50th anniversary celebration of this famous place, which is commemorated on the 4th of June.

The reopening of Coppelia has given rise to many reports in the official press. Last Friday, the place was visited by a select group of officials and later the public was allowed in. The customers could see that after a new coat of paint and the revitalized green areas, the quality of the ice cream sold in Cuban pesos continues to be low. continue reading

On Tuesday afternoon, a long line extended under the sun outside what is commonly called the “Cathedral of Ice Cream.” However, those who knew the centrally located place in its first decades of life complained that the remodel has not been accompanied by an improvement in the products, either in its presentation or in its flavor and variety.

heladeria-Coppelia-puertas-proceso-reparacion_CYMIMA20160511_0022_12

A man about 60 commented that the ice cream was “watered down,” he had tried the combination known as a “salad” which is five scoops and some cookies. The man couldn’t stop laughing when near his table a young man exclaimed he was amazed that Coppelia had returned with “a pile of flavors<’ because on the menu you could read that they are selling chocolate, curly chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.

Melancholy, the customer then evoked the original menu that distinguished the most famous Cuban ice cream parlor, when there were 26 flavors and 24 possible combinations. The difference is not in the quantity, but in the deterioration of the quality of the ice cream, that sometimes has bits of ice in it, little flavor and no pieces of natural fruit, like the strawberry, the orange pineapple and the mango they used to have.heladeria-Coppelia-puertas-proceso-reparacion_CYMIMA20160511_0015_12

To the annoyance of the customers, the place keeps some traces of the “workers diner” that it was during the Special Period. For example, you have to share the tables, there can’t be any vacant chairs, and it is not always pleasant to sit with strangers.

On the top floor, known as The Tower, and beautifully designed by the architect Mario Girona, they still limit sales to “two specialties per person” according to an employee. However, with a couple of bill slipped into the right hands, a customers can take home all the ice cream they want, always with the stealth of “not filling the cups in view of the bosses,” says the waitress.

One of the new features much appreciated after the closing is the white earthenware dishes in The Tower that replace the plastic ones, which, however, remain in the so-called “courts” down below. In the first week of the reopening, all the employees who serve the ice cream haven’t learned how to serve the ice cream in hollow scoops, a unique specialty of selling ice cream in Cuba, and that has characterized the celebrated ice cream parlor for years.

“Let’s see how it is three weeks from now,” said a distrustful mother who took her two little kids to have ice cream at 23rd and L, the most famous corner in the capital, this Tuesday. The woman sneered that “the cookies that are supposed to go with the ice cream are where they’re supposed to be, on the plate,” but “in a few days they’ll be back in the hands of the resellers outside the courts selling for extortionate prices.

A group of tourists naively asked customers why they were lined up a few yards from a completely empty area selling the most varieties of ice cream. A young college student, who was with a group of students from the philosophy school, explained to the foreigners the difference between consuming things in Cuban pesos versus Convertible pesos. “The one in chavitos (convertible pesos) is better, but there’s no one who can afford it,” said the young man.

The areas that are refurbished now are the The Court and The Tower, along with the imposing white staircase that leads to the upper level, the dome, the roof, and the typical wood and glass windows, also located on the upper level. The refurbishment program includes spaces such as the bar on the ground floor and the bathrooms, which will begin to be restored in the coming weeks.

However, for many customers the improvements should not remain in the physical appearance of Coppelia, but should be targeted to recovering the prestige it once enjoyed, now “watered down” like its ice cream, poor quality, unprofessional treatment by its employees and the absurd measures implemented in its services, including the closure of the beautiful passage to passersby. From now on, you can only enter after standing in the long line outside the Cathedral of Ice Cream that seems to have lost its way.