The Basket Sold to Healthcare Workers Costs Them Half of Their Monthly Salary

The entire package as shown in this photo costs 750 Cuban pesos (CUP), just over $30, and represents more than half the average salary of a healthcare worker. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 May 2020 — Mayonnaise, chicken, soaps, detergent, tomato sauce and a cloth to clean the floor make up the module that the Government is selling to healthcare workers in various hospitals in Havana. The entire package costs 750 CUP, just over $30, and represents more than half the average monthly salary of a healthcare worker.

For some medical specialists, the cost of the basket has represented one third of their salary, but in the case of technicians and nurses, the value of these products exceeds, or sometimes equals, the totality of their monthly salary. This newspaper has talked to employees who have had to ask family and friends for money to cover the purchase.

The module must be paid for in cash and the health authorities have not clarified if it is a one-time delivery or if the sale will be repeated in the coming months. In some hospitals it has been said that it will be distributed again in June. continue reading

“The hospital center negotiates with the workers about what they want the module to contain, taking into account the offers made by the Export and Import Corporation (CIMEX) and thus it is being adapted,” a doctor who works in a Havana health center told 14ymedio. “In my hospital they spent a week negotiating, the hospital’s management of the negotiation is what matters,” he explains.

“It is quite varied, for example cardiovascular workers askedfor 10 malts and 10 beers,” says another doctor. “Although it had no toilet paper, but there wasn’t any at that time… There were those who protested because it was too much money, but anyway the money would only buy the same thing at the store but with a five-hour line,” he says.

For the staff of the flagship Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital  in Centro Habana, the module included a small can of tuna and another of evaporated milk.

In the last month, state businesses have suffered a resurgence of the shortage of basic products. The most demanded are chicken, cold cuts or sausages, vegetable oil, soaps and detergent, although agricultural markets and pork have also been severely affected by the pandemic.

In the first weeks of the arrival of the coronavirus on the Island, complaints were heard from medical personnel, who could not wait in line for hours to buy food and also attend to their healthcare duties. Initially, a strategy was devised to prioritize nurses and doctors in the lines, but finally the government seems to have opted for the distribution of baskets for the sector.

Although in 2014 the Government approved a salary increase for the more than 440,000 workers in the Public Health sector, the monthly salary still does not exceed the equivalent of $70, a figure that is almost symbolic in a country where a liter of sunflower oil reaches 2 dollars and a kilo of chicken is around 1.90 dollars.

Cubans have become accustomed for decades to offering gifts and ’incentives’ to physicians to get favorable treatment, a practice that the government prohibits but onte that has reached all levels of care and all specialties. However, the amount the doctors are collecting from this type of informal “entry fee” has been greatly reduced during the Covid-19 crisis by the suspension of many regular consultations.

As a consequence of this precarious situation, there are many Cuban doctors who want to serve on medical missions in other countries. Although once abroad they only receive between 10% and 25% of the total salary paid by local governments to Cuba’s Ministry of Health, this amount is much higher than what they receive on the island.

These days, when the pandemic has led to an upturn in official contracts to send health personnel abroad, many doctors are hoping to be sent to any of the 22 countries to which brigades have been sent from the Island.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Bewilderment in the Streets of Central Havana

Some families have managed to avoid shortages in stores thanks to courier services that make food deliveries to their homes.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, May 28, 2020 — They haven’t seen each other for a long time. First they wave from across the street but then begin walking towards each other. Keeping their distance, the two friends exchange greetings by bumping elbows together. Without removing their face masks, they talk for a few minutes under the sun on San Lazaro Street.

A stroll through Central Havana reveals how many routines, both large and small, have changed since coronavirus arrived on the island.

“My daughter turns fifteen next year. She used to hate talking on the phone but now she spends all day glued to it, chatting with her friends,” says 45-year-old Alicia Pineda. This new pastime that her daughter has acquired since confinement began has translated into a heftier phone bill for Pineda. continue reading

In Central Habana it is normal to see older adults leaning out of doorways, trying to get some air or looking for a familiar face to say hello.

“The bill from Etesca usually isn’t more than 20 Cuban pesos but this month it was 114. I understand why. She’s very bored and misses going out and seeing the neighborhood boys. But I have been very strict with her. Since classes were cancelled, she hasn’t even been to the corner. I don’t have the luxury of one of us endng up in the hospital,” she explains.

The only things increasing are her expenses. Food, on the other hand, is shrinking. “Everything has become very difficult. Nobody helps out much around here. Most of the work load is on my shoulders. Since this pandemic began, we haven’t had meat on a daily basis, something that used to be a given for us,” she laments.

Alicia Pineda talks as she takes out the rationed beans she bought at the market. At the window sill, with the little light coming in from the terrace, she thinks about what else she can put on the table to feed her large family. Today she only has the beans and some ground meat which, she says, she can stretch over two or three meals.

“There’s no more rice now either. By this time of the month I always have to make ends meet by shopping on the free [unrationed] market but now there’s nothing to be found. People are obsessed with finding food and I cannot stand in line for five hours,” adds Pineda, who lives in a small apartment with her teenage daughter, her grandparents, two older aunts and three cousins. “And since nobody goes outside, we spend all day annoying each other, looking at each other’s faces. It’s unbearable.”

On the other side of the street two boys play by splashing a stagnant puddle with a stick. They are barefoot and neither of them wears a shirt or mask. The scene is out of the ordinary, more like an image from a pre-pandemic past.

“The boys haven’t handled the change of routine well. They used to spend the day playing in the park. That’s why I don’t say anything when they go outside,” says their mother, whose sons are five and eight.

“I was looking forward to going back to work once the little one started school in September. But suddenly everything changed and I didn’t even have time to look for a job. I’m stubborn. I spend the day washing, cooking, organizing, scrubbing. This has to end soon or I’m going to go crazy,” says the 26-year-old, exasperated after having her children at home twenty-four hours a day.

“But not everyone has it so bad,” she acknowledges. “My neighbor upstairs has family overseas who religiously send her remittances every month. Almost every day she orders food delivered to her door. Sometimes she pays for it here but other times her family pays it from over there. It’s great but I can’t afford that luxury. All day long you can see motorcycles from the businesses on this street coming and going.” Another example of how having a family overseas defines social class on the island.

Staying at home is not the same for everyone. Some families with as many as eight people live together under precarious conditions, in buildings on the verge of collapse. (14ymedio)

San Lazaro Street, normally abuzz with activity from cafes and small businesses, is now a desert. Only three places are still operating, though with some changes in routine. On Thursday one of them was offering a plate of pork liver with rice, vegetable and salad for 40 Cuban pesos. The same combination with chicken or pork was going for 50 and 60 pesos.

“We can’t let customers eat in here like before. Now we only sell takeout because we aren’t going to risk getting fined for helping spread the pandemic. And it’s not easy to get supplies either. We have to perform magic just to stay open. That’s why prices have gone up. We have to work twice as hard and spend more money to get the basic necessities or we would have to close,” notes one of the employees as he serves a customer a glass of mango juice.

A 50-year-old man approaches the counter, lowers his mask, looks left and right to make sure no one sees him without his face covering, and takes a sip of his juice. “Would anyone have told me I would be paying ten pesos for a glass of mango juice?” he asks.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Looking for a Mailman

Technological advances have caused the delivery of letters, telegrams and printed newspapers to plummet. (Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Acosta, Havana, May 21, 2020 — “The mailman finally came. Let’s see how long he lasts. The previous one lasted the longest, about eight months, but he disappeared once the pandemic started,” laments Roberto Gomez, a resident of Havana’s Casino Deportivo neighborhood.

“For the last three years the newspaper has not arrived on time or every day. In that time period there have been more than fifteen different mail carriers. Some only lasted one day,” he complains to 14ymedio.

Not receiving the newspaper in a timely manner has not meant a reduction in the cost of Gomez’ subscription. Occasionally, three-days worth of newspapers have arrived at the same time. When they were not delivered to him, he had to go to the nearest post office to pick them up. continue reading

Fed up, he went to the post office to file a complaint with the manager about a situation that, since the pandemic began, has only gotten worse, but she was not even there. “I am left here holding the stick until all this mess gets sorted out,” replied the person who took his complaint.

Victor Perez, who worked for the Postal Service in the Tenth of October district about seven years ago, complains that, though employees are known as postmen because they deliver letters and telegrams, that is only part of what they do. His toughest task was delivering Granma and Juventud Rebelde. Back then he was paid a few cents for every newspaper and a little less for the letters, magazines and telegrams he delivered. Since there were only two-hundred houses in his delivery run, the most he ever earned was 400 pesos a month.

“I quit because it wasn’t worth all the time and effort,” says Perez. “I would get to work at seven in the morning and often stayed there until noon, waiting for the periodicals to arrive.”

During that time he lost fifteen pounds. Postal workers do not receive a stipend for lunch, as do other state employees. While making his rounds in heat of the day, he often consumed only water, a soft drink or a piece of bread since he could not afford to buy an afternoon snack.

Some postmen take advantage of the widespread problems in the distribution system to earn some extra money, stealing four or five copies and reselling them to customers willing to buy them for a peso apiece.

For a couple of years Odalys Vetia managed a post office in Casino Deportivo. “Dealing with all the problems that exist takes a heroic effort. Periodicals arrive at any time of day or don’t arrive at all. The office is always short one or two postmen. On top of that there are the hassles with money orders, cash, stamps and parcel delivery, although those are minor problems.”

According to Veitia, the problems are never ending. “The customers complain and the mailmen complain and the worst of it is that clients are almost always right. They don’t get their Granma or Juventud Rebelde until almost nighttime, when it’s all old news. Or even worse, it never arrives at all,” she says.

Every so often a post office finds itself without a manager and someone has to take over on a temporary basis. “It’s shocking when you see all this but are powerless to resolve the situation. To top it off, when you are the administrator, you have to justify the unjustifiable, or to quietly put up with complaints. Not everyone who complains is polite about it. Some people insult you and there are even those who want to physically attack you,” she says.

The profession has also failed to attract young people.

“I started working as a mailman two years ago and I only lasted a week,” says Ariel. “They say young people are irresponsible but the Ministry of Communications is the champion of irresponsibility. The newspaper never arrived on time.”

“The sun is brutal and going up two or three flights of stairs is a killer. I spent almost as much on juice and sandwiches that week as I would make in a month. It’s also a job that’s very uncool.”

Technological advances have caused the delivery of letters, telegrams and printed newspapers to plummet. But the decline of postal services and the number of mailmen began much earlier due to the delays and carelessness of the postal service itself. Opened letters, damaged packages and undelivered telegrams announcing the death of a family member tried the patience of customers.

With some exceptions the people who deliver periodicals are elderly or retired. This is the case with Julian, a 70-year-old who has taken up this work. In spite of his age he remains strong and agile. Life has trained him to do jobs that require physical effort and and a tolerance for sun.

“The neighbors in my building have gone without regular newspaper delivery for a long time,” explains Julian. “That’s why I decided to take up this work. It doesn’t pay much — 500 [Cuban] pesos a month [roughly $20 US] — but it’s not bad. Life gets harder every day.”

He started a week ago and must deliver 900 publications to 450 homes. Between the back and forth of picking up and delivering the papers, he walks about two and a half miles a day. “I am working hard to see if it suits me and if I can do it, but the years are taking their toll,” he says.

“In war and in peace we shall maintain communication,” goes an old slogan from the Ministry of Communications. Creole humorists say it should be changed to “we shall maintain mis-communication.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Here You Have to Be on One Side of the Fence or the Other

The deputy director of the center warned the nurse that his opinions would prevent him from working at any other institution in the country because his ideas were “counterrevolutionary.” (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, May 22, 2020 — It has been three days since Pedro Ariel Garcia Rodriguez had to quit his job as a nurse at the National Institute of Oncology and Radiology. The 36-year-old asked to be discharged after being subjected to threats and pressure by administrators due to his Facebook posts.

“When I decided to go public, I turned to social networks because I didn’t have any other choice,” he tells 14ymedio. After losing his job, Garcia recorded a video explaining his situation and posted it on the networks. Within a few hours his words — calm but forceful — had found their way to several digital media websites.

The nurse decided to ask for time off after several meetings with superiors, who questioned his posts criticizing the Cuban system. Such reprimands have become increasingly common on the island since Legal Decree #370, which regulates content posted on the internet, took effect last year. continue reading

The first sign of trouble occured on Saturday, May 9, when he was summoned by the head of nursing and taken to see the hospital’s deputy director, Erasmo Gomez, who was joined by other employees serving as witnesses.

“Gomez pulled out a file and said the issue was about what I was posting on Facebook,” explains the young man. Among the evidence the official showed him was a meme with an image of Fidel Castro, which he described as “counter-revolutionary.” Garcia defended himself by invoking his right to freedom of expression.

“If I have the right to say ’down with imperialism’ and ’down with the embargo,’ why don’t I have the right to say that in Cuba many of our rights are being violated?” asks Garcia. But his reasoning was lost on Gómez, who has been described as a “white-collar repressor” because of threats he has made against other employees on previous occasions.

“Before this, they had told me they had the highest regard for me as a nurse and that my job performance was good,” recalls García, who regrets that this situation occurred in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, when there is an increased need for healthcare professionals.

The deputy director warned the nurse that his opinions would prevent him from working at any other institution in the country because his ideas were “counterrevolutionary,” a political dictat that threatens García’s career as well as his pursuit of a nursing degree. He now fears he will also lose the right to continue his studies.

Although none of those present at the meeting has been identified as a member of the secret police, Gomez indicated that State Security had given him the dossier with copies of the posts from Garcia’s Facebook account.

“That meeting was on a Saturday and they told me I should think about it over the weekend because I had to delete all those posts by Monday. I would also have to begin posting statements in praise of the Revolution and expressing my gratitude for its accomplishments,” Garcia states.

Garcia responded, however, that he would not obey the order. If they show me that something I have said is false, of course I will delete it,” he states. “I understand that making jokes about people who are dead and who have a connotation for the country can hurt the institute’s image. I understand that and I can delete it, but that’s it.”

But Garcia’s critical posts are not limited to memes about Castro. On his webpage he uses the word “dictatorship” to describe the Cuban system and also has characterized the country’s overseas medical missions as a form of “slave labor.”

“Here you have to be on one side of the fence or the other,” the deputy director told him at the end of the meeting. For a couple of days, the nurse thought everything “would remain as it was,” that it was just a warning. But last Wednesday, while on duty in intensive care, he was summoned to the nursing office.

“My wife works at the same place. The head of nursing told me that I was going to be investigated by a medical ethics council and, after that, I probably would not be able to keep working,” he says. “And since she is my partner, my wife would probably be investigated too.

His boss suggested that he not go before the ethics council, that he ask for a leave of absence and say that he has made this decision due to personal problems. “I did it to protect my wife.” says Garcia.

Garcia believes his career as a nurse is over for now. “At the moment I cannot file an official complaint at my workplace. The institute operates under government control. My only option is go to the Ministry of Health but right now everything is shut down,” he laments.

The young nurse does not regret having taken his case to social media. “I think the only way now to get them to react is through national and international and pressure. People should know about it. It should be made public. I’m not one to hide and remain silent, so for me it’s not a problem. That’s why I did the video.”

“I would like to restart my career but I stand by what I wrote in my posts. The system that they call socialism is not feasible for any society, much less for Cuba. We’ve been under it for a long time and people are very unhappy. ”

Although he has lost his job, he holds out hope: “Fortunately, Cubans are waking up; every day there are more of us.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Covid-19 Crisis in Cuba, Days 62 to 66: Monetary Trinity

The convertible peso or chavito was intended to be the substitute for the dollar in Cuba. (Collage/14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 26 May 2020 – Yesterday I went to bed in a country with dual currency system and today I woke up to the news that we already have a trinity. Little by little, the greenbacks have been gaining space in the Cuban reality and this May 22 the Official Gazette published a resolution that extends the use of the dollar to the network of stores where, until now, one could only make purchases Cuban pesos or Cuban convertible pesos.

Thirteen years ago, when I launched my blog Generation Y, one of the first texts I wrote was about the economic schizophrenia that had been installed in our lives since the 90s. With a certain irony, I described the need to put each of the currencies in which I was going to pay into a different pocket. If I went to the rationed market, I had to put my hand in the pocket with bills with the faces of Cuban heroes; if I visited a shopping establishment, it was the turn of the bills with the images of monuments. How to go crazy.

The Cuban convertible peso – or chavito, as we call it, or CUC, based on its abbreviation – was intended to be the substitute for the dollar. It came shortly after Fidel Castro – up against the ropes due to the economic crisis of the 90s – authorized “the enemy’s currency” to circulate in the country. Little by little, those colorful bills took precedence over the faces of Lincoln and Washington, but people never fully trusted money that was more reminiscent of a Monopoly game than a serious currency. continue reading

Now, the fula – Cuban slang for the dollar – has won the game, after having been the star in the informal market for years, especially when it came to large amounts such as the purchase of a house, the purchase of a car or a payment to obtain an appointment in some of the most in-demand foreign consulates in Havana. Benjamin Franklin’s good-natured face seemed to smile from the paper as he awaited the fall of his awkward substitute, the CUC.

The popular sense of smell, always quick to realize what was coming, has been devaluing the importance of the CUC in most daily transactions. The convertible peso smelled of death a long time ago. “No, I can’t change it for you because we don’t know what is going to happen here,” a fruit vendor from the Youth Labor Army market near my house told me last Friday when I asked her to give me national currency in change for 5 CUC.

The woman does not work at the Central Bank and would probably find it boring to read the complicated language of Resolution 73/2020 published four days ago, in which the flag is raised for “the use of US dollars in foreign currency retail sales operations.” But her experience told her it was a matter of time before it happened. “Since hard currency stores started last year to sell appliances and motorcycles [in dollars], what is missing is for even food to be also sold in dollars,” she warned me.

Today, I remembered her words as soon as I finished reading the document with the official announcement. If, until now, Cuban society was crossed by a line that separated those who received their wages only in Cuban pesos and those who, through tourism, remittances and businesses – legal or illegal – could count on convertible pesos, now there is created another deeper and more decisive division. Those who do not have dollars will have to start looking for them.

All this, in addition, accompanied by a discourse of sovereignty and independence that the national media will continue to repeat even if the money that is most used in the country bears the marks of the United States Federal Reserve. “This won’t last,” the odd youth leader will repeat, while in his wallet Grant’s grim face will be the advance guard that points to the resounding capitulation of his nationalist spirit.

I do not rule out that soon the informal vendors of bread, onions or ice cream sandwiches that pass through my neighborhood will announce their products in fulas. Even rice, which has almost ‘gone missing’ and is a product that is only seen in the rationed or informal market at more than 25 Cuban pesos (CUP) per pound, may perhaps be attracted by the phrase In God We Trust on the back of the dollars. In the end, the motto “Energy Revolution” printed on the 10 CUC bills only recalls a colossal lie.

And now what do we do with the chavitos? Do we save them for the absurd museum that will one day rise on this Island? Or do we put them in a third pocket, the one where everything that does not serve as an exchange for goods or services is put?

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Authorities Report "Potentially Dangerous" Covid-19 Outbreak at La Epoca Store

La Época, one of the oldest stores in the capital, founded in 1885, is highly frequented by people in Havana people for its offerings of frozen food in the basement. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 May 2020 — La Época store in Central Havana has been the focus of an outbreak that is “potentially dangerous for the province” according to the president of the Provincial Defense Council, Luis Antonio Torres Iríbar. Eleven people who had been in this mall tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday, when 15 new confirmed cases were detected across the province.

According to the authorities, not all those infected are residents of Central Havana, which leads to a fear of expansion throughout Havana.

La Época, one of the oldest stores in the capital, founded in 1885 on the corner of Galiano and Neptuno, is highly frequented by Havana residents since, despite the shortage, it has a significant supply of frozen food in the basement. continue reading

While the great department stores, in the style of the Carlos III Plaza, closed their doors to the public weeks ago, the smaller muti-department stores have remained open. In the case of La Época, it is located in one of the most densely populated areas of the city and in the vicinity of neighborhoods that have had Covid-19 outbreaks such as Los Sitio.

Torres Iríbar indicated that the outbreak is being investigated both in its evolution and in its outcome. He called for extreme precautions in this type of shopping center where many people go and long lines form, and asked people not to lose the perception of risk.

In a meeting on Saturday to analyze the progression of the pandemic, Cuban president Díaz-Canel explained that there have been advances in the last week, which could generate overconfidence in the population and a relaxation of the rules of social distance and hygiene; he offered as an example the outbreak in La Época.

Among the data provided by Carlos Alberto Martínez Blanco, provincial director of Health for Havana, the incidence rate of coronavirus in Havana was placed at 43.65 per 100,000 inhabitants, with the municipalities of Cotorro, Cerro, Centro Habana and Regla being some of those with the highest incidence.

The data contrasts sharply with the rest of the Island, which has a rate of 16.59 per 100,000, which coincides with the world pattern that concentrates more cases in the most densely populated capitals or cities. Havana has 2,918 inhabitants per square kilometer, a very high figure compared to the country’s average of 103 inhabitants per square kilometer.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuba Asks the Paris Club to Suspend its Debt Payment for Two Years

Ricardo Cabrisas signed the letter addressed to the creditors of the Paris Club. (ACN)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Havana, 21 May 2020 — The Cuban government has asked its Paris Club creditors to suspend payment of their debt until 2022, according to France Presse. Havana, according to sources cited by the agency, made the request through a letter addressed to the 14 countries that make up the group, asking for “a moratorium for 2019, 2020 and 2021, and to pay again in 2022.”

Deputy Prime Minister Ricardo Cabrisas signed the letter requesting an analysis next year to assess the situation in the Cuban economy to resume payment. The request for postponement is based on the blow that the Covid-19 pandemic will cause to the already faltering state finances.

In 2015, the Paris Club forgave Cuba $ 8.5 billion of its $ 11 billion in debt. The rest was restructured into payments until 2033 and investment projects on the Island. continue reading

Since Cuba suspended payments in 1986, access to international markets was closed until, in 2010, it was forgiven the outstanding debt of China, to which it owed $ 6 billion; Mexico, $ 400 million; and, finally Russia, its biggest creditor with some 35 billion dollars.

At the beginning of the year the Paris Club already demonstrated its anger at Cuba’s failure to pay between 32 and 33 million dollars in 2019. The pressures, which included the warning of a surcharge of 9%, as announced by the director general of the French Treasury and president of the Cuba Group, Odile Renaud-Basso, managed to get Cabrisas to commit to paying in May.

But the coronavirus crisis has left everything in the air. Cuba is facing an unprecedented crisis and lacks the capacity to borrow or the facility to place public debt in the markets.

The Economic Commission for Latin America (Eclac) predicts a drop in Cuban GDP of 3.7% in 2020, but many experts have warned that the figure may be double that. The strong damage to tourism due to the pandemic, the US sanctions and the suffocation of the Venezuelan regime, its main partner, put the Cuban economy in serious trouble.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Two Lines in Santa Clara, One to Collect Remittances and the Other to Spend Them

Residents of Santa Clara wait in line at the Banco Popular to deposit money from bank cards so they can purchase goods through the digital platform tuenvío.cu. (Laura Rodríguez Fuentes)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Santa Clara, Laura Rodríguez Fuentes, May 18, 2020 — Though its residents are still under lockdown, two long lines form every morning in the center of Santa Clara. One is for the Western Union office, where remittances are received. The other is for the Praga store, part of the Cimex chain, which is run by the Cuban armed forces and where cash exchanged for convertible pesos (CUCs) is spent.

These days the line for Western Union is so long that, to be one of the first customers, a person has to get there at dawn.

Maria de la Caridad Cueto, who is among those most vulnerable to the coronavirus due to her diabetes, must leave home to collect the money her nephew sends her in order to feed herself. continue reading

She has twice been to the company’s Santa Clara branch without being able to collect the 120 CUC he has sent from Miami due to the number of people in line ahead of her trying to do the same thing.

“He works very hard over there and I have never asked him for anything but this time I had to accept it,” says Cueto as she stands alongside thirty other people waiting to get into the office.

“The first time I came, I waited for two hours before they told us the connection was down. I came again yesterday but I was sorry I did because there were too many people. I am diabetic and can’t go too long without eating something or drinking some water,” she laments.

Maribel Santana, a 35-year-old cook who lost her job at a restaurant due to the pandemic, did manage to collect the money from her wire transfer, but she was not as lucky in the line to the Praga store.

She got her 75 CUC but returned home with the full amount. “I went to the Praga store but there was nothing in the freezers,” she says. “Only cans of peaches and some really expensive items that are of no use and would never be considered part of a meal. Trinkets, just trinkets, and only the most expensive kind,” she protests.

Santana was a cook for several privately owned restaurants in the city but was laid off after the restaurant where she worked closed. She was left without any savings after paying to remodel and expand one of the bedrooms in her house so her 11-year-old daughter would have more privacy.

As luck would have it, I got help from overseas, but money is paper and you can’t eat paper,” says Santana. “Cubans have always known hunger and are afraid the refrigerator will be empty, as happened during the Special Period. Whatever savings I have now will go to buy bread flour to make and sell croquettes in my neighborhood in order to survive.”

Among the reasons for widespread shortages in hard-currency stores such as Cimex, Praga and TRD Caribe is the growth in hoarding and reselling.

By eight o’clock in the morning more than twenty people have formed a line in front of the Cimex store on the road between Santa Clara and Sagua.

They all know each other. They are members of a profession practiced in Cuba in times of extreme crisis or during hurricane season. Known as coleras,* they are mostly women who once sold imported clothing and food at private picnic sites.

The leader of the group, a young woman in her late twenties, carries a notepad in which she marks down the names of those in line and and hands a slip of paper to each person, indicating his or her “order of arrival.”

A store clerk comes outside to explain to the crowd that nothing has come in yet: “No oil, no chicken, no tomato puree, no soap.” She yells at them to disperse and threatens to call the police, who have not been there for hours.

The young woman in charge of the line is engaging in an illegal activity that could cost her a 3,000 peso fine or even jail time. But she seems not to be worried about the police.

She is unemployed and now organizes lines outside local marketplaces in her area. Though she does not agree to a taped interview, or to give her name, she is willing to explain how her “business” operates.

She says that when a delivery truck is on its way to a Cimex or TRD Caribe, the coleras alert their contacts and friends so that they and several of their family members can go to the store and get in line.

Because of the exodus of young people to other provinces or countries in search of better opportunities, Santa Clara is the province with the most senior citizens, who must take to the streets every day in search of food. (Laura Rodriguez Fuentes)

The most popular products are usually cooking oil, detergent and packages of frozen chicken.

“People’s places in line are allotted the day before, depending on the product, because that’s when you always find out what’s scheduled to arrive the next day,” says the woman. “Even if you only see a single person in line, there are always five more behind her because we assign our people their places in line.”

Most of those with the lowest numbers are involved in the hoarding or resale trade. They even advertise on social media and offer home delivery at very high prices.

To protect their identity, many resort to fake Facebook profiles. After taking orders from trusted customers, they deliver the merchandise to homes in Santa Clara. Generally, they ask that orders be placed through Messenger and do not often post their phone number.

In case a group member cannot be there on a given day, or one of her friends fails to show up on time, her place in line can be sold to someone who is not part of the so-called colera syndicate.

According to another woman who also wanted to remain anonymous, being female is an advantage because it makes them less vulnerable to the police.

“No policeman wants to get in the middle of this because if they physically attack us, it’s going to be bad news for them,” explains one colera, who feels protected by the group. If there is police violence, those present can film it and take photos as evidence in a legal challenge.

On several occasions President Miguel Díaz-Canel has called upon authorities to take serious action to curtail the illegal resale of merchandise. “These are people who are making the situation more complicated for us,” he says.

But other than filing charges or making a few well-publicized arrests, authorities do not routinely take significant steps to discourage resellers.

Under market regulation the only ways to get food without restrictions has been to buy from street vendors or to shop at “Hard Currency Recovery Stores” (TRD for the initials in Spanish), which only accept hard currency, such as Cimex and Caribe.

But after April they stopped selling merchandise that did not fall under the categories of groceries, cleaning products and items for newborns and toddlers such as diapers and feeding bottles.

In Santa Clara, the shop windows of these stores only display packaged or canned goods such as mayonnaise, olives, and fruit preserves.

None of these products solves the current dilemma of putting a traditional Cuban meal of rice, beans and some kind of meat on the table. Prices are also exorbitantly high for anyone earning the average Cuban monthly salary. A can of tuna costs 75 Cuban pesos (three dollars), a kilo of ham is six CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, roughly $6 US) and an egg goes for 45 cents in CUCs.

A recent document published by the Spanish Economic and Commercial Office in Cuba calculates that Cimex and Caribe stores operate on “retail markups of 180% to 240% of the cost of the product, a level of consumer prices well above those in Spain.”

These retail markups, imposed by the Ministry of Finance and Prices, have a very clear objective: they allow the State to “recover” the hard currency Cubans receive from their relatives abroad.

*Translator’s note: The term can be roughly translated as “women in line.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Six Years of 14ymedio. How Have We Changed?

Most of our readers now come from phones and tablets, unlike the majority of connections a few years ago, which were from computers. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 May 2020 —  On a Wednesday, six years ago, 14ymedio was born. Now the circumstances have changed, but not the essence of this newspaper. We look into a new decade immersed in a pandemic that fills the world with uncertainties, but with the same dream of taking to your homes every morning the stories that you will not see in the official press, told with our personal seal.

We invite you to briefly review what some things were like when we started and what they are like today.

From hotels to homes

When we started our journey, we created an online publication system for the use of our international team, located in Spain, and an offline one for the Cuban team. Telecommunications were even worse in 2014, so the goal was to be able to prepare our website offline, and then to to a hotel with a Wi-Fi connection and get it up and running in a few minutes. The networks of these establishments also helped us to send written notes to our colleagues outside the Island for editing and online work.

(DC)

Although connectivity continues to be one of our great burdens, due to its low speed and the enormous economic expense that it represents, something has improved. The arrival of 3G initially, and later 4G, on mobiles has allowed the entire team of 14ymedio to work from home, instantly share notes and consult on questions during editing, and publish without resorting to an offline that often gave us headaches. In addition, we have improved our contact with the readers; we send them a newsletter with the best weekly content, enabled as a direct download PDF, and we send out our highlights every day through the instant messaging channels.

(14ymedio)

From “a-legality” to Decree 370

We take advantage of a legal loophole to sneak into your homes. Although the only press allowed by the Communist Party is the state press, the current regulations did not contemplate new technologies and, in legal terms, only prevented us from being a printed medium. That is why we go out on the street as an online newspaper, and what we call the print edition is in digital format as a PDF.

(14ymedio)

In mid-2019, the Cuban Government approved Decree 370 which provides sanctions for the independent online press, a rule expressly created to make illegal any media that is critical of the Government or that simply presents a version of reality different from that of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC). Based on Decree 370, and despite the condemnations expressed by international organizations, several independent journalists have been fined.

(Collage)

From loneliness to company

When we were born, there were already several independent Cuban media with contributors on the ground in Cuba, but we did it the other way around. We were the first newspaper with a newsroom based entirely in Cuba and collaborators outside to help us on the technological and editorial side.

(14ymedio)

Today we have a lot of company. El Estornudo, Tremenda Nota, La Hora de Cuba, Yucabyte, El Toque, Periodismo de Barrio … each with its vision and way of telling things. Together we can narrate a more complete and diverse reality.

Signatories against Decree Law 370

A dispersed team

The most bitter part has been the loss of many colleagues in the newsroom. In addition to the general situation of the Island, with the scarcities of everything, and the lack of opportunities to progress, there have been added threats and pressures directed against professionals of independent journalism, who are exposed to fines and prison terms. Too many have been searching for a better life.

(14ymedio)

Some of those who formed our initial newsroom continue to help us from the outside, others are dedicated to the professions they dreamed of as children. 14ymedio’s family changes size, but we continue to make every effort to overcome the difficulties.

(El Estornudo)

From ignorance to relevance

The Government has spent a long time pretending that we did not exist, although from the first day it launched a campaign against our medium. They blocked our site on national servers and resorted to disinformation and defamation, both against 14ymedio and its financing, and against our director, Yoani Sánchez.

(14ymedio)

Persistence has paid off and, now, they have even been obliged to print explanations, forced by the news we have published. The campaign does not stop, but they can no longer deny our presence and sometimes they allude to us without quoting us, as in the article shown below.

“Collapse in Havana occasions the death of three girls” (Screen capture)

From travel to ‘regulations’

In 2013, a year before our birth, the long-awaited travel and immigration reform came. We Cubans are able to leave the country and make trips without the prior restrictions and requirements. That freedom allowed us, among other things, to expand our training in courses and congresses abroad and to cover some topics of interest to our readers, such as the 2017 migration crisis in Central America and Mexico.

Authorities use the ‘regulation’ mechanism to prevent anyone from leaving when they are about to board the plane at the airport.

Unfortunately, Cuba has regressed in this regard in recent times. For two years the government has designated certain people as “regulated” — a nebulous term that means they are not allowed to leave Cuba. This has been applied harshly to the opposition and the independent press. Authorities use this mechanism to prevent anyone from leaving, often waiting to inform them they are “regulated” until they are about to board the plane at the airport. Although the order is often withdrawn when it is challenged, the would-be traveler has already missed their flight and must cancel the trip, which hinders the work of dissidents and the independent journalists. Two of our reporters, Luz Escobar and Ricardo Fernández, and our editor-in-chief, Reinaldo Escobar, have been subject to these measures.

Reinaldo Escobar this Monday after being informed that he could not board his plane to Colombia. (14ymedio)

About the business model

Cuban authorities and our critics have insisted, and continue to do so, that the financing of 14ymedio comes from foreign governments. Thhis is very far from reality, as we have reiterated. We were born and have survived until now with money from a group of friends and acquaintances who wanted to join the idea of a free press project for Cuba.

(Yahoo Noticias)

Over the years, we have professionalized our work to bring it closer to the majority of publications around the world. We are nourished thanks to some collaboration agreements with foundations and non-profit entities; with advertising platforms; and, of course, with the contributions of our readers, who with their efforts make us only in debt to them and not to other interests.

(14ymedio)

From Nauta to instant messaging

Long before the pandemic generalized virtual communication, in 14ymedio it was already our reality. We connected the different locations of our newspaper, sometimes thousands of kilometers away, through the Nauta email system offered by Cuba’s only, and government run, telecommunications company, which did nothing but hinder us, or with text messages. Slower and more rudimentary methods than the current ones which were unimaginable to us in the last century.

(14ymedio)

Now, instant messaging chats allow us to be in permanent contact and resolve any questions in the moment. Thus we exchange texts, photos … and even jokes, every day.

(Screen Capture 14ymedio’s Telegram channel)

All that remains is for the Cuban government to accept our existence and to lift its blockade against the independent press.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

When the Medicine Deliveries Arrive, the Line Goes Crazy

A line outside the pharmacy on Estancia Street in Nuevo Vedado before police intervened. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, May 20, 2020 – The person in charge of the pharmacy on Estancia Street in Havana has moved the counter to the door to prevent coronavirus infections. But when the medicine delivery truck arrives, the people in line go mad and the police intervene to reestablish order.

“The problem is there aren’t many medications being delivered so everyone wants to be one of the first people in line. I got here early because, if I let others get in front of me, there won’t be anything left for me,” complains one of the ladies who waits her turn under the shadow of a tree.

The coronavirus crisis has garnered the full attention of health authorities in the past two months but the entire population must still deal with the usual health problems as the number of available drugs available in pharmacies has declined. Of the 757 basic products, most of them domesitically produced, 619 are considered high priority, so much so that Emilio Delgado Iznaga, director of Medications and Medical Technologies at the Ministry of Public Health, has declared that “they can never be in short supply.” continue reading

But the reality is quite different. “We were told that medications on the tarjetón [a ration card that indicates medications prescribed for each chronic illness] would always be available and they haven’t even been able to do that. Even worse is that they never provide an explanation. Now it’s as if their only concern is the coronavirus. But a lot of us live with different illnesses and can’t get the medications we need to treat them,” complains Lupe Aguirre, a resident of El Cerro, who has waited over four hours for medications to arrive at the corner pharmacy near her house.

There are shortages of tranquilizers, diuretics, and medications for hypertension. The same goes for antihistamines, antibiotics and most ointments.

“I have been here three times and haven’t been able to buy Enalapril [a medication for hypertension]. I don’t understand. I am supposed to be able to get it with my tarjetón. I don’t know why they don’t provide enough to meet the pharmacy’s demand. I am 79-years-old and I cannot walk all over Havana, from one place to another, especially now with all this coronavirus and no public transport,” adds Aguirre.

“These medications are supposed to always be available,” replies an 89-year-old woman who, after arriving the previous afternoon, is the first person in a line that extends for two blocks around the pharmacy.

There’s no permethrin [an insecticide] for example. It’s the same for scabies. There isn’t a single medication for it in any neighborhood pharmacy. I have been to a lot of them and nothing. My grandson spent three days in jail for a problem he had in a line with a policeman and he came down with scabies. I have had to give him baths of parthenium weed to see if it will cure him because there are no medicines for it in any pharmacy,” she says.

The problem is not limited to Havana, which is often better supplied that the rest of the country. Provinces such as Camaguey, Matanzas and Pinar del Rio are experiencing similar shortages.

“Medications arrive on Thursday and there are lines all day long because the medicines run out,” explains Camagüey resident Cecilia Hernandez. The 64-year-old arrives at dawn in order to get medications for herself and her husband. “There are months when we have not been able to get a single one of the medications we need for blood pressure so we have been making potions of mignonette and lime blossoms,” she sighs.

In Camagüey drugs such as aspirin have not been available for almost a year. “I have not been able to get it since August of last year,” Hernandez points out.

“At the moment there are more than eighty-four medications missing from the list of basic drugs,” explains a pharmacist from the province who prefers to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

“The supply of medicines that supposedly exists is greatly reduced. That’s why by the end of Thursday most of them have run out. On other days the pharmacies are just empty and the only thing we can tell customers is to try and come back next Thursday, when the next delivery arrives,” laments the pharmacist.

Among the most popular drugs are those that are dispensed through the ration card to patients with chronic diseases. According to official figures, in 2017 there were 2,246,799 elderly people of whom at least 80.6% required regular medical treatment.

Cecilia Hernández explains it this way: “The absence of these medicines directly affects our quality of life and forces us to live with ailments, pain and other symptoms that are bothersome and even dangerous to our health.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

In Cuba the Pandemic Spawns Home Delivery Businesses

Two workers at Mandao, a new courier and home delivery service in Havana inspired by Uber Eats and Glovo. (EFE/Ernesto Mastrascusa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, May 19, 2020 — A lone motorcycle makes its way along Cerro Road in Havana. Behind the driver is a brightly colored box displaying the logo of a home delivery service, one of the few private businesses that seems to be thriving in a city paralyzed by COVID-19. Classified ad sites are full of announcements by people looking for or offering their services as couriers. Anyone with transportation and willingness is a good candidate.

“I started at the beginning of May and I already think of myself as an experienced courier because I have done it all,” says Ricky, a 22-year-old unemployed waiter who was working at a small place on Reina Street when restaurants and cafes were ordered to close. “I thought I wouldn’t be able to find work until the pandemic was over but instead I am earning more.”

Ricky took a few photos of his motorcycle, which his father helped him buy a year ago, and posted an announcement on the island’s most important classified ad sites. In it he describes himself as “serious, punctual, friendly and able to deliver to any area of the city, except eastern Havana, with a smile.” Three hours after the ad appeared, he started getting calls. continue reading

At first Ricky began making home deliveries for a pizza and pasta place but soon got a more tempting offer from an agency that handles orders from overseas to local restaurants, pastry shops and other businesses. Businesses like Mandao, which makes home deliveries of food prepared by private individuals, have flourished since the start of quarantine.

I might deliver a cake, soft drinks, flowers or a Mother’s Day dinner,” explains Ricky. “Besides the fee I get for every delivery, most customers give me a tip.” He works seven days a week, from 10 AM to 8 PM. “Once a policeman stopped me but I explained what I was doing and he let me go because I was wearing my face mask.”

Making deliveries is among the hundred or so legal occupations allowed under the island’s laws governing self-employment. A few years ago this was restricted to deliveries from markets where goods were rationed to customers’ homes, with limited ability to deliver purchases from farmers’ markets or hard-currency stores. But this has changed.

The explosion in home delivery services on the island is due not only to the pandemic but also to the growing sales in recent years of electric motorcycles, a lightweight form of transportation that requires neither registration nor a license to operate. Imported motorinas have become one of the top-selling items in the hard currency stores which the government opened last year.

“I have a crew of twelve couriers,” says the manager of one of these services, which has found a very comfortable niche since confinement due to coronavirus began. “We provide the same delivery service to families that we provide to private businesses,” he points out. “Everyone who works on this team has an electric motorcycle, looks good and is serious.”

“Your order will arrive in forty-five minutes,” says a female voice on the WhatsApp message sent to a customer who has just ordered a chocolate cake through one of these couriers, who will then have to seek out the item at a privately owned bakery on San Rafael Street. The courier calls when he has reached the destination. There are smiles, a tip and an electronic message thanking the customer for the purchase: “We hope you call to request our services again soon. Thank you very much.”

The efficiency of these drivers contrasts with the problems of distribution  of the state-run TuEnvio service, whose delays in many cases can inconvenience customers for as much as three weeks. “The state could learn a lot from us and we would like to partner with them on the distribution side but that’s not possible under their current rules,” say the courier service manager.

The “rules” to which he refers are clearly the salaries and working conditions for state employees in the distribution sector. “There are guys who work here who make as much in a week as a doctor makes in a month. No one wants to go work for the state to earn less money and have less independence,” he explains to 14ymedio. “What the state should do is contract with us and agree to our prices.”

But the drivers do not just deliver products from private businesses to homes. They also serve as links between families separated by the pandemic. “Some people called me from Playa asking me transport some cleaning supplies and food items from their house to their relatives’ house in Cerro,” says Karelia, a courier who until March was studying English in hopes of fulfilling her dream to emigrate.

“This whole situation has really surprised me. Because my brother had a motorcycle, we began offering courier services and it has worked out very well. We have some families who call us several times a week.” When asked what the most unusual item she has had to deliver, she smiles. “I had to transport a cocker spaniel puppy from Old Havana to Santiago de Las Vegas. It was difficult because the puppy was very restless.”

And the most common? Food, diapers, hard drives with the paquete* (weekly packet) and medicines,” adds Karelia. “This bike has seen it all. This is how the city works now. I hope it stays this way because then I will have a job for a long time.”

 *Translator’s note: a compendium of pirated weekly entertainment and news programming from overseas, distributed clandestinely.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Spain Appoints Two New Diplomats at Its Embassy in Havana

Spanish embassy in Havana (exteriores.gob.es)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, May 18, 2020 — The digital news magazine Vozpópuli has reported that the Spanish foreign ministry has appointed two new diplomats to its embassy in Havana, a post that — along with Caracas and Washington — is considered “sensitive” by Madrid. It reported that senior officials were simultaneously posted to the other two capitals also.

The new appointments in three capitals will fill the number-two positions, who act as chargés d’affaires when the ambassador is absent.

In Havana Javier González Sanjuán is set to replace Minister Counselor Nuria Reigosa González. There will also be a new Consul General, José Antonio Hernández Pérez-Solorzano, who will replace Carlos Pérez-Desoy. All are career diplomats. continue reading

The second-in-command in Washington will be Pablo Sanz López. His counterpart in Caracas will be Rodrigo Campos.

The appointments were made by the Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister, Arancha González Laya, who received letters from diplomatic associations a few days ago demanding that she begin filling the overseas positions so that those selected could begin preparing to move themselves and their families over the summer.

The posts in Washington, Caracas and Havana were marked with asterisks on a list of available positons for which diplomats can apply, an indication that the government in Madrid considered them to be especially sensitive. In such cases, it is not necessary to consult or obtain the approval of the Career Board, a body within the Foreign Ministry that evaluates candidates’ suitability.

Spain’s diplomatic mission in Havana was the focus of criticism in February 2018 when the then ambassador, Juan José Buitrago de Benito, had a photo taken of himself posing in front of Fidel Castro’s tomb in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, in Santiago de Cuba, during an official visit to eastern part of the country. The snapshot generated strong criticism from activists and dissidents.

After the incident, the right-of-center Ciudadanos (Citizens) party raised a series of questions in the Spanish Congress, asking the ruling Partido Popular (People’s Party) if it planned to admonish the ambassador for his visit to the gravesite, where he laid flowers. Shortly thereafter, in September of that same year, the diplomat Juan Fernández Trigo was appointed ambassador to the island, a position he still holds.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Covid-19 Emergency in Cuba, Days 59 to 61: Anniversary in the Midst of the Pandemic

What seemed then to be a wall of disadvantages, helped make this medium a stubborn survivor. (Good vibes)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 21 May 2020 — This Thursday I got up before the alarm went off. There are days when it is difficult to get my body out of bed, but I popped out like a spring and immediately brewed the coffee. It is not every day that a child’s sixth birthday is celebrated, especially if the child has a cover instead of a face; in the place of the teeth, headlines grow and, similar to bones, it is supported by notes and reporting.

We are in the midst of a pandemic and there are not many resources or reasons to celebrate, but I feel that the newspaper 14ymedio, which today arrives at its sixth anniversary, has always been dealing with an emergency. We do independent journalism as an anomaly and that has prepared us – without our knowing it – for this moment of crisis. What at the time seemed to be a wall of disadvantages, helped make this medium a stubborn survivor.

The first scare that the “creature” gave us occurred on the very day of its birth, on May 21, 2014. As soon as it emerged, we found that the Cuban government had blocked our site on national servers. But since for every evil there can be found a vaccine or a remedy, we knew that readers within the Island were going to find their own ways to access our pages, through anonymous proxies or VPNs. continue reading

The “baby” had other stumbles. Threats, police summons to reporters, travel bans for several collaborators, and the intense downpour of smear campaigns on his tender skin. There were times when he could barely breathe due to lack of internet access, high connection prices, and the difficulties for editors, contributors, and editors to communicate fluently.

He had rubella, mumps, and even measles. Evils that originated not only from the repression and the lack of freedom of the press in Cuba, but also from the fear of the sources to give testimony in the face of possible reprisals, the attempts of some to turn us into the “official organ” of any trend or group and the lack of consistency in the work, which weighed down some who approached full of enthusiasm in the beginning.

The sound of the coffee maker brings me back to this Thursday. I make a bitter mug and instead of going through a box of photos of the first fallen tooth, a visit to the zoo or a blown out candle, I go through the most exciting articles. Those, with which we compel the official media to recognize a reality that had previously been swept under the rug; the first scoops; readers’ words of encouragement and criticism.

I look at the laptop screen, execute a few short clicks. I feel like I’m stitching the shirt he will wear when he goes out there to shine by himself, to defend himself and to make his own name. I’m nervous, I don’t deny it, so I take another sip of the bitter coffee to hide my anxiety. I look at it and I can detect in each of its details the work of colleagues, journalists and editors who have molded its form and personality.

There is a knock on the door and it takes me out of the mental review. It is a neighbor who comes to tell me that today is the last day to buy the eggs from the rationed market and that the line is now short. I grab my mask, run down the stairs and come back a little later with relief on my face. “Now we are going to be able to make a cake for the birthday.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuba’s Private Sector Looks for Ways to Survive the Crisis

Since self-employment was legalized in the mid-1990s, private businesses have created a network of contacts, support and agreements. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, May 16, 2020 — Until six weeks ago Omara had a routine. She would get up early and start making breakfast for the tourists staying at her large house in Old Havana. Its six rooms, with bathroom included and a few yards from the Plaza de San Francisco, guaranteed she had her customers year round. But with the COVID-19 crisis the hostel “is as quiet a cemetery,” she laments.

Her situation is similar to that of many small entrepreneurs and is reflected in a report just published by the consulting firm Auge, created about six years ago by four Cuban professionals. The document analyzes the effects of the pandemic on the private sector, describes the weak points for the coming months and suggests some measures authorities might take to help private businesses.

“Except for some slow periods, my income has been quite high in recent years. It was a rare week that I did not have at least three rooms occupied,” Omara tells 14ymedio. “I have no other options right now because those of us in the business of renting rooms to tourists cannot retool like some restaurants have done by providing home delivery.” continue reading

With the closure of the country’s borders and suspension of all foreign tourism, Omara has had to ask her employees not to come to work. “I paid them for the month of March, as though they were still working, because at this point we are almost like a family. But I cannot keep giving away money,” she explains. “I can only afford to pay for maintenance of the house so that things don’t deteriorate. I have to keep investing.”

Two maids, a cook and a custodian who guarded the entrance and took care of tourists’ cars parked outside are some of the workers who have lost their income. There is also the courier who delivered fruits, vegetables and other products used in preparing breakfasts and dinners. Even the local dance instructor, many of whose clients were Omara’s guests, has lost her job.

Since self-employment was legalized in the mid-1990s, a network of contacts, support and financial agreements have come to underpin the day-to-day life of small businesses. If the man who sells fish can no longer get his product from the dock to the restaurant, the number of items on the menu decreases and income drops. It’s that simple.

Chart indicating degree of impact – low (bajo), medium and high (alto) – the pandemic has had on types of businesses in Cuba’s private sector economy. (Source: Auge)

A report released by Auge, aptly titled “Private Entrepreneurship in Cuba: A Victim of COVID-19,” warns that the pandemic “can be considered the greatest threat that private entrepreneurship has had to face since the Cuban authorities decided in 2010 to allow self-employment.” It is a perception widely held throughout the private sector.

At the entrance of Mauro’s house in the Tenth of October neighborhood, the chairs have been placed on top of the tables and covered with plastic to prevent them from deteriorating from disuse. The bar is also protected by a wide nylon sheet. Three years ago, this 38-year-old entrepreneur opened a cafe that gradually became a small neighborhood restaurant with a an expansive menu featuring pork, chicken, pizzas and drinks.

“We tried to hang on and support ourselves by selling through a window to respect the public health measures for COVID-19 but in the end we had to close because we couldn’t buy what we needed,” he says. “The only way to maintain our operation right now would be to run the risk of buying provisions on the black market and we are not going to do that. I would rather do without necessities than end up in jail.”

In the absence of a wholesale market, self-employed workers have traditionally had to buy their products through a network of retail stores where, due to the coronavirus, quantities are now strictly regulated.” I spend hours in line and they only let me to buy one package of chicken or two of sausages. Who would think I could keep my business running like this?”

Auge’s report lists fourteen problems that have hit businesses hard. One of them specifically is the “shortage of raw materials. The loss of formal and informal ways to obtain supplies.” Even bleaker is the organization’s short-term forecast, which concludes that “in the next few weeks” many of the businesses that have managed to stay afloat so far will not be able to remain open.

“This is an industry based on sweat. No one is going to come to the gym because people are afraid of being infected by someone sweating and using the equipment nearby,” says Ramon, the owner of a gym on Belascoain Street in Central Havana. To make matters worse, his business is located in one of the areas under strictest quarantine due to the numerous positive cases of COVID-19 identified there.

“Early on we moved the machines further apart so customers could exercise without being so close to one another but it didn’t make much difference. At the moment anything that is not urgent or essential is not going to work as a business. Everyone is now prioritizing health care and finding food,” he adds. “Nobody wants to touch an exercise bike that was used by someone else a few minutes before, even though we make sure we clean it well.”

With the closure of Ramón’s gym, two trainers and a cleaning worker have lost their jobs, at least temporarily.

With the closure of Ramón’s gym, two trainers and a cleaning worker have lost their jobs, at least temporarily. The investments the owner was making to move into another space and renovate several pieces of equipment has been halted. The “interruption of investments to create new businesses or to expand existing ones” is another problem described in the Auge report.

In the midst of the uncertainty, Omara, Mauro and Ramon do not know what the future will bring in the short term. Nevertheless, they are not giving up and are looking for ways to save their businesses.

“My brother in Miami is willing to help by sending me new gym equipment, which would save me money that I could use to cover losses from those months,” says the gym’s owner. “But a treadmill or a dorsal exercise machine is not going to fit in a suitcase. It can only be imported commercially,” he admits.

This is precisely one of the measures Auge has suggested the government take to help the private sector: “Permit imports of a commercial nature after modifying the current customs regulations. Relax customs regulations on the importation of basic necessities.” Until now, the state has held a monopoly on commercial importing and exporting, which it does not seem willing to give up.

Another proposal in the Auge report is to “promote the use of foreign exchange in investment and job creation, and provide facilities for the digital implementation of business through preferential prices by [the state-owned telecommunication company] Etecsa.” Other proposals include granting a “tax truce,” eliminating taxes on the workforce and suspending tax collection.

Omara, the bed-and-breakfast owner, is bracing for “a long drought of customers.” That is also the conclusion of the researchers at Auge. They predict that many businesses will be “unable to resume operations” and that the inability to travel overseas will cut off the private sector from supplies such as cleaning products and ingredients used to prepare meals for tourists.

Mauro, however, is optimistic. He believes his small restaurant will be able to stay afloat once the nightmare ends.

Mauro, however, is optimistic. He believes his small restaurant will be able to stay afloat once the nightmare ends. “We might not be able to sell the same products as before — people will have changed — so I am thinking about switching to takeout, or to something more modest like a food stall that will serve more of a niche market after the pandemic.

Recently, Mauro posted announcements on various classified ad sites offering his services as a courier. “I have an electric motorcycle, can go anywhere and will make home deliveries of packages or food from other restaurants, though I do not wait in lines,” reads the ad. “It’s what I can do to survive and feed my family,” he tells 14ymedio. “When this is all over, I will try to reopen my business.”

Until that long-awaited moment comes, the chairs and tables will remain protected under their plastic.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Become a Member: “Terms and Conditions”


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14ymedio, 18 May 2020 —  The digital newspaper 14ymedio.com is owned by the mercantile CLYS Comunicaciones 3.0, SL, with an address at Calle Torpedero Tucumán 17, 28016 Madrid y CIF B-86915089. Registered in the Registro Mercantil de Madrid.

Here you will find all the details: Legal Notice

What does it mean to be a member of 14ymedio?

  • Readers of 14ymedio who financially support us become members and will receive, when circumstances allow, some benefits such as e-books prepared by the newsroom and invitations to attend informative, face-to-face or virtual events.

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  • We recommend that you pay annually because PayPal charges us less for annual transactions. However, we understand that not everyone wants to pay at once and that is why we have created the monthly option.
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How will my personal information be used?

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You can make a one-time donation through PayPal here.

Or you can become a member here: please see the partway down the page for “Family” and “Friend” (Amigo)  plans and click on “Ser Miembro” (Be a Member).

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.