A Single Meal a Day for the 76,175 Vulnerable Cubans Cared for by the State

Dining room of the Family Care System (SAF), La Guantanamera, on Miró Street between Agramonte and Morales Lemus in the city of Holguín

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel García, Holguín, 25 February 2024– This Friday, Tomás, 81 years old, felt lucky. “Today they did offer a strong course, a boiled egg, and there was pea soup that I brought home. With this cold weather, the body is asking for something like that,” he lists the food he bought at the dining room of the Family Care System (SAF) from the Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood in the city of Holguín. A subsidized trade network especially hit by the economic crisis that Cuba is going through.

“Normally, at the end of the month, there is always a shortage of protein and it is a miracle that there are still eggs”, explains Tomás to 14ymedio. For the price of 2.60 pesos per egg, the old man bought a boiled egg and also added a portion of white rice for 2.65 pesos, a portion of boiled cassava for 14.00 and a thin pea soup for 1.65. To accompany the menu, he added a soft drink, made with syrup, for 5.00 pesos.

“I don’t like to eat there, I prefer to bring food home and decide at what time to eat what,” he explains. In his humble kitchen, Tomás places the pots with the food he has bought at the SAF and decides what will be served for lunch and what he will save for dinner. He knows that he won’t have anything else to put in his mouth during the day, so he tries to organize himself.

Portion of food from a SAF canteen in Holguín this Friday: boiled egg, pea stew, boiled cassava and soft drink / 14ymedio

“Sometimes there is no protein, although in my dining room the workers are quite combative and they fight with the people of the municipality to send them supplies, but one can see that it is becoming more and more difficult for them to achieve this each time”. This month, Tomás has eaten an egg and a sausage similar to blood sausage as a main course. Fruits or vegetables haven’t arrived “for years”, he says.

“The workers make an effort, they buy the spices, many times out of their own pockets, so that it has some flavor”, adds Tomás, who has been eating at the SAF since 1996, when they began to operate. A physical disability, added to aging, has made him dependent for almost three decades on a mechanism that he prides himself on being the “founder” of, and being familiar with every detail of it: its best moments and its current deterioration.

In the entire province of Holguín there are more than 6,400 people who, like Tomás, receive a food ration through the SAF canteens, according to data published by the official press at the end of 2021, but the number may have grown significantly to the same extent that inflation and shortages increase. In Holguín’s capital, the number currently exceeds 3,500 registered people, distributed through 13 dining rooms.

“A few years ago, they gave us breakfast, lunch and dinner”, recalls the retiree, who has a pension of 1,543 pesos per month (a little more than five dollars at the informal exchange rate) and spends an average of between 20 and 25 pesos a day at the SAF. “They even used to sell snacks in that place, but all that changed when Raúl Castro took power in 2008. They began to slash what was deemed as ‘unnecessary expenses’ and we lost snacks and breakfast, leaving us with only one meal a day”.

Inés, 79 years old, does not remember those first moments of abundance in the SAF, because she only became a user of those canteens about four years ago, with the arrival of the pandemic. “My husband died and my pension is not enough for my meals. Just to get the rice, the oil and the seasonings, all the money would disappear and I would have nothing left for protein”, she says.

A social worker from Holguín noticed Inés’s vulnerability after several reports from neighbors. “They came and filled out a form that is in my file.  The form reached the Municipal Administration Council, where they approved me, but it took time. It took almost three months. They enrolled me in the Villanueva dining room, which is where I still am now”.

Inés had to prove that she did not have culinary implements to cook. Only then did she manage to benefit from the SAF canteens.  / 14ymedio

The 76,175 people registered in the SAF who attend 445 soup kitchens of this type in Cuba have had to go through this process, with greater or lesser speed. A service that is frequently criticized for the poor quality of its food preparation, which often lacks spices, oil or fats. The deterioration of the dishes is not only due to official shortages, but also to the looting of products carried out by the employees themselves, as this newspaper has echoed in previous reports.

“Everyone has to live, so, amid deliveries of ever-diminishing supplies and the need for employees to have some income, what reaches the plates is less and less,” Inés acknowledges. “I eat it because I don’t have anything else, but the food is not good, I don’t want to eat it, sometimes I even hold my breath while I chew it to avoid tasting it”.

“One requisite to be accepted in the SAF is not having cooking utensils: stove, pots, pans or anything like that. No gas stove or electric stove, you have to show that you cannot prepare the food you are going to consume”, explains the old woman. “You have to prove that you are a critical case, that you cannot work, nor do you have a family to take care of you.”

“Since I started eating there, I have lost almost 30 pounds, because what they sell is very little for each person and, of course, you can only buy one serving. It’s not that I can say ‘give me two eggs’ and I take them home, I get one and that’s what it is”, she points out. “The prices are still cheap, and the fear that other old people and I have is that they are about to raise everything”.

This week, fear has spread among people like Inés and Tomás, because the deepening of the economic crisis and the lack of foreign currency to purchase food abroad are pushing the SAF to the limit. “There was a meeting with an official from the provincial Gastronomy Company to talk about the future of the SAF,” says the woman.

“Since I started eating there, I have lost almost 30 pounds, because what they sell is very little for each person”

The manager warned the canteen employees that the import situation is critical, and the producers’ commitment to deliver food to serve vulnerable people is not being fulfilled. “We are studying other ways through the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) to collect food for the elderly in the area”, she said.

The allusion to involve the CDR’s in the collection of food, grains and other products to guarantee food in the SAF has generated deep concern. “At the moment they are working poorly, but at least they are there, I can’t imagine waking up without being guaranteed at least some watery peas and a little rice”, Inés fears.

“What they sell us now is not even enough for a cat, imagine for a person, but it’s something”, she concludes.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Russia Intensifies Its Interest in Cuba: After Patrushev and Lavrov, Titov Arrives

Boris Titov and Miguel Díaz-Canel during a meeting in July 2023 in Havana / @DiazCanelB/Twitter

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Madrid, 28 February 2024 — Boris Titov, head of the Russia-Cuba Business Council and one of the Kremlin’s strong men, will return to the Island this Thursday, this time, for a considerable time for an official trip of this type: until March 7, a whole week. This is Moscow’s third high-level visit in ten days. On February 19, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, arrived in Havana and met with President Miguel Díaz-Canel. A week later, so did Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, who met with Raúl Castro.

This time, Titov, according to the brief note published this Thursday by Prensa Latina, based on a cable from the Russian agency Sputnik, will make a “business visit” to “address different aspects of bilateral relations.” In the meetings scheduled on the agenda, the official agency continues, “the perspectives of business cooperation between the two countries will be examined.”

Last November, Moscow and Havana signed a trade and economic cooperation plan to run until 2030 that plans to promote the growth of bilateral trade and increased investments. continue reading

Titov, according to the brief note published this Thursday by Prensa Latina, will carry out a “business visit” to “address different aspects of bilateral relations”

Since last year, in addition to two visits by Chancellor Lavrov and the representative of Russian businessmen Boris Titov, the president of the State Duma Viacheslav Volodin has traveled to Cuba, as have presidential advisor Maxim Oreshkin and Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko.

Russia’s mistrust towards Cuba in recent decades because of the non-payment of its debts changed completely following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. A few days before, Moscow announced an extension of payments on Russian debts granted to Havana until 2027.

Since the war began, bilateral meetings have been taking place that specified symbiotic needs: that of Russia to have allies on the planet, after the majority rejection of its actions in Ukraine, and that of Cuba to try to breathe life into its devastated economy.

In addition, the Russian Army recruits volunteers on the Island to fight on Ukrainian territory. Last October, the Cuban regime detained 17 people for belonging to a “human trafficking network”, thus trying to disassociate itself from the recruitment of nationals to fight on the Russian side in the war in Ukraine.

A group of hackers has been leaking, through the InformNapalm page, the data of more than 250 Cuban combatants in Ukraine, who supposedly received salaries exceeding $2,000 and all kinds of advantages for the soldier and his family members.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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 Youth Club in Cuba Ends a Project That Was More About Politics Than About Computers

In the neighborhood of Pueblo Nuevo in the city of Holguín, another Youth Club is experiencing deterioration and no longer provides services to the public. / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana / Holguín, Lucía Oliveira and Miguel García, 3 March 2024 — Where before there were tables with screens and keyboards, now there are boxes of vegetable oil, piles of spaghetti packages and bags of powdered milk piled up. Two of the most important buildings of the Youth Computer and Electronics Club in Holguín have been leased as warehouses to small private companies in the city. The initiative, originally created in 1987 to be the computer spearhead of the Cuban regime, has been in frank deterioration for years.

The economic crisis has hit the Youth Club network hard, because it needs frequent investments in computer equipment. “The machines are now very old, and  we piled up some of them in a corner because they don’t even turn on,” an employee of the Lenin neighborhood premises in this eastern Cuban city tells 14ymedio.

“It’s been months since we became a warehouse for the products of private businesses in the area,” the worker admits. “The management of the Holguín Youth Club must collect eight million pesos per month for services, but since we provide fewer and fewer of our own services to the population, we have to make money in a different way.”

Previously, the money was obtained from customers who paid for “machine time” by renting a computer for a few hours, which teenagers and children from nearby neighborhoods used mainly to play video games. But most of the money came from the State budget, which thought of this initiative as the “apple of their eye.” continue reading

“Any little kid now has a mobile phone that is much better than the computers we had here”

“We also offered antivirus updates, a copy of the Ecured encyclopedia and La Mochila* (an official alternative to the ‘weekly packet’ [a collection of TV shows, music and digital material, much of it from abroad]). In recent years we didn’t have much, especially after people were able to connect to Wi-Fi networks and the internet,” he emphasizes.

The arrival, in December 2018, of the web browsing service through mobile telephony seems to have struck a mortal blow to a Youth Club network that was initially designed to centralize the use of new technologies. “Any little kid now has a mobile phone that is much better than the computers we had here. If they don’t have one, they ask their parents or a friend and can download and play whatever they want.”

Despite its loss of social importance, the Youth Club for Computation and Electronics continues to be defined on its digital site as “a network of technological centers, with computer solutions” at the fingertips of any Cuban. It adds that it has “a wide portfolio of products and services,” but a tour of its Holguin center points in another direction.

The entity’s office in the Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood is closed. “We don’t have a reopening date at the moment,” a custodian tells this newspaper. “Perhaps when we reopen  there will be a store here because that’s what is being done with the others,” he says. Outside, the unpainted facade and a sign with faded colors are far from the impeccable presence that the Youth Club once had.

“All this fell out of favor with the departure of Fidel Castro from the leadership of the country, because everyone knows that this was a project of his”

“All this fell out of favor with the departure of Fidel Castro from the leadership of the country, because everyone knows that this was a project of his,” María Victoria Contreras, a worker for two decades at the Havana Youth Club, tells this newspaper. “I was among the founders, and I can say that here the resources were endless. Unlike other sectors, we lacked nothing.”

Contreras says that at first they had a lot of demand, “even a line outside, because almost no one had a computer at home, and the kids wanted to sit in front of a screen, touch a mouse. I saw many children play with a keyboard for the first time when I worked at the Club;  there are things you never forget.”

“The first Youth Club that was inaugurated was the one on N Street, between 21st and 23rd next to the Cuban Pavilion in Havana,” recalls the retiree. “The technology we had at that time was keyboards with monochrome screens, which was a success for us.” However, “now investments are needed to build this network, and the money no longer arrives as before.”

Yordanis, a teenager in the 80s, discovered his passion in those places after spending several hours in line to gain access. Now a graduate of computer engineering, he recognizes the importance of the Youth Club in his life but considers that the project “was not updated at the same pace as the technologies.” For this professional, “the infrastructure has not been modernized, internet access is poor,  and the user experience leaves a lot to be desired.”

The Youth Club of the Lenin neighborhood in Holguín has been converted into a merchandise warehouse for private businesses/ 14ymedio

“You can’t start a state-of-the-art video game on a computer where the mouse doesn’t work well, the keyboard lacks letters or the screen can’t support the definition of graphics for the current interfaces. It’s frustrating and, in addition, people don’t want others to be looking over their shoulder at what they’re doing,” he adds.

The Central Palace of Computing and Electronics, located at the intersection of Amistad and Reina streets in front of  Fraternidad Park, in Central Havana, is the largest installation of this type in the whole country. The property has undergone all kinds of transformations and different uses throughout its more than six decades of existence.

First, the colossal building was the headquarters of the American Sears chain in Havana. Nationalized after the coming to power of Fidel Castro in 1959, the place spent years closed to the public and converted into bureaucratic offices. In the 1980s it was inaugurated as the Centro market, a free trade experiment that lasted a short time and fell out of favor during the process of Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies of 1986.

The old Sears building experienced another period of closure until 1991, when it reopened its doors as a Computer Palace. “Its huge rooms and many floors were always too complicated for this new function because it has always seemed more like a large store than a place to go to use a computer,” acknowledges a founding worker of the place.

“As he did with other emblematic buildings of Havana, he decided that the old Sears was not going to be dedicated to consumption nor was it going to give one more peso to anyone”

“But Fidel wanted to teach a lesson to all those people who were going to stand in line at the Centro market in the early hours of the morning to buy and resell the jams, beers and tins of cumin on the black market,” he says. “As he did with other emblematic buildings in Havana, he decided that the old Sears was not going to be dedicated to consumption nor was it going to give one more peso to anyone.”

“In those days we also gave courses to learn how to use programs and other tools, we even had a Geroclub for older people who wanted to approach a computer for the first time, but that is no longer done,” the former employee tells 14ymedio. “This was a political project rather than a computer project. It was designed to create the “New Man” in computing, and that objective was lost.”

The former worker of the Youth Club believes that the extension of new technologies “changed everything.” Cubans “prefer to enjoy a movie, a game or a videoconference at home with some friends or sitting in a park, but those facilities are more and more abused every day and don’t even make you want to sit in one.”

“Now there are other priorities,” the employee summarizes. In the list of preferences, the new forms of economic management are winning over the old official programs, marked by massiveness and bulky budgets. The city of Holguín is going at full speed in that reconversion; where before it was about getting online to play games or program, now it’s about buying rice and liquid detergent.

*Translator’s note: *La Mochila (Backpack) contains official State content as opposed to El Paquete (the Weekly Packet), which contains non-political content and is bought on the black market.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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 Cuban ‘Paquetazo’ Moves to the Rhythm of Russian Demands

It does not seem a coincidence that, after the postponement of the start of the ‘package’, we had the visit of the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov / Russian Foreign Ministry

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 29 February 2024 — Lavrov, Patrushev and Titov. We Cubans get lost among so many surnames of high-ranking Russian officials who arrive in Cuba. The procession, which has grown in number and frequency in recent months, coincides with official announcements of economic measures. It is very difficult to remove the Kremlin from the national equation when Vladimir Putin’s envoys arrive on the island and, shortly after, tariff adjustments are published in the Official Gazette or new prices are made effective at gas stations and electricity bills.

This Thursday, the head of the Russia-Cuba Business Council, Boris Titov, arrives in Havana, and will stay on the Island until March 7. A long visit that, in advance, has all the traces of a review, of a meticulous inspection to verify where the vague promises that Cuban officials must have made to the ears of the Russians, to extract investments and support, have played out. A dance of seduction that has worked with others but is now being performed before “clients” who know very well the false tricks of Castroism.

It does not seem a coincidence that after the postponement of the start of the paquetazo*, which raised the prices of fuel and electricity, we had the visit of the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, and, later, the secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev. Both in the second half of February, the month initially chosen to begin measures that will make life on the Island more expensive and generate great social unrest. After his departure, the application of the new prices to take effect on March 1 has finally been announced. continue reading

It seems that Miguel Díaz-Canel has been showered with scoldings from Moscow. For Putin, it is not enough to agree, we must comply. His men have come to demand accountability in Havana and the clumsy officials of the Cuban Communist Party have only managed to do what they know best. Initially they have chosen to stretch the times and negotiate new deadlines, only to end up giving in to the powerful patron of the day.

It seems that Miguel Díaz-Canel has been showered with scoldings from Moscow. For Putin, it is not enough to agree, we must comply.

In front of the eyes of the citizens, the Russians seem to be sneaking into every crevice of national life. The intergovernmental commission led by Titov examines and makes agreements in areas as diverse as the economic, financial, energy, transportation, agriculture, communications, health, education and tourism. Even though not recognized by either regime, the presence of Cuban mercenaries fighting for the Russian side in the invasion of Ukraine also makes the link between Castroism and Putinism closer.

The official press of the Island has adopted the script that the Kremlin imposes on its national media. Both there and here, Russian defeats on the battlefield are not published, Volodymyr Zelensky’s name must always be accompanied by the worst adjectives, and the invasion is only a “special operation” for the Russian homeland to recover what belongs to it, what was once taken from it. Every day, the publications of Sputnik and Granma become more similar. There are hardly any differences between RIA Nóvosti and Prensa Latina when it comes to news about Europe and the United States.

Both regimes have been synchronizing speeches in recent years, aligning their political narrative at various points and strengthening ties, some visible and others under the cloak of secrecy. But Cuba is a small country, an island with hardly any natural resources and an economy destroyed by inefficiency and mismanagement. Getting too close to Moscow’s voracity is a very dangerous move because Russia asks its allies for much more than handshakes and formal visits.

Within this obedient delivery is the act of serving as a springboard for disinformation campaigns and acting as a bridge with Latin America so that Putin can wash his image and undermine solidarity with Kiev. The Kremlin does not give support without asking for anything in return and these are times of direct requests and excessive demands.

When Moscow lands it does so with everything. Sometimes destroying the treads of their tanks, other times crushing with their misinformation and adjustments.

*Translator’s note: ‘Paquete’ means ‘package’, while the ‘azo’ added to the end implies a ‘forceful blow’.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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 Fear In the Eyes of Cuba’s Regime

An old sign that was located in front of the United States Embassy in Havana / Cubanamera

14ymedio biggerYunior García Aguilera, Madrid, 29 February 29 —  On February 21, an article appeared in El Ciudadano , under the long and boring title The network of interference against Cuba, which goes from the United States to Spain, passing through Mexico. Although the Chilean media declares itself committed to human rights and democracy, it had no qualms about offering its space for a publication conceived from the very headquarters of the Cuban State Security, enforcer and guardian of authoritarianism on the Island.

Neither quick nor lazy, GranmaCubadebate and their entire queue of replicating media echoed a soap opera loaded with conspiracy intrigues, data manipulated to avoid burning their sources, typical phrases from the Cuban propaganda and repressive repertoire, a lot of misogyny and overwhelming lies. They have turned the presentation of a book in Madrid into a whole plot of CIA operations, coups d’état and violent actions.

If it had been a script, Netflix would have rejected it immediately, for being bland and lacking in drama

If it had been a script, Netflix would have rejected it immediately, as bland and lacking in drama, but the network at the service of totalitarianism is running out of content and needs to generate noise. The orders come from Cuba, Venezuela provides the money and the person in charge of signing the pamphlet is a well-known Castro-Chavism operator, the pro-ETA Katu Arkonada.

The publication would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that it exposes women who live in Cuba, a country with more than 1,000 political prisoners. The article could serve as a prelude to new arbitrary arrests, more continue reading

repression, prohibitions on entering or leaving the country, as well as years in prison for the simple crime of daring to think differently from what the single party dictates.

The comments at the bottom of the post are even worse. In Granma , a user named Enrique Rodríguez suggests that “those worms (…) not be allowed to return to Cuba.” In Cubadebate, another reader named Rafa says that they can count on him for “total war, inside and outside the country,” and closes with a threat: “Don’t let a worm get in my way here in Spain.”

The article in question also mentions me in one of its paragraphs, describing me as “one of the most strident and violent Cuban dissidents.” It seems that, in the eyes of the regime, a simple white rose has more uranium and plutonium than weapons of mass destruction.

But, ultimately, who is Katu, the individual who puts his signature on the article? His real name is Israel Arconada Gómez, a Basque born in 1978. Although his communist parents encouraged him to study Economic Sciences, what fascinated the boy was politics, and he became at 16 a kind of “little Nicolás” of the ultra-left.  He was arrested in 1998 for his links with groups involved in vandalism and terrorist acts. So, at just 19 years of age, he managed to leave for Cuba. It was then, presumably, that Cuban intelligence began using him. The young man stopped using his real name, assuming Katu as an alias, and changing the “c” to a “k” in his last name.

In 2003 he was sent, obviously, to Venezuela. From there he became coordinator of the World Social Forum in Brazil. In 2009 he made the leap to Bolivia, where he became nationalized and held high positions as a whisperer to Evo Morales. But Israel or, rather, Katu, found enemies even within its own nationalist ranks. He then went to Mexico, seeking new sponsors, until he got as close as he could to the ear of López Obrador.

Several women, like the Mexican journalist Karina Velasco, reported having been victims of this character

His blatant interference in Mexican internal affairs generated the collection of more than 1,500 signatures to request his expulsion from the country. Furthermore, the Castro-Chavista operator was implicated in several scandals for believing himself unpunishable and showing his other side of: that of a sexual harasser. Several women, like the Mexican journalist Karina Velasco, reported having been victims of this character.

That is why I am not surprised that a misogynist like Katu Arkonada exudes so much hatred in his article, especially against Cuban women. Nor is it surprising to me that a guy with a record so close to the ETA members accuses me of being “violent.” Anyone even remotely informed about my activism would laugh at Katu’s ignorance or audacity. Furthermore, how dare a guy with such an interventionist history talk about interference?

We already know that Cuban intelligence dedicated itself to forming and planting “katus” everywhere. But what do they want with this insubstantial article? What does Katu demonstrate, beyond the fear in the eyes of a dying regime?

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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 Buys 500 Tons of Powdered Milk From the United States

The authorities talked about how expensive milk powder is in the international market / Escambray

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 1 March 2024 — It has been two days since the Spanish agency EFE released the news that Cuba had asked, for the first time in history, for help from the United Nations World Food Program in the face of the milk shortage, but the Government still does not say a single word. This Thursday, the Minister of the Food Industry, Alberto López Díaz, gave a press conference to reassure the population that children up to to seven years old are guaranteed powdered milk in the coming days, although the explanations were confusing.

The arrival of a Brazilian ship with 375 metric tons of the product “guarantees the distribution” for that group for an unspecified number of days. The minister also cited several contracts that add up, if the figures are correct, to 1,750 tons of powdered milk. He added that, since the country consumes 2,000 tons per month for children, medical diets, pregnant women and “social consumption,” these imports “guarantee stability in the distribution for March and April.”

The figures weren’t released immediately, but it was striking to begin with that, among the imported products, are 500 tons coming from the United States, “by virtue of the exceptions established by that Government to sell certain products to the Island, through immediate payment and in cash.” Although the authorities have recognized that they are allowed to buy certain products from the U.S., denouncing at the same time that the conditions are anomalous in international trade, they rarely refer to a specific acquisition through the exemptions from the embargo, in force since 2001. continue reading

He added that, since the country consumes 2,000 tons per month for children, medical diets, pregnant women and “social consumption,” these imports “guarantee stability in the distribution for March and April.”

The other contracts cited by the minister and disclosed by the official press consist of another 500 tons from Brazil, 245 tons from Canada and 600 tons from “other suppliers.”

López Díaz said that the problem is being progressively solved thanks to the “interest of the country’s top management in such a sensitive issue,” and stressed that powdered milk is marketed at high prices in the international market. Residents of Villa Clara, Sancti Spíritus and Camagüey were more fortunate, he said, since there were no “affects” in these territories because they have fresh milk available.

The shortage of milk became more pressing last year, when almost all the provinces had to adjust their quotas, reduce the number of prioritized groups or replace the milk with products that were sometimes only remotely similar. The farmers complained about the “ordering task”* of January 2021 and the high inflation, which has devastated what was left of the Cuban economy.

Most say that the State does not compensate them or even cover the expenses generated by raising livestock, and they are paid little, late and poorly. Added to this are the consequences of non-compliance with the contracts for reasons beyond their control. The Government can impose fines and sanctions if the agreed-upon quota is not delivered, which is sometimes impossible due to the malnutrition of livestock from the lack of feed and the shortage of fuel for transport. There is also the general economic insecurity, which has caused an increase in the theft of animals.

“If you paid the farmers more and on time, you would see better results, but hey, they work and aren’t paid, and you can see the results today,” a user on social networks responded to the ministry’s note.

In mid-February, complaints from the population about problems with milk powder reached Cuban television. The Minister of Internal Trade, Betsy Díaz Velázquez, explained that most of the product is acquired in “distant markets, which makes the price more expensive and the delivery delayed.” The current distribution of this product to children up to seven years old comes from the country’s reserves, “the valuable contributions of the World Food Program (WFP) with donations, and loans from economic actors (private companies).”

The minister made a reference that at that time went unnoticed, since the WFP’s collaboration with Cuba – as with all countries with food needs – is historic. However, what had never happened and what the Government continues to avoid talking about is the request for urgent help.

“We confirm that the WFP has received an official communication from the (Cuban) Government requesting support to continue the monthly delivery of one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of milk for children under the age of seven throughout the country,” the delegation on the Island told EFE, which had access to the information through its sources.

The agency added that “it is the first time that Cuba has requested support by issuing an official communication at the highest level of WFP management” and did so, according to the agency, by sending a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment to the executive management of the WFP in Rome at the end of last year. Thanks to that, “144 tons of skimmed milk powder were sent, benefiting almost 48,000 children between seven months and three years old in Pinar del Río and Havana,” 6% of the minors that the Government wants to reach.

This Thursday, BBC World tried to obtain a statement from the Cuban Government, which so far will not discuss the issue.

In his press conference this Thursday, Minister Alberto López Díaz also mentioned the situation of the rationed bread, which is scarce if not absent “in the face of the unavailability of flour,” although, “according to the productions of each territory, the local authorities have been making determinations.”

Flour is abundant in Cuba, as 14ymedio reported yesterday, thanks to imports from private companies, some of which are linked to the State itself. With milk, the situation is the same. The private and informal wholesalers dominate the social networks, but to obtain the products you have to be able to pay for them, exposing the increasingly visible gap between the social classes that the Revolution supposedly abolished.

*Translator’s note: The Ordering Task that came into effect in 2021 eliminated the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso (CUP) as the only national currency. It raised the prices of basic goods and services, generating inflation, and created stores that take payment only in hard currency, which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards. Other measures targeted different elements of the economy.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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 Cuban Regime Prevents Martha Beatriz Roque From Receiving an Award in the United States

Cuban dissident Martha Beatriz Roque in an archive image / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Havana, 1 March 2024 — Cuban dissident  Martha Beatriz Roque, director of the Cuban Center for Human Rights (CCDH) and former prisoner of the Black Spring, has been one of the winners of the 2024 International Prize for Women of Courage, awarded by the United States Government . But she will not be able to go to the awards ceremony next Monday.

In conversation this Friday with 14ymedio, the historic dissident says that the news was communicated to her last January. “They told me that the prize consisted of 15 days of vacation in Los Angeles, 15 days in Washington and then the awarding of the prize.” Roque, who is regulated — the regime’s euphemism for not being allowed to travel — went to the Emigration offices in Havana, where State Security agents were waiting for her.

There they told her to return in 15 days to resolve her case. She hoped that, as has happened recently with other opponents, such as Julio Ferrer and María Cristina Labrada, the ban on leaving the country would be lifted. However, when she returned two weeks later, the response was blunt: “You are still regulated, period.” That time, she says, “the treatment was completely different, I can say that they treated me badly.”

“I think ‘they’ prefer the empty chair to my words. So, well, there will be my empty chair. The hatred they have for me is terrible”

And she says: “I imagine that the United States Embassy, ​​at the request of the Government, has asked to let me travel, but I think ‘they’ prefer the empty chair to my words. So, well, there will be my empty chair. The hatred they have for me is terrible.” continue reading

Roque’s case has been similar to that of Yoani Sánchez, director of this newspaper, who was prevented by the regime from leaving the Island when she was also awarded the Women of Courage Award, in her case in 2011.

This year, in its eighteenth edition, the prize awarded to the Cuban opposition figure is shared with the Ecuadorian Fátima Corozo, a high school teacher, community leader and youth defender in Esmeraldas, the most violent city in her country.

Similarly, the nine women who were part of the group of 222 Nicaraguan political prisoners who were released from prison and exiled to the United States last year, for their part, have been honored with the Madeleine Albright Honorary Group Award.

The award ceremony will take place at the White House in the presence of the first lady of the United States, Jill Biden, and the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken.

The prize awarded to the Cuban opposition member is shared with the Ecuadorian Fátima Corozo, a high school teacher and community activist

According to the US State Department in a statement collected by the Efe agency, this award, which is in its eighteenth edition, recognizes “women from around the world who have demonstrated exceptional courage, strength and leadership in promoting peace, justice, human rights, equality and empowerment.”

In 1997, Martha Beatriz Roque signed, together with Félix Bonne Carcassés, René Gómez Manzano and Vladimiro Roca, the document* La patria es de todos, The Homeland Belongs to Us All*, which criticized the management of the Castro regime and called for an opening. The four were sentenced to sentences of between three and five years in prison for the alleged crimes of “actions against the national security of the Cuban State” and “sedition.” Amnesty International considered them prisoners of conscience, and Roque was released in May 2000.

The dissident was arrested again in 2003, during the so-called Black Spring, in which 75 opponents and independent journalists were arrested and prosecuted. On that occasion she received a sentence of 20 years in prison. After receiving an extra-penal license releasing her for health reasons, Roque is still subject to a travel ban outside the country and surveillance by State Security.

*See here for an English version on this site

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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 Has No Bread, but ‘You Can Drown in All the Flour’

Once it arrives on the Island, the product is unloaded in full view of the population, as happened this Wednesday on Ayestarán Street, in Havana / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, February 29, 2024 — “In Cuba there is enough flour to drown in, but the State doesn’t have any.” Everyone knows it, and María confirms it. She spends the morning sending messages to several contacts – found through social networks –  to buy the raw material, with which she makes bread, pizzas, cakes and all kinds of sweets. The offers are so overwhelming that she only has to find the best one, economically and logistically, to be able to continue supplying her business.

Emerio González Lorenzo, president of the Food Industry Business Group, admitted over the weekend that the “complex situation” – a concept applicable to transport, fuel, electricity, chicken and everything that goes wrong in the country – will produce “affectations” in the basic basket that began to be “reflected” this Saturday, according to the official, even in tourist establishments.

Although Cubans have been struggling more than a year to find anything other than small, hard and tasteless bread, the news has made them tremble. Several provinces have announced changes in distribution, from Pinar del Río, where bread has been reserved for children up to 14 years old, to Sancti Spíritus, where sources of this newspaper report that it will be available only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. continue reading

The Government says that the “financial restrictions basically due to the intensified blockade” are to blame

The Government says that “financial restrictions, due basically to the intensified blockade and the logistical limitations that Cuba suffers to bring wheat from distant markets” are to blame, and its efforts to circumvent them do not work. Sources in the import sector tell 14ymedio that the State uses mipymes that are connected to the Regime to get the product without restrictions, even if the amount isn’t enough to feed the population.

“Here is a large private MSME [Micro Small Medium Enterprise], which has several gastronomic businesses: a paladar [privately run restaurant], two candy stores…,” says the source, who asks to protect his identity and location, but has documentation that supports what he says. “They rented a place and are setting up another bakery. They are supposedly “private,” but when you look at the import papers and trace the funding, you realize that there is money that comes out of State accounts,” he says.

The State uses them, he continues, to import goods under the cover of private companies, which act legally and comply with the rules and tariffs on all imports. At the end of 2023, the Government announced the increase in import tariffs for final products and a decrease in those for raw materials, in order to encourage the manufacture of consumer goods in the country.

To date, only alcohol and tobacco have suffered the tax increase, because the authorities specified that it would be necessary to define precisely when a product is final and another intermediate. The example of flour was the one used by the Minister of Finance and Prices, Vladimir Regueiro Ale, who showed how it would depend on whether payment is for a direct sale to the consumer or to a food processing business.

Be that as it may, and while the Official Gazette publishes the set price, the MSMEs continue to buy flour from Ukraine, Russia, Spain, Colombia and, above all, from Turkey. The informal market is overflowing with offers.

“Bags of flour of 55 pounds each are available. The container has 960 bags, at 9,000 pesos or $30.50 in US dollars. The complete container is sold,” says a seller. “Russian flour. Payment in dollars or euros by transfer abroad and a percentage in dollars in cash,” specifies another that delivers to the warehouses for Havana, Cienfuegos and other provinces. In this case, the cost is $1,200 per ton, and the commission is $100 more.

The payment methods are very diverse, but most of them require a deposit of a good part of the amount in dollars or even in banks outside Cuba. It is also not uncommon to ask for an amount in cash, pesos in that case, to ensure the day-to-day on an Island devoid of liquidity and where the ATMs work only when they want.

“To say they can import anything they want without the State intervening is a lie”

Those ads, on pages and social networks, mostly talk about contracts and documentation, but when contact is made in private, the transparency is diluted, despite the fact that, according to the source, it is almost impossible to get the merchandise into the country illegally. “To say they can import anything they want without the State intervening is a lie,” he says emphatically.

“The State places the order through an importer, either CubaExport or Alimport. Those MSMEs that are combined, half-private, half-State, which are actually fronts for the Regime, have direct contact with the Government, which is behind the business.”

The private businesses do more work because they find their own suppliers and take care of the whole process, before going to the Government and delivering all the information for import authorization. 

“It is mandatory to contact an inspection agency, either Intermar or Cubacontrol, to be able to bring in the merchandise, but they still have to contract with the health services, with the whole Health network,” he explains. Once it arrives on the Island, the product is unloaded in plain sight of the population, as happened this Wednesday on Ayestarán Street, in Havana.

In Santiago de Cuba, subsidized bread in the ration book has been suspended until the end of March

“The MSMEs, in fact, are overflowing with flour, and there is bread at 20 and 100 pesos, whatever you want,” says a neighbor from Santiago de Cuba, where the subsidized bread in the ration book has been suspended until the end of March. The problem, rather, is the blackouts, which prevent the ovens from working well.

When it arrives, nothing gets in the way of a Cuban and his bread. Except for a minor issue: no money. “Guarantee your monthly bread with payments from the outside. Offers for 30 days for your family to have their daily bread,” says a Havana MSME, which sells 2.8-ounce hamburger buns for $0.19, 28.2-ounce sliced bread for $1.50 and even combos of 10 hamburger buns a day plus a package of cookies for 86 dollars.

Nor do they lack the product in a candy store in El Vedado. “Right now we are fine with flour because there are many offers. We got ten bags at 20,500 pesos each, which a MSME that can import sold us. As we need to have all the paperwork and records for the inspectors, we prefer to buy like this and not on the street,” says the owner, who already talks about a similar situation for another product, sugar, for which an alarming shortage is feared, especially if one takes into account the catastrophic sugar harvest that looms over the country.

“The flour they sold me is Turkish and expires in June of this year; it is multipurpose flour, and the bags weigh 110 pounds. With that same MSME we got a sugar that is very good from the Caña Brava brand, Peruvian, which cost 24,000 pesos a bag.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Gas Stations Closed and Others With Long Lines Before the New Prices of March 1

The San Rafael and Infanta gas station was closed in this photo taken this Wednesday, February 28 after the announcement of the price increase / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 February 2024 After being postponed due to an alleged cyber attack on the state financial company Cimex, two days before the dismissal of the Minister of Economy, Alejandro Gil Fernández, the new fuel prices, public transport and electricity rates will go into effect on March 1. Havana residents were trying to refuel this Wednesday but several gas stations were closed and a few others had long lines.

The service centers on 17 and L, in the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución, and San Rafael and Infanta, in Centro Habana, are not even dispensing fuel. The one in Tángana, also in Plaza de la Revolución, only had one dispenser working to serve the customers they have listed on a list of buyers.

Of the gas stations that this newspaper was able to visit in Havana, only the one on 25th and G was selling fuel and the drivers were milling around in a long line. On the outskirts of the capital, the person in charge of the Los Paraguas de Guanabacoa service center reported on her Telegram account that “the 8 thousand liter regular supply truck,” which should have arrived at 10:30 pm on Tuesday, ultimately did not arrive.

The ministers of Finance and Prices, Energy and Mines, the vice minister of Economy and Planning and the vice president of Cimex appeared before the official press this Wednesday to announce that the new prices will apply only to fuel sold retail: 156 pesos or 1.30 dollars per liter for special gasoline instead of 30 pesos; regular and diesel at 132 or 1.10 and engine at 114 pesos or 0.95 dollars (instead of 25 and 20 pesos, respectively). As wholesale rates remain intact, private transportation prices should not increase, they stressed. continue reading

At the service center on 17 and L, in the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución, they are not providing service this Wednesday / 14ymedio

“In the case of liquefied gas, the application of price increases is postponed,” Cubadebate explained in an article that summarized the statements.

According to Mildred Granadillo, Vice Minister of Finance and Prices, the Government chose the date of March 1 after Cimex managed, during the last month, to restore “the affected computer systems.”

For his part, the head of the same portfolio, Vladimir Regueiro Ale, assured that the Government is aware “of the impact that (the new rates) have” and admitted that they will affect “the entire economy.”

“To date, prices do not recognize the real costs the country incurs. They were outdated prices and generated subsidies for the State Budget. We know that this has consequences on the costs of production processes. The measure in itself has an inflationary impact,” the minister admitted, adding that “there is a group of decisions that mitigate its impact,” although he did not explain which ones.

These “corrections” were also mentioned by the Cuban economist Pedro Monreal, who, following the announcement, criticized the measures on his social networks. “A distortion is ‘corrected’ – energy prices misaligned with the real cost – that would have transversal effects, increasing the distortion of salaries misaligned with the cost of living. Whatever they say, the ‘corrections’ impoverish the citizen,” he stated.

At the gas station on 25th and G, where they were delivering, the line of vehicles occupied several blocks. / 14ymedio

The intervention of the Minister of Energy and Mines, Vicente de la O Levy, was, for his part, a string of justifications about the State’s need to increase prices. “This measure is not to raise money, nor does it eliminate subsidies,” he assured, adding that “it is an issue that seeks savings,” while explaining that the way to guarantee the “resupply” of gas stations is to establish “a small chain of service centers in dollars for tourists and foreigners and eliminate the subsidy for foreigners.”

Fuel shortages, however, remain the main problem for the portfolio. “Cuba had these demands assured by international agreements, but import volumes have decreased for different reasons,” said De la O Levy. According to state data that were taken up by the minister during the conference, the Island needs about 8 million tons of different fuels annually, of which about three million are produced in national refineries, the rest is imported.

A critical case is that of gasoline, the import of which has been increasing in recent years – 126,000 tons of gasoline imported in 2021, 192,000 tons in 2022 and about 203,000 in 2023 – but it cannot cover the annual demand, which amounts to 360,000 tons.

In turn, this fuel is the one most demanded by the private sector, which consumes 71.5% of the 21,700 tons that were imported on average each month during the past year. Another need “impossible to cover” for the State. Diesel imports, with greater state consumption, have also fallen, “and that is felt in the economy,” declared Cubadebate.

Regarding the increase in the electricity rate for “high consumers,” the 25% increase is maintained for those who consume more than 500 kilowatt hours, said the minister.

Translated by Regina Anavy
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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

At a Gas Station in Havana, Esther’s Fans Support Her in Her Criticism of the New Fuel Regulations

At dawn, Los Paraguas received a tanker with 6,500 liters of regular gasoline and when the morning shift started, only 2,000 liters remained. / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, February 27, 2024 — Esther Pérez Trujillo, who is entrusted by the government of Guanabacoa with the organization of the lines at the gas stations of that Havana municipality, does not like the new rules for the distribution of fuel. And she doesn’t hide it. This Tuesday, in one of the Telegram groups that she administers, she called for the “opinion of the people” in order to send it to the Municipal Board of Directors.

In a message sent early in the morning, Esther explained why she did not summon the buyers on her list  to the Cupet Los Paraguas gas station. According to her, the service center received 1,717 gallons of regular gasoline at 2:41 in the morning, and at the beginning of the morning shift, there were only 528 gallons left. There was also an “unconvened” line.

Accompanying the text with emoticons of disgust, she added: “That is, between the time of rest and the change of shift, 1,189 gallons were sold,” and “the next call will be when another fuel truck arrives.”

“Public opinions. Group open,” the text ended, inviting a conversation. The comments did not take long to arrive, almost all in favor of the work of Esther and her subordinates. “It shouldn’t happen with the good work that you and your team are doing. It’s true that they shouldn’t save the fuel, but at that time of day people don’t deserve it,” said Roiber Danger Salazar. continue reading

“This is the most organized system and you have done a good job”

According to Mijail Fernández, “I am of the opinion that your system should be extended to all gas stations, and they should not be sending fuel to Cupet at such early hours of the morning.”

“This is the most organized system and you have done a good job, but if it is not widespread it will fail, because sometimes disorganization suits some,” said José Luis Castillo, as did Izzet: “I don’t understand why, if you and your team do such good work to avoid coleros [people others pay to ‘stand in line’ for them] and the resellers from hoarding fuel, they do that. It’s true that the gas stations can’t refuse to sell, but what they did showed a lack of respect toward you, who have worked so hard, and the people who wait their turn in a disciplined manner.”

The same user asks them to “take measures,” and as an example mentions the Cupet El Tángana, in El Vedado, where “they do not retain fuel but there is a schedule so that someone who can’t come at the time of his turn can go later.” And he ends by encouraging Esther: “We continue to ride, with you as the leader of the troop.”

“Congratulations, don’t give up, let the dogs bark, I support you”

Many of the comments allude to the danger of having to refuel late at night. “For those of us who have motorcycles, early morning shifts have become somewhat dangerous,” explained Alberto Borrego. More clearly, Abdel Pérez, also a motorcyclist, said that “early morning calls are VERY DANGEROUS, as we know there is crime and violence on the street.”

For her part, Zayda Suárez questioned that given the time at which the fuel arrived, “they should have waited for dawn and called those of us who are on the list. The fuel doesn’t usually arrive that early, and the administration of the service center should respect the established order.”

Until a little less than a month ago, the gas stations organized by Esther seemed to have the privilege of receiving more fuel than others in the capital. Esther and her two subordinates managed “the lists” of customers through Telegram with an iron hand. However, last week the boss of Guanabacoa informed her followers that the rules of the game had changed. By orders “from above,” gasoline would not be saved for those who did not come when it was their turn, and, if someone who was not registered on the list arrived at the service center, they would have the possibility of refueling.

During these days, Esther has continued with discipline, coordinating users via Telegram without any protest.The arrival of the fuel in the early hours of the morning, out of turn, with the consequent disappointment of the buyers, seems to have tried her patience.

Of course, it is clear that the customers are with her: “Congratulations, don’t give up, let the dogs bark,* I support you.”

*Translator’s note: A quotation from the novel Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. 

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Discreet Visit to Cuba by a Delegation of the U.S. Progressive Caucus

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, leader of the progressive ‘caucus’ of the Democratic party, with the leader of Puentes de Amor, Carlos Lazo. / Pramila Jayapal/

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, February 28, 2024 — Two Democratic congresswomen, Pramila Jayapal and Ilhan Omar, led a delegation of members of the progressive caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives to Cuba last week, according to el Nuevo Herald. They were joined, according to sources in the Miami newspaper, by the congressional representative for California, Barbara Lee.

The information, which has not been disseminated in any Cuban media, was confirmed by the progressive caucus, which contains more than 100 legislators. Jayapal, from the state of Washington, is the president of the caucus.

“Representatives Jayapal and Omar traveled to Cuba last week, where they met with people from Cuban civil society and government officials to discuss human rights and the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Cuba,” said a spokeswoman for the group. continue reading

“Representatives Jayapal and Omar traveled to Cuba last week, where they met with people from Cuban civil society and government officials”

The offices of the three congresswomen, for their part, refused to comment.

The trip took place on an unspecified date, but el Nuevo Herald places it at the beginning of last week, and the group was made up of a dozen people, although only the names of the two congresswomen were given. Both are critical of the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

Both Jayapal and Omar, a representative for Minnesota, have supported bills to normalize relations with the Government of Cuba. This January, Jayapal, on her X account,  requested that Cuba be removed from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. “Today marks three years since Cuba was included on the list, a Trump-era policy that has devastated the Cuban economy and made the life of its population more difficult. It’s time for Biden to eliminate that designation, lift sanctions and reopen relations with Cuba.”

“Being on this list has made it almost impossible for Cuba to do international business, which has caused an economic crisis that has led residents to flee the country,” she added.

In November 2021, the U.S. Congress approved a symbolic resolution in support of the 11J protesters and “the immediate release of arbitrarily detained Cuban citizens.” Likewise, the regime of Havana was urged to allow the march called for that month by the Archipelago collective. Previous repression ended up leading to the exile of its visible leader, the playwright Yunior García Aguilera.

That text was supported by 382 votes in favor and 40 against, among which were those of the two congresswomen. Although none expressly detailed at that time the reason for her vote against, the representative for Massachusetts, Jim McGovern, did so, arguing that the document did not recognize “the role played by the U.S. when it comes to contributing to the suffering of ordinary Cubans.”

In mid-January, there was a meeting between American and Cuban officials in Havana. The meeting was confirmed by the White House, which indicated that representatives of the Justice and National Security departments were going to participate in the Dialogue between the United States and Cuba on Law Enforcement. In that forum, they will address “topics of bilateral interest” and will seek “greater international cooperation in law enforcement,” a spokesman for the federal government previously said.

Jim McGovern, argued that the document did not recognize “the role played by the U.S. when it comes to contributing to the suffering of ordinary Cubans”

Just a week ago, the Deputy Undersecretary of Public Diplomacy, Politics, Planning and Coordination of the State Department also visited Havana. Kerri Hannan met with members of Cuban civil society, black activists, human rights defenders and independent private businessmen, as confirmed by the U.S. Embassy in Havana. The official also spoke with members of the Government of Cuba and, as she explained, “pressed for the release of the political prisoners.”

At the beginning of February, the Special Advisor of the State Department on International Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Sara Minkara, was on the Island. During her stay, she held meetings with “representatives of the Government of Cuba, independent Cuban businessmen, former students of programs sponsored by the Embassy and students of educational institutions in Havana,” said the diplomatic headquarters.

The meeting of the members of the progressive caucus, on the other hand, has not been disclosed by any of the parties, at least until the news was released, at which time they  confirmed it. Neither the Cuban Government nor the official press, very active in reporting on this type of event, has pronounced itself.

On February 19, approximately the same date that el Nuevo Herald places the trip of the progressive caucus to Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel met in Havana with a delegation of American farmers, on their first visit to the Island, organized by the National Association of Departments of Agriculture of the United States. “If it were not for the blockade, we would have many mutual opportunities for work, to move forward for the benefit of both peoples,” said the president.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Paseo Galleries in Havana, a Palace of Consumption Turned into Ruins

The store that was a symbol of opulence now displays dirt and destruction everywhere / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 24 February 2024 — Careful!” a woman managed to say this Friday to a child who was rushing along the entrance ramp of the Paseo Galleries, in Havana’s Vedado district. The floor slabs, full of holes, forced customers going to the market, located on the first floor, to walk gently to avoid falling or spraining an ankle. The deterioration of what was one of the consumer palaces of the Cuban capital in the 90’s seems to know no limit.

Everywhere you look you will only find destruction, grime and peeling paint. With barely any lighting at its entrance, the cloudy day was of little help for those who entered the three-story establishment, located right across from the luxurious Cohiba Hotel and a few meters from the ocean-front wall of the Malecón. Most of those who arrived went to the market — which requires payment in freely convertible currency (MLC) — on the first floor, managed by the Cadena Caribe of Cuba’s GAESA* military conglomerate.

Access to the place through the exterior ramp is the prelude to the extreme deterioration that is exhibited inside / 14ymedio

Inside the store, the floor is in better condition and at least the lamps have most of their bulbs working, but the presentation of products is more reminiscent of a warehouse than a store. “Everything is piled up, in order to find a price sometimes you have to go among the mountains of bags or cans,” complained a customer who came in search of powdered milk. In the back, the meat sales area had a small line.

“This place sucks, but it’s what I have closest to my house and I came here to buy butter,” commented Moraima speaking to 14ymedio; she is a retiree who receives remittances on her MLC card from her son, who resides in continue reading

Sweden. “This small bar [90 grams] costs 1.70 MLC,” the woman criticized. Behind her, the price board announced “baby octopus” at 16 MLC per kilogram; seven units of Asturian blood sausage for 4.25, and 200 grams of smoked salmon for 35.

“Everything is very expensive and the place is depressing. They charge in foreign currency and abuse in Cuban pesos,” said Moraima. “This cart with oil, peas, a package of chickpeas, tomato sauce, flour, butter and a little ham is already costing me more than 50 MLC,” she explained to this newspaper. “With this, I’m spending more than half of what my son sends me monthly; he has to work very hard to send me 100 MLC.”

Access to the place through the exterior ramp is the prelude to the extreme deterioration that is exhibited inside / 14ymedio

“All this is in this condition because they know that even if it is a dark cave, people are going to have to continue coming here to buy,” another customer said out loud while waiting for an employee to appear to open a bag with packages of children’s candy. “They say that until they read the barcode, they can’t tell me how much it costs,” he was losing his patience.

“They don’t sell anything fresh and there is a disgusting smell in the market, it smells like rotten fish, I don’t know how they can be open like this,” questioned another buyer. “I used to come here, I even bought a Spanish pressure cooker years ago that turned out to be very good, but this place doesn’t even look like that anymore, this is in total decline.”

For those who do not want to risk their lives going down or up the access ramp to the supermarket, there is still the risk of taking the stairs with several broken steps on their edges and which has not seen a broom come by in months, perhaps years.

The Jazz Café, located on a mezzanine with a stunning ocean view, now resembles a haunted house, full of dust and cobwebs. “It closed a little before the pandemic and never reopened, a shame because this was always full and it was a unique place in Havana,” lamented a worker who was trying to push a cart full of goods being careful so the wheels wouldn’t fall into the ramp’s potholes.

A meeting place for musicians, national and foreign clients looking for company, the Jazz Café charged about ten convertible pesos (CUC), in the days when the CUC was still in circulation, which included a basic dinner and a musical show. The place remained full past midnight, especially on weekends, and the access staircase became an improvised catwalk of young girls showing themselves to the tourists.

With a careful design and sculptures that imitated jazz players in full improvisation, the Jazz Café became a unique space in the Havana night. “The proximity of the Cohiba Hotel guaranteed that this would be full, but right now there is little tourism and those who come asking if the club is open what they find is this, an abandoned place,” acknowledged a taxi driver who charged 2,000 pesos for a ride to the nearest municipalities to those who left the supermarket this Friday.

For the most empowered customers, Galerías Paseosreserves its boutique shopping area for dresses that exceed 200 MLC and sneakers from famous brands. But even those places of supposed glitz do not escape the dirt and crisis of the environment. Thus, Adidas shoes alternate with stained glass, expensive perfumes with cracked floors, and leather purses with stained walls.

Access to the place through the exterior ramp is the prelude to the extreme deterioration that is exhibited inside / 14ymedio

At least three of those businesses were closed this Friday without explanation. With the lights off inside, the stores, located on the third floor, gave the impression of having been abandoned with the merchandise inside, and no employee of the complex could attest as to when they would reopen. “Come by on Tuesday or Wednesday to see if they are selling again”, a custodian suggested to a teenager who inquired about the shoe shops.

The workers’ faces are also streaked with apathy. What was once a very attractive place to work has ceased to generate interest. “Everything is paid by card, customers almost never leave tips, and when they do, it is in pesos,” acknowledges an employee who this Friday helped a couple carry their purchases to the car.

“Many people have also left because they received their parole visa or left by way of the volcano route,” the man acknowledged. When foreign currency stores opened for Cuban customers in the 90s, working in one of those stores was, automatically, the beginning of starting to be part of a wealthier social class, but now the situation is very different.

“Inspections, hard work and little encouragement,” the employee summarized the situation of the Galerías Paseo workforce. “This has gotten really bad, I’m looking for a job in one of those MSMEs that pay better and where there isn’t as much drama as here, because I might as well have to stay until the next day for an audit than to put up with complaints from a client who is absolutely right, because what they should do with this place is to shut it down, it cannot continue operating in these conditions.”

In the bathroom on the top floor, only the one for women was open, which had three cubicles and at least one of them was out of service. A cardboard over the bowl with a bucket on top prevented the use of the toilet and the smell that came from inside made some of the urgent customers who came to that area give up. There was also no water supply for hand washing or flushing toilets.

The magical world looks faded and opaque / 14ymedio

But the best “surprise” was at the exit. A colorful sign welcomed Mundo Mágico, a place that a few years ago was the children’s store. “No, we no longer sell toys here, now we only sell the ‘basic products module’ [from the rationing system] for the people of this area,” an employee responded grumpily to a clueless customer who was looking for some dolls.

Above the worker’s head, blue, red and yellow letters recalled that period when Galerías Paseo was the consumer palace of a Havana that could afford to go shopping and enjoy the journey.

*Translator’s note: Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA) is a Cuban military-controlled umbrella enterprise with interests in the tourism, financial investment, import/export, and remittance sectors of Cuba’s economy.

Translated by Norma Whiting
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An ‘Almendrovich’ — A Taxi With a Unique History — Tours Havana

The Chaika has an adaptation that allows it to carry up to six passengers, in addition to the driver / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 21 February 2024 — It was one of the fleet of GAZ 14 Chaika cars that Leonid Brezhnev gave to Fidel Castro in the 1970s. Now, it serves as a collective taxi like any old almendrón* and travels the route between the Parque de la Fraternidad and Santiago de las Vegas, in Havana. “Since there is no tourism and we have to put food on the table, the Cubataxi company has us picking up the fares,” says the driver this Wednesday, while transporting five customers on a cold Havana morning.

With a glossy black body and an intimidating length, the Chaika has an adaptation that allows it to carry up to six passengers, in addition to the driver. Where there used to be ample space for travelers to stretch their legs, an improvised seat has been placed such that it requires them to raise their knees.

But even these transgressions do not tarnish its stately bearing and the historical value of the vehicle, a symbol of a time when the Kremlin’s wallet seemed bottomless when it came to propping up the Cuban regime. “This was one of the ones used for Fidel Castro’s bodyguards, that’s why it’s not armored,” adds the driver when asked by a client.

“This was one of those used for Fidel Castro’s bodyguards, that’s why it is not armored”

According to another Cubataxi employee, “Fidel never really liked the Chaikas. He used them for a short time and switched to other capitalist-made cars, which were the ones he preferred,” he says. Of those 15 GAZ cars continue reading

that the general secretary of the CPSU sent to the island, “there are only about five left circulating on the streets and they are dedicated to tourism, but now almost no foreigners are arriving and we are working with Cubans.”

The so-called Soviet limousines were widely used at the time as protocol vehicles to transport important visitors arriving to the Island. Presidents, high diplomats and political allies traveled in those cars that demonstrated the proximity between the Kremlin and Revolution Square. When they began to provide services to tourism, travelers went crazy to take pictures with those fossils from the Cold War.

The enthusiasm was not shared by Castro. “The first cars he had in 1959 were Oldsmobiles for him and his entourage, then the Alfa Romeos arrived. He rode in the Chaikas for very little time just to please the bolos, the gossipers, and finally he opted for the Mercedes-Benz, “adds this employee who, before Cubataxi, worked in the protocol service of the Council of State.

“Most of the people who get into these Chaikas now don’t know anything about their history, they think they are old cars like any other. But nothing like that, this is as tough as a Chevrolet but it is exclusive because there are very few left and everyone who sat in those seats was a minister or higher,” he says. “People, when they find out where a car like this comes from, scoff and say it’s an almendrovich*, but this is a piece of history, a museum piece with wheels.”

*Translator’s note: Classic American cars are called ‘almendrones‘ in Cuba, a reference to their ‘almond’ shape’, and are used largely as shared taxis. ‘Almendrovich‘ is an additional play on words for these ‘Russian’ almendrones.

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Yasmany Gonzalez Admitted to Being the Author of Anti-Government and Anti-Communist Party Posters

The activist Yasmany González and his wife, Ilsa Ramos. (Facebook/Ilsa Ramos)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 February 2024 – Ten months after Yasmany González Valdés’s detention – for creating graffiti opposing the government and the Communist Party – this Tuesday saw the conclusion of the trial in which he was charged with the crime of enemy propaganda. The prosecution requested six years imprisonment, two less than the maximum provided for in this offence.

His wife Ilsa Ramos told Martí Noticias that his lawyer tried to get the sentence lowered – by three years – pleading his collaboration during the investigation. “He says that Yasmany shouldn’t have to have a sentence so near to the maximum for this offence, which is eight years, because he admitted to putting up the posters and cooperated in the handwriting checks. Now we have wait for the final sentencing, which could take more than another month”, she explained.

At the trial – which was held at the Tenth of October Municipal Tribunal in Havana – only close family members were permitted to attend: his parents and his wife

At the trial – which was held at the Tenth of October Municipal Tribunal in Havana – only close family members were permitted to attend: his parents and his wife. “It started very late because they didn’t bring in the prisoners (him, and another younger man, also from the Combinado del Este) – both of them charged with “enemy propaganda”, although not part of the same case. The trial scheduled for 9am finally started at 11am”, Ramos added. continue reading

His wife also added that the attorney intervened during the trial in order to add aggravating circumstances, among others propaganda sent via his mobile phone, and incitement to attend demonstrations. “The lawyer defended him, arguing that Yasmany was being judged only for the posters”, she said.

González Valdés, known on social media as Libre Libre, was called in at the beginning of April 2023 by the police, who linked him to the clandestine group known as El Nuevo Directorio (END) – The New Directory – which were named on social media as being responsible for the posters that the activist was accused of. He attended an interrogation, where they conducted graphological tests and they tried to retain him, unsuccessfully, for non payment of fines unrelated to the case.

On 20 and 23 March, two enormous graffitis had been created, saying “No to the PCC” – one of them at the Faculty of Physics and the other in Aguirre Park. But it was the two following ones – on 17 April, at the university stadium and at 7 Calle Humboldt – which provoked a “violent search” of his house by 15 police officers who confiscated a paintbrush, overalls and a phone.

After this operation he was driven to Villa Marista, the headquarters of State Security, and interrogated for a month, after which he was moved to the Combinado del Este

After this operation he was driven to Villa Marista, the headquarters of State Security, and interrogated for a month, after which he was moved to the Combinado del Este.

During his time in prison his family denounced the fact that the activist was subjected to harassment from other prisoners, exposed to infections and accused of trying to form an “opposition movement” inside the prison, for which he spent lengthy periods in a punishment cell.

According to his wife, during the trial the prosecutor reminded the court that the crime for which he was indicted – enemy propaganda – is categorised in “the penal code which has been in force since 2022 and which was approved by more than 79% of the population”. However, this law has not, in fact, been put to any referendum, and neither of the two previous actual referendums – for approving the 2019 Constitution and the 2022 Family Code law – received anywhere near this level of support.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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A Violin and a Bicycle in the Streets of Havana

Reniel travels long distances on his bicycle to play in the streets of Havana /14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Espinosa, 27 February 2024– Of everything that Reniel carries with him, on his miles-long bicycle trips through Havana, there is nothing more important than his violin. With the case open and the bow taut, the young man of 30 from Havana performs in all kinds of improvised settings in the capital: squares, parks, boulevards and roadways. There is only one place, however, that he resists — Old Havana, where only those with a “special permit” from the Office of the Historian can perform.

The old town, where Eusebio Leal injected multimillion-dollar sums, continues to function under the commandments of the late Historian, glossed in the city’s Master Plan, and violating those rules has consequences. “If they catch you playing without a permit in the historic center, the fine can be up to 4,000 pesos,” says Reniel, who aspires to bring joy to passersby with his music within the limits of the old wall, on Mercaderes Street or in the area around the Cathedral.

“I have tried to request that permit and I am in the process of applying for it, but first I need to have the papers from the Onat (National Tax Administration Office), present my work project and, if they accept it, then I can work there,” he explains. the musician. As he remembers, they have “talked him down” several times, but this time he hopes the response will be positive.

Meanwhile, the rest of Havana’s streets are a free map in which Reniel can play his violin and earn some money to help his mother, a job that he combines with a more stable job, such that he can only do it in his free time. continue reading

This Monday, in the portal of the old building of the Museum of Fine Arts, in front of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, the young musician played for passers-by, who from time to time dared to leave some bills in his case. A few steps to the right, a man with a statue of Saint Lazarus asking for offerings and another with a saxophone were competing with Reniel for the attention of the Havana residents.

Reniel, who accompanies his violin with the music from a speaker connected to his phone, cares little about the competition because, as he explains, the museum portal is just the temporary stage that he must share with other street or needy artists, and it is not even the fixed site for his performances.

A man with a saxophone competing with Reniel for the attention of the people of Havana / 14ymedio

“I work in different places, I don’t always play here,” says the musician, who insists that he has never performed with orchestras or played the instrument professionally. “When I was about 14 years old I had the opportunity to have a violin, and since then I learned music self-taught and with private lessons,” he says. State music schools, he adds, “are difficult to access at the age I was. Children start playing from the age of seven and if you don’t enter at that age it is very difficult to be admitted later on, ”he says.

For about five years he managed to get several restaurants and bars in Havana to hire him to offer live music to customers. “I have played the violin at the Los Mercaderes restaurant, at the La Makina bar, which is closed now, at the La Cocina de Esteban restaurant in El Vedado, and at the Iranian food restaurant, Topoly,” he lists.

Playing on the street, despite having to travel by bicycle from Boyeros to different parts of the city, became a means for Reniel to earn extra money for his home. This time, however, the meager loot was not just for the musician. An old woman, not far from the museum, asked him for “10 pesos to eat.” He couldn’t say no.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.