For Melissa Barreto Galvez, a Cuban from Santa Clara, the Trip Ended in Mexico

For Melissa Barreto Gálvez, a Cuban from Santa Clara, the trip ended in Mexico (Cortesía)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lorey Saman, Mexico, 17 January 2021 — When Melissa Barreto Gálvez boarded the plane in Havana that would take her to Nicaragua, the only thing on her mind was her three-year-old son Mylan Kahled. She left him behind, under Grandma’s care, but he was her driving engine to make the big leap and become an immigrant.

“Leaving my little one in Cuba, whom I love most in life, causes me pain that grows stronger every day, which leaves me hardly able to breathe. It’s as if the world is going to fall on you,”  this 22-year-old resident of Santa Clara said moving to 14ymedio.

Melissa is one of thousands of Cubans who in 2020 chose to petition for refuge in Mexico. This process has been triggered in the last four years among the nationals of the island, who have ranked as the third highest of nationalities that requests it, behind Hondurans and Haitians. continue reading

Here she arrived last July, in the midst of the health crisis across the region, dodging obstacles, corrupt cops, dealing with scammers, and some fears. “I left Cuba with other people. When I arrived in Nicaragua, blind, I got my rent by myself and a way to sustain myself,” recalls the young woman, who left in the middle of her medical career in Cuba to seek a better future.

“Since every Cuban is known by our accent and even the way we dress, on my way out of work I met two Cubans. We started sharing and struck up a great friendship.” Like her, the boys also wanted to jump the borders into Mexico, and that’s what they did together.

Melissa and her friends were set up to a contact with coyotes. Within a few days, they had set out on the road. The $1,200 of the initial fare for the trip ended up at $3,500. “I spent some very difficult days, because in the end coyotes took money from us whenever they could. They left us 15 days in a house, almost without food because, according to them, the passage was difficult, but they did it all in order to ask us for more money. Most people arrive in Chiapas [Mexico] in four or five days, I spent 26 days and they were the worst.”

The young woman, who never gave up hope of arriving in Mexico, says she felt a lot of distrust at first “because of the things she heard” about the journey. “But along the way I was losing my fear, because I also knew my friends wouldn’t abandon me.”

The day after she stepped on Mexican soil, on July 12, she showed up at the Office of the Refugee Aid Commission (COMAR). “I did it all very quickly and easily, there were no queues. In those months almost no one was entering the country, mainly because Honduras and Guatemala had their borders closed because of COVID.”

“The third month after I went to the COMAR, I was called to interview for the asylum process. Within a few days I was told to go and pick up the resolution that recognized me as a refugee in the United Mexican States.” She is already in the process of obtaining permanent residency.

The migration landscape in Mexico for Cubans has changed a lot in a few years here. The usual, before, was the immediate deportation of the nationals from the island, a procedure interrupted for a few months, just over five years ago, when, faced with the imminent elimination by the Obama administration of the wet foot/dry foot policy, there was an avalanche of Cubans who entered the Chiapas border with the intention of reaching the United States by land. They then received an expedited “letter of exit” from the Instituto Nacional de Migración (Mexican National Institute of Migration), which allowed them to remain in the country legally for 15 days, until they reached the northern border.

Melissa now lives in Monterrey. She went a few days without a job, but she then was able to find one in order to move ahead. She claims that the important thing is to work, and she has lived it from the south to the north of the country, within a Cuban community that grows every day. And she also found love in another Cuban, a man who is young like her, who also wants to “throw in” (echar pa’ lante = work hard to get ahead), she says.

If everything becomes better on the northern border, does she plan to apply for asylum in the United States? “My son is not here with me and I have no plans to go to the USA yet. Maybe tomorrow, when I have my son, I will be able to tell you, but the truth is, I want to be here, in the beautiful country that has welcomed me.”

Translated by: Hombre de Paz


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Santiago de Cuba Stops the Sale of Food in Pesos and Dollars From Friday to Sunday

La Plaza shopping center, in Santiago de Cuba, closed. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Francisco Herodes Díaz Echemendía, Santiago De Cuba , 15 January 2021 —  All state and private businesses that surround La Plaza de Santiago de Cuba dawned this Friday completely closed. The shopping center, one of the three that sell food products in freely convertible currency (MLC) in the eastern city, has had its doors closed since the beginning of the year due to an outbreak of Covid among its workers.

Now that the city has regressed to the local-transmission phase, the authorities imposed 58 measures in response to the unstoppable increase in infections. Among the measures, they determined to close all establishments from Friday to Sunday. Only essential services in “health, death and production” will be maintained.

The sale of food in foreign currency stores was another anguish for many people from Santiago. However, these stores are where there are more products, especially meat, which is scarce in state shops that sell in pesos. continue reading

“What appears the most is ham, cheese and ground meat. The Ten Cents store recently opened and began selling food,” a customer explains to 14ymedio, “the other stores in MLC, all they have are toiletries and home appliances.”

In Telegram and on social networks groups have been created to keep up with the supply in these stores. “I understand that they closed La Plaza. Do you know if there is some meat in the others? I am from Palma Soriano and I would not want to go to Santiago unnecessarily,” asked a young woman in a local Facebook group on Tuesday. “In Cubalse they have chicken breasts for $6.55 but there is tremendous line, so come prepared,” another user replied.

The most commonly repeated question in these communication channels is “What’s there?” Many cautious people prefer to inform themselves first before going to the stores at their pleasure, as they are almost always without products or run out quickly. And they also prefer to play it safe and not spend more than 50 pesos on transportation, the average it takes to move around the city today.

“If Santiago was expensive before, after January 1, the salt has rained down on us,” says an anguished housewife living in the town of Boniato, who, in order to buy unrationed food must travel to the center of the city. “The price of station wagons and motorbikes, which are essential to travel urgently, have skyrocketed to the point that if you don’t have 50 pesos a day for transportation, it’s better to not go out.”


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The Survivors of the Cuarteles Street Tenements in Old Havana Speak Out

On Calle Cuarteles Number 4, in Old Havana, 22 families live in uninhabitable accommodations. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eustaquio García, Havana, 16 January 2021 — Residents on Cuarteles Street, located in Old Havana, do not know what it means to have a decent home. The so-called ciudadelas [tenements] located on this road, one of the oldest in the capital, suffer continuous collapses, but its inhabitants have never been able to leave some of the buildings that have been considered uninhabitable for decades.

“I’ve lived here for 35 years and, although there have been more than ten collapses, and our apartments are damp, and we have a shelter order, we have never been able to leave this place,” Damaris Luna tells 14ymedio; Luna lives on the street at Number 4, between Cuba and Aguiar, where 22 families live in a similar situation.

The precarious situation of their home even affects their income, explains Damaris, a manicurist by profession, who claims to have lost many clients. When they look at the entrance to the tenement, they lose the desire to enter. And even more so to climb the stairs. continue reading

“All the authorities know it, but they do nothing. They have promised on more than one occasion to get us out of here and give us a home but that never happens. The last promise was at the end of 2018 and we are still waiting,” she laments.

The most recent collapse of this building occurred on September 19, 2020, when a wall collapsed and disabled the shared bathroom, used by five families, for several days.

The tenements located on Calle Cuarteles, one of the oldest in the capital, suffer continuous collapse. (14ymedio)

Neighbors recall, however, how diligent action was taken in a 1988 collapse on this site. The apartment belonged to the famous national baseball player Lázaro Valle. “They took him out and gave him a better house, but we’re still here, we don’t even have our own bathroom. Our houses are propped up inside, and so are the stairs and hallways. Whoever enters this building seems to have reached the stage of a film from the 19th or 18th century,” says María Vega, a woman in her 70s who has lived at Number 4 all her life, with regret and a slight smile.

On the street, just three blocks long and located very close to the bay, some tenements are more than 400 years old and are completely in ruins. This is also the case of Numbers 7 and 11, which in a competition against time and abandonment have an extremely gloomy aspect.

Damaris, a manicurist, claims to have lost many customers: when they look at the entrance to the building, they lose the desire to enter. (14ymedio)

“This lot has had a shelter order since 1961, but the houses that are supposedly supposed to go to us are always given to other people. The little that we have been able to fix, such as the roof of our rooms and the railing of the second level, has always been by my own effort,” complains Mariela Santiesteban, a resident of Number 11.

“There are 28 rooms here and they all get wet or have a lot of dampness. They have never even given us a sack of cement or sand to fix it, only once did they put some very bad tiles that immediately deteriorated again due to their poor quality. Because of this we are still in the same situation: total helplessness,” adds the 53-year-old woman.

José Antonio Moreno, one of her neighbors, would be satisfied with any alternative. “I can even use an apartment in Siberia to get out of here!” He says between a smile and resignation. At 60, he adds, he can barely clean the floor in his room. “It leaks on the neighbors downstairs and it’s in very bad shape. One time my roof was ripped completely off with a cyclone and I had to repair it myself, but here we are in constant danger.”

In the lot of Number 7 there are only the small rooms located on the ground floor. All of the upper floors have collapsed in recent decades, and its residents are not even in the mood to speak.

Three years ago the Government recognized a deficit of almost one million homes on the Island, a very serious situation that it aspired to alleviate in a period of ten years, but the shortage of materials due to a persistent crisis affects a problem that continues to leave millions of families in suspense, not knowing when they might see their roof coming down.

According to a report from the Cuban Observatory for Human Rights, from last October, almost half of the homes in the country need repair, and 11% of families live in places at risk of collapse.


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Cuban Artist and Designer Rolando Pulido Dies at 58

A painter and designer, in 1980 and only 18 years old, Rolando Pulido decided to leave Cuba during the exodus known in the US as the Mariel Boatlift. (Natacha Herrera / El Imparcial Digital)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 January 2021 — Cuban designer and artist Rolando Pulido died this Friday in New York at the age of 58. The artist, who decorated emblematic cultural spaces and was a great promoter of the cause of democracy on the island, died in a hospital in the Bronx, in the city where he lived.

“Our beloved brother, Rolando Pulido, rested last night, grateful from the heart for all the solidarity that we all transmitted to him until the end,” announced emigrant writer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo on his Facebook account.

A painter and designer, in 1980 and at only 18 years old, Pulido decided to leave Cuba during the exodus of the Mariel Boatlift. Shortly after declaring his intention to emigrate, he was the victim of a massive act of repudiation where, as he recalled in testimonies and interviews, he was “humiliated and severely beaten.” continue reading

“The Cuba I knew I did not like one bit. It had been the place where, since I was born, they tried to indoctrinate with an ideology that I did not like, it was not what my parents would have preferred for me,” he explained years later, recalling his early days in New York.

“The country where a foreigner is the only one who has the right to be free. The country that beat me when I wanted to leave. My country, which forbids me to touch its soil,” he reiterated. Among the most iconic works of his career are the designs of the Blue Note jazz club, Cooper’s Bar, Strand Bookstore, and also some of the Saturday Night Live stages.

Starting in 2007, Pulido became enthusiastically involved with the independent blogosphere that was taking its first steps on the island. Most of the posters, visual campaigns and logos associated with the phenomenon of digital blogs were born from his creativity.

His activism on the networks helped to give visibility to numerous Cuban reporters. “For many years I looked for the most effective way to denounce the atrocities that occur in Cuba on the part of the government, and I found that it was through my graphic work,” he said. “Today thanks to the internet, I can share my work with other Cubans in many parts of the world, even within the island, and we can do projects together.”

Dedicated, supportive and talented, that’s how his friends and collaborators remember Rolando Pulido, a designer who “took the denunciation of the Cuban situation to the level of beauty and visually attractiveness,” as an Internet user said this Saturday on hearing the news of his death.

Translator’s note: This translator had the great pleasure of knowing Rolando and mourns his passing. This link shows some of the art and design work Rolando did for Cuban freedom.


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Cuban Convertible Pesos Not Accepted, Even in Cuba

A Caracol store located on the ground floor of the Havana Libre hotel (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, January 13, 2021 — Faced with complaints from citizens that they could not find places to spend their Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), the Cuban government announced that no fewer than 500 stores would accept the old currency. The list included the Caracol chain of stores, the Palmares Company, and the Artistic and Literary Promotion Agency (Artex). 14ymedio confirmed on Tuesday, however, that these businesses are now only accepting Cuban pesos (CUP).

At the Caracol branch in the Habana Libre hotel they had not even heard the news. “We only accept CUP here,” said an employee when a customer asked if she could pay in CUC.

“I still have 20 CUC and I would like to spend them on something useful without having to wait in line at the bank. I heard the news on television and came to this store, which is on the corner near my house. But as you can see, either Murillo was lying or these people don’t know how to do their jobs,” said the customer, waiving the rejected bill. continue reading

Marino Murillo, the so-called “reform czar,” said it himself during a Roundtable broadcast and reiterated it on his official Twitter account: “The conditions have gradually been created so that, starting today (Monday), CUC will now be accepted in more than five-hundred establishments of the Caracol, Palmares, Artex and Egrem chains throughout the country.”

In addition to the establishments newly designated to accept CUC, he claimed that stores run by Cimex corporation and the Caribe chain were already following the new policy.

At Arte Habana, an Artex store located on San Rafael Street, the employee was blunt: “Look, I don’t know what they said on the Roundtable but here we’ve been told we can only charge in pesos, no CUC.”

“I don’t have that information. Call back tomorrow,” said an employee of the Tropicana nightclub, a subsidiary of Palmares, in response to a question posed during a phone call.

Handmade signs that read “CUC not accepted” have become a common sight in private businesses and taxis since late December, days before the new economic measures took effect.

Despite the Cuban government’s announcement that it would expand the network of businesses that accept CUC, a sign in a Caracol store suggests otherwise. (14ymedio)

As part of the monetary unification process being implemented throughout the country, the government had stated that the CUC would remain in circulation for six months. In practice, however, very few businesses are accepting it.

“A lot of people come here expecting to pay in CUC because they heard on television that they would have up to six months to spend it. But the truth is that we as private businesses are under no obligation to take them,” an employee of a privately owned cafe in Nuevo Vedado told 14ymedio.”I don’t accept CUC but, look, in addition to Cuban pesos, anyone who so desires can pay me in dollars or euros.”


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 Dismal Soap Opera of Slander

The list of independent artists, activists and journalists mentioned last Wednesday on the primetime newscast on National Television. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana |15 January 2021 — The screen was black and white, the television was Russian-made, and the girl who was looking at the images was barely ten years old. The announcer spun expletives against a Cuban opponent, while an eagle in a threatening posture, the initials CIA and a crowd of raised fists also gathered on the scene. More than 30 years later, that girl — now an adult — would be one of the protagonists of another broadcast of such a crude program.

As in a never-ending series of terrible production, national television has broadcast new episodes of defamation against activists and dissidents in recent weeks. The history of these reputation-killing broadcasts is woven into the very origins of the prevailing political system on this Island, accustomed to vilifying its critics without offering them the right to reply.

Although these libels against opponents are part of the genome of Castroism and have barely changed their tricks and insults, the audience has changed a lot in the last three decades. From a captive audience “forced to believe everything the official media said,” we have moved to a country where the number of people who barely watch nationally broadcast television and prefer to consume content on demand is growing. continue reading

The way these smear campaigns were received internationally is also different. The repeated formula of the victimhood of a regime, one that always blames supposed foreign forces for the existence of critical voices in the country, no longer convinces and generates more indignation than support. In addition, these attacks against dissidents feed the denunciations of global organizations and provoke solidarity campaigns towards the victims.

But perhaps the most negative effects for the ruling party are those that are generated in the Cuban population itself after the broadcast of these capsules of hatred aimed at demonizing individuals and groups. The reactions, even those that are more in tune with the Plaza de la Revolución’s version, can be absolutely counterproductive for the objectives sought by Power.

“If they do all the things the television says they do, what they have to do is imprison them,” shouted a retiree in ragged clothes the following morning when more than a dozen faces appeared on the Primetime News as a cartography of the new enemies of the homeland. A woman close to the retirement home replied in a lower voice: “Ah, that television is a show, nothing more, to entertain,” and a laugh spread in the line for the frozen chicken.

For the most recalcitrant militants of the Communist Party, it is inconceivable that these alleged “agents of a foreign power” walk the streets, transmit their ideas through social networks and even work in independent journalistic newsrooms within the Island. Thus, the reiteration of these smear campaigns spreads the idea that the Power is weak and all that is left to it is insults and “TV programitas,” a popular epithet.

There are also other unexpected results, such as the conviction that as the economic crisis deepens, political propaganda becomes more aggressive and raucous. Many remember the harsh years of the Special Period – after the collapse of the Eastern European bloc and the loss of the Soviet subsidy – when the shops were emptied and the streets filled with billboards filled with ideology. “This is to cover up that there’s not even any rice,” said a young woman after listening to the first seconds of the television tirade last Wednesday, just before turning off the set.

Not to mention the free publicity these shows bring to the faces and phenomena vilified. Several of the defamed have enjoyed displays of popular support after being accused in the news, with messages of solidarity and even the emotional gesture of being invited by some stranger to cut in front of them in the line to be able to buy some scarce product, a true sign of friendship and altruism in these times of scarcity.

So, if the audience no longer passively swallows this defamatory “porridge,” and the image of the Government is devalued worldwide every time it spreads it, while popular reactions range from indifference to empathy with those attacked, it is worth asking why the Cuban regime continues to appeal to such formulas. What reason drives the Communist Party to bet on methods with little or even counterproductive results.

The answer is simple: the ideologues of Castroism do not know how to do anything else. Their way of acting and handling propaganda remains the same as that widely used half a century ago. Those who decide, up there, how to treat critics continue to think about the formulas that gave them some returns decades ago. The girl in front of the TV grew up and broadened her horizons, but the system is fossilized.


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Artist Tania Bruguera Files Defamation Complaint Against Cuban Television

The artist Tania Bruguera (left) filed the complaint at the ICRT headquarters. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana | 15 January 2021 – On Thursday, the artist Tania Bruguera delivered a complaint against the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT) for the content of a broadcast on Wednesday, in which “they distorted, defamed and created negative states of opinion” about her.

“They misrepresented my work, they misrepresented who I am, what my actions are about, and I decided to submit the complaint to the ICRT due to this discrediting campaign,” the artist told 14ymedio. “We cannot continue to accept that activists and artists in Cuba are defamed and lied about simply because they have a different way of thinking.”

In recent weeks, journalists, independent media and artists have been the subject of attacks and slanders broadcast on the Primetime News segment titled Cuba’s Reasons, and repeated in the official print media. Most of their targets are branded as mercenaries and linked to sources of funding in the United States. This Wednesday they were described as “new operators of the counterrevolution,” who are committed to “an openly anti-Cuban and annexationist agenda,” the latter implying they want Cuba to become a US state.

“We must use legal resources, because this is a government that is believed to be above the law and that constantly violates its own Constitution. We, the citizens, have to start using the laws in our favor and defending ourselves from their abuse,” said Bruguera. She also noted that she filed a defamation lawsuit against the Government in 2018.

Bruguera was one of the artists who stood on November 27 in front of the Ministry of Culture to demand dialogue after the arrests of Denis Solis and the strike by the San Isidro Movement, with which she is linked. Since then, she has been arrested and interrogated several times, for hours at a time. In addition, she has been prevented from leaving her home, which is why the artist has considered herself “under house arrest without any explanation” during this time.

The entire San Isidro Movement has suffered similar situations, with arrests, harassment and surveillance, while the government describes its members as “terrorists financed by the empire.”


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 Sweet Potato Has Become a Luxury Product in Cuba

In Santiago de Cuba sweet potatoes are sold only through the ration book and only to people over 80. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Francisco Herodes Díaz Echemendía, Santiago de Cuba, 14 January 2021 — The scandalous prices, which have multiplied since the new measures that took effect on January 1, have reached Santiago de Cuba. And they have materialized in a traditionally cheap product, the sweet potato.

“Yesterday I went to the state agricultural market El Avileño in the center of the city and there were sweet potatoes on the stands. I was surprised that the police were not controlling the lines and everyone wasn’t shouting frantically to enter first in case the food runs out,” a man from Santiago tells 14ymedio.

“I went into the place, asked if the sweet potatoes were for sale and I was surprised by the employee’s response: the sweet potatoes are sold under the ration book and are for people over 80 years old. I asked him if he was joking and he said no, that was the order,” the resident said, still surprised. continue reading

For the man, who grew up in the country, the sweet potato “was always the food of guajiros, humble people and pigs.” Now, he adds, “it’s a luxury thing, it doesn’t appear and when you find it, it’s super expensive or rationed.”

The price of sweet potatoes about two years ago reached a maximum cost of 9 pesos. Of the little available this year, private merchants in Santiago de Cuba sell it for more than double that, and in other provinces, such as Cienfuegos, it is close to 30 pesos.

The indignation of the man grows even worse just a few minutes after leaving El Avileño. Walking about 800 meters down busy Enramadas street he enters another establishment where they are selling yogurt, cream cheese and some variants of cheese. He asks for the prices.

“Instantly the clerks clarify to me that everything that is sold there is only for children between 1 and 8 years old, and I have to present a ration book and an identity card,” he concludes indignantly.


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The Number of Cubans Traveling to Nicaragua Went From 2,000 a Year to Nearly 45,000

The Oriental Market is one of the most visited commercial areas in Managua, Nicaragua. (La Prensa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 11 January 2021 — Some 44,829 Cubans visited Nicaragua in 2019, according to the Nicaraguan Tourism Institute (Intur). The figure grew considerably in comparison to the two prior years, when only around 2,000 flew into Managua, the capital.

According to the latest Intur statistical bulletin reported in the local press, Cuban visitors represent 3.5% of the number of tourists that arrive each year, when in previous seasons they were barely 0.1%.

In 2019, Cuba was included in Nicaragua’s migratory category B which allows travelers to obtain a consular tourist visa without waiting for the approval of the General Directorate of Migration in Managua. Since then, thousands of Cubans have traveled to the Central American country to purchase all kinds of products that are missing on the island. continue reading

Clothing, footwear, household appliances, and vehicle parts are some of the most purchased merchandise to be subsequently sold on the black market in Cuba. In these times of a greater shortages in state stores, this flow of merchandise becomes vital, although the suspension of flights due to the pandemic has slowed down trade.

In December 2020, the Venezuelan airline Conviasa reactivated its flights between Havana and Managua. The Cubans, upon returning to Nicaragua’s well-known Oriental Market, the largest in Latin America, the first thing they did was “look for a cell phone chip with internet to call the island and show the merchandise,” reported the local newspaper La Prensa.

“For the merchants of the populous shopping center, the Cubans are a kind of blessing,” the newspaper noted. But “for other sectors, the greater numbers of them arriving only has a palliative effect for the economy since they are supplied from the informal market and often without paying taxes.”

Nicaragua has also become the new springboard for Cubans to reach the United States. Ads constantly appear in Facebook groups looking for alternatives or suggestions on how to get to Mexico from that country. Is it possible to travel without problems from Nicaragua to Mexico? What is the best way to avoid the checkpoints? How much will the journey cost? Is there work in Mexico? What cities do you recommend to live in? These are some of the most frequent questions asked by residents of the Island in the face of the desperation to emigrate.

With the elimination, in 2017, of the United States wet foot/dry foot policy that benefited Cubans, emigration from the island decreased considerably. However, the political change has not prevented thousands from arriving in northern Mexico with the intention of seeking asylum in the United States.

The election of Joe Biden as the new US president lit the hopes of Cubans after his announcement that he would transform the asylum system on the southern border.

Recent data indicates that migration continues, regardless of the restrictions of the Central American countries due to the pandemic. In the city of Tapachula, on the southern border of Mexico, last week a group of Cubans tried to get humanitarian visas that would allow them to legally enter the country and continue their journey north.


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.

A Covid Patient in Santiago de Cuba is Beaten Over a Bar of Soap

The capital of Santiago capital returned to the local-transmission phase this Tuesday due to the rise in covid figures. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Francisco Herodes Díaz Echemendía, Havana, 13 January 2021 — A young man sick with Covid received a beating this Wednesday in the isolation center where he is located, in Santiago de Cuba, just because his family tried to pass him a bar of soap.

According to family sources speaking to 14ymedio, the patient, Daniel Argüelles Estévez, did not have soap for his personal hygiene and his father, Daniel Argüelles Figueredo, tried to send him one, but the guards of the site did not allow it.

“My dad called my brother to tell him that he couldn’t get him the soap,” says Daniela, the sick man’s sister.

As the boy came out of his cubicle to take the soap, three agents, two in civilian clothes and a uniformed man, according to Daniela’s account, began to shout that the patient had escaped and they cornered him. “One of them hit him a lot, hit him on the chest, on the back, gave him a slap and then they all fell on top of him,” she details. continue reading

The father of the patient was arrested shortly after the incident and taken to the police station located in Micro 9, in the provincial capital. “My father was taken to jail because they accused him of spreading epidemics and disrespecting authority,” says Daniela. “They already released him but they gave him a 30 peso fine for disturbing public order.”

Meanwhile, her brother Daniel is still without soap. “They don’t let anything pass,” Daniela complains, “only sanitary pads for women.”

The facilities of the old school of Social Workers, which today belongs to the University of Medical Sciences, have been an isolation center since the beginning of the pandemic. The quarantine of travelers arriving in the province of Santiago de Cuba from other countries begins there, as does that for the doctors returning from Venezuela.

Faced with the uncontrollable situation due to the new infections, and with the other crowded isolation centers, the Government set up the facility to care for the sick and those suspected of having Covid. The health authorities informed the local press that they adapted the “school” to create a “hospital.”

Santiago de Cuba woke up this Wednesday to 153 new infections, a record that raises health alarms, which have been active for two months. Indigenous cases began to proliferate when commercial flights arrived at the Antonio Maceo Airport. Of the cases of this day, about 138 constitute local-transmission infections.

In the province, which is in phase one of recovery, there are a total of 489 active cases and the municipalities with the highest infestation rate are Santiago de Cuba, Mella, Contramaestre, Palma Soriano, San Luis, Songo-La Maya and Segundo Front. There are 279 open outbreaks, of which 103 were caused by contact with foreigners.

Meanwhile, the Santiago capital returned to the local-transmission phase this Tuesday and is where most of the sick are concentrated. The outlook there is increasingly gray, with several quarantined areas, suspension of various services, a prolonged food shortage and a curfew that forces residents to be home between 7:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.


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 Closes Schools But Does Not Dare To Do The Same With Tourism

The number of children with Covid in Cuba is rising of which 263 are currently hospitalized. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 14 January 2021 — Alarmed by the latest data, the authorities have decided to draw attention to cases of coronavirus in children. This Wednesday a daily record of 74 infected children under 20 years of age was reached, more than 13% of the 550 total infections of this day. In addition, an infant just one month old is in serious condition and there are four other children in the same condition.

The data has raised the tensions between the population and the rulers, although the proportion of children, with respect to the total number of infected, does not differ from the usual percentages of the Island, located around 10% or 12%. It is also consistent with figures from the World Health Organization, which estimates a 1.2% share for children under four years of age; 2.5% up to 14 years; and 9.6% between 15 and 24 years. The number of affected children grows as the total grows.

“Few things are as disturbing to people as the the notion of children in danger,” says Cubadebate in a special, this Thursday, dedicated to warning about the problems of coronavirus infections in children. continue reading

“Although they generally do not get seriously ill, they do constitute a serious element of transmission within their home or community, where they live with people of greater vulnerability, and who may have more serious infections,” says Lisette del Rosario López González, head of the National Pediatric Group and member of the Covid-19 Expert Group of the Ministry of Health.

In Cuba, from the detection of the first coronavirus case until today, 1,674 minors have been infected, of which 263 are currently hospitalized. Fortunately, the recovery rate is high and none have died.

Since the appearance of the first cases of coronavirus in the world, scientists have been preparing to investigate the incidence and evolution of the disease in minors.

In March, most countries suspended classes assuming that classrooms could be an epicenter of the spread of COVID-19 since children, who are likely to have the disease in a milder way or without symptoms, could transmit it more effectively. In addition, it was estimated that due to their young age they tended to be less aware of the essential safety measures: physical distance and hand washing.

Studies so far have explained why children are, a priori, better prepared to cope with the disease. The key seems to be in a well-trained immune system that makes antibodies with ease. Research published in Nature on 32 adults and 47 children under 18 years of age concluded that children produce antibodies specifically targeting the proteins in the spicules of the coronavirus that allow infection and viral replication.

Another article, in Science, determines that, for reasons still unknown, children have fewer ACE2 receptors, a human protein that facilitates the entry of the virus into the body and multiplies it.

Knowing that minors do not usually develop serious forms of the disease, science also explord the super contagious effect that was attributed to them. So far, it has not been found to exist. “Infections and outbreaks were rare in educational settings after they reopened after the summer holidays,” according to research published in the prestigious British journal The Lancet.

In Germany, a host of studies have already been published that dissociate the fact that classrooms are a worrying source of contagion. The last one, in December, carried out by the German Academy of Natural Sciences Leopoldina, pointed out that, out of a sample of 110,000 children and adolescents, only 0.53% of the tests carried out were positive.

“There are clear indications that most sources of contagion are outside the schools, so that in addition to the hygiene measures necessary in schools there must be additional extracurricular approaches to contain the pandemic and reduce the incidence,” the study authors emphasize.

Why with these data has the Cuban Government maintained the policy of suspending classes? The 2019-2020 academic year came to a standstill on the island last March and did not restart until September in a generalized manner, although in Havana it was necessary to wait until October, with the result of an academic year basically lost.

If in European countries or the US there is already evidence that online classes have been an educational disaster, the problem is more serious in Latin America and the Caribbean, where there is much less Internet access.

“Every day that passes with closed schools, a generational catastrophe takes shape, which will have profound consequences for society as a whole,” UNICEF warned in a report on the risks for the future of the region.

In Cuba, where the transmission of the coronavirus has been kept at a minimum throughout the pandemic due to a set of actions that range from the expansion of primary care to the militarization and control of society, the prolonged closure of classrooms is surprising. Especially for a country that uses education as a national standard and when multiple children’s organizations are warning of the risks, not only academic but also food and inequality, that is associated with the lack of school attendance.

Ruth Custode, education specialist at the Unicef Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, has long warned that “the best place to guarantee education is school” and that “where there are no cases of transmission, there is no need for the schools to be closed.”

The return to classrooms of Cuban children did not seem to have an impact on the increase in cases of coronavirus, which this fall has remained stable. However, the alarming rise in figures has accompanied the reopening of borders and tourism over time, which have a great effect on increasing mobility. The authorities themselves have recognized this is when contagions began to rise and the external source represented a significant percentage if not the only one.

The authorities have introduced travel restrictions and increased sanitary protocols at airports and, at the same time, have emphasized to Cubans on the island the importance of taking extreme precautions, maintaining distances and remembering that the risk is real, even within one’s own home.

But when infections have increased and the native population already accounts for the majority with respect to imported infections, it is curious that tourism and borders are not closed, but schools are.


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 Government Eases Quarantine Announced Hours Earlier in Havana

Havana returned to a more restricted phase of controls to limit local transmission of Covid-19, but still the streets are crowded with people lining up to buy basic necessities. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 13 January 2021 — The figure of 550 daily cases of Covid-19 in Cuba reported this Wednesday, the highest since the pandemic began, has forced the authorities to take more severe measures. With three more deaths registered, the death toll has reached 12 this week and the week is not over. [Cuba’s total Covid deaths as of 14 January 2021 is 300.]

As a result of the bad numbers, Havana has been pushed back to the phase designed to limit local transmission, which, among other measures, provides for the closure of schools, the paralysis of urban transport from 9 pm to 5 am and the prohibition on being in public spaces from 7 pm to 5 am.

On Wednesday night, the official Cubadebate website published the new provisions that included, among other measures, the prohibition of driving between 7 pm and 5 am, but that measure was eliminated after a few hours and in the most recent announcements they have qualified some of the new restrictions. continue reading

In addition, travelers who arrive in Cuba and who do not respect the established “hygienic-sanitary rules” could face fines of up to 2,000 Cuban pesos and a criminal process that would prevent them from leaving the country until they appear in court, according to a senior government official from Havana.

“To the traveler who violates the established rules, in addition to the fine, the charges against them could result in their travel being restricted,” said Reynier Palacios, secretary of the capital’s Government, on local television.

Palacios said that the authorities are also thinking of prohibiting all future entry into the country of those travelers who are fined for spreading the coronavirus epidemic.

Orestes Llanes Mestre, coordinator of Inspection and Control of the Government of Havana, said that fines are being considered for travelers who violate the rules. “We are proposing, it has not been approved yet but we are proposing it, that for the traveler who violates it is not 2,000 pesos but 2,000 dollars,” he explained, “because for a traveler coming up with 80 dollars is a simple thing.”

The provisions will take effect from this Thursday, according to official media, but this afternoon many schools were already sending students home. “They called me at work to pick up my son and to take home all his books. They told me it would be for four weeks but they explained the same thing the other time and we spent seven months with the children at home,” laments a mother as she stood in a long line for rationed bread. “Now to get ready: it’s the whole day with the boys at home asking for food and me having to figure something out.”

The news also makes Beatriz Torres’s hair stand on end. “Of all those cases, 121 were here in Havana, I am 72 years old, an at-risk age, I avoid going out on the street but I have to do it because otherwise I will starve,” she tells this newspaper.

On the one hand she is calm, she explains, because her grandchildren will not have to go to school, but on the other, she is scared of what is coming her way. She has been going through a “tremendous effort” for months to get food, so as soon as she woke up, she went out to the street. “I took the ration book and went to the bodega (ration store) to get everything I’m allotted,” she says. “It cost more than 300 pesos for a trip just for my and my sister’s quotas.”

As in September, when the curfew was announced, the streets of the capital are full of people in search of basic necessities, especially food.

“Wherever you go there is a tremendous crowd of people. I’m in this line to buy chicken but I’ll take anything they have,” a young woman in a long line at the Cuatro Caminos market comments to 14ymedio. “The [fixed-route] taxes are already 15 pesos and not 10, so I walked from my house over in El Cerro. In my neighborhood the only things in the stores are water and rum.”

The Cuatro Caminos market, re-opened on November 16 after years of a total refurbishment, has been one of the busiest markets in recent months because it is one of the few that remains minimally supplied.

On the corner of San Lázaro and Marina, in Centro Habana, dozens of people crowd at the counter of Store #1005. They announced ice cream for sale but customer complaints fall like rain on employees because they ran out in less than five minutes. “It cannot be that they open and immediately tell me that it is over, that is impossible, it is a lot of impudence,” a customer is outraged. “It’s always the same, they sell three tubs and close, the only thing that matters to them is themselves and their business.”

In the specialized fishmonger on Monte Street, the scene is the same: outrage and protests over the new prices, complaints about poor service and anguish at the shortage of supplies.

“The only thing I have found is this chicken mortadella but it kills me. Before it cost 40 pesos and now they are selling it for 132, it is an abuse,” protests a woman. The employee’s response: “As long as people continue to buy it, they will continue to mark it at that price. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s that the price is abusive.”


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.

It Smells Like Cheese, But It’s Not Cheese

The most sold cheese by the Cuban State, marketed for years in national currency, is the so-called ’melt’. (Telecumanayagua)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 January 2021– El Paisa made his living until a few months ago by bringing milk, cheese, butter and yogurt from a town in Güira, Artemisa, to Havana. His clients were about twenty families scattered around the tall buildings that surround the train station on Tulipán Street, in Nuevo Vedado. The business that had sustained his family ended with a deadly combination: pandemic, more vigilance on the roads and the dry udders of cows.

“There is no food to feed the cattle and the farmers who continue milking already have a contract with some paladares (private restaurants) and sell all the cheese directly to those restaurants,” he tells this newspaper. “After the whole little cheese industry was confiscated from that man in Caimito, everyone is scared.”

Despite its bad roads and few transportation options, in Artemisa if something moves fast, it is rumors and fear. Last August the arrest of the popularly called King of Cheese, a provincial rancher arrested for an alleged crime of illicit economic activity, generated a wave of fears, and retreats among the producers of milk derivatives and their intermediaries. continue reading

“There were some days here when people didn’t even want to say the word cheese, everyone was scared,” recalls El Paisa. After that, with the borders of Havana closed due to the increase in COVID-19 cases and increasingly aggressive roadblocks, the small businessman says he has “forgotten even the taste of butter.” Now, he offers his customers leeks, onions and some pork.

The so-called “guajiro cheese,” a variety of the product little cured and made by hand, has been a traditional offer of the national black market. Farmers are not authorized to sell any derivative of milk to individuals or to sell it in agricultural markets, and can only keep the amount of milk that they can justify as intended for family consumption, regardless of the high and poorly paid quotas, that they must deliver to the State.

Despite those restrictions, the cheese always ended up finding its way. “He sold about 50 pounds a month, a few years ago at 20 pesos but the last sales were already at 50 pesos,” El Paisa recalls. That was enough to pay the producer, keep a good profit and invest in the next batch. The product that he offered ended up, for the most part, in the snacks that the children took to the schools, the pastas cooked at home and many of the pizzas that are sold in private businesses.

Most of the buyers of the “guajiros’ cheese” did not want to, nor could not, spend the more than 100 Cuban pesos (about 4.50 CUC) per kilogram, that the cheese in state stores cost, most of which was imported from countries like Uruguay, Germany and Holland and was of the gouda type. The offer of Cuban cheese in the shoppings (Cubans use the English word for the larger stores) has been limited, although at times brands such as Caribe and Coral have been seen on their shelves.

Where cheese has been seen these days is in the official press. On Tuesday, La Demajagua, the daily newspaper of Granma province,  published an article saying that the dairy company Granlac sells its cheeses in freely convertible currency (MLC) in the Mariel Special Development Zone and in the Cimex and Caribe stores.

The provincial newspaper assures that both Fontina type cheese and others that Granlac produces, such as gouda or patagrás, as well as yogurt, “are sold for their quality in MLC with the aim of attracting foreign currency for the country.”

However, to date this brand of cheese is rarey seen in stores, both in Cuban pesos and in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), where imported brands or those produced in the companies Complejo Lácteo de La Habana and Productos Lácteos Escambray, among those with the highest production and variety on the island, are more frequent. Until now, the stores in MLC have been supplied mainly with cheese from Holland, Germany and Uruguay.

Granlac is the “largest supplier of dairy derivatives” in Cuba, praises La Demajagua, “especially in this region of eastern Cuba where the Swiss set up Nestlé, which has generated a lot of experience from its first production in 1930.”

“In order not to detract from this innovative tradition,” says the official newspaper, quoting Luis Rafael Virelles Barreda, general director of the company, “Granlac ventures into the creation of pellis from rice flour and nutrients whose quality is equal to those of commonly known to our population.”

The same nutritional value of those popular Cuban snacks, artificial, addictive and with a lot of salt, is shared by the “cheese” most sold by the Cuban State, which has sold it for years in national currency: the so-called “melt.” It is a product most of the time without a label, with a high sodium content, a color close to orange and shunned by food service businesses for its artificial flavor and its chewy texture when it melts.

“Does the pizza have ’melt’ cheese or real cheese?” Is the question most often heard by a small entrepreneur who has his place on Ayestarán street in the Cuban capital. “They ask me so often I already answer without being asked,” he tells this newspaper. “People don’t like it but it is what it is, because the Guajiros are no longer bringing cheese to Havana.”

“Many times what is distributed under the name of processed cheese is actually a substitute made from fat such as sunflower oil and butter, salt flux and coloring,” explains the merchant who, before selling pizzas, made a living as an employee of the Ministry of Internal Trade. “It smells like cheese and may taste faintly like cheese, but cheese it is not.”


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.

Greek Orthodox Church in the Cuban Santeria Capital

This religious community surfaced in 2017. The initial headquarters was in the El Sevillano neighborhood. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Guanabacoa, 10 January 2020 — When it is said that an Orthodox church is located at number 54 Maceo street, in Guanabacoa, it is essential to warn those who venture to visit it that, although it may not seem like it, the temple is there, behind that semi-ruined façade where an imposing door leads to a mansion built in the 19th century.

In front of that wall, eaten away by time and laziness, two men chatted casually. They seemed to be comfortable with that certain look of those passers-by who seem to believe they will never find what they are looking for. One of them is wearing a bracelet with yellow and green beads on his left arm, dedicated to Orula, the saint of divination in the pantheon of Cuban Santería. “Yes, this is the church,” he says, and he points to the open door.

Already, in the central courtyard, the voice of a singer who accompanies the liturgy can be heard. A bearded man dressed in traditional Greek Orthodox clothing – a stole, wide sleeves, an epigonation, a belt, a phelonium and with a lidded chalice – explains to the congregated faithful why they are celebrating Christmas this January 7th in accordance with the original ecclesiastical calendar. continue reading

They have met there every Sunday for their celebrations, and they dream of one day building a church that will amaze with its beauty everyone who passes by

Barely 30 square meters, seven chairs and a sofa placed in front of a screen, the room has provisionally been enabled for the liturgy since December 13th of last year, when they celebrated the date of Saint Andrew, patron of this church. They have met there every Sunday for their celebrations, and dream of one day building a church whose beauty will amaze everyone who passes by.

This religious community surfaced in 2017. The initial headquarters was in the El Sevillano neighborhood where the first meeting was held; then they had a temporary space in Alamar. Two years ago, the family of the priest who officiates the liturgy moved to Guanabacoa, where they finally acquired this house.

The spiritual leader of this community is Father Evággelos, with his wife, the priestess Xenia. Their daughter helps them with the organizational tasks and the three grandchildren run around the yard incessantly. Xenia is the one who shows us the house. Looking at it through her eyes, one can guess where the library is going to be, how big the central nave will be, where each painting will be located, each detail.

The Orthodox Church is located at number 54 Maceo Street, in Guanabacoa. (14ymedio)

At the conclusion of the service, while the rest of the attendees gather around a table placed in the large patio to celebrate the feast day, Evággelos keeps on his ritual clothes and prepares to answer questions from 14ymedio.

Escobar: What is the link between you and the Greek Orthodox Church?

Evággelos: Our Church comes from the self-reliant Church in Greece, the same one that was persecuted in that country from 1924 until, in 1980, it was recognized by President Andreas Papandreu. Our metropolis emerged from the émigrés who had fled persecution, led by the Most Reverend Archimandrite Pedro Artifides, and the church became official in 1954 in Astoria, New York.

Escobar: There are two other Orthodox churches in Havana: the one that belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate, on Avenida del Puerto, and the San Nicolás de Mira Greek Orthodox Church, which belongs to the Patriarchate of Constantinople and is located in Old Havana. How does yours differ? Why are they called Genuine and Traditional Greek Orthodox Church?

We are characterized by not having changed one iota from the ways of celebrating any liturgical function since the origin of the Apostles

Evággelos: On the one hand, to differentiate it from the New Calendar Church, also Orthodox, and fundamentally because we are characterized by not having changed one iota from the ways of celebrating any liturgical function since the origin of the Apostles. Ours has not made any variation, that is why we call ourselves Genuine and Traditional Orthodox Church.

Escobar: Is the name you go by here the one your parents gave you or did you acquire after your initiation?

Evággelos: I adopted the name Evággelos upon receiving my baptism in the Orthodox Church in 2009. I belonged then to the New Calendarist Church until I became acquainted with this one.

Evággelos comes from the Biblical passage of the Annunciation and means “the good announcer.” Symbolically, in Baptism, the old man dies and is resurrected in Christ in its waters. It is a ritual inherited from the times when Jesus said to one of the Apostles: From now on you will be called Peter, which means stone.

The spiritual leader of this community is Father Evággelos, together with his wife, the priest Xenia. (14ymedio)

Escobar: Let’s go from spiritual issues to other, more earthly ones, does this congregation belong to the Council of Churches of Cuba?

Evággelos: No, we do not belong to the Council of Churches, although we have had contact with them, especially to acquire literature, but we have had other priorities, such as finding a place to celebrate and to get all the liturgical things.

Escobar: And do you aspire to belong to that Council?

Evággelos: Our Church has a very different point than what they profess in relation to ecumenism. It’s not that we have anything against anyone, it’s that we have different points.

Escobar: How are relations with the Office of Religious Affairs of the Communist Party?

Evággelos: When we started the procedures before the Ministry of Justice to be included in the registry of associations, we were told that we should go to the Office of Religious Affairs. We are still awaiting the results of that process. But I must say that so far, although they do not drive us, they have not slowed us down.

Escobar: In relation to the reconstruction of the property to turn it into a church, it seems that there is a long way to go. What phase is the project now?

Evággelos: We are still in the preliminary procedures: obtaining the building license and the architect’s plans. The second stage depends on the cost of materials, whether they exist or allow us to import, plus the issue of financing. It is an uncertain prognosis that requires many resources and the help of many benefactors as well as the collaboration of the State.

Escobar: And what are the resources that you have guaranteed so far?

Evággelos: Guaranteed, we have the faith, which tells us that in the end here we are going to build our beautiful church in a definitive way.

Translated by Norma Whiting


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.

Investing in Cuba

“The only advice I would give to Pepe Perez is that, if he wants to invest his saving in a farm, it would be better if he did so in another country where he would not run so many risks and where his rights as a property owner and as an investor are protected by law.”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Manuel Hernandez, Havana, 9 January 2021 — Havana-born Manuel Hernandez is the first prize winner of the Cuban Entrepreneur Competition, organized by the Cuban Observatory of Conflicts and Apretaste! The contest asked applicants to give advice to a fictional Cuban-Canadian, Pepe Perez, on investing in the island.

“With the money I’ve saved, I want to buy a hundred cows, a truck, a tractor and a lot of work tools. I will charter a boat and leave Cuba, buy a farm with my cousin and produce meat, milk, cheese, fruits and vegetables,” said Pepe Perez.

“Which blockade is more likely ruin my plans: the external or the internal” the participants must answer.

After analyzing the problems a ’Pepe Perez’ might encounter in implementing his project, Manuel Hernandez came to a compelling conclusion: better to invest in another country.

The submission

In response to the question posed by Pepe Perez, I will proceed to analyze the difficulties that his economic investment project in Cuba will face, both those arising from the United States embargo and those caused by the lack of opportunities for foreign investment in Cuba as a consequence of the restrictions imposed by the island’s government and the prevailing bureaucratic corruption. continue reading

To do this, I will present a theoretical situation in which Pepe Perez is confronting and solving each of these problems only to fall into the next trap. I regret that my presentation is a bit long but the competition rules do not stipulate limits on length. Therefore, I assume that that this should not cause any inconvenience. Any resemblance to the current reality of Cuba is purely intentional.

Let me begin by noting that Pepe Perez cannot under any circumstances fulfill his desire to buy a farm in Cuba. According to the Agrarian Reform laws of 1959 and 1960, land in Cuba is not an alienable asset. Therefore, it cannot be bought or sold. Only the state, state-owned companies, agricultural cooperatives (which are essentially a form of state property in disguise) and individual owners who acquired it as a result of the Agrarian Reform laws or inherited it from their parents can own land in Cuba.

Individual owners may only retain ownership of their land if they continue to use it for agricultural production. When they get old and are no longer in a position to continue working their land, they must hand it over to their children to continue working on it. If they have no children, or if their children are unwilling to engage in full-time agricultural work, the state simply confiscates the land.

They may not sell their lands to another farmer who is interested in acquiring them, only to the state, and at a price determined by government officials. They can also hand over the property to the state in exchange for a lifetime pension. This pension protects the owner, his widow and his minor children, if any. It ends upon the death of the owner and his wife, and when his children reach adulthood.

It is clear, therefore, that Pepe Perez cannot buy a farm in Cuba. He cannot hold land in trust because he does not reside in the country. He can only try to reach some sort of agreement with the state to rent the farm he wants. And that was not even possible until a few years ago when only foreign investors, not Cuban emigrants, were allowed to do this. The economic crisis in Cuba and the urgency to find investors, however, led the government to do away with this restriction. Pepe Perez can currently propose an investment project to the state.

I should point out that Cuban law does not allow for, except in rare instances when it is in the state’s overriding interest, the existence of wholly foreign-owned companies. In other words, in the event his investment proposal is accepted, Pepe Perez will be forced to enter into a public-private partnership in which the Cuban state will own at least 51% of the value of the company. The state will retain the right to make adjustments to production plans as it sees fit. It could also decide at any given moment to switch from producing “meat, milk, cheese, fruit and vegetables,” as Pepe Perez wants to do, to producing something else that better suits the interests of the state.

But let us suppose that Pepe Perez is so eager to invest his savings in his native country that he is willing to accept these draconian conditions. The state will then offer properties for our investor to lease so that Pepe Pérez can choose the one that best suits his purposes. It is at this point that our hero could become entangled in the web that is the U.S. embargo against Cuba.

I should point out that he is not a U.S. citizen but rather a Canadian citizen and, therefore, is not required to apply for a license from the Treasury Department in order to invest in Cuba. Nevertheless, according to the Cuban constitution, as long as he is on Cuban soil, he does not enjoy the protections of another country’s citizenship. This means that, in the event of a legal dispute with the Cuban state, he will not be entitled to consular assistance or legal representation by a foreign law firm. He will only be able to contract the services of a lawyer from a Cuban Collective Cuban Law Firm.

How then could U.S. law affect him? It is very simple. If the farm that he decides to rent from the Cuban state is under litigation because it was illegally confiscated from a Cuban national living in the United States as a result of the Agrarian Reform laws, then Pepe Perez’s company could be subject to a lawsuit under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which protects the property rights of U.S. nationals.

However, if Pepe Perez has received good legal advice, he should not face major problems over a possible claim. Once the Cuban Ministry for Foreign Investment has provided a list of lands available for lease, he would go to the Interior Ministry’s Land Registry office to inquire about the legal status of the land he wishes to lease.

He has just fallen into the swampy terrain of the Cuban bureaucracy. Assuming that the applicant has all his legal documentation in order, he is still dependent on the goodwill of the officials who will handle to it. Most likely, he will have to pay a hefty bribe to these officials to do their job.

Legal actions in Cuba, as in any country, are subject to deadlines. Junior-level officials at every institution know this and deliberately slow down the approval of applications to force the interested party to offer them incentives to process the paperwork quickly.

Pepe Perez would have an alternative. He can publicize what he wants to do. I would recommend that he take out a classified ad in Spanish and English in a national newspaper in the United States such as the New York Times. I would recommend that he also publish it in a newspaper with circulation in the state of Florida such as El Nuevo Herald. The ad should indicate that he intends to lease these lands in Cuba in case anyone has property rights to them.

He would post the ad once a week for four weeks, indicating how someone can contact his lawyers. This way, should someone come forward with a claim to the property he wants to lease, he can decide not to invest. In the event that there is no response, this announcement will give his attorneys a good legal argument for any claims he might face in the future. Except in unusual cases, Pepe Perez, a Cuban-Canadian citizen, should not face major problems due to the embargo.

Now let us suppose that he has managed successfully overcome all these obstacles. Cuban authorities have approved his investment proposal, the land that he wants to rent is not subject to any kind of legal claim and Pepe Perez is on the road to setting up a joint venture. Does this mean that everything is going smoothly? Not at all! In Cuba nothing is that simple. First of all, our investor expressed his desire to share the ownership of the company with his cousin in Cuba, or at least to make him manager of the business. However, he probably can’t even hire him as a salaried employee.

Joint ventures in Cuba are not allowed hire their staffs directly. They must select them from available candidates at a “job bank.” In other words, from a state-owned employment company that provides qualified labor to foreign entrepreneurs. The employment company demands high wages in foreign currency for the employees it hires, acts as an intermediary between them and the entrepreneur, and then pays them what it considers appropriate in the national currency, which is the very devalued Cuban peso. In short, workers receive only a tiny portion of the salaries they earn from their work, obviously a very clear form of exploitation.

Because Pepe Perez has only a 49% share of his company, he will be forced to accept the administrator whom the state, as the majority stakeholder, appoints. If he wants to hire his cousin anyway, he probably will have pay a substantial bribe to someone at the “job bank” to add his cousin to the workforce. Suppose he has already made it and his cousin is just another employee of his farm.

Let us suppose that he has managed to do that and his cousin is now an employee at the farm. He is not the manager but he is the person trusted to look after his interests. Even so, he cannot pay him what he wants because the job bank takes care of that. So, in addition to the money he pays to the state employment agency, he must shell out an additional amount each month as incentive pay for his cousin and the other workers he has hired.

Finally, Pepe Pérez has managed to weather the storm. He has obtained permission from the General Directorate of Immigration to repatriate to Cuba and permission from the Ministry for Foreign Investment to create his joint venture. After encountering some difficulties, he has obtained a lease to the farm and must now begin importing the supplies he needs.

He has to charter a boat, buy “a hundred cows, a truck, a tractor and a lot of work tools,” and import them. He must then obtain permission from port authorities to dock the ship. And, of course, he must also obtain approval from the Customs Service of the Republic of Cuba to bring these items into the country, for which he will first need a wholesale commercial import license. Our investor would also do well to budget for all the illicit payments he will have to make.

On top of all this, he needs a special permit from the Transportation Ministry to bring a truck and tractor into Cuba. He must then go to the General Directorate of Traffic to apply for a permit to operate each vehicle. Cows, for their part, must be certified by an inspector from the Institute of Veterinary Medicine to ensure that they do not bring any animal diseases into the country. If he wants all these procedures to go smoothly, it would help to make some payments to all these institutions.

In the future he will need other imports, such as seeds, fertilizers, milking machines, pasteurizers, milk cartons and other items. Each time he will have to go through the same process, including the bribes. It is also quite possible that the Cuban government will not allow him to import these things directly, that he will have to use the services of an import business run by the Ministry of Foreign Commerce.

This will increase his operating costs. It will also make it impossible for him to import supplies from the United States, where products are of higher quality and prices are lower. As a private citizen, he could acquire all of this without restrictions but, being forced to use the services of a state-owned import company, makes it unlikely he will be able to conduct commercial sales operations in the United States.

Finally, Pepe Perez manages to successfully navigate these turbulent waters and his business has been set up the way he wants. There remains one small problem: the state can impose production targets on agricultural businesses in Cuba that they must fulfill. In other words, the joint venture must turn over a large portion of its output to a company operated by the Ministry of Agriculture at the prices set by the state.The joint venture will only be able to sell the remaining surplus after fulfilling the demands previously established by company officials.

This means that Pepe Perez must first deliver to the state the milk it demands before being able to use the surplus to produce cheese. To be able to slaughter some of his cows for meat production, he must first apply for the required permits. Pepe Pérez will also be impacted by pilfering on the part of his workers, who will probably subtract part of the company’s output to meet their needs.

Nevertheless, Pepe Perez is a brilliant businessman and so he works things out and makes money. He must deposit the income in an account at a bank owned by the Cuban state, from which he makes deductions to cover taxes, salaries, services, supplies and any other expenses he might incur. This should not present a problem so long as his deductions are in Cuban pesos (CUP) or convertible pesos* (CUC).

The problem will be when he wants to withdraw funds in hard currency to purchase supplies in another country or when he simply wants to transfer funds to an overseas account. Cuban banks usually claim they do not have enough currency available in the vault so the applicant must be placed on a waiting list for the currency to appear. Additionally, if someone wants to take more than $5,000 in cash out of the country, he or she will need a special license from the National Bank of Cuba.

Finally, if Pepe Perez’s business fails and he wants to liquidate its assets, his only option is to sell it to the Cuban state for a price that the state determines. And it would behoove him be patient because the Cuban state is usually extremely slow at paying off its debts.

Considering all the project’s many challenges, the only advice I would give Pepe Perez is that, if he wants to invest his savings in a farm, it would be better to do so in any other country in the world, where his capital is not subject to so much risk and where his rights as a property owner and investor are guaranteed by law. I trust Pepe Perez to be prudent and not expose himself to the risks of failure and loss of his savings, which have cost him years of sacrifice and hard work. Good luck, my friend!

Note: The prize for this winning entry was $1,000.

*Translator’s note: Since this contest submission, the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) has been withdrawn from circulation. Cubans have until June to convert whatever remaining CUCs they possess. 


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