Keys To Understanding An Emergency Tour By Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel

Díaz-Canel did not choose to visit closer or more lucrative markets, in part because he is not looking for contracts but rather alms. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Lima, 13 November 2018 — If it were not for the two stopovers, one in Paris and the other in London, which Miguel Díaz-Canel made during his first official foreign tour at the head of the Cuban government, the map of his trip would be reduced to a group of countries that share ideological similarities and that are, for the Plaza of the Revolution, old allies from lost political battles.

In “the world according to Diaz-Canel” there are only as few nations as fingers on a hand, Moscow is located a few kilometers from Havana, and both the Americas and Europe have disappeared from the map. It is a planet scuplted in the geology of authoritarianism and created at the will of all-powerful parties, a land where the fragile grass of democracy hardly grows.

During his journey through that reduced world, the 58-year-old engineer was officially received by leaders from five countries: Russia, China, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos. The trip generated abundant declarations of “total support and solidarity” between the rulers, several visits to mausoleums housing the remains of controversial leaders, and the signing of some trade and cooperation agreements.

This latter seems to be the core of so much hectic activity, because beyond the official rituals, the journey was marked by urgency and driven by the despair of a leader at the head of a bankrupt nation. It was a trip in search of patrons, a “pass of the hat,” to achieve an economic relief from the tense situation on the island.

The scope of the agreements reached in this tour and their impact on the economy will only be verified in the coming months, but according to the headlines in the official newspaper Granma, we can already read that the compañeros visited on the trip have not been very benevolent. There has been no lack of agreements or signatures for exchanges, but there have been few loans or donations after so many handshakes, beyond having obtained 60 investment projects and a loan of 50 million dollars to buy weapons.

With productivity in the toilet, foreign tourism that will fail to reach the 5 million promised visitors, and the default of investors lacking enthusiasm to buy a piece of the Cuban pie, Havana is experiencing an acute lack of liquidity that is deepening the daily problems. Nevertheless, despite this tense situation, Díaz-Canel did not opt to visit closer or more lucrative markets, in part because he is not looking for contracts, but rather alms.

In addition to help and donations, the trip aimed to reaffirm the concept of “continuity” that has become the cornerstone of Cuba’s rulers. To reassure those who, like Kim Jong-un, could fear that, with the help of a younger leader, Havana might undertake economic and political reforms that would allow it to strengthen ties with Washington, Brussels and other democratic governments.

To all of them the message was clear. Nothing moves in the politics of the Island without the consent of the Communist Party and the generational change is totally under control. With this mantra, late Castroism tries to renew the support provided by these five nations in international forums, following the crisis facing regional entities such as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

A third reason to undertake this “path of complicity” has been to annoy the United States and to make it clear to the European Union that it is not a priority on the Cuban agenda. And, in passing, slam the door on Latin American administrations that believed that without a Castro in power dialogue with the island would be easier. By preferring not to travel through the countries of the area, Cuba’s government has shown its low regional spirit and its disdain for its

Now, once this tour of necessity and ideological myopia is over, it remains only to wait for the real benefits it will have in everyday life. The millions of dollars agreed upon in exchanges are just a drop in an ocean of needs and are unlikely to deter those who plan to escape the island. Those thousands of Cubans who each year set a course for countries not included in the small world preferred by Miguel Diaz-Canel.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Open Letter to Miguel Diaz-Canel

Mr. Díaz Canel, you have a privileged opportunity to make history in Cuba and become the leader who moved the country forward (ACN)

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Author: Marcos Nelson Suárez, Dallas, 11 November 2018

 

Mr. Miguel Díaz-Canel, President of the Republic of Cuba:

I write as a compatriot who does not reside on the island. In the late seventies, the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping took a historic step of unthinkable consequences that resulted in turning the People’s Republic of China into a world economic power, a country that back then was extremely backward and paying the tragic consequences of Mao Zedong’s policies, including the deaths of more than 70 million Chinese.

After a decade of applying the euphemistically known “socialism with Chinese characteristics” (read “free market economy”) China began to grow and, in less than 30 years, has managed to free more than 400 million Chinese from poverty and become the second largest economy in the world.

You have a privileged opportunity to make history in Cuba and become the leader who moved the country forward.

During the last few years, and possibly forced by circumstances, Raúl Castro developed timid reforms, but reforms that at last have provided some relief to the Cuban population after more than half a century of low productivity, lack of incentives and, in general, a economy that has depended on foreign benefactors.

You know well that more than a million Cubans have abandoned our homeland in search of a better future that, although promised in every speech, was never achieved.

Although the US embargo affects the economy of the country, especially because it limits foreign financing, the countries of Eastern Europe, including the former Soviet Union, were not under economic embargo yet were three decades behind in relation to their Western European neighbors.

If you want to overcome the US embargo, the first thing you must do is eliminate the barriers that prevent Cuban citizens from bringing what they want to market from abroad. There are no real reasons why, while foreigners can invest in Cuba and develop businesses, Cubans should be barred from doing so. Today, at airports abroad, I see my fellow countrymen arrive without luggage and return to Cuba loaded with televisions, car parts, motorcycles and everything that they are allowed to import.

I think the real reason for the limitations is the fear of the Communist Party of Cuba of losing power. However, both China and Vietnam have eliminated these restrictions and there is no reason to suppose that the power of their corresponding communist parties is in danger. Both countries developed repressive tactics that keep those who aspire to democracy at bay. Something similar can happen in Cuba.

Deepen the reforms. Open the door to opportunities. In fact, give preference to Cubans instead of foreign companies.

Take advantage of the opportunity that history has given you. Be the true leader who assumed a historical role and drove Cuba towards the growth and welfare of its citizens.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The US Coast Guard Repatriates 37 Cuban Rafters

The passengers on the boat consisted of 29 men and 8 women. (US Coast Guard)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 November 2018 — The 37 Cuban migrants traveling in a boat heading north towards the United States were intercepted on Sunday by the Coast Guard Service of that country and repatriated to Cuba. The passengers of the boat, which was located by an air patrol, were 29 men and 8 women, according to a statement from the rescue service.

The Coast Guard patrol boat William Trump intercepted the rafters after they were located and the crew proceeded to embark them onto the ship, where they received food, water and medical attention. One of the migrants was treated for headaches.

“Many times these intercepted vessels are overloaded and unsafe, and the risk is simply not worth the possible reward,” said Lt. James Hodges, of the Coast Guard’s Seventh District, who said he was proud of those who participated in the mission.

The US armed forces’ rescue service notes in the statement that, since the 1st of October, 82 Cuban migrants have tried to enter the United States illegally by sea. During the 2018 fiscal year, which ends on September 30 for the administration of that country, 296 migrants tried to illegally migrate to the United States.

“These statistics represent the total number of interceptions in the Straits of Florida, the Caribbean and Atlantic waters,” the institution explained.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Independent Media “Open The Doors Of Imagination And Creativity”

Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez graduated in 2015 from the University of Marta Abreu in Santa Clara and went on to work at the newspaper ’Vanguardia.’ (Yariel Valdés González)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Miami, November 11, 2018 — Two years after several young journalists from the newspaper Vanguardia in Villa Clara wrote a letter strongly criticizing the operation of the official media, 14ymedio spoke with one of the signers of that document to discover the motives that led them to write it and the consequences that it had in their professional lives.

Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez Martínez graduated in 2015 from the University of Marta Abreu in Santa Clara and went on to work at the newspaper Vanguardia, the provincial organ of the Cuban Communist Party in the Villa Clara. Now, when he speaks about the letter that changed his life, he makes clear that he does it in a personal capacity and not in the name of the group of writers. continue reading

The recent graduates arrived at the newspaper “with the desire to change everything” but they collided with censorship, which he calls “terrible.” The editorial disorder also affected them and in that environment of hostility they decided to write the letter in which they ennumerated their concerns and criticisms regarding the official news spaces.

In the text they reported, among other subjects, that many media outlet bosses rejected articles on social problems because the ideas expressed in them were not in line with “the interests of the country at the current time,” or because they were “too critical.”

Today Rodríguez believes that the only error was signing the letter in the name of the Foundation Committee of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) of the newspaper and he believes that it would have been better for it to appear signed only with the names of each journalist. “The structures of the UJC, at the municipal and provincial level, harassed us and tried to convince us to sign and publish a mea culpa,” he laments.

The text of the retraction was written but never saw the light of day because it didn’t placate the authorities, since it only regretted that the missive had been leaked. “We wrote that letter not to publish it on the internet, but rather to read it in the framework of the Provincial Plenary Session of the Cuban Journalists’ Union in Villa Clara in 2016,” explains Rodríguez.

The publication of the document had the effect of a fragmentation bomb among the journalistic and literary circles of Villa Clara. Various intellectuals circulated emails asking that the young people not be harassed and standing in solidarity with the proposals, but the official Cuban Journalists’ Union (Upec) considered it an intolerable act of “protest.”

The director of the newspaper ’Vanguardia’ warned the young reporters not to collaborate with independent media. (Capture)

“It was hell,” recalls Rodríguez. Following the letter’s publication in various digital media outlets, representatives of the municipal and provincial UJC reproached them for having violated the procedures of the organization, although they were never able to prove that they were responsible for the leak of the text to the independent media.

In reality the letter had been conceived for the Provincial Plenary Session of Upec and sought to reaffirm, specifically, the right of reporters to continue collaborating with independent media in the style of El Toque and OnCuba. “The director of the newspaper told us that we couldn’t collaborate with them but we responded that the laws don’t prohibit it.”

Rodríguez recognizes that it wasn’t only a question of publishing in spaces with greater editorial liberties. “Working in other outlets also helped us to live because with 345 Cuban pesos a month, around $14, nobody lives.” With the salary he was receiving at the Vanguardia newspaper he didn’t have enough “even to pay for the trip from home to work.”

Now, he recalls the moment during the meeting with Upec when one of the signers of the letter rose, began to read it, and all the others put themselves behind her so that she would not be alone. After that in the hallways the other reporters moved away when they saw them or watched them with looks of fear as if they had done something very dangerous.

The climate of pressures became oppressive and as soon as Rodríguez finished his social service he asked for leave from the Vanguardia newspaper. The majority of the other signers who stayed “were leaving sanctioned for different reasons” and the authorities “used very different pretexts” to get rid of them.

Currently Rodríguez is part of the team of Tremenda Nota, a magazine focused on minorities, where he works as editor and reporter. “The advantage of working in independent media is that it opens the doors of imagination and creativity.” Contrary to when one works at an official newspaper where “the doors are shut and you crash into impassable walls.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Customs Confiscates Opposition T-Shirts at Havana Airport

T-shirts against Decree 349 seized by Cuban Customs at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, November 6, 2018 — The campaign against Decree 349, an article in the the proposed new Cuban constitution which includes strict rules on artistic expression in public spaces, has collided with Cuban customs restrictions. Upon her return to the island, artist and activist Yanelys Nuñez reported on social media that customs officials at José Martí International Airport  had confiscated eight T-shirts with anti-decree slogans she was bringing from the United States.

On Sunday Nuñez and a fellow artist, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, returned from a three-day trip to Miami, where they had been participating in an artistic event. The items, which were produced in the United States by Cuban-American designer Coco Fusco and were adorned with an illustration by Alén Lauzán, were seized after customs officials had inspected their baggage. Two of the shirts belonged to Nuñez and the other six to Otero. continue reading

“As soon as they saw ’349,’ they told us it was subversive propaganda,” the activist explained to 14ymedio. She and Otero had travelled to the United States to participate in an event organized by a not-for-profit organization, Creative Time, entitled “On an Island: Defending the Right to Create,” at which they made a presentation critical of Decree 349.

The artist has already said she will file suit in Havana to reclaim the two shirts that were confiscated and is currently receiving legal advice.

Before boarding their flight to Miami, Nuñez and Otero were detained at the airport while their luggage was being searched. Though authorities did not confiscate anything at the time, the delay caused them to miss their flight on American Airlines. Later that afternoon they were able to catch another flight to Miami on the same airline.

The main complaint of those critical of Decree 349 is that, in every case, artists must obtain prior approval from a cultural organization, which they are forced to join, before executing their work. This requirement directly impacts those who create work outside a state-sponsored framework. The result is that the content of their work is subject to regulation.

The campaign against Cuba’s Decree 349 is important to Yanelys Núñez because “the government survives on its image.” Her goal is for more artists and cultural institutions to “speak out against this blatant censorship by the Diaz-Canel government.” She plans to continue exerting significant pressure to achieve its repeal.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Praying Towards Mecca From Havana

Seeing Cuban Muslims preparing to pray in the street is no longer a strange image for passers-by. (14ymedio)

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14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 3 November 2018 — Readings from the Koran, the Islamic hijab, and prayers while facing towards Mecca are increasingly seen in Cuba, where the Muslim community has been growing in recent years. The initial surprise has given way to curiosity, and passersby stop to ask questions when they see an image like the one in the photo above, where men profess their faith in the middle of a populated street in the Havana neighborhood of La Timba.

Last year, Imam Yahya who is of the Sunni branch and president of the Cuban Islamic League closest to officialdom, estimated that about 5,000 Cubans are converts to Islam. The current mosque in Havana, located on Oficios Street, has become a meeting point for many tourists passing through Havana, as well as African students and diplomats based in the island. continue reading

Prayer centers have also appeared throughout the country and in small cities such as Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey there are small Muslim communities.

In the next few years one of the largest mosques in Latin America will be completed in the capital city, which will be financed by Saudi Arabia and is expected to accommodate some 10,000 Muslims.

However, “Cubans who have converted to Islam is one thing, and those who live tied to the teachings of Muhammad is quite another,” said Yasser, 52 and a resident in the Cerro municipality, speaking to this newspaper.

“As in other religions that are practiced in Cuba there are many who simulate or are two-faced in this,” laments this Havanan. “In my neighborhood we are one of at least three families of Lebanese origin,” he says, but he complains that many of the Cuban Muslims he knows “go to the mosque in the morning and at night they drink rum and dance reggaeton.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Uruguay Consulate in Havana is Filled With Cubans Applying for a Work Permit

In the Uruguayan consular offices, the visa interviews for the coming four weeks will be scheduled on first working day of the month. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 November 2018 — Dozens of people approached the Uruguayan consulate in Havana on Tuesday to ask about the visas for work, education, family reunification and emergencies, which the government of that Latin American country has said it will begin to grant to residents on the island. The increase in the number of migrants in Uruguay has led the authorities to reorganize the reception of migrants and has positively affected Cubans.

The information about the new visas is still brief because they will only be valid beginning in 14 days, when the decree that President Tabaré Vázquez signed on October 29 comes into effect. Once the new procedures go into operation, Cubans will be able to complete the visa process from the Island.

In the Uruguayan consular offices, the visa interviews for the coming four weeks will be scheduled on first working day of the month. continue reading

“On December 3, interview appointments will be handed out and we hope that many people will come,” said one of the consulate’s security guards. “Today many have come to ask about it but we are not dealing with anyone who did not get an appointment at the beginning of November and we have no new details about the visas that have been announced.”

Carlos Manuel Ávila, 28, traveled all morning from Cárdenas in Matanzas to “be in front of the consulate at dawn,” he told 14ymedio. “This is an opportunity that I do not want to lose because it is a small, quiet country, where they speak Spanish and one can prosper,” said the young man sitting on a narrow wall next to the house in Miramar where visas are processed.

Waiting on the wall outside the Uruguayan consulate in Havana to obtain a visa. (14ymedio)

Avila has tried twice in vain to reach the US coast on a raft, but a few months ago he decided to “bet on legal migration to a country in Latin America.” His older brother is one of the 5,000 Cubans who have gone to settle in Uruguay.

“First, he thought it would only be for a while, until he could continue to the United States,” says Ávila, but “over time he has taken a liking to Uruguay and does not want to leave.” Now, the brother works as a car mechanic in a workshop in Montevideo and “is raising money to bring his wife and children.”

With the repeal in January 2017 of of the wet foot/dry foot policy that facilitated residence procedures for Cubans arriving on land in the United States, emigration from the island has been reoriented to other countries, such as Chile, Uruguay and Brazil.

The work visa that will begin to be offered at the Havana consulate is only given to those who present a contract with a company duly registered in Uruguay. “That is not a big obstacle because there is already a good community of Cubans there and some have been entered the labor market,” says María Elena, a 44-year-old interior designer who was waiting Tuesday for the forms to obtain a work visa.

“My husband has been there for eight months and is already working as a civil engineer, now the company where he is hired is going to help me get there to work with them,” she says. The couple will leave two children in Havana “waiting for our economic situation to allow reunification.”

The designer is pleased that the new requirement to show a work contract with a Uruguayan company repeals the previous one that required showing a bank account on the island with a deposit of about 5,000 CUC. “Before you had to juggle to get that money but now all the energy has to be used to find a contract.”

Among the dozens of applicants who have arrived at the consulate since the announcement, the majority inquire about an employment contract but there is also no lack of young people interested in pursuing studies in the country.

For Cubans who are already in Uruguay, the situation has also improved since November 1, when they began to be able to deliver proof of arrival at the Chancellery, which they can present to employers to work. Previously, the Ministry of Labor fined companies that hired employees without an identity card.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cubans Can Get Permits to Work in Uruguay From the Island

The contingency plan in force since Thursday is allowing temporary documentation to Cubans who are already in Uruguay irregularly. (Leonardo Mainé)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 November 2018 — The Government of Uruguay will begin granting work, education, family reunification and emergency visas to Cubans who request one from the Island, as announced by Jorge Muiño, director of Consular Affairs and Liaison of the Uruguayan Foreign Ministry, in statements to El País newspaper.

With this measure Uruguay is trying to contain the growing irregular migration from Cuba, which has led to the collapse of its immigration systems. The Uruguayan Foreign Ministry estimates that the number of Cubans in the country already numbers between 4,800 and 5,000 people.

Muiño said that the work visa is the one that will benefit Cubans the most because it does not require them to have money in a bank account, as is the case for a tourism which islanders have used until  now to enter Uruguay. continue reading

To obtain the work permit, applicants must have a contract or a verifiable promise of work. “It can not be just anyone hiring someone, it has to be a duly registered company,” he said.

With this document, Cubans will be able to obtain a provisional certificate, good for one year, until they are granted permanent residence.

At the end of October, Uruguay decided to give temporary work permits to Cuban citizens after a 72-hour protest organized by a group of them. The migrants demanded that the waiting time for an interview for a visa, which had reached seven months, be reduced.

The measure began to be applied on Thursday. Cubans are asked to provide the foreign ministry with a proof of arrival document that allows the employer to legally contract with the worker, and this allows the latter to receive a Uruguayan identify card. Previously, the Ministry of Labor imposed fines on companies that hired people without an ID.

The authorities intend to offer this type of document until December 21 of this year, although El País indicated that the delays will continue due to the fact that the National Directorate of Civil Identification is overwhelmed.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Lack of Water Hits Several Hospitals In Central Cuba

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara Cardiocenter in the city of Santa Clara. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora / Mario J. Pentón, Cienfuegos / Miami | November 09, 2018 – The deterioration of the hydraulic infrastructure in the center of the country is hitting hard at several hospitals in the region, which cannot function normally as they suffer from daily rationing of the water supply to complete cutoffs in the supply lasting more than three days, a situation that workers and users of these centers point out.

“We have a problem with the water supply. The authorities are trying to solve it with tanker trucks, but no surgical operations have been carried out in the past three days,” a worker of the Ernesto Che Guevara Cardiocenter told 14ymedio on condition of anonymity.

This hospital complex, located in Santa Clara and the only one of its kind in the center of Cuba specializing in heart disease, has been paralyzed for more than 72 hours due to the lack of potable water. continue reading

The Cardiocenter serves patients from Villa Clara and Cienfuegos up to the province of Camagüey. The same employee explained that the problem not only affects the Cardiocenter but also all the hospital facilities in that city.

The country’s water networks are very deteriorated, authorities have said, so that other hospitals in the region also suffer similar problems. This is the case of the Cienfuegos Gustavo Aldereguía Lima Provincial Hospital and of the Camilo Cienfuegos Hospital, in Sancti Spíritus, which have had to ration water to avoid interruptions in the service.

A worker at the hospital in Cienfuegos complained that, at night, there is no water in the emergency surgical rooms and that the surgeons have to wash their hands with bags of saline. Last August, the inhabitants of this city had to face the lack of water not only in hospitals, but also in their own homes.

The facilities at these medical centers have several decades of use and have never, for all practical purposes, been repaired. This is coupled with a serious water leakage problem that is common throughout the country.

The former president of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources, Inés María Chapman Waugh, noted that every year more than 3.4 billion liters of water are lost through leaks in the country. The loss from pumping this water that ends up in puddles and small streams in the streets is valued at around five million euros, according to the official press.

“My sister is waiting for a heart valve replacement, how is it possible that they cannot operate because there is no water?” laments Luis, who waits outside the Cardiocenter.

The official press points out that in the Camilo Cienfuegos Hospital in Sancti Spíritus the 400,000 liters that are stored in the cistern are not enough to satisfy the needs since it is wasted. A recent report by the newspaper Escambray indicates that “cascades” are heard during the day, in reference to the leaks that spill all the water accumulated in the storage tanks into rooms and offices.

The director of the hospital, Eduardo Pedrosa Prado, also explained the water restrictions they endure. When the company Acueducto stops pumping water to the medical center, the decision is made to cutoff the internal pumping at 10:00 at night. The hospital runs out of water until 5:00 in the morning because otherwise the water stored in the cistern would not be sufficient for the next day.

The same routine used by the Gustavo Aldereguía Hospital in Cienfuegos is carried out in Sancti Spíritus. The nurses wash the hands of the surgeons with glassfuls of water that they extract from the gallons that they save during the day.

“We have become accustomed to this situation, but it is unhealthy and it endangers the lives of patients. We spend our lives in front of the world saying that we are a medical power and we send aid to other countries, but the truth is that nobody knows the sacrifice of those of us who work in public health,” a surgeon tells this newspaper.

The state of the bathrooms in the rooms of the provincial hospital of Cienfuegos is “lamentable”, says Ernestina Guzmán, a companion of a patient with kidney problems.

“The toilets do not have tanks. To flush you have to load a bucket of water and throw it into the toilet, and often there is not even water, so the bad smell stays around all day in the room,” she details.

Guzmán laments that the cleaning of the facilities “does not meet the needs of the hospital.” She maintains that even inmates are sent “to clean the rooms because nobody wants to work for the salaries paid by Public Health. They clean up badly and  do not even use the appropriate disinfectants for a hospital,” he complains.

“I already know that healthcare is free, but even though it is, or precisely because it is everyone’s right, hospital centers should have quality,” she adds.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

A Sip in The Versailles: Coffee and Elections

Exiles from five decades ago, young people who mix English with Spanish and newcomers from the island gathered at the famous Cuban exile restaurant in Miami. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Miami, 8 November 2018 — The Versailles smells of coffee, intense and short like those drunk copiously by some of those who on Tuesday night awaited the election results in Florida. Exiles from five decades ago, young people who mix English with Spanish and newcomers from the island who finished a sip as the results became known, little by little, about the numbers from the ballot boxes.

Autumn does not exist in Miami and on this Tuesday night, sweat ran down the forehead of Julita, a Cuban woman who has been in Florida for two years after entering through the border with Mexico when the wet foot/dry foot policy was still in effect. On the outskirts of the most emblematic Cuban exile restaurant, the woman laughed, danced a few steps and waved a small flag of the island.

The joy of Julita, 68, did not spring from the fact that her favorite candidates had won at the polls, because in reality she does not yet have a US passport and cannot vote in the elections. However, it was the first election she lived in the land of Uncle Sam and it was all a surprise for her, a former militant of the Communist Party who now avoids talking about her past. continue reading

With two naturalized children already in the United States, the Cuban woman has had intense weeks. “I had to tell my family that we were not going to talk about politics at the table because we always ended up fighting,” she says, surprised by the passion that these mid-term elections have unleashed, but at the same time enjoying “the heated discussions that occurred.”

Cuban Americans in Florida experienced a tense environment before legislative elections in which there were several surprises and numerous disappointments. “I voted for María Elvira Salazar because she is very charismatic and she is also Cuban,” says Rodolfo Morejón, another Cuban who was finishing coffee outside of Versailles while waiting for the final tally to be published.

Social networks had boiled over for weeks in a real pitched battle where many friends came to insult each other, lifelong acquaintances were blocked and every demonstration for or against a candidate raised disgust on all sides.

Salazar, a well known figure inside and outside the island due to her long career as a journalist on Florida television, was one of the losers on Tuesday, where the pulse for the 27th district was won by her opponent Donna Shalala, former president of the University of Miami. The victory of the latter can be read in terms of a “de-cubanization of politics” in the city with the most exiles from the island.

Shalala met to celebrate with her supporters at the Woman’s Club of Coral Gables. From there she spoke to her followers who did not take their eyes off a huge screen that was broadcasting the results and shouted euphorically every time there was a victory for the Democratic Party and an area of the map of the United States was colored blue.

“The best one won,” shouted one of her voters assembled in the The Versailles and who was adorned in the blue color of the Democrats and wearing a baseball cap with the flag of the solitary star. “It does not matter if you are Cuban or American, young or old, more charismatic or less charismatic, what matters is that you are a decent and hardworking person,” he added loudly.

Donna Shalala, former president of the University of Miami, won the race for the seat in the U.S. Congress from Florida’s 27th District. (14ymedio)

Annie Betancourt, a 70-year-old Democrat, was also pleased that Shalala won the seat that Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen had vacated. “She conducted a positive campaign based on her knowledge, she is a person with government experience and in the political issues that matter to the voters of the district, such as health and education”, says this Cuban resident of the United States since 1960, who was a state representative in Tallahassee.

The tumult also reached the island, where through illegal satellite dishes many followed the step by step process, more out of curiosity than real interest. In the neighborhood of Centro Habana, María Eugenia and Gerardo, both retired and with children living in Florida, stayed all night glued to the television so as not to miss “the spectacle”.

“We do not understand much, but at least you see that the people care about who will be their representatives and are going to the polls enthusiastically,” says María Eugenia, who after midnight saw the last part through a cable that a neighbor, 200 meters away, rents for 20 dollars a month to enjoy totally American programming.

“Now when my daughter calls me I can comment as if I had been there,” says the retired woman who admits she has not participated in the neighborhood discussions about the new constitution. “No, why, going or not going will not change anything, that’s why it’s so different.”

Hundreds of kilometers away from the banned satellite dish and the retirees who were watching  the elections like those who watch a show, the Versailles café loses neither the heat nor the intensity. To the extent that losers and winners are confirmed, it tastes more bitter for some and sweeter for others.

The night is finished off by a young Cuban-American girl who carries in her hand a stamp that says “I Voted”. She mixes her words in Spanish and English and celebrates the importance of going to vote because for her “every voice is important” and “although we do not all think alike, it is good to go out and express what we want with the vote”.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Empty Nest

The work ‘Medialuna’ reproduces the concept of the empty nest in a country with high incidences of emigration. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 8 November 2018 – There are parents who cross their fingers that their children become independent and others who sigh in the distance because their offspring have emigrated or have moved away from home. In a country where there is a deficit of more than 800,000 houses and the housing problems force several generations to live together under one roof, it is easy to think that nobody suffers from the empty nest syndrome, but it is not so.

According to the Population and Housing Census conducted in 2012, 12.6% of Cuban households are made up of single adults. Many of them have seen their children leave to go abroad or start a new life together with their partner in another house. Loneliness, depression and questions about the meaning of one’s existence appear in many of these parents. For social and medical services, recognizing these symptoms and helping those who suffer from them is essential.

“There are elderly people who come here more for the company than the food,” an employee of the Pío Pío Comedor of the Family Service System, located in the Havana municipality of Playa, tells 14ymedio. The locale offers breakfast, lunch and food to retirees with low resources in the area, but another of its functions is “to serve as a meeting place,” says the worker who works in food preparation. continue reading

Many of the elderly people who eat in Pío Pío live alone or with other older adults. “They are people who dedicated a good part of their lives to the care of their children and in a moment they were left alone,” laments the employee. In the living room, which functions as a dining room, several old people converse and one shows the photos of a son who lives in distant Hamburg.

The Cuban family has been scattering in recent years with the upturn in travel abroad and emigration. Often younger children leave in search of new horizons and with the promise of helping their parents financially.

In the case of women, the effects of this separation can be expressed with greater severity. 49.1% of older adults living in single-person households are females with a median age of 69 years. For the psychologist Miguel Lugones, mothers feel “that the home is lonely, that their children have grown up and become independent and she feels that she has lost her leading role socially.” The empty nest seems wider and more alien for them.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Private Versus State, Novelties and Fossils

The restaurant in the mansion at 3rd and 8th in Havana’s Miramar district is very close to a place privately run by self-employed workers. “House Rules” [Briefly] 1. No one under 18 at night. 2. Appropriate dress. 3. Do not bring your own food and drink, it will be confiscated. 4. No pets. 5. No photos without permission. 6. Behave yourself or you will be permanently barred. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation 7, Havana, 8 November 2018 – The distance between them is a hundred yards and an abyss. The restaurant in the mansion at 3rd and 8th in Havana’s Miramar district is very close to a place privately run by self-employed workers. Both serve food, both are located in beautiful buildings with columns and arches, but the differences are so profound they might be two different universes. The first is under state management and the second is private, a word that the authorities avoid mentioning.

In the Cuba where I was born and grew up everything was state-owned. The snack bars, the pizzerias, the newspaper kiosks and the funeral homes. Most of those places are still administered by the government sphere; they are socialist businesses that have not demonstrated a very efficient management. But in the field of gastronomy there has been a significant and positive change in recent years. In this field, where the Ministry of Internal Commerce once ruled, it is now the self-employed who are leading the sector. continue reading

On this Island the fossilized remains of the Soviet era coexist with businesses that could be competitive in New York, Berlin or Madrid. Back-to-back are state services unable to adapt to the new demands of their customers, and private ones trying to stay afloat despite the high taxes, the absence of wholesale markets, and the ill-will professed by Communist Party bureaucrats.

The collapse of the state company is evident, with all its harshness, in the mansion at 3rd and 8th  Streets in Miramar, where a woman jingles some coins outside the bathroom: a gesture to demand tips from the customers who use the stinking cubicle, lacking toilet paper and water. Half the dishes listed on the menu are unavailable, an absence the waitress justifies by the lack of chicken and pizzas. There are no napkins on the tables and in the kitchen five employees vegetate while talking loudly.

The stately patio, with its palms and ferns, is occupied by a metal container that serves as a storeroom and the plants in their stone beds show symptoms of neglect. A piece of paper stuck on a door announces that in the room on an upper floor where videos are shown there are currently no films. The tablecloths are splashed here and there with spilled food and on the TV set over the tables a horror movie is showing images of disemboweled people while the customers sink their teeth into hamburgers.

Just when the customers think it can’t get any worse, the administrators organize a “lightening meeting” with the cooks and servers which paralyzes service and causes a crowd to pile up at the bar. Some, annoyed by the long wait, the missing menu items and the bland dishes, decide to cross the sidewalk and patronize the paladar (private restaurant) offering Spanish tapas. The walk between yesterday’s Cuba and tomorrow’s is a journey between a failed model and another one, possible and desired.

“Everything on the menu is available,” the waiter states proudly to the incredulous customers who have escaped the state premises. No one is able to explain very well how the private restaurant manages to maintain a supply of pork, beef and fish in a country where, in the last year, shortages have worsened, but everyone knows that some of the ingredients travel in the suitcases of innumerable passengers and others come from the black market. “Do you want your paella with seafood, rabbit or vegetables?” asks the waiter. Two tourists take pictures in front of a poster of bulls and another dares to ask for a vegan dish that arrives in a few minutes: varied and without traces of animal protein.

I fear that the mansion at 3rd and 8th may have many years ahead of it, offering bad cooking, the worse service, and the poor flavors that flow from its cauldrons. Meanwhile, the nearby paladar does not know if it will survive, because it has exposed the mammoth futility of a whole system. For this it may pay dearly.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Writers and Artists Union Will Not Debate Constitutional Reform

Uneac urged its members to attend meetings of their work centers and neighborhoods. (Uneac)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Havana, 5 November 2018 — Cuba’s Union of Writers and Artists (Uneac), the pro-government organization that brings together a large part of the island’s intelligentsia, confirmed on Monday that it will not call on its members to debate the project to reform the Constitution and urged them to go to the meetings in their workplaces and neighborhoods.

“Unlike popular consultations carried out in previous years, the political, mass, social, professional and other organizations that belong to our civil society are not participating, as such, in this process,” said a statement from the Uneac Presidency published on Monday on its website.

Prior to this announcement, several Uneac members openly protested against the organization’s refusal to debate the constitutional reform bill. Among those who have explicitly joined the controversy is the doctor of economics Esteban Morales, who, on Tuesday, published a letter sent to the Vice Minister of Culture, Fernando Rojas, in which he refuted a tweet from Rojas who praised the high participation of Uneac members in the meetings on the reform. continue reading

“We reject any elitist vision that tries to separate us from our people, as well as irresponsible opinions and manipulations that try to establish matrices of opinion on the alleged violation of human rights in Cuba, especially those of the intellectuals,” replies the text issued by the Uneac.

Uneac explains in the note that, as a workplace, “it developed the consultation with the workers of its headquarters and other guests linked to the institution,” but its members “do so as citizens in their respective workplaces or communities.”

“However, under the assumption that the organization should have called all its members to the debate in its associations, sections and subsidiaries, there are those who have questioned not only the procedure, but the authority and prestige of the Uneac,” the statement laments.

It argues that the organization “has never evaded the debate, as complex as it may be” and later defends, “without guilt complexes or shameful attitudes, the culture committed to a Revolution that fosters spaces of freedom for authentic artistic and literary creation.”

Therefore, despite rejecting the idea of a debate within Uneac, the entity calls on its members to participate as “thousands of artists have done” in the constitutional debate meetings held in neighborhoods and workplaces that began in August and continuing to the middle of this month.

It also repudiates “the unscrupulous way in which media paid by the enemy distorts” the debates and, in another paragraph, the organization maintains that Cuba is threatened in the field of culture “by the subversive projects that try to divide us and by the global colonizing surge.”

More than 7.3 million Cubans (out of a population of about 11 million), according to official sources, have already participated in the debate on the constitutional reform, in which the most discussed topics have been the modification that would legalize homosexual marriage and the limitation of the presidential term, among others.

The document was already approved by the National Assembly of People’s Power — Cuba’s parliament — at the end of July and although it does not incorporate modifications of the political system, it does recognize private property, eliminates allusions to communism, establishes the figure of prime minister and redefines marriage as the union between two people without specify their gender.

Once the stage of popular consultation is concluded on November 15, the group of senior officials and lawyers will study the proposals made in the debates, incorporate those deemed appropriate and send the new draft to Parliament for final approval and subsequent endorsement in a popular referendum in 2019.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Stranded in a Colombian Airport is Forced to Return to the Island

This video is not subtitled

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, November 4, 2018 — The Cuban Lázaro Miguel Gutiérrez Bacallao had to board an airplane bound for Cuba this Friday after remaining stranded in El Dorado airport, in Bogotá, Colombia, since October 14, as confirmed to 14ymedio by an official of Colombian Migration.

The source explained that Gutiérrez Bacallao was not deported because he never entered Colombian territory and specified that he had only been “returned” to the Island. “Not having a Colombian visa, he never entered our territory and so he was not deported but rather transported to his country. Cuba did its procedures to verify that indeed it was a matter of a countryman of theirs and then accepted his entry,” he said. continue reading

A friend of Gutiérrez Bacallao told this newspaper that the migrant was already home in Cuba, with his family. “They let him enter without any problems at José Martí airport. He’s calm, apparently happy. In a few days he’ll have his identity card. He let me know yesterday in a voice message at 9pm,” explained the source.

Lázaro Miguel Gutiérrez Bacallao spent 20 days sleeping on chairs in the waiting area of El Dorado airport. The loss of Cuban residency, after spending several years living away from the Island*, and the rejection by Mexican authorities of his entry to the country, placed this Pinar del Río native in a legal limbo that has been resolved this Friday.

Cuban migratory legislation determines that a national loses his permanent residency on the Island if he spends more than 24 months abroad. From that moment he needs an entry permit that the Government may or may not grant arbitrarily and based on motives that may be economic but may also be political.

Gutiérrez Bacallao lived for six years in Ecuador and, at the beginning of this October, decided to embark on the route toward the United States to reunite with his current partner.

He passed trhough Peru and Brazil before arriving in Cancún (Mexico) from Bogotá but Mexican authorities, upon finding irregularities in part of his documentation, decided to reject his entry into the country and returned him to Colombia.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba

Weapons for What?

Miguel Díaz-Canel was received by Vladimir Putin on his visit to Russia. (@DiazCanelB)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 5 November 2018 – A cart is being unloaded at the butcher’s in Havana’s Carlos III Plaza. The crowd throws itself on it. There are shouts, shoves and occasional blows while two men grab several boxes of frozen chicken shouting, “This is mine!” It’s Tuesday and just a couple days since it transpired that Russia will grant Cuba credits for the acquisition of weapons.

The news of the 50 million dollars Moscow is giving to the island to strengthen its military sector has been received as a slap in the face by many Cubans who see the food shortages and the rising prices. In the midst of increasingly pronounced scarcities, it is difficult to understand that one of the agreements reached with the Kremlin will used to train troops, buy munitions and repair equipment for war.

The destiny of those resources is even more absurd because Cuba is not involved in any armed conflict, faces no disputes within its territory and is unlikely to be attacked by any foreign power. Wasting this money only makes sense if it can be explained as part of a geopolitical plan the Kremlin can boast about to the White House. A frequent thing on an island that, so many times, has been a diplomatic chess piece between these two countries. continue reading

For some years now, the ghost of the Cold War has returned with plans for Cuba, and the latest diplomatic approaches between Vladimir Putin and Miguel Díaz-Canel are reminiscent of those times when the country orbited around the Soviet Union, deployed its soldiers in Africa to please Moscow and received substantial resources from the Russian coffers to be able to demonstrate social achievements far removed from its true economic potential.

Cuba was a showcase, a spearhead and cannon fodder for the USSR and now it is the launching pad for Putin’s expansionism in Latin America. A sad destiny for a country whose authorities repeat the rhetoric of sovereignty while they depend, more and more every day, on other governments to forgive our debts, give us funds or subsidize – in one way or another – our unsuccessful system.

Playing at war is not only ridiculous, at this time when the national economy can’t even raise its head and thousands of Cubans are packing their bags to escape the island, tired of waiting for a recovery that does not come, but it is also evidence of the disconnect between the Plaza of the Revolution and the streets. While some are thinking about how to poke a finger in Washington’s eye, citizens want policies that promote prosperity, development and improvements in services.

With the announcement of the $50 million to buy weapons, it is very difficult not to be reminded of the number of lost hours that several generations of Cubans have had to spend on military training, evacuation drills and ridiculous maneuvers to defend ourselves against an enemy that never arrived. Those were the years when official propaganda very skillfully used the fear of a foreign invasion to force us to close ranks and shut up. The presumed immediacy of an armed conflict was used as a gag, a distraction and a decoy.

However, the war story is becoming less credible. The real battle is the one that we experience every day to be able to find food, to travel from one place to another, to get medicines, and the ongoing struggle with the excessive bureaucracy. All those weapons that will be purchased are not designed to deter an enemy, but to frighten us as citizens. They are bullets of persuasion and threat that will fall on us.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.