The Future Is Built With Cement … But There Isn’t Any

A house under construction in Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 May 2017 — The cranes show off their slender anatomy in some areas of Havana where several luxury hotels are being built. Apart from this landscape of progress, private construction and repairs face technological problems and shortages. This week it has been cement’s turn.

“This is the third time I have come and I am leaving with an empty wheelbarrow,” a customer on the hunt for construction materials complained Thursday in the Havana’s La Timba neighborhood. The employee standing behind the counter confirmed that “they are sending less than before and every day more people come to try to buy it.” continue reading

To send, to arrive and to supply are the verbs used to refer to the state distribution of any product, be it eggs, milk powder, or tiles to cover a roof. There is an enormous supply chain responsible for distributing construction materials, in a country where 39% of the housing stock is in “regular or poor” condition.

Since the beginning of the year, gray cement has become the biggest headache for those involved in construction, a situation that has worsened in recent weeks.

Several employees of stores specializing in construction materials that offer their goods in convertible pesos say that in 2017 they have not received cement

Several employees in the stores in the capital specializing in construction materials and that sell their goods in convertible pesos, told 14ymedio that since the beginning of 2017 they have not received cement.

The government has chosen to place the product in the network that sells in Cuban pesos, the so-called national currency, in the face of previous criticisms of excessive prices in the foreign exchange network. However, a network of corruption, diversion of resources and re-sales makes it almost impossible to get one of those sacks with the precious gray powder.

The government has turned over the sale of cement to the open markets in national currency, but the shortage continues for those who repair or build houses. (14ymedio)

The national cement industry has not yet recovered from the blow that resulted from the fall of Europe’s socialist camp and the withdrawal of the Soviet Union’s subsidies to Cuba. At present, six factories on the island managed to produce slightly more than 1.4 million tonnes of gray cement last year, a figure well below the 5.2 million achieved in the same period in neighboring Dominican Republic, a country with a comparable population (about 11 million inhabitants), according to a report from the Producers Association.

The government has assigned the Construction Materials Business Group (GEICON) to produce cement in each of its variants, in addition to other building materials such as aggregates, blocks, and flooring elements, along with asbestos, fibroasphalt and roofing tiles.

The sales and marketing director of the group, Rubén Gómez Medina, recently explained on national television that despite the sector’s recovery over the last five years, it still cannot meet demand.

“Since we started, the prices of aggregates have changed from one day to the next and no one can tolerate that.”

The situation becomes complex for self-employed masons, and also for those who are part of a non-agricultural cooperative. “As there is no wholesale market, when we are contracted to do a job we have to place responsibility for the materials on the customer,” says Carlos Núñez, who two years ago obtained a license for that occupation.

The entrepreneur remembers that at first they calculated a budget that included everything, the plans, the materials and the labor. “Since we started, the prices of aggregates have changed from one day to the next and no one can tolerate that.”

A bag of gray cement last year cost just over 6 CUC in an official store. In the open markets the same bag is sold in national currency at the equivalent of 7 CUC. The lack of supply has meant that in the underground market, where it is also scarce, the price doubles and in some areas reaches as high as 18 CUC.

Cement, along with pork or cooking oil, is one of those goods that set the pace of the everyday economy. Its disappearance or shortage is a direct blow to the population’s quality of life.

Of the more than 23,000 homes that were built during 2015, less than half were erected by the state. The rest were built by the private sector.

Now, for many, the only option is to buy gray cement on the black market, or to sleep outside one of the open markets all night to see if there’s an early delivery.

On the outskirts of Fe del Valle Park, mixed among the dozens of people who connect to the Internet in this popular Wi-Fi zone, resellers abound. The site has a reputation for being a place where you can find everything, “even 12 gauge electric cables for electrical installations,” a young man nicknamed El Chino proclaims without modesty.

So as not to be confused with a police informant or an inspector, the buyer should pronounce the question in the most roundabout way. “How’s the cement coming along, pal?” El Chino arches his eyebrows and with a precise professional air answers, ” P350, which is for mounting plates, goes out of here at between 10 and 12 CUC a bag and P250, for plastering, goes for 9.”

He pauses, as if he is sorry for what he is about to confess and adds, “But right now there isn’t any.”

Several cooperatives say that part of the production in the western area has been sent to the province of Guantánamo for the repair of houses damaged by Hurricane Matthew

At the Ministry of Construction (MICONS) the officials questioned do not clarify the reasons for the shortage, although several cooperative members engaged in construction assert that part of the production of the western zone has been sent to Guantánamo province to repair the houses damaged by Hurricane Matthew.

A MICONS employee, who preferred anonymity, does not agree with that explanation and insists that “since a group of measures to promote construction by self-effort was implemented, there was a building explosion that was not foreseen in the production plans for the materials… Important hotels are being built and the supply to those places can’t be allowed to fail, so it has been prioritized,” he adds.

The most recent version of the Foreign Investment Opportunities Portfolio describes the objective of the authorities to “promote the construction of infrastructure and industrial maintenance, mainly for the nickel, oil and cement industries.” But so far potential investors are wary of putting their money in ventures on the Island.

“What has happened is that the cement industry is bottoming out and can not withstand the pressure of the high demand,” an engineer with 30 years of experience in the sector, who prefers to be called Osvaldo – not his real name – to avoid reprisals for his statements, tells this newspaper.

“It’s a chain of inefficiencies that ends up breaking down at the weakest link: the customer”

In 2016 the country’s factories have had serious problems due to the lack of maintenance but transportation has also burdened the results. “We depend on the Cuban Railways to transfer part of the material used in cement manufacture,” Osvaldo said. “It’s a chain of inefficiencies that ends up breaking down at the weakest link: the customer.”

“No new equipment or parts are coming into the country. In many factories, the furnace engines, the mechanical couplings and the mills are badly damaged,” he adds.

“This industry is the engine of prosperity, because it is the one that allows houses to be built, people to have more amenities and there is progress,” Osvaldo proudly says. “But if we do not invest a good amount of money we will continue as we are, between improvisations and defaults.”

To illustrate his comment, the engineer shows the side wall of a newly built house that is still waiting to be plastered. “It’s because I haven’t been able to find the cement anywhere,” justifies the owner.

In The Bank or Under the Mattress? Where Do Cubans Keep Their Money?

A man tries to get money at an ATM just outside a Metropolitan Bank in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 25 May 2017 — Finding a little bottle filled with coins that her father hid in the patio was something that happened to Eneida when she was young; now she’s a retired and says that financially she’s “escachada, without a single peso in the bank.” Her family inherited an old mansion in the center of Santa Clara, and also the determination not to put their savings in the hands of the state.

Each month, the pensioner goes to the nearest ATM, takes out the amount of her retirement, equivalent to about $12, and stores it inside an old coffee can. “I prefer to have it close because in most stores there are problems paying with a magnetic card.” continue reading

The Santa Claran also fears the authorities because, in her opinion, “you never know when they will confiscate something.”

Eneida has bad memories. Her father owned a bodega that was nationalized during the 1968 Revolutionary Offensive, and before that the small business owner had lost some of his savings with the paper currency swap decreed by the government in 1961. “He kept in the house what little they didn’t take from him,” recalls his daughter.

“He kept in the house what little the state didn’t take from him,” recalls his daughter

Since then more than half a century has passed, but many citizens are still wary of putting their money in government-run institutions.

The banking system is made up of nine banks, 14 non-bank national financial institutions, nine representative offices of foreign financial institutions and one in the process of registration. For Eneida all these entities are “the same dog but with a different collar.”

In Havana, the Metropolitan Bank seeks to attract more customers at all costs, but to the mistrust of banks is added the poor service at its branches. The long lines outside the offices and the few economic incentives to keep the money in their safes discourage savers.

The interest rates approved by the Central Bank determine that a fixed-term deposit of 72 months accumulates 7% of its amount. However, the dual currency system makes that figure ridiculous.

“I saved a third of my salary for five years to pay for my daughter’s fifteenth birthday party,” says Teobaldo, a 47-year-old from Las Tunas who transports goods from private markets to paladares and cafes. “I put it in the bank and I had no problem, but I had the illusion that the money would grow more.”

Theobald came to have the equivalent of 1,800 CUC with which he paid for the drink and the food of the party, as well as the cake and the cars to make a tour of the city and the photos of the honoree. “I had to ask my brother to send me more money from the United States for clothes, flowers and the hiring of musicians,” he adds.

It is not the mistrust of young people that guides them to not having bank accounts, but the economic precariousness of the day-to-day

As soon as his daughter’s birthday came, the small entrepreneur took all of his savings from the bank. “I did not want to set off the alarms,” he explains. In 1993, the government launched an offensive known as Operation Potted Plant aimed at confiscating products and imprisoning those who possessed “illicit money.”

The crusade became a hunt against the new rich. “If you had a nice house, air-conditioning and a well-painted façade, they would come down on you,” says Teobaldo. The Operation prosecuted two brothers  for “illicit enrichment.” One of them raised pigs and the other sold gold jewelry. After several years in prison they ended up emigrating.

Younger people see it differently. It is not mistrust that guides them to not have bank accounts, but the economic precariousness of the day-to-day. “Save money?” a young student at the University of Pedagogical Sciences who works during non-school hours as a messenger to distribute the Weekly Packet, asks with disbelief.

“Having savings is a thing for the rich,” he says. Most of their his live on what the parents give them or earn their own living, “but there is not enough to save,” he says.

Martha Beatriz Roque: “The Cuban Opposition Has Not Found The Right Path”

Cuban opposition activist Martha Beatriz Roque attended a celebration for the anniversary of independence at the CANF headquarters in Miami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miamia, 25 May 2017 — On the verge of being operated on in Miami for a traumatic cataract caused by a punch from a Cuban State Security agent during one of the many acts of repudiation against her, the dissident and former political prisoner Martha Beatriz Roque was forceful in evaluating the trajectory of the opposition on the island, which in her judgment, “has not found the right way to reach the people.”

“We have to engage with the people and in that interaction we have to transmit to them the reality of the regime, ideas that the people understand,” Roque told 14ymedio last Monday at the headquarters of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), where she attended a celebration of the 115th anniversary of Cuban independence. continue reading

Roque was the only woman of the group of 74 dissidents who were arrested, tried and condemned to long sentences for crimes against the security of the state in 2003, an event known as the Black Spring that shocked international public opinion. That was her second conviction; in 1997 she was tried for writing the document “The Nation Belongs to Everyone” when she was part of the Working Group of the Internal Dissidence.

“Often the opponents go out into the street and shout ‘Down with Fidel, down with Raul, long live human rights,’ but people don’t even know what their rights are”

“Often the opponents go out into the street and shout ‘Down with Fidel, down with Raul, long live human rights,’ but people don’t know what human rights are, often they don’t even know what their rights are,” she added.

The opponent recalled how the demonstrators sent by the government itself often shout, “Down with human rights!”

“We have to reach the people through things that interest them. The Cuban opposition hasn’t found a strategy that links to the people and their problems,” she said.

The government opponent believes that the people have not been allowed to talk about their rights for a long time, so it is useless to try to explain hypothetical proposals for reforms in the Constitution.

In her opinion, among the serious problems that Cuba is experiencing is the absence of a future.

“Cubans have no future, so they want to emigrate because they know that Cuba has no future. We must try to make people understand the importance of building that future,” she added.

On the Venezuelan situation and its repercussions on the island, Roque believes that Raúl Castro’s government “fears” the consequences that could come with the end of Chavismo, to which is now added the increasingly clear position of the American president, Donald Trump, on the policy towards Cuba.

“I think things are going to change a lot in Cuba if they change in Venezuela,” she said. She also said that the path found by the Venezuelan opposition was very difficult for Cuban dissident groups, because the conditions are very different.

“I think things are going to change a lot in Cuba if they change in Venezuela”

Roque believes that the absence of concrete actions against the Raul Castro government by the Trump administration “gave the regime a lot of strength to continue repressing the opposition” and in particular to groups “that annoy them a lot.”

The 72-year-old woman does not believe that significant changes should be expected from Raul Castro’s promise to step down as president of the Council of State in 2018.

“Castro does not leave power, he continues to lead the Party and in Cuba the Communist Party is who has power, which means that he’s not going to leave power at all,” she added, adding that the advent of new figures such as current vice president Miguel Diaz-Canel will not mean a change in the system.

“Diaz-Canel is a puppet who just opens his mouth when they tell him to say what they want him to say,” she added.

Despite the grim picture, the dissident says that there is “slow movement” within the opposition in Cuba and that this year will see the first fruits of “the long struggle of the exile and opposition to bring freedom to the island.”

Cuba Seeks To Use Tourism Boom To Boost Other Economic Areas

Tourism is one of the main sources of income for the Cuban economy. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 20 May 2017 — Cuba seeks to take advantage of the recent rise of tourism, one of the locomotives of the island’s economy, to boost other areas and local services, in which the tourism sector invested more than 310 million Cuban convertible pesos in 2016.

This figure represents approximately 64% of the operating expenses incurred by state tourism companies, compared to 160 million CUC spent on the import of food and other products from abroad, some 26% of total expenditures, according to an article in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde.

Last year Cuba bought cutlery, crockery, linens, office supplies, cleaning supplies, disposable products and furniture, as well as preserved fruits and vegetables, sausages, dairy products, jams and beers, given that domestic supplies could not meet the demand. continue reading

To confront the boom of foreign visitors to the island, which this year is expected to surpass the 4 million tourists received in 2016, the country plans to build 224 new hotel facilities by 2030

During a forum of the fourth National Business Fair, happening in Havana and ongoing until Thursday, leaders of Cuban Light Industry said they had already made “a group of micro-investments to expand capacities” and offerings for the tourism sector.

The general director of the National Company of Select Fruits, Juan Carlos Rodríguez, stated that by 2017 some 60 local companies will guarantee 128 agricultural products and anticipated that they will engage in more efficient agrotechnical practices to produce prioritized and high demand crops such as fruits and vegetables.

To confront the boom of foreign visitors to the island, which this year is expected to surpass the 4 million tourists received in 2016, the country plans to build 224 new hotel facilities by 2030, said María del Pilar Macías, director general of the Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR).

The goal is to build 103,000 new rooms by that year, she explained.

In addition, MINTUR plans to refurnish and build more than 20 nautical and marine clubs, an equal number of real estate properties to house foreigners, and the same number of golf courses with almost a dozen associated hotels, some of them already underway with companies from Germany, China and Spain.

State Security Offensive Against ICLEP Citizen Journalists

Raúl Velázquez, ICLEP’s executive director in Cuba, was released without charge after 72 hours detention. (ICLEP)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 May 2017 — Raúl Velázquez, executive director of the Cuban Institute for Freedom of Expression and the Press (ICLEP) was released last Friday after being held for 72 hours in the second unit of the People’s Revolutionary Police (PNR) in Santiago de Cuba, as confirmed Monday by the agency through a press release.

The journalist had been arrested on Tuesday 16 May when he was sleeping at the home of the #Otro18 (Another 2018) activist María Mercedez Benítez. According to the Institute, Velázquez had his cell phone confiscated and was photographed from various angles by the State Security before they opened a “criminal file for the alleged crimes of subversion, propaganda of illegal print materials and counterrevolutionary plans.” continue reading

The ICLEP claims that the arrest of its executive director was not the only one that took place against people engaged in information dissemination, since it coincided with the arrest of four other citizen journalists.

In Colón, Matanzas province, Alberto Corzo, an independent reporter and administrative, monitoring and evaluation director of ICLEP, was threatened with imprisonment for his information work, and was detained for approximately three hours during which time he was reminded that he was under indictment for the alleged offense of contempt against a police collaborator.

In the first 20 days of this month, the political police have committed 13 repressive acts against citizen journalists working on ICLEP media

A day later, on Wednesday 17 May in Pinar del Rio, the citizen journalist Ivis Yanet Borrego was summoned and interrogated for three hours “in a disrespectful and rude way,” according to the institute. Borrego is the director of the publication Panorama Pinareño.

“Officials banned the journalist from continuing to work for ICLEP and assured her that they would retaliate against all the journalists until they ‘disappeared’ from the face of the earth,” the statement said.

On Thursday, 18 May, two additional Pinar del Rio citizen journalists, Ernesto Morales Estrada and Calixto E. Miranda Landeiro, were threatened with imprisonment if they continued to collaborate with ICLEP.

According to the organization, in the first 20 days of this month, the political police have committed 13 repressive acts against citizen journalists working with ICLEP media.

Vending Machines for Alcoholic Beverages

Several of these machines are located in downtown streets of Havana, accessible to anyone regardless of age. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 23 May 2017 — The campaigns against the consumption of alcohol have met an enemy. This is not an outspoken advocate of Mojitos or Cuba Libres, but of the vending machines that dispense national and imported beers simply at the introduction of a few coins. Several of these devices are located in the central streets of Havana, accessible to anyone regardless of age.

“Go get me a Heineken from the machine next door,” a father said to his little son from the doorway of a tenement on the Malecon. A few feet away, without controls or supervision, stands the automaton that catches kids’ attention because it “spits cold cans,” said one of them. No employee of the nearby restaurant, La Abadía, seems to pay attention to who uses the service.

A recent survey found that 36% of Cuban youth drink alcohol and 12% drink and smoke. Among them an alarming number begin to consume tobacco and alcohol between the ages of 11 and 13.

A common practice among parents is to encourage their sons, still minors, to have a sip of rum because “it’s a men’s thing.” For many adolescents virility is measured in the amount of “lines” of alcohol they can consume. A trend that these vending machines, without any controls, will facilitate even more.

Across the pond, in Spain, the sale of beer through the use of vending machines has been banned since 2010, according to a law enacted that same year that limits the access of alcoholic beverages to minors.

Cuba Loses More Than Half of the Food Harvested, Reports a Spanish NGO

In Cuba, losses during harvest and after collection represent 30% of total production, plus an additional 27% during distribution. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 May 2017 — Agriculture in Cuba is among the lowest performing in Latin America according to an evaluation published by the non-governmental organization Mundubat, based in the Basque Country (Spain). On the island, losses during harvest and after collection represent 30% of total production, while during the distribution stages they reach an additional 27%.

The report includes an evaluation carried out jointly between Mundubat and Veterinarians Without Borders (VSF). Both organizations are part of a cooperation agreement with Cuba, started in 2014 and funded mainly by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development. continue reading

Mundubat and VSF have been working on the island since 1993 in projects that promote food sovereignty and gender equality. The entities work in collaboration with official organizations, including the National Association of Small Farmers, the Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians, and the Cuban Association of Animal Production.

The report sees as a positive sign that “the cooperative sector already has 80% of the land and produces more than 90% of the food produced in the country,” but notes that domestic production “only covers 20% of the population’s needs.”

The biggest problems detected in food production on the island have their origin in the “weakness of the cooperative institutional framework in which agricultural production is organized,” the report said.

“Domestic food production only covers 20% of the populations’ needs”

The cooperatives lack an “internal evaluation of the efficiency and ecological sustainability of the models of production,” demonstrate a “lack of knowledge of the regulatory frameworks,” suffer deficiencies in their facilities, and have “little involvement from their members,” says Mundubat.

The island suffers from “degraded soils with low levels of organic matter, and high incidence of pests and diseases,” along with “high salinity, soil compaction and overgrazing.” Invasive weeds and contamination from manure aggravate the picture.

“The scarce investment in technology” limits “production even more.” Mundubat describes the final products offered for consumption as being of “low quality.” A situation that points to “poor processing in the early stages of harvest,” “deterioration of storage systems” and “lack of experience in adding value to primary products.”

The different productive units “do not meet the [island’s] internal demands” and the food supply is characterized by “the low and unstable availability of food throughout the year” and fluctuating prices.

The report warns that women have “a low presence” in positions and structures of management in the agricultural sector and “endure the sexual division of labor.” While “rights holders and producers are men,” women occupy “agricultural labor posts” in agribusiness processing chains and in retail distribution.

“The sector’s returns are stagnant or have decreased slightly,” warns the report, which predicts that to the extent that agriculture “does not increase its yields and exploit its productive potential, the economy will have to assume significant expenditures to supply its domestic demand,” that is, for purchasing food from abroad.

Cuba Fails To Eradicate Smoking In Schools

More than half of Cuban families are exposed to environmental tobacco smoke: including 55% of children, 51% of pregnant women and 60% of teens. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 May 2017 — Images of students who smoke during recess or between breaks in class, and teachers who light up their cigarettes in the classroom are common in Cuban schools. In spite of the frequent anti-tobacco campaigns promoted by the media, in recent years Cubans have begun smoking at ever earlier ages.

The head of the Independent Department of School Health in the Ministry of Education, Yanira Gómez Delgado, expressed to the newspaper Juventud Rebelde her concern about exposure to tobacco smoke in schools and noted that the regulation requires that “no person who works in schools can smoke there.”

“It is not enough to avoid students suffering the effects of being passive smokers, but it is also necessary to promote anti-smoking with the example of their own behavior, and to distance themselves from a gateway drug, which cigarettes are considered to be,” warns Gómez Delgado. continue reading

The country does not yet have a tobacco prevention and control law that more strictly penalizes those who smoke in social spaces, and although in 2005 the authorities banned smoking in closed public places, the measure is barely complied with.

The country does not yet have a tobacco prevention and control law that more strictly penalizes those who smoke in social spaces

More than half of Cuban families are exposed to environmental tobacco smoke: 55% of children, 51% of pregnant women and 60% of adolescents, said Dr. Elba Lorenzo, head of the National Tobacco Program. The specialist believes that the island is one of the countries with the “greatest prevalence of the problem” worldwide.

Lorenzo is committed to “creating smoke-free spaces in society” as “the only effective and recognized means of protecting children, adolescents and young people” from the harmful effects of smoking.

In mid-2015, the Ministry of Public Health reported that 36 people on the island die of tobacco-related illnesses every day. Dr. Patricia Varona, of the Society of Hygiene and Epidemiology of Cuba, told the official press that smoking is the non-genetic disease that most affects Cubans’ life expectancy.

Cuba occupies fourth place among Latin America countries in the prevalence of smokers, behind only Chile, Bolivia and Uruguay. There are 2,198,133 smokers on the island, including 1,431,441 men and 766,691 women, representing 23% of the population. Some 10% of them smoke more than 20 cigarettes a day.

Economic Crime, the Pitfall in the Path

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 22 May 2017 — The saleswoman described her merchandise in a murmur: loggerhead turtle steaks, beef and shrimp. The man salivated, but replied that he could not buy any of those products, the most persecuted in the informal market. Every opponent knows that the authorities would want to try him for an “economic crime,” and perhaps that saleswoman was just the bait.

The techniques used by an authoritarian government to control citizens can be as varied as the fertile imagination of the repressors. Some are designed in air-conditioned offices using studied methodologies, while others arise on the fly, from seemingly fortuitous situations.

Are the economic constraints that we live under a calculated scenario to keep Cubans locked in a cycle of survival? Do so many prohibitions seek to leave us civically paralyzed, feeling ourselves guilty and with one foot in a prison cell? continue reading

Beyond the conspiracy theories, officialdom has managed the informal market as trap for the nonconforming, a framework for gathering information about the deep Cuba, an element of blackmail against its citizens and a lure to hunt down political opponents.

Although it is a practice that has been engaged in for many years, in recent months there has been an increasing tendency to accuse activists of alleged economic infractions

The Plaza of the Revolution has turned its bad economic management into another way of keeping society in its fist. It knows that families will do everything possible to put food on the table and will turn to the underground networks to buy everything from their children’s shoes to the dollars that at the official currency exchanges are taxed at 10%.

In many cases it is just about waiting, like the spider who knows that sooner or later the little insect will fall into its sticky threads. State Security only has to wait for a dissident to buy coffee “under the table” or to dare to have the bathroom retiled by an unlicensed tile setter.

Although it is a practice that has been engaged in for many years, in recent months there has been an increased tendency to accuse activists of alleged economic infractions. They are charged with crimes that ordinary Cubans commit every day under the patronizing eyes of the police and with the complicity of officials or state administrators. However, in the case of an opponent, the law has the capacity to be narrower, more rigid and more strictly observed.

In all international forums, Raúl Castro’s government boasts of not having political prisoners and it supports this argument by severely, but politically selectively, criminalizing such trivial matters as keeping four sacks of cement or a few gallons of fuel at home, without being able to show the papers that prove they were purchased in state stores.

Journalist Henry Constantin is accused of “usurpation of legal capacity” for working as a reporter in an independent publication, but dozens of ex-military are appointed managers of tourist facilities without ever having studied hotel management or business management. None of them have been reprimanded for serving in a position for which they are not formally qualified.

The lesson is that no matter what degree of economic illegality you commit, keep your mouth shut and don’t criticize the government

Karina Gálvez, a member of the Coexistence Studies Center, is being prosecuted for alleged “tax evasion” during the purchase of her home. However, before the new tax imposed on real estate transactions came into force, thousands of Cubans thronged the notaries to complete their paperwork under the previous tax laws, far removed from the real estate market rates. Not one was sanctioned.

Eliécer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ Movement, had his home broken into in a police raid and is charged with the offense of “illicit economic activity.” His “crime”: possessing a laptop, rewritable discs and several disposable razors. Unlike those thriving artists who import the latest iMac from the market or “Daddy’s kids” – children of the regime’s leaders – who have a satellite dish to watch Miami television, the activist committed the offense of saying he wants to help change his country.

The lesson is that no matter what degree of economic illegality you commit, keep your mouth shut and don’t criticize the government. It is not the same to buy beef in the informal market when you pretend ideological fealty to the regime, than it is to do the same when you belong to an opposition movement.

The black bag can become a wall, a noose, a hidden trap for those who do not applaud.

Cuba’s Fake Transport Co-ops

One of the new ‘Rutero” taxis, with an articulated city bus in the background. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 18 May 2017 — In an effort to persuade Cubans and the international left that “Cuba is building socialism,” while seeking to convince the world that Castroism is abandoning State Totalitarianism and also trying to counteract the relative independence achieved by the so-called boteros, or boatmen, as independent taxi drivers are known, the state’s effort to “update the economic model” includes the introduction of what they are calling Taxi Rutero, offering rides at 5 Cuban pesos per trip.

They are not cooperatives, in their strict sense, because they do not arise from the spontaneous idea of ​​workers pooling their capital and resources to organize production collectively and distribute profits. Rather, they are state-owned leasing companies, called cooperatives, that hire vehicles to the drivers who are given some advantages, such as low gasoline or oil prices, and who are paid daily but must hand over everything they collect. More or less what they have been doing with the urban buses in the capital lately. continue reading

Now, faced with the state’s inability to deal with the boteros, it decides to invent “taxi cooperatives” which are nothing more than a version of the bus cooperatives, featuring cars

Now, the state is confronting its inability to deal with the boteros who, faced with inflation generated by bureaucratic policies and their problems getting fuel, decided to raise prices and launched a kind of strike when the state imposed a price cap. So, instead of negotiating with them and finding solutions that solve the problem for the good of everyone, the state decides to invent “taxi cooperatives” which are nothing more than a version of the bus cooperatives, featuring cars.

The system is more or less the same. In state cars, with state gasoline and state spare parts, a car is rented to a strike-breaker – the new scabs – for one thousand Cuban pesos a day, and then they are paid 800 Cuban pesos a month; an almost unbelievable arrangement that could only have been invented by the “state cooperatives.”

The cutting edge of the new “cooperatives” is clearly directed against the boteros, setting a price of 15 pesos for a ride that the private drivers charge 20 to 25 Cuban pesos for.

This is not a solution to the transportation problem, this is an attempt to crush the boteros, because Cuba’s intolerant state system does not know how to and has no interest in negotiating with people, with the workers, it only knows how to impose.

Something similar has been done with service “cooperatives,” such as cafes, shoe repairers, household appliance repairers and others, in old unsustainable state entities. In practice, they have leased the premises and equipment, without ever being offered the property and with the subsequent activities subjected to countless state controls. It’s a lie. There is nothing “cooperative” about it.

It has already become common for the Castro’s Stalinist and antisocialist state to label their para-state inventions cooperatives.

These misrepresentations come from the early years. Then, under the personal leadership of Fidel Castro, the sugar cane cooperatives were created, without giving them the land. The system of sugarcane cooperatives showed signs of increasing independence, controlling their own finances, creating the village shops, and forcing the Sugar Industry Ministry to pay for the cane they cut, plus they had their own militias and bought the machinery they needed with their own money.

Later, when it became clear that the agricultural farms were not working with wage labor, they invented the Basic Units of Cooperative Production

When Carlos Rafael Rodríguez was appointed president of National Institute for Agrarian Reform (INRA) in February 1962, he dissolved the sugarcane cooperatives in the middle of that year’s harvest, to create “farms for the people,” and thus to convert those in the cooperatives into wage laborers. He handed over their lands to Che’s Sugar Ministry (MINAZ), and thereby destroyed the monetary-mercantile relationship between agriculture and the sugar industry.

Later, when it became clear that the agricultural farms were not working with wage labor, they invented the Basic Units of Cooperative Production, UBPC, cooperatives in name only because the workers continued to receive salaries from the State. These salaries were linked only to meeting the “Productive Plans,” not to the actual market results, and the plans were developed by the state with the requirement that they deliver the production the plans “committed” them to, to a collection system where the prices were set by the buyer (i.e. the state). A complete farce.

Sometimes we give the socialists the benefit of the doubt. Has this arbitrary management of the concept of cooperativism led us to the point where its manipulators have no idea what a cooperative is? Do they do it to try to fool the uneducated politicians who abound everywhere? Or is it part of a plan to discredit the original socialist idea of ​​Karl Marx’s self-managing cooperativism?

Whatever the answer is, it is, at the very least, detestable.

A Taxi Cooperative Proposes To Lower Private Transport Prices

Passengers getting ready to board one of the new Rutero fixed-route shared taxis operating in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 May 2017 — In the midst of the morning hustle and bustle, residents of Havana are trying to reach their destinations on time, a challenge because of the inefficient public transport and the sky high prices charged by the private operators of fixed-route shared-ride taxi services. On Monday a new service, “Rutero taxis,” was added to the transportation offerings, a cooperative that intends to regulate the high costs of moving around Cuba’s largest city.

With a total of 60 Lada and Hyundai cars, in addition to five buses, Cooperative Number 2 covers the route between La Lisa and the Fraternity Park. For years, this route has been the fiefdom of the boteros – or boatmen, as private taxi drivers are called – with their dilapidated but efficient vehicles. In the private taxis, the complete trip costs 20 Cuban pesos, the equivalent of one day’s pay, while individual sections of the trip cost 10 Cuban pesos, reduced rates recently imposed by the government. continue reading

The users perceive the new structure, under cooperative management, as a response the high fares charged by private operators, rates that the official media has called an “abuse on the population.” The Rutero drivers charge 15 Cuban pesos for the full route and 5 for intermediate sections.

The Rutero drivers charge 15 Cuban pesos for the full route and 5 for intermediate sections compared to 20 and 10 charged by the private drivers

The conflict between the State and the self-employed drivers has experienced tense moments in recent months. Last February, the capital authorities imposed flat rates on private taxi drivers’ journeys. The decision was a brake on the law of supply and demand that has governed the private transportation of passengers since it was authorized in the mid-1990s.

The boteros responded by refusing to serve intermediate stops and carrying only passengers who made the complete trip. Although they lack an independent union, something prohibited by law, they closed ranks and decreased the number of customers they served, to pressure local authorities to withdraw the controls.

The result was an increase in the waiting time for transport and the overwhelming of the bus stops by the avalanche of customers who could no longer travel in the private fixed-route shared taxis, called almendrónes after the almond-shape of the classic American cars commonly used in the service. For weeks, Habaneros have felt as if the most difficult days of the Special Period of the 90’s were coming back.

Now the taxi drivers are trying to alleviate that situation, with a management structure halfway between private and state.

As of January there were 397 private cooperatives on the island, active in food, personal and technical services. The state has promoted this kind of economic management since 2012, but is still in the experimental phase.

“This isn’t fair,” comments Rafael Vidal, a private driver who does not look favorably on the new service. “Those who drive these cars do not have to worry about breakdowns or getting parts, because they have a workshop with all the spare parts and several mechanics at their disposal,” protests the driver.

For Vidal, “the competition is unfair” because “the drivers do not pay for the fuel, and although I have no evidence, I can assure you that the traffic police will not come down on them like they do us”

For Vidal, “the competition is unfair” because “the drivers do not pay for the fuel, and although I have no evidence, I can assure you that the traffic police will not come down on them like they do us.” One of the most repeated complaints among private drivers is the harassment of inspectors and police officers, sometimes in the form of extortion with demands for money.

Sitting at the wheel of one of the yellow cars with a black roof that the new cooperative operates, Reinier is pleased to be part of the initiative. Previously he rendered his services through the state-owned company Cubataxi and confirmed that getting fuel is no longer a problem in his new job. “My Lada is the only one with a new engine and that is why it uses oil. Yesterday I consumed 18 liters in seven roundtrips,” he says.

The cuts in the oil supply to the state sector keeps the drivers on edge. Of the more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day that Cuba received during the years when Hugo Chavez ruled Venezuela, the supply dropped to 87,000 in 2016, and now does not exceed 55,000, according to several analysts.

The drop in fuel imports has affected the informal gasoline market and raised prices, one of the reasons that led the private drivers to increase their fares.

Reinier believes that it is too early to “assert that there are advantages” with the Rutero taxis, or whether they really relieve the transport situation in the capital. He confirms that he must give all his proceeds to the cooperative daily. “If I deposit 1,050 Cuban pesos every day, I am guaranteed a monthly salary of 800 CUP.” If he exceeds that amount he gets a bonus, and if he falls short there is a deduction.

This Monday, several of the Rutero drivers were not able to meet the standard, according to Reinier. “I did it, but I have tremendous pain in my back from the nine hours I was driving,” he explains to 14ymedio.

The new service covers the route of the P-14 bus from six in the morning until eight at night. The first section starts on 272nd Street in La Lisa municipality and runs to the beginning of Marianao; the second concludes at Avenida 26 in the Plaza district, and the last one ends at Fraternity Park.

Another driver, who preferred not to give his name, explained that it is not very clear what happens when someone rides the last 100 meters of the first leg and gets off in the first block of the second. “You could be charged 10 CUP because you crossed the border, but that is up to the driver’s consideration,” he speculates.

The Rutero drivers have a significant limitation: they can only accept Cuban pesos, the national currency, in a country where the convertible peso has become the strong currency that actually runs the economy. The drivers justify the decision because “the cooperative keeps the accounts in CUP to measure the completion of the daily minimum.”

“Betancourt, the president of the cooperative, says that we can not become a Cadeca (currency exchange),” Reinier says, laughing.

According to several drivers interviewed, for now the contract is in force for three months and many expect that “when they adjust it” they will lower the daily quota

According to several drivers interviewed, for now the contract is in force for three months and many expect that “when they adjust it” they will lower the daily quota. There is a sense among them of being part of an experiment open to modifications at any time.

The outsides of the cars are painted with the identification of the cooperative, and inside the cars there is passenger information about their rights and established prices. In addition, the telephone number 18820 is displayed for complaints and claims.

Customers agree that there should be no illusions. “It would be a miracle if it lasts for a year,” says a young woman to an official journalist who, at the stop at Fraternity Park, put a microphone through the window to survey the passengers.

A woman seated next to her limits herself to approval of the new prices. “Comparing it with the private taxis it is better, but it is still expensive. A few years ago, when the taxis had a meter, you could travel through Havana for 5 pesos and for 15 pesos you could travel to another province,” she concludes.

Readers Opine About ’14ymedio’ on its Third Anniversary

14ymedio’s third anniversary makes a mockery of official censorship in Cuba. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 May 2017 — This digital newspaper first saw the light just three years ago, on 21 May 2014. In this time the setbacks have been many, as have the gratifications from updating the site, providing a constant flow of information to our readers, and maintaining high quality standards of reporting in the articles published on this page.

Today, readers opine about the topics they prefer to see addressed, they contribute their critiques to improve the journalism prepared by the editorial team of this newspaper and its collaborators, as well as project how they imagine it will evolve in the coming three years, the amount of time that has passed 14ymedio was born.

Marlene Azor says she reads the newspaper from Mexico. “I think it is an essential information medium on Cuba and the world.” The academic values ​​the articles published as “informative and at the same time providing analysis,” and considers the editorial work “serious and rigorous,” a characteristic she considers “very gratifying for someone who is looking for information on the daily life” of the island. continue reading

The most interesting topics for Azor are those that have to do with “the economy, politics, culture and daily life” in the country. She finds the comments in the discussion area essential “for the right to free expression.” However, she regrets the “deficit of the culture of debate in [the comments] sent by State Security” to boycott the medium.

In this site the setbacks have been many, as have the gratifications from updating the site, providing a constant flow of information to our readers, and maintaining high quality standards of reporting in the articles published on this page.

Looking ahead three years, the Cuban emigre expects to see 14ymedio developing “more depth in its analysis,” because “the disinformation” exercised by the Cuban government “cannot last” much longer. Azor is extremely critical of the official press and accuses it of misinforming and disseminating “such a biased view of the world” that it can go so far as to “the reverse” of reality.

“ReyLI” comments that “the topics that interest me most are those related to Cuba and Venezuela” and he believes that commenters on the site “should use fewer bad words and generally follow the rules of the site, which are not always met by eliminating comments.” The reader appreciates the existence of this information portal.

“Gatovolador” visits 14ymedio because he finds it “very complete with regard to the news coming from the Island, its dissidence and the government’s great failures.” He would be interested in finding more articles “on universal geography, the discoveries in this field and also in the field of health,” although he acknowledges that the newspaper already dedicates space to these topics.

He also agrees with other readers that “lately confrontations and responses are taking place” in the comment area. Discussions in which there is “disrespect” from “people of the left in their crazy quest to put an end to 14ymedio.” A situation that he believes is based on a strategy to cause “other readers to lose interest and withdraw” from the site.

“I would like to see this newspaper be for sale in all the island’s news kiosks” so that it can be read by all Cubans, he says. The reader congratulates the collaborators and editors of the newspaper and hopes that on “21 May 2018 we can meet again.”

“Jesusnavacuba” has become a regular commenter on this newspaper because he wants to be aware of “the political discussion, to know the strategies” of the managers of this digital site and “to see how they react to the issues of the progressive world.” The reader thinks that the newspaper shows “great ideological flaws with regards to community issues.”

“I would like to see this newspaper sold in all the island’s news kiosks” so that it can be read by all Cubans

The reader, a resident of the United States, is especially interested in the issues “that flood us here and there, those that are reflected in Cuba as a copy of what happens here in the USA and as a practice in the rest of the world.” He criticizes that editors “are not interested in moderating” comments when language is violent, vulgar and offensive, however he believes the discussions are the “steam engine” of the site.

“Discrimination, threats to people’s lives and the apologies for crimes flood the forum,” Jesusnavacuba complains. A scenario that implies that site administrators “prefer active traffic” and sacrifice “quality and professionalism” to obtain it.

In three years, the reader projects that this journal will evolve towards “a new form of private journalism.”

Luis Vigo, a frequent visitor of the page, sees in 14ymedio a space where he can keep “connected with the Cuban reality” and “debate and exchange ideas and opinions with other readers.” He is particularly interested in “news and current issues, both nationally and internationally.”

“The debates among readers not only seem valid but necessary to create an awareness of the diversity of opinions for a future Cuba free of dictatorship,” adds Vigo. He imagines that in years to come this will be “a newspaper with much more scope” for nationals both inside and outside the island.


Editor’s Note:

We would like to hear your views on our work. We invite you to enrich 14ymedio with your suggestions, comments and criticisms.

We Have Survived

A man reads the printed version of ’14ymedio’ circulating in PDF format inside Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 May 2017 — Three years ago this digital daily was just a dream, a project on paper and a desire in the heads of several colleagues. On that 21 May 2014, the mirage took shape on the first cover of a site that robs us of our nights, brings us frequent moments of tension, but also puts a smile on our faces when we publish a successful investigation or report.

When we joined together around that initial idea of ​​creating a newspaper from within Cuba, we had at least two pillars on which to build this informational edifice: to engage in quality journalism and to maintain our economic independence. Fulfilling those initial goals has been a difficult challenge, but we are pleased and proud to have succeeded in most cases. continue reading

For three years this newspaper has privileged opinion, has made reporting its flagship content and has opted for well written stories, carefully prepared and anchored to reality. We have managed to address opposing worlds: opposition and officialdom; ecology and industry; emigration and local entrepreneurship.

We have avoided adjectives to focus on the facts and to distinguish ourselves from activism journalism. Our compass seeks to maintain seriousness and rigor in the simplest and most complex articles. In this newsroom we repeat some phrases that reveal this premise: “it is better to be late than wrong,” “we do not work for the hits but for the information,” “being a reporter is not a good profession for making friends,” “a good journalist will always end up annoying someone”… and many others.

We have avoided adjectives to focus on the facts and to distinguish ourselves from activism journalism. Our compass seeks to maintain seriousness and rigor in the simplest and most complex articles

In this time, we have rejected all offers of economic support from foreign governments, political parties, foundations linked to power groups and figures with a marked ideological position. Instead we have chosen to “make a living” through journalism, something so distressing and difficult in these times it has put us constantly on the verge of material indigence. However, this tension has been the best incentive to produce high quality content that we can offer to media and agencies in other parts of the world.

Our editorial team is the best family you can imagine. Like all relatives, it has its headaches: there are severe parents, hypercritical uncles, grumpy grandparents, unkind brothers and fast-paced cousins when it’s time to click the button to “publish” to information. But in general it is a team united by the best possible glue: the search for journalistic quality.

Our main obstacles remain obtaining information in a country where institutions practice secrecy, the official press gilds reality and most citizens are afraid to speak with an independent newspaper. They are not insurmountable difficulties, but they demand an enormous amount of energy and patience from us every day.

The blocking of our digital site, the stigmatizing of our name and the harassment of reporters have also negatively affected the scope of our work, but we are not discouraged. Nobody said it was going to be easy.

The most important thing we are going to keep in mind today, when we blow out the three tiny candles on our digital cake, is that “we have survived.” Against all the predictions of friends and enemies, we are here, we have made a space in Cuban journalism and we will continue to work to improve the quality of this newspaper.

“We Are Not Leaving Cuba”, Say Members Of The Center For Coexistence Studies

A fierce police raid accompanied the arrest of Karina Gálvez in Pinar del Río. (Coexistence)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 May 2017 — In the midst of a wave of pressure from the authorities, members of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC) have issued a declaration of commitment to their work on the island. “We are not leaving Cuba, we are not leaving the Church and we will continue working for the country,” says the text signed by Dagoberto Valdés, director of the CEC.

The message expresses gratitude for “solidarity in moments of tough repression” and assures that the team “continues to think, propose, dream and build a free and prosperous future for all Cubans.”

The statement was issued a few hours after police stopped the vehicle in which Yoandy Izquierdo, a member of the CEC, was traveling from Pinar del Rio to Havana to board a flight. The activist was invited to participate in the Stockolm Internet Forum (SIF) in Sweden but misses his plane this Sunday because of the arrest. continue reading

Izquierdo was detained at the police unit in Los Palacios and officers asserted that they need to conduct a search to determine if the driver of the car was “charging for the shuttle service to the airport.”

CEC “continues to think, propose, dream and build a free and prosperous future for all Cubans”

The activist was not released until after his flight took off, but this Monday he managed to reach José Martí International Airport and board a plane to his destination.

The detention of Izquierdo was added to an escalation in repression against the members of the CEC that has increased in the last months; several of the organization’s managers have been object of pressures, warnings and interrogations.

Last January the economist Karina Gálvez suffered a raid on her home and has been accused of an alleged tax evasion offense. The police are keeping her house sealed waiting for the trial to take place.

The Coexistence Studies Center organizes training courses for the citizenry and civil society in Cuba. The entity functions independently of the State, the Church and any political grouping. The magazine of the same name emerged in 2008 and is published bimonthly.

Castro Regime Rushes Unfinished Business Before Raul Leaves the Presidency

President Raúl Castro considers the documents ratified as “the most studied, discussed and rediscussed in the history of the Revolution.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 May 2017 — The government rushed on Friday to accomplish some pending tasks before Raul Castro leaves the presidency. The Third Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party ratified two programmatic documents at a meeting where Marino Murillo reappeared, vice-president of the Council of Ministers removed from the family photo of power as of November of last year.

Just 40 days before the promised deadline, the Conceptualization of the Cuban Social and Economic Development Model and the bases of the National Economic and Social Development Plan were approved until 2030. The package also included compliance with the new modifications to The Guidelines of the Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution. continue reading

A note read on the noon edition of the television news reported that President Raul Castro considers these documents as “the most studied, discussed and rediscussed in the history of the Revolution.” The approval of the texts occurs after a long process in which, it is said, more than 1.5 million Cubans participated.

The Plenum agreed to submit to the consideration of the National Assembly the Conceptualization of the Model and the Guidelines, but with regards to the Plan it only proposed to inform the parliamentarians about its approval.

Missing in the document are topics of great interest to the population such as the elimination of rationing system, the permitting of professionals to exercise self-employment in their specialties, or human rights.

The ratification of these programs comes at a difficult time for the country. Last year, the island experienced a 0.9% decrease in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the first time since 1995. Stopping this drop and obtaining an increase in GDP is the government’s main economic objective for this year.

The political and economic crisis in Venezuela has caused an abrupt drop in oil imports to the island. Of the 100,000 barrels a day received by Cuba at a subsidized price during the best years of closer ties with Venezulea, analysts estimate that now only less than half as many barrels are arriving.

A Russian oil company has taken on providing an emergency supply and plans to send in the next few months about 250,000 tonnes of oil and diesel to the island where, since last year, the consumption of electricity in state entities has been rationed and cuts have been applied to the fuel supply.

The current scenario directly raised questions about what was established in the Plan for 2030.

The Conceptualization does not reference that the ultimate goal of Cuban socialism is to build the communist society; nor does it mention as a goal the suppression of the exploitation of man by man.

Missing in the document are topics of great interest to the population such as the elimination of rationing system, the permitting of professionals to exercise self-employment in their specialties, or human rights.