Cuban Customs Detected 29 Drug Cases So Far This Year / 14ymedio

Watching a report broadcast by the main news about the work against drugs at customs.
Watching a report broadcast by the main news about the work against drugs at customs.

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 25 June 2015 — The General Customs of the Republic (AGR) has detected 29 drug cases since early this year, as published on Thursday in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth). In the past six months, according to official media, they have seized about 51 kilos combined of cocaine, marijuana, hashish and synthetic cannabinoids.

The most common practice for introducing substances into the country is hiding them inside flashlights, cars and spare parts, swivel chairs, TV screens, soap, screws, boxes of food, religious objects, shoes and other articles. continue reading

Among the cases detected, in at least 23 of them the narcotics was in supposed gift packages, according to the traffickers. However, Customs clarifies that saying that the article in which the drugs are hidden “belongs to a friend, or someone who paid them to deliver it to their family, does not exonerate the passenger from the responsibility enshrined in Cuban law, which is intransigent before the importing of drugs and psychotropic substances.”

Customs also has detected attempts to take large amounts of Cuban medications out of the country, as well as smuggling of cash and precious metals. Since January, they have uncovered 293 cases of taking out tobacco, raw materials and cigars. Also high are attempts to take protected wildlife species out of the island.

The drugs are often hidden inside flashlights, cars, religious objects. shoes or other items

At a press conference, José Luis Muñoz Toca, Customs Technical Director specified that as of May 31, there were 73 cases involving arms smuggling. In addition, “We also detected media and equipment hidden in suitcases intended to support subversion activities in the country,” the official explained, without giving details of the nature of goods confiscated.

More streamlined customs procedures

Cuban Customs’ most pressing objective is arm itself with international standards before the eventual avalanche of tourism expected from the normalization of relations with the United States.

Without referring directly to this issue, the head of the AGR, Pedro Miguel Perez Betancourt emphasized that among the key priorities is to satisfy all passengers and that the Customs service performed at the border is exercised “Within the frame and law conferred by law for any processing, operation or baggage screening.”

The official said that efficiency in the offices has improved and that, “The time spent in customs procedures at airports has decreased considerably, from 45 minutes in 2011 to 25 minutes in 2015.”

Among the difficulties faced by Customs is corruption, because employees are constantly submitted to the pressures of bribery. Concern about maintaining the integrity of the employees in the airport terminals is most intense in regards to drug trafficking cases.
The officials explained that they are trying to do a better job on three parallel tracks: improving technological capabilities, the professional development of the workers and a greater degree of rigor in the controls on the part of the leadership.

Implementation of clearance by weight to reduce the number of times luggage is opened and implementing a new automated clearance system is still being tested and could reduce the time per passenger.

Muñoz Toca, director of Technical Customs, said they have reduced procedural errors and stressed that, “Most of the complaints and disagreements arise from delays in clearance and inappropriate behavior of employees at that time.”

According to officials, most complaints stems from the delays that arise from delays in clearance and inappropriate behavior of employees

He added that the complaint system has been perfected. “Today international airports have offices for reception and processing of complaints with groups to investigate and clarify the complaints and a subsequent evaluation in the legal commissions,” he explained.

He also addressed the commitment of Customs to, “Simplify and streamline procedures starting with the introduction of new control techniques and information technology which should contribute to supporting the commercial management of the country.”

At the press conference, no reference was made to the repeated complaints of the harassment to which civil society activists and political opposition leaders are subjected to, in a selective way, usually being minutely searched and having equipment and documentation seized on their return to the island.

Eight UNPACU Activists Who Recorded A Video Remain Detained / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Santiago de Cuba, 24 June 2015 — Eight of the 15 Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) activists from the Altamira neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba who were arrested Monday while filming an independent video remain in jail, the leader of the organization, José Daniel Ferrer, said Wednesday/

In a telephone call with 14ymedio, Ferrer said that among those still detained include singer Omar Sayud Taquechel, Fernando Vazquez Guerra and Romualdo del Risco Martin, who continue to refuse food at the police station known as Micro 9. In another detention center in the city, commonly called “the motorized,” Héctor Velázquez Gómez, José Roberto Núñez, David Fernández Cardoso, Anibal Ribeaux Figueredo and Franklin Álvarez Fernández are in jail.

A video posted on UNPACU’s YouTube channel, with hundreds of visitors so far, caught the moment when security forces violently fell on young people who were involved in filming on a Santiago street while carrying a flag Cuban.

Emigrating in the Third Age / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

An old man. (Silvia Corbelle)
An old man. (Silvia Corbelle)

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, 23 June 2015 – The building where I live is like a diminutive Cuba, where the larger country appears represented with its vicissitudes and hopes. Fourteen stories that at times offer a biopsy of reality or a representative fragment of life outside. For years, the emigration of young people has marked the life of this ugly concrete block, constructed 30 years ago by some optimistic microbrigadistas* in order to put a roof over their children’s heads. The majority of these children, now men and women, do not live on the island today. However, the exodus has also spread to a worrying extent among those of the third age.

A few weeks ago in the hallway I stumbled upon a neighbor whose children left some time ago for the country to the north. Between postcards at Christmas, visits every now and then and nostalgia, the family has tried to overcome separation and the pain of absence. The man of the family, now retired and almost 70, commented to me that he was selling his apartment. “I’m leaving,” he said, smiling from ear to ear. Another retiree who overheard, spat out derisively, “You’re nuts! Why are you leaving if all that’s left to you are ‘two shaves,’?” alluding to the possible brevity of the existence ahead of him. continue reading

Not to be outdone, the mocked one replied, “Yes, it’s true, all that’s left for me is ‘two shaves,’ but I want them to be with a Gillette.” With a pension of barely 20 CUC a month, a home that every day shows the passage of time and the lack of resources to repair it, the future emigrant won’t be stopped by gray hairs or old age. What is making so many seniors choose to relocate abroad despite age, health and the uprooting of their lives? They also feel the lack of opportunities, the day-to-day difficulties, and – most significantly – end up concluding that the social project to which they gave their youth has defrauded and abandoned them.

They feel the lack of opportunities and the day-to-day difficulties, and have ended up concluding that the social project to which they gave their youth has defrauded and abandoned them

“All I want is a peaceful old age, without having to stand in line all the time,” the determined old man explained to me. For him, his country is synonymous with shortages, problems getting food, an old age of racing to get potatoes and fighting against those who want to get ahead of him in the line to buy eggs. The apartment he built with his own hands for the enjoyment of his children now has peeling walls and a clogged toilet. “With my pension I can’t arrange to get things fixed,” he detailed.

Even the elderly are packing their suitcases on this island… and from the scale model that is this Yugoslav-style building, old people are also saying goodbye.

* Translator’s note:
For more information about microbrigades see page 26 of this report by Cuban architect Mario Coyula.

The Job of a Father / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Eliecer Avila speaks of his father (14ymedio)
Eliecer Avila speaks of his father (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 21 June 2015 – When we are children we have an idyllic idea of who our father is. We see him as an invincible guardian, strong, fair, who feels no fear and protects us from all the dangers ahead of us in the world.

With the passing of time, two things can happen. One, you discover with disappointment a weak man, full of shortcomings, irresponsible and fearful who can’t even think, speak or act for himself. And to make it worse, he induces you to do the same, to fake it, to lie for the supposed “benefit of family tranquility.”

The other possibility is that on growing up you can verify that your father is actually what you always believed him to be.

I my case, I feel a profound happiness, because the second is what happened to me. Despite discovering, sometimes with a certain pain, that my father was not perfect, he wasn’t infallible and free of all failures, nor was he a stranger to fear and doubt. Today I can say he is a brave man, powerful in his word and his gaze. Firm in his support for me in the most difficult moments without failing to alert me about every aspect that he thinks I should consider.

Neither one of us can replace the other’s role in our lives. He cannot assume responsibility for and the cost of my actions, nor can I do so for his. But it is always an invaluable guarantee to know that he is there, watching with an experienced eye, supporting the trunk of the family tree so that it will grow straight. Ready to fight any plague or ruthless woodsman eager to cut me down from envy or malice.

It is my job to keep going and hopefully act so that my children will feel the same security I felt. I know that it will be difficult if I want to be his equal. But I intend to try, because I want to form with my own hands brave and free people, who not only belong to the future, but who will help to conquer and build it.

Today I congratulate all the fathers in the world. Especially those who, like mine, deserve to be congratulated.

March Of The Ladies In White Concludes Without Arrests This Sunday / 14ymedio

Activists supporting the Ladies in White Sunday on 5th Avenue. (Luz Escobar / 14ymedio)
Activists supporting the Ladies in White Sunday on 5th Avenue. (Luz Escobar / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 June 2015 – During the day, this Sunday, the Ladies and White held their traditional peregrination along Fifth Avenue in the vicinity of Santa Rita Church. Unlike the previous ten occasions, today no arrests were reported after the march, although at least 5 women belonging to the movement and 7 activists were detained to keep them from getting to the site.

In total, some 50 Ladies in White managed to get to the church and were accompanied on this occasion by 27 activists and independent journalists. Berta Soler confirmed to this newspaper that “there were no arrests after the Mass,” and that this Sunday they only “marched down Fifth Avenue, with the gladioli and the photos of the faces of the political prisoners,” but “out of respect for Father’s Day, after we finished each of us went to our own homes.”

Independent journalist Yuri Lazaro Valle Roca also reported to 14ymedio that there were no acts of repudiation nor the violent arrests that had characterized the previous Sundays.

Although there was a visible police operation in the area, the repressive forces did not proceed to arrest those who made it there.

Roads to Democracy for Cuba / 14ymedio

Conference participants gathered in Mexico. (14ymedio)
Conference participants gathered in Mexico. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 20 June 2015 — The second edition of the event Roads for a Democratic Cuba is taking place in Mexico from 18 to 23 June 2015 under the auspices of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Christian Democrat Organization of America (ODCA). Participating in this meeting are dozens of political activists and civil society leaders of the Island and the Diaspora. The event will continue through the weekend and until next Tuesday.

Among the topics discussed on the first day is the impact on the Island of everything related to the talks between the governments of Cuba and the United States for the purpose of restoring diplomatic relations. Other areas to be discussed are the options of the opposition, various proposals before a new Cuban Electoral Law and ways to strengthen Cuban civil society. continue reading

Among the participants from the island are Dagoberto Valdes, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Vladimiro Roca, Laritza Diversent, Juan Antonio Madrazo, Juan Carlos Gonzalez Leiva, Wilfredo Vallin, Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, Rosa Maria Rodriguez, Rafael León Rodríguez, Guillermo Fariñas and Boris Gonzalez Arenas.

The first meeting of the event was held last December 2014 in the Mexican capital. At that meeting they talked about the diversity of peaceful means to fight for democracy, the role of exile and the importance of identifying the minimum points of consensus to move forward, if not in the desired unity, at least in arranging purposes.

Conference participants gathered in Mexico. (14ymedio)
Conference poster for this year’s meeting.

“I feel like a war reporter” / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca. (14ymedio)
Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 20 June 2015 — A couple of weeks ago, the neighbors crowded onto the ground floor of a twelve-story building near Tulipan Street. “He committed suicide … They say he hanged himself with his own belt,” ran the rumor among them, while pointing to the apartment marked with number 1. The police presence in the area and patrols around the site confirmed that something had happened.

Some men in civilian clothes who were a part of the operation detailed it for the curious, “He was the nephew of Vladimiro Roca.” The information would take hours to be refuted, and many still don’t understand that the false suicide hid a raid to keep Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca from going out to do his work as an independent journalist. The bad taste with which the political police handled the matter, lying about the death of a man, competes in this case with the abuse of his rights. continue reading

Last Saturday, the reporter and activist sent a letter to representatives of the Inter American Press Association and Reporters Without Borders. It not only condemned the repression suffered by him, but also that against the “Ladies in White, opposition activists, journalists, bloggers, independent journalists and photojournalists committed to the struggle for civil rights.”

Friday, 14ymedio spoke with Valle Roca at his home to learn the details of his situation and the reasons that led him to write that letter.

14ymedio/Luz Escobar. When did the harassment against you begin?

Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca. Starting from when I begin to cover the news about the Ladies in White and I captured on video the arrests and beatings they received every Sunday. Starting from that moment I have been subjected to beatings, they have beat me on the legs and one time they fractured a rib. And State Security officials have told me very clearly, we do not want you to go to go to Santa Rita Church anymore, we do not want to see published any more images or recordings under your name, YuriTv, we don’t want you to put anything else on YouTube.”

14ymedio/Ruiz. The worst moment?

Valle Roca. On May 9, they threw me in a car here at Avenues 26 and 41. It was about ten at night. I had gone out to buy cigarettes. Later was the eighth Sunday of repression for the Ladies in White, who woke up in my apartment surrounded. From two in the morning there were police there and they justified their presence by telling the neighbors I had hanged myself. In reality, I was inside the house with two Ladies in White, as it was easier to get to Santa Rita Church from here. So we were going to go together.

14ymedio/Ruiz. Was it very hard to hear the news of your “own death” from the mouths of others?

Valle Roca. I see that as the story of “a death foretold.” I found out because the journalist Reinaldo Escobar called to ask what was going on. He said he was concerned because he had got the news from someone who passed by and asked. After the statements I gave him, then Radio Martí also called me and countless people, but it was all false.

14ymedio/Ruiz. And last Sunday you were again a victim of repression?

Valle Roca. The political police intercepted me on 28th Street between 7th and 9th in Playa. It was a very spectacular arrest; without explaining the reasons, I was immobilized, handcuffed and they threw me back of the car. After several turns they took me out in Coyula Park and put me in another car with four other men. When I figured out where I was I was in Villa Marista [a State Security prison]. Where I was warned by a senior official, and finally they took me in a car to a deserted grassy area.

He put the gun to my head and then kicked me in the side and told me, “You already know what’s going to happen to you.”

The one on my right got out, opened the door and drew his weapon. He put the gun to my head and then kicked me in the side and told me, “You already know what’s going to happen to you.” They got in the car and from there threw me my cellphone and backpack. I got out and tried to orient myself until I managed to reach Via Blanca where, thank God, a truck stopped for me. The driver asked if I’d been left stranded and I made up a story about having been assaulted, I thought if I told him the truth he would be afraid. He left me off near Sports City.

14ymedio/Ruiz. How did the idea come up to write a letter?

Valle Roca. I didn’t do it for me but for all my fellow journalists who are suffering the same thing. For example, for Enrique Díaz and Vladimir Turró Páez who are also being threatened with death. We want to document all these allegations of threats on video, a video with all the journalists who are in danger. Journalists in similar situations include Agustín López Canino, Juan González Febles, Luis Serafin, Rubén Dario Garcia and Angel Moya, who make videos and also bring to light a lot of information about the Ladies in White. It’s for all of them that I wrote the letter.

14ymedio/Ruiz. Has the repression limited the work of independent journalists?

Valle Roca. Not at all, we continue working. They believe they’ve discredited us a little, but we continue denouncing what goes on. When I can’t leave my house, I report by phone, and Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles is also collecting testimonies. Of course, sometimes they affect us because they take our cameras or phones and they erase all the recorded contents, but we continue to work.

They believe they’ve discredited us a little, but we continue denouncing what goes on

14ymedio/Ruiz. What journalistic techniques do you use in your work?

Valle Roca. Especially photography and video. I film and shot photos with my cellphone. Then I have to edit and convert them for uploading. I edit them in Adobe Premier.

14ymedio/Ruiz. What reaction do you expect to your letter?

Valle Roca. That solidarity with reporters will increase and that there will be a statement to help us to continue to make known what is happening and that a commitment on the part of the government is achieved. I feel as if I were a war reporter, under constant threat.

14ymedio/Ruiz. Do all your neighbors now know that the suicide story was a lie?

Valle Roca. They have been very supportive. With our humor, we Cubans can laugh at anything. Now in the neighborhood they call me “the hanged man.” That Sunday on the underground lottery played in our area the numbers that came up were 79, which is exactly “hanged man,” and 7 which is “shit and police.

Twitter Intends A Stronger Presence In Cuba / 14ymedio

Mobile app icons (CC)
Mobile app icons (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 June 2015 — The microblogging service Twitter has expressed interest to the Cuban government in expanding access to the service from the Island, the US magazine Politico reported Wednesday. Given the lack of infrastructure in the country and the lack of Internet connections, the California-based firm asks that in the short-term Cubans can begin to tweet through text messages, from a local number also known as a “short code.”

The company’s public policy director Colin Crowell met with staff from the Cuban Interests Section in Washington DC to discuss the matter. “Cuba is one of the few places in the world where we don’t have an agreement so that users can tweet through text messages (SMS),” explains Crowell. As of now it is only possible to tweet through the service’s international numbers, at a cost of 0.60 CUC for each tweet. continue reading

The small but intense community of independent tweeters on the Island, comprising a little fewer than two hundred people, has spent years demanding that facilities be offered for publication via text messages.

Cuba officials, according to Crowell, are open to the change. Although there is not yet a date for a meeting on the Island to formalize the agreement, Twitter management hopes that the negotiations will take place “as soon as possible.”

Following the announcement of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Havana and Washington last December, several technology companies are sounding out the terrain to gain a foothold on the island.

According to several US media, Google presented a proposal to the Cuban Government to participate in the infrastructure on the Island. Representatives of the company, on a business trip in Havana this week, however, did not confirm the news.

Twitter stresses that there a strong interest among users on issues tied to the Island, both among Cubans in exile as well as in the hemisphere in general. “We want to do everything we can to increase the possibilities for Cubans to make their voices heard,” added Crowell. “We would love to have more Cuban voices on our platform.”

Human Rights Group Estimates At Least 71 Political Prisoners In Cuba / EFE (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), 19 June 2015 – The dissident group Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) estimates that there are at least 71 people imprisoned on the Island for “political reasons or through politically directed procedures,” almost half the number documented a year ago.

The organizations says that the total prison population in Cuba is between 60,000 and 70,000 people, the highest number in Latin America on a per capita basis, given the 11 million inhabitants of the country, and they suggest there may be more imprisoned on political grounds.

The statement, signed by CCDHRN spokesperson Elizardo Sanchez, acknowledged that the number of prisoners of conscience in Cuba has decreased and is now far from the 15,000 of 50 years ago; but warns of the risk that these data may change. continue reading

“The risk of increasing the number of such prisoners remains dormant since the regime continues to criminalize the exercise of all civil and political rights and other fundamental rights through an archaic Penal Code which, in its origins, was a mere copy, quasi-plagiarized, of that of the former Soviet Union,” Sanchez said.

The organization denounces the fact that many political prisoners are in jail under the legal concept of pre-criminal social dangerousness, an “unlawful monstrosity” according to the CCDHRN, which indicates that the people interned “are essentially innocent” and that the actions imputed to them do not constitute crimes, but are based on a “simple police presumption.”

“The risk of increasing the number of such prisoners remains dormant since the regime continues to criminalize the exercise of all civil and political rights”

This presumption by the authorities leads to “very summary trials, in which there is no need for proof through oral or material evidence or documentation of any other kind.”

The CCDHRN also recalls the case of the eleven former prisoners of conscience from the Group of 75 — imprisoned during the crackdown of the Black Spring of 2003 – released on parole but prevented from leaving the country.

They also demand the release “on humanitarian grounds” of 21 prisoners for “crimes against the state” carrying between 12 and 23 years in prison in “extreme conditions.”

The CCDHRN is the only organization in Cuba that undertakes a counting of political prisoners in the country; although they admit that counting an exhaustive list is very difficult because the Cuban government is “closed and opaque” and only “a handful of senior officials know the exact numbers.”

The Government of Cuba considers the dissidents “counter-revolutionaries” and “mercenaries.”

Lost Values / 14ymedio, Fernando Damaso

Act of repudiation in the Civil Society Forum at the Americas Summit in Panama

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Damaso, Havana, 16 June 2014 — The theme of the loss of values ​​and their restoration in Cuban society has become an obsession for government authorities, but everything moves more along the line of speeches, staged scenes and slogans, rather than in a serious search for the causes and the application of effective measures to help change the situation.

In the much vilified Republican era there prevailed ethical and moral values among the majority of Cubans that no distortion of history can deny. Honesty, respect, dignity, the value of one’s word, honor, social discipline, education, treating people well and many others were passed along by the family, school and society. There were inculcated in individuals from the time they were small and became natural attributes of Cubans of that time, regardless of age or social background. There were also those who ignored them, but they were few and constantly faced public opinion and rejection. continue reading

To now attribute the loss of these values to the dazzle for many of the consumer society is the wrong approach to the problem

This situation was inherited by the new regime established as of 1959. For some years they were maintained but with the passage of time, the dispersion of the family, the decline in educational requirements, and the repetition of empty speeches, a dent was made in the values. To this is added the failure to keep many promises, the deterioration of the economy, wages and miserable pensions and the loss of credibility among the leaders. All this eroded the values that had characterized Cubans during the colonial and Republican eras.

To now attribute the loss of these values to the dazzle for many of the consumer society is the wrong approach to the problem. During the Republican era we were much more consumer oriented than right now, because we had the economic resources to be so, and always maintained it.

Material misery engenders moral misery. That is the principal cause of the loss of values. As the material misery of Cubans increased, due to a broken economic system, not only incapable of producing wealth but even of producing the necessities for a decent living, the premise of “every man for himself” was imposed.

It is not with empty words, roundtables, workshops, conferences and other bureaucratic inventions, nor with the forced signing of ethic codes, that the lost values are restored, but with concrete, effective and deep economic measures that will lift the country out of the crisis in which it finds itself, and where Cubans can again live as citizens and even dream. These measures must be accompanied by social and political changes where citizenship again acquires its real value, which never should have been stripped away.

Until this happens, everything will be a waste of time.

Cuba Offers English Exams Required for Universities in the United States / 14ymedio

Private English classes in Cuba (14ymedio)
Private English classes in Cuba (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 18 June 2015 – For the first time Cuba will be the site of two English exams needed for admission to most universities in the United States, according to a report this Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal.

Four Cuban students will take the Test of English as a Foreign Language in Havana on Saturday, June 27. The qualification is a world standard for the admission of non-Anglophone students to universities in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, among other countries. continue reading

The organization providing the test, the Educational Testing Service, has also announced plans to offer the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), an entrance exam required by many American universities for admission to graduate studies, despite the logistical obstacles stemming from the lack of technological infrastructure and financing in the country. This latter test will be given in October.

According to José Santiago, head of the GRE exam for the Educational Testing Service, this testing schedule reflects the interests of American universities in enrolling Cuban students after the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana.

For now, no additional testing dates are scheduled on the Island. “There are still many issues to resolve,” explains Santiago, adding that he is working with two Cuban universities to turn their computer classrooms into sites for the official exams.

Students who want to take the tests confront several obstacles, including paying by credit card and the poor quality of the equipment for the listening tests.

Operation Miracle, Not Available to Cubans / 14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa

In the opticians on Martí Street in the provincial capital, the supply of frames is as low as in the rest of the province (Fernando Donate / 14ymedio)
In the opticians on Martí Street in the provincial capital, the supply of frames is as low as in the rest of the province (Fernando Donate / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Fernando Donate Ochoa, Holguin, 19 June 2015 — Operation Miracle has as its objective to return vision to or cure any ophthalmological problem for low-income citizens of poor countries. The humanitarian project was started in mid-2004 under the leadership of the governments of Cuba and Venezuela, and thanks to it about a million patients have been operated on every year. However, this medical service has not been as successful inside Cuba as it has been abroad.

The surgical waiting list extends more than 30 days in the Ophthalmology Center at the Lucia Iniguez Landin Clinical Surgical Teaching Hospital in the city of Holguin. The departure of professionals to other sectors and the exodus caused by international medical missions have contributed to the increase in service deficiencies. To this is added the lack of surgical instruments and difficulties with the air conditioning in operating rooms, sources from local hospital officials explained to 14ymedio. continue reading

Supply problems for frames and lenses in the eyeglass industry don’t help to improve the eyecare situation in Holguin, with the Provincial Company of Pharmacy and Optics continuing to experience problems since last year. The eyeglass frames that can be seen in Holguin establishments are few, outdated and uncomfortable, leading most customers to reject them.

The situation has reached the extreme that, on occasion, the customer is asked to bring their own frames to hold the lenses

The problem affects not only the four opticians of the capital city. According to Caridad Garcia, a worker at one of the establishments on centrally located Martí Street, the shortage extends to the other ten opticians in the province.

The situation has reached the extreme that, on occasion, the customer is asked to bring their own frames to hold the lenses. However, there are also delays with the graduated glass, because the lens grinding workshop lacks the specialized personnel needed, and the equipment frequently breaks down, having been in use for 20 years without renovations.

The National Directorate of Public Health has reported that the country does not have sufficient resources to meet demand, a fact for which there does not appear to be a short or medium term solution.

Currently, 4,405 Holguin health professionals are serving on international missions spread across 45 countries.

WiFi is Extended Throughout Cuba / 14ymedio

The area outside Kcho's Romerillo Studio has become a meeting point for those seeking wifi. (14ymedio)
The area outside Kcho’s Romerillo Studio has become a meeting point for those seeking wifi. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 June 2015 — “It’s never too late if the WiFi is good,” the officials of the Cuban Telecommuniations Company (Etecsa) might say, announcing the opening in the coming weeks of 35 Internet browsing rooms with WiFi technology in public spaces throughout the country. The information was published this Thursday in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) and comes just when people’s demand for connectivity has reached a point that makes it hard for the authorities of the sector to ignore it.

Luis Manuel Díaz Naranjo, Director of Communications for Etecsa, told the official press that the service will be implemented at the beginning of July, as the company is still engaged “in working on adjustments to the heart of the center that will operate this kind of wireless network technology.” continue reading

Wireless networks will be accessible in the locations under the name of WIFI_ETECSA, like those already operating under this name in the international terminal of Havana’s Jose Marti Airport, and in several hotels in the country. All those who have an account – temporary or permanent – with Etesca’s Nauta service will be able to access it through cellphones, personal computers, tablets or other technological devices with wireless signal receivers.

Another welcome announcement has been the reduction in price for an hour of navigation time, which as of July 1st will be 2 CUC versus the current 4.50 CUC, although in recent months reloads have been offered at half that price. Diaz Naranjo acknowledged, however, that “it is still not the target price,” in a country where the average monthly salary doesn’t exceed the equivalent of 30 CUC.

The official clarified that it is not a new service, but “a new method of access” for what is offered today in Etecsa’s public navigation rooms and at the Computing and Electronics Youth Clubs.

In the interview, Diaz Naranjo specified that the connection speed could reach 1 megabyte per user and that the number of people who can navigate at the same time could vary between 50 and 100, according to the size of the area included in the wireless network.


The 35 places that will implement this WiFi signal in Havana are: La Rampa, from the Malecon to Yara Cinema; La Lisa park located on Avenue 51; Fe del Valle park, on Galiano and San Rafael; the Marianao Amphitheater; and the Paseo de la Villa Panamerica. In Pinar del Rio: Independencia and Roberto Amarán parks. Artemisa: Boulevard and de la Iglesia park. Mayabeque: Guines Park and Boulevard de San Jose. Matanzas: Liberty and Peñas Altas parks. Villa Clara: Leoncio Vidal and Remedios parks.

The city of Cienfuegos will have wireless navigation in Martí Park and Rápido Punta Gorda. Sancti Spíritus: Céspedes, de Trinidad, and Serafín Sánchez parks. Ciego de Ávila: Martí and Morón parks. Camagüey: Agramonte Park and Plaza del Gallo. Las Tunas: Plaza Martiana and Tanque de Buena Vista. Holguín: Calixto García and Julio Grave de Peralta parks. Granma: Boulevards Bayamo and Manzanillo. Santiago de Cuba: Céspedes, Ferreiro and Plaza de Marte parks. Guantánamo: Martí Park and Baracoa Central Park. Isla de la Juventud: Boulevard Nueva Gerona.

Etecsa also plans to make adjustments to the Enet and Nauta email platforms, which today have more than 800,000 users across the country. The email service will be interrupted in the early morning of June 23, which has triggered speculations among the public about the possibility of the coming of mobile connections to the web.

In a call to the service number 118, an operator explained to this newspaper that the reason for the planned suspension on the 23rd was for transferring the platform, which is moving “from its current site in the capital’s Cubanacan neighborhood, to another located in Fontanar.”

For some weeks, in the early morning hours, users accessing Nauta service from their cellphones could experience a change in the message access protocols such as IMAP and POP. During the hours of lower traffic, the directions for downloading emails will appear redirected to the Enet service, an Internet connection option for foreigners, businesses and foreign press correspondents residing on the Island.

In recent days two directors from the Google giant, Bret Perlmutter, of Google Ideas, and Brehanna Zwart, of Google Access and Energy, have been in Cuba. Several American publications announced last week that the company had made a proposal to the Cuban government to participate in the Island’s connectivity infrastructure.

Almendrón Stories / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

The almendrones that abound in Havana retain the original body but the mechanical part is almost always modern. (Lilianne Ruiz / 14ymedio)
The almendrones that abound in Havana retain the original body but the mechanical part is almost always modern. (Lilianne Ruiz / 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 17 June 2015 — Noisy and filthy, with an air of Hollywood films of the 50s, they often evoke the words of Galileo: “And yet it moves.” The almendrones*, pre-1959 cars that abound in Havana, retain their original bodies but the mechanical parts are almost always modern.

A 1954 Ford may contain a Hyundai gas engine designed for minibus, a Mitsubishi transmission, a Toyota differential, Suzuki Vitara hydraulic steering, a Peugeot dashboard, Moskovich disk brakes from the Soviet era, a Mercedes Benz master cylinder, with the chassis and grill original to the make.

This combination means that the spherical steering system might not last three months with Havana’s potholes, or the emergency brakes may not work well. It’s a violation of the laws of physics and engineers if the weight of the car doesn’t match the brake system. Still and all, we have the perception that 90% of the cars circulating in the Cuban capital are almendrones. continue reading

These vehicles pass from hand to hand. Many of the Cubans who today have an almendrón, acquired it thanks to financial help from relatives abroad. In the informal market, the prices of these cars are over 10,000 CUC. The private taxi drivers, driving taxis with fixed rates of 10 and 20 Cuban pesos (CUP), have predetermined routes from the city center to various points on the periphery.

In order for the cars to be able to circulate, they must be inspected at the Automotive Technical Review Company, popularly known by drivers as the “somatón.” And, either because the almendrones always have some technical failure, or because they are what they are, the drivers agree that to “get” a favorable report that allows them to continue to operate they have to pay between 30 and 50 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).

Maykel Perdomo is 32 and drives a ’54 Plymouth. “It is understandable and necessary to have these controls,” he says after lowering the volume on the reggaeton coming from the domestic speakers anchored above the rear seat. “What is not logical is the level of corruption and that the demands are so high when there is no appropriate market to buy spare parts,” he adds.

Drivers agree that to “get” a favorable report that allows them to continue to operate they have to pay between 30 and 50 CUC

All maintenance and parts replacement is done in the informal market. In State shops there is no good access to spare parts and to get them requires a network of contacts in State companies such as Rent-a-Car, where they sell some “under the table.” If you have the money to pay it’s possible you can find what you need there. “The people who work at Rent-a-Car don’t live on their wages. They divert whatever and sell it. Normally there are parts there to meet the needs of the cars rented to tourists,” he continued.

But there are also machinists in clandestine workshops who are dedicated to retooling parts for these antiques. “When an original piece breaks you have to create it, you can’t replace it. You have to go to a machinist to do it for you. It’s very expensive and often the piece doesn’t fit and you have to return it.”

The same thing happens with fuel. The vast majority of the almendrones used as rental cars have been re-engineered to work with oil. Oil-burning engines are offered by the State and can cost some 7,000 CUC, but they don’t come with a guarantee.

Nor is there any wholesale market to buy fuel at a lower price. In the State’s CUPET gas stations, a liter of oil costs 1.10 CUC. The almendrón drivers prefer to buy it from truck drivers or bus drivers, who sell it illegally at half the price. “If you buy oil from CUPET, you have to raise the price of a ride.”

Oil-burning engines are offered by the State and can cost some 7,000 CUC, but they don’t come with a guarantee.

All this clandestine trade creates a gap in the revenue and expense ledgers. The drivers can’t declare buying anything on the illegal circuit, and so they leave blank the spaces where they should declare expenses. “On the black market you don’t receive any proof and it’s also illegal. If you tell, you’d be confessing to a crime. Then, you’re also forced to underreport your income, balancing the expenses you can’t declare,” the driver says.

The National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) makes a calculated estimate of what each carrier should have earned. Based on that estimate it can impose very high fines if it believes that the self-employed worker hasn’t told the whole truth. “It’s completely arbitrary because there are a lot of days that you can’t go to work because the car is broken, or you have personal problems, or you just want to take a day off. If one day you make 1,000 CUP it doesn’t mean that every day of the month is going to be the same. Without proof that you’re lying when it’s time to declare, they can impose a fine,” he laments.

The almendrón of Thomas Qunitana, who is also a driver, was broken down more than it was running, although he didn’t, because of this, fail to pay his taxes. One day, however, he had to recognize he couldn’t make it and returned his license. After a year and a half without working as a driver for hire, ONAT communicated to him that he had to pay a fine of around 60,000 CUP (about $2,400US) for having underdeclared his income. “They told me they had a right to do this for five years. If you turn in your license you have to keep all the papers of when you were working for the whole time,” said Qunitana, who had to hire a lawyer to try to free himself from the fine, a process he is still engaged in.

But there is another problem. If a self-employed worker earns more than 2,000 CUC a year, he or she enters a higher tax bracket, and has to pay 50% to the State

A policeman told him he was speeding. In exchange for not fining him, he asked for 10 CUC and the shorts he was wearing

Monthly, the drivers also have to pay three other types of contributions to the treasury: a monthly tax on the declaration of personal income of 10%, another for social security that has to be paid every three months, and a fixed tax. This last, in the municipality of Plaza of the Revolution, increased from 450 CUP to 800 CUP from May 2013 to March 2014.

“When you ask why they raised a flat tax, they don’t give you a logical argument. But it happens that, even though it increases, we self-employed don’t see any improvement in public services or in social security. Nor do we see a wholesale market where we can buy parts or fuel, nor improvements in the ate of the roads, nor credit facilities so we can make investments,” Quintana lists.

The drivers have to renew their operating license every year, which also means coming up with 500 CUP. In addition, there are other amounts they are forced to pay: those demanded by corrupt cops. Maykel Perdomo remembers a day when a uniformed cop stopped him while he was driving and said he was speeding. In exchange for not fining him, he asked for 10 CUC and even the shorts he was wearing. “When they behave like this, what recourse do we have? When you go to another regiment in the system, they are plugged into each other.”

To recover the initial investment in an almendrón within two or three years is impossible, but there is also the risk of losing everything. “If you crash the almendrón it’s going to cost you 16,000 CUC, you have a year of paying taxes with all those expenses that are massive and the State insurance company can’t cover everything, you’re going to go bankrupt,” concludes Perdomo.

*Translator’s note: “Almendron” derives from the Spanish word for “almond”; the use of this sobriquet comes from the shape of the cars.

Che Guevara, the Commercial Fetish / 14ymedio, Hector Dario Reyes

The murals with the Argentinean’s face cannot escape the wear and tear of a reality that little resembles what he planned
The murals with the Argentinean’s face cannot escape the wear and tear of a reality that little resembles what he planned (Silvia Corbelle/14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Hector Dario Reyes, Santa Clara, 15 June 2015 – “He was a man surrounded by good photographers,” is how a clever self-employed tour guide describes Ernesto Guevara to his clients in the streets of Santa Clara. The man lives by showing the face of the Argentine and telling of his hyperbolic exploits. This Sunday he has had good profits, taking advantage of the 87th anniversary of the birth of one who long ago stopped being a hero and turned into a fetish.

With the passage of the years, the plundering of the guerrilla’s image and the commercialization of his likeness have been imposed on this island. “Santa Clara, the city of Marta and of Che,” says the motto of the provincial capital, although Guevara was not born here. The Villa Clara capital tries to extract a return from the cheesiest ornaments with his name, and the whole tourist network is fed with some bit of his story.

Canek Sanchez Guevara, recently deceased musician and writer and grandson of the Cuban revolutionary commander, hated the t-shirts and pictures of his grandfather. “There is one that unifies his face with that of Christ that is really degrading,” he told his friends. continue reading

Since his death in 1967 and when the Havana photographer Korda gave his mage to an Italian publicist, international trade has encouraged a Che-rebel pseudo-fashion. Although t-shirts with his face abound in stores all over the world, it is in Cuba where that image of beret and jacket has profited most. As with other excesses so characteristic of our idiosyncrasy, in this also we overdid it.

“Here in this city can be found almost all the ways of remembering him that would have annoyed him.”

In Santa Clara there is even a Mate House, home of a historian who collects those traditional Argentinean accessories used for drinking the beverage extracted from the herb of the same name. “I began with the first mates, and when I had many, I placed them decoratively, then I put the image of Che Guevara on the door,” says the man who made a killing from then on. “My objective is to collect them and for people to come to see the display and drink the mate,” is how he explains his publicity strategy.

“Cuba commercializes Che,” says an alert tourist. From berets to bad songs, allegorical t-shirts, bags, bad oil paintings and ashtrays where tobacco is put out right in that face with the majestic gaze. Everyone wants to take advantage of the Argentine. From government institutions and artists to prostitutes or old men who exchange three peso bills with his image for one convertible peso. Che Guevara has become a bargaining chip.

“Santa Clara bases its tourism on the remains of the guerrilla,” the tour guide says ironically. “Here in this city can be found almost all the ways of remembering him that would have annoyed him.”

Another of his grandchildren organizes, in his name, motorcycle tours of the Island on nothing less than Harley-Davidsons. “In memory of the trip through Latin America on the Ponderosa,” he explains to interested clients. Although everyone knows that he made that historic journey “on a Norton 500,” wryly reminds a mechanic who has his garage a few meters from the sculpture complex where official propaganda asserts that the remains of the politico together with 29 of his companions are found.

In Santa Clara his image swarms in the Artex premises like a provincially manufactured product. “The myth is not sold, it is collected with the image,” says a local, tired of stumbling over that gaze everywhere.

Billboards and walls show phrases and drawings that sometimes do not match his face or were not even uttered by him

Opposite the monument to the armored train, a kiosk overflowing with t-shirts, berets, and postcards. A kilometer further, another statue of the guerrilla stands across from the headquarters of the Provincial Party Committee. They receive many foreigners there, who frequently place flower bouquets at the feet of the statue, “because the guidebook says so,” says a Canadian with the look of one who blindly follows to the letter everything that those travel books say.

Another line of exploitation, less profitable but equally petty, is the use of Guevara’s image for ideological purposes. Billboards and walls show phrases and drawings that sometimes do not match his face or were not even uttered by him, but the purpose is to show that his myth and his ideology are believed in.

Che is not only used in the revolutionary exhibition plan, but also to hide some things. Like in the Santa Clara mausoleum, where a giant fence across from the monument prevents foreigners from seeing the marginality of the neighborhood that surrounds Revolution Plaza. His eyes are directed there from the main sculpture; so that, as a popular saying recites, “In Santa Clara, Che watches the poor.”

Translated by MLK