Cienfuegos Left Without Food After Hurricane Irma

Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura (plaid shirt) tours agricultural areas in the province of Cienfuegos. (Cinco de septiembre)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Caridad Cruz, Cienfuegos/Miami, 28 September 2017 — A strong smell of urine permeates the Russian-style apartment while Margot cooks a couple of pork steaks. “They are boar [the male pig], that’s why the smell,” she explains. Getting food in Cienfuegos, a city that was only affected by the edges of Hurricane Irma, has become an odyssey, according to its residents.

“There’s a man who sells pork from a pushcart and we buy it. What are we going to do if every time we want to buy something in the market, the lines are gigantic?” says Margot as she tries to remove the bad smell from the meat with some basil and a little ‘complete seasoning’ that she scrapes out of a nearly empty jar.

“They deceived me, I spent my monthly pension on ten pounds of stinking meat that there is no choice but to eat it,” she laments. continue reading

The authorities of Cienfuegos have imposed a severe rationing after Hurrican Irma. Eggs, vegetables and meat are regulated and you can only buy a certain amount per person “to avoid speculation.”

“The unrationed eggs have all been taken to Villa Clara because there they don’t even have a pot to piss in,” says the clerk at a point of sale in Calzada de Dolores, one of the main arteries of the city.

The alternative to chicken eggs are duck and quail eggs, which are sold in the Ministry of Internal Commerce stores, but it’s enough to check the stores to confirm that in many of them there are no eggs of any kind.

“There are no eggs in the whole city. It’s because of the hurricane,” another shop assistant explains.

In order to buy fruits or vegetables, the situation is similar. In the markets where the prices are controlled by the state, people line up from early in the morning, while in the uncontrolled markets and from the pushcarts, prices are skyrocketing.

“The state is to blame for this situation,” says Margot. “Television announces that all the countries are sending aid, but they use it only for Havana, which is where people throw themselves into the streets [to protest],” she explains.

Although the official media did not make reference to the protest of 13 September in Havana sparked by the absence of electricity and water, the videos of the demonstration have gone viral through the ‘weekly packet’.

“As long as people remain silent, things are going to stay the same, but nobody wants to be cannon fodder,” he laments.

Although the damages in the province were minimal, compared to the north of Villa Clara, Ciego de Avila and Camagüey, the city was without electricity for more than 96 hours due to failures in the local thermo-electrical plant.

In the midst of this situation, Cuban Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, 86, along with the Communist Party’s staff in the territory, toured some of the province’s agricultural sites where, according to the local press, he got “the commitment” of the farmers to “produce more food.”

In the Hard Currency Collection Stores (TRD) – as the state chain of outlets is officially called – the availability of meat, poultry and cans of fish has been reduced in recent weeks. “Before the cyclone, there was almost nothing,” said Magalis, a customer at the La Casa Mimbre store. “What they have left is at exorbitant prices, which no worker can buy.”

Cuba reduced imports by more than 1.5 billion dollars in the first half of the year, which in the opinion of economists has had a direct effect on the worsening of shortages in state stores.

“They recently opened a market here near (La Casa Mimbre), but between the lines, the little assortment and the high prices it’s not worth going,” she says.

“There is an Italian cheese that I suppose is the worst of what’s available in the world’s markets, but here a single kilogram costs 20.05 CUC (roughly $20 US), more than an entire month’s salary,” she protests.

“Being A Teacher Is Not Profitable In Cuba But It Teaches You To Love”

The damages to educational quality caused by the lack of preparation of the “emerging teachers” remain to be measured. (Telesur)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Caridad Cruz/Mario Penton, Cienfuegos/Miami, 17 April 2017 – teaching children cursive writing and educating them is much more than a job for Adrian, an elementary school teacher in Ciego de Avila. His threadbare pants stained with chalk dust make clear that he is not one of those most favored by the economic changes on the island, even with the recent 200 Cuban peso (about $8 US) raise in his monthly salary, which he received for teaching 27 third graders, more than the state class size norms.

In January, Ministry of Education Resolution 31 decreed a selective salary increase of between 200 and 250 Cuban pesos for those teachers who have more students in their classrooms than the norms set for primary education. In the case of junior high and high schools, the teachers who teach more than one subject also receive a cash incentive. continue reading

“Money is not the main thing in life, rather it is fulfillment, and that is what my profession gives me,” says this 29-year-old “emergent” teacher, who graduated in the years in which the chronic absence of teachers made Fidel Castro launch his Battle of Ideas and graduate thousands of young people as teachers with just eight months of training.

At that time the hook used by the Government was exemption from compulsory military service and the possibility of getting a university degree in humanities without passing the qualifying exams.

Most of the young people who started the project left after the first years of work in one of the lowest paid professions in the country.

The damages to the quality of education caused by the lack of preparation of these emerging teachers remain to be measured, although with the arrival of Raúl Castro to the power in 2006, that program, like the other programs of the Battle of Ideas fell by the wayside.

“In January they raised the salary, but they do not want to call it a salary increase because it only affects those who have more than 25 children in the classroom, but at least it’s something,” he says.

At the beginning of the century, Cuba decided to limit class size to 20 students, but the chronic shortage of teachers and the exodus of professionals to other better paid work prevented this plan from being maintained.

“For years I did the same job and they did not pay me extra,” Adrian laments. “The workers union’s only purpose is to march on the first of May of the plaza. They never demand anything.”

Adrian has a salary of 570 pesos, about 23 dollars. He lives with his mother, a retired teacher of 68, and he is the family’s main support. His salary “is not enough,” he confesses, so he secretly sells treats among the students at recess.

“If it was not for that, I could not make ends meet,” he says. “After all, nobody can live on their salary in Cuba.”

The average salary of education professionals has hardly increased in recent years. In 2013 it was 512 pesos, two years later, 537 pesos

Teachers are not allowed to engage in business activities in schools, but many principals turn a blind eye to avoid losing the few experienced teachers they have left.

“They say that in some provinces, like Matanzas, the state sells food products to teachers at subsidized prices (above and beyond what is in the rationing system). If they did that, at least I would not have to sell candy,” he adds.

The average salary of education professionals has hardly increased in recent years. In 2013 it was 512 Cuban pesos, two years later, in 2015, official data confirm that the average wage is 537 pesos, the equivalent of about 21 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) per month.

The current real wage, after deducting accumulated inflation, is equivalent to only 28% of the 1989 purchasing power, according to calculations by economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago.

Adrian’s mother, Elisa, recalls the years when she began as a “Makarenko” teacher (a collectivist method created by the Russian pedagogue of the same name) in the ’60s and says that the difficulties now are nothing compared to what her generation experienced.

“We earned 87 pesos a month and to be a teacher you had to climb Pico Turquino (the highest mountain in Cuba) and teach in very different places. There is nothing like teaching, it is teaching a person to fly. It’s the best profession in the world. If I were born again I would be a teacher again,” she says.

In the past academic year 2015-2016, there were 4,218 fewer teachers compared to the previous year. The trend has been accentuated since the 2008-2009 academic year in which official statistics begin to reflect the massive hemorrhaging of educators.

Numbers of teachers in front of the classroom — 2005 to 2016. Source: Statistical yearbook of Cuba.

“Despite the salary of teachers and the conditions in which they perform their work, many remain in their posts. A driver in the city earns in one week what an education professional earns in a month,” says Elisa.

She receives a pension of 230 Cuban pesos a month, about 9 CUC. In the afternoons she has a small group of six children that she tutors for the price of 2 CUC per month each.

“I do it to help my son. We have to pay for the refrigerator, and life has become very expensive: a liter of oil costs almost a quarter of my retirement, and don’t even talk about the price of milk. Luckily I have an ulcer and they give me a ration of milk,” says the teacher.

Every afternoon Adrian collects the 27 notebooks of his students to review them carefully and correct the spelling mistakes. Jhonatán, “a javaito (Afro-Cuban) who escaped the devil,” helps him to carry them home.

“That nine-year-old boy’s mother was arrested because he was a jinetera (a prostitute). He lives with his father who is an alcoholic and who often beats him. The only signs of affection he receives are in school,” says Elisa.

“Being a teacher is not profitable but it teaches you to love,” the retired teacher says with emotion. “Sometimes Adriancito even buys the boy shoes because he has nothing to wear to school.”

Cuba’s Self-Employed Join State Union to Avoid Trouble / 14ymedio, Mario Penton and Caridad Cruz

Street vendor in Havana (14ymedio)
Street vendor in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton/Caridad Cruz, Miami/Cienfuegos, 24 June 2016 – Like every morning, Maria Elena and Enrique go out to sell vegetables, tubers and fruits in the streets of Cienfuegos. At temperatures of more than 86 degrees and with a sun that “cracks stones,” they travel the city carrying their products house to house and earning their bread, literally by the sweat of their brows. They are part of the more than 12,600 self-employed legally registered in the offices of the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT) in the province, a not inconsiderable number for the officials of the Cuba Workers Central Union (CTC) which has seen in these “workers” an opportunity to increase their ranks.

Cuba has a unionization rate of almost 96%. According to official statistics, more than three million workers belong to18 unions that are grouped under the umbrella of the Cuban Workers Central Union, which functions as a conveyor belt for the Communist Party’s “instructions.” continue reading

“Our work day begins at five in the morning. At that hour we have to go wait for the truck that brings the merchandise from the towns. Those who transport the products are the ones who negotiate the price with the farmer, and we negotiate with them. Sometimes people don’t understand the high prices, but it’s because everyone needs to eat,” says Maria Elena.

The self-employed woman is 53-years-old and her son is 19. They have chosen this way of earning a living because, as they say, “working for the State does not provide.”

“Sometimes the inspectors come and fine us because we are stopped in a place. Of course, you can always resolve it with some little gift: some cucumbers, a pound of tomatoes…everyone has needs,” she says.

CTC leaders have found in these problems the breeding ground for promoting membership.

“The street vendors have basic problems with the inspectors. The advantage of belonging to the union is that if they unfairly fine you, the workers can come to our offices and have the situation analyzed. If they show that the sanction has been unjust, we can intervene for its dismissal. Belonging to the CTC, you are protected,” says a union member who prefers to not give his name.

According to the vendors, the union have been inviting them for months to become part of the Agricultural Workers Union. “We don’t understand why, but it seems that they want everyone to be unionized,” says Enrique, who also says that, “it does not solve anything for the people.”

Several leaders of the CTC consulted by this daily said that more than 80% of the self-employed people in this area are enrolled in some union.

Union dues vary between two and eight pesos according to the worker’s earnings, although the majority of self-employed pay the minimum. The members also have to pay “My contribution to the homeland,” an update of the concept of “día de haber” – the “voluntary donation of a day’s wages to the Territorial Military Troops, to be spent to acquire weapons for the “defense of the homeland.”*

“People are not much interested in unionization, they do it simply so that they don’t get screwed by them,” explains Roberto, a man self-employed as a scissors and nail clippers sharpener.

“Sometimes they fine us just for the fact of remaining a long time in the same place selling. What happens is that these days there is so much sun that we have to take refuge under a shrub for a while in order to sell, and there the inspectors fall on you. Since our license is issued for mobile vendors, we cannot spend too much time in the same place,” says Enrique, who believes that the self-employed workers are the most vulnerable.

“You can be fined about 700 pesos for selling too much on one corner. But what’s a reasonable time that you can be in that place is not noted on any official document, it is at the complete discretion of the inspectors who take advantage of any reason to impose a sanction,” he says.

Although the Government promotes its organizations by all means, barely 48% of membership attends union meetings in Cienfuegos, as recognized by the official press. Independent union organizations exist in the country, like the Cuban Independent Union Coalition, heavily harassed by State Security. However, none of the self-employed consulted for this report say they are familiar with them.

The southern city’s statistics reveal what is a fact at the national level. After some first months in which the self-employed were left alone, the CTC encouraged carrying out “political work” in order to make them enter the ranks of the organization. According to their numbers, more than 400,000 “self-employed workers,” of the 500,000 registered in the country, belong to the official organization. For the moment, the creation of a union just for the self-employed continues to be a project “under study.”

“There is no other option, in the end we will have to join like everyone else, so that they don’t classify us as disaffected and rain more blows on us. We have to keep fighting, because we have to resolve it,” say the self-employed who prepare to end their day at eight at night, counting their meager earnings.

*Translator’s note: The so-called “día de haber” was initiated by Fidel Castro in 1981, requiring workers to “donate” a days wages to the military. The program was later renamed “día de la Patria,” meaning ‘One Day’s Work’ for the Homeland. The custom (and name) goes back to the Cuban independence struggle of the 1800s.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Goytisolo Palace, A Jewel Of Cienfuegos About To Disappear / 14ymedio, Caridad Cruz

The Goytisolo Palace, also known as La Catalana, in Ciefuegos
The Goytisolo Palace, also known as La Catalana, in Ciefuegos

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Caridad Cruz, Cienfuegos, 19 June 2016 — One of the greatest treasures of Cienfuegos, the Goytisolo Palace, lies in ruins amid official apathy to the rescue of this emblematic building in a city declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005.

Declared a local monument, the Goytisolo Palace, or La Catalana as it is also known, was built by Agustín Goytisolo Lezazarburu, a Biscayan born in 1812 who came to Cuba in search of opportunities in the 1830s. continue reading

Known for his reputation as a skilled tradesman, by 1870 he had become a wealthy businessman with hundreds of slaves, the owner of sugar plantations in Hacienda Simpatía as well as the sugar mills of Lequeito and St. Augustine.

By 1847, just 28 years after the founding of Fernandina village of Jagua, now known as Cienfuegos, the Goytisolo family acquired a site on Santa Elena Street at the corner of D’Clouet, for the construction of the building, which it was concluded in 1858.

It was considered an example of the Baroque style and one of the most important house-warehouse buildings of the nineteenth century. At 68 by 123 feet, it had a basement and central courtyard. Among the architectural elements that could be found in the building was an exquisite gate facing Santa Elena Street which appears to have been the coach entrance.

It had stained glass windows on the first floor and in the back, apparently for the warehouse. It also had richly decorated beams, and on the second floor Malaga tiles and Bremen mosaics, bricks and ornate marble intarsia.

Nothing remains of the former splendor. The palace has become an empty shell languishing since it was declared uninhabitable in 2005. The Revolution converted it into multifamily housing. One of these “rooming houses,” in which a house “abandoned” by its owner, fleeing the new economic system, was partitioned into small apartments where dozens of people cohabited.

After the indiscriminate theft of what was an exquisite nineteenth-century building, only ruins remain. Neighbors took the marble floors, and cut and resold the railings. Even the bricks, extracted at the tip of a sacrilegious chisel, were sold. Carpentry was supplied by the beams of the mezzanine.

Local authorities have argued for the demolition of the building, but the Office of the Curator of the City opposed it. In 2012, a part of the wall and the windows of the building collapsed. Since then, the countdown to its total destruction has begun.

Declaring the site a Local Monument is worthless. La Catalana has become a constant concern of scholars of local history who know that not undertaking any restoration sends a dangerous message to the preservation of the heritage of the nation. Nothing can withstand the indiscriminate passage of time and the apathy of the rulers.