A Vacation in Cuba Without Leaving Your Room Can Cost Up To $600

Hotel Meliá Habana, one of the six establishments that offer “confinement packages” in the capital. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Havana, 13 February 2021 — Enjoying five nights and six days in a hotel in Cuba is now more than ever within the reach of any international traveler, with packages ranging from 250 to 600 dollars. With one problem: the guest cannot leave the room.

These “confinement packages” include airport transfers and accommodation with full board in establishments of between three and five stars, in addition to medical attention and the number of PCR tests necessary so that the client can be released on the sixth day if the Covid-19 infection is ruled out. It is the island’s response to the collapse of tourism due to the pandemic.

Since the middle of last January, the island has suffered a harsh second wave of infections: it has not dropped below 500 daily positives and on some days it has touched a thousand. continue reading

Six hotels in Havana (Vedado, Parque Central, Capri, Tulipán, Meliá Habana and Comodoro), one in Varadero (Starfish Las Palmas) and six more in other provinces (Granjita and Los Caneyes in Santa Clara, Sol Cayo Coco in Ciego de Ávila, Plaza in Camagüey, Mirador de Mayabe in Holguín and Versalles in Santiago de Cuba) have hosted clients of various nationalities who have contracted this offer since last weekend.

To contain contagions, which in this second wave were attributed mainly to travelers from abroad, everyone who arrives in the country is obliged to undergo isolation until they have had rwo negative PCR tests at least five days apart.

There are two isolation options: the free one, which is to spend at least a week in state institutions in places such as campsites and student residences, and the paid one, with one of the new packages that can be purchased online at the traveler’s origin or directly at airport arrivals.

There are two isolation options: the free one, which is to spend at least a week in state institutions in places such as campsites and student residences, and the paid one, with one of the new packages that can be purchased online at origin or directly in the room of airport arrivals.

Cubans and residents on the island can choose between both options, but foreigners who arrive as tourists or for other purposes do not have the option of going to a state center and must spend the isolation period in a hotel.

“We are promoting it through social the networks so that the client comes with the purchased package,” declared the marketing director of the state agency Havanatur, Isabel Docampo, in a meeting with Efe and other international media in Havana to explain the new initiative.

So far, most of the hundreds of travelers who have purchased one of the “confinement packages” are Cubans residing in other countries, mainly in the United States, who return to visit their relatives, according to Docampo.

There are also Cubans who return from personal or work trips, as is the case of Madeline Hernández, who this week arrived from the Dominican Republic with her family and is staying at the four-star Comodoro hotel in Havana.

“I travel for work and my company pays for the package for us, so we don’t have to go to an isolation center, where the conditions are different,” this 49-year-old woman, who works for a foreign company , explains from the balcony of her bungalow in the Cuban capital.

Although Cubans currently occupy the vast majority of hotel rooms reserved for travelers in isolation, in Havanatur they believe that their offers could also be attractive to European, Asian or American tourists who want to escape the cold and the harsh restrictions imposed in their respective countries.

“The tourist who arrives and buys the package spends those five nights and six days in isolation and, if they are negative, they can continue making a tour around the country or continue doing the program they came to do here,” says the representative of Havanatur.

Some hotels, such as the Comodoro or the neighboring Meliá Habana (five stars), never closed due to the pandemic and now house travelers in isolation, so they have had to adapt part of their facilities to the strict hygiene and security that these types of guests require.

Marino Elorza, general director of Meliá Habana, explains the basic rules to avoid contagion: “Physical barriers, such as screens and gloves on workers, maximum observance of all processes set by Public Health and continuous communication with our team of doctors within of the hotel.”

These doctors visit each guest in isolation twice a day to check their health and take their temperature.

“I always tell customers: now here the boss in the hotel is the white coat, the doctors are, because the priority is that we all take care of ourselves,” says the director of this hotel, which reserves 90 rooms for travelers in isolation, currently 22 of which are occupied.


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Raul Castro Reappears to Prepare for Cuban Communist Party 8th Congress

The former president wore his olive green suit and a surgical mask in the images on Primetime News. (Screen capture)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio) — The former president and leader of the ruling Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), Raúl Castro, led a meeting of the political organization in which the preparations for its VIII congress, scheduled for April 2021, were addressed, according to a report this Wednesday in the island’s state media.

State television showed images of the meeting — which began on Tuesday and ended yesterday — in which General Raúl Castro, 89, is seen wearing his traditional olive green military uniform and wearing a surgical mask.

The next congress of the PCC is scheduled between April 16 and 19, 2021, as decided last December by the Party’s Central Committee.

The last conclave of Cuban communists was held in April 2016, when Raúl Castro inherited from his brother Fidel (who retired from power 2006 and died in November 2016) the role as first secretary of the party. continue reading

In this VIII Congress, General Castro is expected to pass the leadership of the almighty PCC to the current president, Miguel Díaz-Canel.

This was announced by the youngest of the Castros in April 2018, during his last speech as Cuba’s president before the National Assembly and it will be the first time since its creation that a civilian has led the political organization.

Since leaving the Presidency, Raúl Castro has spaced his public appearances and it is expected that, with the withdrawal from his position at the head of the PCC, he will withdraw from public life, as did his brother, the late Fidel Castro (1926 -2016).

During the meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the PCC, a proposal was also presented to update the plan of measures to confront the COVID-19 pandemic on the island, which so far has resulted in 5,898 cases and 123 deaths.

The agenda also included the analysis of several laws pending approval by the National Assembly, among them those relating to the president and vice president of the Republic, and other laws related to the revocation of those elected to the Organs of People’s Power and their organization and operation.


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"Solidaridad Entre Hermanos," an Initiative to Send Aid Directly Between Miami and Cuba

The distribution of donations will be handled by the Catholic Church and members of Cuban civil society.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Miami, 7 May 2020 — The Miami municipal government and the Foundation for Pan American Democracy urged Miamians on Wednesday to donate “basic necessity” products to help the Cuban people deal with the Covid-19 crisis through the “Solidaridad entre Hermanos” (Solidarity Among Brothers) initiative.

Donations will be collected at the Mana Convention Center in the Winwood neighborhood and the shipment will be sent to Cuba on May 16, according remarks at a press conference from Miami Mayor Francis Suárez, and the directors of the Foundation, Omar Vento and Rosa María Payá.

The distribution of the donations will be carried out by the Catholic Church and members of Cuban civil society, they stressed. continue reading

“Within the Island, we have contacted a network of churches that are willing to receive and deliver humanitarian aid,” said Payá, director of Cuba Decides. “It is a challenge to make this shipment to the Island, but [especially] in the exceptional conditions that our country is experiencing due to the insufficient response from the authorities,” she added.

Payá stressed the responsibility that exiles have, as Cubans, to help their compatriots: “A list of products will be collected that will then be sent to Cuba by sea. Among the products that we will send are detergent, soap, masks and gloves, disinfectant towels, acetaminophen, diapers, powdered milk, protein bars and canned food,” Payá said.

The foundation has requested that people donate only “products that comply with customs regulations.”

“Customs fees should be reduced or eliminated when it comes to aid. This initiative is one of solidarity between brothers. It has absolutely nothing to do with the political position of any person who wants to help. It is about helping Cubans on the island at a time of great crisis,” added Payá.

At the moment there is no restriction on the part of the Government of the United States that prevents the shipment of these materials to the Cuban population, but the Foundation for Pan American Democracy wants “to fulfill all the legal requirements that the Island demands” for this aid to go directly to the citizens.

Regarding possible obstacles that the Cuban Government can impose on the distribution of this humanitarian aid, Omar Vento was confident that “there is no reason to prevent it” although he said that “it would be very regrettable if they made that decision.”

“We have no control over the situation of the Cuban regime. This is going to be humanitarian aid without any kind of implicit message. What the regime does about it is not in our hands,” he said.

Mayor Francis Suárez, who was ill with Covid-19, said for him it is a matter of pride “to be able to carry out this event and demonstrate the solidarity of the community” from the main city of exile.

“If we are having a difficult time in the United States, the world’s largest economy, and in Miami, a city that was making tremendous progress; we can have no idea of how the pandemic is affecting people there,” added the mayor.

Suarez argued that, as in other communist countries like China, in Cuba “the severity of the coronavirus is unknown,” since the government is hiding information.


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Cuba Forbids Citizens From Traveling Abroad and Inside the Country

Cubans who live in Cuba are forbidden from traveling abroad except for humanitarian reasons. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, March 23, 2020 — Cubans will not be able to leave the country without authorization nor move about within the country between the provinces, as a measure to stop the spread of COVID-19, Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero, announced this Monday.

The measures “will be of strict compliance” indicated Marrero on a state television program on which the new official measures to confront the epidemic were announced.

Cuba, which until now has recorded 40 cases of coronavirus and more than a thousand people in preventative hospital isolation, will partially close its borders starting tomorrow, Tuesday, and will only allow current residents of the country, both Cubans and foreigners, to enter. continue reading

Authorities have asked that the necessary “social distancing” be kept in mind, although in a country where every day one has to wait in long lines to buy basic products or to travel anywhere, it is difficult to carry out this measure.

Marrero said that in Cuba there are currently 32,574 tourists and 10,299 Cubans who live abroad. In addition he stressed that Cubans who do not live on the island will not be able to enter the country starting this Tuesday.

“From this moment on we are regulating the exit of all our compatriots from national territory,” said Marrero.

The prime minister made clear that those Cubans who live permanently abroad will not be able to return to the country. Cubans who live in Cuba are also prohibited from traveling abroad except for humanitarian reasons.

Marrero added that Cubans who live on the island will only be able to return with one piece of hand luggage and one suitcase. “We cannot continue allowing family members to wait at the airport,” said the prime minister.

The Government also announced that recent arrivals will be isolated in quarantine centers. The transfer will be made by the Ministry of Transport and the National Police.

The prime minister announced that 22,000 Cubans travel every day from one province to another and suspended interprovincial transport.

“We have asked the ministry of transport for this measure to be applied,” he added.

As well as flights, land and train trips are also prohibited, including in the private sector.

Marrero announced that public transportation will be limited and said that two million people get around every day in the very old public transportation system.

“Those movements are now a risk for the people themselves and for others,” he said.

The Government announced that tourists will be strictly forbidden from leaving their hotels. All tourist excursions are suspended.

“There are no tourists in the street starting tomorrow,” he said. The measure also takes effect in private lodging houses. The State announced the suspension of car rentals.

Tourists in Viñales, Baracoa, and Trinidad who are in private houses will be transferred to state facilities near the airports.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera


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Fourth Confirmed Coronavirus Case in Cuba, Where Shortage of Soap is an Aggravating Factor

The first four cases of Covid-19 in Cuba came from abroad. (5 de Septiembre)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 13 March 2020 — A Cuban resident in Santa Clara, Villa Clara province, is the fourth confirmed case of coronavirus in Cuba. The patient’s wife, a Bolivian citizen based in Milan, traveled to the Island from the Lombardy region, in Italy, according to a statement from the Ministry of Public Health read this Thursday on the National Television newscast.

The husband of a Bolivian citizen based in Milan entered the country on February 24, “apparently asymptomatic, and began to develop mild respiratory symptoms on the 27th of the same month,” confirmed the National Reference Center of the Institute of Tropical Medicine Pedro Kourí (IPK).

“On March 8, the husband began having respiratory symptoms, and both went to the Health system, where they were immediately admitted to the Villa Clara isolation hospital, and were later transferred and admitted yesterday to the IPK.” continue reading

The Ministry of Public Health explains that “in the tests carried out, the Cuban citizen was positive for the new coronavirus, while his wife was negative, given the time of 15 days of the evolution of the disease, from the first symptoms.”

“Epidemiological control actions are carried out on people identified as contacts, who remain asymptomatic and under surveillance. The evolution of both patients is favorable and neither one has presented, so far, as in danger of their life,” the note details.

During Thursday’s session it was also learned that the results of the analyses of three students from the Faculty of Architecture of the José Antonio Echeverría Technological University of Havana, Cujae, who had been sent to the IPK under observation on suspicion of being infected with the coronavirus, were negative.

“The results are negative but it is not certain and they will be repeated in a while,” reported one of the hospitalized youth. “We have to remain in the hospital,” he added.

The three students had had contact with a person who later tested positive for the virus after his return to Panama.

With regards to the three Italian tourists confirmed to have the coronavirus on Wednesday, the health authorities assure that they continue to evolve satisfactorily under strict medical surveillance.

The Ministry of Health reiterated, “People with respiratory symptoms need to promptly inform the health authorities of their presence.”

Cuba, which until Wednesday was without confirmed positive cases of the coronavirus, had been preparing for weeks for a battle whose complicated fronts will include the high percentage of elderly citizens and an insufficient supply of soap.

Three Italian tourists who arrived in Havana on Monday and immediately traveled to the colonial town of Trinidad, in the center of the island, are the “patients zero” in a country with a lot of experience in mobilizing almost militarily in critical scenarios such as hurricanes.

This response capacity will be tested in the context of the economic crisis of two decades, with shortages or intermittent insufficiency of hygiene products and endemic problems with the water supply.

The advanced age of the Cuban population is one of the risk factors for Covid-19, since the elderly are one of the groups at the highest risk of contracting the disease, and also have the highest mortality rates, according to global data that exists on the disease. Of the 11.2 million inhabitants of Cuba, 20.7% are over 60 years of age.

It is also a segment of the population that is especially vulnerable due to its low level of income: the minimum retirement pension barely exceeds 10 dollars a month, which has repercussions on nutrition, as food is sometimes insufficient, and the items available on the ration book are increasingly diminished.

Frequent hand washing is the most prevention measure most emphasized by health authorities to avoid contagion. But hygiene products, including soap and liquid detergent, have been in short supply for several weeks and according to the Ministry of Internal Trade, the situation will not improve before May.

“The production of the fundamental raw material for making soaps requires imported oils and fats which, during 2019, did not reach the country, due to the impossibility of tanker ships serving Cuban ports, due to the blockade (embargo),” says a note published this week in official media.

Bar soap is sold in convertible peso stores, but its price — about 35 cents — is high given that the average state salary is about $ 45 a month.

The other fundamental element for handwashing, water, also presents supply problems in some areas of Cuba where the liquid arrives in tank trucks but not daily. Just this week, it has been reported that deliveries have been reduced in various areas of Havana, which will only have supplies coming every three days. And although many homes have storage tanks, due to the perpetual crisis, the tanks are not always in perfect condition.

Two other serious risk factors that are endemic in Cuba are crowds of people. Experts call for distancing, a measure that is being tried to be applied across the world because of the success it has in spacing out contagion and thus staggering the impacts on the healthcare system.

Lines are very common, both for bureaucratic procedures and to buy food that has been unavailable and then returns to the markets. There are also huge crowds of people on public transport, especially with the perfect storm that is occurring in the absence of fuel.

Faced with this, the main strengths of the Island are its universal and free public health system, as well as the surveillance and control mechanisms that mean few things escape the knowledge of the authorities, a suspicious case in the neighborhood will quickly come to the ears of the blockwatch groups known as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), which will report it to the health authorities.

In addition, Cuba has a very high proportion of doctors with respect to the total population: nine for every 1,000 inhabitants, according to official data from 2019; and a strong pharmaceutical industry that has already provided China with one of the drugs that was used there to treat the disease, the recombinant antiviral Interferon Alpha 2B (IFNrec).

However, the state of the hospitals is something that works against management of the disease, both due to the hygienic conditions and the deterioration of the infrastructure.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Twenty Years Since the Rescue of the "Miracle Boy" Turned Revolutionary Icon

The Elián Gonzalez during his time as a military student in Cuba. After the death of Fidel Castro he compared Fidel to a superhero. (Archive)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Ana Menghotti, Miami | November 24, 2019 — Twenty years ago the “little rafter” Elián González was saved from drowning, as his mother and other Cubans who were trying to reach Florida had, but was left in a tug-of-war between the Cuban government and the exiles in Miami. The tug-of-war was settled with an American court decision that made possible his return to the island.

“I would again defend a defenseless child against a dictatorship,” said Ramón Saúl Sánchez, one of the leaders of the protests in which Cubans in Miami fruitlessly tried to stop Elián, who was five when he crossed the Florida strait aboard a raft, from being returned to his father and to Cuba.

“It was an ethical duty, we didn’t do it out of politics or for any other reason. Whoever has gone through an experience like us (the exiles) knows that we were obligated to defend that boy,” adds the leader of the Democracy Movement. continue reading

In this iconic photo, Donato Dalrymple protects Elián in a closet from the federal agents who were searching the house of his family in Little Havana on April 22, 2000. (Archive)

In front of the house in Little Havana where the boy lived with a maternal aunt and other family members after his rescue by fishermen in waters near Florida on November 25, 1999, Sánchez recalls the blow that he received in that house on that day US federal agents burst in to take Elián.

It was April 22, 2000 and the warrant had been given by Janet Reno, then the attorney general of the US and for many exiles the “bad guy” in this “film.”

That day Sánchez found out that the slogan “Elián isn’t leaving,” which had been popularized in the protests, wasn’t going to be reality.

Considered in Miami a “miracle” boy not only for having been saved from the shipwreck but also because his rescue was on the day of Thanksgiving, Elián González, was turned into a symbol of the Revolution and its triumph over capitalism, and returned to Cuba on June 28, 2000 after many negotiations and to-ing and fro-ing in the courts and mass demonstrations in Miami and on the island.

Elián González with his cousin Marisleysis Gonzalez in Miami. (Miami Herald)

Fidel Castro personally became involved in what in other circumstances and countries would have been only a family dispute over the custody of a child whose mother took him from the country without the permission of the father, who wanted to get him back and raise him in Cuba.

Sánchez believes that Castro, knowing that in the United States the “law is respected,” took advantage of the Elián case to “project himself as a defender of childhood,” although “he wasn’t,” while at the same time “deal a blow of international dimensions to the exile community.”

The organizer of “human chains” and actions of “civil disobedience” for Elián says that he always thought that it was the maternal and paternal family members of the boy who should have come to an agreement about his future, not the governments.

However, he says, there was a fact that couldn’t be forgotten: Elián’s mother decided to leave a country in which “a dictatorship was suffocating, and is still suffocating, the people.”

The boy became the center of the dispute between the Cuban exile community in Miami and Fidel Castro’s regime. In this photo his father brings him back to Cuba.

If Cuba wasn’t “a dictatorship,” the people wouldn’t embark upon the sea, says Sánchez, who blames the “regime” for every one of the deaths of Cuban rafters whose “American dream” ended when the precarious boat on which they abandoned their country foundered.

The so-called “rafter crisis” was in 1994, but in 1999, the year in which Elián’s raft foundered, there was another massive departure of precarious boats toward the US without the Cuban government trying to stop them, according to information from the time.

Castro celebrated Elián González’s birthday. (Archive)

From January 1 until November 27 of 1999, 940 Cubans were intercepted on the high seas, according to data from the American Coast Guard gathered from the news at the time.

In the fiscal year of 2019 (concluded the last day of September), approximately 454 Cubans attempted to illegally enter the United States by sea, the Coast Guard reported. Sánchez has no doubt that the reason that fewer rafts were intercepted is that the so-called wet foot/dry foot policy is no longer in force. The policy allowed Cubans who managed to touch US ground to remain in the country and condemned those who were detained in the water to be repatriated.

That policy was eliminated by Barack Obama’s administration during the “thaw” with Cuba and is one of the few things that Donald Trump, his successor in the White House, has left in place from that attempt at normalizing relations.

González still appears at official events and hobnobs with Castro’s successors. In this archive image he can be seen with the ex-ruler Raúl Castro.

On the Elián raised in Cuba, Sánchez stresses that he was “brainwashed” by “those responsible for his mother’s death” and for that reason he seems “almost an automaton,” always “in a bad mood.”

The most remembered face of the “little rafter” is, however, that of the day on which he was taken from the house of his uncle in Little Havana in Miami by a group of US marshals. The famous photo, taken by the now deceased Alan Díaz, photographer for the American agency AP and winner of a Pulitzer, shows a small 6-year-old Elián in the arms of one of the fishermen who saved him, Donato Dalrymple, terrified in front of the uniformed and helmeted agent with enormous protective glasses pointing a gun at them.

The Elián case, which is seen as one of the many disagreements between the United States and its neighbor Cuba, is, for Sánchez, one chapter more in “the long fight of Cubans for their liberty.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

King Philip VI Praises Democracy; Diaz-Canel Prefers Sovereignty

The King of Spain said in his speech before Díaz-Canel that “change will not bring consensus and well-being if it does not represent the will of the citizenry.” (Casa Real)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 14 November 2019 — “Changes in a country cannot be imposed,” said the King of Spain, Felipe VI, before the Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, in a speech in which he defended democracy, human rights and citizen sovereignty.

The King’s words found an answer from the Cuban president, who vindicated the Cuban model, insisting that it is aimed at achieving the greatest well-being for citizens and whose path, he claimed, Cubans have chosen “of their own accord.”

The differences were clear in the two speeches that took place in the cordial atmosphere of a dinner that the monarch and the queen offered to Díaz-Canel and his wife Lis Cuesta. continue reading

Felipe VI stressed that the existence of institutions that represent all citizens is necessary and that they can express their preferences for themselves and find in them “adequate respect for the integrity of their rights, including the ability to freely express their ideas, freedom of association or assembly.”

In this vein, he stressed that a certain lesson that is drawn from history is that evolution, adaptation and change are inevitable. “Nothing is frozen in time, and whoever resists in its path loses the opportunity to collaborate in the design of that future that is already being born or, even more so, that it is already here,” he added.

It was then that he defended the future of the Cuban people that they must elucidate by themselves.

“The changes,” he said, “cannot be imposed, they have to be born from internal dynamics. But in the same way that a change that does not emanate from within the social and political forces of a country cannot succeed, it is equally true that the change will not bring consensus and welfare if it does not represent the will of the citizenry.”

Felipe VI offered Díaz-Canel the Spanish experience for the process of change in which his country is immersed and highlighted what its current 1978 Constitution meant for Spain, based on agreement, negotiation, consensus and reconciliation.

From that Constitution and their own history, he affirmed the Spanish have learned that it is in democracy that human rights, freedom, the dignity of people and the interests of citizens are best represented and defended.

“And that the strength that democracy gives to its institutions,” he added, “is what allows the progress and well-being of the people and their facing the risks and challenges that will inevitably arise along the way.”

The King also stressed that at present no country can afford to live in isolation and it is up to the authorities to give citizens the opportunity to travel and receive people from other countries.

In the same way, he believes that citizens should have access to new technologies and have norms that allow the full development of creativity in all areas, from cultural creation to the generation of business initiatives.

The King said that Spain wants to continue being part of Cuba’s economic growth and help to generate opportunities, at which time he highlighted the work that Spanish businessmen have been engaged in on the Island despite having to overcome “enormous difficulties.”

The King repeatedly referred to the ties of all kinds that unite Spain and Cuba and recalled that his country brought institutions, ideas and values to the Island, including the foundations of International Law and the conception of universal human rights.

The King’s words had a special section to remember the 500 years that are now commemorating the foundation of Havana and cite some of the milestones in the Hispanic-Cuban relationship as the independence of this country.

“The link between Spain and Cuba is deep, it is not superficial, it is timeless, not temporary,” said the King, who expressed his satisfaction for having starred in the first state visit of a Spanish king to the Island.

It was later when Miguel Díaz-Canel took the floor, whose speech was not initially planned, although it was not improvised, since it was known before the start of dinner. The Cuban president stressed that his country’s society is renewed, evolving and advancing while preserving its traditions and values and defending its rights.

“We are guided by clear principles of independence and sovereignty with the certainty that it is a path directed towards greater well-being for our people,” he added.

It is, he said, a path that Cubans have chosen “of their own free will.”

At the same time, he said that, in order to understand Cuba, its dreams and what they do is necessary to understand everything that the “unjust” US blockade condemns.

It was then that he showed Cuba’s appreciation of the “clear and public support of Spain against the unjust sanctions and unilateral extraterritorial coercive measures imposed on Cuba by the United States Government and how much damage,” he said, ” they cause to the economy and commerce.”

Díaz-Canel also praised that Spain has assumed constructive positions that have favored Cuba’s relationship with the European Union and that it is the main community partner of the Island and its most relevant investor.

In the same way, he recognized and thanked the task of Spanish businesspeople, their commitment and fidelity and their intention to continue strengthening their presence in the various branches of the Cuban economy.

Díaz-Canel thanked Felipe VI as the first king of Spain to make a state visit to Cuba and described it as “historical” and of special significance at a time like the present.

In particular, he said, due to its concurrence with the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana, a city that he said treasures a “multifaceted presence of Spain,” the heritage of its regions and the indelible mark of its cultures.

Díaz-Canel closed his speech with a toast in which he looks forward to the peace and prosperity of both peoples, as well as the strengthening of their ties.


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King Felipe VI Will Arrive in Cuba on 11 November and His "Visit is Not a Sign of Support for Anything"

Spanish King Felipe VI (left) and Queen Letizia will hold a meeting with Miguel Díaz-Canel but have not said whether they will see Raul Castro (right). (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 31 October 2019 — The Spanish royals will make a state visit to Cuba between November 12 and 14, according to a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs published in Madrid on Thursday.

“This state trip is part of the commemorative events of the 500th Anniversary of the foundation of the city of Havana and will serve to reflect, at the highest level, the excellence and intensity of bilateral relations” between the two countries, the statement said.

“During their stay in Cuba, their Majesties will be accompanied by the acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, Josep Borrell,” who recently visited the Island for preparations for the royal trip. continue reading

In Cuba, the royals will hold a meeting with members of civil society not linked to the Cuban State, Spanish sources told the EFE agency, although the agenda does not include any meeting with representatives of the Cuban dissidence.

Diplomatic sources clarify that “the trip is not a manifestation of support for anything, but a normalization of relations with a member of the Ibero-American community with whom — they insist — an anomaly occurred.”

Felipe VI and Letizia will leave Madrid for Havana on November 11, one day after the Spanish general elections and begin their official visit the day after they arrive.

Most of the monarchs’ agenda will be held in Havana, which this November is commemorating the 500 years of its foundation, one of the reasons why the royals have decided to visit this year.

The central commemorations of the city’s half millennium are scheduled for November 16 and are expected to be attended by the president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro and that of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega.

The date of the visit of the Spanish Royals to the Cuban capital was organized so that they would not have to meet Maduro or Ortega. Felipe VI and Letizia will hold a meeting with Miguel Díaz-Canel, and will engage in others of an economic and cultural nature as well as a reception for the Spanish community resident on the Island.

At the end of their stay, they will travel to Santiago de Cuba to participate on November 14 in two events at the Castillo del Morro and the Loma de San Juan where they will pay homage to the Spaniards who died there in 1898 in the war against the United States.

Cuba is the only Latin American country that has never had an official visit from the Spanish head of state despite the fact that the current King’s father, Juan Carlos, expressed his desire to visit on several occasions and was in Havana during the Latin American Summit of 1999.

Several organizations of the Cuban opposition have criticized the visit while the Cuba Alliance for Inclusion and the Cuban Women’s Network have asked Queen Letizia to support their cause.

“Your Majesty, as a trained journalist, you know deeply the importance of freedom of expression and opinion, without it the debate of ideas that enriches and promotes the progress of peoples is not possible. We are counting on your support and solidarity,” they requested in a letter addressed to the wife of the head of state.


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The Energy Crisis Forces Cuban Universities to Readjust

At the University of Havana, classes will end at 3:oo pm instead of 6:00 pm. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Havana, 17 September 2019 — The fuel crisis that Cuba suffers, and that is affecting the daily life of citizens, has forced Cuba’s main universities to readjust their schedules, reduce class times, and even close departments for one or two days a week.

José Antonio Echeverría Technological University of Havana (Cujae), the country’s leading engineering and architecture school, will close its doors on Mondays and Tuesdays, so there will only be classes from Wednesday to Friday until further notice, as reported this Monday by the first vice minister of Higher Education, Martha Mesa.

Meanwhile, at the University of Havana (UH) classes have been suspended on Fridays, and on the rest of the working days their duration has been shortened and the faculties close at 3:00 in the afternoon instead of 6:00 as usual. continue reading

The official press reported new energy saving measures that are applied these days at the University of Matanzas and the Marta Abreu Central University de las Villas (UCLV) of Villa Clara.

With these measures, the Government tries to reduce the consumption of electricity and fuel for transport at a time when Cuba faces what could be its worst energy crisis since the 1990s, during the Special Period.

Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, has assured that the Island is not at the beginning of another Special Period and that the current crisis is a “temporary situation” caused by the resurgence of the US embargo and the restrictions of the Donald Trump Administration on Venezuelan oil shipments.

Cuba produces enough oil to cover 40% of its needs (mainly to generate electricity in thermal plants) according to government data, and the rest it receives mostly from Venezuela.

The arrival of diesel fuel in Cuba was interrupted last Saturday and no more ships will arrive until October, a situation that is affecting transport and industrial activities in the country, as well as generating fears of possible power outages.

On the street the effects have been noticed, with more people looking for transportation from the sidewalks, overflowing urban buses, a large share of the gas stations with closed diesel pumps and long lines at those which are still open.

The authorities assured that the supply of diesel for private cars will not cease, although urban and interurban public transport by road and rail has been restricted to minimum services.

Last Thursday, several ministers appeared on the Roundtable TV talk show, together with Miguel Díaz-Canel, to reassure the population and assure them that there would be no problems, and at the same time that they detailed all the reductions that will have to be faced as this situation is resolved and that will affect all sectors.


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Cuban President Diaz-Canel Receives the Argentine Grandmothers, But Not the Ladies in White

Estela de Carlotto, president of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo. (EFE / Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 18 September 2019 — Cuba’s Head of State, Miguel Díaz-Canel, received Estela Barnes de Carlotto, the president of the Argentine association Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, in Havana this Tuesday.

The treatment offered to the Argentine activists contrasts with the systematic repression that the Cuban Government exercises against Cuba’s Ladies in White, who are harassed by State Security when they go out to demand the freedom of political prisoners.

Claudia Susana Carlotto, daughter of Estela Barnes, along with Daniel Ricci and Juan Carlos Barroso, representatives of university organizations, also participated in the meeting between the Cuban president and the Argentine human rights activist, according to a note released by the state-run Cuban News Agency (ACN). continue reading

The president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo was invited to make this visit to the Island by the Federation of Cuban Women, whose head, Teresa Amarelle, was present at the meeting.

Barnes, whose daughter Laura Carlotto was arrested and killed during the Argentine military dictatorship (1976-1983), in 1978 joined a group of women in the organization struggling to locate each of the missing grandchildren*.

In her case, the encounter with her grandson Guido, born in captivity when his daughter Laura was a prisoner, was possible after 36 years of searching, on August 5, 2014.

The Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo estimate that more than 400 children have been registered as missing and deprived of their identity, their right to live with their family and other rights recognized nationally and internationally as universal human rights.

*Source Wikipedia: “Children were either kidnapped or seized at birth from women in detention during the Dirty War. The vast majority were given or sold to adoptive parents, including numerous perpetrators and accomplices in the murder of their biological parents.”


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Silvio Rodriguez Criticizes the Repression of the LGBTI March in Havana

In the midst of a strong police operation, 300 people paraded without incident through the central Paseo del Prado to Havana’s Malecon. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 13 May 2019 — Singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez endorsed, on Sunday, the criticism published by singer-songwriter Vicente Feliú about the “absurd, shameful, dangerously evocative repression” of the LGBTI demonstration held on Saturday in Havana by independent activists and without permission from the authorities.

“With my eyes wide open, I subscribe to every word of what Vicente said on his Facebook,” the artist wrote in the comments section of his blog, Segunda Cita, which has become for many intellectuals and citizens point of meeting and debate about the news of Cuba.

Hours earlier, Feliú had published in his account of that social network that “the absurd, embarrassing, dangerously evocative repression” of the gay march “is definitely indefensible.” continue reading

LGBTI activists and State Security agents clashed on Saturday during a demonstration called without permission after the annual gay pride march organized by the official National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), led by Mariela Castro, daughter of ex-president Raúl Castro, was cancelled.

Mariela Castro, who is a deputy to the National Assembly, wrote on Sunday on her Facebook account that the march was a ’show’ that was “supported by officials of the US embassy and covered by the foreign press.”

Castro added the above comment when reposting a comment from the Chilean activist, Víctor Hugo Robles, who said that “advances in the rights of LGBTIQ communities always have contradictions.”

Robles also said that “the images of the march of diversity in the streets of Havana this Saturday May 11, 2019 hide not only the legitimate desire for greater spaces of rights for everyone, but the staging of an orchestrated operation that seeks to question the outstanding and essential work of CENESEX.”

This is the first time in decades that a demonstration without official permission has taken place in Cuba, in an unprecedented challenge from the independent civil society to the authorities of the Island.

In the midst of a strong police presence, about 300 people paraded without incident through the central Paseo del Prado but at the end of that avenue and, when the marchers headed towards the Malecón, many policemen in uniform and plainclothes ordered the march to disperse.

The activists refused on the grounds that they did not need permission to walk around Havana and that was when clashes took place with police and State Security agents forcibly detaining between four and seven people, according to eyewitnesses. There were no official reports about the total number of people arrested.

The announcement this week that the traditional conga against homophobio would be suspended, with the justification that the country is preparing to face a serious economic crisis, caused a great deal of discomfort in the LGBTI group, which questioned why other mass activities, such as the recent May Day parade celebrating Labor Day, were carried out as usual.

Had it gone forward, the cancelled conga would have been the first one held after the approval, in April, of the new Constitution. Initial drafts of the document included a modification that opened the doors to equal marriage on the Island, but ultimately this was not included in the final text.

That issue was one of the most controversial in the popular debates on the Constitution and provoked a strong campaign against the measure by the evangelical and Catholic churches.

The LGTBI collective has been gaining visibility during the last decade in Cuba, in contrast to the first years of the Revolution when homosexuals were persecuted and sent to work camps, one of the darkest chapters in the recent history of the Island.


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Cuba Establishes Priorities so as Not to Return to the Crisis of the “Special Period”

Shortages of food have made the daily routine difficult for Cubans who now have to stand in long lines to buy it. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 14 April 2019 – Given the renewed pressure from the from United States and the inefficiency of its economy, Cuba established “clear” priorities in a plan looking ahead to 2030 to avoid at all cost falling into a serious crisis like that of the so-called “Special Period” in the decade of the 1990s, according to president Miguel Díaz-Canel.

The harshness of the moment requires us to establish clear and well-defined priorities, so as not to return to the difficult times of the ‘Special Period’,” said Díaz-Canel at the end of an extraordinary session of the National Assembly, which, this week, approved the new Constitution.

The leader, who will complete his first year as Head of State this coming Friday, recognizes that the Island still bears “the weight of administrative inefficiency, import mentality, lack of savings and insufficient income from exports.”

“We cannot exclude the manifestations of corruption and illegalities, unacceptable in the Revolution,” he added, outlining two absolute priorities: preparation for defense and the economic battle.

The priorities will be tourism, biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry, renewable energy sources, food production, and construction, along with the export of professional services which analysts believe to be the country’s main source of income.


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Cuba’s Embassy in Mexico Led the Fight Against Central American Dictatorships

Mexico has made public the 411 files on the espionage carried out of Fidel Castro by Mexican security forces. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), José Antonio Torres, Mexico City, 28 March2019 —  In the 1960s Cuba used its embassy in Mexico to direct movements against those they considered dictatorships in Latin America, according to espionage archives declassified by the Mexican government.

In a version of 411 files Mexico has made public on the espionage carried out of Fidel Castro by Mexican security forces, both when he was in Mexico and in power in Cuba, it is noted that the Cuban embassy served as its focal point for these activities in the region.

“The Cuban Embassy in Mexico is in charge of directing in Latin America the various movements, both against the so-called Central American dictatorships and against the United States of America,” Mexico’s Federal Security Directorate (DFS) states in a report dated 1960 to which Efe had access. continue reading

In those years the first target of these activities was the Nicaraguan Government, when the Somoza clan was already in power, “and as a concrete case we can cite the armed incursion in the Segovias in the month of March in which nine people died,” the file emphasizes.

The reports about the activity that Cuban diplomats carried out from Mexico were always part Mexican intelligence’s surveillance of Castro, inlcuding when he was in power, as they considered him a factor of influence in social movements in Latin America.

“As a result of his coming to power, the various groups of political asylees distributed in Latin American countries tried to follow his example,” highlighted the offices of the DFS, an entity that disappeared in 1985 amid accusations of corruption.

However, the Mexican espionage noted in their reports, now housed in the National General Archive, that the Mexican communist groups had no links with the group headed by Fidel Castro, a situation that continued after his conquest of power and in the following years.

Mexican security prepared a detailed report of it first encounter with Castro, capturing him on June 21, 1956, in a car with license plates from Miami in the neighborhood of Polanco, after a year of following him through reports from Cuba that warned that he was preparing a coup against the Batista government.

Castro was arrested with several men, including his bodyguard identified as Universe Sanchez, by Mexican Captain Fernando Gutiérrez Barrios, whom Fidel always treated as a friend, and who became Secretary of the Interior in the presidency of Carlos Salinas (1988- 1994).

Even then, Mexican spies warned of Castro’s links with “political exiles of different nationalities,” mainly those of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, led by Manuel Flores Gómez, and those of Peru, headed by César Pardo Acosta.

In another report, Gutiérrez Barrios affirms that Castro was last seen in Ciudad Victoria, in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, and confirms reports that he had already embarked on the yacht Granma.

The triumph of the Cuban Revolution, on January 1, 1959, revived the Mexico’s interest into maintaining espionage over Castro, with reports on the state of his health, his trip to the former Soviet Union, and a speech where he talked about the rumors related to the “disappearance” of Che Guevara.

The resignation of Castro from the position of prime minister to serve as Commander of the Armed Forces was highlighted in a report dated July 17, 1959, in which Mexican security already warns that an external aggression against the Cuban regime was being prepared (at a time when Castro was still in Mexico).

“There are three groups ready to attack Cuba,” the report in the Mexican archives detailed.

The first group was in the Dominican Republic with the Cuban general José Pedraza; another was in Miami with Rolando Masferrer, and the third was elsewhere in the United States with Batista’s brother-in-law, General Roberto Fernández.

Castro’s speech of 15 January 1966 at the close of the First Tricontinental Conference of Solidarity of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, occupy a good part of the Mexican files on Castro.

The Mexican authorities determined in 2002 to allow the public disclosure of the confidential files of the Mexican espionage services from 1920 and 1985, and the new administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and has extended it to the documents of the Center of Investigation and National Security (Cisen).

The current archives of Mexican political espionage originated with the governments emanating from the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921) with organizations such as the First Section and the National Directorate of Intelligence, which were followed by the DFS and the CISEN, now replaced by a new entity in the current government.

In 1985, the AGN received 3,091 cases with files generated by the Office of Political and Social Research and the DFS in the period from 1920 to 1975; in 2002, it added 4,223 boxes with 58,302 Cisen files.


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US Renews Partial Suspension of Helms-Burton Act But There Will be Exceptions

Mike Pompeo, announced Monday that Title III of the Helms-Burton Act will remain suspended for one month. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 4 March 2019 — The Donald Trump Administration announced Monday that it will allow trials in US courts against those companies sanctioned by Washington that operate in Cuba and that are included in a “black list,” according to statements by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

However, for the rest of the companies, the US has renewed the suspension of Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act and will not allow, for the time being, suits before the courts for doing business with the properties confiscated after the takeover by Fidel Castro in 1959.

The US black list includes entities that are “under the control” of Cuban intelligence services and the Armed Forces, as well as personnel that establish “direct financial transactions” that could harm the Cuban people, as explained by the Department of State on its website. continue reading

This includes the ministries of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Interior, as well as a large number of hotels, such as the Cuban chain of Gaviota tourist establishments and the facilities of that group, such as the Varadero Meliá Marina, managed by a Spanish company.

Since its creation in 1996, Title III of the Helms-Burton Act has been suspended by all US administrations every six months; but, in January, when it was time to extend this situation, the Trump Administration set off all the alarms when renewing the suspension for 45 days instead of the usual six months.

On Monday, Washington has renewed the suspension for only 30 days, until April 17, but has decided to create some exceptions and apply Title III of the Helms-Burton to some companies now.

These exceptions could affect Russian and Chinese companies that have invested in Cuba.

“Cuba’s role in usurping democracy and fomenting repression in Venezuela is clear. That’s why the U.S. will continue to tighten financial restrictions on Cuba’s military and intel services,” White House National Security Advisor John Bolton said on Twitter on Monday.

Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted on the social networks to Washington’s announcement. Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez wrote in his Twitter account: “I strongly reject the State Department’s announcement to authorise lawsuits under Title III of the Helms-Burton Act against a list of Cuban companies arbitrarily sanctioned by the Trump administration.”

All US presidents have frozen this provision in the last 23 years, partly to avoid opposition from the international community and also out of fear of an avalanche of cases in the United States judicial system.

The complete lifting of the ban could allow billions of dollars in lawsuits to advance in US courts and probably face opposition from European partners and Canada, whose companies have significant stakes in Cuba.

The measure is a blow against the attempts of the Cuban authorities to attract more foreign investment and could harm some US companies that have begun to invest in the Island after the diplomatic thaw initiatied by former president Barack Obama.

Washington is also considering imposing more financial restrictions on Cuban military personnel, according to Reuters.


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The Ghost of The Special Period Threatens Cuba in 2019, Warns Report

The worsening of the economy is seen not only in the “shortages in the hard currency stores,” but also in the lack of subsidized basic necessity products like bread and eggs. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Miami, March 5, 2019 — The economic crisis Cuba is experiencing will worsen in the next few months and, if it doesn’t open itself to a market system, the country could fall into a new “Special Period,” the grave depression into which the island was sunk in the 90s, according to predictions from The Havana Consulting Group, headquartered in Miami.

In fact, the worsening of the Cuban economy is now seen not only in the “shortages in the hard currency stores,” but also in the lack of subsidized basic necessity products like bread and eggs, emphasized Emilio Morales, president of this firm that provides insight into the Cuban market and its consumers.

The report to which Efe had access warns that Cuba “urgently needs” to open itself to the market economy, “liberate once and for all the productive forces, and allow Cuban citizens to invest in their own country,” otherwise, the “reappearance of the ghost of the ’Special Period’” will become a reality. continue reading

At the time of the ’Special Period’ the grave crisis that gripped Cuba was due to the withdrawal of the subsidies that it used to receive from the defunct Soviet Union; today the “financial support that the island has [recently] been receiving from Venezuela is practically insignificant,” given the total collapse of the South American country.

Only by “avoiding the habitual dependence on third parties” and undertaking “profound transformations of its economy” will Cuba be able to get out of the crisis by itself, detailed The Havana Consulting Group’s report.

In that context, Morales noted that the Venezuelan subsidy, for some twenty years, “has helped the battered Cuban economy survive,” with the subsidized shipments of billions of dollars in barrels of oil in exchange for primarily medical services.

This commercial exchange between the two countries managed to reach $8.5 billion in 2012 and today barely reaches $2 billion, which is a decrease of 74%.

Added to this reality is the “failure of the economic reforms undertaken by Raúl Castro” approximately a decade ago and the “decrease in exports of nickel and sugar,” to the point where sugar production in 2018 was some 16.3% less than in 1905, which has now forced the country to buy sugar from France.

To these difficulties must be added another negative factor such as the “limits imposed to hinder the development and expansion of the private sector,” whose entrepreneurs took $2.39 billion out of the country in 2017.

And the nonexistence of free enterprise, the “non-recognition of private property, the prevalence of the monopoly established 60 years ago, and the lack of opportunities to invest and market goods and services that Cubans have,” undermine any attempt to revitalize the economy in medium and long term, says the report.

Another “chronic problem” is the deficit of the Cuban economy, despite the opening of the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) and its failure to attract capital, which barely reaches the 14.2% of the goal proposed when it was created six years ago.

To this devastating outlook must be added the “stagnation that the Cuban tourism industry has had in general,” with the decrease of the principal tourism markets: Canada, the United States, Germany, England, France, Spain, and Italy, it points out.

Air travel between Cuba and the US in 2018 declined some 18.3% compared with the previous year, a “declining tendency begun in the last trimester of 2017.”

In terms of the economic impact, this decline in toursim translated into an estimated loss of $1.283 billion.

Conversely, the low growth rate of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) “hides a permanent recession,” with a fall to 1.4% in the last five years, according to official figures.

For that reason, “if the Cuban economy has not collapsed, it has been thanks to the Cuban exile,” 90% of which is settled in the United States and annually provides around $7 billion to the Cuban economy, between cash remittances and merchandise.

Additionally, Cuban Americans leave millions of dollars in the tourism sector of the island, since more than 50% of them who travel to the island stay in hotels with their relatives* living in the Caribbean country.

Close to 2.2 million Cubans live in the United States, some 90% of them in the state of Florida.

In 2017, cash remittances coming to the island represented 50.8% of the total annual income of the island’s population, The Havana Consulting Group pointed out.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey


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