The EU Offers Cuba Help in Unifying Its Currency

Stefano Manservisi, with the Minister of Energy and Mines, Alfredo López Valdes, at the sustainable energy fair in Havana. (@stefanomanservi)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 1 February 2018 — The European Union (EU) has offered to share its experience in transitioning to the euro to aid Cuba in its transition to a single currency, one of the main challenges facing in the Cuban economy and something some experts believe could happen this year.

The European Commission’s Director General for International Cooperation and Development, Stefano Manservisi, stated Wednesday in Havana that the EU has offered the Cuban Government technical assistance with this transition, which Raúl Castro has acknowledged is urgent. continue reading

Manservisi, who is in Cuba to attend a conference on sustainable energy made possible with European funding, said in a press conference that the EU can share its experience both in the macroeconomic sense and by providing technical assistance in carrying out unification, including price controls.

The senior official stressed that, with the introduction of the euro, the EU faced “the world’s most important monetary transformation.”

“We have made this offer and we will work on it,” said the head of European cooperation, who has stated that loans and foreign investment will depend on solutions to end Cuba’s dual currency system.

He noted that most of these loans are currently made in foreign currency and, therefore, the transition to a single currency will not affect projects that are already underway.

Manservisi did not raise this issue with Cuban authorities during his visit but he did discuss it earlier this month the with the EU’s chief representative for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini.

Last December Raúl Castro told the Cuban Parliament that “the solution to the country’s dual currency system cannot be delayed any longer” since it is “the most essential step” in advancing the reforms promoted during his presidency to update the island’s socialist economy.

The persistently high cost of the two-currency system to the state sector is incalculable and has created an unfair, inverted pyramid in which those with the greatest responsibility receive the least compensation,” Castro said.

Cuban authorities have explained that the primary goals of currency unification is to reestablish the Cuban peso (CUP) as the national currency and restore its monetary value.

Although the process of unifying the country’s two currencies began with the adoption of a series of measures in 2013, it is still unclear when they will actually take effect. Economists inside and outside the island have speculated in recent weeks that is likely to occur this year.


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Cuba Harvested 200 Tons Of Cocoa In 2017, The Lowest Figure In 70 Years

Baracoa’s chocolate farmers expect to harvest 800 tons of the fruit this year. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Havana, 25 January 2018 — The cocoa harvest in Baracoa, the chocolate capital of Cuba on the eastern end of the island, fell “dramatically” in 2017. Only 200 tons of the fruit were collected, the worst result in more than 70 years, after the damage left in that area by the powerful hurricanes Matthew and Irma.

The current figures contrast with the 1,600 tons collected two years ago, when a historic peak was reached, subsequently affected by Matthew, the hurricane that devastated that portion of eastern Cuba in October 2016 and damaged the almost 9,000 acres dedicated to the crop, according to an article in the state newspaper Granma published on Thursday.

The hurricane spread its rage across the vegetation of the area, taking out the trees that gave shade to the cacao, a requirement for the optimal development of these plants. continue reading

The cocoa crops in Baracoa were beginning to recover slowly with the help of agricultural collectives from other territories, when Hurricane Irma arrived last September and “gave the coup de grace” to the 2017 harvest.

However, producers in the region expect to reach 800 tons this year and by 2020 to recover the level of production that existed prior to the hurricanes, says the official report.

Baracoa, the first village founded by the Spanish in Cuba, is located in the province of Guantanamo, about 600 miles east of Havana, and is the most isolated city in Cuba.

Known as the chocolate capital of Cuba, 85% of the cocoa that is consumed nationally comes from this area, which houses the only chocolate factory on the island, inaugurated by Ernesto Che Guevara in 1963.

Hurricane Matthew, the third most devastating hurricane to have passed through the island, hit that eastern territory on October 4, 2016 and caused damages worth 97.2 million dollars, especially in agriculture.

Almost a year later, in September of 2017, Hurricane Irma left 10 dead and great destruction as it passed along the northern coast of the country.


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Cuba Nominates Candidates for Parliament Who Will Elect Castro’s Replacement

This video, unsubtitled, is of Miguel Diaz-Canel, Cuba’s first vice-president. The text before the video begins reads: “More censorship and fewer entrepreneurs is the message Miguel Diaz-Canel delivered to Party cadres last February at special conference.”

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Havana, 22 January 2018 — On Sunday, the 168 Municipal Assemblies of Cuba’s People’s Power nominated their candidates for the National Parliament. The candidates will be elected in the March 11th general elections and will be responsible for choosing the new president that will replace Raúl Castro.

Raúl Castro, 86, was nominated to be a deputy to the 2018 National Assembly of People’s Power by delegates of the Second Front Municipal Assembly, in the province of Santiago de Cuba, the official press reported. continue reading

Also nominated as a candidate to parliament, in the Santa Clara Municipal Assembly, was current first vice-president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, who is predicted to rise to the presidency of Cuba this coming April, when the new Parliament is constituted.

At the Santa Clara meeting Diaz-Canel, 57, emphasized the high numbers of young people in this electoral process and said that among the nominees there is a “perfect” social composition, including a similar share of men and women, candidates of all races, as well as people of all ages.

“There is a certainty that they will represent their constituents with dignity, since the people choose them because of their ability to defenthe common interests in higher instances,” he said.

On the same day, also approved were the candidacies of the 1,265 delegates of the Provincial Assemblies of People’s Power, who will also be elected at the polls on March 11th for a period of five years, like the national deputies.

The Cuban Electoral Law establishes that up to 50% of national deputies can be nominated to participate in elections by municipal delegates, while the rest of the members of Parliament are proposed by social organizations, all of them pro-government.

To be approved, candidates for deputy must receive more than half of the favorable votes from the delegates of their constituency.

According to the electoral timetable, between Monday and March 10, the eve of the elections, the nominees will visit their communities, workplaces and service centers, while the municipal electoral commissions will post their photos and biographies so that they will be recognized by the population.

The electoral process that will culminate in the replacement of Raúl Castro began on November 26 with the holding of municipal elections, in which about 7.6 million people voted, a participation rate of just under 86%*.

The new Parliament that emerges from the March elections will be officially seated on April 19, when the deputies must propose and elect the primary positions of the incoming government, including the president of the country who, for the first time in almost six decades, will not carry the surname Castro.

The Cuban electoral law establishes that the members of the Council of State are elected from a proposal prepared by a Nominations Commission, made up by deputies elected in the general elections, which is then put to a vote in the Parliament.

*Translator’s note: A record low rate in a country where voting is mandatory.


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Twelve Years Later, Cuba Receives 344 Modern Russian Ladas

The Lada, the leading car brand in Russia, has been operating in Cuba for more than forty years. (Youtube)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, 20 January 2018 — Three-hundred-and-forty-four modern Ladas manufactured by the Russian car company Avtovaz arrived today at the port of Havana, which means a return of the importing of these vehicles to the Island after a twelve year hiatus.

The new vehicles, Vesta and Largus Cross models, manufactured by Russia’s largest automobile company, will be destined for the service with the Cubataxi company, explained the General Director of Transport of Havana, José Conesa, according to the state-owned Cuban Agency News (ACN). continue reading

The Lada, the leading brand in the Russian market, has been operating for more than forty years on the island, with thousands of the old 1200 and 1500 models, and the Samara models from the eighties and nineties.

“Cuba is one of our preferred export markets,” Avtovaz president Nicolas Maure said this week, ACN reported.

Maure highlighted the great tradition that Lada has in Cuba and assured that the company is committed to guaranteeing the availability of spare parts and the training of Cuban technicians in the after-sales service.

The sale of these Russian vehicles to Cuba is part of a transportation agreement signed between the governments of both countries in December 2016, which also includes the modernization of the island’s rail system, for which an investment of some one billion euros (about 1.054 billion dollars) is planned.

In recent years Cuba and Russia have given a boost to their bilateral relationship to reactivate the close cooperation they maintained before the demise of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991, with the signing of new economic cooperation agreements in several sectors.


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Bachelet Kicks Off Her Official Visit to Cuba With a Gathering of Artists / 14yMedio

The president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, attended a meeting with Cuban intellectuals at the headquarters of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) where she was hosted by its president, Miguel Barnet. (Alejandro Ernesto / EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Yeny García, Havana, 8 January 2018 — Chilean president Michelle Bachelet began her official visit to Cuba on Sunday — her penultimate trip abroad as head of state — with a gathering of the island’s leading artists and the signing of a collaboration agreement in film restoration and promotion.

Bachelet arrived in Havana in the early hours of Sunday and later visited the headquarters of the official Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), where she met behind closed doors with its president, the writer Miguel Barnet, and the famous actor Jorge Perugorría.

Barnet, author of the acclaimed Biography of a Cimarron (1966), had a short private meeting with the union president, who showed her the gardens of the house occupied by the organization in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood. continue reading

Later, at the Villa Manuela Gallery, Bachelet attended the signing of a collaboration agreement between Chile’s National Council of Culture and the Arts and the state-run Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC).

Chile and ICAIC agreed to collaborate in the identification of patrimonial films to be restored, in addition to promoting the exhibition of Cuban films in Chile, ICAIC president Roberto Smith explained to the press.

Smith highlighted the “historic links” between the cinematographies of both nations, especially the Viña del Mar Film Festival of 1967, to which Havana’s New Latin American Film Festival “declares itself indebted.” Strengthening the alliance between both countries’ filmmaking is “an old aspiration” of Cuba, stressed the official.

This Monday Michelle Bachelet will start her second and last day of her official visit to Havana with the inauguration of a business forum at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.

Businessmen traveling in the presidential delegation in search of new opportunities for Chilean investments in the Island, which currently amount to 52 million dollars, will participate in the bilateral meeting.

Bachelet will also visit a school of education named after the former Chilean president Salvador Allende (1970-1973), where the signing of a bilateral collaboration agreement in the healthcare sector will take place.

The Chilean president will meet Monday afternoon with her Cuban counterpart, Raúl Castro, who will receive her at the Palace of the Revolution, the seat of Government.

Before that meeting, the Chilean president will offer the traditional tribute at the monument to José Martí, in the emblematic Plaza de la Revolución.

Cuba is the penultimate country to which Bachelet will travel as head of state; her final trip will be to Japan. In March she will hand over her office to former president Sebastián Piñera, the winner in the most recent Chilean presidential elections.

Bachelet’s trip to Cuba has generated criticism among both the opposition and government sectors in her country, who do not see the reason for it and demand that the outgoing president reject “the violation of human rights” on the island.

The Chilean government’s spokesperson, Paula Narváez, disagreed with the reproaches, saying that Bachelet “is exercising her faculties as president of the Republic visiting a country where there is a bilateral agenda to be addressed which has been clarified by the foreign minister.”

Cuba and Chile have relations dating back to the 1960s, when Cuba sent doctors to help the victims of the tsunami and earthquakes in the Chilean town of Valdivia.

Cuban emergency brigades also traveled to Chile after the earthquakes of February 27, 2010, in Rancagua, and April 24, 2017, in Valparaíso.

The visits in the 1970s of Cuban President Fidel Castro to Santiago, and from Chilean President Salvador Allende to Havana, are among the milestones of the bilateral relationship.

Michelle Bachelet visited the Cuban revolutionary leader, now deceased, in his retirement during her trip to Havana in 2009, the first by a leader of her country to Cuba since 1972.

The president of Chile also attended the signing of the historic bilateral ceasefire between the Government of Colombia and the FARC guerrillas in June 2016, which took place in the Cuban capital.


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Miguel Altunaga, a Cuban Modern Dancer Who is a Prophet in his Own Land

Miguel Altunaga (right) was trained in the Cuban art education system and after seven years with Contemporary Dance of Cuba left the country to join the prestigious British company Rambert. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, 18 January 2018 — After ten years of successes and ovations on British stages, the Cuban dancer Miguel Altunaga proves that he can be a prophet in his own country, and even in his former company Contemporary Dance of Cuba (DCC), to which he returns as choreographer with a world premiere that speaks of longing, distance and roots.

Nominated for the third time for the United Kingdom’s National Dance Award, now in the category of Best Dancer, Altunaga has become the most important name internationally in modern Cuban dance, a field dominated almost exclusively by classic artists such as Carlos Acosta and José Manuel Carreño.

For the young Havanan it is a “point of pride” to be considered an “ambassador” of the rich Cuban culture, and among his “goals” is to “show that classical ballet is not the only source of great dancers, but that Cuba also has a lot to offer to contemporary dance.” continue reading

“I feel like an ambassador who is in constant motion and constantly learning, also enriching Cuban culture,” he told EFE before resuming auditions at the headquarters of DCC, the most important company of its kind in the country.

With the recognition also comes the “obligation to be an example” for new artists and to return to teach the new dance trends on the Island, where despite the “shortages and problems,” the “desire and passion for art” continues, he insisted.

Miguel Altunaga was trained in the Cuban system of artistic education, and after seven years with Contemporary Dance of Cuba he left the country to join the prestigious British company Rambert, as a member of which he has received awards and applause inside and outside the United Kingdom.

To his successes of interpretation he has added a rising career as a choreographer, with works that make up the repertoire of the still young Acosta Danza, the company that Carlos Acosta created in Havana.

A decade later, Altunaga arrives to set up a world premiere entitled Beyond the Dust that draws from his personal experience and delves into the feelings of distance, longing and nostalgia, with a “little sense of humor.”

“I don’t expect viewers to see a linear, traditional story, where you know what is happening step by step, but to live an experience, to relax and enjoy it, which is very important,” he explained.

For this, Altunaga uses emblematic musical themes such as Aquí el que baila gana (Here the dancer wins) from Los Van Van orchestra, danced by the young cast of the DCC.

Beyond the Dust also serves as an appreciation and tribute to Danza Contemporánea de Cuba, to which he has always felt “close” despite the distance.

“I feel like I didn’t leave. (…) To come to Cuba and present my work in the Sala García Lorca — the largest in the Gran Teatro de La Habana — is a dream, and to see it already realized (…) one of the greatest things that is happening to me in my artistic career,” he said.

This return is “very special” for Altunaga, who tries to minimize the “pressure” on him and “enjoy the process” of assembling the piece, which will premiere on 9, 10 and 11 February.

The biggest difference for the artist is in working with an ensemble that is not as “cosmopolitan” as the cast of companies from outside of Cuba; a place where the artistic collectives are composed exclusively of locals, with a shared way of seeing art.

However, being on the island for so long has made Altunaga “feel again” that sense of “Cubanness” that he will take with him back to Rambert.

“I will return [to the UK] a completely different artist, because I have reconnected with my homeland. I think this is the first time I’ve spent so much time in Cuba since I left ten years ago. Cubanness is entering me again,” he joked.


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Intense Rains in Cuba Force Delay in Tobacco Sowing to February

With around 65% of the country’s production, the Vueltabajo area, in the province of Pinar del Río, is the largest supplier of the leaf. (DC)

14ymedio biggerEFE  / via 14ymedio, Havana, 18 January 2018 —  The intense rains in Cuba in recent months have forced the island’s farmers to extend until February the sowing of tobacco for the 2017-2018 season. During the season, they plan to sow over 73,000 acres in tobacco, the raw material of the famous Havana cigars.

Rainfall damaged nearly 1,500 acres already planted and several areas used as seedbeds, causing delays that have led to the extension of the plan’s target dates, according to the head of the state group Tabacuba, Gonzalo Rodríguez, speaking to the official news agency Prensa Latina.

Rodríguez insisted, however, that the “situation is encouraging and the producers are optimistic,” having already planted more than 64,000 acres. The current season’s sowing of the leaf began last October. continue reading

Tobacco is the fourth largest contributor to the country’s gross domestic product; it accounted for some 445 million dollars in 2016 from the sales of the Cuban-Spanish joint venture, Habanos.

With around 65% of the country’s production, the Vueltabajo zone in the province of Pinar del Río is the largest supplier of the leaf in the country. The central territories of Sancti Spiritus and Villa Clara also have large plantings of tobacco.

In 2018, Cuban tobacco farmers hope to deliver more than 32,000 tons of leaves to the cigarette and cigar industry, one of Cuba’s major sources of exports.

The intense rains in the last three months have affected other agricultural sectors on the island as well, including damaging 70% of the cane plantations destined for the sugar harvest now underway.


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Cuba’s Official Press Criticizes Scarcity and Quality of Subsidized Menstrual Pads

To the problems of supply is added the “terrible” quality of the domestically manufactured product, according to the complaints collected by Juventud Rebelde. (Escambray)

14ymedio biggerEFE / via 14ymedio, Havana, 16 January 2018 — The small amount of sanitary pads that the Cuban State gives to women of childbearing age each month, their “terrible” quality and the irregularity in deliveries are currently the source of criticisms in the official press of the Island, where many turn to the black market to cover this need.

An extensive report in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde notes that this is a recurring problem that “over and over again” has led to “the same complaints” and maintains that, although it is a heavily subsidized article, it is used for “a basic hygienic need that does not understand delays in production or obsolete machinery.”

In Cuba, all women of childbearing age are entitled to receive a pack of ten pads per month, for which they pay 1.2 Cuban pesos (just under 5 cents US). continue reading

Several women interviewed by the newspaper are annoyed that ten “intimates,” as this product is known in the country, it is not enough to cover the entire menstrual cycle, and criticize that deliveries are often delayed for months.

Meanwhile, the product never fails in the black market, where it is offered at a price more than ten times higher: “In normal times up to ten pesos and when there is a crisis, it’s up to 15 to 20 pesos in Cuban pesos,” says Marta Valdés, 34.

Another alternative is the state stores that sell in hard currency, where a packages of pads are sold at prices from 1 CUC (equivalent to a US dollar 02 24 Cuban pesos), a high cost for  someone living on a Cuban average salary, that does not exceed 30 CUC.

“The black market should not be the solution to acquire the demanded product,” says the state newspaper, which titled the story Intimate Tragedy.

The article also cites experts, such as gynecologist Arelis Leon, who explains that the ideal is to change the hygiene pad every four hours during the menstrual period, which means using six pads a day and an average of between 18 and 42 pads for each cycle.

To the problems of supply is added the “terrible” quality of the domestically manufactured product, according to the complaints collected by Juventud Rebelde.

In Cuba there are three factories that make this product and all stopped doing so for lack of raw materials, since of the ten materials used in the production, eight are imported from countries such as Spain, Italy and China, said Emma Hernández, the general director of the state manufacturing company Mathisa.

The delay in production accumulated by this stoppage, makes it “impossible for the company to catch up on the loast production during the months in which the factories were stopped.”

The company also attributed the defective products to “human errors,” because the quality review and packaging are done manually.

“There are still no definitive solutions, at least in the coming months,” the newspaper said.


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Raúl Castro Concludes A Week Of Funeral Rites

Raúl Castro participated in a ceremony at the mausoleum of the ‘Frank País’ Second Eastern Front, the location of the niche where he himself will be interred. (Granma)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Havana, 14 January 2018 – On Saturday, Raúl Castro ended a week in which he participated in several funeral ceremonies in eastern Cuba. With his presence at the mausoleum of the ‘Frank País’ Second Eastern Front, the site of the niche where he himself will be interred, the ruler added a new act to his intense “obituary” route of last year.

Four months before leaving the presidency,on January 13 Castro, 86, attended the burial ceremony of 104 soldiers of the Rebel Army column that fought under his direction.

The official ceremony held in the former headquarters that was led by Castro, was attended by the highest echelons of the government, including first vice president Miguel Díaz-Canel, who is expected to succeed the current president this coming April. continue reading

Two days earlier, the president presided over a similar act in the Mausoleum of the ‘Mario Muñoz’ Third Eastern Front

As he passed through that part of the island, several opposition activists denounced house arrests and an increase in surveillance, according to reports that arrived in 14ymedio’s Editorial Office from Santiago de Cuba and Camagüey.

State TV broadcast images of the mausoleum, located in the mountains of the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba, totally covered by a strong haze early in the morning.

The event began with the arrival of uncovered vehicles that brought the 104 urns to the mausoleum, where family members, officers of the Cuban Armed Forces and former combatants of the Rebel Army that had been led by the late Fidel Castro (1926-2016), were already waiting.

the program listed the names of the soldiers and the military grades they held in the rebel army along with those they held at the time of their deaths.

During the main speech, the ruling Communist Party of Cuba’s number two man, José Ramón Machado Ventura, mentioned that the ceremony was taking place more than a year after the death of Fidel Castro, the “commander-in-chief” of the insurrection.

Machado Ventura, who was also a member of the Second Eastern Front, added that it was the leader of the Cuban Revolution who had the idea of ​​creating the Fronts of the Rebel Army, to extend the struggle of the eastern mountains to the whole country.

“The decision to turn the dream (of freedom) of several generations of revolutionaries into reality brought to these mountains more than a hundred compañeros, whose ashes, by their own will, will rest here, in the place where the transcendental moments of their lives took place,” he added.

Of the 104 combatants interred, only six fell in combat and the rest spent their remaining lives supporting the “revolutionary process,” said Machado Ventura.

Before leaving, Raul Castro visited the great monolith – similar to that of the tomb of his brother Fidel – marked with the names of Vilma and Raúl, where the remains of his wife Vilma Espín (1930-2007) are already resting and within which the current president has decided to be interred when he dies.

On 11 January of this year, the Cuban president presided over a similar ceremony at the mausoleum of the ‘Mario Muñoz’ Third Eastern Front, also in the territory of Santiago de Cuba, where the remains of 33 former combatants were deposited.

There he paid tribute to the deceased leader of that column, one of the ‘historic generation’ of the Revolution, Juan Almeida (1927-2009).

Raul Castro, who must leave power this coming April after completing two five-year terms, also attended, last October, a solemn ceremony to commemorate the relocation of the remains of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and Mariana Grajales, famous figures of Cuba’s nineteenth century wars of independence.

The remains of both patriots were relocated to new monuments in the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in the city of Santiago de Cuba, where they had already been interred, to locations closer to the tombs of the national hero José Martí and ex-president Fidel Castro. The re-interment ceremony did not include observance of the rituals that would normally be carried out in keeping with the Catholic faith of the long-deceased, and thus generated intense controversy among Catholics, as it did among the descendants of Céspedes and Grajales, who were not consulted or even informed in advance about the relocation of their ancestors’ remains.


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Selection Begins for Cuban Assembly Candidates Who Will Vote for Raul Castro’s Successor

Raúl Castro being appluaded in the National Assembly, in Havana. To the right, Cuban first vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canal. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havna, 5 January 2018 — The process to designate the candidates for the deputy positions that will make up the new National Assembly of People’s Power in Cuba, as well as the provincial Assemblies, began this Friday with consultations to the 12,515 municipal delegates selected in the elections on November 26.

The new Parliament will be the one that votes in April on the proposal of a new president to replace the current president, Raul Castro, 86, who will retire after two terms. However, before this happens provincial and general elections must be held, the dates for which have not yet been announced.

Between this Friday and January 14, the municipal delegates will be consulted on the proposals for “pre-candidates” to provincial delegate and deputy seats for their respective territories; some lists have been prepared by the provincial and national candidates commissions, according to a note from the state-owned Cuban News Agency (ACN). continue reading

There are 12,640 potential candidates on the lists who were, in turn, selected at meetings of the country’s mass organizations, all of whom are pro-government.

The Cuban Electoral Law establishes that up to 50% of the national deputies can be elected from among the municipal and provincial delegates, while the rest are proposed by social organizations.

“Personalities, outstanding workers, housewives, peasants, leaders and members of the armed institutions” are some of the profiles that these organizations can choose, says the ACN.

Once the regional and general elections are held, the new National Assembly will be formed, which in turn will propose and vote for the main government positions of the country, including the president and vice-president.

The start date of the new legislature was scheduled for February 24, but last December the Assembly, in response to a proposal from the State Council, approved extending the current mandate by two months due to the ravages caused in September by Hurricane Irma, which resulted in 13 billion dollars in loses in Cuba.

The new Parliament will be formed on April 19 and will be in charge of electing the country’s new president, an appointment that is the source of great anticipation because for the first time in six decades the ruler of the island will not carry the surname Castro.

“When the National Assembly is constituted I will have finished my second and last term at the head of the State and the Government, and Cuba will have a new president,” said Raul Castro before the National Assembly last December, in the year’s last plenary session.

Although there has been no official confirmation, it is expected that it will be the current first vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, 57, who will relieve the younger Castro and occupy the presidency.


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Meliá Reopens Hotels In Varadero Northern Cuban Keys After Hurricane Irma

The Meliá Jardines del Rey will repoen November 1st, the Meliá Cayo Coco will open on the 4th, and the Sol Cayo Guillermo on the 15th. (Meliacuba)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Havana, 11 October 2017 — The Spanish group Meliá announced Wednesday that it will reopen eleven hotels in Cuba beginning on October 15, two of them in the resort of Varadero and the rest in the keys of the center-north of the island, areas devastated by Hurricane Irma.

“Meliá Cuba announces the reopening of hotels affected by Hurricane Irma in Cayo Santa María, Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo and Varadero,” the company said in a statement sent to EFE. continue reading

The company, based in Mallorca, offered thanks to the “cooperation of the Cuban tourism authorities” which made it possible to identify “in a short period of time the facilities that suffered damages due to the intense storm.”

The group also announced that it will offer “renovated products for the peak season,” due to the improvements made in the facilities during the almost month-long closure.

The first to resume services will be the Meliá Peninsula Varadero and the Paradisus Varadero, which will reopen on October 15.

Following will be those in Cayo Santa María (Villa Clara province); the Meliá Cayo Santa María and Meliá Las Dunas hotels will be open on November 1, while the Meliá Buenavista and the Sol Cayo Santa María will resume operations on November 15.

In the Jardines del Rey archipelago, where Irma touched down as a category 5 hurricane – the maximum on the Saffir-Simpson scale – the Sol Cayo Coco will reopen on October 17 followed three days later by the Meliá Cayo Guillermo.

The Meliá Jardines del Rey will restart its services on November 1, and will be followed by the Meliá Cayo Coco opening on the 4th and the Sol Cayo Guillermo on the 15th.

Between August 8 and 10, the powerful Hurricane Irma hit the Cuban coast from east to west, affecting 13 of the island’s 15 provinces, causing 10 deaths and substantial material damages to housing, infrastructure and agriculture.

More than 1.8 million people were evacuated to safe places, including thousands of vacationers along the north coast of the country, who were relocated to Trinidad (south) and Varadero, about 90 miles from Havana, which was also affected by the storm.

Activist In Exile: It Is Sad That a “Tyrant” Dies and Freedom Doesn’t Come

Ramon Saul Sanchez, president of the Democracy Movement. (14ymedio)
Ramon Saul Sanchez, president of the Democracy Movement. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE/via 14ymedio, 26 November 2016 — Ramon Saul Sanchez, leader of the Cuban exile organization Democracy Movement, lamented today that the death of a “tyrant,” as he defines Fidel Castro, will not mean “freedom for the people of Cuba”.

“It is the greatest sadness that I have in my heart,” the activist told EFE; like many others in Miami the news of Castro’s death got him out of bed. continue reading

“I wish I could tell you that the tyrant’s death is people’s freedom,” but in the case of Cuba is not so “because they (the Castros) managed the succession very well.”

According to Sanchez, if Castro had died while in the exercise of power, it could have sparked a revolt in Cuba to demand freedom, but as his brother Raul is in office, the impact will not be the same.

For the leader of the Democracy Movement, Fidel Castro is a symbol of terror that Cuba has suffered for almost 60 years and his legacy is “fear, prisons, pain, rafters, etc…”

Cuba’s Private Restaurants, Struggling Not to Die of Success / EFE-14ymedio, Lorena Canto

The famous and government higher ups choose private restaurants for their meals in Cuba. Rihanna at the La Fontana paladar. (Twitter)
The famous and government higher ups choose private restaurants for their meals in Cuba. Rihanna at the La Fontana paladar. (Twitter)

EFE/via 14ymedio, Lorena Canto, Havana – Private restaurants, popularly known as paladares (palates), are under the scrutiny of the Cuban government, which has temporarily suspended the granting of licenses in the sector due to alleged breaches of rules in a booming industry that perfectly illustrates the new economy of the island.

“There has been very strong growth in a short time and it has gotten out of hand,” the self-employed owner of a very famous private restaurant in Havana told EFE, as she prepared for inspections by the authorities in the coming weeks.

In Cuba where, with the lack of official confirmations, the rumor mill runs riot, a few days ago alarm spread among paladares on hearing that the owners of the most prominent had been called to meetings – by neighborhood – with government officials. continue reading

There they were told that there would be no new licenses for private restaurants in the capital, and that there would be a round of strict inspections to ensure that those now in operation were complying with the law: no more than 50 seats, respect for the established hours, and provisioning only with products purchased in state stores for which they can show the receipts.

“The atmosphere is now very unclear,” another owner of a pioneering paladar, who also asked not to be named, told EFE.

So, the dining industry’s private proprietors, awaiting the dreaded inspections, fell into a paranoid spiral, which included hiding any merchandise not obtained through official means and redoing the menus to include only dishes and drinks made with ingredients for which they can show the receipts.

Bottles of premium liquor that came to Cuba in a suitcase, exotic ingredients or the celebrated lobsters, almost impossible to acquire by legal means and bought directly from fishermen, remain under lock and key these days, waiting for the dust to settle.

The problem is that the regulations governing self-employment, which are part of the economic reforms introduced by Raul Castro in the last decade, still have large gaps, like the lack of rules governing private workers on the communist island, or a wholesale supply market.

“It’s about sorting out a sector that started out as a part of the family economy and has become an important part of the country’s economy,” explained the same owner.

For some time now, the paladares have no longer been in the living rooms of a private house where the lady of the house cooked for four tourists, who in this way were given a peek into the daily life of a Cuban family.

There are 1,700 licensed paladares in Cuba, hundreds of them in Havana, restaurants that rival international standards in quality, in original décor and in service, and that from the beginning of the thaw with the United States two years ago have received visitors such as Barack Obama, Madonna and The Rolling Stones.

But in addition to competing with each other, they also compete with ordinary Cubans at the supermarkets, because one of the great problems of the industry is that it must be supplied at the same outlets as the rest of the population, given the lack of any wholesale market, the opening of which would be in the state’s hands alone.

“The competition for products creates unrest among the population, although it is not the direct fault of the self-employed,” says the same source.

In the state supermarkets – the only kind that exist in Cuba – EFE was able to observe how national brands of beer barely last an hour on the shelves, as the restaurants carry them out by the box full. The same thing happens with soft drinks and products like chicken breasts and milk.

Hence, she adds, the private restaurants have long demanded a wholesale market, which would also benefit the authorities “because it would allow better fiscal control over the purchase invoices.”

Another nuance of the situation, says one source, is the “special sensitivity” of the government to issues such as prostitution and drug trafficking, banned and severely punished on the Island, or access for minors to places where alcohol is served.

The current legislation provides licenses only for restaurants and cafes, so under these categories night bars have begun to proliferate, some of which have been closed down in recent weeks, although this has not been confirmed by any official source.