Independent Reporting from Cuba Wins Ibero-American Award for Environmental Journalism

Cuban Julio Batista Rodríguez (in Madrid in the image), winner of the award, contributes to several media outlets, among them ‘Periodismo de Barrio’. (Facebook)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Madrid, 1 February 2018 — The Cuban journalist Julio Batista Rodríguez was awarded the Special Ibero-American Prize for Environmental Journalism and Sustainable Development for his work The Dead Waters of the Havana Club.

The report, published in Periodismo de Barrio on 28 August 2017,  denounces the dumping of the byproduct vinasse from La Ronera Santa Cruz, the largest distillery in Cuba, which has killed off all the fish along the coast of the Chipriona inlet. continue reading

The Ibero-American Special Prize for Environmental Journalism and Sustainable Development is one of the categories of the King of Spain International Journalism Awards, organized by the EFE agency and the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AECID), under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The jury, which granted the award unanimously, highlighted the difficulty of carrying out this kind of reporting in Cuba and also noted that Periodismo de Barrio is a non-profit organization whose primary aspiration is “to do journalism.”

The work of the Cuban journalist was selected among this year’s 44 aspirants for the sixth edition of the award.

Julio Batista (b. 1989), graduated in Journalism from the School of Communication of the University of Havana, has been a sports reporter in the weekly Trabajadores (Workers), as well as collaborating in several digital magazines such as Progreso Semanal, Cuba Contemporánea, On Cuba and Cubahora.

The prize is endowed with 6,000 euros (7,465 dollars at current exchange rate) and a bronze sculpture by the artist Joaquín Vaquero Turcios, and is sponsored by the Aquae Foundation.

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’Pizarra,’ a Cuban Twitter, Launches to Connect the Two Shores

A mobile phone showing the site Apretaste! (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Miami, 27 January 2018 — Pizarra, a new Twitter-like social network created so that Cubans inside and outside the island can communicate, is already working and will allow users themselves to moderate content.

This was explained to EFE by one of the social medium’s creators, the young computer scientist Salvi Pascual who has been working for half a year on programming the software from Miami.

“We are trying to create a communication window based on Twitter but with the difference that Pizarra allows us to sort information by topics,” explains Pascual, a 32-year-old Cuban who is the executive director of the social networking site “Apretaste!” continue reading

Apretaste! has 40,000 registered users in Cuba and works through email. Cuba is among the countries with the lowest internet connection rate in the world (only 5% of Cubans have actual connections to the World Wide Web according to research from the NGO Freedom House).  Given this reality, Pascual, who has a master’s degree in computer science and divides his time between the United States and Spain, has always challenged himself to find ways to connect his compatriots.

“It is very difficult for ordinary people to understand that we work based on emails, but that’s the way it is, and our input and output (from Cuba) is encrypted,” he says.

Around 300 users already use Pizarra to communicate with friends and relatives on the island. The vast majority of them, explains Pascual, live in the United States, the place “with the greatest number of Cubans outside Cuba.”

Right now, he and his team — which includes a “good hacker” who lives in Cuba and works under the pseudonym Kuma Hacker — are finishing an application of Pizarra for mobile phones that will be available at the end of March.

The name of the social network, “Blackboard” in English, was chosen because “it is a kind of synonym for learning and knowledge, a place where everyone can write and read openly,” explained the programmer.

Pascual says that his new software, which works “free of any political color,” has a function that can block or call out people who misuse it.

“We did not block any content, not even the Granma newspaper, so we have made some people unhappy,” he lamented.

Although the mobile phone version of application may or may not be accessible to users from within the island, the new social network can be used there through the platform Apretaste!

The Cuban government says that 35% of the population is connected to the Internet, but Freedom House research reports that the actual number is only 5%, some 560,000 people from a population of just over 11 million inhabitants.

Data from Apretaste! finds that 25% of the population (about 2.8 million users) receive emails even if they do not have Internet.

Pascual relies on state accounts and state servers, such as those used by university students, diplomats, radio amateurs and doctors, who can access email through the government domain “cu.”

But the computer scientist based in Miami wants to go further. His Pizarra, he said, is also being created to function as a tourist guide.

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Historic Farm Where Cuba’s Wars of Independence Began to be Refurbished

Preserved equipment from the sugar plantation where Cuba’s wars of independence began. (visitecuba.org)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 7 February 2018 — La Demajagua National Park, the farm in eastern Cuba where the wars of independence began in 1868, is being refurbished to improve its facilities, gardens and access roads, with the incorporation of new symbolic elements.

Located in Granma province, the farm was declared a national monument in 1978 and will be refurbished on the occasion of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the struggles for island’s  independence, the official newspaper Granma reported on Tuesday. continue reading

The renovation includes three new facilities, the reconstruction and expansion of the access road and the improvement of the patrimonial complex with “allegorical components” such as ten royal palms as a reference to the date, the 10th of October, on which the revolt began, and a lighting system with the colors of the Cuban flag (white, blue and red).

A “mount” of twelve flags will also be added in memory of the number of men who stayed with independence hero Carlos Manuel de Céspedes after the failure of the first military clash, the capture of the town of Yara, according to La Demajagua’s director, Carlos Céspedes, speaking to Granma.

All the improvements and the new features “will respect the patrimonial design dictated by the existing museum,” he added.

La Demajagua was a sugar plantation belonging to Céspedes who is considered Cuba’s “Father of the Nation.”  The ruins of the sugar mill and the curved stone wall are preserved, along with the original bell, which is the one the pro-independence hero rang the day the uprising began.

On that date, which marked the beginning of the Ten Years War against Spain, Céspedes shouted the island’s first pro-independence proclamation — “Independence or Death!” — and also freed his slaves.

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Trump, UN and OAS Asked To Not Recognize Transfer of Power In Cuba Without Free Elections

Activist Rosa María Payá in front of the new Cuban Embassy in Washington. (Twitter)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Miami, 7 February 2018 — On Tuesday, February 6, the Miami-Dade County Commission requested that the United States Government, the Organization of American States and the United Nations not recognize a possible transfer of power in Cuba if it is not the result of free elections.

The petition was contained in a resolution supported by Commissioner José Díaz on the occasion of tribute paid by the Miami-Dade Commission to the Cuban dissident, Rosa Maria Payá, for her work as the founder and coordinator of the Cuba Decide campaign. continue reading

The campaign is aimed at mobilizing the Cuban people to organize a binding plebiscite in which citizens can decide on the political system they want, according to an official of the Miami-Dade Commission.

In the resolution, which was unanimously approved, the Commission adopted Rosa Maria Payá’s call for the United States Government, the United Nations and the Organization of American States to “not recognize any succession of power in Cuba without free and multiparty elections that restore the self-determination of the Cuban people.”

Since Raúl Castro announced his intention to step down from the presidency, it is expected that his successor will be elected in a vote without opposition candidates on the electoral ballot.

“The Cuban people deserve the right to decide their own future in free, open and multiparty elections, not by a simulated vote orchestrated by the Communist regime,” said Commissioner Díaz.

Payá, the daughter of the dissident, Oswaldo Payá, who died in an automobile crash that his family believes was provoked by Castro agents in 2012, said that Cubans “need” the international community to support them in order to prevent a “dynastic succession” in Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart was Buried in the Colon Cemetery in Havana

Several wreaths remained on Monday on the vault of the Academy of Sciences of Cuba, in the Colon Cemetery of Havana, where Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart was buried on Sunday. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Havana, 5 February 2018 — The remains of the nuclear physicist Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart, Fidel Castro’s first-born son, known as Fidelito, who took his own life last Thursday, rest in the pantheon of the Academy of Sciences in the Colon Cemetery, the largest cemetery in Havana.

On Monday, the discreet black marble pantheon was covered with several wreaths of flowers, most of them of white roses, from his children and grandchildren, his mother, Mirtha Díaz-Balart, and his sisters on his mother’s side and his nephews, according to EFE. continue reading

The funeral of the revolutionary leader’s first-born, who committed suicide at the age of 68, was celebrated on Sunday in Havana, where he was honored at the headquarters of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, of which he was vice president at the time of his death, according to several attendess who published on social networks.

The official media did not publish anything about the funeral, organized privately by the family, as had already been explained in the official note published on the death.

The only public comments from the Castro family about the death of the the commander of the revolution’s oldest son were made last Friday by Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raúl Castro and cousin of the deceased, who expressed appreciation on her Twitter and Facebook accounts for the condolences received.

Castro Díaz-Balart, the only child from Fidel Castro’s marriage with Mirtha Díaz-Balart, also served as scientific advisor to the Council of State of Cuba, the Island’s highest governing body.

According to the official statement released in state media, Fidelito was in a “deeply depressed state” for which he had been receiving treatment for months.

“As part of his treatment, he initially required hospitalization and then continued with outpatient follow-up during his social reincorporation,” the text said.

Trained in Russia, where he studied under a pseudonym for security, he was the head of Cuba’s nuclear policy between 1980 and 1992 and was in charge of the unfinished construction of the Jaragua nuclear power plant, which would have been the first installation of this type in the island.

Among his last public appearances were the investiture of Chemistry Nobelist Peter Agre, an American, as a member of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, in August of 2017, and a trip to Japan last October to represent Cuba in a scientific forum.

Few details of his personal life are known, but he was married to the Russian Natasha Smirnova, with whom he had three children (Mirta María, Fidel Antonio and José Raúl) and after divorcing his first wife he married the Cuban María Victoria Barreiro.

He had, in addition, five brothers recognized by their father (Alexis, Alexander, Antonio, Alejandro and Angel Castro Soto) and two sisters from his mother (the twins Mirta and America Silvia Núñez Díaz Balart). as well as Alina Fernández Revuelta, the illegitimate daughter of a relationship that Castro had with Natalia Revuelta.

In addition, his maternal cousins include Cuban-American Republican congressman Mario Díaz-Balart and former congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart, both known for their anti-Castro positions.

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Cuban Authorities Denounce ‘Illegalities’ in Vinales to Serve Explosion of Tourism

The Valley of Viñales has a landscape of mountains and mogotes unique in the world. (Marius Jovaiša)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Havana, 5 February 2018 — The Valley of Viñales, whose unique landscape has made it a highly attractive place for tourism, faces the potential risk of an uncontrolled exploitation as well as illegalities in the provision of services for tourists, which has required the authorities to adopt measures for its protection, according to the local press.

Viñales, where traditional methods of agriculture, highly valued vernacular architecture and traditional artisanal crafts and music ​​are preserved, was declared a National Monument in 1978, a Protected Area in 1998, a UNESCO World Heritage Center in 1999, and a National Park in 2001. continue reading

All these attributes, and in particular its stunning natural setting, have stimulated a growth in foreign tourism to the town of Viñales, which in 2016 received more than 700,000 visitors, followed by some 600,000 in 2017, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

To welcome the burgeoning boom of travelers, this valley in Pinar del Rio province currently has 2,300 rooms for rent and more than 130 restaurants that employ about 5,000 private workers, according to data provided by the president of the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power from the area, José Antonio Valle.

He explained that the interest stirred by the tourist destination caused people from other regions to start creating food services and lodging for tourists.

In this sense, the director of the Technical Office of Monuments of the Provincial Center of Cultural Heritage, Nidia Cabrera, said that the growth of the town “has been more in housing than in demographics, because there are many campaigns that encourage visitors to visit Viñales,” and in her opinion this growth “has exceeded all capabilities,” to host it.

“The number of people we see [working here] are not all residents, but personal attracted by the trade, since the destination is a source of employment. There are those who work in construction, who are hired to serve, wash and clean,” the official said.

In the opinion of these authorities, tourism itself is not as much a risk for Viñales as are the illegalities linked to services, in “precipitous” expansion, in order to respond to the growing demands of visitors.

The proliferation of buildings has led to violations of urban planning rules, including heights and extensions of oversized housing, landscaped areas paved over for patios, and remodeling carried out with forms and materials inconsistent with the area’s existing patterns of development.

Among the measures proposed to stop the illegalities and preserve the heritage site are the restoration of planted areas, the use of an approved color palette, the replanting of trees along the main streets, the homogeneous painting of buildings and the use of approved lighting.

“Viñales must preserve the identity values ​​that have given it that importance at the universal level, especially with regards to the care of the landscape,” said the president of the Provincial Commission of Monuments, Juan Carlos Rodríguez.

This month a group of specialists from the Physical Planning Institute and the National Heritage Council will carry out a survey “meter by meter” of the anomalies, with the collaboration of local people, to dictate the pertinent measures, reports the local press.

Also mentioned among the violations associated with the tourist activities is the uncontrolled exploitation of the footpaths intended for hikers that are  now being used for horseback riding. For this reason it was decided to control the activity of renting horses.

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Except for Mariela, the Castro Family Remains Silent on Fidelito’s Suicide

Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart (second from left, front row) in an archive image during the funerals of his father, Fidel Castro. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE via 14ymedio, Havana, 3 February 2018 — On Saturday, the Castro family expressed appreciation for the messages of condolence received after the suicide, at the age of 68, of Fidel Castro’s first-born son, the nuclear physicist Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart, whose death surprised Cuba and has been much discussed on the streets in recent hours.

“On behalf of the family, I thank the good-hearted people who alleviate our pain by accompanying him with their messages of condolence” and “that my dear cousin may rest in peace,” Mariela Castro, the deceased’s cousin and daughter of Cuban president Raúl Castro, wrote on Twitter today. continue reading

So far no details about the burial have been divulged although it is foreseeable that the matter will be kept in the strictest privacy.

The words of Mariela Castro, who is also a member of the Cuban Parliament, have been the only public demonstrations by the family since the death of the Cuban leader’s eldest son was announced on Thursday night.

Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart, known on the island as “Fidelito”, was the only son of Fidel Castro’s marriage with Mirtha Díaz-Balart and at the time of his death he was scientific advisor to the Council of State of Cuba, the highest government body of the Island, and vice president of the Academy of Sciences.

The death was broadcast on state television through an official statement reproduced by the main official media such as the digital Cubadebate website and the newspapers Granma and Juventud Rebelde.

In that note, also published today in the paper versions of the newspapers — although not on the covers — it was affirmed that Castro Díaz-Balart “attempted against his life on the morning of this February 1” and that he suffered from a deep “depressive state” for which “he was being treated by a group of doctors” for several months.

“As part of his treatment, he initially required a hospitalization regimen and then continued with outpatient follow-up during his social reincorporation,” the text added.

Consternation, surprise, amazement or curiosity were the most recurrent reactions among Cubans on hearing what happened.

The news spread like wildfire on the island: this morning it was the most talked about issue in the streets, markets and workplaces, with no lack of murmured speculations about how the eldest son of the deceased commander might have taken his life or the place where he did it.

“Fidelito,” who never held key positions in Cuba, had a striking physical resemblance to his father, from the corpulent build to the bushy beard and haircut.

Trained in Russia, where he studied under a pseudonym for security, he was the head of Cuba’s nuclear policy between 1980 and 1992 and was in charge of the unfinished construction of the Jaragua nuclear power plant (in the south-central part of the island), which would have been the first installation of this type on the country.

It is unlikely that a report of the circumstances surrounding the suicide will be made public, similar to the way the medical information that the Cuban authorities disseminated when Fidel Castro died in November 2016 at the age of 90.

In addition to appreciation for the messages of condolence received, Mariela Castro said on Twitter that “only those who have known the depression caused by losses, know the infinity of their impact on the lives of sentient beings. There is no other way to explain the choice of death.”

“We also appreciate the testimonies of affection, respect and admiration inspired by the relevant scientific work and human qualities that always distinguished Fidelito,” wrote the cousin of the deceased.

Bolivian President Evo Morales is among those who sent their condolences, as did the vice president of Nicaragua, Rosario Murillo, the presidential candidate of the FARC party in Colombia, and the former lguerrilla leader Rodrigo Londoño.

Some of the last public appearances of Castro Díaz-Balart were the investiture of the American Chemistry Nobel Peter Agre as a member of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, in August of 2017, and a trip to Japan last October to represent his country in a scientific forum.

In keeping with the Castro tradition of maintaining their privacy outside the public eye, there is little information about his personal life.

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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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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.

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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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.

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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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.

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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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.