Without Russian Oil and With Less From Venezuela, the Lines Return to Cuba’s Gas Stations

At the gas station on 17th and L, the line had to be split on both sides of the street / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, May 23, 2024 — For three days, the lines have returned to the gas stations in Havana, where vehicles once again occupy more than five blocks, in an image that has not been seen for months .

This Thursday, in two of the normally busiest establishments in El Vedado, 25 and G, and 17 and L, the panorama was similar. The kilometre-long line at 25th and G was, according to the driver of an almendrón, “just like in the old days”: he went down G, turned onto 23rd and then continued on F for several more blocks. At 17th and L, the line had to be split between both sides of the street.

El Tángana, another of the usually well-stocked service centers, was also bustling with waiting customers. It was in vain, however, because there was no fuel in the morning hours.

At the Infanta and San Rafael gas stations, the cars were also divided into two lines, one for each street / 14ymedio

As for Centro Habana, at the Infanta and San Rafael gas stations, the cars were also divided into two lines: one up San Rafael that almost reached the Calixto García hospital and another along Infanta that turned onto Zanja Street. continue reading

The owner of a motorcycle, who had obtained gasoline in a plastic container and was filling his vehicle near Infanta, indicated the obvious diagnosis: “There is no fuel.”

The situation could be seen coming since the release, at the beginning of the month, of the monthly Reuters report on Venezuelan oil exports.

Although the British agency does not reveal the exact amount that Caracas sends to Havana, from ship monitoring, University of Texas researcher Jorge Piñón calculates that the Island received, in three tankers, a total load of about 840,000 barrels of oil. This represents 28,000 barrels per day (bpd), a considerable drop compared to the monthly average of the previous year, when Cuba received 57,000 bpd.

The owner of a motorcycle, who had obtained gasoline in a plastic container, expressed the obvious diagnosis: “There is no fuel” / 14ymedio

According to Reuters, Venezuelan exports in April fell 38% compared to March – which had already registered a sharp decline – after Washington’s partial reestablishment of sanctions on the Nicolás Maduro regime.

For months, this newspaper has been tracking the movement of the María Cristina, the Petion and the Alicia — the three ships that also arrived in April — whose routes between the Venezuelan and Cuban port terminals are constant. Regarding another well-known ship, the Eco Fleet – which in mid-April, after spending weeks in Cuban territorial waters without unloading the 40,000 tons of diesel it brought from Tunisia, left for Jamaica – Piñón stated to 14ymedio at the beginning of May that it was back on the coast of the Island, in front of the Cuban capital.

In April, the team of researchers led by Piñón did not detect any Russian ships entering Cuban ports, which may explain the current fuel shortage. Donations from not only Venezuela and Russia, but also from Mexico, are clearly insufficient to help the Island get out of its almost permanent energy crisis.

The long line at El Tángana was in vain: there was no fuel today / 14ymedio

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

‘Propaganda Artist’ Tours Havana’s Agricultural Markets

On the eve of May 1, posters fill everything from state stalls to ’MSMEs’ connected to the regime

With a black marker and leaning on a weak cardboard, the “compañero” drew slogans / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 30 April 2024 — With a cap, backpack and the gestures of an artist, a “compañero” – it is not known if sent by the Party or the municipal government – ​​walked around the agricultural market on 17th and K, in Havana, on Tuesday morning. With a black marker and leaning on a flimsy piece of cardboard, he drew a slogan, “Long Live May 1!”, surrounded by flourishes and shading.

Without paying much attention to the “propaganda artist,” the campesinos in charge of selling took the posters and hung them in their sales stalls. The scene, which is repeated every year on the eve of May 1st — Workers’ Day — was reminiscent of the Czech politician Václav Havel’s mockery about daily life in a dictatorship: the guajiro uses the sign not because he cares about what it says, but because it is a talisman to scare away the inspectors.

Neither the fuel crisis nor the “war economy” have prevented the Government from planning a May 1st in style. The date, the parade – which will be attended by hundreds of foreign “guests” – and the barrage of propaganda are one of the trademarks of the Island’s regime, whose cameras record the event to show the world its supposed popular support. continue reading

In several MSMEs in the capital, as well as in private businesses or companies that can afford it, there are no squalid signs like those on 17th and K but rather colorful banners. Showing their adherence to the system that allows them to exist and marching in its support is also a guarantee of survival. For their part, the Propaganda offices of the Communist Party, dedicated to printing signs and flags for these dates, have orders “a flor de piel.”

Showing their adherence to the system that allows them to exist and march in its support is also a guarantee of survival / 14ymedio

The official press has made its usual display of preparations. In Havana, for example, no one will be able to park their car on any of the streets that lead to the so-called Anti-Imperialist Platform of the Plaza de la Revolución. In Sancti Spíritus, the Communist Party newspaper published maps and diagrams, so that no workplace would be missed during the “proletarian anniversary,” and promised “recreational and cultural activities” to entertain those who go to the parade.

Tomorrow, all the media repeat, the workers of Havana will “demand” two things: that the United States remove Cuba from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism and that it end the blockade. Raising wages or solving the chaos of the economy can wait.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

The Successful Privately Owned Ice Cream Brand, Helado’s Cid, Opens a Location in the Heart of Havana

Waiting in front were a dozen employees, recognizable by their uniforms, as well as an equal number of customers / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, May 7, 2024 — All bubblegum pink and turquoise, the brand new Helados Cid (Cid Ice Cream) location, which opened Friday at 23rd and H streets in Havana’s Vedado district, is a magnet. The place had been under construction for half a year and expectations were at their peak on opening day. Waiting in front were not only a dozen employees – recognizable by their uniform, with pink polo shirts for men and blue for women – but also an equal number of customers.

Until July 2023, the building was occupied by a privately owned establishment that operated as a cafe by day and a bar at night. When it closed, the owners auctioned off the furniture and appliances without further explanation. It was painted in November and scaffolding was erected at its front door. The shiny refrigeration equipment that could be seen from the outside suggested that the new place would remain in private hands. And so it did.

The secret was revealed in February when a sign in the shape of a scoop of ice cream with the name “Sabor Cid” (“Taste of Cid”) emblazoned on top was hung. But it was not until May 3, six months after repairs had begun, that the doors opened and the newly restored premises came to life.

Unlike what happens with other businesses, which are often empty on opening, people were attracted to Helados Cid and went in / 14ymedio

Unlike what has happened with other businesses such as Bueníssimo Sodería Gourmet, which was empty on the day of its opening, people were attracted to Helados Cid and went in. They were greeted by one of the owners, Yendri García Cid, who did not hesitate to ask them what the thought of the ice cream and of their experience. A professional photographer was there to record it all. continue reading

As García Cid told one of the customers, they not only offer domestically produced ice cream but an imported Italian version as well. The former is available in the “house specialties,” listed on the menu as Copa Cid (2,250 pesos), Affogato Cid (790) and Dona Helada (960). It can also be purchased separately in five individual flavors — dulce de leche, chocolate, strawberry, vanilla and hazelnut — which cost 295 pesos for a one-scoop cone or 700 for a three-scoop basket.

Unfortunately, having to import some of the menu items from Italy “makes things more expensive,” explains the owner, who started the business with his brother Henry. Their goal, he says, is to import the raw materials needed to make this type of ice cream themselves.

For now, the high prices for the Italian items – from 760 pesos for a two-scope cone to a selection of five scoops for 1,875 – do not seem to be deterring customers. Of the privately owned competitor brands such as Clamanta, Gustó or Los Olivos, which have already bested the state-owned Coppelia, now only a shadow of its former self, Cid seems to be the most highly regarded. This is confirmed by the lines of customers at stores, restaurants and dessert shops to which, until now, it was only sold wholesale.

The high prices at Hellos Cid do not seem to be deterring customers / 14ymedio

Helados Cid describes itself on its website as “a family business” that was founded 17 years ago. “We have gradually perfected the production processes which have allowed us to offer ice cream of various flavors and formats on an industrial scale.” Initially, the company delivered their tubs of ice cream using an old 1950s American sedan outfitted with a refrigerator but soon switched to a truck of considerable size. They also went from making only ice cream to making other dairy products such as yogurt.

Currently, the prosperity of the firm — it is registered as #286 on the Ministry of Economy and Planning’s list of micro, small and medium-sized companies — has garnered the interest of both the state press and government officials. “Many residents of the capital today delight in Cid Ice Cream,” Radio Rebelde gushed two years ago, highlighting its “variety of flavors, packaging that describes it as creamy and, according to its slogan, ‘as tasty as life itself’.”

Around the same time, the municipal government of Bauta, a town in Artemisa province where the brothers’ dairy factory is located, ran an article on the company. It reported on a visit by the then-ambassador of Argentina, Luis Ilarregui, and the Argentinian director of Frishers, Hernán Oms, whose company supplied the factory’s machinery. A few months earlier, Humberto Camilo Hernández, head of the Communist Party Central Committee’s Cadre Policy Department, inspected the facilities, “where he took an interest in the quality of the product.”

The blessing of the government officials, however, does not make the company any less competitive. “You can’t say anything bad about this place,” a customer remarked on Sunday as she was leaving, holding her son’s hand. “The quality, the service… It’s not for everyone but it’s worth the price.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Havana 2024: Poverty, Blackouts, Remittances

This is the capital of a country whose ills a single photo can not exhaust

A segment of Revillagigedo street that overlooks the Atarés cove, in Old Havana / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 3 May 2024 — It is difficult to make the adventures of a country fit in a single photo. Sometimes, however, the shots come together in front of the camera and the country says what it has to say about itself. 14ymedio captured this snapshot that summarizes, if not all, some of the key points of the crisis in which Cuba has been immersed for years.

This is a segment of Revillagigedo Street that overlooks the Atarés Cove, in Old Havana, where a Supermarket 23 vehicle stopped this Friday. Supermarket 23 provides home delivery of food ordered and paid for by someone “out there” — where the dollars come from — for their relatives or friends in Cuba.

For many Cubans, the online market is the way they always get their food.

Uniformed and clean, the employee distributes the “little bag” with the products in a neighborhood that could not be more dilapidated and in which trash sites proliferate. A few meters from where the car is parked, a person – a cap on his head, backpack and red socks – is digging through a container. For those who do not receive remittances, there is always the garbage. continue reading

Among the overflowing garbage bins, beggars find their food and those who collect and sell raw materials back to the State find junk to dismantle. Properly used, a container can be a gold mine for those the official press — which does not spare euphemisms — calls “wanderers.”

For those who do not receive remittances, there is always the garbage

The bars on the doors, the windows and the air conditioners are eloquent signs of the insecurity that the country is experiencing: without bars, any equipment is at risk of being torn from the wall, and any hole can serve as an entrance for increasingly violent bandits and thieves. Settled on his motorcycle, a man tries to grease and start the mechanism, while residents and passers-by walk through Revillagigedo. Up the street, down the street.

At the mouth of the street, with the sea in full view, appears the imposing silhouette of a Turkish patana, a floating power plant. To suffer blackouts so close to machine that is as polluting as it is powerful is ironic for Havanans. The towers of the floating plant evoke not only the energy instability of the country, but also give the neighborhood an apocalyptic air, which mixes very well — sadly — with the cracked and unpainted building.

This is the capital of country, however, whose ills a single photo cannot exhaust.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

A Capitalist Symbol of the 1950s, Ten Cent Is Revived as a Private-Sector Retail Business in Cuba

 •”Eat, Drink and Be Merry for Life is Short!,” reads a sign at the entrance on Carlos III Street*

• The privately-owned business has taken over a sizable portion of a state-run pharmacy, which now has only a single counter to serve customers.

“The Ten Cent Wholesale-Retail Market” reads a sign in a window of the store, which has been decorated for the occasion / 14ymedio

14ymedio biggerJuan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 30 April 2024 — The broad avenue in Central Havana already has a large currency exchange, a botanical garden and even a park dedicated to Karl Marx. What it lacks is a pharmacy combined with a privately run food and beverage store. Located at 704 Carlos III Street, the space has been divided into a small area which serves as a drug store and another, larger area for food and drinks.

“The Ten Cent Wholesale-Retail Market” reads a sign in a store window, which has been decorated for the occasion. “Eat, Drink and Be Merry for Life Is Short,” reads another sign, this one to the left of the entrance, which — like the rest of the store’s windows —has conveniently been blacked out to keep curious passersby from being able to see what is inside.

On the same sign and in smaller print is the name of the company managing the store: Mexohabana. The business was added to the list of privately-owned small and medium-sized companies (MSMEs) that officials approved in May, 2023. It is registered in the Revolution Plaza district and licensed to provide food services.

The darkened windows and air of secrecy have only fueled speculation about the project. On Tuesday, a woman approached the narrow counter in the part of the building that still operates as a drug store. Customers are no longer allowed inside the poorly stocked pharmacy, which seems lifeless compared to the buzz of the private company with which it shares the iconic retail space. continue reading

On the same sign is the name of the company managing the store, Mexohabana, in small print / 14ymedio

“Do you have Enalapril?” asks the woman who, after being told no, took the opportunity to inquire about the store next door. The employee, reluctant to answer questions, only says, “It seems that they’ll be opening next week.” Another customer, however, a resident of the neighborhood, jumps into the Ten Cent conversation. “They’re putting a lot of money into it. High-quality refrigerators, displays for drinks, counters and lots of boxes with merchandise,” she says.

The owners have spared no expense. Besides spending money on decorations to the entrance, they have also installed new exterior lighting, a new air conditioning system and Axis point-of-sale terminals. Building repairs include painting the walls and solving the decades-long drainage problems.

“From the outside it looks like a different country, like a store in a capitalist country,” observes a street vendor who has placed his meager offerings on a blanket a few yards away. They consist of an empty liquid detergent bottle, some worn women’s shoes, and some half-empty matchboxes. “Several homeless people here at night,” he explains.

There’s been talk of its being an MSME since they started working on it. With the police and the pressure, they’ve been making life difficult for people here,” he says. “They say we have to clear out because there’s going to be a lot of customers and we can’t block the sidewalk or create a bad impression.”

The man finds the use of the Ten Cent name on the façade of the new store nothing if not ironic. “I used to go the one on Galiano Street when I was a child. My grandmother used to take me to the café. I worked nearby, after they had already changed the name and you needed a ration book to buy things there. I never imagined that I would ever see it come back”.

The Ten Cent stores were very popular in Cuba, particularly in Havana, where five of the ten outlets were located. The retail stores, subsidiaries of the North American parent company F. W. Woolworth Company, were located on downtown Havana streets and avenues such as 23rd, Obispo, Monte and Galiano. Many customers were attracted by the spacious sales floors and reasonable prices, which are etched in their collective memory.

Symbols of capitalism and consumption, these businesses succumbed to the wave of nationalizations that swept the country after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 / Archive

Even today, the name Woolworth is still visible at some of these stores, set in stone at the entry threshold. Older Havana residents continue to refer to them as “Ten Cent,” their original name. Symbols of capitalism and consumption, they succumbed to the wave of nationalizations that swept the country after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959

The new Carlos III Street store is a nod to that pre-communist past. Ironically, it seems that, in order to get built, it needed to take over a substantial portion of a state-run pharmacy that had fallen into disrepair due to the collapse of the Cuban pharmaceutical industry. Where dipyrones, aspirin and mortars were once stored before being crushed and mixed into compounds in the dispensary, imported beers, imported cookies gouda from Holland will soon be on display.

“You don’t know when you’re going to be getting Diazepam?” asks an elderly man standing just outside the narrow door where a makeshift counter has been placed. It serves as the only remaining point of contact between customers and pharmacy employees. “No, Grandpa, I don’t know,” the employee responds tersely. The used goods seller takes the opportunity to chime in, saying in a loud voice, “Diazepam is what we’re going to need to calm down after we see the prices in there because we won’t be able to buy anything for ten cents!”

The gangly silhouette of the man with the knick-knacks is reflected in the glass, just below the invitation to “Eat and drink and be merry, for life is short!”

*Translator’s note: A version of old, popular Spanish rhyme, “Hermano, bebe que la vida es breve.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

La Cuevita, Where Capitalism Works in Cuba

The sale of medicines and the purchase of foreign currency, all informal, happens in full view of the police and despite the operatives

“Policemen have to solve their problems too, that’s why they are in La Cuevita buying their things” / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 14 April 2024 – The market known as La Cuevita, in San Miguel del Padrón, on the outskirts of Havana, is not larger than the one that spreads under 100 and Boyeros in the capital, but it does have a greater impact. “The stall space for the self-employed is small, but the informal sales around them are huge, and that is where the majority of buyers go.”

Nelly, who accompanied 14ymedio on a visit to La Cuevita this Friday, lives in Ciego de Ávila, but comes by every month. Before, she used to work as a mule going back and forth to Haiti, but with the uptick in violence in that country, she has changed it to the markets of Havana. She’s not the only one. “We all arrive with suitcases and then we return to our provinces to sell things there.”

“It’s like arriving at the bus station, you know?” says Raniel, who has come to La Cuevita to buy medicine. In legally established self-employed stores, you can find jewelry, watches, clothing, caps or glasses, but it’s the informal sellers who display an infinite arsenal of items of all kinds. Among them, medicines stand out especially.

“They arrive and stand in the hallway, spread a box full of medicines and stand there to sell them,” explains Raniel, who prefers to buy in La Cuevita than on online sales sites, where they are more expensive. It is easy to see that most of them are imported, that is, brought from outside by mules, but quite a few of them are Cuban-made, which indicates that they come from the state market. “Cuban enalapril* costs 250 pesos per blister here, and in Revolico it costs between 300 and 350 pesos.” And in the pharmacy? “Do not even mention the pharmacy! Enalapril is among the missing”, says Raniel. continue reading

Anti-inflammatories, analgesics, diclofenac with paracetamol, antibiotics of all kinds… Anyone would say, visiting these stands, that in Cuba there is no problem with the shortage of medicines that chronically afflicts the health system.

Other striking stands are those for purchasing currency. As with medicines, as if it were a legal activity, huge signs indicate the exchange rate: the euro at 350 pesos, the dollar at 345, and the freely convertible currency (MLC), at 270. “People arrive and, just as if it were a Cadeca [Exchange place], take out their fulas** or take out their euros and sell them there, without hiding anything,” says Nelly, who is no longer so surprised by the activity. And the Police? Because, on paper, this illegality carries high fines. “They have to bribe the inspectors, because there are operatives every day, but they just remain very calm”.

As if it were a legal activity, huge signs in La Cuevita indicate the exchange rate / 14ymedio

During the tour, this newspaper was able to verify, in fact, that there are numerous agents moving through the corridors. “The police have to solve their problems too, that’s why they are here buying their things,” argues Nelly. In the time that she has been dedicated to reselling in the province, she has never been fined, but she has a friend who has not been so lucky. “She already has 8,000 pesos in fines, but she comes back, comes back and comes back, because it is true that we have no other way to make a living in this country.”

If you are in La Cuevita for long enough, you can also see that many surrounding houses are used as warehouses, also informal. It is in these places where small appliances abound, such as pressure cookers, induction cookers and fans.

It is difficult to make your way through the aisles due to the number of people there, who, between jostling, mix with those who shout merchandise: liquid detergent, soap, toothpaste, chicken, oil, medicines, spaghetti, elbows, potatoes… “Even packaged coffee like the one from the bodega [ration store],” says Raniel, who is convinced that many of these are products ‘diverted’ from the state market.

“Informal sales are huge, and that’s where most buyers go” / 14ymedio

The boy takes care of himself among the overwhelming crowd: “Here you take out your wallet, you pay and in the process of putting it in your pocket they take it from you.”

La Cuevita is a place known by Havana residents since the 80s, although it did not begin to gain splendor until the immigration reform of 2013, which allowed Cubans to leave and enter the Island more easily.

But it was with the established rule of eliminating tariffs on food and medicine, after the demonstrations of 11 July 2021, that the market has become crowded.

A mirror seller approaches: “If you buy me the large and medium one, I’ll give you a small one,” he offers, as if he were at a capitalist street market. “There is a very big economic life,” Raniel concedes. “Here people come to fight, to make a living.” And he jokes: “It’s as if capitalism existed in Cuba.”Translator’s notes:

*Enalapril: ACE inhibitor taken to lower blood pressure
**fulas: Cuban slang meaning US Dollars

Translator: Norma Whiting
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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Cubans Without ‘Family in the Exterior’ Survive by Reselling on the Streets

Galiano Street, in Central Havana, has become a showcase for misery

An old woman has half a dozen disposable razors for sale, some that are also ’discarded’ / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 23 April 2024 — Cubans who emigrate to Miami have an expression for those who remain on the Island, those whom they support with their remittances: “Cubans with faith.” The word “faith” in Spanish is “fe,” which stands for “Family in the Exterior,” meaning relatives abroad. Eduardo, who left the country three years ago on the “route of the volcanoes” (through Nicaragua), doesn’t understand how “those who don’t have fe” can survive.

“Every week I have more and more acquaintances in Cuba asking me to send them money, because they don’t have children who can send them some. But I can’t handle everyone; I have children there too,” says this 40-year-old from Havana. “Distant relatives write my mom to ask for my help, as if I were a millionaire. I wish I could, but I know that’s not the solution.”

Aurora was an artist in the principal theaters of Cuba and always believed in the Revolution

If she ever dares to tell those relatives to stand in front of the Plaza de la Revolución and ask for “help” to save themselves, they call her an “anti-patriot” and a “Trumpista.” The suffering of relatives who couldn’t emigrate becomes dramatic in the case of the elderly.

Aurora was an artist in the principal theaters of Cuba and always believed in the Revolution. Today, widowed and alone, with a pension that does not reach 2,000 pesos and not a single family member who sends her money from abroad, she barely survives. Eating, although little, is not such a problem: there is always a neighbor who has a slightly more comfortable continue reading

life, either because of business “on the left” or from receiving remittances, and will help with a little rice or beans or both. The biggest problem is electricity. She can’t pay the new prices, so Aurora doesn’t even turn on the lights at night: one more risk to add to her 85 years and her reduced mobility.

On a step under the arches, an old man sells cigars and rubber parts for pots and coffee makers / 14ymedio

Like Aurora, hundreds of thousands of elderly Cubans – two and a half million over 60 years of age on the Island – are on the verge of extreme poverty. Those who don’t even have a roof over their heads sleep in the streets. Several of them take advantage of the busiest roads of the capital to resell a few items, always scarce, always of poor quality. One of the busiest is Galiano street, in Central Havana, a true showcase of misery.

An old woman had half a dozen disposable razors for sale this Tuesday, including those that are also discarded: few people can shave with those gadgets that they sell in state shops.

Later, on a step under the arches, another old man sells cigars and rubber parts for pots and coffee makers. Others offer sweets, liquid detergent, instant soft drinks or batteries.

“It’s not just that it’s not enough for them to live on, it’s that it’s useless for them,” said a woman who helps her 80-year-old mother as much as she can and who bought, out of charity, a battery pack on Galiano on Tuesday. “It’s just that 1,500 pesos of pension in this country is nothing. And look how hungry they are, how much need and sadness.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba, Where Humor Has Given Way to Pain

Without electricity and Internet access, this is how its inhabitants spend a good part of their days

Calle Vivanco, in San Antonio de los Baños, this Wednesday / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, San Antonio de los Baños, 24 April 2024 — “It hurts to see this town like this,” is the laconic phrase released by a woman sitting in a park in San Antonio de los Baños when a newcomer asks her for an address and tells her how deteriorated he has found the so-called City of Humor. Destroyed sidewalks, facades that don’t conceal the brickwork and the taciturn faces of the people complete the sickly picture of this small town in the province of Artemisa.

A central hub between the agricultural towns of the area and Havana, the land of the Ariguanabo River copes very poorly with the economic crisis and the mass exodus that also affect the rest of the Island. “Blackout!” a neighbor was heard screaming today from inside his house to warn his wife who, sitting at the door, was trying to sell cigarettes one at a time. Seconds later, after the telecommunications towers that provide the web browsing service in the area stopped working, internet access on mobile phones was cut off.

Without electricity and without internet access, this is how the people of San Antonio de los Baños spend a good part of their days. All life is paralyzed when “the power goes out and this town becomes dead,” another local neighbor confirms to 14ymedio who remembers the times when “you had to look before crossing the street because so many cars were circulating.” Now, with the local economy having hit rock bottom, San Antonio de los Baños is not much different from any other place in deep Cuba, where the days are spent standing in line and flies buzz around everywhere.

All life is paralyzed when “the power goes out and this becomes a dead town”

In the streets and houses, drought and problems with the supply of drinking water have added a reddish patina to everything, and the clayey earth of the area is turned into fine dust that gets into every crack. Rosa María, another resident, wipes her face with a small towel. Her sweat adds a spot of brown to all the previous ones. She is waiting for some transport to take her away from the small town.

“I’ve been here for more than an hour but imagine that to go to Santiago de las Vegas they want to charge you 150 pesos. Quivicán is just as much; they have lost respect for money,” she says. A few meters away stands the intensely colored facade of the Los 3 Grandes bar and cafeteria, of the Palmares chain, which offers national cocktails, appetizers and musical shows on weekends, one of the few places for nightlife that is maintained.

“I came to visit my family, and I see that they are all thinner and sadder,” says the man from Havana who was asking for directions. “My brother-in-law who used to repair cars now survives by fishing, because he can no longer maintain the business, and his family depends on what he manages to catch.” His little niece has it worse. “For children there is no place, nowhere to have fun. They go from school to home and from home to school; there is nothing else.”

The Coppelia ice cream parlor is now in the hands of a small private company that sells each scoop of ice cream at 120 pesos and a bowl at 400 pesos. Of course, unlike the times when it was managed by the State, its menu overflows with flavors: chocolate, strawberry and dulce de leche were some of those offered this Wednesday, but the interior was practically empty. The new prices have driven away the previous clientele, frightened by inflation.

The new prices have driven away the previous clientele, frightened by inflation

“To satisfy your stomach, you need a pizza,” said a sign of another private business nearby, also with many ornaments and few customers. For 140 pesos each, the buyer can take home a piece of baked dough, with tomato sauce and cheese. In another, called Colorama, a more chic place for more well-off people, a slice costs 900 pesos but includes ham, chorizo and olives.

The rise in the cost of living makes it more difficult to spend, and in the community that once lived from agriculture, the nearby International Film School and the tourists who came to visit the Museum of Humor in the land of jokes and sarcasm, the depression is quite noticeable.

Along with the decrease in the flow of potatoes and bananas due to the drop in production, the school no longer has as many resources as before, when it resold thousands of cans of beer and packages of coffee at a better price than in the State stores. The exhibition with portraits and works of illustrious humorists does not attract as many visitors or as much laughter either. The river that runs through the town contains a green and stagnant water that many avoid approaching.

“A crippled house, like the whole town,” says a resident on the same block

In a corner of Vivanco Street, the neighbors have knocked down part of the facade of a house about to collapse. “A crippled house, like the whole town,” says a resident on the same block. “This is like a punishment; since we threw ourselves here into the street, the punishments have not stopped,” says the man about that Sunday of 11 July 2021 when San Antonio de los Baños was the place where the massive popular protests that shook the entire Island began.

Carrying a suitcase, a young man advances at noon this Wednesday to the point where the private trucks leave for Havana. “There goes another one who isn’t coming back,” says a neighbor. The wheels of the luggage cart kick up the reddish dust that remains in the air and sticks to everything. In the town where people once laughed until their stomachs hurt, now the days seem more like a wake than a party.

[From TranslatingCuba.com: Note to ‘anonymous translator’ – Our most sincere apologies, we will definitely follow up. Please feel free to email us directly about this at: TranslatingCuba < at > Gmail (dot) com]

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

Havana’s Cafe Baco, a Glamorous Interior and a Culinary Insult

Some tourists are seduced by the presence of lobster on the menu / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 21 April 2024 — “We are state-run and our prices are low,” says an employee in an impeccable white shirt on Friday. He is standing outside the building that houses the collection of Havana’s Museum of Fine Arts. The young waiter is trying to lure customers into the building where Café Baco, a rarely visited restaurant, is located.

A European tourist and his Cuban girlfriend scrutinize the menu that the man has handed them outside the imposing building, once known as the Asturian Center. “Nowhere in Havana are you going to find lobster at that price,” insists the employee, directing his gaze at a group of travelers who have just gotten off a Transtur bus.

“Nowhere in Havana are you going to find lobster at that price”

“Come in. You won’t regret it,” Dayana hears him say. The 45-year-old Havana resident, who was standing nearby, falls for the sales pitch and decides to give Café Baco a try. “I didn’t even know this existed because there’s no sign on the street or anything. I’ve brought my children to this museum several times but I didn’t know it had a restaurant, much less that it sold shellfish. So I’m going to try it and we’ll see how it goes.” continue reading

Unlike tourists, who are dazzled just by the sight of lobster on the menu, Cubans are focused on other details when choosing where to spend their money at a time of high inflation. “I normally don’t eat in state-owned restaurants because I know they’re inferior,” Dayana says as she climbs the imposing staircase with marble railings, elaborate balustrades and carved parapets.

The ambience causes the Havana native to salivate. It seems like the prelude to a lavish banquet. “The food must be at the same level as this staircase,” she says sarcastically, imagining that the decor is one thing but that what’s on the plate is another. No one else climbs the steps; no other customers come in. It is around 12:30 and the place seems deserted. The echo of Dayana’s footsteps is all that can be heard inside.

The only sound in the deserted restaurant is the echo of Dayana’s footsteps / 14ymedio

Wearing a crown of grape leaves and nude to the waist, Bacchus — the Greek god of wine and food — reigns over the dining room from a wall to one side. The walls themselves are covered in dark green tiles. Elaborate arches, supported by columns with flowery capitals, give the space the air of a Spanish tavern, a place where you could sink your teeth into a nice cod, pierce an olive with your fork and enjoy a good red wine.

The baronial Spanish touch, however, is limited to the tiles and a reproduction of Diego Velázquez’ painting “The Triumph of Bacchus.” Otherwise, it is cross between a place that serves bad food and a state-run workplace marked by apathy and supply shortages. “The menu is full of items they don’t have,” Dayana says in a phone call to her sister from inside the restaurant. “I was going to tell you to come here but changed my mind because it’s so bad.”

Without bothering to lower her voice so as not to be heard by the employees, she continues telling her sister about her experience. “Just imagine, I order a fruit juice and they bring me a glass that’s half ice and half instant soda,” she says, appalled. A few yards away, a tourist who has just entered the room is is taking photos of the Velázquez mural, more commonly known as “The Drunkards.”

“The view is nice but I sat on a balcony where it’s cool because it doesn’t smell good inside”

“Of course, the view is nice but I sat on a balcony where it’s cool because it doesn’t smell good inside. You know, it smells like burnt grease, like they haven’t cleaned in a long time.” Dayana continues as though she were dictating a review for a restaurant guide. “I came in because I was tired of walking and wanted to check the place out but I already know what to expect. They don’t have most of the things on the menu.”

A waitress approaches the table with a plate of rice, a pork cutlet, some cabbage, and a few slices of cucumber. For a moment the customer thinks she has scored a great deal. Only 900 pesos compared to the more than 1,500 pesos that such a meal would cost in a privately owned restaurant in a less historic and less sumptuous location. But the feeling passes as soon as she brings the spoon to her mouth.

The soupy rice is made up of grains from different sources, the cabbage is limp, the cutlet is under-seasoned and — to top it all off — the empty vinegar cruet is sticky to the touch. “Based on how quickly they brought everything out, and the temperature of the rice and the pork, you can tell it was already was prepared,” she reflects, her cell phone pressed to her ear. Over by the wall, an inebriated woman next to Bacchus stares at the Dayana with a scornful smile.

Soupy rice, limp cabbage, under-seasoned pork cutlet, and and an empty vinegar cruet that is sticky to the touch

Though the meal was as she predicted, Dayana nevertheless feels a pang of frustration. “I’m going to order a coffee to get over it,” she says. Minutes later, the waitress brings a cup that is missing its saucer. Mixed with milk and generously sprinkled with cinnamon, the imitation cappuccino seems like an opportunity to put the bland menu out of her mind.

“No surprise, the coffee is bad. It’s mixed with a lot of other things but at least it perked me up a bit so I get up and walk home,” she says during the umpteenth phone call to her sister to tell her about Café Baco. The experience has cost her 1,195 Cuban pesos, less than four dollars at the current exchange rate on the informal market.

After the last sip, a dark, sandy-textured sediment remains in the cup. Dayana leaves 1,250 pesos on the table, takes her wallet and exits. As she is walking out, two of the drunks in the Velazquez painting, their noses red and looking directly at her, seem to be laughing harder, mocking Dayana.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

The Rich Are Also Fleeing Cuba, Selling Their Properties at a Discount

Even some of the gigantic mansions in Siboney confiscated by the Revolution are for sale.

The island’s residential real estate market is saturated due to a mass exodus that is bleeding the country dry / Houses and Apartments for Sale in Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya/Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 3 April 2024 — Juan Carlos divides his time between Milan and Havana. The 52-year-old’s children, wife and parents all live in Italy but, for more than two years, he has been trying to sell an old mansion in Havana’s Vedado district which has caused him “more headaches than happiness.” Located a few yards from Línea Street, the house was a project that fulfilled a life-long dream that, as he puts it, “blossomed then failed.”

In the late 1990s, Juan Carlos received a scholarship to study art at an Italian university. When he left José Martí International Airport, he knew there was no going back and that he had to make a life for himself outside the island. “I had always lived with my parents and my sisters in a small apartment, so from a very young age my dream was to have my own home, one that was spacious, bright and had an area I could use as my studio.”

Ultimately, Juan Carlos married an Italian woman and, in 2014, began the process of repatriating to Cuba. He had lost his residency status after not visiting his country for several years. “There was a lot of excitement and several of my artist and designer friends were part of a wave of people getting Cuban identity cards again.”

One of the benefits of having Cuban residency is the ability to buy a house. “At the time, my wife and I were making good money. Her father had also died and left her a sizable inheritance so we decided to buy the place in Vedado. It was my life-long dream and I was finally able to make it come true.” continue reading

One of the benefits of having Cuban residency is the ability to buy a house. “It was my life-long dream and I was finally able to make it come true.”

One of the benefits of having Cuban residence is the ability to buy a house. “At the time, my wife and I were making good money. Her father had also died and left her a sizable inheritance so we decided to buy the place in Vedado. It was my life-long dream and I was finally able to make it come true.”

Juan Carlos reports that it cost almost as much to repair the house as it did to buy it. Other problems cropped up once constrution was underway: rusted beams, dampness in the walls, issues with the concrete. They even had to redo some of the column capitals. “They started coming apart as we were painting them.”

The process was long and costly. “I had to go to Cuba five times a year so, in addition to construction expenses, there was the cost of airline tickets. It seemed like the house was eating money. Every month we spent thousands of dollars to restore and maintain it. We had to hire two custodians to make sure our building materials weren’t stolen.”

Finally, in April 2022, six years after buying the house, the work was done.

Apartments are also for sale in Havana’s legendary Focsa Building, one of the city’s most stylish when it was completed in 1956 / 14ymedio

Juan Carlos describes it as “a dream come true.” But, by then, he no longer wanted to own property in Cuba. “I had spent long periods in Havana and everything was deteriorating a lot. I thought about how to make some money out of it, maybe by renting it to a diplomat, or to an entrepreneur who wanted to open a restaurant. But I realized that doing that would have meant spending all my time keeping an eye on the place because [as the old saying goes] ’it’s the owner’s eye makes the horse fat.’”

In May of that same year, he decided to put the newly furnished home up for sale. The problem now, however, is that no one wants to buy it. “I have to list it with several real estate agencies and I’ve also dropped the price several times. I am currently asking $150,000 for everything but it’s been two years and, so far, there are no takers.” The island’s residential real estate market is saturated due to the mass exodus that is bleeding the country.

A quick look at local real estate listings says it all. A colonial-style house in Vibora Park that has been outfitted to operate as a nightclub, described as “a golden opportunity,” is on the market for $60,000, with 80% its contents included (“from wines to coffee makers,” the listing states). A 120-square-meter apartment in Vedado with seaside views is for sale at $80,000. A “recreation estate” with a four-bedroom house and a 1,450-square-meter extension is available for $50,000.

Though many of the listings do not indicate prices, there are lots of photos suggesting a high degree of luxury

Other listings suggest there has been some haggling going on. The asking price for penthouse in Vedado, covered in marble and with the ocean below — its elderly owner is also visible in the photos — has gone from $270,000 to $190,000.

Though many of the listings do not indicate prices, there are lots of photos suggesting a high degree of luxury, most of them taken after obviously expensive remodelings. One of them is a 1950s property in Nuevo Vedado with seven bedrooms, four bathrooms, a patio, terrace and jacuzzi. Then there is one of the spacious apartments in the Geralt Sisters Building, completed in 1958 with all the latest amenities of its era. Its exterior is now falling to pieces after years of neglect.

One of the problems when selling these houses is that anyone who dares set foot in the neighborhoods where they are located is scared away. This is the case with an apartment in San Lázaro. Advertised as a “luxury penthouse with ocean views in the heart of the city” in Central Havana, it is surrounded by ruined buildings and piles of garbage on every street corner.

Another quirk of the saturated real estate market is that now even the enormous mansions in Siboney, which were confiscated after Cuban Revolution by the regime’s leaders, are up for sale. The problem here is that, because they were nationalized after their original owners were exiled, they could be subject to future lawsuits.

Rita, a Cuban who works as a private residential real estate agent, explains the situation: “Before, these types of properties were handled with some discretion by an agency. Now, the owners are so desperate to sell that they post the listings themselves on Facebook for all to see.”

“I’m not going back to Cuba, which means I will lose my residency status once I have been out of the country for twenty-four months, but I don’t care anymore”

What owners like Juan Carlos want is to move their money out of Cuba. “It’s a large amount and I will have a lot of problems when the time comes. But everyone is in the same boat. They want hard currency and they want it to take overseas,” he says.

His plan is to wait a few months, then reduce the price. He does not plan on going back to Cuba once the property is sold. “I will lose my residency status once I have been out of the country for twenty-four months but I don’t care anymore,” he says.

“I thought my sons would grow up in this house, that Cuba would grow and move forward, but I was wrong. Between one thing and another, this venture has cost me and my wife more than a quarter million dollars,” says Juan Carlos, who has some mixed feelings about his house. “It’s very pretty. In Milan a house like this would have cost me a fortune but now no one wants to live in Cuba now.”

With its stained glass windows, long marble staircase, imported black granite in the kitchen, stately bathtubs and enormous mirrors in the living room, the mansion — like so many other Cuban properties whose owners once dreamed of living and growing old on the island — is still on the market, waiting for a buyer.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

‘In Cuba, We Don’t Even Get a Good Eclipse’

Only one man watched the event, looking up and shading his eyes with a roll of paper

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, 8 April 2024, Havana — The total solar eclipse that took place this Monday in North America and that was observed as partial in Cuba did not arouse much interest on the Island. In the peak hour of the phenomenon, shortly before three in the afternoon, the light dimmed, as in an old TV movie, and it came on again, but no one seemed to be aware of the sky.

The Institute of Geophysics and Astronomy (IGA) had warned of the security measures to watch the eclipse, which took place in the country between 1:40 and 4:05 pm. The coverage of the sun by the shadow of the Moon reached 43.9% in the area of the territory where it was observed with greater intensity, the Cape of San Antonio, in Pinar del Río, at 2:46 p.m.

The lines for buses and the tired looks were the same as always / 14ymedio

“If you have a small telescope or even a simple piece of cardboard with a tiny hole, you can project the image of the sun onto a white screen and observe the sun indirectly,” advised the IGA. Other recommendations were to protect your eyesight to avoid “serious and irreversible burns on the retina,” use appropriate “optical filters” (avoiding homemade gadgets, such as smoked glass, black nylon or x-rays) and not look directly at the sun.

Hardly anyone listened because they weren’t following the astronomical event. The lines for buses and the tired looks were the same as always. Only one man watched the event, looking up and shading his eyes with a roll of paper. Asked about the phenomenon, which she claimed to barely perceive, a woman said, resignedly: “It’s nothing; in Cuba we don’t even get a good eclipse.” Upon hearing this, another passer-by replied with a sneer: “It’s the fault of the [American] blockade.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

With the Approval of the Kremlin, an Arsenal of Russian Films Reaches Havana Cinemas

The Russian Embassy in the capital and the state film company Roskino have spared no resources so that Cuba can enjoy the “best and most modern proposals” of its filmmakers / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 4 April 2024 — The launch of a Russian spaceship echoed this Wednesday on the screen of the Yara cinema before the impassive faces of the spectators. The Cuban public, overshadowed by the foreign audience – guests, filmmakers and diplomats – barely survived the almost three hours of The Challenge, the first film shot in space, which served as the starting shot for the Russian Film Festival in Havana.  Faced with such a panorama, quite a few took advantage of the darkness to sneak behind the windows and return to planet

The Russian Embassy in the capital, the state film company Roskino and other Moscow companies have spared no resources so that the “Island of Freedom” – as Cuba is known in the remote Russian imagination – enjoys the “best and most modern proposals” of its filmmakers.

Neither the free admission nor the movie titles managed, however, to tempt Cubans. Very few stopped at the Yara for the premiere of The Challenge, which was attended not only by the cultural attaché of the Russian Embassy and other diplomats, but also by the film’s director, Klim Shipenko, along with several members of his team.

Indifferently, a Yara employee gave viewers a program, a pen with the festival’s colors, and a satisfaction “questionnaire” about Russian cinema. “Did you like the event? How do you value the organization? What movie did you see? How did you find out? How likely are you to attend again next year?” Overwhelmed by the interrogation, some folded the sheet of paper and looked for their seats. continue reading

The premiere of ’The Challenge’ was attended by the cultural attaché of the Russian Embassy and other diplomats, and the director of the film himself, Klim Shipenko / 14ymedio

Groups of students, several elderly people, and many Russians made up the audience for The Challenge. From the central seats, reserved for the diplomatic corps, the cultural attaché emerged and went on stage alongside Shipenko and a group of filmmakers. While they spoke – at length – about the film, the audience suffered numerous walkouts. “It’s nice to see so many people in the cinema,” said the director.

When the film finally began, the mismatch of the soundtrack – excessively loud – drove more Cubans from the Yara. The movie took care of the rest. The dialogues in Russian, often shouted, and the bloody plot of the film impressed the public. A surgeon, the program explains, goes to the International Space Station to perform an operation in the difficult conditions of the station.

Nor did the triumphant and exalted tone of Russian exploits go unnoticed. With some exceptions, such as the children’s Cheburashka cartoons – which have a Soviet version well known to Cubans – the films that Russia brings to Havana have a strong ideological component and contain a propaganda message in support of the Kremlin.

Although these values ​​– usually defended by Vladimir Putin in his speeches – are marked in The Challenge, which highlights the “technological superiority” of Russia, inherited from the Soviet Union’s space race, the most politicized film that Cubans will be able to see during the festival is The Champion of the World, by Alexey Sidorov

It deals with the well-known rivalry between two of the most controversial chess players of all time: the Russian dissident Victor Korchnoi and his eternal rival, the world champion Anatoly Karpov, a Soviet icon during the Cold War and member of the Communist Party. The story is Manichaean: although both are considered geniuses in the science game, the film presents Korchnoi as a drunk and Karpov as a brilliant young man, respectful of the country and a defender of Russia against the “deserter.”

The mismatch of the excessively loud soundtrack drove several Cubans from the Yara / 14ymedio

Curiously, and despite his loyalty to the Kremlin, Karpov – today a member of Putin’s party – was admitted to a Moscow hospital in 2022  in serious condition and under suspicious circumstances. Although his family and the Russian media denied it, one rumor indicated that it was “a warning” from Putin for his criticism of the invasion of Ukraine.

Despite the propaganda and special effects of The World Champion and The Challenge, the precariousness of the Yara facilities – supposedly recently repaired – bring the Cuban viewer back to real life. Those who, fleeing from the scenes of a cosmonaut’s open-chested operation, tried to go to the bathroom in the cinema know this well.

“They disconnected everything because the water was being wasted,” explains a guard stationed near the toilets. Frustrated, spectators left the Yara convinced that – with or without Russia – the real challenge is not operating in space, but living in Cuba.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

‘Barbarossa’ Is Resurrected at the Yara Cinema With a Performance for the Military

The Yara cinema, minutes after the military left the premises / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez/Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 28 March 2024 — Four buses of the Armed Forces parked this Thursday in front of the Yara cinema, in Havana’s Vedado district. Its passengers – a flood of soldiers, almost all of them Army and Navy recruits – had tickets for the 2:00 pm screening: I am Barbarossa, the documentary by filmmaker Rebeca Chávez about one of the most sinister architects of the Security of the State, Commander Manuel Piñeiro. 

Two days had passed since this newspaper called attention to the suspicious cloak of silence with which the regime covered the feared Barbarossa – of whom the Chilean writer Jorge Edwards even said he had “limited and influenced” the movements of Fidel Castro – during Cuba State Security’s anniversary.

It is assumed that the Armed Forces contingent had planned, well in advance, to go to the movies. Also drawing attention, in the midst of the current fuel crisis, was the deployment of four large vehicles to attend a recreational function. At the end of the event, the soldiers dispersed to the nearby food stands and, around 3:30 pm, returned to the buses. 

Navy recruits, return to the buses after the screening of the documentary / 14ymedio

This Thursday morning, Prensa Latina announced the screening of Soy Barbarroja at the Yara and noted that Piñeiro had been “one of the founders” of the Cuban counterintelligence, who owed his nickname “to the color of his beard from the time he came down from the Sierra Maestra with the rank of commander.” It also alluded to his role as promoter – from a distance – of several guerrillas in Latin America. continue reading

The agency offered few details about the movie, which recycled fragments of a 1997 CNN interview with Piñeiro, in addition to recordings of his first wife, the American dancer Lorna Burdsall; his widow, the Chilean Marxist Martha Harnecker; and his daughter, economics professor Camila Piñeiro. The documentary has only been screened once, on Cuban Television, at the beginning of the year, but it was not published by the Educational Channel on YouTube, as usually happens with this type of content.

Barbarossa ’s name also did not appear in the summary of President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s speech, during a gala honoring counterintelligence in which Raúl Castro participated and where he described the history of State Security as “the most fascinating, inspiring and patriotic” of Cuban memory. For his part, the nonagenarian soldier did not get up from his seat and his speech – actually a small letter – was read by the Minister of the Interior, Lázaro Álvarez Casas.

Army officers and recruits, walking along 23rd Avenue towards the buses / 14ymedio

Piñeiro, son of wealthy Galicians and in the shadow of Castro since the times of Sierra Maestra, died in 1998 under suspicious circumstances. The official version states that “he crashed into a tree” while he was driving his car, which was foreign to his habit. Despite his absolute loyalty to the regime that he helped form, his biography is little known to most Cubans, and he has been largely absent from the festivities for the 65th anniversary of State Security.

However, legendary enmities are attributed to him and he is the protagonist of numerous conspiracy theories. One of them, in particular, points to the strange circumstances of his death after distancing himself from politics while supposedly preparing his autobiography.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

A Way of the Cross Marked by Emigration and Tensions with the Communist Party of Cuba

The image of the Nazarene runs through Aguiar, under the poster of the municipal committee of the Communist Party / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez / Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 30 March 2024 — The most significant station of the Way of the Cross held in Old Havana this Friday, when dozens of Catholics took to the streets under the tense gaze of the Police, occurred on the block of the municipal committee of the Communist Party. The image of the Nazarene went through Aguiar Street and passed under the red and black sign of the same institution that restricted Holy Week with prohibitions in several provinces of the Island.

It was a procession with few faithful and a lot of vigilance. Presided over by Cardinal Juan García, there were more members of the clergy – Franciscan friars, seminarians and missionaries of the Charity of Teresa of Calcutta – and of the security forces than there were the believers who participated in it. However, the religious figures were able to leave at 6:00 pm from the parish of the Christ of the Good Journey to Cathedral Square.

Believers and officers were asked to “give space” to the figures and those who led the procession. “Why do they have so much security if people keep cutting through it,” one of the clerics said sarcastically. Before starting the procession, the priests thanked the “photographers, cameramen and the press” for their presence. “What a pleasure that you are here, because it is a pleasure to see the faith of the people,” they added.

Closely watched by the Police, the Way of the Cross procession leaves from the Buenviaje Church of Christ / 14ymedio

El Cristo and La Dolorosa, on the shoulders of the well-dressed parishioners, traveled around the damaged streets of Old Havana. Behind the figures, a bus with a bullhorn amplified the prayers of the cardinal and the faithful, who asked for “forgiveness” for the Cuban people. The reflections on the Passion of Christ – usual in the celebration – put the emphasis on comparing, although subtly, the suffering of Cubans with that of the first Christians. continue reading

It attributed to the soldiers who crucified Christ an abuse of their “right to coercion”; it alluded to the “spectacle of suffering” that becomes customary. Believers were asked to “approach the persecuted” and hear “the subtle voice of conscience” about the imprisoned. “The Way of the Cross of bitterness is not a civil act but a religious act,” the priests said aloud, and among them were voices critical of the regime such as Jorge Luis Pérez Soto and Kenny Fernández.

Priest Kenny Fernández in the foreground along with other members of the clergy in Cathedral Square / 14ymedio

More people joined when night fell and the symbolic body of Christ reached the Church of the Angel to be buried. Decorated with garlands and lights strung on balconies, the streets that lead to the Plaza del Ángel – in addition to the concert band that accompanied the parishioners – animated the procession.

Decimated by the emigration of a large part of the young Catholics of Havana and by the population in general, this Friday’s Way of the Cross was less emotional than that of previous years. The tensions between the Communist Party and several parish priests, such as the Dominican Lester Zayas, prevented the local Via Crucisis, smaller than the one held in Old Havana, from being carried out.

The procession marches, now at night, towards the Church of the Angel, where the Holy Burial is celebrated / 14ymedio

Interviewed by EFE about the limitations imposed on the parish of the Sacred Heart in El Vedado, which he attends, Zayas again said that his sermons on the Cuban crisis made the authorities uncomfortable and are the cause of the prohibition. “People say that priests can’t be involved in politics. And it’s true, if by politics we mean partisan politics, but if we understand politics as something social, then it is possible to talk about the Gospel. A priest can’t stand at the pulpit and talk about the Heaven that is going to arrive if we can’t transform what happens on Earth, where we have children who go to school without breakfast because they don’t have milk,” he said.

He added that what happened this week in several parishes throughout Cuba – especially in the dioceses of Santa Clara, Havana and Bayamo-Manzanillo – is an “attack on religious freedom.” However, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba announced that 111 celebrations, including Good Friday and Easter Sunday, were authorized by the Communist Party.

Holy Week has stirred up the unease of Cuban Catholics with the Government. While several priests, such as Fernández and Zayas in Havana, and Castor Álvarez and Alberto Reyes in Camagüey defend their right to criticize – as citizens and clerics – the situation on the Island, the Bishops’ Conference has remained in a certain lethargy and has not issued pastoral letters that, at another time, were their instrument to urge the rulers to change.

The frustrated negotiations for the release of political prisoners, the Vatican’s approaches to Miguel Díaz-Canel and the cordiality of the ecclesiastical leadership with the authorities of the Government and the Party make a critical turn of the bishops unlikely. Despite this, some isolated voices of the Conference, such as that of the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Dionisio García, have spoken out about the poverty, shortages and blackouts that led to the March 17 protests, with a focus on his archdiocese.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.

The Sea Returns Havana’s Garbage and More to the Malecon

When the sea withdraws, a whole layer of filth covers the nearest streets / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 30 March 2024 — “What comes from the sea, returns to the sea,” is a maxim that the residents of San Leopoldo, a Havana neighborhood bordering the Malecón, know very well. It’s a low zone in this area of the Cuban capital where there are frequent coastal floods. The sewers, in addition to draining the water, bring into homes the odor of saltwater mixed with trash, and the wastewater carries crabs that are skinny and pale, a result of a contaminated coastline that has few natural nutrients.

Almost a hundred years ago, after the construction of the wall where so many habaneros go to refresh themselves at night, the rocks were covered and the waves diverted. Areas that were filled in until the end of the 19th century were pure coastline. A good part of those areas snatched from the sea are once again under its control when storms and hurricanes hit the Cuban capital. The water rises in a few hours, floods Maceo Park and rushes through the streets of Lealtad, Escobar, Perseverancia and Reina into Belascoaín. Nothing can stop it.

With the penetrations of the sea comes the floating garbage that used to rest on the asphalt. It navigates the pieces of wood, circumvents the plastic bottles and sends the plastic bags with remnants of food and dirt sailing from the corners. The garbage containers are converted into ships, dirty and cracked gondolas that go where the waters carry them. But the waste that people have been throwing off the other side of the wall also returns.

The water rises in a few hours, flooding Maceo Park and rushes through the streets of Lealtad, Escobar, Perseverancia  covering Belascoaín street  

When the sea withdraws, a whole layer of filth covers the nearest streets. Most of the rubbish is concentrated In front of the Malecón wall, in the area from Gervasio to Galiano. Algae that is drying, all kinds of plastic, beer cans where the brands are no longer distinguishable, children’s flip-flops that the waves had taken away, and some inflated and pestilent bags that no one dares to even look at for fear of what they have inside. continue reading

Since last weekend’s storm, the sea brought back everything under the sun to the residents of San Leopoldo, along with the garbage that it removed from the street, which had been accumulating for weeks without the Communals Company coming to pick it up. It is as if nature were returning the offal to them and, by the way, clarifying to them that a city’s trash always returns to its streets, no matter how much the wall protects them.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 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.