Scrambled Powdered Eggs, a ‘Life Vest’ for Hungry Cubans

A package of powdered eggs from Argentina (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodriguez, Havana, 20 January 2023 — The the powdered eggs she bought last month are past their April expiration date. They also cost her 1,000 pesos for a one-kilogram package on the black market but Lucy doesn’t care. This is the only option for housewives who want to provide their families with this particular source of protein. When they are available, the cheapest price for fresh eggs is never less than 1,700 pesos for a thirty-egg carton.

Two tablespoons mixed with six tablespoons of water is the equivalent one egg. The unusual flavor, which Lucy describes as having a “packaged” aftertaste, can be corrected, she says, “with a lot of seasoning.” The Central Havana resident cooks it like scrambled eggs. She first sautés onion, chili pepper and rosemary, dissolves the powder egg in water and adds it to the pan, finishing it with a little tomato sauce. “It is delicious though I know some people only add a little salt.”

Powdered eggs are not available in any store — neither state-run nor private, neither for pesos nor for hard currency — because they are reserved for the Cuban processed food industry. Rather than an ingredient for omelettes, they are used in pastries or other preparations such as pancakes, croquettes and panetelas [cakes]. The goal is to prevent contamination from salmonella, which fresh eggs can carry.

Lucy points out that only the reason she able to get her hands on the Argentina-made product — the expired expiration date being a clue — was because someone “diverted” it to the black market, which provides some relief from the island’s endless shortages. To save money, she bought only half a package and split it with her sister.

“I remember there were eggs during the Special Period. People called them ‘life vests’,” she says. “Things have gotten so bad that now they come powdered and expired.”

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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 New Shop in Havana, ‘Thaba’, You Can Look at the Products but Not Buy Them for the Moment

Queue/line in front of Thaba’s shop in Havana on Wednesday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 19 January 2023 — On the day following its opening, which was announced with great fanfare by the official press on Tuesday, the shop owned by the Thaba company in the Havana district of Cerro was already being subjected to an audit. This opening had brought with it much expectation as it was anticipated that there would be items such as gloves on sale, or masks, backpacks or caps — things that are very difficult to find on the Island — at low prices and in pesos.

“You can’t buy anything at the moment because they’re auditing the shop”, explained the man calling himself the administrator as he stood in the shop doorway on Wednesday and addressed the crowd that had gathered there since the early hours. And then he added, grumpily, in the manner of an official from the Ministry of the Interior, that: “You can come in and have a look but you mustn’t interrupt in any way what they’re doing in there”.

The majority of those who were waiting turned away, but others, curious, accepted the offer. Inside the tiny shop a number of them took out their phones to take photos of the products and their prices but they were sternly warned by an employee: “You can take photos but you mustn’t put them on social media”.

A modern electronic register stood out on the counter. Payments can’t be made in cash, the employees explained, but only by using the EnZona or TransferMovil apps.

The main attraction of the shop is, without a doubt, rubber gloves (at 70 pesos), unavailable in Cuba for a long time. Apart from that, the range is limited to several backpacks, a few caps — all with Cuban flags — and masks.

To the disappointment of those who entered, the facemasks weren’t the surgical type — despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of the nationally produced blue masks (azulitas) are piled up in state producer Gardis’s warehouse — but instead they are cloth ones, and priced at 30 pesos each.

In the shop, a leather apron reaches 1,400 pesos, whilst a belt, of the kind worn by dock workers and heavy goods handlers, costs 400, a bag 800 and a durable small suitcase, 2,000.

Everything comes from the state company Thaba, dedicated to the production, in different factories across the country, of “protective equipment of all kinds”, including gloves, aprons, wristbands, bags, sunshades and tents. The company has also been designated to produce baseball gloves.

“So many potbellies came here yesterday for this nonentity?” a woman commented as she left the shop, disillusioned, alluding to the high functionaries who inaugurated the shop on Tuesday, including the first secretary of Havana, Luis Antonio Torres Iríbar. “Soon they’ll even be inaugurating with big fanfares a state shopping trolly full of Slushie drinks”. continue reading

Located in Calle Suzarte, in the district of Palatino, the establishment’s objective is, according to Tribuna de La Habana, “to satisfy the population’s needs, looking for ways to make prices competitive”. The official statement emphasises this last point, reiterating that costs will be “overall lower than the informal market, those of the TCP (self employed workers) and the new types of non-state management”.

The opening of a new pesos shop in the middle of an economic crisis which is gripping the Island is an increasingly rare event. If we add the presence of the highest party leader in the city, the expectation created among potential customers was quite high, but it only took a few hours for any excitement to disappear.

The parade of officials didn’t end with Torres Iríbar: on Wednesday, the Minister for Communications, Mayra Arevich Marín, visited the shop “to test the use of electronic payments in Cuban pesos, facilitated via the platforms Transfermóvil and Enzona”, according to the Thaba company’s Facebook page.

On the same day that Arevich congratulated the employees on their skill with the payment technology, a dozen customers became frustrated outside the shop doorway because an audit was stopping the sale of goods inside. “What starts badly, ends badly”, concluded an elderly man who decided to retrace his steps and come back another day.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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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 Naked Man in Front of Calixto Garcia Hospital, a Stark Image of the Chaos In Cuban Healthcare

“Is he sick? Has someone brought him to be taken care of?” inquired an old man without getting an answer. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 19 January 2023 — A half-naked man lying on the pavement was the first thing to be seen by those who approached the Calixto García hospital in Havana this Thursday afternoon. The sad “reception” was just a preview of what they would see inside a room packed with patients, with employees shouting rudely to try to organize the chaos, and doctors who can barely prescribe medicines as they are not available in any pharmacy.

“My China, you can’t be there!” A hospital worker warned an elderly woman who was on crutches and was waiting for the result of a blood test in a broken tone. “Get up because you can’t stay here if you’re not from this area!” The employee insisted the lady move from the waiting room of the urology clinic to the main area, where all the seats were occupied.

To one side, the hospital cafeteria made it clear on the menu that it is a “third category” service open 24-hours-a-day. “Give me an empanada because everything else is very expensive,” complained another patient who was waiting to be treated for fever and a severe headache. “Don’t even ask for the fried rice, it’s half raw,” advised another customer of the diffident business, who had been disillusioned having paid 100 pesos for the failed recipe.

The sad “reception” was just a preview of what they would see inside a room packed with patients. (14ymedio)

“Next!” yelled a young woman who had just come from seeing the ENT. A man helped an elderly gentleman up from his seat and two other patients ran for the position after several hours on their feet. After a few minutes, the boy and who looked like his grandfather left the consulting room. “They have prescribed him dipyrone [Metamizole], which is not available in any pharmacy,” the young man warned, “all this time here for nothing.”

When leaving through the main door, both had to avoid the naked man who was still lying on the ground, hindering the passage of ambulances and the movement of patients. “Is he sick? Has someone brought him to be treated?” inquired an old man without getting an answer. The sun beat down over the thin figure on the ground, who no one approached, while the bustle from the interior of the building was heard from outside. “I don’t want anyone in this area who doesn’t have a consultation here!” a rude employee yelled.

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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.

Cuba’s Famous Ice Cream Parlor Closed for Lack of Ice Cream

The panorama of the ice cream parlor, at one time characterized by the very long lines that had to be endured before entering under the shadow of its concrete roofs, was bleak. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, JuanDiego Rodríguez, Havana, 17 January 2023 — Coppelia, one of the many symbols of the utopian dreams of the Cuban Revolution –- in this case producing more and better flavors than the United States — is closed to the public this Tuesday.

It is not due to remodeling, as happened in 2019, nor due to sanitary measures, as it was for months during the covid pandemic – when, in fact, they did sell take-out at their outside counter – but quite simply because there is no ice cream.

The employees responded directly to customers who were surprised that the establishment had not begun to serve the public at its usual ten in the morning. “There isn’t any, there isn’t any ice cream.”

The panorama of the ice cream parlor, at one time characterized by the very long lines that had to be endured before entering under the shadow of its concrete roofs, was bleak. Lights off, chairs piled on the terraces, silence.

Traditionally called the “Ice Cream Cathedral” in Cuba, Coppelia was inaugurated in 1966 and, like so many things during that time, lived a brief splendor. It soon began to languish, until the crisis of the Special Period, when the quantity and quality of its supply drastically dropped. However, even those terrible ’90s the ice cream parlor did not end. On the contrary, being one of the few things that still worked, the crowds were enormous and, once the circulation of the dollar was allowed, it was common to see foreigners enter with their currencies without having to wait in line. continue reading

Its remodeling almost four years ago aroused much expectation, but it could not stop the decline of the place that, with the Ordering Task, at the beginning of 2021, suffered another blow: prices rose exponentially, from the weight and a half that each ball cost to seven .

Last March, they raised the cost of the product again – 9 pesos for Coppelia ice cream and 7 for Varadero, of lower quality – among numerous criticisms for using soy milk in production. Shortly after, the prices dropped slightly, but every week the supply dwindled.

This Tuesday, the outside window was only open for a while, to sell a strange peach ice cream, which seemed to have no milk, very different from the one they usually serve on the terraces.

“Let’s go, mi’jo,  a woman said resignedly to her companion on Tuesday morning, “the cathedral of ice cream is no longer even a little chapel.”

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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 Depressed Employee Among Empty Shelves, a Reflection of Cuba’s Misfortune

The Pan-American Store at Boyeros and Camagüey, in Havana, this Monday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez/Olea Gallardo, Havana, 16 January 2023 — A few years ago, through one of those entertaining TED conferences that spread like wildfire on social networks, Barry Schwartz popularized the expression “the paradox of choice” which can be summed up as follows: choosing between too many options produces paralysis and dissatisfaction, which can cause a kind of very negative stress in modern industrial societies.

None of this will happen to the customers of the Panamericana store on Rancho Boyeros and Camagüey avenues, in Havana, where the shelves looked almost completely empty this Monday.

“How come it’s like this!” a surprised customer remarked — one of the very few in the store which requires payment in freely convertible currency (MLC). An employee responded, sighing with resignation: “Do you see how it is? The last time there was a more or less decent assortment here was in December and we’ve been like this ever since.” continue reading

On the shelves there were hardly any very expensive products that people do not usually buy, such as beef that is unaffordable to the average Cuban, or Christmas munchies at 16 MLC, or the occasional wrinkled and expensive package of beans.

Gone are those images of the establishment in which the refrigerators looked full and the lines at the door stretched four blocks. That was in July 2020, just after the Government announced the sale of food and toilets in MLC, a measure harshly criticized by the population, a large part of which does not have access to foreign currency.

Although a year later the same market, one of the largest in the capital along with Cuatro Caminos, in Centro Habana, and 3rd and 70th, in the municipality of Playa, was in crisis due to shortages, it cannot be compared to its present state. .

“There’s nothing, this is stripped, let’s go,” a couple commented among themselves.

To explain the “paradox of choice” there are scientific studies that speak, for example, of the damage of an “overload of alternatives” in the brain if there are many options to choose from. Thanks to the Revolution, the Cubans’ brains are safe.

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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, Without the Sunshine’s ‘Make-Up’

The man had to drain the pathway because the water “is very cold” and it’s already starting to rise higher and take away the two rubbish bins near his house. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 14 January 2023 — There was a warning of its arrival ever since the early hours of Saturday. From dawn onwards the gusts of wind and the cold drizzle marked the first day in 2023 in which Habaneros could be sure that a little bit of winter had indeed arrived. On the seafront avenue Malecón, the traffic continued to circulate towards the zone closest to Calle Paseo; however, in El Vedado the ingress of seawater forced the closure to traffic.

“The water’s rising fast”, a local resident complains. The man had to drain the pathway because the water “is very cold” and it’s already starting to rise higher and take away the two rubbish bins near his house. The flooding is bad news for someone who spends hours waiting in a nearby shop to buy the sausages and picadillo [ground meat]that had finally arrived after weeks of delay.

A grey Havana with winds and temperatures below 20C is much less frequently photographed and written about than when there are blue skies and the sea’s like a millpond — which is how it’s seen in the paintings sold to tourists and in all the travel agents’ publicity photos. Talking of cold fronts: sometimes you might see pictures of the waves which crash over the sea wall of the Malecón or of the sea’s assault against the Morro lighthouse, but much less often will you see pictures of the murkiness that sticks to the city — a city where these cold fronts have switched off the colours.

The cracks in the walls seem wider, the holes in the roads deeper, and the people smaller, dressed in overcoats several sizes too big or in threadbare jackets. When the mercury falls, the city takes on a certain sincerity, because without the sun’s “make-up”, all of its shadows begin to emerge.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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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, ‘There Isn’t Any’, Period.

“There isn’t any”, it read. And that was it. No explanation, and no telephone number to ring. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 13 January 2023 — In Havana it’s normal to find signs all over the place, offering articles or services. Written by hand, more often than not with spelling errors on an old scrap of cardboard with stains on it — from which one deduces it’s at the end of its useful life — these signs announce all those things which are difficult to find in the state-run shops. The most common one is for the sale of ice, but also many other things — as long as it doesn’t lead to problems with the authorities — from mouse poison to apartments, from plumbing services to fumigation.

One of these signs, attached to a balcony in the Havana district of Cayo Hueso, caught the attention. “There isn’t any”, it read. And that was it. No explanation, and no telephone number to ring. “There isn’t any”, as if that covered just about anything and everything, encapsulating in one brief phrase the entire state of the country. There isn’t any gas, there isn’t any bread, there isn’t any chicken, there isn’t any sugar, there isn’t any ham, there isn’t any transport, there isn’t any freedom. In Cuba, there isn’t any. Period.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso  

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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.

New Houses in a Ruined Neighbourhood for Victims of the Hotel Saratoga Explosion

The new houses for victims of the Hotel Saratoga explosion stand out among their surroundings. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 12 January 2023 – The residents who lived in the buildings at Zulueta 508 and 512 adjacent to the Hotel Saratoga have gone from having one of the best views in the capital to a view of the ruins which surround their new homes. After the tragedy on 6 May 2022, which caused them to lose their homes when the historical luxury building exploded due to a gas leak, those affected are now going to have a roof over their heads again, but the good news ends there.

On Avenida de España, better known as Calle Vives, between the streets of Carmen and Figuras, there are eight new houses which have been given to some of the victims of the Saratoga explosion, in which 47 people lost their lives. According to the official press, the buildings are “almost ready” and their new occupiers “may help in the finalisation of electrical details”.

Tribuna de La Habana published the news on Wednesday, detailing that in the houses they have used a system of ’formwork’ known as FORSA, for which they use precast concrete, and there’s a cistern for guaranteeing the water supply. “This Wednesday marks another day for demonstrating that with constancy, organisation and control, any target can be reached”, concludes the extremely short article, surrounded by close-up photos of the new buildings.

But you only need to zoom out a little bit to see the future occupants’ new reality. The surrounding houses are on the point of collapse, if they haven’t collapsed already, and there’s a stench which fills the streets of a district which, despite being in Old Havana, lacks any attractive features and hardly any tourists venture there. continue reading

Whereas before, they only needed to step outside of their homes to find themselves just a few metres from the restored Capitolio, the Brotherhood Park, the main taxi rank in the city, or the shops on Calle Monte and the restored areas around the hotels near to Central Park — now, their surroundings are much less pleasant.

As a street which takes you to Havana’s Central Railway Station, Calle Vives once had its fashionable heyday, due particularly to a constant flow of rail travellers and merchandise. However, with the passage of time this area suffered a deterioration of its building stock — via a decline in the Island’s rail system — and a disdain shown to it by plans for restoration of the Historic Centre, which have left this part of the city forgotten.

Now more of a neighbourhood with a bad reputation, Atarés lies among some of the the least valued districts of Old Havana, and not only because of its wrecked buildings and its potholed streets and its puddles of sewage water, but also because of its frequent problems in the water supply, which forces many residents to bring water in from other areas.

On one corner, a man selling chopos hesitates when a buyer asks him if they’re over-spicy. “Doesn’t matter — the customer concludes — I’ll have to eat them anyway, ’cause I don’t have anything else”. All the passers-by are residents of this forgotten corner of Havana, where the poverty feels even worse when compared to the more privileged area from where its new neighbours are about to arrive.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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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 the Chaos of the Cuban Consumer Registry Offices, ‘The Dead Return to Pick up Their Bread’

The framed photo, dominating the Consumer Registry Office in Calle Juan Alonso, can be seen clearly by the crowd in the street. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 9 January 2023 — The Office for the Registry of Consumers (Oficoda) on Calle Juan Alonso, Luyanó, Havana, was in chaos on Monday morning. Scores of people crowded round the establishment trying to resolve the problems they were having with their ration books.

“This year you must not lose your ration book under any circumstances. If you lose it again it won’t be replaced until next year”, warned an official in a loud voice, without clarifying whether you’d lose your right to buy rationed food if you did lose the book. “So are they going to write it on a piece of cardboard or what?” complained a woman, who reluctantly let pass, in front of her, a mother and her tired little boy who wouldn’t stop crying. It was already eleven in the morning and only three people had been attended to, while it was obvious that there were four other employees inside the office doing nothing.

If that were not enough, the process of getting the new ration book can be delayed by up to 17 days, when you used to be able to get it on the spot.

The lack of paper, which once again has caused the delay in the issuing of the new books, has added to a general disorder so bad that some unbelievable errors are being made. Like the one that has affected Caty, also a resident of Luyanó.

Some months ago she was pressured by the authorities to de-register her mother who had recently passed away, with the threat of a fine if she failed to do so. When she picked up this year’s book she couldn’t believe her eyes: they had once again printed her mother’s name in the book. “They told me I had to go back to Oficoda and correct the mistake, but I’m not going to correct anything. I did what they asked me to do, which was to de-register my mother. If they’ve put her name back on it, that’s their problem”, she told this newspaper. “The way things are going, anything can happen — even the dead come back to pick up their bread”. continue reading

The Juan Alonso Oficoda has been the subject of residents’ complaints for days. “Unbelievably, I’ve been coming to this office over three separate days to verify the information in my ration book, which has been retained by them, so I can’t even get basic supplies”, Zonia Suárez, a customer, complains, clarifying that all her data is in fact correct and that everyone registered in her book is alive and resident in Cuba.

The woman explains that the queues/lines for this process start to form at four in the morning and that they shut the office at midday. The picture she paints is similar to the one that 14ymedio found at Juan Alonso: “There’s a whole lot of errors in hundreds of ration books and the people who are supposed to be sorting this out are elderly and rather slow and there’s only one desk there which blocks the entrance to the building so that everyone has to crowd outside, including pregnant women and older people, so that arguments break out”.

Suárez says she asked them who gives the instruction to hold back basic food supplies from clients when the errors are not their fault but the fault of the authorities — and they replied: “it comes from the top”.

“I imagine it must be from Jupiter or Mercury then”, the woman added, wryly, “because no one who lives in Cuba could give themselves the luxury of doing that unless they had the right conditions to take similar measures with those who have only that book to get sustenance.

On the other hand, even those who don’t have any errors in their books are equally annoyed, owing to the reduction in the rationed products that are on offer. “People are ignorant of the reduction in the number of products that will be sold for cash in Havana shops where people use the ration book that’s given to every family. The price difference is significant, though many goods fall somewhere in the middle”, complains one young man from Central Havana in a store which put the January allocation on sale this Monday and doesn’t even have the new ration books available. “Last month they gave out four packets of picadillo [ground meat] and now they don’t even give out two, and it’s the same with sausages and olive oil. In my mother’s shop they haven’t given out any white sugar, only three pounds of rice per person”.

These are bad times — the worst — for the rationing system that the Island has been suffering under since 1962. Because if this weren’t enough, the new system of “cycles”, established by the authorities in Havana on 1 December, which is dependent on “the availability of produce” in the state run chains Tiendas Caribe and Cimex, has caused a situation in which even the January allocation is not yet available for many families.

“In our store they haven’t been able to even start the distribution of the January allocation because there are still hundreds of families which haven’t bought their December one yet. They can’t start selling the current allocation until the last one has all been bought”, warns a resident from Revolution Square district.

In Luyanó, it wasn’t until yesterday that Caty was able to buy her December supply. “So I’ll get my January one in February”, she says, resignedly. From the crowd in the street one can clearly see the framed photo that dominates the Oficoda in Calle Juan Alonso: Fidel Castro, Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel, together with the slogan: “We are Cuba, we are continuity”.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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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.

Private Businesses Revive Around the U.S. Embassy in Havana

In the area, businesses that have been languishing for years due to the lack of activity at the diplomatic headquarters, are rubbing their hands. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 5 January 2023 — There were 20 minutes to go until 9 in the morning, when the U.S. Embassy opens in Havana, and there were already about 200 people lining up this Thursday, a day after the resumption of the delivery of immigrant visas in Havana. That, not counting those who were already inside and the two large rows of cars that stretched along K Street.

In the area, businesses that have been languishing for years due to the lack of activity at the diplomatic headquarters, are rubbing their hands. “It’s been five very hard years,” admits Mileydis, who with her mother runs a small bag storage business near the embassy. “Just when the consular procedures were closed, we had embarked a few months earlier on repairs to improve the premises, and the whole expense was for nothing because everything was paralyzed.”

After that time, “many cafeterias in this area, which survive from the clientele who come to their visa appointments, were closed, and in many cases the owners ended up leaving the country,” laments the 41-year-old woman, who saw her Havana coastal neighborhood languish. “Only people who come for the interview or go to the funeral home [at Calzada and K] come to this part of El Vedado, but without them there are not many customers.”

The crowd, in fact, is alien to the place. Most, even, have expressly arrived in Havana to carry out the procedures. “We are not from here,” they answer when asked about a place to find a coffee.

Street vendors proliferate in the area, although they still lack the life of yesteryear. A woman, in front of the park, sells snacks. Another man who proclaims peanuts aloud is called over from the cars for some food.

continue reading

Two police officers escort a woman who comes out every now and then with a list in her hand and calls the applicants by name and surname to form a group of between 30 or 40 people. When they are all there, she leads them inside. Many are just waiting to pick up their visa in the afternoon, while others are coming to their appointments for an interview, which the embassy began on December 29.

The faces are younger than usual. The restart of the family reunification program in May last year has rejuvenated those who are now waiting. Many retirees who took advantage of this method to meet with their children who are already established in the United States have already passed their procedures, and now the majority of people are something else. Among the lucky ones of the day, a family with a child left the building smiling, with the papers in their hands, and hugged those who were waiting for them nearby to congratulate them.

Although inside the embassy there is now a bag for certain belongings, Mileydis still experiences joy at being able to resume her task. “It still seems to me a dream that we have been able to reopen the business and also that they are reopening some places that offer coffee, breakfast and snacks,” she says. “This was a desert; even the home restaurant at the corner has had a very bad time, and it has a tremendous view from the terrace and has appeared in a lot of magazines.”

Mileydis has taken over from her mother who is now too old “to stand there holding the wallets of people who come to the embassy,” giving them a number to identify their belongings and placing them on a large shelf in the room on the ground floor. “Now I am at the front of the business, and I hope that in the coming months we will get out of the hole that we are in now.”

The place is just one more in the fragile network where there are also private accommodations for Cubans who travel from the provinces to go to their consular appointments; for the self-employed who devote themselves to filling out, for other people, the mandatory digital forms for consular procedures; and even for the parking attendants who take care of motorcycles and vehicles.

“It’s weird the things you miss; I was even nostalgic for that commotion of people. Luckily they’re back,” Mileydis says with relief.

Many of those who have reached the area around the consulate are also members of various Facebook groups in which Internet users exchange suggestions and recommendations for the consular interview. From how to dress, what are the best places to rent a room for those who come from another province, to tips on how to behave in front of the immigration officer.

Those groups have been in turmoil in recent months, and the mood that runs through many of their members is hope. “Now they are going to step on the accelerator and process all pending cases,” say some optimists, while others calculate when their interview will be from the time elapsed since another, who has already scheduled his consular appointment, presented the documents for the immigrant visa for the first time.

“No low-cut clothes, no eye-catching earrings,” advises one of the moderators of a group of parents applying for a family reunification visa. “Quiet in the line, everything must be well-organized there, not like a line to buy chicken,” says the woman who also recommends “speaking loudly and clearly” through the speaker inserted into the thick glass that separates the applicant from the immigration officer. And above all, “you have to present yourself as someone who is very enthusiastic.”

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.

Another Year, Another Shortage of Ration Books in Cuba

Sign in a Cuban store saying that they won’t be issuing new ration books. (Facebook/Jonatan López)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya and Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 29 December 2022 — “Customers please be aware that in January we will be using the same ration book as 2022. So please look after it!” Messages like this one, written hurriedly on a scrap of cardboard and stuck carelessly onto the shop door, have been appearing in numerous stores in Cuba over the past week.

These are the only sign of something that’s about to happen yet again: that they haven’t printed the new ration books that normally would get issued in December, for use from January onwards.

The ministry of Interior Commerce confirmed this on Thursday on its Facebook page. In the announcement, in which it also assures that “the distribution of already established family hampers for January is guaranteed”, they inform that “there are some changes to the usual timely distribution of ration books for 2023, because in six provinces, and, partially in another three, their production has not yet been completed”.

Because of this, the text continues, “food products corresponding to the January quota will temporarily be recorded in the 2022 book, for which a procedure has been sent out”.

This newspaper has established, by telephoning a number of grocery stores, that this is happening in Havana — in the Central, Cerro and Revolution Square districts. “There are problems in getting hold of next year’s books and people are going to have to continue to use this year’s”, they explain over the phone, “most likely beyond January or February – there’s no date yet”. continue reading

The only district that appears to be free of the problem is Luyanó, where, despite the scarcity, and all the general problems associated with buying from state shops, they have actually received the ration books.

Beyond the capital, there is a shortage reported in Sancti Spiritus. There, the stores are recording January orders in the old books.

The fact that there’s a lack of these things — things which have been a daily norm ever since rationing started in 1962 — isn’t new. It was exactly the same last year.

A statement from the Ministry of Internal Commerce later clarified that there were “delays in the importation of basic printing materials”, which delayed the “production and distribution” of the document, which is essential for obtaining basic subsidised foodstuffs. In other words: they’d run out of paper.

One would read from this announcement that until they re-establish the distribution of these documents in the western and central districts, that they’ll have to keep using the 2022 ones. And to avoid confusion, it would be appropriate to “cross out things that have already been bought” before adding to the new ones in the space available “on the January and February pages” of 2022. This December, Cubans are feeling a bit… deja vu.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso 

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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.

Waiting in Line in Havana Behind 600 Others to Buy Pork

People in line to buy pork in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodriguez, Havana, December 21, 2022 — Yuleidi was thinking about going to a concert on Friday at Casa de la Obra Pia in Old Havana but it was cancelled for lack of an audience. When she pressed for more information, the explanation she got is one that has become common for many of the capital’s cultural events. Nobody is going to anything; everyone is waiting in line to buy pork.

This year, buying pork that the government has made available for the holiday season is harder that ever.

There are complaints that, in some cases, the pork being sold looks bad and smells worse. As though that were not bad enough, a whole cut costs thousands of pesos, the lines to buy it are slow and the holidays are only a few days away.

Silvia, Xiomara and Maria Eugenia — neighbors from the Revolution Plaza district — told 14ymedio that they had banded together to split a whole cut of pork, which is priced at 7,500 pesos. They are still waiting.

When contacted a few days ago, they thought it would soon be their turn. There were only eighty people ahead of them. The meat went on sale on Wednesday.

As of today however, there were inexplicably 600 people ahead of them. “We don’t really know if we’ll get to the sales counter before Friday,” says Maria Eugenia.

Pork lines are also becoming scenes of violence. More than a few social media posts describe physical altercations among people who have grown impatient and irritable from the long wait. continue reading

In other neighborhoods, such as Arroyo Naranjo, residents have set up makeshift camps outside butcher shops in hopes of getting a cut of meat. It is widely known that there is not enough for every household in the city to get its rationed share. Photos shared on social media show some people wrapped in blankets or drinking rum to keep warm in the cool early morning hours of December.

Silvia and her friends are seriously considering buying someone else’s place in line to speed up the wait time, which lasts a week. For 1,000 pesos they could reach the front by Thursday morning but they have to decide soon because prices for a good spot are expected to rise as Christmas Eve approaches.

Maria Eugenia has her doubts about making such an investment. Her son, who lives in Miami, has promised her a pork roast from Brazil, which can be purchased from any number of digital markets which markets to the island.  “I don’t want him spending the money, which he needs for other things, but I cannot deal with this line anymore,” she says.

Meals at home are one option for those with relatives overseas. “A case of beer, a leg and sides for 250 dollars, with delivery [by December 24],” reads an advertisement published by a privately owned Havana business. When asked about the meat’s origin, the response by one employee is succinct: “Imported pork, nothing like the rationed stuff.”

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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 Traditional Christmas Pig in Cuba, Badly Frozen and Only with a Ration Book

The meat is, according to Havana housewives’ diagnosis, “at room temperature” and the bad smell is impossible to remove, even by frying it in very hot butter. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez/Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 16 December 2022 — The stench comes from the back of the butcher shop, from the bundle of pork that the clerks handle with sweaty hands. As he approaches the counter, having survived being shoved and yelled at while in line, Carlos discovers that the unpleasant smell comes from the reddish suet that mucks up the floor.

The transaction is short-lived. The butcher sets his hooks and knives on the mass of smelly meat, weighs it –always cheating, but even Cubans get used to dishonesty — and throws it inside the shopping bag. The manipulation of the scale does not seem to matter to the policeman who watches over the buyers and who, at the end of the day, will be paid in kind for his “indifference.”

The smell is just the beginning of the odyssey to have a bit to eat to put on the family table during the New Year holidays.

The smell is just the beginning of the odyssey to have a bit of energy to put on the family table during the New Year holidays

The meat just bought is old, gray, and almost greenish. Fat, cartilage and bone predominate. Its texture is perhaps the most unpleasant, typical of pork that has not been well refrigerated and that, when it begins to thaw, becomes slimy to the touch.

Unfortunately, Carlos thinks, he listened to the clerks who were shouting on the outskirts of the butcher shop. “Make the effort and buy now,” they said this Thursday, “this is what’s left and tomorrow is going to be worse.” There were people who were more discerning, who preferred to not buy anything.

The meat that the government puts up for sale for the end-of-year celebrations is, according to the diagnosis of Havana housewives, “lukewarm” and it is impossible to remove the stench, even when frying it in very hot butter. continue reading

The conspiracy theorists in the neighborhood have already launched their explanation: in the absence of a recent product, the government makes available for sale its mysterious “war reserve,” the secret food arsenal that has always been attributed to the regime. It is not pork that has been kept in a refrigerator, hanging on a hook, but in little refrigerated warehouses, one piece on top of another. For this reason, they say, the meat is “crushed” and has an “ugly” color.

Crackling pork rind, fried pork chunks or some roasted ribs have always been part of the Cuban New Year’s festivities, even more than holiday trees and cider. The latter, the official hatred for the Christmas festivities has made them disappear and reappear from homes, but pork meat had remained a constant despite the fact that every December of the last decade its price has risen significantly.

In private markets, a pound of steak or leg is close to 500 Cuban pesos but, as the month progresses and Christmas Eve approaches, the product’s presence decreases

In private markets, a pound of steak or leg is close to 500 Cuban pesos, but as the month progresses and Christmas Eve approaches, the product’s presence decreases. Hence, the official announcement was received with relief that the product would begin to be sold in the city of Havana in a “limited, controlled-release” manner, upon presentation of the ration book.

Silvia, Xiomara and María Eugenia have come to an understanding. Between the three of them they will buy a piece of pork that costs about 7,500 pesos. It is a leg that will be divided for Christmas Eve dinner for their corresponding families. “We’re just going to buy just one because no one has the money for the piece that is allocated to her nuclear family,” María Eugenia clarifies.

Since last Sunday, having been alerted that the sales would begin this Wednesday, the three retirees began to stand in line at the butcher shop on Ermita and Conill streets, in the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución. Since then, they have alternated the hours they spend in line, hoping that the time to go into the establishment will arrive this Friday afternoon. “We have about 80 people ahead of us, and sales are going very slowly.”

The long wait is not because the piece of meat has to be cut, since the customer must purchase the complete piece, a requirement that has made many needy people give up, since they do not have the thousands of pesos that a leg costs at a price of 250 pesos per pound. “They weighed a medium one for me and it came out at 6,800 pesos so I had to share buying it with a neighbor,” warns a nearby resident who went in “among the first” because she started standing in line last Saturday. The delay is attributed to “all the paperwork that must be reviewed before buying.”

According to the woman, it is pork meat “with a lot of fat,” it comes unpackaged, which makes her assume it’s from Cuban pigs, but the employees could not tell her if it was imported or from national farms. “The store has refrigeration problems and when I bought the leg, I ran home to put it in the freezer because otherwise it wouldn’t make it to the end of the year.”

In other municipalities, such as Arroyo Naranjo, the residents have improvised real encampments outside the butcher shops to be able to get a portion of meat

In other municipalities, such as Arroyo Naranjo, the residents have improvised real encampments outside butcher shops to be able to get a portion of meat, since it is known that what is available is not enough for all the households registered in the city’s rationed market. On social networks, some of them have shared photos of people wrapped in blankets or drinking rum to warm up in the cool early morning this December.

“I hope that the piece that I get is tenderloin, which is worth 235 pesos a pound and comes with some ribs for frying that my children love,” commented a resident of El Vedado this Thursday, who has to buy at the local store at 17th and K streets. “You can always convince someone else in line to take your piece if you don’t like it and he prefers it that way.”

However, the man fears that the meat that signals the holidays could also become a matter of contention. “Those who are buying legs for three households are not going to be able to separate it until everything is cut in their presence, because otherwise there will be a dispute due to a little extra lard that goes to one or a few chunks above what the other gets.”

Translated by 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.

A Hotel with an Unknown Owner and Rates of up to 100 Dollars per Night Opens in Centro Havana

The Tribe Caribe Cayo Hueso Hotel opened on Saturday in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez / Olea Gallardo, Havana, 13 December 2022 — The neighbors of the hotel Cayo Hueso, in Centro Habana, watched with intrigue, for months, the remodeling  of the building located at Aramburu 253, at the corner of Neptune. Little by little, the property — built in the 1930s and in decline, like all its surroundings — was becoming a luxurious establishment, judging by what could be glimpsed through the windows of the ground floor.

Nothing, however, reported its future use, and the only sign it displayed was the work license number written on a piece of cardboard and poorly hung on a window. The gossip  began to flow without confirmation: a yuma had bought the property and was turning it into a hotel.

And not only that, but he had bought other houses and planned to relocate everyone who lived there.

If it was true that the project was for an American, in any case he had to be influential. In this regard, several residents of the place tell another anecdote. One day a cement truck was parked in front of the building, and a police patrol car arrived to ask the construction workers for identification. One of them phoned someone, and, after having a brief conversation, passed the device to the policeman: “Someone wants to talk to you.” “The policeman changed his expression, apologized, and they never bothered the workers again,” says a neighbor who asks for anonymity.

Thus, a name began to be repeated during the last few weeks by the neighbors. They dared to say that behind the project, headed by two American businessmen, was none other than Raúl Castro’s daughter. “There the meter is running, but it’s not for the Americans. That’s not theirs, but Mariela’s,” the residents said confidently, insisting they saw her on Friday inside the building.

True or not, no one saw Mariela Castro last Saturday, when the hotel was inaugurated and several unknown people were cleared. To begin with, its name: Tribe Caribbean Cayo Hueso (Key West). continue reading

The only sign that the establishment had was the construction license number written on a piece of cardboard and poorly hung in a window. (14ymedio)

On its webpage, where you can now book a room for 150 to 550 dollars a night — booking a full floor costs 1,000 — the “founders” appear: an American investor, Chris Cornell, and music producer Andrés Levín, born in Venezuela but with a US passport. In Cuba, Levin is known for participating in several cultural projects such as the Havana Biennale, in addition to his marriage to Cuban-American singer Cucú Diamantes.

Hence, he was the most recognizable figure on Saturday, at an unusual “neighborhood” inauguration party, which lasted six hours and included an exhibition by photographer Juan Carlos Alom, the sale of items by private businesses such as the Clandestina brand and musical performances. “Here in Cuba this is not allowed for just anyone,” commented a young man, who stopped humming what they were singing on the stage: El Necio [The Fool], by Silvio Rodríguez, to the rhythm of salsa.

Levín, with a cap and characteristic dark glasses, came and went, smiling, greeting with familiarity the neighbors gathered in front of the street stage, for whose installation the traffic on Aramburu Street between Neptune and San Miguel was closed off.

Nearby was a bus with the electronic sign “PROTOCOL” in capital letters, and the various Lada vehicles with drivers normally used by public officials, parked nearby, were obvious.

A group of young people dressed in T-shirts saying “Tribe Caribe” prevented people from entering the hotel and monitored the movements of the curious.

Tribe Caribe is a company registered on April 30, 2021, in Florida, with the address 1521 Alton Road 460, in Miami Beach. Levín and Cornell both appear as directors. The company, linked to the world of music, affirms that it “promotes and distributes exceptional original Caribbean content,” according to its website, and is “a proactive force, a voice and an educator in the continuous emergence of the rich cultural offerings of the Caribbean.”

On the hotel’s page, Chris Cornell points out that he is “a long-time professional entrepreneur and investor in arts, creative businesses and impact projects, who provides momentum and entrepreneurial spirit to the project,” and who “has directed all the important decisions of restoration, construction and design of the hotel, and is deeply aware of how these decisions affect the neighborhood, the local cultural identity and the preservation of the artistic heritage of Cayo Hueso.”

Andrés Levín iba y venía sonriente, saludando con familiaridad a los vecinos congregados delante del escenario callejero. (14ymedio)
Andrés Levín came and went smiling, familiarly greeting the neighbors gathered in front of the street stage. (14ymedio)

Of that mysterious investor, with unknown biography and background, there are no traces other than his alleged signature in the office in North Palm Beach, Florida, where the Tribe Caribe company was created. Of course, his name and surname coincide exactly with those of the famous singer of the Audioslave band, the first American rock group to play live in Cuba, in May 2005, at a venue none other than in the Anti-imperialist Bandstand, and for hundreds of thousands of fans on the Havana Malecón.

Levín emphasizes that he has been nominated for 26 Grammy awards — he won one in 2009 for the recording of the musical In the Heights — and that he has “propelled initiatives and produced numerous cultural events in Cuba, including TEDxHabana.”

Founder of the Afro-Cuban band Yerba Buena, the producer has collaborated, as mentioned on the official website, with artists such as Miguel Bosé, Aterciopelados, Orishas, David Byrne, Caetano Veloso, D’Angelo, Julieta Venegas and Tina Turner.

In addition, he is the producer of several film projects such as Amor crónico, directed in 2012 by the Cuban Jorge Perugorría, with whom he has a personal friendship, according to the photographs that show them together and messages.

An actor who prefers not to give his name and who was in business with Levin years ago, tells 14ymedio that both had agreed to collaborate on several projects, but that the producer cut off all communication after the artist’s participation in the demonstration on November 27, 2020 in front of the Ministry of Culture.

At that time, the actor attended two parties organized by Levín. One, in a house that he had rented in the municipality of Playa, near 5th Avenue, and another, in Siboney, where the mansions expropriated by the main architects of the Revolution are located, to celebrate the birthday of the producer’s father.

The source did not see, on any of these occasions, “anyone who was a heavyweight in politics,” but just “plain show business.”

Nearby was a bus with the electronic legend in capital letters “protocol”, and the various Lada vehicles with drivers were obvious. (14 and a half)
Nearby was a bus with the electronic legend in capital letters “protocol,” and the various Lada vehicles with drivers were obvious. (14ymedio)

But if he is associated with Mariela Castro, it is because Levín himself appears on social networks next to her, for example, in an “anti-homophobia” gala held in 2016. The Spanish singer Marta Sánchez, who performed on that occasion, also posted on Facebook about it: “Thank you Cuba for so much love and recognition! Thanks to Mariela Castro for that support to those who choose in this country to love as they want! Thanks to Andrés Levín for counting on me!”

In addition, the producer himself mentions Raúl Castro’s daughter in an interview granted in 2016 to Tablet, a magazine on issues of the Jewish community (the producers’s roots, whose parents, “very left-wing” according to their own description, were Argentines exiled in Caracas).

“It seems to me that I was at a dinner with you a few years ago and there were secret service people there and one of the Castros was with us or something like that. What happened?”, asks the interviewer, to which Levín replies that he does not remember well, but that it would surely have to do with the TEDxHabana event, in which he collaborated with “designers, programmers, artists and scientists” of the Cuban LGTBQ community.

The “neighborhood” opening party, last Saturday, lasted six hours and included an exhibition by photographer Juan Carlos Alom, sale of items by private parties such as the Clandestina brand, and musical performances. (14 and a half)
The “neighborhood” opening party, last Saturday, lasted six hours and included an exhibition by photographer Juan Carlos Alom, sale of items by private parties such as the Clandestina brand, and musical performances. (14ymedio)

“One of the most advanced LGBTQ sex education programs in Latin America is led by Mariela Castro,” says the musician, who recognises having collaborated with her “on many projects related to culture and education.”

And then Levín unravels into praise for the Cuban people, whom he affirms “have a lot of potential and desire to prosper and are very different from what people think,” and who have “things that most of the world doesn’t have”: “Healthcare and education. Eleven million educated people. It is the most educated country in the world,” he says.

Tribe Caribe Cayo Hueso is offered precisely as a cultural project: “We continue a 25-year mission to preserve and pay tribute to Afro-Cuban culture and its musical legacy, we celebrate multi-generational artistic expression, and we come to share our exclusive access to a side of Cuba that visitors and guests could not experience on their own.” Not a word about the business purposes, nor the obvious opulence that the project exudes, nestled in the depleted heart of Centro Habana.

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.

Three Turkish Floating Power Plants Scramble to End the Blackouts in Cuba

The Turkish floating plants next to the Tallapiedra plant, in Havana, this Friday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez,  Havana | 9 December 2022 — Three floating plants of the Turkish company Karpowership can be seen these days in the vicinity of the Otto Parellada power plant, known as Tallapiedra, in Havana. Of them, only two, the one that arrived on November 15 and one more, seem to be working, connected to the thermoelectric plant through which the ship transports the electricity they produce (110 megawatts each).

The other, a short distance from these, and smaller (with a generation capacity of 15 MW), has stopped working this Friday.

Belonging to Karadeniz Holding, the power stations of this type, of which there are seven in Cuba, according to the official press, distributed between the port of Mariel and Havana – are, the authorities pointed out, “part of the strategy to gradually increase generation and move the country away from the effects of energy deficits.”

Once all of them are synchronized with the National Electric System (SEN), they will only contribute a little more than 400 MW, a figure that is, in principle, insufficient to alleviate the energy deficit on the Island. However, one thing is certain: since the beginning of December, and according to the daily reports of the Cuban Electric Union (UNE), the “affects” on the service have been decreasing. continue reading

From the figures of December 1, when the UNE forecast a deficit of 1,054 MW and an affectation of 1,124 MW in peak hours, it has gone on to have no deficit this Friday.

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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.