Galiano and San Lazaro, Another Deadly Corner in Havana

Like a mortally wounded Titanic, the building on the corner of Galiano and San Lázaro, in Havana, has become a mortal danger. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 17 May 2022 — The corner of Galiano and San Lázaro has been left out of the “magic ring.” Too far from the Cathedral of Havana and the Plaza de la Revolución, this point of the Cuban capital has not received the benefits of the restoration of the historic center or the care given to the circle around the Council of State. But its orphanhood in the face of maintenance does not keep it from being one of the busiest places in the city

Every day thousands of pedestrians and vehicles pass through the area of that corner. At least three jeepney routes cross the intersection where a collapsing building stands. Like a Titanic mortally wounded, not by an iceberg but by the decades without repairing its interior and without even painting its façade, the building has become a mortal danger for those who inhabit it or pass by its location.

It’s just one of many dangers in a deadly city where cracked balconies, deep potholes and leaking gas pipes are claiming more and more lives. Opposite, just on a diagonal, the Deauville hotel shines with its blue façade with large balconies that makes it stand out on the Havana coastline. But although only a few yards separate them, the distance between both structures is an abyss: while one is designed for tourists to enjoy the benefits of a trip to the tropics, the other is the trap in which several families live.

No one knows how it is still standing, although most of those who walk hardly notice the danger that hangs over their heads. (14ymedio

The clothes appear on the clotheslines, there is a red shirt and a blue sheet that don’t even move because on this Tuesday there is hardly any breeze in Havana. The apartment on the same corner looks like a mouth with its front teeth knocked out. The upper part is in that magical balance that supports a good part of the city. No one knows how it is still standing, although most of those who walk by hardly notice the danger that hangs over their heads. continue reading

“Here we have experienced several building collapses,” a local resident tells this newspaper. Families rearrange themselves and locate other spaces within the building itself or go to a relative’s house, but the rest of the residents refuse to leave the building. They are reluctant to leave their accommodation because “this is bad, but there is no other option than a collective shelter” where you can live for decades in a city marked by a housing shortage. The other possibility is to rebuild the property, on the same site, but that is unlikely to happen.

The corner of Galiano and San Lázaro did not have the fate of restoration or privilege, but all eyes are on it. (14ymedio)

The corner of Galiano and San Lázaro did not have the fate of restoration or privilege, but all eyes are on it. A landslide in that place, which forces its inhabitants to be permanently removed to another place, would free up a succulent piece of the real estate pie. Now it is a danger for those who pass by, but tomorrow it could be the expensive land for another López-Calleja tower, as Havanans call the enormous hotel under construction in the El Vedado neighborhood.

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The Saratoga Hotel’s Decline Began as Soon as the Military Took It Over

The Hotel Saratoga in all its splendor, in March 2014, after it had been restored. (CC/LukaszKatlewa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodriguez / Olea Gallardo, Havana, 11 May 2022 — Though an explosion at the luxurious Saratoga Hotel last Friday led to the deaths of at least forty-three people and the destruction of an iconic Havana landmark, the seeds of its demise were planted within its walls much earlier.

Specifically, this was in 2016,  when the Armed Forces Ministry seized the property from Habaguanex — a company had been operating under the auspices of the then all-powerful Office of the Historian of Havana, directed by Eusebio Leal — and handed over to the Gaviota group.

Leal’s agency had been successfully operating a number of tourist-related commercial properties when they were taken over by the Revolutionary Armed Forces Business Administration Group (Gaesa), led by Raul Castro’s former son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja.

“The Gaviota people were driving the Saratoga into the ground,” claims one former employee, a man in his forties who prefers to remain anonymous. He quit working there two years ago and swears he will never go back. “Everything became run down and they weren’t taking care of anything,” he reports. continue reading

This was a far cry from 2005, when the Saratoga — built in 1880 and operated as a hotel at the corner of Prado and Dragones since 1933 — reopened as modern five-star establishment after a long period of decline that began with the triumph of the Cuban revolution. The restoration was carried out the Office of the Historian and financed by foreign investors.

One of those investors, who prefers to remain anonymous, tells 14ymedio that the tab for refurbishing the Saratoga — part of an ambitious plan by Leal to restore Havana’s historic city center — was on the order of fifteen million dollars.

“An English developer sought out investors in several European countries, including Spain,” he explains. That developer was Coral Capital, a company founded by Amado Fakhre, an Anglo-Argentinian with roots in Lebanon. “We liked this project because we always believed, and still believe, in the future of  Cuba,” says the investor. “And we never thought the current governent would last this long.”

According to this investor, however, everything changed once the property was transferred to Gaviota. “It all went downhill from there,” he says, though he acknowledges that investors also realized that the developers, led by Fakhre, did not have much experience in the hotel business. “They tried to make agreements with international [hotel] chains but were not successful. And, on the whole, the way they handled the negotiation with Gaviota was disastrous.”

The relationship of Fakhre and Stephen Purvis, his partner at Coral Capital, with the Cuban military brings to mind the popular fable about the frog who agrees to transport a snake across a river only to be stung by the scorpion in mid-stream, dooming them both. The two men were arrested — first in 2011 and again in 2012 — and accused of bribery. They remained in detention until their trial in 2013, when they were found guilty of “misdemeanor corruption” and released.

However, some media outlets report that Fakhre was forced to sign a confession stating that he had been detained for “having revealed state secrets” and spent twenty months being interrogated by the political police in a government safe house.

According to a 2016 article published in Vice, his business had invested a total of tweny-eight million dollars in the Saratoga.

Eusebio Leal’s star shone brightly even when Fidel was still in power and it did not dim until a long time thereafter. A flattering 2009 article in the official press noted that Habaguanex, which was created in 1994, operated no fewer than 300 tourist facilities. These included restaurants, shops, markets, cafes and lodgings with a total capacity of 546 rooms. These operations were touted as examples of “sustainable” development, whose profits went to “both the rescue of buildings that make up the Historic Center and to various social programs.”

“One morning, the elderly were invited to an extravagant breakfast at Casas Museos as part of a cultural event. And this was no run-of-the mill event,” reports a dancer who who worked with the Office of Humanitarian Affairs, which was also affiliated with the Office of the Historian

“Everything was carefully worked out,” she explains. “Partnership agreements and donations from from overseas as well as the income that Habaguanex generated as a company from all its hard-currency stores and hotels.”

“Not just anyone worked for them,” says the artist, who defends the management skills of Eusebio Leal, who died of cancer on July 31, 2021. “The Office of the Historian was a country within a country. They were powerful but they did things well. I worked there for many years and I know the efforts that were made.”

“In the end, they were audited and everything was taken away from them,” she says, alluding to the moment the Armed Forces took control of Habaguanex’s most attractive assets.

Once its foreign investors pulled out, the Hotel Saratogo languished under Gaviota’s management. Other former employees report deteriorating working conditions and the loss of financial incentives that the hotel’s foreign managers often provided on an informal basis to their workers in addition to their salaries.

“The first thing to go at the Saratoga was the art. But before that was the class,” says another former employee. “When it was part foreign-owned and part Habanguanex-owned, the Anacaona restaurant on the ground floor was packed on Christmas Eve. But under Gaviota, it wasn’t even a shadow of its former self.”

Gaviota — proprietor of the luxurious Grand Hotel Manzana and manager of the Kempinski — has close to sixty hotels and villas throughout the island with close to 30,000 bedrooms, most of which are administered by foreign companies.

It is the operations under foreign management that enjoy the best reputations while the hotels over which the military conglomerate has exclusive control have not managed to achieve the same level of customer satisfaction.

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Every Corner in Havana Where Buildings Collapse Becomes a Garbage Dump

The corner of Belascoaín and San Miguel, in Centro Habana, which suffered a partial collapse two years ago where a Community Services worker lost his life. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 9 May 2022 — A stench spreads through the streets of Havana.

It is not only around the Saratoga hotel, destroyed by Friday’s explosion, whose rubble still covers more than a dozen bodies.

A few blocks away, in Centro Habana, the corners become makeshift garbage dumps, filling the environment with an odor that permeates clothing and skin.

One of them is around the corner from the Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital, where a construction container, overflowing with material, is now used to throw bags and bags of garbage into it, some of them full of rotten food.

But perhaps the most impressive is the one located on the corner of San Miguel and Belascoaín, an abandoned corner since the building partially collapsed on 18 July 2020.

There are no flowers or cleaning to honor the memory of the Community Services worker who died there that day as a result of the collapse, instead there is a mountain of garbage that no one seems to care about for decades. continue reading

Improvised garbage dump around the corner from the Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital, in Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

The building, one of the tallest in that area, is still in oblivion, as it has been for the last forty years. Already in the 1980s, passers-by avoided passing near it, with several collapsed balconies and its broken façade with cracks, and stepped off the sidewalk on that stretch of street.

Now, the danger of a new collapse is joined by the unbearable effluvia of waste.

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Five Dollars for a Bicycle Tire in Havana, 4,000 Pesos in the Provinces

Store in Havana’s Plaza de Carlos III where this Wednesday they they offered rubber bike tires for sale at 5.33 dollars each. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García / Juan D. Rodríguez, Sancti Spíritus / Havana, 4 May 2022 — The shortage of bicycle tires drives Cubans from the provinces crazy, where there are no transportation options like the ones that still exist in a city like Havana. These days, in Sancti Spíritus, acquiring a single tire can cost up to 4,200 pesos. And only in the informal market.

“Here they never offer tires for sale and everyone has a bicycle,” says Rayner, who lives ten kilometers from the center of Sancti Spíritus and, as he says, “either you go by bus, which passes by twice a day, or you go on foot.” The young man says that this same Tuesday he paid 3,600 pesos for the tire for the front wheel that he needed, his income for the entire month.

The tires of his bicycle, which is eight years old, could not perform anymore, having been repaired with bits of shoes and rubber over and over.

Four months ago, he bought the tire for the rear wheel and it cost him 4,000 pesos, “and almost crying to the man who sold it to me, because there aren’t any,” he tells this newspaper. Since then, he has been saving for the front tire.

Meanwhile, in the Cuban capital, this Wednesday, a long line formed at a state store in Plaza de Carlos III where they had put out rubber tires for sale, for $5.33 each. continue reading

The customers who came out of the store did not carry one or two, but many. “Here I never see anyone on a bicycle,” commented a woman who passed by the place, surprised. “These are most likely going to be taken to the countryside to sell.”

Tires suffer great wear and tear in Cuba, not only because of the frequent use of bicycles as a means of transportation, but also because of the poor condition of the streets and the terrible condition of the brakes in many of these vehicles, which forces their drivers to brake by rubbing the tire with the sole of the shoe.

Streets with large areas where the asphalt is missing and plenty of potholes are common throughout the Island, but in the cities and country towns the situation is even worse. Also objects on the road, such as broken bottles, pieces of metal and even nails add greater risks. Hence the need to have frequent spare parts to replace the tires that are deteriorating.

To this we must add that the bicycle is also a means of family transportation, frequently used by street vendors to cover a wider area of potential customers, or an improvised moving truck, and it is also common to add motors to increase speed, an ingenuity that is popularly known as  riquimbili.  [For photos, see here.]

The bicycles transformed into light motorcycles, after adding an engine, also consume the useful life of the tires more quickly. But not all the ones that are sold are of good quality, the least valued are the so-called Creole rubbers, of domestic manufacture, while the imported ones can cost much more in the informal market.

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Havana, Cuba: Anguish Grows as Search Continues for Survivors at the Saratoga Hotel

The concern has affected even those who did not suffer direct damage but fear that the tremor has damaged other buildings in the area. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 7 May 2022 — Barely 24 hours after the explosion at the Saratoga Hotel in Havana, the area still looks like a battlefield and there are already 32 dead, 19 missing and 56 injured. A police cordon surrounds the area from the Parque de la Fraternidad to prevent pedestrians from passing through and the rescue brigades work against the clock to find survivors under the rubble.

The confusion of the first moments has been replaced by anguish. In the whole city there is no talk of anything else. In lines, at family tables and on urban buses, the theme is the explosion in a hotel that until a few days ago was a symbol of tourist glamor and has now become synonymous with tragedy.

Each one has a story to tell. Like that of the employee who left the building just a few minutes before the explosion and she was paralyzed when she felt the noise behind her back. Or the one of the woman who cries next to the yellow tape that says “PNR* Do Not Pass, Keep Out” because her godmother, 78 years old, and the old woman’s puppy are under the rubble.

List of the 26 deceased identified so far. (Cuba Ministry of Public Health)

There is also the young man who points to the building on one side of the hotel that suffered considerable damage in the explosion and fears that Juan Carlos, a neighbor on the second floor, has not given proof of life since yesterday morning. The testimonies are mixed and there is no shortage of those who reach the groups and, conveniently, release some rumor where the words “enemy” and “attack” are always present, although the official version has insisted that it was an accident. continue reading

State Security agents, dressed in civilian clothes, are also deployed throughout the area. They are detected by their incisive gaze with which they register everyone who takes photos or records the scene of a building with its beams exposed to the air, and the rescuers with their faces getting longer as the hours go by.

The independent reporter Ángel Cuza, who broadcast live from the Saratoga hotel what was happening after the explosion, was arrested by the political police along with the activist Pedro Quiala this Friday afternoon. Both were transferred to Villa Marista, a place known as the State Security headquarters in Havana. The Cuban Human Rights Observatory condemned the arrests as arbitrary.  Cuza was also one of the activists who protested on Obispo Street on April 30, 2021.

In the elementary school near the Saratoga Hotel, which also suffered many damages, a side door has been set up so that parents can collect the backpacks and other belongings of their children who were evacuated after the explosion. Some have approached early but crossing the security cordon is tortuous and many fear that the structure of the Saratoga could collapse at any moment.

The concern has spread even among those who did not suffer direct damage but fear that the tremor has damaged the other buildings in the area, a neighborhood with numerous tenements packed with residents, many of which are in a deplorable architectural state. In the central street Monte, some have not even wanted to sleep at home.

María Julia, a 58-year-old from Havana, tells this newspaper that she decided to spend the night at her daughter’s house. “There was a tremendous noise and everything shook here, the paintings on the walls and even some glasses that I have in a display case,” she explains. “This house has a very bad roof and columns and now I am afraid that this shaking has made things worse.”

The feeling is that the explosion is pouring rain on the long list of calamities that have hit Cuba in recent years. “This is going to be a hard blow to tourism,” says Ismael, an employee of a state cafeteria on Obispo Street. “Now that it seemed that we were going to start attracting more visitors, this happens to us.”

The feeling is that the explosion is pouring rain on the long list of calamities that have hit Cuba in recent years. (14ymedio)

This Saturday also coincided with the eve of Mother’s Day, a very popular date on the island. The hotel is located in a very commercial area where hundreds of anxious customers have come to try to buy products for the celebrations of this Sunday, where traditionally there is a family dinner and gifts are given to mothers.

However, together with the police cordon that prevents access to a wide area around the hotel, the shortage of products in local stores was setting the tone this morning. This newspaper was able to verify the long lines around several state stores on Reina, Galiano and Monte streets to try to buy food, drinks and some gifts.

Some have approached the site since the early morning but crossing the security cordon is tortuous. (14ymedio)

*PNR = National Revolutionary Police

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Cuba: The New Fress Store Lasted Less Time than a Frosted Cake at the Door of a School, Just Three Days

A sign behind the windows said the same thing as the employees of the place: it would be closed due to “technical problems”. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 26 April 2022 — The sale of food in Cuban pesos has lasted three days at the Fress store in Plaza de Carlos III, in Havana. This Monday, the brand new business, which opened its doors on Friday with great anticipation, was closed.

To the question of a client who was surprised, an employee of the place explained that he was without service “temporarily” due to “technical problems.” The same was written on a sign behind its windows. And indeed, inside it could be seen how an operator was messing around in a display refrigerator.

The employee also said that they would open tomorrow, Tuesday, but “only the food area,” that is, the cafeteria to consume already prepared products on the premises. This newspaper was able to verify that almost all the canned foods and also the dairy products that filled the shelves and refrigerators for sale to the public had disappeared.

According to two workers from the Plaza speaking to 14ymedio, “they held an emergency meeting here in Carlos III due to criticism on social networks, and starting tomorrow they can only sell prepared food.”

Another worker asserted that “they had ordered the closure from above, from the Government,” due to criticism of the resale of products such as condensed milk, which was sold for 250 pesos at Fress, a few meters from the Plaza supermarket where it costs 35 pesos but  where the lines to enter can take long hours. The same goes for gouda cheese at 4,000 pesos for a wheel of three kilograms, which is only found in stores in hard currency. continue reading

The opening of the store caused outrage among its first customers, who left dismayed by the extremely high prices of products that are much cheaper in state stores in the same shopping center.

The Fress store, in Plaza de Carlos III in Havana, closed this Monday. (14ymedio)

Sources from Carlos III Plaza had confirmed to this newspaper that the state premises were rented to a Spaniard, something unusual in Cuba for a private establishment of this type. The man himself welcomed the customers on opening day. Until now, Fress provided its services through various online shopping sites for home delivery, supported by payments from abroad.

“If the only thing that is going to remain here is the hot table, this will not last even a week, because the food was bad, bad,” commented a young man, this Monday, upon learning of the sudden turn of business.

“But of course, if people here are persecuted for that when they do it at the door of their house, or in their cafeteria, in their paladar (private restaurant),” a woman replied. “I have nothing against the private ones, but the problem is not that it is private, but that it was cheeky. Why some yes and others no?”

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Customers in Havana Frustrated at the Prices of the New Private Business in Carlos III Plaza

The colorful decoration, the neatness of the tables and Fress’s fully stocked shelves attracted the attention of those who passed by. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 22 April 2022 — A new store that takes payment in Cuban pesos opened its doors this Friday in Carlos III Plaza, in Centro Habana. The private business, named Fress – which until now provided its services through various online shopping sites with home deliveries and payments from abroad – not only offers a variety of food products, but also has cafeteria service. In addition, it has two peculiarities: very high prices and a foreign manager.

Sources from the shopping center confirmed to this newspaper that the state premises were rented to a Spaniard, something unusual in Cuba for an establishment of this type. The manager himself cordially welcomed his first customers this Friday.

Already in the early hours of the morning, a score of people gathered at the doors of Fress. The colorful decoration, the neatness of the tables and the large shelves called the attention of those who passed by.

However, two women waiting to enter commented loudly that the prices were not that attractive. “For example, a can of condensed milk, which is in state stores for 35 pesos, is sold for 250,” said one of them.

As the hours passed, the line began to grow, and the employees of the place had to establish an order of entry.

“Is this on the ration book?” An older man asked him, approaching the line, to which they replied: “No, sir, if it were the normal price, there would be a crowd of people here.” continue reading

Before opening this place, Fress offered its services through several online shopping sites to deliver at home and with payment from abroad. (14ymedio)

Inside, the disappointment was directly proportional to the expectation raised by the opening of Fress, especially considering that almost all the premises in Plaza de Carlos III — since it reopened after months of being closed due to the covid pandemic — accept payment only in freely convertible currency, with the exception of the food market with very long lines.

“The pizza is cold and the drinks are hot, you tell me,” a girl complained, getting up from the table. “And the potatoes and croquettes are hard,” pointed out another young man sitting at a table in the cafeteria area.

Faced with the complaints of a couple of elderly women, who regretted that there was no differential treatment with the vulnerable, the head of the café told them that eating there was “a luxury and not a necessity.”

Many of the curious did not go beyond looking in the windows, from where they could see a box of Pringles potatoes at 350 pesos, Toblerone at 380, a box of 24 cans of soft drinks at 2,640 or a little more than three kilograms of Gouda cheese at 4,000 pesos.

Many of the curious did not go beyond leaning into the windows, from where Fress’s high prices of could be seen. (14ymedio)

“It’s the same prices as resale on the street,” a Havana woman protested before walking past.

The resellers, along with the coleros — people who stand in line for others, for pay — are the key targets of the authorities since the Government authorized the sale of goods for payment in foreign currency, first of food and cleaning products and later, of other essential items, such as clothing or footwear.

Without going any further, in a speech made public only a few days ago but delivered on April 9, President Miguel Díaz-Canel denounced “some phenomena that cause there to be a certain way of distribution through channels that deviate from the concepts of justice that defends our socialist construction.”

On a first visit, it does not seem that social justice is among Fress’s objectives, which does not look very much like ‘socialist construction’ either. After spending more than half an hour in line, a young man who managed to get in came out empty-handed said, “Forget it, this is a reseller store authorized by the dictatorship.”

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Hellish Transportation, Impossible Prices and Little Literature at the Havana Book Fair

“This year things are worse than last time,” observed a woman from Havana while covering herself from the sun with her hand. “There are very few buses.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodriguez, Havana, 21 April 2022 — The line this Thursday to take a bus to the fortress of San Carlos de La Cabaña, the venue for the XXX Havana Book Fair (FILH) until April 30, was long and crowded. The wait for transport was almost an hour, as transit is, once again, experiencing a crisis in Cuba.

“This year things are worse than last time,” observed a woman from Havana as she covered herself from the sun with her hand. “There are very few buses.”

During the wait, the visitors were filling the bags they carried in their hands with food. They would eat upon arrival, in the gardens surrounding the fortification, from where one can see, in the distance and with the sea in between, the advanced construction of the so-called “López-Calleja tower” competing for the first time in more than 63 years with the profile of the emblematic Habana Libre hotel.

At the gates of the fairgrounds, the waiting time multiplied: hundreds of people waited in line for up to two hours. “Fortunately there is something cool,” commented an old man with a snort.

At the gates of the fairgrounds, the waiting time multiplied: hundreds of people waited in line for up to two hours. (14ymedio)

Once inside, visitors milled around and crowded around the counters, but they didn’t buy much. In the first FILH after the launch of the so-called Ordering Task*, complaints about high prices were widespread. Miniature books (ranging from literary classics such as The Little Prince to titles with jokes for adults or self-help) at 650 pesos, glitter at 400 pesos, markers at 1,200 pesos… “Not to mention, even water and soft drinks,” protested a young man who asked about the price of a backpack. continue reading

The featured guest country, Mexico, aroused some expectation, judging by the line of people waiting to enter its pavilion, located in room A. However, people left soon, dissuaded by the more than 400 pesos average cost for the books, almost all of them edited by the state publisher Fondo de Cultura Económica.

Once inside, visitors milled around and crowded around the counters, but they didn’t buy much. (14ymedio)

Among the few Mexican private publishers represented were Planeta, Almadía and Sexto Piso, all of them at small tables covered with a precarious table cover and colored “papel picado” – elaborate paper cuts – typical of the traditional Day of the Dead in Mexico.

It was the books of these publishers that were offered at a more accessible price, which was understood by looking at the publication dates: none was new and there were titles from 2012 and 2013. Unsold inventory.

One of them stood out: Commander. The Venezuela of Hugo Chávez , by Rory Carroll from the Sexto Piso publishing house (2013). It is a report that illustrates the rise of authoritarianism in Venezuela and the failure of the social programs of Bolivarism, something that would surprise the Cuban authorities who allowed it to be offered if they knew. Such a thing is doubtful: the two copies on display were closed, and the public passed by when they saw the face of the deceased president.

Among the few Mexican private publishers represented were Planeta, Almadía and Sexto Piso. (14ymedio)

Outside the fairgrounds of La Cabaña, in the Casa Benito Juárez (known as Casa de México), in Old Havana, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, director of the Mexican state publishing Fund for Economic Culture (FCE), presented Nueve noches con Violeta del Río [Nine nights with Violeta del Rio], by Leonardo Padura.

The Havana author was not present in person but he sent a video message from Madrid, where, he said,  he is “for work.” In the message he thanked the FCE for the presentation and expressed his wish that the Fair be successful and bring reading closer to the Cuban public.

Taibo, for his part, highlighted the relationship between the two since they met in the International Association of Police Writers in the 1980s and referred to Padura as a “author critical of the Cuban reality that he lives.”

Attendees in the gardens that surround the fortification, from where one can see, in the distance and with the sea in between, the advanced construction of the so-called “López-Calleja tower.” (14ymedio)

The director of the Fund explained that the new book, which he defined as a “long love story,” will be included in the Vientos del Pueblo collection, a series of books launched by the Mexican state publisher at very low prices (and published at very low quality).

*Translator’s note: Tarea ordenamiento = the [so-called] ‘Ordering Task’ which is a collection of measures that include eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and other measures. 

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

Cuba’s Cimex and Caribe Stores Will Distribute the Scarce Goods by Municipality and Ration Book

The line this Tuesday to shop in the Plaza de Carlos III, in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 19 April 2022 — One day after 14ymedio reported the return to the restriction by municipality of residence on the sale in pesos in the Plaza de Carlos III, the official press confirms the measure for the entire capital as of this Thursday 21.

The decision has been made, the Tribuna de La Habana acknowledges this Tuesday, “taking into account the existing situation with the availability of products and with the aim of making sales more viable, achieving greater equity and therefore reducing the crowding of people in the establishments.” That is, because of the shortages and to avoid the long queues.

From now on, warns the local newspaper, “all the products that are sold will be controlled and regulated,” and in the establishments of Cimex and Caribe the “scanning system” for identity cards will be re-established.

The official note details that in the Cuatro Caminos market, only residents of Old Havana and Cerro will be able to buy; in the Plaza de Carlos III, those of Centro Habana and Plaza de la Revolución, and in El Pedregal, those of La Lisa.

It was the Cuatro Caminos shopping center that was the scene, on April 7, of a line that reached a length of almost 20 blocks, and, two weeks before, the area was heavily guarded by the security forces, coinciding with a blackout of the internet that the State telecommunications company Etecsa attributed to an “energy failure.” continue reading

The return of this regulation, which was in force to prevent the spread of covid-19 and was repealed at the beginning of November, could be fatal for the Havana municipalities farthest from the center. The disproportion of the number of stores in Plaza de la Revolución, Centro Habana or Old Havana, for example, is enormous compared to the numbers in Arroyo Naranjo, La Lisa or Alamar.

“The other time they did this, it brought a lot of need,” confirms a Luyanó neighbor to this newspaper. “In the two little shops that are in my neighborhood, everyone had to buy one way or another and you had to spend three or four days in a line.” During that time, this woman chose not to leave her house and to order the week’s groceries from her son, who lives in Centro Habana and went to Luyanó on foot, because, due to the pandemic, transportation was also restricted.

Another woman from Havana asked: “When all of Key West has to go to the Carlos III market on the day assigned to them to shop, imagine if they are going to be able to buy a quarter of [what they need]. Many people are not even going to go.”

“They don’t do anything that works,” protested a boy in the line at Carlos III this Tuesday. “Every time they do something, it’s not looking forward, but looking back, like crabs.”

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A Line Ends in Blows this Good Friday in Central Havana

A massive line for the El Bodegón store in Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 15 April 2022 — Several policemen and patrol cars, blows, arguments and many, many people set the tone for a line to buy vegetable oil, which extended through Salud Street in Centro Habana this Good Friday, a holiday in Cuba.

“The police can’t fight the hungry people. People brutalize themselves to buy oil and chicken,” says a resident who from her house sees how several women hit each other in one of the fights provoked by the massive line for the store El Bodegón, with its entrance through Belascoaín street.

“I don’t understand why on July 11 there wasn’t a little more force, like in this line to buy oil because the police go after people, but people don’t let go, they keep hitting,” adds the resident. “On a day like today God was dead and the devil is on the loose.”

A liter of vegetable oil in the capital’s informal market costs between 500 and 700 pesos, while the sale of oil in state stores continues to be rationed like other basic necessities. For more than two years, vegetable oil has begun to be scarce.

People who were able to purchase the product today at El Bodegón, at a price of 50 pesos, had to present their supply book from the rationed market where the purchase was recorded and they will not be able to purchase oil again in another state establishment for the next 15 days. continue reading

The situation is repeated throughout the country. In Santiago de Cuba, the Edible Oil Refining Company, which also supplies the province’s black market, was paralyzed for several weeks and a liter cost more than 700 pesos. Currently, although the factory has started processing, the product is still scarce and a liter can be bought for 500 pesos.

The authorities have insisted that the stopwork of the Santiago refinery was due to “a breakdown and maintenance work” and that “at no time has the raw material been lacking,” something that residents celebrate because they will have oil for several months, even if they have to buy it from informal vendors.

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

The Mother of All Lines Extends Almost 20 Blocks in Havana

People lined up in the vicinity of the Cuatro Caminos market, Centro Habana, this Thursday. (Facebook/Eraisi León)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 7 April 2022 — Thousands of people formed a line this Thursday near the Cuatro Caminos market in Havana. Neighbors of the place confirmed to this newspaper the unusual line, which can be seen in videos and photos on social networks.

“A thing never seen before: the line began in Matadero, went along Omoa to the corner of Tejas and went down Monte,” a resident of Centro Habana said in surprise. A total of 16 blocks.

All of them waited, in a muffled murmur, to hand over their cards and be put on a list that determines what day they can go shopping within the next two weeks. Outside of the day they get, they can’t shop, and on the day they get lucky, there may not be what they need in the stores.

“The Special Brigade does not enter that mob,” joked a young man who witnessed the crowd. “The Cuatro Camino Revolution is drawing near.”

Another neighbor is not so optimistic: “Can you imagine if the cause of those people, instead of chicken, was democracy? Chicken has won the battle for us.” continue reading

“This line forms every 14 days, but it has been getting longer and longer for some time,” explains another resident of the neighborhood, who says that on March 24, the area was heavily guarded by the security forces.

“The never seen before: the line began in Matadero, went through Omoa to the corner of Tejas and went down Monte.” (14ymedio)

That was the day that the island suffered a general outage of internet service for about an hour, which Etecsa attributed to an “energy failure.” At that time, there were many who, on social networks and in the streets, feared that the reason for the blackout was something else, as happened during the protests on July 11, to prevent information about the demonstrations from continuing to circulate.

In the surroundings of the Plaza de Cuatro Caminos , the connection problems lasted several days, according to several residents.

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

Defeat for a Motorcycle Cop Chasing an ‘Informal’ Vendor in Havana

Some of the vendors confronted the agent saying: “Hey, officer, you can’t come in here.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 5 April 2022 — Customers of the Youth Labor Army market on 17th and K in Havana were stunned this Tuesday when they saw a policeman riding a motorcycle enter the crowd.

Three sellers of plastic bags, routine in the place despite the prohibition on selling product, left terrified, two men and a woman, but the agent only went after the woman. The girl slipped through the crowd that was doing its shopping at the market and disappeared from sight.

Some of the vendors confronted the agent saying: “Hey, officer, you can’t come in here.” The policeman, perplexed, answered them loudly: “I don’t understand why that woman who came in disappears in here,” implying that the merchants themselves had hidden her.

Without ever getting off the motorcycle, the agent turned around and went back out into the street. He was stationed at the door of the market for a few minutes with a vigilant attitude, until another woman approached him, pointing out a path – which way did the pursued person go? – and, only then, did the man leave. continue reading

Some of the vendors confronted the agent saying: “Hey, officer, you can’t come in here.” (14ymedio)

“Luckily he didn’t come in at high speed, what if he hits someone?” said a customer in her forties under her breath, while protesting: “They feel impunity.”

Another young witness to the events reported: “This reminds me of the stories my grandmother told me about Batista, when the police pursued people and the people themselves hid them.”

The market, located on a busy street in El Vedado, has at least two entrances, which made pursuit more difficult for the uniformed man. With a nearby passport and identity card preparation office, plus a polyclinic where PCR tests are carried out for those planning to travel travel, the area is permanently full of people who come and go.

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

The Fábrica de Arte Cubano Opens Its Doors After the Pandemic and the Death of the Convertible Peso

The cultural center is located on Calle 26, corner of 11th, in El Vedado. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 1 April 2022 — With a ticket price of 250 pesos, the Fábrica de Arte Cubano [Cuban Art Factory (FAC)] resumes its cultural presentations this Friday night after being closed for more than two years due to the pandemic.

“What is the cheapest rum you will sell?” a young man interested in being there asked a FAC employee this Friday afternoon. The state worker replied that the Santiago and Habana Club brands would be the cheapest.

The cultural center, near the iron bridge that crosses the Almendares river, is managed by the musician X Alfonso; before the pandemic, it mainly attracted tourists and artists from the alternative scene who had the resources to pay the price of its tickets and services.

But between the closing of its doors and this opening, there was the Ordering Task* the currency unification in January 2021, which shook a good part of the Cuban economy, raising inflation and shooting up the price of foreign currency in the informal market. Hence, the big question of this restart night is how much the Art Factory will cost now and which customers will be able to afford it.

The event schedule of the first reopening day includes the presentation of the DJs Tievo and Cusko, artists from the National School of Dance, and Roberto Fonseca and Temperamento.

*Tarea ordenamiento = the [so-called] ‘Ordering Task’ which is a collection of measures that include eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and other measures. 

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

Rock is Thrown Through the Window of a Havana Phone Store Last Night

The office of the State telecommunications company Etecsa on Obispo Street, in Old Havana, this Tuesday, with boards on the windows. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 30 March 2022 — No one saw anything and few are talking, but the truth is that this Tuesday the office of the State telecommunications company Etecsa on Obispo Street, in Old Havana, woke up with a broken glass.

“They have already begun to break the windows of the Etecsa offices that sell in MLC (hard currency),” said the activist Ángel Cuza in a video transmitted through Facebook, while government Criminalistics agents were observed placing boards in the windows.

A curious customer who came in to buy a phone card asked the employee: “Are you going to fix it here, I see that you are boarding up the window?” The young woman replied: “No, no, it’s that there was an incident and they put that there until they change the glass.”

A neighbor residing on Havana Street, a few meters from the Etecsa office, told this newspaper that “at dawn we heard a noise but we didn’t look out.” The man, who prefers to remain anonymous, says that “this area is very noisy and until the wee hours you hear a lot of noise, music and voices, so we didn’t think it was important.”

The next morning, when he went downstairs, he found “a strong police operation and everyone commenting that someone had thrown a stone at the Etecsa window.” continue reading

Obispo Street, a pedestrian street widely used to walk through the historic center of Havana, “was practically blocked by the police and a criminalistics car.”

“They were asking the neighbors if anyone had seen something, but the same thing happened to everyone as had happened to me, I was sleeping at the time everything happened, which I calculate was around three in the morning, because I woke up and then I had a hard time falling asleep.”

The neighbor insists that “people were not very cooperative with the police because nobody here wants to be a snitch,” but he thinks: “That window was an ostentation with its very expensive telephones that nobody can buy, the strange thing is that no one threw a rock through it earlier.”

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

An ‘Energy Failure’ Cuts Off the Internet in Cuba for Almost an Hour

In Havana, nervous glances at cell phones and questions showed people’s anxiety at not having service. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 24 March 2022 — In Cuba, the telecommunications services of the state monopoly Etecsa stopped working this Thursday morning for about an hour, a problem that the company attributes to an energy failure and that increases uncertainty about the capacity of the Island’s National Electric System.

“Etecsa informs that due to a power failure there has been instability in the voice service, SMS, mobile data, as well as recharges and purchase of packages. At this time, the affected equipment has already been restored, which will allow the services to be restored progressively,” the company explained on its official Twitter account.

The first problems have begun to be noticed in the lack of data connection in Havana, where the newsroom of 14ymedio has kept in touch through text messages.

However, several users on social networks reported the impossibility of making calls or sending SMS texts.

“The problems with the Internet connection for Mobile Data continue. Right now they do not work. I report from Pinar del Río,” said a user. Another confirmed that it was also happening in Ciego de Ávila. One more tweeted that it was only possible to connect via wi-fi.

In Havana, nervous glances at cell phones and questions showed people’s anxiety at not having service. “Something big must be happening,” said a nurse at the gates of the Calixto García hospital.

Many Cubans have feared that the cutoff was intentional, as happened during the July 11 protests to prevent further information about the demonstrations from circulating. At that time, the Island remained “blind” for three days. continue reading

However, ultimately, and according to the company’s version, the problem is of another type, although no less serious. Last week, with the loss of the National Electric System of the Antonio Guiteras thermoelectric plant in Mariel due to a breakdown, added to the stoppage for works after the fire in the Máximo Gómez plant in Mariel, in Artemisa province, fears began of a new era of great blackouts and energy rationing.

The last week has also been marked by the lack of fuel and rationing of gasoline and diesel in Havana and Matanzas, attributed to power plant failures.

The drop in service also coincides with the international Informatica 2022 event, a convention in which Etecsa intends to set the guidelines for digital transformation in Cuba.

Despite the fact that the company has apologized, users’ spirits have not calmed down, since some of them say that they have been charged for megabytes consumed during a period of time in which they could not connect to anything.

A little over a year ago, in February 2021, there was another outage for technical reasons that left the country without internet as well. At that time there was not even a Wi-Fi or cable connection, and the official pages were offline for at least two hours.

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