After Milk and Beef, Bread Disappears from the Cuban Table

Bakery on Carlos III Avenue in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez and Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 24 August 2022 — From the balcony, Yudineya watched dozens of bread and cookie sellers pass by every day in her neighborhood of Los Sitios in Havana, but for weeks they have practically disappeared. The shortage of wheat flour has hit private bakeries hard and has also put state bakeries in check.

For decades, “bread with something” has been the fundamental comfort food in Cuban homes. From the elaborate bite of ham and cheese to the poorest bread with oil and salt, the snacks of students and workers depend to a great extent on that baked product that has been disappearing in recent weeks.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do when our child starts school,” says Yudineya, 38, whose son will start the second grade of elementary school in September. “What my son always takes for a snack is bread with whatever appears, but now not even that is available,” she explains to 14ymedio.

In Nuevo Vedado, a colorful private bakery that until recently offered bags of the so-called “ball bread” in addition to hard-crust French bread, baguettes and rolls, now offers only roasted peanuts and egg-white merengue. “We’re not offering bread because we don’t have any flour,” the employee explains. “Sales have fallen a lot, and if we continue like this we’ll have to close.”

Line to buy bread on August 24 at the Pueblo Nuevo Council, Central Havana. (14ymedio)

But it’s not only bakeries that are feeling the blow of the shortage of wheat flour. Businesses that base their gastronomic offerings on pizzas and sandwiches are also suffering. “We were selling bags with 10 pizza crusts for 300 pesos, and now we’ve had to raise the price to 500,” says the delivery man of La Paloma, a private business in Diez de Octubre. continue reading

In front of the bakery on Carlos III, one of the few that still sells “released” [unrationed] bread, the elderly, physically disabled, kids, mothers and all kinds of people begin to show up. Neither age nor the numerous ailments exempt the Cuban, who must defend his place in line as if he were in a besieged fortress.

An employee announces that they will soon sell a few breadsticks. What in Creole gastronomy used to be long and crunchy, in socialism assumes the dictionary definition: “small stick, crude and poorly made.”

Invoking strength that they don’t have, battered Cubans, hoping to get a breadstick, stampede to take their place in line. One woman complains, “All we can get is a little piece of breadstick per person.”

Once the “sticks” have been bought and packaged, the crowd recovers its place in the shade. They must keep waiting: in an hour, they think, the bakery will take out a small amount of garlic bread.

“It will get worse,” predicts a bakery employee. “As of September 1, only the popular council can buy bread here. We’ve been told that there must be an establishment in every place that takes care of the people in that area.”

The shortage of flour occupies the gossips, as do the newspaper articles, the panic of daily hunger and the comments about the imminent school year. It scares mothers and overwhelms retirees, accustomed to a Spartan ration of bread and water with sugar.

An audio circulated on social networks, attributed to a Commerce manager, whispers to anyone who wants to listen that there will be no more flour. “Neither for hospitals nor for the army,” says the anonymous voice. Some sacks of flour will be available for standard bread and some for prisons, whose tranquility cannot be risked.

A prison riot, in a country where a protest can break out every night, has become one of the favorite topics to discuss during the blackouts and domino games.

At the bakery on Reina Street they handed out shifts before selling bread this Wednesday. (14ymedio)

“Today for breakfast I had only a hard roll that I brought from Havana several days ago,” Kenny Fernández Delgado, one of the Havana priests who bothers State Security the most, wrote on his social networks.

Fernández lambasted “communism,” which “took away my beef before I was born, and my milk at the age of 7” and now even “the ‘released’ bread has become a prisoner… Take everything away from me and that’s it,” the priest concluded, “as they did to Jesus Christ on Good Friday, because that way I will know that Easter Sunday is closer.”

The Government, as usual, used the State newspaper Granma to “rewrite” the alarming reality on the Island. “There are no problems with the production and distribution of bread from the Regulated Family Basket and the Cuban Bread Chain,” the media said, citing a note from the Ministry of Internal Trade.

He admitted, however, the “difficulties in the import of wheat,” attributed to the embargo, Cuba’s “financial constraints” and the “international logistics crisis.” The report concluded by “calming down” the vulnerable sectors of the population, apparently saved from scarcity.

Meanwhile, the official reporter Lázaro Manuel Alonso was trying to reconcile the fiction with reality: “Señores, stop the interpretations now,” he demanded on Facebook, supporting Granma’s version.

However, he admitted in the same publication, “Yes, there have been difficulties with the processing of bread due to the lack of electricity, which has nothing to do with the supply of raw materials for production.” Regardless of the contradictions within his own message, he tried to settle as “false” the rumor of scarcity that “some users have shared on social networks.”

The “white dust crisis,” as some Cubans have begun to call it, keeps private producers in suspense. Pastry shops have substantially reduced their supply, while the price for any empanada, jam or cake, no matter how squalid, is increasing.

Not only flour, but also eggs, sugar, oil and other ingredients of the family pantry will be removed from the symbolic Cuban’s table. The meats, the fruits and now, finally, the bread basket are also gone.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

The Old Cheater and the Suspicious Guajiro Negotiate the Crisis in Cuba

This Thursday morning an old woman rehearsed an apology for taking a pound of rice without paying from the improvised point of sale located in the park on Carlos III and Belascoaín streets. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 18 August 2022 — With a paper cup in his hand, a man with a tanned face approaches those who pass through Havana’s Central Park. “My daughter suffered an accident yesterday and I need to buy her medicines,” he explains. He has been repeating the same story for years, which he seasons with more lurid details as the economic crisis worsens. A few feet away, a shaved-ice seller cursed because he had been paid with a five-peso bill as if it were 500 pesos. This very common counterfeiting swindle is due to the recent arrival of high-denomination banknotes whose colors resemble lower-value banknotes.

Upon hearing this story, the colleague who helped him push his  cart also took the opportunity to talk about the scam he suffered in transfers through his mobile phone, which cost him his whole telephone balance. “You can’t trust people; they say one thing and then try to stab you in the back,” he said.

The feeling of mistrust spreads everywhere, and the most notorious scams of the Special Period are again recounted with fear. From steak made from a carpet to pizza with condoms masquerading as cheese, the urban legends of street fraud return in force to everyday conversations.

But beyond these milestones of deception, the small scam or apparent naivety is the one that’s most widespread on the Island.

This Thursday morning an elderly woman rehearsed an apology for taking a pound of rice without paying from the improvised point of sale located in the park on Carlos III and Belascoaín streets. “Mijo, give it to me and I’ll go right away to the ATM and bring you the money,” the lady repeated several times, but the merchant didn’t buy it. “Go and come back with the 50 pesos and then I’ll give you the rice,” the farmer responded categorically, adding in a lower voice: “I may be a guajiro but I’m not stupid.”

The deception also spreads to private cafes: snacks that show a slice of ham only on the outside but inside are empty, and presumed natural juices that are sold at exorbitant prices and are actually artificial concentrates mixed with water. However, the champion pickpocket is still the State: meat slices that don’t even have the memory of animal origin but continue reading

are marketed at the price of gourmet food, all-inclusive tour packages where you have to take a glass with you because in hotels they don’t have the packaging to serve drinks, and an internet access service, among the most expensive in the world, which barely guarantees a few hours.

The corner scammer justifies his villainy by pointing to the constant economic crimes committed by the ruling party. He himself is a victim of voracity and state inefficiency. “My old lady, if she goes to the cashier now to get money, she will return tomorrow because there’s a blackout and they’re out of service,” joked another customer from the point of sale on Carlos III Street. The crisis can lead to scams but, at the same time, it’s noticeable that people are more suspicious and don’t allow themselves to be scammed so easily.

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.

A Nostalgic Tour of the Closed Hotels in a Havana Without Tourists

A crossbar keeps the doors of the Hotel Sevilla completely closed. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 20 August 2022 — I walk up and down Obispo, the main street in the historic center of Old Havana that has been, for decades, a commercial and tourist artery of unparalleled importance on the Island. Now, the main hotels located on that street are closed and without visitors, a situation that extends to other areas once full of people with sunglasses and souvenir sellers.

With its large central courtyard and stately entrance, the Florida hotel offered a colonial experience in Old Havana, close to the nearby bars and restaurants. But after the pandemic, its doors didn’t reopen, and now it seems like an empty shell that the custodians are trying to preserve from deterioration.

Nearby, the Ambos Mundos hotel attracted travelers last August under the magnetism generated by the American writer Ernest Hemingway, who stayed in one of its rooms. But neither on its extensive terrace on the fifth floor, nor in its colorful lobby nor in the old elevator are the voices of guests heard anymore. The place is also “temporarily closed” by thick chains at the entrance of the mythical building.

The employees of the Armadores de Santander hotel, on Luz street, pounce on clueless passers-by, no matter if they are foreigners or Cubans, to pressure them to have lunch. It’s the only way to guarantee a tip, however small it may be. And if the would-be future diner refuses to read the menu, he can earn a couple of insults. continue reading

With humility, the custodian of the once-imposing Telegraph hotel has heard that “they plan to open it soon, perhaps in October, but who knows.” Another worker, on his knees next to the service door, confesses to praying “to the eleven thousand virgins” for the hotel’s prompt reopening.

The doors of the famous Hotel Sevilla — where the protagonist of the novel Our Man in Havana is recruited to be an agent of the British secret service — are blocked by a strong crossbar. The shops of the commercial arcade, which communicates with the establishment through a gate on Prado Street, are open. The gate, of course, is closed, and a Creole “spy” guards it.

Another complete closure, with sticks used as crossbars to immobilize the door, is the Plaza hotel, still majestic on its corner of Zulueta street, guarded by Virtudes and Neptuno. For its part, the Gran Hotel Bristol, located on Teniente Rey a few feet from the Capitol, is still waiting for its opening, announced with great fanfare by the authorities.

Covered furniture and a chain on the door of the Ambos Mundos hotel. (14ymedio).

In another hotel colossus, the Inglaterra, the clientele is in search of lunch at any price. But there are no tourists, only Cubans: a bad sign for the waiters who hope for a tip.

Also on Prado, the Parque Central hotel awaits in vain the arrival of sweaty and hungry foreigners. The restaurant staff sees time go by extremely slowly and arranges the suitcases of some customers, who are leaving very soon.

The Deauville hotel, on Galiano and San Lázaro, has not reopened since its closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. Through its windows, a brigade of workers was observed this week repairing the entrance. Asked about the date of reopening of the establishment, someone who looked like the construction manager limited himself to making a gesture with his hand while venturing: “At least until next year, I think.”

The luxurious Paseo del Prado hotel, recently acquired by the Canadian firm Blue Diamond, is open but “uninhabited.”  The company’s aggressive campaign to get hold of different establishments on the Island contrasts with the calamitous state of tourism. The same goes for the Packard, where you can see few guests in the lobby and just two foreigners in the “infinity pool.”

After the pandemic, the doors of the Florida hotel didn’t reopen. (14ymedio)

No traveler enjoys staying at the Manzana Kempinski hotel, which is open but under repair. The noise of cranes and excavators makes the summer bitter for customers, who also don’t enter the very expensive boutiques on the ground floor of the building.

Businesses that fed on tourists staying in Old Havana have also closed. Café París, on the corner of San Ignacio and Obispo, is in absolute silence. This place, where the songs of the Buena Vista Social Club were repeated all day like a stuck record, hasn’t returned to toasting with its “baptized” drinks of distilled rums, and nor is there work for the musicians, who earned endless tips under its roof.

Some boys joke that in La Mina [The Mine] “nothing is exploited anymore.” In better times, the restaurant workers lived up to its name by excavating the pockets of tourists. It’s said that serving drinks on that corner of Obispo and Oficios Street was a guarantee of ascending two levels in social class. Some bartenders literally became millionaires by dispatching watered-down mojitos and low-alcohol cuba libres.

Indispensable in the national cartography of alcoholism, La Bodeguita del Medio looks more like a deadly dump than the gastronomic legend it was. A brief reading of its menu, with pork at 1,050 pesos and Cuban-style lobster at 700, is enough for the customer to opt for fasting.

It’s better to go to La Vitrola, a private restaurant whose terrace expands onto the Plaza Vieja. But not even all tourists dare to eat there, where the combination of several monthly salaries — for a Cuban — is not enough for a lunch.

Some hotels that are still open offer lunch service to Cubans and foreigners. (14ymedio)

If the body demands at least one sip of coffee, it won’t be possible to go to El Escorial, whose employees devour their food while playing with their cell phones. Once he gives up on decent food, the necessary infusion and the unfindable cigar, the hungry pedestrian will stumble upon the less touristic circles of Havana’s hell: the killer money changers of Cathedral Square, the dying pigeons on San Francisco, the horde of taxi drivers with improvised carriages, and the foreign exchange sellers, who complete the fauna of the historic center.

There is no choice but to abandon the area, where the remains of the past of a sparkling, effervescent, tropical city are fading. It’s a Havana that exists only in old photos and in the silhouette of its closed hotels.

Opposite them, suspiciously, rise the construction of luxury hotels that doesn’t stop, like the brand new Grand Aston or the so-called Torre K, highly criticized by the specialists. The origin of the funds for these works, carried out by the Gaesa military conglomerate, remains opaque.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

The Hippies of Playita 16 in Havana Have Left, the Invader Now is Garbage

La Playita 16 has never been a place that is well cared for by the authorities. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 16 August 2022 — “Don’t take off your shoes!” a mother yelled, this Monday morning, to her newly arrived son at Playita 16, a piece of coastline west of Havana that serves as consolation for those who cannot afford a trip to the white sands of Santa María del Mar or Boca Ciega, in the eastern part of the city. The precaution of keeping his shoes on is not only because of the sharp rocky stretch that appears before reaching the water, but also because of the garbage that fills the area, bottle tops, empty cans, paper and other waste.

An employee wipes a damp cloth over the counter of a coffee shop a few meters from the waves. There are barely a couple of customers in the place because, despite the heat, the high prices for beer and soft drinks scare away thirsty bathers. A young man asks the woman if the Comunales company — the public services provider — ever goes through the place to collect garbage. “Ah, I don’t know. This is my little piece and it’s clean,” she replies as she shrugs. Outside, the heap of varied packaging covers the ground, gleaming in the August sun.

La Playita 16 has never been a spot that is well cared for by the authorities. Rather, it is a vexing place where, in the ’70s, hippies, rockers and all kinds of people considered “uncomfortable” by the Cuban power structure and its desire to “parameterize” any hint of diversity, congregated. In that piece of coast in the municipality of Playa, the police were fattening themselves by issuing fines and taking away the long-haired youths. Also from there, innumerable and rustic boats departed during the 1994 Balseros [Rafters] Crisis.

Then, at the end of the last century, dollarization began to change the face of this coastline lacking sand and umbrellas. The appearance of several kiosks selling drinks and food attracted other visitors who alternated looking at the sunset with a cold drink or a slice of pizza. Perhaps from those years there are still some more gentrified bathers who parade their bathing suits, their colorful towels and their purebred dogs around the place, but they are few. Most of them have migrated from the beach or the country.

This Monday, almost at noon, despite the harshness of El Indio and his arrows, a drunk who spent the night on the concrete road continued to snore. Some children frolicked on the shore and a lady watched the horizon from under the protection of a huge hat. Around them, the torn bags, some tetrapack boxes that once contained juices or small doses of Planchao rum, and the empty bottles were also part of the scene.

A piece of cardboard flew from a nearby bench to land on one of the waste piles, right next to a couple with a baby stroller who were taking a photo with the little one’s red cheeks in the foreground, behind the already blue sea, and to the side was the motley mountain of debris.

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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.

Trying to Stop Dengue Fever with an Inadequate Fumigation Campaign

The racket wasn’t coming from a machine in the sky but from an old fumigation truck of the Comunales company. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 11 August 2022 — Early Thursday morning, the inhabitants of Nuevo Vedado in Havana woke up startled by the roar of what seemed to be a small plane, flying over the streets of the city. However, when they went out to their balconies, they noticed that the noise didn’t come from a flying machine, but from an old fumigation truck of the Comunales* company.

The vehicle dispensed its smoke on the streets, sidewalks and ditches, so that the gas would reach the numerous mosquitos that nest after the summer downpours. It’s a random measure, but one urgently decreed by the Government, which has always lacked a systematic and coherent strategy against the aedes aegypti mosquito which transmits dengue fever.

Another Public Health measure has been the sending of medical personnel to inspect residential buildings in the area. But even when time and human resources are allocated for this, doctors must face multiple daily setbacks on the island.

A doctor on her way to inspect a building in the area entered the elevator to evaluate the upper floors and, between one level and another, was trapped by a power outage. Had one of the neighbors of the building, already accustomed to the “rescue” during blackouts, not come, the woman would have remained there, locked in the elevator until two in the afternoon, when the electricity was scheduled to return.

Other neighbors have filed complaints with Public Health, since health workers appear in homes during the most inappropriate hours, when people need to go to work or out to the street. Their presence must be validated; it’s “mandatory” and decreed by the Government.

As if that weren’t enough, the proliferation of dengue hemorrhagic fever and other mosquito-borne diseases are at their most critical point. The most recent report presented by the Minister of Public Health pointed out, as causes, “vacations” and the “period of rain and intense heat,” but concluded, with the usual rhetoric, that the only possible measure is “surveillance, timely admission, trained personnel, adequate treatment and closing ranks in the areas of greatest risk.”

In contrast to the official optimism, the minister offered concrete data on the transmission of dengue fever in 11 provinces, 23 municipalities and 33 health areas of the island. During the last week of July, the incidence rate of suspected dengue cases increased by 35.5% compared to the previous week, with an average of 68.3 cases recorded per day, mainly in Havana, Holguín, Isla de la Juventud, Guantánamo and Camagüey. continue reading

A report published in Tribuna de La Habana reported that “intensive fumigation” vehicles similar to those of Nuevo Vedado will circulate in the municipality of Playa. The proliferation of insect-borne viruses, which include dengue, Zika and chikungunya, especially affects the coastal area of Havana, where outbreaks abound.

According to Manuel Bravo Fleitas, Director of Health in this municipality in the west of the city, there is a map that records the most affected blocks and the nuclei of dengue transmission, which includes the local polyclinic.

The most frequent practice in this and other municipalities of the island has been home care and the sporadic follow-up of patients. The symptoms that indicate the condition, which neighbors must report to the health directors, are fever, muscle and eye pain, in addition to fatigue and exhaustion.

“Playa shows a similar behavior to the rest of the Havana territories in terms of the number of cases and the number of fevers, with an average of 100-120 per day,” the report says.

As the situation becomes increasingly alarming, the Community Services procedure continues to respond to a precarious pattern: workers irrigate puddles, tanks and swimming pools with little bottles of diluted insecticide. Fumigation devices, in addition to being old and very annoying, usually don’t have the necessary maintenance and fuel, and neighborhoods continue to suffer from unhealthy conditions and systematic deterioration.

Abandoned and collapsing buildings are ideal sources for mosquito nesting, in addition to numerous rubbish dumps and common areas that are barely cleaned of grass and garbage. The impossibility of ventilating houses properly, due to frequent blackouts, facilitates the scenario for night bites of mosquitoes.

Added to this panorama is the fact that Cuba is far from having satisfactory control of the COVID-19 pandemic, and hospitals have a more worrying lack, that of medical supplies, which are indispensable for treatment and recovery from these diseases.

*Translator’s note: Servicios Comunales is a public company in charge of services such as garbage collection, mosquito control, and others.

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.

Ten Dollars and Five Banks Later: a Cuban’s Dilemma in Selling His Foreign Currency

Like a monetary Eusebio Leal, I continued walking Havana up to Belascoaín and was received at the bank on the corner of Zanja by a distracted guard who didn’t even look up from his cell phone. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 4 August 2022 — I took to the streets of Havana with ten dollars in my pocket. A sweaty, fought-for bill, a miniature fortune in the country of bank surprises. I wasn’t forgetting the words of the Minister of Economy, serene as an executioner between the president of the Central Bank and the affirmative Randy Alonso [note: director of the State TV Roundtable program].

Wearing a tie and smartly dressed, Minister Alejandro Gil promised to exchange each of my dollars for 120 pesos, or something like that, because there would be a bite from the commission. I started walking towards Infanta wondering how many dollars Gil himself would sell, a man who claims to be always “in the concrete” and for whom “there are no magic recipes” when it comes to economics.

I arrived at the Cadeca currency exchange on Infanta, and I didn’t see any of the “talented young people” and the “professors of the academy” who enlightened the minister on managing this measure. I was greeted by a uniformed mulatto, older, who wore his uniform impeccably. “You saw the Roundtable yesterday, didn’t you?” he asked me kindly.

I answered yes and instantly the clerk appeared, nervous as a fire ant, and said to me: “Did you bring your identity card?” I couldn’t help but smile. So did Gil not only intend to open the banks as mousetraps to capture foreign currency, but also to learn who has dollars and how many they are willing to sell?

“I left it, compañera,” I said, and kept walking through Central Havana, willing to find out what other secret rules Alejandro Gil’s game would have in its first hours of operation. continue reading

I arrived at the Cadeca currency exchange on Infanta, and I didn’t see any of the “talented young people” and the “professors of the academy” who enlightened the minister on managing this measure. (14ymedio)

He who makes the law makes the trap, as the saying goes. However, here everything is slippery, dark and doesn’t obey logical rules, I thought, as I went up Infanta to another bank. It was deserted: a few workers, fugitives from their posts during working hours, so as not to subject themselves to longer lines in the afternoon.

“Who is last in line* to exchange?” I asked them. They looked up, overwhelmed by the heat and boredom, and pointed to the door of the establishment. “The system isn’t working yet,” they informed me inside.

Like a monetary Eusebio Leal, I continued walking Havana up to Belascoaín and was received at the bank on the corner of Zanja by a distracted guard who didn’t even look up from his cell phone. “There is no one to exchange,” the guy explained, “because there is no connection. The system is down, you understand?”

I looked at the line in front of the ATMs, which were working perfectly, and I found the excuse very strange. They depend on the same network. The Central Bank of Cuba hasn’t been able to guarantee a serious and effective structure for exchanging currency, even when they feign “despair” and “anger” in the face of the U.S. embargo, the usual apology for incompetence.

“Come in, come on, exchange!” one of the office workers from another bank in Belascoaín appealed to me. As a preliminary step to a financial wound, so much enthusiasm seemed dangerous. “Has anyone come to exchange yet?” I asked cautiously.

No,” the woman admitted, “but there is no problem. You know what these things are like at first. The system still doesn’t work well; we have to try it. So you will be the first brave man, come on!” “Wait a minute,” I said, and I saved myself by shooting out of there like a rocket.

Finally, at the bank on Galiano Street, I found several people lining up to exchange. The employee at the door, a portent of economic misinformation, assured us that the exact exchange rate for the euro was 121 pesos, when in reality it stays at 119 and a few cents after paying the commission.

In the line, the story was already famous about clueless customers who, when extracting Cuban pesos with their European Visa card at the ATM, received 24 Cuban pesos for every euro and not at the new rate. It was useless for them to complain. A foolish boy arrived asking how much he would have to pay for a dollar. “No, mi amor,” clarified the bank guard, “they are the only ones who can buy. And they will sell . . . when they tell us.”

It was deserted: a few workers, fugitives from their posts during working hours, so as not to subject themselves to longer lines in the afternoon. (14ymedio)

It’s almost noon, and Gil’s invention hasn’t convinced me, so I give up my place in Galiano’s line. Nor does it seem like a good deal for other Cubans. The minister has already imagined us in long lines to rid ourselves of foreign currency and destroy, with the same shot, the informal market.

I open my phone and consult the WhatsApp groups of buying and selling dollars, food, medicines and everything else. Contrary to Gil’s predictions, no one pays too much attention to the prodigious measure. Obviously, the exchange rate of the dollar is already exceeding that decreed by the government.

I note the contact for a boy who promises 150 pesos for every dollar. In the same group, someone says that they prefer to sell their dollars at 90 pesos rather than give them to the government. Since yesterday, both the euro and other freely convertible currency have been following the upward course of the U.S. currency, the favorite of the Council of Ministers.

I take my $10 bill out of my pocket and look at it almost fondly. What a job it will be for Alejandro Gil, the brilliant magician of the Cuban economy, to take dollars away from a Cuban.

*Translator’s note: When Cubans join a line they do so by asking “who’s last,” and in this way the line maintains its order without individuals having to stand exactly in place, in a line that might last hours.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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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.

Power Cuts ‘Blackout’ the Best Supplied Markets in Havana

The offers are poor and no one wants to be inside the establishment, in the middle of the power outage scheduled for Vedado from early in the morning. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 4 August 2022 — “People here are not used to these blackouts,” a woman said aloud when leaving the market on 19th and B on Wednesday. Known in the capital as the food boutique, this store stands out for always being well stocked, especially compared to others found all over the island, but the customer left the place with only two plantains in hand.

The arrival of the blackouts, however, has had a full impact on the market. The offers are poor and no one wants to be inside the establishment, in the middle of the power outage scheduled for Vedado from early in the morning.

“Buy from me, even if it’s half a melon, mi vida, I already want to leave,” a saleswoman, fan in hand, implored a customer who was passing by her stand. “I’m suffering from this heat, and my bursitis makes matters worse,” she lamented.

In the busy square yesterday you could barely find half a kilo of tomatoes for 200 pesos, Chinese plums at 60 and carrots or beets for 80 pesos a pound.

At noon, many stalls were already closed. The sellers preferred not to continue enduring the heat in the midst of the lack of electricity and left, but people kept arriving trying to get something, despite the high prices. The fear that when the electricity service was restored there would be nothing left overcame their little desire to be there. continue reading

The sellers of the informal market didn’t swarm around the place yesterday either. “I have milk, hot dogs, picadillo, even lobster.” The whispers that don’t stop normally weren’t heard this Wednesday.

A merchant announced sarcastically as he picked up his cassava and malangas: “Get your solidarity here, I’m leaving.”

“But compañero, don’t you think solidarity is necessary?” another asked him ironically. “Of course, of course, solidarity. But I am like this revolution, which has said enough and needs to go,” he replied, exploding like a bomb, while behind his back there was tremendous laughter.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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Cuba: ‘A Gleaming Bodega with Hardly Any Food and a Lot of Revolutionary Will’

The bodega (ration store) looked renovated yesterday in salute to the official party on July 26. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 27 July 2022 — “Come neighbors, buy something. Sheets, towels, dessert plates, keep coming in.” The proclamation, which was heard this Tuesday where Hospital Street meets Jovellar, came from the woman who runs the bodega (ration store) located on that corner, which yesterday looked renovated, in salute to the official party on July 26th.

Everything had been arranged for the expected date: the painted walls, the polished counter and the neat and clean shelves, exhibiting two bottles of oil, a package of rice and another of sugar. At their side, contrasted other unusual items in the ration stores: sets of sheets at more than 2,000 pesos, towels over 800, plastic plates at 35 and even pens are offered in the local restaurant.

“Oh, but what a cool name they gave it, La Estrella [The Star],” a neighbor joked, pointing to the new sign for the ration store. “It would have been better if they had named it The Muddy Firefly. In the midst of so much land, holes and putrefied waters, didn’t they have another better investment to make?” A woman replied from the line to buy bread in the private cafeteria across the street.

The two establishments are separated by a huge fetid hole, full of sewage from the surrounding buildings that tarnishes the remodeling. (14ymedio)
The two establishments are separated by a huge fetid hole, full of sewage from the surrounding buildings that tarnishes the remodeling. (14ymedio)

The two establishments are separated by a huge fetid hole, full of sewage from the surrounding buildings that tarnishes the remodeling. The works began days ago and the street is open to start the repairs but, as often happens, there is no progress to be seen and there are neighbors who are without gas and waiting to see the area cleaned up. continue reading

“We have a gleaming bodega where there is hardly any food, but there is revolutionary will,” the forklift operator who sells agricultural products on that block comment sarcastically. “I would like to know when they are going to fix ours, which is just a block away, in San Lázaro, full of leaks and in danger of collapsing,” replied a customer while she bought an avocado. Sometimes, she tells the street vendor, the poor condition of the establishment prevents her from completing the errands in the ration book. “The ration store guy tells me, for example, that he can’t give me the sugar because it got wet, due to leaks,” she says annoyed.

Suddenly, conversations are interrupted and attention is drawn to a truck that has just become entangled in the debris on the street and has lost a piece of its bumper. The driver accelerates furiously after managing to free the vehicle, while someone yells at him: “Wow! The 26th is your party too!”

Attention is drawn to a truck that has just become entangled in the debris on the street and has lost a chunk of its bumper. (14ymedio)
Attention is drawn to a truck that has just become entangled in the debris on the street and has lost a chunk of its bumper. (14ymedio)

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Green Avocados, Ginger and a Portrait of Fidel Castro: All That’s Left in a Havana Market

A market stall on 17th and K in El Vedado, Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 27 July 2022 — The scene this morning in the Havana market at 17th and K, in Vedado, could be attributed to the passage of a cyclone. The empty and skeletal platforms, waiting for products that never arrived; the plastic boxes upside down on the floor; the red earth, the rubbish that nobody sweeps and the absent vendors.

In one of the sales booths hung a solitary portrait of Fidel Castro, frowning, in olive green and stained with the residue of mud. When the market is full, Castro’s profile often works as a charm to scare away inspectors, to recognize the merchants who installed him in his place.

The trick is old and perhaps Soviet: the Czech writer and politician Václav Havel talks about a Slavic greengrocer who wrote slogans in his shop so that neither his colleagues nor the “people” of the Party would look at him badly, and thus he could sell his stuff peacefully.

A Cuban farmer, who has to market his products according to the rules of the Cuban State, repeats this ritual of camouflage against power. Although Castro is insufferable to him, he has learned to use him as the patron saint of thieves and bandits.

However, today it is not much use: since it is a holiday, not even the inspectors are prowling the alleys of the market. Only the patient buyer, willing not to be defeated by the decreed shortages that the heroic date — 26 July — brings with it, manages to glimpse an avocado stand in the distance. continue reading

For 15 pesos you can buy a pound of green avocados. The same amount buys some ginger, that Asian root to which Cubans are so little accustomed, and which could serve as a sedative infusion given the prices that are yet to be discovered, if they continue in search of food.

For 15 pesos you can buy a pound of green avocados at the 17th and K market. Ginger costs the same amount. (14ymedio)

Solavaya!”* commented a customer in a picnic area near the market. “Avocados and ginger: that’s a deadly combination.” “And bad for your pocket,” an employee replied with a joke.

The buyer at 17th and K who, defeated, decides to go to the picnic area to warm his stomach, has to pay 70 pesos for a simple pizza. If he doesn’t want to choke on the dough, he should also order an instant soda, which won’t take long to hold his overheated kidneys accountable.

Once satisfied, so to speak, the buyer rethinks his strategy to get food this July 27th.

As he ponders the causes and effects of national hunger, he sees the grimy truck passing by that distributes egg cartons from rationing in his neighborhood. As a soul that carries the devil, he runs to his cellar, only to verify that the steel mass on wheels is stopped in front of the store’s gate.

Thanks, once again, to the glorious event, the employees have the day off and the trucker, who arrives an hour late, will not be able to unload the eggs. He panics and they look for someone who has the key, while the driver threatens the crowd: “Get up, I’m leaving!

The key appears, but a voice confirms to the buyer what he already knows: “Don’t get excited,” they tell him, “that no one will sell a single egg until tomorrow.”

He has to throw two mental insults at the portrait hanging on the remote dais of 17th and K. An older lady, head down, walks past him chewing on the words, for lack of anything else to chew on.

“Look for that,” he says, “the corpse of July 26th is still hot, and today we don’t even have a pumpkin for a sad broth. What did you celebrate so much yesterday?”

*Translator’s note: Solovaya — roughly and idiomatically: “Get me outta here!”

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Cuba’s Sidewalks and Colonnades Are a Market for Old Junk

An improvised merchant alternates proclamations about his merchandise with reading of a book. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 28 July 2022 — Cuban sidewalks are the scene of a good part of daily life on the Island. Taking the stool out of the house to get around the long blackouts, waiting for hours on the curb for our turn to come in a line, or setting up in that narrow strip , between the facades and the asphalt, a point of sale for anything, are just some of the uses of a space designed for the passage of pedestrians but converted into a scene of the informal market and daily survival.

This Thursday, the high temperatures and the intense sun made it necessary to walk under the shade of the colonnades in Havana. In addition to the danger that a cornice, a roof or a balcony could come off and end up on our heads, avoiding El Indio and the harshness of his rays turns out to be the priority. But the centimeters are limited and looking for the shade also has its problems. The poorest in the city use that piece of road to try to survive.

Used books, old plumbing pieces, empty containers that once held shampoo or laundry detergent, make up part of the inventory of what is exhibited on the sidewalks of streets such as Galiano, Monte or Reina in the Cuban capital.

Under the protection of a colonnade, illegal vendors multiply, but they compete with passers-by to use a strip of territory that belongs to ordinary Cubans, never better said.

With a row of books displayed outside the “Alfredo Gómez Gendra” nursing home, in Centro Habana, a makeshift merchant alternated proclamations about his merchandise with reading of a book. A few meters away, another vendor repeated the scene, which lasted for several blocks although the merchandise on display varied. continue reading

As the sidewalk narrowed, pedestrians dodged a copper pipe as well as some shoes rescued from a dumpster. Sellers and customers thus shared the same goal: to occupy that part of any street where cars do not pass and the sun does not punish so strongly.

Without the skills of the mantas* in Madrid, or the mutual protection that the merolicos** of Havana’s La Cuevita market give each other, trading on a sidewalk is a high-risk profession in Cuba. The same person who buys a scrubbing sponge from you later denounces you for getting in the way. The sun that you avoid under a doorway you pay for in bribes to the corrupt policemen or in scares every time the patrol approaches.

But the portals and the sidewalks are not an impregnable armor either. The policemen who patrol the city make a killing with the fines and arrests of those who do not have their own business premises or a license to offer their miserable products.

Sitting down to pass the time during a blackout or play dominoes with friends is one thing, but opening a venduta — a tiny enterprise — among the shop windows and the rattle of collective taxis is another.

The sidewalk is free territory until the uniformed men are disturbed.

Translator’s notes
*Mantas: Literally ’blankets’, a reference to the street sellers who commonly spread their wares on them.
**Merolicos: Street sellers who ’specialize’ in glib patter to promote their wares which may include “miracle cures,” “amazing bargains,” and the like.

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Large Deployment of Security Forces on the Eve of July 26 in Cuba

The people of the capital have noticed an unusual operation of the ‘black berets’ mainly in highly populated municipalities such as Central Havana and Old Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 25 July 2022 — On the eve of July 26, the date of the celebration of the Cuba regime, and with an atmosphere full of protests over the long blackouts in the country, the streets of Havana woke up this Monday guarded by the Special National Brigade of the Ministry of the Interior known as the black berets.

The people of the capital have noticed an unusual operation of this repressive force mainly in highly populated municipalities such as Central Havana and Old Havana, while the country experiences three holidays from today until the 27th for the celebrations of the Day of National Rebellion (July 26), on the 69th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba.

Among the most guarded areas are the vicinity of the Ministry of Energy and Mines, on Carlos III, between Oquendo and Soledad. It’s a strategic installation in these times of blackouts throughout the country, scheduled by the Electrical Union, which depends on this ministry. One of the offices of this state company in the province of Mayabeque was partially set on fire by protesters, who filmed the event late at night.

Two ’black berets’ in Fraternity Park in Havana on July 25, 2022. (14ymedio)

On another corner of Carlos III, between Soledad and Castillejo, very close to the ministry itself, a truck of the Special Brigade was guarded by several agents. The vehicle, with the number 1532, serves to transport the military, as was recorded during the days after the protests of July 2021, when the regime deployed its repressive arsenal and mobilized caravans in several cities. continue reading

In this area there is also Plaza Carlos III, one of the largest shopping centers in Havana, popularly known as “the palace of consumption.” For several years it has been the commercial lung of Central Havana, especially in the neighborhoods of Pueblo Nuevo, Cayo Hueso and Los Sitios. Both in this establishment and in other state centers you can also see the operational guards of police, other special forces and State Security officers dressed in civilian clothes.

But the ones who have attracted the most attention in the last few hours are the black berets, with their black uniforms and their inquisitive looks, as they observe the atmosphere in central areas of the capital and even walk with dogs guarding streets and busy squares such as Fraternity Park. Some residents report to this newspaper that when they approach this brigade, they prefer not to be using their cell phone because even that action provokes suspicion among the military.

One of the trucks in which the ’black berets’ move is located on Carlos III, between Soledad and Castillejo, in Central Havana. (14ymedio)

Because of the violence unleashed by the regime during the arrest and imprisonment of the demonstrators on July 11, 2021, the black berets together with the minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Cuba, Álvaro López-Miera, are considered responsible for “serious human rights abuses.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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In Cuba There is Not Even Enough Sugar Cane to Make Guarapo

Guarapera on Infanta and Carlos III, in Havana, completely closed this Friday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 22 July 2022 — The debacle of Cuba’s sugar sector, which recorded catastrophic harvests in the last two years, is affecting an entire cultural tradition in Cuba: the guaraperas, selling guarapo — sugar cane juice.

Instead of guarapo this Friday, they sold mango juice at the premises of Neptuno, between Belascoaín and Lucena, Central Havana. “There is not even a little piece of cane to grind,” the employee told a customer who went in to cool off in the middle of the hot morning in the capital. “The harvest hasn’t even given enough to tie a goat,” the man commented ironically, having to settle for mango juice and complained that it was acidic.

Not far from there, the guarapera located on Infanta and Carlos III, one of the ones that sells the most products in the capital, dispatching it even in bottles, is completely closed. An old woman who came to quench her thirst, turned around, disappointed: “This Revolution gives neither sugar, nor water, nor ice nor shame.”

Traditionally, guarapo has been a drink to quench thirst in the midst of high Cuban temperatures. Served with plenty of ice, it helps to cool one down, in addition to providing enough energy to continue on the road. However, it is also a fragile liquid, which quickly becomes acidic and must be consumed as soon as the cane is ground.

Guaraperas were very frequent in Havana, but in recent years they have disappeared and, currently, there are only a few scattered throughout the city. Given its rapid deterioration, the guarapo is not sold on an itinerant basis nor is it stored in cans or bottles. Although in other countries it has been preserved in containers, in Cuba it is still an ephemeral drink. continue reading

Therefore, going to a guarapera was, in addition to a necessity to relieve the heatwave, a cultural experience: the press crushing the cane, the liquid between yellow and milky coming out of the stalks, the fragments of ice served loudly in the glasses that were then filled with a sparkling and sweet drink. The first sip was like an energetic jolt that ran through the body.

The first blow to the guaraperas was a matter of hygiene, with the lack of detergent to wash the glasses. Then, the supply of ice and, later, the cane began to diminish. The blackouts have given the final blow to many of these places that need electricity for the cane presses. At the counters where a few years ago impatient customers waited while they watched the guarapo flow from the grinding mill, now there are only flies and silence left.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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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.

My Hometown Cuban Vacation in Sancti Spiritus Turned Into an Ordeal

When I got to the bus station to return to Havana, the place was completely dark. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 21 July 2022 — I could not postpone my trip to the city of Sancti Spíritus any longer. After several months without visiting my family, I prepared everything to arrive in the second half of July and spend a few days with my relatives in the center of the island. I thought I could escape the daily problems that plague Havana, but there I ran into long blackouts , a food shortage more brutal than in the capital, and a population about to explode with indignation.

The first day everyone told me “they haven’t turned off the power yet, you got lucky” and I watched the light bulb in the kitchen to see when it went dark. The first night I was able to sleep with a fan, a privilege that the residents of Sancti Spiritus had already forgotten after so many early mornings fanning themselves or trying to capture some breeze at the front door of the house. But that “sweet welcome” soon turned into an ordeal.

During my second day the blackouts came and as soon as evening fell a cloud of mosquitoes came upon us. You couldn’t stay in the rooms because of the heat, but leaving the house was an absolute guarantee of facing the dawn full of welts all over your body. Among my relatives, several had their skin full of bites and at least one of them also had symptoms of being infected with dengue fever.

At night the neighborhoods remained dark for long hours, inside a few houses the glow of a rechargeable lamp could be seen that barely lasted a short while before leaving those families in the shadows as well. Taking advantage of the darkness, people shouted “Patria y Vida” [Homeland and Life] but nothing happened, because not even the police dared to enter those streets that looked like the mouth of a wolf. continue reading

Everyone I came across seemed to be on edge from not being able to sleep. Many families in the neighborhood where I was did not send their children to school after an early morning without electricity. Others remain silent and do not protest because they make a living from some illegal business and do not want to draw attention to themselves, but no one knows how long that mask will last in the conditions that the people of Sancti Spiritus are experiencing right now.

“Our bread dough spoiled,” an employee at a state bakery told me. “We have been adding cassava to it, because that is what they told us to do, but since we don’t have electricity to work with, it gets in a bad state due to the long hours of waiting.” After describing the situation and, when I thought that she was going to talk about the fact that they had had to discard the raw material, the woman added: “but the same dough will come out as today’s bread.”

Although I had some beautiful moments with my relatives, deep down I was also counting down the days to return to Havana. I never thought I would miss my neighborhood so much with its sewage, its long line in front of the pharmacy and its noisy nights. The two times I bought a small portion of pork I had to pay more than 2,000 pesos. In the end, I spent more than five times that amount on my visits to the farmer’s market and buying a few bags of bread from a private vendor. When leaving, I left a bottle of mosquito repellent that I had brought, because not even that can be obtained in a city that was once prosperous and with an intense commercial atmosphere.

This Tuesday, when I arrived at the bus station to return to Havana, the place was completely dark, there was not even a rechargeable lamp to ensure that passengers could move smoothly around the room. I grabbed only my luggage tightly and held it close until I got on the bus. Inside the vehicle, the air conditioning was at a minimum “because the situation is on fire,” the driver responded to customer complaints.

During the minutes that it took us to leave the city, only a few lights could be seen through the window, the rest was completely dark. Everyone on the bus was silent, trying to detect through the glass some indication that Sancti Spíritus was still an inhabited place, alive.

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Havana, a Dead City with ‘More Police Than People on the Street’ and Without Lines

El Faro, one of the state stores that was completely empty this Monday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 11 July 2022 — The harassment of independent activists and journalists since last week already foretold that this Monday, the one-year anniversary of the historic 11J demonstrations in Cuba, would be a day without disturbances. This is the case, at least in Havana, where numerous police officers, uniform and civilian, are deployed in the streets of the center. In their effort to maintain order, the authorities have even done what seemed impossible: they made the lines disappear.

“There’s nothing available in the neighborhood stores that always have lines in front, such as El Rápido, the Cupet de Infanta or Maisí. It seems that they’ve chosen to avoid the food lines today,” a neighbor of Central Havana tells this newspaper, surprised by the empty shops, the semi-deserted streets and the environment of surveillance.

In the Maisí store, located on Infanta Street, two other women commented that “there’s nothing for sale because, you know, today they don’t want people on the street.” Nor was there anything to buy at H. Upmann, on Zapata and Infanta, and Las Columnas, on Galiano.

At the doors, of course, there were individuals with an inquisitive attitude, who were clearly not there to buy, since nothing was offered. “Today there are more police than people on the street,” a boy murmured when he saw them. continue reading

The police operation was especially visible on Carlos III Street, which was full of officers. In the Plaza of the same name there was one business operating, with chicken and detergent for sale in pesos. On any other day, the line would have been massive; however, on Monday, there were only three people waiting.

Uniformed and civilian agents guarded the streets of Central Havana. (14ymedio)

“Here, here’s the line, they replied to an old man who asked, surprised by the low number. “And why are there so few people?” he asked. “They’ve only allowed the bodegas (ration stores) to be open today,” they explained.

On the door, a sign announced the distribution of the bodegas for the People’s Council of Pueblo Nuevo, the only one that has been open from June 22, without any modification to the rules of last May 20. Since then, purchases have been restricted by municipality and “cycles,” a controversial measure not only to distribute scarce products but also to avoid turmoil in the lines.

“It’s a shame there isn’t even one place open, not even one line, in all of Havana. It’s incredible,” exclaimed a boy also from Central Havana who, in vain, was looking for a place where he could shop paying in national currency.

The strategic points of that neighborhood, one of the emblematic scenarios of last year’s 11J demonstrations, were full of officers on Monday. A woman summarized the situation when passing a group of four Black Berets [Special Forces] walking along Boulevard San Rafael: “Not even one fly is flying here today.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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Havanatur Sells Tourist Packages to Cubans at Impossible Prices and Without Transportation

Cubatur offices on the ground floor of the Habana Libre hotel in the capital, this Friday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 8 July 2022 — In the past, on a day like this Friday, after Havanatur announced the tourist packages for the start of the high season on the Island in October, the line in front of the Cubatur offices would have been as considerable as in previous years. It wasn’t the case today. The prices published by the state operator, whose cheapest rates do not fall below 4,000 pesos per night, are prohibitive for nationals.

Thus, the three people who were waiting at their doors, under the Habana Libre hotel, in Havana’s Vedado, did not have to wait long to be attended to. At the counter they were not offered cheaper solutions for vacationing and, in addition, they were given another bucket ​​of cold water: the packages did not include transportation.

“It is not known if there will be transportation by then or not,” explained an employee, without giving more details, simply nodding when one of the women who was being helped alluded to the lack of fuel. “No wonder there was no one today, who is going to stand in line with these prices and without transportation?” the lady lamented as she left the place empty-handed. continue reading

According to the Havanatur website, the Habana Libre Hotel is the one that offers the cheapest night for two people: from 3,780 pesos. It is followed by the Iberostar Grand Hotel Trinidad, in that city of Sancti Spíritus, from 5,472 pesos, and Iberostar Parque Central, in Havana, with one night from 7,000 pesos.

If those urban rates are coercive, those of hotels on the beaches are impossible for the average Cuban, whose salary is less than 4,000 pesos a month. In Varadero, a room at the Hotel Meliá Internacional, all inclusive, is available from 20,000 pesos; in Paradisus Princesa del Mar, from 15,500; at Meliá Varadero, from just over 12,000 pesos, and at the Hotel Sol, from 11,000.

As for Cayo Coco, the Meliá Las Dunas offers a night from 11,112 pesos and the Hotel Tryp starts at almost 8,000 pesos.

You practically have to carry the money in a bag to be able to afford an all-inclusive weekend in one of those spa accommodations. Now, when it is only 14 years since Cubans residing on the island were allowed to rent a room in national hotels, vacationing in one of these places is once again prohibitive, and this time the red line is marked by money.

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