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.

____________

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.

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

____________

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.

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.

____________

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.

Fans Instead of Air Conditioning in Buses Donated to Cuba by Belgium

Belgian buses do not have windows that open to let the air flow through. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 5 July 2022 — “These buses are not for here, these buses are not for here.” The people of Havana fanned themselves desperately and crowded inside the new vehicles, buses donated by Belgium that arrived in the Cuban capital on June 24 and began operating this Monday.

With a temperature of 89 degrees that became over 100 due to the island’s high humidity, travelers were perplexed by the lack of windows on the buses.

“I stood under the vent to see if I felt any relief, the only way you can feel a breeze is there,” said one of the passengers on route P12 this morning. The transport, as usual, was collapsed and, although rumors circulated from early in the morning of how hot it was inside the new buses, many were forced to get on one of them.

“I already knew this was going to be like this,” said a woman trembling as she fanned herself; despite everything, she got into the vehicle because her trip was “only” two stops.

On the roof of the buses you can see a wide grille through which, apparently, the air should circulate, but the passengers assure that only the sound of what they identified as a turbine was heard there and all that came out of it was a small puff of air. continue reading

Luis Carlos Góngora, vice president of the Provincial Administration Council of Havana, and the Belgian ambassador, Jean-Jaques Bastien, welcomed the 29 vehicles two weeks ago and were photographed next to the flag of the European country.

“We received, at the port of Havana, the solidarity shipment from Brussels Capital of 29 buses that were donated to Havana by that Belgian city. A gesture of solidarity that brings us closer,” the Cuban official wrote on Twitter.

At that time, the authorities of the capital affirmed that the intention was to adapt the buses to the climatic conditions of the country, but everything that the travelers described today was something similar to a weak fan. “Perhaps they removed the air conditioning so as not to consume fuel,” said one, half jokingly, half seriously.

Between complaints and sweats, the passengers still had more in store. A car dragged an electric motorcycle carrying and man and a girl who was badly injured, with a visibly damaged foot. The young woman was transferred in a vehicle that passed through the place to the Calixto García hospital, leaving the passengers with a bad taste in their mouths.

Getting the buses in service, in any case, has taken less time than that of the Japanese buses that arrived on the island in January and took three weeks to join the capital’s bus fleet after many postponements and complaints from a population that no longer knows how to get around in their own city.

____________

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.

Stores Leased to the Self-employed Are Without Electricity in Havana

Customers have to use the flashlights of their cell phones to be able to check the prices of merchandise. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 2 July 2022 — Private workers who rent state premises in the stores of Central Havana are experiencing martyrdom in these days of intense blackouts due to the imposition of working without electricity. “This is a lack of respect for the amount of money we generate,” one of the self-employed complained this Saturday morning, while fanning himself to relieve the heat.

Customers have to use the flashlights on their cell phones to be able to check the merchandise and see the prices. “It’s a lot of work to be able to pay. I had to use the flashlight on my cell phone to give the price to the owner of the business where I bought some shoes,” explains Xiomara.

“It’s like a cave in here, these poor people are working without a fan and so are we, the poor customers. Every time I enter one of these stores I go out dripping sweat,” adds the woman, who had to enter several places to be able to determine which shoes to buy.

“It’s to save electricity,” they say, “It’s the order from above,” “There’s no power because they turn off the switch,” are some of the answers that sellers repeat the most in the face of the anger or restlessness of customers. The affected shops are mainly located on Neptune, Galiano and Monte streets.

“I just entered a store and it’s a sauna,” said a young man who tried to buy some accessories for his cell phone but gave up in the face of the darkness and heat inside the rented space. continue reading

In contrast, the self-employed who work on private premises don’t suffer from this measure. “Everyone has their tables lit, with fans connected. Everything is well lit;  the mess is in the state stores,” says a salesman who knows the area.

But it’s not just about heat and darkness. Health problems proliferate where people crowd into poorly ventilated spaces. In recent days, reports of respiratory and gastrointestinal viruses have also increased, and people fear staying for long in the overcrowded and unheated spaces.

Two customers try to look at some shoes in a store on Neptuno and Galiano. (14ymedio)

“They should give you hazardous duty pay,” a customer told sellers at a centrally located, privately managed store on the corner of Neptune and Galiano on Friday. “I was only there for a minute and I left with shortness of breath. I don’t know how they can spend hours inside, to be honest.”

Last April, the Government approved the lease of state premises that were in disuse to the self-employed and cooperatives. Among the measure’s objectives is to “increase participation in the economy, promote development, diversification of production, productive chains and economic and social well-being,” according to the resolution of the Ministry of Internal Trade. Then it became clear that it’s the state that manages these establishments.

Translated by Regina Anavy

____________

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.

Thousands of Cubans Sing Along with Pablo Milanes During His Concert in Havana

Pablo Milanés’ performance was marked by the emotion of an audience that had not heard him live for several years. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 21 June 2022 — Under a strong police operation, long lines and a thorough review of each person’s belongings before entering the premises, thus began the concert of the Cuban troubadour Pablo Milanés on Tuesday at the Coliseum of the Sports City of Havana. The performance was also marked by the emotion of an audience that had not listened live for several years to the author of songs like Yolanda.

From the stage, flanked by two large screens with his face, Milanés sang the song Marginal with which he began a concert that, from its opening minutes, kept the singer-songwriter in tune with the thousands of people gathered at the venue. AñosEl pecado originalLa soledadNostalgias y Días de gloria, were also among the most acclaimed songs during the night.

One of the most emotional reactions of the public occurred when the first chords of Éxodo [Exodus] sounded, which was repeated in chorus by the audience. “Where are the friends I had yesterday? / What happened to them? / What happened? / Where did they go? / How sad I am” was heard from thousands of voices in a country where, in recent months, one of the largest mass exoduses in more than half a century has occurred.

“I want to see them to know that I am human, that I live and feel for my brothers and they for me,” the audience completed the song. For most of the concert the also held their cell phones high while recording Milanés. Another moment of ecstasy occurred when the singer-songwriter sang “There is a people that waits silently / There is a body that I want to undress” from his song Hay [There is], which generated wide shouts of joy from the stands.

Outside the sports center, converted into a concert hall for the occasion, a large uniformed operation and several well-known State Security agents who frequently harass activists and independent journalists could be seen from the early hours of the afternoon. Among them is an officer who identifies himself as Jordan and who is often part of the police cordons to prevent reporters and opponents from leaving their homes.

“This is so full of segurosos (State security agents) that it seems like it’s Barack Obama who’s coming,” joked a young man who decided to walk to continue reading

the Coliseum in a city where transport difficulties were exacerbated this Tuesday by the thousands of people who sought to approach to the Ciudad Deportiva, a large complex of facilities where the legendary British rock band The Rolling Stones performed in 2016.

For most of the concert the audience held their cellphones high, recording Pablo Milanés. (14ymedio)

Shortly before the start of the performance, a note from the Ministry of Culture posted on Facebook was quick to assure that “everything continues to run normally at the Ciudad Deportiva Coliseum… There is no threat of explosives or incidents. The public enters from 6 pm and the invited press prepares to enter the box. Many spectators have arrived early to the gigantic indoor venue.”

However, several foreign press agencies based on the island reported that they were prevented from accessing the facility. “At the entrance, the security guards told us that we couldn’t film here and that they invited us to leave the place,” a Cuban-accredited reporter who preferred to remain anonymous to avoid reprisals explained to 14ymedio . “They didn’t give us any more explanations, they just told us that we had to withdraw.”

It was also not easy for concertgoers to post photos and videos from the Coliseum because the internet connection remained unstable and at times it was impossible to access the web from the venue. “It could be the number of people gathered that makes the signal drop, but it could also be that they don’t want us to broadcast live,” suggested Fabián, a 23-year-old who attended with a dozen friends.

“We left Central Havana at four in the afternoon and we walked here because we couldn’t even dream of catching a bus,” the young man tells this newspaper. “Along the way there were a lot of people trying to hail a taxi or get on anything with wheels to get here.” The interest in listening to Milanés comes not only from the years that the singer-songwriter had not performed in his native country. “It’s just that Pablito is Pablito,” Fabián insists.

Possessor of a wide repertoire and with a voice that stands out in the broad Cuban musical spectrum, the troubadour has also built a solid reputation for his criticism of the Cuban revolutionary process that he once enthusiastically supported. That position has cost him exclusions, institutional reproaches and a limited diffusion on the Island of his presentations abroad. His Días de luz [Days of Light] tour, which has taken him to stages in Europe and the United States, has barely been commented on in the official Cuban media.

“He sounds wonderful, he has a clear, crisp voice that doesn’t sound old at all. The instruments that accompany him are only two, a pianist and a woman on the cello, but it looks like a symphony,” admired a singer who managed to get a seat near the stage although too close, for her liking, to the speakers. “The best positions are reserved, but I’m not complaining, the important thing is to have been able to be here.”

“People are hypnotized and you can see who are those in the audience who came to control and not enjoy the concert, because they don’t sing,” said Massiel, a Havana native who attended with part of her family. “It was worth the number of hours we had to spend to get here and then stand in line to get in. This is pure vitamin for the soul.”

We must also reference the incident that fueled official anxiety, right in the Ciudad Deportiva during a concert by Carlos Varela on May 29th. At that concert the audience chanted the word “freedom” at various times. At the end of that performance, the singer-songwriter shouted “Viva Cuba libre” and thanked the organizers – with Eme Alfonso at the head – of the event, whom he praised for “having the ovaries” to invite him to sing in Cuba.

Milanés, who has lived in Spain for some time, spoke out with indignation after the repression of the demonstrations on July 11 last year. “I believe in young people, who with the help of all Cubans, must be and will be the engine of change.” The singer-songwriter described as “irresponsible and absurd” the use of repression by the Cuban government against the people, “who have sacrificed themselves and given everything for decades to support a regime, and in the end what it does is imprison them.”

After saying goodbye to the public this Tuesday night, Pablo Milanés returned to the stage acclaimed by the applause and the cries that asked for the concert to continue. “Love me as I am, take me without fear / Touch me with love, I’m going to lose my cool” sang the troubadour before an audience that was reluctant to end a night of reunion and good music.

____________

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.

Once the Jewel of Cuban Department Stores, Fin de Siglo Has Become a Dump

To prevent curious onlookers from seeing the full magnitude of the historic building’s slow destruction, authorities have opted to hide it from public view.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodriguez, Havana, June 20, 2022 — Surrounded by a metal fence and piles of rubble, work on Havana’s Fin de Siglo department store seems to be all about concealment rather than repair. To keep curious onlookers from witnessing the full magnitude of the historic building’s slow destruction, authorities have opted to hide it from public view.

“It’s been like this for years and now it’s become a dump,” laments a neighbor waiting in line on Saturday at a nearby pizzeria. “They came and put up these metal sheets one day. Af first we thought they were going to repair the building but that’s not at all the case. They’ve just let if fall apart, and with so many homeless families in this area.”

Fin de Siglo was no ordinary store. The famous emporium was opened in 1897 at the corner of San Rafael and Galiano streets in central Havana. Born of the efforts of four entrepreneurs from Galicia, it was considered the first of its kind in the Spanish-speaking world. A renovation in the mid-20th century added air conditioning throughout the building, wide escalators and large display windows at street level.

The facade of Fin de Siglo as seen from San Rafael Street. (14ymedio)

Those large expanses of glass and the stylized mannequins behind them are long gone. Area residents now dump bags of garbage into the space between the fence and the wall that once featured display windows. Parts of the concrete canopy are missing and the store’s cursive, vaguely calligraphic metal signage is barely distinguishable from the grimy, rusty walls.

With its sleek, modern facade and marble-clad ground floor, the building marked a milestone in design for the area. But neither the diligence of its architects nor the durability of its materials could ultimately save it once it was nationalized in 1960. From then on, merchandise began disappearing from its shelves. Goods were rationed and a new distribution system was imposed. Without investment, or new paint, the structure gradually deteriorated.

But Fin de Siglo’s greatest humiliation came during the crisis of the 1990s. During the Special Period it served as a retail outlet that catered to newlyweds, who could find goods there that were no longer available at other stores. Unlike in the 1980s, however, the merchandise was of low quality and questionable use. continue reading

Along Galiano Street, area residents now dump bags of garbage into the space between the metal fence and the wall that once featured display windows. (14ymedio)

“After we got married, my wife and I spent days waiting in line to get in and all we could find were plastic containers for gasoline and a funnel. But neither she nor I had a car,” says Ricardo. The retiree had been living for years with the woman who would become his wife when they decided to legalize their relationship. Being married would allow them to buy goods they could later resell on the black market. “What hit me when I went into Fin de Siglo was the darkness and dank smell, nothing at all like it was when I was a kid.”

Now Ricardo avoids even going near the metal fence. “The stench from inside the building combined with the garbage that isn’t picked up for weeks would depress anyone,” he explains. A hundred years ago, jewels shone inside its display cases, employees shuffled about, showing off new merchandise, and dozens of Galician eyes watched over the store, making sure it continued to make money and please its customers. But that was long ago. We are now in a different era and that store no longer exists.

____________

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.

Central Havana Building on the Verge of Collapse Has Its Facade Removed

It has been obvious for some time that the building has barely been able to hold itself up. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, June 14, 2022 — Stoicism seems to be a trait the residents of Central Havana have been forced to adopt. Accustomed to living among ruins, they barely notice when a building is facing imminent collapse, as has been the case for one on San Lazaro Street between Gervasio and Escobar. The building began to be vacated on Tuesday in advance of its partial demolition.

It has been obvious for some time that the structure is held together by little more than sewing pins. After the street was closed that morning without notice, the brave souls still living in the building began slowly leaving their homes, carrying their meager belongs away in bags, believing they had to look for somewhere new.

They had been surprised by the sudden, unexplained announcement that the building was to be demolished and quickly began packing their things. They were even more surprised to learn that, in reality, only the facade was to be demolished and that, once the work was complete, they would be able to move into the rear part of the structure. The six apartments that make up the building are wide and deep but their inhabitants will have to isolate themselves if they want to avoid seeing the sad ruins of what was once the visible face of their dwellings.

“It’s a shame. These windows are very valuable. Someone should pay the bulldozer to set them aside,” observes one of the many onlookers as the last person to leave the building shuts the door before the wrecking crew begins its work. continue reading

From the balcony of the building next door, a woman calmly leans out to watch the goings-on. Though the neighboring buildings are in no better shape than the one about to be demolished, few people seem alarmed by the constant threat of a roof collapse or the prospect that their building could be the next to come down. The falling rubble of the partially collapsed building is enough to make floors tremble, threatening weaker structures nearby.

A few yards away in a line for sausages, people can be heard chatting. Life goes on.

____________

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.

Man Trapped When the Staircase in His Building Collapses in Old Havana

The collapse occurred in a three-story multi-family building located on Luz street between Curazao and Egido in Old Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 13 June 2022 — A staircase collapsed on Monday afternoon, leaving a resident trapped in a three-story multi-family building located on Luz street between Curazao and Egido in Old Havana. Firefighters arrived at the scene to help the elderly man who could not escape from the interior of the building, in addition to a strong police operation that cordoned off the area.

Moments before the collapse, the man, who lived in the apartment on the third floor, had gone up the stairs, according to several residents of the Havana municipality speaking to 14ymedio, and they also confirmed that no one was injured.

From a car with a crane, the firefighters accessed the balcony of the apartment to help the man, who shares the building with another family that lives one floor below. Then, both the man and the other inhabitants of the building were evacuated.

At the beginning of June, due to the intense rains that affected the west of the country, more than 60 building collapses were reported in Havana, one of which caused the death of two people.

After the collapse was recorded, a strong police operation was deployed in the area. (14ymedio)

During the afternoons in Havana this month it continues to rain and a few hours after a downpour on Wednesday of last week, a construction collapsed, specifically, the top floor of a three-story building in San Lázaro at the corner of Genios in Centro Habana. continue reading

“Luckily he was awake, because if was later, he’d be gone.” The residents of the place, gathered in front of the ruined building, commented last Thursday on the event in which no one died.

But the precarious housing conditions in this area of ​​the capital have hundreds of inhabitants worried. Two women, who live in a building, also very deteriorated, near San Lázaro and Genios, affirmed that they are terrified, that they cannot sleep, that they also have no alternative housing and that, meanwhile, the Government is crossing its arms.

From a car with a crane, firefighters accessed the balcony of the apartment to evacuate the man. (14ymedio)

Both Old Havana and Central Habana report constant building collapses. In the vicinity of the Malecón, the buildings have especially suffered from the effects of saltpeter, which, together with the lack of maintenance, have turned the housing stock in the area into one of the most damaged in the Cuban capital. In addition, the successive programs launched by the Government have not resolved the increasingly frequent events.

____________

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.

Cuban Amelia Calzadilla Thanks Those Who Made Her Feel She is Not Alone

Cuban mother Amelia Calzadilla upon her departure this Monday from the government headquarters of the municipality of Cerro, in Havana. (EFE/Ernesto Mastrascusa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 13 June 2022 — Amelia Calzadilla, the Cuban mother who, with her videos on social media, became a symbol of discontent in Cuba, is at home after spending three hours in the offices of the municipal government of Cerro, in Havana.

Around five in the afternoon, the young woman herself published a live video in which she explained what happened in the government offices, in a very different tone from her previous broadcasts. In it, she assured that the meeting “was not an interrogation,” despite the fact that in a previous video, published this Sunday, Calzadilla feared that the summons, timed for 11:00 in the morning, was a “prepared trap” and they might take her prisoner.

The mother also explained that the “conversation” revolved around the lack of gas service that she has been suffering from “for ten years,” that they cannot solve it in the short term “because the raw material does not exist” and they promised that she could meet with officials from the Ministry of Energy and Mines “in a future meeting.” Calzadilla insisted, “Nobody mistreated me, I didn’t mistreat anyone either,” and she thanked “any person who made me feel not intimidated.”

The Spanish agency EFE, one of the international media that was stationed in front of the government headquarters, as reporters from 14ymedio were able to verify, captured images of the young mother as she left the interrogation. The vicinity of the meeting place, located on Calzada del Cerro between Buenos Aires and Echevarría, as Monday dawned was taken over by a police operation. continue reading

Close to the corner of Tejas, one of the most important commercial enclaves in the city, the area is very busy but the traffic this Monday was different from other days. In the surrounding streets, rows of police patrol cars, a broad operation of plainclothes agents and the presence of accredited journalists marked the difference.

The headquarters of the municipal government of Cerro, in Havana, shortly after 11 a.m. this Monday, when Amelia Calzadilla was summoned. (14ymedio)

The internet signal in the place was also unstable. Residents of the neighborhood reported to this newspaper that in nearby stores, usually out of stock, they put sausage and chicken on sale this Monday.

“And what’s going on here?” asked a young woman who passed by the place a few minutes after Calzadilla had entered the building of the municipal People’s Power Assembly. “That girl was summoned here today,” replied another passerby without needing to add more details, since the story of this mother of three children has traveled the Island in a few days.

The surroundings of the municipal government of Cerro were taken over this Monday morning by a large police operation. (14ymedio)

Various activists, such as the businesswoman Saily González, from Santa Clara, invited Havanans to support Calzadilla on Monday morning, but only passersby and agents were observed at the scene.

Oppositionist Martha Beatriz Roque, director of the Cuban Center for Human Rights and former prisoner of the Black Spring, also launched a video message in which she asks Amelia Calzadilla: “Keep denouncing and don’t care what they say about you.”

Several members of the international press stood in front of the Cerro government headquarters building in Havana. (14ymedio)

“Unfortunately, they tell me that she does not want to talk to dissidents, which I greatly respect, but she has to know that her video has had a great impact on the networks,” Roque says in her broadcast, urging Calzadilla that she does not need to “defend herself.” She adds, “The dictatorship does this to get you out of sight,” and she insists, “No one is going to judge you, Amelia, people are very happy with what you uploaded on the networks, but if you want to speak again, don’t defend yourself at all, you don’t have to defend yourself, everyone knows what this regime has done for 63 years.

____________

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.

‘Havana is Falling Down and the Government Doesn’t Care’

Despite the fact that San Lázaro is one of the busiest avenues in Havana, the authorities have not closed traffic on that stretch, and the remains of the collapse spill over the sidewalk. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 9 June 2022 — The rains and hail were not the only things that fell this Wednesday in Havana. Again, in the capital, a building collapsed, specifically, the top floor of a three-story building on San Lázaro at the corner Genios.

“Luckily he was still awake, because if it had been later, he would have been gone.” The residents of the place, gathered in front of the ruined building, commented on the event on Thursday, which occurred around 9:15 the night before.

At that time, the roof of the upper floor, where a boy and his mother lived, gave way, falling on the apartment and the balcony, which also took down the balconies on the ground floor.

The young man, who was alone at home, managed to see how the beams gave way and took refuge under a table. “That was what saved his life,” says one of the neighbors, who reports that another of the residents was arriving home from work at that time when the noise occurred. “A glass of water gave him time to drink, and his wife came out white with fright.”

It was something that the neighbors were awaiting with panic. One of them, precisely, had been worried about the storm for days, because the upper balcony was in very bad condition. “The mayor was aware, the delegate… everyone, but they don’t do anything.” continue reading

Two women, who live in a nearby building, also very deteriorated, commented that they are terrified, that they cannot sleep, that they also have no alternative housing and that, meanwhile, the Government is crossing its arms.

“This is going to be a chain, they are going to fall one after the other,” said one of them. “The government is not interested in the fact that Havana is falling down,” replied the other. Just then, a young police officer appeared, clipboard in hand, and began to converse quietly with a man. Immediately, the residents fell silent.

Sobre las 9:15 de la noche, el techo de la planta superior, donde vivían un muchacho y su madre, cedió, cayendo sobre el departamento y el balcón. (14ymedio)

They are just waiting for at least one crane to arrive to finish knocking down “some walls that are in danger, that are very cracked.” These, they detailed, have been deteriorating not only due to lack of maintenance, but also due to the vibration produced by the buses that pass along San Lázaro, one of the arteries of Havana, which connects El Vedado with Old Havana and runs a good part for Central Havana.

Despite this, the authorities have not closed traffic on that section, and the remains of the collapse spill out over the sidewalk.

Unlike the more touristy streets, such as those of the Plaza de la Revolución or the Malecón avenue, San Lázaro has not received repairs for decades. The proximity to the sea has combined with the lack of maintenance to accelerate a deterioration that is deeper from the corner with Belascoaín and to the vicinity of Paseo del Prado.

This Wednesday’s collapse is located right in one of the most damaged sections, the one that starts from the beginning of the avenue to Galiano street.

____________

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.

Walking Through Havana Looking Up to Avoid Building Collapses

The cracks in two of the balconies of the Reina Building seem to deepen with the passing of days and the humidity left by this week’s downpours. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 7 June 2022 — Originally called the Reina Building, because of the street on which it is located, and renamed Almacenes Ultra because of the large store that is located on its ground floor, the building that bears number 109 on centrally located Reina avenue has become a danger for residents and passers-by. If inside there is a lack of water supply and leaks in the roofs abound, outside the threat is provided by the cracked balconies that overlook one of the busiest areas of Havana.

“I didn’t even look up, but after the collapses of the last few days due to the rains, I’ve started to look and this is a danger,” detailed a woman on Monday, while waiting in line for the bus in the park El Curita, a few meters from what was once one of the most famous and visited stores in the Cuban capital. The reason for her words is the balcony that overlooks the entrance to the Almacenes Ultra, cracked after the passage of years without maintenance.

The construction, which was once the envy of all who passed in front of its art deco facade, has been mired in disaster for years. In May 2022, a fire broke out in an apartment on the third floor and affected several adjoining apartments, but that was just one more step in the descent towards the abyss of deterioration that the building has experienced for decades. The problem of the scarce and sporadic supply of water seems to be what most despairs its inhabitants on a day-to-day basis. continue reading

“People believe that if you live above a store you have everything solved, but this is a disaster,” says Humberto, a resident there until a few months ago when he decided to move with his daughter to another neighborhood further from the center. “Yes, in Reina 109 I was a few minutes from Central Park and a jump from the Malecón, but what is all that if when I got up I didn’t even have water to wash my face. Very nice on the outside but a nightmare on the inside,” he details to this newspaper.

The soot that has been falling for years on the facade gives the entire construction a musty appearance, which in some parts still retains traces of the paint that once covered its walls. The cracks in two of its balconies seem to deepen with the passing of days and the humidity left by this week’s downpours. Beneath it passes a student in her uniform on her way to a nearby school, an old woman with a bag hanging from her arm and a young man with headphones who moves his hand to the rhythm of the music he is listening to.

Everyone is oblivious to the fact that a tragedy is brewing a few meters above. The same one that some have already seen from the tail of the bus, because the angle they are at allows them to see the terrifying perspective. “This is how misfortunes happen,” says a woman. He says it a few meters from the place where the Saratoga Hotel exploded a month ago, also very close to a collapse of a house at the back of the Fin de Siglo store, which left several families homeless, and a breath away from the collapse of a balcony on San Miguel street.

A sequence of the collapses of facades and roofs has redoubled the attention of Havanans when they walk through the streets. Some choose to look up to avoid the greatest dangers, others walk in the streets avoiding sidewalks and doorways, risking their lives with the vehicles. A considerable share reduces their outings outside the home, but in their own home there can also be danger. Like in the Almacenes Ultra building.

____________

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.

Perpetual Inventories, When Scarcity and Paranoia Come Together in State Enterprises

The solution to preventing theft in community canteens is to have a perpetual inventory. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana,5  June 2022 — The crisis hits all of Cuba, but the state sector suffers twice. In addition to the lack of raw material, looting by employees is added. The most recent solution to reduce these robberies has been to apply the so-called “perpetual inventory” in the community canteens in Havana, which means supplying the goods daily instead of storing them for several weeks.

In El Cubano, belonging to the Family Care System (SAF) and located on Aguiar Street, between Obispo and O’Reilly in Old Havana, “since this week the perpetual inventory has already been put into practice,” says a worker in the canteen, which is mainly attended by the elderly and people with disabilities. “Now, the products that are going to be consumed will enter the warehouse daily, not like before, when they came in for two weeks or the month,” he explains.

“This is a diabolical invention and, although we knew that the concept of perpetual inventory or perpetual warehousing, as it is also called, existed, it had never been implemented here. We have a worker who now, every afternoon, has to go by bicycle to the central warehouse of the Gastronomy Company, to inventory the merchandise that will be cooked the next day,” he explains.

“There they must give him the products for the number of people who eat in our place every day, about a hundred.” The employees of El Cubano attribute the measure to the new municipal director of the SAF, who previously worked in the Ministry of Commerce. “This is overcontrol for the super-poverty that exists,” the source says.

“This means more work and more paper; now we have to make double and triple delivery entries but they don’t give us paper. In the first column we have to put the products, another for the price, another for the quantity that came in and another for what went out. With this new mechanism there is nothing left, it remains at zero.” For three days, the dining room has only sold “rice and a small piece of chicken, in addition to pea soup.” continue reading

In Cuba there are about 76,175 people registered with the SAF who attend 445 canteens of this type on the island. Users of this service often complain about the poor quality of the food, which often lacks spices, oil or fat. The deterioration of the dishes is due, to a large extent, to the looting of products by the employees themselves.

Although the variety of ingredients has decreased significantly in recent years, SAFs maintain a basic offer that includes rice, some grains and a little animal protein that is often diluted with croquettes or tasteless hamburgers. Prices range from 1.55 pesos for a ladle of black beans to 2.15 pesos for a boiled egg or a peso for a small roll.

Although the prices seem economical compared to other gastronomic premises, the majority of SAF consumers have minimum pensions that don’t go beyond 1,500 pesos. Most of them are also elderly people who live alone and have to pay out of pocket for electricity, transportation and other expenses.

“This is a very sensitive system, because any failure directly affects people who have no other chance of putting some food in their mouths,” admits another employee of El Canciller, a SAF near the Havana neighborhood of La Timba. “People believe that we steal and that’s why the food is so bad, but here I have colleagues who even bring seasonings from their house so that lunch tastes like something to the old people.”

The employee doesn’t look favorably on the new measure of limiting the number of products they receive on a daily basis and also having to account for the use of these foods. “What it is going to bring is more bureaucracy, and we won’t be able to plan how to stretch some ingredients,” he laments.

“If this is designed for more control, we will go crazy, and the food quality will be even worse, because the day that we don’t get protein, we won’t have any for lunch, whereas now we always try to intersperse and distribute what we have in the warehouse during the week to achieve a menu as varied as possible.”

“More workers are planning to leave because it’s not worth the effort to come in, even less so because salary payments tend to be delayed in Gastronomy. The administrator has already started the paperwork to retire from the career because he says he can’t work like this,” he adds.

However, the reason for applying this method differs if staff members are asked. While in places such as El Cubano and El Canciller workers have been informed that this measure prevents the diversion of goods and maintains more effective control over resources, sources from the Ministry of Agriculture and the state company Acopio, interviewed by this newspaper, point to other reasons.

“We can’t know how much food we’re going to get to take to Gastronomy and then to the canteens in a week, much less in a month,” warns an Acopio official linked to the supply of these community premises. “We aren’t getting much merchandise, especially rice, beans and meat, so we’re going to distribute it little by little.”

Problems with fuel also aggravate the situation. “We have less than half the trucks we used to have to bring merchandise to the city, because the lack of parts and fuel are affecting us a lot. When we get a little something we have to deliver it the same day, it’s like that.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

____________

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.

A Month After the Explosion of the Saratoga Hotel, Cubans Seek Answers

View from Dragones Street where the Saratoga Hotel and the El Calvario Temple meet, headquarters of the Western Baptist Convention. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 6 June 2022 — Still surrounded by a strong police operation and with metal fences to prevent the passage of pedestrians and vehicles, the deteriorated structure of the Saratoga Hotel continues to remind everyone who approaches about the explosion of a month ago that destroyed part of the building and claimed the lives of 46 people.

The event, which shocked the entire country, continues to be involved in controversy and the results of the police investigation into the causes of the accident have not yet been made public. Since that fateful Friday, six people who suffered injuries in the incident, including a minor, continue to be hospitalized.

Due to the intense rains this weekend that left four dead and hundreds of building collapses, the access points to the building in Old Havana were cordoned off to prevent the population from approaching what remains after the explosion of one of the most emblematic hotels in Havana. the city, founded in 1933.

The Saratoga hotel is located in a 19th century building, and was categorized as five stars. At the time of the explosion, which left 99 injured, the tourist facility was closed for repairs and its reopening was scheduled for May 10. continue reading

Some of the buildings damaged by the incident still have not received major repairs, as is the case of the residential buildings that exist in the block, and all of which were affected.

Of the building located at Prado 609, which had to be evacuated, the official press reported that they would begin the shoring process and then begin studies for a possible repair “with the aim of maintaining the same façade.”

The building on Zulueta street marked with the number 512 continues in the process of demolition, and according to local authorities this work will take about two months. “Then the Historian’s Office will work on a proposal for new housing for that space and for the corner of Monte and Zulueta,” according to the State newspaper Granma. The properties adjacent to Saratoga located Prado 617 and Zulueta 508 also received irreparable damage.

Most of the residents affected by the explosion were housed in state facilities or at the homes of family and friends.

____________

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.

Young Cubans Are the Ones Most Grateful for Not Having to Wear a Mandatory Mask

“Look at that, what kind of danger, what irresponsibility!” A man in his eighties yelled at a father who was walking hand in hand with his unmasked daughter. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 31 May 2022 — For the first time in 26 months, starting this Tuesday, Cubans can go out without a mask, but the reception of the elimination of its mandatory use was, at least first thing in the morning, very timid.

In the streets of Havana, it could be observed, that out of every ten people, roughly only one or two were not wearing a mask.

“I took it off because I wanted to feel what it’s like to breathe after so long with the air on my face,” said a young woman from Centro Habana, visibly happy not to be wearing one. “A curious thing is that people look at you as if they were looking for approval to take it off, and when they see you without it, then they take it off too.”

The youngest are, without a doubt, the most grateful for the end of this prohibition. There are not a few studies that have shown the ineffectiveness of masks to prevent infections in the child population and the learning difficulties that they have entailed.

Less happy were the elderly, among whom almost none were seen without a mask. “Look at that, what kind of danger, what irresponsibility!” shouted a man of about eighty years to a father who went hand in hand with his unmasked daughter.

Today, in any case, the fines for not wearing a mask are history. Previously they ranged between 2,000 and 3,000 pesos, according to the regulations in force since September 2020 (when the basic salary was still 400 pesos per month). The first weeks after the measure was implemented, the number of people sanctioned exceeded a thousand daily. continue reading

These punishments, however, once commercial flights were opened in the country, on November 15, 2021, were not applied to foreign tourists. In fact, the Police did not even call attention if they walked down the street without facemasks. In those days, it must be said, in much of the world the obligation to wear masks outside had been eliminated, after reaching large percentages of the population had been vaccinated with different antidotes, recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO).

In this sense, in Cuba, the elimination of the masks has been long in coming, despite the fact that the Government has presumed for months to have most of its population vaccinated with its own drugs, Soberana 02, Soberana Plus and Abdala, none of which, to date, have been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Health authorities insist that the use of masks is a
Cuban health authorities insist that the use of masks is a “personal decision” and recommend using one in places where many people are gathered or where it is not possible to maintain physical distance.

The comings and goings on the manufacture of national azulitas [‘little blue things’] within the Island will also be history, something that, after being announced with great fanfare in 2021, only began to materialize just last April, when the pandemic was on its way out all over the planet.

The relaxation of the measures against the covid-19 pandemic, announced this Monday by the Minister of Public Health, José Ángel Portal Miranda, are a reaction, according to the official explanation, to the decrease in the transmission of the disease in May by 81 .1% compared to the month of April.

However, the Government has called for caution. “Finally without masks, but not always or in all situations. I recommend that you see the adaptation of our protocols for this stage. An informed people is a protected people,” President Miguel Díaz-Canel wrote on Twitter.

Health authorities insist that the use of masks is a “personal decision” and recommend wearing one in spaces where many people gather or if it is not possible to maintain physical distance. This is what happened this Tuesday in the markets of Havana, where, despite being outdoors, not many appeared without a mask.

Yes, its use will continue to be mandatory in medical consultations or in “areas with restricted focus controls,” according to Minister Portal Miranda. At the same time, the decision is maintained not to allow people “with respiratory symptoms” to enter workplaces and schools.

The measure will be in force depending on the behavior of the country’s epidemiological situation and its effectiveness will be evaluated “periodically,” and readjustments may even be made, the authorities warn.

This same Tuesday, the Public Health report shows only 29 positives for the coronavirus, 176 active and, again, no deaths, among the lowest statistics reported since November 2020.

In any case, the official figures have been questioned since the latest demographic data was made public this month by the National Office of Statistics and Information (Onei). According to a report dated May 11, in 2021 55,206 more Cubans died on the Island than in 2020, that is, a total of 167,645 people compared to the 112,439 who did so the previous year, an increase of 49.1%.

The figure contrasts abysmally with the deaths reported by covid-19 during 2021 by Public Health, 8,177, which indicates an underreporting in the official data of the pandemic on the Island of 47,029. That is, the underestimation was 85.2% (there were 6.75 times more deaths than those officially attributed to covid). Or put another way, during the pandemic the Cuban government has declared only a seventh of those who died of coronavirus.

____________

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.