A Sad Christmas in Cuba

Not all Cuban homes will have the symbolic Christmas Tree, simply because national businesses will not be selling them. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 23 November 2021 — The air begins to blow from the north, the cool temperatures announce the arrival of the brief Cuban winter and, with it, Christmas is also approaching. The little trees sparkle in a festival of colored lights behind the windows and some shelves are dressed in gala and garlands, but only in the so-called ‘dollar stores’, which accept payment only in hard currency, symbols of the economic apartheid that is taking hold in the country.

Although the official discourse strives to show these days as a time of hope, after the worst of the pandemic, this Christmas can hardly be joyful. Many are no longer among us: those who lost the battle against the covid, those who went to prison simply for going out to protest, those who went into exile leaving broken families, children who can’t to see their parents, parents who can’t see their children.

The end of the year will come in the midst of a crisis that seems to have no end, a galloping devaluation of the Cuban peso and the increasingly evident impossibility of a life in which all Cubans have the same opportunities. Buying traditional products to celebrate in December, such as pork, black beans and cassava, poses a challenge for many families due to the high cost.

Polarization is not only political, but economic. Inequalities are more pronounced than they have ever been between those who can pay with foreign currency and those who only have the humble national currency. And the Christmas holidays are a true reflection of those differences.

Not all Cuban homes will have the symbolic Christmas Tree, simply because national businesses will not be selling them. For this reason, many will have to observe the garlands and the twinkling stars behind the almost inaccessible window of a store in which they cannot even dream of shopping.
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What Remains of the Cuban Revolution

At the door of the building, a red motorcycle is the only sign of modern life. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Photo of the Day, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 22 November 2021 — A crumbling building, eaten by moisture, with plants growing wild from the cornices. On the columns, several slogans against the dirty white that seem recent: “Long live the CDRs” (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), “Long live the 9th [sic] Congress” (of the Communist Party of Cuba, PCC), “Long live the PCC,” ” Viva Fidel.”

There seems to be no life, however, inside the building. It is empty? It looks dark and inhospitable. At the door, a red motorcycle is the only sign of modern life. Perhaps one of those State Security agents who swarm around Havana these days left it there. Perhaps he is stationed on a nearby corner to prevent a citizen suspected of being an activist, practicing independent journalism, or simply thinking differently from going out into the street.

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Lines, Cops and High Prices on Havana’s Malecon

Cuban authorities set up food stalls on the Malecon on Saturday, which were open until nighttime. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 21 November 2021 — With recorded music broadcast at full volume and under the surveillance of numerous members of the Ministry of the Interior and the Revolutionary Armed Forces, the authorities of Havana set up food stalls on the Malecón this Saturday, which were open until nighttime.

Several ambulances and military vehicles deployed throughout the area, accompanied the panorama, while drinks and food were sold at kiosks at high prices.

“We have only got fat, nothing else!” Complained a man who, together with his wife, bought several boxes of food to take away, with rice, cassava and some pieces of pork. “This is pure butter,” he insisted.

At various points on the Malecón, small boxes with chicken or pork were sold that included a garnish of rice and a meal, priced at 150 pesos (6 dollars at the official exchange rate). One could also find canned drinks and soft drinks at high prices. continue reading

The assistants ran from one place to another each time a vehicle arrived to stock the tents where the food was sold. Some people, perched on the Monument to the Victims of the Battleship Maine, waited for hours for an anticipated ice cream truck, which never arrived.

The most popular kiosks were the ones that had breads and sweets for sale and where the long lines lasted until the stroke of nine o’clock at night when a heavy downpour dispersed the crowd as well as the law enforcement officers.

“Look at this! Such a long line and drenched in in water to buy these teeth-breaking torticas (shortbread cookies) you can’t even eat!” lamented a woman who took shelter from the untimely rain in the portal of Coppelita.

Several ambulances and military vehicles deployed throughout the area, accompanied the scene. (14ymedio)

At the end of October, the capital authorities announced that “Have fun on the Malecón,” as they call this type of fair, was going to be held until November 16, however, the date has been extended after the opposition group Archipiélago announced it would maintain its call for protests until November 27.

A few yards from the shoreline, away from the hustle and bustle, at 23 y L, the Yara cinema was showing the feature film Cuentos de un día más, the first film co-produced between the state-run Cuban Institute of Art and Cinematographic Industry (Icaic) and collectives from independent creation. The film, coordinated by director Fernando Pérez, brings together six stories that try to reflect part of the reality of today’s Cuba.

The reopening of cinemas, theaters and cultural centers is part of the framework that the Cuban Government developed to open the country to tourism as of November 15, alleging a decrease in cases of covid-19 and that a large percentage of the population has been vaccinated.

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‘Here, Today, Even the Street Sweeper Belongs to the Political Police’

The authorities have deployed their security forces in the vicinity of San Rafael so that the scenes of popular protests that were seen on July 11 are not repeated this 15N. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, Juan Diego Rodríguez, 15 November 2021 — Havana woke up this Monday with an autumn atmosphere and a wide police operation to prevent the Civic March called for three in the afternoon on November 15 in various parts of the city and the country. The vicinity of the Capitol, Central Park and the Malecón are among the most guarded areas.

On the Boulevard of San Rafael Street, a pedestrian path that connects the Centro Habana municipality with Old Havana, the presence of uniformed police officers and members of the State Security even outnumber the passers-by. “Here even the street sweeper is part of the political police today,” a customer who waits to shop at one of the hard currency stores located on that street ironizes.

Inside the store, the employees are not happy. They must remain guarding the premises until midnight but they have not been guaranteed a lunch or a snack despite the extension of working hours. The looks are uncomfortable but they avoid complaining out loud.

The police operation in the area has also scared off customers, who form a small line, something rare for a Monday. In the middle of the morning, a burly man dressed as a policeman calls out to others and they have a brief continue reading

meeting in a corner. Give directions, reiterate what needs to be done, and speak in short, authoritative sentences. He looks like a military man addressing his soldiers.

Many people all dressed in civilian clothes attend the rally to receive instructions on policing the Boulevard. There are apparent couples, elderly people that until a few minutes before anyone would have mistaken for a retiree walking down the street, and several men who repeat the pattern of short hair, a tight shirt and a watchful gaze that identifies the security force members in Cuba.

Shortly before, a man who was standing on the corner of the block had been called by a police officer who asked him why he was there. The gentleman was also waiting to enter the hard currency store but he moved away a bit to smoke. His identity card was checked and noted.

The tension is palpable in the air and it is evident that the authorities have deployed their security forces so that the scenes of popular protests that were seen by San Rafael on July 11 are not repeated in the place. Nor the scene of a lonely man with a placard like the one that Luis Robles starred in last December on that same road.

A young man passing by is followed by an old man who has seen him take out his mobile just as the meeting was taking place. He walks behind him for several blocks, until he reaches Reina Avenue, where he manages to lose track of him. “I was only able to make a phone call when I was in the middle of the street with cars passing on both sides,” he explains to this newspaper.

“I had to take refuge in the house of an aunt who lives nearby because they were following me, I’ve never felt like this in my own city,” he details. “They are using many old men for the operation, old men and women.”

In every street, in front of every shop and every bank, the siege is repeated. The informal vendors that are so abundant on Galiano, Reina and Monte avenues seem to have smelled danger and this Monday they are not there or are taking refuge inside the stairs and the thresholds of some doors.

“I went out to buy bread and there were very strange people in line at the bakery who are not from this neighborhood,” says María Eugenia, a retired resident of Los Sitio. “When I got to the counter I asked the employee to sell me an extra bread and I was going to pay her well, but she just looked at the line and said: Grandma, I can’t today.”

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Counter-Revolutionary Conversation While Waiting in Line in Central Havana

Some people take a break from waiting in line to get into Maisí, a store in Central Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 7 November 2021 —  It’s noon on Saturday and a group of people find themselves together in a cafe on San Francisco Street in Central Havana. Some are taking a break to eat, while they wait in line to get into Maisí, a nearby store where customers can now find consumer goods that have not been available for months at stores that accept Cuban currency. After several customers arrive, the place quickly becomes a small debating salon.

A teenager complains to his father about the price of pizzas. “Forty pesos, papá. Christ! Before they cost 1 CUC* (24 pesos). You can’t live in this country anymore,” he says in a loud voice. “That’s why I’m going out to protest on the 15th [of November], to shout ’Down with communism!’” The boy fails to notice that there are also two policemen in the cafe.

His father immediately looks toward the uniformed officers, fearing the worst. Though the police have been there awhile, the staff is taking its time serving them, one of the subtler forms of resistance against the forces of law and order, whose presence has recently become more visible on Cuban streets, especially after the violent suppression of the public protests last July.

“Don’t say things like that. They’ll hear you,” warns his father, pointing to the police with a nod of his head. continue reading

“Don’t scold the boy,” interrupts another customer. “If nobody says anything, nothing will change. We don’t solve anything by staying silent. And the young always prevail.” Several faces turn away from the pizzas, fruit smoothies and ham sandwiches and towards the conversation taking place.

“Then I don’t know what we did it for. If he was there on the 11th [of July], so were you and I. The neighborhood was empty,” the youth mockingly replies, alluding to their joint participation in that day’s demonstrations. His father’s face reddens as he directs his son’s gaze towards the two officers, who are looking at the ceiling as though they have heard nothing.

A woman joins in on the conversation. “Of course we have to go to the march,” she says with determination. “Just look around. How long has it been since we were able to buy toiletries in this neighborhood? Everyone knows the only reason you can find them today is because they’re trying to calm things down. But I’ll buy them and go to the protest. Just like the first time.” Everyone laughs as they leave with their pizzas in hand, headed towards the store.

The police are virtually the last to pick up their orders.

*Translator’s note: CUC = Cuban convertible peso, one of Cuba’s two currencies, which has now been eliminated.

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Fines of 1,500 pesos for Cuban Retirees Who Sell Plastic Bags on the Street

Many elderly people supplement their meager pension by selling plastic bags. (14ymedio)

Plastic bags are rarely seen in the State’s network of retail stores, but they are also in short supply in hard currency stores

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 5 November 2021 — A commotion this Thursday at the corner of Hospital and San Lázaro in Havana. Residents and passersby reacted with outrage when they saw the police carting off retirees who were selling plastic bags.

“I’m pissed off!” exclaimed a customer who walked into a nearby barbershop to get a haircut. “They have taken the old men on the corner just for selling bags. How evil! I had to bite my tongue to not say anything to them. Why don’t they take the managers of the neighborhood stores? It’s easier to abuse the elderly,” he said annoyed.

The pushcart sellers are located in front of the El Lazo de Oro bakery and the residents know that if they need bags for their shopping they should go there, where they will find the retirees who offer the jabitas, as the bags are popularly known, and also their coffee ration from the bodega or a few pounds of sugar.

The police operation surprised vendors this Thursday. Some were able to get away and escape, but not all were so lucky. “This is what sparks sadness and grief. Those poor old people sell their bags and any other nonsense to be able to eat. Before they also sold continue reading

homemade butter, but since the milk disappeared, not even that,” says a man at the exit of the bakery with bread in hand.

“They said they were going to apply fines of 1,500 pesos. I was saved because I was late today,” a local saleswoman tells passersby who ask.

Nylon bags are rarely seen in the state’s network of retail stores, but they are also in short supply in foreign exchange stores, and customers have to carry their own to avoid having to carry the their purchases in their hands.

Some retirees buy them at the few points of sale where they are available, to later resell them at the door of agro-markets, bakeries and other businesses, as a way to get extra income at a time when pensions cover less than ever. If possible.

According to area residents speaking to 14ymedio, on October 25 there was also a police operation in which the pushcart sellers who sell food and vegetables were fined.

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Cubans Enjoyed Halloween Under the Uneasy Gaze of the Police

As the night progressed, the teenagers began to arrive, with much more elaborate costumes that imitated the characters of the best-known horror films. (14 and a half)
As the night progressed, the teenagers began to arrive, with much more elaborate costumes that imitated the characters from the best-known horror films. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 1 November 2021 — Nervousness has taken hold of the forces of order, which this Sunday first tried to dissolve and then allowed a spontaneous Halloween celebration to continue on the Paseo del Prado in Havana.

Hundreds of people gathered around 8:00 at night in the central street of the capital. The first to arrive were the parents, some of them in disguise, with their young children. “I really like your Spiderman costume, I am Rapunzel,” a girl with a long blonde bow and pink robe said ecstatically to another little girl dressed in a popular Spider-Man costume.

As the night progressed, and while the minors ran and played up and down the Paseo, the teenagers began to arrive, with much more elaborate costumes that imitated the characters of the best-known horror films. The boys photographed themselves and uploaded the images to social networks, proud of their shared Halloween, when the Police appeared, trying to expel and disperse them with a hostile attitude.

The first to arrive were the parents, some of them in disguise, with their young children. (14ymedio)

However, more young people continued to arrive despite efforts to disband the group in the northern area of the Paseo. As if a counter-order had arrived, suddenly the agents stopped and began only to observe and monitor those congregating. Some were dressed in civilian clothes, others in military clothing, police officers, the canine brigade with their dogs and even the special brigade with patrol motorcycles and even a truck.

Two motorized police officers stopped a vendor on the adjoining sidewalk, without letting him continue reading

approach the Prado with his cart full of sweets and preserves.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with them. They look at you as if you were a criminal. It bothers them that the kids play here, this is a public place,” says a man to the woman who walks with him with a little girl disguised as a witch. “What happens is that they have more fear than the desire to live. Not that the children were going to overthrow the Government with a spell,” she answers annoyed.

Since the day before on the Prado, the Malecón and on Calle G thousands of young people have gathered to celebrate Halloween. In several videos shared on social networks, you can even see the moment when the police repressed a large group that was walking through the Prado as the police tried to disperse them.

“On Saturday night a group of friends went out and we wanted to go sit on the Malecón but the police did not let us get there. Since we had been going down 23rd we saw that masses of people were going up La Rampa and we suspected that something had happened,” a 15-year-old girl tells this newspaper.

This Sunday a strong police operation kept the celebrations tense. Hundreds of uniformed men and agents guarded the streets and did not allow cell phones to take videos in some areas. The independent journalist Héctor Luis Valdés Cocho was arrested after making a live broadcast on his social networks.

Valdés Cocho confirmed to 14ymedio that he was detained by two plainclothes agents. “They put me in a gray car with a private Geely license plate and took me to Villa Marista and there you know: ‘undress and pose for them to check you’ and then two interrogations for more than 40 minutes each,” describes the collaborator of DNA Cuba, released this Monday morning.

Halloween or Samhain, celebrated on All Hallows’ Eve, is a pagan festival of Celtic tradition with which the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the new year were celebrated. The Irish imported it to the United States, where it was incorporated into popular culture with its own iconography and from there it has been exported around the world again, especially through the film industry.

Although in Cuba the ruling party has always looked at it with suspicion, in recent decades the holiday has been making its way amid the enthusiasm of young people and with the support of the private sector, which has seen the day a good time to market accessories, organize costume parties and decorate their premises with fake cobwebs or skulls.

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Providing Three Meals a Day Is Difficult but Cubans’ Obsession with Bread, Even if Low-Quality, Makes It Easier

Though the baker sells several varieties, only garlic bread was for sale on Thursday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 29 October 2021 — A long line of people waited outside the bakery on Carlos III Avenue to buy garlic bread, the only kind for sale on Thursday morning. The cost was 6 pesos each, limited to ten a customer.

“Like public transportation, this bakery has odd hours. I try to get here early to avoid the crowd,” says one customer seated on a small stool she brought from home. Meanwhile, an employee controls the flow of people entering the shop, allowing only two in at a time.

I really like the garlic bread because it saves me having to add my own oil and garlic. We eat it just by itself,” adds the customer.

“Garlic? No way! I mean, it’s edible but no garlic has ever been near that bread,” responds another customer, eliciting laughter from those around her.

The bakery sells other breads, such as sandwich bread for 25 pesos, but there is not much demand for it. There is also the popular barrita, a top seller due to its low price of 5 pesos. There is always a selection but, when supplies run out, customers can wait as long as thirty minutes to an hour before a new batch arrives. continue reading

When supplies run out, the wait can last from thirty minutes to an hour before a new batch is ready. (14ymedio)

Wheat flour has been in such short supply that in May bakeries began using corn flour as a substitute. Recently, long lines have started wrapping around bakeries and police have had to intervene after arguments and fights broke out. Though the situation improved somewhat over the summer, the bakery in Carlos III is still not back to the kind of normality that perhaps no longer exists in Cuba: being able to buy something without having to wait in a long line under a blazing sun.

Cubans are obsessed with bread in part because it serves as a substitute for many other foods that have been disappearing from their tables. Bread with oil, bread with mayonnaise, bread with guayaba jam and many other such combinations have become a way to get by between meals or now serve as substitutes for traditional dishes made with rice, beans and meat.

Bread made from refined flour ends up in a school backpacks as part of a between-class snack and as a replacement for the tasteless hospital food served to patients in hospitals. Fervent consumers will flock to wherever it is being sold, especially if the price is lower than for bread made from elaborate recipes at privately owned bakeries

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Dollar Stores Suffer Problems Connecting with Banks in Cuba

In line waiting for connection at a hard currency store were seniors who, aware of the store’s frequent problems, had brought their own stools to sit and wait. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 18 October 2021 — The long line to enter the central La Época store was barely moving this Saturday at noon on Calle San Nicolás y Concordia, in Centro Habana. Since nine in the morning, only 30 people had entered, because of the lack of a connection with the banks to approve payments with magnetic cards in freely convertible currency (MLC).

Very early, an employee announced at the top of his voice what everyone feared: “The system is down.” Along with the shouts of discomfort, some laughter broke out at the double meaning of the message. Then the hours passed. When noon arrived, discomfort grew in the line, in which pregnant women and elderly people were waiting; aware of the store’s frequent problems they had brought their own stools to sit and wait.

“There is no connection,” the line organizer repeated to everyone who asked her, as she held a large number of ID cards in her hand. Her clarification did not prevent protests from arising again and again from the crowd. “Again?” Said a young man aloud. “How many times is the connection going to go down today?” he questioned before the widespread support of the crowd.

“If you pay in foreign currency, the service should be better,” said a young woman who had gone to buy a few kilograms of chicken breast with money that her sister had sent her by continue reading

bank transfer. “You can tolerate this in a store in Cuban pesos, but I don’t understand it in foreign currency.”

The authorities have repeated ad nauseam about the Cuban economy’s need for fresh foreign exchange to enter the country. With this objective in mind, in the middle of last year they began selling food and cleaning products in MLC, which has generated a great popular anger among those who do not have access to remittances or payments in foreign currency.

To prevent the circulation of cash, the Government requires that customers pay in these businesses with magnetic cards issued by national banks, or Visa, Mastercard or UnionPay cards issued by foreign institutions, with the exception of the United States. But this requirement often runs into an obstacle: the fluctuations of connectivity between the terminals that read the card and the bank that must authorize the transaction.

Just a few blocks from La Época, at the Roseland store, the problem was also repeated this Saturday. Sales were stopped and people were very upset outside because the communication system with the bank is intermittent. “There is a connection for five minutes and then it’s down for half an hour. I am at the entrance from early and it is two in the afternoon, how is it possible that they do not have something of quality with the amount of money they make with these stores,” commented a woman .

Like a carbon copy, the scene was similar at Capricho and La Filosofía stores. Already in the department of electrical appliances in Plaza Carlos III, people sat on the floor and long faces were observed all over the place. The cashier swiped the card over and over, until a strip of paper came out indicating that the operation failed.

A call to the customer service numbers of the Metropolitan Bank that operates in the Cuban capital offers few details about the technical reasons for so many ups and downs in the connection. “That depends, it could be congestion problems on the lines,” explains an operator when asked by 14ymedio. “But it may also be that we are doing some maintenance, although in that case it is always announced in advance.”

Another employee, from the Banco de Crédito y Comercio in Havana, attributes the problem to the state telecommunications monopoly. “Most of the time the connectivity problems results from Etecsa failures, but of course, people point to the bank. The worst happens with those who have foreign cards, because not only must the store communicate with our branch, but we have to communicate with the bank outside the country.”

“I can only swipe it three times in a row, then I have to try another one,” explained the vendor in the Plaza de Carlos III to the troubled customers. Everyone was waiting to buy the electric rice cookers that they had just put up for sale after several days without showing up.

A young woman came forward and handed him her card: “Try this one.” This time it took a long time for the paper to come out and the girl was encouraged: “Now if it’s going to happen, I know from experience, when it takes time for the paper to come out, it works.” The clerk looked at her and smiled. “You are already an expert, you are right, you qualified!” The young woman looks at the ceiling with her hands outstretched as the receipt comes out of the device, like someone who has just won the lottery.

It didn’t take long for an uproar to form in the place when it was learned that it wasn’t her turn to buy yet, but the lucky customer had already walked away with her pot in her hands.

Outside, word spread that the system “has worked again,” but a few minutes later an employee poked her head out the door and asked for understanding because the connection with the bank had been lost for the umpteenth time.

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Electric Bicycles Compete With ‘Motorinas’ On Cuban Streets

Users value that electric bicycles serve the same needs as a ‘motorina’ and can even carry passage behind. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 19 October 2021 – The curious and potential buyers arrived this week at the store that only takes payment in freely convertible currency (MLC) on Infanta Street, in Centro Habana, to see the new electric bicycle marketed by the State.

Gone are the days of the hated Chinese bicycles of the Special Period. Now electric bicycles are in fashion but their price is not within the reach of most Cubans. With a price of 770 dollars (more than 60,000 pesos at the parallel exchange), the LT 4209n is a luxury item in a country of relentless scarcity, but it is an economical alternative to electric motorcycles, called ‘motorinas’, which cost approximately double — up to $2,000 USD in pages like Revolico. The motorinas have reigned in the streets of Cuba in recent years due to the insufficient public transportation system, the shortage of gasoline, the job opportunities they offer and their easy handling.

“Even if I had had enough money to buy a motorina, I would have bought the bicycle anyway,” explains Ernesto, the owner of one of these items, speaking to this newspaper from Sancti Spíritus. He is delighted with his acquisition. “It is cheaper to maintain and, for that matter, it solves the same problem as a motorina: it is for short trips, just like the bicycle. I even carry my wife behind me on mine, without any problems.” continue reading

“The motorina serves the same needs as a bicycle, with either one you can move from here to there,” he said.

In addition, Ernesto continues, the parts are also cheaper and when they break down it costs less to change them. “It is not the same to buy a battery for these, which are small, unlike the one for a motorcycle. And it is not the same to buy a tire for a bicycle as it is for a motorina.”

In early September, the company Caribe Electric Vehicles (Vedca), in charge of assembling the bicycle for sale on Infanta Street on the island, published the first images of the model on its social networks and other digital platforms. During those days, Yuniel admits that he “had his eye” on these cycles, but gave up buying one due to the rise in the exchange rate for in the black market (76 pesos for 1 dollar this Thursday) and the increase in food prices.

Yuniel, age 30, had a plan to get a courier license and look for a way to earn extra money, especially since, at the moment, the Traffic authorities do not require a helmet or a driver’s license to ride this kind of bicycle. Many private businesses in Havana, such as restaurants and pizzerias, hire self-employed people with motorcycles and electric bicycles to make home deliveries.

“In addition, bicycles are easier to store and park,” a Centro Habana delivery woman who bought her electric bicycle abroad told 14ymedio. “And they go a long way, 55 kilometers, similar to a motorina,” she adds about the autonomy of the vehicle.

The technical description of the brand-new model LT 4209 indicates that it has a 600-watt motor, that its battery is lithium, that reaches a speed of up to 30 km/h and that it has a range of 65 kilometers and a weight of 35 kilograms.

Now electric bicycles are in fashion but their price is not within the reach of most Cubans. (14ymedio)

Luis Alberto, on the other hand, is one of the Cubans who prefer electric motorcycles even though they are much more expensive, but he knows that on the island it is not recommended to buy any of these vehicles that are sold in state stores and assembled in Cuba.

“They are low-cost, the batteries, the motor and the regulator box have poor quality. You see it and say: ‘how beautiful’, but they are just facades. You better think well before investing your money in them,” warns this Havanan, who belongs to the Club Moto Eléctrica Cuba. Luis Alberto ordered a motorina for $ 2,000 from an acquaintance who went shopping in Panama last year and insists that he does not regret the “investment.”

Like Vedca, another entity that is dedicated to the commercialization of electric cycles is the Ángel Villareal Bravo Industrial Company, from Villa Clara, known as Minerva. Several models of electric bicycles of this brand, assembled on the island, were among the first to be sold in the network of state stores, about four years ago.

The prices then ranged from 850 to 1,375 CUC, recalls from Sancti Spíritus another fan of these vehicles, Miguel. “The most expensive electric bicycle had a screen one centimeter high and three wide that marked the mileage,” he details. “With the advantage that I have never heard that an electric bicycle battery has exploded”, he says, referring to the frequent cases of motorina fires due to the manipulation of their electrical system.

However, Miguel has defined very well the differences between a motorcycle and an electric bicycle.” Motorinas operate at a much higher speed, while this type of bicycle reaches a maximum of 30 kilometers per hour.”

Despite this, electric bicycles are beginning to proliferate everywhere on the streets of the Cuban capital. Vedca, which began operating last year in the Mariel Special Development Zone, is one of the brands most promoted in recent months by the Government and sells electric vehicles ranging from 700 to almost 4,000 MLC.

There are more than a few complaints from Cubans, yes, about prices. “Why is everything [only sold in hard currency] in MLC? Do they pay [wages] in that currency in this country?” Asked a user commenting on a Vedca publication on his social networks where it announced the price of the bicycle. “I am an honest worker and my salary is 2,500 pesos a month. In what year could I buy this type of motor?”

According to official data, in the country there are about 300,000 electric bicycles and motorcycles, between imported and marketed within the island, and a third of that figure is in Havana.

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Buying New Shoes, Another Mission Impossible in Cuba

A display at the Sport shoe store in Havana’s Carlos III shopping mall (14ymedio).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 6 October 2021 — Sandra stands at the display window of the Sport shoe store in Havana’s Carlos III shopping mall, where a long line has formed outside. On display are the two cheapest pairs of children’s tennis shoes, for $22.50 and $22.68 respectively.

They are not brand names, and outside of Cuba they would be considered inexpensive, but they are not easy to get for most Cubans because they are priced in foreign currency. But at least they are in style, easy to wash and could potentially be worn in physical education classes.

The school term just started and Sandra’s two children need footwear. She herself has not had a decent pair of shoes for a long time either but there are only thirty dollars on her hard currency debit card, which she had to buy at the exchange rate of 75 pesos to the dollar. In other words, 2,250 pesos, almost a full month’s salary. She thought about buying some handmade shoes at a craft fair but the ones sold there are expensive and the styles are more traditional.

Though she was hoping to pay for the shoes out of her meager budget, they are beyond her means. She will have to give up her place line because, for now, she cannot afford them. She will have to make do with some used ones her neighbor is selling. “There’s no other option. We’ll have to settle for continue reading

the ones Mercedes has,” she says with a sense of resignation. “They are a little big for my son but the ones for my daughter fit like they were made for her.”

Though students are required to wear uniforms until the end of middle school, differences in social status and purchasing power has always been expressed through the quality of footwear, backpacks and the snacks students bring to school. Converse brand shoes, a Vans backpack and a can of cola at recess are signs a student is from a family with financial resources or with relatives overseas.

Conversely, showing up on the first day of school wearing the same tennis shoes as the previous term, carrying books in a mended bag or having bread with oil as a snack are markers of a student from the lowest socio-economic classes in the eyes of inquisitives classmates. So much so that children and adolescents often pressure their parents to project a high-status image.

The differences could become even more accentuated in the coming months. Due to a shortage of raw materials used to make them, the Ministry of Education is relaxing rules on school uniforms. Students will be allowed to attend classes in conventional clothes, a situation that could encourage the “fashion catwalk” trend in educational centers.

With his job on hold due to the pandemic, Sandra’s husband is in limbo, neither employed nor unemployed. He collects 60% of his regular salary as he waits for things to get better. If it was hard for the couple to feed and dress their family on two worker’s salaries, it is impossible on one and a half.

When the Cuban government eliminated its tax on the U.S. dollar and expanded the sale of food and personal hygiene products in July 2020, it did so with the promise that it would be a temporary measure, that the number of these stores would be limited and that they would only sell “high-end” products, as President Miguel Diaz-Canel described them.

More than a year later, and most notably after currency unification rollout in early 2021, most the country’s major retail outlets have become hard currency stores. You can get everything there from cigars to flip-flops, from shampoo to a rice cooker. The other option is the black market but prices there are even more exorbitant.

“I bought what I need for my daughter’s school from a woman who brought merchandise in from overseas. It cost me 3,000 pesos for the shoes and 2,000 for the backpack,” recounts another customer waiting in line to buy a bag. “But now I can breath easy, at least for a few months.”

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Havana’s Eastern Beaches are Crowded With Bathers and Police

This Saturday, the people of Havana flocked to cool off at the Playas del Este. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 9 October 2021 –Despite the cloudy skies this Saturday, Havanans flocked to cool off in the Playas del Este, a coastline that was closed to bathers for months. But taking the long-awaited dip required a long line to get on the buses that travel to that area of ​​the Cuban capital or being willing to pay the high prices of private taxis.

Hundreds of people were waiting early in the line for Route 400 that starts near the Central Railway Station and reaches the town of Guanabo, one of the most visited beaches. Those who did not want to wait too long and also wanted to travel more comfortably, then had to shell out 100 Cuban pesos for a position in a private almendrón*.

Despite the cloudy sky on Saturday, many went to take the long-awaited dip on the coast, closed for months to bathers. (14ymedio)

Although a large police operation was evident on the beach, the use of the mask outside the sea was not especially observed. But the uniformed men did seem very strict with the groups of young people, especially those who were black, asking for their identity documents, checking their bags and offering harsh words about the behavior to be maintained on the beach.

The food-service offers also left much to be desired, although since the beaches were opened to the public on September 29, several private businesses have re-established table service. The limited supply of menu options and sky-high prices scared off many bathers. Others, aware of the situation, brought a snack from home, a bottle of frozen water and even music on their wireless speakers.

*Translator’s note: ‘Almendron‘ is used to designate private taxi services in Cuba. The word derives from ‘almond’ and is a reference to the shape of the classic American cars that are often used in this service.

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

Cuba’s Meat Markets to Get September’s Chickens in October

Two women buying rationed food items at a neighborhood store in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodriguez, Havana, October 7, 2021 — “In September they didn’t give us anything. Only eggs and some disgusting ground meat. One tablespoon for two people. Not even my dogs would eat it,” complains Migdalia, a housewife in Central Havana who foresees no end to the ongoing struggles to stock her pantry. Public frustration is growing ever more widespread. Every day sees another announcement of a delay, a substitution or a “failure” that prevents products ranging from chicken and rice to basic supplies such as water and electricity from reaching consumers’ hands.

In September only eggs were available in some Havana neighborhoods. Others got chicken that was supposed to have arrived in August. In some provinces, such as Santiago de Cuba, only bologna and eggs were being sold, though Interior Commerce Minister Betsy Diaz Velazquez claimed meat was being distributed to everyone, though it was a month late.

At the end of September the minister noted that, several months earlier, there had been a steady supply of chicken which could reach the country in seven to ten days.

“Today, though we have the necessary funds and are able to purchase the product, we have had to wait for as much as fifty days or longer for it to get to Cuba. As a result, the public did not receive August’s supply of chicken until September. And in September there will be a similar delay even though the  supplier has already been paid,” she claimed.

Something similar is happening with rice. Plans to provide families with additional pounds of rice over the last few months were cancelled, a continue reading

decision that many attribute to the distribution of international rice donations that have been delivered since early August and that contain several kilos of the grain. In some Havana neighborhoods the distribution of the second batch has already begun.

Diaz had said that in October that families would receive the seven pounds of rice to which they are entitled through the ration book, but delivery of the three additional pounds intended for August and September will be postponed because the product is currently unavailable.

Migdalia, who is on a medically prescribed diet, it also frustrated by the shortage of powdered milk. In late September the Ministry of Food Production announced that, because of delayed deliveries of the product, distribution of the product through the ration system had been changed. Currently, powdered milk is not being provided to people on medical diets.

The ministry also noted that on September 25 monthly sales of the product for children seven-years-old and younger had been concluded in Havana.

The only way to get many foods such as milk is to buy them on the black market, where it sells for about 1,000 pesos a kilo. Sellers charge 250 pesos for a 2.5-kilo of packaged chicken while a ten-pound package goes for twice that.

Eggs are another product for which black market prices are sky-high. “When butcher shops get their deliveries, you can find a carton of eggs on the informal market for 350 pesos (fourteen dollars at the official exchange rate). But if you can get it through the ration book, the same amount goes for 400 pesos,” explains Henry, a resident of Havana’s Playa district.

Along with food shortages, there are also continual disruptions in utility services. The Cuban Electrical Union announced on Thursday that power outages on the previous day were due to “a significant increase in demand” and because Unit 6 at the Maximo Gomez power plant had gone out of service. The state-owned company added that it was anticipating electrical service to be impacted during peak hours. It was not an isolated incident. Beginning in June customers were without power throughout much of the summer, unable to turn on even a simple fan during the hot days and nights.

But the island’s water isn’t flowing either. The company, Waters of Havana, announced on Thursday that there would be service interruptions in some areas between 8:00 AM and 6:00 PM  due to maintenance and repair work on the pipelines and equipment at Meireles Viejos and machinery at Tower 19.” Boyeros and Tenth of October are the areas to be most affected.

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Cuban Coffee in US Dollars

Cubita, of national production, is sold in foreign currency but it is difficult to find it in Cuban pesos. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 7 October 2021– Long faces in line this Thursday at the entrance of the Plaza Carlos III shopping center to buy coffee. “Cuban coffee in American dollars,” one of the establishment’s customers, called Sorpresas, scoffed aloud. The line burst into laughter at this, but a resigned indignation was palpable.

“It is incredible that we pay in MLC [freely convertible currency] for the coffee that is produced in Cuba,” said a woman. “But nothing, we pay for it and we do nothing,” a young man responded quickly.

Coffee is one of the scarcest products in the national trade networks and in the informal market it can reach a whopping 1,000 pesos for a one-kilo (2.2 pounds) package, or 250 pesos for a 250-gram (approx. 9 ounces) package. Despite the official media announcing a supposed recovery in coffee production in the country since 2020, the improvement has not been noticed in stores that take payment in national currency, where the supply of coffee beans or ground coffee is practically non-existent.

The line joked with resignation about the fact of having to pay for the national product in dollars. (14ymedio)

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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.

With Hopes and Setbacks Food Services Reopen in Havana

An employee of the Coppelia ice cream parlor, in Havana, this Friday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 24 September 2021 — “We must take advantage of today, tomorrow is only for those who book by phone,” an enthusiastic customer said this morning outside the Coppelia ice cream parlor, in Havana, one of the state premises that opened its areas with tables available to the public this Friday, after months offering only the To-go option.

Like the Cathedral of Ice Cream, other state establishments in El Vedado and Centro Habana are also organizing their operations to begin receiving customers after the authorities reported on Thursday the reopening of gastronomic services in the capital and other provinces of the country.

“Consumption within the facility was suspended, but it was possible to buy take out,” a woman who was waiting in line for take-out ice cream told this newspaper. Along with her, several people carried five-liter containers to take the product home.

Although the authorities announced that the central location would only begin by serving those who reserve a table through various telephone numbers, the mechanism still did not seem well oiled and the employees postponed the start of this type of service until Saturday. continue reading

“All this time ago, people have lined up here to buy ice cream to take home. But now things have become a bit complicated for them because they are serving very little at the tables,” Yoana, 25, explains to 14ymedio. “But that’s only a few days, you’ll see that by spending some money on the workers here, everything will be solved,” adds the young woman, who this Friday was able to enter Coppelia to consume the two sundaes allowed per person.

Yoana pointed out that the tables are well separated from each other and only two people are allowed at each one. The young woman ended up ordering two ice cream sundaes: one with almonds and another with strawberry-bonbon, for a value of 25 pesos each, which came accompanied by six sweet cookies.

Despite the reopening, this newspaper was able to verify that the line this Friday morning was like any other day and in less than 20 minutes customers could be seated at a table. All the ice cream parlor’s salons were open, except for the “4 Jewels,” which is air-conditioned and sells a creamier and more expensive ice cream. Formerly, the ice cream was sold in Cuban convertible pesos, but after the ’Ordering Task’* it went to Cuban pesos. This Coppelia location is among the most visited in the capital.

A few yards from Coppelia there are two other very busy state establishments on Avenida 23 in El Vedado in Havana: the Buona Sera restaurants, which planned to serve customers in the afternoon, and El Cochinito, where its employees could not confirm if they would receive customers this Friday.

As in Coppelia, at the entrance of Buona Sera and El Cochinito they have placed a table with a container containing bleach, and according to the hygienic sanitary measures imposed by the authorities, it is mandatory to disinfect your hands before entering any public establishment.

The governor of Havana, Reinaldo García Zapata, said this Thursday on the State TV Roundtable, when announcing the reopening, that it is essential to maintain the use of the mask, the disinfection of the hands and surfaces of the establishments, the locating of tables two yards apart, and among others, and a limited capacity depending on the characteristics of the premises.

Taking reservations by phone is viewed with suspicion by customers. “I am afraid that this is going to be allow the employees to sell the places and only accept their friends and resellers. As a 76-year-old retiree said, who is going to control whether someone actually called, or if they were put on the list for being a partner of a worker.”

“There are very bad experiences in reserving by phone. In the 80s some restaurants in Havana offered their service like this and when the number was not busy the phone would ring for long minutes and no one answered,” the man recalls. “Once part of the telephone exchange even collapsed when thousands of people called to reserve a turn to buy toys because of the rationing.”

“The measures are still the same, but I didn’t really see that anyone complied with them all: the bleach bottle on Coppelia’s door is there, but everyone passed by as if it didn’t exist, nobody took that on,” said Yoana. “Of course, everyone walks around with a facemask and some with their chlorine bottle in their backpack or purse.”

The authorities insisted that food services be reserved in advance to avoid prolonged stays while waiting fator the entrance of the premises. Private businesses such as Lolita del Mar, Mercy Bar Café, Bom Apetite and Ranchón Costa Bella, among others, have published on their social networks that from this Friday they will be offering food services at their facilities but customers will also be able to consume the orders at home because they will maintain Take-out service.

In other private businesses in the municipality of Playa, among them Tropikna Sport Café and Glamor Café, they are waiting for the authorization to open from Public Health, but the “approval” of the inspectors from the Hygiene and Epidemiology Directorate is still lacking, affirm the owners of the premises.

However, most of these businesses have told their customers that they will continue to bring the food to their homes and the main platforms that manage these purchases have extended their delivery hours throughout the capital. “Here we will continue to provide home delivery service from our premises to the door of your house so that you maintain your comfort and care,” reads the announcement.

Along with the 533 locales that will provide in-person food services, the notary services and Civil and Property registries have been resumed.

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

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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.