Despite the Poor Quality of the Rice, Cubans Are Distressed by Its Uneven Distribution in the Ration Stores

Authorities have said that the rice will be delivered to the ration stores in a staggered manner. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 22 January 2024 — At this point in January, when it is not long before the end of the month, the two pounds of rice per person that remain to be delivered to the ration stores have not yet arrived. “Only a few peas, cooking oil and kitchen detergent.”

“People are desperately asking about the rice, and the storekeeper says that it should arrive today or tomorrow,” Sandra tells 14ymedio. “They gave us a pound when the year began and then four, but I wouldn’t be surprised if what was missing doesn’t arrive.”

The coffee has not appeared either, nor the new ration book, delayed due to lack of paper, which the authorities have promised before March 30. “The chicken that arrived a few days ago is the one they owed from last year,” says a friend of Sandra’s, who reiterates: “No rice; you know, it’s at the North Pole.” continue reading

“Neither rice nor oil has arrived yet; even the cat is waiting,” a customer says sarcastically, nine days before the end of the month.

In the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, the scene is similar: “At the beginning of the month they gave us a pound of rice and two pounds of sugar per person, and two days ago they sold us the rest of those products but nothing else,” a resident tells this newspaper.

The customers of the ration store located at Hospital and Jesús Peregrino, in Central Havana, are luckier, since their rice allocation is complete, but that is not the case in other nearby establishments, such as the one on Reina Street. “Neither rice nor oil has arrived yet; even the cat is waiting,” a customer says sarcastically, nine days before the end of the month.

In Nuevo Vedado, the rice arrived at some ration stores last Friday along with “some chicken,” while for others it didn’t arrive until late Saturday night.

In short, they are distributing the products of the basic family basket to the neighborhoods and municipalities of the capital in an irregular manner. “They do it in a staggered way, as they say, and “staggered” means, for example, that the rice didn’t arrive until Friday,” explains a resident of the Luyanó neighborhood.

In the provinces it’s not much different. In San Antonio de los Baños, Artemisa, of the seven pounds of rice that correspond to the basic basket, so far five have been given. In Holguín, they gave six pounds, and the other one is missing.

On the Ministry of Internal Commerce’s website, where the delivery of chicken destined for the “normal family basket and social consumption” of Santiago de Cuba is reported, users take the opportunity to complain about the shortage of the moment: “It’s January 20, almost the end of the month, without even a pound in the ration store, and we have to pay 170 pesos a pound [in a private store] with such low wages. Please think of this town and leave off with the speeches. I am not an opponent or anything like that, but really this situation is unbearable,” explains a reader.

While consumers complain about the quantity, the quality of the rice is terrible

While consumers complain about the quantity, the quality of the rice is terrible. “Here the only rice that can be eaten is sold in the private stores, but that costs between 160 and 220 pesos a pound, and not everyone can afford it,” says Sandra, who fears having no choice but to spend the money.

Last Thursday, the Ministry itself warned of the “problems in the fulfillment of the distribution cycles” of the rationed food, especially rice. The official explanation: “financial restrictions and operational problems, which have caused delays in the arrival of imports, production and transportation,” without giving further details.

The guaranteed “deliveries” of oil and peas correspond to January and February, “because inventories are available.” As for sugar, which is also being distributed “in a fractional way,” it will be completed “in correspondence with the advances of the crop, and the four pounds per capita will be insured.”

Other products that are delayed are salt and coffee, according to the official report. The same goes for milk, which is also distributed “fractionally, in correspondence with the arrivals and fulfillment of the collections of fresh milk.” The ministry reports that this month Cuba will distribute a donation from the UN World Food Program, “with free delivery in some territories.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Cuban Worker: ‘For That Salary I Prefer to Clean Windshields at a Traffic Light’

In addition to several administrative positions, teacher vacancies are offered at the job fair. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Madrid, January 20, 2024 — Desperate to recruit candidates for their many vacant positions, on Saturday morning managers and teachers from several schools in Havana were anxiously awaiting potential workers to fill positions in the educational sector. The “job fair,” however, barely attracted any interested parties, as confirmed by 14ymedio in a tour of these educational centers.

The catalog for the vent included event included a wide range of positions ranging from maintenance workers, through administrators to teachers. But the salaries, which at their peak barely exceeded 5,000 pesos*, failed to attract potential candidates and the outlook at the fair was bleak.

“One or two people have come but we are going to remain open until 11 in the morning in case someone arrives at the last minute,” acknowledged an employee outside the Felipe Poey Aloy Unified School on Zapata Street. “A girl and a retired man are the only ones who have come. She said that she was inquiring about a friend from the province who was coming to live in Havana.” continue reading

This Saturday at the entrance of the Felipe Poey Aloy Unified School, on Zapata Street in Havana. (14ymedio)

The information offered by directors and teachers was completely oral. “There is no paper to take with you with the information, no brochure that later allows you to calmly read all the offers. You have to ask about what interests you and they tell you the positions and salaries, so no one can remember anything,” lamented a young man, a Computer Science graduate, who approached to inquire about a position as a teacher in his subject.

At the entrance to the Rubén Martínez Villena high school, next to the Habana Libre hotel, a receptionist waited impatiently for the arrival of someone interested in knowing the list of available places. “We have everything and, furthermore, there is soon going to be a salary reform in Education and salaries are going to rise quite a bit,” she snapped at a young woman who approached to inquire.

Once inside the educational center, with numerous current workers participating in the fair but very few people interested in the positions, the woman turned to the Director. “We have several positions, from qualification courses and also places in day care centers, in primary schools, basic secondary schools and, if the person has a degree, we quickly place them.”

“The current salary for a teacher is 5,600* pesos more or less, but a salary reform is coming. They are finalizing the resolution, although we do not have details yet, we only know that seniority will be counted for the raises,” said an employee of the school. “All the years you have worked in Education must be uninterrupted or they will not be counted towards the raise.”

“We have several positions, from qualification courses and also places in day care centers, in primary schools, basic secondary schools and, if the person has a degree, we quickly place them”

In the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución, where the Rubén Martínez Villena secondary school is located, there are “three technological positions, one related to mechanics and automotive, another in computer science and a third in commerce and gastronomy that need teachers as soon as possible because there are many empty places” explained the center worker. “We write it down and the person starts working next week, we can’t wait.”

The long-awaited reform that the sector has been waiting for, after the recent salary increase for Public Health workers, should be a hook to attract new employees. However, the rampant inflation suffered by Cubans means that what until a few years ago seemed like high salaries have now become pennies in the face of the skyrocketing prices of basic products.

Liuba, 29, one of the few interested people who made it to the secondary school located on Línea and 4 streets in El Vedado, told 14ymedio ,”A carton of eggs, a bottle of oil and two pounds of beans,” that is what she would work for with a whole month in front of a classroom. “I came because my parents told me about the Fair, but I prefer to clean windshields at a traffic light.”

In another nearby school, a group of smiling employees took a photo for social networks. “We have to publish how the fair is going, we have to keep our Facebook account alive,” one preached. For the snapshot, they captured a young woman passing by, oblivious to the salaries in Education and the extensive drama of classrooms without teachers.

*Translator’s note: At current prices, a carton of 30 eggs sells for roughly 3,000 pesos.

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

Strange White Circles in the Sky above Havana Were Not Extraterrestrial

The phenomenon left a group of Luyanó residents stunned and groping for answers. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodriguez, Havana, 19 January 2024 — Some unusual formations in the sky early Friday morning led to a mixture of surprise, excitement and fear among Havana residents. At first glance, they looked like an airplane’s contrails but what made them suspicious was their shape. The string-like cloud, high in the troposphere, looped around three times before trailing off in a straight line towards the horizon.

“What a strange pattern. And it’s so big.” The phenomenon left a group of Luyanó residents stunned and groping for answers. “E.T. is here!” one of them said jokingly. “Aliens or Americans. It can’t be anything else,” answered another. “Girl, what do you mean aliens or Americans? It’s some Russian or Chinese plane that they’re testing here,” a third replied. A fourth feared the apocalypse was at hand while a fifth responded, “Take me now.”

The trail was clearly visible from all points in Havana, including from 14ymedio’s editorial office in Nuevo Vedado. Residents here looked for a more rational explanation. “It must be a natural phenomenon caused by humidity or some temperature differential in the upper atmosphere,” said a young man from Tulipán Street. “I think it’s an optical illusion,” said the friend accompanying him. continue reading

A pilot provided a straight answer: “It’s from a plane circling around because it can’t land, no question.” José Martí International Airport was closed at that time of day due to meteorological conditions. An employee, who asked to remain anonymous, explained that it was caused by a Wingo passenger jet en route from Bogotá that ultimately had to be diverted to

New Batches of Uniformed ‘Smurfs’ Arrive in Havana From the East

This Thursday, the sidewalks of the Havana Capitol were guarded by agents whose faces the residents had not seen before. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 18 January 2024 — Many agents of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) are called Palestinians because they are usually transferred from Cuba’s Eastern provinces – Granma, Guantánamo, Holguín, Las Tunas, Santiago de Cuba – to other places, especially Havana, in the cunning strategy that the dictatorship always carried out to fuel hatred between the repressors and the repressed.

There is nothing better for this than to take advantage of the xenophobia that is assumed – whether true or not – among the residents of the capital and inhabitants of the center of the Island in relation to eastern Cubans, and vice versa. They are also called smurfs, because of the color of their uniforms, although it is certainly darker than that of the Belgian cartoons that give them their name.

Not only do their physiques and origins generate derision. The lack of knowledge of the city they patrol causes them to fall into countless tragicomic situations. Like those eastern police officers who, according to popular legends, asked for reinforcements for “Callello” street after reading the sign for “110th Street” [Calle110] on a corner marker. continue reading

Today, short of officers, and with its young members having been born smaller due to chronic malnutrition, not even the PNR is free from the traces of exodus and misery in Cuba

Unaware of the capital’s geography, crammed into shelters and with a poor diet of claria and rice, the dream of many of them is to “meet a Havana woman,” get married and so be able to qualify for the necessary residency permit to be able to stay and live in the big city. Others quickly learn to ask for bribes and turn a blind eye if they are slipped a bill. Many do not even continue wearing the uniform a few years after their arrival.

This Thursday, the sidewalks of the Havana Capitol were guarded by uniformed men whose faces the neighbors had not seen before. “Looks like a new batch of smurfs arrived,” a woman commented sarcastically after passing them. “But they bring these Palestinians, weaker and weaker, answered an old man sitting on a bench in Fraternity Park.

Today, short of officers, and with its young members having been born smaller due to chronic malnutrition, not even the PNR is free from the traces of exodus and misery in Cuba.

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Castro’s Broth, Symbol of Cuba’s Decline

The lady drank everything in one long drink and crossed the street, avoiding the puddle of sewage right in front of the improvised food service point. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, January 12, 2024 — The woman quickened her pace until she reached the corner of Reina and Manrique streets, in Centro Habana. In front of a table with flimsy legs with a pot on top, she ordered “a broth for 30 pesos.” The vendor served her a pale liquid in which small pieces of something floated. The lady drank everything in one long drink and crossed the street, avoiding the puddle of sewage water right in front of the improvised food service point.

The ethnologist and jurist Fernando Ortiz defined Cuban culture as an ajiaco — a rich chicken stew made with three types of potatoes — because it mixed African, Spanish and indigenous, plus countless customs of those who migrated to the Island from different latitudes. Dense and made from rich meats and vegetables, this Creole dish could “raise a dead man,” as described by the elders, but its preparation is very difficult today, with its ingredients missing from the market platforms or extremely expensive.

There are levels and levels of broth. (14ymedio)

Instead, it is more common to find its poor cousin: broth. A lot of water, no corn and, instead of cassava or malanga, they barely add bananas or a few portions of sweet potato, which are cheaper and easier to find. The main menu of the official celebrations every September 27, the eve of the continue reading

anniversary of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, this is identified with the bungling and crisis that characterize the Cuban system, which is why it has become the signature recipe of Castroism.

However, there are levels and levels of broth. The one that was sold this Thursday in a doorway on Reina Street, just outside a small agricultural market, had gone down a few more steps in quality and respect for the consumer. Without any aroma coming out of the pot, with the stench of sewage accumulated a few centimeters away and made from very few components, the recipe had degenerated until it looked like warm water with shells.

Today’s Cuba is more like a broth than an ajiaco. Gripped by the exodus, the lack of culinary references and the economic disaster, its formula has become as impoverished as the reality. Better to swallow it quickly and holding your breath, so that it fills the stomach but does not harm the palate, as did the woman who today, in Central Havana, asked for the smallest serving because she did not dare to take the largest glass, at a price of 80 pesos.

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

The Wealthy Districts of the Cuban Capital Enjoy VIP-Level Cleaning Services

Perhaps what stands out most in this neighborhood are the garbage containers: spotless and emptied, without the mountains of garbage around them that can be seen in so many corners of the city (14ymedio).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 8 January 2024 — Beyond Nuevo Vedado, past the Colón cemetery and the zoo, on the border between Playa and Plaza de la Revolución, passers-by can admire a landscape that does not exist in the center of the capital. Wide, tree-lined streets, huge, well-kept houses, well-dressed people, some of them with bags full of food, modern cars. Here, on Kohly Avenue, you can´t hear shouting or arguing, and the only queue that can be seen, at the Acapulco gas station, moves forward in an orderly fashion.

It is the other face of the Cuban capital, far removed from the chaos of Central Havana or Old Havana, not to mention poorer municipalities such as Cerro, La Lisa or Diez de Octubre, where decay and dirt leave little room for beauty. Surprisingly, and as a significant indicator, there are ATMs, such as those of the Banco Metropolitano at 26 and 32, with money, without queues and working properly.

Wide, tree-lined streets, huge, well-kept houses, well-dressed people, some of them with bags full of food, modern cars (14ymedio).

But perhaps what are most noticeable in this neighborhood are the garbage containers: spotless and emptied, without the mountains of garbage around them that can be seen in so many corners of the city, and that sometimes, give rise to dangerous fires. The Community Services people can be seen working in these streets.

n Kohly Avenue, you can´t hear shouting or arguing, and the only queue to be seen is at the Acapulco gas station, moving forward in an orderly fashion.

Kohly illustrates the inequalities that the Revolution, far from solving, accentuated. A normal well-preserved and civilized city, inside another city, which is neglected and where the law of the jungle prevails… reserved for those who do not have a share of power on the island.

Translated by GH

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Three Kings Day in Cuba Accompanied by High Inflation

Stuffed dolls at an open-air market in Havana go for 6,000 pesos apiece.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodriguez, Havana, January 6, 2024 — “I didn’t suddenly wake up this morning flush with cash so my children are only getting cookies and soft drinks this year.” This is how one woman summed up her financial situation on Saturday. She and a friend were at the open-air market on Central Havana’s Galiano Street, looking for something to give her children on Three Kings Day. Surrounded by dolls, tiny fire trucks and stuffed animals with Minnie Mouse faces, the two friends perused the items for sale.

“Everywhere you look it’s 3,000, 4,000 or 7,000,” lamented the woman after inquiring about the price of several products. “That Barbie over there costs 6,000 pesos. That’s two months’ pay for me,” she added after asking about a box that also included a couple of changes of clothes and shoes for the lanky plastic body crowned with platinum blonde hair. “For that amount of money she ought to be able talk.”

The vendors brush off the criticisms and refuse to lower their prices. “Expensive?Everything is expensive here in Cuba. Just coming here cost me money in transportation and investment costs,” replied one young man to a father who criticized him for charging 3,000 pesos for a stuffed Pokemon doll. Not far away a brightly colored plastic telephone, with keys that light up and beep when they are pressed, costs 5,000 pesos. “I came here without my daughter because she would be upset if she saw this.”

Although Cuban officials downplayed Three Kings Day celebrations for decades — the most ideological hardliners describe them as evidence of the “capitalist fever of consumerism” — many families have tried to revive the tradition in recent years. Though state-owned stores currently sell few toys, and certainly not expensive ones geared towards this holiday, sales of children’s items have been growing on the informal market and at small, privately owned businesses more recently.

While some parents buy presents weeks in advance, others wait until January 6, hoping to find something at a close-out sale or because they had not been able save up enough money until then to buy a baseball and bat, a water pistol or a small kitchen with cups and pots. But the rise in the cost of living is also having an impact on children’s entertainment. This year, the Three Magi rode into town atop runaway inflation faster than any camel, which makes any gift that a child ultimately receives smaller and more ephemeral.

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

A New Slogan for the Cuban Revolution on Its 65th Anniversary: Get By on Less

“Then it will be here tomorrow,” says an elderly woman sarcastically, as she walks past the place. “The 65th anniversary is off to a good start.” Text of sign: “Today there is no yogurt nor milk nor eggs nor cheese.”(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodriguez, Havana, 5 January 2024 — State-run media has been flooding pages and screens for days with the faces of Fidel Castro, his brother Raúl and other bearded “heroes” on the occasion of the sixty-fifth anniversary of the Cuban revolution. In the official rhetoric, there is only room for triumph and volunteerism, not for the impoverished reality that the Cuban people are experiencing.

It is Friday and nothing in Havana suggests that this is the eve of a Catholic holiday: Three King’s Day. Deserted streets, uncollected garbage, houses for sale. All are part of the backdrop that a stroll through the capital provides.

The only thing the establishment has to offer are cans of sugary soda, the kind of universal food that remains available even in the midst of misery

There is nothing special to buy in the shops either, especially in the most depressed neighborhoods such as Lawton and Tenth of October. At a small, privately owned store on the corner of Porvenir and Pocito streets, a discouraging sign is propped up on the counter: “No yogurt, no milk, no eggs, no cheese today.”

“Then it will be tomorrow,” says an elderly woman sarcastically as she walks past the place. “The 65th anniversary is off to a good start.”

The only thing the establishment has to offer are cans of sugary soda, the kind of universal food that remains available even in the midst of misery. The store provides a corner from which to observe the true portrait of the revolution: one of shortages and hopelessness.

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A Picture of Fidel Castro on Display, the Requirement for Cuban End-of-Year Sales

Authorities instructed the merchants that they should place some slogan, flag or photo of the leaders. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana | 23 December 2023 — This Saturday morning, a portrait of Fidel Castro waited for the curious people who approached one of the kiosks at the New Year’s Eve fair on Zanja Street in Central Havana. Next to the image, a pair of tennis shoes, a poor copy of the Nike brand, cost 16,000 Cuban pesos, four months’ salary for a professional. Authorities instructed the merchants to place some slogan, flag or photo of the leaders of the Communist Party in each stall.

“A lot of propaganda but everything is very expensive,” complained a young man who came to the fair to buy a new wallet. “Mine was stolen yesterday and now I’m doing the paperwork for a new identity card”, he lamented. Traditionally, during the end of the year, thefts spike “because everyone is desperate for money”, the man considers. “I’m going to have to add what I am going to spend here to what I lost because of the thief”.

“A lot of propaganda but everything is very expensive,” complained a young man who came to the fair to buy a new wallet. (14ymedio)

Others came to the fair searching for food for the Christmas celebrations. The Cuban capital’s authorities had announced the sale of agricultural products as a “salute to the upcoming 65th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution”, but at the Zanja Street Fair the supply of food, vegetables and meat was very scant. Some withered lettuce and some dirty beets made up the assortment to put on the plate. The rest were caps, clothing, footwear and personal hygiene products. continue reading

“At what price are they going to sell the broth?” an old man asked two men who were stirring a steaming pot behind a sign announcing “our challenges and our victories”. “It’s going to take a while, grandpa, because we’re starting now and when we get it out it will be 50 pesos a glass”, one of the improvised cooks responded. Under a photo of Raúl Castro, women’s handbags were displayed at prices between 1,500 and 3,000 pesos, depending on the size and the material.

Guarded by an image of Ernesto Guevara, cigar in mouth, a set of clothing for girls combined pink tones with the faces of Disney characters. Later, next to a July 26 flag, beach flip-flops were offered, also imitations of well-known brands, such as Adidas and Tommy Hilfiger. A few meters away, a Mipyme kiosk sold soft drinks and frozen chicken, all imported.

This Saturday, a few meters from the fair, the end of year summed up what Cubans are experiencing, trapped between inflation and the excesses of political propaganda.

The fair represents Cubans, trapped between inflation and the excesses of political propaganda. (14ymedio)

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

A Well-Stocked, Privately Owned Small Business and an Almost Empty State-Run Store under the Same Havana Roof

Items for sale at Zona K’liente stand in stark contrast to the products customers can buy with their ration books. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 12 December 2023 — “Retail Company No. 037.” The austere, colorless sign above an old public telephone and the pale, peeling two-colored wall are clear indications that this is one of Havana’s state-run stores. Specifically, the one alongside a market on 19th and B streets in Vedado.

Inside, however, the establishment has been “diversified.” On one side, an office area with Tuesday’s delivery — eggs, rice and coffee — to be sold to customers with ration books. On the other side, a privately owned business known as Zona K’liente that offers its customers home delivery.

The austere, colorless sign above an old pay phone on a pale, peeling two-colored wall is a clear indication that this is one of Havana’s state-run stores. (14ymedio)

The stark contrast between this new enterprise and its neighbor, the Soviet-style store whose shelves have been virtually bare for years, are no doubt a shock to customers walking in with their ration cards. Decorative cloth shopping bags hang from a wall, soft drinks and cookies are on display, and all manner of fresh and cured meats sit in its refrigerator. Of particular note is one of the store’s name brands: Cuervo, as in Alejandro Cuervo, the actor and company founder. And also the Spanish word for “crow.” continue reading

Initially, Zona K’liente carried housewares — items such as towels, sheets, bags and glassware — but has been gradually shifting to groceries at a time when the island is suffering from an extreme food shortage.

“These prices are like crows; they’ll poke your eyes out.” (14ymedio)

“I got only as far as the eggs when I realized I couldn’t afford anything,” laments an elderly woman carrying the few items she has acquired from the state-run store while taking note of Zona K’liente’s exorbitant prices. Paraphrasing an old Spanish proverb, she observes, “These prices are like crows; they’ll poke your eyes out.”

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

The Most Expensive Ice Cream Shop in Havana Opens Its Store for Christmas

Bright and well stocked, the ice cream shop replaces the old BimBom at the gates of the Malecón. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, December 14, 2023 — Christmas has brought a gift in advance for those who can afford it, like everything today, in the frustrated revolutionary utopia. Bueníssimo Soderia Gourmet, the new ice cream-sweet shop that succeeds the old BimBom in the Havana neighborhood of El Vedado opened its doors this Wednesday, two months after beginning sales from a cart in front of the premises, on Infanta and 23, then under construction.

“They have made it very beautiful, very beautiful,” said Rachel, a customer attracted by the Christmas atmosphere and the dedicated workers, dressed in reindeer hats, and Santa Claus himself, who approached the door to stop the curious from pushing. “It’s already open, you can now come in,” they were kindly urged from the street.

The refrigerators with rotating sweets caught everyone’s attention, until they saw the prices. (14ymedio)

Decorated in black and white, the glass refrigerators stood out with spinning cakes and desserts, all very bright and well air-conditioned. “You can see that they use a lot of quality ingredients,” Rachel said. “Everything looks good and tastes good, too!” She exclaimed, highlighting how delicious the ice cream was. Her bill: 955 pesos for a glass dish with three scoops, served in an oval shape with a little syrup and a vanilla cupcake (panqué). continue reading

Attractiveness and novelty played a part in the premiere of the Bueníssimo Soderia Gourmet, which has adopted as its motto Esto Está Bueníssimo (This is really good), which shines on its facade. Inside you could see quite a few customers, and many  were shocked to see the price range. One scoop of ice cream, which in October sold in a paper cone on the ground level for 195 pesos, rises now, inside the premises, to 220 pesos, and this is the most economical item. Most of the sweets, some tiny, exceed 200 pesos, and others cost 700, like the tocinillo del cielo, a pudding made with egg yolk and syrup.

“Well, nowadays everything is like this, prices through the stratosphere,” said a customer who was waiting for his turn to order. “I can imagine the investment that those people have made here. They have made it very nice; to be honest, they can’t charge cheaper than that, I guess,” he said with resignation. The experience, he explained later, was worth it, because the quality is higher than its closest competitor on the street, Monte Freddo.

The ice cream, he explained to 14ymedio, is somewhat cheaper there, 400 pesos for two scoops, but not as good in terms of originality and taste. “The desserts here are different; I haven’t seen them anywhere else. The ice cream is the Italian type, with flavors that are not tropical.” Stracciatella and amareto alternate with traditional chocolate and strawberry, either in a cone or in a glass dish.

The workers, in Christmas outfits, go out to invite the curious to stop by. (14ymedio)

“Look, I’m sick,” Mario, a client on a medical diet after a recent illness explained to the saleswoman. “I can’t eat anything that has cream, custard, none of those things. The sweet has to be as simple as possible, without additives, without any filling,” he explained. “The employee was quite kind and recommended everything to me,” he told 14ymedio after finishing his sweet, a small caprice after several days in a hospital.

Accustomed to the shortages of state shops and the laziness of their employees, the people were thankful for the new place, revived under private management in an environment that took wings in the 90s, when young people and the LGBTI group began to frequent this area between the Malecón and 23rd Street, making it a meeting point of the capital.

The BimBom, which occupied the premises until the pandemic and the Ordering Task* finished off the city’s idleness, has found a successor that is made to the new measure of Havana: for the newly rich and tourists.

*Translator’s note The  Ordering Task is a collection of measures that included eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso (CUP) 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 a broad range of other measures targeted to different elements of the Cuban economy. 

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Rice from Uruguay for Santiago de Cuba, Rice of Unknown Origin for Havana

Hunger and sadness were palpable in the lost looks of people waiting in line to buy rice on Perez Street in Havana’s Luyanó district. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodriguez, 11 December 2023 — It’s Monday and, on the streets of Havana, no one is talking about anything but rice. An article in Cubadebate, a digital state-run news platform, announced that 25,000 tons (more than half a million fifty-kilogram bags) had been offloaded at the Guillermón Moncada port in Santiago de Cuba. The news was met with predictable eagerness despite the fact that Cubadebate reported the rice will not be available in stores for another two weeks.

Cuban broadcaster Canal Caribe also provided images of the delivery. It reported that distribution of the cargo, which will first be shipped to the five eastern provinces, “is also guaranteed for the rest of the country.” The label printed on the bags indicates the rice originated in Uruguay, from where the Eco Bushfire — a cargo ship registered in the Marshall Islands — set sail as 14ymedio was able to confirm through maritime geolocation logs.

With nearly half the month of December gone, many of the country’s bodegas (ration stores) have yet to receive their regular deliveries of rice, a basic staple of the Cuban diet.

Some of those that did manage to get it, like establishments in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado district, were open for business on Sunday, an indication of the level of consumer desperation. Of the list of rationed goods to which Cubans are theoretically entitled, rice is the most in-demand product. Delivery delays have been especially hard on families who cannot afford to pay free-market prices — more than 170 pesos in some places — for a pound of rice. continue reading

The label printed on the bags indicates the rice originated in Uruguay, from where the Eco Bushfire — a cargo ship registered in the Marshall Islands — set sail, as 14ymedio has confirmed. (Screen capture)

Customers at the ration store on Perez Street in Havana’s Luyanó district were in luck; the much sought-after staple had been delivered. Hunger and sadness were palpable in the lost looks of people waiting in line. However, many of them changed their minds once they saw the poor quality of this rice of unknown origin was, a far cry from the rice that Santiago de Cuba got. “It’s the kind they call ‘Indian’. It’s steamed, yellowish and doesn’t taste good,” complained a forty-something woman who was also upset because she was allowed to buy only three pounds per person instead of the usual seven pounds.

Those who cannot afford to buy unrationed goods find themselves in a critical situation in spite of the government’s efforts to calm the public mood. Last month, for example, the deputy minister of Domestic Commerce, Yosvani Pupo, appeared on national television to reassure viewers that end-of-year basic staples would, in fact, be available. At that point, it was already past November 15 and, like this month, rice deliveries were delayed.

Domestic production, as some provincial news outlets have indicated, is not and will not be enough to meet consumer demand anytime soon. With hopes pinned on exports, Cubans salivate at the sight of every cargo ship, like the one that arrived on Sunday.

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

A Poster from Cuba’s Jewish Community for the Hostages in Gaza Demands ‘Free Them’

Jewish cemetery in Guanabacoa. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Nelson Garcia/Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 4 December 4, 2023 — On the tombs of the two Jewish cemeteries of Guanabacoa there are no flowers, but rather stones. It is an ancient custom that has survived throughout the centuries and that represents the solidity of Jewish traditions in the world. The cemetery, several synagogues, a hostel, a kosher butcher’s shop and not a few family homes retain the imprint of the Jews in Havana, the capital of a country whose government is hostile to their cultural and religious homeland: Israel.

The 14ymedio tour of the Jewish map of Havana, where the majority of the one thousand Jews who have stayed on the Island are concentrated, in addition to small groups in Santa Clara and Cienfuegos, begins in its only kosher butchery, at number 708A Cuba Street.

The term “kosher” defines the food that, according to Jewish law, which has been practiced for several millennia, a Jew can eat. Pork and its derivatives are prohibited, for example, while beef, chicken and eggs are allowed. About 95% of the 15,000 members of Cuba’s Jewish community have left the country since 1959, almost all for the United States and Israel.

The difficulties in respecting that tradition are obvious in a country that is undersupplied, especially with meat. “The butcher shop opens once a month, without a fixed date, when the product arrives,” a worker from the Sephardic Center of Havana tells this newspaper. The meat is regulated, according to the number of Jews registered at the establishment. To consume it, it is necessary for a rabbi – the spiritual leader of the community – to certify that the meat meets the parameters of purity required by law. continue reading

The same source, in a community that is always suspicious of strangers, answers 14ymedio’s questions. In Cuba, he admits, the Jewish community has not had frontal attacks or felt watched, but the regime’s support for the Palestinians, and the terms it uses about Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel, which triggered an armed conflict on October 7, are not welcome.

At the entrance of the Center and also in the Bet Shalom synagogue, a large poster has been installed with the photos of the more than 240 hostages kidnapped in Gaza: “Free them. Help us bring them home!”

“There have been many posts against Jews on social networks, which have bothered us, and although none of them refer directly to the Cuban Jewish community, it is known that the Government has a lot to do with those publications. We are disappointed and worried,” he says.

If someone wants to buy meat at the kosher establishment, they must first prove that they are Jewish. The community investigates, and if it’s true, the process is not difficult. If the shop is closed, it’s also a matter of survival: secrecy prevents informants of the regime and serves as a filter against unwanted visitors, especially after the conflict broke out in Gaza.

Like the stones on the tombs or the traditional diet, the hamsa — a hand-shaped symbol that Arabs and Jews share — is an everyday part of Jewish culture. These designs decorate the paintings and cushions of the Chateau Blanc hostel, near the Zoo on 26th Avenue, in the Nuevo Vedado neighborhood. They signify good fortune, divine protection and prosperity. The Raquel hotel and its restaurant, Garden of Eden, also serve Jewish clientele in a spectacular building built at the beginning of the 20th century in Old Havana and now owned by the Gaesa military conglomerate, which means it appears on the black list of accommodations published by the United States in 2020.

Highly recommended by several Jewish tourism magazines, Chateau Blanc — described on its website as a “Kosher Boutique Hotel” — was founded in 2018 by a Cuban-American who grew up in the Havana Jewish community and also offers a kosher diet to anyone who requests it. The kitchen, served by a Jewish baker and chef, offers fish, milk and vegetables. “We do not provide beef and chicken, because a rabbi must give the go-ahead,” explains the manager. On the wall, next to the newspaper clippings that praise the hostel, a letter signed by an American rabbi assures that the place is “strictly kosher.”

After Hamas missiles fell on Israel, many rabbis advised Jews around the world to be cautious. If they wanted to wear the kippa – the small ritual hat that orthodox Jewish men wear – it was advisable to put a cap on top. Take care of yourself, don’t expose yourself, walk with caution. The advice is also good for Cuban Jews, who watched with concern although without surprise, the recent march in support of Hamas called by the Government .

In Guanabacoa, the two adjacent Jewish cemeteries – one for the Ashkenazim, Jews who emigrated from Central Europe, and another Sephardic, for Jews of Spanish descent – are a haven of peace for those who visit them. Everything there invites you not to forget, especially the three-meter-high monument that pays tribute to the six million Jews who died during the Holocaust.

Under the stone lie six soaps, made with human fat from those killed by the Nazis in the concentration camp of Chelmno, Poland. For Roberto, caretaker of the “Polish cemetery” (Ashkenazi), the place has a special symbolism. For years, he has seen hundreds of families come to pay their respects to the deceased, or to put them in “the hole,” as he calls the grave.

The burial process is also unusual, Roberto says. The bodies are washed in a special room, dressed in white and make seven stops before reaching the grave. Along with the well-known Havana synagogues – two in El Vedado and one in Old Havana – the cemeteries have deep meaning for the Jewish community. Luckily, says Roberto, “no one has started desecrating tombs,” although an incident was reported in October 2013 when it was discovered that five tombs were opened to steal bones, probably for religious rituals.

The grave of Cuban filmmaker Saúl Yelin, who died in 1977 – visited by the film director Steven Spielberg – and that of the Cuban writer Jaime Sarusky are there

In his years as a caretaker, Roberto has seen important personalities pass through the cemetery, where about 1,100 people are buried, the same number of Jews who presently live in Havana. The grave of the Cuban filmmaker Saúl Yelin, who died in 1977 – which was visited by the film director Steven Spielberg – and that of the Cuban writer Jaime Sarusky, buried with his family, are there.

The Communal Services attend to the cemetery and pay the caretaker his salary. The Jews of Havana have wanted to pay him for his work, but the Government does not allow it, Roberto regrets. However, some foreign guests sometimes bring him “help and gifts.” And he is grateful as if he were part of them, even though, he admits, he is not Jewish.

There are hundreds of stories in the cemetery – such as that of the young Isaac Bondar, who died in the Korean War in 1952, fighting with American troops – and Roberto knows them all. Every stone on the graves, without going any further, is a life and a story.

Although the Jewish community in Havana has known better times, it does not renounce – in the face of the ruling party’s hostility – its best values: memory, tradition and a character as firm as the stones of the “Polish cemetery.”

Translated by Regina Anavy 

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

San Lazaro, the Havana Street Where Residents Live in Permanent Fear of a Collapse

“What we need here is a ‘Caterpiller’ [wrecker],” said a neighbor close to the collapse this Thursday. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 30 November 2023 —  A flap of concrete and steel makes it difficult to exit through the door of the tenement located at 512 San Lázaro Street between Lealtad and Perseverancia, in Centro Habana. This Wednesday what everyone had been fearing for years happened: part of the upper balcony collapsed, leaving a trail of rubble and increasing the fear in which several families in the apartment building live. On a block where just remaining standing is an every day challenge for the buildings, residents know that the scene could be repeated in the surrounding homes.

The apathy, the salt air and the lack of resources of its residents have made this avenue, which connects Old Havana with the very steps of the University of Havana, an example of the already insurmountable architecture of the Cuban capital. Oblivious to the ongoing restoration of the historic center and somewhat far from the more modern neighborhood of El Vedado, the buildings on this artery that runs parallel to the sea are, clearly, unrecoverable.

“What we need here is a Caterpillar,” said a neighbor close to the collapse this Thursday. The man, over 70, considered that there are no “band-aids or warm cloths, this whole neighborhood has to be redone.” His reference to American heavy machinery is mainly due to “the steamroller that is needed to tear all this down,” a clear allusion to the re-foundation of San Leopoldo, the popular name of the area. continue reading

One balcony more or less seems like a small thing on a street on which only ruins remain, but this Wednesday’s collapse deeply marks the lives of the inhabitants of 512 San Lázaro

Although most of those who live in the neighborhood do not remember the pious saint who preferred to live as a poor person instead of enjoying his family wealth, it is enough to walk the streets that go from Belascoaín to Lealtad, crossing diagonally from San Lázaro to the nearby San Miguel, to realize that the residents of that grid have not chosen the misery that surrounds them, the unpainted walls, the long lines in the markets or, much less, the mountains of waste that cover every corner.

One balcony more or less seems like a small thing on a street on which only ruins remain, but this Wednesday’s collapse deeply marks the lives of the inhabitants of 512 San Lázaro. Probably, none of the residents of that lot will be able to sell their home to pay for emigration, or to exchange it for a better neighborhood even if it means paying money, let alone take a photo in front of the façade of their building or invite – with pride – some friends to a festive evening. Like so many homes around here, this one has been marked by ruin.

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

A Diminished Coppelia Reopens in Havana with Tiny, Bare-Minimum Scoops

In no time at all, the line of people waiting to get into Coppelia was several yards long. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 28 November 2023 – When it comes to ice cream and sweets, Cubans are true believers. On Tuesday, they lined up In front of Coppelia, Havana’s much-diminished “cathedral of ice cream,” which had been closed for several weeks. They had little reason to rejoice, however. The sluggish employees and poor service have been ridiculed by customers, who claim the only one thing that is back to normal is the long lines.

“There’s ice cream but no cookies,” an employee warns at Coppelia’s entrance. It has become common practice for the establishment’s staff to speak in negatives. When the closure was announced a few days ago, the explanation was equally concise: “There’s no ice cream, there’s no milk, there’s no sugar.

Customers have come up with an explanation for the staff’s lethargy. “They’ve spent so many days without work that they must have forgotten how to do it,” says one elderly woman in a loud voice, unconcerned whether the staff can hear her or not.

Customers come hoping to order the Palmero, an ice cream of slightly higher quality than the regular options, at a cost of 65 pesos a scoop. But anyone who manages to get past the “first circle” learns that, to enjoy it, she or he must first get a table at the Four Jewels, the closest thing Coppelia has to an exclusive seating area. continue reading

The staff is lethargic even though and several tables are empty. (14ymedio)

Those seated in the common area soon realize that their options are limited. The multi-scoop “mixed salad” is available but one customer complains that the only flavors she and her fellow customers have to choose from are vanilla and chocolate. As for the cookies — an accompaniement that goes well with the ice cream — she is out of luck. “They didn’t deliver any today; we’ll see about tomorrow,” says a waitress pessimistically.

“Tiny, bare-minimum scoops” says an elderly man, amazed at the staff’s ability to reduce the serving sizes. “More for them at the end of the day,” replies another.

At noon, students from nearby schools realize that the “cathedral” is open. The avalanche is unstoppable and the number of people in line triples in just a few minutes. The electronic payment terminals – made necessary by the government’s newly mandated digital banking regulations – are slow as evidenced by the long lines, which grow ever longer with every kilobyte the devices need to process.

Lines are not a problem in areas where customers must pay using foreign, hard-currency debit cards but people try to avoid digital banking transactions as much as they crave ice cream. When it finally hits the tongue, the palate immediately recognizes its mediocrity: “The same as always, neither good nor bad. But you have to kill your hunger.”

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