Cuba: ‘In Manzanillo Those Who Died From COVID-19 Were Buried in Mass Graves, up to 200 in a Single Day’

The San Francisco cemetery was too small and they had to expand it. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Matos, Manzanillo (Granma Province), 2 February 2024 — In the San Francisco cemetery complex, fifteen minutes by car from the municipal necropolis of Manzanillo (Granma), up to 200 dead were buried in a single day in mass graves during the worst time of the pandemic. Mobilized by order of the authorities, the gravediggers were unable to cope and had a clear instruction: three hours after death they had to remove the body.

The mounds, the large expanse of removed land and the precarious wooden crosses in the cemetery of San Francisco still attest to what happened in those days. “The cemetery was very small and they had to expand it. They had to prepare the area for the pandemic deaths,” one of the local employees explains to 14ymedio. “All the people buried there were from Manzanillo.”

“It was the hardest moment of my life,” says a former Manzanillo gravedigger, who remembers “as if it were yesterday” piling up the corpses. The situation was extreme. “In Manzanillo there was not, nor is there now, space for so many deaths,” he explains; hence, the leaders transferred several gravediggers to the rural community of San Francisco to take care of the mass burials. “I had been at work for many years and I hadn’t seen anything like it. A lot of people died.”

La tierra removida y las cruces de madera dan fe de lo que se vivió en la pandemia. (14ymedio)
The removed earth and wooden crosses attest to what was experienced during the pandemic. (14ymedio)

Carmen, a health worker who lost her mother a few days after she gave her “a bad cold” remembers how sudden the process was. “In the hospital they gave her the rapid test and then the PCR, and she tested positive. They took her up to a room, and I couldn’t accompany her. They would only give me information about her on the phone. I was desperate.” continue reading

The phone stopped ringing for several days, and Carmen, taking advantage of her contacts, moved heaven and earth to know what was happening with her mother. “I found out that she had been dead for three days and was buried in San Francisco. I wanted to die; they had deceived us, making us believe that she was alive. I never knew the exact place she was buried, and I was so traumatized that I prefer to remember my mother alive. I’ve never been to San Francisco to see her again.”

“I never knew the exact place where she was buried, and I was so traumatized that I prefer to remember my mother alive. I have never been to San Francisco to see her again”

Returning to “normality” since the pandemic was not easy, the former gravedigger says. The cemetery of Manzanillo – his former place of work – where several heroes and mambises of the stature of Bartolomé Masó and Francisco de Céspedes are buried, is in deplorable condition.

“There are more than 1,000 tombs here,” calculates the former employee, many of them with historic value and artistically worked. The general tone of the cemetery, however, is not of the old Republican tombs, with marble statues, angels and crosses, but of the cement niches between the weeds and the burned grass.

The former gravedigger regrets that the staff of the cemetery cannot do more, but with “a little more than 2,000 pesos” – the salary paid by the administration – the payroll is now reduced to two workers, of the 12 who, ideally, would be taking care of a historic cemetery like that of Manzanillo.

Las palabras “Te extraño”, un asterisco para el nacimiento y una cruz para la muerte, raspados sobre el cemento, son el único testimonio que queda de quienes lucharon por Castro. (14ymedio)
The words “Te extraño” [I miss you], an asterisk for birth and a cross for death, scratched into the cement, are the only remaining testimony of those who fought for Castro. (14ymedio)
Not even the Pantheon of the Association of Fighters – the Cubans who joined Fidel Castro’s militias in the municipality – receives attention. Once a year, on October 28, the local authorities pay tribute to Camilo Cienfuegos, who disappeared that day, and in passing they remember the former members of the insurgent army. The occasion is called Operation Tribute. The niches, however, have nothing heroic about them.

Drawn by hand and with paint of any color, the epitaphs of the “dead of the Revolution” are written on sickly tombstones, which barely support the structure of the niche. The words “I miss you”, an asterisk to mark the birth and a cross to indicate death, scraped on the cement, are the only remaining testimony of those who fought for Castro.

“Here are our loved ones. It’s disrespectful,” complains a woman who was visiting and cleaning her family crypt, besieged by grass and enveloped in a plague of smoke. Next to the pantheon are two destroyed coffins on the grass – with rags inside – that have been set on fire. “We have to set fire to the grass because we can’t weed it. There’s too much,” explains the employee.

Dos ataúdes destrozados sobre la hierba, con trapos dentro, a los que prendieron fuego. (14ymedio)
Two coffins smashed on the grass, with rags inside, which were set on fire. (14ymedio)

“There are self-employed in Manzanillo who can be hired for 500 pesos a month to clean the graves,” explains the former gravedigger. “But it is generally the relatives who have to take care of them. The gravediggers don’t have time for anything. The Pantheon of the Fighters, for example, is completely unattended, and that is not their fault. The area should be treated better.”

The situation of the Manzanillo necropolis has reached the official press, which last week urged the authorities to take care of it. Juventud Rebelde claimed it is a place of absolute “patriotic richness, with art deco, inscriptions and an eclectic style; tombs with marble, bronze, iron, cement and glazed tiles,” and an important “decorative style” with numerous sculptures made in Spain, Italy, France and the United States. At the end of the list, the newspaper called on the leaders to raise the miserable salary of the employees.

The former gravedigger knows the place well. In his opinion, the workers have done too much on their own. The niches were built to alleviate the lack of space, where there are often “more than 100 people buried.” The crypts, built with the worst quality materials, tend to break.

“There was a case of disastrous collapses, and we found ourselves in the painful situation of having to collect the human remains,” remembers the former gravedigger. “We did it with a lot of respect, but sometimes we didn’t even know who was who, and we had to put them in other graves.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

The State Buys Fish from Us for One Peso per Pound, Individuals Pay Two Hundred

Although fishing is his great passion, Chucho does not go out to sea as much as before. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Matos, Manzanillo (Cuba), 28 January 2024 —  As he talks, Chucho likes to “pass his hand” over the boat he uses to go fishing. A crust of salt disfigures its sides, the hull is patched with pieces of aluminum and it is not uncommon for the engine to stall while at sea. It is a hard life and it pays little, but he and the other fishermen in Manzanillo, a town in Granma province, have a motto: “We cannot stay on land.”

At sea there is food, even though it is hard get. On land – besides the problems of living in one of the poorest towns in Cuba — they wait for the inspectors, the fishing industry bureaucrats and the local townspeople, who come to the beach on bicycle, hoping to buy fish directly from the people who catch them.

Buying and selling on the informal market, and making deals with private business owners, while avoiding raids by inspectors are the only ways to survive. “When you do business with the state, they always win, explains Chucho. “The Fishing Combine pays us less than 2,000 pesos for every ton of fish we catch. And one ton is 2,200 pounds,” he calculates. “It’s a total rip-off. The state pays less than a peso for each fish.”

“We’re forced to sell to private individuals, who pay us 200 pesos a pound. Then they resell it.” There are those who manage to make a good deal with a small business owner who buys the entire catch from them. “It’s a good way to get the merchandise out quickly,” admits Chucho, but delivering it requires speed and agility. And sometimes, he complains, the boats’ puny continue reading

engines do not cooperate.

“Your paperwork has to be up to date at all times because, on the coast, the inspectors issue harsh fines over the ’engine issue,’ but we are very careful.” The engine issue is the Achilles heel of the fishing industry in a country on edge due to the authorities’ obsession with controlling “illegal” departures. Although located on the southern coast, Manzanillo is not immune from bureaucratic rigidity and surveillance. “We fish up to eight kilometers from the coast,” says Chucho. That is the boundary of the official preserve, though he adds, “The border guards have never put limits on us.”

Without hiding his passion for his craft, Chucho describes his technique. “We fish with nets that we make ourselves. We catch mackerel and mullet while the smaller fish slip through the net. We throw the line and catch fish up to 80 or 100 pounds. We also fish for Spanish mackerel, sawfish, redfish and snook.”

There are boats that have been sitting here for years because their owners do not have the money to fix them

Chucho is speaking next to a strip of beach with unused boats lying amid mangroves and palms. “There are boats that have been sitting here for years because their owners do not have the money to fix them. It doesn’t matter that we are in love with the sea. When something breaks, we have to figure out how to fix it.”

Each fisherman pays a security guard forty pesos a month to keep an eye on their boats. “He is a serious person,” explains Chucho. Trust is essential and, after working at it for several years, the man has earned it. “It’s been years since we had any theft here and he knows his job is secure.”

Despite the obstacles the state puts in their way and the challenges of the profession, Manzanillo benefits from the fisherman. Several establishments in the town carry signs offering pompano and mackerel, both for 260 pesos a pound.

As it has for centuries, the profession has other cards to play: luck and the tricks a fisherman has learned out on the ocean. “The sea is very hard. You know when to leave but you never know if you’re going to see your family again. We have learned to live the real danger of not returning,” says Chucho.

Others spend their whole lives working. Their hands are worn from abrasions and salt water. “After all these years, I haven’t even been able to build even a nice little cabin,” complains Chucho. Experience has taught him not to trust the promises of officials. Eating, supporting one’s family, surviving. Those are the only things that matter in Manzanillo.

“They, the state, have their fleets but we, the little guys, have to keep plugging along. The way things are — with an engine that costs an arm and a leg, and all the juggling we have to do with the paperwork — sometimes we’d rather just leave the boats on land and not go out.” The boat cemetery on the beach is a fitting testament to that final sense of resignation. Lying on the sand, with no one to “pass their hands” over them, the boats languish like the elegant colonial mansions in the old town center, ruins created by apathetic officials of a city whose glory days were made possible by its port.

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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.

‘Bosses at State-Owned Businesses Are Living on Another Planet’, Cubans Complain

Manzanillo’s Municipal Department of Labor, where a job fair was held on Monday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Matos, Manzanillo (Granma province), 23 January 2024 — “No private companies were invited? We’re wasting our time,” one young man was heard saying as he left the “job fair” held on Monday at the local headquarters of the Ministry of Labor in this provincial port city in Granma province. Given a choice between accepting a position at a state company or remaining unemployed, the local attendees had only to listen to the job descriptions to realize the potential employers had nothing to offer them.

They had gone to the event — yet another attempt to rejuvenate the public sector workforce, which has been decimated by the loss of personel to the private sector or to emigration – with the hope that the owner of some MSME (micro, small or medium sized business) or self-employed individual might hire them. The focus, however, was unmistakably on the public sector as confirmed by the fact that the event was held at the ministry’s Manzanillo offices.

Instead of talking about salaries, Daniel Rivero, a specialist at the Municipal Department of Labor, preferred instead to focus on the real “benefits” of working for the state: job security, training sessions and community improvement. Still, there was no disguising the terrible working conditions and low pay at places like Manzanillo’s Azcuba subsidiary or the Paquito Rosales tobacco factory. Not to mention the salary — the “tempting” figure of about 6,000 pesos per month — that was being offered to those willing to join a Matanzas construction brigade. Meanwhile, monthly pay for a night watchman was 2,200 pesos while that of an accountant was 3,968. Last on the list were farm workers, who were being asked to toil away for a mere 2,500 pesos a month. continue reading

“I am not working for the state just so I can be poor,” murmured one of the attendees, who was wearing pullover with an American flag emblazoned on it. “I just came for the hell of it. The openings are for night watchmen and cigar rollers, both with ridiculous salaries,” claimed another as he was leaving the building.

The public sector is experiencing an unprecedented human resources crisis and needs workers but, unfortunately, has very little to offer them

At this rate, no one is going to get a job,” predicted another participant when told that no independent entrepreneurs or MSME managers would be attending the fair. The most accurate summation of the day was provided by another young man when he learned who the majority of the participants were: “The heads of state companies live on another planet.”

There is one thing, however, that was clear from Rivero’s explanation: the public sector is experiencing an unprecedented human resources crisis and needs workers. Unfortunately, it has very little to offer them. One example can be found in Guantanamo, the neighboring province, where the government has sponsored several job fairs in order to demonstrate the purported success of this initiative.

“Multitudinous… great opportunity… a festival of culture… knowledge.. labor law.” The state media was effusive in its praise of the Guantanamo job fair, which was held on December 8. But behind the accolades hid an alarming number: 2,200 job openings.

To convince attendees to sign on, job fair organizers had to mobilize 518 potential employers, or company leaders, from across the province. They did manage to somewhat “reduce the territory’s unemployment rate,” though state media avoided revealing the number of employement contracts signed during the event. The minister of labor herself, Martha Elena Feitó, announced the job fair on her X account, applauding its results.

Only those who are desperately looking for a job come to listen to what the state has to say on labor issues

It seems job fairs like this are here to stay, at least for the next few months. Companies’ social media pages, state television and government press outlets announce a new one every week in an effort to save the public employment sector. What all of them have in common are low salaries and indifferent attendees.

14ymedio has attended several of these fairs throughout the country. Typically, potential employers wait around until, at the last moment, some straggler shows up and saves the day by accepting a job offer. Only retirees who need to return to the workforce, or young people who are desperately looking a job, come to listen to what the state has to say on labor issues.

Furthermore, all information is conveyed by word of mouth. There is no brochure or copy of a standard contract to clarify the situation in which the future worker will find himself. Blindly, with the vague promise of a salary increase, a few attendees showed up at a job fair at Havana’s Rubén Martinez Villena high school last Saturday. They left no better off than when they arrived. The current salary for a teacher, approximately 5,600 pesos a month, scared off most of the candidates.

It was the same situation last Thursday at the headquarters of the Havana Electric Company. The most attractive salaries went to linemen – a maximum of 12,000 pesos – but the positions were quickly filled. The pay for accountants, inspectors, economists, dispatchers and meter readers — workers whose stampede to the private sector has been unstoppable — did not exceed four figures.

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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.

In Manzanillo, the Windows of Hard Currency Stores Are Covered Against Stones

In the Primavera store, on Martí Street, belonging to the State Panamericana chain, the traces of these attacks can be seen. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Matos, Manzanillo, January 16, 2024 – The authorities of Manzanillo, in the province of Granma, have covered the windows of the stores in freely convertible currency (MLC). In recent months, stone attacks on these shops have increased, because of the population’s discontent.

Covering the windows is a temporary measure that seeks to protect the premises and prevent damage to State property, official sources say. In the Primavera store, on Martí Street, belonging to the State Panamericana chain, the traces of these attacks can be seen: a piece of wood covers a broken window.

Now, with part of the outside light cut off, the premises look smaller and darker. This Tuesday, the customers of the El Dandy store, its windows covered by metal plates, walked around in semi-darkness in the rows of water dispensers and Chinese Cheerday beer, very little valued by consumers but one of the most abundant brands in those stores. continue reading

“The covered windows in the MLC stores show how afraid they are, because they know that at any moment a stone might kill them”

One of the street vendors who spent the night in the doorway of the El Dandy store, on Loynaz Street at Martí said “the covered windows in the MLC stores show how afraid they are, because they know that at any moment a stone might kill them.”

In addition to the violent incidents, foreign exchange establishments have seen another phenomenon proliferate: the lack of customers. What at first — when in July 2020 they approved the sale of food and other basic necessities — were corridors full and shiny with imported products, today are empty shelves, with a gloomy atmosphere. “People don’t have dollars, and we get our salaries in pesos, not in MLC [freely convertible money],” a neighbor tells 14ymedio.

“The covered windows in the  MLC stores shows how afraid they are,” said a street vendor in the doorway of El Dandy. (14ymedio)

People’s lack of money, explains another resident of Manzanillo, is the main reason for the failure of these stores. “Salaries are not enough to cover basic needs and much less to allow superfluous expenses in stores of this type,” the man says. “I prefer to spend the little I have in new ventures, not in State stores.”

However, it is not only the lack of resources that justifies the few customers of foreign exchange stores and their restricted offers. It is enough to immerse yourself in some Facebook groups in Manzanillo to find some of the merchandise that informal merchants have bought in these places and then resell. Flat-screen TVs, freezers of various capacities, washing machines, kitchens and refrigerators crowd the ads.

This Tuesday, the customers walked around in semi-darkness in the El Dandy store, whose windows are covered by metal plates. (14ymedio)

The small packages of cookies “have run out in the stores, but here they have large quantities,” complained a netizen in one of those virtual markets. The response of the group’s administrator was vehement: “Yes, señora, but this is for people who don’t have MLC; it’s for those who only have pesos. They have to buy with us because the State doesn’t sell them any of this.”

The skillful merchant failed to add a detail. Those buying and selling groups on Facebook don’t have to protect themselves from stones. In addition, the products are displayed in full light and color, their windows are the immensity of the internet, and their main customer is the Cuban in need and without foreign currency.

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 Gasoline Set to Rise to 200 Pesos a Liter, 250 for Diesel, while Service Stations Await the Go-Ahead

Gas pumps still display the old prices while a filling station manager in Camajuaní awaits instructions from his bosses before charging the new prices.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Espinosa and Juan Matos, Camajuaní/Manzanillo | 2 January 2024 — The impacts of the new macro-economic readjustment measures that the government announced at the end of the year have yet to be felt at Cuban filling stations. During visits to several of the island’s gas stations, reporters from 14ymedio found that employees of the Cuba Petroleum Union (Cupet) were still waiting for instructions from officials, who have ordered them not to allow customers to take photos of the new prices or the facilities.

That is the case at a filling station in Camajuaní, a village on the outskirts of Villa Clara. Though the pumps still display the old prices, a company source has confirmed that the cost of a liter of gas will rise from 25 to 250 pesos. The station’s  manager is still waiting for confirmation from his bosses before charging the new price. When asked about sales to tourists, he says he is unable to answer the question but refers the reporter to the town’s other gas station, in the direction of Cayería Norte, which is already operating under the new guidelines.

What is clear to the employee is the ban by the local government and police on taking photos of gas pumps. “The DTI (Directorate of Intelligence) chief was just here to pass along that information,” says the worker, casting a sideways glance at the police station located a few yards from the gas station.

The situation is much the same at filling stations in Manzanillo. “Prices haven’t changed but there’s still not much gas to be had,” explains a Cupet employee to a driver at the Celia Sanchez Hospital’s gas station. continue reading

Meanwhile, the gas station at the corner of Boyeros and Ayestarán, one of the most important in Havana, had not a single car parked next to its pumps. In addition to the strange absence of a line at the establishment is the lack of employees to answer customers’ questions and concerns. Expectations are that the Cuban government’s economic readjustment plan will be devastating for Cubans but we won’t know until the holiday lull is over.

 

During visits to several of the island’s gas stations, reporters from 14ymedio found that employees of the Cuba-Petroleum Union (Cupet) were still waiting for instructions from the officials before implementing the new 2024 fuel prices.   — 14ymedio 

In yet another change in economic direction, Havana announced a series of austerity measures that include a sharp increase in prices for fuel, electricity, water and food.

Government leaders feel some urgency to implement the plan, which they have stressed is not intended to further impoverish the population but rather to make those who spend the most pay more. It is keeping Cubans in suspense, worrying that the package will significantly affect their daily cost of living.

One Cuban economist who has criticized the plan is Pedro Monreal, who claims, “An economic package does not necessarily have to be neo-liberal to have affects similar to those of a traditional neo-liberal package” 

Prime Minister Manuel Marrero likened past several years of crisis to  a “war economy,” which he claimed is caused by “waste.” This stands in contrast to the dozens of ships loaded with fuel that were seen docked in the nation’s ports in 2023.

Since the plan was announced, the government of Miguel Díaz-Canel has taken pains to point out that it is neither a “neo-liberal* package” nor a “crash program.” This claim, which has been a constant refrain in recent days, is in response to accusations from some in the opposition that these measures are similar to those adopted in recent decades by other, mostly right-wing, governments in the region, including that of the Argentina’s new libertarian president, Javier Milei.

One Cuban economist who has criticized the plan is Pedro Monreal, who claims, “An economic package does not necessarily have to be neo-liberal* to have affects similar to those of a traditional neo-liberal package.”

*Translator’s note: A term used to refer to market-oriented reform policies such as eliminating price controls, deregulating capital markets, lowering trade barriers and reducing — especially through privatization and austerity — state influence in the economy. (Source: Wikipedia)

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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.

Cubans in Manzanillo Try to Collect the Garbage Themselves Due to the Apathy of the Authorities

Without trucks, the wave of garbage threatens to become a tsunami. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Matos, Manzanillo (Granma Province), 31 December 2023 — It has been so many days since no one has collected the garbage on the streets of Manzanillo that the mountains of waste already have a uniform, ocher color. Due to the effect of the salt air and the indifference of the Community Services, the stench is ubiquitous in this coastal municipality in the province of Granma. The trucks that should clean the town are paralyzed due to lack of fuel or lie in a kind of scrap metal cemetery, while the landfills have become a den for countless vermin. The situation, resident agree, has reached an intolerable point.

“The trucks piled up in a Communal Services parking lot give the measure of how serious this is,” Niurka, a manzanillera, tells 14ymedio in front of her house where guano, cans and cardboard boxes accumulate. She’s right. The rusty chassis of buses and the trash collection vehicles are reminiscent of large insects, lined up with martial rigor. In front of this scrapyard is a sign: “I will be another soldier with the people. Fidel.”

The logic of the dump, analyzes Niurka, is simple: “without fuel the trucks will not start, and without trucks, the wave of garbage threatens to become a tsunami that covers everything.” Currently, only one vehicle works to collect waste from the second most important city in Granma.

The scavengers do not lose sight of their objective, but they do not dare to go down until a “diver” examines the piles of waste. (14ymedio)

Manzanillo, a town that has always been green and rural, sees the crushing effects of dirt on nature, the woman observes. Arid fields, stagnant streams, roads blackened by liquid waste, mosquito breeding grounds – with the consequent “package” of diseases they transmit – not to mention the rats continue reading

that already roam around the town at their liesure, Niurka enumerates.

Not only do the animals “eat” the garbage, but the poorest Manzanilleros do as well says Jorge, a 57-year-old retiree who lives near the Comunales parking lot, speaking to this newspaper. Between mice and cockroaches, many “dive” in the landfill looking for food scraps, he adds.

Despair and hunger eclipse any scruples, and what was previously exclusive to Havana or other highly populated cities on the Island, is now common even in the most humble hamlets. “Everything depends on the Government’s management,” Jorge criticizes. “If a realistic goal is set to solve the problem, a contingency plan, this could begin to be resolved,” he says, optimistically.

The State continues to pay for the scrapyard’s custodians, who sit there for eight hours “doing nothing,” Jorge emphasizes. “That’s corruption. Why don’t they use that money to pay for gas and pick up trash?”

In front of the scrapyard is a poster with a quote from Fidel: “I will be another soldier with the people.”

Everything has been left in the hands of the residents, who in some neighborhoods, like Nuevo Manzanillo, work on collecting the trash on their own. But the solution is limited, the retiree acknowledges. In the long run, a large-scale, organized and systematic mechanism will be needed to control the garbage dumps. “That day has not come,” he says. In another neighborhood, once called “Golden” for its opulence, neighbors make jokes about how indisputable the victory of garbage has been.

Meanwhile, the plague and unhealthiness are on the rise. The landfills “gain in stability and organization,” Jorge jokes, citing the weather report. Above a landfill near the parking lot – located not far from the Guacanayabo hotel – the man sees a group of turkey vultures flying over. The scavengers do not lose sight of their objective, but they do not dare to go down to examine the piles of waste until a “diver” leaves. At the moment, says Jorge, “the garbage dump is occupied.”

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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.

Manzanillo Cuba Is Without Water, With a Deteriorated Aqueduct and a Single Water Truck That Circulates Through Its Streets

If the water truck is not sent by Communal Services but must be paid for by the families themselves, it is not uncommon for a single 55-gallon tank to cost 400 pesos. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Matos, Manzanillo (Granma province) | December 27, 2023 — When the families of Manzanillo, in the province of Granma, see a water truck parked on the corner of any neighborhood, the line takes only a few minutes to form. With a sudden drought, which compromises all the lines of production and daily life, arriving first – gallon container or bucket in hand – is not a matter of well-being or comfort, but of survival.

Even the streets of Manzanillo are eloquent about the water shortage. Dusty and yellow, when a pipa [water truck] spills a little water on the pavement, the dogs rush to lap up the liquid. If the water truck is not sent by Communal Services but must be paid by the families themselves, it is not uncommon for a single 55-gallon tank to cost 400 pesos*. At the end of the day, the business owner makes a good profit, and demand is increasing.

The lack of supply is inversely proportional to the price of products in the municipality, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables. In a province with many farmers, the scarcity of resources has skyrocketed the price of a pound of beans to 500 pesos, a pound of rice to 150 pesos and that of pork – for whose rearing and hygiene water is indispensable – to 450. The work that is done so that an arid and battered land bears fruit, say the farmers, is titanic, although it cannot be expressed in numbers. continue reading

Nature has also begun to take its toll on the people of Manzanillo, whose authorities have been neglecting the province’s hydraulic infrastructure for decades. Last April, as a desperate measure to achieve the “sanitation” of dry areas such as Manzanillo, Deputy Prime Minister Inés María Chapman accepted from the hands of the Chinese ambassador to Havana, Ma Hui, a donation of 449 pieces of aqueduct and sewer system equipment.

Although the equipment – whose cost was 27.8 million dollars – was destined for the entire Island, the municipality of Granma topped the list of potential beneficiaries of the project, which included 93 water trucks, 60 unclogging trucks with high-pressure hoses and tools to repair leaks.

A pocos pasos de ahí, un tramo de acera en derrumbe da la medida de la insalubridad en el municipio y el estado de su red hidráulica. (14ymedio)
A few steps away, a section of collapsed sidewalk gives the measure of the unhealthiness in the municipality and the state of its hydraulic network. (14ymedio)

Of the formidable investment, as announced by the official media at the time, little actually reached Manzanillo, through whose avenues a single water truck was circulating this week. With hats and shirts – the sun of eastern Cuba does not give respite even in December – the neighbors get in line with wheelbarrows, jars and cans. Although there are young people in line, those who have the time and patience to wait their turn for several hours, often having traveled great distances, are the elderly, housewives and even children.

A few steps away, a collapsed stretch of sidewalk gives the measure of the unhealthiness in the municipality and the state of its hydraulic network. From a stagnant puddle full of garbage emerges, patched, one of the pipes that transport the town’s water, when there is some. The earth-colored liquid arrives in homes, and any precautions, such as boiling or chlorinating, are few.

Fainting or fatigue of the elderly who, poorly fed, carry a bucket to their homes is not uncommon. But there is no remedy: no one knows when the water truck will pass again, and they need to carry as much as possible. The free distribution points, opened by the Government in the vulnerable communities of Manzanillo, are not always supplied.

Although the entire Island faces the same problem of deterioration of its aqueducts and sewers, the east of the country has been especially affected by the drought. The province that has generated the most headlines has been Las Tunas, whose governor had to be held accountable last Friday to Parliament for the water crisis in municipalities that no longer know how to ask the Government for help.

The situation, according to the official press, has reached a “critical point,” in particular due to the extreme deterioration of pumping equipment. The local authorities, who depend on the “directions” from Havana, said that they could only make “patches” to the devices, which “can break at any time.”

Despair due to the lack of water reaches all parts of the eastern provinces, from the most populated cities such as Santiago de Cuba and Holguín, to the most humble hamlets of Guantánamo and Granma. Unable to solve the problem, the authorities call, of course, for “solidarity among neighbors”: “The situation is difficult, and no one can be certain. If you have a well, provide water to your neighbor, and if you have a cistern, save,” was the empty advice, of a manager of Aqueducts and Sewerage in Las Tunas.

*Translator’s note: Figures for December 2023: The minimum pension in Cuba stands at 1,528 pesos per month; that is, less than 60 euros, and the minimum wage at 2,100 (80 euros).

Translated by Regina Anavy 

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