The Lack of Electricity Paralyzes Businesses and Life in Matanzas, Cuba

Small businesses dedicated to the food trade are others are affected, and the annoyance of their owners who, in addition to income, lose part of their merchandise, is increasing .

Products that need to be refrigerated lose quality in the absence of electricity / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Julio César Contreras, Matanzas, 14 May 2024 — Aurelio has not been able to serve any customers this Tuesday in his cell phone repair shop in Matanzas. The constant blackouts, especially in the part of the city where he works, affect his business, which depends almost entirely on electricity. The situation has forced him to give, for several days, the same response to his clients: “I have a solution for your phone. What I don’t have is electricity.”

“I live in Pueblo Nuevo, near the bus terminal, and I have to come to Allende to do my job. After an early morning with a blackout at home, isn’t it easy to get here and find the same situation?” the 52-year-old man from Matanzas, whose power in his workshop has been turned off again since 7:00 am, tells this newspaper.

In the middle of the darkness of the night, and in a blackout, only a cafeteria can provide service with its own power plant / 14ymedio

His business, Aurelio says, is not “even remotely” the only one that suffers losses due to power outages. “Even state-run businesses are struggling.” A few days ago, the man from Matanzas went to the Bellamar state pizzeria, located a few blocks from his workshop, to look for some lunch. The place was in blackout and they had not been able to prepare any dishes. Asked if it was possible to return in a couple of hours, the waitress’s response – with a smile – was forceful: “You can come back whenever you want, but since we don’t know how long the blackout will be, we’re leaving.”

The MSMEs [micro, small and medium-size private enterprises] dedicated to the food trade, especially those that need refrigeration, are also affected, and the annoyance of their owners , who in addition to income, lose part of their merchandise, is increasing. “Here we use a coffee maker, toaster, oven… Everything is electrified. With the constant blackouts, it is difficult to maintain the ice cream and cold products with the necessary quality,” the owner of a cafeteria in the Iglesias neighborhood explains to 14ymedio. continue reading

When water cannot be pumped up to the rooftop tanks due to lack of electricity, the establishments’ offerings are affected / 14ymedio

“I have a friend whose MSME is mainly dedicated to selling chicken, and this week he had to empty an entire refrigerator that already had flies because the meat had spoiled,” he says. Compared to how demanding the State is with individuals, he laments, “the commitment is little.” “Every month I have to make a payment for my license, whether I sell anything or not. And if the inspectors show up, they want to charge me a fine for anything. Meanwhile, I am losing money and products go down the drain,” he complains.

The blackouts affect even the sectors most favored by the regime, such as tourism, which has one of its most important enclaves in Varadero. The hotels may not have the power cut off, but when the buses that transport workers come to refuel and there is no fuel at the service center, an operation that should take a few minutes ends up becoming a cumbersome procedure that takes long hours.

A cellphone repair shop with service turned off due to lack of electricity / 14ymedio

“Yesterday I was here until 7:00 pm and I couldn’t refuel because there was no electricity service and, therefore, the magnetic card could not be swiped. Today, the same. “I decided to wait a while, but if the power doesn’t come on…” says one of the disappointed drivers. The same thing happens with tourists who rent vehicles and when they arrive in the city find “no gas, no food, no anything.”

The chain of services affected by the blackouts, which, according to several residents of Matanzas, can exceed eight hours, is incalculable. “If there is no electricity, you cannot withdraw money from the bank, without money there is no food or transportation, much less energy to face the same situation every day. The list goes on and you come to see you can’t do anything because it is an essential service,” Aurelio grumbles.

The buses pile up, waiting for supplies to refuel / 14ymedio

The only place where there is no lack of electricity, explains the man from Matanzas, is in the La Marina neighborhood, where popular protests have occurred. In the rest of the city, “it doesn’t matter if it’s in an Etecsa branch [state telecommunications company], in the bank, in the law firm or in a store, wherever you go, there is a blackout.”

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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.

New Trash Dumps and Puddles Like Lakes, the Hygiene Situation in Matanzas, Cuba

“Sometimes plastic bags and papers fly to my door, and the smell is intolerabl, especially at night”

Calle Medio is one of the most central streets in the city / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Julio César Contreras, Matanzas, 10 May 2024 — He took the job to “survive,” but Fernando strives to make Calle Medio, in Matanzas, look impeccable by the end of the day. At 73, he still gets up at dawn and gathers strength to pick up trash from Monday to Sunday in the city centre. His tools: a worn broom and millenary gloves; his mission: to sweep, as much as he is physically able to, all the garbage that piles up in the city.

“If you want to know what the hygienic situation is, all you have to do is walk through Matanzas,” says the sweeper to this newspaper, aware that the view he promises is not pleasant. “Right there is a ‘trash dump’ in the middle of the street that can be compared to a swimming pool, but fixing that is out of my reach.”

According to the man from Matanzas, the working conditions offered by Communal Services are not acceptable at all. “We have to make do with old brooms and dustbins. It is not nice to say it, but they demand a lot from us and we are given very little,” he reflects. To top it off, the job he got with the idea of “shoring up” the insufficient pension he receives, barely earns him another 2,500 pesos per month which is not enough for much. continue reading

“I don’t know what we’re going to do if this ends up in a disease or a plague of rats

Fernando is known on Calle Medio, one of the most central streets in the city, where he often sweeps. “This area is quite clean, but other more distant streets, especially in residential neighborhoods, are not as lucky.”

Alina, a housewife living in the Peñas Altas neighborhood, has been complaining to the authorities for weeks about a trash dump that emerged at the corner of her house. “The People’s Power delegate talks and talks, but he doesn’t solve anything and the garbage truck sometimes goes weeks without coming, so I can’t count on that.”

The trash dump of “titanic proportions” has begun to disrupt her daily life. “Sometimes plastic bags and papers fly to my door, and the smell is intolerable, especially at night,” she explains. Neighbors are also unhappy with the situation, “but many have gotten used to it and now it is the neighborhood’s garbage dump, from construction debris to food waste, garbage and junk end up there, then the dumpster divers get them.” However, there is a thought that worries Alina more than the smell and dirt: “I don’t know what we are going to do if this ends up in a disease or a plague of rats.”

In the city’s lower elevation neighborhoods, where water accumulates when it rains and sewers rarely do their job, residents notice the appearance of several gigantic puddles on street corners. Félix, a retired officer of the Ministry of the Interior, suffers this phenomenon first-hand in La Marina neighborhood, where he resides. “When it rains just a little bit, so much water accumulates in front of my house, that I already talk about lakes and not puddles. Sometimes we have to wait more than an hour after the rain to be able to leave and, if then some days go by without rain, that stagnant water becomes green and stinking,” he said.

The residents of Matanzas sometimes have to wait several hours for the stagnant water to recede before they can go out / 14ymedio

Felix doesn’t just sit back and watch, and says that on several occasions he has gone to the authorities to report the problem. “I have gone to the Government and the Party to raise the complaint about what is happening. They always tell me that they are going to create a task force to analyze the case. You don’t have to be an expert to know what it takes. The truth is that they do nothing. And then do not express your opinion, because they accuse you of being a counterrevolutionary,” he complains.

At the end of the street, the same puddle that robs Felix of his sleep merges with water from a broken ditch. “I have seen with my own eyes how excrement circulates from one side to the other without anyone caring,” says Carmen who, from the other shore, shares her neighbor’s concern. Her disappointment with the response given to her by the authorities is also evident. “They always tell us that there are no resources, that they are studying the issue, that the blockade* does not allow [a solution]. In short, that they are not going to do anything and that we must solve it ourselves if we can and want to. ”

The dissatisfaction of people in Matanzas with hygiene in the city, once an example of a clean city, extends to other services, such as the scarcity of garbage bins in central areas, the reluctance to hire – as in other provinces – truck drivers and individuals who support the collection of waste, or the hiring of more sweepers like Fernando.

Likewise, with the containers overflowing and the few streets he can cover in one day, the old collector knows that there is very little he can do to prevent the garbage from taking possession of the city once and for all .

Translator’s note: There is, in fact, no US ‘blockade’ on Cuba, but this continues to be the term the Cuban government prefers to apply to the ongoing US embargo. During the Cuban Missile Crisis the US ordered a Naval blockade (which it called a ‘quarantine’) on Cuba in 1962, between 22 October and 20 November of that year. The blockade was lifted when Russia agreed to remove its nuclear missiles from the Island. The embargo had been imposed earlier in the same year in February, and although modified from time to time, it is still in force.

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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 Matanzas, Cuba, the ATMs Are Like People: Without Money

In addition to the limited availability of cash, customers complain about the long hours of waiting, not understanding the working hours, fatigue and hunger

The ATM of the Banco Popular de Ahorro on Medio Street does not always have cash / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Julio César Contreras, Matanzas, May 5, 2024 — Getting up early in the morning, making a coffee and leaving for the Banco Popular de Ahorro on Calle Medio, in Matanzas, has become a routine that Magda repeats between three and four times a month. Before 5:00 am, the 47-year-old is already at the branch standing in line to withdraw money from the ATM. The entity, however, does not open its doors until three and a half hours later.

“When I have to come to withdraw money I always arrive very early, but it doesn’t matter when I get up, there are always people there: coleros* [people being paid to stand in line for someone else] or people who are willing to wait from earlier,” Magda tells 14ymedio. “I immediately sit on the stairs and wait.”

Magda lives near the bank, but customers from several miles away walk to that branch from, for example, Peñas Altas. As she explains, arriving early does not guarantee that she can withdraw what she wants. “When the bank opens, the coleros have already left and those who hired them arrive – sometimes more than one – and replace them. By the time you arrive, the number of people in front of you has doubled,” she says. “The other thing is that this bank doesn’t always have money and coming here is a game of chance.” continue reading

ATM located on Contreras Street, belonging to the Banco Popular de Ahorro. Sometimes, several days pass without it delivering cash / 14ymedio

At 8:30 am a branch worker opens the doors to the anxious crowd and repeats his speech of every morning: “Soon money will be put in the ATM; each customer will be able to extract only 10,000 pesos and insert a maximum of two cards. Keep the line organized,” he warns.

With the wait for the money, the discomfort begins. “None of those people were here at 7:00 am, when I arrived,” a woman complains. “Oh, daughter, don’t you realize that that man made a line for them? Everything here is fixed,” another replies.

In addition to the low availability of cash, customers complain about the long hours of waiting, the working hours, fatigue and hunger. “I already warned them at work that I was going to be late. The boss will scold me again, but there is no remedy. If they want us to be early, then don’t pay us by card,” grumbles a young office worker.

With the difficulty of the task, Cubans have devised several “tricks” to extract the money or do it faster. “That man there came early with his wife, and she went to another ATM in case the cash runs out here,” says Magda. Others, she says, have contacts in several banks and call to find out if they will have cash. “I myself have a friend at the ATM of El Naranjal, who told me that today there would be no cash there, nor in the ATMs of the funeral home and Contreras Street,” she says.

ATM located on Medio Street, belonging to the Banco de Crédito y Comercio / 14ymedio

“The problem is that, with inflation, anything you buy costs 1,000 pesos, and therefore you need to take large amounts out of the bank. That’s what they charge, for example, the coleros, but I can’t give them that pleasure. Anyway, at 10,000 pesos per head, there are times when the first five people clean out the cash,” she says.

The hours pass slowly and the line doesn’t seem to move forward. “Who is the last of the disabled?” asks a woman without any visible disability. Immediately, suspicion in the line skyrockets. “Right now two people from a private business passed by and took out a lot of large bills. Now you appear with a physical disability. When we get to the front of the line, the money is gone, and those of us who have been here since early morning are left without anything,” a man growls at the indifferent gaze of a woman, who inserts her card into the ATM.

The same employee who hours before gave instructions to the customers now leaves, looks at the line and enters the branch again without saying a word. “Is the money going to run out?” The question makes everyone’s hair stand on end. “It not even ten,” says an old man.

ATM belonging to the Banco de Crédito y Comercio, located on Milanés Street. In general, it only has money available from Monday to Saturday in the early hours of the morning, although sometimes it also has cash for one or two hours in the afternoon / 14ymedio

“There’s a lot of banking and everything, but nowhere do they accept payment by transfer. The other day I needed to urgently buy some medication and I had to go to Varadero to get money,” complains a young man.

“Who is the last one?”** asks a man who arrives by bicycle, but there is no answer. The young office employee, whose turn had now arrived and who was extracting cash, gives the bad news: “There’s no more money. I could only get 2,500.” Many of the clients get annoyed and begin to protest, but most, for whom that situation is routine, pick up their things and leave. It’s 10:30 in the morning.

The employees of the branch don’t say a word. Only the custodian of the bank clarifies the doubt – otherwise well known – to an old woman: “They won’t put in one more peso until tomorrow.”

Translator’s notes:

*A line or queue in Cuba is called a ‘cola’ (literally ‘tail’) and ‘coleros’ are people who others pay to hold their place in lines that can be hours, or even days, long.

**Each person who joins the line asks “who is last” and then they themselves become the new “last person” until the next arrival. In this way Cubans don’t have to stand strictly one-behind-the-other, and can still maintain their positions in the line.

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.

Private Businesses in Matanzas Present Customers with Both Opportunities and Challenges

 If there is one thing that bothers local residents it is that buying something at an MSME is becoming as difficult as doing it at a state-run store

Many local businesses offer products that are scarce or which have not been seen in state stores for years / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Julio César Contreras, Matanzas, May 1, 2024 — For years now, one could map the layout of Matanzas by following the trail of the small and medium-sized private businesses (MSMEs) that have proliferated throughout the city. Street-side produce stands, covered entryways of old mansions and makeshift warehouses have served as the locations for the province’s independent businesses. Many offer products that are in short supply or have not been seen in state stores for years. Others are businesses that previously did not even exist in Cuba.

“How can I help you?” asks the receptionist at a workshop near Freedom Park that sells electronic devices. “Sorry, we don’t have batteries for that model,” she tells Julio, a 56-year-old Matanzas resident who wants to use a phone that he has been keeping in a drawer for months.

“I’ve been here several times, asking the same question, but they never have them,” says Julio. “They’ve told me the issue is that they have problems getting parts past Customs. And because this country is not as technologically advanced as others, we sometimes are still using models that manufacturers no longer produce. It seems absurd that the government makes it difficult for these businesses to import parts when the state itself does not offer these services and we have to rely on individuals.”

An electronics workshop on Milanés Street, near Freedom Park / 14ymedio

Other businesses have cropped up in the city, often with tacit approval from local officials, offering services that Cubans have come to believe are impossible to obtain through legal means, without turning to the black market. Such is the case with SuperVision. Many locals use this optometry and eyeware store on Milanés Street to fill a hospital-provided eyeglass prescription. continue reading

This particular MSME shares a small space with a barber shop. It so happens that is one of barbers who explains how the business fills a void created by shortages at state-run eyeware stores. “You bring in your prescription and they make eyeglasses to fit you. You can provide your own frame or pick one out from their selection,” he says.

“I finally got my progressive lenses,” says a satisfied customer who had not been able to find a solution to her problem at state-run eyeglass stores. “It’s true that the prices here are outrageous but, if you have the money, your situation gets resolved.”

If there is one thing that bothers local residents it is that buying something at an MSME is becoming as difficult as doing it at a state-run store, and not for lack of inventory. In a makeshift business along the Central Highway, a saleswoman will not accept ten and twenty-peso banknotes, even from customers who only want to but a single piece of candy. “Here, we only accept 50-peso bills and higher,” she says. Businesses across the island are rejecting small-denomination bills due to the drop in value of the Cuban peso.

Many private businesses refuse to accept banknotes smaller than fifty pesos / 14ymedio

One neighborhood resident reports that the owners are not worried this requirement will scare away customers because they have the best prices in the district. “One day the place will be fully stocked and the next day it will be empty. They sell everything in a flash,” he explains.

While individual customers use these stores to satisfy their basic needs, other businesses turn to them to buy products wholesale which they can later resell. On Calzada de Tirry, near the house where the late poet Carilda Oliver Labra once lived, El Patrón opens its doors at 7:00 A.M. to a crowd that has gotten there early to buy jams that their families will have for breakfast or to make school snacks for their children. Also waiting in line is Sara, owner of a pushcart who resells El Patrón products in several downtown locations.

“This MSME is the cheapest in town,” says the 62-year-old Matanza resident, who has been waiting in line since 5:00 A.M. “It also attracts a lot of people from far away because what they sell here is high-quality. Since I found this place, I’ve been able to sell jams at more affordable prices,” she says.

Another MSME with competitive prices is located on Second of May Street. It specializes in meats, sweets and beverages, items which Cubans would otherwise only be able to buy at hard-currency stores. However, its “payment options” have made things difficult for more than one consumer. The owners only accept cash, and only in large-denomination bills. Shopping is becoming more difficult because, due to the country’s liquidity crisis, banks only give out small-denomination bills and ATMs never have cash.

For those who must leave the shop in search of the “fat bills” they need to make a purchase, the saleswoman has a ready smile. “No rush. The food here is very well refrigerated. Come back soon,” she says

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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 the Cuban Athens ‘Everything Is Done on Foot’ Due to the Transport Crisis

Not even the “blues,” the inspectors in charge of intercepting vehicles and boarding passengers in Matanzas, “impose respect”

In peak hours, the mass of Matanzas residents who accumulate at the transport stops must decide whether to wait or leave on foot / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Julio César Contreras, Matanzas, April 27, 2024 — A Transmetro bus passes by and does not stop. A few minutes later, one from Transtur follows it. Travelers on any road in Matanzas look in desperation at the empty vehicles with the long-awaited air conditioning. “Not even the cars with State license plates stop anymore,” they lament, despite the fact that the leaders have given them the order to pick up passengers.

Not even the soothsayer Nostradamus could predict the times in which public buses circulate within the city of Matanzas. The traditional routes have been terminated for a long time, in an instability that significantly affects the daily routine of the matanceros.

Whether they are articulated, panoramic or assembled by pieces in a state workshop – such as the Dianas – the buses do not work at the same time, much less every day. That translates into a mass of stacked and sweaty Cubans who, when the rush hour arrives at stops, must decide whether to wait for a State car that deigns to pick them up or walk to their destination.

“The blockade does not come from outside, the blockade is here inside,” emphasizes an old man who claims – fanning himself with an improvised leaf – to have been waiting for more than an hour for transportation to go from the historic center to the Peñas Altas area. “Is there no oil?” asks a woman and from the same line the answer emerges: “What there is is no shame, señora. Look at that bus: it’s empty. continue reading

“The blockade does not come from outside, the blockade is here inside,” emphasizes an old man

Not even the figures of the “blues” – inspectors in charge of intercepting vehicles and boarding passengers – “imposes respect” on the state Ladas and Kamazes. To top it all off, the old man still sitting at the stop says, they are as inefficient as the public transport itself. “They only work half a day and on weekends so you can’t expect them.” Nor do the forceful looks of the “blues” and their clipboards intimidate anyone.

The Government’s vehicles pass, wave, and the inspector says goodbye “as if it’s nothing.” When the cars are not known but have State plates, the official registers the number – or pretends to – on a sheet of paper so as not to “offend” overcrowded travelers.

In the end, the “weakest link,” tired of waiting, gets out of line and takes charge of the matter. Any well-formed line is abruptly interrupted when a bus appears. Even if it’s empty, there are pushes and offenses. Pregnant women, children, the elderly and disabled, called to board first, must cross the furious mass in order to get a seat and not run the risk of being left behind.

The disorder quickly becomes a feeding ground for thieves and pickpockets, who grab chains, cash and even cell phones. By the time they manage to get on the bus, many passengers have even been stripped of their identity cards.

The other side of the coin are the private carriers, who, in tune with inflation, impose their prices / 14ymedio

The other side of the coin is the private carriers, who, in line with inflation, impose their prices according to “their objective and subjective needs.” For a trip of a few kilometers, a motorcycle taxi charges between 300 and 500 pesos, Mario, the driver of an electric motorcycle, tells this newspaper. In the case of a vehicle, for the same distance, the price ranges between 50 and 100 pesos per person. The máquinas*, on the other hand, charge about 100 pesos.

According to Mario, those are just the “standard prices.” “If I rent or work at night, the costs go up.” The electric vehicles, which the Government announced last January with pomp and fanfare after buying them at $7,000 each, are far from meeting the city’s demand for transport

At the central transport stop, from which the old man was able to escape in an agricultural truck, a medical student now occupies his seat. “It can already be said with propriety that Matanzas is the Athens of Cuba and, like the ancient Athenians, we do everything on foot,” he mocks. A few streets ahead you can see the remains of the old tram line, inaugurated when the city was experiencing better times and the only blue was that of the bay.

*Translator’s note: Máquinas, almendrones and colectivos are overlapping names for similar services: generally a shared taxi service (and in some cases fixed-route) provided by classic American cars, which are now generally retrofitted with diesel engines because that fuel is more likely to be available than is gasoline.

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.