The ’Bike Havana’ Project Rides This Friday "For the Climate"

With the motto “Go by Bike for the Climate” the ‘Bike Havana’ project joins the global initiative #FridaysForFuture (Facebook/Masa Crítica)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 21 September 2019 — This Friday a group of Cubans, members of the Bike Havana (Bicicletear La Habana) project, met in Martyrs Park at Infanta and San Lazaro in Central Havana to “ask all of society to get involved in the fight against global warming.”

With the slogan “Go by Bike for the Climate” they joined the global initiative #FridaysForFuture, which began in August last year when the young Swedish girl Greta Thunberg began skipping her classes every Friday to fight against climate change.

A young man who participated in the bike tour told 14ymedio that before starting to tour the city, several State Security agents arrived and told them that they could not leave from the place where they were and that they should move to Trillo Park, also in Central Havana.

“This is not the time,” the agents said, nor did they permit private businesses to rent bicycles, as is always the case with the ‘bicycle events’ organized by the project on the first Sunday of each month, the participant said.

On their Facebook page the members of Bicicletear La Habana explained that this Friday they wanted to “raise awareness about the climate crisis that the planet is experiencing and propose the bicycle as an alternative” but that this desire “was misinterpreted by police and State security agents” who ended up blocking the cyclists. “The situation raises many questions for us as to why our authorities and administration do not help us fight against climate change,” they said.

“The good news is that we still pedal in isolated groups, but with the same desire to infect you with that tingle we get when we ride a bicycle through Havana,” they said.

Between September 20 and 27, young people from many countries are mobilized on the streets to demand solutions to the Earth’s climate crisis. More than 1,153 events have been convened across the globe in support of the strike.

For their part, other young Cubans, grouped under the Fridays For Future initiative, wanted to join the global call and requested permission to sit in the Plaza San Francisco de Asís in Old Havana.

With the hashtag #fridaysforfuture, young activists shared images of themselves on the streets with their messages on the Facebook page “Fridays For Future Cuba.” (Facebook)

Rubén D. Herrera, part of that initiative, explained that after requesting permission from the authorities “in August our wait for an official response has continued to be extended and the day arrived without our receiving any response the result of which was to prevent today’s activities.”

Despite not being able to undertake a collective action, as individuals many of the activists took to the streets with signs asking for support for the planet. With the hashtag #fridaysforfuture many people shared images of their messages on the Facebook plage Fridays For Future.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Several Years in Prison for Self-employed Cuban Who Bought 15,000 Apples

The purchase of the apples occurred at La Puntilla Mall, which is located in the Miramar neighborhood in Havana.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, September 17, 2019 — The seven people involved in the buying and selling of 15,000 apples at the store La Puntilla, in Havana, who were denounced last year by a Party-liner blogger, received sentences of seven months to six years in prison for the crimes of bribery and stockpiling, according to the judicial sentence to which 14ymedio has had access.

The trial occurred in June but nothing has been known until now since the official press has not responded to the matter. This media outlet learned about the sentence thanks to a relative of one of the convicted.

A text published in September of 2018 under the title Robbery in La Puntilla: It’s necessary to go further, criticized “the complicit indifference of employees.” The report was also published by the website Cubadebate and generated an intense controversy. continue reading

Nine months after the incident, on June 17 of this year, the accused were convicted of the crimes of bribery and stockpiling of a continuous nature. The trial, oral and public, took place at the Business System Region Military Court in Havana, due to the fact that the market where the events occurred is managed by the Cimex corporation, a business of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR).

Among the defendants were state employees Rafael Tápanes Montalvo, Adonis Semanat Ortiz, and Joel Muñiz Lorenzo, in addition to self-employed workers Luis Eduardo Bruzón Mesa, Alexis Hechavarría Guerra, Raudelis Ramos Mejía, and Eliecer Samada Hechevarría, who bought the apples.

Tápanes Montalvo was a salesman at the Tropicola Warehouse Base which supplies the FAR’s holdings, while Semanat Ortiz worked at La Puntilla warehouse. Both were sentenced to 6 years in prison and the severity of their sentences was due to their working relationship with FAR companies.

Tápanes Montalvo was accused of the crime of bribery because he advised self-employed people via text message about the time and place of apple sales. In exchange he received 20 CUC and minutes for his cellphone, according to the district attorney. The defense insisted that the employee gave that information to facilitate management for the merchants but that he never asked for money in exchange.

The sentence signals that because of the positions that Tápanes Montalvo and Semanat Ortiz occupied in their workplaces, both were considered “public officials,” which means more severe sentences. “As special individuals, they should have prevented corrupt officials from being able to break the barrier of honesty and integrity that must characterize a public employee.”

For his part, Muñiz Lorenzo worked as a driver for Plaza Carlos III and used the state-owned vehicle he drove for apple deliveries, for which he was sentenced to seven months in prison, but he was released after the trial because he had already completed his sentence in pre-trial detention.

The self-employed were accused of speculation and stockpiling and were sentenced to between 3 and 4 years of prison. Stockpiling is a crime regulated in article 230 of the Cuban Penal Code and punishes whoever retains in their power or transportation merchandise or products “in evident and unjustifiably greater quantities than those required for their normal needs.”

However, in the trial it was specified that all the self-employed had their documents in order and correctly paid their taxes. Ramos Mejías, for example, had authorization to deal in light foods and a permit from the administration of the Municipal Assembly of Popular Power of Guantanamo.

The lawyer Miguel Iturría, who works with the Legal Association of Cuba, warns that some jurists believe that the crime of stockpiling “is reserved only for regulated products whose acquisition is limited” but in judicial practice it has been applied frequently against clients of free markets like stores that trade in convertible currency.

“If someone goes to a public establishment to buy 40 or 50 floor cleaning cloths, a product that disappears frequently, he is sold them in the state business and upon arriving home or on the street he is arrested, accused, and, subsequently, punished,” warns Iturría, for whom this “situation is an absurdity.”

For years, since its reappearance in the 90s, the Cuban private sector has demanded access to a wholesale market that would allow them to buy large quantities of products at preferential prices. Despite official promises, they have only opened stores where one can acquire certain products at wholesale but without economic advantages.

Frequently customers of retail stores complain that the entrepreneurs hoard basic essentials like bread, oil, flour, and milk. In the official press they are blamed for the shortages of some merchandise and complaints against those who buy large quantities of food and other products are published.

According to a witness of the trial against the seven people penalized, only three of them presented appeals before the court, which have not yet been ruled on.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Truths of Omara Ruiz Urquiola

Meeting of Omara Ruiz Urquiola with the ISDi authorities. (Courtesy ORU)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 9 August 2019 — Omara Ruiz Urquiola has lost weight. Since two weeks ago when it was announced that she had been fired from her job at the Higher Institute of Industrial Design (ISDi), she not only suffers from the loss of her source of income, but from the injustice she perceives in the lack of reasons and, in addition, the institution’s smear campaign against her.

“I am a free woman and everything I have done is to assert my status as a citizen,” she tells 14ymedio in the doorway of her house as one of those torrential downpours of summer evenings falls.

After making her dismissal public, the ISDi published a post on its Facebook page entitled Omara’s Lies in which it states that at no time was she “fired, expelled, terminated, made surplus, made available, or any synonym for breaking the definitive work link of any teacher.” In addition, they argue that the teacher “was present in only the first 15 minutes of a 1 hour 10 minute meeting.” continue reading

“Here is the recording of the meeting, listen to it and then we can talk. I’m going to walk away because I don’t want to hear it again,” says Ruiz Urquiola.

The audio, about fifteen minutes, records the words of Sergio Peña, rector of the Higher Institute of Industrial Design (ISDi), to fifteen teachers who are enough to conclude that, when Ruiz Urquiola leaves the meeting, the official had already given all the details: “That was the information, I’m all ears,” says Peña.

Omara Ruiz Urquiola with her students in the house with green roof tiles. (Courtesy ORU)

In the audio the rector explains that for the coming course he cannot “defend” the current staff of the ISDi and that the institution will hire based on the needs it has. “To all of you, we will give you a letter of recommendation so that, if you want, you can find a new center,” he says. In addition, he adds that the new structure was made at the end of the semester and will materialize in the month of October. Peña also clarifies that they did not want to give this bad news through a message or a call, and that is why they had called the meeting even though the teachers were enjoying their vacations.

During the meeting, the rector argued that Omara Ruiz Urquiola was among those affected because last year she had only 32 hours of classes in a semester and had not participated in design-related events, such as the Forma congress, which the ISDi organizes every two years.

Ruiz Urquiola refuted this statement and clarified that she had been involved in the congress, as the paper published in the catalog indicates, but that she could not go physically because she was sick with the Zika virus (transmitted by mosquitos).

“At the meeting, while I was dismantling Sergio Peña’s points one by one, the department head who wrote the report about me not only did not say anything, but she lowered her head. She did not even confirm the Zika, which she was very aware of because I called her and explained myself, and she even told me how bad it had been for her when she suffered that illness on one of her trips to Guyana,” she says.

Milvia Pérez, dean of the ISDi and one of the people who have hindered the teacher’s work, was also present at the meeting. “Milvia went to see my department head and demanded that she assign another teacher to my classroom to monitor what I said. My boss said no, that she would have done that if she had wanted to but that it violated academic protocol.

“They cannot reduce my fixed position status when my evaluations have all been positive, not a single point has been made against me. They have visited me in many classes and all evaluations are satisfactory. It is too forced, and that is why I believe that there has been the reaction of solidarity that has been seen, because my students say it.

“It is inconceivable that I am in that situation, it is a great, great nonsense, a rudeness to get rid of me under any pretext. The problem they have is that I haven’t given them the pretext, they don’t have it and they have to invent it,” she denounces.

For Ruiz Urquiola, her dismissal is a maneuver of State Security and has a political background, as evidenced, she believes, by her exclusion from a new professional meeting.

“Four days ago I was informed that I am banned from participating in the Bauhaus Centenary, which is organized by the Palace of the Second Cape: Center for the Interpretation of Cuba-Europe Cultural Relations, to which I was going as a panelist. This event is sponsored by the German Embassy in Cuba and the Office of the Historian of Havana, and the latter is the one who vetoed my participation,” she says.

Now, Ruiz Urquiola’s idea is to demand her rights in the ISDi, although she has already been warned of the likely futility of that, with previous examples such as those of actress Lynn Cruz and biochemist Oscar Casanella. Her only option for now is to file a wrongful termination claim with the labor appeals court: “My health comes first, also the psychic damage is already noticeable; in me it is physically reflected by the weight loss, my body is feeling it.”

Ruiz Urquiola’s goal is to get her job back and the professional privileges that go with it. She is also demanding moral compensation for damage to her image. “They’ve use social media to make and corroborate crazy, fraudulent accusations, including professors who were at the meeting and are directors of the institution. I knew they gunning for me,” she laments.

She is also demanding that those directors be investigated and removed from their positions.

“They have lied, thay have abused their power, they have no way to undermine my judgment and have used their power to bully me. The day all my demands are met, then I will return to ISDi but otherwise no, because, simply, the social and psychological damage is great and irreparable. I have not done anything to be in this situation,” she defends herself.

Urquiola graduated in Art History in 1996 and taught at the Higher Institute of Art (ISA), where she was head of the Department of Scenic Design for the Theater Arts major. In 2009 she arrived at ISDi as a contract professor and in 2011 she became part of the permanent staff of the institute, where she passed her assessment as an assistant teacher of higher education.

That same year she received the recommendation of her students and won the Golden Chalk Award for “the quality of her teaching, her professional preparation and her role in the training and improvement of younger generations.”

Those who are or have been her students, in addition to some teachers of the institution, have come out in defense of Ruiz Urquiola on social networks and have launched a request for the teacher to return to the institute which already has more than 600 signatures and dozens of support messages.

Omara Ruiz Urquiola’s ’Golden Chalk’ Award

For Glenda Álvarez, a graduate of ISDi, Omara Ruiz Urquiola is “a jewel,” and her Semiotics classes were a “relief” within “the torments of the basic cycle” of subjects.

“Omara was my Cuban Culture teacher and the truth is that I could not imagine a better teacher for the position or a more appropriate subject for her. Omara taught us to love Cuba. The passion with which she gave her classes and the ease with which hours and hours of precious information about our country came to mind, combined to keep a class of 60 tired design students, alert and listening, “says Javier González, another of her students.

Yenisel Cotilla, also an ISDi teacher, said: “Being a teacher goes beyond knowledge, it is about making a mark on students, changing their lives. ISDi students deserve a teacher like her, that is more important than anything else.”

“From the first day I was captivated with Omara, the first class left me so full of emotions that I could not help telling her (…) She never influenced us in any way with her political ideas, quite the contrary, she showed us things that we didn’t know about our own history, things that made our sense of patriotism grow, with it I discovered a story that encouraged me not to miss a class…” said another student, Flavia Cabrera.

These messages are now a source of relief the Ruiz Urquiola. “Everything the ‘kids’ have done,” drives her to continue forward.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

18 Hours to Santiago de Cuba on a Chinese Train

The dining car on board the new Chinese trains is still not operational. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, August 15, 2019 — Alfredo and his family welcomed the news that the train from Havana to Santiago would be adding new passenger cars purchased from China. After not visiting their family in eastern Cuba for years, they would now be able to make the journey quickly, economically and safely. They bought tickets and their children were excited to finally experience the inside of “a real train.”

One morning in August, after a delay of almost three hours, they heard an announcement from La Coubre terminal’s loudspeakers to board “the long iron snake” that was arriving huffing and puffing a few yards from the waiting area. “When I got to the platform, I noticed that there was a policeman and a train attendant in every car,” Alfredo tells 14ymedio.

Once all the passengers had taken their seats, they were “read the riot act.”  The attendant explained that the minimum fine for improper behavior was 200 pesos and that getting off at stations before the final destination was forbidden. The policeman added that passengers could only go from their seats to the bathroom and back, and were not allowed to walk between cars. continue reading

Windows on air conditioned cars must be kept closed (14ymedio)

“Officials get off at every stop to make sure that no one leaves the train, not even the smokers,” recounted one surprised passenger. By the time the train departed Havana, children were still excited by the new seats and the train whistle but some passengers were already feeling uncomfortable.

“The trip itself takes fourteen hours to Santiago but it was delayed,” complains Alfredo. His own journey lasted almost eighteen hours, during which time his family went from euphoria to discomfort, desperately wanting to get out of the car and stretch their legs.

In another car, whose seats are cheaper because there is no air conditioning, sat Maricela, a woman who had been employed by the railroad company for twenty years but had never boarded a train in all that time. “The trains now are not like they were when I was young and was a transportation engineer for the Western Railroad Company,” she recalls.

“Back then the cars were nice, very comfortable, but that didn’t come as a surprise to anyone,” notes the 67-year-old retiree. “Now everyone wants to take photos as though this were the Eiffel Tower. I don’t know what all the happiness is about. It’s just an ordinary train, with not a lot of comforts,” she adds skeptically.

One of the few novelties the new vehicles have is a cell phone app that tells passengers and family members the train’s location in real time and its estimated time of arrival. But the app does not allow travellers to reserve or purchase tickets. “In the old days you didn’t need that. Trains arrived at every station right on time,” says Maricela.

The new train does not have a separate baggage car. Passengers must store their luggage and other packages in the space above their seats. After numerous complaints, rail employees informed passengers that the company is considering imposing restrictions next month on the size of suitcases, which would be limited to roughly 62 inches.

The size seems small to passengers accustomed to traveling with bulky luggage — typically filled with food, gifts and accessories — which they carry on their backs when they go on vacation.

When the new trains first went into service, passengers were not allowed to bring food from home onboard but now they can, though employees ask that they take special care to keep things clean. “In the car where I was, there was a cold water fountain which the attendant said had more than enough of water for the entire trip,” says Alfredo.

Although TV news reports had indicated that the new trains would have a dining car, it is not operational at this time. “They don’t think it even works,” adds Alfredo, who wonders how passengers are going to eat if they are not allowed to walk between cars.

A seat in a car that is not climate controlled costs 70 Cuban pesos while one that is air conditioned costs 95. For 20 pesos more you can get a snack consisting of a medium-sized ham and cheese sandwich with a canned soft drink that the attendant hands out during the trip.

For the last three years this route has had no new rail cars; they have always been second hand. (14ymedio)

Each car seats seventy passengers and there is adequate space between seats for them to stretch their legs. But as the rail attendant points out, “The cars are very long and they put a strain on the locomotives, which aren’t new.” This combined with train tracks that are in poor condition contribute to frequent delays.

At Santa Clara the train had to change engines. Employees explained this was due to the extra weight of the cars, which the engine could not handle. This technical maneuver further delayed a trip whose departure had already been pushed back by an hour.

Before getting off at the final destination, passengers had to present their tickets with their names, surnames and identity card numbers as well as their seat numbers. “It’s so that, if something is lost or broken on the train, they have someone to look for or investigate,” Alfredo speculates.

The train finally pulled into the Santiago de Cuba station. After it had stopped, the car doors opened and a surge of humanity spilled out at full speed. Relieved and tired, passengers were eager to get away from the railcars and locomotive as quickly as possible.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

An Entire Day Dedicated to Buying a School Uniform

Some parents had problems with illegible papers or errors. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, August 6, 2019 — Enormous lines and annoyance among parents marked this Monday the beginning of the sale of uniforms in the majority of municipalities in the capital. After days of waiting, uncertainty, and misinformation, Plaza de la Revolución, Centro Habana, La Habana Vieja, Regla, La Habana del Este, Guanabacoa, Cerro, and Marianao finally joined the communities of San Miguel del Padrón, Diez de Octubre, La Lisa, Boyeros, Arroyo Naranjo, and el Cotorro, which began the operation last Thursday, and Playa, which was added on Friday.

In a store called La Gloria, chosen for students from Plaza de la Revolución to buy their uniforms, the line began to form on Sunday at four in the afternoon.

“This was madness. Here in the front door of the store there was a little group that had the list. They were drinking rum and making a huge uproar. The parents who were arriving put their names down on the list, got their number, and left, but early in the morning there was even a knife fight and we had to call the police,” says a resident who everyone calls Nena and who carries a thermos of coffee in her hand from which she sells cups to others. continue reading

They had to keep the store open until midnight, due to the large number of people who had piled up on this first day in part of the capital. (14ymedio)

At eight in the morning, an hour before the opening of La Gloria, a crowd was gathered around the building. The list that had been made the previous day included the first hundred people in the line who had in their hands a ticket with a number. As the others arrived they asked “who’s last”* in the line for those “without a ticket” as they arrived.

There are hardly any children in the long line. The majority of the parents have chosen to bring a garment of their child to figure out the size and avoid a bad experience for the children. Those who couldn’t avoid bringing them, on the other hand, passed the time running around, sometimes desperate, going from one side to the other, or asking for water and food.

A slim woman comes in high heels, a business skirt, and a pearl necklace. After five minutes of waiting, leaning on a column, she takes some sandals out of her purse, puts away the heels, takes off the skirt, and remains with some shorts that she was wearing underneath. “Now I’m ready for this,” she says, and she takes off to rest against one of the walls surrounding the front door of the store after putting down a little nylon bag that she takes out of her purse. She gets comfortable, and now she is ready for a long wait.

A few minutes before nine in the morning, the manager of the store arrives and explains in detail the necessary requisites to make the purchase and all of its peculiarities. She warns that they are not yet selling high school uniforms for boys and that the voucher cannot having any corrections. She also asks the parents to carefully read the list of schools that shop there to avoid waiting in line in vain, a moment in which all of the parents check their papers to make sure.

One of the mothers is worried because the part of the voucher that indicates the sex of the student wasn’t very legible. “Here you can see that they wanted to turn an M into an F, so nothing is understood. We can’t accept that this way here,” the employee tells her. “Now you have to go to the municipality education office which is on H and 21 and get another,” she adds, to the annoyance of the woman.

The mother leaves after calling her husband, who picks her up on a motorcycle to right the wrong. She had arrived at the store at five in the morning and was among the first hundred in line, so she didn’t want to lose the opportunity. “There I had to make a big fuss for them to pay attention to me, because nobody is doing anything, but in the end I got a promise from an employee that they would send someone here with new vouchers to exchange,” she says upon returning.

An official from the Ministry of Education finally arrived, in a car and with a folder of papers, as a savior of the parents and not only gave a new voucher to that family but also to others in a similar situation. “They didn’t accept my voucher because it’s written in two different inks, imagine. The teacher’s pen ran out when she was filling out the information and I gave her mine to finish it,” explained a grandmother to the woman from the municipality. “Who would think of making a demand like that?” she complained.

Despite the incidents, the sale began punctually, at nine in the morning. At two tables, placed at the entrance to the store, workers took information from parents, who then passed inside to make the purchase. At the counter two very young girls, with white t-shirts with the face of Che, were in charge of sales, while a boy helped to take out and organize pieces from the storeroom.

At a rate of five minutes per person, at midday some 40 people had already made their purchases. However, the feeling was that it wasn’t advancing, and only after two in the afternoon were they able to organize the second part of the line, those who had no ticket. One of the mothers got everyone in a line and handed out a hundred new numbers to guarantee order and prevent cutting.

The list that had been made the previous day included the first hundred people in the line who had in their hands a ticket with an identifying number. (14ymedio)

At four in the afternoon, after eight hours of waiting, a grandmother sadly came out of the store. “I wasn’t able to buy anything because my grandson is starting first grade and she says that it’s only for the first ones,” explained the woman, who had missed the moment in which the manager had warned of that detail.

“You wait there, that is outrageous, why couldn’t they make an exception for you, an older woman? Now you have to come another day and wait in line, that cannot be,” yelled an older man who was accompanying his son. “I can’t sell to her on that voucher, because later when they do the audit, I’ll be the one with the problems,” explained the manager to the man who, despite everything, managed to extract from her the promise that, when sales to the second group begins, the woman will not have to wait in line again.

After an entire day in line, some parents began to sketch out ideas to solve the yearly disaster in sales of school uniforms. “The best thing would be to get rid of them, let each student come in dark pants and a light sweater and the problem is over,” said a mother. “I’m 41, and in my high school they gave out the uniforms in the school’s storeroom, where they gave you your books. And there were never problems, if they were missing a size they asked for it and it’s done, if they did that now they would get rid of a few problems,” says another.

At eight at night the parents who had come at eight in the morning were coming out with their purchases, although some no longer found the size they were looking for. Those who had arrived at nine or ten in the morning still had two hours of waiting ahead of them. The store was selling up until a few minutes before midnight. Today, in front of the store, the view is the same, hundreds of parents waiting to buy school uniforms for their children.

*Translator’s note: In Cuba people join lines by asking “who’s last” and then they know who is the person ahead of them. Once the next person comes and they identify themselves as “last” they can wander off, sit down, visit with friends and so on without losing their place.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

August Arrives but Not the Uniforms

Before the store opens there is already a line of people who fear they won’t be able to get the size they need. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, August 2, 2019 — The store opens at 10:00 AM but the line began forming much earlier in front of La Gloria on La Rosa Street in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood. It is August 1 and mothers, fathers and grandmothers have been here since before dawn to make sure they get the most desirable sizes of school uniforms “before they run out.” As television reports indicate, the first day of the sale has been delayed several weeks due to a shortage of raw materials, which has led to the scene being repeated in almost every store throughout the city.

Some mothers who arrived with their children fifteen minutes prior to opening are already showing signs of impatience. Others have brought a piece of clothing to match their kid’s size so the child is not subjected to a long wait.

The first employee arrives on time but has bad news. “Everyone please come over here so you can hear,” he says. continue reading

“There is a shortage of uniforms in the district. The staff at [the Ministry of Domestic] Commerce made the decision to announce when uniforms will be for sale through the media, in other words through the press and television. You can come back and buy them once they notify you,” he said at the beginning of a speech that was not well received by those present.

“We told you they would be for sale starting today because that was the information we received but that’s all changed now,” he adds. “Since the uniforms have not yet arrived, we cannot sell them.” That’s when the avalanche of anger and complaints begins.

“It’s all about communication. Why didn’t they put up a sign? There are people like me who have been waiting here since 1:00 AM,” says the first mother to raise her hand.

“It’s the same lie, the same old story we’ve heard for years. They are toying with us. There are a lot of working mothers here who have asked for the day off to take care of this. There are pregnant women. It shows a lack of respect. You said the uniforms would be for sale starting today and that’s why we’re here. The minister herself said there would be uniforms, that it was all guaranteed,” shouted one mother.

“They said so on television, that they would begin selling uniforms starting August 1,” says a tiny grandmother in a thin voice.

“This means I’ll have to become a TV news addict,” says the husband of one the women waiting in line, with a hint of irony.

In an effort to calm things down, the store manager comes to the employee’s rescue.

“We had a meeting with the vice-minister and the Commerce director and the problem is that the Playa district in Havana has less than 50% of its supply,” she says.

“Although we were prepared to begin selling uniforms, we are not authorized to do so if the store has not received at least that amount, as is the case with La Gloria,” she explains.

The manager is sympathetic and provides a new date to appease the parents, which they take it with a grain of salt. “Indications are that it will be on Monday, that the sale of school uniforms will begin on Monday,” she says, adding that if that happens, the store will remain open as long as necessary.

She gives those present the store’s telephone number as well as her personal phone number, promising to provide information or confirm Monday’s sale. She warns, however, that tenth grade boys’ uniforms may be unavailable until further notice “because there aren’t any.”

In a statement to 14ymedio the minister of Domestic Commerce, Betsy Diaz Velazquez, confirmed that uniforms would be for sale starting on Monday at the Plaza of the Revolution.

“I just left in the middle of a meeting to come give you the explanation,” she said, admitting that the previous information had been very incorrect.

The sale of school uniforms usually begins sometime between May and June, but this year the vice-minister of Domestic Commerce, Nancy Valdes, announced that they would not be available until the end of June or beginning of August.

Though they had to work longer shifts, trying to finish on time and make the almost three million uniforms required this year, factory workers were still not able to meet the official deadline.

Official press reports indicated on Sunday that uniforms sales had begun in towns in Artemisa, Mayabeque, Sancti Spíritus, Camagüey, Las Tunas, Holguín, Granma, Guantanamo and Isla de la Juventud provinces, adding that sales in the remaining provinces would begin gradually, “most likely in the second half of August.”

“It’s always the same old thing. The higher-ups make mistakes and underlings like us are the ones who pay the price because I am the one who has to face you,” said the manager of La Rosa yesterday. She confirmed that sale had begun in other towns where supplies surpassed the required 50%.

“But you still have to buy the item from your designated outlet. I take responsibility for making sure you get it, for making calls to other stores to find the right size. I’ll even go there to pick it up, no matter where it is,” she promises.

Before leaving, one of the first mothers in line snapped at the employee. “You have tell the leaders they have to inform us about this on the same day they are reporting on the Pan-American games. They could have easily told us yesterday during the Round Table program. If they had done that, we wouldn’t have had to wait in line.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Patience, This Year the School Uniforms Are Late

Bulletin board displays in the schools announce the sale of uniforms. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 26 July 2019 — Bulletin boards in schools or workplaces are often ornaments hung in a corner, loaded with historical events and photos that nobody pays attention to. However, at certain times they gain prominence and dozens of eyes gather around, such as when the date school uniforms will go on sale is posted, which sets off tensions, annoyance and hours of waiting for the families every year.

These days, parents are very attentive to the window for the sale of uniforms, because a day lost in finding out could mean their child’s size is no longer available in the store. At the points of sale, the shelves are still empty, but on the bulletin boards are the details regarding the marketing of this essential clothing.

Normally this moment comes between May and June, when the distribution of the garments begins, but this year the situation has changed. The delay in the arrival of the raw material has affected the manufacture and subsequent distribution of the uniforms, for which this year’s number is three million.

Factory workers have had to work overtime and holidays to complete the production and meet the demand, and according to a report on national television from the managers of the Apparel Company, 80% of the uniforms are now finished.

The Deputy Minister of Internal Trade, Nancy Valdés, announced that the beginning of the sale could not be guaranteed at the end of July and during the month of August, and asked for patience, noting that it is a priority issue for the Government.

Mirla Díaz, vice president of the Light Industry business group, said that the arrival of the raw material occurred at the beginning of June and that, as soon as the fabrics were in the country, they were transported to the warehouses and then to production units.

This Wednesday, at one of the points of sale of the Plaza Municipality, a mother asked about the day the sale will begin, but only received a reproach from the saleswoman: “Read the bulletin out there, where everything is explained.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Jaime Ortega, Cardinal of the Thaw, Dies in Havana

Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega delivers a sermon on Friday, April 6, 2012 at the Cathedral of Havana. (EFE / Alejandro Ernesto)

14ymedio bigger

Luz Escobar and Mario J. Penton, Havana/Miami, 26 July 2019– Cardinal Jaime Ortega (1936-2019), a key figure in the secret talks that led to the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba, died at age 82 on 26 July in Havana, after a long illness, according to ecclesiastical sources.

“Jaime Ortega was a figure of great weight during the last decades, both in the life of the Cuban Church and in the life of our people. A controversial figure, no doubt, but one whose intention was always to serve Cuba and the Church,” said Father José Conrado Rodríguez, pastor of the church of San Francisco de Paula.

Although on many occasions he did not agree with the Ortega line, Father Conrado confessed that he always “respected” the figure of his teacher, for “his love for Cuba” and his “desire to do good.” continue reading

“Jaime always looked for the Church to be present in the life of the country. He was attentive to problems that affected the life of the nation, such as emigration,” he added.

“He tried to solve big and serious problems and he did it with the best will, although personally I think he was not so happy about the way he faced them,” added the priest, very critical of the closeness, under Ortega’s leadership, between the Cuban Church and the State.

Jaime Lucas Ortega was born on 18 October 1936 in Jagüey Grande, in Matanzas province. He entered the seminary in 1956 and after four years of studies he was sent to Canada. He returned to Cuba in 1964 to be ordained a priest.

His ministry was interrupted for eight months in 1966 during his confinement in the Military Units of Production Aid (UMAP), forced labor camps established by the communist regime of Fidel Castro, where religious, homosexual and the disaffected were sent. The following year he was appointed pastor of his hometown.

In 1969 Ortega was promoted to the head of the cathedral of Matanzas and nine years later consecrated bishop of Pinar del Río by Pope John Paul II. During these years he also taught at the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary. In 1981, the Polish Pope appointed him archbishop of Havana, and in 1994 he was named a cardinal, the second Cuban to reach the highest title granted by Rome.

In that year he was one of the main architects of the pastoral letter Love Hopes All Things, which contained strong criticism of the Government, and especially of the dreaded State Security. In those years, the voice of Ortega was one of the most critical in the concert of Cuban bishops, condemning the “violent and tragic” events of the sinking of the tugboat 13 de Marzo.

“His appointment as cardinal was a gift from Pope John Paul II to the Cuban Church. The Pope wanted the Church to break with the silence it had been forced into and leave the temples to evangelize,” said the priest Castor José Álvarez Devesa from Camaguey.

Father Álvarez believes that one of Ortega’s great achievements was the pastoral structure he built in his archdiocese, which are called the ecclesiastical provinces. “He organized vicarages, pastoral councils, linked the faithful with the Church and through his attitude of dialog important things were achieved, such as the pilgrimage of the Virgin of Caridad de Cobre throughout the Island, which has been a blessing,” he said.

According to the priest, the Cuban Church “has had very great challenges” with the introduction of the Marxist system. “Cardinal Jaime chose to return to Cuba and serve his country and his Church,” he added. Álvarez also highlighted Ortega’s role in condemning the death penalty on the Island and the right of Cubans to leave and return to their country.

During the almost 35 years that he was in charge of the Archdiocese of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega restored dozens of temples, established a Diocesan Pastoral Council to make the work of the Church more effective, and established the headquarters of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba.

One of Ortega’s works is Cáritas Havana, created in 1991, which preceded Cáritas Cuba, the largest NGO on the island that distributes medicines, food and other types of aid on a daily basis. Ortega played an important role in the creation of socio-religious publications New Word, in 1992; Lay Space and Love and Life.

As a cardinal, in 2011 Ortega participated in the process of releasing the 75 political prisoners of the Black Spring and in the subsequent banishment to Spain of many of them. He was later criticized for having affirmed, before international media, that there were no political prisoners in Cuba.

The priest was considered the architect of three papal visits to Cuba — John Paul II in 1998, Benedict XVI in 2012 and Francis in 2015 — who officiated massive public masses in spaces previously reserved for power.

In 2010, Ortega inaugurated a new headquarters for the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary, which was the first new construction by the Catholic Church on the island since 1959. The cardinal also committed his figure to the creation of the Félix Varela Cultural Center, an educational institution that is an alternative to the educational monopoly of the Cuban State.

Instrument in the secret negotiations between Washington and Havana 

“I was the letter,” Ortega said about his role in the secret negotiations between the United States and Cuba that allowed the reestablishment of relations between the two countries during the presidency of Barack Obama.

As the cardinal revealed, years after the two neighboring countries ended a break of more than half a century, Pope Francis secretly entrusted him with the delivery of a letter to Raúl Castro and Obama.

“Perhaps the most important part of my mission came when President Raúl Castro asked me to transmit on his part a message to President Obama, of which I would be the bearer when I took the letter of the Holy Father to the president in the White House,” recalled the Cardinal during a speech.

The message commissioned by Raúl Castro was that Obama had not been responsible for the policy towards Cuba, that he was an honest man and that in Havana they knew his intentions to improve relations with the Island.

Obama thanked Castro for his words and sent a verbal message with the cardinal: “It was possible to improve the existing situation,” despite the differences. On 17 December 2014, the date of Pope Francis’s birthday, Cuba and the United States announced the restoration of diplomatic relations.

Both parties recognized the work of the Catholic Church as a mediator, although sectors of exile and opposition in Cuba strongly criticized Ortega because he did not demand an improvement of human rights and freedoms on the Island.

After more than three and a half decades at the head of the Havana archbishopric, Ortega said goodbye in 2016 when Pope Francis accepted his resignation and in his place appointed the Camagueyan Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez.

Recently, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba granted the Cardinal the Monsignor Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Distinction . The bishops of the eleven Cuban dioceses were present at the ceremony.

Church sources reported that Ortega Alamino’s body will be exhibited in the cathedral of Havana for three days starting this afternoon, “according to the Vatican protocol.” They also said that the funeral will be Sunday at 3:00 pm.

Through a tweet from President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the Cuban government offered its condolences for the death of Cardinal Ortega. “His contribution to the strengthening of relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Cuban State is undeniable,” the leader wrote.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Gasoline is "Lost" in Havana

Drivers lament that they have to pay for the lease of state-owned taxis whether or not there is gas to drive them. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, July 18, 2019 — Alexander Barroso had traveled around to several service centers in Havana this Wednesday and the most-repeated response was “there is no gasoline.”

“Monday was the last time that I was able to fill the tank at L and 17th and it was sucking up the last bit that remained in the cistern. After that, no matter where I go, it’s ’there’s none, it’s all gone.’ So that’s why I’m in this line,” he tells 14ymedio.

Barroso works as a driver transporting fruit from other provinces to Havana and has come to the gas station on the corner of 25th and G, in El Vedado, via a tip-off from a friend who assured him that it was one of the few places selling fuel to customers. A few hours earlier, the Minister of Energy and Mines, Raúl García, had denied on Cuban television any problem with the fuel supply that would be affecting the energy sector in the wake of the blackouts that the Island had experienced the previous day. continue reading

The official version is a failure at one of the power plants, but the lines at service centers confirm that the lack of petroleum is more than real.

Caption: The line was advancing slowly, but some filled not only their tanks, but also containers to take home. (14ymedio)

The line of taxis, state-owned cars, garbage trucks, private cars, and motorcycles on Wednesday reached from the gas station at which Barroso was waiting to the central Calle 23, some 100 meters.

“The thing is bad but as far as I can see it, it’s going to get a lot worse,” said the driver of a tow truck belonging to the Electric Union of Cuba, positioned in the line. He said that he had been stopped for two days, without being able to work because he hadn’t been able to find petroleum anywhere, and he expressed his lack of hope of being able to fill the tank this week.

The slowness of the line bothered many customers who were complaining about the lack of forward movement. Faced with the fear that the lack of fuel would continue, drivers were filling not only their tanks, but also various receptacles to bring extra gasoline home, despite the fact that selling it in containers is prohibited with the goal, claims the Government, of preventing stockpiling and the diversion of fuel from the state-controlled sector to the private one.

The informal fuel market is widespread in Cuba despite the Government’s efforts to control it by demanding proof of purchase from state and private workers of fuel at service centers. Despite that, many private drivers go to those informal sale networks of gasoline and diesel to cut the costs of keeping their old cars running, which are, as a general rule, gas guzzlers.

“It’s a mess now. Whatever you can grab now, it’s a big fuss. My car has GPS and that’s kilometers traveled against the route sheet, there’s no ’invention’ [i.e. cheating] here,” says the driver of the tow truck after denying the proposal of a botero (taxi driver) who was offering to sell him some of the liters he was allocated by the State through a card.

“I was in a line all morning at a gas station on Fifth Avenue and I didn’t make it,” laments Yantiel, driver of a Peugeot made two decades ago with which he offers trips to the provinces for tourists and local passengers. “It’s disrespectful, because the administrator of the place doesn’t know when gasoline will come again. There’s no information,” he adds.

Some lost hope of being able to fill the their tanks this week. (14ymedio)

The drivers of State taxis that drive the route to and from the airport don’t escape the problem, either. “We have to pay the daily lease, which is rather expensive, whether or not we have gasoline,” complained a driver who didn’t want to give his name. “Whether or not I make money I have to pay 35 CUC daily to the State and for two days I haven’t been able to go out to the street because I have no fuel,” he protests.

For Cubans the lack of fuel rekindles the ghost of the return of the Special Period. The crisis of the 90s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, was not only a time of a lack of food and frequent power cuts, but also of grave effects on mobility. The streets filled with bicycles and at bus stops people would wait for hours to get on a bus.

Despite the global fall of the petroleum flow between Cuba and Venezuela, Caracas is still the main energy provider for the Island, which in 2019 so far has received some 53,500 barrels a day of oil from Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). The figure reveals a decrease of 40% if compared with the first half of 2015, according to the company’s data.

On May 10, the US Treasury Department announced sanctions against two companies and two oil companies that, it said, had delivered oil from Venezuela to Cuba since the end of 2018 until March of 2019. PDVSA also reduced its exports to the Island so far this year, according to internal commercial numbers that the Reuters agency had access to, and despite the fact that in May a leak of documents revealed that the delivery in that month had quadrupled that of April.

Just this week, a report published by the newspaper Clarín stated that Maduro’s Government is using pirated boats to continue the delivery of petroleum to Cuba and thus elude Washington’s sanctions. Still, according to that source, PDVSA was sending some 60,000 barrels daily to the Island, against the 100,000 that it was sending before the US measures.

In his recent speech in front of Parliament, Miguel Díaz-Canel assured that there has been a deficit in importation of fuel, which has obligated Cuba to “establish measures of internal restriction for its consumption, avoiding as much as possible effects on the population and on the main productions and services of the economy.”

“I’ll have to put away the car again because I don’t have the nerves to wait in these lines in this heat,” concluded a woman before leaving the line on Calle 25 and G. “This is taking too long. In this time I already would have reached where I’m going on foot.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Two Days in a Havana Hospital ’Suspected of Dengue’

Patients are kept under mosquito nets, with fans that they brought from home and with laptops, tablets or mobile phones to pass the time. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 15 July 2019 — First there was the fever and then the rash broke out. The nine-year-old girl arrived at the 19th of April Policlinic in Havana at noon, last Tuesday. She was diagnosed the minute she crossed the clinic threshold: “That is dengue, she will be admitted,” said the emergency room doctor categorically.

The little girl had been infected with the annoying companion that these days spreads through the neighborhoods of the Cuban capital. Dengue fever, the viral disease inseparable from the warm months on this island, crowds the consultations and the hospital wards, without official announcements or national statistics about its presence.

After being diagnosed, the girl waited with her mother to be transferred to the Marfan Municipal Pediatric Hospital, in an ambulance that took more than an hour to arrive. Inside the vehicle there was only one rickety bench and none of the resuscitation equipment that “appear in the movies,” the little girl pointed out with disappointment. continue reading

Inside the ambulance there was just a rickety bench to sit on and no medical equipment. (14ymedio)

After one o’clock in the afternoon, the entrance hall to Marfan Hospital was a hive of people. Mother and daughter were accompanied from the clinic to avoid the admitting area, a widespread practice among those who do not want to stay in a hospital center where the material conditions, the heat and the bad quality of the food complicate the stay.

The doctor on duty, who at that time was taking care of two other patients, asked “And what is this, another inpatient?” And immediately added that the hospital had no beds available. A few minutes later, a space opened up in one of the rooms and the patient received her sign-in form, although she still had a long way to go.

After several blood tests, the mother took all the papers to the reception but the employee who had to complete the process was having lunch. When he returned, 45 minutes later, the pen had been stolen and he took another half hour to fill out the documents. The girl was sweating buckets, because the air conditioning in the hospital was broken.

With the delay, the bed that had opened up became occupied again and the patient was left in a bureaucratic limbo: she had the hospitalization papers but there was no room for her. Finally, at three o’clock in the afternoon, a possibility arose. Mother and daughter went to the fourth floor, where most of the patients were “suspected of dengue.”

The actual numbers of how many people have been infected by this virus are difficult to pin down. Some never go to the hospital for fear of being admitted, others have mild symptoms and by the time they realize what it is the worst has passed, and there is no lack of those to prefer to appeal to a contact in a polyclinic or hospital to get tested ’under the table’ and find out through the platelet count if they have been infected.

With the abundant rains of recent weeks the presence of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, the main carrier of the virus, has increased. In addition, unlike other years, the vector campaign to control the mosquitos has not been as intense as in the past, due to the economic problems that the country is going through which have forced cutting back on inspectors and fumigation.

Day and night, family members of the sick share stories in the hallways about the other hospital centers. (14ymedio)

Every patient diagnosed and admitted is only part of how dengue affects the life of a Cuban family. Shortly after the girl was hospitalized at the Marfan, the father, grandmother and other relatives showed up, carrying everything from bottles with boiled water to food, a fan, a bucket, sheets and towels.

This time they were lucky, because in the bathroom of the room there was no lack of water and the plumbing worked. A true miracle. “I have been transferred from another hospital and there was no water there,” says the mother of a girl who was placed in a nearby bed. “The food is not bad, but it doesn’t taste good,” warns the grandmother of another patient.

Underneath mosquito nets*, with the fans that they brought from their homes and with laptops, tablets or mobile phones — providing alternatives to the boring TV programs — so the children spend their time. From time to time, doctors arrive to evaluate them, take their temperatures, and report if a bed has been freed up so those waiting below can go up and go to bed.

Day and night, family members of the sick share stories in the hallways about the other hospital centers. Everyone has some anecdote to tell about the delay, the problems and the shortcomings. The rooms become small parliaments, much closer to the reality than the discussions of the National Assembly which, just at that time, were underway a few kilometers from Marfan Hospital.

Each and every one of those who remain there counts the days, the hours and the minutes until they can leave. On the second day without a fever, the girl receives a medical discharge. The family packs up the makeshift camp they had assembled with belongings brought from the home. There are laughs, farewells and a gesture towards the patient from the neighboring bed who inherits a bar of soap and a piece of bread.

The little girl receives a paper to present to her local clinic and bed rest is recommended. From the polyclinic in her neighborhood they send a fumigator to the house to “eradicate any focus.” A day earlier, in the Parliament, the vice-head of Epidemiology of the Ministry of Public Health, Regla Angulo, had reported that there were outbreaks of dengue in several areas of the country, but he gave no data, no figures, no details. Nothing.

*Translator’s note: Dengue patients themselves are a major vector in spreading the disease, infecting mosquitos that bite them and get infected and then pass the virus on to others.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Multitudes and Frustrations at the New Coppelia

Customers protect themselves from Havana’s summer sun while waiting outside Coppelia.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Yoani Sanchez, Havana, June 26, 2019 — At what has been called the Cathedral of Ice Cream, the faithful wait outside for hours on the day that the Coppelia ice creamery is scheduled to reopen after a weeks-long remodeling. The first day of operation is marked by scenes of people shoving each other as police try to control the line of customers waiting to try the long anticipated chocolate ice cream.

On Monday, after official news outlets announced the date of its reopening, dozens of people with the patience of pilgrims start lining up outside. Designed by architect Mario Girona, the iconic Havana building looms as large in the public imagination as the Giraldilla statue, Morro Castle and the Malecon. As they wait patiently, hundreds of customers try to glimpse the menu board inside to see if it lists all fifteen flavors promised in official media reports.

Such a high level of anticipation should come as no surprise. Coppelia is one of the few places in the capital where ice cream can still be bought with Cuban pesos rather than hard currency, something hard to fathom for the astonished, open-mouthed tourists who walk past the enthusiastic throng, asking if they are part of a demonstration. When told the crowd is just waiting to buy ice cream, they can be heard saying, “I can’t believe it.” continue reading

In spite of a sign announcing a 10 o’clock opening, Coppelia begins its first day of operation an hour later, much to the discomfort of customers, who have to rely on umbrellas and sports caps to escape the relentless summer sun. This means that, before cooling off with ice cream, customers are first treated to a “free tropical sauna,” as one woman waiting in line notes ironically.

Every generation is represented. There are those who remember Coppelia in its heyday, after its debut in 1963, when it offered dozens of flavors; those who watched it languish during the Special Period of the 1990s, when it operated almost as a workers’ canteen; and those born after the advent of the dollar economy, who grew up eating Nestlé ice cream at shopping malls or coveting it through display windows.

Everyone arrives armed with cell phones to report the reopening to a family member who has emigrated to Buenos Aires, Miami or Berlin, someone who met her partner in the historic ice cream parlor, where a man’s wife began to feel her first delivery pains, or where someone had a final conversation with a friend who passed away not long after. Each of them has some memory sewn into the metal trellis chairs on the ground floor or to the thick shade trees.

Between the shoving to get inside and the screaming at others who have jumped the the line, there is the sound of “clicks” from dozens, or even hundreds, of cell phone cameras. “This is for Instagram and this for Facebook,” explains a teenager who poses in front of the sign of a ballerina’s plump legs above the iconic location’s name. He also takes a snapshot in front of a slogan, “La Habana real y maravillosa” (The real and wonderful Havana), that now appears on an exterior wall.

As the hours pass, enthusiasm dims and outrage grows. Around noon, after getting past the doorman trying to control the entrance, an avalanche of people runs through the esplanade to the staircase on the second floor, where the area known as the Tower is located. Their first surprise is the wallboard menu in this most exclusive area of Coppelia, which lists only eight flavors, half of what was promised.

When the crowd gets to the bottom of the stairway, they regroup. Some take the opportunity to fix their hair, some to straighten shirts which were rumpled in the scuffle outside and some to make sure they have not lost their wallets in the tumult. Children cannot stop smiling, their eyes open wide, as if they were on an adventure, monsters included, with a promised reward.

Eventually, little by little, everyone sits down. Then comes a second surprise: you may only order two specialties per person, a restriction that began with the crisis of a quarter of a century ago and which apparently is still in force despite a new, strikingly blue paint on the walls and employees in redesigned uniforms.

As has become customary, tables at Coppelia must be fully occupied. It does not matter if the people with whom you are seated are complete strangers. Some customers enjoy the surprise of being able to have a conversation with someone they are seeing for the first time. Others resent the lack of privacy and the unwanted, frightening encounters they imagine having.

Now seated after waiting four hours in line, Ulises — a 60-year-old restaurant worker — is still running his hand over a rib which was jabbed during the scrum to get inside. “Older people being pushed around, women with small children shoved to the ground, people in wheelchairs and with canes not given priority. And everyone fighting with the employees. I’ve never seen anyting like it,” he tells his companions.

“You didn’t experience Coppelia when it was Coppelia,” he says with a certain taste of nostalgia. Before paying, he very slowly counts his coins because, as he notes, no one gives him anything; he lives on his salary. This is a rarity, as difficult to find as a sliver of almond in the ice cream, which is now served on plastic plates when you order three scoops.

Next to him is a Cuban couple who now live in Florida and cannot stop laughing. “We needed a dose of Cuban reality but here we’ve gotten a full shower,” they joke. When the ice cream arrives, the woman takes a small taste but leaves the rest while the man takes several photos, which he will later post on Twitter. Meanwhile, Ulises takes a plastic container out of his bag and begins filling it with a melted chocolate and strawberry combination.

“The chocolate failed the test,” a young woman seated at another table is heard to say. “But the only thing on this plate I can eat is the chocolate. The strawberry is totally synthetic. There’s no fruit in it,” she adds with her nose near the plate. A dusting of cookie crumbs begins to fuse with the melted ice cream scoops.

One of the most frequently heard complaints involves the well known combination known as the “salad,” a mixture of five scoops with a few small cookies on the side, which can only be ordered with a mix of ice cream flavors. When a group of adolescents at one table asks an employee why this is, her only response is that it results from “a desire to provide a variety of flavors.”

But the ice cream fails to deliver. “Not creamy, tasteless and melted,” is how a mother with two children describes it, wrapping up her assessment with an “I won’t be coming back.”

After returning to his table smiling, another guest is eager share the details of his trip to the restroom. “They fixed all the toilets and there was even water for the sinks,” he explained. Though he wanted to provide more details of his experience, few listen to him.

At three o’clock a lady who has been in line with her granddaughter to go up to the Tower finally cries out in despair, “I have been here since 1:30 and everything they are saying on television is a lie. It’s an insult.” The woman has brought her daughter here for her birthday after the girl became intrigued by a report on the midday news about the successful reopening earlier in the day.

Images of the fights were not shown on national television, nor was the presence of police, who were there to maintain order, or the attendant trying to maintain discipline in the line. Instead, news reports only described calm and happiness. One customer adopted the idyllic tone, tellling a reporter, “It’s all beautiful, so beautiful.”

Far from camera range, one woman is compelled to seek shelter under a tree after waiting three hours in line. “This is abusive,” she repeats. Meanwhile, her two grandchildren, now on vacation from school, take advantage of not having to contend with the sun’s glare on their cell phone screens to share some wifi apps.

In the distance they can see an air-conditioned upper-floor salon offering ice cream for sale in hard currency. At The Four Jewels,* as the space inside Coppelia is known, smiling, sweat-free customers are enjoying a much more costly and creamy ice cream.

*Translator’s note: The space, named for four legendary dancers of the National Ballet of Cuba, was inaugurated in June 2013 by the ballet’s then-director, Alicia Alonso, in a ribbon cutting ceremony.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Gay Pride in Cuba: Without a March, Matrimony or Adoption

The Cuban LGBTI community has been left with the unmet demands of equality and equal marriage and the memories of the repression of May 11 still fresh. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 28 June 2019 — Tonight, in the privacy of their home and surrounded by some friends, René and Richard will have a symbolic wedding ceremony. “We were waiting for the Constitution to permit gay marriage to do it, but it looks like that will happen when it snows in Cuba,” jokes René. “We are tired of waiting and tonight we’re going say ’I do’ for ourselves, even if it’s not in any civil registry.”

The Cuban LGBTI community is celebrating this June 28, Gay Pride Day, inside. There will be nbo public march or rainbow flags on the facades of the institutions. With the unmet demands for marriage and adoption and the memories of the repression of May 11 still fresh, there is hardly anything to celebrate 50 years after the Stonewall riots that gave rise to the commemoration of this day all over the world.

René and Richard’s party will be attended by the latter’s parents and the sisters of both. René’s parents do not accept the union because they belong to one of the evangelical communities that most strongly opposed the inclusion in the Constitution of Article 68, which laid the foundations for equal marriage. “They almost have rejected me as a son and even if I could legally get married right now, nothing is going to change their reaction,” he laments. continue reading

In the neighborhood where they live and earn their living with a small hairdressing and massage business, many neighbors have accepted the situation but others do not speak to them, says Richard. “Although these are no longer like the times when there was even more rejection, we can not say that everything is a bed of roses. Sometimes someone insults me when I walk down the street and do not even think about walking hand in hand.”

Although Richard and René declare themselves “far removed from all the political wrangling” and do not engage in public LGBTI activism, they consider that from their place in society they are helping to move the wall of intolerance and rejection. “People have to understand that we are human beings and that we have the right to choose who we love,” one of them clarifies.

They have little confidence that the approval of a new Family Code, scheduled to happen in two years, contemplates the legalization of equal marriage and will give them full rights. Right now, if one of them has some mishap and dies, the other will not be able to get a widower’s pension and would not have the power to decide whether to bury or cremate his partner, should his family decides otherwise.

“Behind closed doors we are a couple like everyone else within the law, but as soon as we leave this house we are two people without any relationship before the law that rules the country,” René complains. “It’s like playing hide and seek, denying what everyone knows happens anyway,” he adds.

Yania, who asked that her name be changed for this report, drives a taxi leased from the State and has been with Leticia for seven years. Both are taking care of the latter’s son, the fruit of a previous relationship where abuse prevailed more than love. “We are two moms, although most of the neighbors think that I am her cousin and that I live with her to help her with the child, but they also gossip a lot about that,” she says.

Spending more than 14 hours a day behind the wheel, Yania supports her family while Leticia takes care of the child and domestic chores. At school, the taxi driver is called “Jeancarlos’s aunt” and the boy says “mama” only to his mother. He calls the other woman by a diminutive of her name. Both dream of being able to give him a little brother now that the family’s economic situation is better, thanks to the sale of a family home.

“We know we have no chance of being able to adopt a baby,” laments Yania. In the same block where she lives, a teenager from a family with problems of violence got pregnant and had proposed that they keep the baby. “But we do not want to do anything illegal, because tomorrow she will change her mind and we will not have any rights.”

In Cuba, the adoption of children by heterosexual couples is already complicated in itself. “If there are barely children available for adoption for heterosexual couples, who is going to open the possibility to homosexuals,” says an Education worker.

However, some have found ways to satisfy their desires for parenthood despite legal obstacles. “I grew up with two wonderful men and since I was little I knew they were a couple,” Liuba Herrera tells 14ymedio. Now a young college student, she was cared for from the time she was very small by two neighbors who lived next door to her house. “My biological mother was an alcoholic and ended up dying of cirrhosis of the liver.”

Carlos and Emmanuel, her two parents, took care of everything. “I had a childhood in which I did not lack anything, including love,” says Herrera. “At my school, some people made fun of me and made jokes in bad taste, but in the end they ended up accepting that I had two dads.” Now, their greatest dream is to become grandparents. “But they’ll have to wait because I’m still working toward graduation,” she says.

Today’s date, chosen in honor of the Stonewall riots (1969), has been extremely uncomfortable for the Plaza of the Revolution for decades, partly because the phenomenon originated in the United States in one of the moments of greatest rivalry between both governments. That aversion reached the point that the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), directed by Mariela Castro, opted to move the celebrations to the Day Against Homophobia, on May 17.

This year everything points to a stagnation for the LGBTI community in the struggle to conquer its rights. Ultimately, the article that would have opened the door to equal marriage was not included in the new Constitution, then came the cancellation of the conga celebration organized by the Cenesex and later the police violently arrested several activists who organized a march along the Paseo del Prado in Havana.

Despite having few reasons for the party, there are those who resist seeing this Friday as any other day, but little can be done in a country where free association does not exist and where many have preferred to live together as a couple, celebrating the day behind closed doors or raising a neighbor’s child because they can not adopt a baby.

“The ruling party has never taken the streets or celebrated this date. It has only been celebrated by the independent community, an example of that was the Gay Pride El Paseo that began in 2011,” gnacio Estrada tells 14ymedio. Estrada is, now a resident in Miami, was one of the organizers of that demonstration.

For the artist Adonis Milan, currently the greatest repression is “with the trans.” An LGBTI activist, Milan resides near Fraternity Park in Havana, a traditional meeting point for the community. “They [transsexuals] do not have jobs because they are not hired anywhere, so they live on prostitution, which is the only way they can sustain themselves,” he laments.

The police frequently raid the place, says Milan. “They arrive with a truck and take them away”, something that also happens in the vicinity of the Polivalente sports hall, another meeting place for transsexuals.

“They have already fined me three times and they fine me for male prostitution despite the fact that, in this case of meeting points, sex is for pleasure and not for money,” explains the artist. “The dynamics of the police is one of contempt and humiliation, but here there is no other place, the policy they follow with this community is hatred and contempt and they often mistreat us.”

The director of the Tremenda Nota magazine, Maykel González Vivero, does not believe that the repression of May 11 in the capital can be seen as a setback in the institutional attitude towards the community. “It is a position consistent with the official discourse, which has distrusted the rebellious nature of the LGBTI movement.” Remember that “Mariela [Castro] said that the so-called LGBTI Pride, the commemoration of Stonewall, is a commercial, capitalist party.”

For the journalist, “the closest thing to a Cuban Stonewall — people refused to accept the brakes applied by the authorities — was the march last 11 May, which Mariela rejected.” According to him, the Cuban authorities canceled the conga precisely because it coincided with a symbolic date, the 50th anniversary of the incidents in the New York bar. “In any case, the official notes do not lie, a disturbance was feared, which finally happened, something like a Stonewall.”

Although it is still a long time before Carlos and Emmanuel will be abvle to walk together as a couple with a grandson, the activist Isbel Diaz Torres, of the Rainbow Project, considers that “the Cuban Government’s policies of retreat on LGBTI rights have meant the perfect opportunity for an advance in the configuration of a true LGBTIQ movement on the Island.”

A few steps forward have been achieved “with autonomy and belligerence. No right is permanent or immovable, but we are learning that those obtained without struggle or social pressure, as benevolent gifts of power, are easier to lose than those conquered after a popular clamor, civic demands, the legitimate demands of the excluded.”

Torres points out that, after all, “to the Latin and African-American trans people of Stonewall, 50 years ago, nobody gave them anything.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Many Faces of Tarara

All that’s left of Tarará’s funicular is a tangle of iron (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 June 2019 — Few Cuban neighborhoods have changed as much over time as Tarará, east of Havana. It went from being a glamorous condominium to a children’s pioneer camp, then it became a hospital for children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident and later in a Spanish school for Chinese students. Everyone who is asked has different memories of the site.

The popularity in Cuba of the series Chernobyl, produced by the American HBO network and spread on the island through the ’weekly packeta semi-underground compendium of non-official entertainment sold on flash drives and other media — have put a spotlight on Tarará. The official media have attacked the script of the American series, which they accuse of being biased and of not showing the medical attention that many affected children received in Tarará in the years after 1986.

Yanet, 45, spent several weeks during primary school at the José Martí Pioneers Camp in this neighborhood. For her, memory has other tints more related to teaching activities and the student organization. “From first to sixth grade I went almost every year to Tarará, where we had classes and did recreational activities in the afternoon,” she recalls. continue reading

“I liked to go because it was fun but I also missed my family. The beach is very nice and there was also one of the best amusement parks in all of Havana but it got spoiled with time and there is nothing left,” she says. The City of the Pioneers, as it was also known, was inaugurated in July 1975 by Fidel Castro.

“That was a typical Robin Hood gesture,” reproaches Yanet. “It was like saying they took the houses away from the rich people who left Cuba and gave them to the children and families that used to be poor, but over time they also took them from us.” The huge chalets, the condominiums with French windows and large terraces, still recall their bourgeois past.

In the 525 houses of this small paradise only 17 families remain of those who originally lived in Tarará in the ’50s. The rest emigrated or lost their property after the arrival of Fidel Castro to power.

In the 80s, coinciding with the boom of the Soviet subsidy, the huge complex came to have a cultural center, seven dining rooms, five teaching blocks, a hospital, an amusement park and even an attractive cable car that crossed between two hills over the Tarará river; all that remains of it today is jumble of rusted iron.

Now, the village is preparing to undergo a new reconversion, as the arrival of a group of 50 Ukrainian children, descendants of those affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, has been announced.

Another of the changes in Tarará, and one that has raised the most complaints, is the closure of the Celia Sánchez Manduley School for Asthmatics and Diabetics, a boarding school in which the teaching hours were combined with the specific training to manage these diseases. Asthma affects 92.6 Cubans of every 1,000 inhabitants of all ages, according to data from the National Asthma Commission and the Cuban Society of Allergy, Asthma and Clinical Immunology.

Although one year has passed since the closure, the center’s alumni and their families are still waiting for a response from the Education authorities.

Tarará became a hospital for children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident. (Enrique de la Osa)

Luis Alejandro, the fictitious name of one of the students, remembers the five years he spent there between 2008 and 2013 pleasantly. “That school had no relationship to the rest of the country, there were excellent professionals, everything was great,” he recalls. The students spent the whole school week in the boarding school, they arrived on Sunday at six in the afternoon and left on Fridays, after lunch in a bus from the school itself.

“We had a routine. Like all those in boarding schools we got up at 6:00. The first thing we did before washing was to take the medication,” he says. Despite the fact that in the rest of the country’s schools the concept of snack was eradicated years ago, Luis Alejandro and the other asthmatic patients received three daily snacks in addition to the meals.

But the most important thing was the treatment for his illness. “The time there helped me a lot and there was never a lack of medicines, we got used to doing breathing exercises and learned to live with the disease.” Diabetic students were also taught to inject insulin themselves and to measure their blood sugar.

But one day everything ended. “The closing came without anyone expecting it, the first thing that happened was that the Ministry of Public Health ordered that the hospital be converted into one to serve tourists, in the style of La Pradera (a center for healthcare for tourists). This experiment did not work and they closed it, that’s when the problem started, because without a nearby hospital to deal with all the conditions [affecting the students], the school could not stay,” he recalls.

“The first step they took was to close registration [for new students], then they waited to graduate to the last year of ninth grade and then they closed it in June of that last year,” explains Luis Alejandro. The place still belongs to the Ministry of Education but the property is suffering from lack of use and maintenance.

Since the school was created in 1985 and until 2013 (the last year for which data are available) there were more than 5,000 asthmatic children and around 500 diabetics who attended there. The installation was close to the beach and that pure air was very beneficial for asthmatics.

On June 29 of the last year, the same day of the closing of the school, Carlos Javier Acosta, one of the students, lamented the situation on Facebook. “Today really was a sad day for me, it was the last day of a school that saw part of my childhood and adolescence, the school where I learned to live with my illness, where I knew friendship, where I was trained as a good person, where I learned to be independent because I was a boarding school student.”

For others, the saddest day was when they said goodbye not only to Tarará but also to the country. “My father had bought a piece of land in the place and built a nice two-story house with an ocean view,” recalls Gerardo Ponce, a Cuban exile whose family left the island with only what they could “carry in their suitcases,” he recalls. His father had set up a small pharmacy business that was confiscated in the early 1960s.

“I don’t want to go back because it is not what it used to be and I do not want to spoil my memories,” he says.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

’Consolez Vous,’ The Cuban ’Sex Shop’ That Seeks to Integrate Art and Pleasure

Alejandro Bobadilla, one of the artists involved in Consolez Vous. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 9 June 2019 — In a city where basic products are scarce, thinking about buying a sex toy, never mind the taboo, can be a real odyssey. In Cuba there are no stores “for adults” and XXX cinema is viewed with suspicion or persecuted by the authorities.

A group of artists wanted to break with the canons of a society that rejected “bourgeois morality” in the ’60s but that keeps intact the puritanisms and taboos of that era. Consolez Vous — the name is French and means roughly ’Console Yourself’ — is the project of the artists Yanahara Mauri, Javier Alejandro Bobadilla and Joan Díaz, who during the last Biennial of Havana stormed the Cuban Art Factory with the provocative idea of installing a sex shop. Their pieces are now exhibited at La Marca, as part of the Design Biennial, convened and organized by the National Design Office.

“Everything started as a project of the Biennial, we presented it and they accepted it. Although the initial idea was not to participate in the Biennial, this work began much earlier, with the project of establishing a store,” says Bobadilla in an interview with 14ymedio. continue reading

For the artist, the important thing is not the objects themselves, but “the gesture of openly and publicly” establishing a sex shop in Cuba. “I was very skeptical, I have always been pessimistic and I did not think that it would be approved for the Biennial but, well, they accepted it, like magic,” he says.

The original idea was to establish a traveling store. “We wanted to go to the opening of the art shows and set up the store there or park a couple of days at the fairs where they sell handicrafts, shoes, wallets and sell there, near the town,” he explains. The authorities did not accept this proposal and placed the proposal in the Art Factory, a place where thousands of people enter daily.

“These erotic objects are all transparent, they have messages and things inside, apart from the mixtures of colors. We prepare the right environment to make them look better and be more appealing. We put up banners, we set up like a boutique. Every day that the Factory opened, we were going to sell, from Thursday to Sunday, “explains Bobadilla, a cybernetic professional.

To make the pieces, they use polyester resin. “The material is liquid, it looks like honey, then you put another substance that hardens it. We give it a form using condoms, which are difficult to obtain, because they are missing from pharmacies,” he adds.

We have toys of different sizes and colors, some are smooth but there are others that have curves. In the shop some complained that the objects “do not vibrate” or that “they are very hard.” Others asked that silicone be used instead of resin.

Customs prohibits “natural persons” (individuals) from importing goods, and self-employed people do not have the legal standing to do so. “What else would I like. With a silicone tank and a 3D printer there is much we can produce, but, although we want to promote the industry, we have the ’internal blockade.’ This business in Cuba is very complicated,” he laments.

In the absence of places licensed for the sale of sex items, an illegal market has developed in the country. A sex toy costs between 20 and 60 CUC. Sex shops in Cuban exist clandestinely in private homes with products arriving in the country in the baggage of the so-called ’mules’ — individuals who bring items through customs.

The Consolez Vous artistic project ran throughout the month of April and the first week of May at the Art Factory, at which point the institution abruptly closed. The artists sometimes wandered away from  their small space with erotic objects in hand to provoke potential customers and although some walked away embarrassed, others entered to look.

“Some people buy it for decoration, in the end this is art. If someone asks me if I’m selling dildos will tell him no, that what I sell are sculptures, what they used after they leave the store is someone else’s problem,” says Bobadilla.

Although at first the idea was to give away the objects, the high price of the raw material forced the artists to sell their work. Each sexual object is sold at 5 CUC (roughly 5 dollars). The price barely covers the investment, but it is part of the purpose of the display: “For these objects to be within reach of people’s wallets,” he adds.

One of the sex toys of the Consolez Vous project. (14ymedio)

The artists want the Cuban public to change their perception of sexual objects. “In some cases couples came into the store together. Others preferred to leave their wife or husband outside. Many were laughing at the entrance without daring to pass. We always provoke people and hawk the goods, like in agriculture,” he adds.

“For the Biennial we made 500 toys and we only have one small box left in Matanzas. We have sold more than 400,” says Bobadilla proudly, dreaming of having his own shop in the Art Factory.

“The difference between the toys that come from abroad and ours is that what we offer to the Cuban public, in addition to costing a lot less, is art,” he emphasizes. “Art made in Cuba.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Eight Years of Rationed Water in Bauta

Service cuts occur more and more frequently and, when the water arrives, it does so with very little pressure. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, havana, 29 May 2019 — The water is not reaching Bauta, one of the municipalities of the young province of Artemisa. For about eight years, many of its more than 40,000 inhabitants have been introducing their own measures so that the locality’s water problems are less and less evident in their homes.

And water is all anyone talks about. The service cuts happen more and more frequently and, when the water does arrive, it does so with very little force and at established times that force the residents to store it in tanks to have it available all day.

Rosa is a resident of La Cubalina, one of the neighborhoods of Bauta most affected by the scarcity of water. “Here the water flow remained stable for a few days — it came every day around five in the afternoon — but in the last week no water came. I have a little bit of it that I picked up at a neighbor’s house, but I have it stored for cooking. I have to clean but I’ll just sweep just because I have an old woman in bed and that is my priority,” says the woman. continue reading

To “endure these crises”, some people have paid for a tanks and a cistern, but she has not been able to afford that so far. “Just now I was able to buy the tanks that I already put on the roof, but I still lack the pipes and the installation; all that costs money, and I can’t afford it all at once, it’s little by little.”

Around the corner lives Nuvia Méndez, and as she sits in her neighbor’s doorway and talks with other residents “the only thing you can talk about,” is the water. “That’s the issue here, there’s nothing else, we’ve been without it for more than a week and the authorities do not care, not everyone can afford the installation of an elevated tank and a cistern, my husband carries water on the pedicab, but he’s older and we are retired and he can’t handle all that coming and going.”

The problem of water has been joined by another, the difficulties in collecting garbage. “It’s been 15 days since the tractor that collects the bags has passed by,” says Méndez.

Bauta does not have garbage containers, each neighbor takes his bag to the door of his house to be collected on Tuesdays, but many houses had up to three bags sitting out, many of them smelly and covered with flies.

Some residents who do not want to have stinky bags at the entrance of their home pay a driver, but he just takes the bag and throws it on a corner. Although there is a police placard that says “forbidden to throw garbage, do not pollute the environment or put children’s lives at risk,” the mountain of waste grows by the minute.

Many of the houses in the village have tanks on their roofs and some neighbors have improvised a cistern in their doorway burying a tank on the ground. In some areas the situation is not so critical. The residents of 142nd Street have benefited from a better supply of water since a new pipe was installed, but the crisis touches them even there.

Jorge Luis is one of the lucky ones who lives in that street. In his doorway he has a little receptacle where many neighbors come to fill their buckets.

“Here at least the water comes. Sometimes they fill it, sometimes they do not fill it, because it has a schedule; they said it was from ten in the morning to ten at night, but right now there’s no water.

Often it’s not chlorinated, they’re very relaxed about that. This is the best part, because we have this pipeline, the new one that was connected to the Party well. They say it because it is next to the municipal Party, and it has been almost two years since it was installed but it only came this far for a year. Before that the water did not come here either. We’ve had eight years already without running water because the pipes do not work,” he says.


The shortage has been chronic for eight years, although some times are worse, such as the last week, in which not a drop. (14ymedio)

The man also complains about the sewer system. “The drainage is another thing, we have a pit that we share among three houses, but they never come to clean it, although Public Health reported it, but nothing, they don’t come. We have that pouring into the street and, right now, you do not see much, because there’s no water at all, but when you the water comes, you will see running down the street, the clean next to the dirty. There are no sewers here, only on the corner is there one,” he protests.

Yumurí and Belica are two other districts of Bauta affected by the lack of water. A rupture in one of the pipes brought a brigade of the Artemisa Provincial Water and Sewer Company out to the lowest part of that zone.

“It’s been like a week since water came. This pipe has always been split and the water is jetted in. We had this break for more than fifteen days, when it rains, it floods and we have to wait for them to come and clean it,” says Luis Ernesto, one of the residents of the Belica neighborhood who tries to help the workers who are repairing a broken pipeline.

The area has even approached the president of the Popular Council to try to organize the work. “I think that this is resolved today, although the backhoe is missing,” he says, referring to the team that digs out the dirt to place the pipe.

The workers, who are not so optimistic, comment that a few days ago the equipment arrived, but the fuel was missing. “At this point of the month no company has any,” they say. But the official replies, “The fuel is already there, what is needed is the equipment,” he told the workers, who rested in the shade in the face of the impossibility of continuing to work.

Luis Ernesto believes that not enough information is provided about the situation in the municipality or about the causes that are the sources of these problems. “We have called everywhere but they always tell us something different, the truth is that we have been dealing with this problem for years and it has not been solved.”

One of the workers is very clear about it: “The problem with La Cubalina is that the valve does not work.” In the farm where the pipe passes, there’s a lost key to the passage. There is no water in the pipeline, the solution is to change everything from above to where the houses start, and this way La Cubalina will have a complete water system.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.