Million-Dollar Bank Deposits Amount to an Illegal Operation by the Cuban Government

At least five people report finding a million convertible pesos in their bank accounts. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, April 8, 2021 — “It’s to cushion the reorganization,” was the response one young businesswoman got from Banco Metropolitano after waking up on Tuesday and finding a million convertible peos, or CUCs, in her bank account. “This doesn’t make any sense to me. A lot of people are complaining about the same thing. I’m really worried,” she says.

Madrid-based Cuban economist Elías Amor raises the possibility that “the Cuban banking system is moving significant sums of money through bank accounts to hide problematic situations in anticipation of an investigation by some of Cuba’s creditors such as the Club of Paris and Russia,” he says.

“It suggests an attempt to hide fortunes amassed by private individuals working for the regime or huge sums of money in some state-owned commercial accounts.”

Either way, it would amount to financial engineering, which he describes as “an illegal operation.” continue reading

This week a dozen Cubans have reported the same experience on social media: unexpectedly large balances in their bank accounts. In at least five cases it was the same figure: one million CUC.

The bank explained it was a “fictitious amount,” warning them not to “touch or withdraw” it, without providing further information.

“That’s what worries me. It’s the equivalent of 24 million Cuban pesos, which translates to [hundreds of] thousands of dollars,” says the young woman. She is also concerned about the possibility of having to pay taxes on a huge sum of money she has not earned.

When she shared her experience on social media, she learned she had friends —most of them artists and private-sector workers — who were in the same situation. “They are all self-employed and all suddenly found they had a third bank account in CUC,” she explains.

“The same thing happened to me yesterday” and “I just took a look at my account and I’m a millionaire” were some of the comments on social media.

“The bank doesn’t notify you in advance that they’re going to do this or send you an alert. It’s really alarming,” replies one of her colleagues.

“I woke up to find a million CUC in my bank account. I reported this to the bank and they told me it’s because of currency unification, that I can’t touch the money. Am I the only one or are there other people like me?” asks someone else on social media.

It’s not the first time a problem like this has been reported. In early March 14ymedio learned of a technical problem that had affected account balances at Banco de Crédito y Comercio (Bandec) and Banco Popular de Ahorro (BPA), which operate Transfermovil and EnZona banking apps in various parts of the country. At the time several depositors reported having lost part of their savings while others told of receiving surprising large sums of money.

The official response was a brief message on Twitter that alluded to “some difficulties” in network payment services due to “technical problems” with the Transfermóvil app.

____________

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

“The Mambises had Machetes in the Fight for Freedom. We have Telephones and Paintbrushes”

Reynier Leyva Novo’s installations, his photos and projects, are a constant reading and rereading of the national memory. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 5 April 2021 — The hero, the high priest, the Revolution, slavery… The controversial issues that Reynier Leyva Novo (Havana, 1983) addresses in his work have made him one of the most important Cuban visual artists of his generation.

Novo’s work, which has been exhibited in Mexico, the United States, Italy, Germany and Brazil, as well as in Cuba, weaves the story together with stitches of poetry, and embroiders, in the poetic, signs that come from the political. His installations, photos and his projects are a constant reading and rereading of the national memory.

Currently, the artist is exhibiting the second part of the show “What Is, What Has Been” at the gallery El Apartamento. It is conceived in two parts. The first, “Neither Marble nor Sighs, The Nation’s Fundamentals”, was exhibited in December.  During these days, the artist prepared the second installment: “Cartography of Freedom, Prison, Economy and Liberty”.

14ymedio: You did not graduate from the Higher Institute of Art (ISA), why?

Novo: I resigned from ISA: I fell madly in love with a girl and I went to Mexico with her, but before that, I presented documents indicating I was sick with hepatitis, and while there, a document arrived at my house stating that I was no longer enrolled due to desertion. Of course, I did not agree with that decision, because I had my medical documents in order, and when I returned, exactly one year later, I submitted a letter of complaint to request re-enrollment and it was approved. A few months later, I voluntarily decided to drop out of school because I felt like I wasn’t learning much. There was a crisis, it was the 2008-2009 academic year, the teachers competed with the students and were almost at the same level as us. The teaching system was very rigid and very precarious. continue reading

A few months later I voluntarily decided to drop out of school because I felt like I wasn’t learning much.

14ymedio: Then, one day you decided not to return.

Novo: I had been in Mexico for a whole year. I visited the great murals of David Alfaro Siqueiros while I was there, Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, I had seen the colors, the monumentality of those stimulating works, I had been in their presence. Well, one day I came to a Latin American Art class at ISA and they were teaching Mexican muralism. They began to show these works through faded slides, projected small on the wall. I realized that this had nothing to do with reality and I said to myself: “If this is the case with this subject, it must be more or less similar with everything. Maybe when they teach me some philosophy it will be at this same level”. I made a horizontal parallel line of all the degree subjects and I understood that they were teaching us in a distorted way. I said to myself: ‘I have to get out of here’.

14ymedio: Do you think that Cuban art academies try to impose a pattern of what it is to be an artist?

Novo: There is a part of the school that is very repetitive, you imitate great teachers and nature a lot. In that process there really is not much creativity. I began to create personally around the third year of San Alejandro thanks to a teacher named Rolando Vázquez who gave us more conceptual exercises. In attempting to solve these exercises I began to have ideas of my own. This is how I started in the world of sculpture, to work with space and that type of dynamics, something that was later strengthened at the ISA with research and the theoretical study of creative processes.

There is always a guide, because in the end everything has to do with success. Everyone does something to get to places and people create formulas. In my case, I was quite radical, intuitive. I was a bad student, at that time I was already living in Párraga and I was missing school, I was absent, super late, and it was very difficult for me to get into that rigid space where certain things had to be done. Many times, I would start to go to school and would stray with members of the neighborhood, and I would play rumba as well as talk garbage. That space was also stimulating and creative for me, I always went to drink more from the sources of life itself than from art.

14ymedio: At that time you had already gone through the Tania Bruguera’s Cátedra de Arte de Conducta (Behavior Art School). What did that space mean at that time?

Novo: I was there for two years and it was parallel to my first courses at ISA. The Cátedra was a time of great expansion. Now I see it and compare it with the moment when I opened up to social networks for the first time, when I became a Facebook member, for example, which was a huge expansion, suddenly finding many people who I thought were lost. People who are in other countries are suddenly by your side. Your social body expands because you post a photo, which could be in your wallet or at home, but if you post it on social networks it expands, and the Cátedra de Arte de Conducta was that for me. It was like fragmenting the mind into thousands of pieces, like dynamite, with people coming from all over the world to teach us. That program is most likely one of the best that has taken place in Cuba at the level of artistic education. The environment was completely different from the school, although it was born as an academic project within the ISA.

14ymedio: Throughout your career you have encountered censorship several times.

Novo: I think the moment where I experienced censorship firsthand, raw and frontally, was at the 50th Anniversary Collection exhibition at the Visual Arts Development Center in 2009. Sachie Hernández ran the place at that time. The exhibition was a series of T-shirts, posters, collages with clippings from the Granma newspaper, a commemorative baseball, a collection of stamps, a book; a kind of ideological advertising campaign of about 50 years of the Cuban Revolution.

The wording on the T-shirts and the iconography of the posters had a lot to do with the editorial aesthetics of Granma at that time. The signs I generated with the collages were really strong, politically strident, very confrontational. I remember that on inauguration day, a demonstration for non-violence was held, that Yoani Sánchez was not allowed to get there, and music acts were invented to extinguish any type of demonstration. That day, the Development Center got hot, because people from the march began to arrive and communicated what was happening. Amaury Pacheco and Adrián Monzón were among other artists who were already, in some way, connected with the dissent. The days were warm, the atmosphere was tense. 

They brought an order that said that Los Aldeanos could not sing at State cultural institutions, and I could not do anything

14ymedio: But at what point did the censorship arrive?

Novo: I wanted everything to be a multimedia show, we did visual projections and we had invited several rappers to sing, Los Aldeanos, Silvito el Libre, Maykel Xtremo and Danay Suárez. Everyone but Los Aldeanos was able to participate. It was an explicit censure. I remember several meetings with Sachie and the National Council of Plastic Arts. They brought an order saying that Los Aldeanos could not sing in State cultural institutions and there was nothing I could do.

I tried so that the part that was being censored did not sacrifice the whole of the entire exhibition, although it had already been mutilated. Some posters and collages had to be taken down from the wall, but even so, there was still a majority that wanted them to be displayed. Later, I learned that the pressure on the director of the Center had been enormous and that the State Security had summoned her several times, in addition to some anonymous ones who sent tor her questioning the exhibition. Within a few months, she was officially separated from her position. That was the first chapter of censorship that I experienced.

14ymedio: You were among the artists who protested against Decree 349 and among those who were in front of the Ministry of Culture on November 27th. What leads you to get involved in these causes?

Novo: I have always looked for trouble, perhaps because I raise my voice when I have to because of my sense of justice. In the historic moment that we are living, to ignore what happens is to be part of the problem and I want to be part of the solution. I want things to change because they don’t have to be this way, we live in a country where everything has to be done in a specific way and it doesn’t have to be that way. I think the wrong side is not raising your voice. I feel like I’m in the right place doing what I have to do.

14ymedio: Do you think that this has resulted in a deterioration of your relationship with the country’s cultural institutions?

Novo: My relationship with the Ministry of Culture and with the authorities in power has changed radically, the thing is that I am not interested. I continue to greet all the officials in the same way. I feel that my position is not against them, but against the institution they represent. For some time now, I have not been interested in using Cuban institutions for anything, although they are there for a reason and they could accomplish a completely different job, I think they have closed the doors to me. However, I feel that I can be an institution, and that all of us, together, my group of friends, for example, generate spaces as legitimate as the institutions themselves.

For some time now, I have not been interested in using Cuban institutions for anything, although they are there for a reason and they could accomplish a completely different job, I think they have closed the doors to me

14ymedio: Since launching the song Patria y Vida [Homeland and Life] a wave of much official controversy has been generated. How do you see the concept of “homeland”?

Novo: The homeland is full of death, because we have built that concept based on sacrifice and heroism, but homeland can also be something else completely different. The concept that has been followed since 1959 has a dark meaning of sacrifice. That is what the Cuban State asks of the people, to sacrifice themselves, that one has to die for the country, but in reality, if you die, the country ends for you, therefore, it is better to live for it.

There is also a very great vice of following things literally and it has a lot to do with the lyrics of the Cuban National Anthem, when it says that “to die for the homeland is to live”. Things must be seen at the time and according to the historical context that was taking place. The Bayamo anthem is from 1867, Cuba was under an iron colonial system and it must be understood that, at that time, Cubans who fought for independence were able to think that way and were willing to give their lives for that independence. They interpreted the motherland as the need to die for her.

Now it doesn’t have to be this way, we are in the 21st century and we have the ability to see things differently. The problem that has been generated with Patria y Vida is because they cannot accept the content and the truths in the song, palpable truths. They do not want a break in their rhetoric brought by people who do not currently live in Cuba, such as some of those musicians who created the musical theme. The homeland space has been circumscribed to the national territory, so if you are outside the Island, you are no longer recognized as part of this homeland, however, this is not so. The homeland is a transnational entity that surpasses the country’s borders, it is within us all the time. The controversy that has been generated around such a beautiful song that promotes something so human is meaningless.

The homeland is a transnational entity that surpasses the country’s borders, it is within us all the time

14ymedio: Many artists of your generation have gone to live abroad, did you choose to stay in Cuba to fight for freedom?

Novo: The Cuban nation owes a debt to peace and freedom. From our small projection space and with our own tools we are fighting for freedom. The mambises had machetes and we have telephones, computers, and paintbrushes. Each one of us, in the circuit of friends we are connected to, is thinking of a prosperous Cuba with freedoms, democratic and open. That Cuba we dream of, the one that should be, and that I believe that in some way we are achieving. I don’t like to think about it all the time because it is like doing a historiography of the present. Sometimes one solves more by washing a plate than by thinking that the plate can be washed in one way or another. The important thing is to get things done, to be here.

I have never seriously considered leaving Cuba, although the reality is getting more difficult every day. There is a great lack of everything, and an overwhelming poverty of spirit and material. I have traveled to many places and I know that you can live differently, but I have always thought that this is where I have to do things and you reach a point where you say: ‘If I am here it is because I have decided to be here, and I am fulfilling a function’. I hope I can fulfill a function.

Translated by Norma Whiting

____________

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

“A Green Tour” by Ecotaxi Through Havana, Although Not So Green

Ecotaxis are advertised “100% ecological” and at a price of 4 pesos per ticket. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 2 April 2021 — Among old and polluting almendrones*, the new Ecotaxis that carry passengers gleam on the outer edges of the National Bus Terminal in Havana. The vehicles are part of a project, funded with international capital, that seeks to preserve the environment, although they still need fossil fuel to function.

Yellow and with “100% ecological” and “zero emission” stickers, the 23 tricycles that circulate in the Cuban capital have received wide coverage in the official press. However, five months after the service started, the solar panels used to charge the batteries still do not function, and the Ecotaxis depend on the electricity grid for supply.

According to Cubadebate, the project was possible in part thanks to the Small Grants program of the Global Environment Fund, which included the installation of a photovoltaic park with 10-kilowatt power to charge the tricycles.

The photovoltaic modules “are already installed,” Ernesto Reyes, director of Taxis Cuba agency number 9, to which the vehicles belong, explains to 14ymedio by telephone. However, they still do not work.

At the moment, the units “are being charged approximately seven hours, from ten at night to five in the morning” connected to conventional outlets

“Only one converter is missing” for them to start working. Meanwhile, the option is to connect them to the national electricity system, which is 95% supplied with fossil fuels.

At the moment, the equipment “is being charged for approximately seven hours, from ten at night to five in the morning,” connected to conventional outlets that consume the electricity that reaches the state entity, stated Reyes. The operation is conducted “after peak hours,” he adds.

Activating the panels “is more complicated”, acknowledges another employee of the entity, who prefers to remain anonymous.

An engineer who also does not want to reveal his name, explains another problem to 14ymedio. The battery capacity of this equipment is 14.4-kilowatt hours (kWh) and the motor consumption is 3 kW. Each vehicle’s engine can work at maximum power for more than four hours for and travel 120 kilometers.

Of the total of 23 vehicles in operation, 11 cover the route that goes from the National Bus terminal to the train terminal, and the rest from the railway terminal to the Hospital Hermanos Ameijeiras. (14ymedio)

“The most powerful solar panels that are usually installed locally are 450 watts (W)”, details the specialist. “Ten panels represent 4.5 kW, and 14.4 kW is needed in order to charge a battery. 30 solar panels are needed to charge once a single motorcycle. To recharge the 23 motorcycles, 331.2 kW will be needed per day”. This, in any case, says the engineer, “will probably be more economical than using fuel”.

“It could be said that it is ecological, but not one hundred percent”, he says.

The other issue highlighted by the professional is that “to generate that amount of energy they need a solar generation system of approximately 55 kW per hour”, which translates into “450 W of 120 solar panels”, a figure well above of the 10 kW that the company’s photovoltaic park could guarantee, once it is in operation.

Currently, a total of 23 teams operate under the Ecotaxi system, of which 11 cover the route that goes from the National Bus terminal, through Infanta, Zanja, Curita Park, Fraternity Park and Cienfuegos Street, to the train terminal. The rest goes from the railway terminal to the Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital.

“Many of us worked as Cocotaxis drivers, and now we are providing our services here. The rest switched by virtue of having licenses to drive both a car and a motorcycle”

The project is funded primarily by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to “promote the empowerment of women through income earning, and to achieve gender equality.” Which is the reason why all the drivers are women.

Yanitza de Caridad Reyes Ramírez, one of them, states that during her time as a driver she has done “very well” and that “it is an excellent job opportunity”.

She found out about the job “through the call made by the Federation of Cuban Women right here at the base,” agency number 9 of Taxis Cuba (on Desagüe Street). “Many of us worked as Cocotaxis drivers and now we are serving here. The rest switched by virtue of having licenses to drive cars and motorcycles,” she says.

Reyes does not want to specify how much she earns per month after taxes and how much the company keeps, but she assures that she “does well”, because the course “is relatively short, and the price is more accessible to the public than any taxi”. She also pointed out that in reality “most of the time customers leave the five pesos”, one peso more than the ticket costs.

Ramona Vázquez, a former cycling and skating athlete, explains that in order to participate in the project, you must have at least three to five years of experience and a car license. “Someone who has recently obtained a driver’s license cannot take part in the project, people are transported here, and the lives of the passengers imply responsibility,” she says. “We do not have a fixed salary. The owner has to provide 125 pesos a day, the one who is hired, 300. I am not the owner, I am an assistant, but I am already working to become the owner”.

“We do not have a fixed salary.  The owner has to provide 125 pesos a day, the one who is hired, 300. I am not the owner, I am an assistant, but I am already working to become the owner”

In an approximate calculation, if there are 6 seats, in one trip the driver could earn at least 24 pesos that would add up to 432 after completing the 18 trips of the day. If they have to deliver 125 to the company, the daily profit would be 307 pesos before subtracting 10% for the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT).

This is for the owner-drivers. The hired or assistants, on the other hand, have to give 300 pesos to the company and they keep 132.

Sometimes the team breaks down and they have to stop working and, of course, income goes down. “It is the same system as the Gazelle, we can have an assistant, we take turns, three days for her and three days for me, the issue is that she has to be a woman and have car and motorcycle licenses”.

Another of the women who preferred not to tell us her name, does it in a different way, declares that this job does not “give her business”, but that it is convenient for her to have a link with the State and that is why she was contracted.

In addition to the payment to the ONAT, she also pays the cost of repairs done on the motorcycle. “I don’t make enough,” she asserts. “It is not profitable for me to have an assistant. Today, I don’t feel well, yet here I am at the helm. With what I earn, I hardly have enough for my daily expenses, and cannot afford to dream of putting something in the bank. If you do not have access to another income, you are in trouble”.

*Translator’s note: The classic American cars still common in Cuba are nicknamed “almendrones” in reference to their “almond” shape; many of these are used as taxis.

Translated by Norma Whiting

____________

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

Young Cubans’ Nightmare

Some young people’s parents allow them to go out alone, but most spend much of their time at home. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 22 March 2021 — Alicia Quevedo’s dream was to turn 18 so that she could go out with her friends at night, stay over at her boyfriend’s house and be allowed to spend a weekend at the beach. On January 11th, the expected day arrived, but two months later, she has not yet been able to fulfill a single one of her three wishes. Her mother and her grandmother insist that she stay home and avoid unnecessary visits.

“The challenge of having adolescents confined for the year this coronavirus crisis has lasted has been very tough. Young children are harder to take care of, physically, it is true, but teenagers do not like to be under the family’s radar 24/7, they get very rebellious and anxious”, says the mother. “Sometimes I relent and allow her the occasional short visit, but most of the time she is at home without being able to see her friends or go out with them”, she adds.

And of course, that is what Alicia wants the most, she’s dying to see her friends. “My mother spends the day watching what I do, watching that I don’t smoke, don’t listen to that music or do not talk to a certain friend whom she dislikes. In normal times she would not even know what I do, but of course, now we are together all the time and she does not take her eyes off me”, she laments. continue reading

“In normal times she would not even know what I do, but of course, now we are together all the time and she does not take her eyes off me”

In general, parents of adolescents find it difficult to explain the dangers posed by COVID because they feel invincible.

“My daughter watches the news and knows perfectly, according to the data, that her age range is not the most problematic and that makes it very difficult for me to convince her to stay home, I have to get tough. I even talked to a psychologist but she told me that it is normal, that at that age it is a problem to make them follow the current measures because they want to see their friends and be able to go out and in no way understand to what extent social distancing helps them keep them away from contagion”, she explained.

According to this mother, the specialist recommended that she speak clearly to the young woman and tell her that the problem is not in them, that the important thing is to make them see that they could be asymptomatic carriers and infect others. “I tell her, look, you can’t know if your friends are well or sick, and if you catch it, nothing will happen to you, but if your 76-year-old grandmother gets sick she could die, that’s how hard it is. I spoke to her that sternly but she still complains”.

It is a consensus among psychologists that, for adolescents and young people, being with friends is the most important thing in their lives. One of these specialists who spoke to 14ymedio – asking to remain anonymous to avoid problems at her workplace – commented that one has to “have a talk with the kids” and listen to what they are feeling in order to “try to understand them”, and for them so see that the family understands how frustrating the isolation is for them.

It is a consensus among psychologists that for adolescents and young people, being with friends is the most important thing in their lives. (14ymedio)

“From time to time you can be flexible in some of the measures. Letting them talk on the phone and spend time on social networks can help fill that void in socialization that they are living through right now. One has to find ways to motivate them at home, with family board games, watching a movie or a series together, activities that involve everyone”, she recommended.

The mother complains that there are things that do not help, because “not all parents take the measures seriously” and that makes it difficult to make her daughter see the severity of the problem. “There are some parents who are not complying with all the established measures, and allow their kids to be out on the street all day. So, what can I say to my daughter when she looks out the window and sees one of her friends playing dominoes in the park or sitting on the benches talking?”

She also says that her daughter is very distressed because she is “missing out on things: she missed her best friend’s 15th birthday party, her theater workshop graduation, and her boyfriend’s birthday party. But I can’t risk her being where there are so many people because I have to care for my mother. Besides, the last thing I want right now is to have any of the family hospitalized”.

 A survey conducted by UNICEF at the end of last year shows that the COVID-19 crisis has had “a significant impact” on the mental health of young people in Latin America and the Caribbean

A survey conducted by UNICEF at the end of last year shows that the COVID-19 crisis has had “a significant impact” on the mental health of young people in Latin America and the Caribbean. The study collected the comments of 8,444 adolescents and young people between the ages of 13 and 29 in nine countries in the region and broke down feelings they had to face during the first months of the pandemic, specifically in September.

Some 27% of the participants said they felt anxiety and 15% were depressed in the last seven days, while 46% reported having less motivation to do “activities that they normally enjoyed”. According to the study, young people’s perception of the future has also been negatively affected.

However, other adolescents have looked for better ways to pass the time and, within the pandemic, they have found motivations. Jennifer de la Vega is now finishing twelfth grade, but according to her grandmother “she is helping high school boys” who live in the building with reviews of the subject where she considers herself “a specialist”, and where many of her neighbors “are lazy”: mathematics.

“I go to their houses and help them solve the tele-classes exercises. I also explain the new content. It is a bit like playing teacher, something that I liked to do a lot when I was little, but now my students are not stuffed animal puppets, but friends from the building,” says the girl who confesses that her friends at school made fun of her for being “always on time” and always studying.

“I also like to read a lot. I have downloaded several books on the phone and spend hours on it. I also want this to be over, but I am taking advantage of my free time in productive things to avoid going crazy thinking about what I am missing. Like many, the arrival of the coronavirus has changed our routines and I have tried to make it better, not only for myself, but also for those around me”, says Jennifer.

Maceo Park, which normally welcomes young soccer fans, looked deserted this Friday afternoon. (14ymedio)

The parks where young people usually gather in Havana are empty. Maceo Park, which normally welcomes young soccer fans, looked deserted this Friday afternoon. The same panorama was seen in the Parque de los Mártires, in Infanta and San Lázaro, and also at the intersection of Línea and L Streets, in the El Vedado neighborhood. Despite the disappointment, most of the young people are at home, waiting for the nightmare to end.

____________

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

Cuban Mothers Complain: TV Cannot Replace the Classroom Teacher

Cuban parents are increasingly concerned, the longer TV replaces the classroom teacher. (ACN)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 March 2021 — Elena Meriño’s work table has changed its geography since her children have stopped going to school. Mountains of books and notebooks and loose sheets of homework pile up alongside her work commitments. Since the coronavirus pandemic arrived in Cuba a year ago, the dining room of her apartment became her office, and the living room, the classroom of her children who are now in second and fifth grade.

The pictures on the main wall of the room were taken down to mount the blackboard that helps them keep the order of the day and better visualize the exercises. A small table and its chairs were installed at the foot of the television, where children watch teleclasses almost daily.

“We accommodate ourselves here as best we can, two friends of the children who live in the building and who do not have a television come over. The mother cannot look after them while they’re watching the classes because she spends the day on the street working. She makes cookies at night and then she spends the day going from door to door, knocking to sell her product. As it was within my power to help her, I offered myself, although it really is complicated for me,” says Meriño while giving the children an exercise. continue reading

In Cuba, the first closure of schools was decreed at the end of March 2020 as a result of the start of the pandemic, which has caused 62,206 infections and 373 deaths since its beginning a year ago.

“The teacher is irreplaceable,” Eugenio González Pérez, Deputy Minister of Education, told the official press, insisting on the importance of watching teleclasses “as a complement.” However, the parents’ concern increases as this alternative to school lengthens in time.

“At the end of the day I am their teacher,” says the mother, while complaining that this year the television classes “go very fast”, especially the subject of Mathematics. When the course was suspended “they working on calculations above number 12,” she explains, but they have started with something else without concluding that topic.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do, I’m worried the children won’t learn well and these grades are important because they are the basis for everything that comes afterwards. I can’t even complain, I remember that content perfectly and I can help my children and some of his friends, but I don’t even want to imagine what the parents who don’t understand it are going through and of course, it is impossible for them to explain it to their children. The worst thing is that I am already imagining the restart of school, whenever they decide to start, with the teachers skipping over all the content and passing all the children without their having the knowledge,” she reflects.

Yenia Del Monte lives in a small room in the La Timba neighborhood with her three children, her brother, her mother and her grandmother. She has been divorced from the father of her children for two years, so between her and the children’s grandmother they have assumed the upbringing of the little ones. At noon no one is in that room because the zinc roof heats up and everyone goes out to the common patio to get some fresh air while the children play.

Del Monte has an old television that still works but she cannot see the signal from the Educational Channel on it because she has not been able to buy the decoder box for the digital signal, the only way it has worked since it had its analog blackout. The mother also has no money to pay for a private teacher and even less for a computer where her children can watch teleclasses online.

“I have chosen to forget about everything that has to do with school because otherwise I was going to go crazy. At first I would struggle with that and I would run from one house to another so that the children were up to date, but no one can live that way. I spend the day fighting for money so that they can eat at home and looking for where to buy food, I don’t have a minute for anything else. Either they eat or they learn and well, they can learn later in school, but if they don’t eat, they go hungry,” laments this 26-year-old mother.

Del Monte’s mother, a young grandmother, is clear: “All of this has been a total disaster, they are counting on that we all have the same resources at home and it is not like that.”

She also wants to make clear her opinion about teleclasses: “Children at this age are not prepared to learn without a teacher in front of them. If they do not have a mother or someone by their side, they are left without learning. Few children are motivated yo study at this age and the content is hard. I hope that when they return to school they will dedicate time to consolidate what they had already taught before starting to teach the new things.”

Another of the concerned mothers is Amparo Santos. She is in charge of a teenage daughter who started in the seventh grade this year and she has also become the teacher at home, like so many other mothers, and outraged by the quality of the teleclasses that the Ministry of Education has made available to the students.

“The math classes are very difficult and they are also very hurried. All the parents in my daughter’s classroom think the same, but we have to find solutions. I think they are not well thought out, they assign homework exercises that they never explain. The answers are in the book, but not everyone knows how to calculate them,” explains Santos, who confesses herself privileged because when she was a student, mathematics was her favorite subject.

Santos has observed in the case of her daughter and her friends that many of them find it difficult to learn new content in just half an hour and without having a teacher in front of them. These are topics that the kids have never seen and they explain it too quickly.

The teacher in her teleclass does not take time to explain the homework, so the parents do not know if the children solved the exercises well. “If I’m honest, the teleclasses have been of little use to me, I have to explain everything to the child. They go very fast, every day is new content and to top it off they assign a lot of independent work that is impossible to do in a week.”

Alina Ibarra does not have the same luck as Santos and Meriño. A barely graduated pedagogist in the specialty of Spanish-Literature, she does not have at her hands the tools to explain fifth-grade mathematics to her 10-year-old daughter. She also does not have time because, although she spends the day at home, her workday is twelve hours.

“I work editing and translating documents online and I am a single mother so I have no choice but to work tirelessly to support my small family that is made up of my child and my grandmother,” she says.

“What I did was find a private teacher. He charges me 50 pesos an hour, but I had no choice, the alternative was for the child to remain without learning. I am lucky that I can pay for this service, which is also excellent, because I know that there are other mothers who have had to resign themselves and watch how their children spend the day at home without learning anything at all,” says Ibarra.

“The issue is that for fifth grade they are giving a lot of new content and they go very fast, it is not like before that it was only about homework. To top it off, there are many teleclasses that I have seen where the teachers have terrible diction and I don’t even know if he understands what they say. Although in the classroom we have created a WhatsApp group and the teacher does everything to help us, nothing replaces the teacher in front of a classroom,” declares Ibarra, a statement that coincides with the testimony of other parents consulted by this newspaper.

Ibarra notes that at first she tried on her own to teach her daughter at home, but was unsuccessful. Her idea was to download all the audiovisual material from the free Cubaeduca portal and then teach classes with the girl at night, but the website does not always update the schedule on a weekly basis. Between those setbacks and the few hours she had available to dedicate to it, she ended up hiring the private teacher.

The Ministry of Education recently reported that this March 15 began a “new grid” in the programming of the Educational Channel which includes the subjects that were not being taught so far and they promise to correct some of these problems pointed out by parents. It will be aimed at all the provinces and municipalities that are in the phase of limited Covid transmission, except Pinar del Río, which will have its own program.

Among the new subjects that are already being transmitted are sixth grade Geography; English, from third to sixth; History, seventh and eighth; and Chemistry, Physics, and Biology, in twelfth grade.

____________

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

The Failure of an Operation: I Continue to Do Journalism in Cuba

State Security agent who was part of the State Security surveillance operation on March 8 and 12. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 15 March 2021 — “You can’t go out today.” It is the ninth day in a short span this year that I get the same blunt message from a State Security agent who prevents me from crossing the threshold of the building.

Decried by various international organizations, besieging independent journalists and activists has been the dominant repressive strategy in recent months, along with arbitrary arrests lasting several hours.

I’m one of those who has suffered from it from time to time since December 2014, when artist Tania Bruguera called for a performance without permission in the Plaza of the Revolution. In addition, since May 2019, a ban on leaving the country has been weighing on me, and I have been the victim of several arbitrary arrests, suspension of my cell phone line and threats to my family members. continue reading

However, the harassment escalated since last November. During that time, almost a score of artists from the San Isidro Movement (MSI)were imprisoned and some of them went on hunger strikes for the release of rapper Denis Solís, sentenced in a summary trial to eight months in prison for an alleged crime of “disrespect”.

Decried by various international organizations, besieging independent journalists and activists has been the dominant repressive strategy in recent months

But the State Security agent who identified himself as Ramses did not provide any reason last November 23rd to prevent me from leaving my building with my two daughters. He didn’t know why he was doing it, he told me. He was only following orders.

“We are not going to allow you to influence the public space”, he told me on November 25th, once again blocking my way.

The following day, the political police, disguised as cleaning men, violently evicted the MSI activists from their headquarters, and on the 27th, a peaceful demonstration of 300 artists in front of the Ministry of Culture ended in a meeting of about thirty of them with the vice minister Fernando Rojas.

Since then, they have not given me a break. In December, they didn’t let me leave the house for a whole week. “You can’t go out”, they repeated every day. On the 10th, fed up, I told the officer on duty: “Tomorrow I’m going to leave whether you like it or not, this is turned into an abuse”, and he remained silent. On December 11th I was able to hit the street.

 In December, they didn’t let me leave the house for a whole week. “You can’t go out,” they repeated every day

On January 27th, two months after the demonstration, a new “siege” of my front door began that would last four days in a row. That Wednesday, several members of the 27N group once again planted themselves before the Ministry, located in El Vedado, to attend a meeting with Rojas and demand the release of some of his colleagues who had been arrested early that morning. Within hours they were violently evicted and transferred by bus to a police unit.

On February 2nd and 22nd, the operation was repeated for no apparent reason. That time, they also cut my mobile service. In no case do the officers give explanations, but repressive acts do not fail to take place on significant dates, such as International Human Rights Day or the anniversary of the death of Fidel Castro.

“Luzbely, you can’t go out today.” Again, the order was issued on March 8th, International Women’s Day, which is why the agent on duty, a skinny man she had never seen before, felt compelled to cynically say goodbye: “Congratulations!”

On March 12th, I ran into the same guy. The night before, on national television, the presenter Humberto López denounced, during his spot on the News program that some opponents had planned a protest in the Plaza de la Revolución, something completely false.

This March 15th is the third day of this month that I am under surveillance. This Monday’s agent is accompanied by two female officers and he refused to show me his ID. He says that I have already seen him “at other times”.

Translated by Norma Whiting
____________

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

“The National Dialogue Will Allow Us to Move from Complaint to Strategic Action”

San Isidro Movement members Iris Ruiz, Michel Matos, Amaury Pacheco and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara spoke at the press conference. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 March 2021 — The San Isidro Movement (MSI) explained during a press conference details about the National Dialogue initiative proposed by the Patria y Vida [Homeland and Life] platform, inspired by the song by Yotuel Romero, Gente de Zona, Descemer Bueno, Osorbo and El Funky.

Iris Ruiz, Michel Matos, Amaury Pacheco and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara participated in the press conference, responding to the question of what they understand as dialogue “in the context of hostility” experienced on the island from the “Cuban dictatorial regime.”

All agreed to call for the exchange but at no time did they point to “the Government” as the main interlocutor. Asked about it by this newspaper, the artists expressed their opinions.

Michel Matos said that “understanding that Cuba is a sore nation with deep scars” he agrees that “a civilized and logical way to carry out a restoration is to dialogue among ourselves.”

“The other alternative that remains to get out of such a terrible situation is one that we cannot allow nor are we qualified to do, which is basically war,” he added. Matos explained that to reach democracy, very diverse processes must be gone through. “I have heard expressions like ‘pack your bags and go’ directed towards the communists and I ask if this is realistic,” he said. continue reading

“How do we expect them to leave? By magic, by their own will, by the intervention of a foreign government, how is that going to happen?” he asked. “In the references that I have in historical terms, each time a dictatorship has ended, it has been under the parameters of agreements, negotiations, road map protocols and an agenda for dialogue where an understanding is reached on a key point that it implies the transition,” he said.

At another point, Matos was more decisive when he said: “I don’t see any other way to transition to a democratic rule of law other than by dialoguing at some point with the current Cuban totalitarian authorities, I can’t conceive of it, we have to be open to the idea of that there can be such a dialogue.”

Matos also mentioned the November 27 demonstration in front of the Ministry of Culture and recalled that on that day “the majority” asked to dialogue with the Cuban authorities. “When that meeting was held, the specific words were said, they spoke of State crime, repression, totalitarianism, kidnapping of the country by State Security, that was mentioned in the framework of a dialogue.”

For his part, Amaury Pacheco said that dialogue “is important” because “it allows us to go from the complaint to the demand, from the demand to the proposal, from the proposal to a program, to a route, to a strategic action.” For the poet “dialogue is conscience, it is freedom, it is restoration, transparency, it is to maintain the character of a position in front of the regime.”

“I think this is a step that has demonstrated the incapacity of the regime. As civil society we have put dialogue on the table and the Government has backed down. This exchange is needed to have a program of how we are going to move because the Communist Party is not going to pack its suitcases and leave. We must plant conscious programs and let the citizens know them, “reflected Pacheco.

For Otero Alcántara there is an extreme radical, which is the Government, “which does not want to dialogue.” As for the “other extreme”, which is also opposed to this process, the artist says that it will be heard. “We know there is a lot of pain,” he declares, while hoping that “the tendency is not to rip off the heads of the communists.” “We have to learn that we all own the word dialogue” because “the national dialogue is happening,” he said.

At another point in the press conference, the members of the MSI referred to the talks on Human Rights that the Cuban government has with the European Union. In this regard, Matos stated: “If Europe is in dialogue with the Government, the island’s civil society must be recognized and be part of that process. Our names must be pronounced at those tables because we are the ones who are constantly suffering the violations of human rights, and we need to be recognized as valid interlocutors.”

Otero Alcántara firmly believes that “change in the country will come from the Cubans” but it should be accompanied “by international factors that are important” and can “form part of that dialogue.”

And he demanded, “the regime does not know what to do with those of us who are pacifists but we have the support of citizens, Europeans have to recognize us as civil society.”

____________

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

Major Deployment of Cuban Police to Prevent a ‘Secret’ Demonstration

Surveillance on the street where María Matienzo resides, who was detained for a few hours by State Security. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 March 2021 — A dozen activists and journalists woke up to find their homes under surveillance and themselves prevented from going out. The reason: an alleged protest action while, they say, they have not called. In Old Havana, around the Capitol, there is a large presence of police and patrol cars, as there is in the vicinity of the Plaza of the Revolution.

The Government thus intends to repress an alleged demonstration denounced on Cuban television news this Thursday by the newscaster Humberto López. The alleged demonstration was reported to have the objective of demanding the release of Luis Robles, a young man who was arrested for holding a sign with the messages “freedom”, “no more repression” and “free Denis,” alluding to rapper Denis Solís.

The activity, according to López, was organized “secretly” from the United States to be carried out by “counterrevolutionaries” in what he described as a “provocation” scheduled for this Friday in the Plaza of the Revolution. continue reading

The presenter recalled, in his usual threatening tone, that resistance, the established crimes of disobedience to authority and contempt, as well as public disorder and enemy propaganda can be charged against citizens who come out to demonstrate. The penalties associated with each of these crimes in the Penal Code — ranging from three months to eight years in prison, in addition to fines — were also shown on screen.

López noted that these crimes are “dormant”, although, as several international NGOs have pointed out, the Cuban authorities resort to them to convict opponents or activists, as happened recently with Luis Robles.

The presenter called out those responsible for this “secret action,” naming pointed to Omara Ruiz Urquiola, Yasser Castellanos, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Abu Duyanah Tamayo, Esteban Rodríguez, Héctor Luis Valdés and Maykel Osorbo. Among this group are those who staged a hunger strike at the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement and are the constant target of defamations in the official media.

Ruiz Urquiola, who is currently in the United States, wrote on his Facebook profile: “I am not planning anything that I cannot take part in. I would have liked to have thought about taking the street for Luis Robles.” In the same vein, Otero Alcántara expressed himself, insisting to 14ymedio that none of the members of the San Isidro Movement or those who had been at the headquarters had plans to go to the Plaza of the Revolution today.

The artist also took the opportunity to denounce that both he and his companions have been under surveillance by the political police from the early hours of the morning.

In addition, Carolina Barrero, Luz Escobar and Yamilka Lafita woke up besieged in their homes. When trying to go out into the street, Héctor Luis Valdés, Maykel Osorbo and María Matienzo, whose homes were also under surveillance, were arrested.

“María Matienzo, a journalist from CubaNet, has just been arrested as she left her home. She does not answer the phone. I consider her missing,” denounced the activist Kirenia Yalit, who also published a photograph in which a patrol care is seen standing guard in the block where the reporter lives.

Upon being released, Matienzo declared: “I am an independent journalist and I will cover the news as I understand it. My house is not a prison. Every time they put surveillance on me, I will go to jail.”
____________

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

Locked Up in My House by the Cuban Political Police on March 8

State Security agent who, this March 8, prevented Luz Escobar from leaving her house. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 March 2021 — As soon as the sun came up I got into my usual routine: making coffee, checking the news and starting my work as an independent journalist in a country that does not tolerate freedom of the press.

Sometimes there are days of long hours glued to the keyboard, other days are hours in the field, in “the heat of it” as a colleague says. Today was one of those days to review pending notes and organize the agenda for the week. But in Cuba there is a routine that nobody stops: going out to buy daily bread. Well, hardly anyone.

At the stroke of nine in the morning I grabbed my wallet, ration book, a bag, and headed out to the bakery. When I went down, a State Security officer was again at the entrance of the building to prevent me from going out into the street. He was the same one as on other occasions but, this time, he was accompanied by two women in the uniform of the Ministry of the Interior, tight shirts and olive green miniskirts. continue reading

“Luzbely, you can’t go out today,” the man told me, blocking my way when he saw me ready to cross the door. This time I didn’t answer him or ask him anything, I turned around and waited for the elevator.

“Oh, by the way, congratulations,” said the officer. Since he was wearing the mask, I didn’t detect if he said it sarcastically, but judging by the tone of his voice, he was more nervous than anything else.

In Cuba it is routine on a day like today to hear a congratulation for Women’s Day from every man who passes you by, even if he does not know you.

State Security officials have been harassing me for years, even long before 2014, when I decided to be part of the 14ymedio teamHowever, the open and direct fire against me began when I began to sign aticles, interviews and reports that bring to light the reality that power wants to hide.

In addition to locking them in their homes whenever they want, the political police use a repressive arsenal against women who work in independent media: arbitrary arrests, bans on leaving the country, threats to family and friends, and jail. They have threatened me about my daughters through the State Security Office for minors, using collaborating neighbors who have given false testimonies. They have harassed people close to me to try to scare them away.

All this happens before the eyes of my daughters, who today are already 11 and 13, and I find it impossible to hide what is happening to me. It hurts me tremendously that creatures who don’t understand half the adult world are subjected to states of siege under threat, so I try to explain as best I can. “Your mother writes about things that bother the government a lot and that’s why these things happen,” I tell them.

Also on the horizon is the violence of an act of repudiation like the one against Anyell Valdés recently; State Security has shown that it has no limits when it comes to exercising violence against women and their children.

We are running out of time and our children grow up and soon they will have to experience the repression in the first person. I experienced it as a daughter, now as a mother and a journalist, but I do not want, under any circumstances, for my daughters to also have to suffer this same thing in their own flesh.

That my daughters have found the strength to face it does not lessen the pain. They are the fuel to continue doing what I do, my motivation to fight for the better country that we all deserve.

____________

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

San Isidro Movement Calls for a National Dialogue Without Excluding the Cuban Authorities

Activists of the San Isidro Movement at the organization’s headquarters, in Old Havana, last November. (MSI)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 5 March 2021 — The San Isidro Movement (MSI) has launched the Patria y Vida [Homeland and Life] platform to convene a “national dialogue” with all actors in society, including the Government, and build a Cuba that represents “a safe home for all,” and to overcome the serious crisis that the nation is suffering through “peaceful and civic solutions.”

“The measures of the so-called Tarea Ordenamiento* [Ordering Task] have only exacerbated economic and social inequalities,” asserts the MSI in a statement published this Friday. “The role of the Government has been reduced to managing shortages, hunger, repression and violence in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic,” the text continues. “The Government continues to be incapable of guaranteeing respect for the human rights of its citizens.”

The artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the most visible face of the movement, tells 14ymedio that the platform arises because of the “disrespect” that there is “on the part of the regime.” Despite this, he declares that “there cannot be a dialogue in Cuba without the systemic part, without the regime part.” Now, he asserts, “it has to be with character,” hence the motto Patria y Vida, which coincides with the viral song of that name and in whose video clip Alcántara himself appears wrapped in a Cuban flag: “Right now we are dead and we want life. It is very encouraging, we want life in the future of Cuba, a living Cuba, with its mistakes but alive.” continue reading

Alcántara referred to the reaction of the Minister of Culture, Alpidio Alonso, on January 27, when he attacked a group of artists who were demonstrating in front of the official building, “ignoring the voice of the citizenry.” However, he recalls that the attempts to approach the cultural authorities are not new: “Since Decree 349 and #00Biennial [in July 2018] we wanted a face-to-face a dialogue with the minister,” he says. “The authorities always managed to stir things up, but today we believe that it is no longer possible to speak from the cultural space, it is necessary to speak at the level of citizens, of civic responsibility.” And he asserts: “I cannot make my art if there is a dictatorship in Cuba.”

The MSI statement defends plurality in order to integrate the majority of citizens and overcome the crisis affecting the country. “The only thing we want to abound in Cuba is prosperity, progress and respect for our dignity as free human beings. We do not bet on conflict, we proclaim peace,” the text indicates.

The dialogue would have several phases, the first, which should last 21 days, begins this Friday. At this stage, the proposals of those who wish to participate will be collected through the email dialogonacional@movimientosanisidro.com or in the “Patria y Vida” tab of the San Isidro Movement website.

Alcántara pointed out that, based on initiatives prior to this one, the new thing that the MSI can do is to propose dialogue from the point of view of art “with a lot of inclusion and respect for the work of many people.”

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

____________

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

The Only Thing That’s Gotten Better in Havana Since the Pandemic is Transportation

Some Havana residents smile at the site of so many taxis on the streets during the pandemic, joking that they make the Cuban capital look like New York. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, February 26, 2021 — The pandemic has left an odd imprint on Havana. Bus stops, scenes of real chaos in pre-Covid times, now look deserted most of the day. While the situation is very different during peak hours, from 7:00 to 9:00 A.M. and 4:00 to 6:00 P.M., the stops are never as crowded as they were before 2020. An inspector at each stop is now there to make sure the number of passengers boarding the bus does not exceed the allowable limit and, as much as possible, that riders maintain a safe distance from each other to avoid contagion.

“The only thing that’s gotten better in this town in the past pandemic year is public transportation. I work at a bank and every day I go from Cerro to Vedado. Before, I would spend more than an hour waiting for a bus or a taxi. Now I don’t have to wait more than fifteen minutes here,” says 51-year-old Alicia Medina.

Indeed, in less than twenty minutes on Wednesday afternoon, the stop at the busy intersection of 27th and G streets was cleared of passengers. Three metro buses came by during that time. On two occasions, buses with routes that covered long stretches of the city — the P11, P16 and P2 — arrived, along with taxis. A lot of taxis, especially those popularly known as gazelles. continue reading

On Wednesday afternoon the bus stop at the busy intersection at the intersection of 27th and G streets had been cleared out within twenty minutes.

“I’d rather take a taxi. It’s more comfortable and… in my case it only costs three pesos more. The bus I take costs five so I’m happy to pay the extra. Lately I haven’t had to wait more than five minutes and the flow is constant. It looks like New York at rush hour, with all the streets full of yellow taxis like in the movies,” says a young woman who, according to her account leaves home every day because she works at a privately owned Italian restaurant on 23rd Street in Vedado which makes home deliveries.

The young woman has a point. The gazelles, which belong to Metrotaxi, are the stars of Havana’s urban landscape, plying the city’s busiest thoroughfares, especially during peak hours.

“The ones that never stop are the ones with Cubataxi, the yellow and black ones. I don’t know why but they never stop,” she says. The reason they are never available is simple: they now serve only hospitals and cab stations.

“They are the only routes we have now. The rates are for hospital patients and visitors. We charge 1.25 pesos per kilometer,” explains a Cubataxi employee.

Another company with a fleet of yellow cars is Agencia de Taxi, which used to charge in convertible pesos and whose customers are now mainly tourists. Their prices are much higher, which has made them less popular, but they help alleviate demand during peak hours.

“Our fares are the same as they were when we were charging in CUC based on an exchange rate of 25 pesos,” claims an employee, though he mentions that there are changes coming because the company has “decided to fix the taximeters” in every one of its drivers’ cars.

Another of the lines of yellow cars that circulate through the city are those of the Agencia de Taxi, which previously charged in CUC and were mainly focused on tourism. (14ymedio)

“Once the contract is up at the end of this month, we’ll be able to get the taximeters fixed and refurbished,” he says, though he points out that the company doing the repairs will only be servicing them at the Agencia de Taxis’ cab stands.

“If a customer files a complaint because a taxi driver is charging a higher fare than is allowed or is falsifying prices, he’ll be fined 5,000 pesos if it is a first offense. If he is caught doing it again, he’ll lose his commercial license for good,” he adds. Drivers can also be fined 2,000 pesos if they do not turn on the taximeter.

That won’t last long,” says one taxi driver. “Pretty soon people will figure out tricks to get around the rules. I’ve spent twenty-five years in this business and taximeters have never solved anything. The last time they tried it, it didn’t work. What never changes is supply and demand. And negotiating a price with the customer.”

____________

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

Architects Working ‘Under the Table’ are Called Party Decorators in Cuba

“Havana survives because it was very well built under capitalism, with excellent professionals who have been banned since 1959”, defends an architect, while the city increasingly displays its makeshift construction practices. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 24 February 2021 — Since the Cuban Government released the news that Architecture is among the 124 activities that individuals are prohibited from engaging in privately, the profession has not stopped looking for spaces to express its discontent, sometimes from pessimism and disenchantment, other times from searching for solutions.

After two weeks of public debates among professionals, 14ymedio sought the opinion of some of those Cubans who have built their homes “by their own effort” without ever having seen an architect.  14ymedio has also consulted experts about the consequences that this practice can bring for the urban environment of the city.

“But who said that an architect is needed to build a house?” Iván Calvo, 52, of El Cerro, counterattacks, when asked if he had hired the services of a professional to build his home.

In 2018, after nearly a decade laying one brick over another, Calvo finally finished building his house. Every afternoon he goes up with his friends to the terrace to play dominoes and feed the pigeons that he raises with his 17-year-old son. continue reading

In 2021, the prohibition of the private practice of architecture and engineering was expressly established. (14ymedio)

“My life is my home, along with my family and my birds. I raised it by myself, with only the help of some cousins of mine who came over some weekends. I never needed an architect, beyond the bureaucratic paperwork with the house, the bricklayer I hired and I did all the work”, he concludes.

Rafael Fornés, a Cuban architect residing in Miami, declares that building without the guidance of a professional leads to “structural dangers” in the property that can later “cause collapses”.

“Havana survives because it was very well built under capitalism, with excellent professionals, who have been banned since ‘59. The legacy, the heritage and the wonder city are the result of the experience of Cuban architects and builders.”

Silvia lives in the house right next to Calvo’s, a young woman barely 26-years-old who, together with her husband, built a house on the roof of the property of her in-laws, but she sees it differently.

“The community’s architect is supposed to be there to develop the project but I wanted to do something decent so I looked for another way. I went to a friend with an Architectural degree who drew up the plans for me under the table, and then he just bribed the Housing official to get his signature, which is the only one approach the authorities recognize”, he explains.

Silvia’s friend makes a living in a professional studio that she founded three years ago with two colleagues. “Everything is very absurd, he has an Architecture degree, but in order to legalize his business and pay taxes he had to get a party decorator license,” said the young woman.

“Everything is very absurd, he has an Architecture degree, but in order to legalize his business and pay taxes he had to get a party decorator license”

The event has given rise to anecdotes such as the inauguration of the Monument to the Cuban Decorator, created in 2019 by the independent Arquitectura Infraestudio project as a “tribute” to that legal figure that allows them to exist and earn a living from their studies.

For architect Rafael Muñoz, the country needs construction professionals to “take charge” of the cities again. “We are submerged in an urban chaos that is annihilating the nation’s immense construction heritage”, stated the professional from Berlin, the city where he now resides.

“There is no insurance and no insurance companies in the country for professionals (to practice without them is suicide), there are no laws that specialize in real estate issues, there are no bids for public works, but contracts get awarded in a murky way or, worse still, they are ordered from overseas. There is also no transparent and binding pricing policy, there are no bank loans that allow the purchase of equipment or software licenses. No professional should practice with pirated software. If we want to be respected, we must respect the work of the others”, he specified.

Architects believe that they can contribute little to their colleagues’ statement from the Group of Cuban Architecture Studies (GECA) in which they demand of the Government, from an architectural and city point of view, to conduct this activity independently.

However, he claims “to address the issue from another point of view no less important, the human side and the ethical side” because he considers that recent laws “reinforce the deformation of the inverted pyramid” of Cuban society.

“The more you know, the more you study, the more you learn, the less chance of a decent life the country offers you. This discourages study and efforts to improve. Any young Cuban who chooses to enter university studies knows in advance that he will be choosing to be placed at the lowest level of that pyramid voluntarily. They are less and less willing to do so”, he explained.

The architect provides specific information about his generation but that illustrates the phenomenon in a general way: “In July 1989, 101 young architects graduated from the Cujae School of Architecture (José Antonio Echeverría Technological University of Havana). Today, more than 80 have left the country. This phenomenon, which nobody talks about, is repeated in every graduation and in every university degree in Cuba. Cuban universities are a machine for creating emigrants”.

“We are submerged in an urban chaos that is annihilating the immense built legacy of the nation.” (14 and a half)

Muñoz calls on those who “are at the helm of national ship” to give young people the opportunity “to assume their own future” or they “will continue to leave the Island en masse.” For him, the long-awaited legalization of Architecture and Engineering studies in the country faces “challenges that colleagues should not underestimate either.”

Architect Ruslan Muñoz, professor at La Cujae, published on his Facebook profile on the 11th a list of government measures that, in his opinion, have damaged the profession since 1960.

Among them, he highlighted the intervention and nationalization of construction companies and all their related industries in 1960, the closing of the planning companies and the gradual emigration of professionals between 1960-1963, the closure of the National College of Architects in 1967 and the Revolutionary Offensive in 1968 that nationalized all the remaining private business in the country, right down to the shoe shiners. He culminates his list in 2021 with the prohibition of  the private practice of architecture and engineering, although he urges his colleagues to provide more data.

____________

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

“The Fierce Political Indoctrination of Children in Cuba is Extreme Violence”

Erik Ravelo’s work ‘Doctrine’, in which he contrasts the image of a child in uniform on a cross formed by the arms of Fidel Castro. (Erik Ravelo / Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 24 February 2021 — Erik Ravelo cannot forget the day when, in the fifth or sixth grade, his teacher took the children out of class to take them to an act of savage repudiation in El Vedado. “An elderly lady, the mother of an opponent, was attacked, beaten and practically lynched in front of me. They slashed her face with a hardhat. They smashed her glasses. Bleeding, she was grabbed from the enraged mass and put in a police car. They took her away.”

This is how the artist himself told it on his social networks this Tuesday, when he presented his work Doctrine, in which he superimposes an image of a child in his school uniform on a cross formed by the arms of Fidel Castro.

Ravelo tells 14ymedio that the piece was finished just this Tuesday and it is his way of showing solidarity with what many of those who dare to express themselves freely “unfortunately are having to experience in Cuba.” continue reading

“As I explain in the text about my own experience, it is a serious offense against childhood to expose children to direct violence such as what they are exposed to when they are taken to a repudiation rally,” he says.

As he himself denounces in his post: “There are many people who have told me ‘but in Cuba there are no barefoot children smelling glue at traffic lights, cleaning cars and shoes on the street, sleeping on the sidewalks.’ And yes, this may be true, but this work wants to show that there are many forms of violence against children. It is not only the abandonment and extreme poverty, because the fierce political indoctrination to which a child is exposed in Cuba in my opinion is also violence. And extreme.”

I even remember, from that childhood, the song that everyone sang in chorus: “We don’t want them anymore, we don’t want them anymore, we don’t want them anymore, let them fuck off and go to hell.”

Why? he asks. “Was it to instill in us a love for our country? No. Was it to teach us to defend our country by beating an old woman? No, was it to make us better men? No. It was simply to instill fear in us.”

Ravelo says he was impressed by the comments his work has elicited. “One wrote: ‘I was that child too.’ I replied: ‘Yes, tiger, unfortunately we were all that child.’

As for using such “sacred” figures in his work, something that is not new in his career, Ravelo says that nowhere else in the world has he suffered “serious consequences” from any of his previous campaigns. In fact, his work Unhate for Benetton, showing a number of world leaders , including Barack Obama and Hugo Chavez, kissing on the mouth, won the Grand Prix at Cannes. “With this I want to show that art and graphic communication cannot be criminalized, and if it is, then it is only in Cuba.”

“It can’t be that I do Trump with a crucified immigrant child, and being in the United States absolutely nothing happens to me, or that I do Salvini in Italy and Merkel in Europe, or the Pope while living more than 18 years in Italy, but with Cuba it’s different,” he continues.

“I make art, and if art is criminalized or an artist is censored, it really touches us all,” he asserts, claiming the use of the image of Fidel Castro “to represent an idea is necessary,” in his opinion because the acts of repudiation “are one of the saddest, lowest and most inhumane pages” in the history of Cuba.

____________

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

“Independent Filmmakers Will Continue Filming Without Permits”

The filmmaker José Luis Aparicio believes with the new provisions, artists such as Jorge Molina or Miguel Coyula “are left in a punishable illegal situation”. (Facebook / Miguel Coyula)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 14 February 2021– The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) tried to reassure the film industry this week, stating that the new bans on self-employment do not affect them. The artists had expressed their complaints and doubts on the social networks, but the ICAIC insisted on a “clarifying note” that “independent audiovisual and cinematographic creators are not self-employed, but rather carry out their activity from their status as artists, recognized as a way of non-state management in the aforementioned Decree Law 373″.

However, three filmmakers who spoke with 14ymedio this Friday, consider that it is the combination of that decree with the new restrictions that puts their work in check.

One of them is José Luis Aparicio, who recalls that Decree Law 373 meant the creation of the Registry of the Audiovisual and Cinematographic Creator (Recac), the result of “a request that filmmakers have been making for years, especially those grouped in the G-20”, to gain access to possibilities that they did not have before.

Aparicio acknowledges that this came to grant “a legality to filmmakers so that they can carry out operations that were previously impossible or very complicated” and that they could, consequently, “produce in a more industrial, more conventional way” and “access funds, permits, export and import possibilities, all kinds of procedures”. continue reading

However, he sees as a problem that there are filmmakers who, for different reasons are not interested in being in that register, “because above all they believe in a more radical and underground type of independent cinema”, not because of the themes and the way in which that they count them, but in principle, because “they believe that belonging to a state norm that regulates independent creators already goes against the independent concept.”

He cites filmmakers Jorge Molina and Miguel Coyula as examples, who, by their own decision, do not belong to RECAC but “have an occupation that supports them”.

With the new provisions, says Aparicio, artists like Molina or Coyula “are now left in a punishable situation, of lawlessness”

With the new provisions, Aparicio thinks, artists like Molina or Coyula “are now in a punishable illegal situation”. Before, he explains, their situation was “in a certain way, allegorical and ambiguous” because, without having a link to the institution, “they continued to work as independent filmmakers, like they have done all their lives, in a non-specific way, filming without permits, the guerrilla way”.

“This is a very worrying situation for them and all the colleagues who have an interest for them to continue to make films and not receive any type of punishment for making their films”, says Aparicio, director of such films as Sueños al Pairo.

In addition, he continues, the new scenario also leaves “very badly off” those who are not traditionally filmmakers and do not have curriculum works to meet the requirements dictated by the institution or have not studied in film schools.

In any case, Aparicio reflects, “in all parts of the world” and at all times”, independent cinema has been created beyond legal provisions, decrees, license, political pressure, filming permits or specific conditions. “It has always been done at the snap of a finger, at the stroke of passion. To not identify that, in the case of cinema and art in general, is blindness on the part of the government when it comes to dealing with culture and art”.

Director Víctor Alfonso, an architect by profession, calls attention to another aspect of the problem, a question that has to do with logic: “How do you register if you don’t have work? At least three works are needed to be able to belong to the audiovisual creator’s registry. This is a paradox. How do you manage to have three quality works if you cannot film legally? That is the big question, but I honestly think that there will not be many changes, people will continue filming and nothing will happen “.

Director Víctor Alfonso, an architect by profession, points to another aspect of the problem, a question that has to do with logic: “How do you register if you don’t have any work lined up?

“They’re going to use that to hit the names they already have marked,” he asserts.” For example, Iliana Hernández, who goes out to film in the street tomorrow, falls under this pretext. The issue of independent journalists comes into play there too”.

Mijail Rodríguez, scriptwriter and organizer of the ICAIC Youth Show for several years, is of the opinion that Decree Law 373 “was a half-achievement” of the filmmakers after much battle with the institution. “The result does not include all the demands of that struggle that the G20 and the Assembly of Filmmakers led. Hence, many do not feel identified with [Decree] 373.”

“The problem is that now, by prohibiting audiovisual and cinematographic activity as self-employed workers, in some way it declares illegal any activity that is not endorsed by the institution, which is aggravated by Decree 349 (which regulates artistic diffusion in Cuba) that is still active, “says Rodríguez. The Ministry of Culture intends to “save” the artists through Decree Law 373 or the RECAC, but all this, Rodríguez concludes, “is used very conveniently… In the end, everything works as a control mechanism.”

____________

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Leidy Laura Hernandez Denounces that Cuban State Security Poisoned Her Dogs

Leidy Laura Hernández, with one of her animals. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 4 February 2021 — Leidy Laura Hernández, Santa Clara animal protector, and her husband, the rebellious rapper Omar Mena El Analista, denounced this Wednesday that Cuban State Security poisoned their dogs.

“On Sunday morning, when I got up and went to give the dogs breakfast, I found María, one of my dogs, was dead,” Hernández tells 14ymedio, sure of what happened: “They poisoned her, it seems like it was at night. “

The other dog in the pair, Sonrisa, was also found convulsing, but they managed to save her.

Her hypothesis is based on the increasing harassment that the couple has suffered from State Security. Since the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara called a demonstration before the Capitol last week, Mena has been detained on several occasions and the surveillance of their home has been constant.

“In recent days they have become much more raw and threatened me from various sides,” says Hernández. “On Facebook I received many threats from fake profiles, which I never thought would happen.” continue reading

As soon as they noticed María’s condition, they went looking for a veterinarian to do an autopsy, although Hernández is convinced of the cause of the animal’s death. “She was a super healthy dog that had never been sick and had nothing, there was no other cause for her to wake up dead.”

The veterinarian later determined that the cause of death had been “intoxication,” at the same time he ventured that they could have used insecticide “the one they use for the mosquito campaign,” the activist told this newspaper.

The young woman says that in the neighborhood she is lucky that all the neighbors, in addition to getting along very well with her and her husband, always help them. “They all like animals and they support us in what we do in the shelter, they come and deworm their dogs here, they sterilize them, we help them with that part and they help us with food, they have always been there for us,” she says.

In addition, she insists that her neighbors, who have been “witnesses to the entire siege of the State Security against us,” when this happened, believed that it could only be the political police who were acting like this “to pressure us.”

“I do think it was them,” she insists. “Everything has been a chain of events, one after another, of threats that have increased in tone, first against us, then against veterinarians, then against our friends, our neighbors… That has had no effect and they have accomplished nothing, then they come with this baseness. “

She believes that “now the political issue is very complex and they are very afraid,” referring to the Government. The agents, she says, know that hhers “weak point” is that, her dogs: “They know that this is a way of making me feel bad.”

Also, remember that this is not the first time that State Security has done “something like this” against activists and people who express themselves differently: “They did it to David D Omni, whose dog was poisoned, and to Omara Ruiz Urquiola. Now it was our turn.”

____________

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