Cuban Government Eases Quarantine Announced Hours Earlier in Havana

Havana returned to a more restricted phase of controls to limit local transmission of Covid-19, but still the streets are crowded with people lining up to buy basic necessities. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 13 January 2021 — The figure of 550 daily cases of Covid-19 in Cuba reported this Wednesday, the highest since the pandemic began, has forced the authorities to take more severe measures. With three more deaths registered, the death toll has reached 12 this week and the week is not over. [Cuba’s total Covid deaths as of 14 January 2021 is 300.]

As a result of the bad numbers, Havana has been pushed back to the phase designed to limit local transmission, which, among other measures, provides for the closure of schools, the paralysis of urban transport from 9 pm to 5 am and the prohibition on being in public spaces from 7 pm to 5 am.

On Wednesday night, the official Cubadebate website published the new provisions that included, among other measures, the prohibition of driving between 7 pm and 5 am, but that measure was eliminated after a few hours and in the most recent announcements they have qualified some of the new restrictions. continue reading

In addition, travelers who arrive in Cuba and who do not respect the established “hygienic-sanitary rules” could face fines of up to 2,000 Cuban pesos and a criminal process that would prevent them from leaving the country until they appear in court, according to a senior government official from Havana.

“To the traveler who violates the established rules, in addition to the fine, the charges against them could result in their travel being restricted,” said Reynier Palacios, secretary of the capital’s Government, on local television.

Palacios said that the authorities are also thinking of prohibiting all future entry into the country of those travelers who are fined for spreading the coronavirus epidemic.

Orestes Llanes Mestre, coordinator of Inspection and Control of the Government of Havana, said that fines are being considered for travelers who violate the rules. “We are proposing, it has not been approved yet but we are proposing it, that for the traveler who violates it is not 2,000 pesos but 2,000 dollars,” he explained, “because for a traveler coming up with 80 dollars is a simple thing.”

The provisions will take effect from this Thursday, according to official media, but this afternoon many schools were already sending students home. “They called me at work to pick up my son and to take home all his books. They told me it would be for four weeks but they explained the same thing the other time and we spent seven months with the children at home,” laments a mother as she stood in a long line for rationed bread. “Now to get ready: it’s the whole day with the boys at home asking for food and me having to figure something out.”

The news also makes Beatriz Torres’s hair stand on end. “Of all those cases, 121 were here in Havana, I am 72 years old, an at-risk age, I avoid going out on the street but I have to do it because otherwise I will starve,” she tells this newspaper.

On the one hand she is calm, she explains, because her grandchildren will not have to go to school, but on the other, she is scared of what is coming her way. She has been going through a “tremendous effort” for months to get food, so as soon as she woke up, she went out to the street. “I took the ration book and went to the bodega (ration store) to get everything I’m allotted,” she says. “It cost more than 300 pesos for a trip just for my and my sister’s quotas.”

As in September, when the curfew was announced, the streets of the capital are full of people in search of basic necessities, especially food.

“Wherever you go there is a tremendous crowd of people. I’m in this line to buy chicken but I’ll take anything they have,” a young woman in a long line at the Cuatro Caminos market comments to 14ymedio. “The [fixed-route] taxes are already 15 pesos and not 10, so I walked from my house over in El Cerro. In my neighborhood the only things in the stores are water and rum.”

The Cuatro Caminos market, re-opened on November 16 after years of a total refurbishment, has been one of the busiest markets in recent months because it is one of the few that remains minimally supplied.

On the corner of San Lázaro and Marina, in Centro Habana, dozens of people crowd at the counter of Store #1005. They announced ice cream for sale but customer complaints fall like rain on employees because they ran out in less than five minutes. “It cannot be that they open and immediately tell me that it is over, that is impossible, it is a lot of impudence,” a customer is outraged. “It’s always the same, they sell three tubs and close, the only thing that matters to them is themselves and their business.”

In the specialized fishmonger on Monte Street, the scene is the same: outrage and protests over the new prices, complaints about poor service and anguish at the shortage of supplies.

“The only thing I have found is this chicken mortadella but it kills me. Before it cost 40 pesos and now they are selling it for 132, it is an abuse,” protests a woman. The employee’s response: “As long as people continue to buy it, they will continue to mark it at that price. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s that the price is abusive.”

____________

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.

In Havana, Face-to-Face Classes Will Be Held Only in the Afternoon in Secondary Schools

In pandemic times, according to the official press, teachers will also join students to receive virtual classes. (ACN)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 January 2021 — Secondary schools in Havana will have a reduction in hours due to the rebound in COVID-9 cases throughout the country, especially in the capital.

Starting next week, as detailed by some of the schools that convened a meeting for parents this Thursday, students will only have classes from Tuesday to Friday, from 12 pm to 4 pm (except on Tuesdays, when the schedule is extended to 5 pm).

Given some parents’ concerns about the decrease in school hours, taking into account the setbacks due to months long school closings brought about by the pandemic, the teacher explained that students will have morning “virtual classes” to compensate, which should be followed as a complement to the classes.

The virtual classes, they reported, begin next week and will be broadcast Monday through Friday on the Havana Channel from 8 am to 12 pm. The subjects will be Physics, Biology, Civic Education, History, Geography, Mathematics, Chemistry and Spanish. Saturday will be used for “vocational training” classes, dedicated to guiding students in their studies after finishing high school. continue reading

Parents were not told specifically what content will be provided in this remote mode

However, parents were not told specifically what content will be provided in this remote mode. The last course was only used to guide the evaluative work and consolidate the content that had already previously been given.

Therefore, parents’ skepticism is logical. “I am very concerned about this measure, I see a drastic reduction in the hours/classes and, honestly, we all know that a virtual class is not the same as having a teacher in front of the classroom, especially when teaching new content,” complained one of the parents at the meeting.

A teacher responded: “We have to make sure that the children do not miss the virtual classes and that they take notes, it is very important. I am going to review the notebooks to make sure that everyone is up to date, if any child has problems with the television and the box, you can come to the library, we will be showing it here.”

Parents are also concerned about other issues, such as the price of school lunch in day care centers as a result of the so-called “Ordering Task.”

This Friday, The Ministry of Education published on its official site that the monthly rates will remain as they have been until now: a maximum of 40 pesos for the child care center service and 7 pesos for students who stay for lunch at the school study centers.

The difficult health situation affects the entire country, which this Friday reached 344 new cases Covid-19 new cases, surpassing the record set last Monday of 316 daily infections. The accumulated total in Cuba is 13,823 positives and 148 deaths from Covid-19.

 Of the total cases on this day, 238 were contacts of confirmed cases, 69 with a source of infection abroad and 37 without a specified source of infection.

Of the total cases today, 238 were contacts of confirmed cases, 69 with a source of infection abroad and 37 without a specified source of infection. Of the 275 local-transmission cases of the day, 168 (61%) are linked to international travelers, totaling 2,160, which represents 61.9% of the total local-transmission cases since November 15th.

This Thursday, the Provincial Defense Council approved a group of new measures to “counteract the spread of the coronavirus” in Havana. Carlos Alberto Martínez Blanco, provincial director of Health, considered that in this way it could “increase the perception of risk among the population, and limit the possible transmission of the disease.”

Specifically, it was proposed to “de-concentrate points of sale of products to avoid conglomeration of people, reduce public activities, in addition to maintaining restrictions in bars and restaurants and in holding private parties.”

Regular visits to hospital institutions are also prohibited and the idea of being the same companion throughout the patient’s stay should be maintained. Martínez Blanco also pointed out that clinical-epidemiological, as well as laboratory surveillance, is being reinforced. It is also expected that investigations by medical students will resume to search for suspects.

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 Rice from the Bodega is So Bad I Don’t Even Want It for Free and It’s Six Pesos”

The elderly suffer the most from the price increase in Cuba since January 1st. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, Luz Escobar, 7 January 2021 — “It’s 130 pesos,” Lucinda Torres, a resident of Havana’s La Timba neighborhood, heard the clerk say, as she finished her shopping at the rationed market for the month of January on Wednesday. “Before I came with 20 or 30 pesos and my rationbook and it was enough for almost all my purchases. The prices have multiplied by about 10 times and my retirement has barely increased four,” Torres calculates on the fly.

“I don’t understand what they are doing to us, they want to implant capitalism in us, but in communism,” she says.

This first week of the year has been a headache for many Cubans, but especially for the elderly, who now have to shell out hundreds of pesos to take home the basic basket that the Government sells in the ration stores. Rice is between 6 and 10 pesos a pound, beans are between 14 and 16, minced meat at twenty, one bread roll for a peso, it all adds up to an account that does not make ends meet.

An employee with more than 20 years of experience working in front of the public in a ration store in the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución explains to 14ymedio that what causes the most concern are the high prices compared to the quality of service and products.

“Since I hung up the sign with the new prices, people have not stopped complaining, most of all the elderly,” he says. “They are partly right. For example, the rice that came this month is so bad that I don’t even want it for free; it’s broken, dirty and wet. If you’re going to pay a few pennies for it, that’s fine, but not six or seven pesos.” continue reading

Similar complaints also came to the ‘normed’ bread sold in bakeries, an 80-gram roll was 5 centavos before, now it’s one peso. Due to its poor quality, this staple food has been the main target of criticism from the population for decades, since it went from the ‘liberated’ (unrationed) market to the rationed market in the 1990s.

In some localities the bread sits on the counters unsold, thus illustrating the displeasure of many. In Ciego de Ávila in recent days, state trade officials reported that they had to “redefine the destination of some 8,000 rolls” of bread because the customers would not buy them.

Prices established by the Ministry of Internal Commerce for the ‘regulated’ family basket in the ration system. (14ymedio)

In that same province, the director of the Business Group of Commerce, Reinaldo Frómeta Romero, explained to the local media that the new food prices in the Family Attention System (SAF) have resulted in many of those registered in that system have not been helped in recent days. In these facilities, many elderly people who survive on low incomes eat their daily meals there without having to spend large sums of money.

In Havana, at the SAF establishment located on 39th Street, in the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución, an employee told this newspaper that almost no one has visited the premises since January 1. According to official data, this project serves 1,445 establishments throughout the country with a total of 77,661 registered users, including 36,298 retirees, 6,251 people with disabilities and 12,773 on social assistance.

“I know almost all of them, they come here every day in search of their lunch and their food. Nothing we sold was more than one peso and now it costs several pesos.” The man shows the price list and the ration of rice that used to cost 20 centavos is now two pesos and the bean ration is three, “a figure that most of those who come here cannot pay daily,” he says.

“Pensions went up, it is true but it happens that many of my clients do not even have a government salary, they survive doing work under the table or collecting raw materials that they later sell,” he adds.

According to official data from the Ministry of Internal Trade, the new menu costs between 8 and 13 pesos, that is, between 496 and 806 pesos per month.

The head of that ministry, Betsy Díaz Velázquez, speaking the Roundtable TV program, said that five provinces reported a reduction in visits to these facilities, due to the increase in prices, among them Santiago de Cuba, Las Tunas, Cienfuegos and the Isle of Youth. In the case three of them, more than 50% of those surveyed did not come to buy food, and in the last two the number was 49%.

The minimum pension that the Government has set starting January is 1,528 pesos but the prices for electricity, gas, transportation, fixed-line telephones, water and other basic services also increased.

____________

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.

“This Year the Three Kings Cannot Satisfy the Requests of the Children” in Cuba

Given the shortage in the stores, many parents have chosen this year to give their children sweets. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 6 January 2021 — After a week of lining up for oil, chicken, detergent and shampoo, Idania Herrera has very little desire to stand in another line. But Three Kings Day is more important than any fatigue and the little ones await their gift.

“I am tormented, I can’t find anything for the children,” the young mother told this newspaper when there were barely hours left until January 6th, the day Cuban children receive their “Christmas” presents.

The woman explains that in recent years she solved the gift problem through a friend who brought items from Panama, but with the almost complete disappearance of the ‘mules’ due to the Covid restrictions, there are no alternatives. “Yesterday I went to several stores in Centro Habana and I didn’t find anything, it’s a disgrace. Fortunately, my son was saved, because a Telegram group sold some discs of his favorite games for xBox at 250 pesos each.”

She still had her daughter. To find her a gift, she first did a search on digital classifieds sites. Informal trade networks, in principle, offer varied options, with prices ranging from 70 pesos for a counterfeit Barbie to a some skates at 5,000. continue reading

However, Herrera says that on the on-line site Revolico “there were some little things” for children but they did not convince her: “ugly dolls” at 200 pesos or “huge stuffed animals” at exorbitant prices. Her last hope was in the shops of the Playa municipality and she went there in the late morning of this Tuesday to try her luck.

Another mother who made the same journey, however, remembers that in the Playa municipality the panorama was not very different than in Centro Habana. She says she arrived at the store at 3rd and 70th at 10:00 in the morning and by the time she managed to enter it was 8:00 at night and that was hard-won because they wanted to close earlier with the justification that the connection was very slow.

“When I entered there were only shreds left and the cheese, apples, cookies were gone,” she laments. “How sad, I stood there firmly until the end to buy some sweets for my child to give them for Three Kings Day since there is nothing else and the only thing I got was a package of assorted candies at $4.95.”

“He is small, but I hope he understands that this year the Three Kings cannot accommodate requests,” the woman continues. “It saddens me to think how many children will not have that long-awaited visit because their moms simply cannot buy them something and also run their errands. How sad and disappointed I am about everything we are experiencing,” she says.

Along the same lines, another Cuban declared: “This year if the Kings do not go to a foreign exchange store beforehand, they will come with empty camels, because the only place where there are sweet cookies, chocolates and somewhat varied candies is in the MLC,” referring to the stores that only take hard currency, and even that must be presented in the form of a bank card.

“I have been working as a mule for more than eight years and normally the months of December and January are very good for sales, but this year has been precisely the worst season to sell. We can hardly travel, few people can come, a disaster for the business” says a merchant who refuses to give his name. She explains that she has her network “with reliable people” because she does not want to fall from grace. “I am very careful with myself, I have seen the great fall for going crazy, and here the last thing that can happen to you is to fall into a hospital or in jail,” she says.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the government had special sales on subsidized toys at this time through the rationed market for industrial products, an option that collapsed with the fall of the Soviet Union.

Limara Ramírez, who was allowed to choose when she was little one “basic” toy and one “non-basic” toy, today is the mother of a seven-year-old girl: “Now everything is very different than when my parents had me, everything is so expensive that the money goes to basic needs and in putting a plate of food on the table.”

A father defeated by tradition and shortages confesses: “This year I had to tell him that the Kings were mom and dad. At first he didn’t believe us, like how did they get Nutella if there isn’t any here, I had to tell him that it cost me an arm and a leg.”

____________

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.

Prices and Cubans’ Anguish Both Soar

The “new price” of the public transportation ticket is 2 pesos, five times what it cost on December 31. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar / Mario J. Pentón, Havana / Miami, 1 January 2021 – With New Year’s Eve scenes lacking the brilliance of the festivities of previous years, Cubans were introduced to 2021, worried about the rising prices and inflation being experienced in Cuba. On this holiday, those who ventured to use public transportation, to eat at a cafeteria or to recharge their mobiles came across the new rates.

“Fixed-route taxis now cost five pesos, before they cost 40 cents and the prices at supermarkets have gone through the roof,” said Margot Martínez, a 68-year-old retired teacher from Cienfuegos.

“With what I get from my retirement I will barely be able to eat. The prices of electricity, water, transportation, medicine and gas have all risen from one moment to the next. They say they are needed to eliminate subsidies but, what subsidies do they dare to talk about in the midst of so much poverty?” continue reading

The national economy is going through its worst crisis in three decades as the Venezuelan subsidies of the Nicolás Maduro regime collapse, the traditional inefficiency of Cuban State companies is accentuated and the arrival of tourists plummets due to the coronavirus pandemic. The government has said that the economy declined 11% in 2020, but independent economists estimate that the damage has been even greater.

Without foreign currency to sustain its unproductive economy and pay the foreign debt, the Government of Miguel Díaz-Canel announced an aggressive program to cut public spending that includes the elimination of the convertible peso (CUC), the partial dollarization of the economy and the end of subsidies for many of the State companies.

“People do nothing but talk about the country’s situation. This does not improve no matter how the years go by and they continue to make promises. The only place where food is seen is in the television news,” Martinez said.

In public transportation buses in Havana, a poster, repeated several times, warns that the “new price” of the ticket is 2 pesos, five times what it cost on December 31st. For the clueless who are still trying to pay with some convertible peso coins, another poster warns that CUC’s are not accepted.

“This is abuse. I don’t live on my retirement; I am a messenger and that’s my livelihood. Now I will have to charge more to get ahead,” said a man who was talking at a bus stop in El Vedado on Friday morning. When the transportation arrived, the Havana citizen only paid the driver half the amount, 1 peso. “Forgive me, but today I can only pay you that,” and the driver allowed him to walk the aisle to his seat.

During the last week, many of the ATMs at the banks are under maintenance or out of service. (14ymedio)

Meanwhile, clients of the State monopoly communications company Etecsa verified that all mobile telephone service prices now appear in Cuban pesos. Data package purchases, minute usage to call other cell phones, or fees to send text messages, all that and more is now expressed in national currency.

The Mandao food delivery platform, like some private services, changed its prices this January 1st to national currency in its mobile application, although the online version still maintains rates in dollars and is designed for emigrants overseas who buy food for their relatives on the Island.

Learning to live with the new prices is becoming a headache for many who must now handle three or four sets of numbers instead of two. “It is costing me because they are large numbers and it is difficult to figure out how much they equal in CUC, which until yesterday was the reference currency in many services,” acknowledges a customer who, this Friday, was looking at restaurant menu in an Old Havana.

“Here it says that six croquettes are 111 pesos and that a pork cutlet is worth costs 231,” says the woman. “All the time I have to be dividing by 24 to know if it is the same as I paid before or if prices have risen,” she laments. “In other places they have maintained both prices, one next to the other, so that the user does not have to go through so much work, but not here.”

A retiree who worked in the accounting sector for years remembers the arrival of the euro in the Old Continent. “I was finishing my master’s degree in Spain and I remember that it was crazy to leave the peseta behind, some friends of mine took a long time to get used to it, but at least they were going for a strong currency. The Cuban peso, however, is very weak.”

Complaints about the new prices were also repeated throughout the week in the ration stores

Despite the fact that the authorities have established a single rate of exchange of the Cuban peso in relation to the dollar, about 24 for every dollar, in the Cuban black market, US currency exceeds 40 pesos this week, spurred by the impossibility of buying fulas* legally in the State network of banks or exchange houses.

Complaints about the new prices were also repeated throughout the week in the bodegas (ration stores). In the lines of people waiting to buy salt, additional rice and spaghetti, the topic of conversation was none other than the calculation of how much the basic basket that the Government sells through the rationed market would cost starting January 1st.

“Paying six, seven and ten pesos per pound for rice (depending on the type of grain), that is a huge abuse, no matter how they put it,” said one of the ladies. “If it’s going to be worth more, then it has to be of better quality, because the rice that came last November and December looks like animal fodder: dirty and old.”

“The year began and we have already entered the era of hundreds and thousands, soon it will be strange to hear a price that is ten, twenty and, even less, five pesos,” reflected a young woman with a baby in her arms outside a bank. After going to several branches to try to withdraw money from an ATM, the woman found that many are in maintenance or out of service.

*Translator’s note: Fulas is Cuban slang term for US Dollars

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.

Cuban Police Committed to Supporting Acts of Repudiation Against Artists

Poster painted by Katherine Bisquet and Camila Lobón using makeup. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 15 December 2020 — State Security continues its harassment against activists and artists who were housed at the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement. One day after Carlos Manuel Álvarez was arrested when he left his family’s house in Cárdenas, Matanzas, and was interrogated for six hours, Katherine Bisquet denounced the organization of an act of repudiation in front of her house, in Centro Habana.

The writer published through her social networks that microphones and speakers blasting music were placed near her house.

“The hate messages are already beginning. And the furious crowd is arriving!! But there are still people blowing kisses at us,” said Bisquet. “For each mercenary, one village,” the crowd can be heard shouting in a video uploaded to social networks.

“They tore the poster from us and a patrol has just arrived,” they charged. On the bedsheet that served as the poster, a message written in makeup read: “13 days of illegal deprivation of liberty. We have the right to express ourselves freely”

Hours earlier, she and visual artist Camila Ramírez Lobón had hung a white sheet from the roof protesting about the time they were under police surveillance, not allowed to go out. “A patrol just arrived and tore the poster from us,” they complained. On the bedsheet that served as the poster, a message written in makeup read: “13 days of illegal deprivation of liberty. We have the right to express ourselves freely.”

“Every lipstick, every eyeliner, mascara and glitter fill in these letters. And these letters carry our wishes for freedom,” Bisquet said in her post.

For her part, Ramírez Lobón said that during the act one could hear “Moneda Dura, Moncada, Carlos Puebla, Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Sara González, fragments of recorded speeches by Fidel” and that, from time to time, a neighbor would broadcast Bonifacio Byrne, or shout “the usual: worms, shameless, mercenaries.”

Act of repudiation on the corner in front of Katherine Bisquet’s house. (Facebook)

In the morning, a teenager, Osmel Adrián Rubio Santos, one of the strikers who was stationed in San Isidro last November to demand the release of Denis Solís, was detained when he left his home “to buy bread.” Rubio’s mother denounced him in a live broadcast while her son was put in a police car in handcuffs.

The 14 artists and activists who staged that peaceful protest at the headquarters of the group have been under surveillance and besieged at their homes by State Security and the Police for more than two weeks. Some, like Adrián Rubio or Iliana Hernández, have been the victims of acts of repudiation in their homes.

Hernández, a reporter for the CiberCuba news portal, was arrested this Tuesday when she left her home. According to her, her intention was to go to the Spanish Consulate for an interview. During the arrest, which was broadcast live on Facebook, the officers tried to take her phone from her, but she managed to get it to her mother beforehand.

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.

Wanted by Everyone, Caught by Few, Cuban Rice is Now for Sale in Dollars

According to the text, the national rice for sale has “great acceptance in the national and international market.” (TNC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 December 2020 — Until recently, coffee shops advertised “rice with steak”, “congrí (black beans and rice) and yucca,” “yellow rice with sausage,” and other combinations where the grain reigned, as it does in every Cuban table. But the product, missing from the unrationed market, is now only found on the black market and in dollar stores.

An article published this Monday in the State newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) has added salt to the wound of the rice shortage, boasting that in less than 24 hours almost three tons of the domestically produced grain were sold through a virtual store in foreign currency. The page that hosted the text has been showing an error message all day, which suggests that the critics have forced the withdrawal of the article.

The rice harvested at the Empresa Agroindustrial de Granos Sur del Jíbaro, in Sancti Spíritus, was marketed on a portal where people abroad can make purchases for delivery to the island, a channel frequently used by emigrants to help their families with products missing from the network of State stores. continue reading

Orland Linares Morell, general director of one of the largest rice producing companies in the country, explains it to the Communist youth newspaper without hiding his pride. The official considers it an opportunity for Cuban emigrants living abroad “to acquire the grain to be consumed by residents of the national territory.”

According to Linares, the grain that is sold is of the Galano 1967 brand , registered in the Cuban Industrial Property Office, “with great acceptance in the national and international market.” One kilo of the product, sold by state-owned Fruta Selecta, is offered on various digital sites at the cost of $1.78 plus home delivery costs.

In freely convertible currency (MLC) stores that have been selling food and hygiene products since last July, the rice sold is mostly imported and one kilogram of the variant popularly known as “bolito,” which comes from Spain, can exceed $4.50.

With the approach of Christmas and its traditional dinners based on rice, beans, pork, cassava and vegetable salad, the demand for the grain has skyrocketed and it is common for it to be scarce even in foreign exchange stores, despite its high prices. On the black market, the price is also on the rise and is close to 50 Cuban pesos per pound, a figure that may grow as the end of the year approaches.

In his statements this Monday, Linares pointed out that at the moment the supply from Granos del Sur del Jíbaro is only available in Sancti Spíritus, but will be extended to Havana through the Grupo Excelencias y la Industria Alimentaria. It did not specify, however, if there were limitations on the amount that each customer can buy.

The users of these on-line sites selling food are almost entirely people who live outside the Island, since residents in the country do not have credit or debit cards that can be used in digital commerce. For Islanders, the alternative is the TuEnvio.cu store, marked by technological problems, delays in deliveries and a shortage of merchandise.

To address the grain shortage, many private businesses have replaced the commonly offered side dishes of “Moors and Christians” (black beans and white rice) or white rice alone with ones of fried plantains, sautéed vegetables or bread. “We don’t have rice, but I can accompany the pork with some plantain tostones,” explains one of the most popular home delivery services in Havana by phone.

“It is not business to sell dishes with rice because every day it costs more for each pound,” the owner of Sabor a ti, a small business that offers a simple takeout from Monday to Friday for customers in the Cuban capital, tells this newspaper. “All our dishes are now coming out with cassava, taro or plantain but we cannot guarantee the rice.”

At home, the panorama repeats itself. “My family consumes little rice and it is enough for me, but for example at my mother’s house it is impossible, after the first 10 days of the month and she has to go out to look for the product in the street,” Mayelin Ramírez, a resident of the municipality of Plaza de Revolución told 14ymedio.

“Hopefully this offer reaches Havana, my mother is having a hard time without being able to have rice the whole month. She does not have a card in MLC but my brother who lives abroad can buy it without problems,” she explained.

In the stores that sell in MLC, the rice that is sold is mainly imported. (Collage)

Ramírez believes that what is happening is that “other products are also missing” and that is why rice becomes the main dish in many households. “There are no root vegetables, no pasta, every day the options are fewer,” laments the woman, the mother of a little girl. “At home there are only three of us, with my husband and daughter, and I am always inventing. I like to balance our diet, but everyone does not have that possibility because they are very attached to the custom of always eating with rice.”

The unrationed sale of the grain was suspended in the country at the beginning of the pandemic. According to calculations by official sources, of the 700,000 tons necessary to ensure the distribution of rice for the basic market basket sold in the ration stores, this year less than 163,000 tons will be produced in the network of rice companies.

In this context, five pounds of rice per month can be purchased in the rationed market for each consumer at a subsidized price, and an additional two pounds but without the subsidy. This summer, an additional three pounds were added as part of a group of measures announced “to alleviate the impact” of the pandemic on food.

The official version, released by the media, maintains that the ’blockade’ [i.e., the U.S. embargo], the climate and the international crisis that has followed the pandemic, together with the island’s financial problems, are the causes of the shortage.

____________

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 Counterrevolution Sneaked Into the Fabric of the Culture’, Complains Abel Prieto

The Minister of Culture, Alpidio Alonso, admitted that the meeting was taking place as a result of the protests on November 27. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 December 2020 — Actor Reinier Díaz and some other artists who attended last Saturday’s meeting with officials from the Ministry of Culture deny the interpretation that the official press is giving of what happened at the Abelardo Estorino theater. There were forceful interventions in favor of the San Isidro Movement and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, until officialdom led by Abel Prieto took control of the situation

“The meeting started very well, people with tough ideas, without skimping,” Reinier Díaz tells 14ymedio. “The first to speak was Humberto Díaz, a visual artist who read the demands of 27N [for ’November 27th’] and put the meeting in context.” According to the actor, the Minister of Culture, Alpidio Alonso, admitted that the meeting was taking place as a result of the protests on November 27.

The actor describes as “wonderful” the intervention of the theater director Carlos Celdrán, who criticized the “digital blackout” after the protests and described it as “fascism.” He also denounced the acts of repudiation, something that has been very present in his work. continue reading

“From my intervention the newscast only took the presentation, they did not put the heart of my speech, not even when I assumed responsibility for the 30 who participated in the first meeting (with Vice Minister Fernando Rojas) and signed the letter (with the conditions for the next meeting that did not occur),” laments the interviewee. “I spoke as part of the [group of] 30 and said that we are totally opposed to acts of repudiation, police repression, constant violations of the Constitution by the Ministry of the Interior, which acts outside the law, and how many people in the group had agents standing outside their houses to prevent them from leaving,” he notes.

Diaz relates that the most critical interventions occurred, one after another, at the beginning of the meeting. “Lots of people lashed out at the media.” An art critic vindicated the talent of Otero Alcántara and denounced the smear campaign that was being carried out against him “without giving anything conclusive, not even a piece of information, neither proof nor a conviction in hand.”

Another of those present referred to the “evident manipulation of the press media” and the way in which material about the San Isidro Movement and ’27N’ is published. In addition, he rejected police violence in his country.

In another intervention, singer Jesus Barrios said that the security forces doused him with a spray to prevent him from approaching the Ministry of Culture on the day of the protests. Reinier Díaz himself reported that his partner suffered a similar attack and got dermatitis caused by the same product.

What had been going well until then took a turn when another young man, whom Díaz says he does not know, intervened and “began to talk about the Revolution and express himself in a tone that was like a small act of repudiation.” Although the actor repeatedly asked to speak, he wasn’t able to speak again.

“There began the speech of those who assume the critical attitude but from the position of a revolutionary. They spoke of the mercenaries, the annexationists, the flag, the financing and the millions that the United States pays. And even the last speaker ended up offering an ode to the Revolution and said that we are the last socialist bastion in the world and that we cannot lose it.”

In his telling, Díaz also refers to the attitude of Abel Prieto (president of Casa de las Américas), who practically “recognized that the Revolution has to defend itself and that acts of repudiation must be carried out.” The counterrevolution sneaked into the fabric of culture (…) We mixed one thing with the other and in a really perverse situation’, he said at one point.”

For Reinier Díaz, the most clarifying moment of the meeting occurred when Prieto asked if it was necessary to let as many people come out to shout out in the street with the San Isidro Movement, even if there were hundreds.

“Many of us said yes, like Celdrán, Humberto Díaz or me, although others were silent; but Prieto continued with his speech. I believe that they are not prepared for a dialogue. They do not understand that if they want people to trust them they have to tell everything that was said there and not just part of it. The news program blatantly lies, Carlos Celdrán told him several times.”

Díaz was not the only one present to react negatively against what has transpired since the meeting. The director Joseph Ross has expressed his discontent on social networks. “I regret that reports in the media (the official media and the non-official), until now, are so superficial (…). I hope that the press in the next few hours will take a responsible attitude with respect to everything that has been said in these seven hours and and give wide and transparent coverage to all the opinions,” he wrote. The director believes that, although the meeting could have been more plural, there was a clear message that the officials needed to hear.

____________

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 Cuban Ministry of Culture Breaks the Dialogue By Rejecting the Artists’ Conditions

The moment when artists left the Ministry of Culture, after spending almost five hours meeting with Vice Minister Fernando Rojas. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 4 December 2020 – Cuba’s Ministry of Culture announced this Friday in an official note that it will not meet with the artists who, on 27 November, Vice Minister Fernando Rojas promised to open a dialogue with, arguing “that they have direct contact and receive financing, logistical support and propaganda backing from the United States Government and its officials.” Nor will the ministry, he says, speak “with the media financed by US federal agencies.”

Thus, the Government has unilaterally broken the agreements it had reached with the artists, who are now being called by the name “27N” (i.e., 27 November), after a peaceful demonstration in front of the Ministry of Culture demanded to meet with the minister and was finally able to meet with the vice minister.

In its statement, the ministry does not recognize the reasons that led the group to raise the conditions and point out that it lacks “legitimacy and ethics” to address the institutions of Cuban culture. continue reading

The conditions were drafted and agreed upon after several debates between some of the 30 artists and intellectuals who participated in the 27N meeting, as a result, they explained, of the “persecution, harassment and criminalization” directed from the Government towards the participants of that meeting.

Among the conditions, 27N asks for “guarantees of security and protection” for those who are going to attend the meeting and “for those who want to be outside.”

In their document, sent to the Ministry of Culture by email, according to the official statement, the artists emphasized that the list of representatives sent to the Ministry is made up of people who were democratically elected by the 27N protesters and that therefore their presence in the meeting “cannot be negotiable.”

Another of the requests they made was that the lawyer Julio A. Fernández Estrada accompany them as legal adviser at the meeting.

The group noted that, as the topics on the agenda “exceed the powers” of the Minister of Culture, Alpidio Alonso Grau, they requested the presence of President Miguel Díaz-Canel, as well as authorized representatives from the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice.

However, they explained that since the “agreements were violated,” and that in many of the official media only Vice Minister Fernando Rojas’ version of the meeting appeared, “with no possibility of our replying in that media,” and so they insisted that the independent press be present at the meeting with the minister, to cover the meeting.

As a last condition, the group requested that at the end of the meeting a joint public statement be made outlining all the agreements that reached between both parties.

“We do not consider it pertinent to appear at the meeting until these guarantees have been publicly given,” the group concluded its conditions.

In its note this Friday, the Ministry of Culture argues that “those who implemented this maneuver” have broken the possibility of dialogue by “trying to include” in the group people “who have excluded themselves” by “their attacks on national symbols, common crimes and frontal attacks on the leadership of the Cuban Revolution, under the guise of art,” without specifying who they are referring to, but clearly alluding to Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara.

In a text published by 27N this morning the group presented itself as a collection of “artists and intellectuals who are committed to demanding our rights through civic and peaceful means” with the aspiration of “an inclusive and democratic society.”

“We do not accept acts of violence or vandalism. We do not respond to the interests of foreign governments. We work solely to meet the demands of many Cuban intellectuals, artists and communicators to speak to the Ministry and the competent authorities,” they declare in response to the official media, which accused them of being in the service of the United States and of promoting violence with attacks on the newly constituted stores in Cuba that take payment only in foreign currencies through specially issued bank cards.

They also urge the national mass media “not to misrepresent the purpose of this negotiation, or hinder the necessary dialogue with half-truths and calls for discord.”

They ask the National Revolutionary Police and the Department of State Security of the Ministry of the Interior to “abide by the fulfillment of their function as guarantors of legality and to stop the persecution and harassment to which we are being subjected.”

Finally, they call on all Cubans, as well as the press and citizen voices, to stand with them at this time.

____________

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.

Despite the Arrests and Pressures from Cuba’s Political Police, Independent Artists Gather

Artists gathered at the Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism to work on the agenda agreed with Vice Minister Fernando Rojas on November 27. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 3 December 2020 — Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was not the only one to be arrested this Wednesday. The harassment has continued in the last 24 hours against members of the San Isidro Movement and other independent artists.

Tania Bruguera was also arrested on Wednesday afternoon when she was on her way to the Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism (Instar), which she directs, for a meeting with some of the 30 artists and intellectuals who participated in the meeting on November 27 at the Ministry of Culture, according to a source close to Bruguera.

“The group of 30 hasn’t rested, they’ve hardly slept, [meeting] in a democratic, respectful way, with open hearts,” said the artist in a direct transmission from Facebook, “so that progress can be made on the agenda items requested by the Ministry of Culture that we sent to him for the meeting that he asked us for this week.”

Bruguera claims that while they are meeting their side of the agreement, of the 30 artists who attended the meeting, there are six who have police surveillance at their homes and cannot attend the meetings and some members of the group were suffering harassment through pressure on their families. continue reading

She also said that they asked an “intermediary” to locate the Vice Minister of Culture, Fernando Rojas, “to inform him of what is happening,” since one of the reasons for the meeting on November 27 was “to finish once and for all” with police the harassment.

In another video posted on her networks, Bruguera responded to State Security accusations that she is “working with the United States Department of State” and “following a manual” to provoke a popular revolt on the island: “Never in my life have I communicated with the United States Department of State, I do not need any government to tell me what I have to do for my country, I do not need to contact any country to order me to do anything. I am a Cuban who has a sufficient sense of decency and of her citizens’ rights to demand them from the entities that have to guarantee them.”

Speaking to 14ymedio, the artist explained that it was “Colonel Alberto and agent Mario, as they call themselves,” who went to see her Tuesday night at her home.

“The colonel was the one who spoke the whole time,” declared the artist, “to tell me that I was destabilizing the Government, that I was creating subversion, following someone’s orders, working with the people of the State Department of the United States Government and that I was doing all this because I had read a little book. I asked him the title but he didn’t tell me. ”

Among the threats the officers made against Bruguera was that “they would take the most severe measures” against her. “I replied that I was not going to accept the accusations he was making because not only were they a lie, but they also had legal implications related to Law 88, where the punishments are extremely severe. He insisted on telling me: ‘We are not going to allow you to destabilize the Government or create subversion.”

The officials reproached her that she was doing all this “to gain an endorsement,” “something I did not understand,” she declared. “I told him that he was completely wrong, that he did not understand what was happening and that we were where we were because the Ministry of Culture asked us for an agenda and that is what we were working on.”

In addition, the artist requested that they no longer visit her and that the next time they went, they would take her to jail: “They will not threaten me with these baseless accusations,” she declared.

For his part, the poet Amaury Pacheco also confirmed that he has surveillance on his home “from very early in the morning.” According to the complaint, other members of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), such as Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Michel Matos, Aminta de Cárdenas and Claudia Genlui, are in the same situation.

The music producer Michel Matos was also arrested this Tuesday afternoon, according to Iris Ruiz, a member of the MSI, on her Facebook profile. “Michel Matos has just been arrested at the corner of 27th and 8th in El Vedado. Patrol Car 436. Two policemen and a woman,” Ruiz posted.

____________

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.

Otero Alcantara Detained Again in Havana While Giving an Interview to ’14ymedio’

The State Security agent who intervened in the arrests of the independent artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara standing next to the curator Claudia Genlui Hidalgo. (Claudia Genlui)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 2 December 2020 —  The independent artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was detained this Wednesday when he left the house of the journalist Mónica Baró and while speaking by phone with 14ymedio. A police patrol took him to his mother’s house, where a State Security agent forbade him to go out and “told him to spend his birthday with his family,” said the spokesman for the San Isidro Movement, Michel Matos.

The activist and curator Claudia Genlui Hidalgo broadcast live on her social networks the moment when Otero Alcántara was detained: “The truce is once again broken,” she commented.

While filming, Genlui Hidalgo approached the entrance to Baró’s house, which since the night before had a patrol at the front and where a State Security agent in pink pants and two uniformed women from the Ministry of the Interior remained. The young woman asked if she could access the house and the moment when she was also detained was recorded. continue reading

Shortly after the fact, the journalist Carlos Manuel Álvarez, who was inside the house, denounced the arrests. “They have just taken Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Claudia Genlui Hidalgo, who was on her way to see him, from the ground floor of the house on 7th and 32nd,” he wrote on his Facebook profile.

“Luis Manuel slept here yesterday, since [the house at] Damas 955 was uninhabitable, and now he was going to meet his uncle. Just yesterday they had released him and the only thing he has done since then is sleep,” Álvarez said. “It seems that in his dreams he committed a new crime,” the journalist commented sarcastically, before adding: “Today is his birthday [33 years]. The unjustified harassment continues.”

Otero Alcantará was arrested while he was explaining to this newspaper his decision to end his hunger strike after ten days. “When I got to the hospital (Fajardo) I felt that they wanted to leave me there for a long time and I did not want to give them justifications for that; that was one of the reasons why I stopped the hunger strike. The other reason is because I felt that, yes, I was still going to die, and it didn’t make any sense, I had to be in the race, warming up and creating above all, generating those areas of disagreement that they have with me against the system.”

“In every step that the government took against us, I felt that we were winning,” he says. “I am tremendously enthusiastic, I am optimistic, I see the changes, it happened with Bienal 00, Decree 349. I think we are in a context where a civil society is developing that can generate important changes for Cubans.”

“When those people (State Security agents disguised as doctors) went into our house in San Isidro to get us out (which was one of the planned exits and I think it was indisputably the best for us and the most awkward for them) and they didn’t let me go back, I felt that they didn’t know what to do with me, they saw me as a stone that didn’t want to fit where they wanted it and that it was like a snowball that was growing.”

____________

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 Authorities Broke the Agreements with Artists, Denounces Tania Bruguera

Tania Bruguera, at the Instar headquarters, accompanied by other artists who were present at the meeting on November 27 with Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 30 November 2020 — Three of the five agreements reached on November 27 between independent artists and cultural authorities — beginning with the release of the young rapper Denis Solís, sentenced to eight months in jail for alleged contempt — did not last 24 hours, Tania Bruguera denounced in a press conference called this Sunday at the headquarters of the Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism (Instar), which she directs.

Bruguera, who accompanied some thirty artists in a meeting of more than four hours with the Vice Minister of Culture Fernando Rojas, harshly criticized National Television for focusing on discrediting the San Isidro Movement and Denis Solís with alleged links to “terrorist” and “counterrevolutionaries.” In that “special program” they interviewed Vice Minister Rojas, who acknowledged that “it is not usual for us to have to react to a request formulated in this way.”

“There are police in the homes of artists, journalists and art critics,” Tania Bruguera told 14ymedio. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara was in a hospital against his will, after he asked to go home. In addition, Fernando Rojas gave a distorted image of what happened at the meeting. Conclusion: in less than 24 hours they broke the agreements.” continue reading

Bruguera denounced that Rojas promised them that the government would not “defame and criminalize” the artists, and yet they were branded “mercenaries” in the media. Regarding the case of Denis Solís, the artist said that in the meeting with the vice minister “he was not asked to explain the legal processes of the country,” in reference to the long part of the official program dedicated to “due process,” “but to use his influence and power to intervene in [Solís’s] liberation.”

The artists present at the press conference called for an end to the repression and discrediting of the San Isidro Movement and demanded freedom of expression and association not only for themselves but for all citizens.

The filmmaker Gretel Medina told this newspaper that the demands they expressed “were not met” at the meeting but what happened “was unprecedented” and she considers that the first achievement of that day “was the union.”

“All of us who were before these officials agree, in one way or another, on the need to respect the right for every citizen, whether they belong to the creative community or not, to say what they think without fear of being repressed by State Security,” declared the visual artist Julio Llopiz-Casal.

Bruguera stressed that to decide the next steps, everyone’s opinions must be taken into account, because it is a heterogeneous group that is not only made up of the 30 participants in the meeting with the vice minister, but also others such as Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Anamely Ramos, who could not be there: Alcántara because he is hospitalized against his will and Ramos because of a police operation that prevents her from leaving her house.

Rapper Maykel Castillo ’Osorbo’, also under police surveillance, remains on a hunger strike and is in a “very delicate condition,” according to a statement from the San Isidro Movement on Sunday.

In the document, they note that on Saturday Iris Ruiz, Katherine Bisquet, Claudia Genlui, Michel Matos, Yasser Castellanos and Amaury Pacheco were detained for a few hours, when they left a visit to Maykel Castillo, and they ask that the “authoritarian opportunism be stopped in the context of the pandemic to avoid possible contagion as an excuse to isolate the members of this organization.”

In addition, they list other specific requests, among them, that “the Catholic Church” can visit Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara at the Fajardo hospital to “provide him with emotional support” and that “medical personnel proposed by the San Isidro Movement can verify the state of Maykel Castillo’s health.”

The group asserts that they distance themselves from “any violent act that is occurring or may be generated,” and urge the international community to continue “vigilant over the physical integrity of all members of this organization, other artists and activists determined to vindicate our rights to live in a country of freedoms.”

More than 70 students, graduates and former professors of the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA) delivered a letter to the dean’s office on Saturday in support of Anamely Ramos, who expressed thanks on her social networks for the gesture. “The courage of my students in a moment as hard as this is something that I am still processing,” she expressed on her Facebook wall.

Meanwhile, the collective continues to receive more support from the art world. Figures such as Haydée Milanés, Carlos Varela, Leoni Torres, Yuliet Cruz, Fernando Pérez, Jorge Perugorría have been joined by the musician Cimafunk, who said, in a post on his Facebook wall, he was “proud” of his colleagues “because they are using their voices, their words and their peaceful behavior to share with us their realities and their vision of prosperity, well-being, freedom and peace.”

The recognized Afro-Cuban artist explains that he is not in Cuba at the moment “for family and professional reasons,” but he feels represented by the artists who demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Culture on Friday, “and those who were not there for various reasons, but who have shown us support from wherever they are.”

_______________

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.

Carlos Varela: “Cutting the Wings of Freedom of Expression Cannot Continue”

For Varela it is time to sit down and talk, because “the people of San Isidro are also part of this country.” (Facebook / Olivia Prendes D Espaux)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 26 November 2020 — One week after the start of the hunger strike at the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement to demand freedom for Denis Solís, sentenced to eight months in a summary trial for an alleged crime of contempt, signs of solidarity continue to arrive via the activists of many influential voices in the art world.

One of the most recent voices to join has been that of singer-songwriter Carlos Varela, who in a post published on his Facebook wall expressed his concern about the hunger strikes that several of the activists are continuing: “If I don’t write these words, I would be denying myself and my story. ”

“I don’t know any of the San Isidro kids personally, but that’s not what matters today. Any human being who is willing to die for a cause, whatever it may be, deserves to be listened to with respect. I am human, so don’t ask me to look the other way. I will not be complicit in the silence of the choir,” he wrote. continue reading

He said that several decades ago, “when those kids from San Isidro were only children or had not been born,” he went through something similar. “They wanted to turn me off too, erase me, marginalize me, censor me and, like a large part of my generation who could not bear the pressure, invite me to leave Cuba.”

For the musician, a member of the so-called Cuban Nueva Trova it is time to sit down and talk, because “people from San Isidro are also part of this country,” while denouncing the acts of repudiation as “infamous gestures” that are “a national shame.”

“When will William Tell’s grandchildren be heard? ” he wondered, paraphrasing his most popular song.

“A good part of my songs were born, surrounded by threats and conjectures, in the warmth of censorship and the silence of others. When will William Tell’s grandchildren be heard?” he asked himself, paraphrasing his most popular song, written at the end of the eighties and dedicated to the generation that fled the island en masse during that decade.

Another of the voices that publicly joined in to support the San Isidro Movement was that of singer Leoni Torres, who published on his social networks the need to express his feelings “about what is happening with the MSI youth group.”

“It pains me to think that after so many years we are still unable to dialogue and that hatred continues to prevail. Cuba belongs to everyone. Ideas do not have to be identical; we do not have to think the same. It is everyone’s right to be able to express themselves freely without being punished,” he said.

Meanwhile, at the headquarters of the group, located on Damas Street in Old Havana, there is no news at this time on the health of the strikers.

Carlos Manuel Álvarez, director of the magazine El Estornudo, (The Sneeze) who, after returning to Cuba from New York this Wednesday joined the 13 activists who have remained inside the building since last November 16th, denounced Thursday a possible Government maneuver to get him out of San Isidro.

Carlos Manuel Álvarez, director of the magazine El Estornudo denounced Thursday a possible Government maneuver to get him out of San Isidro.

According to a live broadcast, on Wednesday night, Health authorities called his friend Mónica Baró, whose address he had given to authorities at José Martí Airport upon arrival in Cuba, to tell her that the PCR COVID-19 rapid test they performed when he entered the country, compulsory for all international travelers, “had showed altered results.”

Perhaps they could not communicate directly with him, he recalled, because his telephone number, which he provided to officials on the immigration health form, was being blocked.

Baró was warned that Álvarez should go to a health center in Miramar before midnight this Wednesday to repeat the exam because, otherwise, they would go look for him at San Isidro. “I did not do what was requested, so it is likely that this second option will happen at some point,” said the journalist.

“It seems to me that behind a medical excuse there is political manipulation to get me out of here,” he argued, in addition to insisting that before traveling to Cuba his PCR test was negative, so “there is less risk of me spreading the virus than the tourists who traveled on the flight.”

“I’m not going to get out of here or give in to such crudely orchestrated pressures,” he said. “I am willing to do a PCR again but under certain conditions because the bond of trust with the Cuban state has been completely broken.” And he explained that he cannot trust a political power whose propaganda apparatus tells “lies and defamations,” such as he has had “contact with international terrorists from Miami,” that “he is a “CIA agent” or that he is “violating the isolation that is imposed on residents or tourists who arrive in Cuba from abroad.”

Thus, the conditions that Álvarez is demanding to take another PCR test is that health personnel go directly to Damas Street #955, specifically accompanied “by my mother or my father because they are both doctors and they know exactly what the procedure is.”

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.

About 150 Artists Gather in Front of Cuba’s Ministry of Culture to Support the San Isidro Movement

The artists arrived to express their solidarity with the members of the San Isidro Movement and to demand a meeting with the Minister of Culture. (Facebook / Ahmel Echevarría)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 27 November 2020 — Since 11:00 AM this Friday, dozens of artists have gathered in front of the Ministry of Culture in Havana to express their solidarity with the members of the San Isidro Movement, who have been evicted from their headquarters by the security forces.

In the absence of the minister, Alpidio Alonso Grau, a delegation of 30 creators is expected to meet with the vice minister Fernando Rojas on behalf of all those present.

At 6:00 in the evening, more than 150 artists had arrived, including Tania Bruguera, winner of the 2014 Lázaro Saavedra National Prize for Plastic Arts, Reynier Leyva, Henry Eric, Julio Llopiz-Casal, Claudia Genlui, Solveig Font, Sindy Rivery, José Luis Aparicio, Nelson Jalil, Fernando Fraguela, Edel Figueredo, Sandra Ceballos, Juliana Rabelo, Mijail Rodríguez, Yunior García and Camila Lobón are some of those present. continue reading

Filmmaker Fernando Pérez and actor Jorge Perugorría also joined in the evening. “El Pichi and I are here to tell the Ministry of Culture to receive them,” said the renowned director. “This is going to be the beginning of a new language that Cuban culture lacks… it would not have to come to this if they had listened long before,” he added.

The artists have signed a declaration in which they condemn “the inability of government institutions in Cuba to dialogue and recognize dissent.”

The renowned artist Tania Bruguera, in statements to 14ymedio, explained that the group that arrived at the ministry this Friday “is intergenerational,” and is nurtured by people from all artistic branches who have come together to express that this institution does not represent them, nor has it been able to “find ways to negotiate when the life of an artist is at risk and it has neglected its duty, which is to protect artists.”

Visual artist Julio Llopiz-Casal declared: “I am here because I consider that what happened with the San Isidro Movement is a serious symptom of the systematic cultural policy that the Cuban State has had over 60 years, which consists of criminalizing and defaming the people who want dialogue and have no subversive intention.”

The images are being shared on the artists’ social networks and show that minute by minute more people are joining the call. Reynier Leyva Novo wrote on his Facebook wall: “We are already demanding that the Minister of Culture attend to us! San Isidro Movement. MSI. We are not moving from here…”

Another of the artists who came to the call, Henry Eric, declared to this newspaper that what moved him to join was “the lack of civil liberties,” something that in his opinion “results in the lack of freedom in creative and intellectual processes.”

“What happened in San Isidro seems to me to be a process of serious political repression, of the many that occur cyclically in this country,” and he mentioned as an example the Letter of the Ten in 1991, the Black Spring of 2003 and “the end of the 80s, when many artists in the world of visual arts were practically pushed to leave the country.”

For Henry Eric it is also important to “denounce the right that the Ministry of Culture assumes to say who can and who cannot be an artist,” because “no public official has the right to denigrate a person who decides to make art in the manner they want.”

The playwright and theater director Yunior García specified that the majority of those present are “young artists.”

He sees in what has happened in San Isidro “a threat to all our creative freedoms as artists and our freedoms as citizens,” an environment, he says, “very rarefied when it comes to making our art without having to leave the country where we were born.”

Although up until two in the afternoon the day passed peacefully, as 3:00 PM approached several sources in the place have denounced the arrival in the area where the artists are of “some buses” and of State Security agents along with the police.

____________

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 Worthless, Everyday Object is an Accomplice to Express Myself”

“I was interested in art since I was young, inspired by a super picturesque character who lived in my neighborhood, on the exact same block as me,” confessed Nelson Jalil. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana,22 November 2020 — Nelson Jalil was born in Camagüey in 1984 and graduated from the Higher Institute of Art (ISA) in Havana, where he now has his studio in Nuevo Vedado neighborhood which he shared with his fellow countryman Lester Álvarez initially, who later went to live in Madrid. Now he has more space but he misses his friend.

His pieces are woven from their title to their form, they are of such beauty that it makes you want to take them home and hang them on a wall. In the midst of canvases with broken pencils, burned books, a bonfire, a spiral staircase and a tremendous downpour in the background, 14ymedio spoke with Nelson Jalil this week.

Question: Looking at a group of pieces, I realized that your work and the creative process that leads to it have a lot of play, is that right?

Answer: This approach is quite exact. It is one of the ways in which I come close to the creative process in a general sense. I see it closely associated with the idea of leisure and, by extension, the idea of play. I told a friend some time ago that when I had a problem, I would close the studio and would solve it. When I recover that mental space that allows me to focus on the process that is creation, I would return. In the end, taking into account the way in which I operate with these objects that are small and the way in which they are assembled while I observe and deal with them, is very similar to the way in which a child interacts with a toy. continue reading

There is an initial idea that is very generally related to the interest I have in exploring the ability that these everyday, ordinary objects have to embody or express certain situations, spaces, or even human relationships

Q: What comes first, the object or the idea?

A: There is an initial idea that is very generally related to the interest I have in exploring the ability that these everyday, ordinary objects have to embody or express certain situations, spaces, or even human relationships. I gradually land that general idea, and from the way in which the objects are shaped when they begin to go in different directions, then more specific ideas arise and I can talk about a specific experience. This way, I go from a general interest and then I start to manipulate objects, to observe them and to interact with them, as if the same object were expressing that other concrete idea to me.

Q: Is this something that comes from when you were a kid?

No, I was not interested in working with objects until just a few years ago. I did a bit of everything, especially in one’s period of studies, when one experiments almost with all bases, with all media. Periodically, one becomes obsessed with a medium and another and already then when that interest arises, it becomes a discovery. From that point, I became more and more absorbed in the use of objects, until today.

Q: What was your first approach to art and the idea of being an artist?

A: My interest in art started when I was young, influenced by a super picturesque character who lived in my neighborhood, exactly on the same block as me. He was your typical character, half alcoholic, an ex-boxer who lived in very precarious conditions. They called him El Croqueta, he picked up pieces of dolls or Indian heads from a neighborhood handicraft workshop, soaked them and sat with some chopsticks pretending to be molding, thus in a very artistic pose. I would stop on my way to school and I would always sit with him and we would talk, to me. He was a great sculptor, to me, he was Rodin.

“After leaving school, I spent two years working intensively on a series of drawings, which was like the journey of that highly narrative photographic work I had done at ISA,” said Jalil. (14ymedio)

That was my first contact, from there I started to mold a little with clay, to draw. Then I got to know the very good art collection in the Camagüey museum, where my mother worked for a while, and visited the collection frequently. That was the moment when I started to draw formally, with the intention of entering art school.

Q: How do you remember those years at the Camagüey art school?

A: When I studied there it was not called as it is today, Vicentina de la Torre Academy of Art. We studied in what we call the old school, the process of change was quite sad.  Previously, it was a spectacular space, a colonial house that shared the building that was the old cavalry barracks of the Spanish Army with the provincial museum. It had very nice wooden stairs, there was a lot of freedom, there were few students. Then came this madness of the renovated art schools and they had put everyone in uniform, they locked all the doors, the students had practically no access to the workshops, it changed a lot.

Q: And then the Higher Institute of Art arrived … what did that change mean?

A: The ISA was a discovery for me, it was not the best moment of the school by far, the whole crisis that the class programs had suffered when nobody wanted to teach had started, but it was a multicultural space. Training in the provinces, in the case of Camagüey, was much more technical and there were also several teachers who were concerned about the creative training part but it was still an even more limited vision, in the sense that we only had a couple of references.

On arrival at ISA, that spectrum opens up, starting with students from all over, with greater or lesser cultural background and different types of information, and I began to discover that what I thought was art was nothing more than a very specific way of understanding art, and teachers thought more or less the same way. Suddenly you learned that so-and-so had used a poem as the text of the discussion of his graduation thesis or that Whatshisface had written a diary… that began to dismantle a series of concepts for me stiffer than one brings from the province.

When you arrive at ISA, that spectrum opens up, starting with students who came from all over with greater or lesser cultural backgrounds and different types of information

Q: You belong to a generation of many artists who have opted for more conceptual art or installation rather than painting. Do you see any specific reason for this? How was it in your case?

A: This is cyclical, as always happens, people get bored. There are different periods, and the teachers are also influential. I remember anecdotes from moments when ISA students who wanted to paint had to practically hide because others made fun of them, I think It was in the 90’s. There have also been periods when they have solidly painted.

I painted very little at the ISA, I especially drew and, for two or three years, was absorbed with photography but lost my interest later on, to such an extent that even I was amazed. It was as if that language was completely exhausted for me and suddenly not had nothing to say about the subject. If at that moment in my life someone had told me that I was going to end up involved in installation projects like the ones I have done or the ones I have in mind, I would not have believed it. The conditions of the ISA were a bit rough for me, so I worked more with projects that I could take with me, more mental processes, those requiring less space.

Physical spaces were there, but it was when the restoration of the school was under way, and there was a certain chaos. This is not a justification, many people took up painting at that time, it was more of a personal process.

After leaving school, I spent two years working intensively on a series of drawings, which was like the transition of that highly narrative photographic work that I had done at ISA. Then I began to explore painting a little from these drawings, so that when I began to work with objects, both installation and assembled objects and painting, the two began to come out simultaneously, probably the result of the maturation of everything this previous search process that has been consolidating.

Q: It is also remarkable that there is a lot of influence of oriental culture in many artists of your generation, why do you think this is?

A: I think there are many things I do not want to question here, but in a general sense, for the younger generations the system that comes from this Judeo-Christian heritage has fallen into crisis for many and if the current access is added to it, we have to something that for other generations was much more unknown…

It is well known that if your curiosity or interest is of a spiritual nature, obviously there are useful tools that have been tested over the centuries. It is like having a box full of tools and you can try to connect with that specific area of knowledge you identify with more, and that does not necessarily have to be what you have received as a family inheritance.

“For me, the fact that the institution becomes a filter that determines who has a career and who doesn’t is fatal,” says Nelson Jal (14ymedio)

Several years ago, through friends who also come from the art world, I began to investigate these processes, where one almost always begins to do a little yoga and some meditation and I finally ended up being interested in a specific method that comes from of the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. It was quite close to me and I connected with that type of practice.

I see that some artists intermingle very well, but in my case, I do not practice a type of art that is traditionally understood the way it is done in these cultural contexts, quite remote for me. I understand it more as a method of self-recognition and search that eventually expresses itself subtly through some idea that I can outline in my work.

Many of the most interesting ideas that I have had have come to me as distractions, everything is intermingled in an intermediate zone, which has to do with the creative process, but you are not making art in the formal sense, a very oxygenating processes that helps to continually review many processes most people are not aware of, especially on an emotional and spiritual level. A super useful tool.

Q: What are the latest works you have done, and how do you present them?

A: These are two groups of works that I have been developing, I do not even collect them or present them as a series. They are two groups, in two different supports: in paint, oil on canvas and a series of installations, in many cases, objects assembled in small formats. I was mentioning that I have developed them simultaneously, at first it was a bit tentative, it was difficult for me to talk about it because I was imbued in the process of discovering the possibility that all these objects offered me. It was extremely inspiring, but at the same time there were some things that I was not very clear about but, as always happens, the same work process reveals information or a certain type of knowledge that emanates from the same creative exercise.

I have been investigating the possibilities that ordinary objects, seemingly of little value which I stumble upon, offer me, or those that convey situations or behaviors that are intrinsically human.

In some cases, the objects are quite anthropomorphic, and in others, they are the result of some human action or behavior in some way. Obviously, the object is a pretext or an accomplice to express all these kinds of relationships.

Q: Have you been able to obtain the necessary sustenance in Cuba to make a living from art?

A: In my case, I have had the opportunity to sell works periodically without being fully inserted, in the sense that I have worked with the odd gallery dealer or through a dealer who has been in contact with me, or someone who reaches out and contacts me directly, which is a very good possibility. It is super random, it is unpredictable. In my case, it has happened intermittently, few artists aren’t well established enough to foresee when and how a specific work will be managed, although there are artists in that situation, obviously

There are people who can suggest or put you in contact with someone and it has been a bit like that in my case. I am not moving from here, whoever wants to come and see me, let them come. My job is to produce the work, whoever wants to do something with it, will simply pick up a phone and call me, I don’t think it’s more complex than that, I don’t think it’s the artist’s job to go around trying to force himself into the most necessarily appropriate space.

Q: Do you think that the arrival of mobile data and the possibility of having the internet at hand can help with that?

A: A few years ago, most of the artists who lived in Cuba couldn’t even have a website. It was absolutely impossible to upload an image of their work to any space for someone who was not physically in the same site as you to see it. Having access to a platform that allows this is a great advantage. I think it is more at the promotional level. It has been very interesting for me because of the kind of people I have met, artists that I admire who have connected with me, people I never envisioned having contact with.

Q: What impact do you think Cuban art in these times have had in the new independent spaces that have emerged?

“I painted very little at the ISA, I especially drew and spent two or three years absorbed with photography, which later ended up disinteresting me in such a way that even I feel amazed,” Jalil said. (14ymedio)

A: That is good, of course. The fact that the institution becomes a filter that determines who has a career and who does not is fatal for me. If the institution does not feel like recognizing an artist, either because it considers that he or she has no talent or because he is a complicated artist with a type of rebellious discourse or for whatever reason, it is terrible that he does not find another opportunity. I think it’s fantastic that there are other ways, because this filter is very dense in institutional spaces.

Q: How did you experience the phenomenon that the arrival of Decree Law 349 generated in Cuban art?

A: The first thing I did was read the letter that a group of artists had written, it was handed to me by Lester Álvarez. It seemed to me the same as to the rest of the artists who signed it, that it was dangerous to formalize those levels of censorship. I was traveling at that time, and just when I returned, these meetings had already begun. I think everything that happened was terrific because it somehow stopped what could have taken place if this decree was implemented with all the force and impunity with which it was planned.

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.