Three “Paladares” Closed Were Among The Best Restaurants In Havana

Lungo Mare is another of the Havana closed in the middle of this week.(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 June 2017 – The closure of three private restaurants in Havana last week has sparked doubts among owners of food service businesses. The fact that the three paladares – private restaurants – were rated “excellent” on Trip Advisor, one of the most important travel sites on the web, has fueled fears that the authorities are acting against the more prosperous businesses.

The police closed El Litoral, Dolce Vita and Lungo Mare, all located in the Vedado neighborhood, after a high-profile operation and the seizure of many goods, 14ymedio was able to confirm.

Alejandro Marcel Mendevil, the visible face of El Litoral, which operates under the name of his mother, Nardis Francisca Mendivil, had previously had legal problems when working for a company linked to the Ministry of Tourism, according to an employee of the place who preferred to remain anonymous. On that occasion he was “under investigation with other employees” for an alleged diversion of resources detected in the entity, which operated with foreign capital. continue reading

That investigation ended without charges but according to the same employee “the suspicion clung to him that he was laundering the embezzled money through El Litoral.”

Nardis Francisca Mendivil, legal owner of El Litoral, refuses to talk to the press so as not to harm her son, who is imprisoned in 100 and Aldabó and subject to a warning from State Security, but she does deny the version published by some media according to which he was the proprietor of the three closed paladares.

“We have nothing to do with Lungo Mare,” said the mother of the detainee. Other sources stated that her son also managed that paladar at one time, but had sold it “a few months ago.”

In addition, Señora Mendival complains that it is not the first time that they have tried to impute false crimes to her son; in the past he was accused of the death of a police officer who, according to Señora Mendival, shot “himself in a patrol car,” a few yards from the restaurant.

The closing of the restaurants took place after an exhaustive search by the Technical Department of Investigations in cooperation with police forces.

The news of what happened circulated through emails in the Cubapaladar newsletter on food service businesses. Its organizers were quick to remove the premises from their list of recommendations and asserted that they will never include an establishment that is “under a legal investigation or involved in any case that violates any Cuban law.”

This Thursday, an improvised sign with the word “Closed” was the only visible sign to customers at door of number 161 Malecón between K and L where until recently the El Litoral was overflowing with activity. The area is now deserted.

”Paladar” Dolce Vita. (14ymedio)

The operation and the confiscation of numerous belongings from the premises were the subject of comments from the whole neighborhood. “I saw many things: air conditioners, drinks of different brands they had in the cellar, chairs, tables, they even took the cutlery away,” says a neighbor.

According to an employee who spoke to 14ymedio, agents also took everything that was in the basement where a new space was going to be inaugurated for “tasting exquisite drinks and Cuban cigars.”

The site, with a wide-ranging menu specializing in seafood and fish, soon became a emblem of the new era for Cuban entrepreneurship after the flexibilizations for the self-employed sector promoted by Raúl Castro’s Government as of 2010.

“From the moment you walked through the door, you felt that you were not in Cuba because of the variety of dishes and the efficiency of the service,” says Grégory, a Frenchman who has visited Cuba more than a dozen times in the past decade, where he has “two daughters and many friends.”

However, those times of bonanza and glamor seem to have ended in the large house with a view directly to the sea.

The scene at El Litoral is repeated in the restaurant Dolce Vita, specializing in Mediterranean food and also located on Havana’s Malecón. The restaurant, which was a bustle of waiters and customers, is now closed, lock stock and barrel.

At the corner of Calle 1a and C, in Vedado, silence has also taken over the outside terrace and the interior area of ​​Lungo Mare. Underneath its distinctive red and white striped awning there is no longer the noise of the silverware or the clinking of the glasses. “This is dead and it will take a long time for it to rise again,” jokes a newspaper salesman who mourns the situation.

“The whole neighborhood benefited from this restaurant because many people came and I could sell some of my newspapers at a slightly better price,” he explains.

“This happened because it stood out a lot,” says Luis Carlos, a young man who delivers agricultural products for several restaurants in the area. “El Litoral became a reference point and many foreigners and diplomats came,” he explains. “Here they sold the best croquettes in Havana and that’s not a joke.”

No other private restaurant or coffee shop owner in the area has wanted to comment on the case.

Danger, Men At Work

In 2016, occupational accidents totaled 3,576. Havana leads the list of provinces with 27 deaths. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 29 May 2017 — They call him “Manolo 440” because a few years ago he had an electrocution accident in a building under construction. He managed to survive and has since been given the nickname of the voltage that almost killed him. He was lucky, unlike the 89 people who died in Cuba last year in one of the 11 work accidents that occur every day on the Island.

Shortly before April 28, World Occupational Safety and Health Day, a worker painting the façade of the Hotel Plaza in Havana stumbled and fell two floors onto the street. He had no protective gear but was lucky and was taken to the hospital. continue reading

The United Nations counts 6,300 people who die every day in the world due to accidents or work-related illnesses. There are more than 317 million work accidents annually. But that data is only a part of it.

In 2016 occupational accidents in Cuba totaled 3,576 (144 more than in the previous year). Havana leads the list of provinces with 27 deaths.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has called for eradicating the practice of “massaging” the numbers and this year is leading an intensive campaign in which it insists that it is essential for countries to improve “their ability to collect and use reliable data on safety and health in Work (SST).”

In Cuba, information on this scourge is rarely addressed in the press, although in recent years the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI) has published some figures. According to this state agency, in 2016 occupational accidents totaled 3,576 (144 more than in the previous year). Havana leads the list of provinces with 27 deaths.

The head of the Department of Occupational Safety and Health at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security (MTSS), Angel San Martín Duporté, said a few weeks ago that “66% of accidents are caused by the poor conduct of men and women. ”

However, workers say the principal causes of work accidents are poor organization, the chaotic supply of protective gear and measures, and the incompetence of unions in demanding compliance with safety protocols as the main causes of workplace accidents.

“These boots were brought to me by a relative from Ecuador,” says a sugarcane cutter at the Majibacoa sugar mill in Las Tunas. The man, who preferred to be called Ricardo to avoid reprisals, said agricultural workers in the area are subject to frequent “cuts on their hands and feet.” He says, “the type of footwear matters a lot, because if it is strong and high the chances of getting cut are smaller.”

All those who work alongside Ricardo are dressed in old military uniforms that were gifts or that they bought in the informal market. “They do not give us adequate clothes and when it does come the sizes are too small or too large,” the cane cutter complains. “We have had colleagues who don’t even have a hat and have gotten sun stroke, with dizziness, headaches and even vomiting,” he emphasizes.

Clothing and footwear are among the personal protective equipment which according to the new Labor Code must provide the employer free of charge

Clothing and footwear are among the personal protective equipment which according to the new Labor Code must be supplied free of charge by the employer. Although an official of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security clarifies via telephone to this newspaper that “each company has autonomy to modify those issues.”

Damaris, head of a construction brigade located in Central Havana, says that the workers under her command are “very upset” because now they have to pay for their work clothes and shoes. Previously, both garments were “supplied free” but now are “deducted from wages” and in response the workers are refusing to pay the union dues.

The Government allocates between 20% and 30% of the gross monthly salary of a construction worker linked to the tourist sector to pay for life insurance. “When someone is injured, that money is supposed to cover them, but the truth is that it serves for very little.”

An injured worker has the right to receive benefits in services such as orthopedic appliances and prosthetics, according to Law 105/8 of Social Security. As far as economic compensation is concerned, they get a total or partial disability pension which can reach up to 90% of their salary. In the case of death, the amount goes to the nearest relatives such as husbands or minor children.

For a person in delicate health, that money barely lasts for a couple of weeks. “I lost three fingers while working on the railroads,” says Yasiel Ruíz, a transportation technician who now sells churros near a school in Marianao.

The former state employee would have received a disability payment of less than the equivalent of 5 Cuban convertible pesos per month (about $5 US), so he decided to start his own business. “I gave up the financial compensation because it was more paperwork than benefits. My family helps me and I have become accustomed to not having those fingers, but at the beginning it was difficult,” he confesses. He claims that the accident in which he suffered the amputation was caused by “a failure to close a cattle transfer cage,” but he never brought his case to a labor court.

The former state employee would have received a disability payment of less than the equivalent of 5 Cuban convertible pesos per month (about $5 US), so he decided to start his own business

Decisions like his are repeated over and over again. Vicente A. Entrialgo León, a lawyer specializing in labor law, recently confirmed to the official press that in Cuba “there are not a great number of claims around this issue.”

But the danger is not only in the complicated work of construction, the hard work of the countryside, or the roughness of working on the railroad.

Nuria is afraid of contracting a disease at the polyclinic in Plaza of the Revolution municipality where she works as a dentist. “I get three pairs of gloves a day and many times they break while I’m taking care of a patient, but I cannot change them,” she complains. She says that there is little distribution of “equipment and hygiene items” to keep the place clean and “to protect patients and staff.”

The National Labor Inspection Office (ONIT) must ensure that these situations do not happen and demand “administrative responsibility” in case of accidents. But Nuria has never seen a representative of that entity visiting the health center clinics where she works. “This is like Russian roulette, any day I could get an infection.”

The ‘Little Packet’, A Clandestine Rival For The ‘Weekly Packet’

Activists who travel abroad and download material from YouTube or other social networks also contribute to the little packet. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 5 May 2017 — Uncensored, fun and with many varied themes — this defines the producers of the paketito (little packet), a new compendium of audiovisual material that aims to fill the gaps left by the popular weekly packet.

Unlike its predecessor, which is made and distributed publicly, the paketito lurks in the underground, so as to be able to offer materials that the organizers of the weekly packet don’t include in order to avoid problems with the authorities. This choice to play it safe annoys a growing number of viewers, who find the weekly packet “traditional,” “comfortable,” and “domesticated.”

Carlitos, who preferred to use a pseudonym in speaking with 14ymedio, is one of the managers of the paketito and proudly recounts the emergence and evolution of this initiative that its creators distribute with a determined content, but the users enrich it during its circulation. continue reading

The creators distribute it with a determined content, but the users enrich it during its circulation

The compendium was born just over three years ago, in an informal way when a group of friends began to exchange files. “From the beginning we passed censored material, such as documentaries and news,” he recalls. “We also included old Cuban publications that had been forgotten,” adds Carlitos.

The audio content included every week occupies 5 gigabytes of memory, although there are larger versions that may contain a much larger offering.

The young man believes that many of these magazines are not currently known due to “the lack of historical memory” on the island because of censorship. So the first editions of the paketito had copies of “those pages from [the magazine] Bohemia of 1959 in which Fidel Castro affirmed that he was not a communist.”

Along with articles from the national press from more than half a century ago, the producers of the selection decided to include “photos of our parents and grandparents from before the Revolution.”

Among the materials that circulated from the beginning were songs impossible to find in the stores or to listen to on official media, such as those of the Los Aldeanos duo and the punk rock group Porno para Ricardo.

Carlitos clarifies that his audio-visual extract is smaller than the weekly packet, but “brings everything” that is not included in the version circulated by his ‘first cousin’

The obstacles soon appeared. The restless transgressors were a little frustrated at first because they could not update their deliveries regularly, but since the beginning of this year they have achieved a weekly frequency. Carlitos clarifies that his audio-visual extract is smaller than the weekly packet, but “brings everything” that is not included in the version circulated by his ‘first cousin.’

Meanwhile, a great distance separates the paketito from its official counterpart, La Mochila (the Backpack), created by the Youth Club to counteract the influence of the weekly packet, and which, in its latest installments, included numerous materials about the late president Fidel Castro.

Unlike this institutional imitation, every week the paketito contains a folder with written press prohibited on the island. “We load the PDF or summaries of web pages such as Diario de Cuba, 14ymedio and Cubanet,” adds Carlitos. There are also cartoons, news, movies, documentaries and courses. The documents from decades ago also continue to have an important presence in the weekly compilation.

The information comes from many sources. Some of it is downloaded over the internet. “In our team some of us work in state institutions and we have internet in our offices and we download what we need there. Other files we download in the public wifi points.”

A new and growing source of information comes from people who simply send a video that they recorded with their cellphone somewhere, when a significant event occurs

A new and growing source of information comes from people who simply send a video that they recorded with their cell phones somewhere, when a significant event occurs. Activists who travel abroad and download materials from YouTube or other social networks also contribute.

The clandestineness with which the paketito is assembled affects the expansion of its distribution, which has been restricted to customers who are as ‘transgressive’ as it creators. Through USB memory sticks and external hard drives, the files pass from hand to hand.

The compilation circulated the film Hands of Stone that was not shown at the last Havana Film Festival because its director, Jonathan Jakubowicz, was in solidarity with Carlos Lechuga’s censored film Santa and Andrés. Right now, the paketito is offering this latter film, along with the also stigmatized chapters of Miguel Coyula’s documentary Nadie about the poet Rafael Alcides.

The paketito only appears through contacts within the distribution network that demand a lot of discretion, not unlike the challenges of buying shrimp or cheese on Cuba’s black market.

Hotel Manzana, a Luxury Theme Park in Havana

Last weekend, the gallery was officially opened with exclusive brands in the style of Versace, Armani, Montblanc and L’Occitane en Provence. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 29 April 2017 — They stare, amazed, but they don’t buy anything. Their faces press against the glass and admire that unattainable wealth that is a few inches from their hands and an abyss from their pockets. The new luxury theme park in Havana is the newly opened boutiques on the lower floor of the Manzana Kempinski Hotel, the first five-star plus on the island.

Last weekend, the gallery was officially opened with exclusive brands in the style of Versace, Armani, Montblanc and L’Occitane en Provence. Since then, the parade of onlookers has not stopped walking the aisles. They come to take photos, laugh at the prices or be upset because in the midst of the general famine is so much wealth. continue reading

Most remember the state of abandonment which the popular Manzana de Gómez fell into for decades and hardly recognize it in this gorgeous six-story building.

“I studied here,” says Roberto Carlos, a 30-year-old student who spent part of his technoly training on the second floor of the emblematic building.

“When I was studying here, there was not a blind left and the ceilings had leaks,” added the young man. As he speaks, he waits in line to enter the luxurious venue of Giorgio G. VIP with his girlfriend, his mother and a sister. They have come like a family going to a fair to feel the dizziness of climbing on the roller coaster of opulence.

Most remember the state of abandonment in which the popular Manzana of Gómez fell for decades and hardly recognize it in this neat six-story building. (14ymedio)

The boutique’s doorman warns that “you can not take photos” or have your phone’s “wifi on.” A clarification that generates a murmur among those waiting outside. Still they remain in line, to be able to carry away in their retinas part of that pomp that ends around the corner, when they enter the Havana everyday life.

Italian businessman Giorgio Gucci inaugurated this Cuban branch of his well-known brand last Saturday. “People come here looking for quality and exclusivity, right now there are very nice women’s shoes for less than 200 CUC,” says the doorman with pride. In the line, several people raise their eyebrows when they hear the prices.

“Not everyone comes to look, there are many who come and buy,” the man explains. But in the interior you do not see anyone next to the cash register nor making the gesture of putting a hand in their pockets. They only look at the clothing and shoes on display. They behave as if they were in a museum surrounded by oils worth thousands of dollars.

The boutique’s doorman warns that “you can’t take photos” or have your phone’s “wifi on.” (14ymedio)

Others, older, remember the days when the former Manzana de Gomez was a symbol of economic progress in the Cuban capital. Designed by the architect José Gómez-Mena Vila and built between 1894 and 1917, the building was the first shopping mall in the style of European galleries. “It was an incredible place and the customers who came were all Cubans,” says Roberto Carlos’ grandmother. The woman, who retired more than two decades ago, said: “It used to be a place for us, but now it’s for tourists.”

The new monument to luxury is located on the border of two districts with serious housing problems. Just a few weeks ago and a few yards away, in downtown Havana, the staircase of a building collapsed and left dozens of families trapped. The other face of a city that has a good part of its housing in poor condition.

At the intersection of the corridors of the gallery they removed the bust of communist leader Julio Antonio Mella, who for decades stood defiantly in the center of the building. “They took it because this place represents the opposite of what he promoted,” reflects a retired professor of Marxism who decided to have a look, this Saturday, at “the forbidden apple of abundance,” as the catalog describes it.

The bust of communist leader Julio Antonio Mella has been removed, even though for decades he stood defiantly in the center of the building. (14ymedio)

For Idalmis, a young woman who in her teenage years studied at Benito Juárez High School located on one of the upper floors, the place has changed so much that she has trouble recognizing it. “Of that apple only the skin remains,” she quips.

The Lacoste brand also has a space in the sumptuous building. An employee explains to this newspaper that since its opening the store has sales that average “between 2,000 and 3,000 CUC per day. Every day we sell about twenty articles,” says the employee who wears a shirt with the logo of the French brand.

In the surroundings, and dressed in gray suits, the guards make sure that nobody connects to the hotel wifi signal that reaches the stores. Although the service costs 1.50 CUC an hour, the Manzana is a much more comfortable than other places with wireless access to the web.

“You can’t be connected here, excuse me, but you have to go outside,” the employees repeat over and over again.

The place is still a construction site, but the coming and going of builders does not prevent three young people from taking their time to get a selfie in front of an ashtray that costs a whopping 53.90 CUC. They don’t want to miss having evidence of the day they were closer to wealth.

 

Residents Thank The Rain That Put Out The Year’s Biggest Fire

The provinces at greatest risk for fire are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, and Isla de la Juventud. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 April 2017 – When the wind blows, the odor of burning overwhelms the town of El Guay, in the municipality of Mella (Santiago de Cuba). It is an odor that sticks to clothes, hair and food. Last Sunday a downpour put out the forest fire that burned 5,000 hectares in the eastern part of Cuba, but the worst could be yet to come.

The columns of smoke warned the community’s residents that something was happening. In the neighboring province of Holguin, the flames began April 9 and devoured everything in their path. “Nothing was said on radio or television,” Ruberlandy Avila, 35 years of age and resident of El Guay, tells 14ymedio. continue reading

Surrounded by cane fields and vegetation, the neighbors saw the tongues of fire on the horizon as they approached. When night fell, they looked daunting and ever closer to the houses. “The entire town was affected by the smoke, many parents fled with their children without knowing what to do,” recalls the young man.

News of the fire was broadcast on national media only after a timely rain put out the last flame. The official statement blamed the disaster on the August 6th Cattle Company from the town of Biran. But the later disorganization among the forces charged with controlling it did the rest.

The fire spread through the Sierra Cristal range until arriving at the Pinares de Mayari area. According to Avila, Civil Defense authorities later reported that several local administrators had not authorized delivery of the fuel necessary for getting the tanker trucks underway to the affected zone to put out the flames.

In El Guay the residents saw the fire approaching which also fed on the branches and trees that fell after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The combination of the dry wood and the disorganization produced conditions favorable to the fire’s spread. “We thought nothing could put out such a strong fire,” recalls the resident of Santiago.

Engineer Raul Gonzalez, head of the Fire Management Department for the Forest Rangers, warned last February that this year the Island could suffer between 400 and 450 forest fires, damaging some 4,000 hectares. The figure was easily exceeded by the 5,000 hectares of pastures, forests and oak that just finished burning in Holguin.

The fire destroyed more than 5,000 hectares of fields and forests in Holguin. (Archive/Telesur)

Not only dried branches and fallen trees were lost. Environmental specialists from the area classify as “sensitive” the damage caused to flora and fauna of the municipalities of Cueto and Mella. “There are no bird nests or butterflies left, and even lizards are damaged,” commented one resident of the Cueto municipality to 14ymedio.

Leonel Sanchez, Agriculture subdelegate in the Santiago de Cuba province, reiterated in the local press that most of these fires occur “in crop rows, livestock areas, areas where the elimination of the invasive marabou weed is underway, uncontrolled burning and non-use of spark arrestors in cars.”

Between January and May the conditions are most favorable for fires to start and for the flames to spread. Between the beginning of the year and the beginning of February, some 40 fires were reported, more than one per day.

The provinces at greatest risk are Guantanamo, Pinar del Rio, Matanzas, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma and Isla de la Juventud. The human factor is the trigger in 90% of the cases.

Far from El Guay, at the other end of the Island, tobacco planter Nestor Perez also watches his cultivated fields with worry. “In this time of year forest fires are more likely,” and in Vueltabajo the farmers try to “have clean surroundings for tobacco curing houses in order to prevent those accidents.”

The Pinareno farmer recognizes that many do not complete these tasks and “that is why sometimes fires occur” because “the grass itself at this time is very dangerous.”

For Avila and his family, the drama they experienced is still very real. The days passed, the air became almost unbreathable, and in the middle of last week helicopters and small planes began to arrive to control the flames, but the situation seemed to be out of control.

A “huge downpour” came to the aid of the residents. The day that the first drops fell many watched the sky gratefully. This Monday it kept raining in Mella, a municipality that, like the rest of the Island, is suffering the worst drought since the middle of the last half century. For the moment, the residents of El Guay breathe with relief, but they know that many hard months lie ahead.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

State Security Prevents Screening Of Miguel Coyula’s Documentary ‘Nadie’

Note: The video above is not subtitled but the excerpts from Nadie here are subtitled.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 April 2017 – Cuba’s State Security and the National Revolutionary Police surrounded the independent gallery El Círculo to prevent this Saturday’s screening of the documentary Nadie (Nobody), directed by Miguel Coyula and featuring the censored poet and writer Rafael Alcides.

The filmmaker and his wife, actress Lynn Cruz, were intercepted by police at the corner of 13th and 10th Streets in Havana’s Vedado district. Starting several hours earlier the agents had closed the street to vehicles and pedestrians, according to a statement made from the location to 14ymedio.

Cruz and Coyula point out that without any reason and with “only a vague argument” the operation was carried out in the area, and the police asked for their IDs and didn’t let them pass. Only “four Spanish diplomats” managed to reach the gallery, according to Lia Villares, curator of El Circulo. continue reading

On 29 January Nadie received the Award for the Best Documentary during its international premier in the Dominican Global Film Festival.

“A group of uniformed men and others in civilian clothes advanced toward us. One of them took out a piece of paper with a list and compared our names with those written there”

“A group of uniformed men and others in civilian clothes advanced toward us. One of them took out a piece of paper with a list and compared our names with those written there,” said Coyula and Cruz describing the moment when the police blocked their access to the site where the documentary was going to be shown.

Cruz also denounced that State Security warned several of the invited guests that the operation was being carried out to “save” them from the “counterrevolutionaries” who had “deceptively” issued invitations to the screening.

“As authors of the work, we denounce the censorship that the government exercises because this time it went beyond the institution,” said Coyula.

“Art is also about the citizen’s right to share and discuss a film. Intellectuals and artists need to take a firm stand and defend their right to perform and display critical works, without compromise, because the attitude that that they take in life ends us being reflected in their work,” he added, speaking to 14ymedio.

Screen shot of the documentary Nadie with Rafael Alcides.

Following the police deployment that prevented access to the gallery, the filmmaker invited several friends to his home where he projected the documentary. Among the guests was Michel Matos, director of Matraka Productions, who is strongly criticized by officialdom.

The Círculo had also announced a Saturday screening of Carlos Lechuga’s film, Santa and Andrés, but the film’s producer, Claudia Calviño, refused to allow the projection and called the gesture an “illegality” saying “this and other activities are outside the traditional marketing framework.”

Lía Villares circulated an email on Sunday in which she defined the “political” character of the gallery that seeks to “promote a culture that continues to be censored despite international awareness and witnesses.” The activist also points out that it is in Cuba that artists have “a moral responsibility to the present and future.”

Lysandra Does Not Want To Be Reeducated

Lisandra Rivera was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment by the Provincial Court. (UNPACU)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 April 2107 — Confined for more than 80 days in a punishment cell, without a single contact with the outside, the activist Lisandra Rivera Rodríguez of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) received her first family visit this Tuesday, in the Mar Verde Women’s Prison in Santiago de Cuba.

Lisandra Rivera, 28, was arrested after her home was raided by State Security on 31 December of last year. On that occasion, and despite having been beaten by the agents, she was accused of an alleged criminal “attack,” according to UNPACU activists. Her family had not been able to contact her since 17 January when her trial was held in the Provincial Court and she was sentenced to two years imprisonment. On 18 April she will have served four months. continue reading

She had no access to anything, no right to family or conjugal visits, or to receive calls or food brought in from outside

Her husband, Yordanis Chavez, commented in a telephone interview with 14ymedio that both he and her parents managed to be with her for almost two hours. “As of Saturday she is outside the punishment cell and is in a of maximum severity wing of the prison.”

According to Chávez, from now on they will be able to visit her normally. The next appointment is scheduled for the 17th of this month. “We saw her well, quite strong of spirit. She continues to refuse to comply with orders and or to accept reeducation.”

The authorities of the prison used this refusal to accept the “reeducation” regime as a reason to impose the isolation of a punishment cell on Rivera. “The tried to make her stand up and give military salutes to the jailers who conduct a count three or four times a day. When a high official arrived she also had to stand at attention like they do in the military and she refused to do it,” says Chavez.

During the visit, Lisandra told her relatives that the punishment cell is like that of any police dungeon, pestilent and in very bad conditions, without light. She had no access to anything, no right to family or conjugal visits, nor could she receive phone calls or food brought in from outside. “Every Tuesday I was handcuffed and taken, almost dragged, to the disciplinary council,” the activist told her husband.

UNPACU’s leader, José Daniel Ferrer, fears that, in the midst of the difficult international situation, there could be a repeat of the 2003 Black Spring

Yordanis Chavez explained that they have not appealed the ruling because they do not trust the judicial system. “Lisandra has not committed any crime, it is only because it was an order of State Security as punishment for her activism in UNPACU in favor of freedom and democracy in Cuba.”

José Daniel Ferrer, UNPACU’s leader, fears that, in the midst of the difficult international situation, there could be a repeat of what happened in the spring of 2003, when 75 regime opponents were arrested and sentenced to extremely long prison terms. That crackdown, which came to be known as the Black Spring, coincided with the United States’ invasion of Iraq, a time when the world was looking the other way. At present, more than 50 UNPACU activists remain in prison in several provinces, many of them accused of crimes they have not committed.

For its part, the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation announced in its last report, on the month of March, that there had been at least 432 arbitrary detentions of peaceful dissidents in Cuba in that month. In addition, several dissidents were vandalized and stripped of their computers, cell phones and other means of work, as well as cash.

Young Cuban Filmmakers Challenge Official History

Young directors present their work in the “Moving Ideas” section at the 16th Young Filmmakers Show of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 8 April 2017 – Were the events like the books tell us? Is the official story a report of what really happened? The attempt to answer these questions inspires the documentary and two fictional shorts that were presented Wednesday in the ‘Moving Ideas’ section of the 16th edition of the Young Filmmakers Exhibition of the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) in Havana.

Under the motto “Forgetting does not exist,” the filmmakers approached collective and family memory to show a point of view often ignored by the epic of Revolutionary discourse. The works probe those memories for what Cubans treasure about moments in national life, beyond the gilded frame that the institutional version attaches to them.

Economic disasters, a war on a distant continent and the drama of family separation after exile, were some of the issues addressed by this new generation of film directors, who show a special interest in looking back. Children of indoctrination and official silence seem willing to shed light on the darker areas of what has happened in the last half century. continue reading

Director Pedro Luis Rodríguez offers the short Personal Report set on the eve of the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968 — when all remaining private businesses in the country were confiscated, down to the last shoeshine boy. It was a watershed moment in the economic life of the nation that brought profound effects on commerce, supply and even the mentality of those born after that massive closure of private businesses.

Were the facts as they are told in the books? Is the official story a report of what really happened?

In less than half an hour, Rodríguez shows the conflicts experienced by Ricardo, an analyst on the Planning Board, who is preparing to present a report to his boss on the consequences of the measure that is about to be taken. The protagonist defends his right to participate in the decisions that are made in the country or at least to be heard, but everything is in vain.

Personal Report presents that look from below on a historical event where the decision was taken “on high.” An offensive about which the government has never offered a public self-criticism, although a quarter of a century later the private sector was again authorized to operate. Today, more than half a million workers are struggling to support themselves despite strong legal limits on their activities and economic hardships.

Screen shot from ‘The Son of the Dream.’ (CC)

In the discussions with the audience after the screening in the Chaplin room, Rodriguez acknowledged that his film is “a wink” at the current phenomenon of self-employment. His desire is that the work serves to “reflect on this present” and to meditate “on participation and the need to be heard and to be consistent with oneself.”

The flood of memories and questioning continued with the fictional short Taxi, directed by Luis Orlando Torres. Taxi addresses another of the many themes barely touched on by the fiery speeches from those in power: Cuba’s involvement in the war in Angola and its aftermath in society; the plot centers on the physical and mental wounds left by that conflict outside the island’s borders.

‘Personal Report’ presents that look from below on a historical event where the decision was taken “on high.”

Torres focuses on the effects on families and establishes a parallel with the internationalist medical missions that now send Cuban healthcare workers around the world, and their consequences here at home. The film develops a suspense story that begins when a taxi driver picks up a passenger in a seemingly casual way. A brief conversation will suffice to call into question moral aspects of a war, one which the Government has always defended as an act of solidarity.

Meanwhile, The Son of the Dream, directed by Alejandro Alonso and filmed in 16 millimeter with a Bolex camera, relives through family letters and postcards the filmmaker’s memories of an uncle whom he was unable to know due to the separation caused by the Mariel Boatlift. The material is the result of a workshop given at the International Film School of San Antonio de los Baños by Canadian director Philip Hoffman.

Beyond the aesthetic and artistic values ​​of each of the projects presented in ‘Moving Ideas’, it is clear that much of the young cinema that is being produced on the Island is not trying to please institutions or accept pre-established truths. It is an uncomfortable, irreverent, questioning and willing movement to belie an epic story that has been shaped more with silences than with truths.

‘Albertico’, Projectionist for ‘Strawberry And Chocolate’

Screenshot from the Cuban film ‘Strawberry and Chocolate’. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 2 April 2017 — Not even the most unconditional followers of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, known as ‘Titón’, have seen the movie Strawberry and Chocolate as many times as Alberto Maceo. This Cuban with the mischievous smile worked as a projectionist at Havana’s Acapulco cinema when the film was on the marquee for a year. The movie left in indelible mark on his memory, which he still hasn’t been able, nor does he want to, get out of his mind.

From Germany, where he currently lives, Maceo, ‘Albertico’ to his friends, learned last week that the only Cuban film that managed to sneak into the Oscar competition is going to be restored. The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) announced that it was a “very complex process,” despite the fact that the film is less than a quarter of a century old. continue reading

The news of the restoration unleashed a wave of nostalgia in the émigré. In 1993, when the story of Diego and David was released, Albertico was a teenager who no longer fit in his high school desk. Not only had he reached a physical height that made him stand out above his clasmates, but his restlessness pushed him into the theater. He played his first role in Pinocchio, while the movies allowed him to make a living.

It started as a lucky break to work as a projectionist in a difficult time when Cuban film production had plummeted and the projection rooms smelled of mold and sweat. In the midst of the Special Period, the young man began in a profession about which he recalls, “if you learn it well and focus on the details” you become aware that “what you have in your hands is a work of art.”

But enthusiasm wasn’t enough. Those were hard times, times when hunger and lack of sleep were not good allies in the projection booth. Albertico developed tricks so as not to fall asleep, from listening to music to reading a book, but few of them worked. He discovered that just talking with the other projectionists helped him manage to keep his eyes open while on the screen Titon’s movie played for the umpteenth time.

Alberto Maceo, Albertico to his friends, worked as a projectionist for the Acapulco film Strawberry and Chocolate was playing for a year. (Facebook)

There were no lack of failures. One day when he was alone, sleep overcame him, and despite the cries of “done!” and “cut!” he only woke up when scrolling in front of the viewers’ eyes were “all those letters and numbers and marks at the end of the roll” that no one is ever supposed to see “in a good projection.”

“The only thing that really made our lives happy was the Film Festival every December,” he says now. It meant an oasis in the monotony of repetitive programming. “The bad thing was when the festival ended and the program was once again Strawberry and Chocolate ” he quips.

He came to know the film so well that a student asked him for a transcript of all the speeches of the characters and Albertico just needed to take a little breath to start repeating them one by one.

One day the young projectionist was transferred to the Riviera cinema, on 23rd street. He thought in this way he might save himself from watching the same movie every day, but his happiness was short lived. The National Film Distributor decided to schedule Strawberry and Chocolate at his new workplace as well. Albertico again had Titón’s famous work in his hands “like that brick Diego doesn’t know what to do with,” he jokes.

Among his most persistent memories is the music composed by José María Vitier for the film, although he remembers it in a rather peculiar way. “The material was pecked and scratched” so there were some notes of the credits that were missing. He got used to listening to it like that. Now, when he hears it in perfect quality his mind “always omits those notes.”

In those interminable replays trapped in an endless loop, from which he could not escape, he analyzed the movements of the actors, learned to know when they blinked, each one of their breaths and their pauses.” “Every frame” was recorded in his head.

In the projection booth. (Noboot)

Albertico began to detect those details which nobody noticed. “What does that actor do, out of focus there in the background? What happens to the strawberry in Diego’s spoon in the first scene in Coppelia?” He also began to notice those “microphones or cables that are accidentally seen in some scenes.”

“They are details that no one sees because Strawberry and Chocolate is a work of art that takes you along the paths of the forest,” he reflects.

“The funny thing is that in a year of screening, the film never failed to have an audience,” he recalls. “Those who had nothing else to do, who hadn’t seen it before, who came to smoke a joint, or the couple who would sit in the last row of the theater to eat each other alive,” and also those who “with Marilyn Solaya naked or a few seconds of sex on the screen, came to masturbate.”

He also recalls how the filmstrip fell apart in his hands because the material was in “very bad shape” and the projectionist comments that “in some cases you could see the gaps on the screen.”

Some time ago, Albertico bought a copy of Strawberry and Chocolate on DVD in a German market. Whenever he watches it on his TV he imagines the sounds of the roll in the projector. Although on the screen of his television the scenes shine, his eyes are enchanted to see the scars of that picture he had in his hands so many times.

Sagua La Grande, The Village Where A Glass Of Water Is A Miracle

Residents in Sagua la Grande filling containers with water.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 30 March 2017 — Through the streets of Sagua la Grande, in the province of Villa Clara, people walk around with bottles, buckets and every kind of receptacle. This month’s break in the turbine that supplies the city’s water has forced its inhabitants to carry water from different towns.

“It’s been more than a week without water,” Jaime Guillermo Castillo, a resident, told 14ymedio. “We fill the buckets at some public taps very far from the center, everyone goes to the closest one however they can. We go in horse-drawn carts, on bicycles, or whatever appears.” continue reading

The municipality is supplied by a public aqueduct system that has three basic sources: Caguaguas about 7 miles away, Chincilla about 6 miles, and Viana, nearly 10 miles. But with the acute drought affecting the whole country, the first of these sources has had to come up with most of the supply.

Transporting water by bike. (14ymedio)

The breaking of the Caguaguas turbine aggravated the situation. The equipment was taken to Santa Clara for repairs but the residents complain about the lack of information and the excessive delay. The problem has reached the point that several residents have called the local People’s Power delegate to resolve the problem as soon as possible or to make a public protest.

“First they said it was only for a couple of days, but we have been dealing with this for more than a week and the situation is getting worse,” laments farmer Jorge Pablo, who fears “big crop losses” because it’s been at least eight days without being able to put “a single drop of water in the furrows.”

According to the Population and Housing Census of 2012, the municipality Sagua la Grande has about 52,334 inhabitants, 90% in urban areas. Problems with water supply have been frequent in recent years due to poor infrastructure.

Several areas of the city have also had problems with water pressure for decades, mainly in the San Juan neighborhood, the southern part of Victoria Center and Loma Bonita. Water is almost entirely unavailable in the latter. A situation that has forced many villagers to drill wells for their homes, which has brought a deterioration of the water table.

Through the streets of Sagua la Grande, in the Province of Villa Clara, people wander about, loaded down with jars, buckets and all kinds of containers (14ymedio)

A study a decade ago calculated that water losses in the city were estimated at 30% and were mainly caused by leaks and uncontrolled consumption. Of the total water that is pumped from the sources of supply, about 410 liters per second, only about 290 reach the city.

Instead of improving, the situation has continued to worsen in the last ten years and the people’s council areas with the greatest difficulties are Coco Solo and Centro Victoria.

The driver from Caguaguas has also suffered the problems of maintenance and conservation, as well as the shortage of equipment and qualified personnel to maintain a stable service, according to local press reports.

Authorities attribute part of these problems to “unscrupulous citizens” who drill holes in the water distribution pipes to illicitly irrigate small orchards. The presence in the area of ​​numerous producers of meat with clandestine farms has contributed to the increase of the phenomenon.

A study a decade ago estimated that water losses in the city were estimated at 30% and were mainly caused by leaks and uncontrolled consumption. (14ymedio)

However, the residents point out that the promised investments have not been made to avoid the continuous breaks. “Nobody cares about this town,” laments Herminia, was was born there and who is now trying to sell her four-room property with an immense patio.

The Villaclareña puts her hopes on the sale of her house to leave what she considers has become “a place with no future.” She feels that Sagua la Grande has undergone a process of deterioration and “the frequent breakingof the turbine is another step in this fall.” Not even the 2011 declaration making the historic city center as a National Monument managed to stop the process.

“A town without water is a ghost town,” says Herminia. “Parents do not want to send children to school in dirty uniforms and older people are the ones who are worse off because they cannot carry water from afar.” She paid a water-bearer about 50 Cuban pesos (about $2 US), a quarter of her pension, to fill a tank that she only uses for cooking: “A bath is a luxury that I can not give myself,” she says resignedly.

Cuba Holds World Record For Visa Applications Rejected By The United States

Hundreds of Cubans line up every day outside the US embassy in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 25 March 2017 – Maria, 59, has a daughter in Miami she hasn’t seen for six years. Her visa applications have been denied three times and she promised herself that she would never “step foot in” the US consulate in Havana again.

Cuba is the country with the most denials of those who aspired to travel to the United States in the last two years. In the midst of an abrupt drop in the granting of visas under Barack Obama’s administration, the Department of State rejected 76% of the travel requests made by Cuban citizens in fiscal 2015, according to figures released by the US press. continue reading

Cubans are followed on the US consulate most-rejected list by nationals of Laos (67%), Guinea-Bissau (65%) and Somalia (65%). In the Americas, the others most affected, although far behind Cubans, are Haitians (60%).

According to preliminary data released by the US State Department, the situation has worsened in fiscal year 2016, with Cuban visa applications rejected at a rate of 81.85%.

Each interview to request a visa cost Maria about 160 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), with no chance of reimbursement, nor has she ever received any explanations about why her permission to travel was denied.

Places where US visa requests are most rejected (NYT)

On each occasion the woman dressed in her best clothes, added an expensive perfume that her daughter sent her, and practiced her possible answers in front of the mirror. “No, I will not work during my stay,” she repeated several times. “I want to see my granddaughter who is a little girl,” and “I can’t live anywhere but Cuba,” she loudly repeats as a refrain.

She took with her the title to her house in Central Havana, a copy of her bank statement and several photos with her husband in case they asked her to provide reasons why she would not remain “across the pond.”

Last year 14,291 Cubans received visas for family visits, to participate in exchange programs, and for cultural, sports or business reasons, among other categories. The figure contrasts with the 22,797 visas granted in 2015 and, more strikingly, the 41,001 granted in 2014.

Non-immigrant visas issued to Cubans on the island

The State Department said that the reduction of visas granted in Havana is because of no specific reason, but that because the valid time period of the multi-entry visas was extended to five years in 2013, many islanders don’t need to return for new interviews to make multiple trips to the United States.

But Maria did not figure among the fortunate in any of her three attempts.

The last time she headed to the imposing building that houses that US consulate in the early morning hours, she prayed to the Virgin of Mercedes, made a cross with the sole of her shoe and put flowers before the portrait of her deceased mother.

She went to apply for a B2 Visa, the ones that allow multiple visits to the United States to visit relatives and for tourism. It seemed like the line lasted “an eternity” before they called her name, she said. Then came the iron-clad security to enter the building.

“The interview room had an intimidating coldness,” she recalls, and was long and rectangular. Applicants talked to immigration officials through shielded glass.

The woman’s feet trembled and the clerk on the other side of the glass gave her no time to explain much. He just made a mark on the form with each answer. A man was crying ata nearby window and an octogenarian lady sighed after hearing she was not approved.

More than two million Cubans reside in the United States, with an active participation in the economy and politics, primarily in South Florida

Maria knows that the United States and Cuba have signed an agreement for 20,000 Cubans to receive immigrant visas every year. In 1995, President Bill Clinton negotiated that agreement to end the Rafter Crisis, fueled by the economic recession that hit the island after the fall of the socialist camp.

In 2016, 9,131 Cubans obtained a visa to legally emigrate to the United States, many of them under the Cuban Parole Family Reunification Program, and others through the International Lottery of Diversity Visas or the Cuban Parole program, among others.

More than two million Cubans reside in the United States, with an active participation in the economy and politics, primarily in South Florida.

The Cuban Adjustment Act, approved in 1966, allows Cubans to obtain permanent residence (a green card) if, after entering legally, they spend one year in the United States. A special welcoming policy only for Cubans known as wet foot/dry foot was cancelled in January; this policy allowed any Cuban who stepped foot in the country, even without papers, to remain, while Cubans who were intercepted at sea were returned to the island. In the last five years 150,000 Cubans took advantage of this policy to settle in the United States.

Cubans admitted to the United States — Total Arrivals

However, Mary’s intention is not to emigrate. She does not want to live in a country that is not her country, although her relatives have told her that Miami “is full of Cubans” and that Hialeah is like Central Havana.

Despite her Afro-Cuban rites and trying to maintain a positive mental attitude, in her last interview she didn’t have any “luck” either.

She received a quick denial and was given no chance to display all the answers she had rehearsed. In her opinion, the fact of being under 65 plays against her. “They approve older people who cannot work illegally there,” the lady assumes.

For Eloisa, a retired science teacher, that is not the reason, rather it is “hostility toward Cubans” by the US Government.

“The Americans want to take over Cuba. It has always been their greatest desire and because they cannot do it, they punish us by separating us from our children,” the woman says by phone. She has been a member of the Cuban Communist Party for 25 years and has had two children living in Houston for just over six years.

Although she only tried once, last year, the refusal from the consulate made her not want to try again.

“My children work very hard and I wanted to give them the pleasure of going to spend a little time with them. But hey, it’s not to be, “ she says in a voice that is brittle and resigned.

Mary, however, does not tire. This year her daughter will gain American citizenship and the woman hopes that this new condition will facilitate a positive response to her next request. Although this new attempt will leave her a little older and with almost $500 less in her pocket, in a country where the average monthly salary does not exceed $28.

A Year After Obama’s Visit, Cubans Feel Disillusioned With His Legacy / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

On March 20, 2016, Barack Obama began a historic visit to the Island that raised hopes and questions. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 19 March 2017 – It rained when the presidential plane touched down on the tarmac at Havana’s Airport. On 20 March 2016, Barack Obama began a historic visit to the island that awakened hopes and sparked questions. One year after that visit, Cubans are taking stock of what happened and, in particular, what did not happen.

The tenant of the White House evoked waves of enthusiasm during his tour of Havana’s streets. His official agenda included talking with young entrepreneurs, he appeared on a comedy TV show, he visited a private restaurant, and he met with representatives from civil society. They were intense days during which popular illusions reached historic records.

However, Obama’s decision to eliminate the wet foot/dry foot policy before the end of his term in January, caused that sympathy to plummet. Now, inquiring about his legacy on Cuban streets leads to answers mostly filled with criticism, resentment or a sense of betrayal. continue reading

“I lost my life,” Luis Pedroso, a soundman by profession, tells 14ymedio, He sold all his property to pay for an illegal trip to the United States. He left Cuba for the Dominican Republic, and then crossed Mexico and arrived at the border in Nuevo Laredo, on 12 January when the immigration policy that benefitted Cubans was no longer in force.

Cubans crowded the streets hoping to see Obama and his family. (EFE)

“What did he do that for?” asks Pedroso, about the act of the Democrat. “We Cubans gave him our hearts and he betrayed us,” he says. The man sleeps on the couch of his sister’s house waiting to “make money again to leave.” He thinks “Trump is less sympathetic,” but perhaps, “will get more loyal.”

The months following the presidential visit, the emigration of Cubans to the United States continued its growing trend. More than 50,000 Cubans entered US territory during fiscal year 2016, according to the Office of Field Operations of the Customs and Border Protection Service.

Norma works as a saleswoman in a private coffee shop in Havana’s Chinatown. She recalls that in the days when Obama was on the island, “people were going crazy all over to try to see him.” She was among the hundreds of people who crowded along the Paseo del Prado when word spread that The Beast (Obama’s armored car) would pass by with the presidential family.

The woman was especially hopeful about the economic benefits that could come from the trip. “It seemed that everything would be fixed and that we self-employed workers would be able to import and bring products from over there,” she reflects. But, “everything is stuck,” is continues.

The entrepreneur would like to bring an “ice cream machine” from the United States, and “ask for a loan or find an investor who wants to put money into a small business.” However, the customs restrictions imposed on the Cuban side make commercial imports difficult, and there is no easy way to send supplies to the island from the United States.

Nor have expectations in the countryside been met. Luis Garcia, a farmer dedicated to planting rice outside Cienfuegos believes that “everything has been greatly delayed.” The flexibilities implemented by Obama from the beginning of the diplomatic thaw were mainly directed toward the private and agricultural sectors, but “the benefits haven’t appeared,” said the farmer.

Obama in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana. (EFE)

The Cienfueguero continues to plow the land with an old yoke of oxen and recalls that “there was much talk about the arrival of “resources, tractors and seeds, but everything remains the same.” Nevertheless he believes that “Obama has been the best president of the United States with regards to us, a man of integrity,” he says.

The activists, who talked with Obama on that occasion and behind closed doors, are also taking stock after twelve months.

For Dagoberto Valdés, director of the independent magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), the main result of the trip was “to show that ‘the enemy’ used as a weapon in the Cuban government’s narrative was willing to offer a white rose,” as Obama demonstrated in his speech at Havana’s Gran Teatro.

The speech, broadcast live, is considered by many as “the best part of the visit,” says Valdez, who recognizes that “a year later, unfortunately, the situation in Cuba is worsening.” He cites an increase in repression, the attacks on the United States in the official discourse, which continues to be one of “trenches and confrontation.”

The opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa was also at that table at the US Embassy in Havana. He points out that after the arrival of the Democrat there was an emphasis on “an awareness that our problems are our problems, not problems caused by the United States.” Obama helped to defuse the “historic tension” between “democracy and nationalism.”

Obama’s trip ended with a visit to a baseball game. (EFE)

On the other hand, the regime opponent Martha Beatriz who was traveling during the historic visit, sums up the impact of Obama’s trip as “none.” While “he left everyone filled with hopes,” on the contrary, “what he did was to put a final end to the wet foot/dry foot policy.”

The former prisoner of the Black Spring believes that the visit “is not something that is remembered gratefully right now.” When it happened, “everyone was very happy and filled with hopes, but a year later it’s completely different,” she emphasized.

The columnist Miriam Celaya believes that beyond “being in favor or against” Obama’s actions toward the island “there is one thing that is undeniable, and that is that he marked the Cuban policy of the last fifty years like no other American president.”

Celaya believes that the Democrat “ended the exceptionality” of the Cuban issue “by taking away the government’s foreign enemy.” A situation that has the Plaza of the Revolution “forced to render accounts. Ending the wet foot/dry foot policy,” also contributed to ending “the emigration preference for Cubans in the United States.”

“Any policy towards Cuba framed by US politicians, as long as this system lasts, will have as an obligatory reference this parting of the waters achieved by Obama,” the independent journalist says.

Celaya believes that the population developed “tremendous expectations that are now completely deflated. Many see Obama as the beloved and the hated,” an attitude that puts “the solutions in the United States, as if they have to come from outside,” she says.

The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer, believes that Obama “did everything possible to help the people out of the deep crisis in which Castroism has plunged us,” but “the regime closed all the doors”.

The outgoing president urged Raúl Castro “to open up to his people, to allow the people to recover the spaces” but instead, the authorities remain “in their old position of controlling everything and doing nothing that endangers the total control they have over society. ”

“What’s up, Cuba?” Obama tweeted when his plane was about to land in Cuba. Today, listening to that question generates more concerns than certainties.

Cuban Journalists Demand Greater Access To Sources / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

In Cuba, where only the circulation of the official press is allowed, the illegality in which the alternative media exists makes its work difficult. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 14 March 2017 – Whether they are independent or official, reporters share the same complaint against institutions, which they accuse of hindering access to information and hiding data. And for this reason all informants have the same requirement: greater access to sources.

Gabriela Daihuela studies journalism and dreams of dedicating herself to investigative reporting, a specialty she considers missing in Cuba’s current press. Every day she likes her career more, she says, because “there are many issues that are worthy of being addressed that are not addressed.”

The student is currently preparing a reporting piece that has taken her to the Ministry of Education. “They have given us a huge runaround,” she confesses. “When we go to the institution, which is in charge and we know they should be able to tell us what we want to know, they say there is no data or they can’t share it or they can’t find it,” she complains. continue reading

Daihuela believes that “the press should have more freedom,” not only “at the time of writing” but also to investigate. “They are closing the doors to us, and given that we are students, I imagine that for a journalist already graduated and recognized it must be much worse because they must be afraid.”

In the middle of last year, a group of young journalists from the newspaper Vanguardia in Villa Clara published a letter expressing their concerns. They complained that media bosses argue that the ideas expressed in their articles “do not suit the interests of the country at the current time,” or that their reports and comments are “too critical.”

The reporters believe that “so many decades and so many uncritical media dedicated to presenting triumphalist visions of events have provoked a hypercritical avalanche in Cuba.

For independent journalists the picture is even more complicated due to the illegality in which the country’s alternative media exist

For independent journalists the picture is even more complicated, due to the illegality in which the alternative means exist in a country where only the circulation of the official press is allowed.

Freelance reporter María Matienzo agrees with other colleagues in the independent press that journalism is “a high-risk sport.” The most common obstacles she points out are the confiscation of the tools of the trade – such as phones, recorders, computers and cameras – interrogations and surveillance. “It’s a huge psychological pressure [but] we have to overcome it.”

“Losing friends and winning others” is also part of the side effects of the work of informing. “It’s the classic profession to be declared a pest in certain places.” Always try to approach ” the primary source as much as possible,” and “confirm by all possible means.”

The demand for a Press Law has risen in recent months, among journalists linked to both official and alternative media, but no legislative changes have been announced at this time. At the next congress of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC), convened for 2018, there may be an answer.

University professor Graziella Pogolotti was quoted in Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth) saying that the new law “will establish, with mandatory regulations, the institutional commitment to provide journalists with quick and pertinent information.”

In independent audiovisual media, Ignacio González has won a place with his space En Caliente Prensa Libre (Free Press in the Heat of the Moment). The reporter denounces the “ideological filter” that is applied to students applying to be admitted the faculty of Journalism, a requirement that prevents many interested people from becoming journalists. 

New technologies have made it possible to bring activism closer to social networks. 

Autonomous journalists exist in a scenario that makes it “difficult to investigate.” In addition, they are not issued “credentials or permits” to access official events and “cannot knock at the doors of any official,” he laments. Arbitrary arrests and the confiscation of the tools of the trade also add to the challenges they must overcome.

However, Gonzalez feels gratified when he does a report that ends up solving problems. In his opinion, the population “has begun to understand the importance of audiovisual journalism.” However, he must sometimes mask the face of an interviewee to avoid possible reprisals from the authorities.

New technologies have made it possible to bring activism closer to social networks. Kata Mojena is a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) and disseminates different information through Twitter and YouTube, ranging from the activities carried out by the opposition organization to social problems suffered by residents of eastern Cuba.

“Twitter is a way to make complaints with immediacy so that the media can then broaden and corroborate the information,” says the reporter. UNPACU’s structure, which is “made up of cells,” facilitates “confirming the veracity of the information received,” she explained to this newspaper.

She also laments the continued telephone hackings she suffers in order to prevent her from publishing content, and the difficulties in accessing official sources to obtain their version of any event. Ultimately, her demands do not differ much from those of a young journalist sitting in newsroom of a state-owned media outlet.

With A Pension Of 240 Pesos, Raquel Survives Thanks To The Trash / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario Penton

With a system of unsustainable pensions in the medium term, economic recession and a foreseeable impact on social services as a result of the aging population, the country faces one of the biggest challenges in its history. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario Penton, Havana/Miami, 6 March 2017 — At age 67, struck by old age and a miserable pension, Raquel, an engineer “trained by the Revolution,” scavenges among the garbage for the sustenance of each day. Her hands, which once drew maps and measured spaces where promising crops would grow, are now collecting cartons, cans and empty containers.

“My last name? Why? And I don’t want any photos. I have children and I had a life. I don’t want people to talk about me,” she says while agreeing to tell her story with a certain air of nostalgia and disappointment. “I never thought I would end up a dumpster diver, one of those who digs through the cans in the corners and is the object of jokes.” continue reading

Cuba has become the oldest country in the Americas, according to official data. It has been an accelerated process that surprised even the specialists, who had calculated that the problem would not become acute before 2025.

With a pension system that is unsustainable in the medium term, an economic recession and a foreseeable impact on social services as a result of the aging population, the country is confronting one of the biggest challenges in its history.

The state welfare program does not include those elderly people living under the same roof with relatives. (14ymedio)

“I receive a pension of 240 Cuban pesos a month (less than 10 dollars). From that money I have to spend 50 pesos to pay for the Haier refrigerator that the government gave me [when it switched out older, less energy efficient  models] and an additional 100 pesos for the purchase of medicines,” says Raquel.

Although she is retired, the pharmacy does not subsidize the medicines she needs for her diabetes and hypertension. The state welfare program does not include those elderly people living under the same roof with relatives.

“One of the affects on the country of the aging population is a significant increase in public spending and the decline of the population of childbearing age,” explains Juan Valdez Paz, a sociologist based on the island and author of several books on the subject.

According to the Statistical Yearbook of Cuba, health spending fell from 11.3% of GDP in 2009 to 8% in 2012.

Almost 20% of the Cuban population is over 60, and the country’s fertility rate is 1.7 children per woman. In order to compensate for the population decline, it would be necessary to raise that number to 2.4 children for every female of childbearing age. In 2015 there were 126,000 fewer active people than the previous year.

Almost 20% of the Cuban population is over 60, and the country’s fertility rate is 1.7 children per woman. (14ymedio)

For Valdés, no society is prepared for the demographic difficulties such as those facing Cuba.

One solution could be to increase production or for emigrants to return, according to the specialist. So far both possibilities seem very distant.

In the country there are almost 300 Grandparent Houses (for day care and socialization) and 144 Elder Homes, with a combined capacity of about 20,000 places. The authorities have recognized the poor hygienic and physical situation of many of these premises. Many elderly people prefer to enter the scarce 11 asylums run by religious orders that survive thanks to international aid, an example of which is the Santovenia nursing home, in Havana’s Cerro district.

The cost to use the Grandparents House facilities is 180 Cuban pesos a month, and the Elder Homes cost about 400 Cuban pesos. Social Security grants a subsidy to the elderly who demonstrate to social workers that they can’t pay the cost.

Cuba had one of the most generous and most comprehensive social security systems in Latin America, largely because of the enormous help it received from the Soviet Union, estimated by Mesa-Lago at about 65 billion dollars over 30 years.

The Family Care System allows more than 76,000 low-income elderly people to eat at subsidized prices. (14ymedio)

“Although pensions were never raised, there was an elaborate system provided by the State to facilitate access to industrial products and food at subsidized prices,” explains the economist.

“It annoys me when I hear about how well they care for older adults. They don’t give me any subsides because I live with my son, my daughter-in-law and my two grandchildren, but they have their own expenses and cannot take care of me,” says Raquel.

“I need dentures and if you don’t bring the dentist a gift they make them badly or it takes months,” she adds.

With the end of the Soviet Union and the loss of the Russian subsidy pensions were maintained but their real value fell precipitously. In 1993, the average retiree could barely buy 16% of what their pension would have bought in 1989. At the end of 2015, the purchasing power of pensioners was half of what it had been before the start of the Special Period, according to Mesa-Lago’s calculations.

Raúl Castro’s administration drastically reduced the number of beneficiaries of social assistance in a process that he called “the elimination of gratuities.” From the 582,060 beneficiaries in 2006, some 5.3% of the population, the number fell to 175,106 in 2015, some 1.5% of the population.

Several products that had previously been supplied to everyone through the ration book were also eliminated, such as soap, toothpaste and matches, and now are only available at unsubsidized prices.

In the patio of her house a retiree has created a tool to crush the cans she collects in the streets. (14ymedio)

The government has authorized some assistance programs for the elderly. The Family Care System allows more than 76,000 low-income elderly people to eat at subsidized prices, although it is a small figure considering that there are more than two million elderly people in Cuba.

Some elders receive help from churches and non-governmental organizations.

“People see me collecting cans, but they do not know that I was an avant-garde engineer and that I even traveled to the Soviet Union in 1983, in the Andropov era,” Raquel explains.

When she retired, she had no choice but to devote herself to informal tasks for a living. She cleaned the common areas of buildings inhabited by soldiers and their families in Plaza of the Revolution district, until the demands of this work and her age became incompatible.

“They asked me to wash the glass windows in a hallway on the ninth floor. It was dangerous and because I was afraid to fall, I preferred to leave it, even though they paid well,” she says.

Many elders are selling products made with peanuts or candy in the streets to supplement their income, others ask for alms. (14ymedio)

For each week of work she was paid 125 Cuban pesos, (about 5 dollars) almost half as much as her pension.

Raquel now collects raw material to sell in state-owned stores, although she confesses that she wants “like mad” to get a contract with a small private canning company to sell her empty bottles and avoid the state company and its delays.

In the patio of her house she has created a tool to crush the cans she collects in the streets.

“In January I made 3,900 Cuban pesos from beer cans. Of course, you have to deduct the 500 pesos that I paid for the place in line, because I can not sleep there lying on a porch. Each bag of cans is worth forty pesos. It is eight pesos for a kilogram of cans.”

In Cuba, there are no official statistics on poverty, and the only data available is old. In 1996 a study concluded that in Havana alone, 20.1% of the population were “at risk of not meeting some essential needs.” A survey in 2000 showed that 78% of the elderly considered their income insufficient to cover their living expenses.

The 20,000 places for care of the elderly are insufficient in a country with two million people over 60. (EFE)

Most of the older adults surveyed said their sources of income were mostly pension, support from family living in the country, something from their work and remittances from abroad.

Many elders are dedicated to selling products made with peanuts or candy on the streets to supplement their income. Others resell newspapers or search the garbage for objects they can market and a significant increase in beggars on the streets of the country’s main cities has become apparent.

“It doesn’t bother me to go out in old clothes picking up cans. The one who has to look good is my grandson, who started high school,” says Raquel.

“The boys at school sometimes make fun of him, but my grandson is very good and he is not ashamed of me, or at least he does not show it. He always comes out and defends me from mockery,” she says proudly.

The Ladies In Green Can Not Sell Their Lettuce / 14ymedio, Havana

A few minutes after noon, the Lettuce Women stood at the corner of Obispo and Mercaderes streets in Old Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 2 March 2017 — A few minutes after noon, the Lettuce Women stood on the corner of Obispo and Mercaderes streets in Old Havana. They came with their unique message that promotes healthy food and a love of animals. Under the March sun, their lettuce bikinis generated more curiosity than their environmentalist discourse.

From a lime-green suitcase, activists pulled out magazines and ad sheets to promote a vegan diet. A campaign that does not stop generating confusion in Cuba, a country obsessed with meat and where the dream of many people is to eat a steak every day.

At first the activists were surrounded by more press than public, but their scanty clothing soon caused an uproar. Under the eyes of some policemen the Ladies responded to questions from journalists and those who wanted to know what it’s like to be a vegan.

Under the eyes of some policemen the Ladies in Green responded to questions from journalists and those who wanted to know what it’s like to be a vegan. (14ymedio)

The women declared that, since their arrival on the island, they have viewed the situation of the animals with “a lot of sadness,” according to Yerica Sojo, a Puerto Rican who has been doing this for more than ten years, “there are many [animals] abandoned in the street who need help.” Some national groups do “a very good job of caring for them and promoting compassion,” like the Association for the Protection of Animals and Plants.

This Friday the Ladies in Green plan to go to different schools to chat with the students.

With regards to the Cuban diet they said it “contains a lot of animals” but also “there are many fruits, vegetables and grains that can be eaten” and that one can be vegan and “keep the Cuban culture of eating rice, beans, bananas.”

Among the recipes they distributed to the public, there were some to prepare potato croquettes or mango ceviche.

Near the place where the activists engaged with the public is the San Rafael street market. This week a head of lettuces cost about 10 Cuban pesos (CUP) in the market, which is equivalent to the amount of money a retiree receives on their pension for a full day.

Eating vegetables and legumes is often a luxury that many Cubans cannot afford. (14ymedio)

Eating vegetables and legumes is often a luxury that many Cubans cannot afford.

In the final minutes of the presentation the women took out some pens shaped like fruits and vegetables from the bottom of their suitcase and tried to distribute them among those present. However, a dozen people rushed over the suitcase and grabbed all that were left.

The Lettuce Women promised to “warm up Havana” with “advice on how to save animals, be healthy and protect the environment while being vegans.” But there were more lewd looks at their bodies than interest in their message.