Animal Rights Advocates and Officials Take First Step to a Better Collaboration

On Tuesday, the activists agreed on a new meeting with the authorities for Friday with which they intend to continue moving towards a law against animal abuse. (B.B)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, November 13 2019 — Moderately satisfied, a dozen animal rights advocates met Tuesday with the health authorities to demand an Animal Protection Law in Cuba. The meeting, which took place at the Center for Hygiene and Epidemiology in Havana, was agreed after a protest was held on Monday in front of the headquarters of Zoonosis.

With regard to animal rights, the participants consider that the assessment is positive and “a consensus was reached on the need for collaboration for the sake of human health, animals and Cuban society,” according to Valia Rodríguez. However, the activists lamented that the privacy of their cell phones was violated and the presence of some people at the meeting who, they suspect, could belong to the State Security.

“The sad thing, even though predictable, was to realize that the phones we had given in good faith were checked and searched by other counterintelligence ’friends’. It was not strange, since they never tire of visiting the protectors to find who knows what — or I do know but it saddens me — as they did last night with many of us. They were respectful visits, but it’s hard not to feel like they were harassment,” Rodríguez denounced. continue reading

Beatriz Batista left her mobile phone recording and in the audio “you can clearly hear” the moment in which they take them all to another office and “they separate the cell phones of the officers, the doctors and the animal rights activists.” She added that images were eliminated in some cellphones and that they heard one official say to the other: “toss it,” among other phrases that show that there was a violation of privacy.

The meeting was attended by officials from the Ministry of Public Health and three people who, although they said they were doctors, showed a strange demeanor.

One of them introduced himself as Carlos Ortiz, in charge of the ministry’s communications, although he didn’t say a word. Another identified himself as Michel Torres, allegedly a health promoter, who also did not speak at the meeting. The last one said he was Enrique Gil, doctor in Medicine, but the animal rights activists remembered that the day before, in front of the Zoonosis headquarters, he presented himself as Ricardo Bofill, a ministry official and a graduate in Psychology. When the animal rights activists asked him for explanations, he decided to leave the meeting without saying anything.

The rest of the State interveners were Jusayma González, from the National Directorate of Zoonoses and Communicable Diseases, and two doctors from the Havana Provincial Directorate.

The animal rights group included Beatriz Batista, Gabriel Guerra Bianchini, Odalis Jaramillo Arabí, Sergio Boris Concepción Silva, Sahily Maria Naranjo, Claudia Díaz Romeu, Valia Rodríguez, Yoanne Lisbet Valdés Caballero, Gilda Arencibia, Aylín Sardiña Fernández and someone identified as Filosiraptor Politólogo.

Despite discontent with the ’security’ issue, the activists said they will not let this “low and distrustful act by the Cuban Security apparatus” tarnish the progress that was made with the ministry.

“We were skeptical, given the history of a lack of political will to solve problems pointed out on multiple occasions. We came out more confident that this could be a start and a big step towards doing things better, in a more humane and ethical way. There was talk of collecting dogs that do not represent danger, of the rabies program and how best to contribute to it — without killing healthy animals — of the attitude of the workers of the Sanitary Control car — badly called Zoonosis — of the inhumanity of slaughter with strychnine, of sterilizations as the correct method of reducing street populations and with it the risk of transmitting diseases, among others,” wrote the protector.

The photographer Gabriel Guerra Bianchini described the meeting between the activists and authorities as “historic.” For him it was positive that “with all the pressure that has gone on these days for the rights and care of the animals of the city” there has been “a meeting” in which “all the pains, debates, ideas and solutions were put on the table.” In his opinion, they left “with the feeling that finally, a starting point is marked to begin to build awareness and sensitivity, to those beings who have no voice, but much love.”

According to Batista, Jusayma González insisted that the Ministry of Agriculture is “working” on an Animal Welfare Law and, afterwards activists denounced the use of strychnine to kill stray animals — rather than Tiopental, a much less painful and cruel product. It was argued that strychnine will continue to be used while they attain the anesthetic, since they do not have veterinary technicians to provide Tiopental intravenously.

Health officials also denied that the rounding up of dogs denounced these days is due to the 500th anniversary of Havana or the King and Queen of Spain’s visit to the city, although they admitted having done so on previous occasions, such as during the official trip of former U.S. President Barack Obama.

The participants agreed to a meeting on Friday the 15th of November with the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Health because “they are important players in the search for solutions,” said Valia Rodriguez. The idea is to agree a work plan “in the short term” to address issues such as dog collection, slaughter, rabies program and a program of education and awareness in responsible ownership and against abuse.

“We requested the presence of the Ministry of Justice, Higher Education and State Security to mitigate the image of danger and the continuous visits,” Batista said. The 12 activists who were present made it clear that their idea is not to allow any more killings and demanded that we must work “by leaps and bounds” to achieve a legal mechanism to protect the animals.

Last Monday’s protest by some 20 activists in front of the Zoonosis headquarters ended with the adoption of 12 dogs and a commitment that no more will be sacrificed until an agreement is reached between the protectors and the health authorities.

Translated by: Rafael Osorio

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Around Twenty Activists Protest The Mass Slaughter Of Dogs In Havana

Activists demonstrate in front of the Zoonosis Center of Canine Observation in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, November 11, 2019 — With signs saying “Animal protection law,” “No more strychnine,” and “No more slaughter,” more than twenty activists protested on Monday morning in front of the doors of the state-owned Zoonosis Center of Canine Observation against the massive roundup and slaughter of street dogs that is being carried out in Havana facing the celebration of the city’s 500 years and the arrival of the king and queen of Spain.

According to the activists, after the announcement of the visit of King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia to the island, massive roundups of Havana’s street dogs and cats were done until they exceeded the capacity of Zoonosis, for which reason mass slaughters are being performed with “cruel methods.”

Around 9 in the morning, around ten police officers arrived in the area to block the street and prevent the entry of new protesters. The activists also identified several State Security agents who “busied themselves pressuring the animal rights activists,” a young man carrying a sign with the phrase “Down with Zoonosis” told 14ymedio. continue reading

Around 10 in the morning the majority of the uniformed police left the area and a large truck arrived, the “paddy wagon” type used for numerous arrests. Only one patrol car was left with four officers and the State Security agents in civilian dress remained in the vicinity.

Animal rights protest

A little later a group of officials from the local government arrived and met with three of the animal defenders inside the place. Another five protesters joined the meeting for a total of eight people.

“The whole time they were asking us who was leading this protest but we told them that we are all defenders of animals in Cuba,” Beatriz Carmen Hidalgo-Gato Batista told 14ymedio. “After an hour of arduously arguing a consensus was reached and today the Zoonosis car can’t leave from there,” she clarified to this newspaper.

The first of the agreements reached between the two parties is that Zoonosis will not do any more roundups of street animals until the meeting planned for this Tuesday at 9 in the morning at the Provincial Center of Hygiene and Epidemiology at Calle 102 and 31, in Marianao. There, the animal rights activists will meet with Armando Vázquez, the person in charge of the state-owned Zoonosis.

Another of the agreements was to release the animals that were in custody, with the exception of two who remain under observation for aggression in one case and for having been bitten by an animal with rabies in the other. The protesters took twelve dogs that were in captivity and brought them home, with the idea of healing them, getting rid of their parasites, and putting them up for adoption.

One of the killing methods most criticized by the animal rights protesters is poisoning with strychnine, which causes slow and painful deaths. Moreover, the period of 72 hours established between the moment of the animal’s capture and its killing is not being observed, which reduces the time available to rescue pets.

One of the animals rescued after the protest this Monday. (14ymedio)

A Zoonosis neighbor and ex-worker of those facilities told this newspaper that in the time the animals are in custody they don’t receive food, they remain all together in cages, and often there are fights in which the stronger kill the smaller ones. A neighbor with an adjoining patio also complained of the mass burial of bodies that inundates the place with bad smells and sanitary problems.

Tammy Cortina, a volunteer in several groups dedicated to defending animals, sounded the alarm via social media of the presence of Zoonosis vehicles in Old Havana that in the next days the task will continue, presumably, in Playa.

“It’s mistreatment in the way that they pick up the dogs that wander the streets with the argument that they transmit diseases. Why don’t they sterilize them? Why do they have to kill them for no reason?” asked this animal lover, who is currently caring for three dogs and three cats in her home.

Among the known faces at the protest were Violeta Rodríguez, actress, animal rights activist, and daughter of the singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez, and Sergio Boris Concepción, member of the Cuban Executive in Defense of Animals.

According to a report published in the official press in 2007, the National Institute of Veterinary Medicine calculated the “controlled canine mass” at nearly two million and cats at 500,000. But there is no update of those figures and the National Directorate of Hygiene and Epidemiology calculates that there is a dog for every ten people, some 200,000 in the capital.

This is not the first time that animal rights defenders have protested in Cuba. Last April a march covered several streets in Havana to demand an end to animal abuse and the approval of a law that protects them. That walk against animal abuse was the first independent march, in the last half century, at which signs were allowed to be carried.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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"All of Us Cubans Who Live Abroad Are Political Exiles"

The director is remembered in Cuba for several documentaries that honestly address social issues and in which journalism and art are mixed. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 1 November 2019 — The filmmaker Eliecer Jiménez went on a trip to the United States five years ago to “catch a break,” but in the end he decided to stay in that country. This week he returned to Cuba invited by the Hanna Arendt Institute of Artivism (Instar) to exhibit several of his works and confirm that the Island is still the point around which his life revolves.

“I went on a trip to Miami and then I tied it to another to New York and there the doors began to open. When my wife arrived, we went to Miami and began to create a life from scratch with the help of many friends. It is a city full of the best of Cubans, like Cuba, but we don’t know it because the people here [in Cuba] cannot speak with absolute frankness,” he tells 14ymedio, a day before his return to the United States.

Jiménez confesses that he did not travel outside the Island with the idea of staying. “Upon arriving in the United States we were building a life little by little until last year I decided to start as a student of the bilingual master’s degree in journalism at the FIU (Florida International University),” he says. continue reading

The director is remembered in Cuba for several documentaries that honestly address social issues and mix journalism and art, such as The Face of the Waters and his first work, Usufruct, for which he won the prize of the International School of Cinema and Television of San Antonio de los Baños, at the Gibara Film Festival.

Jiménez says he has never completely left the country. “On a formal level, the United States is what I want, on a conceptual and spiritual level what I want is Havana, Vertientes, Camagüey.” Something that he corroborates also when he sleeps. “The space where my dreams are developed is Cuba, it is with my father, the cows and in my origin as a guajiro.”

The door of the return to the Island remains open for him. But “it is very difficult to do it because Havana is screwed up and the rest of the country is worse, but on a spiritual level for me it is a nice bath of the  warm water of affection for people who are very grateful,” acknowledges the artist.

In the American academic world he has seen everything. “I have been invited to many universities to give talks about my work in independent and documentary films.” To those who ask stereotyped questions about the reality of the Island, he recommends “living a year” in Cuba, and doing it in the way that ordinary Cubans live. “And then w will talk later.”

“It is very clear to me that all Cubans who live abroad are political exiles. If you leave here because you are hungry, it is because the government did not do something to avoid that, and that is called politics,” he clarifies to those who want to label him as an economic emigrant.

“If you leave because you do not find space for your vocation, it is because there is a government that is malfunctioning and if you leave because you shit on the mother of the ruler, which seems very authentic to me, then it is the same. A governmental mechanism has not been generated. in which all people are included.”

In his five years living in the United States he has been a metal worker, film projectionist, producer, editor and cameraman. “Now in addition to having two jobs I am also a student. I have found a space for myself but I am still more or less the same person.” Because “there are things that change but not the essence, it is very difficult to escape from Cubanness, you can’t.”

In that country he has made six short films and also remains attentive to the cinema that is made within Cuba. Especially those “cimarrones [escaped slaves] like Jorge Molina, Miguel Coyula, Alejandro Alonso, Ricardo Figueredo and Yimit Ramírez.” Audiovisual creators who said that “no one stops them, there is no revolution to stop these people.”

He claims not to hold a grudge because he had problems at the University of Camaguey, where he studied journalism, with two materials considered “conflicting.”

“Then I went to film school in San Antonio with a small grant and wanted to enroll in the regular day course but a teacher warned me that they would never accept me there. I felt that every time I wanted to get put my head up, they knocked me down.”

What he has taken from those years has been productive. “In the end I have been what I wanted to be. Those who insulted me and humiliated me are what other people have wanted them to be.”

In October he met again with part of his Cuban public at the headquarters of Instar in Old Havana, with a personal exhibition that included twelve works, of which six had not been released in Cuba: Now (2016), Elegía (2016), TPara Construir Otra Casa (2016), Semiótica de la Mentira (2019), Mater Dei (2019), and El Eterno Retorno (2019).

These works have also been the result of a great personal sacrifice, stealing minutes from rest and paying a good part of the expenses. “When you get there, the CIA does not receive you, the American Government and Yankee imperialism do not receive you. None of them give out money to produce films, that is false,” says Jiménez.

“You have to do it all with your own means, generate your spaces and your time to do that. What did I do? In my time to sleep I did everything, between the jobs I’ve had, I did the movies and filmed on the weekend, editing at four in the morning, that was my choice. I feel sad when people give up.”

Jimenez would like to see a Cuba where there was an art and rehearsal cinema where he could present his films without anyone shouting “counterrevolutionary” or insulting him. “I am not interested if it is a radical communist who stands up to give an opinion about my film, I appreciate that, now the insults seem to me regrettable.”

“I have two very strong struggles in the United States, one is not to become a cynical and another is to deal with my dreams.”

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Under Threats, Parents of Baby Killed by Vaccine Leave Cuba

On October 16th, 2019, Caballero and her husband were summoned, via phone call, to appear on the same day for an appointment at the Public Health Ministry Headquarter in Havana. 

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 6 November 2019 — Yaima Caballero, mother of the 1-year-old baby girl who died last October after receiving a vaccine, decided to leave Cuba to Mexico after receiving threats from the State Security (political police). “They told me I could end up in jail for making unfounded allegations,” she told 14ymedio.

On October 16, 2019, Caballero and her husband, Osmany Domínguez Soler, were summoned via phone call to appear, on the same day, at the Public Health Ministry Headquarters in Havana. Supposedly, the meeting was to give them “updated news” on the investigation about the death of their daughter, Paloma Domínguez Caballero, on October 9th, after receiving the MMR vaccine (mumps, measles and rubella) in a clinic in Alamar, a suburb in Eastern Havana.

Upon their arrival to the appointment, two officers from State Security were waiting for them to warn them about the allegations they had been sharing on social media in the past few weeks. Instead of receiving details about the cause of death of their daughter, the agents urged them to keep it quiet. continue reading

“We were escorted to a huge meeting room with a very strong air conditioning. And no phones allowed,” says Caballero. A while later, the head of the Mother and Infants Department showed up, with Roberto Álvarez Fumero, and three other men who did not identify themselves.

Two of the individuals interrogated the parents about several details of their life and the moments before and after the death of their little girl. After Caballero and her husband repeatedly asked for it, one of the agents identified himself as Lieutenant Colonel Hernández Caballero and the other one, who was wearing the logos from the Ministry of Interior, only shared his last name, Arrebato.

“They asked a million questions, included the date of my very first period and how the nurse held the vaccine vial,” remembers the mother. Outside the building, several family members were waiting for the couple, whom had warned them if “in three hours” you haven’t heard back from us, report the situation right away to the independent press.

“They kept repeating all the time that they knew about our publications on social media,” explains Caballero. The grieving mother was reprimanded for having made “false and grave accusations” in which she said “my daughter was killed, murdered” and that is not how this works, one of the officers told them.

“We are doing our job and that takes time,” one of the agents explained to the parents and repeated to them, in several instances, that “it is a crime to make false allegations against other people and institutions, and those crimes are punished with jail time.” The mother demanded information on how to legally file “a formal complaint or press charges because what happened was a homicide. I don’t know who or what did it, what I do know is that my daughter was killed.”

Before their daughter’s death, the parents had been planning a trip to Mexico. They did not have a final date for it, and Caballero’s passport was expired. “I renewed my passport last Monday and was told it would take 20 days, but after that meeting on Thursday, I received a phone call the following day and was told my passport was ready.

The mother insists she was coerced during that meeting in the Ministry’s Headquarters. “I was threatened that if I continued making unfounded accusations, I would end up in jail. I had to leave the country because I will not be silenced.”

Dr. Roberto Álvarez Fumero, Director of the Maternal-Infant Program at the Public Health Ministry, who was present during the meeting, told El Nuevo Herald that it was a routine interview to gather more information about the baby.

“We asked her about previous immunizations, about the conception, labor and delivery. We spent almost two hours talking technicalities needed for the investigation conducted by the ministry,” said the doctor via phone interview from Havana.

Álvarez Fumero said he could not confirm the attendance of State Security Agents to the interview. “I personally invited the parents to the headquarters, and as far I can remember, it was a cordial interview. The mother was the one who did most of the talking,” added the doctor, who is recovering from a car accident.

Álvarez Fumero reiterated that, due to his own recovery from the accident, he was unable to stay on top of the investigation surrounding Paloma’s death and he still does not know if a final official report has been issued, explaining the baby’s cause of death.

According to the Criminal Code, the crime of “defamation against institutions and organizations” can be construed against anyone who “publicly slanders, denigrates or belittles said institutions, carrying sentences from three months to a year in prison and a fine of $300 Cuban pesos.

While the commission from the Public Health Ministry investigates the cause of death of Paloma Domínguez Caballero and the hospitalization of other four children, experts point out two probable scenarios: a problem or failure in the vaccine’s manufacturing process or a failure to follow the procedures to store the vaccines.

In the first scenario, the responsibility will fall on the world’s largest producer of vaccines, the Serum Institute in India. On the second one, the blame would be on the Cuban side.

Almost a month after her daughter’s death, Yaima Caballero continue to speak out on social media and demand justice.

Translated by: Mailyn S. Cappuccio

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The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. You can help crowdfund a current project to develop an in depth multimedia report on dengue fever in Cuba; the goal is modest, only $2,000. Even small donations by a lot of people will add up fast. Thank you!

Huge Crowds In the Stores Where Cubans Can Buy With "The Enemy’s Money"

Some people waited in line starting on Sunday morning for the Monday opening. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 28 October 2019 — The first ones line marked their places starting on Sunday morning, but the long wait failed to reduce the excitement when the foreign exchange store of Havana’s Focsa building opened its doors on Monday. With the official television cameras in place, the staff checked that the customers’ magnetic cards and matched them to their identity cards before letting them enter in groups of six at a time.

Everything shone, although still visible were the remains of some adjustments and repairs made in great haste to get the premises ready for the 28 October opening More than a hundred people crowded together when, at half past nine in the morning, the door hinges turned and the first sale of goods to the public in dollars in almost two decades began.

The first buyer to cross the threshold of the store was a lady with a walker who appealed to priority in line for people with disabilities. Inside, in the large room, air conditioners of one or several tons were seen, along with domestic electrical devices such as oil-free fryers, automatic washing machines and refrigerators with two or more doors. continue reading

“I just want to go in to look, take some pictures and show my husband what is there, so we can decide what we are going to buy,” explained a woman who was not allowed access by the security guard. In the first hours of the opening of these shops, only those who expressed their intention to buy could enter and those who came to browse the brands and prices were turned away.

The cameras of Cuba’s official TV station did not miss the opening of the new stores (14ymedio)

The scene reminded a retiree who lined up on Sunday afternoon what he had experienced in the mid-90s of the last century when the Cuban economy was dollarized and the first stores in convertible currency, known as shoppings (using the English word), opened . “Then you had to show the green tickets to enter and now the magnetic card is the same thing,” he compared.

The pensioner told 14ymedio everything he had had to do to be in line this Monday. “I stood in line at the Metropolitan Bank for hours last Tuesday and I was able to open the dollar account, in which I deposited 400 dollars that I had saved from the last time my son sent me money,” he summarized. “What I am looking for is a flat screen TV because my old Panda is almost no longer viewable.”

Before Monday, the retiree’s options would have been to resort to the informal market that feeds on the goods imported by the mules from Panama, Mexico or the United States, or pay the highest prices of the state store network, with a smaller variety and more outdated models. “As soon as they announced this option, I decided not to spend a centavo and to wait for the stores to open,” he says.

Niurvis, a woman who is seven-months pregnant, waits near the door to enter with the next group. “What I want is a washing machine that also dries clothes well, because I live in an apartment without a balcony and when the baby is born I don’t know where I can will be able to hang up to dry everything that gets dirty,” she explains.

Just before ten o’clock in the morning, a woman comes out pushing two boxes which contain the different parts of a Sanky brand air conditioner of the type known as a “split” — because one part of it is installed outside and one part inside. She had paid $361 for the equipment which has a ton of power and which in the black market as of this morning was quoted above 600 CUC (over $600).

“Today is the day for throwing flowers [into the sea] for Camilo [Cienfuegos] and I have had to walk a lot so that my grandson would not go empty-handed to school,” says a woman who came running for fear that she would lose her turn.

“It’s a tremendous day they have chosen to open these stores, some remembering the guerrilla and others here showing their card with the enemy’s currency to be able to enter to buy.”

For 10 CUC young couple bought, from another person, a place in line to access the premises, but once at the door the custodian warned them that only one person can enter for each card. “But we have come together and we want to decide the model of refrigerator that we are going to buy, because it is for our house, where we both live,” she insisted without managing to convince him.

“This seems like a military unit,” the young man lamented when he had to stay outside and gestured through the glass to the young woman to decide “together” which refrigerator was the most appropriate for the space they have in the kitchen. Like him, other customer’s companions also made gestures, mouthed words without uttering sound and indicated with the index finger through the window.

Several police officers stayed near the entrance and one of the uniformed men called the customer who had organized the list of names of the people in line the day before. As a general rule, although the practice of organizing the line is something traditional in a country where you have to wait to buy everything from ice cream to a television set, the authorities fine or arrest the “coleros,” those who stand in line for other people and are paid for their services.

There was no lack of cluelessness. “And what are they going to get here?” Asked a teenage girl who passed by the store half an hour after the opening. With patience, a lady explained the new method of buying appliances, auto parts and electric motorcycles with magnetic cards in foreign currency, but the girl just shrugged and said: “Ah, that …”

Buyers organized transportation on this first day. (14ymedio)

To her side, quick and fast, another buyer came out who had acquired a Royal brand fridge for his private business. With certain difficulties, he lifted the box onto a pedicab parked in the middle of the aisle of the central shopping arcade and left the place. The state stores do not offer home delievery right now and customers have had to solve it on their own.

Private carriers took advantage of the start of sales to offer their services for a price that ranges between 15 and 20 CUC, provided it is “in the same municipality of Plaza de la Revolución or nearby municipalities such as Cerro, Playa and Centro Habana,” clarified one of them while passing near the line. “But we can agree on a price if they go further,” he added.

“You can only buy two of each piece of equipment: two washing machines, two splits, two televisions …,” an employee repeated over and over to customers who kept asking questions every time he leaned out the door. Rationing by quantities seeks to prevent hoarders from reselling in the informal market and making a profit.

“What if I come back tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow?” a young man with colorful headphones and Adidas shoes joked. “How will they prevent me from buying several refrigerators if I come several times? Or is there a list of customers that they will keep from one day to the next?” His questions remained unanswered before the stunned look of the guard, who had no answers for so many questions.

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The Bodies Speak

On Friday afternoon the Gorria Gallery-Workshop was inuaugurated in Havana’s San Isidro neighborhood. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 October 2019 — A gesture and 126 portraits make up the #Libre photo exhibition by artist May Reguera, in defense of the freedom of expression. The Cuban actress and photographer captured in her studio the moment when the people she summoned took off a sweater as an act of liberation. An exhibition in which not only bodies, but also emotions are perceived.

On Friday afternoon the Gorria Gallery-Workshop was inaugurated in Havana’s San Isidro neighborhood, attended by hundreds of people.

#Libre began with a self-portrait that was censored on social networks two years ago. For me it was very conflicting to think that female nipples were censored because they were not accepted within the community laws of that social network because they were offensive. It seemed like something totally illogical considering a lot of weird content that is seen all the time on the networks,” the artist told 14ymedio at the busy exhibition. continue reading

People visiting the exhibition on Friday afternoon (14ymedio)

She says that then she wanted to bring women together to express the idea that “our nipples are not offensive. They are ours, it is our history, they are our experiences, we give life with these nipples,” and that is where the idea of this exhibition came from.

She explains that the whole project was then transformed into something different. Reguera says that “I also didn’t him to have a discourse only about feminism” because, for the artist, the idea is to talk about equality. “Saying that we all have the same rights to say what we want to say, to do what we want to do, I know it is difficult but it is the universe in which I believe,” she added.

She began to add men as well but it did not seem to complete the idea of what she was looking to express. “I didn’t want something of genders, with women and men, and I thought about including people with disabilities and abilities in the exhibition, with the greatest variety of people possible making the same symbolic gesture of I can, I can also do this.”

The artist, with great experience in photography and making portraits of models, took only two photos of each person although for some she had to do a little more so that they would not be “affected” by the emotions that overcame them.

“It was not a problem, I think it is easy to remember a moment that has marked us and made us feel inferior and small, it is not difficult to remember that. It was just asking them to think about that time. For me it was impressive and people immediately remembered.”

Another view of visitors to the exhibition and the photographs. (14ymedio)

She confesses that the most difficult part of the entire work, which lasted for months, was trying not to be affected with all those experiences picked up by her lens.

“When you look through the camera you are without distraction looking through a black tunnel and simply one person feeling something super strong, it was difficult. I had days in which I finished the sessions and I was very sad. For me #Libre was also a process of growing, this exercise changed me.”

The impact of the work does not end with the printing of the portraits and their mounting in the gallery. Many of those who participated have written to the artist. “I have beautiful testimonies and I want to do things with that. They are very emotional but also very motivating words. Although the exercise was to remember a not very pleasant moment, the feeling with stayed with them was liberation. I feel very happy that it is like that,” she said.

Moving between the portraits that hang together from the ceiling of the gallery, one could often spy the faces of some of the models who were posing in front of their naked torso to take the souvenir home.

The exhibition will remain for a month in the gallery and May Reguera has the idea of including conferences on human rights in social networks.

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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 now becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Streets Turned to Rivers in Trinidad

Some rivers, such as the Caracusey, overflowed and four dams have had to open as they exceed their normal water levels. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 9 October 2019 — The streets have become rivers in Trinidad this week. Although October is traditionally the wettest month of the year in Cuba, the first week has left shocking images. The colonial historic center, which has a terrible infrastructure to channel the water, is collapsed by rainfall that, on this Monday already accounts for 167% of the historical average of the month.

The city, which given its tourist focus has some 2,000 guesthouses  and more than a hundred restaurants and paladares (private restaurants), generates a lot of garbage. But the fuel shortages, says environmental activist Dennis Valdés, has meant that it’s been days since the garbage trucks have gone by, so the neighbors take advantage of the force of the current and throw waste of all kinds on the street so that the water can drag it away.

“It looks like a river, literally, it looks like Venice, people can’t go out in the streets because the water takes them away. The worst is when the water level drops and, at the end of the street, on the edge, there is a huge amount of trash.” continue reading

Some rivers, such as Caracusey, have overflowed and four dams have had to be opened after exceeding their normal water levels. Tuinucú is at 103%; Siguaney 106% ; Aridanes 111% and Banao II 106%.

In Condado and Caracusey there were heavy rains this Monday, registering 102 and 111 cubic millimeters, respectively, while it measured 81 in the historic center of Trinidad.

Sancti Spíritus is not the only province affected by rainfall, although it is the most affected. In Camagüey it has rained throughout the week, constantly. “As always happens, the streets are flooded and traveling on the road becomes a headache,” residents say.

“It has not happened for more than 30 years, it rained for more than 10 days,” said Ricardo Fernández, a 14medio contributor in that province. “It is a problem to go out, there are no umbrellas in the stores and those that are selling them now charge 13 CUC.”

In Old Havana, although the rains were not so torrential, many families spent the week worrying about the roof of their houses. “I slept with my heart in my mouth, this building has shoring everywhere and the rain gets in through some walls that are cracked.

I have a room full of basins and I had to send the girls to my mother-in-law’s house so they’re not in danger. Until the rains stop, I won’t bring them home. Ugly things have happened with some partial collapses that we have suffered here and it is better to prevent it,” said a young woman who lives in a building “in danger of collapse.”

In Holguin, the rains caused problems in several locations and caused the Mayarí river to rise. Something similar to what happened in Guantanamo, where rainfall caused the overflow in some of its river basins and dams; already at 50% of their capacity last week, 12% more than last month, they continued to increase their level.

The forecasts, as of today, are more optimistic and the showers, which are expected in some provinces, will, at least, be isolated.

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

"They Killed My Daughter," Denounces the Mother of the Girl Who Died After a Vaccination in Cuba

Little Paloma Domínguez Caballero, who died after being vaccinated in Havana. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 October 2019 — The denunciation of Yaima Caballero Peralta is hard, very hard. “They killed my daughter.” This was reported all day yesterday on social networks. “Yesterday I spent 24 hours in the day, 23 making complaints and now I need a break,” she tells 14ymedio on Saturday via phone.

His story is bleak. Last Monday, October 7, she took her daughter Paloma Domínguez Caballero to get vaccinated in Alamar, on the outskirts of Havana, without imagining that a nightmare would begin, one that still hasn’t ended.

“I went with my one-year-old girl to get the vaccine that is given to all children of that age against measles, mumps and rubella [MMR]. We went to the Enrique Betancourt Neninger policlinic in my area. Before giving the vaccine, the family doctor always examines them and determines if the baby is in a position to receive this vaccine because she has to be completely healthy to be able to receive it because they are very strict in these cases so that there is no adverse reaction,” the mother told this newspaper. continue reading

She explained that after that physical examination the doctor was able to determine that the girl was “totally healthy” and they give her the authorization to get the vaccine. “About 10 am she was vaccinated and two hours later the nightmare began. She vomited the first time at 12 noon and then again and again. I got scared and called a doctor friend who recommended I go to the polyclinic to get gravinol to relieve these symptoms,” she said.

When she arrived at the polyclinic the vomiting was decreasing but she says that the girl’s skin “began to get a little red” and she decided to go, without a referral, to the Luis Díaz Soto hospital, known as “The Naval” [as in ‘navy’].

There they did a urinalysis and blood tests, and after half an hour “the tests came back fine,” explains Caballero.

“The doctor who treated us did not want us to go home because she had a fever and now there is a lot of dengue fever out there so despite the good test results it could be something was not going well and that is why he suggested that I go to a pediatrician.

Yaima Caballero Peralta and her daughter Paloma Domínguez Caballero in an earlier image. (Courtesy)

So, also by her own efforts, she went to the Borrás-Marfán Hospital in El Vedado, and there they treated her little girl “with the best care” and when the doctors arrived “they were alarmed that the color of her skin and the swelling of her feet” were due to the vaccine she had been given.

“As of that time no other cases were known and they thought it was that her body had rejected that vaccine that we all know are viruses, all are made with viruses. Well, there they decided to keep her under observation for 48 hours and they admitted her, but little by little I saw that she was getting worse,” she said.

“She started having diarrhea, vomited again and although she drank a great deal of water she didn’t urinate anything and that’s why the swelling,” adds the mother, who is trying to get away from her neighborhood these days, from her routine and everything that reminds her of her daughter.

An hour after being admitted they gave her an IV to hydrate her because she was dehydrating. “Then the fever started because the dipyrone they put her on did nothing and I had to lower the fever with a compress that I applied to her for about two hours.”

Caballero says that doctors never stopped checking on her daughter. “But nobody saw how much it was getting worse, I was scared, very very scared the tell truth,” she confesses.

At five in the morning on Tuesday a doctor passed by who could “see how badly she was doing” who called everyone and they decided quickly to put her in intensive care.

The news fell like “a bucket of cold water” but says she said was filled with courage and went with her daughter as she watched her get worse and worse.

The area where Paloma Domínguez Caballero was vaccinated became red, then swollen and became hard. (Courtesy)

“She was swelling all over and her feet were changing color from red to purple. She had very smelly diarrhea several times in a row and I could see that her arm where she was given the vaccine was red and it was swelling too much and it was very hard and it hurt. It caught my attention and they told me to put cold packs on it but it was getting worse.”

The doctors told her she had to wait outside because her daughter had become “very serious and was in critical condition.”

The wait became “an agony” thinking that she would not see her daughter again. The specialist came out to ask her for permission to open the girl’s arm to drain the infection inside. “Of course I accepted, whatever they did, as long as she was saved.”

She improved a little after the operation but, a few minutes later, “she stopped urinating again and her kidneys were failing and her feet were swelling more and more.”

At seven o’clock on Wednesday night, doctors gave her a blood transfusion and dialysis because “she was very sick” and “her life was in danger.”

“It was only an hour, maybe, when they told me she had died but there was no explanation, only that they had done everything possible and I believe them because I did see them coming and doing everything, even the impossible.

“All the specialist there came together to help her but, well… I had to go in later, like any mother, and say goodbye to her and pick up my things and I decided to have her cremated.”

The mother asked for an autopsy to study and determine what caused her daughter’s death. They told her she would only have to wait two hours at a funeral home in Alamar.

“Many hours passed and finally my little girl’s body arrived and from there we could go to the crematorium and then to her funeral. I am waiting for the Ministry of Health to give me some explanation or, at least, condolences. As of now we know only that she was killed, that’s it. But here I am, standing… I don’t know how.”

Paloma’s mother insists that she has no complaints against the doctors who treated her. She also considers that “it is very unfair” that the nurse who vaccinated her daughter was fired from her job because “she is very competent” and she “does not manufacture the vaccines.”

A few hours after Caballero gave her testimony to this newspaper and almost three days after the death of his daughter, the Ministry of Public Health reported on Saturday that a commission is investigating the causes of the “unfortunate” event.

The health authorities admitted in a statement published on their digital site that between October 7th and 8th three one-year-old children were diagnosed “with an adverse event” associated with the MMR vaccination and that all those children had been vaccinated on 7 October at the “Betancourt Neninger” Polyclinic in the municipality of Habana del Este.

The statement added that “immediately after” the symptoms appeared, “they were admitted and received medical attention by professionals of high scientific level in the pediatric hospitals Borrás Marfán and Centro Habana.”

The health authorities also report that “through active research” that included all children vaccinated in that health district, two more children were detected “with symptoms” and were also admitted.

This vaccine is given in Cuba twice during childhood. The first when the child turns one year old and the second at age six. The latter is almost always injected at elementary schools to first grade students.

In 2018, more than 95,000 children were immunized on the Island with the triple viral vaccine (MMR), a figure that the United Nations Children’s Fund highlighted favorably. Currently Cuba has a vaccination coverage of over 98%, with 11 preparations that protect against 13 diseases. At the same time, the “anti-vaccine” trends have not gained space in Cuba as they have in other nations in the region.

In 2002, three deaths occurred on the Island that were classified as errors during the campaign for the elimination of measles when using a non-sterile dissolvent and in 2004 there was another death due to non-compliance with the rules for vaccine delivery, according to reports by that entity.

However, these data can only be read in official reports sent to international health-related organizations; they were never published in the national press. As a general rule, the Government hides and maintains a strong secrecy around any event derived from medical malpractice, the poor state of drugs or unfavorable reactions to a drug.

In the face of the silence of the health authorities and the official press Paloma Domínguez Caballero is writing letters to send to “every place possible” to get an answer.

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

The Other Face of the ‘Energy Measures’ in Cuba

Doctors lament that suddenly as many as 30 people arrive with suspected dengue fever. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 27 September 2019 — ‘The spinning top’ happens once a day, crammed with sick people or those who believe they are. “It is a bus that travels among polyclinics looking for feverish cases, patients with dengue symptoms, and they take them all to a hospital. It can be the Fajardo or the 26th Clinic,” says a recently graduated doctor alarmed by the avalanche of people who arrive on the only route that resists being cut due to the crisis.

It is fifteen days after the government ministers called on the population for tranquility and announced, shortly before the arrival of the Venezuelan oil tanker intended to end the fuel deficit, that no sector would be seriously affected. But in that same speech the measures that, as it was foreseeable, have altered the lives of the Cubans more than the authorities wanted are evident.

“Sometimes the bus arrives at midnight and leaves more than 20 patients at one time in the hospitals. Some specialists were complaining because they received more than 30 cases for admission in the late hours and all at the same time. The other day in the Fajardo hospital the lights went out and I had to run the equipment for two hours two hours in treatment. I ended up exhausted,” says the young doctor. continue reading

The authorities proposed a reorganization of the energy supply to avoid blackouts, but in practice this means that a patient can be cut off halfway through a treatment.

“Because of a realignment of hours they made in my clinic now the compressor is turned off [responsible for operating the instruments] at six o’clock. If they cut you off at half, you have a problem,” a dental student in her senior year in the municipality of Cárdenas, in Matanzas, tells 14ymedio. “So you can not do anything right, you know when you start working with a patient but you can not guess when it will end, each case is different,” she complains.

Together with Healthcare, Education is another of the key sectors for the population, in addition to both being the regime’s flag. But here too, the functioning trembles more than usual. Although the Government assured that classes would not be suspended, and shortly after there were partial closures and reductions in the operating hours of the universities, the reality has been even more serious.

The University of Pinar del Río (UPR) has been practically paralyzed for the last two weeks, one of its workers told this newspaper.

“All these measures are avoiding the blackouts programmed by all possible means. The blackout is a symbol of that terrible time of the Special Period, and the last thing that this Government wants now is a protest.” The professor recalled a spontaneous demonstration in the Havana municipality of 10 October that occurred after the passage of a hurricane. At that time many Havanans spent several days without electricity or drinking water.

“This week was also the Caribbean National Competitive Programming Contest in all universities and in the UPR it could not take place. In the next rounds (national, regional and global) there is no way for there to be representation of the UPR,” the teache continues.

But not only university education suffers. This newspaper was able to verify, in a tour of several schools in the capital, that in several of them class schedules were adjusted andsome adjustments were made in class schedules and cuts of some complementary subjects such as Participatory Sport or Vocational Guidance. According to one teacher, activities should be normalized next week.

A resident of Guanabacoa, in the capital, has been going through the wringer to take her son to school in the last two weeks. Her son studies in a school for children with special needs and is always picked up by a minibus very close to their home. “As of last week they’ve cancelled the bus and now I have to invent a thousand tricks to get there early. The boy gets desperate and gets in a bad mood when he has to wait a lot,” she laments.

The savings have even reached the kitchens of the schools. In some provinces such as Pinar del Río and Matanzas, schools are using firewood to cook students’ lunch, according to several testimonies collected by this newspaper. “They cook in the middle of the schoolyard and every day my granddaughter gets home with ashes her hair,” says a retired woman from Pinar del Río who has three grandchildren in her care.

Alberto López Díaz, vice president of the Government in Villa Clara, said there are concrete measures that have been agreed to with the country’s leadership for saving electricity.

“The state centers disconnect the breakers during peak hours, from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm and from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Only 164 centers with vital services and priorities are authorized to maintain electricity consumption, such as the Hospitals, the meat productions plants, dairy products, electrochemistry, among others,” said López in a meeting that took place this Thursday in that city and was chaired by Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez.

In that province 917 patrols have been created from 434 schools to go house to house alerting the 12,505 customers of the Electric Union that consume more than 500Kwh of the need for savings. In addition, 121 command posts have been created to achieve, at the level of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) a call to turn off 20-watt lamps and 120-watt refrigerators.

Although the Government has spent days pretending that the situation is short-term and the measures adopted will cushion major problems, the lives of citizens show that things have gone remarkably worse. The lack of foreign subsidies and the inability of a stagnant economy without dynamism are far from being solved with the arrival of an oil tanker.

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

"Regulated Ones" on a War Footing

Since 2018 the strategy of informing activists of their “regulated” status at the moment of reaching the immigration counter has become more common. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, September 25, 2019 — The list of Cuban citizens whom the Government has labeled as “regulated” by now includes 150 people. This mechanism, with which the authorities arbitrarily restrict the free movement of activists, journalists, and opposition figures in general, has been consolidated in two years as a regular repressive method.

The free movement of persons is enshrined by Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as Article 52 of the Cuban Constitution. Although in both cases, and in all states, it is a right subject to regulations, the Government of Havana applies its regulations in an arbitrary manner, limiting the room for maneuver of those affected, which can sometimes make them face the judicial avenue and other times turn to activism.

That’s the case for the reporter from the magazine El Estornudo, Abraham Jiménez Enoa, who since June 2 of 2016 has been subject to a migratory regulation from the Ministry of the Interior. As appears on a document, this prohibition is valid until the same day in 2021. These five years are what the State considers he “owes” for having been part of the program of “inserted cadets.” The program allows cadets assigned to the Ministry of the Interior to attend (“be inserted into”) university programs in lieu of other duties. Jiménez Enoa was able to study journalism through an agreement for which he would afterward complete five years of social service, which is why he is not allowed to leave Cuba and has no option to turn to. continue reading

For the reporter, the mode in which the Government impedes “the free movement of individuals is worthy only of dictatorial and totalitarian systems” and he believes that it is “another proof that in Cuba the Government violates many human rights.”

“The idea is to punish and intimidate those who dissent, put the lash to their shoulders. If the internet has brought anything to us Cubans, it’s the possibility to show the Island that many people don’t know. An Island where, sometimes, they force you to remain trapped there for raising your voice and confronting the regime,” Jiménez tells 14ymedio.

Katherine Mojena, a member of the opposition organization Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu), has been “regulated” since December of 2016.

“From then until now they have prevented me from leaving Cuba on more than five occasions. Just now I was selected to participate in a training program on how to confront and report on gender violence. It will take place in the United States and it’s directed by Washington’s embassy in Havana. When I went to ask, I was still ’regulated’,” says Mojena.

The activist assures that during several exchanges with State Security they have told her that “the condition” for letting her leave Cuba is that she remains “permanently” in any other country. “My husband Carlos Amel Oliva and I have categorically refused that. This is my country and they are the ’surplus’ ones,” she believes.

In her opinion, there are many factors influencing the Government’s decisions on a person’s movement.

“It’s not my goal to cause harm with this comment but, in our particular case, this long time with this restrictive measure of the dictatorship is a kind of recognition of how unyielding we have been with our activism. Peaceful but firm in favor of freedom, democracy, and respect for human rights in Cuba.”

Mojena believes that it is necessary to fight from within the Island, which is the path she has chosen and she will not accept conditions. “They can ’regulate’ me, arrest me, rob my home, like they have done, and even put me in prison. I’m ready to face them. Amel and I, and also the ’regulated’ activists from Unpacu, we prefer for Guillermo del Sol to stay alive and we recognize the great and exceptional sacrifice he is making in the interests of all the victims of this arbitrary measure.”

Guillermo del Sol, 53, has been on a hunger strike since August 12 and insists that he is determined to fight the arbitrary practice of the Cuban Government of “regulating” nonconformists.

Others have opted for the legal route. That is the case of the opposition figure Abdel Legrá Pacheco, for whom Immigration authorities suspended the prohibition on leaving the country after he brought a lawsuit before the provincial court of Havana.

The reporter Boris González Arenas also turned to the law to confront the prohibition on leaving that was imposed on him in June. “I already missed a trip to Panama, to Colombia, an invitation to participate in ASCE, in the United States, and finally, another to the United Kingdom, where I was invited by the British parliament,” he told this newspaper.

“I presented a request to Roilan Hernández, the legal person in charge of immigration. The current Cuban Constitution has a rudiment that isn’t habeas data [although it is similar], but through which one can ask the State about the information that it has about him. I asked Immigration to know the reason for my ’regulation.’ Of course there was no response. I went to the military prosecutor, to sue for Hernández’s abuse of authority, and it passed the case to the Attorney’s Office of the Ministry of the Interior, which has not yet answered me.”

In January of 2013 a Migratory Reform went into effect which significantly liberalized the processes for traveling outside of the Island, with the old “exit permit” being eliminated, but with the passage of years the list of opposition voices who cannot leave the country has been growing. At the beginning, State Security prevented dissidents from traveling via arbitrary arrests.

Since 2018, however, the strategy of informing activists of their “regulated” status at the moment of reaching the immigration counter has become more common.

After the modifications made by the Decree-Law 302 in October of 2012, immigration authorities have the capicity to deny certain citizens the issue of a passport or prevent them from leaving the country.

The law provides for various cases: being subject to a penal process, having an outstanding fulfillment of a penal sanction or security measure, being in the course of fulfilling Military Service, or being considered “a work force qualified for the social and scientific technical development of the country.”

However, where more discretion applies is in reasons “of public interest or of National Defense and Security.” The lawyer Eloy Viera maintained in an article published in El Toque that he opposes the use of vague concepts like Defense, National Security, or Public Interest to justify the limitation of rights by immigration authorities. They are variables “that are used with impunity to limit fundamental rights.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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

The Truths of Omara Ruiz Urquiola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omara Ruiz Urquiola’s ’Golden Chalk’ Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 Hours to Santiago de Cuba on a Chinese Train

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Entire Day Dedicated to Buying a School Uniform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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