Empty Buses, No Customers for Coppelia, This is How Phase 1 Post-Covid Begins in Havana

Public transport begins to circulate after months of being shut down by measures against the Covid-19 pandemic. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar / Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 4 July 2020 — “It seems like a lie to me, I hadn’t waited even five minutes at the bus stop and the bus arrived and best of all, it was practically empty.” In front of the Bus Terminal, Rocío shared her joy when she boarded the P12 route this Friday, the first day of the implementation of Post-Covid Phase 1 in Havana.

She sits next to a friend who is with her, takes out her cell phone, stretches out her hand and they take a selfie: “So they won’t tell me later that I made it up.”

Public transport is beginning to circulate after months of being shut down by measures against the Covid-19 pandemic. Before the passengers, all wearing a mask, who are waiting at the stop can get on, an inspector from the Ministry of Transport walks the inside of the from end to end, makes a count, points to a checklist and determines that only 12 people can ride. continue reading

At the door, the driver’s assistant drops a few drops of chlorinated water into each passenger’s hands as he collects the fare.

There are 109 routes in circulation, in addition to the ferry services for crossing the bay, the bike-bus for the tunnel and the road taxi service. (14ymedio)

On some of the main arteries of the capital, such as 23rd Street, Carlos III or Boyeros, traffic is livelier this Friday, although still scarce. As reported by the official press, 109 bus routes are in service, in addition to the ferry services for the crossing of the bay, the bike-bus for the tunnel, and the road taxi service provided by the minibuses, known as gazelles. The measure to restart transport was one of the most anticipated, especially to regain mobility between municipalities.

“For months I have had to walk from El Vedado to Playa to visit my sister and look at me now, I am alone in this gazelle,” says a lady before getting into a road taxi at the corner of Linea and L.

Similarly, as the city entered this first phase of reopening, some markets have opened their doors. At the Agua y Jabón (Water and Soap) store on Obispo Street in Old Havana, several customers lined up eager to learn what was for sale.

“I’m waiting to see what’s there, because for weeks I haven’t gotten detergent, soap, or shampoo,” says a lady who has just joined the long line waiting in the sun. “I hope at least that’s what they put out.” The lines are more overflowing than ever. Throughout Obispo Street, the morning rush of employees in many markets is focused on rearranging merchandise and cleaning windows and floors.

On the menu board that announces what’s available at Coppelia there is only one ice cream flavor: orange-pineapple. (14ymedio)

Other points of the city have also recovered their routine, such as the Coppelia ice cream parlor. “Look at me, look at me, I entered without waiting a single minute in line,” says Darío, a teenager who almost jogs over to one of the courts on the ground floor. On the menu board that announces Coppelia’s flavors there is only one: orange-pineapple.

The handicrafts fair on La Rampa also opened initially this Friday, but later, the police forced them to close the stalls on the grounds that the first phase of reopening does not include sales in privately-run spaces located in squares and parks, in order to avoid crowds.

Before that happened, an artisan was pushing his cart with a friend, and after arranging the merchandise at his stall, he couldn’t help but share his joy. “I was going crazy waiting to bring my table here, from home I hardly sold anything; it is not the same: what is not exhibited is not sold,” he explained. “Right now there is little tourism, so I have loaded up with the products that sell more to Cubans: dresses, wallets, jewelry and shoes.”

“Find me some flip flops to walk around the house and some sandals,” asks Darío’s first customer. “Mine are broken and I couldn’t buy new ones.” But the enthusiasm was short-lived and an hour later the merchant had to collect all the products and leave.

The craft fair in La Rampa also initially opened this Friday, but later the police forced the stands to be closed. (14ymedio)

During the last weeks, due to the restrictions imposed in the country by the pandemic, stores were not selling any products that weren’t necessary for basic household cleaning and food. So there is a lot of accumulated need for clothes, shoes, household supplies and hardware.

The bureaucracy, meanwhile, takes its time. On Friday, in the office of the Directorate of Identification, Immigration and Foreigners located on Calle 17 in Havana’s El Vedado neighborhood, the receptionist only shooed away the flies and answered the questions of those who arrived.

“We have not yet begun to carry out procedures, but come on Monday and we may already be open for the preparation of passports,” the employee repeated. With more than three months of the border being closed and the failure to issue these travel documents, many frequent travelers express their despair.

“They have given extensions to the time one is allowed to be outside of Cuba [without losing the right to return], a moratorium on paying for self-employment licenses, but it has not occurred to them to extend the expiration date of the passports,” Rebeca, a resident of the capital whose passport expired in April, told this newspaper.

“I have lost months without being able to leave and now I have to renew my passport as if everything had been normal in this time,” added Rebeca. “That is not right, because the same government that reviews the document at the airport so that I can leave the country knows that it has been months that people cannot renew or get a passport.” Cuba’s is the most expensive passport in the world in relation to purchasing power: it costs 100 CUC (roughly three month’s salary), with two extensions allowed at 20 CUC each. for a term of six years.

The Cubatur office, on the ground floor of the Habana Libre hotel, is now open to buy tour packages. (14ymedio)

In the nearby Cubatur office the Friday countdown to the reopening generated a line to buy tour packages. In the basement of the emblematic Habana Libre hotel, a dozen people waited for the offers of accommodation in the provinces, where the residents of the capital could not go until now.

“I can’t take it anymore, I have to take a few days somewhere even if it’s two stars,” commented a woman who identified herself as an employee of a foreign firm that has “been out of work for three months and with the future horizon in gray with black stitching.”

“I know it is time to save every penny, but right now I need to be with my family in a place where I don’t have to stand in line for food, find a way to make do in the kitchen, or have someone knock on my door every day to track the pandemic. I’m going to the worst hotel, as long as it’s not my home.”

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

Cuban Families Prepare for "Long Vacations" From School

The children have been out of class since the end of March and some parents are desperate. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 5 June 2020 — “When I saw the news from the minister on the Roundtable program on TV I said to myself: uffff, it will be a long vacation.” Alicia Díaz, a resident of the municipality of Playa and mother of an eight-year-old girl, felt slightly dizzy when she heard the head of Education, Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, announce on national television that the classrooms will not open until September, at the beginning of a new school year.

“Taking into account the epidemiological conditions, the need to evolve to an increasingly favorable state and the priority that students have for us, it is advisable to restart teaching activities in educational institutions from the month of September,” Velázquez said in front of the cameras.

Diaz is, in spite everything, among the parents who have best endured the difficult task of becoming teachers during quarantine, because her daughter, she says, is very responsible. continue reading

“My daughter gets up on her own and turns on the TV at class time. If she has any questions, she asks me and, of course, I always answer within my means. Also, we are lucky that her teacher has created a WhatsApp group to respond to all the concerns that arise along our way among the mothers of the classroom,” she tells 14ymedio.

Since the end of last March, when the classrooms closed to slow down the progress of Covid-19, parents, guardians and grandparents have assumed the task of maintaining the continuity of studies in most of the subjects at all levels of education with the support of teleclasses.

For Olga, who lives in a shelter in the Havana municipality of Plaza de la Revolución, the experience has been very different from Alicia’s. “My son is in seventh grade, he was following on the first days because I forced him to wake up early, but it became hell to get him to keep his attention on the television and I got tired, copying the directions for the work he has to complete and between the two of us we made some progress. What worries me the most is the mathematics, I see he is lost there and in that subject I cannot help him.”

According to her account, her son’s math teacher has telephoned all the mothers — the fathers are rarely engaged in these matters — to see if they have any doubts about homework or subjects, but she, “unfortunately,”  does not have a cell phone or a landline. “I wish I could communicate all the time with the teacher to clarify my doubts but no, I’m left with the doubt.”

Sitting a few meters away, on a patched and dirty wooden bench, a woman looks at Olga with a stern face and interrupts. “This has not been the same for everyone. I don’t know what you’re complaining about if your son is a saint and you just have one. I have to deal with my entire gang. I am about to shoot myself,” she says, pointing the two fingers of her right hand to her temple.

The woman gets up and unloads in a speech that leads three neighbors to look out the window. “You know tmine oare four: the little one, who is in third grade; the twins, who are in fifth grade; and the big one, who is in eighth grade. None of them have their heads in school right now and I am alone with them, I can’t multiply myself to watch all those Teleclases. At first I tried, but there are too many and my head can’t take it all in. Also, I don’t have time, because I also have to go out and fight for food. Right now, look at where everyone is,” she complains and points to the entrance to the shelter where the children gather around a speaking playing reggaetonat full volume.

The minister promised on TV on Tuesday that the teaching activities will continue for two more weeks through television channels, especially Educational and Tele Rebelde, and noted that the official website Cubaeduca and the application MiclaseTV host all the content that has been taught for free. But this is a Distant possibility for families with few resources.

“At the right time, students will also be able to enjoy a vacation period,” said Velázquez Cobiella, who added that the study plans for the 2020-2021 school year are already being modified.

A primary school teacher residing in Luyanó, who prefers to remain anonymous, says that she has the majority of her students “under control” via WhatsApp. “The Internet has been a great advantage in this situation. Every day there are Teleclases we talk in the group that I created about the directions that were given and the mothers can post their questions, some of which I have had to monitor by calling.

The latest coronavirus outbreaks detected in Havana keep the authorities on alert, with the numbers as of today including 2,119 cases and 83 deaths. Cuban PresidentMiguel Díaz-Canel noted that “although the country is already preparing the entire strategy for the recovery stage of Covid-19, it cannot be applied until we are very sure that there is exact control of the epidemic.” A long summer awaits the families, who already started it in March.

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

Bewilderment in the Streets of Central Havana

Some families have managed to avoid shortages in stores thanks to courier services that make food deliveries to their homes.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, May 28, 2020 — They haven’t seen each other for a long time. First they wave from across the street but then begin walking towards each other. Keeping their distance, the two friends exchange greetings by bumping elbows together. Without removing their face masks, they talk for a few minutes under the sun on San Lazaro Street.

A stroll through Central Havana reveals how many routines, both large and small, have changed since coronavirus arrived on the island.

“My daughter turns fifteen next year. She used to hate talking on the phone but now she spends all day glued to it, chatting with her friends,” says 45-year-old Alicia Pineda. This new pastime that her daughter has acquired since confinement began has translated into a heftier phone bill for Pineda. continue reading

In Central Habana it is normal to see older adults leaning out of doorways, trying to get some air or looking for a familiar face to say hello.

“The bill from Etesca usually isn’t more than 20 Cuban pesos but this month it was 114. I understand why. She’s very bored and misses going out and seeing the neighborhood boys. But I have been very strict with her. Since classes were cancelled, she hasn’t even been to the corner. I don’t have the luxury of one of us endng up in the hospital,” she explains.

The only things increasing are her expenses. Food, on the other hand, is shrinking. “Everything has become very difficult. Nobody helps out much around here. Most of the work load is on my shoulders. Since this pandemic began, we haven’t had meat on a daily basis, something that used to be a given for us,” she laments.

Alicia Pineda talks as she takes out the rationed beans she bought at the market. At the window sill, with the little light coming in from the terrace, she thinks about what else she can put on the table to feed her large family. Today she only has the beans and some ground meat which, she says, she can stretch over two or three meals.

“There’s no more rice now either. By this time of the month I always have to make ends meet by shopping on the free [unrationed] market but now there’s nothing to be found. People are obsessed with finding food and I cannot stand in line for five hours,” adds Pineda, who lives in a small apartment with her teenage daughter, her grandparents, two older aunts and three cousins. “And since nobody goes outside, we spend all day annoying each other, looking at each other’s faces. It’s unbearable.”

On the other side of the street two boys play by splashing a stagnant puddle with a stick. They are barefoot and neither of them wears a shirt or mask. The scene is out of the ordinary, more like an image from a pre-pandemic past.

“The boys haven’t handled the change of routine well. They used to spend the day playing in the park. That’s why I don’t say anything when they go outside,” says their mother, whose sons are five and eight.

“I was looking forward to going back to work once the little one started school in September. But suddenly everything changed and I didn’t even have time to look for a job. I’m stubborn. I spend the day washing, cooking, organizing, scrubbing. This has to end soon or I’m going to go crazy,” says the 26-year-old, exasperated after having her children at home twenty-four hours a day.

“But not everyone has it so bad,” she acknowledges. “My neighbor upstairs has family overseas who religiously send her remittances every month. Almost every day she orders food delivered to her door. Sometimes she pays for it here but other times her family pays it from over there. It’s great but I can’t afford that luxury. All day long you can see motorcycles from the businesses on this street coming and going.” Another example of how having a family overseas defines social class on the island.

Staying at home is not the same for everyone. Some families with as many as eight people live together under precarious conditions, in buildings on the verge of collapse. (14ymedio)

San Lazaro Street, normally abuzz with activity from cafes and small businesses, is now a desert. Only three places are still operating, though with some changes in routine. On Thursday one of them was offering a plate of pork liver with rice, vegetable and salad for 40 Cuban pesos. The same combination with chicken or pork was going for 50 and 60 pesos.

“We can’t let customers eat in here like before. Now we only sell takeout because we aren’t going to risk getting fined for helping spread the pandemic. And it’s not easy to get supplies either. We have to perform magic just to stay open. That’s why prices have gone up. We have to work twice as hard and spend more money to get the basic necessities or we would have to close,” notes one of the employees as he serves a customer a glass of mango juice.

A 50-year-old man approaches the counter, lowers his mask, looks left and right to make sure no one sees him without his face covering, and takes a sip of his juice. “Would anyone have told me I would be paying ten pesos for a glass of mango juice?” he asks.

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

Here You Have to Be on One Side of the Fence or the Other

The deputy director of the center warned the nurse that his opinions would prevent him from working at any other institution in the country because his ideas were “counterrevolutionary.” (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, May 22, 2020 — It has been three days since Pedro Ariel Garcia Rodriguez had to quit his job as a nurse at the National Institute of Oncology and Radiology. The 36-year-old asked to be discharged after being subjected to threats and pressure by administrators due to his Facebook posts.

“When I decided to go public, I turned to social networks because I didn’t have any other choice,” he tells 14ymedio. After losing his job, Garcia recorded a video explaining his situation and posted it on the networks. Within a few hours his words — calm but forceful — had found their way to several digital media websites.

The nurse decided to ask for time off after several meetings with superiors, who questioned his posts criticizing the Cuban system. Such reprimands have become increasingly common on the island since Legal Decree #370, which regulates content posted on the internet, took effect last year. continue reading

The first sign of trouble occured on Saturday, May 9, when he was summoned by the head of nursing and taken to see the hospital’s deputy director, Erasmo Gomez, who was joined by other employees serving as witnesses.

“Gomez pulled out a file and said the issue was about what I was posting on Facebook,” explains the young man. Among the evidence the official showed him was a meme with an image of Fidel Castro, which he described as “counter-revolutionary.” Garcia defended himself by invoking his right to freedom of expression.

“If I have the right to say ’down with imperialism’ and ’down with the embargo,’ why don’t I have the right to say that in Cuba many of our rights are being violated?” asks Garcia. But his reasoning was lost on Gómez, who has been described as a “white-collar repressor” because of threats he has made against other employees on previous occasions.

“Before this, they had told me they had the highest regard for me as a nurse and that my job performance was good,” recalls García, who regrets that this situation occurred in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, when there is an increased need for healthcare professionals.

The deputy director warned the nurse that his opinions would prevent him from working at any other institution in the country because his ideas were “counterrevolutionary,” a political dictat that threatens García’s career as well as his pursuit of a nursing degree. He now fears he will also lose the right to continue his studies.

Although none of those present at the meeting has been identified as a member of the secret police, Gomez indicated that State Security had given him the dossier with copies of the posts from Garcia’s Facebook account.

“That meeting was on a Saturday and they told me I should think about it over the weekend because I had to delete all those posts by Monday. I would also have to begin posting statements in praise of the Revolution and expressing my gratitude for its accomplishments,” Garcia states.

Garcia responded, however, that he would not obey the order. If they show me that something I have said is false, of course I will delete it,” he states. “I understand that making jokes about people who are dead and who have a connotation for the country can hurt the institute’s image. I understand that and I can delete it, but that’s it.”

But Garcia’s critical posts are not limited to memes about Castro. On his webpage he uses the word “dictatorship” to describe the Cuban system and also has characterized the country’s overseas medical missions as a form of “slave labor.”

“Here you have to be on one side of the fence or the other,” the deputy director told him at the end of the meeting. For a couple of days, the nurse thought everything “would remain as it was,” that it was just a warning. But last Wednesday, while on duty in intensive care, he was summoned to the nursing office.

“My wife works at the same place. The head of nursing told me that I was going to be investigated by a medical ethics council and, after that, I probably would not be able to keep working,” he says. “And since she is my partner, my wife would probably be investigated too.

His boss suggested that he not go before the ethics council, that he ask for a leave of absence and say that he has made this decision due to personal problems. “I did it to protect my wife.” says Garcia.

Garcia believes his career as a nurse is over for now. “At the moment I cannot file an official complaint at my workplace. The institute operates under government control. My only option is go to the Ministry of Health but right now everything is shut down,” he laments.

The young nurse does not regret having taken his case to social media. “I think the only way now to get them to react is through national and international and pressure. People should know about it. It should be made public. I’m not one to hide and remain silent, so for me it’s not a problem. That’s why I did the video.”

“I would like to restart my career but I stand by what I wrote in my posts. The system that they call socialism is not feasible for any society, much less for Cuba. We’ve been under it for a long time and people are very unhappy. ”

Although he has lost his job, he holds out hope: “Fortunately, Cubans are waking up; every day there are more of us.”

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

When the Medicine Deliveries Arrive, the Line Goes Crazy

A line outside the pharmacy on Estancia Street in Nuevo Vedado before police intervened. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, May 20, 2020 – The person in charge of the pharmacy on Estancia Street in Havana has moved the counter to the door to prevent coronavirus infections. But when the medicine delivery truck arrives, the people in line go mad and the police intervene to reestablish order.

“The problem is there aren’t many medications being delivered so everyone wants to be one of the first people in line. I got here early because, if I let others get in front of me, there won’t be anything left for me,” complains one of the ladies who waits her turn under the shadow of a tree.

The coronavirus crisis has garnered the full attention of health authorities in the past two months but the entire population must still deal with the usual health problems as the number of available drugs available in pharmacies has declined. Of the 757 basic products, most of them domesitically produced, 619 are considered high priority, so much so that Emilio Delgado Iznaga, director of Medications and Medical Technologies at the Ministry of Public Health, has declared that “they can never be in short supply.” continue reading

But the reality is quite different. “We were told that medications on the tarjetón [a ration card that indicates medications prescribed for each chronic illness] would always be available and they haven’t even been able to do that. Even worse is that they never provide an explanation. Now it’s as if their only concern is the coronavirus. But a lot of us live with different illnesses and can’t get the medications we need to treat them,” complains Lupe Aguirre, a resident of El Cerro, who has waited over four hours for medications to arrive at the corner pharmacy near her house.

There are shortages of tranquilizers, diuretics, and medications for hypertension. The same goes for antihistamines, antibiotics and most ointments.

“I have been here three times and haven’t been able to buy Enalapril [a medication for hypertension]. I don’t understand. I am supposed to be able to get it with my tarjetón. I don’t know why they don’t provide enough to meet the pharmacy’s demand. I am 79-years-old and I cannot walk all over Havana, from one place to another, especially now with all this coronavirus and no public transport,” adds Aguirre.

“These medications are supposed to always be available,” replies an 89-year-old woman who, after arriving the previous afternoon, is the first person in a line that extends for two blocks around the pharmacy.

There’s no permethrin [an insecticide] for example. It’s the same for scabies. There isn’t a single medication for it in any neighborhood pharmacy. I have been to a lot of them and nothing. My grandson spent three days in jail for a problem he had in a line with a policeman and he came down with scabies. I have had to give him baths of parthenium weed to see if it will cure him because there are no medicines for it in any pharmacy,” she says.

The problem is not limited to Havana, which is often better supplied that the rest of the country. Provinces such as Camaguey, Matanzas and Pinar del Rio are experiencing similar shortages.

“Medications arrive on Thursday and there are lines all day long because the medicines run out,” explains Camagüey resident Cecilia Hernandez. The 64-year-old arrives at dawn in order to get medications for herself and her husband. “There are months when we have not been able to get a single one of the medications we need for blood pressure so we have been making potions of mignonette and lime blossoms,” she sighs.

In Camagüey drugs such as aspirin have not been available for almost a year. “I have not been able to get it since August of last year,” Hernandez points out.

“At the moment there are more than eighty-four medications missing from the list of basic drugs,” explains a pharmacist from the province who prefers to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

“The supply of medicines that supposedly exists is greatly reduced. That’s why by the end of Thursday most of them have run out. On other days the pharmacies are just empty and the only thing we can tell customers is to try and come back next Thursday, when the next delivery arrives,” laments the pharmacist.

Among the most popular drugs are those that are dispensed through the ration card to patients with chronic diseases. According to official figures, in 2017 there were 2,246,799 elderly people of whom at least 80.6% required regular medical treatment.

Cecilia Hernández explains it this way: “The absence of these medicines directly affects our quality of life and forces us to live with ailments, pain and other symptoms that are bothersome and even dangerous to our health.”

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

LGBTI Activists Commemorate the First Anniversary of the Suppressed March

The May 11, 2019 march started peacefully but was suppressed by the security forces. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 11 May 2020 — The independent LGBTI community is not willing to forget what happened on May 11, 2019. That day, when the Government suppressed a peaceful march that they had organized on the Paseo del Prado in Havana, has become for Cuban activists the date they commemorate the fight against repression. That is why, from the first moment, they began to organize events for this 11 May which, due to the coronavirus, had to be converted into virtual events.

11M, one year after the march in Cuba is the forum arranged by a group of activists from Havana, and will begin at two in the afternoon and be broadcast through the Facebook page Dame le mano (Give me your hand). The forum aims to “reflect on what has been generated, in this time, in terms of public policies, social initiatives and the challenges that still persist for the Cuban LGBTI community.”

The group has called for comments in the virtual forum-debate from 1:00 in the afternoon with the hashtags #11M, #CubaDiversa and #LosDerechosNoSePlebiscitan (Rights are not subject to a plebiscite). continue reading

Jancel Moreno is one of the activists who participated in the 2019 march. On that day, he explains to 14ymedio, “the Cuban LGBTIQ Movement was born, because for the first time, it was possible to gather around 300 people, between LGBTI and allies, to demand our rights, to say ’Yes We Can’ and we want ’a Diverse Cuba’,” he explains.

A few hours after the event began, the activist denounced that “the page on which the celebration of the first anniversary of 11M was planned is missing from the networks. I cannot access it, and neither can the other people on the team. It is not even published in the search engine,” he regrets.

Around 9:00 in the morning, the Dame la Mano page was visible as this newspaper could verify, but an hour later the content appears to be not available.

Maykel González Vivero, director of the digital magazine Tremenda Nota, also participated in the march repressed on May 11.

“The activism that is working in Cuba today is organizing a virtual forum on the challenges facing the LGBTI community with a new Constitution, but without the right of association for groups that are already organized or equal marriage. These are the paradoxes of the LGBTI community: May 11 comes amid several controversies, such as those caused by Mariela Castro this week. The commemoration will be virtual because the epidemic requires it, but the LGBTI community seems determined to use the date to reflect and to build more spaces for debate,” he says.

From exile, the activist Yosmany Mayeta, called a virtual formum “in solidarity with that day,” which will feature the participation of the presenter Alex Otaola, the actor Roberto San Martín and the filmmaker Joe Cardona.

The May 11, 2019 march was a spontaneous reaction of rejection of the cancellation of the “annual conga against homophobia,” an official parade called by the National Center for Sexual Education led by the Mariela Castro, Raul Castro’s daughter and a deputy to the National Assembly of People’s Power.

The independent march managed to gather hundreds of participants on that occasion, but before being able to reach the Malecon it was dissolved by State Security officers and the police. At least seven people were violently detained and many of the participants were subsequently summoned and threatened in search of a suspected leader of the call to march. They were also derided by Mariela Castro, who called them “lackeys of mercenary activism” in statements released by the entire official press.

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

The Business of Managing Lines Thrives in Pandemic Time in Cuba

Before nine in the morning, an employee had already distributed the first 60 numbers in line, an hour later she would distribute 60 more and that would be all. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 28 April 2020 — In front of the El Danubio store in El Vedado, the line stretches along 26th Avenue, turns the corner at 25th Street, and stretches for almost two blocks. The routine in the time of coronavirus continues to be marked by lines, for cooking oil, for soap, detergent and, today, for chicken. Two oacks of thighs per person.

Police and plainclothes officers checked that everyone wore their masks correctly and kept a distance of at least one meter between them. In the midst of all this deployment Maura, roughly 60 years old, moves with great discretion, offering her services.

“I have 5, 15, 27, 41 and 59”, the woman whispers, explaining that numbers between one and thirty are at 2 CUC and those between thirty and sixty are at 1 CUC. They are not numbers for the lotto, they are tickets to have a good position in the line to enter the store. continue reading

By half past nine she had already sold all the turns he had taken thanks to her management starting at six in the morning. “I come with a friend to be able to take more places in line and sell them, I mark a place in line 10 or 12 times and she does the same,” she adds before continuing on her way.

Before nine in the morning, an employee had already distributed the first 60 numbers in line, an hour later she would distribute 60 more and that would be all. “Go and tell the official that the chicken I have left is what is in the fridge, and don’t give out any more tickets. If people want to stand in line, they can, but this will be the end of it.”

In the line they say that since Saturday people were coming to the store trying to buy chicken but they had to go home empty-handed even though there was chicken in the fridges.

“It sucks. I came on Saturday and to our faces the employees told us that, on orders from above, the sale of chicken had been prohibited on weekends and that we should wait until Monday,” says one of the unfortunates who did not get a number. “That is why so many people have come today and there is this deployment of police. All they told us was a lie or a very large disinformation because on Sunday they sold chicken here.”

Also in the line — in addition to those making a business of it — are those who do it “for solidarity.” (14ymedio)

Every now and then a patrol passes by with its loudspeakers to repeat the official instructions and to scold the violators. “The gentleman in the green pullover please put your facemask on correctly,” they repeatedly warned a man trying to smoke a cigar while waiting in line to buy chicken.

Also in the line — in addition to those making a business of it — are those who do it “for solidarity,” or at least that is what a group of three women say who haven’t stopped talking during the three hours they have been waiting.

“In my block, mothers have always been helping each other since this started. We let each other know when they put out something we need and we rotated turns to stand in line. Today it was my turn to rest, my neighbor came who marked a place for herself and three others, and I arrived fresh at half past nine but she had been there from seven and we managed to catch numbers in the second round,” one of them answered when asked how she can get supplies in the midst of this situation of isolation and scarcity.

In the line several old women wait their turn, some with priority to buy. A lady with a cane approaches the entrance and everyone lets her through and helps her down the stairs. “Do you live alone?” asks the officer who guards the entrance to the market. She answers yes, shows the ration book she is holding and recites her address. “Come in, ma’am, come in,” says the officer.

Once inside, the old woman takes out all her money, two 20-peso bills, to pay for a package of chicken that costs about 60 pesos. Disoriented, she asks for a smaller package but her 40 CUP is not enough for any. An employee searches the fridge and, after removing all the bags, finds an open one and sets aside four thighs. They add 34 pesos. Happy, the lady thanks the young man and leaves the store leaning on her cane.

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

Argentine Tourists Have Been Relocated to the Habana Libre and the Neptune-Triton Hotels

The Tulipán Hotel now is destined for Cuban health care workers who take part in international missions. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, April 21, 2020 – Some of the Argentine tourists who put up in the Tulipán Hotel in the Capital have, as of this Sunday, a new residence at the Tryp Habana Libre, if they can pay between 30 and 40 dollars US for a room, a price very much below the usual rate of 145 dollars.

If this is not possible, the travelers must declare themselves indigent and fill out a sworn statement in order to be transferred to the Hotel Neptuno-Tritón, in which case the Argentine government itself will assume the costs.

Until the end of this past week, the Tulipán sheltered a group of 195 sojourners from the South American country who found themselves stranded in the Island with the closing of air space of both nations, but the authorities have proceeded with the emptying-out and disinfecting of the hotel for its incorporation into the National Health System. continue reading

“We were told they were sending doctors from the brigades that are being sent abroad so that they could stay a few days before traveling. I understood it was a sort of quarantine,” a worker at the Hotel Tulipán reported to our paper. “Here we disinfected over the weekend and already are ready to receive them.”

During recent weeks it came to be somewhat usual to see the Argentine group in the areas of greenery around the establishment where they spent the hours doing exercises or playing soccer.

In an interview with Notícias around the end of March, Javier Figueroa, Argentine ambassador to Cuba, counted about 900 of his countrymen who found themselves trapped on the Island. “We are looking into special flights. The entry is forbidden, but not the exit from the Island,” he said.

The Embassy has announced the departure of a flight of Copa airlines for this Thursday. It’s the fourth chartered airplane for Argentines leaving Cuba, but there yet remain at least 400 more persons, an employee of the Embassy in Havana told 14ymedio.

The departure criteria the authorities have put together favor persons with greater clinical or epidemiological risk. “We know […] that there are people on medication and who have pathologies that put them at risk. These will be the absolute priority.”

The Argentine embassy has been providing information via its social media in which it has received various criticisms and complaints of families concerned about the slowness of the operation. The delegation defended itself, affirming that half already have been repatriated and the remainder were being “sheltered with food and all the medicines that can be had.”

Others have objected over these transfers which they consider to represent lack of prevention, in the context of present circumstances. “I’m in Cuba, my children are there in Cuba. They travelled well before the quarantine and are marooned there by necessity, under force majeure, due to the pandemic. They are workers who can’t afford to pay what you all propose […] it’s an obligation to care for and protect all of them and not to commit such a foul-up.”

The ambassador has rejected the criticisms and updated the situation of the Argentines who still are on the Island. “I am not going to accept talking about a ‘foul-up’. The State has evacuated 650 persons; another 156 are leaving this Thursday. No one is in the street. No one has been infected. No one has had a medical emergency, nor has been admitted to a hospital.”

Translated by: Pedro Antonio Gallet Gobin

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

Havana Dawns Without Transport

There is calm at the stop in Boyeros and Tulipán on the first day when buses operate only for essential workers. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana | 14 April 2020 — It is nine o’clock in the morning and the nurse, in her impeccable white uniform, has been waiting since half-past six for transport to take her to work at the hospital.

“This is awful today. I’m at this stop trying to get to the hospital, but nothing,” she says as she waits on Boyeros Avenue. Despite being one of the people whose travel is prioritized, there is no doubt that today she will be late for work.

“The thing is, nothing was coordinated on Sunday and this Monday we did not know how to get around. I hope this improves,” she says. In a few minutes she sees an ambulance and beckons to it in the hope that it will stop and take her to her destination, or at least leave her close, but the vehicle goes in another direction and drives off without being able to carry her. continue reading

Last Thursday, the authorities announced the closure of urban public transport to curb the spread of the coronavirus, which is already spreading through community transmission in Cuba. The Minister of Transportation, Eduardo Rodríguez Dávila, indicated that only workers from prioritized activities could access the vehicles through an identification mechanism, but on the first day it did not work well.

Some, like Luis Cañizares, who was waiting a few yards from the nurse, seemed to have misunderstood the measure. “I live with my mother, but I take care of my aunt who is very ill and lives alone in Playa. From here it is impossible to go direct so I must get to El Vedado first, but nothing has happened. On television they warned us about it but never I thought it was so general,” this resident of Plaza de la Revolución tells 14ymedio. “What happens is that she needs me because she is very old and sick and cannot go out shopping,” he insists.

After waiting almost three hours, the nurse manages to get on a bus from the Transmetro line that serves a hospital and stops to pick her up. Although Cañizares tries to convince the driver he has good reason to travel, the driver explains that he is only allowed to pick up the identified medical personnel.

“Then they talk about solidarity, but it wouldn’t cost him anything to take me. The bus was empty, there were only about five people. I don’t understand why they paralyze everything like this, there are people who need to move and Havana is a big city,” he protests.

Urban transport has been suspended as of Monday (14ymedio)

In addition to urban and intercity transport, both public and private, the authorities have also suspended the extra capacity provided by state vehicles at the stops that it regulated since last September, where they were ordered to contribute to carrying bus passengers in the context of crisis that the Government defined as a “temporary situation.”

The Transport Minister noted this Monday in the state-run newspaper Granma that the measures do not affect private vehicles, which can continue to circulate for “the essential and without overcrowding.” In addition, he explained that services related to mobility, such as racing and management of passengers at taxi stops, are also suspended. “The suspension has been carried out ex officio, so that the workers do not need to carry out any formalities,” he clarified.

At the Cerro y Boyeros stop, one of the busiest in the capital, there was also calm. Only about five people waited under the concrete roof, avoiding catching the sun rays that were already heating the asphalt. “We have been here for two hours and nothing. I cannot stay at home, I must go see my husband in the Cardiology Institute where he is admitted, and here I am with my son who accompanies me but neither a private car nor a bus has passed, nothing at all, we are desperate now,” says Carmen, a 67-year-old from Havana.

Mayra, 43, a teacher, also waits at the bus stop, hidden under a tree, fanning herself while waiting for a miracle. “I think I’m already walking, I’ve been at this stop for two hours waiting for something to get me out of here and it’s just for fun.”

Although the schools closed, Mayra must stand guard at her teaching center, but the transportation that should be guaranteed does not pass. “I wpon’t head out for guard duty any more if they don’t come and get me at my house,” she says annoyed, as she walks off in the sun.

In the Fajardo hospital the machinery is still greased to move health personnel every day. “They have put on three buses and three fixed-route taxis for us but the itineraries are still being adjusted,” an employee of the health center, who preferred anonymity, tells this newspaper.

The Transport Minister has already warned that “accommodations” will be made daily to avoid that the essential activities that must be carried out every day are harmed. There is no other option if they want to avoid having doctors arrive hours late to hospitals. And in the midst of a pandemic.

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

"We Are Going to Get in Line, But They Have to Stock the Shelves," Demand the Customers

Everyone in the long line has a piece of cloth on their face, but few keep the required distance. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 11 April 2020 —  “I’m not leaving here until I buy something,” said a woman in a categorical tone outside a Havana store. The official announcement that as of Saturday commercial centers would be closed and public transport cancelled unleashed an avalanche of buyers trying to get food ahead of time, in the midst of a Good Friday marked more by anxiety than spiritual retreat.

“It doesn’t matter if it is ground meat, hamburger or chicken, but I have to get out of here with something in my hands, because in my house there is nothing to eat,” the lady repeated when uncertainty ran through the line. “No, no one knows, they have not yet opened and nobody knows what is inside,” one man explained to the curious who were passing by asking what products were for sale at this store in El Cerro. continue reading

The confusion marked a whole day that, since 2014, has been a holiday in Cuba; after the visit of Pope Pope Benedict XVI to the Island, the authorities decreed Good Friday a holiday. The tradition of spending the day with family has been recovering little by little after decades of strict atheism, but given the advance of the coronavirus, people have preferred to seek basic products.

The unease, the crowds and even the fights were not exclusive to the most populated neighborhoods of the Cuban capital. Even in the quiet of Nuevo Vedado, in the Plaza of the Revolution municipality, a line stretched out in front of each store, a scene that is not unusual on the Island but that, in recent weeks, has become even more common.

Faced with the call of the authorities to maintain discipline in the ranks, avoid physical contact and not fall into alarmism, the response of many Cubans has been to demand a better supply in the network of state stores, so that the shortages won’t trigger anxiety and an “each man for himself” atmosphere. But the national economy is far from being able to satisfy that demand.

In a curve of Tulipán street a tumult was set off this Friday while a policeman tried ineffectually to keep a distance of one and a half meters between the customers. (14ymedio)

In a curve of Tulipán street, next to 26th avenue, a tumult was set off  this Friday while a policeman tried ineffectually to keep a distance of one and a half meters between customers. “This is not going to be the same relaxed approach as yesterday; they have to separate even if the line streteches to Boyeros,” said the officer, pointing to the next avenue more than 300 meters from the site.

“We are going to stand in line but they have to stock the shelves,” shouted a man in a blue sports cap with “Cuba” printed on it, responding to the police. “We can get to a meter and a half, wear the facemasks, not scream, not riot, but what is the use if when we manage to get inside there is nothing,” he added. “People are like this because they don’t know what they are going to eat tomorrow.”

“Right now you cannot make purchases to last for a month because in the stores everything is rationed to two products per person. They tell us to stay home but every three days you have to take the street,” Eduardo Antonio told 14ymedio, after having arrived to stand in line at six in the morning.

“The stores are bare, this line here is to buy chicken but it has not yet arrived. The clerk says that they are waiting for the truck that supplies it, but itcould come at noon or at three in the afternoon,” added the man, speaking at half past nine in the morning. Everyone in the long line has a piece of cloth on their faces, but few keep their distance.

A market employee explained to this newspaper that they were only planning to open to the public once the chicken arrived. “Today, only meat will be sold,” he warned anxious buyers, a decision that generated widespread discomfort for customers, especially those who were looking for canned preserves, pasta or cereals.

“I just want to buy vinegar and mayonnaise, why won’t they sell me what I need when I’ve been in this line for hours,” one woman demanded. The employee just managed to shrug. “Right now, when the chicken arrives, they could sell the other products they have there, but no, here we are always going to extremes, it is not easy,” said the customers.

A few meters from the store, an agricultural market sold tomatoes, onions, chili peppers, mangoes, beans, and bananas. (14ymedio)

A few meters from the store, an agricultural market sold tomatoes, onions, chili peppers, mangoes, beans, and bananas. With a line of only eight people, the place has closed its platform for selling meat products more than a week ago because the cost of a pound of pork has exploded with the pandemic and the imposition of prices caps a year ago prevents producers from selling their merchandise at higher rates.

“They will never see me in that line for the chicken,” says a young woman who waits to get some vegetables. “I prefer to eat rice with vegetables and a plate of beans rather than waste five hours of my life in one of those lines and get sick.” Before entering the store, each buyer must wash their hands with a mixture of water and chlorine.

A few meters away, there is another long line in front of a small store. In the midst of the noise, a scream is heard. “Get out of the way, a foreigner is going to leave, I don’t know how that man got in here,” repeats an employee, while in line there are those who roll their eyes and some run away*. An opportunity that others take advantage of to enter the market, where in the fridges there is only turkey hash from Canada.

*Translator’s note: Foreigners are particularly suspect as possible carriers of Covid-19, as the first known case in Cuba was a tourist.

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

The Artist Alcantara Again Sparks Controversy by Auctioning the Flag of his ‘Performance’

The artist carried flag, which bears his signature, like a ’second skin’ for a whole month. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 23 March 2020 — Just one week after his release, the controversy has returned to the work of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, who announced the auction of the flag that starred in Drapeau, the performance for which the Government accuses him of the crime of “insult to the national symbols.” This flag bears the signature of the artist, who carried it “as a second skin” for a whole month.

“Next Wednesday at 3:00 pm Cuba time, I will auction the flag used in the Drapeau performance. The money will be donated to the Cuban State, in the figure of the President of the Republic, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, to confront the coronavirus pandemic,” the artist posted on his Facebook page.

The auction, Otero Alcántara clarifies, will be and the money will be delivered to the Central Committee of the Party. continue reading

“Is anyone aware that 4% of the population will die?” he asked in the middle of a discussion between advocates of the idea of the auction and those who oppose the money going to the government.

Otero Alcántara explained to 14ymedio that this is a symbolic gesture.

“It is a work of art, it is very easy right now for me to say on social networks that I am going to give the money to an old man, but the dialogue that I am interested in opening is in another direction and with another dimension, and suggests that it is the regime that has the solution in their hands. That of playing the hero artist who can go out and help does not work now. We are contaminating and contaminated, the idea is to open our minds and point out that the regime has to take responsibility and they can’t leave us alone.”

Otero Alcántara believes that no matter how much money he earns, it will be trivial in the face of the pandemic. “I want to help resolve this and not discuss whether the regime is good or bad. These are times when we all have to hold ourselves accountable.  The only one that has absolute power now is the system, the only one that has the power to bring a boat with medical supplies or a shipment of facemasks to Cuba is the system. This is not a tornado that happened and left you homeless, it is a pandemic, what is happening is that there are still many Cubans who are not aware of how serious this is,” he adds.

Official voices such as Deputy Minister Fernando Rojas or cultural promoter Alexis Triana have attacked Otero Alcántara for this initiative.

“Those interested in harming us who take advantage of the moment to attack the Cuban Government from sites paid by the United States, will make the news of this clear provocation. It is a time to not listen to them and to condemn them. Every decent person must support the Cuban Government and work for health of all,” Rojas wrote on Twitter referring to the auction.

For his part, Triana condemned the artist calling hima “sewer rat.” “Every patriot must denounce this baseness to the world. If he dared in analog, he would receive once and for all from the people what he deserved.”

Nor did Deputy Raúl Palmero did not waste the opportunity to attack the artist: “And while Cuba as a whole fights against Covid-19 and offers the world its solidarity, this court jester comes up with the ’brilliant’ idea of auctioning our flag,” a message accompanied with the hashtag #RespetaMiBandera (RespectMyFlag) #CiberChusma (CyberRiffraff).

The vice president of the Union of Artists and Writers of Cuba (Uneac), Pedro de la Hoz, also condemned the auction.

“The flag is sacred. (…) To prosper with it is an act of infinite baseness. Auctioning it under the pretext of false altruism becomes an act of infinite vileness. None of this has to do with art. To be an artist is to be Ethically responsible. If someone does not understand, respect.”

Otero Alcántara has two pending trials for the crimes of “property damage” and “insult against the national symbols,” which have been postponed without adate due to the “crisis” that the country is experiencing, according to the artist’s lawyer speaking last week.

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

In the Face of the Authorities’ Inaction, Cubans Mobilize Themselves Against Coronavirus

“Closed.” Many private restaurants have closed their doors in face of the arrival of coronavirus in Cuba. (Tripadvisor)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, March 20, 2020* — In front of the television screen, Cubans watch the days pass by without authorities ordering the closing of the borders, the suspension of classes, or more strict measures of quarantine. While life seems to continue at its normal rhythm on the Island, many citizens and private businesses are beginning to take measures themselves in face of the inaction of the Government.

According to the official toll, 16 people*, including a deceased Italian tourist, have tested positive for COVID-19, and authorities continue to opt for a series of preventative measures without closing the borders, as various countries have done. The calls for calm continue in official media, which blame social media for generating an unnecessary “alarmism.”

Faced with the apparent normality in the discourse transmitted by television and radio, social media has turned into a hotbed of complaints and reports. In a country where the majority of the population distrusts official statistics, which for decades have been systematically massaged, many place more trust in the information about alleged contagions that arrive from various points of the Island. continue reading

Worry is spreading and various private businesses have locked up until the crisis lessens. “We are not offering services, we are sorry for the inconvenience,” read a sign in a centrally-located private restaurant in Old Havana this Thursday. The famous restaurant La Guarida also preventatively closed, but state-owned cafes and restaurants remain open to the public.

“We are not going in the direction of closing and they don’t allow us to use face masks,” an employee of Plaza de Carlos III who sells pizzas and sandwiches on the ground floor of that crowded market tells this newspaper. “They have told us that we must report it if we don’t feel well, but there is a lot of fear among the employees.”

Among the workers they have bought bleach, some soap, and prepared liquid in a bottle to keep their hands clean. “We take turns going to the bathroom and washing well,” explains the employee. “My sister works at La Covadonga hospital and is in the same situation, whatever they have to protect themselves, they have to bring themselves.”

For their part, medical students have been organized to carry out investigations house by house. “Here one came asking how many people live here and if anyone had had a fever or sore throat,” a resident in a multifamily building in Nuevo Vedado told 14ymedio. “We answered him through the door, because we don’t want to risk opening and getting infected.”

These students must bring their own protection equipment. One video that has gone viral on social media shows a strict professor of medicine demanding a student remove a face mask during an “orientation” meeting. In the video, made on a mobile phone, various young people can be heard protesting: “Don’t take it off, don’t listen to him.”

Some of the few face masks seen on the streets are sold on the black market, but Cuban “mules” — those who travel to other countries and bring back goods — have received a hard blow with the crisis. Some of their favorite destinations, Panama, the United States, and the Dominican Republic, have closed their borders or restricted flights. The constant flow of merchandise that was arriving with these small dealers for the informal market has been drastically reduced and it is beginning to be noticed.

“The vitamins, masks, nutritional products, and all the hygiene products that I brought in February really flew like crazy,” a Cuban from Villa Clara who traveled to the Panamanian area of Colon last month to make purchases tells this newspaper. “Just in time because it seems I won’t be able to return for several weeks.”

Those who have contact with friends and family in Italy and Spain seem to be the ones who best understand the danger. The musician Luis Barbería, who lived for a time in Madrid, shared a photo of an enormous line this Thursday on the corner of Villuendas park in Cienfuegos: “The entire world is in quarantine and Cubans are like this. We believe ourselves amazing and that we can do everything, just by being Cuban. Tell me?”

But the lines are not the only dangerous scenario. A recent study details how long the virus can live on different surfaces and it can remain for four hours on copper, which is present in many Cuban coins. In a “cash society” where the majority of customers do not have a credit card to make purchases, metal money is essential.

In the state-owned stores, which until recently only used convertible pesos but now also accept national pesos, coins of 5, 10, and 25 centavos are often used to pay and give change. Until now, no warning in these places counsels maximizing precautions with metallic money and no cashier wears a mask.

This Thursday on an urban bus the driver was wearing a piece of a condom on the thumb with which he counts bills but the coins were falling directly into his hand. Some passengers were getting onto the bus with an ice cream, others warmly conversing but without maintaining distance between their bodies, a pipe dream on a traditionally packed public transit.

The travelers, rather than worried, seemed imbued with a strange “mysticism of immunity” that the official media has contributed to propagating. A widely shared caricature shows a woman dressed as a nurse hitting the virus with a bat to send it far away. There are those who still believe that the disease, like a feared and capricious hurricane, will change its route and go far away from the Island. But they are fewer and fewer.

*Translator’s note: This translation is being posted 4 days after the article was originally written. As of the date of this translation, 23 March, the confirmed number is 40.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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

Concerts, Movies and Museums Without Leaving Home

Chucho Valdés plays the piano for his Facebook followers after canceling a public performance. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 18 March 2020 — The coronavirus is arriving in Cuba behind Europe and the US, but with ten people now infected the concern begins to grow. The cultural sector is one of the areas most suffering worldwide, with the suspension of collective events. Concerts, premieres, theatrical performances, museums… all the pieces have been falling internationally and have even reached Cuba, which, in the absence of more far-reaching measures, has indeed canceled cultural leisure activities until further notice.

Cuban artists, like their colleagues in dozens of countries, are suffering the consequences of the pandemic directly, but they have learned from others that music, cinema or any other art can go ahead from home to ease the harshness of the measures of isolation, some imposed and others, as on the island, assumed individually as an exercise of responsibility.

The path in Latin America was forged globally by the Colombian Juanes and the Spaniard Alejandro Sanz, who last Sunday offered a concert from Sanz’s home in Madrid, which was broadcast through his YouTube channel. continue reading

This Tuesday, the pianist Chucho Valdés did the same on his Facebook page through a live broadcast of a recital, after having to cancel his international appearances.

“We have canceled all the tours we had lined up for the coming spring, and it occurs to me that we may never part ways with technology,” said the artist.

“I am going to dedicate a mini-recital to you with much affection and love, always with the hope that everything will normalize, but the connection with music and many other things will be maintained, especially love and hope that everything will pass, as storms sometimes do,” he added.

With such popular faces starting these kinds of initiatives, many have been inspired to continue them and accede to the global request to stay home as a method to reduce the brutal growth in the number of infections of the coronavirus, far superior to other similar ones that preceded it, like the flu or N1H1.

A group of filmmakers has already launched a project that they have called Cuban Cinema in Quarantine and that offers some of the national classics and many independent films through streaming. The creators will broadcast films that were on the professional video platform Vimeo through their Facebook pages, along with some royalty-free films.

“Let’s help viewers discover our films in this period of seclusion and isolation. No matter the year of production, the length of the footage, the genre or the format. Communicate privately!” The promoters of the page announced.

The titles they have already begun to share include the classic documentary Coffea arabiga, by Nicolás Guillén Landrián; Reflexiones, by Yimit Ramírez and Laura Tariche, which won the award for Best Animation in the 9th edition of the Young Filmmakers Exhinition; Qué remedio? La parranda, , by Daniela Muñoz Barroso, which addresses the theme of the popular Remedios fiesta; El proyecto, by Alejandro Alonso and Tierra roja, by Heidi Hassan. Filmmaker Fausto Canel also shared Desarraigo, his first film.

On Instagram, a group of artists is organizing to launch the Tunturuntu pa’tu casa festival, with the idea of raising awareness of the importance of seclusion to control the spread of Covid-19.

“We want to bring home to each one of you the benefits of music and culture, in these circumstances,” said the statement, shared by actress Alicia Hechavarría. The concerts will be performed live from the profiles of the artists proposed by the festival participants. “Leave us your comments in the comment section and don’t forget to tag your favorite artist to join this festival,” invite the organizers.

Another who has joined is the writer Ariel Maceo, who will start a reading club with other colleagues through a WhatsApp group. “There I am going to upload audios with my texts and those of other authors that readers ask of me,” the author tells 14ymedio.

To better pass the time of the “retreat at this challenging time,” the artist Reynier (Chino) Leyva Novo has launched the project: Nice to meet you. Don’t touch me. “I am going to design a business card for anyone who wants to for free with the condition that they do not print it. It can only be shared through social networks,” he explains.

Another musician who joined the virtual initiative was the troubadour Ray Fernández who, from his Facebook page, announced: I’m going live from home! Tuntun at home *Uncensored*.

In Italy and Spain, where the propagation figures have been high for days and confinement measures have been imposed for more than a week, this type of initiative has multiplied. Not only among artists but also among cooks who make healthy recipes, athletes who organize online sessions against the sedentary lifestyle of isolation, storytelling for children who aren’t in school… there are beginning to be more online activities than those affected can take on.

But the connectivity limitations of the Island open an uncertain panorama, especially for the elderly, the first group which the authorities around the world are asking to seclude themselves, due to their increased risk of contagion and the lethality of the disease for those over 65. This group risks significant loneliness without contact with loved ones that can facilitated with technology, but technology that is expensive and scarce in Cuba.

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

‘Tips’ From Cuban State Security for a ’14ymedio’ Reporter

Luz Escobar is “regulated” and must remain in her house when State Security believes there is an important even in Cuba. (El Estornudo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 27 February 2020 — Citations from Cuba’s Ministry of Interior always leave many questions. What will it be for now? What do they want from me? What do I do when I face them? What to answer, what not to answer? Yes, because there are accusations it is better not to respond to, not to offend, such as when they insist that we independent journalists work “for four pesos,” not like members of State Security who do so for the love of their country.

This time there were two officers, but only one spoke while the other pointed to his schedule. I have never felt obliged to describe one of these individuals before but this time it is very necessary. I look into his eyes when he speaks and he holds his gaze, he is thin, of medium height and has a face like thousands. He dresses correctly, well ironed shirt, polished shoes and wears a commitment ring on his ring finger.

I see conviction in everything he expresses and note, in every word he says, his hours of study and preparation. He smiles when he feels it necessary, he seems sincere — or so he wants to be perceived. continue reading

For almost two hours I listened in silence to his opinions about the journalistic work of the media that he called “alternative,” along with his recommendations on what is the best way to do journalism in today’s Cuba. He says that I prepare well for these interrogations because “I always have the same attitude.” He does a bit of theater and tries to imitate me: “I don’t know what’s wrong with the work I do, I think it’s very necessary,” he said, putting on a high-pitched feminine voice.

However, after the friendliest start they went on to show their arsenal. The weapons they have against us, the independent journalists who work in the field, were put on the table, all shown one by one, sharpened there, in front of my face. He spoke first of Decree Law 370, then about a regulation “related to behavior on public roads,” and, finally, of the ‘usurpation of legal capacity’*, “because you are not a journalist because of the many courses you have passed,” he told me.

The official, who identified himself as Jorge, once again questioned my presence at the march of the LGBTI community last May 11 in Central Park, “the impact” of the publications I post to on the networks, some of the articles I write for 14ymedio and even my daring to “violate a security cordon” when the Spanish royals visited Havana.

He also explained to me that it is not correct to make audio recordings or take images of the cordons they establish to prevent me from leaving my house when there is “an important date” so that I cannot “influence,” and so that the activities and celebrations they organize can be carried out in peace “for the enjoyment of the people.”

That I must think of my two daughters “who have a future ahead of them” and also of my father.

In a flash he reiterated an old proposal: the “ideal” would be for me to ask permission every time I want to go out to practice journalism; my life would become a paradise in which I would not lack anything and I would have a lot of tranquility.

The real objective of the conversation was that: let’s reach an agreement so your daughters and your father will be safe. They assure me that I don’t have to give up my principles, as if my freedom were negotiable.

In 14ymedio topics are discussed, discussed, taken to the editorial board. Nobody dictates an agenda as this officer asserts without blinking. He was very critical of the newspaper’s editorial line because he says it responds to the interests of a “change of government” in Cuba.

When I get home, my daughters are waiting for me, hungry. I look at them without saying anything and I wonder if what I do is good or bad for them. So they can sleep peacefully, I don’t tell them anything about that conversation. I don’t want to disturb them with the evil that is on the other side.

*Translator’s note: “Usurpation of legal capacity” is the term used by the Cuban government to define the criminal act of practicing a profession one is not officially licensed to practice.

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

A Year After Tornado in Cuba, Luyano Residents Still Swallowing Dust

In the street to the side of the church that lost its belltower, kids play volleyball, raising lots of dust. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, January 26, 2020 — First it was necessary to see everything. To walk through Mangos, Pedro Perna, San Luis, Quiroga, Melones, Reyes. All those streets of Luyano which, a year ago, showed a scene of terror after a tornado passed through on the night of January 27. Later, returning the same way, to see every new house that has been raised with its tin doors and windows and others still under construction.

Never before had a tornado been seen there. Twelve months have passed and the little kiosk where newspapers are sold is now again in its place.

In the street to the side of the church that lost its belltower, kids play volleyball, raising lots of dust. Some are in the shade, making fun of a girl and laughing like crazy, while others, under the sun, smack the ball. A year ago no one was laughing or playing in these streets. People would walk up and down without knowing what to do, with anguish and desperation painted on their faces. continue reading

In the street to the side of the church that lost its belltower, kids play volleyball, raising lots of dust. (14ymedio)

Yes, the dust is still lying on the ground, and the rubble, and pieces of beams, old buildings. From the wooden house that broke in two that day there is now no more than a lot full of stones and some wood. Beside it an identical house survived, with two of its inhabitants seated at the front door, drinking coffee and answering. “Yes, of course, we remember it well, how could we not remember that day? It seemed like an airplane was landing at our door. Since that day here everyone has been doomed to swallow dust,” one affirms.

An older man, resident of the block, remembers that when he was a boy something similar happened in Bejucal. “It was December 26, 1940. I remember it well because my second brother was born that day and my mother was very scared because of the news.”

On Calle San Luis, between Remedios and Quiroga, the hustle and bustle of a construction crew interrupts the street. Mounds of sand and other materials accumulate in piles in front of houses. In a walkway at the back a group of builders cuts pipes, sifts sand, or eats lunch. For all of the residents around here they are: “the brigade.”

A brigade of builders has been working for months on Calle San Luis but work is advancing slowly because often there is no fuel to bring in the workers. (14ymedio)

One woman, with a scarf on her head, brings coffee to the men and explains that “on that day” she wasn’t in her house. “I had stayed with my mother. When I arrived was when I saw the destruction. A column came down and the wall over there of the room as well,” she says.

When in Luyano someone says “that day” everyone knows that they are talking about the night of January 27, 2019.

“Here there wasn’t any subsidy or anything, it’s this brigade that you see working there that is repairing everything and they bring what is needed. They began a while ago, but it was about two months ago that they began to make progress. They already did my bathroom, now I’m waiting for the water installation, and in the room they only have part of the brickwork left to do, the roof is like new,” she said.

After the tornado the Government sent construction crews and cooperatives to rebuild the houses and buildings affected in addition to reconfiguring state owned places to serve as housing. In many cases subsidies were given to the victims to pay for the construction work and they were given discounts on prices of construction materials.

Calle San Luis is full of construction materials, on the sidewalk some young people listen to loud music while builders come and go in their work. (14ymedio)

The head of the San Luis crew explains that “everything is going well” with the work but that sometimes “the work becomes a little difficult because now there is no fuel to bring the workers each day, sometimes not even enough fuel to bring lunch or materials.”

Outside, on the sidewalk, a young woman dragging a carriage with her baby explains that her patience has run out. “I got tired of waiting, because I wasn’t seeing that they were making progress, so I moved. I come to take a walk here because all my friends are here,” she says, seated beside some young people listening to a loud reggaeton song that repeats “bebesita” again and again while she rocks the carriage without ceasing. She seems nervous. She says that she also had to leave because her daughter was getting sick a lot from all the dust.

There are things that don’t change. In the Luyano bakery the line to buy bread is almost the same as on that day.

The school on Pedro Perna street was made new, almost unrecognizable. “On this street they have given new homes to many people, some have come out winners and now they live better than before, their little houses here were really bad. Others are still waiting for construction to finish,” says a gentleman who, from his doorway, speaks with everyone passing by. Walls of yellow, blue, pink, green, all recently painted. Many houses still have bare walls, in others they are still laying bricks or putting up the framework.

It was night when the tornado came, so few people could see it. What everyone does remember is the fear that it brought to the people. “I couldn’t see anything, but from the booms it seemed like the world was coming down, horrible. I got under the little kitchen table, I was really scared, nobody had seen anything like it,” he adds.

Caption 5: A year after the tornado passed through Havana, many are still raising their houses from the foundations, others repair, while others already have new homes. (14ymedio)

The tornado wasn’t a small thing. It reached F-4 on the Fujita scale (winds of 300 kilometers per hour, equivalent to a category 5 hurricane) and its passing affected the municipalities of 10 de Octubre, El Cerro, Regla, Guanabacoa, and part of East Havana. According to official data there were seven fatalities and more than 200 who suffered injuries. More than 1,600 trees fell in the devastated area and 7,761 homes were affected, of which 730 were totally collapsed and others partially.

At dawn on January 28 in the street, hundreds of electricity and telephone posts were on the ground, one thing atop another, everything mixed together. Cars were upside down and crushed after turning over in the street.

Many doors and windows were also pulled out and water tanks flew like birds. The air column ended up dragging the weakest buildings like small kiosks and makeshift houses, as well as fences and traffic signs.

A year ago nothing else was talked about in Havana. In face of the horror many people mobilized to help those who had lost everything. House by house they came, giving the little they had: water, food, clothing, coats.

There are few photos and no video of that tornado. A security camera was able to capture part of its route and thus many were able to put a face on the horror they experienced that night. Social media was filled with questions that night, some sharing their first impressions of “booms” heard or “balls of light” seen in the sky, but the news on Cuban Television said nothing.

It was the next day that certainty came and the images of the disaster began to circulate, frightening half the world.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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