Cuatro Caminos Hasn’t Recovered

It is necessary to line up for almost half an hour to access the Cuatro Caminos market. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 13 January 2020 — Although it is less than two months since the reopening of the Cuatro Caminos market, it has already suffered two temporary closures. This Saturday, the establishment reopened completely after five days with the food area closed.

The state corporation Cimex confirmed to this newspaper that the market suffered breakdowns that made it difficult to provide services, so on January 6, a partial closure was carried out to perform “maintenance work, troubleshooting, refueling and inventory.”

In a note spread through its main communication channels, Cimex had already explained that the main actions of the maintenance process were in the areas of freezing and refrigeration and that, in addition to polishing floors, the entrance door had to be repaired by Arroyo Street, plus other electrical arrangements. continue reading

A neighbor of the central market, which has a private cafe in front of its entrance, confirmed to this newspaper that “it was only five days that that part of the food market was closed” and it “never” closed completely.

However, little has been noted of the alleged resupply promised by Cimex.

In the agricultural products part of the Cuatro Caminos market, in Saturday there were only cabbages, tomatos, pineapples, pumpkins and papayas. (14ymedio)

Walking this Saturday through some of the departments, with their polished, bright and spacious corridors, resembled walking through a museum of modern art.

“I do not know why so money was spent on this super-space. Look at some of the agricultural products right now, there are only cabbages, tomatoes, pineapples, pumpkins and papayas,” said an employee of that section to 14ymedio.

To enter the mall you had to wait in line for at least 25 or 30 minutes, all  to not find on the shelves the products you wanted, such as butter, chicken breasts, and eggs. The cleaning and household tools department also exhibited great poverty in its supplies.

“Inside the market is a shame. I have sometimes seen the empty windows, or the same product repeated to infinity. Today there is not a quarter of everything that the leaders of the country showed proudly on television on the day of its reopening for the [celebration of] Havana’s 500 years,” another neighbor of the property told this newspaper.

Around the market there is a large police presence and a large number of surveillance cameras. In each building entrance you can see between two and four officers controlling the passage of customers, who let in ten at a time to prevent a large number of people from entering in the same period of time.

The installation, reopened on November 16 after years of total repair, closed its doors on the same day of its official opening due to the incidents that occurred as a result of the crowds. Several unfortunate incidents were baptized by Internet users in social networks such as the Battle of Cuatro Caminos, and the situation caused great economic losses and managers were forced to decide to close their doors to repair the damage caused.

Walking through the establishment is like touring a museum of modern art. (14ymedio)

Presented before the national television cameras as a modern market and the high point so far of this century, the space ultimately proved unable to escape the same problems that any other store in the country is experiencing.

Recently, during some rains in the capital, images of floods that partially affected the market circulated on Facebook. A neighbor who also saw his house under water last week summed up the situation: “Many invested in the building but the surrounding infrastructure is still the same.”

See also:

The Cuatro Caminos Market Closes Until Next Week Due To Social “Indiscipline”

The “Resurrection” of the Cuatro Caminos Market and Free Trade in Cuba

Why the Reopening of the Cuatro Caminos Market Failed

The Cuatro Caminos Market Will be a Museum

Without Its Market Cuatro Caminos Seems Lost

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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 Controversy Over The Identity Of The Clandestinos Is Growing

The nature of the group that calls itself “Clandestinos” is unknown, and it’s not clear if it really committed the actions promoted on its social networks.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar/Mario J. Pentón, Havana/Miami, January 9, 2020 — Doubt, controversy and passion surround the Clandestinos, an anonymous group that through social networks says they have dumped pork blood on several busts of José Martí in Havana. The Government says it detained two of the members on Wednesday but the organization says it doesn’t know them.

The official newspaper, Granma, said the police detained Panter Rodríguez Baró, 44, who had a record, and Yoel Prieto Tamayo, 29, for “the profanation of some busts of José Martí,” but without mentioning the name of the group.

“The offense was a dirty media ploy to create the belief that there is a climate of insecurity and violence in Cuba,” said the article, which was read on the news on television. continue reading

The information, read on Primetime News, also questioned the speed with which the news spread on social networks and independent media. “The photos that showed the busts of the national hero covered in pork blood were posted on the Internet a very short time after it was done,” the text pointed out. “Several alternative media that posted the story support those who try to orchestrate lies about the Cuban reality.”

The Clandestinos immediately denied any connection to those arrested. “We don’t know these people. No member of our organization has been detained,” said one of the members, without revealing his identity, in correspondence with 14ymedio and el Nuevo Herald.

“We’re not a political group,” added a presumed member of the Clandestinos, which claimed responsibility for throwing pork blood on Martí because “his image has been very manipulated by the dictatorship.”

“It’s an outrage that his name is used to reproach and abuse people,” he added. According to his version, the group chose the figure of Martí because “he is loved by all Cubans.”

“He’s our national hero, our apostle, and whatever action is taken with his figure has a great impact,” he added.

Since the beginning of the year, the Cuban internauts have been debating whether their actions were a form of protest or vandalism, or if it’s a strategy of the omnipresent State Security to justify its repression against the dissidents, but up to now there is little evidence and few witnesses.

In a tour by 14ymedio of several places where the Clandestinos said they carried out actions, there are few certainties. On January 4, the fence located on one side of the Ciudad Deportiva, where the faces of José Martí, Fidel Castro and Lázaro Peña can be seen, doesn’t show any intervention or traces of having been changed, although two days before, in a video of the Clandestinos, you can see a red stain.

Bust of José Martí outside the Ministry of Transport. On the left is the photo taken by Enrique Sánchez on January 1, and on the right an image by 14ymedio on January 4. (14ymedio).

It wasn’t possible to find a bust with blood outside the Latin American Stadium, where the group said they poured blood over one of the sculptures. Nor were there traces of any action two days later outside the police station on calle Infanta near Manglar.

Attempts to obtain the exact locations of the stained busts from the Clandestinos didn’t help locate them. In addition, the authorities could have cleaned and painted many of them in the meantime.

The group’s name comes from a Fernando Pérez movie that addresses the clandestine struggle against the regime of Fulgencio Batista and it is careful not to give details that would allow identification of any of its members. One of them appeared in a Facebook video covered with a hood, and the press could only speak with him through chatting, and for a short time.

The official Cuban press has given free rein to its indignation but has been very frugal in releasing information concerning the facts, including the content of the arrest warrant. The personnel of the reviews Bohemia and Verde Olivio, whose writing is close to the buildings that are most emblematic of power in Havana, promote an act of repudiation against the Clandestinos, calling them “vile and unpatriotic counterrevolutionaries”.

According to Bohemia, a bust of Martí made by the now-deceased Cuban sculptor, José Delarra, had to be restored after the group’s action, but they didn’t show any photos of the action.

Vague opinion columns, texts of claims around the figure of the national hero, references to expected sanctions in the Penal Code against those “who don’t deserve to be called Cubans” have appeared in media like Cubadebate and Granma and have been replicated by members of the Government, including Miguel Díaz-Canel.

The Clandestinos assert that the photos give them recognition. “Why would the Government complain about something that didn’t happen?” they said, after many Cubans didn’t believe the photos and thought they were a hoax or something that was photoshopped on the social networks.

Anonymity makes it easy for people who don’t initially have ties to the Clandestinos to join the cause, whether by following or even by imitating them. Some Facebook posts are sharing the slogan “We are all Clandestinos”, placing the group in the predicament of having to claim or refute actions that can be carried out independently.

“We want to send a message to the dictatorship: this is war. We are tired of bowing our heads. And to the people the message is clear: The time has come,” said the supposed leader of the Clandestinos.

The organization has members in Cuba and in exile, added the spokesperson, refusing to reveal the number of militants. But he did say that they were mainly young people who were “tired of the dictatorship”.

One of the few witnesses of the Clandestinos’ actions was the meteorologist, Enrique Sánchez. “I was walking through the area of the Ministry of Transport and what called my attention was the stained, vandalized bust,” Sánchez told this newspaper.

“It was on January 1, in the afternoon, when I saw it. It made me mad so I took a photo in order to complain on Twitter about the lack of punishment for whoever was responsible,” he added. Sánchez stated that he didn’t agree with “desecrating national symbols as a mode of protest”.

A little later, this newspaper could confirm that the bust had been cleaned and painted and that an offering of flowers had been placed at the pedestal.

From Miami, where he was visiting, the dissident, Guillermo Fariñas, spoke about the subject with the América Noticias network. He showed an exchange of messages that he had with an internaut who identified himself as a member of the group. “What they’re doing is exercising the right of rebellion,” said the winner of the European Parliament’s Sakarov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

“It’s a group that doesn’t use our same nonviolent methods,” Fariñas said. “Other dissidents and I go down one path, but the right to rebellion exists, and they can go down a different path.”

Bust of José Martí just outside the Cerro Police Station, one of the places the Clandestinos said it carried out its actions. (14ymedio)

Meanwhile, the journalist and director of the magazine Tremenda Nota, Maykel González Vivero, wrote on Facebook, “The problem is that the bust is not alive and cannot defend itself. Martí is one thing, otherwise open to criticism, and the busts and pedestals are another. They speak about who erected them, not only of Martí himself, and they are something dead,” he added.

The dissident, Antonio González Rodiles, criticizes the Clandestinos movement. “In a time where it’s impossible for the opposition to hide anything from the Regime, it will do wonders for showing them as misfits, riffraff, vandals, incompetents–the Government  has always used this line,” he wrote on his Facebook page. Several followers of the dissident said that the actions might be a provocation orchestrated by the Government.

In the last decades in Cuba there have been frequent cases of graffiti on walls and storefronts denouncing the acts of the authorities, with slogans like “Down with Fidel” or “Down with Raúl”. However, actions around the figure of José Martí have been more circumscribed on the artistic scene.

At the beginning of 2018, an intense debate erupted over the censorship of the film, I want to make a movie, directed by Yimit Ramírez. The Cuban Institute of Arts and Cinematography (ICAIC) removed the tape from the ICAIC Youth Show because one of the characters “says something unacceptable” about José Martí, calling him a “turd” and a “faggot”.

“This isn’t something that can be accepted simply as an expression of creative freedom,” said the institution in a statement published on Facebook, which further fuelled the debate over the sanctification of the figure of Martí.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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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.

Without Liquified Gas, "Lighting the Firewood, Like Our Grandmothers"

This Thursday at the point of sale of Estancia y Lombillo, of the Municipality of Plaza de la Revolución, the line to buy liquefied gas formed as soon as the Cupet truck unloaded the canisters. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 18 January 2020 — After one in the afternoon last Thursday, Eloísa and Miguel were preparing lunch for their grandchildren who were about to return from school when they were moved by a noise they felt in their window. It was the liquefied gas truck. The roar of the canisters crashing into each other put the entire neighborhood on the run and in a few minutes the line was in place at the point of sale ay Estancia and Lombillo, in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood.

Both grandparents went down the stairs of the building without thinking twice and in a few minutes were already, rationbook in hand, asking who was last in line*. “I turned off the kitchen and ran down because after listening to what they said on television one cannot afford to miss a delivery. There are four of us. Before the gas came every 21 days and it was enough for us, but now it comes every 32 days and we have to make do, there isn’t any more,” says Eloísa.

Now, “to make it last longer,” there are “small luxuries” that can no longer be enjoyed, she explains. “No chicken roasted in the oven, or baking my bread, which I like so much. The gas will be only be enough to cook the basics, the day to day.” Eloísa was just over 30 years old when the Special Period came into her life and she says she “stresses” at any event that reminds her of those times in which she raised her children in the midst of “so many needs.” continue reading

Also in line is Justo. In a wheeled cart he brings 12 canisters, as the messenger for many families who work all day and they pay him to be aware of the arrival of rationed products sold through the rationbooks. “I’ve been coming for two days, yesterday I spent the whole afternoon waiting for the truck but it didn’t arrive. I left empty-handed,” he says.

“My clients are on tenterhooks since they reported on television about the shortage of gas and the new measures for its sale. They all insisted I hurry and I’ve been here since before the truck arrived, ready to buy,” explains the man, who is number one in a line of about 14 people.

The state-owned company Union Cuba-Petroleum (Cupet) and the Ministry of Energy and Mines announced that the inventories currently on the Island “do not cover consumption, so there have been effects” in the sale of liquefied gas to the population. According to its website, this company is responsible for “ensuring the supply of fuels and lubricants” and “complying with the importation of fuel at the levels agreed to in the supply contracts.”

Since this product began to be sold off the ration book in 2013, in parallel to the “rationed” system, it has become the fastest growing form of energy in homes in Cuba. Today it represents approximately 60% of total fuel consumption, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics and Information.

At the end of the year, not only was the rationed delivery of liquefied gas regulated but also the delivery of new contracts was halted due to an “increase in capacity.”

Four months ago, Raúl García Barreiro, head of Energy and Mines explained that, in the context of the “new energy situation,” although in August and September there were problems with the provision of liquefied gas, the full supply for the population was “guaranteed for the whole year.”

However, just at the beginning of 2020 there was an announcement of the need to take “measures to reduce consumption” of liquefied gasuntil there is “a stable supply” and Cubans have been called on to adopt “saving” measures and “efficient use” of this energy source.

In the line are some messengers with their carts loaded with up to 12 canisters for their customers. (14ymedio)

After Monday’s announcement, many have lost hope. This is the case of Abel Cartaya, in Matanzas, who asked the Minister of Energy on Twitter for the reasons why he has not been allowed get a contract for liquefied gas.

Cartaya tells this newspaper that a year ago he was able to assume ownership of his partially complete house, although it is still “under construction” and that from the first moment he went with his ration book to get a contract for gas.

“In the offices where the procedures are carried out, they informed me that the contracts were halted until further notice. Last year I went on three occasions and they answered the same thing. Last week I spoke with an employee of the gas sales point below my house, and I asked him the same question and the answer was similar to the others. They won’t give me any date,” he tells at 14ymedio.

At the liquefied gas sales point that Cartaya visited, employees are “directed” to organize a sale “every 60 days,” one of the workers informed him on Tuesday.

“Right now, the contracts for unrationed sales are halted, since the country does not have the necessary means for it, whether it comes by hose, regulator, cylinder or canister, there is currently a shortage of the product due to the blockade [American embargo]. The containers the country currently has are intended to guarantee service to customers who already have a contract,” explained Cupet.

In Santiago de Cuba, in the neighborhoods of Altamira, Ciudamar, Antonio Maceo and Versailles — although “the comment is on the street so it came out on the news” — they still have supplies and nobody is without gas, a resident of the area told this newspaper.

“The point is that all this is reminding people of what happened in the Special Period when there was nothing to cook with. Some have burners, electric pots or rice cookers, but there are those who do not have that and it is logical to panic. Nobody wants to have to cook with coal or firewood again, it is inhuman,” he added.

In other locations near the capital, such as Candelaria or San Cristóbal, “nobody has a contract,” said a Artemis resident by telephone. “Only the elderly who have some health problems or the sick. Right now we are looking for how to fill the spare we have before the desperation of the people grows and the product is gone, because everyone already saw what was said in the news,” added the woman, who said that in her house they alternate between the electric burner and the little canister to make it last longer.

“What I see that is happening is a ’situation’ with energy, more than anything, but I do not understand how you can save on liquefied gas. If you have to cook, you have to cook, the water must be boiled so as not to get sick**, in short, we will return to the firewood… well, if you have a patio [i.e. can cook outside]. And those who don’t will have to look for coal which is not easy to acquire,” she laments.

Ivón and Nadia Linares, two sisters residing in the municipality of Güira de Melena, are preparing to return to the years when most of the food in the house was cooked with firewood. Based in an agricultural area but with little wood vegetation in the province of Artemis, the two women have to walk long distances to collect fragments of branches and trunks.

“Those who are going to win are those who sell coal and they have already raised the price of the bag,” says a woman from Artemisa. (14ymedio)

“Those who are going to win are those who sell coal and they have already raised the price of the bag, now it is very difficult for you to find one below 50 pesos,” laments Ivón, who says she has become accustomed to cooking with the cylinder of liquified gas. “I kept it for cooking beans, rice, heating the children’s milk and left the wood to boil the towels, heat water for the bathroom or cook the root vegetables.”

Nadia does not believe that electricity is a substitute for liquefied gas. “The electric bill goes up a lot if you cook with the burner and also here all the equipment we have has been breaking down little by little,” says the woman in reference to a small kitchen, a very rustic water heater and a water heating device sold to the residents of their community during the years of the so-called Energy Revolution promoted by Fidel Castro.

“In this neighborhood almost no one has a working electric burner,” says the woman. “Here we are cooking as our grandmothers cooked, lighting the wood, blowing a lot of air into it to keep it going and with all the soot-filled cauldrons, it’s the same as a hundred years ago.”

Translator’s notes:
*In Cuba people establish their places in line relative to those just ahead of them and just behind them, and then are able to move around, and even leave and come back (if the line is very long), and so on.
**Cubans must boil their tap water to make it safe to drink.

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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 Crisis Hits the Emergency Rooms of Cuba Hospitals Hard

The Emergency Room of the Manual Fajardo Hospital in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 2 December 2019 — It’s Saturday night in the Calixto García Hospital Emergency Room in Havana and there is no room for anyone else in the line of those waiting. Doctors know that on the weekend, when the sun goes down, emergency cases multiply, but serums, needles and gloves to care for patients remain scarce.

In the row of seats in front of the consultation, all cases seem urgent. A lady has spent hours with her hand on her ear because of a sharp pain and a young man enters almost dragging his elderly father. It can take hours to be seen and that does not guarantee a treatment, because the lack of supplies limits the work of doctors.

The economic crisis that crosses the Island is experienced with more drama in emergency hospital services. While health professionals must deal with the shortages in the Emergency Rooms where they work, patients face the dilemma of continuing to wait or going somewhere else, hoping it will be better stocked. continue reading

“We are going to another hospital, here I have been told that my father must stay admitted but since there are no beds, I must bring a chair from my house,” complains the young man who had arrived with the almost faint old man . The list of what is missing is long: stretchers, bandages, serums, syringes, wheelchairs and much more.

In another hospital near Calixto García the room is less crowded, but the doctor on duty is seen entering and leaving the office, going up and down the stairs, knocking on doors, calling on the phone while attending to a patient. Try to look everywhere for the missing supplies to alleviate the situation of a man who has arrived dehydrated.

“The first thing missing is the cannula, a thin tube that is used to channel the veins of patients who need basic medical attention in emergencies,” the doctor explains to 14ymedio, under the condition of anonymity. “We try to resolve it without the patient realizing that we are looking in another room, but that creates additional tension.”

The doctor points out that the supply of everything is “very intermittent” and that in the case of the cannula he never has at his disposal all the different sizes to be able to select the most appropriate one. Generally, many old people arrive at the Guard Corps “that almost always have thin, fragile veins and a large cannula cannot be placed on a patient with these characteristics, because it is very difficult to insert it,” he clarifies.

Last August, the cannula shortage reached its worst moment and in the Havana Emergency Rooms there were barely three to four units available for use each day. “If more patients arrived who needed them, you had to ’invent’ it yourself,” describes a nurse at the Joaquín Albarrán Surgical Clinical Hospital.

Intravenous cannula, “20 gauge, medium size.” (14ymedio)

Patients, aware of the situation, sometimes arrive with their own resources. “I brought everything, several sizes of disposable syringes, alcohol and the sterilized cottons that my daughter sent me from Miami,” says a lady who is being treated for an injured leg.

A wide variety of these products are also sold on the Island’s black markets. Together with vitamins, pain relievers and skin creams, merchants in these informal networks offer hospital supplies, including the thread for surgical sutures. Those who have more resources get everything ready before being admitted.

However, most patients have to settle for what is available in public hospitals. “If a transfusion is going to be done or during an operation, one type of cannula is needed and there is another for cancer patients,” a young doctor tells this newspaper, saying that since he graduated he has never had “a complete collection of varieties.”

“The alternative is to use a needle that comes in disposable syringes, which are not intended to leave in the vein,” he says. “If the patient moves, the needle slips out of the vein and a bruise can occur or the medicine gets into the tissue around the vein, which becomes infected and inflamed.”

Venoclysis (infusion) devices, the system used to connect solutions and sera to the patient, are also in short supply. A shortage that “greatly affects medical care, when there are few, you have to get them from other rooms to guarantee emergency services,” says the doctor.

The state-owned company MediCuba imports supplies and technology annually worth $400,000 for Public Health, according to a recent report on national television. However, a source from the Ministry of Public Health explains that a large share of the of Venoclysis devices are manufactured in Cuba, but the distribution varies throughout the year.

Another item missing from the emergency rooms are the aqueous solutions for clinical use and among them, the most affected are the so-called crystalloids, which are used in intravenous therapy to replace lost fluids. Several doctors consulted say that when they are available they are imported from Uruguay, China and India, but that in Cuba they are hardly produced due to problems with the availability of packaging.

In an emergency room such as Calixto García’s, where in one day about 200 patients are treated, doctors only receive a maximum of about 30 sera for use throughout the day. A limitation that significantly affects the service and generates wide discomfort among patients and among doctors who demand more investments in the sector.

During 2018, the ’sale’ of Cuban medical services abroad brought nearly 6.4 billion dollars into the national coffers, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics and Information, but health professionals regret that these resources are not reflected of the Island’s hospitals.

“These billions of dollars have been coming in for many years and the situation in the emergency rooms remains critical,” adds a doctor from Calixto Garcia as he walks the halls in search of serum for a patient who has just arrived.

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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 Man at the Door Won’t Let Me Leave

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 26 November 2019 — It was a Saturday, it was a Monday, but it could be any other day of the week. The man at the door of my building barely articulates a word, just mutters “Luz Escobar, you can’t leave.” I ask the reasons for home confinement and demand that he identify himself. But he flashes his card in front of my eyes so fast that I can only see huge letters DSE [Department of State Security].

I take out my cell phone to take a picture, but when he sees the phone, the man turns his back, runs and hides behind a column.

My daughters laugh nervously, it’s Monday and they know that what is happening is exactly the same as the last two Saturdays. The one who gives the alarm is Paula, who arrives from the school shouting: “Mommy, mommy, there is Ramses* down there again.” She comes home hungry, as always, and we go down to find bread and sweets, but ‘the man at the door’ prevents us, with his body, from going out. My other daughter is studying at a friend’s house. continue reading

For some reason, the little girl, at nine, knows she is untouchable and asks me for my wallet. While she goes to the bakery I stay on the ground floor of the building waiting for her. The man, who wears a black backpack on his shoulders, walks left and right while talking on his cell phone. “I am here in the lobby with her, but it seems that no, she will not go out,” I managed to hear.

When Paula returns, we go up in the elevator and a lady asks: “What did that man say to you?” I explain what happened, but she is silent with a smile on her mouth whose motive I can’t guess. There is a huge sign on the door of the building with the face of Fidel Castro, the third anniversary of his death is commemorated.

That happened yesterday, but last Saturday we couldn’t leave, on that occasion to go to lunch with my daughters’ paternal grandmother, an important meal, because it is routine and the routines are respected. They make us what we are until the day we decide to break  them and create others. I didn’t want to break anything that day, but the man at the door didn’t let us out.

Another Saturday, back on November 16, when the 500th anniversary of the city was celebrated, we could not go to lunch with Grandma. The fireworks they launched for the celebration we had to watch from the window of our home.

The first time my daughters saw this man on the ground floor of our building was the day of Jaime Ortega Alamino’s funeral. I left with my camera to go the cemetery and they were going to skate in the park, when the man approached me and them at the same time. “Luz, you can’t go out,” he said.

The girls asked me questions that I answered vaguely: “Don’t worry, it’s just that he doesn’t want me to go outside.” The youngest girl says: “But he’s not your dad.” The big one adds: “What you have to do is call the police.”

In addition to being a citizen and mother, I am a journalist. When I am prevented from leaving, they are not only violating my civil rights, but also labor rights. It limits my freedom of movement and also my freedom of expression.

The man on the ground floor of the building may also be the man at the border. Last May, when I was going on a trip to Washington, a migration officer also looked me in the face and said, “You can’t travel.” It was difficult to explain that to my daughters when I returned home. It had never happened.

At this point, with 42 years and five as a reporter, nothing will change my mind. No pressure will let the vocation that was born the first time I wrote a chronicle about a neighborhood bus. Nor do I stop capturing with the camera of my cell phone pieces of my country’s life, testimonies of women and men living in Cuba today.

I don’t dream of Luz exiled, nor silenced. The journalistic work that I do every day when I wake up will continue, like that old dinosaur that makes us a postcard of the past and that we have just not extinguished. This is an endurance race.

To others, those who love and respect me, I say that when a new Cuba is born I will also be here to tell it.

*Translator’s note: A previous State Security agent that prevented Luz Escobar from leaving home identified himself as “Ramses.”

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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.

Cuban Independent Journalist Luz Escobar Under House Arrest for the Second Consecutive Saturday

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 November 2019 — The journalist Luz Escobar, a member of the 14ymedio team, is under house arrest for the second consecutive weekend. This Saturday, while trying to leave for a family lunch, a State Security agent stationed on the ground floor of her building warned her that he had orders not to allow her to go outside.

The man, dressed as a civilian and who identified himself as Ramses, did not offer any legal reason for the exit ban. A while later the operative was relieved and the agent’s place ]was occupied by the same man who, on November 16, prevented Escobar from going outside.

At the insistence of the reporter to know the reasons for her house confinement, the agent, who would not remove his hand from his face, stressed that if she left she would be “arrested” and that “in due course they will explain it,” but without mentioning the names or positions of those who would provide the explanation. continue reading

Last Saturday, in the framework of the celebrations for the 500th anniversary of the city of Havana, State Security prevented numerous independent activists and journalists from leaving their homes on the grounds that they must be prevented from undertaking “harmful acts” during the activities organized for the anniversary.

Luz Escobar was one of those affected then by the ban, as were the journalists Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar, who had an operative on the ground floor of their building in Havana for two days.

Reinaldo Escobar recorded the moment when one of the agents, who did not identify himself, explained the reason for his presence: “Today it is likely that you stay at home, right? To avoid arrests, to avoid a group of things, so as not to reach other extremes.”

Home arrests are a repressive practice widely used by State Security to prevent independent activists, opponents and journalists from attending activities or covering any news. With these actions the political police incur the crime of “duress” according to article 286 of the Criminal Code.

As of May of this year Luz Escobar has also been “regulated,” the official euphemism to designate citizens who have a ban on leaving the country. About 200 people, among them reporters, activists and political opponents are “regulated.”

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Program in Netherlands Offers Refuge for Three Months to Human Rights Activists

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, November 19, 2019 — The organization Justice and Peace has announced a program that will provide a stay of three months in a city in the Netherlands for human rights defenders who find themselves in a dangerous situation. Candidates can send their applications for this program, Shelter City, until November 29.

To participate, candidates must fill out an online application and the organization will evaluate if they fulfill the requirements, among them the defense of human rights from a nonviolent focus, being threatened or pressured for their work, being willing to talk about their experience and express themselves in English. Additionally, they must be prepared to travel in March 2020 to the Netherlands, have a passport and visa, not be subject to decisive judicial measures, and commit to returning after three months and not be accompanied.

Justice and Peace can help cover the costs for the issuance of passports and/or visas, but does not guarantee they will be obtained. Also, those selected will receive a monthly economic contribution to cover the expenses of participants, their lodging, medical insurance, and airfare. They will also offer personalized accompaniment to the participant during the stay in the Netherlands. continue reading

The program allows participants to rest, continue their work in safe conditions, attend training workshops, expand their support network, and share information on the human rights situation in their country. Other activities are meetings with NGOs and public authorities, conferences, free and leisure time or treatment for problems related to work, in addition to “activities to raise awareness on human rights” for the public of the Netherlands.

For that, “they will participate in local initiatives organized by the municipality and the host organization,” says the announcement. At the end of the program, it is expected that participants will return with new tools and energy to continue their work in their country of origin.

The program is open to activists, journalists, academics, writers, artists, lawyers, defenders of civil and political rights, independent media professionals, members of civil society, and other persons who work peacefully to promote human rights and democracy in the world.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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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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!

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 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.

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.

Her 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.