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.

Three Girls Die in Old Havana When a Balcony Falls on Them

Two of the victims died on the spot while the other died in the hospital. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 28 January 2020 — Three girls died on Monday when a balcony collapsed in Old Havana, between Vives and Revillagigedo streets, in the Jesús María neighborhood. The neighbors said that the collapse of the structure occurred around half past four in the afternoon when the children had left school and were on the sidewalk rehearsing for the celebrations for the birth of José Martí.

This morning the police were still around and the yellow hazard tape and a crane remained at the scene, as this newspaper has verified.

“The girls were just starting their lives, those parents must be shattered, they were in sixth grade, how many dreams lost by imprudence. Look, the crane arrived, now they come to demolish it with the crane? Now that it already fell? They should also go to the corner and prop it up, so this movie doesn’t happen right away in the next block,” says an old lady with tears in her eyes while talking to a friend. continue reading

All these cases have in common the poor state of the properties and the authorities neglecting to take measures that could have prevented these deaths.

The three girls, María Karla Fuentes and Lisnavy Valdés Rodríguez, 12, and Rocío García Nápoles, 11, were studying at the Quintín Banderas elementary school. Two of the victims died instantly and the third in the hospital. The neighbors claim that the rear of the building had begun to be demolished, but the area was not marked as would have been necessary to avoid situations like this.

“I do not understand, why are there so many police and all that now, that should have been avoided,” said a neighbor on Vives Street this morning when a car from the operational guard arrived to investigate the event.

“I was doing something with my phone and suddenly I felt the rumble, I ran to help, but you couldn’t see them, the pieces of the balcony were huge and two of the girls died on the spot, the one that came out best died as soon as she arrived at the hospital, after she left here in her mother’s arms,” says another neighbor on the block.

Around 9:20 in the morning a parade of boys from a nearby school who were paying tribute to José Martí passed by the front of the collapsed building. The official press has reported the event this morning around 10:00, when the independent press had already featured it on its covers, in some cases since the previous day.

Jesús María is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Havana and is forgotten by the authorities, according to residents.

Just two months ago there was another similar tragedy that involved a minor. It was on November 3, in the Playa municipality, when a building collapsed leaving two fatalities, a 13-year-old girl and her mother. On that occasion there was a survivor, the child’s grandmother.

The operational guard appeared this morning at the scene to investigate the fact. (14ymedio)

Also in March there was the death of another person in similar circumstances in the Cerro neighborhood. On that occasion a building collapsed that the neighbors had been requesting be fixed for fifteen years. After there was a fatality, the building was demolished after evicting the 36 people who lived there.

In July 2015, four other people died, also in Old Havana. A building on Havana Street, between Obispo and Obrapía, collapsed around six in the morning when the inhabitants, for the most part, were still asleep. In the incident, a girl of just three years, two young people of 18 and a woman of 60 lost their lives.

All these cases have in common the poor state of the properties and the neglect of the authorities to take measures that could have prevented these deaths.

Some 1.7 million houses, that is 39% of the housing stock in Cuba, are in a poor or bad state, according to the Housing authorities. The situation is particularly serious in Havana, specifically in Centro Habana and Old Havana, municipalities with a high population density.

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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.

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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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.

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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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.

And a near-term special project: Yes, it’s nasty, but clicking on the mosquito can help: