Two Days in a Havana Hospital ’Suspected of Dengue’

Patients are kept under mosquito nets, with fans that they brought from home and with laptops, tablets or mobile phones to pass the time. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 15 July 2019 — First there was the fever and then the rash broke out. The nine-year-old girl arrived at the 19th of April Policlinic in Havana at noon, last Tuesday. She was diagnosed the minute she crossed the clinic threshold: “That is dengue, she will be admitted,” said the emergency room doctor categorically.

The little girl had been infected with the annoying companion that these days spreads through the neighborhoods of the Cuban capital. Dengue fever, the viral disease inseparable from the warm months on this island, crowds the consultations and the hospital wards, without official announcements or national statistics about its presence.

After being diagnosed, the girl waited with her mother to be transferred to the Marfan Municipal Pediatric Hospital, in an ambulance that took more than an hour to arrive. Inside the vehicle there was only one rickety bench and none of the resuscitation equipment that “appear in the movies,” the little girl pointed out with disappointment. continue reading

Inside the ambulance there was just a rickety bench to sit on and no medical equipment. (14ymedio)

After one o’clock in the afternoon, the entrance hall to Marfan Hospital was a hive of people. Mother and daughter were accompanied from the clinic to avoid the admitting area, a widespread practice among those who do not want to stay in a hospital center where the material conditions, the heat and the bad quality of the food complicate the stay.

The doctor on duty, who at that time was taking care of two other patients, asked “And what is this, another inpatient?” And immediately added that the hospital had no beds available. A few minutes later, a space opened up in one of the rooms and the patient received her sign-in form, although she still had a long way to go.

After several blood tests, the mother took all the papers to the reception but the employee who had to complete the process was having lunch. When he returned, 45 minutes later, the pen had been stolen and he took another half hour to fill out the documents. The girl was sweating buckets, because the air conditioning in the hospital was broken.

With the delay, the bed that had opened up became occupied again and the patient was left in a bureaucratic limbo: she had the hospitalization papers but there was no room for her. Finally, at three o’clock in the afternoon, a possibility arose. Mother and daughter went to the fourth floor, where most of the patients were “suspected of dengue.”

The actual numbers of how many people have been infected by this virus are difficult to pin down. Some never go to the hospital for fear of being admitted, others have mild symptoms and by the time they realize what it is the worst has passed, and there is no lack of those to prefer to appeal to a contact in a polyclinic or hospital to get tested ’under the table’ and find out through the platelet count if they have been infected.

With the abundant rains of recent weeks the presence of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, the main carrier of the virus, has increased. In addition, unlike other years, the vector campaign to control the mosquitos has not been as intense as in the past, due to the economic problems that the country is going through which have forced cutting back on inspectors and fumigation.

Day and night, family members of the sick share stories in the hallways about the other hospital centers. (14ymedio)

Every patient diagnosed and admitted is only part of how dengue affects the life of a Cuban family. Shortly after the girl was hospitalized at the Marfan, the father, grandmother and other relatives showed up, carrying everything from bottles with boiled water to food, a fan, a bucket, sheets and towels.

This time they were lucky, because in the bathroom of the room there was no lack of water and the plumbing worked. A true miracle. “I have been transferred from another hospital and there was no water there,” says the mother of a girl who was placed in a nearby bed. “The food is not bad, but it doesn’t taste good,” warns the grandmother of another patient.

Underneath mosquito nets*, with the fans that they brought from their homes and with laptops, tablets or mobile phones — providing alternatives to the boring TV programs — so the children spend their time. From time to time, doctors arrive to evaluate them, take their temperatures, and report if a bed has been freed up so those waiting below can go up and go to bed.

Day and night, family members of the sick share stories in the hallways about the other hospital centers. Everyone has some anecdote to tell about the delay, the problems and the shortcomings. The rooms become small parliaments, much closer to the reality than the discussions of the National Assembly which, just at that time, were underway a few kilometers from Marfan Hospital.

Each and every one of those who remain there counts the days, the hours and the minutes until they can leave. On the second day without a fever, the girl receives a medical discharge. The family packs up the makeshift camp they had assembled with belongings brought from the home. There are laughs, farewells and a gesture towards the patient from the neighboring bed who inherits a bar of soap and a piece of bread.

The little girl receives a paper to present to her local clinic and bed rest is recommended. From the polyclinic in her neighborhood they send a fumigator to the house to “eradicate any focus.” A day earlier, in the Parliament, the vice-head of Epidemiology of the Ministry of Public Health, Regla Angulo, had reported that there were outbreaks of dengue in several areas of the country, but he gave no data, no figures, no details. Nothing.

*Translator’s note: Dengue patients themselves are a major vector in spreading the disease, infecting mosquitos that bite them and get infected and then pass the virus on to others.

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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.

Multitudes and Frustrations at the New Coppelia

Customers protect themselves from Havana’s summer sun while waiting outside Coppelia.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Yoani Sanchez, Havana, June 26, 2019 — At what has been called the Cathedral of Ice Cream, the faithful wait outside for hours on the day that the Coppelia ice creamery is scheduled to reopen after a weeks-long remodeling. The first day of operation is marked by scenes of people shoving each other as police try to control the line of customers waiting to try the long anticipated chocolate ice cream.

On Monday, after official news outlets announced the date of its reopening, dozens of people with the patience of pilgrims start lining up outside. Designed by architect Mario Girona, the iconic Havana building looms as large in the public imagination as the Giraldilla statue, Morro Castle and the Malecon. As they wait patiently, hundreds of customers try to glimpse the menu board inside to see if it lists all fifteen flavors promised in official media reports.

Such a high level of anticipation should come as no surprise. Coppelia is one of the few places in the capital where ice cream can still be bought with Cuban pesos rather than hard currency, something hard to fathom for the astonished, open-mouthed tourists who walk past the enthusiastic throng, asking if they are part of a demonstration. When told the crowd is just waiting to buy ice cream, they can be heard saying, “I can’t believe it.” continue reading

In spite of a sign announcing a 10 o’clock opening, Coppelia begins its first day of operation an hour later, much to the discomfort of customers, who have to rely on umbrellas and sports caps to escape the relentless summer sun. This means that, before cooling off with ice cream, customers are first treated to a “free tropical sauna,” as one woman waiting in line notes ironically.

Every generation is represented. There are those who remember Coppelia in its heyday, after its debut in 1963, when it offered dozens of flavors; those who watched it languish during the Special Period of the 1990s, when it operated almost as a workers’ canteen; and those born after the advent of the dollar economy, who grew up eating Nestlé ice cream at shopping malls or coveting it through display windows.

Everyone arrives armed with cell phones to report the reopening to a family member who has emigrated to Buenos Aires, Miami or Berlin, someone who met her partner in the historic ice cream parlor, where a man’s wife began to feel her first delivery pains, or where someone had a final conversation with a friend who passed away not long after. Each of them has some memory sewn into the metal trellis chairs on the ground floor or to the thick shade trees.

Between the shoving to get inside and the screaming at others who have jumped the the line, there is the sound of “clicks” from dozens, or even hundreds, of cell phone cameras. “This is for Instagram and this for Facebook,” explains a teenager who poses in front of the sign of a ballerina’s plump legs above the iconic location’s name. He also takes a snapshot in front of a slogan, “La Habana real y maravillosa” (The real and wonderful Havana), that now appears on an exterior wall.

As the hours pass, enthusiasm dims and outrage grows. Around noon, after getting past the doorman trying to control the entrance, an avalanche of people runs through the esplanade to the staircase on the second floor, where the area known as the Tower is located. Their first surprise is the wallboard menu in this most exclusive area of Coppelia, which lists only eight flavors, half of what was promised.

When the crowd gets to the bottom of the stairway, they regroup. Some take the opportunity to fix their hair, some to straighten shirts which were rumpled in the scuffle outside and some to make sure they have not lost their wallets in the tumult. Children cannot stop smiling, their eyes open wide, as if they were on an adventure, monsters included, with a promised reward.

Eventually, little by little, everyone sits down. Then comes a second surprise: you may only order two specialties per person, a restriction that began with the crisis of a quarter of a century ago and which apparently is still in force despite a new, strikingly blue paint on the walls and employees in redesigned uniforms.

As has become customary, tables at Coppelia must be fully occupied. It does not matter if the people with whom you are seated are complete strangers. Some customers enjoy the surprise of being able to have a conversation with someone they are seeing for the first time. Others resent the lack of privacy and the unwanted, frightening encounters they imagine having.

Now seated after waiting four hours in line, Ulises — a 60-year-old restaurant worker — is still running his hand over a rib which was jabbed during the scrum to get inside. “Older people being pushed around, women with small children shoved to the ground, people in wheelchairs and with canes not given priority. And everyone fighting with the employees. I’ve never seen anyting like it,” he tells his companions.

“You didn’t experience Coppelia when it was Coppelia,” he says with a certain taste of nostalgia. Before paying, he very slowly counts his coins because, as he notes, no one gives him anything; he lives on his salary. This is a rarity, as difficult to find as a sliver of almond in the ice cream, which is now served on plastic plates when you order three scoops.

Next to him is a Cuban couple who now live in Florida and cannot stop laughing. “We needed a dose of Cuban reality but here we’ve gotten a full shower,” they joke. When the ice cream arrives, the woman takes a small taste but leaves the rest while the man takes several photos, which he will later post on Twitter. Meanwhile, Ulises takes a plastic container out of his bag and begins filling it with a melted chocolate and strawberry combination.

“The chocolate failed the test,” a young woman seated at another table is heard to say. “But the only thing on this plate I can eat is the chocolate. The strawberry is totally synthetic. There’s no fruit in it,” she adds with her nose near the plate. A dusting of cookie crumbs begins to fuse with the melted ice cream scoops.

One of the most frequently heard complaints involves the well known combination known as the “salad,” a mixture of five scoops with a few small cookies on the side, which can only be ordered with a mix of ice cream flavors. When a group of adolescents at one table asks an employee why this is, her only response is that it results from “a desire to provide a variety of flavors.”

But the ice cream fails to deliver. “Not creamy, tasteless and melted,” is how a mother with two children describes it, wrapping up her assessment with an “I won’t be coming back.”

After returning to his table smiling, another guest is eager share the details of his trip to the restroom. “They fixed all the toilets and there was even water for the sinks,” he explained. Though he wanted to provide more details of his experience, few listen to him.

At three o’clock a lady who has been in line with her granddaughter to go up to the Tower finally cries out in despair, “I have been here since 1:30 and everything they are saying on television is a lie. It’s an insult.” The woman has brought her daughter here for her birthday after the girl became intrigued by a report on the midday news about the successful reopening earlier in the day.

Images of the fights were not shown on national television, nor was the presence of police, who were there to maintain order, or the attendant trying to maintain discipline in the line. Instead, news reports only described calm and happiness. One customer adopted the idyllic tone, tellling a reporter, “It’s all beautiful, so beautiful.”

Far from camera range, one woman is compelled to seek shelter under a tree after waiting three hours in line. “This is abusive,” she repeats. Meanwhile, her two grandchildren, now on vacation from school, take advantage of not having to contend with the sun’s glare on their cell phone screens to share some wifi apps.

In the distance they can see an air-conditioned upper-floor salon offering ice cream for sale in hard currency. At The Four Jewels,* as the space inside Coppelia is known, smiling, sweat-free customers are enjoying a much more costly and creamy ice cream.

*Translator’s note: The space, named for four legendary dancers of the National Ballet of Cuba, was inaugurated in June 2013 by the ballet’s then-director, Alicia Alonso, in a ribbon cutting ceremony.

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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.

Gay Pride in Cuba: Without a March, Matrimony or Adoption

The Cuban LGBTI community has been left with the unmet demands of equality and equal marriage and the memories of the repression of May 11 still fresh. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 28 June 2019 — Tonight, in the privacy of their home and surrounded by some friends, René and Richard will have a symbolic wedding ceremony. “We were waiting for the Constitution to permit gay marriage to do it, but it looks like that will happen when it snows in Cuba,” jokes René. “We are tired of waiting and tonight we’re going say ’I do’ for ourselves, even if it’s not in any civil registry.”

The Cuban LGBTI community is celebrating this June 28, Gay Pride Day, inside. There will be nbo public march or rainbow flags on the facades of the institutions. With the unmet demands for marriage and adoption and the memories of the repression of May 11 still fresh, there is hardly anything to celebrate 50 years after the Stonewall riots that gave rise to the commemoration of this day all over the world.

René and Richard’s party will be attended by the latter’s parents and the sisters of both. René’s parents do not accept the union because they belong to one of the evangelical communities that most strongly opposed the inclusion in the Constitution of Article 68, which laid the foundations for equal marriage. “They almost have rejected me as a son and even if I could legally get married right now, nothing is going to change their reaction,” he laments. continue reading

In the neighborhood where they live and earn their living with a small hairdressing and massage business, many neighbors have accepted the situation but others do not speak to them, says Richard. “Although these are no longer like the times when there was even more rejection, we can not say that everything is a bed of roses. Sometimes someone insults me when I walk down the street and do not even think about walking hand in hand.”

Although Richard and René declare themselves “far removed from all the political wrangling” and do not engage in public LGBTI activism, they consider that from their place in society they are helping to move the wall of intolerance and rejection. “People have to understand that we are human beings and that we have the right to choose who we love,” one of them clarifies.

They have little confidence that the approval of a new Family Code, scheduled to happen in two years, contemplates the legalization of equal marriage and will give them full rights. Right now, if one of them has some mishap and dies, the other will not be able to get a widower’s pension and would not have the power to decide whether to bury or cremate his partner, should his family decides otherwise.

“Behind closed doors we are a couple like everyone else within the law, but as soon as we leave this house we are two people without any relationship before the law that rules the country,” René complains. “It’s like playing hide and seek, denying what everyone knows happens anyway,” he adds.

Yania, who asked that her name be changed for this report, drives a taxi leased from the State and has been with Leticia for seven years. Both are taking care of the latter’s son, the fruit of a previous relationship where abuse prevailed more than love. “We are two moms, although most of the neighbors think that I am her cousin and that I live with her to help her with the child, but they also gossip a lot about that,” she says.

Spending more than 14 hours a day behind the wheel, Yania supports her family while Leticia takes care of the child and domestic chores. At school, the taxi driver is called “Jeancarlos’s aunt” and the boy says “mama” only to his mother. He calls the other woman by a diminutive of her name. Both dream of being able to give him a little brother now that the family’s economic situation is better, thanks to the sale of a family home.

“We know we have no chance of being able to adopt a baby,” laments Yania. In the same block where she lives, a teenager from a family with problems of violence got pregnant and had proposed that they keep the baby. “But we do not want to do anything illegal, because tomorrow she will change her mind and we will not have any rights.”

In Cuba, the adoption of children by heterosexual couples is already complicated in itself. “If there are barely children available for adoption for heterosexual couples, who is going to open the possibility to homosexuals,” says an Education worker.

However, some have found ways to satisfy their desires for parenthood despite legal obstacles. “I grew up with two wonderful men and since I was little I knew they were a couple,” Liuba Herrera tells 14ymedio. Now a young college student, she was cared for from the time she was very small by two neighbors who lived next door to her house. “My biological mother was an alcoholic and ended up dying of cirrhosis of the liver.”

Carlos and Emmanuel, her two parents, took care of everything. “I had a childhood in which I did not lack anything, including love,” says Herrera. “At my school, some people made fun of me and made jokes in bad taste, but in the end they ended up accepting that I had two dads.” Now, their greatest dream is to become grandparents. “But they’ll have to wait because I’m still working toward graduation,” she says.

Today’s date, chosen in honor of the Stonewall riots (1969), has been extremely uncomfortable for the Plaza of the Revolution for decades, partly because the phenomenon originated in the United States in one of the moments of greatest rivalry between both governments. That aversion reached the point that the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex), directed by Mariela Castro, opted to move the celebrations to the Day Against Homophobia, on May 17.

This year everything points to a stagnation for the LGBTI community in the struggle to conquer its rights. Ultimately, the article that would have opened the door to equal marriage was not included in the new Constitution, then came the cancellation of the conga celebration organized by the Cenesex and later the police violently arrested several activists who organized a march along the Paseo del Prado in Havana.

Despite having few reasons for the party, there are those who resist seeing this Friday as any other day, but little can be done in a country where free association does not exist and where many have preferred to live together as a couple, celebrating the day behind closed doors or raising a neighbor’s child because they can not adopt a baby.

“The ruling party has never taken the streets or celebrated this date. It has only been celebrated by the independent community, an example of that was the Gay Pride El Paseo that began in 2011,” gnacio Estrada tells 14ymedio. Estrada is, now a resident in Miami, was one of the organizers of that demonstration.

For the artist Adonis Milan, currently the greatest repression is “with the trans.” An LGBTI activist, Milan resides near Fraternity Park in Havana, a traditional meeting point for the community. “They [transsexuals] do not have jobs because they are not hired anywhere, so they live on prostitution, which is the only way they can sustain themselves,” he laments.

The police frequently raid the place, says Milan. “They arrive with a truck and take them away”, something that also happens in the vicinity of the Polivalente sports hall, another meeting place for transsexuals.

“They have already fined me three times and they fine me for male prostitution despite the fact that, in this case of meeting points, sex is for pleasure and not for money,” explains the artist. “The dynamics of the police is one of contempt and humiliation, but here there is no other place, the policy they follow with this community is hatred and contempt and they often mistreat us.”

The director of the Tremenda Nota magazine, Maykel González Vivero, does not believe that the repression of May 11 in the capital can be seen as a setback in the institutional attitude towards the community. “It is a position consistent with the official discourse, which has distrusted the rebellious nature of the LGBTI movement.” Remember that “Mariela [Castro] said that the so-called LGBTI Pride, the commemoration of Stonewall, is a commercial, capitalist party.”

For the journalist, “the closest thing to a Cuban Stonewall — people refused to accept the brakes applied by the authorities — was the march last 11 May, which Mariela rejected.” According to him, the Cuban authorities canceled the conga precisely because it coincided with a symbolic date, the 50th anniversary of the incidents in the New York bar. “In any case, the official notes do not lie, a disturbance was feared, which finally happened, something like a Stonewall.”

Although it is still a long time before Carlos and Emmanuel will be abvle to walk together as a couple with a grandson, the activist Isbel Diaz Torres, of the Rainbow Project, considers that “the Cuban Government’s policies of retreat on LGBTI rights have meant the perfect opportunity for an advance in the configuration of a true LGBTIQ movement on the Island.”

A few steps forward have been achieved “with autonomy and belligerence. No right is permanent or immovable, but we are learning that those obtained without struggle or social pressure, as benevolent gifts of power, are easier to lose than those conquered after a popular clamor, civic demands, the legitimate demands of the excluded.”

Torres points out that, after all, “to the Latin and African-American trans people of Stonewall, 50 years ago, nobody gave them anything.”

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

The Many Faces of Tarara

All that’s left of Tarará’s funicular is a tangle of iron (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 June 2019 — Few Cuban neighborhoods have changed as much over time as Tarará, east of Havana. It went from being a glamorous condominium to a children’s pioneer camp, then it became a hospital for children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident and later in a Spanish school for Chinese students. Everyone who is asked has different memories of the site.

The popularity in Cuba of the series Chernobyl, produced by the American HBO network and spread on the island through the ’weekly packeta semi-underground compendium of non-official entertainment sold on flash drives and other media — have put a spotlight on Tarará. The official media have attacked the script of the American series, which they accuse of being biased and of not showing the medical attention that many affected children received in Tarará in the years after 1986.

Yanet, 45, spent several weeks during primary school at the José Martí Pioneers Camp in this neighborhood. For her, memory has other tints more related to teaching activities and the student organization. “From first to sixth grade I went almost every year to Tarará, where we had classes and did recreational activities in the afternoon,” she recalls. continue reading

“I liked to go because it was fun but I also missed my family. The beach is very nice and there was also one of the best amusement parks in all of Havana but it got spoiled with time and there is nothing left,” she says. The City of the Pioneers, as it was also known, was inaugurated in July 1975 by Fidel Castro.

“That was a typical Robin Hood gesture,” reproaches Yanet. “It was like saying they took the houses away from the rich people who left Cuba and gave them to the children and families that used to be poor, but over time they also took them from us.” The huge chalets, the condominiums with French windows and large terraces, still recall their bourgeois past.

In the 525 houses of this small paradise only 17 families remain of those who originally lived in Tarará in the ’50s. The rest emigrated or lost their property after the arrival of Fidel Castro to power.

In the 80s, coinciding with the boom of the Soviet subsidy, the huge complex came to have a cultural center, seven dining rooms, five teaching blocks, a hospital, an amusement park and even an attractive cable car that crossed between two hills over the Tarará river; all that remains of it today is jumble of rusted iron.

Now, the village is preparing to undergo a new reconversion, as the arrival of a group of 50 Ukrainian children, descendants of those affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, has been announced.

Another of the changes in Tarará, and one that has raised the most complaints, is the closure of the Celia Sánchez Manduley School for Asthmatics and Diabetics, a boarding school in which the teaching hours were combined with the specific training to manage these diseases. Asthma affects 92.6 Cubans of every 1,000 inhabitants of all ages, according to data from the National Asthma Commission and the Cuban Society of Allergy, Asthma and Clinical Immunology.

Although one year has passed since the closure, the center’s alumni and their families are still waiting for a response from the Education authorities.

Tarará became a hospital for children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident. (Enrique de la Osa)

Luis Alejandro, the fictitious name of one of the students, remembers the five years he spent there between 2008 and 2013 pleasantly. “That school had no relationship to the rest of the country, there were excellent professionals, everything was great,” he recalls. The students spent the whole school week in the boarding school, they arrived on Sunday at six in the afternoon and left on Fridays, after lunch in a bus from the school itself.

“We had a routine. Like all those in boarding schools we got up at 6:00. The first thing we did before washing was to take the medication,” he says. Despite the fact that in the rest of the country’s schools the concept of snack was eradicated years ago, Luis Alejandro and the other asthmatic patients received three daily snacks in addition to the meals.

But the most important thing was the treatment for his illness. “The time there helped me a lot and there was never a lack of medicines, we got used to doing breathing exercises and learned to live with the disease.” Diabetic students were also taught to inject insulin themselves and to measure their blood sugar.

But one day everything ended. “The closing came without anyone expecting it, the first thing that happened was that the Ministry of Public Health ordered that the hospital be converted into one to serve tourists, in the style of La Pradera (a center for healthcare for tourists). This experiment did not work and they closed it, that’s when the problem started, because without a nearby hospital to deal with all the conditions [affecting the students], the school could not stay,” he recalls.

“The first step they took was to close registration [for new students], then they waited to graduate to the last year of ninth grade and then they closed it in June of that last year,” explains Luis Alejandro. The place still belongs to the Ministry of Education but the property is suffering from lack of use and maintenance.

Since the school was created in 1985 and until 2013 (the last year for which data are available) there were more than 5,000 asthmatic children and around 500 diabetics who attended there. The installation was close to the beach and that pure air was very beneficial for asthmatics.

On June 29 of the last year, the same day of the closing of the school, Carlos Javier Acosta, one of the students, lamented the situation on Facebook. “Today really was a sad day for me, it was the last day of a school that saw part of my childhood and adolescence, the school where I learned to live with my illness, where I knew friendship, where I was trained as a good person, where I learned to be independent because I was a boarding school student.”

For others, the saddest day was when they said goodbye not only to Tarará but also to the country. “My father had bought a piece of land in the place and built a nice two-story house with an ocean view,” recalls Gerardo Ponce, a Cuban exile whose family left the island with only what they could “carry in their suitcases,” he recalls. His father had set up a small pharmacy business that was confiscated in the early 1960s.

“I don’t want to go back because it is not what it used to be and I do not want to spoil my memories,” he says.

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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.

’Consolez Vous,’ The Cuban ’Sex Shop’ That Seeks to Integrate Art and Pleasure

Alejandro Bobadilla, one of the artists involved in Consolez Vous. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 9 June 2019 — In a city where basic products are scarce, thinking about buying a sex toy, never mind the taboo, can be a real odyssey. In Cuba there are no stores “for adults” and XXX cinema is viewed with suspicion or persecuted by the authorities.

A group of artists wanted to break with the canons of a society that rejected “bourgeois morality” in the ’60s but that keeps intact the puritanisms and taboos of that era. Consolez Vous — the name is French and means roughly ’Console Yourself’ — is the project of the artists Yanahara Mauri, Javier Alejandro Bobadilla and Joan Díaz, who during the last Biennial of Havana stormed the Cuban Art Factory with the provocative idea of installing a sex shop. Their pieces are now exhibited at La Marca, as part of the Design Biennial, convened and organized by the National Design Office.

“Everything started as a project of the Biennial, we presented it and they accepted it. Although the initial idea was not to participate in the Biennial, this work began much earlier, with the project of establishing a store,” says Bobadilla in an interview with 14ymedio. continue reading

For the artist, the important thing is not the objects themselves, but “the gesture of openly and publicly” establishing a sex shop in Cuba. “I was very skeptical, I have always been pessimistic and I did not think that it would be approved for the Biennial but, well, they accepted it, like magic,” he says.

The original idea was to establish a traveling store. “We wanted to go to the opening of the art shows and set up the store there or park a couple of days at the fairs where they sell handicrafts, shoes, wallets and sell there, near the town,” he explains. The authorities did not accept this proposal and placed the proposal in the Art Factory, a place where thousands of people enter daily.

“These erotic objects are all transparent, they have messages and things inside, apart from the mixtures of colors. We prepare the right environment to make them look better and be more appealing. We put up banners, we set up like a boutique. Every day that the Factory opened, we were going to sell, from Thursday to Sunday, “explains Bobadilla, a cybernetic professional.

To make the pieces, they use polyester resin. “The material is liquid, it looks like honey, then you put another substance that hardens it. We give it a form using condoms, which are difficult to obtain, because they are missing from pharmacies,” he adds.

We have toys of different sizes and colors, some are smooth but there are others that have curves. In the shop some complained that the objects “do not vibrate” or that “they are very hard.” Others asked that silicone be used instead of resin.

Customs prohibits “natural persons” (individuals) from importing goods, and self-employed people do not have the legal standing to do so. “What else would I like. With a silicone tank and a 3D printer there is much we can produce, but, although we want to promote the industry, we have the ’internal blockade.’ This business in Cuba is very complicated,” he laments.

In the absence of places licensed for the sale of sex items, an illegal market has developed in the country. A sex toy costs between 20 and 60 CUC. Sex shops in Cuban exist clandestinely in private homes with products arriving in the country in the baggage of the so-called ’mules’ — individuals who bring items through customs.

The Consolez Vous artistic project ran throughout the month of April and the first week of May at the Art Factory, at which point the institution abruptly closed. The artists sometimes wandered away from  their small space with erotic objects in hand to provoke potential customers and although some walked away embarrassed, others entered to look.

“Some people buy it for decoration, in the end this is art. If someone asks me if I’m selling dildos will tell him no, that what I sell are sculptures, what they used after they leave the store is someone else’s problem,” says Bobadilla.

Although at first the idea was to give away the objects, the high price of the raw material forced the artists to sell their work. Each sexual object is sold at 5 CUC (roughly 5 dollars). The price barely covers the investment, but it is part of the purpose of the display: “For these objects to be within reach of people’s wallets,” he adds.

One of the sex toys of the Consolez Vous project. (14ymedio)

The artists want the Cuban public to change their perception of sexual objects. “In some cases couples came into the store together. Others preferred to leave their wife or husband outside. Many were laughing at the entrance without daring to pass. We always provoke people and hawk the goods, like in agriculture,” he adds.

“For the Biennial we made 500 toys and we only have one small box left in Matanzas. We have sold more than 400,” says Bobadilla proudly, dreaming of having his own shop in the Art Factory.

“The difference between the toys that come from abroad and ours is that what we offer to the Cuban public, in addition to costing a lot less, is art,” he emphasizes. “Art made in Cuba.”

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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.

Eight Years of Rationed Water in Bauta

Service cuts occur more and more frequently and, when the water arrives, it does so with very little pressure. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, havana, 29 May 2019 — The water is not reaching Bauta, one of the municipalities of the young province of Artemisa. For about eight years, many of its more than 40,000 inhabitants have been introducing their own measures so that the locality’s water problems are less and less evident in their homes.

And water is all anyone talks about. The service cuts happen more and more frequently and, when the water does arrive, it does so with very little force and at established times that force the residents to store it in tanks to have it available all day.

Rosa is a resident of La Cubalina, one of the neighborhoods of Bauta most affected by the scarcity of water. “Here the water flow remained stable for a few days — it came every day around five in the afternoon — but in the last week no water came. I have a little bit of it that I picked up at a neighbor’s house, but I have it stored for cooking. I have to clean but I’ll just sweep just because I have an old woman in bed and that is my priority,” says the woman. continue reading

To “endure these crises”, some people have paid for a tanks and a cistern, but she has not been able to afford that so far. “Just now I was able to buy the tanks that I already put on the roof, but I still lack the pipes and the installation; all that costs money, and I can’t afford it all at once, it’s little by little.”

Around the corner lives Nuvia Méndez, and as she sits in her neighbor’s doorway and talks with other residents “the only thing you can talk about,” is the water. “That’s the issue here, there’s nothing else, we’ve been without it for more than a week and the authorities do not care, not everyone can afford the installation of an elevated tank and a cistern, my husband carries water on the pedicab, but he’s older and we are retired and he can’t handle all that coming and going.”

The problem of water has been joined by another, the difficulties in collecting garbage. “It’s been 15 days since the tractor that collects the bags has passed by,” says Méndez.

Bauta does not have garbage containers, each neighbor takes his bag to the door of his house to be collected on Tuesdays, but many houses had up to three bags sitting out, many of them smelly and covered with flies.

Some residents who do not want to have stinky bags at the entrance of their home pay a driver, but he just takes the bag and throws it on a corner. Although there is a police placard that says “forbidden to throw garbage, do not pollute the environment or put children’s lives at risk,” the mountain of waste grows by the minute.

Many of the houses in the village have tanks on their roofs and some neighbors have improvised a cistern in their doorway burying a tank on the ground. In some areas the situation is not so critical. The residents of 142nd Street have benefited from a better supply of water since a new pipe was installed, but the crisis touches them even there.

Jorge Luis is one of the lucky ones who lives in that street. In his doorway he has a little receptacle where many neighbors come to fill their buckets.

“Here at least the water comes. Sometimes they fill it, sometimes they do not fill it, because it has a schedule; they said it was from ten in the morning to ten at night, but right now there’s no water.

Often it’s not chlorinated, they’re very relaxed about that. This is the best part, because we have this pipeline, the new one that was connected to the Party well. They say it because it is next to the municipal Party, and it has been almost two years since it was installed but it only came this far for a year. Before that the water did not come here either. We’ve had eight years already without running water because the pipes do not work,” he says.


The shortage has been chronic for eight years, although some times are worse, such as the last week, in which not a drop. (14ymedio)

The man also complains about the sewer system. “The drainage is another thing, we have a pit that we share among three houses, but they never come to clean it, although Public Health reported it, but nothing, they don’t come. We have that pouring into the street and, right now, you do not see much, because there’s no water at all, but when you the water comes, you will see running down the street, the clean next to the dirty. There are no sewers here, only on the corner is there one,” he protests.

Yumurí and Belica are two other districts of Bauta affected by the lack of water. A rupture in one of the pipes brought a brigade of the Artemisa Provincial Water and Sewer Company out to the lowest part of that zone.

“It’s been like a week since water came. This pipe has always been split and the water is jetted in. We had this break for more than fifteen days, when it rains, it floods and we have to wait for them to come and clean it,” says Luis Ernesto, one of the residents of the Belica neighborhood who tries to help the workers who are repairing a broken pipeline.

The area has even approached the president of the Popular Council to try to organize the work. “I think that this is resolved today, although the backhoe is missing,” he says, referring to the team that digs out the dirt to place the pipe.

The workers, who are not so optimistic, comment that a few days ago the equipment arrived, but the fuel was missing. “At this point of the month no company has any,” they say. But the official replies, “The fuel is already there, what is needed is the equipment,” he told the workers, who rested in the shade in the face of the impossibility of continuing to work.

Luis Ernesto believes that not enough information is provided about the situation in the municipality or about the causes that are the sources of these problems. “We have called everywhere but they always tell us something different, the truth is that we have been dealing with this problem for years and it has not been solved.”

One of the workers is very clear about it: “The problem with La Cubalina is that the valve does not work.” In the farm where the pipe passes, there’s a lost key to the passage. There is no water in the pipeline, the solution is to change everything from above to where the houses start, and this way La Cubalina will have a complete water system.”

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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.

Not Allowed to Travel for Breaking Down the Wall of the Official Lie

Our colleague, Luz Escobar, was forces to remain earthbound by order of the authorities, who blocked her exit from Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 23 May 2019 — It had been like launching a ship into space. I had to get a new passport, arrange for a visa and take care of all the tasks to prepare my home and work for my days of absence. When it was time to leave for the airport on Wednesday afternoon, I felt that I had run several laps. The idea of sleeping a while on the plane made me very excited, but that moment never came.

I planned to fly to the city of Washington, stopping in Miami, with American Airlines. For three days I would be in the capital of the United States to participate in the Independent Art and Journalism workshops organized by the Cuban Soul Foundation. To experience that city in the summer, without having to carry a heavy coat with me, filled me with hope.

However, when I stood in front of the immigration officer and she asked me to take a step back I felt that all my plans were collapsing. The woman made a phone call and a few minutes later an officer arrived and took my passport. Document in hand, the man went into a small office, used the phone, returned and said: “Come with me.” continue reading

Inside the office the man said grimly: “You are banned from leaving the country, you can not travel.” When asked about the reasons, he only added: “We do not know why.” To know more details I would have to go to the Citizens’ Immigration Office at 3rd and 20th, in the municipality of Playa, where the answers stretch out and the months can pass without receiving more information.

There are already many opponents, activists and independent journalists who have been prevented from traveling, under the euphemistically titled concept of “being regulated.” Some have finally managed to leave the island while others are still waiting for clarification of their situation. In some cases, after a refusal, they were told it was a mistake, which led me to ask the Immigration officer if perhaps they were confusing me with another person.

“No,” the man reiterated, assuring me that, in addition to seeing it in the National Identity System (SUIN), he had confirmed it by telephone with his superiors.

The new Immigration Law, in force since January 2013, includes in its Article 25 the prohibition of departure “for reasons of public interest or national security,” but nobody has yet told me that this is my case. As I am sure that I do not have any pending cases with the law, nor debts to a bank, nor I am a witness in any trial, I only have to conclude that it is a reprisal.

In recent years, denying one’s exit abroad has become a repressive method of State Security against uncomfortable voices. Many times the refusal of permission to travel is not permanent, but arbitrary and intermittent, which greatly hinders the affected person’s ability to lodge complaints with international organizations.

In my case, I was not allowed to board that plane because I practice journalism. I happened to be on the list of the “regulated” for relating the reality that surrounds me and I do not know when I will leave this Island again because I work in that “dangerous sector” that is the independent press. The relationship is direct: Every article I publish distances me still further from the steps of an airplane, but every story I bring to light is one more step to break down the wall of official lies.

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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.

Cuban State Security Represses the Independent LGBTI March in Havana

More than 100 activists from the LGBTI community demonstrated in Havana’s Parque Central. (14ymedio)

Note: See links at end of post for numerous photos and videos of the day.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario J. Pentón, Havana, 11 May 2019 — State Security agents clashed with activists of the LGBTI community and sympathizers of this group who went to Havana’s Central Park on Saturday to demonstrate in favor of diversity on the island. At least seven people were violently arrested, according to what 14ymedio was able to confirm.

Among the detainees were the activists Iliana Hernandez, Oscar Casanella, Ariel Ruiz Urquiola and Boris Gonzalez Arenas, all released before midnight.

The march had been called by independent activists in response to the cancellation of the traditional Conga Against Homophobia, organized by the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex) directed by Mariela Castro, daughter of ex-ruler Raúl Castro and deputy to the National Assembly. continue reading

Cenesex had called for a boycott of the independent march, insisting that it had been organized from Miami. Many LGBTI activists were frustrated by the reasons given by the ruling party cor cancelling the annual conga, among which where that it could be exploited by “groups opposed to Cenesex using what happened with the conga as a weapon against our institution, and through it, against the State, the government and the [Communist] Party. ”

At dawn on Sunday the deputy Mariela Castro, director of the Cenesex, described the march as a “show convened from Miami and Matanzas” that was supported by “officials of the US embassy and covered by the foreign press.”

A few hours before four in the afternoon dozens of activists were gathering in Parque Central in the Cuban capital to march against homophobia. There was a visible police deployment in areas of Centro Habana and according to what this newspaper has been told, there were police every 50 yards in the area where the demonstration was planned, with some 300 people gathered, among activists and supporters.

Under the slogan “for a diverse Cuba” a growing number of activists gathered in Parque Central before the eyes of the police. Around 4:30 p.m. the group began to walk towards the Malecón by way of Prado with multicolored flags and shouting “Yes we can.” Along with the protesters was the singer Haydée Milanés, among other artists.

The activist Yasmany Sánchez Pupo told 14ymedio before beginning the demonstration that it was “a peaceful march” and that the first purpose was that “Cubans are not afraid to do something for themselves without needing anyone else.” He also said it was a march “for equality” and to “look for a space in society” for LGBT activism. “I’m scared but it does not matter, I’m here,” he added.

Sánchez Pupo was vilently arrested and taken to a patrol car when the march reached Prado and San Lázaro.

At that point of the march, State Security forces, who until then had only observed, used violence and force to prevent the march continuing to the Malecón, doling out beatings and arrests. All arrests were made by agents of the State Security dressed as civilians in coordination with police officers who cordoned off the area, and with the patrols and paddy wagons of the Ministry of the Interior.

The activists Isbel Díaz Torres and her partner Jaime Martínez were arrested on Saturday morning when they left their home to attend the march and were released this morning after 24 hours of arbitrary arrest.

In conversation with this newspaper Martinez said, “We are already home, they caught us yesterday at about eight in the morning when we left the house and ready with our flags.” He states that “it was State Security” who carried out the arrest and then took them to a patrol car to the Aguilera police station where “there was no interrogation or anything” and they remained in separate cells all the time.

From Madrid the Cuban Observatory of Human Rights (OCDH) condemned “the arrests, the use of violence and the repressive siege deployed by the Government” against the participants.

The Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, also based in Madrid, denounced the “repressive deployment” of State Security and held the regime responsible for “the physical integrity of the prisoners.”

“We condemn the repressive position of the Cuban government in restricting the freedoms of demonstrations and expression of a community that has been harassed and discriminated against for 60 years,” the organization said. “Once again, the lack of political will and the lack of interest in responding to the demands of the LGBTI community are exposed.”

— Mónica Baró (@MnicaBar2) 11 de mayo de 2019 [See video of the march here] Eight police officers between 12th and Paseo, by Linea. A patrol stops on Paseo next to the taxi in which I travel and the taxi driver asks the police driver: What’s going on here that it’s full of police? Police response: The transvestites want to party.

— Luz_Cuba (@Luz_Cuba) 11 de mayo de 2019 [See picture here]

— Luz_Cuba (@Luz_Cuba) 11 de mayo de 2019 #Cuba moment when they were arrested at @ilianahcuba [See picture here]In an attempt to continue the march by Malecon, the police intervened and violently arrested Boris González Arenas, Óscar Casanella and Iliana Hernández. 

— Camilo Condis (@camilocondis) 11 de mayo de 2019 The PNR [People’s Revolutionary Police] offers a bus (the same one that arrived full of police) to take those who are here to the party of CENESEX in Echeverría, which makes them laugh a lot. “Riding on the bus? None of that!” [See video here]

— Patrick Oppmann CNN (@CNN_Oppmann) 11 de mayo de 2019 Gay rights march being halted at Malecón and Prado. Police arriving and have made two arrests. [See picture here]

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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.

This is Life for the Victims of the Tornado That Devastated Havana

Ailena, 22, pregnant and about to give birth, is one of the victims of the tornado. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 11 May 2019 — To get to the shelter you have to walk more than two kilometers under Havana’s inclement sun. No bus route takes you there. There is not a single sign indicating how to get there. The site doesn’t even have a name. Nobody would remember that old warehouse of the Villena Revolution school if it were not for the twenty people who now inhabit it, since a tornado struck Havana last January.

Overcrowded, in unhealthy conditions, these victims had no choice but to accept the government’s proposal to live temporarily in this shelter. Many of them are considered “illegal” for having emigrated from the poorest regions of the country to the capital in search of better opportunities for their children.

“This is not life. We’ve been here three months. The conditions are terrible, we have no privacy. We sleep in beds next to each other. We look like pigs,” says Yudelmis Urquiza, one of the displaced who lived for 15 days in a warehouse after she lost her home, until the government brought her to this place. continue reading

Urquiza is mixed race, thin, and very loquacious. She seems possessed by a rage that she can not hold back. She wants to explain why she feels insulted at the shelter and can not contain her words. She explodes in descriptions.

The guard of the shelter looks at her out of the corner of his eye. It bothers him that she speaks so freely. He blocks her attempt to give a tour of site but Urquiza passes the camera to a boy who photographs everything those living in the shelter want to denounce.

Since the tornado passed, more than 20 people live in this warehouse without any privacy. (14ymedio)

“The bathrooms are latrines. There is one that is blocked and the shit runs over without stopping. The other latrines are full of eye gnats [the disease-carrier Liohippelates] and other insects. Here all the women have acquired vaginal parasites and no matter how much we complain, nobody pays attention to us,” she says.

She is 29 years old and has two children, aged 11 and nine months. She’s a single mother. Her house on Concha Street, between Infanzón and Pedro Perna, collapsed with the first winds of the tornado. Like half the city, the building was not in good condition. If the tornado had not taken it would have been the rains or a cold front.

On Wednesday the sun was falling vertically on the fiber cement roof tiles of the shelter. The heat was unbearable and a few drops of sweat slid down Urquiza’s face. “Breakfast has not arrived yet,” she yells. The authorities forbid the tornado victims to cook. The food is free, but they are not satisfied with the quality.

“The food is terrible. The Congrí Rice is hard and the picadillo comes with fly poop. The children have had diarrhea and vomiting. One of the pregnant women couldn’t eat for two days because the food was spoiled,” she says.

Instead of toilets they have latrines, some of them in deplorable conditions. (14ymedio)

By this time a group of shelter residents has congregated at the door of the premises. The guard was still stationed at the entrance, undaunted, but the conversation took on the connotation of a formal neighborhood assembly. Everyone wanted to participate.

“The ham comes green. We’ve even found cockroaches in the rice,” said a young man with a thin beard and slicked-down hair. “There are pregnant women here, there are children who need to eat well. They bring food when they feel like it and we have to adapt to their schedules,” he adds.

The drinking water comes from a tank of asbestos cement that is found in the common patio. According to the shelter residents, the health authorities warned them that the water was not chlorinated, but since they are not allowed cooking utensils, they can’t boil it either.

“At first we were afraid, but now we are giving the children that water. We also drink it ourselves. What else can we do?” says another resident of shelter, resigned.

The doctors of the Boyeros polyclinic prescribed the children some tablets of mebendazole [Vermox], a drug for intestinal parasites, but according to the residents, so far they have not been able to find the drug in any pharmacy.

At times the interview became like a formal neighborhood assembly and everyone wanted to complain. (14ymedio)

“It is very hard for a mother to see her children living without sanitary conditions. They have had fever and diarrhea. The same doctors from the policlinic said this place was uninhabitable, but we continue living here,” laments one of the residents.

They all say they have written letters to the authorities of the government and the Communist Party asking for a solution to their case, but nobody has answered the letters. Ailena, a 22-year-old pregnant woman about to give birth approached the authorities to ask for help for her “special situation.”

“They told me that this was my a problem. That I had become pregnant and, therefore, I had to solve my own problem,” she says distressed.

“A wind blew off the roof tiles the other day and now when it rains everything gets wet. We spend our lives being careful not to get the mattresses the Church gave us wet,” says the pregnant woman.

The displaced people say that a television report showing victims receiving new houses caused them to start dreaming. “We immediately called Bárbara Agón Fernández, the president of the Municipal Assembly of the People’s Power of Diez de Octubre. She had promised us that after they did a census of us, they would build housing for us,” they say.

However, the official clarified that the aid was only for the “legal” ones. Those who did not have an address in Havana [formally registered with the government] would remain at the shelter indefinitely. They did not even know what they were going to do with them, said Agón, who also urged them to thank the Revolution because “if they were in another country, they would be on the street.”

The water the residents drink is not chlorinated. (14ymedio)

The shelter residents took out an old propaganda poster of Fidel Castro with his famous concept of Revolution. “Revolution is being treated and treating others as human beings,” said a woman with a slightly mocking tone. The guard, bad-tempered, lost patience and called the police. “Are we imprisoned?” the victims remonstrate. The man does not respond. Minutes later a police patrol with two uniformed officers announced that the interview was over.

“Your journalist’s credential? You have to accompany us to the police station to clarify this situation,” said an officer bluntly.

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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.

My Interrogator Didn’t Come Because He Had No Gas

Luz Escobar was arrested at a school where, dozens of people who lost their homes in the Havana tornado of Havana live crammed together. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 9 May 2019 — As journalists we must follow up on the issues we publish articles about, and that effort took me, this Wednesday, to a school in the municipality of Rancho Boyeros. Dozens of people who lost their homes when a tornado destroyed several neighborhoods in Havana last January now live crowded together in one of the school buildings.

Some of them met me while I was searching for testimonies among the ruins of Luyanó, one of the areas most affected by the winds. That’s why I was not surprised when my phone rang yesterday morning and a woman’s voice gave me the directions to get to the Villena Revolución school, next to the José Martí International Airport. In her words you could feel the despair.

The route is complicated and, to reach the shelter, you have to walk more than two kilometers on foot from Rancho Boyeros Avenue until you come across the entrance to the school. There were several women waiting for me, one of them pregnant. The site is controlled by several watchtowers with guards. continue reading

Later I understood that my presence there did not go unnoticed by the custodians who control the entrance, perhaps because of a “leak” of the telephone call from the morning which could have alerted the security personnel. Hence, the hostility with which I received by the man stationed in the second sentry box.

A rope was strung across the street to prevent passage and the guard, with imposing authority, asked who I was. The people living in the shelter tried to say that it was only a relative who was coming to visit them, but I preferred to say that I was a journalist and that I was making a brief visit. The man stuck to the group like a shadow, something that provoked demands from some of the hurricane victims for privacy and the right to receive visits. “We’re not in jail, right?” one of them said.

At the door of the shelter there was another “surveillance fence” made up of three men whom nobody had seen before and who said they were school workers. One specified that he was a member of the Communist Party in the school. The situation became very uncomfortable, because they blocked access to the door. The victims began to demand loudly that they let me in and the three men responded by appealing to a regulation that they were unable to quote.

That’s when technology came to my aid. As I could not access the place to take photos and know the conditions of the room where everyone sleeps crowded together, I asked one of the people sheltering there to take pictures and pass them to my mobile through the application Zapya, widely used in Cuba to transfer files via Wifi. I stayed outside compiling the testimonies, something that did not please the party militant.

Visibly upset, the man asked another of the guards to call the police. I thought he was just saying it to scare me and I sat at the foot of the shelter entrance doing the interviews.

A few minutes later the police patrol arrived with two uniformed officers. They asked for my identity card and I told them I was a journalist. Then they asked me if I had a credential, something impossible for an independent reporter, because the authorities do not recognize or issue permits for those of us who work in the media who do not join the official state media. “You have to accompany us to the unit to clarify this situation,” the officer said bluntly.

I tried to calm the group of shelter residents, among whom the outrage had grown, as they shouted at the policemen not to arrest me and said that if they took me they had to “take everyone.” At that time I internalized the importance of my presence there for these people. I was the voice that could tell a story that would never be published in the Granma newspaper or come out in in the discussion on the Roundtable TV show.

One of the young people in the group filmed the entire arrest with the cell phone and the policeman was so upset that he spit out some swear words, snatched the cell phone from his hands and demanded that he erase the video. A women interceded and managed to return the cell phone to the young man without losing his witnessing. Before entering the police car I managed to give them the phone number of the 14ymedio newsroom so that the residents could notify my colleagues.

They took me to the police station in Santiago de las Vegas, where I spent almost an hour sitting on the reception bench. A very emotional moment was when a group of the women from the shelter arrived to demand my release. The minutes passed and, when I inquired about my situation, they answered that I had to wait for the “specialist” from State Security for an “interview.”

They put me in a cell for the “classification” process. There they take the data of the newly arrested. While I was in that cubicle with grille and padlock I heard stories that bordered on the absurd and others worthy of a meticulous report, like that of a young Cuban girl recently arrived from Chile and arrested at the airport because she had once lost a cell phone, made a complaint and was left with a notation “involved in a theft case,” although she was the plaintiff. Her impeccable white clothes clashed with the gray shabbiness inside the dungeon.

It was my turn. I handed over my earrings, my ring and everything I had in my backpack. I waited another hour. The telephone rang and I knew, from the reaction of the policemen that it was Camilo, the alias of the Political Police officer who has been harassing me for months, summoning me for interrogations and threatening me and telling me that I can not cover public events.

The reaction of the officers of the National Revolutionary Police was very curious. It was clear that they were not happy with the situation and the one who answered the seguroso’s call said to the other: “the skinny guy will not come, because he does not have gas,” for his motorcycle. My situation was in a limbo, I was still under arrest but the police did not know what to do with me because it was not their “case,” but rather State Security’s.

So, they looked for a formula to get rid of the problem. The head of the unit sat down nearby and for more than 20 minutes he explained to me why I can not practice independent journalism. “You do not have a credential,” and that “violates the Constitution,” he reiterated several times. Actually, the first blow to the Constitution had been my arbitrary arrest. “Without authorization you can not go around doing interviews,” he remarked.

They returned my belongings and, after five hours there, I enjoyed the Havana sun on my skin. Only once I was outside did I learn about all the solidarity raised in social networks by my detention. It was the second time that day that technology came to my aid.

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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.

Repression in the Time of Shortages

Yoani Sanchez, via Twitter, Havana, 8 May 2019 — A nice “touch” in the fright of the arrest of @Luz_Cuba (Luz Escobar): After waiting five hours at the police station for the State Security agent to arrive to interrogate her, the “seguroso” never arrived because he didn’t have gas for his motorcycle. [#The Crisis Comes to the Political Police]

See also:
14ymedio Reporter Luz Escobar Arrested In Cuba / CiberCuba

Luz Escobar, Reporter for 14ymedio, Released After 5 Hour Detention in Cuba

Luz Escobar, Reporter for 14ymedio, Released After 5 Hour Detention in Cuba

Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 May 2019 — Thanks to all those who demanded the release of @LuzCuba (Luz Escobar). She just called us on the phone to say that she had been released after being under arrest for five hours. We will only have the details when she arrives at the 14ymedio newsroom and we speak with her. THANK YOU.

14ymedio Reporter Luz Escobar Arrested In Cuba / CiberCuba

Luz Escobar, a reporter for the independent Cuban newspaper 14ymedio

CiberCuba, May 8, 2019 – 15:08 (GMT-5)

Cuban police arrested journalist Luz Escobar, a reporter for the newspaper 14ymedio, on Wednesday.

Escobar was taken to the police station in the Santiago de Las Vegas municipality, in Havana, after she was arrested while interviewing residents of a shelter for victims in that area.

“Regrettably, we have confirmed that our colleague, Luz Escobar, a reporter for the newspaper 14ymedio, was arrested and taken to the police station in Santiago de las Vegas, in Havana. One of the residents of the shelter for victims where she was collecting testimonies called our office to confirm it,” wrote Yoani Sánchez, director of 14ymedio, on her Facebook page.

 

Cuban Police Have Their Eyes on the Tourist Guides in Old Havana

A fall in the number of reservations for tours through the state-run companies may be one of the reasons why the Government has decided to intervene in a practice before which, until now, it ignored. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 May 2019 — Things have become complicated for the independent tour guides in Havana in recent weeks. Accustomed to operating for years without a license, they see how the authorities are now trying to curb their activities to protect the monopoly of state companies, such as Cubanacan or Havanatur.

“We must avoid all streets near the cruise terminal, but the truth is some days are more complicated than other,” a freelance guide who prefers not to reveal his name tells 14ymedio. According to his testimony and that of another of his colleagues, in the last month several colleagues have been arrested and taken to the police station at Cuba and Chacón streets or fined by the authorities.

“It has already happened to me twice, encountering the police with customers along the routes. It’s a terrible shame, but I tell them all the truth, that we are in a legal limbo and that’s why they can stop us,” explains the guide, an English language graduate from the University of Havana who prefers to work on his own. continue reading

According to official figures, the Island has received two million international visitors from the first of the year to 4 May. (14ymedio)

The lack of government issued licenses for tourist guides prevents the practice of this specialty within legal channels, as professionals would prefer. “Many of us do not have a license because it does not exist, I, in particular, have a photographer, and when the police ask I always tell tourists that they hire me to accompany them on their tour and take pictures of them. So far it has worked for me but some of my friends have had problems with this ruse,” he says.

The profession of dance teacher is another of the licenses most requested by those who, in reality, use the license to act of a tour guide on the main streets of Havana.

Luis, driver of a luxury car that offers tours from Old Havana to the Plaza of the Revolution says that “the guides are tremendous targets. They are detained, they are fined, and then fined again. When they are fined for the third time, they are given a warning notice and that means they have a criminal record and it is impossible for them to travel in areas where there is tourism.”

The history of the raids against the guides runs by word of mouth among those who make a living in the Historic Center area. A parking lot attendant from the Lonja del Comercio attributes it to the fact that the cruise companies that arrive in Havana are receiving fewer reservations for tours and have complained because “the guides picked up clients from the cruise when they exit through Customs.”

The attendant admits that although there are many professionals in the business, there are also “many scammers” who take advantage of the situation and are not prepared for the job. “A few weeks ago here there was a big raid, they took about 20 in a trip, they grabbed everyone, small-time jineteros (male prostitutes) and guides who have been doing this for years,” he says.

Today we reached 2 million visitors, 12 days earlier than year, we will have a Foreign Administration Workshop, in the afternoon a Cuba-Spain Business Forum, tonight the gala at the Alicia Alonso Theater and tomorrow we will inaugurate FITCuba 2019 at the Palace of Conventions. pic.twitter.com/qBVJYTYAaT    –  Manuel Marrero Cruz (@MMarreroCruz) May 6, 2019

According to official figures, the Island has received two million international visitors since the beginning of 2019 until May 4. The Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero, published the data in his Twitter account and said that this shows “a higher rate” of arrivals compared to the same period last year.

The official press highlighted on Monday that the United States remains the second “origin market” despite “the [United States] Government’s policy.” By the end of April, 257,500 Americans had arrived in Cuba, 55% in cruises,” an option that continues to rise and grows 48% this year,” while arrivals by air grows 45%.

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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.

Residents of Boulevard D’25 Win the Battle Against Noise

There is a notable decrease in the influx of people since the playground was closed. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 24 April 2019 — Where once the hustle and bustle of children’s voices resounded at all hours of the day, silence now reigns. Most entertainment devices for the little ones have disappeared and those that are installed are covered with tarps or disconnected.

“The park was closed because the neighbors of the building next door were very upset by the noise,” one of the clerks in the arts-and-crafts shops told 14ymedio.

The place where there used to be an old state parking lot for vehicles, is now converted into an area to where the self-employed can rent spaces. Outskirts of each restaurant or cafe elegant young men show the menus where they announce “excellent dishes.” As for the playground, “That closed because it bothered a neighbor who convinced the whole building to protest,” says one of the waiters. continue reading

For the residents the question was not in dispute. Their health was affected due to “sound pollution,” and this was reflected in many of their demands to the Ministry of Public Health and the Provincial Government of the capital. The pressure they brought to bear, with complaint letters detailing the problems, caught the attention of the authorities, who agreed to close the playground.

According to the Facebook page Vecinos de La Rampa (Neighbors of La Rampa) there are several, not just one, residents whose complaints about the noise led them to close the park. One of them is Dr. Alina Arcos, who works in the Emergency Department of a hospital and lamented that she could hardly rest when she arrived home after more than nine hours of work.

“For three years, the residents of the community to which I belong have sent letters, complaints and denunciations to any organization, institution or official that might have any role in this, and except for a temporary solution, the rest have been useless. The businesses that operate there violate the commitments made by the Government and the Party with the community before its opening, multiple existing rules are openly breached and this puts our health at risk,” said Arcos in a post for the month of March.

Facade of the building without posters. (14ymedio)

After several complaints in different instances made over more than three years and on social networks, the neighbors decided to show their discontent by hanging fabrics from their balconies, which they have now removed. “On this Boulevard, profits matters more than the welfare of the community, enough is enough!” Said one, and, “This Boulevard violates our right to live in peace,” said another.

“We all worked together and our efforts won. My parents, who lived tormented by the situation, now feel relieved,” a young man who lives in the building told 14ymedio an Thursday afternoon.

It is not the first time that the neighbors managed to close the park with their demands. The authorities had already ordered the closure of the park on a previous occasion, although the owners decided to ignore it and reopened it despite not having the required permits .

“We neighbors just discovered that the Boulevard does not have — hear this — has not and never has had a health license for the use that it has been put to,” denounced another of the neighbors in the neighborhood Facebook group.

On April 13, just before the school break, the park closed. “Days before there was a meeting here with more than 20 neighbors in which the president of the Municipality of Plaza de la Revolución participated,” says another neighbor who plays with her grandson in the inner courtyard of the building located on N Street between 23rd and 25th.

Before getting the facilities closed, Dr. Arcos pointed suspiciously at “corruption,” “abuse of power” and “influence peddling” as the causes that could explain the State’s delay in this case when it comes to protecting citizens.

This week one of the vice-presidents of the Plaza Municipal Assembly of the Power, Pedro Pablo Herrera, was dismissed from his position. Although the reasons are unknown, two sources claim that Herrera participated in at least one of the Assemblies that was held with the residents of Boulevard D’25 to try to solve the noise problem.

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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.