With the Blackouts, the ‘Temporary Situation’ Becomes Permanent

Lines to buy fuel in Havana have been a constant at this time. (Alejandro Yanes)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 September 2020 — This Wednesday, September 16, the scheduled blackouts begin in Havana to reduce energy consumption and, according to the official press, stop “a tendency to overuse that the country cannot afford.”

This completes prophecy made by the Government a year ago when Miguel Díaz-Canel announced, on September 11, 2019, that the Island had entered a fuel crisis, which he described at the time as a “temporary situation.”

According to the notice published by the Electric Company of Havana, the “interruptions to the electrical service,” this Wednesday from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm in the municipalities of Plaza, Playa and Boyeros, are due to “scheduled maintenance actions.” A few weeks ago, the authorities had already denied that the blackouts that occurred in August were due to a lack of fuel.

However, on September 3, Deputy Prime Minister Ramiro Valdés Menéndez called for a reduction in the costs of providing electricity and asked the municipal energy councils to identify the high consumers in residences and state services.

This Monday, the authorities insisted on this message, reporting a new accounting so far in September, when 4% more was consumed than expected. The only provinces complying with the plan are Las Tunas, Holguín and Granma, lamented the National Energy Council. Although the agency admits that households have reduced consumption, as recommended at the time, “the response from state agencies and their agencies still does not offer the results that are urgently needed,” said a note published in the official press.

Despite the insistent declarations of the authorities denying the link between blackouts and fuel shortages, the situation, far from improving, worsens and in the last month, several areas of the capital have been without electricity in periods that sometimes extend to eight o’clock hours.

The Government continues to place its hopes on its old energy partner, Venezuela, from which at least 49% of the fuel with which the island generates electricity comes (the remaining 51% is produced with oil extracted in Cuba). According to the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States, Carlos Vecchio, in the first half of 2020 the Maduro regime sent 33 tankers to Cuba, loaded with just over 13 million barrels of oil.

But the South American country, which for years has supplied oil to Cuba in exchange for doctors, has seen its possibilities greatly diminished with the increase in sanctions from the White House and now receives fuel in a non-regulatory way from Iran, also affected by the Washington measures. According to experts, part of the cargo from these ships reaches Havana.

At the beginning of the crisis, Díaz-Canel maintained a warlike language about the “temporary situation,” how could it be otherwise, charging the United States with the responsibility. “This is our Bay of Pigs… we have already overcome the first moment of the temporary situation… the country has not come to a standstill,” Díaz-Canel said in his government meetings, while on the street people mobbed gas stations and transport stops.

The authorities were then even forced to stop transport in the capital and demand — by way of an army of inspectors — that state vehicles pick up passengers. The situation also caused many of the private carriers to raise prices on their routes.

The arrival of the pandemic has left the situation in the air. It is impossible to know what the evolution of the energy situation in the country would have been if the coronavirus had not forced the stop of almost all transport on the Island to prevent mobility and stopped many non-essential activities that are large consumers of energy.

But even with these savings, Cuba has problems to maintain supply and the strong impact that covid-19 is expected to cause on the economy threatens to perpetuate an already long “temporary situation,” which looks a little more like the detested Special Period of the 90s every day.

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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.

Trials Designed to Set an Example Overwhelm a Court of Law in Havana

The express legal process seeks not only to convict offenders, but also to send a message to the rest of the public. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 September 2020 — If it weren’t for the pandemic, it would seem that the group gathered on 23rd Street is waiting for a bus. But this Friday, people in front of the Municipal Court at the Plaza de la Revolución were waiting to find out the fate of their relatives, detained for allegedly violating the measures decreed in Havana to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Dozens of eyes did not lose sight of the arrival of police vehicles, the movement of the uniformed men, or the shout that, from time to time, a policeman would voice from the front door of a large house on the opposite sidewalk. At any time, a son, a brother or a father might be transferred to the site to be tried for failing to comply with Decree 14/2020.

“Here we are, waiting for them to bring our son but they tell us that it will be later, that now they are bringing the people from Cerro and we are from Centro Habana,” Marta, a woman who is waiting, leaning on a wall on 23rd Street with her husband and two children, tells 14ymedio. continue reading

Some have settled on the sidewalk, others have been able to bring a small plastic bench, a bottle of water and lots of patience for the long hours of waiting. They are people from all social classes and neighborhoods in Havana. What little unites them is the anxiety of not knowing what happened to the relative who did not return home and they found out shortly after he was detained.

Some have settled on the sidewalk, others have been able to bring a small plastic bench, a bottle of water and a lot of patience for the long hours of waiting

Under her umbrella, Marta harshly criticizes the injustice that has been committed against her son. “They are telling families that the penalties are always less severe for people who are employed, but I do not understand. My 21-year-old son lost his job like many others because of this Covid.”

From across the street, an officer yells: “Reinaldo, Reinaldo.” Last names are not necessary because several members of a family spring up and cross the light traffic on the avenue, under a sun that can melt stones. Only a relative can access the oral hearing. “Go in, since you are his mother, we will be waiting for you out here,” someone says. The woman, escorted by two officers, enters the house.

Inside, the trial takes place, a quick process that seeks not only to convict the offenders but also to send a message to the rest of the public. The trials are designed to serve as an example, to warn others not to hang out on the streets without a mask, not to go out after the curfew has started, and not to try to shop in stores outside their municipality.

The front yard of the courthouse is packed with waiting uniformed police officers, looking bored and tired, dozing with their elbows on their knees. Two small buses, the kind traditionally used for the transfer of prisoners, are parked outside.

The front yard of the courthouse is packed with uniformed policemen who wait, they look bored and tired

“They are the sector leaders, who are pressured to come and give testimony of the offense committed,” says another woman. “Here they conduct trials from everywhere, from Cerro as well as from Plaza or Centro Habana,” she adds. “I still don’t know why they took my brother. I know he’s here because I got a call last night.”

A young woman, with a little girl in her arms, approaches the group. In a timid voice, she explains that her husband was taken away on the 21st of last month and asks several questions: “Do you know what sanctions they are handing out? Do you have any idea where they will transfer him after this?” A buzz of solidarity is heard, but a voice calls for calm.

The young mother needs to go to the bathroom. “Wait, I’ll come with you,” offers another woman, who leaves her purse in the hands of her husband before crossing the deserted avenue again. They return to the subject when they return. The conversation is full of unanswered questions. Nobody knows which prison they are taking the detainees to, nor what penalties they are applying.

“According to what they have told me, the punishment depends a lot on the circumstances and the person”, says a man who had not spoken up to that point. Silence runs through the group. Perhaps each one calculates the situation of his relative. Does he work or not work? Does he have a criminal record?

Some take refuge in the hope that their relative will walk out of the trial with just a fine, cross the sidewalk and they will hug in the September sun. The officer’s shout breaks the brief silence. “Maykel, Maykel” is heard, and a woman with a small child crosses the sidewalk.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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“When You are Censored, All Doors Close and the Locksmith Keeps All the Keys”

Omar Mena has authored over 11 albums since he began his career in rap more than a decade ago. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 September 2020 — Omar Mena is an artist without fear when it comes to expressing himself. The author of more than 11 albums since he began his career in rap more than a decade ago, he is known in his genre as El Analista [The Analyst].  Mena has always been at the side of the most complicated causes that have been defended within the culture in recent times: the fight against Decree 349, the support for the campaign that called for the freedom of the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the vote to petition the rejection of the Constitution, among others.

After a lot of struggling from one place to another, today he resides with his family in Santa Clara, from where he talks with 14ymedio about the challenges of being a free artist in Cuba and about the projects he has defended to stay active in the world of hip hop.

Question. What were your beginnings in music like, and what prompted you to rap?

Answer. I started to do rap in 2008, recording an album at the Real 70 production company. I’ve been in this field for twelve years. Initially I was a rocker, I really liked rock and I had my band, but I was always rebellious, what I liked was expressing what I felt. The issue was already complicated with the members. There were four of us and some began to be afraid because of what I said in my lyrics. So I decided to do rap. After my first album I recorded in some Santa Clara studios and later in one that I put together myself. continue reading

Question. Where can you hear hip hop in Santa Clara?

Answer. Santa Clara does not have spaces specifically for hip hop, the usual clubs in the city are the only spaces rappers have. For example, at the AHS there are about two clubs a month and one in El Mejunje de Silverio

When you have my kind of lyrics, you live with censorship from the beginning. The Government never guaranteed me anything with respect to my work or my music, I have always created independently

Question. Due to the lyrics and the free expression of the songs that you write, you have suffered censorship from the institution, what did this mean for your career? How did you experience it? What hit you the most?

Answer. In this genre, censorship is not something that affects an artist’s career much. When you have the lyrics that I have, you live with censorship from the beginning. The Government never guaranteed me almost anything with respect to my work or my music, I have always created in an independent manner.

What hurts is the dimension that censorship brings, the worst censorship is the one exercised by the artist against the censored artist. I have directed events when I belonged to the institution and brought censored artists such as David D’omni or the Patriot Squad and everyone participated, but if there are no artists from those who remain in the institutions who are committed to Cuban society, that censorship will be the one that will continue to hit the most, because no one can prevent an artist from being brave and inviting you; what can happen, at most they will tell him that he is responsible and that’s it.

What also happens is that censorship is a machine: they not only go against your work but against you.

Question. I suppose that resuming your career independently has closed many doors for you, what new experiences did creation outside the institution bring to you?

Answer. After censorship arrived, I spent almost a year devising a new strategy, because it was always clear to me that it was not going to stop. When you are censored, all doors close and the locksmith keeps all the keys. then there is nowhere to perform, you need to create doors and options and that’s what I did.

What hurts is the scope that censorship brings, the worst censorship is the one exercised by the artist against the censored artist

I created a project called Genesis Club. Initially it was only about supporting artists in their work, holding improvement workshops, helping them to record their albums but then it evolved into another period.

I have a large patio so that’s where I built my stage. It has been the most special thing that has happened to me in my life, one for the artists who have performed there and another for the support of the people of the neighborhood. It is not the same to sing for people who have the same problems than for those who attend so they can party. In a club everyone goes to drink their bottle and the neighborhood people attend out of curiosity and pay close attention to everything that’s said.

That is what the Government fears, new comments said in the neighborhood and the neighborhood starts to think, reflecting on what happens there. It is one of the most special things that has happened to me.

The issue of repression has been more complicated, let’s call a spade a spade. I am not a politician, I am an artist, I do not belong to a party, I am just an independent thinker, a young man with his own way of thinking and who expresses it without fear. It is not a question of being brave, it is a commitment that I think must be taken. Everyone should give themselves the personal satisfaction of saying what they think and that is my case.

What the Government is afraid of, what new idea can be spoken in the neighborhood and the neighborhood is left thinking, reflecting on what is expressed there

Whenever a rumor goes around or with each demonstration that social networks or the opposition calls for, two policemen get stationed in front of my house to prevent me from going out. When the Clandestinos thing was going around they stationed them there too.  It’s crazy.

It is difficult for me to understand that they do that to an artist, especially when they control everything. They know that I don’t belong to any party and yet I’m being repressed. Personally, it does not affect me, I can live quietly, I am free and I am at peace.

Question. Do you agree with the idea that a rapper from the provinces is at a disadvantage compared to one from Havana to achieve success in his career?

Answer. It is relative. Initially, I lived in Havana and I never achieved what I did later here in my province. Everything is where you pump it out, where you put effort to work. The thing about Havana is that there are 400 rappers there, but you can come to your province and make yourself noticed, I don’t see that as impossible.

It is true that there are more opportunities there, but it is possible. Life is a line, which may curve, but it will always go to its point, if something is there for you it will happen, everything depends on the effort you put into it, I do not agree that opportunities exist only in Havana.

When I’ve had to make an important video I have gone to Havana, like the one from 349, the one about “no to the Constitution”, I have gone and been videoed, when the issue of Luis Manuel’s freedom the same thing happened, shot the video, they counted on me from my province.

Question. Having created a concert space in the house where you live with your family, what consequences has it brought you? How has it worked so far?

Answer. The creation of space in the house has not brought me many problems, just a few citations, the normal that one lives with daily. I think it is done to make you feel the intimidation and surveillance. They always ask me about what I’m going to do and I always answer the same thing: I’m going to make art.

A State Security officer told me that they had an order to prosecute me, but that they were going to give me the opportunity to do the concert. I left calmly and told them that I was going to make art that day.

During the first concert they threatened to send me to prison if something was said on stage that was not in accordance with the Revolution’s discourse. A State Security officer told me that they had an order to prosecute me, but that they were going to give me the opportunity to do the concert. I left calmly and told them that that day I was going to make art and that the next day they would do what they had to do.

David, Soandry, the neighborhood Hip Hopper came to the concert, what went on, went on.  What they said was going to be said was said and nothing happened, many police cars patrolling, watching.

Every time I do a concert it’s the same. They come up here and come to ask my permission. Then they schedule me with the head of the sector to ask me what I live on and things like that, but they have no way to cross my threshold. I follow the rules, the schedules, it is at my house, it is not in the street, I do not interrupt the public space.

We’re here to make art, it is a free space, the neighborhood supports me immensely, they help me in a huge way, they fill up the audience space, they have never disappointed me. I live two kilometers from the park and people come from there. I have never before sung for as many audiences as I have here and there is always an atmosphere full of freedom.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

Two Bags of Food for a Six Hour Wait

The line at the agricultural market on Tulipán Street was slow and unbearable this Saturday. There was only cucumber, squash, julienned sweet potatoes and some eggplants on the shelves. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 6 September 2020 — At five in the morning this Saturday, Beatriz Delgado went out to the streets in search of food for her family. It is already two in the afternoon and she is still standing on line to buy groceries and some vegetables. Her daily routine has become more difficult with the new restrictions to slow the rebound of covid-19.

Since last Tuesday, residents of Havana have been trying to adjust to the curfew. From seven at night to five in the morning the city is deserted. Only police, firefighters, ambulances and some cars with special permits can be seen. It is a radical change when compared to the very intense early mornings before this ban.

“I used to go out with a friend of mine after watching the soap opera and we would stand from that time in a couple of lines, sometimes without really knowing why. It didn’t matter, because anything is needed: shampoo, chicken, ground meat, tooth paste,” explains Delgado, who is 63-years-old. continue reading

Bakery on Calle Infanta, Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

“The lines would form starting in the afternoon, and getting up early in order to get a good number was useless; even so, we never got a number smaller than 60,, explains this Havana resident, for whom the curfew means fewer possibilities of being able fill her bag.

The Cuban Opposition Cautiously Welcomes the Creation of the People’s Party

Otaola insists that he “values, respects and admires” the work of the different opposition groups and that his initiative does not seek to divide. (AP courtesy el Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar and Mario J. Pentón, Havana/Miami | 27 August 2020 — Thousands of followers of Alex Otaola have enthusiastically received the creation of the People’s Party, announced on Tuesday by the Cuban presenter living in Miami. This initiative wants to be an “alternative” to the monopoly exercised by the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), the only one authorized on the island.

On the other hand, opposition groups within the island and in exile have been more cautious about the new proposal.

“The other opposition groups are not political parties, they are movements. None have presented themselves as a political party. There have been no elections or voting,” Otaola told el Nuevo Herald. “We have a plan for governance. We want to stand up to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC). People will be able to register, vote, participate. The other initiatives call for actions, I don’t think this is a reason for problems or divisions, it is something that comes together.”

“We want it to have its own leaders, that the people can decide, so that we can present ourselves to the world as the organized opposition that is proposing a path, a change,” he said. continue reading

Otaola assured that he “values, respects and admires” the work of the different opposition groups and that his initiative does not seek to divide, but rather “to join forces in a common idea, in what brings us together.”

As he explained to this newspaper, his “detractors” have begun to attack his initiative, “without analyzing it.”

The influencer said he has not received any response from exile and diaspora leaders to his proposal, but that “it is still early for that.”

Otaola stressed that his intention is not “to become a political leader, or to be the president of a party,” nor does he completely rule out being elected as a representative of the People’s Party.

Members of the People’s Party may be those “born in Cuba, or descendants of Cubans up to the third generation, regardless of their place of residence.” As explained by the new party, the organization will allow double membership during the first four years, “with the exception of those affiliated with the Communist Party.”

The website of the new party initially presented a list of “founders” that served as a reference to the creators of this project, but the list was later deleted.

Regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque, a former political prisoner of the Black Spring Group of 75, told 14ymedio that the list included “the names of the people who they say are the founders” but later said “were the inspirers.”

“The fact that you inspire the party should be an acknowledgment, but in this case all the names are intermixed and people have called me and I did not know of the existence of the party although my name was there,” she said.

“I think that was not ethical enough to start with, it was not as beautiful as possible,” said the leader of the Network of Community Journalists and Communicators. “I am not a member of any party nor do I plan to be.”

Otaola said it was “a mistake” that was made when creating the list. “They are inspiring, ideologues on whom we rely to create this party. We do not want them to believe that we are disrespectful, but rather pay tribute to the best ideas within the opposition,” he said.

From Miami, Eliécer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ [We are More] Political Movement, said he was “very happy” that a “new political option” has been born for Cubans. “If we bring together some Cubans to fight for freedom, José Daniel Ferrer does the same with UNPACU and Otaola does the same with the People’s Party, there will be more of is in the fight against tyranny. From Somos+ you can expect all kinds of collaboration,”  he expressed.

For the regime opponent and academic Manuel Cuesta Morúa, “any attempt to unite Cubans wherever they are” is valid and positive “to try to promote change as a whole.”

“What I would like to emphasize is that, speaking of epicenters, all efforts from abroad must take into account that the epicenter of change is Cuba and these efforts should be aimed at supporting initiatives that can be promoted or encouraged within Cuba, to try to achieve democratic change,” he told this newspaper by telephone.

Lawyer Eloy Viera, for his part, explained to el Nuevo Herald that another “electoralist” party, as is, in his opinion, the one proposed by Otaola, “does not make a difference.”

“My biggest concern with what Otaola proposes is that it is not a party that seeks the union of Cubans, but rather to take for granted a group of issues that are still being discussed today and that directly affect Cubans who have to actively participate in a change in Cuba: those from within,” said Viera.

He also pointed out that the program they propose “aims to solve a problem at a stroke that does not admit a single legal solution, since the discussions around the matter are very disparate.”

Viera stressed that the program omits “the way to return sovereignty to the people.”

“They intend to offer a program of governance, which goes as far as considering the number of ministries, but it is unable to offer an institutional system that really says how the people are going to enjoy that sovereignty,” he said.

“In practice, even in the liberal system where you live [United States], popular sovereignty is only achieved through institutions,” he said.

However, he pointed out that as an “option that enriches the necessary diversity that must exist in Cuba” the project seems “respectable.”

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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.

Cubans Prohibited From Lining Up at Stores at Night

Last weekend, at dawn, in front of the Maisí store on Infanta Street, dozens of people were waiting to achieve the first positions. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 28 August 2020 — Long before the pandemic began, even before the “economic situation” was announced last September, the verbs mark (your place in line), wake up early and wait have been the most conjugated in Cuba. The lines that have accompanied our lives for decades have increased in size and gained prominence in the streets of this Island.

“I managed to get chicken on Tuesday in El Danubio because I stood in line from five. If I had arrived at the time the store opens, I wouldn’t have gotten even mayonnaise,” a woman lamented this Thursday before a young military man, wearing an orange vest, who was trying to evict several people who a little earlier set up the line to access the store near Calle 26, in El Vedado.

We are not coleros (people paid to stand in line for others), we are the heads of the family fighting to guarantee daily food. There aren’t any coleros here, those are organized from the day before and here, not even if you stand in front of the store when it closes, doyou manage to be the first,” the woman claimed before the silent military man and assured him that she had marked her place when the sun had not yet risen. continue reading

In some state stores employees have been hanging signs warning that it is forbidden to “line up before six in the morning.” (Facebook)

Now with the new restrictive measures that will come into effect next Tuesday in Havana, being in the street between seven at night and five in the morning will be prohibited. The hundreds or thousands of people who left left home before the “rooster’s crow” to try to guarantee something to eat, will have to wait for the curfew to end.

It is not a new obstacle. On August 2, the authorities in Havana began the offensive that was called “Operation to fight against coleros“, which includes the prohibition of standing in line near the store at night and at dawn. However, the lines continued to proliferate everywhere.

Last weekend, at dawn, in front of the Maisí store on Infanta Street, dozens of people were waiting to achieve the first places in line. A few meters away, in the popular Parque Trillo, the panorama was repeated amidst the shadows and doubts about the products that customers would find when the nearest store opened.

But these hours of darkness and anguish could change in a few days, because the authorities have threatened hefty fines for those who violate the curfew that will take effect on September 1st and continue for 15 days. The threat is unlikely to wipe out the crowds to buy food, but they will have to arrange themselves differently.

In some state stores, employees have been hanging posters warning that it is forbidden to “stand in line before six in the morning”, “line up for more than one person” or draw up “a list” with names and Identity Card numbers to guarantee your position in line. What will happen when all these restrictions take effect?

The hours of darkness and anguish could change because the authorities have threatened fines to those who violate the curfew. (14ymedio)

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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 Police Fight Illegal Currency Trafficking

Exchanging hard currency at banks is not a viable option due to long lines and an almost constant need to fill out paperwork. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, August 12, 2020 — Along with hoarders and coleros — people paid to wait in line — unofficial money changers are on the police’s radar. They are after individuals who exchange dollars and other hard currency on the black market. Raids began after digital classifieds began appearing on internet portals, where foreign currencies are one of the most frequently listed types of merchandise.

A house in Central Havana and another in Playa were the scenes of raids carried out by the Ministry of the Interior in which agents found cash in a variety of currencies totaling almost 1.3 million Cuban pesos according to a nightly news report on Tuesday.

Maylén Díaz Porro, operational officer with the Department of Technical Investigations, pointed out on state television that one of the alleged perpetrators had used the Revolico online sales platform to promote the sale of euros and dollars. Díaz added that the individual had also been visiting shopping centers, offering to “change money.” continue reading

According to the report security forces siezed 20,215 dollars, 12,097 convertible pesos, 445,350 Cuban pesos and 1,450 euros in the operations. Government sources added that agents also found small quantities of bills in other currencies.

Another officer explained that, during a search of the house in Playa, police found thirty-nine hundred-dollar bills, which were determined to be counterfeit by an “expert examination” carried out in the laboratory.

The report points out that the persons under investigation “have no employment relationship with the Cuban state yet have a high quality of life.” During the search agents confiscated “some records that suggest smuggling of imported merchandise through the use of mules.” Indications are the goods were later resold on the island, which is experiencing a growing shortage of consumer goods.

Armando Torres Aguirre, deputy director general of the National Bank, believes underground currency exchange has an economic impact on the country. He points out that Legal Decree 362 defines which financial institutions are authorized to carry out currency trading activities. The law specificies only “universal banks” and exchange bureaus such as Cadecas.

Cadecas was founded in 1994, after the possession of dollars was decriminalized. In recent years the number of its branches throughout the country has declined. Those that have remained open often do not have cash.

Banks remain an alternative for exchanging hard currency but long lines to make deposits, apply for a debit card or use other services mean they are not a viable option for the many customers who prefer to avoid long waits by turning to the underground market despite the risk that this entails.

On Tuesday the state newspaper Juventud Rebelde reported that the district attorney’s office in Ciego de Ávila province is preparing to try three individuals for “illegal trafficking of foreign currency and national currency.” All three are allegedly repeat offenders.

There are ninety-seven groups made up of more than 800 workers who, together with officers from the Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior, are looking into eighty-four retail establishments that have been identified as “vulnerable.”

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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.

Quarantine and a Toothache

With so many daily cases that are being reported in the country, there is a greater possibility of transmission of the disease in such a place. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 15 August 2020 — The pain appears on Sunday night. That tooth that broke months ago shows its face. I try to think that the discomfort will pass, as we always think when we have pain. And it may happen, but for the moment: pain is just a symptom that something is rotten. The next day, the cheek is all swollen.

I should have gone to the dentist earlier, I think. Now, in full return to the confinement of the pandemic, just as the city abandons phase 1 of the de-escalation and resumes the strictest measures against the coronavirus, going to a medical consultation seems to me little less than a slow suicide.

I consult some medical friends over the phone and they all give the same advice: start taking antibiotics and then go to the dentist. I listen to them, but I can only take the antibiotics for 48 hours: which is the amount I have on hand. I know that I will not get more in pharmacies, where there is a shortage of drugs. continue reading

The situation does not improve and an infection in the mouth is serious. I pluck up the courage to go to the nearest polyclinic.

I clean my shoes on a blanket soaked in chlorine, I rub my hands with a few drops of hypochlorite, and I am ready to walk through the door of the health center.

In the waiting room, there are only two people: an older man also with a toothache — his seems more serious than mine, because he covers his cheek with a handkerchief — and a young man whose lip has been bitten by a dog.

I should have come earlier, I think again. But the truth is that the terror of contagion gripped me, knowing the limited means of protection that are used in the clinics.

At the window to ask for the turn to be seen, the employee says that they are only attending emergency cases. “Until now we had the consultation open but as of noon they told us to close,” she explains. I detail my case and show her my face, and she calls one of the dentists on duty to decide whether or not I can pass. The inflammation is eloquent: the specialist decides to treat me.

While I wait, dentists are leaving one after another and saying goodbye to their colleagues. “I’m leaving, tell my patients that I’m not coming back until classes start, whatever it is, in December or January,” says one. It has to be a joke.

Fifteen minutes later, they announce that we must wait another half hour to be seen. “All the instruments right now are in the autoclave — the sterilizing device — I ask you not to leave so that you do not miss this opportunity,” says an employee to the three of us who are waiting in the room, patients in its double meaning.

Finally it happened. At the consultation, I see that the dentist and his assistant are wearing double masks and a transparent plastic mask. He puts on the new gloves: “Open your mouth!”

I freeze, nervous with fear. With so many daily cases that are being reported in the country, there is a greater possibility of transmission of the disease in such a place, I tell the doctor.

“It is true that the routine we have constantly exposes us to the virus. Here everything is a risk, the viral load that patients expel, the use of instruments and machines, the inevitable proximity to the mouth, are all high-risk operations in the middle of the pandemic,” says the assistant, trying to reassure me. “But don’t worry, we have taken all the measures we have within our power.”

Finally I open my mouth and after looking at the affected area with the mirror, the doctor says: “There is only one way out for this, extraction.” The operation ends in ten minutes. I can’t help but wonder if those ten minutes have been enough for the contagion.

“I’m going to prescribe you azithromycin, which is now the only antibiotic available, and dipyrone in case you have pain,” says the dentist, also noting the specific pharmacy to go to.

In the pharmacy the employee charges me 11 pesos for three antibiotic tablets and warns me: “Forget about dipyrone, there is no such thing anywhere.”

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

Havana’s Malecon: “If it becomes a wall, what will become of our view?”

With their feet dangling, the young people laugh, chat, take selfies, while listening to music on their cellphones. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havanan, 30 July 2020 — The group, of more or less 8 or 9 young people, was sitting this on the wall of the Havana’s Malecon Wednesday afternoon, at a quarter to six in the afternoon. With their feet dangling towards the sea, they laugh, chat, take selfies while listening to music on their cell phones.

“We just left Coppelia and came here to sit, for us young people there are not many options, our walks almost always end here.”

“What do you think of the idea of a higher Malecon, as proposed by the authorities, without the possibility of seeing the sea?”

One of the boys responds with another question: “Have you never heard that this is the ‘sofa’ of the Cubans?” continue reading

“If it were higher so that one cannot even sit down would not be the same, it would cease to be entertainment for us. I understand that it would serve as protection for many families who live here facing the sea, but when things get big, nothing stops the flooding. Nothing,” says Lorena Fonseca, another of the young women in the group speaking to 14ymedio while pointing to some cans floating in water and others embedded in the reef.

“Look, this shows it too. People don’t take care of anything, you should also write about that, there are very filthy people who don’t understand that the sea has to be taken care of,” she said.

Marcelino Piedra Mesa, has lived in 751 Marina for 50 years and talks about the sea as if it were a person. (14ymedio)

The news that the height of the wall of the Havana Malecon could be raised during the restoration process carried out by the city government together with the Office of the Historian made the news a couple of years ago. The controversy has not stopped and concern is reborn after the issuance of several reports on the works and with the visible presence of heavy machinery in some sections.

The architect Perla Rosales commented to EFE that the historian Eusebio Leal himself had a “personal interest” in the rescue of the Malecón, “because it is the face of Havana.” However, architects and citizens complain about the lack of transparency with which the works have been approached.

“We need, we deserve and they owe us complete information on this project so important for our city and its citizens,” denounces the architect Abel Tablada, who shared a report from the German chain Deutsche Welle about the works on his Facebook wall.

Leaning against a little wall that he has built at the door of the house is Marcelino Piedra Mesa, about 70 years old. He has lived at 751 Marina for 50 years and talks about the sea as if it were a person. “When it says ‘to look for him,’ he goes to San Lázaro,” he insists, at the same time adjusting a handkerchief that covers his mouth and nose.

He says that in the time he has lived there, the water has “really” entered twice. “From the sea,” the man clarifies, “because when it rains …,” and he stretches out both hands in front of him, like one who wants to caress a large circle. “I believe that even if they raise it, it will not be possible to prevent him from entering. Maybe stop some, but not completely,” he suspects.

“The first entry of the sea that I remember was in 2005. Previously it was flooded, but due to rain, problems with the sewers and the sewers that do not work well. The other was in 2017… Then he really came in hard, he took everything, he left me nothing, he cleaned me out completely,” recalls Piedra, who moved to that house in the 70s.

The Malecon is one of the biggest attractions in Havana for tourists, but also for residents. (14ymedio)

“There are areas that can hold up a bit, but there are others where, the height of the wall, it does not allow to go one centimeter higher. Previously that wall was a little higher, but since some work was done a few years ago, they cut off the whole top and then put it back again. At that time it was lowered about 25 centimeters. I remember that before I was jumping to sit on it, now I don’t have to jump,” he said.

The intention to raise the height of the wall is part of a State “plan” to “confront” climate change, and has been named Tarea Vida (Life Task). The works began, the authorities announced, in 2020 and with them the rehabilitation of the Havana seawall is intended “to avoid coastal flooding, both maritime and rainwater.”

The director of the Hydraulic Research Center of the  José Antonio Echeverría Technological University of Havana (known as CUJAE), Yoermes González, explained to the official press that this action includes four stages and is part of a project that they have been developing for about 30 years. González pointed out that this year, according to the project, they will begin with the part that involves “a change in the geometry of the wall” and its elevation “as far as the architecture allows,” without specifying a specific height.

The architect Universo García Lorenzo believes that there have been “problems” when it comes to communicating the project and quotes the journalist and professor Raúl Garcés Corra, who said: “If we want it as a public good we have to involve the whole of society in the management of the communication process.”

“I think that precisely that vision, identified and cautioned by our researchers, of communicating, socializing and involving society as a whole has been lacking, not in the result, but in the gestation and monitoring of the process,” García Lorenzo pointed out.

The most famous seafront avenue in Cuba, with its wide sidewalk and its eight kilometers of wall that go from Prado to the Almendares River, the Malecon is one of the most seductive attractions of the city for both Cubans and foreign visitors.

The Malecón. (14ymedio)

The debate on these works transcends social networks and, on the wall of the Malecon itself, neighbors and visitors dispute the reason for the idea of raising the wall.

“I think you could use yaquis so that the waves break a little earlier and not against the wall which, under no circumstances, can disappear as a coastline. If it becomes a wall, what will become of our view… so beautiful and characteristic of the city? I can’t even imagine it,” says a visitor to the Malecon, who resides in the Diez de Octubre municipality.

A neighbor who was extending a hose from his house to a water truck in the middle of the sidewalk replied: “You can see that the water does not enter your house above two meters high,” he says, before sucking on a hose to prime an engine that brings water from the street to his home.

“I don’t think that is for the entire area, maybe it is only in the area that is most affected by the floods. I think that would be good, along the entire Malecon it would be a crime. It is of the most beautiful things that Havana has,” says one of the regular fishermen on the corner of 25th, in front of the Hola Ola recreational center.

The man asks his fishing partner: “Let’s see my friend, what do you like the most about Havana?” And his colleague responds, before throwing the rod again: “That it has the sea.”

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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 Family Shares its House with the Rubble of a Building Collapse

A month ago, the roof of one of the rooms in their home fell on them. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 28 July 2020 — Doing things well in Cuba is not just a matter of willpower. Daniel Llera’s family has been living with a mountain of rubble for more than a month in the garden of their house, on Calle 114 in Marianao, due to the lack of diligence of the local authorities. Since the roof of one of the rooms in their house fell on them in June, they have not been able to find a legal solution to get rid of the rubble.

“When the Comunales* director came, he explained to me that I couldn’t get a trash bin because this was a busy road. He told me that I had to find a person who would authorize it,” Daniel’s mother, Raiza Llera, tells 14ymedio, who also lives in the affected house.

“On several occasions I have spoken with the mayor’s advisor, and the last thing he has told me is that the director of Housing has to come, but I do not know what Housing has to do with this,” she laments. continue reading

She also asked the municipal section of the Party for an appointment with the secretary, but did not find a solution there either. “We are at the same point as we were a month ago when the director of Comunales came and the rubble is still at my house and without any response from the Marianao government,” regrets Raiza Llera, who has had her garden full of rubble since June 20.

The rubble remains lying in the garden without any way to remove it. (Courtesy)

The woman explains that when part of the house collapsed, the local People’s Power gave her a very quick response: “They were very correct, they immediately sent a technician, who issued an opinion, and the next day they put us on a Housing List to receive a subsidy.” However, she is surprised and angry that they have not given her an answer about the container she requested. “In my block there is a colleague who is a civil servant and three times a week they placed a trash bin in front of her house when she was making repairs. Why is it so difficult for me to put one out there?”

It is “a very old house” that needs repair, explains Daniel. “That moment when a room collapses you feel desolate and more, because my grandmother also lives here. If I put the rubble on the street, they will fine me, and if I throw it away in the wrong place they will do the same.”

“I have been in this situation for a month or so and they have not given me any answer. The only thing the director of Comunales suggested was to knock down the wall and take the rubble out onto the street, a very crazy and pointless thing,” he explains.

In the absence of a response from the authorities, Raiza Llera turned to Facebook to point out that “the laws in Cuba are for everyone equally.” Daniel, meanwhile, regrets that it is “impossible to carry out the procedures as the law dictates” and hopes that by making this complaint the “superior” authorities will find out about the situation and help him solve the problem, so that he does not have to resort to illegal methods.

*Translator’s note: Servicios Comunales is the state entity responsible for trash collection and other public services.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cuban Families Prepare for "Long Vacations" From School

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bewilderment in the Streets of Central Havana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When the Medicine Deliveries Arrive, the Line Goes Crazy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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