It Is Forbidden To Say "Special Period"

The worsening of the economy is observed not only in the “scarcities even in the dollarized stores,” but also in the lack of subsidized basic necessities such as bread and eggs. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 8 April 2019 — Cuban authorities have given officials instructions to avoid the concept of “Special Period” when addressing citizens, according to 14ymedio sources in state agencies.

“They met with the administrative cadres to tell them that very difficult times are coming,” a worker from the Provincial Food Industry Company in Pinar del Río told this newspaper. “It was a meeting with directors of Minal (Ministry of the Food Industry) who came from Havana, where they pointed out that we could not use the phrase ‘Special Period’ in communications with the population.”

In the 90s, the government insisted on labeling the serious economic situation of the island as “A Special Period in Peacetime” to avoid the words crisis or economic collapse. The euphemism generated numerous jokes and puns, but finally prevailed, even in the headlines of the foreign press. As a result, the link between the phrase “Special Period” and that time of crisis is now so clear that the concept must be avoided. continue reading

“They told us these are times to be very careful of what is said to avoid creating alarm or giving weapons to the enemy for their propaganda against Cuba,” adds the Minal employee in Pinar del Río. “But they also clarified that we are going to have serious problems with the import of raw material in the coming months, which will affect several areas of production, including those of the Los Portales Refreshment Factory, in the municipality of Guane.”

In the information field, the same thing is happening. A recent graduate of the Faculty of Communication of the University of Havana (FCOM) who works in a radio station, explains that there is “guidance from above” to avoid the use of the phrase “Special Period.”

“We have been told that we should use phrases like ‘economic tension’ or ‘difficulties with the arrival of raw materials’ but always with an optimistic approach and making it clear that it will be overcome in the coming months,” he explains.

The young man insists that reporters and screenwriters have been urged in several meetings to underline “the obstacles and challenges” facing the island’s economy but “to avoid the use of pessimistic phrases that may cause nervousness.”

In recent weeks, the radio station where he works has received numerous calls from listeners annoyed about the shortages of basic products such as cooking oil, chicken and eggs, but the answer they must give is that “work is being done to solve these problems,” the journalist revealed. “We must convey optimism, they have told us,” he stresses.

The caution of information professionals working in official media is justified. In the past decade a sports commentator on official television said that the Special Period was not over and that provoked an angry reaction from Fidel Castro, who wrote one of his customary ‘Reflections’ denying that perspective.

The economist Carmelo Mesa Lago recalls in a recent article that, “between 1960 and 1990, Cuba received 65 billion dollars from the USSR, two-thirds of which was a gift; this aid was higher than that received for all of Latin America during the Alliance for Progress,” a program from the 1960s involving roughly 22 billion dollars in aid to Latin America. With the end of Soviet support after the collapse of the Soviet Union, “a marked decline occurred in all economic and social indicators.”

Almost three decades after the start of the crisis of the ’90s, the government has not officially announced the end of a stage that in the collective imagination is associated with power outages, food shortages and transport problems. The use of “special” alluded to the measures taken by Fidel Castro at that time targeted to cushioning the effects of the depression setting aside some of the formulas of the centralized economy and allowing: circulation of the dollar, foreign investment, family remittances from relatives abroad, and the reappearance of an emerging private sector.

After that period when the Cuban economy hit bottom, aid from Venezuela from beginning of this century began to revive the economy of the Island. Despite this, and after two congresses of the Communist Party of Cuba, the appointment of a new president of the Councils of State and of Ministers and the ratification of a new constitution, the Special Period has not been decreed to be in the past.

Signs that the Cuban economy could be heading into a similar crisis have been accentuated in recent months, as reflected in reports published in the independent and international press, following the decrease in oil shipments from Venezuela, the freezing of credit for new exports from Brazil and the end of the Mais Médicos program in which Cuban doctors worked in that South American country in exchange for significant payments, most of which went into state coffers.

Some economists suggest that the situation is far from the one that arose in the ’90s, due to the strengthening of tourism, foreign investment and the existence of more than half a million people who work for themselves as “cuentapropistas,” but in the streets of Cuba the phrase “Special Period” is beginning to be heard more and more frequently, although the official media and state officials are forbidden to say it.

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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.

Juan’s Traveling Bathrooms

Juan Reyes remodeled a truck to contain ten cubicles with toilets and even a shower. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Güira de Melena, 22 March 2019 — Juan Reyes was born in Santiago de Cuba but for the last seven years he has been touring the island chasing popular festivals. He drives a striking truck that has been adapted to contain a dozen individual bathrooms where cleanliness reigns and no bad odors are perceived. This week he arrived at the Potato Festival, in Güira de Melena, and his services attracted more customers than many of the festival’s own kiosks with food or fun products.

Reyes came up with the idea after seeing the difficulties that his wife suffered to find a decent bathroom at carnivals. Most of the time there was nothing more than a box placed over a sewer, stinky and without privacy. Immediately, this Santiagan with a great ability for business saw an almost untapped market niche. He bought the truck and began the process of converting it into a mobile sanitary service. continue reading

He created a drainage mechanism with a wide flexible hose that allows the sewage to be evacuated into the nearest sewer system. He added removable steps that is placed so that customers can easily access the interior of the vehicle and invested in some amenities so that “it does not resemble those dirty bathrooms with no personality,” he says. In addition to the immediate relief of the bladder, Reyes’ “invention” puts a smile on every face.

Now the “Ecological Bathroom” as he jokingly baptized it on one side in white paint, is a family business. At the entrance, Juan’s son charges 2 CUP per person (roughly 8¢ US) and inside each cabin there is water, soap, toilet paper and a mirror. In the last cubicle there is also a shower for those who want to cool off from the heat.

At the moment the service is exclusively for women but its owner does not rule out having a fleet of trucks where there is also space for men and mothers with small children who want a place to change diapers and breastfeed with tranquility.

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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.

Cuba’s "Sexual Tourist" is No Longer Prince Charming

New technologies, such as chats and dating applications, are widely used by Cubans to arrange a meeting with foreign tourists. (Chris Goldberg)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 2 April 2019 — The past has many layers for María de la Caridad. In one of them she is the happy wife of an Italian and in another a young woman who has just arrived in Havana with nothing but her own body. In the ’90s she was among the first jineteras (female prostitutes) that took advantage of the legalization of the dollar to offer their services. Today, a widow, grandmother and resident in the island believes that “the business has changed and almost no one is looking for a prince charming.”

“What I did, like many other Cuban youngsters, was more of an escort service and a price was rarely said directly,” she recalls now in a conversation with 14ymedio in her apartment in El Vedado, bought a few years ago when she decided to return to the Island. The death of her husband, a Milanese who fell in love with her “at first sight,” led her to make the decision.

María de la Caridad believes that the business of prostitution on the island “has become hard, direct, without grace.” “Before we knew how to distinguish when it was a client who just wanted one night, versus one who wanted a companion during his entire trip in Cuba, to establish a relationship and perhaps end up in a marriage, but now, from the first moment it is clear that it is an economic transaction,” she says. continue reading

The government kept prostitution under control — considering it a capitalist scourge — through programs of social reinsertion during the first decades of the Revolution, but during the Special Period it became a common exit from the misery.

The characteristics of the Cuban market, where having money did not mean access to a great number of products or more of any one product, in the case of rationed ones, caused a mutation in prostitution. The “companion” sought the privileges of generals, ministers and other leaders.

Starting the 1990s, large areas of Cuba, such as Guanabo beach east of Havana, became the epicenter of jineteras and clients who were seen to come and go, despite police control. Those were the years when, most of the time, the women negotiated directly with the tourists. Many ended up married to foreigners and emigrated.

“In Milan I met several Cubans who had experienced the same thing and we were very supportive of each other in those early years,” says María de la Caridad. “As time passed and we were having our families, we called ourselves the jinatera grandmothers,” she explains with humor.

The landscape has changed a lot since the times of María de la Caridad. The competition is greater with the pingueros (male prostitutes), who offer all kinds of services to men and women. In addition, the pimps and the seclusion in brothels “complicate their situation,” says this Cubana who sometimes interjects words in Italian. “Now women have less independence and finding a good husband is very difficult in those conditions.”

A few yards from her house, two young people were preparing this Saturday to go to 23rd Street, to one of the state clubs that are a frequent meeting point between prostitutes and customers. They are 17 and 19 years old, respectively, and their names in this report are. Both have been in the business since junior high, and the youngest is preparing to enter the university this year.

The two young women use new technologies, such as chat rooms and some dating applications, to meet foreigners who occasionally visit Havana. “Everything is clarified from the beginning and a price is established, he knows that it is not about love, but a bit of fun, and for me it is an important economic support,” explains Karla, who has been in the business for two years.”

“An important sector of women, educated and trained, is marginalized: many of them have a technical or professional training and their individual and family biography would place them in a more favorable position in social life,” explains Cecilia Bobes, who has a doctorate in Sociology. “There is also a change in the values of young people, who begin to see in the activity of the jinetera as a normal job, a way to earn a living and a survival strategy in the face of the crisis.”

Mara and Karla have managed to evade, until now, the pimps because they manage their contacts directly. “But many of those in this business prefer to have more protection and have someone to represent them, to look for the tourist and someone who can help if the thing gets ugly,” she says.

Pimping is one of the main crimes related to human trafficking and the pimps resort, in most cases, to violence, intimidation and drugs to obtain economic benefits, especially exploiting women. “At the moment I am doing well alone and I try not to put myself in high risk situations,” says Karla.

Procuring and trafficking in persons are punishable on the island, but prostitution is legal. Cuban authorities maintain police controls, especially on women, who are fined or deported if they come from another province. In the worst cases, they are interned in work farms to be “re-educated.”

The dream of Mara and Karla is to save some money to leave the country, but they do not believe that they can leave like María de la Caridad, directly through a client.

“All I want is for them to pay me and leave because I can not imagine marrying a man who knows I’m doing this. When I leave Cuba I’ll make a clean slate and start looking for a partner for love,” explains the youngest of the two women. Karla nods: “This is a business, there is no affection or plans for the future, it’s just about sex and money.”

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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 Nightmare of the Special Period Impedes Use of Bikes as Transport

One of the places where bikes can be rented in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 11 March 2019 — Something is changing in the Cuban mentality toward getting around by bike, but too slowly. The ghost of the Special Period keeps citizens from perceiving the bicycle as a means of transport, an alternative to the bus, healthier and less polluting. And politics has not exactly helped.

Last November, a public system for renting bicycles in Havana began operating experimentally. But the Ha’Bici project, a joint effort by the Office of the Historian of Havana, the provincial General Directorate of Transport and the Basque Government, has just not become an alternative for residents.

“It’s too expensive, because the occasional customer has to pay 50 CUP (Cuban pesos) to rent a bike for an hour, while the subscriber pays 60 CUP a month, and those are prices for foreigners, not for people who have to live on a Cuban salary,” complains Oscar, a neighbor of one of the bike rental outlets in the historic district. continue reading

Tourists have been the main beneficiaries of the initiative so far, a Ha’Bici employee confirms to this newspaper. “Very few Cubans come to rent a bicycle and when they come it is because they want to accompany some tourist on a ride around the city,” adds the worker, who preferred anonymity.

In his opinion, young people are “more open to the idea of enjoying riding a bicycle without this making it seem that they are poor or in the middle of a crisis,” but he recognizes that “many Cubans still see a bicycle as a form of punishment, not as recreation and something good for their health.”

A study by the Health Center of the German University of Sports (DSHS) states that “people who suffer from the typical discomforts of back pain, or who are overweight or have other cardiovascular diseases could enjoy many years of good health, if they decided to ride a bike more.”

The countries of northern Europe are those that have best incorporated the bicycle into urban mobility. An appropriate geography, with flat cities, and public policies oriented towards sustainability and health have turned countries like Holland, Sweden, Germany, Belgium or Denmark into places where it is common to see politicians and big businessmen bicycle to work.

In Cuba, on the other hand, the memory of having to use bicycles to get around in the ’90s is too close for comfort. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the first signs of economic deterioration was the plummeting of public transport. Rather than wait for hours at a bus stop, many preferred to climb onto the saddle.

“I had never ridden a bicycle,” says Yanet Gonzalez, 44 , who lives in Alamar in Havana del Este tells 14ymedio. “When I was a girl, only the boys used them and in my family they thought that a woman should not be out there pushing the pedals.” When she finished ninth grade she got a Chinese-made bicycle for being a good student and her life changed.

“When I got home, my father told me we were going to sell it,” she recalls. On the black market, the price of the bike exceeded 1,500 CUP at that time. “That was when a pound of rice cost 50 CUP, so my family immediately thought of turning the bicycle into food.” Despite the pressure, Yanet refused to sell it.

“I learned to ride and I spent almost a decade using the bike to get around without being dependent on public transportation.” On two wheels she rode to the place where she met her husband, later they both rode on a bike to the birthplace of their first child, and when she decided to leave the state sector and go to work on her own she sold her first sweets, too, “from the seat of my bike.”

Now, Yanet is like those thousands of Havanans who have not touched a bicycle in almost two decades. “As soon as people felt that the economy was improving a bit at the beginning of this century, the first thing they let go was the bicycle, because for most of them it was something they did not use because they liked it but because they had no other option,” she admits.

With Hugo Chávez’s rise to power in Venezuela, the island began to receive large shipments of oil that supported the reestablishment of public transport in Havana, although never with the number of routes nor the frequency that had been operating during the years of the Soviet subsidy. As more and more buses filled the streets, bikes became scarce.

Roberto spent almost 20 years repairing cycles and fixing flat tires next to the gas station on Carrer Infanta and Lealtad. “I had up to 10 customers a day, because this was one of those streets where there was a steady flow of passing bicycles,” he explains to this newspaper. “With what I earned I fixed the house and even helped one of my children to leave the country, but about ten years ago I closed the business.”

“Almost no cyclists came any more,” he explains. “We converted this into a cafe, but I liked my previous work more,” Roberto acknowledges. He believes “Havanans fear the bicycle because it brings bad memories.”

Near his home is a bus dispatch point adapted to transport bicycles through the tunnel under the Bay to East Havana, but the frequency of the departure of vehicles has fallen a lot and when one does leave it is filled almost entirely with electric or gas motorbikes, but very few bicycles. The same scene is repeated on the boat to get to Regla or Casablanca.

In 2013, the authorities announced a program to promote the use of bicycles. Marino Murillo, head of the Commission for the Development of Economic Reforms, extolled the advantages of this means of transport for the mobility of the population and said there was an ongoing evaluation of “wholesale prices for the sale of parts for maintenance,” but six years later little has changed.

To buy a bicycle in hard currency stores you need more than 100 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos) and in the informal market the prices are similar, although the variety of bikes available is greater.

“It’s too hot to ride a bike and traffic is dangerous,” says Raunel, 29, who says he prefers motorbikes. Most providers of public bicycle services in Europe offer electric cycles that, if used in Cuba, would solve climate problems or the problem of riding where there are hills, but it would also be necessary to enable safe routes and raise awareness among vehicle drivers of the importance of respecting cyclists. “As there are no priority paths for cyclists, it’s the law of the strongest and we already know who is going to lose.”

The young man expects that in the short-term “they will sell bicycles at affordable prices, reopen parking lots and improve the situation of the streets,” in order to be able to get around on two wheels again. “So, as the situation is now, it is suicide to travel by bicycle, especially at night because there are areas that have virtually no street lighting.”

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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 Referendum Hangover

Signs and posters are thrown into the trash and everyday life returns to the streets. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, March 7, 2019 — After Sunday, February 24 and after finishing the constitutional referendum, everyday life seems to have entered a kind of impasse. On the walls, public stores, and billboards of the city, you can still see the signs asking you to vote Yes with which the government filled every corner, but the slogans are also beginning to fade, some posters are being thrown away, and the page turned on a tension that lasted months.

The lines in front of consulates to obtain a visa continue, on the streets the lack of cooking oil and the poor connectivity of 3G service for cellphones dominates conversations, while the vote for the Constitution sounds like a distant and past matter. With the electoral propaganda finished in national media, the news tries to fill the holes of the calls to mobilization and completes them with headlines on the production of supposed articles that nobody finds in stores and with news about “the Bolivarian brother people of Venezuela.”

Now, also returning with force to conversations are the comments that were suspended by the barrage of slogans about the ballot boxes, the “vote for the homeland,” and the ratification of the Constitution. Returning are the stories of people who are still sleeping in the home of a relative or friend because the January tornado took their own house; the testimony of the Cuban who, from the Panamanian jungle, tells his family on the Island how compatriots are joining that caravan of hundreds of migrants on its way to the United States, and, also, the traditional criticisms of the bad transportation situation.

With the constitutional drunkenness past, we have returned to our normal state: the hangover of everyday life.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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 Doctors Survive on Gifts from Patients

The Martyrs Intermunicipal General Teaching Hospital in Sagua la Grande, Villa Clara. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, March 7, 2019 — Herminia does a rigorous inventory of everything she needs to bring to the hospital: a pillow, a fan, a bucket to flush the toilet, and some disposable syringes that she bought on the black market. Her 27-year-old grandson is hospitalized with dengue fever and the family is preparing for the shortages of the Public Healthcare system in Cuba.

In the bag, along with the cotton swabs and thermometer, Herminia carries a gift for the doctor and the nurses attending the young man. “No one has asked us directly but it’s clear that the conditions in which they work are very bad, so we try to help them.” The gift includes soap, several pens, and a women’s perfume.

Although in 2014 the Government approved a salary increase for the more than 440,000 workers of the Public Healthcare sector, the monthly salary still doesn’t surpass the equivalent of $70, a figure that is almost symoblic in a country where a liter of sunflower oil reaches $2 and a kilo of chicken is about $1.90. continue reading

For decades Cubans have been accustomed to bribing doctors with money or gifts to get a favorable treatment, a practice that the government prohibits but which has spread to all levels of service and all specialties.

In recent months several official voices have resorted to the traditional euphemisms calling for “raising the ethics” in patient treatment and “eliminating certain distortions” in Public Health, but doctors don’t seem prepared to renounce the bonus represented by the gifts, donations, and help that they receive from the sick and their relatives.

“It’s not that they have to give me something to receive good care, but everyone who comes to this clinic knows that I have to jump through hoops to be able to feed my family with this salary,” justifies Sandra, a young graduate in Comprehensive General Medicine who sees patients in a hospital in the Cerro neighborhood.

“Yesterday I was able to have a snack because the mother of a young man I attended gave me a steak roll and a drink,” says Sandra. “In my house I have half a bag of rice given to me by a grateful patient who I once helped recover from an allergy crisis, and the husband of another patient got me the only fan in this place,” she says.

Sandra’s salary, a little more than $50 monthly, is enough for her to defray the costs of electricity and gas, buy the few products that the rationed market still offers, and “go twice to a hard currency store to bring food home,” she reflects. “It’s enough to buy a few pounds of pork, some tomato sauce, and a little bread, and that’s it.”

With an extensive network of hospitals, clinics, and family medical consults, the Healthcare sector, which was one of the jewels in the crown of the system, has been particularly affected by the loss of the Soviet subsidy that had allowed the Island to reach the health indicators of a first-world country.

“We began to have problems with everything, since the equipment was breaking and there weren’t replacement parts or even medicine, going through the resources that workers receive like clothing or footwear,” recalls Jorge Echavarría, a retired urologist who had to work in the difficult years of the ’90s on the Island. “The levels [of care] prior to the Special Period were never recovered,” he believes.

Bathrooms without water, unpainted walls, broken air conditioning, and terrible food are what Herminia found upon arriving at the ward of the Freyre de Andrade General Surgery Hospital Clinic, in Havana, where her grandson was a patient. The medical center is still half-finished after a long repair, and patients enter between scaffolding and workers finishing certain places.

“We’ve even had to bring the power outlet to put it in the wall and be able to connect the fan because there was only a hole with two cables,” laments Herminia. A neighbor has lent them a small portable television and they also have brought all of the bedding from home. A mosquito net, also brought by the family, covers the patient’s bed.

A few meters away, another patient eats directly from a plastic container that his daughter has brought him. Beside the bed, untouched, is the tray with a watery soup, a little rice, and a greenish mash that they gave him in the hospital. “Those who don’t have family members who bring them food have to eat that,” he points out, because here “we have to move our home into the hospital.”

As a consequence of the precarious economic situation doctors are experiencing in health centers, many of them long to be part of the medical missions to other countries. Although once abroad they only receive between 10% and 15% of the total salary that the local governments pay the Ministry of Health, this quantity is much more than they receive on the Island.

The Cuban medical presence reaches 64 countries and it is calculated that more than 30,000 health professionals are currently working in “international medical cooperation.” The hope of the majority is to be able to bring resources to the Island so that their families can live better or to end up emigrating during one of those trips.

“My dream is that they send me on a mission,” says Sandra, the young recent graduate. “That is the only possibility I have to get out of this hole and get some money to fix my house.” Until that day arrives, the doctor hopes “to be able to keep surviving thanks to grateful patients,” those who never arrive with empty hands.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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.

Constitution Yes, Cooking Oil No

A crowd outside a market hoping to find some cooking oil in Sagua la Grande. (Maykel González Vivero)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, March 1, 2019 — Polling places for the referendum last Sunday never achieved the snapshot of a long, full line, stretching  around the corner. The great winner of the day was without a doubt vegetable oil for cooking, a product that has been missing, capturing people’s interest and worry in many parts of the national territory. That “candidate” did manage to convene multitudes.

The shortage of food has been worsening in recent weeks until now it is the turn of cooking oil, a basic ingredient in the domestic kitchen. The scarcity has provoked scenes like the one in this photo, in Sagua la Grande, Villa Clara, where residents crowded together for hours in front of a store to buy the product. The image has been repeated all over the Island and is sparking fears of the return of the so-called Special Period, the economic crisis sparked by the end of the Soviet Union’s subsidies to Cuba.

With a culinary tradition in which fried foods, the wide use of animal fats, and vegetable oils abound, for the majority of Cuban families the lack of these ingredients turns into a grave problem. Almost three decades ago, after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union, tricks to substitute oil for frying foods proliferated. continue reading

People learned to recycle the oil they used again and again, something that specialists advise against for its negative effects on health, but they also substituted the product with that of a mineral origin, taken fundamentally from pharmacies, where it is used for the preparation of various compounds. Now, many Cubans fear having to return to those practices and try to stick up on liters of the scarce merchandise.

“If you see oil somewhere, buy me some because I’m preparing for what comes,” one resident was yelling to another from a balcony in Old Havana. “I can do without everything, coffee, chicken, and even bread, but without oil I get depressed right away,” she added. “Right away I remember the year ’91 and everything that came after.”

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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.

A Cellphone, Social Media, and the Repair of a Bathroom

New sinks at the José Luis Arruñada school. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, February 7, 2019 — A mobile phone, and social media as an amplifier, has been a sufficiently powerful weapon to change things at a primary school in Havana. For decades, deterioration has been advancing in the bathrooms of the José Luis Arruñada school, in the municipality of Plaza of the Revolution, until this January a mother, tired of waiting, brought about a change in the situation.

Almost three weeks ago, the photos taken in the bathroom of La Arruñada, as the school is popularly known, sparked a heated debate on the internet. The toilets with broken flushing mechanisms, the stalls without doors, and a plastic tank filled with water instead of a sink reflected the deplorable situation that the students had to face every day. Many of them preferred to pass the eight hours they spent at school without going to the bathroom in order to avoid the bad smells and filth.

The bathroom’s flushing mechanism now functions. (14ymedio)

A few days after the photos were published on social media and were republished on the pages of 14ymedio, a committee from the Ministry of Education visited the school and began the process of repairing the bathrooms. Now there are sinks where water flows, each toilet can flush, and privacy has returned to each stall. The students and their parents haven’t stopped marveling.

“The next thing will be to photograph the lunch they give them in the cafeteria, to see if it improves,” joked a student. Perhaps she is right.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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 Was a Town Without Soul and Full of Memories"

The faithful filled up the temple last Sunday during the first Mass celebrated in the church. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Bertha K. Guillén / Marcelo Hernández, Sandino/Havana, 1 February 2019 — Juan Ramos is 67 years old and does not like to talk about his childhood. Yet, this week his face lit up when he remembered his mother. “If she could have seen this”, he said with reddened eyes. In the town of Sandino, Pinar del Río province — where his whole family was relocated to by force from the Escambray Mountains — the first Catholic church built in Cuba since 1959 has just been inaugurated.

At the junction of the main street and a dirt road, where more horse-drawn carriages pass than motor vehicles, stands the parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The building, with a 200-person capacity, stands out in the town, with its impeccable, recently painted yellow façade. Around the church one can only see buildings made of concrete — resembling cages – that accommodate hundreds of families that are still labeled “problematic.”

“This was a town without soul and full of memories,” Juan assured 14ymedio, while he brushed off a piece of invisible fluff from his shirt. His hands are gnarled from his work sowing tobacco, the most important product in this region where he ended up at only 12 years old. Juan has spent a great part of his life longing for El Pedrero, a town in the province of Sancti Spíritus where he spent his childhood. continue reading

The facade of the new church in the Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in the town of Sandino. (14ymedio)

“Over there I had roosters, a mule with which I wandered through the mountain and, in the backyard of my house, a small cemetery with all of the dogs that my family had owned”, he remembers now. “We used to go to town on Sundays to attend Mass and, from time to time, a priest would visit us. But one day the militiamen arrived and the only thing we could only carry with us was the very clothes we had on”, he says.

To prevent peasants and farmers in the area from supplying food and assistance to the “uprising” of the Escambray, a group of rebels that hoped to overthrow Fidel Castro in the beginning of the 1960s, the revolutionary government ordered for the residents of those mountains in the center of the island to be removed indiscriminately. Juan and his family among those expelled in 1964 and were taken to captive towns, or communities in which one could hardly leave or enter.

According to personal details revealed in publications of the Cuban exile community, it is estimated that a total of 21 towns were erected in this way, surrounded by wired fences and permanent guards at the entrance. Residents could neither get out nor receive visitors, and all of the correspondence was inspected.

“We were escorted by armed militiamen the whole trip and when we got here my parents were very sad because it was an ugly place, real ugly”, Juan notes. “Homes resembling matchboxes were starting to be built, all very close to one another. You could not go out into the open fields and there was no church”.

Among the things his family could safeguard during their forced relocation was a wooden cross that Juan’s mother wore on a necklace. “That was our very own church for decades. Every night we would take it out and would light a candle for it”, he describes. “We had to be careful when doing it because this town was full of informants”. His brother managed to get out when the mass exodus took place from the port of Mariel in 1980 but Juan stayed.

Last Sunday, Juan was one of the many parishioners that filled the church in Sandino during the Mass. The temple was erected thanks, in part, to funds donated by worshippers of the Church of San Lorenzo in Tampa, Florida, itself built by the Cuban exile community which contributed 95,000 dollars to the building’s construction.

The construction of two more churches has been authorized, following the normalization of relations between the Vatican and the Government of Cuba in recent decades.

“We feel so much happiness that it is impossible to describe. Just as the bishop said, a church for a Christian is like a hospital for the sickly,” recounted Rosa Martínez, one of the residents who attended the ceremony. “The tears were pouring from my eyes when I saw my church gathered in that long awaited temple”, she said, interrupting herself with a sigh.

“In all of the years that I have lived here I have never seen so many people gathered together”, Martínez commented. She lived through times when “everyone suspected each other and were afraid to talk about these things”.

People from all over the Western part of the country came for the opening ceremony despite the bad weather. The celebration was charged with emotive moments and some volunteers even transmitted the event live through the internet to their relatives outside of Cuba.

“The Mexican women of the congregation of the Little Sisters have done very important work in this community”, says Idania, an octogenarian who took flowers to the Virgin of Charity’s altar located in the new church. She prefers to not talk of the past, and a wince of pain appears when asked if the church belongs to the residents that were relocated from the Escambray. Rather, she prefers to concentrate “on the present, on the now”.

Translated by: Claudia Cruz Leo

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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 Sells Food to Tornado Victims

Several State stores sold eggs and cookies to the tornado victims this Monday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 29 January 2019 — After the devastation left by the tornado that hit several Havana municipalities on Sunday night, many of the affected families have nothing to eat and nowhere to cook their food. Without electricity, storing any food is an illusion and some have lost every last penny in cash, crushed, under the ruins of their homes.

In the midst of this scenario it was assumed, and it should be expected, that the State would immediately create the conditions to deliver cooked food to these people free of charge. Instead, the official stores arranged a special sale of eggs and cookies in State markets. The “special” does not refer to discounted prices, but to the very fact of selling products that have virtually disappeared from the stores. continue reading

Some people, who in the town of Regla stood in a long line to buy eggs, commented that they were seeing people there who were not from the neighborhood. “Surely they were told to resell them in Havana,” suspected a distressed resident who lost the roof of his home. “It would be the last straw,” replied a man who appeared to be a retiree.

Beyond suspicions of those who might have come from unaffected neighborhoods to buy a products missing from the shops for weeks, what most bothered Regla residents was the sale of food, not its free distribution. Those who still had some money ate that night, the others either appealed to a friend or slept with an empty belly.

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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.

"All Of My Neighbors Know Of My HIV Because The Doctor Told Them"

With medical care statistics that can compete with any developed country, Cuba fails to protect the privacy of patients or the confidentiality of clinical records. (OPS)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 22 January 2019 — The door did not close. While lying on the stretcher, naked from the waist down, the patient could see the faces of those who waited outside the examination room. After that experience she spent years without visiting a hospital for fear of again suffering a violation of her privacy, an element that is rarely taken into account in Cuban healthcare.

With medical care statistics that can compete with any developed country, Cuba fails to protect the privacy of patients or the confidentiality of clinical records. Complaints of indiscretions, leaking of medical information, or people who burst in the middle of a consultation are common in the hospitals of the Island. continue reading

The problem is frequent in the 10,800 medical offices in the country and more than 450 general hospitals, but the complaints mount in maternal hospitals.

“Our delivery rooms are shared and it is common for two women to be giving birth at the same time in one of them,” a doctor from the Gynecology and Obstetrics Hospital Ramón González Coro, who preferred to remain anonymous, told this paper. “Many patients complain of lack of privacy in such an intimate moment.”

In the delivery rooms of this Havana hospital, it is established that a screen is placed in the middle of the two patients to offer more privacy during childbirth, but sometimes “the haste with which the medical staff works and their own movement, from one side to the other, prevent that visual barrier from remaining in place,” confesses the obstetrician.

Yadira, who gave birth at the González Coro at the end of last year, confirms it. “It was my first delivery and what scared me the most was going into the room and seeing a woman who was giving birth in front of the stretcher where they put me,” she says. “I felt shame for her because she was exposed to the eyes of strangers,” she says.

Yadira expressed her desire not to be in the same situation as the other pregnant woman. “They answered that when the baby was sticking his head out, what I would least care about is being seen naked,” she says. “I felt as if I were a box, a wrapping without the right to have my body and my privacy respected.”

Later, in the recovery room where Yadira stayed for three days, the nurses were going to stitch up the wound left by the episiotomy, a surgical cut that is made just before delivery. “Everything is done in front of the other patients who are in the room and when I complained, the employees mocked me and told me to stop being such a prude.”

“This type of behavior goes against everything that is taught in the medical schools of the country,” says Maricarmen Ferrer, a retired doctor who also participated in training of new doctors. “Since 1989, bioethics began to be taught in Cuban universities and an important part is respect for the patient’s privacy, even when the patient is not aware of it or can not demand it for herself”.

“Unfortunately, many of the medical facilities in the country do not have the conditions to provide more personalized and individual care,” acknowledges Ferrer. “Many times we have to work in offices in which the door does not close or, to put it directly, that do not have one, and so there is no way to provide a private space to the patient.”

The doctor, however, believes that part of the responsibility for violating the privacy and information of patients comes from the patients themselves. “Many do not knock on the door before entering, they arrive in the middle of a consultation and make comments about the person being treated or about others,” Ferrer warns. “It’s a problem of lack of education that affects us a lot.”

Ferrer believes that indiscretions and the violation of ethical protocols can even cause someone to abandon treatment. “Once I had to call out a newly graduated urologist because he peeked outside his office and asked aloud what patients were waiting to ’be seen for a problem of impotence.’ No one in the waiting room answered.”

However, these actions rarely come to be presented as complaints in the Ministry of Public Health or to be taken to court. Ivan, 32, is an HIV patient and lives in the municipality of San Miguel del Padrón in Havana. “All my neighbors know about my illness because the family doctor told a person who ended up spreading the information in the neighborhood,” he laments.

“At first I thought to file a report, but my friends convinced me not to because the damage was already done,” adds Ivan.

“After a lot of research, I was told that all that would come of it was an administrative sanction but that it was never going to reach the courts,” Ivan explains to 14ymedio. The indiscreet doctor was moved to another office, and the patient fears that wherever he is he can continue to “spread the private information of others.”

An investigation by the doctors Maylin Peña Fernández and Hiram Tápanes Daumy puts salt on the wound. In the opinion of these specialists the frequent “rotation” of doctors to different jobs causes the continuity in the treatment of patients to be lost and this also affects privacy.

In addition to the deficiencies in the functioning of the Health Service, the indifference of Cuban society explains this type of behavior, and this is reflected in the official press. The images of the injured or sick being treated in a hospital are frequent on national television. And, worse still, the government has repeatedly disseminated clinical details of opponents and activists.

Translated by: Michael S Brown

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The Egg, Still Being Sought

Two retirees have written initials on their eggs to handle the shortage that affects the whole country and to avoid disputes at home.  (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 16 January 2019 — In Norma and Francisco’s refrigerator only four eggs remain.  In order to handle the shortage that affects the whole country and avoid disputes at home, the retirees have written on the shells the initial of each member of the family.

At the end of last year, authorities attributed poultry production deficiencies to damages from Hurricane Irma in September of 2017 and the sub-tropical storm Alberto in May of 2018.  In Havana, where 28 million eggs are consumed each month, only five million came to market in December, according to the official press. continue reading

This shortage coincided with the lack of flour in stores, which caused a fall in the production of sweets in the state and private sectors.  With the passage of weeks, the flour shortage has let up slightly, but the egg shortage is unrelieved.

Cubans receive five eggs a month at a rationed price of 0.15 Cuban peso (CUP) each, and they have the right to five more for 0.90 CUP each.  On the free market an egg costs 1 CUP, but it has been more than a month since one could be had.

“This month eggs are not in the ration booklet, and anyone who still has one it’s because they kept it since December,” Pascual, an employee of an egg warehouse belonging to the Interior Commerce Ministry, confirms to 14ymedio.  “Right now we are waiting for them to arrive, but they have not,” he says.

Added to the deterioration of the poultry infrastructure is the problem of feed for the laying hens.  “We haven’t gotten any feed, and we are improvising with the little that is left, trying to stretch it or selling the hens as chickens for consumption,” complains an employee of a state farm near the community of Las Terrazas in Artemisa.

Powdered eggs, a product that a couple of years ago began to enter the country as a substitute for freshly laid eggs, has also disappeared from the market.  A kilogram of this product was selling for 65 CUP and came mainly from Brazil.

But last December it was announced that the Government of that nation had stopped exports to Cuba and frozen its credit because, of the 10 million dollars the Island was supposed to pay in June, it only paid 4 million.  This measure has already led to a reduction of Brazilian products in national markets.

“With Hurricane Irma we lost the roof, but little by little we were replacing it; what is impeding us right now from establishing production is the lack of food for the birds,” laments the Artemisa worker.  “We have had to sacrifice many hens for lack of food, and recovering from that takes time.”

The poultry farms, all under state management, are governed by the traditional concept of keeping the birds caged.  An intensive practice that in Latin America is being substituted little by little for another in which the well-being of the animals is taken into account and they are not confined inside of a small space.

The so-called “happy hen egg” is found in Cuba only in domestic production carried out on home patios or on small farms, but all the commercial product in the state network comes from caged hens.

“When our cages or warehouse roofs are damaged we cannot continue producing,” says another employee of a farm in San Antonio de los Banos.  “This is very fragile and when the wind blows a little strongly we always have impacts but also when it’s very hot because the interior of the warehouses gets quite hot and many animals die on us.”

Researchers Nadia Baez Quinones and Onailis Oramas Santos, from the Animal Science Institute and the University of Havana School of Economics, respectively, carried out a study of the sector’s problems.  The shortage of incubators, deterioration of the refrigeration equipment, deficiencies in the treatment of wastes and constant water pump breakdowns are some of them.

The experts assert that, if there is an investment to air condition the damaged farms and modernize their production, the supply to the population could rise to 39 eggs per month per resident, instead of the ten that they can currently acquire through the ration market.

But some producers, like Ramon Luaces, 72, who worked more than three decades with egg layers, say that more is needed than resources and investments.  “We must resume production on a smaller scale, too, and motivate the farmers to produce eggs,” he tells this daily.

“The private egg producer prefers selling them on the black market because they have no incentive to sell to the state,” explains Lucas.  “If they would let us sell directly to the people and the hotels, ’another rooster would crow’,” he says, using the Cuban expression equivalent to ’it would be a whole different story.’

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

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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 "Yes" Campaign Invades Cuba’s High Schools and Universities

The Government is seeking to attract Yes votes among the youngest voters for the February 24 referendum. Shown here: Young people in front of the famous steps of the University of Havana.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, January 11, 2019 — Meetings, morning assemblies, and talks in high school courses and university faculties all over the country are some of the strategies that the Cuban Government has put into practice to promote the Yes vote among the youngest voters, especially those who, in the February 24 referendum on the new Constitution, will cast a vote at the polls for the first time.

Since classes resumed in January, after the end of year break, the official Yes campaign for the new Constitution has landed in upper secondary and university classrooms via conferences, discussion groups, and classes. Professors call for the ratification of the Constitution in order to “maintain the achievements of the Revolution” and “keep the country from falling into the enemy’s hands,” according to students’ testimonies gathered by 14ymedio. continue reading

The promotion of the Yes vote extends to activities organized by the Secondary School Students’ Federation (FEEM) and the University Students’ Federation (FEU).

Additionally, the subject has come up at school morning assemblies in all State institutions, where harangues and calls to “support the Revolution” with a Yes vote are abundant.

“They informed us of the new content of the Defense Preparation course last Monday at the morning assembly,” a 12th grade student in a high school program in Old Havana tells this newspaper. “We already had the first class and the whole time they talked to us of the importance of voting Yes because that was the only way to protect the homeland from its enemies and to be able to keep healthcare and education free,” he adds.

The teenager, who turned 16 in November, assures that the professor teaching the material asserted that “a No is counterrevolutionary” and those who “vote No want to destroy the country and all the achievements of the Revolution.” The class segment on this subject lasted 45 minutes and “the whole time was about the importance of attending the referendum and not letting oneself be influenced by those who are calling for a No vote.”

Other testimonies gathered in Santiago de Cuba, Villa Clara, and Sancti Spíritus confirm that it is a strategy at the national level of which the Ministries of Education and of Higher Education refused to give details to questions from this newspaper.

In Santa Clara, Jean Carlo, 16, has already heard two talks on the subject in his high school program. “At the first one a man dressed as a soldier came and joined the professor and said that from the United States they were financing counterrevolutionaries to promote the campaign for No,” he remembers.

“The other time it was taught by the history teacher and she explained to us that we are in a very important moment for the Revolution, and if it was the responsibility of some to attack the Moncada Barracks and of others to fight in Girón (the Bay of Pigs), it’s our responsibility to fight so that Yes wins in the referendum.”

In universities all over the Island, which in the 2018-2019 school year have some 240,000 students, the official Yes campaign has also begun in classrooms, even though until the last days of January, students in higher education take their final exams of the semester and only come to the institutions to do reviews or take exams.

“Every day they say something, in some review (for exams) or in some appeal from the FEU,” says Brandon, 21, who is enrolled in one of the faculties of the iconic University Hill in the nation’s flagship university in Havana. “The students listen but almost nobody asks or says anything, they only hear,” he emphasizes.

The situation recalls the so-called Battle of Ideas, an ideological turn of the screw that Fidel Castro pushed at the beginning of this century. The intense campaign included weekly public actions, known as Open Forums, the creation of a red guard of very aggressive young people, known as “social workers,” and more political activities in schools.

However, with Raúl Castro’s arrival to power many of those programs broke up for lack of resources. “It’s not that ideology has been relaxed in schools, much less in universities, but that there weren’t funds to sustain all that propagandistic machinery,” believes Katty, a recent graduate in pedagogy.

In the last week the Cuban Government has intensified its Yes campaign on national media and has placed advertisements for Yes at baseball games and in the news on national television. However, promoters of No or of abstention do not appear in any of these settings.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

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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 Mysterious Work at Paseo Avenue

A large house in Vedado is remodeled at a speed that generates suspicion among the neighbors. (14y medio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 10 January 2019 – In the midst of the critical housing situation in the country, where there is a deficit of close to one million homes, a pharaonic work of remodeling has been undertaken in Havana in a little over a month in a building in El Vedado that for years belonged to the Ministry of the Interior and whose destiny is unknown.

The block between Paseo Avenue and A Street and bounded by 11th and 13th streets has been fenced in. In the garden of the house trees have been cut and gigantic scaffolding erected. An army of bricklayers, plumbers and electricians undertake the total remodeling of the building while the crews of the electric company bury underground the installations for the lights that will surround the facility. continue reading

The streets and sidewalks have been converted into huge excavations where the telephone company and the gas and water suppliers seem to have agreed to have everything ready in record time. Near the construction site, the parked equipment features all types of machinery, those that right now are lacking in the construction of residential buildings and in the repair of the streets.

In several spots on the perimeter fence there are warnings that restrict passage and prohibit the taking of photographs.

When the workers are asked what will be the result of so much effort, they shrug their shoulders and put on the “I can’t say it” face. Is it true that a five-star hotel is being built here? The man looks over his shoulder before murmuring: “No, I heard that they are going to put a museum dedicated to honoring the memory of Fidel Castro” and with a voice almost inaudible, he adds: “With the need for one…”

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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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.

From Camels to a Sleigh, Cuba Moves from The Three Kings to Santa Claus

On the island there is a silent battle between the old traditions inherited from Spain and the American ways. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 6 January 2019 — Red hats with a white band, beards as props, and gifts placed under the tree are Christmas elements increasingly frequent in Cuban homes. The increasingly fluid contact with Cubans in exile, after the immigration reform of 2013, has reduced the tradition of the Magi, while Santa Claus is more present on the island.

Suany del Valle, 45, recalls that when she was a child in the 80s, the celebration of Three Kings Day on January 6 and any mention of Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar was frowned upon by the ruling party. “My grandmother and my mother kept the tradition in whispers,” she tells 14ymedio. “But now that it is allowed, many people prefer to deliver the gifts on the night of December 24,” she laments.

Del Valle was one of the girls who bought toys through a rationed distribution mechanism that was invented during the years when Fidel Castro ruled and the Soviet subsidy was a major source of support for the island. “They moved the sale of toys to July* to erase any closeness to the Magi and you had to stand in long lines to get a doll,” recalls this Havana graduate in economics. continue reading

Now, toys, sweets and even children’s clothing can only be purchased in stores in convertible pesos under the law of supply and demand. “That has meant a new social division, between children who only receive chocolates or sweets these days and others who get remote control cars or Nintendo,” says Del Valle.

On the black market, the offers focus on children’s gifts to be delivered around Christmas Eve. “We sold most of the toys in the days before December 24, some parents wanted to keep them for the Magi, but most wanted to deliver them on Christmas Eve,” says 28-year-old Geovanny Lopez, an informal merchant.

“I traveled to Panama at the beginning of December with a list of customer orders. They were mainly looking for accessories and costumes related to Santa Claus, plastic trees, lights, balls and garlands to decorate, as well as children’s toys,” he tells this daily. “Most buyers told me that they needed gifts for Christmas,” says López.

The trend is confirmed by Miguel Godínez, 54, who lives in Tampa. “I sent some 300 dollars to my family to celebrate the end of the year and to buy Christmas Eve gifts.” The emigrant is one of the many Cubans living in the United States who is helping to mold a new tradition, to the detriment of the Three Kings.

“When I arrived in the United States during the Rafter Crisis, I was surprised that almost nobody celebrated on January 6; eventually I got used to Santa Claus.” Now, Godínez has started his family in Sancti Spíritus in the practices of the gentleman with the beard and the sack loaded with presents. “It’s better that way, because then we’re doing the same things, the same days and almost at the same time even though I’m not with them, and this way we feel more united.”

Cubans in the United States are the largest Cuban community outside the island. In 2013, the United States Census Office estimated the number of Cubans living in the United States at 2 million, counting those born there of Cuban parents. Their influence in the lives of their relatives left in Cuba has been growing, to the extent that the sending of remittances and trips to and from both sides of the Straits of Florida have also done so.

Cuban-Americans have been an outpost of Santa Claus, who in Cuba is not called by his other names: Father Christmas or Saint Nicolas. On the island there is a silent battle between the old traditions inherited from Spain and the American ways. Private businesses contribute to reinforcing the latter by preferring the decorations or motifs in which the plump gentleman dressed in red is seen.

The shortages in the network of state stores do not help to maintain the tradition of the Magi. “All the children’s departments are empty or almost empty,” laments Liane, the mother of two children aged six and nine. “I could only buy them chocolates because there are no toys.”

Liane also denounced to 14ymedio that in the primary school where her children study, in East Havana, the teacher explained to the children that “the Magi do not exist” and that it is “a practice of capitalism.” The mother complained to the school principal but it was too late, her two children no longer “put out water for the camels before bed or write a letter to the Kings because they know that with or without water and with or without a letter, the gifts will not change.”

In the midst of the liquidity crisis that Cuba is experiencing which affects the import of merchandise, not only are there no drugs or flour for bread, but the deficit also reaches the products destined for children. Maria Ysabel Travieso recounted in her Facebook account that she visited the toy department in the Centrally Located Plaza de Carlos III on January 3 and found all the shelves empty.

“What emotion, we went looking for the toys for the Three Kings…,” she wrote on her wall on that social network; her publication was shared more than a hundred times and generated dozens of comments. The actor Luis Silva, who plays the popular humorous character of Pánfilo, was one of those who asked Travieso about the place she had gone to buy and shared her images on his own wall.

However, it is not only the shortages and the American influence that have contributed to a cut in the celebrations of January 6. Despite the permissiveness of recent years, the Plaza of the Revolution has continued to look on the the festivity with ill-will and often the most orthodox voices of the ruling class criticize the “consumerism” that the date generates.

Abel Prieto, former Minister of Culture, recently posted on his Twitter account that “the commercial use of Christmas is deeply anti-Christian.” The official has been at the head of the government’s attack against the influence of American traditions on the island and other “imported” events such as certain musical genres, Hollywood movies or video games with major action.

In 2001, the Magi became the center of a bitter diplomatic dispute between Havana and Madrid. The Cuban press attacked the Spanish embassy in Havana for having organized a procession with Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar in an area close to the Spanish embassy and the Havana Malecon. The caravan, in cars pulled by horses, threw caramels in its wake.

The state newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) called the initiative a “disgusting spectacle” and called the diplomats who were dressed in the costumes of the Magi “monstrosities,” “unrecognizable clowns” and “pseudo-magicians.” However, in an unusual gesture on national television the news reported on the statements of one of the participants who wished that the tradition “would increasingly be a party shared by all children.”

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro used the excuse of needing the entire nation to focus on the sugar harvest as a reason to “reschedule gift-giving” to the summer.

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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.