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 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 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.

Bread Is ‘Stolen’ At The End Of The Year

Hundreds of cuban Internet users have published photos showing the poor quality of rationed bread and the long lines to buy it. (Pedry Roxana Rojo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 27 December 2018 – Few products have been talked about as much on the social networks this last week of the year in Cuba than that of bread. The long lines outside the state bakeries and the poor quality of this rationed food have filled the walls of Facebook, Twitter timelines and Instagram accounts. The lack of flour that has led to the drop in supply is one of the most discussed issues of the moment.

Since December 6 when web browsing service on mobile phones became available,  there has been an infinite number of photos and videos in which consumers complain about the typical bread. “This is not a stone it is bread,” says a resident of Placetas, Villa Clara, on her Facebook wall. “This is a line of several hours to buy something as simple as a bread,” writes another from the city of Santa Clara.

Greenish-tone breads, reduced in size and unappetizing in appearance, are photographed and shared in chat rooms and messaging services. Also innumerable signs outside the state establishments indicating that there is no bread or that sweets are not being sold “until further notice.” A true “bakery obsession” has taken over the social networks.

Who was to say that a theme of gossip and discussion such as the quality and shortage of this product would become an end-of-year spectacle?

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.

Currency Exchanges Cut Employees’ Salaries to Repair Their Premises

Created in 1996, for years the “Cadecas” have been the places most visited by Cubans when they want to sell foreign currency. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 18 December 2018 — All of the employees at the state operated currency exchanges (known as Cadecas), will receive 40 Cuban pesos (CUP) less in salary in December, according to reports from several employees speaking to 14ymedio. The amount deducted will be used — according to what they’ve been told — to repair the premises where they work, which have deteriorated over the years due to lack of investment.

Created in 1996, for years the Cadecas have been the places most visited by Cubans when they want to sell foreign currency or exchange Cuban pesos (CUP) and convertible pesos (CUC). continue reading

“This month they are deducting 40 pesos from each employee because they are going to use that money to improve the situation where we work,” an employee of an exchange office on Belascoaín Street in Havana told this newspaper. “With that money we can have a bathroom because we have to be here eight hours every day and we do not have bathrooms.”

The Cadecas are the state centers in Cuba that earn the most money for their services. The Government imposes a 13% tax on the exchange of dollars to convertible pesos, with the customer receiving only 0.87 CUC for each dollar instead of the official rate which is 1 CUC per dollar.

In a country where remittances received from abroad totaled 3.354 billion dollars in 2015, according to The Havana Consulting Group (THCG), the Cadecas have become the main recipient of this currency, which is also changed in the informal market.

“With all the money we move, we have to work under very difficult conditions,” Jose Ignacio, a former Cadeca guard with ten years experience in security matters, explained to 14ymedio. “The premises are not safe, technology constantly suffers failures and digital communications with the bank are not stable,” he says.

However, it is in the issue of “attention to the workers” where there are more unaddressed issues, says José Ignacio. “The lunch they give us is very bad, transportation to the premises fails all the time and we do not have access to a bathroom to meet our needs,” he laments.

However, the officials of the Currency Exchanges insist that these premises have become less important because more and more state stores now accept payment in both currencies, CUC and CUP, thus taking away the exchange business of the Cadecas.

Dozens of Cadeca workers have joined together and sent a letter to the State Council complaining about the deduction from their salary this month. In the letter they note the strategic nature of the sector in which they work and recommend the Government annul the decision.

“Most of the money that moves in our country passes through these hands,” explains Loreta, a cashier in a Cadeca housed in a metal container structure located in Havana’s El Vedado district. “Every day I count thousands and thousands of dollars or convertible pesos, but when they pay me I receive less than 40 CUC (monthly),” she says, outraged.

“If this were a cooperative it would not be bad if we put part of our salary to the common benefit, but we are employees of a state company and this is a very difficult month to take away part of our salary, it is not right nor is it the time,” the worker points out.

The employees of the Cadecas are considering appealing to independent unions. “What we are asking for is nothing extraordinary, only that our salary is respected and that the money that should go into our pockets is not used for something that the State must assume,” Loreta adds.

A copy of the letter sent to the Council of State will also be sent to the Cuban Workers Center (CTC), the only union allowed in the country. In July of last year, the secretary-general of the CTC, Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, acknowledged that salaries on the island are “insufficient” to meet the needs of the worker, which causes “apathy,” “disinterest” and “important labor migration.”

“The trade union movement demands confidence from its workers, we have to resist a little more to finish solving this problem, which for us continues to be a priority to solve in the shortest time possible,” Guilarte emphasized months later.

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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.

Goodbye to the Kid Chocolate Room

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 13 December 2018 — The builders dismantle panels, pile up fragments of the flooring and begin to remove the screws that connect large areas of the stands. The work is taking place inside the Kid Chocolate Room, in front of Havana’s Capitol building, a venue that until recently served for boxing, indoor soccer and judo tournaments. It is the end of one of the most important sports competition venues in the city.

Now, the block where Kid Chocolate is located is a construciton site because the Pasaje Hotel will be erected on the perimeter and the entire block, where the Payret cinema is also located, will undergo an intense remodeling. The dismantling of “la Chocolate,” as the place is popularly known, is not a surprise to anyone, due to its growing state of abandonment.

Built in 1991 when the Cuban capital hosted the XI Pan American Games, the sports center opened its doors amidst the worst economic crisis the island has experienced in recent decades. After that event the structure began to deteriorate, until it reached a point where the room was no longer safe for the athletes and the public.

“It was raining more inside than outside,” recalls a boxing fan who a few years ago got soaked while watching a national match while a downpour fell on the city. The man says that the time of sports venues “at subsidized prices and open to the public” is over and now Cubans live in “the era of hotels for tourists with pools and roofs that have no leaks,” he adds sarcastically.

One of the last events that took place in the premises, last May, was the Giraldilla Cup of university football, where several games had to be temporarily interrupted when the players fell as they slid around on the wet floor.

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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 Lack of Personnel and Maintenance Sink Government Childcare Centers

Social sectors with higher incomes seek specialized care and better infrastructure for their children. (Charles Pieters)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 16 December 2018 — Incomplete staffing and an excessively high ratio of children to teachers along with the lack of maintenance has led to remarkable deterioration in the childcare centers throughout the country, 57 years after their founding, according to the official press.

An article published this week in the newspaper Granma details the difficult time that state daycare centers are going through. Currently, these centers provide care for 18.5% of the population that is less than seven years old, about 134,000 children.

Despite the low birth rate in recent years, at least 48,000 families across the country are still waiting for their children to obtain a place at one of these centers, according to information from Mary Carmen Rojas Torres, an official of the Directorate of Education of Early Childhood in the Ministry of Education. continue reading

The closure of 36 childcare centers throughout the national territory and the deficit of specialized personnel cause many families to opt for private care, a phenomenon that has gained strength in the last two decades, especially among the sectors of society with higher incomes that seek specialized care and better infrastructure.

A resolution has been in place since last year requiring that a child enrolled in state day care be the son/daughter of an active worker,  be at least 11 months old and able to walk. Employees from military and police institutions, public health and education centers have priority, while private sector workers were set aside on the list.

The low salaries that educators receive from the state locations, less than 40 CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso, roughly $40 US) per month, means that many of the graduates in this specialty end up opening their own childcare businesses or employed in private daycare centers.

“There are 183 closed locations due to lack of personnel, which translates into a deficit of 181 educators and 2,379 teacher’s assistants,” acknowledged Yoania Falcón Suárez, an official of the Ministry of Education. To alleviate the deficit, a higher children to educator ratio was authorized and in addition staffers now get a salary increase depending on the number of children, but these measures have not solved the problem.

Carmen María is one of the more than 7,000 mothers in the city of Havana who, for months, has requested a spot in a state child care center for her one-and-a-half year-old twins. The woman works as a waitress in a private restaurant and laments that the employees of the state sector have priority for obtaining a spot.

“I’m going to wait a couple of months to see if I’m lucky and I can enroll the children in a state childcare center, because it’s cheaper, but, if not,  I’ll have to end up hiring a private caretaker in order to keep my job.” At the moment Carmen Marías children are under the care of their grandmother during her working hours.

The woman also thinks that “there has been a deterioration in the pedagogical quality of the workers in these places because before they were closer to being true teachers but now they are more like assistants who are there to take care of the children, but they do not teach them many things.”

An official of the Ministry of Education explained to 14ymedio the reasons for prioritizing the state sector. “The cuentapropistas (self-employed) have higher incomes and that is not a secret to anyone,” explains the worker of this ministry, on condition of anonymity. “In the midst of the difficulties we have with the number of locations and specialized personnel, we are trying to help — first of all — the mothers with the lowest salaries,” she says.

“We also have a policy that all those women who work in strategic state sectors can have their childcare guaranteed even if they do have to wait a long time to obtain a place,” the official added. “Childcare centers are subsidized and should benefit those who need this support, because other families can pay for a private caregiver.”

The child care educators are trained in mid-level courses in pedagogical schools for young people who have graduated from the 12th grade. At the moment there are more than 3,700 students training in these centers who are destined to occupy positions in state child care centers and preschool classrooms. But many of them will end up deserting the profession.

Rosario García has been managing a private daycare center in Candelaria for seven years. The self-employed manager explains that she has no problems hiring staff, because many educators from day care centers in the area have expressed their desire to work in her small business. For García, the greatest difficulties are on another side.

The woman considers that if private caregivers could rent larger spaces in the state’s own day care centers, have access to educational resources at preferential prices and be respected and considered by the government to be educators, that would help meet the high demand for child care.

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.

Cuba Risks a Christmas Without Rice on the Table

The rice imported from Vietnam is not popular among Cuban consumers (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 30 November 2018 — The end of the year is approaching and families are setting aside provisions for the December festivities. Beans, pork and salad can not be absent, but the most essential of all products is rice, the distribution of which in recent weeks has shown signs of an alarming shortage in supplies and a fall in quality.

With an annual national consumption that exceeds 700,000 tons, this essential ingredient is sold in three types of markets: the bodegas of the rationed system, stores that sell products for Cuban pesos (CUP), and the hard currency stores that only sell products in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), each of which is worth 25 Cuban pesos. Shortages currently are affecting the latter two options and the customers are complaining about the poor quality of the rice that is available.

“We have had cuts in supplies and now consumers don’t like the rice that is being sold,” admits Suanny, a grocer in a market on San Lazaro Street in Havana, where imported rice costs 5 Cuban pesos a pound (roughly 25¢ USD). “People come by and ask if it is Brazilian, but when they find out it is Vietnamese, they do not want to buy it.” continue reading

In the midst of an escalation of accusations between Havana’s Revolution Square and the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, over the Mais Medico (More Doctors) program staffed by Cuban doctors who are being recalled to Cuba, Cuban consumers fear that the diplomatic chill will affect the arrival of the highly-valued rice. Even television comedians allude to its counterpart, the food of Asian origin, as “the worst nightmare” of the coming Christmas Eve.

Vietnam is the main exporter of rice to the Island because the national harvest covers barely a third of what is consumed on the island. According to official data, more than eleven million Cubans residing in the country eat an average of 11 pounds a month, more than 130 pounds per person per year. The vast majority of diners will say they have not eaten if there is no rice on their plate, both at lunch and dinner.

Suanny explains to this newspaper that the reasons for the rejection of the Vietnamese product are varied. “Many of the grains are broken and the smell it has, even if it is washed several times, is not pleasant,” he says. “Besides, it’s a type of rice that does not cook up with individual grains, but rather is sticky, and we don’t like it that way here.” Similar opinions are heard in all the markets, with the exception of stores in convertible pesos where the origin of the rice is different.

“We mainly sell one kilogram packages from Spain and Brazil that are well accepted,” explains Yaima, administrator of a small store in Vedado. While in the rationed market and in places that sell in the local currency there is only one variety and for a price up to six times higher, “of a type that is very good for making yellow rice, paellas and even risotto, as well as others of long grain of the variety basmati and the jasmine.”

Yaima explains that the main buyers of this variety are the private restaurants (paladares), the foreigners residing in the national territory and “the so-called ‘pots’ (new rich) who want something of higher quality.” In the last month in several stores, including Yaima’s, they had to “ration the sale of rice packages to five per person because the supply is not stable.”

With the increase of the private sector in recent years, especially in the restaurants with extensive menus for foreign tourists, “the purchase of this type of rice [sold in CUC], which previously sold very slowly, has grown a lot,” says the worker. “Now it’s among the products we sell the most, after chicken, sausages and oil.”

Some of those interviewed consider that Cuban rice is barely sold in convertible peso stores due to “quality problems” and “presentation.” Also because of the obstacles that the State still puts on the private farmers before they can place their goods on the shelves of stores in the internal trade network.

Domestic rice does not enjoy customers’ favor either. In agricultural markets, its price remains at 4 CUP, cheaper than imported rice. “It’s second because it’s very dirty with small stones, seeds and also grains with husks,” explains Wilfredo del Toro, who manages a market stall in a plaza in Marianao.

It is common for consumers to spend between 20 minutes and half an hour selecting, washing and “picking” the national or Vietnamese rice before they can cook it, a time that is prolonged if the grain comes from the fields of the Island, due to the lack of sorting machines that clean the product before it reaches the markets.

“It’s not just about harvesting more quality rice in the fields, but about achieving a better finish,” explains Josué Amorín, an agricultural engineer who has been dedicated to rice harvesting in Artemisa’s Güira area for a decade. “The selection and packaging are unaddressed issues in the sale of national rice, in that almost nothing has been achieved in recent years.”

“In the end, what the buyer takes home is a product that can not compete with the one sold in stores in convertible pesos, neither in quality nor in cleanliness,” says the engineer.

The rice is moved in hoppers or bags throughout the transport chain from the fields to the markets. Once at the market stalls it is also sold in bulk, which contributes to the addition of particles and dirt to the product. In the rationed market it is common for employees to add small stones or other objects to increase the weight, which leaves them a surplus to sell in illegal networks.

Currently, with the problems of shortages that are affecting several areas of the country, the practice of adulterating the national rice has also exploded. This November the planting for the cold season has started and the problems with the quality of the seed already foretell that the goal of planting 139,000 hectares can not be met.

“The grain we have is a variety that demands a lot of water and is quite fragile,” a rice grower explains by telephone to 14ymedio from the  Aguada de Pasajeros area in Cienfuegos, who prefers anonymity. “In the technological package (a module that the State sells to the producers) we have distributed a rice for sowing that is very deteriorated.”

The farmer points to the problems with irrigation systems, “in very poor condition given the years and lack of maintenance,” together with the difficulties of drying and transporting the grain once it is harvested, as the main brakes suffered by the sector. “Getting bags [to package it in] is a headache,” he says.

The Rice Development Program, managed by the State but with a majority of producers located in cooperatives and private farms, aims to reach a production of 400,000 tons by 2020. But the forecast, according to several specialists consulted by this newspaper, seems too optimistic and even counterproductive for the country’s economy.

In the opinion of Israel Lugo Hernández, technical-productive director of the Rice Technology Division, reaching these figures depends not only on seeds and machinery, but also on how the rains behave in the coming years, especially over the territories of Granma, Camagüey and Sancti Spíritus, the regions where the grain is most sown.

For engineer Josué Amorín such a forecast is a “pure dream.” Rice production “demands water availability that is impossible to guarantee throughout the process in a country that has had serious drought problems in recent years and that, according to forecasts, may worsen in the future.” The specialist believes that “we must concentrate not on increasing the production numbers too much, but on the quality of the rice that is arriving at the tables.”

In his opinion “an appropriate combination of national production and imports would be more advisable than trying to grow everything here.”

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

Taking Care of Children and Then Grandchildren

The role played by older people increases when one of their children emigrates. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, November 29, 2018 — Preparing snacks, picking up the girls after classes, and staying on top of keeping the school uniforms clean. A good part of the daily routine of Clara Rojos, 74, is focused on her two granddaughters, aged 10 and 11, who she has taken care of since their mother emigrated to Miami. From there she is trying to bring them over via a family reunification process that has taken more than five years.

Clara Rojas is “mother and father” to the two girls, as she explains to 14ymedio. In parks, outside schools, and in the vicinity of childcare centers, it is common to see these gray-haired heads accompanying minors. Sometimes they do it to help out the rest of the family, but in other cases they are the only support these children have.

According to an investigation conducted by the Law Faculty of Marta Abreu University, in Villa Clara, currently Cuba includes “more grandparents in the raising of grandchildren, now that, in general, both parents have a lot of work and social activity, and they spend little time with their children.” The role played by older people increases when one of their children emigrates. continue reading

For Clara Rojas, being in charge of her two granddaughters brings her many advantages and a “mountain of problems.” “I get up every day and I have the energy to go on because I can’t leave them alone,” she says. A study carried out in Germany indicates that elderly people who on an occasional or permanent basis take care of their grandchilren “tend to live longer than the elderly who don’t take care of other people.”

However, the diligent grandmother recognizes that she is a little old to share with the girls certain passions, like using new technologies, “listening to reggaeton, or helping them with their math homework.” She calculates that in the next three years, when the girls reunite with their family in Florida, she will have time to dedicate to herself and “do a bunch of unresolved things” that right now she can’t do because she doesn’t have the time.

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 Chicken Will Also be "Cubañol"

Currently, most imported chicken in Cuba is from the US or Brazil (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 26 November 2018 — Chicken is the food that stars on Cuban tables, beyond the traditional pork, the longed-for beef or the scarce fish. With the product shortages  having intensified in recent years, the legs and thighs of these birds have become the main source of animal protein for many families, a market that will now be entered by a Spanish production company.

The Cuban government is in negotiations with the Spanish company Kodysa to create a joint venture that will supply three out of every ten chickens consumed on the island, according to an announcement during the recently concluded official visit of Pedro Sánchez, president of the Spanish Government.

Kodysa is a construction and engineering company that also has an agri-food sector among its business areas. The multinational has poultry complexes in Andalusia and a company dedicated to the preparation of poultry products. continue reading

The first step was the signing of a memorandum of understanding to launch a 50 million euro project through which a mixed capital company will produce 400,000 fresh chickens a week for the Cuban market, a product with a broad demand which, today, is mostly imported from Brazil and the United States.

Kodysa chicken production

The Cuban poultry industry is going through a bad time, hit last September by Hurricane Irma and last May by the subtropical storm Michael, which damaged numerous chicken farms along the northern coast and in the western part of the country, although most of them were dedicated to egg production.

“We have very little production of chicken for meat consumption because of the issue of feed for growth and fattening, which is not easily achieved,” explains Luis Abreu by phone to 4ymedio. Abreu, 53, works on a poultry farm near the community of Las Terrazas in Artemisa. “Here we are dedicated to laying hens but right now we are below half of our capacity.”

Problems with the roofs of farm buildings, the supply of water to keep the hen-houses clean and the delicate issue of feed, makes it difficult for the animals to enjoy “the minimum conditions to lay all the eggs they could, much less to raise a chicken to a certain weight in a short period of time,” Abreu laments.

At the farm, a group of sorters reviews the newly hatched chicks and separates out the females, which will go to areas with special lighting to supply them with heat and later to the laying sheds to use for egg production. Those classified as males “go to feed the pigs,” says the employee.

The depressed local industry forces Cuba to import more than 80% of the food consumed on the island, including more than 120,000 tons of chicken meat. In 2017, Alberto Ramírez, president of the Cuban Society of Poultry Producers (SOCPA), confirmed to the official press that “the [national] production of meat is practically nil.”

Under the agreement with Kodysa, chickens could cover up to 30% of local demand, which includes not only domestic consumption, but also a portion of the needs of hotels and private businesses, a sector hit hard by the shortages.

The Spaniards are committed to guaranteeing the supply of animal feed, the weakest point of Cuban industry, and one that must be watched with greater zeal. “One of the main problems of meat production in Cuba is the diversion [i.e. theft] of resources from state companies to the informal market,” said Maritza Rojas, a Villa Clara native who worked for two decades as an accountant on a poultry farm, speaking to this newspaper.

“Private producers are sold barely any feed, so this product sells very well on the black market,” she explains. “Any place where chickens are raised, we have to watch the feed more than the birds, because it disappears little by little.” The accountant thinks that “it is still too expensive to produce chickens in Cuba” because of “the lack of infrastructure and so much theft.”

In the last two decades, the United States has been the greatest supplier of chicken to the Island, especially the so-called “dark meat” (thigh and leg-thigh). In November of 2017, after several months of  Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House, more than $21 million in agricultural products and food was sold to Cuba, almost $17 million of which was frozen chicken.

However, Havana must pay cash for the these products, as established by the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act, which the US Congress approved in 2000.

Brazil also supplies much of the whole chicken that ends up on Cuban tables, particularly the companies Frangosul and Perdix, JBS and BRF, although political relations between Cuba and Brazil have deteriorated. Havana has a debt with the Brazilian National Development Bank of more than 600 million dollars that it has committed to settle, although this year alone it needs to renegotiate arrears in the amount of 110 million dollars for 2018.

Local production of chickens would alleviate the spending on imports and bring a fresher product to Cuban tables, but the agreement with Kodysa still has no firm date to go into effect.

*Translator’s note: Cubañol: a combination of Cuban and Spanish (español)

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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.