Selling Purified Water Prohibited in Santa Clara

EcoFinca was founded in 2016, but its project for purified water has been put on hold by the bureaucracy.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/Mario J. Pentón, Havana/Miami, 23 September 2019 — Getting access to potable water in a big city like Santa Clara is no easy matter, but even more difficult still is getting purified water, which is highly beneficial for patients diagnosed with cancer or other diseases that weaken the immune system.

EcoFinca, a project headed by Ana Rosa Cardoso Gomez, began to pruduce purified water by means of reverse osmosis technology and market it to the general public. The resulting revenue allowed them to distribute this product, free of charge, to around 70 patients “with liver or oncological conditions.” Nevertheless, they did not foresee that a mess of regulations would derail the business.

A source close to the family, who wishes to maintain their anonymity for fear of the authorities, recounts that EcoFinca spent three years battling with the state to allow them to continue carrying out their mission. continue reading

“We made an ecological farm from a sun-beaten wasteland. We teach farmers how to cultivate the land, we research solutions for blights, and turn the wasteland into a productive garden. Fruits, vegetables, leafy greens. We produce everything that is scarce in this country. We even implemented a ’Green Sunday’ to educate new generations on how to protect the environment,” the source commented.

Problems with authorities began in 2017 when EcoFinca began to sell purified water with a food vendor’s license. “Through reverse osmosis, with the help of imported equipment, we produce a product that is 100% free of bacteria, viruses, salts and dozens of other harmful agents,” the source explained.

The Ministry of Public Health granted the organization a sanitary license for the consumption of purified water, which they sold for 60 Cuban pesos from their doorstep, while the state sells it at a price of 2.75 CUC (69 Cuban pesos) in state stores. With the money produced from the sale of purified water to the public the organization was able to give the same product free of charge to a group of patients at the Jose Luis Miranda pediatric hospital and the Mariana Grajales gynecological-obstetric hospital.

However, the law prohibits the sale of water bottled by self-employed individuals as it considers “the access to potable water [to be] a human right that is the responsibility of the State.”

Ines Maria Chapman Waugh, then the president of the National institute of Hydraulic Resources and the current vice president of the Cuban Government, wrote a letter to the authorities of Villa Clara, cited by the weekly paper Vanguardia, where she noted that “the sale of water cannot become a medium for profit.”

According to officials, the business violates measure No. 58 of 2017, issued by the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources, which prohibits the sale of bottled water by native persons.

“In our country water is sold at subsidized prices, in such a manner that everyone can afford it,” the official explained.

A water vendor’s license exists in Cuba, though it does not include purification and bottling, only transport from one place to another. EcoFinca attempted to obtain a license to sell water but was unable to, even though they have their own well. When the State prohibited them from bottling they continued to deliver in bulk, but in the last months the authorities of Villa Clara have pressured them to stop their distribution completely.

“It is free for all patients and customers with an illness, small children and senior citizens with disabilities, but they have to come pick it up here at EcoFinca,” the source reiterated.

“The equipment that we use to purify water is imported from the United States. They have threatened to confiscate it. Filters, turbines, replacement parts…we bought all of this through a lot of sacrifice,” they added.

For Felicia, one of the beneficiaries of the purified water produced by EcoFinca, the regulations “don’t make sense.”

“The president [Miguel] Diaz-Canel has spent his life talking about replacing imports and producing more. Here in Santa Clara there is a family that is producing, that is thinking as the country does. What do the leaders do? They suffocate them. This is why we make no progress, because we are hindering ourselves,” she said indignantly in a telephone call.

Felicia says that the water that comes from the taps of Santa Clara sometimes looks like chocolate because of the amount of dirt in it. “A sick person cannot drink that water. There are times when I don’t even know if I am washing myself or getting myself dirty when I shower,” she adds with irony.

For Erick Perez Tadeo, subdelegate of the State Inspector of Hydraulic Resources in Villa Clara, in contrast, the problem is clearer than water. “They [the workers of EcoFinca] consider water as a foodstuff as they say that they process it. I could say that this water could be considered a foodstuff when they are preparing a refreshment or another kind of sustenance. The water they provide from the Aqueduct Network is a natural resource,” he said to the weekly newspaper Vanguardia.

“If you want to give water to someone with health issues, there is no problem; what you cannot do is market a single liter, you cannot profit from goods of the State,” he concluded with all the authority granted by his post.

Translated by: Geoffrey Ballinger

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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 Southern Border of the US, Destination of Thousands of Fleeing Venezuelans

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Sonia Osorio, María Luisa Paúl, Mario J. Pentón, Miami, August 21, 2019 — First came the pressures and then the threats, until María, a fictitious name for this report, decided to escape Venezuela. Emigration became the only path that this lawyer found to avoid the reprisals of Nicolás Maduro’s regime, a sad fate she shares with thousands of compatriots.

María, her husband, and their daughter decided to travel to Mexico to reach the border with the United States. In Nuevo Laredo they registered themselves on a list to request asylum and went to a shelter with a single bathroom for 40 people, where they slept on a mat.

“At night when my husband went to buy food two coyotes intercepted him and offered to take us across the border for $800 each. The cold was really strong and desperation urged that we go with them,” relates María in an interview from Boca Raton, where she resides after entering the United States in July.

In Nuevo Laredo, authorities moved the family from the shelter to another place at the international bridge that connects with Texas and there they slept in the elements. “My daughter was turning blue from the cold and an official told us that they would give us access to the US,” she remembers. continue reading

María’s case is part of a growing trend: as living conditions deteriorate in their country, more Venezuelans opt to travel to the southern border of the United States to request political asylum.

Patricia Andrade, executive director of Venezuela Awareness Foundation, a human rights organization located in Miami, warns that “the problem of the majority of Venezuelans is that they embark upon the adventure without informing themselves of what is going to happen and how you must be prepared.”

On social media migrants exchange recommendations, advice, and some tricks for the crossing, but many minimize the risk.

“The thing is easy, the thing isn’t so difficult. Like, difficult is that they’re going to put you in prison. One has to go with the idea in mind that one is going to go there. That’s all. It’s the most legal thing there could be: requesting asylum. It’s the most legal thing in the world,” explains a Venezuelan via a WhatsApp voice message.

Andrade, via her program Venezuelan Roots, receives each week more than 20 messages from migrants who managed to cross and are in the south of Florida without work, without a home, and without resources to get a lawyer to help them present their asylum case to immigration authorities.

Fleeing from persecution

Angelina Estrada decided to make the dangerous crossing of the border between Mexico and the United States with her two-year-old son. Her desperation drove her to turn to a coyote who on a dark night became her blessing, but also her worst nightmare.

The 32-year-old journalist embarked on the journey from Maracaibo to flee the death threats she received after publishing several critical reports on the operations of the Bolivarian National Police and the poor functioning of the Administration Service of Identification, Migration, and Immigration.

Along with her son, a brother-in-law, and a niece, she traveled first by highway to Colombia, then flew to Cancun and arrived by land at Reynosa, in Tamaulipas, a violent state which from January to June of 2019 recorded 21,537 crimes, 721 of which were homicides, 306 sexual abuse cases, 292 rapes, and 21 kidnappings, according to figures of the Executive Secretariat of the National System of Public Safety of Mexico.

Estrada registered on the waitlist to present her case, they assigned her number 203, and she waited at a shelter run by a religious group. “I waited a month and they never called me. Afterward the US government made that law that you had to stay in Mexico and that affected me a lot,” she adds.

Recently Washington implemented the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), which establishes that people who arrived at or entered the US via Mexico must be returned to that country while their immigration procedures last.

“Sending asylum seekers to Mexico and making them stay in Nuevo Laredo is an unacceptable policy, which puts them in areas controlled by criminal organizations who view migrants as merchandise and a source of income,” believes María Hernández, a member of the Doctors Without Borders team in Mexico.

“This action is made in response to the illegal immigration crisis confronting the United States at its southern border. Throughout the last five years there has been a 2000% increase in asylum requests,” says the US embassy in Mexico. But “nine out of every 10 asylum requests are rejected by an immigration judge, for not meeting the requirements.”

After learning that other migrants at the shelter crossed the Rio Grande, Estrada decided to try it with a coyote who charged her $1,500 and she left alone with her son. A woman drove her to a house where they gave her food and where she waited until a night when the police presence in the area diminished.

“They took me through the back part of a house, and very close by was the Rio Grande, bordering the United States. The area was very dark. They gave me an inner tube (of a tire) and a plastic bag so that my things wouldn’t get wet. The baby got scared and began to cry, I told him to keep ’quiet because the fish were sleeping’ and he calmed down,” she relates.

Estrada and her son got on the inner tube and the coyote pulled it, submerged up to his chest in the water. After reaching the United States bank the man looked very scared, walked about two minutes, instructed her to continue straight until she saw a wall or a bridge, and disappeared, leaving her in absolute darkness.

The Venezuelan took the wrong path and ran into dense vegetation, and there were moments when she fell with the boy in her arms. Dawn came and no matter how far she walked she didn’t make out the bridge, until she heard the sound of a motor and she came out of the undergrowth. She asked for help and fortunately they were Border Patrol agents of the United States.

“I cried like I’ve never cried in my life, I thought that I was going to die there.” One of the officials gave her water and brought her to a transit center where she was interviewed and two days later they let her go. Two and a half months have passed since the crossing and she shudders to remember it.

Estrada can consider herself fortunate. Stories of kidnappings and assaults against migrants are heard everywhere. Many, after passing through that torment and managing to cross the border, are returned to Mexico by American authorities.

Wilfredo Allen, a lawyer specializing in immigration, believes that the desperation and lack of information is a common denominator among migrants. “It’s not the time to go to the border,” he warns. “During this government, going to the border is suicide because the people passing are very few and it’s a schizophrenic system.”

“So there’s no pattern one can follow to determine how people enter through the border. There’s no pattern, it’s chance,” says Allen.

In Reynosa, a Venezuelan couple waits to enter United States territory again after being deported along with their small daughter. Their future is a big question mark, but they insist that they will not return to their country. They were forcing the young man to enlist as a soldier to “defend the homeland and Maduro.” But he insists that he is a cook and that he knows “nothing of arms.”

Editors’ note: This article is part of a project carried out by El Nuevo Herald/Miami Herald, the newspaper 14ymedio, and Radio Ambulante with the sponsorship of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera

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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.

Jaime Ortega, Cardinal of the Thaw, Dies in Havana

Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega delivers a sermon on Friday, April 6, 2012 at the Cathedral of Havana. (EFE / Alejandro Ernesto)

14ymedio bigger

Luz Escobar and Mario J. Penton, Havana/Miami, 26 July 2019– Cardinal Jaime Ortega (1936-2019), a key figure in the secret talks that led to the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba, died at age 82 on 26 July in Havana, after a long illness, according to ecclesiastical sources.

“Jaime Ortega was a figure of great weight during the last decades, both in the life of the Cuban Church and in the life of our people. A controversial figure, no doubt, but one whose intention was always to serve Cuba and the Church,” said Father José Conrado Rodríguez, pastor of the church of San Francisco de Paula.

Although on many occasions he did not agree with the Ortega line, Father Conrado confessed that he always “respected” the figure of his teacher, for “his love for Cuba” and his “desire to do good.” continue reading

“Jaime always looked for the Church to be present in the life of the country. He was attentive to problems that affected the life of the nation, such as emigration,” he added.

“He tried to solve big and serious problems and he did it with the best will, although personally I think he was not so happy about the way he faced them,” added the priest, very critical of the closeness, under Ortega’s leadership, between the Cuban Church and the State.

Jaime Lucas Ortega was born on 18 October 1936 in Jagüey Grande, in Matanzas province. He entered the seminary in 1956 and after four years of studies he was sent to Canada. He returned to Cuba in 1964 to be ordained a priest.

His ministry was interrupted for eight months in 1966 during his confinement in the Military Units of Production Aid (UMAP), forced labor camps established by the communist regime of Fidel Castro, where religious, homosexual and the disaffected were sent. The following year he was appointed pastor of his hometown.

In 1969 Ortega was promoted to the head of the cathedral of Matanzas and nine years later consecrated bishop of Pinar del Río by Pope John Paul II. During these years he also taught at the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary. In 1981, the Polish Pope appointed him archbishop of Havana, and in 1994 he was named a cardinal, the second Cuban to reach the highest title granted by Rome.

In that year he was one of the main architects of the pastoral letter Love Hopes All Things, which contained strong criticism of the Government, and especially of the dreaded State Security. In those years, the voice of Ortega was one of the most critical in the concert of Cuban bishops, condemning the “violent and tragic” events of the sinking of the tugboat 13 de Marzo.

“His appointment as cardinal was a gift from Pope John Paul II to the Cuban Church. The Pope wanted the Church to break with the silence it had been forced into and leave the temples to evangelize,” said the priest Castor José Álvarez Devesa from Camaguey.

Father Álvarez believes that one of Ortega’s great achievements was the pastoral structure he built in his archdiocese, which are called the ecclesiastical provinces. “He organized vicarages, pastoral councils, linked the faithful with the Church and through his attitude of dialog important things were achieved, such as the pilgrimage of the Virgin of Caridad de Cobre throughout the Island, which has been a blessing,” he said.

According to the priest, the Cuban Church “has had very great challenges” with the introduction of the Marxist system. “Cardinal Jaime chose to return to Cuba and serve his country and his Church,” he added. Álvarez also highlighted Ortega’s role in condemning the death penalty on the Island and the right of Cubans to leave and return to their country.

During the almost 35 years that he was in charge of the Archdiocese of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega restored dozens of temples, established a Diocesan Pastoral Council to make the work of the Church more effective, and established the headquarters of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba.

One of Ortega’s works is Cáritas Havana, created in 1991, which preceded Cáritas Cuba, the largest NGO on the island that distributes medicines, food and other types of aid on a daily basis. Ortega played an important role in the creation of socio-religious publications New Word, in 1992; Lay Space and Love and Life.

As a cardinal, in 2011 Ortega participated in the process of releasing the 75 political prisoners of the Black Spring and in the subsequent banishment to Spain of many of them. He was later criticized for having affirmed, before international media, that there were no political prisoners in Cuba.

The priest was considered the architect of three papal visits to Cuba — John Paul II in 1998, Benedict XVI in 2012 and Francis in 2015 — who officiated massive public masses in spaces previously reserved for power.

In 2010, Ortega inaugurated a new headquarters for the San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary, which was the first new construction by the Catholic Church on the island since 1959. The cardinal also committed his figure to the creation of the Félix Varela Cultural Center, an educational institution that is an alternative to the educational monopoly of the Cuban State.

Instrument in the secret negotiations between Washington and Havana 

“I was the letter,” Ortega said about his role in the secret negotiations between the United States and Cuba that allowed the reestablishment of relations between the two countries during the presidency of Barack Obama.

As the cardinal revealed, years after the two neighboring countries ended a break of more than half a century, Pope Francis secretly entrusted him with the delivery of a letter to Raúl Castro and Obama.

“Perhaps the most important part of my mission came when President Raúl Castro asked me to transmit on his part a message to President Obama, of which I would be the bearer when I took the letter of the Holy Father to the president in the White House,” recalled the Cardinal during a speech.

The message commissioned by Raúl Castro was that Obama had not been responsible for the policy towards Cuba, that he was an honest man and that in Havana they knew his intentions to improve relations with the Island.

Obama thanked Castro for his words and sent a verbal message with the cardinal: “It was possible to improve the existing situation,” despite the differences. On 17 December 2014, the date of Pope Francis’s birthday, Cuba and the United States announced the restoration of diplomatic relations.

Both parties recognized the work of the Catholic Church as a mediator, although sectors of exile and opposition in Cuba strongly criticized Ortega because he did not demand an improvement of human rights and freedoms on the Island.

After more than three and a half decades at the head of the Havana archbishopric, Ortega said goodbye in 2016 when Pope Francis accepted his resignation and in his place appointed the Camagueyan Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez.

Recently, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba granted the Cardinal the Monsignor Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Distinction . The bishops of the eleven Cuban dioceses were present at the ceremony.

Church sources reported that Ortega Alamino’s body will be exhibited in the cathedral of Havana for three days starting this afternoon, “according to the Vatican protocol.” They also said that the funeral will be Sunday at 3:00 pm.

Through a tweet from President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the Cuban government offered its condolences for the death of Cardinal Ortega. “His contribution to the strengthening of relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Cuban State is undeniable,” the leader wrote.

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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.

Cubans Increasingly Annoyed by Blackouts and Government Silence

For many Cubans, power cuts also mean greater difficulties in cooking. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio / Mario J. Pentón, Havana, 14 July 2019 —  Despite the government’s commitment not to allow “programmed blackouts” this summer, power cuts of several hours are multiplying throughout the country and causing annoyance among the population. Pinar del Río, Artemisa, Mayabeque, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, Camagüey, Las Tunas, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba are the most affected provinces.

“Faults can occur as a result of thunderstorms or weather events, but not because of lack of electricity,” said a senior employee of the Electric Union, Elaine Moreno, at the end of last month; words that are now being remembered by customers of the state company.

Candles, matches and fuel to light an oil lamp have become products in high demand these days in the streets of the city of Camagüey and other municipalities of that province. The frequent blackouts of several hours have made many try to equip themselves for a possible upsurge in the power cuts as the summer progresses. continue reading

Do you want to report a blackout in your neighborhood? Tell us in a tweet: – Neighborhood – Municipality – Province – Cut – Time out – Restoration Time  #ReportoApagonCuba #ApagonesProgramados#ApagonesCuba (Report Blackouts Cuba, Programmed Blackouts, Cuba Blackouts)
cc. @ joseraul86 @ norges14 @camilocondis @UneCuba

– Inventory (@invntario) July 14, 2019

“We’ve had several blackouts of about four hours each day and also late at night, Crescencio González, a resident in Guernica cast in Camaguey, told 14ymedio. “When the light goes out in the evening or late at night, you suffer a lot because there is no longer anyone sleeping in this heat without a fan,” he laments.

“In my neighborhood we call the electric company several times to see what is going on but they tell us that there are breakages, although nobody believes it because they are four-hour blackouts, at different times of the day,” González explains. The blackouts are also happening in Cascorro and in Nuevitas, the second city in the province of Camagüey.

In the social network Twitter, several residents in the affected areas with power outages have begun to use the hashtag #ReportoApagonCuba to report the situation. The journalist José Raúl Gallego called on the authorities to respond if it is “programmed blackouts” to save fuel.

The reporter explained on Saturday that in the neighborhood where he resides, Reparto Saratoga in Camagüey, they were suffering the third day of blackouts. In a call to the customer service of the electric company, an employee explained to Gallego that at the moment the circuit is “down due to an emergency in the system, without a schedule to restore service.” However, the official could not answer the question of whether it was “the same emergency yesterday and the day before yesterday?”

Yes, they were saving it for me. They turned off the electricity in my house, 5:33 pm, Reparto Saratoga, Camagüey. Third day of blackouts and before had been out other days in the week. #ReportoApagonCuba #ApagonesCuba #ApagonesProgramados

– José Raúl Gallego (@ joseraul86) July 13, 2019

According to official figures, during the summer 400,000 tons of fuel are allocated to the country’s thermal power plants every month to cover the electricity demand that increases at this time of the year due to a greater use of fans, air conditioners, and other uses that shoot up with high temperatures and school holidays. The residential sector accounts for 56% of demand, while state and non-state clients account for 44%.

Cuba is going through a serious liquidity crisis that has forced it to cut imports. Its main ally and benefactor, the Government of Nicolás Maduro, in Venezuela, has had to face its own internal crisis, as a result of which it substantially reduced oil shipments to the Island.

With less money to buy the oil at international market prices and without the Venezuelan subsidy, the authorities juggle to prevent the island from returning to the years when the blackouts lasted 12 hours, during the euphemistically called Special Period.

“My son bought an air conditioner in Miami because I couldn’t stand the heat of Cienfuegos any more, but I have had to go back to ‘la penca’ [a brand of fan],” says Eloisa, a elderly woman of 71 who lives in Buena Vista.

“On Friday the electricity was out for seven hours and on Saturday we woke up with no electricity, every time they shut it down it, I remember Fidel and his ‘Energy Revolution’.” All my cooking appliances use electricity, so when it goes out, what remains is bread from the bodega,” she added.

1/3 Attention! A friend sent this sms: “In Pinar del Rio since Friday there are blackouts morning and afternoon, today Sunday I called and they told me that there is energy deficit and they do not have the plan but they are rotating the circuits for at least 4 hours … ? # ApagonesCuba #ReportoApagonCuba pic.twitter.com/zKar4cjfh7

— Cesar (@cesarss86) 14 de julio de 2019

Power cuts have also been common these days in Pinar del Río. Several residents have said that when they called the electric company, they received the response that there was not enough generation to supply the customers.

“Where are the photovoltaic panels, the hydroelectric plants, the wind farms and generators?” asked an internet user identified as Alexis_Cuba. The government insists it is working to diversify the island’s energy sources, and hopes that 24% of the country’s consumption will be covered by renewable sources in 2030.

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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 President Diaz-Canel Triples Salaries of Official Journalists

A man reads the official press.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio | Mario J. Pentón, Miami, 29 June 2019 — Official journalists will soon receive nearly triple their current salaries, as part of the increase announced by President Miguel Diaz-Canel last Thursday.

During a meeting on his visit to Pinar del Rio, Díaz-Canel gave the example of the recent increase in salaries for members of the journalists’ union, who had a base salary of 385 Cuban pesos a month (15 CUC — roughly the same in dollars) but now will start to earn between 1,100 Cuban pesos (44 CUC) and a little more than 1,300 Cuban pesos (52 CUC) according to their rating. In the same meeting the president boasted of the salary increase for university professors which, in the case of incumbents, will increase to 1,700 pesos per month (68 CUC).

The last rise in the minimum wage was made by the late former president Fidel Castro in 2005, when he brought the minimum wage to 225 pesos a month, about 9 dollars. continue reading

“We are very happy, that was something that we had always raised in all the meetings and at long last they have given it to us. We know it’s not what we deserve, but at least it is something,” said a journalist from the Cienfuegos radio network, who requested anonymity because he is prohibited from speaking with the independent press.

“The newsrooms are empty. They [the government] know that if they want to have journalists for propaganda they have to pay more. Most of those who graduated with me have left the country or are with the independent press that pays better,” he added.

The officials who lead Cuba’s Journalists Union are annoyed by the independent press, which thanks to more innovative business schemes, subsidies from international organizations and sponsorships, pays its reporters much better.

“Sometimes I am ashamed that my colleagues talk about a report on farms or factories because there they receive a bag with some products in gratitude from the directors of those places. Journalist should have a decent salary,” lamented the newsman.

With the increase in the number of independent media that publish from the Island, the official press has been increasingly lagging behind in the publication of scoops and reports on reality. Among young people, preferences lean towards sites that lean more to audiovisual journalism or tell about events that the media controlled by the Communist Party usually silence.

The arrival of the web browsing services to mobile phones last December has increased the audience of independent media, which often use applications developed on Android or iOS to reach national readers. Several of these digital sites are blocked on national servers but the use of anonymous proxies and VPN services is common on the island.

“I work in a state radio station but I really make a living providing notes for an information site that is produced in Miami,” a journalism graduate from the class of 1988 told this newspaper.

“None of my colleagues knows that I do this other job, because I sign under a pseudonym but I can say that the new [monthly] salary that I will earn for my official work starting in July is equivalent to what I get paid for two reports of 700 words from the other site.”

This reporter, who also prefers anonymity, said that she feels that “in neither of the two places am I doing the journalism that I would like — here because of censorship and there because it is a frivolous medium for entertainment. But the reality is this is what puts the beans on my table,” explains the reporter.

In June her earnings from the state broadcasters in Cuba were around the equivalent of 38 CUC, whereas her earnings from her reports published from Miami totaled some 400 CUC.

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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.

City of Miami Approves Resolution Against Cultural Exchange with Cuba

The City of Miami mayor asserts that the decision is a moral one, although it also has its detractors in Miami. (Mario J. Pentón)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 14 June 2019 — The City of Miami approved on Thursday 13 June a resolution by its mayor, Francis Suárez, and commissioner Manolo Reyes, which seeks to prohibit cultural exchanges with artists from Cuba, according to the local press.

“This resolution urges the federal government to end cultural exchange [with Cuba]  and invests us with all potential powers so that we, as the local government, can prevent artists from the Island utilizing [the city’s] public resources,” said Suárez.

“We are very proud to have the support of so many important persons, artists and community activists supporting this effort,” he added. continue reading

The mayor showed a video in which artists such as Willy Chirino, Los Tres de La Habana, Amaury Gutiérrez, and politicians such as former Congressma Lincoln Díaz-Balart voice their support for the measure.

“City of Miami facilities should not be lent for these artists to come here and mock us, make money here, and then return to Cuba to utilize those funds against their own people while denigrating the liberties that allowed them to be here,” Suárez added.

The resolution declares that the prohibition will remain in force “until freedom of expression is reestablished for all Cubans, and not only for certain favorite artists.”

Commissioner Manolo Reyes considered it unjust that artists sponsored by the Cuban government should come to Miami “and fill their pockets with money that they then take back to Cuba,” while anti-Castro artists on the Island cannot do the same.

The Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald spoke with the Miami businessman and activist Hugo Cancio — who in 2000, following a complaint, obtained a reversal of an ordinance that prevented local groups from using public funds for activities for Cuba-related activities — and on this occasion was again critical of the city’s initiative.

“It seems to me that the reasons they give are absurd and obsolete. They criticize the Cuban government because it supposedly restricts, limits, and prohibits it citizens — and they are doing exactly the same: preventing people from enjoying culture for the simple fact that they are in disagreement with the artists or with their political positions,” he argued.

The newspaper also spoke with Juan E. Shamizo, founder of Vedado Social Club, who considers the decision to be an electioneering action. “What they want to cut off is not only Cuban artists coming to Miami, but also North American artists going to Cuba and interacting with the people,” he said.

“Cuba and the United States are neighbors, we have much in common, thousands of people who yearn for those who they left behind. When the doors are shut to exchange, they are closing off the connection between our people and the possibilities we have of enriching each other,” he added.

In Cuba, Ambassador  José Ramón Cabañas mocked the decision on his Twitter account: “The United States has 35,000 recognized cities and towns. The authorities in Miami decided that their citizens will visit 34,999 other places to legally enjoy the music of Cuba. And they have decided this in the name of Freedom of Expression (probably a new definition),” he wrote.

Under the current administration of President Donald Trump, the US has hardened its policies toward Cuba and, in a surprising decision this month, the government cancelled travel to Cuba — a reversal of the reestablishment of relations advanced by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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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 Government Announces Catfish Paste to Be Used in Processed Meats

Food processing center at Calzada de Dolores.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jorge A. Gómez and Mario J. Pentón, Cienfuegos / Miami , 17 May 2019 — Juan Manes Suárez, a specialist at the Provincial Gastronomy Company, told workers that, starting next Monday, catfish paste would be used in the production of processed ham, sausage and chorizo due to “the shortage of animals available for slaughter and retail sale.”

He added that the croquettes and hamburgers produced for the retail market would be made with rice flour or sweet potatoes due to a shortage of wheat flour, which he attributed to “the economic problems the country is experiencing.”

Just a day earlier, the minister of internal trade, Betsy Díaz Velázquez, had stated on Twitter that producing alternative foods would be given high-priority in order to address retail supply shortages, though she offered no further details in response to skepticism expressed by Twitter followers who challenged her. continue reading

On the Cuban television show Round Table Díaz Velázquez blamed the shortages on the United States, which recently decided to enforce Titles III and IV of the Helms-Burton Act for the first time. She claimed that the current situation is temporary and that the decision to increase rationing is “supported by the people.”

“Everyone has to wait in line,” says Yaquelin Contreras, a 26-year-old Cienfuegos resident. “Things just get worse and worse. We are the country of lines. I spent two hours outside the Mercado Habana waiting to buy chicken. Just as I got to the front door, they ran out. Later, the same thing happened when I went to buy cooking oil at Casa Mimbre.”

Contreras also regrets the austerity measures, especially since customers are already burdened by poor conditions at retail establishments.

“All the stores and workplaces have banned air conditioning to save money,” she says. “They put fifty or a hundred people in a hermetically sealed office to process paperwork. The heat is unbearable. It’s unsanitary and people who work there are always in a bad mood.”

For months supplies of medications have also been lower than normal in Cuba.

Iris Hourruitiner, a retiree living in the Buena Vista neighborhood, believes she is seeing a return to the days of the “Special Period.”

“On television they are constantly saying that everything will be all right. I remember that’s what they said in the 1990s. I still have some recipes from those days for beefsteak made from grapefruit rinds. Thank God I learned to make sugar cane liquor from green tomatoes. I am well-prepared for this second Special Period,” she jokes.

Hourruitiner, a fervent Catholic, regrets that the government does not allow charitable organizations such as Caritas to have a greater presence on the island. “People have been going hungry in Cuba for the last sixty years. The government knows this but doesn’t want to solve the problem. If they were allowed, there are institutions that could provide food. If [the government] really cared about people’s suffering, it ought to let other dispassionate parties help.”

Shortages also extend to other sectors of the market such as pharmaceuticals. Enalapril, Atenolol, hydrochlorothiazide, Dipironas, and metformin have been unavailable for approximately four months. Discussions among patients in line at pharmacies to obtain these drugs have led authorities to intervene in order to bring some order to the long lines.

Cuba is experiencing severe rationing of food and other essential products. Failure to pay what it owes to its main suppliers (now totalling 1.5 billion dollars), the debacle of the Maduro regime (its principal benefactor and ally), and the increase in sanctions by the United States have backed the island’s fragile economy into a corner.

Among the newly rationed products are chicken, eggs, rice, beans, soap and tooth paste. Even in hard currency stores customers are limited in the number of products they may buy, which has led to long lines throughout the island.

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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.

Fired Cuban Journalist Asks for Asylum in the US

Ramírez Pantoja minutes before leaving the Mexican border behind. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón, 8 May 2019 — José Ramírez Pantoja, who was expelled in 2016 from Radio Holguín for a publication the government found uncomfortable, requested political asylum in the United States on Wednesday, convinced that “escape” is his only option.

“They left me without work or sustenance, without caring about the years I worked as a journalist just for reporting. Then came the threats, pressures, they wanted me to stop working for the independent press and at the same time they continued to censor my work in the official press,” recounts Ramírez Pantoja by telephone minutes before leaving the Mexican border behind.

The journalist made public the content of a meeting in which Karina Marrón, deputy director of the official newspaper Granma, warned of “mass protests” similar to that of the 1994 Maleconazo, should there be a repeat of the “Special Period” in Cuba. continue reading

After his dismissal from the official press, the Popular Municipal Court of Holguín ratified the judgment against him. The National Ethics Committee of the Union of Journalists of Cuba also failed to reverse it. From officialdom, voices with power inside the media accused him of wanting to move “to the Miami press” and unleashed a campaign against those who dared to defend him, like the Uruguayan journalist Fernando Ravsberg, who at that time was publishing from the Island.

“After I was expelled from my job, I had to work as a domestic servant, because the State controls all the media in Holguín, I worked for room and board. It seems that what I published about Karina Marrón bothered them so much that they persecuted me and threatened me” adds Ramírez Pantoja.

After a series of appeals and letters begging to be readmitted to the circle of official journalists, Ramírez Pantoja ventured into the independent press, writing for El Toque, OnCuba and 14ymedio , sometimes under his own name and sometimes under a pseudonym.

“When I started writing for the independent press, the threats multiplied, and State Security officials told me they had not imprisoned me in 2016 because they had not wanted to, but they told me I lived alone and anything could happen to me,” he says.

The case of Ramírez Pantoja was included in the 2016 report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The organization, based in New York, then warned of an increase on the Island of arrests, confiscations of work tools and the imposition of police warning letters to reporters.

Last year, Ramírez Pantoja was accredited by the independent magazine El Toque to cover the Gibara Film Festival. According to his story, two State Security officers cornered him and forced him into an office where they reproached him for “selling himself to imperialism for $10.”

“At that moment they told me that they knew that I worked under a pseudonym for the independent press, and that I mustn’t ’continue talking shit talking about the Revolution’ because that would have consequences. They also tried to blackmail me with alleged evidence against me and suggested that it would be better if I just remained tranquil until my sanction ends,” he denounces.

The journalist left the country on January 31 of this year after receiving a scholarship to do a PhD in History at the Autonomous University of Baja California. “I am afraid that when I finish my legal stay in Mexico, I will be returned to Cuba, that’s why I made this decision,” he adds.

The number of Cubans who appear in the southern border of the United States to request asylum continues to increase, according to the latest figures presented by the U.S. Border Patrol. In the 2018 fiscal year, 7,079 Cubans were counted, while from October 1 to February 19, 6,289 reached the border.

Last October, the US authorities granted political asylum to independent journalist Serafin Morán after he spent six months in a detention center in Pearsall, Texas. The reporter had to overcome a long judicial process to prove that his life was in danger in Cuba.

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

Cuban State Security Represses the Independent LGBTI March in Havana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dozens of Congolese Tightly Guarded in Havana Await Repatriation

Police surround the outskirts of the Embassy of Congo in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, April 27, 2019 — Dozens of Congolese students who are studying medicine in Cuba find themselves being detained and guarded in a place close to the international airport in Havana, waiting to be repatriated to their country, according to several students who managed to remain in the Salvador Allende Faculty of Medicine in the Cuban capital.

”They took them in a bus on April 18, and at first we thought it was for a meeting where they were going to explain things, but they never came back,” one of the students who remained on the university campus said, under condition of anonymity. “They’re not letting them speak with anybody, but we’ve learned that they are holding them in a well-guarded place to send them back to the Congo.”

“They carried out a raid at the Faculty of Medicine and put them on a bus,” the neighbors confirm. “All of us in the neighborhood thought that finally the situation was going to be managed because later we saw only a few buses return,” they add. continue reading

This newspaper can’t confirm if repatriation of the students has begun, but several sources said that they are awaiting “a response from the Congolese.”

Last Monday, an opposition group in this African country, in a comminication, had denounced the fact that the students were called to the Embassy of Congo in Miramar under the pretext that they were going to receive part of their overdue stipends. “Actually, the Cuban and Congolese authorities laid a trap for them,” the opponents explain.

“Shortly after they arrived, the students were separated into groups, and more than 200 were forced, by Congolese and Cuban agents, to get on the bus, supervised, and then were taken to an unknown stop. Other students waited more than 6 hours for their friends, without success. The telephones of the detainees had been out of service this whole time,” explains the text.

New images have come to light of the violent repression against students from Congo by the Cuban police. The student interns were protesting because of the delay of two years for their stipends and the poor conditions in which they are living on the island. Images here

— Mario J. Pentón (@marijose_cuba) April 9, 2019

The detention was also confirmed on the Facebook page, “I’m not returning without my diploma,” created by Congolese students to demand back-payment of 27 months of their stipends. On this platform, the students clarify that the protests that began at the end of March aren’t the work of a leader manipulated by “dark forces” as claimed by the Congolese Government.

The group of medical alumni also said that they presented legal remedies in agreement with Cuban law, and they launched a petition to the authorities on the island to allow release and academic reinstatement of the detainees.

After this happened, the Chancellor of Congo, Jean-Claude Gakosso, went to Havana, where he met with Miguel Díaz-Canel and presented him with a letter from the Congolese President, Dennis Sassou Ngueso. However, the official press only mentioned the visit as an opportunity to strengthen commercial and political ties.

Junior Bokaka, a Congolese student of epidemiology, who has been featured as one of the protest’s spokesmen, said on Facebook that the complaint about the stipends for the Congolese students has “nothing to do with the Cuban Government.”

Bokaka took advantage of the opportunity to point out that, contrary to what some press media have said, he is a simple student who reported the situation on his Facebook account, but he doesn’t consider himself a leader of the demonstrations nor a student representative.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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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.

Kenyan and Somali Elders Try to Negotiate Release of Kidnapped Cuban Doctors

Cuban doctors Landy Rodríguez Hernández and Assel Herrera Correa, with their wives. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 13 April 2019 — The 10 elders from the community of Mandera, in northeastern Kenya, who left for Somalia to negotiate the release of two Cuban doctors kidnapped on Friday morning revealed that the doctors are alive in the neighboring country.

The Kenyan authorities made the decision to evacuate the Cuban doctors who were in the counties of Garissa and Wajir. Wajir’s governor, Abdi Mahamid, said they were ordered to evacuate the two Cuban doctors to Nairobi following a national security warning, Kenyan media reported on-line.

Cuban doctors Landy Rodríguez Hernández and Assel Herrera Correa were escorted to their work at the Hospital de Mandera when their transport was ambushed by two Toyota Probox cars. The attackers killed one of the bodyguards, while the other fled, and they kidnapped the health professionals. continue reading

The doctors were quickly transferred to neighboring Somalia, where Al Shabab, a terrorist group linked to al Qaeda, is fighting to topple the central government and establish Islamic law. The doctors performed surgeries and cared for the local population, including in the neighboring countries of Ethiopia and Somalia.

Kenya had difficulties sending national doctors due to the dangerousness of the area, where there are frequent attacks by Al Shabaab to pressure the Kenyan government to withdraw its troops from Somalia. In January, the terrorist group organized a major attack on a hotel complex in Nairobi in which 26 people died.

This has been the second kidnapping of foreigners in five months by the extremist group Al Shabab. Last November, the Italian aid worker Silvia Costanza Romano, 23, was kidnapped by armed men in the town of Chakama, near the tourist town of Malindi (east). To date, her whereabouts are unknown despite army searches.

The Government of Kenya has deployed its elite troops to search for Cubans, so far with no results. The governor of Mandera, Ali Roba, condemned the attack and asked the elders to initiate talks with their counterparts in Bulahawa and to ensure that the doctors are returned to Kenya, reported The Star.

“We call on the security agencies to do whatever is necessary to save the lives of our Cuban doctors and to bring them back from captivity. I sent my condolences to the family of the deceased officer,” he said.

Landy Rodríguez Hernández and Assel Herrera Correa are part of the contingent of 100 doctors Cuba sent to Kenya in June last year amid heavy protests from medical unions in that country.

According to the digital site Mwakilishi, Kenya pays  4,000 per month for each doctor, a higher figure than paid to their local counterparts. Generally, the Cuban government keeps 75% of the doctors’ salary. The export of health services is the main source of income of the Island, according to official figures, with an annual income of close to 10 billion dollars.

The Ministry of Public Health said in a brief official note published on Friday afternoon that it was keeping in touch with the Kenyan authorities and had created a “governmental working group” to follow up on this “sensitive issue.”

National Assembly Deputy Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of former president Raul Castro, said on Twitter that the kidnapping of doctors was “another hoax of imperialism.”

“The Islamic State responds to them, but they got into a swamp by kidnapping the Cuban doctors,” said Castro, a leader of the government’s National Center for Sex Education.

Assel Herrera Correa is a native of Puerto Padre, in the province of Las Tunas. He graduated as Integral General Practitioner he has participated in “missions” of the Cuban Government in Botswana, Brazil and Venezuela. In Cuba, he has a 17-year-old daughter, Sheyla Herrera, who attacked officials of the Ministry of Public Health in an interview with Radio and TV Martí.

“I do not know anything yet, we do not know anything,” she said, adding that no Public Health official has informed the family about her father’s condition, or what measures will be taken to return him home safely.

Landy Rodríguez Hernández is a surgeon by profession, born in Placetas, province of Villa Clara, in the center of the country. In Cuba he worked in the General Hospital of Remedios. According to the information on his social networks, he is married and has a five-year-old daughter.

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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.

Panama Adds Advantages to Its Tourism Card for Cuban Shoppers

In this archive image, Panama’s security minister, Jonathan del Rosario, talks to ’14ymedio’ in his office in Panama City. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 17 March 2019 — The Government of Panama has decided to allow Cubans who have a tourism card for purchases in that country to obtain a stamped visa, according to a statement from Panama’s National Migration Service.

The new measure is established through an Executive Decree signed by the country’s president, Juan Carlos Varela, and the security minister, Jonathan del Rosario.

The stamped visa will allow those interested in visiting Panama multiple entries to the country, not just one, as has been the case to date with the tourist card. In addition, it expedites the paperwork when it is granted by the Panamanian consul in Havana, who determines the validity period of the document. continue reading

In a conversation with this newspaper, Del Rosario described the stamped visa and the tourist card as “very positive” tools and expressed the desire of the Panamanian Government to simplify the procedures to increase the visits of Cuban entrepreneurs.

The security minister also stressed that the new measure does not eliminate the sale of the tourist card, an option for tens of thousands of Cubans who travel to the Central American country every year to make purchases for private businesses on the island.

The sale of tourist cards was announced by Panama Migration last October to facilitate shopping tourism, without the need for a visa. It can be purchased by the self-employed and artisans of the Island or by those who present evidence of having traveled previously to any other country. The cards have a cost of 20 dollars, allow a single entry into the country and are valid for 30 days.

Since former Cuban president Raúl Castro expanded self-employment in 2010, the private sector in Cuba has not stopped growing. There are more than 589,000 self-employed workers on the Island, which represents about 12% of the nation’s workforce.

According to a recent report from the The Havana Consulting Group, self-employed Cubans took more than 2.3 billion dollars out of the country last year alone. The consulting group says that Panama is the second largest market for purchases by Cubans after the United States.

Cubans who already have a tourist card and want to obtain a stamped visa must meet four requirements:

  • Fill out the online application form

  • Present a current passport and a copy with the general information and entry to Panama.

  • Show a round trip flight reservation as well as the sum of 50 dollars.

  • Meet an economic solvency test never lower than 500 dollars.

Cubans who have a visa stamped on their passport can also opt to get a new one if they fill out an application form, pay $50 and present their passport, as well as a copy of the previous visa.

“This is a great advantage, I have traveled three times to Panama for purchases in the Free Trade Zone and every time I had to stand in long lines to get the tourist card,” says Ángel Álvarez, a self-employed man from Las Tunas who sells air conditioners, speaking to 14ymedio by phone.

Alvarez is among the more than 17,000 Cubans who have visited Panama so far this year, a number that is increasing. Last year, there were 57,251 Cubans arriving in that country, leaving Panamanian merchants a profit of more than 100 million dollars in the Colon Free Zone, according to figures offered by the authorities of that commercial epicenter.

“Panama is a safe country, the dollar is managed, it is much closer than Peru and you do not have to complicate your life with as many formalities to get a visa as with Mexico,” says Álvarez. Mexico, Peru and Haiti are other destinations popular among Cubans for shopping.

Despite the facilities that Panamanian immigration authorities have granted to Cubans in the last few months, there are still those on the island who are critical of the difficulties in getting an appointment at that country’s consulate in Havana. Achieving an interview via the internet is extremely complicated and in the informal market appointments to request a visa are sold for more than 300 dollars.

“We were lucky that a Panamanian friend interceded for us and they gave us the appointment at the end of last year; this week we have finally managed to obtain the visa,” said a retired Cuban couple who received the good news on Friday. They now have a Panama visa for five years of multiple entries.

“We want it, especially, to bring merchandise home to sell, because the money we receive for our retirement is very low,” says Maria. She still does not know how she will be able to compete in the informal market for clothes, footwear and household appliances, but this 64-year-old Cuban woman is happy because “at least we will be able to breathe twice a year.”

But not all Cubans go to Panama to make purchases, others also use the country as a springboard to reach the southern border of the United States through Central America and Mexico.

Angel, speaking from the city of Acuña, in Mexico, is waiting for a turn to ask for political asylum in the United States. He arrived in Mexico after crossing all of Central America on a journey that started at the Tocumen International Airport in Panama where he arrived with a tourist card for purchases.

“I filled out all my papers as self-employed and, with the money I was able to make selling my possessions in Cuba, I took to the jungle,” he says through WhatsApp. Rodriguez says he lost his job in the media on the island when he dared to criticize the system.

The number of Cubans who show up at the US border to ask for political asylum has increased. A recent report from the Border Patrol reported that, between October 1, 2018 and the end of February of this year, 6,289 Cubans had arrived on the southern border. Through the entire previous fiscal year (October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018) there were 7,079 Cubans who showed up at the border requesting asylum.

Panama is also on the obligatory itinerary of hundreds of Cubans who use the routes of undocumented migration from Chile, Guyana and Uruguay to reach the United States. Recently the country faced a migrant caravan of Cubans that was transfered to the border with Costa Rica through the “Controlled Flow” operation.

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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.

Official Press Sees Electoral Advantages in the Tornado

The head of the information department of Solvisión, Yaneysi Nolazco, requests “taking advantage of the response the state has given to the disasters caused by the tornado.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerMario J. Pentón/14ymedio, Miami/Havana, February 20, 2019 — The official press on the island has received guidance to take advantage of the tragedy of the tornado that, at the end of January, devastated Havana, in order to advance propaganda for the Yes vote in the February 24 referendum on the new constitution.

This newspaper has had access to an internal communication from the Solvisión telecenter, in Guantánamo, which gives instructions on coverage of this upcoming Sunday’s vote.

In that email, the head of Solvisión’s information department, Yaneysi Nolazco, requests “taking advantage of the response the state has given to the disasters caused by the tornado to claim that only a socialist state is capable of acting in that manner, [of] mobilizing workers […] raising awareness of young people, children, and women to offer its efforts in solidarity.” continue reading

The government has been heavily criticized for the response it gave to the tornado, which left seven dead and thousands of victims. Authorities have sold food and construction materials to the victims, which has triggered protests, some of which have spread to social media.

Nolazco asks Solvisión’s journalists to avoid the presence of electoral propaganda at the polling places, because calling for a Yes vote “isn’t the job of electoral authorities.” In the case that there are banners of this type, journalists should focus the camera “in another direction.”

The head of information asks the journalists to show the leaders “lining up to vote.”

“Right there take their statements, while interacting with residents, in some cases going forward with them inside the polling place and we’ll show everything that is happening,” she specifies.

Official journalists should interview young people and “demonstrate” that the new generations are “participating” in the referendum “not only as voters.”

Cuban authorities have promised “jail cells” to independent observers and promoters of No, who in an unprecedented and rudimentary campaign have used social media to champion their position against the ratification of the constitution approved by parliament.

In exchange for the recognition of the little private property and of foreign investment, the new constitutional text leaves intact the control of the Communist Party, postpones the decision on marriage equality, and guarantees the monopoly of the state over communication media, healthcare, and education, while at the same time affirming that “Cuba will never return to capitalism.”

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.

An IMO Update Leaves Thousands of Cubans Without Messaging Services

IMO has become, in the last three years, the preferred app for Cuban families to keep in touch with relatives who have emigrated. (Flickr /CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar / Mario J. Pentón, Havana / Miami, 15 January 2019 — A recent update of the popular IMO messaging and calling application has left thousands of Cubans on both sides of the Florida Strait without communications. After the update the contacts with the American prefix disappears, inviting the user to open a link to install the application again.

“The problem with IMO coincided with the Nauta Hogar network and the Wi-Fi network throughout the country going offline, and last night I called [the state phone company] Etecsa to ask what was happening and they told me there were problems with the application,” an app user from Cienfuegos who connects through Nauta Hogar said by telephone. continue reading

IMO surpasses in popularity other videoconferencing applications, due to its stability, the ability to operate despite poor quality connections and its free services. Initially, it was used exclusively in Wi-Fi zones, but with the arrival of the internet to mobile phones, users have also started to use it on the 3G networks.

“The app is unavailable throughout the country but it has nothing to do with Etecsa,” clarified a customer service operator who identified herself as Yaneisy.

“We have been receiving calls reporting problems with IMO but we can’t do anything about it because it’s not under our control,” she said.

IMO did not immediately respond to a request for comment made by this newspaper, but in several technology forums users from other countries complained that they could not call any number in the United States through the tool.

Other instant messaging applications such as WhatsApp and Telegram are not reporting problems from the Island for calls or videoconferences, other than those derived from low connection speeds that, in some cases, cause crashes and delays in the arrival of the image and sound.

Luis Castro, a computer scientist who has a repair workshop for computers and cell phones in Havana, recommended that users “use safer alternatives such as WhatsApp, Telegram or Messenger.”

“By consuming less data, IMO is cheaper for the user’s pocket, but that’s also why the quality of the image and sound is worse, not to mention security,” he explained.

A telephone call through Etecsa’s regular service costs 1.10 CUC (Cuban convertible peso roughly equal to the US dollar) per minute to the Americas and 1.20 CUC to the rest of the world, while an Internet browsing card costs 1 CUC per hour.

Cuba allowed navigation through mobile data with 3G technology in Mid-December. The telecommunications monopoly offers several data packages between 7 and 30 CUC. You can also pay through your telephone bill at a rate of 0.10 CUC per Megabyte.

IMO in the last three years has not only become the preferred app for Cuban families to keep in touch with relatives who have emigrated, but has also played an important role for activism  on the Island, where it is used frequently to broadcast calls for assembly and to organize meetings.

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.

Amid the Chaos in Venezuela, Cuba has No Plans to Evacuate Its Doctors

Cuban doctors during an event in the state of Carabobo, Venezuela. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Pentón / Luz Escobar, Miami / Havana, 29 January 2019 — Kept quartered in some states and working in others, the thousands of doctors that the Cuban government maintains in Venezuela await the outcome of the conflict between the president-in-charge Juan Guaidó and ruler Nicolás Maduro, without evacuation plans.

“Since Guaidó assumed office as president, they told us that we should continue working as if nothing was happening. We are scared because nobody is guaranteeing our security and the situation is deteriorating rapidly,” says a Cuban professional, who, like the rest of her colleagues, is prohibited from speaking with the press. continue reading

Several doctors who spoke with this newspaper under condition of anonymity said they were afraid of finding themselves in the middle of a crossfire if tensions lead to a civil war. “The Venezuelan army is waiting for an invasion from the United States and the criminal gangs move with total freedom,” said a general medicine specialist in Tachira who was speaking by telephone.

“In the state of Bolívar, they looted a CDI [Comprehensive Diagnostic Center] and they took all the medical equipment.” In other offices, doctors have been forced to provide emergency services to criminals and motorizados* [Chavista paramilitaries], illustrated a third doctor .

In Caracas and some other cities the doctors were ordered to remain “quartered” while the the protests last in the country. The entire mission is strictly forbidden from going out on the streets after 4:00pm and thay have been asked to limit their contact with the opposition.

Cuba maintains a contingent of 21,700 health professionals in Venezuela which will be joined in the coming days by another 2,000 doctors that Havana had taken out of Brazil after the electoral victory of Jair Bolsonaro. In return, Venezuela subsidizes the oil it sends to the Island, which has been reduced to 30,000** barrels per day, according to Reuters, although other sources say it is 40,000. In addition to the doctors, Cuba has thousands of teachers, technicians, military advisers, electricians and construction workers in Venezuela.

The work of the doctors provides the Island with more than 10 billion dollars annually, according to official figures. Several countries have denounced this work as “slave labor”. The US Senate has asked the State Department to reactivate a special program to grant Parole (refugee status) to doctors fleeing missions while in Spain the Popular Party (opposition) urges the Socialist government of Pedro Sanchez to grant political asylum to Cuban doctor “deserters”.

On Friday, those responsible for the medical mission in Venezuela asked the coordinators to carry out “special mornings” to demand from the doctors “discipline and firmness” in the current situation, as was made known to this newspaper by three sources. In addition, courses of “reflection and debate” were held to discuss the situation in the country.

“They have kept some of the doctors quartered in the capital for fear of reprisals. Thus far they have not informed us of a plan to withdraw if Maduro leaves power,” said one doctor, who also recalled that Cuba had maintained all their staff in Venezuela even during “the coup against Chávez in 2002”.

The interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó, said on Friday that Cubans “are welcome” in the country,” but demanded that they end their interference in “the armed forces and decision-making positions.”

On the island, relatives and friends of the Cuban professionals say they are worried because they have no information about what is happening in Venezuela.

“The only thing we know is what is seen in Telesur and what is said on Cuban television, that there is an attempted coup d’état and that the collaborators are doing fine,” said Joanna, daughter of a “collaborator”, via telephone from eastern Cuba.

Doctors in Venezuela also lack information about what is happening in the country.

“The internet is lousy, extremely slow, in the mission we are only allowed to view Telesur and the newscasts from Cuba. I have bought few things, in case we have to flee, but until now we have not been informed of any contingency plan” explains one of the doctors interviewed in the state of Carabobo.

Translator’s notes:
*”Moto” (from motor[cycle]) is a word for a motorbike or motorcycle; “motorizado” (“motorized”) is a reference to the paramilitaries who ride them.
**Down from a previous 100,000 barrels

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.