Cuban Authorities Pressure Private Business Owners in Sancti Spiritus to Lower Their Prices

“Prices are through the roof and they have increased a lot since the beginning of the year,” said one customer. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Sancti Spíritus, 21 January 2023 — Food prices continue to increase and authorities in the city of Sancti Spíritus try to put the brakes on inflation by pressuring private business owners to lower their prices. The official call, however, has not been echoed in the sector hit hard by the high cost of raw materials and taxes.

Susana and her husband sell crackers and on Thursday were in a meeting called by the local authorities. “They told us we had to lower our prices because it is a directive of the Communist Party,” they told 14ymedio. “But we can’t, until recently we were buying wheat flour from a mipyme [a micro or small business] that sold it for 135 pesos but now we must pay more.”

“We’re between a rock and a hard place, because if we lower the price we practically won’t have any income. Everything we earn we would need to invest in purchasing ingredients for the crackers, that is, we’d work for nothing,” she says. “Between the raw materials and taxes there is no margin for a discount.”

“It is not only about the products we must pay high prices for to maintain afloat, but also that this work requires a lot of sacrifice: waking up very early to knead, shape and bake the crackers,” she stated. “Then, the time we must devote to sales, hours and hours on our feet and in contact with customers, who many times are bothered by the prices.”

“They are having these meetings with all those who are self-employed in Sancti Spíritus and the tone is not one of a suggestion nor recommendation, but of an imposition,” bemoaned Susana. “They don’t address us like people who must go through a thousand and one difficulties to keep their business open and who, in addition, offer a service: our crackers are the snacks for many children in this neighborhood take to school.”

On Friday, Vicente’s shop, which mostly sells sweets and candy, was a hotbed of activity because many who are self-employed arrived there to talk about the meeting the day before. The discontent with the requested adjustment seems to be generalized among a sector in which many believe that they are being blamed for inflation. continue reading

“They tell us we must lower prices, but when I go to the MLC [freely convertible currency] store I am forced to pay high prices for products I need to make the sweets I sell here,” claims Vicente. “There are products I cannot find anywhere else and the so-called wholesale market they were going to open for business owners has been a complete failure.”

The customers feel caught in the middle. “Prices are through the roof and they have increased a lot since the beginning of the year, but if the government continues to pressure private businesses we will end up without the few cafeterias that remain open to sell something,” acknowledged a young man who paid 120 pesos for a small pack of cookies at a private shop, near the city center. “Of course I want to pay less, but we could reach a point when even if we have the money we can’t find something like this.”

The battle to regulate the prices of the private sector has been going on for several years and at time is reinforced, languishing before the reality of inflation or adding new official mechanisms to penalize those who do not adopt the price caps imposed by the authorities.

“We need to confront those prices that continue to rise for certain activities and by certain indiscriminate people so they obtain high profits,” the Minister of Finance and Prices, Meisi Bolaños Weiss, stated in January 2020 during an episode of the Mesa Redonda (Roundtable) program on State TV.

To ensure compliance with the measure, the government shared several telephone numbers for reporting vendors who do not comply with the order and also launched an army of inspectors to visit businesses and impose fines for merchants, but none of these practices have been fruitful.

Now they add local meetings and direct pressure on each merchant which, for the moment, seem to be causing more discontent among the entrepreneurs than beneficial results for the customers’ pockets. The next step for the authorities could be much more radical, in a context in which inflation seems to be out of control.

Translated by: Silvia Suárez

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

Individuals Sell Imported Beer for Less than State Stores in Sancti Spirtus

“At first sales were limited to ten per person but, since no one was willing to pay that price, they did away with that and now you can buy as many as you like,” says one customer. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes Garcia, Sancti Spiritus, 13 December 2022 — The beverage that would normally be lifting spirits at holiday parties in Sancti Spiritus has actually been enflaming the city’s already tense economic situation. When it was announced a few weeks ago that beer would be available for sale near year’s end, it created a certain amount of enthusiasm, but that ended as soon as the first cans arrived at state-run stores.

“Thüringer beer for 200 convertible pesos each,” reads a sign at a downtown store on Cespedes Street where rationed goods can be purchased. “At first sales were limited to ten per person but, since no one was willing to pay that price, they did away with that and now you can buy as many as you like,” says one customer who is not planning to buy the thirty cans he, his wife and his 25-year-old son were allotted. “Better to buy them from private individuals, who are selling them for 170,” he adds.

“We’re moving backwards like crabs. They’re selling the most expensive beers on the black market,” complains another customer whose hopes were raised when she learned that stores in every neighborhood would be carrying the product. For years it had only available in privately owned restaurants and hard currency stores. She had planned on buying twenty for herself and her husband. “Ten to drink on Christmas Eve and the same amount on New Year’s Eve,” she explains. Now she is altering her plans and is looking for a more affordable alternative.

“It’s a disgrace that it’s the state itself that charging these prices,” she adds. “My pension is a little over 2,000 pesos. That means that every beer I drank would cost me 10% of my monthly retirement.

Some stores in Sancti Spiritus have started carrying malt beers from the Dominican Republic. An employee at one store says they are also awaiting the arrival of “some jams and cookies.” Given the bitter taste “end of the year beer” has left behind, however, few people have any illusions about a few trinkets being able to sweeten the last days of December.

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

Santa Spiritus Sausages Factory Leaves Grocery Stores Without Meat

Sausages from the Sancti Spiritus plant are being made with 50% ground chicken and beef, and 50% starchy fillers and water. (Captura/Centrovision

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Havana, 23 September 2022 — “Everything coming out of the slaughterhouse is being swallowed up by the sausage factory,” says a resident of Kilo 12, a Sancti Spiritus neighborhood named for the province’s meat producer. He reports that, for several days, meat has been increasingly hard to find. Not even the black market, where it is worth its weight in gold, has been spared the debacle.

“They used to set aside the pork loins and the cuts of beef, and you could buy those. But that was then. It seems sausages are more profitable than raw meat,” he says. The state-owned company’s sausages are produced with a particular customer base in mind, one that pays better: tourist hotels and the network of hard currency stores.

The man claims that a plant employee he knows, who works in quality control, told him a large container of imported pork entered the country two weeks ago. Half the shipment was sent to the plant, which has since greatly increased production.

Opened in 2019 after a six-million-dollar investment, the Sancti Spíritus sausage factory is the only one of its kind in Cuba. The company’s directors boasted of these figures on the local television station, Centrovision. During Wednesday’s broadcast, however, workers admitted that all production is focused on meeting the demands of the tourism industry and filling the shelves of hard-currency stores. continue reading

What Cubans get, if anything, comes from the company’s “parallel production line,” which supplies its mass market “product leader.” It also produces ground meat, hamburgers and chorizo. According to the employee, anything that is left over is made available to retail and dining establishments.

The factory has the capacity to produce six tons of cured meats but is currently operating on a half-day schedule due to a shortage of spare parts. One official, whose name Centrovision did not reveal, stated that the parts needed to return the plant to full capacity are available on the island and that the “only” issue to be resolved is the meat supply.

Another unnamed official stated that they had been making sausages with pork but, due to shortages, have had to use alternatives. “They’ve been made with ground chicken and beef. The formula is 50% these kind of meats, 50% water and starchy fillers” she says.

“I’ve bought them. They’re not bad. They’re better than they were six months ago when they were making them with horse meat,” added the Kilo 12 resident. “It’s too bad they’re so expensive. They’re meatier.”

In 2021 Cuban pork production fell 53.5%, to 132.90 tons, compared to the previous year. It was part of a trend that also saw beef fall 13.5%. Similarly, lamb fell 32.5% and poultry 20.8% according to the National Office of Statistics and Information.

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

Rice Waste is Used to Stretch Rationed Bread Dough in Sancti Spiritus

“We can’t do anything; we’ve been told to add up to 20% of rice straw and husks to the bread.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Sancti Spíritus, 9 September 2022 — “No one has eaten it in two days,” laments Luciano, a resident of the San Luis de Sancti Spíritus neighborhood, while showing some neighbors on Friday morning the rationed bread. In the midst of the wheat flour deficit, state bakeries in several areas of this city must add up to 20% of husked rice waste to the dough, a mixture that gives it a sandy texture and sour taste.

“They’re even using it in cakes, and they are hard, very hard,” adds the retiree, who, after shopping last Thursday at the standard bakery, returned to complain to the employee about the poor quality of the product. “We can’t do anything; we’ve been told to add up to 20% of rice straw and husks,” the worker explained. However, nowhere in the store is there a sign alerting customers to the new recipe.

“She told me because she has known me all her life, but they haven’t been told that they should inform consumers about this change,” says the retiree. The employee confessed to Luciano that “when they make the new formula, they have to increase the amount of rice, and it’s very difficult to mix in. The bakers are very upset with this, because they’re the ones who have to face the customers.”

Another worker at a bakery in the Viento Negro neighborhood confirms to 14ymedio the change in the manufacture of bread. He says that it began to be implemented this week, although it’s not the first time that other products have been added to the flour to stretch it. “They bring the bags of waste from the mills on the Jíbaro road, where the rice is husked,” he explains. continue reading

“It has usually been used as feed for pigs, because it includes rice straw and also the husks. As animal food it’s not bad, but it doesn’t help much to make bread.” The man says that “before this ’invention,’ the guajiros who raise pigs paid about 250 pesos for a can of this waste; they cooked it and then had something to give the animals to eat.”

However, in the mixture with wheat flour for human consumption, the state employee says that “the final dough dries out, and that’s why the bread crumbles as if it were sand. It also gets dark, and what doesn’t look good to the eyes doesn’t enter the mouth: people buy it and return it. As soon as they cut it, they see that dark, yellowish color and get scared.” On top of that, “it tastes bad, like a sack, like straw.”

Mixing other ingredients with wheat flour to make rationed bread is nothing new. In the crisis of the ’90s and also in recent months, state bakeries have used sweet potatoes, cassava and bananas to meet demand. But these mixtures haven’t managed to convince customers, who claim that with these additions the bread can be kept for less time due to the heat, and, to top it off, it quickly takes on a sour taste.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

A Lack of Three-Phase Electrical Transformers Paralyzes High-Demand Services in Cuba

Workers change a transformer in the province of Villa Clara. (Unión Eléctrica)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Mercedes García, Ciego de Ávila, 8 September 2022 — As he does very morning, Luis Andrés got on his bicycle to go to the private workshop where he fabricates bricks, blocks and tiles on the outskirts of Ciego de Ávila. But as soon as he approached and felt the silence, he knew that something wasn’t right: the electric transformer that supplies energy to the premises had broken, and he would soon know the dimension of his misfortune, because the Electric Union of Cuba (UNE) had no other of its kind to replace it.

“The oven we work with is electric and powered by a three-phase transformer that supplies 110 to 380 volts; a lightning strike damaged it and paralyzed production. We had several orders from people who are building a house and from other private businesses, but everything stopped,” Luis Andrés tells 14ymedio. He worked for years in the state sector as an accountant until he went to work in the self-employed sector.

The first reaction of the owner of the small industry in Avila was to report the break to the UNE, which took several days to get there. “When they came and saw the damage that the lightning had done, they concluded that they had to change the transformer but clarified that the country doesn’t have these three-phase devices, and they could only install a conventional, single-phase one,” explains the employee.

“When we insisted and commented that this workshop supplies a good part of the blocks and tiles that people need in these surroundings, they replied that being a private business, the State had no responsibility. In other words, if a new transformer arrives at the company later, it won’t be for us, but for a state entity that needs it.”

Seven people work in the small industry, all of them with families that depend heavily on the pay that these employees receive. For ten days, these private workers haven’t received a cent, because production has stopped and they haven’t been able to complete the orders. In addition, customers are also delayed in their construction work due to the lack of these materials. continue reading

The deficit of transformers of this type is confirmed in the Investment Department of the Electricity Union of Havana, where customers who want to install one to use the benefits of three-phase current in their private business must direct themselves. “There are difficulties, and we can’t guarantee that the device can be installed in the short or medium term,” an employee of this state agency confirms to 14ymedio.

“There are few resources right now, and what we’re doing is advancing the contract of the self-employed who need to install one of these transformers. We do all the paperwork and then the customer must keep calling to know when there is availability. But to promise that he will have it quickly, we can’t do that,” says the UNE worker.

In Havana, Enmanuel and Lucy have been trying for months to get a contract to have a three-phase transformer to supply their ceramics workshop in La Víbora. “We have gone to the commercial office of the Electric Union in the municipality, talked to several officials and explained our need to solve this as soon as possible, but they always respond that right now this equipment isn’t available.”

The couple, who have decided to start a private business in which they combine her industrial design knowledge and his experience as a potter, never believed that a metal rectangle from which cables come out could be the obstacle that would stop them for so long. “No one told us that this was going to be a difficulty the size of the Turquino Peak,” Lucy laments.

A mutual friend has recommended a faster way to solve the problem. This entrepreneur, who runs a turning business, has closed the deal with UNE employees “under the table.” “With 20,000 Cuban pesos, the three-phase transformer appears–the truck to take it, the cables to install it and even the technician who smiles at you after it’s ready,” the man says, ironically.

But Enmanuel and Lucy prefer to do everything “legally.” A path where “all phases are shut down” at the moment.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Due to Lack of Energy in Cuba, Sancti Spiritus Paralyzes Part of its Industries During Peak Hours

“The unforeseen exit of some generating plants and the fuel deficit in recent days have caused the current electricity situation,” said the Electric Company in Sancti Spíritus. (UNE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Sancti Spíritus, 2 June 2022 — The promises made by Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel last week in the Council of Ministers have not been fulfilled and energy continues to be a serious problem, to the point that in Sancti Spíritus there is a total or partial paralysis of industries and services considered not essential in “peak hours. The sections cover six hours a day, since it must shut down between 11 am and 1 pm and from 6 pm to 10 pm.

Camilo Pérez Pérez, an official of the Provincial Government, indicated that, in work centers, “working hours must be adjusted to shift them from the hours of greatest consumption and take advantage of distance work and teleworking as an alternative.”

In addition, he requested that the continuous production centers apply the restriction plans provided for these purposes, such as the shutdown of air conditioning systems and ovens, as well as refrigerators, refrigeration equipment and chambers “as long as they do not affect the state of the products,” an observation that could be of doubtful feasibility unless there are empty units.

The official also made reference to the irrigation machines, which should not be used during peak hours, and that the pumping of water to the population must be reorganized to avoid the night hours, which are the most demanded.

All the above measures are aimed at industry and shopping centers, where in addition to monitoring the consumption reading so as not to go beyond what was planned, lighting should be reduced as much as possible. Sancti Spiritus residents must also grope through the streets, since it has been requested to disconnect public lighting and leave only those essential for the safety of vehicles and pedestrians. continue reading

“The State’s policy is to reduce the impact on the service to the population as much as possible,” said Pérez, who, however, asked the general population to contribute to the complicated moment by saving energy in homes as well.

“It is about disconnecting or turning off equipment that is not in use and having the support of the People’s Councils to implement these and other actions aimed at the rational and efficient use of energy,” he insisted. In addition, he requested that there be a communication policy from the State media that promotes the optimal consumption of resources.

“Although they announce it now, we have been suffering from measures of this type for several days now,” a woman from Sancti Spiritus tells 14ymedio, and reports that, despite the fact that it is true that in some state offices they do not take care of saving energy – closing the doors, for example, when the air conditioning is on – these places are also not designed for natural ventilation (in many there are no windows that open). The woman, familiar with state employment, says that “self-blackouts” are not uncommon: “They themselves disconnect all electrical appliances one day a week.”

State workers were informed at least four days ago, in addition, of the suspension of labor transport.

The state telecommunications monopoly Etecsa announced last Saturday that, as of that date, its commercial network was modifying its hours of service to the public, from 9 am to 4 pm from Monday to Saturday, and specified that, during the hours without power, they could carry out the procedures for bill collection, card sales, attention to procedures, doubts and complaints.

“We know that blackouts are annoying, but the intention is that we at least have the possibility of preparing ourselves for when this service is affected. The unexpected outage of some generating plants and the fuel shortage in recent days have caused the current situation with regards to the electricity, and although work is being done uninterruptedly on solving breakdowns, there is no generation reserve that can be said to end these annoying blackouts immediately, so we must keep ourselves informed through the different planning channels of the blocks of affectations existing in the province,” Yoanny Acosta Solenzar, director of the Electric Company in Sancti Spíritus, said on social networks.

A few days ago, the official defended himself against criticism from the population, who complain that the schedules are not kept, and argued that the lack of generation in recent days has exceeded 20 MW and, when this happens, they must “turn off circuits that belong to the other block, that is, shuffle some of those planned a little later for the one that is in blackout.”.

Last week, the Mesa Redonda (Roundtable) program explained the serious energy situation that, for the umpteenth time, is affecting the country. Officials commented on television that of the 20 blocks of thermoelectric plants in the country, eight are outside the system and the remaining 12 generate 1,023 MW, barely 39% of the total power of these plants (2,608 MW).

“Every two days we have almost three blocks out of service,” said Edier Guzmán Pacheco, director of Generation of the National Electric Union. In addition, and despite the fact that shipments of Venezuelan oil and its derivatives, which are free for the Government, have increased, the shortage is evident. The problem continues, already in June, and it shows no sign of improving in the face of the rising temperatures of another summer that is approaching too hot.

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

Almost All the Industries of Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, Are Shut Down to Save Energy

In the meat industry, it is not enough to work during the hours without sun, but rather the temperature range at which the refrigerators work must be changed. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Sancti Spíritus, 14 June 2022 — The cuts extend throughout Cuba due to the energy problems that put an end to a summer whose worst part is just beginning. The directors of companies in Sancti Spíritus gathered their workers on Monday to give them the bad news: practically all production processes must be stopped.

The announcement is no small thing. Sancti Spíritus is part of a group of provinces with a high presence of state-owned companies dedicated to the production of food, from baby compotes to shellfish grown on its coasts, or in its livestock, including its traditional pig farming, of which there is very little left.

On June 13, several state companies received “a ukase from above,” an employee linked to dairy production in the province details to 14ymedio. “They told us that the electrical system cannot withstand the current rate and that we have to reduce all the consumption that we can,” says this source, who participated in one of the meetings in which the new savings regulations were distributed.

“I know that it was sent to all the companies because it was what was said among the big bosses,” details this employee. His fear is that in a traditionally cattle-raising province, the state cold-storage where meat from the entire province is stored “is going to implement the closing of the refrigerators and the reduction of personnel. During the day they are not going to be able to open the refrigerators, they have to do it at night or early in the morning, to avoid letting the cold out.”

But it is not enough to do it in the hours without sun, you have to change the margin in which the refrigerators where meat is stored work. “There is a margin of plus or minus -15 degrees, but normally they remain between zero and minus five degrees” and now they will have to be reduced even more, he explains to this newspaper. The limit of the cuts is set by a category yet to be deciphered, but the “vital” productions will remain unaffected. continue reading

Among the essentials for the new regulations are dairy products. “We don’t know how they are going to manage to maintain the milk distribution chain with this if, right now and despite the fact that the planned cut has not been implemented, the milk often arrives sour at the customers’ homes.”

The La Estancia industry, producer of compotes for children, could also be among the most affected by the measure. “They ordered it to shut down, even though most of what it produced is sold in freely convertible currency (MLC).” The final product, made from natural fruits, would be among the most affected by the cutback to the Sancti Spíritus industry.

“If they are going to stop our production, what are we going to produce?” laments the employee.

This same Monday, the official press reported that the Lidio Ramón Pérez thermoelectric plant, from Felton, in Holguín, is not operational, after “Block 1” of the plant was disconnected early Monday morning. It is the largest capacity plant in the country.

The newly disconnected unit will receive a “10-day planned maintenance.” This, together with the repairs to Block 2, which, as notified by the Electric Union (UNE), “will begin work in early July,” will increase “the tension in the National Electric System.” In other words, they expect more blackouts for the population.

The UNE also warns that the Otto Parellada thermoelectric plant, known as Tallapiedra, in Old Havana, and Unit 6 of the Antonio Maceo plant, in Santiago de Cuba, are “out of service for maintenance.” Nor does Block 3 of this last thermoelectric plant work “due to breakdowns” either.

Other damaged Units are 6 and 7 of the Máximo Gómez, in the port of Mariel, west of Havana; the 3 of the Ernesto Guevara, in Santa Cruz del Norte, Mayabeque, and the 4 of the Tenth of October, in Nuevitas, Camagüey.

Still working, indicated the UNE, is Block 4 of the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes thermoelectric plant, in Cienfuegos, which “has already been incorporated into the generation.”

For now, the city of Sancti Spíritus spent the night from Monday to Tuesday without power. A dark omen for the whole country.

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

Five Dollars for a Bicycle Tire in Havana, 4,000 Pesos in the Provinces

Store in Havana’s Plaza de Carlos III where this Wednesday they they offered rubber bike tires for sale at 5.33 dollars each. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García / Juan D. Rodríguez, Sancti Spíritus / Havana, 4 May 2022 — The shortage of bicycle tires drives Cubans from the provinces crazy, where there are no transportation options like the ones that still exist in a city like Havana. These days, in Sancti Spíritus, acquiring a single tire can cost up to 4,200 pesos. And only in the informal market.

“Here they never offer tires for sale and everyone has a bicycle,” says Rayner, who lives ten kilometers from the center of Sancti Spíritus and, as he says, “either you go by bus, which passes by twice a day, or you go on foot.” The young man says that this same Tuesday he paid 3,600 pesos for the tire for the front wheel that he needed, his income for the entire month.

The tires of his bicycle, which is eight years old, could not perform anymore, having been repaired with bits of shoes and rubber over and over.

Four months ago, he bought the tire for the rear wheel and it cost him 4,000 pesos, “and almost crying to the man who sold it to me, because there aren’t any,” he tells this newspaper. Since then, he has been saving for the front tire.

Meanwhile, in the Cuban capital, this Wednesday, a long line formed at a state store in Plaza de Carlos III where they had put out rubber tires for sale, for $5.33 each. continue reading

The customers who came out of the store did not carry one or two, but many. “Here I never see anyone on a bicycle,” commented a woman who passed by the place, surprised. “These are most likely going to be taken to the countryside to sell.”

Tires suffer great wear and tear in Cuba, not only because of the frequent use of bicycles as a means of transportation, but also because of the poor condition of the streets and the terrible condition of the brakes in many of these vehicles, which forces their drivers to brake by rubbing the tire with the sole of the shoe.

Streets with large areas where the asphalt is missing and plenty of potholes are common throughout the Island, but in the cities and country towns the situation is even worse. Also objects on the road, such as broken bottles, pieces of metal and even nails add greater risks. Hence the need to have frequent spare parts to replace the tires that are deteriorating.

To this we must add that the bicycle is also a means of family transportation, frequently used by street vendors to cover a wider area of potential customers, or an improvised moving truck, and it is also common to add motors to increase speed, an ingenuity that is popularly known as  riquimbili.  [For photos, see here.]

The bicycles transformed into light motorcycles, after adding an engine, also consume the useful life of the tires more quickly. But not all the ones that are sold are of good quality, the least valued are the so-called Creole rubbers, of domestic manufacture, while the imported ones can cost much more in the informal market.

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

Cuban Honey, Sweet for Export and Bitter for Nationals

“A few years ago, honey was found in stores selling in pesos, but after the Ordering Task, it disappeared.” (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Sancti Spíritus, 3 February 2022 — A teddy bear with a smiley face peeks out of a dollar store shelf in Havana. Inside the container rests honey that began its journey in the Cuban fields. The product that the authorities proudly displays hardly appears in the markets that take payment in pesos. Its destination is export or customers with access to foreign currency.

This week, the Mesa Redonda [Roundtable] show dedicated one of its broadcasts to beekeeping production in Cuba. The space was full of optimistic data and even more rosy future forecasts. But the sweet export figures do not manage to cover the bitter reaction of viewers, upset because the work of bees and producers hardly reaches the national tables.

“A few years ago, honey was found in stores that sold merchandise in pesos, but it disappeared with the Ordering Task*,” laments Lola, a 79-year-old retiree living in the Infanta and Manglar area of the Cuban capital. “In the cafeteria near my house you could buy it and it was not a luxury to have a little honey for breakfast, but those times are gone.”

“Safe honey, certified under the Apisun brand, is now only found in stores in freely convertible currency”, the woman complains. “He who does not have dollars cannot consume it”

Now Lola must appeal to the informal market, where the adulterated product abounds, the presentation is unreliable, the supply is irregular and a 750-milliliter bottle already exceeds 100 Cuban pesos. “Safe honey, certified under the Apisun brand, is now only found in stores that require payment in freely convertible currency (MLC),” the woman complains. “He who does not have dollars cannot consume it.” continue reading

But before reaching these markets, honey has a long way to go. In Sancti Spíritus, as in the rest of the country, production is mostly in private hands. “Many farmers join in because it is a line much better paid for by the State, since it is for export,” Mario, a state worker in the sector, explains to 14ymedio.

“There are three honey processing plants in the country, one of them, although small, was newly built in Caimito, Artemisa, which is now going to close because the floors have to be redone. The one in Sancti Spíritus is the largest and the one that collects the product from the center and part of the west of the country, when the Caimito plant can’t cope,” says the employee.

“For marketing, we take into account four categories of honey, based on color: LA (light amber), ELA (very light amber), W (white) and WW (water white). LA and W are basically produced in Cuba, Mario adds. “Although some beehive apiaries in this area are managed by the military, most of those collecting honey are private individuals.”

Among those private producers, in the province of Cienfuegos, is the family of Daniel García, a young man who helps his parents to care for their bees. “We have our hives near the coast, but we live inland, which is very common here.” At dawn, the young man and his father must go to the area to start extracting the product before the sun rises.

“People say that the bee is the one that does the work, but if the producer is not on top of it, taking care of it and watching over it, the bee ends up eating the honey”

“Compared to a charcoal burner or a farmer who harvests vegetables, we still earn more. But that money is more than well earned, because it is really hard work. People say that the bee is the one that does the work, but if the producer is not on top of it, taking care of it and watching over it, the bee ends up eating the honey,” he details.

“The State sells us the boxes for the hives and the products we need, there is no other way to get them,” Garcia points out. “Apicuba has been a privileged company compared to other sectors. We do not lack necessary parts because everything that is for export is given priority here.  If we ask for boxes or materials to protect the product, we’re able to get them immediately.”

“Currently, the producers of this province charge about 500 MLC for each ton of honey that we deliver, about three drums,” he explains. “Although on television a few days ago there was talk of payment in dollars, that is not true, the farmer never sees anything in dollars, but rather the payment is deposited on an electronic card that can only be used in state stores.”

The charge may vary depending on the category of the final product. “There are many types, although there are two main groups when it comes to marketing: organic and traditional. The first is produced in Cuba, mostly in the eastern zone, in protected areas over which planes do not even fly, and so on. The bees are in as natural an environment as possible,” explains Mario, the state employee from Sancti Spiritus.

“The one that is produced in Cuba is the traditional one, which also has very good quality due to the climate, the absence of long winters and the type of flowers we have,” he adds. “What many farmers do is take the honey rejected by the State and sell it on the informal market through intermediaries.”

“Everyone knows that producers do not sell only to the State, because with current prices of food and work tools, you have to look for money elsewhere”

However, the honey that moves in informal networks runs into several obstacles. “The packaging is a big problem because getting small-format bottles, with a secure lid and a certain attractiveness, is practically impossible for private beekeepers, so they put them inside recycled rum bottles and that limits consumer confidence.”

Adulterations are common, especially the thick syrup made from cane sugar some intermediaries use. “They add some coloring, molasses and as much as possible to stretch it,” explains the state employee. “There are people who, when they taste unadulterated honey, are amazed at the taste because they only know the one that has been manipulated.”

Mario is categorical: “Everyone knows that the producers do not sell only to the State because, although it is a sector that receives better payments than others, at current prices for food and work implements, it is necessary to look for money elsewhere, especially for the honey that is rejected because it does not meet the parameters.”

A few private and cooperative producers have managed to overcome the difficulty of packaging, even carving out a stamp for themselves by naming their product, placing a label on the jar and marketing a distinctive brand through digital sites or home delivery apps. Among them is Finca Marta, an eight-hectare farm, in the municipality of Caimito, in Artemisa.

At that location, one obtains white bell and romerillo de costa which customers like, and for which they pay about 5 dollars for 240 grams in an attractive jar, with an extra charge for home delivery. Last year, the place was involved in a controversy when Miguel Díaz-Canel published a postcard for Mother’s Day in which several producers from Finca Marta appeared.

The price ranges between 350 and 600 pesos depending on the size chosen by the customer, several times more than the price of honey without labels and in a recycled bottle from the informal market

The image generated harsh criticism for the women’s stylish clothing and the environment’s bucolic atmosphere, something that also increased rumors of differential treatment for this small company in relation to other private farms not promoted by the Government. Access to imported containers to sell their honey is one of the distinctions of the place, a privilege that very few beekeepers have.

One of the few with that possibility is Agrogourmet, another private management project, which markets its melipona honey in jars of 380, 700 and 1,000 grams through digital shopping platforms. The price ranges between 350 and 600 pesos depending on the size, several times more than the price of honey without labels and in a recycled bottle on the informal market.

Daniel García’s family, in Cienfuegos, is far from being able to market their own product with their own brand. “Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t, because with the money we earn now we have to buy part of the supplies, such as the colorimeters that the State sells in MLC,” he explains, referring to the device used to measure the percentage of light transmission through the honey and thus determine the color and moisture level of the product.

“In order to acquire containers with lids, labels and boxes for the shipping, we would have to establish an import or purchase contract for these supplies with a State company that would charge us, of course, in MLC. So, we would need a high initial investment in foreign currency that is now a dream in order to be able to count on that amount,” he details.

“A beekeeper has no time for anything but his bees, there are months that I only see my house in darkness because I leave at dawn and return at night,” he says. “But my family has to eat taro, pork, corn and plantain like any other, so the money I earn from honey goes for food. The bees are good for that, period.”

*Translator’s note: Tarea ordenamiento = the [so-called] ‘Ordering Task’ which is a collection of measures that includes eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and others. 

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

Without Salary and Without Protection: This is How Cuban Inmates Work in Charcoal for Export

Cuban charcoal is currently one of the most valuable items for export. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Sancti Spíritus, 31 January 2022 — They stack the sacks of charcoal on top of the truck, and as the sun gets stronger, their sweat mixes with the soot on their skin. There are dozens of prisoners who work for the State-owned Various Production Company (Provari) in Sancti Spíritus and, although the merchandise they transport is for export, they do not receive any salary for their hard work.

“They don’t pay us a single peso and we know that they sell a ton of charcoal for about 400 euros,” complains one of the prisoners who has been carrying sacks for weeks and also working on the preparation of the ovens, the sifting of the charcoal and the composition of the bags. “This is a job I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and without pay, it’s even worse,” he laments.

“They don’t pay us because they say that we have to see this as one of our benefits, being here working in the open air, because the other option is to go to the Nieves Morejón prison, which is a closed place, a hole,” he explained to 14ymedio. “They tell us that we are privileged and that there are many prisoners in jail who would like to take our place.” continue reading

“They don’t pay us because they say that we have to see this as one of our benefits, of being here working in the open-air, because the other option is to go to the Nieves Morejón prison”

The prisoners are being held at the Banao 6 Work Farm, a former pre-university school converted into a labor camp for inmates that is advertised at its entrance as the Union Reeducation Center. The inmates work in the nearby fields through contracts with Provari, a company managed by the Ministry of the Interior, whose director is Lieutenant Colonel Juan Luis Baffil Rodríguez.

Every month, the prisoners of Banao 6 take out up to four containers full of the product, with a minimum of 18.5 tons each. “It is a long-lasting charcoal, highly appreciated because it burns slowly,” explains the prisoner who complains that they do not have specialized masks to protect themselves, girdles, gloves, boots or adequate clothing. Even the charcoal sifter is an invention by the hands of prisoners.

“We sift by hand, while we move the charcoal on the plates, all that dust that comes out when we remove the carbon and the smaller charcoal pieces that cannot be exported falls on us,” explains the worker. “We should have a professional device for that, but there isn’t one, so we had to make it ourselves.”

“We have practically no means of protection, people come to work in rags and covering their faces with a piece of cloth. Sometimes, at the end of the day, we can’t even see because of all the soot that got into our eyes that are tearing all the time,” explains Juan Carlos, one of the prisoners who works with Provari in Sancti Spíritus.

In Sancti Spiritus, Provari is also dedicated to the production of furniture, cleaning products, insecticides and the assembly of vehicles. Prisons act as intermediaries between the military company and the inmates. In theory, Provari is supposed to provide the prisoners with clothing and tools, and the cost of those supplies is subtracted from the final payment they should receive for their work.

“When we ask, they tell us that Provari is paying the Directorate of Jails and Prisons, but the money never reaches the hands of the prisoners”

However, in the production of charcoal managed by the military in Sancti Spíritus, these commitments are not fulfilled. The inmates work without pay and in appalling conditions, producing three product categories, of which the first and second are exported because they are of better quality, and the third stays in Cuba for state-owned companies, local producers, pharmacies and for sale to private clients.

“When we ask, they tell us that Provari is paying the Directorate of Jails and Prisons, but the money never reaches the hands of the prisoners,” claims another of those affected. “Some say one thing and others another, but in reality, we are the ones who do not receive anything.”

This is not the first time that Provari has been at the center of the complaints. In 2014, it had already been singled out for using “slave workers” who worked “with little security” and received low wages or were paid nothing, according to an extensive article published in El Nuevo Herald.

That same year, reports circulated that the Swedish chain Ikea and a company from communist Germany had contracted in 1987 the state-owned Export-Import Company of Technical Supplies (Emiat) to use the labor of prisoners in the manufacture of furniture. The quality of the products already made was not good, according to several documents found in the Stasi archives.

After that scandal, Emiat’s relationship with Provari, created during the economic crisis of the 1990s as a  provider of labor, was made public. This gives prisoners the chance to “integrate into useful work for society,” an employee of the Emiat office in the Havana municipality of Marianao explains by phone to 14ymedio.

Both Emiat and Provari are part of the list of entities penalized by the US Department of State and commercial links with them are banned for North American companies. However, in 2015, Provari presented its catalog for foreign investment in Havana, which includes the production of charcoal, aerosols and disposable items. 

“You’ll stand out if you don’t want to do it, and that can affect the time you have left in jail, if they give you a reduction or not for good behavior. It’s practically mandatory”

The exploitation continues, and several inmates consulted by this newspaper allege that they cannot say “no” when they are assigned to work in the charcoal. “You’ll stand out if you don’t want to do it, and that can affect the time you have left in jail, if they give you a reduction or not for good behavior. It is practically mandatory because I have not met anyone who has refused, nobody wants to mark themselves like that,” says one of them.

“Before, we also worked in agriculture, which is hard but not as hard as charcoal, which destroys your health. There are people here who can’t even sleep at night because of coughing after carrying sacks all day,” he adds. “But in this area, there is more and more land dedicated to charcoal so there are not many options.”

The production of charcoal for international sale has increased in recent years in Cuba and the central provinces, such as Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila and Sancti Spíritus, have jumped on the bandwagon of growing their local production, especially from marabou, an invasive weed that has spread through Cuban fields and seriously limits the cultivation of other plants.

The charcoal that is made on the island is obtained from the artisanal method of heaps, by which the wood is stacked on the ground and covered with earth. Experts extol the good qualities of the Cuban product for its “glossy black color, metallic sound to the touch, absence of carbon, ashes or other particles.”

Charcoal is sold in Europe for 400 euros per ton and its export grows year after year. In 2013, 70,200 tons left the Island for Germany, Belgium, Canada, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Israel, Portugal and Turkey, a significant increase in relation to the 40,000 tons of 2012.

Cuban charcoal already packaged for sale. (ACN)

The Ministry of Agriculture has even confirmed that after tobacco, charcoal is the item that brings in the most foreign exchange from its sale abroad and currently production is close to 80,000 tons per year.

In 2017, the first export of charcoal from Cuba to the United States was announced with great fanfare through the company Coabana Trading LLC, a subsidiary of Reneo Consulting. In an agreement signed with the state-owned Cubaexport, the operation marked “the beginning of a new era of trade between the US and Cuba,” Scott Gilbert, president of Reneo Consulting, said at the time.

Shortly after, a video filmed by activists of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in the Río Cauto municipality denounced the exploitation of the prisoners of the Jucarito prison who worked in the production of charcoal, also managed by Provari.

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Dental Services Are Hard to Come By in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba

“They tell you they don’t have the materials, but if you offer a little money they will take care of you,” complained a patient. (Escambray)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Havana, 6 December 2021 — Ernesto, a resident of the Kilo 12 neighborhood in the city of Sancti Spíritus, has had to wait for the relaxation of measures due to the covid-19 pandemic to go to the dentist. For almost two years he has had several cavities that bother him but since the arrival of the coronavirus on the Island only emergency cases are treated.

Unable to bear the toothaches for another day, he decided to go to the Provincial Dental Clinic this Monday. Upon arriving at the health center, he found the receptionist talking on the phone with her feet up on a piece of furniture; he had to wait about ten minutes for the state employee to attend to him.

“Only emergencies are being seen,” the woman said bluntly, as soon as Ernesto asked if they were offering consultations. “I can’t keep waiting, it’s been almost two years without attention, I get a lot of pain when I drink cold water,” the patient explained. “The autoclave (equipment used to sterilize the instruments) is broken,” justified the employee. “And it is not known when they will fix it.”

Ernesto then asked if he could be treated urgently and given some procedure to stop the pain, but the receptionist told him that there were no materials in the clinic for this procedure either. “I can pass you on, but we don’t even have materials to cover you there,” she added.

The man did not lose hope of solving his ailment and decided to go to a polyclinic in the city to be treated and “at least they would put a temporary filling or a band-aid” as it is popularly known, he told 14ymedio.

When visiting two polyclinics, he found several people in the same situation, who were also informed that there were no materials and continue reading

that the emergencies were being treated at the Provincial Clinic until six in the afternoon, at the same health center where he had gone before and where they assured him that they had nothing to take care of his cavities, they could only open a hole and leave it exposed until there were materials.

“They tell you that there are no materials, but if you offer a little money they treat you. Medical power? Power of lies is what we are,” complained one of the group’s patients.

Facade of the Provincial Dental Clinic of Sancti Spíritus. (14ymedio)

The panorama is repeated throughout the island. In Havana, 34-year-old Niurka Tamaris has “a hole in a tooth” that she has managed to overcome by filling it with gum, pieces of adhesive tape and other emergency solutions. “My quality of life has been reduced, I can’t eat anything cold, I can’t eat sweets and I can’t eat anything that I have to chew too much.”

Tamaris’s problem started in December 2019. A piece of a molar, with an old aluminum filling, broke off. After several attempts to be treated at her polyclinic in the Plaza de la Revolución municipality, she returned home discouraged. “When there was no lack of electricity, it was because the sterilizing apparatus was broken or else there were no gloves.”

The dentist who saw her on her last visit assured her that new supplies would arrive in the summer of 2020 and the problem could be solved. But the coronavirus arrived before then and a split tooth did not classify as an “emergency” to be treated in the emergency room. “They told me the only thing they could do was extract it and I didn’t want to lose it.”

A year and a half later, he still has the problem that threatens to generate an infection. “Now the situation is even worse because they tell you that they are seeing to pending cases according to the order of severity and, a tooth that is missing a piece but does not have an abscess, is nothing that they are going to attend to first.”

“Here they talk a lot about the quality of Public Health but you have to look at people’s teeth, in very bad condition,” says Tamaris. “My sister, who is four years older, does not have a tooth left and my father has needed a prosthesis for four years and there is no material to make it.”

The Ministry of Public Health said last March that “despite the pandemic and the strengthening of the United States embargo, Cuba arrived at World Oral Health Day with dental indicators similar to those of the most developed countries.”

However, infrastructure problems, materials and power outages have become a constant in Cuban state dental services, which are almost the only services allowed in the country. Private practice of the profession is only allowed for those who received their degree before 1959, or outside the country.

The few private practices that still remain on the island are suffocated by the inability to import supplies and to hire personnel who have obtained a diploma in “the revolutionary universities.” Hence, many professionals perform illegal work in the same official premises or maintain a small informal dental office that they feed with products purchased on the black market diverted from state distribution networks.

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The Official Press Invents an Intense Storm to Explain the Loss of Shrimp at Tunas de Zaza

The official press reports that the company managed to recover roughly one and a half tons of shrimp. (Escambray)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes Garcia, Havana, December 8, 2021 — Two days after an article appeared in 14ymedio on the breach of a holding pond, the official press responded with an improbable explanation for the “escape” of roughly fifteen tons of shrimp intended for export from an aquatic farm in Tunas de Zaza, a town in Sancti Spiritus province.

According to an article in the local newspaper Escambray, which was later reposted on Cubadebate, the incident was precipitated by intense storms which caused a failure in one of the ponds used  by the state-owned Cultizaza company to farm shrimp. “The water in the damn overflowed and, with it, a large portion of its growing biomass,” the article states.

Cultizaza’s director, Luis Orlando Rodriguez, is quoted in the article as saying, “We were able to recover about a ton and a half of the crustacean after the precipitous loss of water from the upper end of the dam.” However, neither local weather reports nor meteorological websites indicate there was any heavy rainfall on either the day of the incident or on previous days in the coastal Caribbean town.

This is confirmed by several area residents, one of them a man named Rafael, who tells 14ymedio that there had only been light rainfall, “with no water running through the streets,” in recent days.

“It takes at least three days of heavy rains before a pond will overflow,”  explains Rafael, “and no water was getting into the ponds. Not from a river or continue reading

from any other source. They are only fed with seawater. If there had actually been that much rain, it wouldn’t have been the ponds that were inundated. It would have been the town of Tunas de Zaza because it’s at a very low elevation.”

A company employee who prefers to remain anonymous told 14ymedio on Tuesday that the walls of the giant reservoirs where the shrimp are grown are very thin and have not been properly maintained for a long time. “They emptied the pond from one side and the pressure from five feet of water caused the walls to blow out. When two adjoining ponds are full, they balance each other out. But as one of them was being emptied, it couldn’t withstand the pressure from the one alongside it” she explains.

Responding to pleas from company employees, dozens of residents rushed to the site and gathered up all the shrimp they could before they could spoil. At the time of the spill, the shrimp had been ready for harvest. “A lot of people were even putting them in their pockets,” said Yisel, one of the lucky volunteers.

In his statements to Escambray, Rodriguez insisted that his workers “showed up immediately” and “worked together to collect the animals, which were about to be harvested, so damage was minimal.” He also pointed out that, after being alerted, dozens of local volunteers showed up at the site to help recover some of the shrimp.

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Shrimp Farming in Cuba: ‘Many People Came and Took Shrimp Even in Their Pockets’

Cultizaza Company, located in Tunas de Zaza, Sancti Spíritus. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Sancti Spíritus, 7 December 2021 — Dozens of people flocked to the Cultizaza facilities in Sancti Spíritus on Monday to collect the shrimp that escaped from a burst tank. “Many people came and took shrimp even in their pockets,” says Yisel, a neighbor of Tunas de Zaza, where the state company develops the cultivation of this crustacean, in a large area and mainly for export.

Although it is a “restricted area”, the employees themselves notified the people in the vicinity so that the product would not spoil, which was ready to be harvested.

Some 50 or 60 people arrived, according to witnesses to the event, who joined the workers in collecting the escaping shrimp. “The problem is that it is not that close to the town. Those who came were men who had something to carry it with or bicycles,” says Rafael, one of the locals who was lucky enough to hear the news. “But people came from El Salado and even from Guasimal,” some 20 kilometers from the coast.

Neither the official press nor company officials have spoken about the incident. A worker who requests anonymity says that although Cultizaza tried to recover the maximum amount of product, “between 15 and 20 tons may have been lost.”

He also says that the retaining walls of the gigantic reservoirs where the crustacean is cultivated are very thin and “have been in operation for a long time without maintenance.” “They emptied the pond next door and the pressure of a meter and a half high burst them,” he explains. “When two contiguous tanks are full they are compensated, but they emptied the one next to it, it could not hold.”

In any case, he says, sabotage is not ruled out as a line of investigation. continue reading

One of the ponds of the Cultizaza company in Tunas de Zaza. (Escambray)

“The conditions do not exist to store all that shrimp scattered like that out of the blue,” says another source, familiar with the company.

Anyway, Cultizaza has been in crisis for a long time. Last year, with the passage of Hurricane Eta, the problems of the shrimp farm became evident. Then, the authorities rushed to report that, although the cyclone did not cause damage to the infrastructure of the facilities, the development of the species would be affected “due to the turbidity of the water with which the ponds are supplied.”

The problems, local workers confessed to this newspaper, came from afar and were deeper: in the absence of balanced feed, the fish farm made use of the little that is produced in the province, the tilapia, previously turned into dust. With two disastrous consequences: that “the shrimp don’t not grow at a good rate and also the consumers do not receive the tilapia.”

Last September, the authorities announced with their usual pomp the expansion of the shrimp farm, informing that they would enable 10 hectares of land until then in disuse to dedicate them to intensive shrimp farming, which allows a greater number of animals per square meter to be fattened.

This technique, according to what the director of Cultizaza himself, Luis Orlando Rodríguez, told the official press, has not been developed in this place “for more than 20 years.”

“It didn’t go that well,” says another worker from the shrimp farm. “They made two ponds, rearranged, improved, but nothing new.”

However, Rodríguez had stated that this year “the first ponds will be ready” and that in 2022 they would recover “another 15 hectares also destined for intensive development, which would be added to the 345 that are currently in operation.”

The official said that the new work areas would have “imported equipment,” and that next March they would be producing “about 250 tons in two production cycles,” despite the fact that in 2021 crustacean farming has only reached 62% of the plan expected, due to “low water quality,” and lack of “material and energy resources.”

What is a fact is that workers and neighbors of Cultizaza will have, in the absence of pork, seafood by the end of the year. “We are going to spend a week eating enchilado de camarones,” Yisel concludes sarcastically.

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Chicken for Sale in Taguasco Causes Commotion

Chicken was for sale at the Caribe chain’s Nueva Imagen store. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes Garcia, Sancti Spiritus, October 14, 2021 — For many residents of Taguasco in Sancti Spiritus province, their town is peaceful to the point of being silent. So it can be big news if a spectacular car accident occurs on the section of the central highway that passes through the area. Or if a lot of travelers stop at one of the restaurants on the edge of the highway to get eat something to eat.

However, a bigger uproar echoed through corners of this small town on Tuesday: there was chicken for sale. With ration books in hand, two households could get a box of it at the Caribe chain’s Nueva Imagen store and then divide it in half.

Chicken, which rarely appears at unrationed state-run stores, has seldom been seen for months, particularly in a town like Taguasco. Unlike in provincial capitals, where consumer products come on market with greater frequency, supply here is sporadic.

It has been virtually impossible for consumers  to buy whole boxes of chicken in recent years. Due to the country’s economic crisis, only small packets of a few kilograms can be found at the network of state-run stores. And only hard currency stores are still selling continue reading

whole chickens, chicken breasts and quarters.

The chaotic waiting line lasted until supplies ran out. As always, there was no shortage of people trying to crash it. (14ymedio)

Hence the commotion in Taguasco, not only because the long-awaited animal protein suddenly appeared but also because customers were allowed to buy it in greater volume.

The chaotic waiting line lasted until supplies ran out. There was no shortage of people trying to crash it. Someone in line left, disrupting the order and leaving things even more disorganized, with arguments erupting among those still waiting.

For more than a year, the provincial government has required consumers to present a ration card before being allowed to buy unrationed essentials. The measure was adopted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and, according to authorities, would allow for “greater control and equitable distribution.”

Since then there have been frequent complaints, as there were on Tuesday in Taguasco when some boxes of chicken ended up on the black market. The local press reported that someone who had bought the chicken was selling it outside a shopping mall without having taken any home.

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With the Upsurge in Covid, the Bad Odors from the Ciego de Avila Cemetery Invade Homes

Local officials argue that the project to extend the cemetery was planned before the pandemic. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Sancti Spíritus , 2 August 2021 — The upsurge of Covid-19 in the Cuban province of Ciego de Ávila has accelerated the works to expand its main cemetery, some works that have been rejected by the closest neighbors who have been denouncing bad smells, the hectic bustle of corpses and the use of some of their patios for burials.

“The residents of Calle 8 and Pedro Martínez have been complaining for more than a week because we wouldn’t wish on anyone what we are experiencing, it is like being in a horror movie,” Moraima Lugo, one of those affected by what she calls “the expansion of the cemetery at full speed.”

The woman explains that her patios are adjacent to the Ciego de Ávila cemetery, near the Central Highway, and several neighbors have suffered the demolition of their fences “overnight” because “the authorities need more space to build niches.”

“They say that they no longer have capacity in the oldest part of the cemetery and this is disrespectful because continue reading

they have filled us with the dead everywhere, in my house you can’t even eat in the bad smell,” she says. “Girón buses are constantly arriving with bags with bodies.”

Lugo adds that the neighborhood has always had problems with water and that a year ago, the residents themselves had to pay for a well to supply themselves. Now, she complains that “the little water supply we have is contaminated and in the worst way, with waste derived from deceased people, some of them as a result of Covid-19.”

“The fences that have been pulled down for the works of the cemetery surround the patios of people who have lived here for a long time,” she continues. “Some have the deeds for their entire land and others do not, but their children were born in those houses, they deserve respect and not that the dead are placed a few meters from the windows of the rooms where they sleep.”

Yasmany González, another neighbor affected by the situation, even wrote a letter to Miguel Díaz-Canel. “We are dissatisfied with the place chosen for the expansion of the cemetery in Ciego de Ávila,” he complains, and insists that with these works “Cuban Norm No. 93-01: 1985” is being violated, which establishes that the cemetery must be located at a distance about 300 meters from the urban perimeter.

“In each of these houses there is a child under eight years old and the only thing they see when they go out to the patio are the deceased, weeping families and hearses every 45 minutes,” complains this neighbor. “Not much is known yet [about this pandemic, and yet] they build a cemetery here overnight without a prior study of the consequences for all these families.”

But the problems are not only due to the bad smells and the disturbing images of the cars with corpses, according to González. “This whole neighborhood benefits from the water of a well which is 17 meters away from the last vault and with a difference of 15 centimeters below the ground level of the terrace of the niches.”

The location of the well makes it contaminated with funeral waste when it rains. “My opinion as a civil engineer is that this project must be carried out outside the city. I leave the decision and responsibility to you for what may happen here,” he writes.

The authorities have responded to the complaints and classified as fake news the complaints of alleged burials in mass graves in the cemeteries of the cities of Morón and Ciego de Ávila, although they do not deny the expansion of the cemetery to occupy areas of the patios of cemetery neighbors.

The local press acknowledged that the daily average of up to 10 deaths has doubled in the Ciego de Avila necropolis, where the gravediggers have had to “bury up to 20 people in one day during this pandemic peak, a circumstance that makes understandable the logical delay in the sealing of the niches,” according to one of the complaints of the neighbors.

Local officials also appeal to the fact that the project to extend the cemetery was planned before the pandemic. “For 15 years, the expansion of the Ciego de Avila municipal necropolis has been gradually budgeted, but the peak of the current upsurge has forced investment to be accelerated with the construction of new niches,” said Jorge Enrique Pérez González, municipal director of Communal Services in Ciego de Avila.

For his part, the provincial director of that state entity, Luis Alberto Pérez Olivares, told the newspaper Invasor that during this expansion, “150 niches have already been completed in the cemetery of the provincial capital and 350 more are being worked on.” According to a “staggered schedule… a total of 2,000 niches and 900 ossuaries” will be completed.

However, the explanation does not seem to satisfy the readers of the local newspaper. Yainier Lopez Bravo says that his grandfather died on July 15 in Morón and at the funeral home they assured him that “the mausoleum was collapsed, that the only thing there was was a grave on the ground, with capacity for 3 or 4 coffins, that is, a common grave.” During the funeral “we were able to verify the sad reality. The grave we put my grandfather in had to be left open to wait for another person to die to fill the quota and close it, and there were two more open.”

Another reader, Héctor, confirms the story: “I uploaded that video where my first cousin is shown exposed without covering 15 days after his funeral. That day I went to bury my mother and I left with the bitter experience not only of losing my mother but to see how several coffins were exposed days after their supposed burial.”

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