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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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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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.

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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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.

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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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.

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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Cuba: The Hard Currency Store in Sancti Spiritus Hasn’t Opened Yet and There is Already a Line

Cans of tuna, tomato sauce, pasta, fruit juices, honey, rum and wine are for sale, but only in dollars. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Sancti Spíritus, 24 May 2021 — Faces glued to the windows and eyebrows raised after reading the prices, is the reaction of many residents of the city of Sancti Spíritus when they pass in front of the Quinto Siglo store, the most recent of the markets in that province that has switched from offering their products in Cuban pesos to requiring payment in freely convertible currency (MLC).

In the city, which is experiencing strict commercial restrictions due to shortages and the pandemic, there were only two important stores that still accepted payment in Cuban pesos. The penultimate of these stores has just succumbed to “the green wave” of dollar-only sales. Although it has not yet opened its doors, the merchandise that will be offered in MLC is already visible through the windows.

“With these prices, who can buy here? Chickpeas at $17.24 a five-kilogram bag, lentils at $11 and a bag of milk for $40. This looks more like a boutique than a basic goods store,” a woman from Sancti Spíritus lamented on Monday morning, after having come to the place when she heard the rumors of its upcoming opening. “The prices are very high and they sell a lot of products in large packages, but people don’t have those amounts to pay at one time.” continue reading

“The store has not opened yet, because they continue to prepare it but people are already lining up to get on the lists and everything,” a retiree who patrols the place in search of new customers tells 14ymedio. He warns people that they should “write down their name in a notebook around the corner, to guarantee a turn.” Hundreds of registrants have already put their names on the list, although the opening date has not yet been announced.

Inside the premises you can see many of the products that have disappeared from the stores that sell in Cuban pesos: cans of tuna, tomato sauce, pasta, fruit juices, honey, rum and wine. “This is like going to a museum of the past, a few years ago this was what there was in any neighborhood shopping that sold in Cuban pesos or convertible pesos, but now it is only for those who have dollars,” lamented a customer who “got on the list three days ago.”

“If someone had told me that at this point I was going to be lining up for several days to buy some Castile flour, I would have laughed in his face,” says the woman. “But now I am not only waiting, I even feel privileged to have the dollars that my brother sends me from Miami to be able to shop here.”

“People have no doubts: in another year everything will be sold in dollars or it won’t be for sale,” she says. “I hope I’m not here to check it out: if I’m going to pay in the US currency, I’d be better off doing it there.” As she speaks, at least two more people have stuck their faces to the glass to look into the interior of Fifth Century, and the gestures of the reaction are repeated: most of them start out with a curious look, and end up walking away with indignation.

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Sancti Spíritus Annuls Measure That, For Two Days, Limited the Sale of Bread to Children and Elderly

’14ymedio’ was able to verify that both in the La Camagüeyana ration store and in La Buena Idea, there was a limitation on the distribution of bread on the 11th and 12th of May. (Escambray)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García , Sancti Spíritus , 15 May 2021 — After the criticism received in Sancti Spíritus in response to the announcement that in the rationed market bread would be sold only to children and the elderly, the authorities have annulled the measure, which they describe as a “rumor,” and have once again offered the product to consumers of all ages.

This newspaper had reported on May 11 that in the province of Sancti Spíritus only children under 8 years of age and adults over 65 could buy rationed bread, due to the crisis in the supply of wheat flour on the island.

However, a note published this Wednesday in the local newspaper Escambray says that ” bread that is delivered to the population for the basic basket is guaranteed throughout the month of May for the more than 186,000 households in the territory.”

The information, according to the official media, was confirmed by the director of the provincial Food Company, Octavio del Rosario Argüelles, “in order to deny the rumor that circulates in the networks that claimed it would only be distributed to children up to 8 years old and adults over 65.”

“Yes, there is a decrease for the bread that is destined for social consumption due to limitations in the arrival and delivery of raw material, but it is guaranteed that it goes to prioritized health institutions such as hospitals, isolation centers, also prisons and child care centers,” said the official.

Despite the official denial, 14ymedio was able to verify that both in the La Camagüeyana ration store and in La Buena Idea, bread distribution was restricted at least on May 11 and 12. A state worker confirmed that now the authorities “from above” have reversed the measure and they have to provide bread to everyone, although she insists “that the bread has been lacking.”

“In my house there are three of us, me and my parents, and those days only two loaves arrived and not three as it should be,” a young man from Spiritus who buys at La Camagüeyana told this newspaper.

“People went crazy with the idea that bread was only for children and old people, in the street they didn’t talk about anything else,” a retiree from the Kilo 12 area tells this newspaper. “Now they say that it was a social media lie, but it was also implemented in my neighborhood.”

The bread situation has worsened throughout the country and the crisis has reached the Cuban capital where since last Monday the product that is sold outside the rationed market has been reduced “approximately 30%” due to “the effects on the availability of wheat flour,” according to local authorities.
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Sancti Spiritus, Cuba, Limits Rationed Bread to Children and Elderly Only

Some residents consider that the now restricted product can no longer even be called “bread.” (Escambray)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Sancti Spíritus, 11 May 2021 – In the city of Sancti Spíritus, the bread sold in the rationed market will be available only to the city’s children and the, state employees have informed customers. “Due to the shortage of flour, we cannot guarantee the product for all consumers,” a worker from a local site in the Kilo 12 neighborhood confirmed to 14ymedio.

“Bread will be sold only for minors or the elderly,” details the state employee, who gave the bad news to buyers who came to the counter this Tuesday. “We still do not know if it will be a measure for a short time, but it may be that it will take weeks before we can sell to everyone again.”

“Children up to the age of eight and those over 65 from each family nucleus will be the ones who will be able to receive the product,” he explains. “It will be bread made partly from wheat flour with other mixtures, but we will try to ensure that every day all consumers who meet these requirements receive it.” continue reading

The supply cut has been anticipated for weeks, because unrationed bread, which is sold from the so-called special bakeries, has disappeared. “At first they had a larger bread, with a hard crust, but later the raw material stopped coming and they started making soft bread at six pesos each,” recalls Lizabel Fundora, a regular buyer.

“Before, I used to come as often as twice a day and buy that bread, which was more expensive but also a little tastier than the rationed bread,” says Fundora. “But these bakeries are now empty or closed, the only possibility that remained was the rationed bread and with this latest news some of us will also no longer be eating it.”

The supply cut has been anticipated for weeks, because unrationed bread, which is sold from the so-called special bakeries, has disappeared. (14ymedio)

Others believe that the now restricted product can no longer even be called “bread.” “Without fat, without salt, without yeast and it still costs one peso,” Ana María, the grandmother of two children, tells this newspaper. Her two grandchildren will continue to receive their regulated quota, but as she has not yet reached 65 years, they will not sell any for her.

“Sometimes they sold it hard, with a medium greenish color or with an acid smell,” the woman details. “But for many families that bread, even as bad as it was, was an important support that is now limited.” Ana María thinks that “adolescents eat a lot of bread, especially now that so many areas are closed and they cannot leave their homes. And why isn’t there bread for them?”

The bread situation has worsened throughout the country and the crisis has reached the Cuban capital where this week it was announced that the products sold outside the rationed market “will be reduced by approximately 30%” as of this Monday due to “the effects on the availability of wheat flour.”

During the last year, but especially since January, buying bread in the unrationed market is only possible in the capital, and requires standing in a several hours long line at private businesses where bread that a few months ago cost 25 pesos now sells for 50. Similarly, the prices of sweets, pizzas and all products made with flour have doubled.

According to the official press, Cuba expects to purchase 770,000 tons of wheat in the international market of this year, at a cost of 240 million dollars.

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Cuba Today: No Pension Checks in One Sancti Spiritus Neighborhood Because the Postman’s Bike Has a Flat Tire

The postman who previously served the neighborhood was fired a few months ago for charging mandatory tips.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Sancti Spíritus 17 March 2021 — The means of transport used by Correos de Cuba (the Cuban Postal Service) for home deliveries is the bicycle. And not only to bring the press, parcels or correspondence, but also checks to pensioners. In Sancti Spíritus, at least 27,000 retirees, more than 70%, depend on this service to receive Social Security payments. Most couriers have to supply their own bicycle.

Neighborhoods like La Esperanza have spent years with the same postman, who is already like a member of the families, infallible in his deliveries. In contrast, the residents of the VientoNegro neighborhood have not enjoyed the same fate.

For starters, their postman was fired a few months ago for charging mandatory tips. “At the beginning, when he started, almost everyone who receives a check on a monthly basis gave him a five or ten peso tip out of gratitude,” a resident of Viento Negro tells this newspaper. “But then he made that a mandatory fine for everyone and people complained to the Post Office and they dumped him.” continue reading

At first, the new postman did not give any problems. However, the deliveries suddenly stopped coming. When Luis Alberto, a resident of Bartolomé Masó street, did not receive the press for several days, he went to the Post Office to ask. The answer seemed amazing: “They told me that the problem was that the postman who attends my area has a flat tire on his bike and that until that is fixed there are no deliveries.”

In addition, they made the excuse that “as it’s a new year, there must be a new contract,” and in addition there are “the new rates” because of the ‘Ordering Task*’. Luis Alberto appeared to renew his contract “and at least advance that process,” but it did little to help.

“To my surprise they gave me the same argument, that they cannot do it until the postman solves the flat tire problem,” he explains. “They say it takes a long time, because there are no tires anywhere.”

“And what happens if I have to receive parcels?” Well, they would notify him and he would have to go pick them up himself. Luis Alberto, disgusted, also complains about the poor state of the facilities in the Post Office: “They have a tremendous mess, no one can imagine its like inside, tremendously bad appearance, everything thrown every which way on the floor and one thing on top of another. Now I understand why many things are lost and do not reach their destination.”

Luis Alberto Laments that now the only option left for him to read the newspaper is to go to the post office on the boulevard in the morning, “Where there’s a lady who sits outside and sells them for three pesos,” he says, or to go outside the the amusement park (los caballitos), where there is also another reseller. Both in the city center, far from his home.

*Translator’s note: The [so-called] ‘Ordering Task’ [Tarea ordenamiento] 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 and pensions (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. 

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Sancti Spiritus Returns to Cooking With Firewood Due to the Shortage of Liquefied Gas

The current over-the-counter price of 110 Cuban pesos for an approximate 10 kg. propane gas tank will shoot up to 213 with the new prices. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Sancti Spíritus | 16 December 2020 — A race against time is taking place in the streets of Sancti Spíritus. Before January 1st, families want to stock up on products that will increase in price on that date; liquified gas in particular, an alternative for cooking in the face of rising prices of electricity.

These days, as the end of the year festivities approach, families prefer to use liquified gas cylinders for cooking, popularly known as balitas, instead of more expensive appliances or traditional firewood, which is less clean.

Users of liquid propane have been surprised to find that barely a handful of balitas are arriving at the places where they are sold. The shortage has forced customers to stand in 4- to 5-day long lines until a new supply arrives. continue reading

“At the worst moment in the line, the police arrived and disbanded the people in it, then they collected the ID cards and assigned them a number in order to call them in that order, but that did not work out either,” a consumer told 14ymedio on Tuesday, after waiting three days to buy gas.

“At the worst moment in the line, the police arrived and disbanded the people in it, then they collected the ID cards and assigned them a number in order to call them in that order, but that did not work out either”

In order to calm the spirits and reduce the crowds, employees devised a mechanism of phoning customers according to their order inthe line. “The idea was to make people go back to their normal lives and we would let them know when they could come to buy gas,” a local worker told this newspaper.

“But people have no trust and keep coming back to stand on line, they sleep out here and, of course, the police have had to intervene because that permanent presence here is a health hazard and lends itself to all kinds of irregularities: coleros (people who are paid to who stand in line for others), and even fights,” says the employee.

However, customers differ in their opinion. “The places in the lines are being sold on the streets, and if I’m not here watching who comes to buy, I will be left with nothing. The master’s eye fattens the horse and this type of line must be constantly monitored because if it’s not, it will be next July before my family sees the gas.”

“There are days when everyone wants to eat as a family and have a good time, I’m not ready to spend hours and hours in front of the wood stove,” warns Miguelina, a housewife who this Tuesday spent four days in the liquefied gas line. “At least I want to spend the holidays neat and pretty, not with the stink of smoke in my hair.”

This Tuesday, the police broke up the four-day-plus line that had developed in front of this liquefied gas outlet in Sancti Spíritus. (14ymedio)

However, consumers are not only in a hurry due to the proximity of the end of the year holidays and the increase in gas consumption on those dates, but because new prices for the product will also come into effect in 2021. The current over-the-counter price of 110 Cuban pesos for an approximate 10 kg. propane gas tank will shoot up to 213 with the new prices.

“There are things that one likes to cook with firewood, like the end-of-the-year roast pig, but making rice and food like that too is a punishment,” admits Francisco Narváez, a resident of the Toyo neighborhood. “My two children are asthmatic and at home when the wood stove is lit. They have to spend the day outside so that it does not affect them.”

The other option is household appliances for cooking food. Since their massive arrival in Cuban kitchens at the beginning of the century, as part of the “energy revolution” promoted by Fidel Castro, devices such as rice cookers and pressure cookers that use electricity have become very popular; over 68% of households in Cuba use them to prepare their food.

“Either I spend a week in the balita* line or I have a heart attack when the electricity bill arrives in January,” Narváez laments. “There is no salvation.”

Translated by Norma Whiting
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The Most Masterful of All the Lines

Two lines in one: on the right, the one for personal hygiene products; on the left, for chicken. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mercedes García, Sancti Spíritus, 18 September 2020 —  The parks are empty in Sancti Spíritus. No one would think of sitting on a bench, for fear of fines, and because they would not waste time in a square, because the imperative is to use the hours when you can be on the street to look for food. Two long lines along the side of a central corner mark this urgency.

This Friday, it was possible to observe what a neighbor described as “the most masterful of all the lines,” two lines in one: to the right, the crowd gathered to buy personal hygiene products, and to the left, to buy chicken. All this, with previous presentation of one’s rationbook and in the rationed market.

The city, which until recently seemed to have been saved from the rebound of Covid-19 on the island, is now once again under strict measures that regulate the time its residents can spend on the street. The assumption is to be able to buy what is necessary in the few hours in which public circulation is allowed. continue reading

“Are you here for the line for soap or the one for chicken?” is greatly debated among the many who know that betting on the most probably does not mean achieving the most needed. “The line that works is the one that can be achieved, the other is wasted time,” reflects an old parishioner who spent his hours in the central park of the city with a bottle of rum in hand but now prefers to earn some money as a colero — someone who holds a place in line for others.

Serafín Sánchez Park, in Sancti Spíritus, is uncharacteristically empty this Friday. (14ymedio)

Despite the persecutions against hoarders, resellers and coleros, the police are not able to control what is part of the landscape of Sancti Spíritus. “The lines are longer and now there are more police officers but in the end they are the lines of a whole lifetime,” says the spontaneous dealer. There will be time to return to the squares. Now life passes on the corners, in the shadow of a store or a market.

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