Capped Prices in the Private Shops in Holguín, Anarchy in Havana

Many stores do not have any of the six items for sale with established prices.

Pelican, a private business in Holguín, this Tuesday / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel García/Juan Diego Rodríguez, Holguín/Havana, 9 July 2024 — Curiosity and need come together in the private shops of Holguin, which this Tuesday have had a greater influx of customers than on other days. At the entrance to the premises, a board showed the new prices, which have been capped for basic products since July 8.

In one of the many points of sale visited by 14ymedio, the employees had just learned about the new regulation and changed, in view of the buyers, the numbers written next to each item . Although the oil and pasta were below the new amounts, the powdered milk went above the 1,675 pesos per kilo established by the Official Gazette.

In the kiosk managed by the MSME Bodegón Holguín, the line filling the sidewalk in front of the premises did not respond, however, to any of the six products that have been exempted from taxes on imports and which have capped prices. The crowd, in fact, was waiting to acquire the newly discounted instant soft drink packages, which are mainly intended for the school snack.

The capped price “is not going down because if that’s what’s legally allowed why sell it cheaper?”

This Monday, vegetable oil at 990 pesos per liter was now in line with the new regulation. But the price, instead of satisfying consumers, raised criticism among those who believe that once set at that limit, “it will not go down because if that is what is legally allowed, why sell it cheaper?” asked an elderly woman who arrived at the Bodegón. continue reading

With a pension of 1,420 pesos per month, she can’t benefit from the new prices. “There is a lot of disorganization with this measure. At the Chinese Fair there were several kiosks that have not even heard about it and still have cooking oil at more than 1,000 pesos per liter,” the woman complained. “I found chopped chicken at 370 and 380 pesos per pound in several places; it seems that they have not realized that it’s at 340.

In Havana, the panorama has not been very different. Some central businesses have opted for caution, while several places in El Vedado and the neighborhood of Cayo Hueso did not even have for sale what popular humor has already baptized as “the magnificent six.” Others displayed the new prices on their boards.

The EJT market shelves of 17 and K, in El Vedado, returned to their usual appearance / 14ymedio

On Reina Street, in the municipality of Centro Habana, on Monday the line was extended in front of a private business that announced a pound of chicken at 310 pesos. What was saved in money was lost in time, because the line could take up to two hours between getting a number and accessing the counter. The main cause of the delay, according to an employee, was that “we have to wait for them to bring more supplies.” They were exhausted due to the multiplied demand.

In Havana, the shelves of the Youth Labor Army [EJT] market at 17 and K, which last week appeared surprisingly empty in the face of the confusion due to the entry into force of the capped prices, returned to their usual appearance. However, they didn’t sell chicken. “The chicken is still kidnapped,” an old woman said with a sneer.

The prices in the informal market, through home delivery applications on social media groups that market everything from spaghetti to beef, were the same as a few days ago, unrelated to the new official guidelines.

“The big chicken thighs: I’m not lying. If you want quality, this is your option at 380 pesos per pound and we charge home delivery separately,” said an ad in a WhatsApp thread dedicated to food and cleaning products. In the photo that accompanied the ad you could see a package with the colors of the American flag and three letters: USA.

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.

Snacks at Some Cuban Childcare Centers Have Been Reduced to a Piece of Boiled Sweet Potato and Water

The Food Monitor Program points to low food reserves in government warehouses.

Children spend about eight hours a day at the center and should be getting a balanced lunch and an afternoon snack / Little Volodya Childcare Center

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel García, Holguín, 8 June 2024 — The current economic crisis is having a serious impact on childcare centers in the city of Holguín. Children’s lunches have not included any source of protein for more than two weeks, only rice and dried peas. Afternoon snacks now only amount to a glass of water and a piece of bread, several parents told 14ymedio.

“We thought this was something would only last a day or two but the staff tells us there’s no indication things will get better, that their food supplies have basically run out,” says Daymara, whose daughter attends the Little Volodya Childcare Center. “Every day we have to send her off with a a sausage, a boiled egg or something else to round out her lunch.”

The children, who spend about eight hours a day, Monday through Friday, at the center, are supposed to receive a well-balanced lunch and an afternoon snack during that time. However, Cuba’s current economic crisis has been limiting the variety and quality of food they receive. “The rice is very low quality, the peas don’t taste like anything because they have almost no seasoning, and the afternoon bread is inedible because it’s so hard,” she adds.

A recent investigation by the Food Monitor Program, an independent observatory that researches food sovereignty and security, has been warning of the problem. After interviewing students and family members in four of the island’s provinces between January and March of 2023, the organization reported, “Low food reserves in government warehouses led to a shortage of protein in rations that were served at lunch while salads and fruits were completely absent.” continue reading

“I don’t know what I am going to do because I don’t have the money for a private daycare center”

“The other day my daughter told me that all they had given her was a piece of boiled sweet potato and some water,” explained Daymara. “I don’t know what I am going to do because I don’t have the money for a private daycare center and I can’t afford to keep sending her off with a hot dog or an egg every day. The last carton of eggs cost me almost 3,000 pesos. That’s 100 pesos apiece.”

In response to the meager rations, some families in Holguín have decided not to send their children to daycare centers for the time being. For many, however, that is not an option. “I live alone with my three-year-old grandson because my daughter left for Mexico to see if she could make it to the United States. I am physically impaired and it took a lot of effort on my part to get him into this daycare center,” says 72-year-old Raquel.

For the last few years, there has been a growing social divide in Cuba between those who can afford to put their children in private daycare centers, which have better sanitary conditions and fewer children, and those who depend on state-run facilities, which are marked by deteriorating infrastructure, the exodus of qualified staff and problems with food shortages.

When the boy goes to daycare, that’s when I do all my housework and go shopping for food,” explains the retiree. “But then he comes home very hungry. He tells me he didn’t want to eat lunch because it smelled bad, because it wasn’t good.” Raquel describes the moment when her grandson gets home: “He’s like a caged lion that is let loose. He runs to the refrigerator to see what he can find.”

“These days they’re very lethargic, like they’ve been anesthetized. Well, if they’re hungry, of course they’re not going to feel like playing or laughing much.”

The grandmother explains what it is like to pick up the boy from childcare every afternoon. “When you’re outside, you don’t hear the all the commotion like before. It used to be that, when you looked through the windows, they would be running and jumping. These days they’re very lethargic, like they’ve been anesthetized. Well, if they’re hungry, of course they’re not going to feel like playing or laughing much.”

The situation families in Holguín are experiencing is not an isolated case. Recently, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) included Cuba in its report on severe childhood poverty for the first time. It reported that 9% of the island’s children suffer from serious poverty and do not receive only two of the eight foods considered essential for good nutrition.

The UNICEF report, on which the official Cuban press has not yet commented, adds that 33% of minors (anyone aged five or younger) are living in moderate poverty. This means they have access to three and four of these foods. One does not need data from an international organization like UNICEF, however, to understand the scope of the problem. Just walking through the island’s streets is enough to notice that many children are suffering from significant weight loss and malnutrition.

Daymara does not believe the solution is for every family to send their children off with some sort of protein to round out their lunch. “There are households that can’t afford to do that,” she says. “One child might pull out a sausage but another child wouldn’t have any.” She believes it is a question of investment priorities. There is no doubt in her mind what should be at the top of any list. “Taking care of the children, giving them a good, balanced diet, because they are the future.”

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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.

54,000 Laying Hens Are Slaughtered in Holguín, Cuba, Due to the Lack of Animal Feed

Egg production in Cuba has decreased from five million units a day in 2020 to 2.2 million in 2023

They slaughter them because, according to Avihol’s management, there is no food in Holguín,” a source linked to the company tells this newspaper/ Now/Archive

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel García, Havana, 10 June 2024 — At least 54,000 laying hens are being slaughtered in Holguín, a process that has begun due to the impossibility of keeping them due to the lack of animal feed. According to 14ymedio, the process started several weeks ago but had to be suspended when the production line of the slaughterhouse, located in San Rafael Adentro at kilometer 5 and a half on the road to Mayarí, broke down. However, the damaged parts have already been replaced and the plan has been resumed.

“They slaughter them because, according to the management of the Poultry Company of the province (Avihol), there is no food in Holguín,” said a source linked to the company who fears the situation will go further. “And if this is the case here, it may be the same in the rest of the country,” he speculates. The most serious thing, according to the same source, “is that there is no replacement, that is, they are slaughtering them without having spare hens.”

In just three years, Avihol has gotten into a catastrophic situation. The company not only surpassed egg production and supplied the province, but also served Santiago de Cuba and Las Tunas, earning the praise of former First Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura in February 2020. At the end of that same year, a report in the pro-government newspaper Ahora recalled that this was the second largest in the country, being part of the National Program for producing five kilograms of protein per capita, including poultry. At that time, it produced about 426,000 eggs a day and 152.6 million eggs in a year. continue reading

In just three years, Avihol has gotten into a catastrophic situation. 

However, everything changed after the pandemic. In May 2023, Jorge Romero Marrero, director of the company, had to admit that the emergency required urgent measures. “The current financial situation does not allow us to acquire resources for the maintenance of the conditions that the sections require, and many units have deteriorated, which negatively impacts this line of production,” he said.

The manager said that the reduction in the feed had reduced the poultry population and decimated the hens, which in turn reduced the production of eggs. The price became completely unsustainable, which affected the workers’ wages. In fact, according to the source of this newspaper, the company was immersed in what the government jargon calls “availability process,” a euphemism to avoid the word “layoff,” only happening in its basic units, not in the headquarters.

Romero Marrero said that, despite the threat that was looming at that time on the company’s economy due to the low prices of eggs in the non-rationed market, there was a commitment to guarantee the rationed seven eggs per person and raise the price to the non-rationed commercialization carried out on weekends. In this case, the egg would be sold at 15 pesos, leaving the company’s profit at only 80 cents, but which would allow it, they believed, to sustain production.

Currently, the egg allowance on the ration book in the province has been reduced to five eggs per person per month.

The reality has been different and, currently, the number of eggs on the ration book in the province has been reduced to five eggs per person per month.

Chicken egg production, like so many other food sources, has plummeted in the country, which must resort to imports to meet demand. Just three days ago, the government press announced that Colombia would send about 40 million eggs to the island before the end of the year. As of today, 33 million units are still to come to comply with the agreement, since the first seven million arrived in Cuba in March. In May, the authorization was also granted for three companies from the Dominican Republic to export eggs to the island, in addition to other poultry products including meat and meat-based products.

Information about the pitiful state of the birds has multiplied in recent years and the causes are not only the price of animal feed. The lack of water and the blackouts, which interrupt the normal operation of the facilities thus harming the health of the hens, are also part of the problem. In November 2023, the Minister of Agriculture, Ydael Pérez Brito, reported that the production of eggs in Cuba has decreased from five million a day in 2020 to 2.2 million in 2023.

Translated by LAR

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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.

Holguín, Cuba, Increases Tax Pressure on ‘MSMEs’ and Threatens Other Measures

The Municipal Assembly proposes forcing companies to lower their prices for their “essential” imported products

An ’MSME’ from Holguín dedicated to the sale of toiletries and food / Facebook / Dimensions

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel García, Holguín, May 22, 2024 –Bleeding MSMEs [Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises], the only entities on the Island that remain afloat in the unstable Cuban economy, seems to be the new plan of the city of Holguín to raise money. Raising taxes on companies and forcing them to sell “essential products” at the official exchange rate of one dollar for 120 pesos are among the measures that the authorities threatened to implement last week during a meeting of the municipal Assembly with a group of businesspeople, as confirmed by local sources to 14ymedio.

The possible increase in taxes, just a few months after the announcement of the end of the 10% exemption in taxes for one year for newly created private companies and for six months for converted ones, coincides with the desperation of the State to raise everything possible on the Island to oxygenate its budget. The measure puts the noose around the necks of private owners, but another threat, even worse, suggests the obligation to apply the official exchange rate of one dollar for 120 pesos for the sale of products that have been purchased at the much higher rate that holds in the informal market (between 350 and 400 to 1), the only market where they can get foreign currency to import goods.

In an interview with this newspaper, one of the MSMEs owners who attended the meeting with the authorities, and who prefers not to reveal his name, assures that the businesspeople did not sit idly by in the face of the Assembly’s proposal. “The fact that they want to raise taxes would force us to increase the price of the products, because it is something that works like a chain: the more expensive the procedures, the higher we must charge. But now they tell us to open our doors so that they can audit our prices and that we must lower them,” he explains. continue reading

The possible measures were proposed by the Holguín authorities who, like each local government, have jurisdiction over these issues in their territory

The possible measures were proposed by the Holguín authorities who, like each local government, have jurisdiction over these issues in their territory. At the moment, it is not known if similar actions have been proposed in other provinces. In this sense, the businessman regrets that state policies towards private businesses are, in his opinion, misguided. “They pressure us more and more and what we sell we have to pay taxes on, imports, salaries of employees and also generate profits. If not, the company is going to collapse because it does not have a state budget to maintain it,” he claims.

Osmany, the owner of another Holguín MSME that sells food, who also attended the meeting, told 14ymedio that, while waiting for “the happy audit,” he has had to stop all deliveries from his suppliers. “I don’t know when this process is going to start, but they are going to review all the cost sheets and tell us the prices at which we will have to sell our products,” he laments.

“I already have some debts with my suppliers and if they force me to sell at the official rate, I will be bankrupt. It makes no sense for us to buy the dollar at almost 400 pesos in the informal market because the State itself does not have enough liquidity to sell it and then we must sell at the official exchange rate,” he explains.

According to Osmany, he was not the only one who was uncomfortable with the authorities’ announcement. “Other businesspeople also said they did not agree. One even clarified that they could supervise whatever they wanted in their business, but that as soon as they finished they were going to close it, because the accounting didn’t work,” he says.

As the Holguín resident explains, neither the authorities nor the press have not offered an official version of these measures, but rumors of the closure of MSMEs are already heard in the streets of Holguín. For Jesús, a tricycle driver from the main city, “that is the worst thing that could happen in this crisis situation.” “It is true that MSMEs are expensive, but they are the only place where you can get food. They are necessary,” he says.

“Private stores are the only places where you can buy a bottle of oil or flour or sugar. With the blackouts, which are in all their glory, if they also take away our food, I have no doubt that people will take to the streets to protest,” he points out.

“Private stores are the only places where you can buy a bottle of oil or flour or sugar”

The owners of private MSMEs in Holguín have been the focus of attention for weeks. On May 10, this newspaper published an article about the agreement of at least 14 businessmen to try to lower the price of the dollar.

“At the Foremp (Business Forum) the topic that was talked about the most was precisely the price of the dollar, which is practically becoming priceless,” according to the owner of a private business who participated between April 30 and May 2 in the second edition of this event, which took place at the Brisas Guardalavaca hotel in Holguín. Among the more than 180 participants, the biggest concern was the depreciation of the Cuban peso, which, they complain, forces them to need more and more national currency to acquire dollars, essential for the import of products and raw materials.

During the meeting, the 14 entrepreneurs from Holguín agreed to publish on their social media accounts and other anonymous profiles alleged sales or purchases of foreign currency at a price lower than the El Toque rate and not to pay more than 350 pesos, convinced of achieving a fall, even if minimal, of the currency.

The dollar did suffer a “temporary” decline this week, although the cause, according to El Toque, is far from being related to Holguín businessmen. In fact, the media expects that, as the causes of the depreciation of the peso do not disappear – fiscal deficit, inflation, the issuance of currency without backing, among others – the trend will remain the same.

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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.

The Traffickers, Prostitutes and ‘Yarinis’ of Holguín, Cuba, Have Their Base of Operations in La Marqueta

 In the so-called “market alley” there are, from Mártires to Gómez, Rhino’s Bar, Benjuly, Gato Negro and Destellos Café, all private

Drinking something in the bars of La Marqueta is a kind of rite of passage or “password” to close the deal / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel García, Holguín, May 18, 2024 — Mártires Street and three avenues named after heroes – Martí, Máximo Gómez and Luz y Caballero – frame the brand new red light district of Holguín, Cuba: Plaza de la Marqueta. In the old colonial market, restored several years ago, coming together are the prostitutes, their clients, local millionaires, scammers of various kinds and several yarinis* — named in honor of the mythical Havana pimp — who do not lose sight of their employees.

A decade ago, the tenants of the square – the center of Holguín life in Republican times – were very different. “Beggars who urinated and defecated,” recalls Heriberto, an employee in one of the bars that Marqueta enjoys today, taking advantage of the abandonment and ruin. The change from a homeless shelter to a brothel does not seem to have been too radical, he believes.

In the past there were shops, inns, butcher shops and fishmongers in La Marqueta. Now, however, the cartography of the square is made up almost exclusively of “upscale” bars and restaurants, at whose tables no one sits without knowing what’s happening. “They,” says Heriberto, referring to the prostitutes – who “are always groomed and well dressed” – “make their clients sit in a bar and consume.”

The cartography of the square is made up almost exclusively of “upscale” bars and restaurants

The price, depending on the services requested by the client, ranges between 3,000 and 5,000 pesos. Having a drink at the bar, explains Heriberto, is a kind of rite of passage or “password” to close the deal. “I don’t know if the owners of the establishments have any business with the yarinis, but that’s always the case,” he adds. continue reading

The Police know it, of course. From the red light districts of Havana – the same ones that made Alberto Yarini famous — his wars with rival pimps cost him his life in 1912 – to those of Santiago or Camagüey, passing through the nooks and crannies of El Condado Santa Clara, the Police always know and don’t get involved. “It’s a complicated territory,” says Heriberto, and not only because everything happens in bright sunlight and in a busy place, but because prostitution is just the tip of the crime iceberg.

Marijuana growers and their traffickers also visit La Marqueta, each with their own well-defined signs and rates; the cardholders, who know the techniques to steal currency from the MLC (freely convertible currency) cards of absent-minded or drunk clients; businessmen who prefer to discuss their sales with a beer in hand; and, from time to time, a train of tourists, who approach the chairs and bars without the slightest suspicion of what is taking place there.

Everything happens in bright sunlight and in a crowded place. Prostitution is just the tip of the crime iceberg / 14ymedio

Drinks and a Cuban version of tapas, that is the food available at the “little tables” of La Marqueta. In the so-called “market alley” – the backbone of the square – from Mártires to Gómez, there are Rhino’s Bar, Benjuly, Gato Negro and Destellos Café. They are all, says Heriberto, managed by private parties.

Each one has a group of burly guards, who take turns guarding the area around the square. Security is essential, as several businesses in Havana have demonstrated, exposed not only to problematic customers but also to “ninja” children, who steal to survive. Sometimes business gets out of control and a fight breaks out. “There haven’t been many fights, but what there was was loud and the ’boys’ had to intervene,” says Heriberto. Bosses do not like to be caught off guard by conflict and that is why they have constant surveillance. “Some have up to five guards working,” he says.

About the owner of Benjuly, Julio César Paredes – a “young and enterprising owner,” according to his website – there is a rumor: his alleged friendship with Lis Cuesta, wife of Miguel Díaz-Canel, who is attributed to being a “godmother,” or owner of the bar. This protection is what keeps its operation free of obstacles, assumes Heriberto, who assures that the same protection as above exists at the Bodegón Holguín, a business located on the Central Highway.

What started here has already spread to other areas, such as Pueblo Nuevo, and cases of drug sales have been detected

What started here has already spread to other areas, such as Pueblo Nuevo, and cases of drug sales and “strange” businesses have been detected in two high schools: Alberto Sosa and José Miró Argenter. But the center of the hurricane remains the square.

When the sun goes down and the city streets are not so hot, the young people of Holguín also go to Marqueta. Dressed up and careful not to invade other people’s territory, the prostitutes take their seats. The yarini sip their drinks and the card holders go into action. Cornered and trying to be discreet, the addicts begin to light their cigarettes. “The only thing missing is for El Químico** — the chemical — to arrive,” laments Heriberto, alluding to the fashionable drug in Havana. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Translator’s notes: 
*Yarini: Alberto Yarini, Cuba’s most famous pimp, was murdered in 1910, and has featured in novels, films and song.
**El Químico: A very cheap drug, marijuana- or synthetic marijuana-based and laced with other substances. See here.
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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.

The Calixto García Stadium in Holguín Closes Part of Its Stands Due to the Danger of Collapse

The walls and a part of the roof of the Calixto García stadium “are peeling off” / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel García, Holguín, 15 May 2024 — The lack of maintenance and deterioration are the last blow for the Calixto García stadium, home of the Holguín baseball team. According to a source in the city, its walls “are peeling off ” and the authorities have prevented the fans from sitting near the areas where the collapse is imminent.

“The scaffolding of the towers on the left side has been declared in a state of collapse,” the official journalist Ernesto A Jomarron Cardoza denounced on Tuesday on the Facebook account ’Somos los Cachorros de Holguín’.

The communicator noticed the problem because the traditional third-base stands were empty during the match between Holguín and Artemisa. “The doors on the left side were kept closed and they are going to stay that way.”He lamented the lack of maintenance of the stadium’s towers, founded in 1979 and considered by Fidel Castro as an “architectural jewel”. continue reading

One of the Calixto García stadium’s entrances exhibits a lack of maintenance / 14ymedio

“As something never seen before, the team will play without an audience above its dugout (the area where players wait for their turn during the game),” said Cardoza.

What is even more outrageous is that last March, days before the voice of “play ball” was heard to start the National Series, the National Baseball Commission (CNB -Spanish acronym) detected “serious problems” in some fields.

During a tour of the provinces, the officials identified that in several stadiums maintenance was required on the “mound, lawn, benches, changing rooms and bathrooms”. They also mentioned that “clay was needed to work the field; they also needed to raise the pitching mound, center the home plate, water the lawn more to make it growth and finish the mowing”.

One of the stadiums was Calixto García. The national baseball commissioner, Juan Reinaldo Pérez Pardo, supervised the building and detected the “need for conditioning the bases and the home plate,” the pro-government newspaper ’¡Ahora!’ published at the time.

At that time they did not notice any damage or cracks in the roof, which have forced the closure of the towers on the left side.

The traditional Calixto García stadium third-base stands side was empty during the match between Holguín and Artemisa / Facebook/’Arriba los Cachorros de Holguín’

The sports authorities’ neglect of the stadiums has also occurred in the buildings for the practice of soccer. Last January, 14ymedio denounced the state of oblivion which the Pedro Marrero stadium has fallen into. The colossus located in Havana’s municipality of Playa has turned into “grazing land,” a track and field coach lamented. The deterioration is visible: the grass is worn out and the track is full of potholes.

This stadium has not received any of the eight million dollars the International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) gave to Cuba between 2016 and 2022 to improve its sports facilities. However, the property did receive money for its renovation, stressed Ariel Maceo Téllez. Unfortunately, it is still just as bad.

Another abandoned colossus is the Pan American Stadium in Havana. The sports complex built by Fidel Castro in 1991 is in decline. The lack of maintenance together with the poor quality of the construction materials that were used for its construction and its proximity to the coast has caused the salt residue from the seawater to wear down its structure.

Translated by LAR

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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.

The Blackouts in Holguin, Cuba, Predict a Dark Future for the New Electric Tricycles

Holguín residents complain that the vehicles cover an unpopular route, instead of serving more central stops

Electric tricycles parked in a staging area in front of the Vocational school, in the city of Holguín / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel García, Holguín, 4 May 2024 — Shining under the May sun, the 20 new electric tricycles that travel the streets of Holguín will began to provide service this Thursday. However, poor planning has already hindered the beginning of their journey in a city where public transport barely satisfies a tiny part of the demand for mobility.

With a capacity of six people and a price of ten pesos per customers, the vehicles right now only serve the route between Las Baleares terminal and the Vocational School. At the staging area, Edmundo, a Holguín resident of 62, climbed aboard one of the tricycles on May 2nd in front of the Vocational School, on its inaugural trip.

“They say they are still testing but they have chosen the route with the least problems, they should have started with the most congested routes,” the passenger told 14ymedio after concluding his journey. “People haven’t found out yet, that’s why I was able to feel comfortable without so much pressure because it wasn’t crowded.”

“They should have put these tricycles on the route between the three hospitals, the Surgical Clinic, the Pediatric Hospital and the Lenin Hospital,” says Edmundo. “Those are the sections where people need to move more and where right now the transportation situation is more complicated and the prices for horse-drawn carriages are higher. continue reading

“They should have put these tricycles on the route between the three hospitals, the Surgical Clinic, the Pediatric Hospital and the Lenin Hospital”

One of the drivers dressed in a yellow sweater with the Taxis Holguín logo responded to other passengers with similar questions. “Don’t worry, these are the first 20, another 30 will arrive in the next few days,” said the employee of Agency No. 2 belonging to that state company.

“These tricycles have a 60-volt, 200-ampere battery,” explained the driver to an audience more interested in knowing if the service will be maintained over time and if will increase its fleet of vehicles, than in the technical details. “That means it can travel up to 200 kilometers,” the man continued to explain.

Another Taxis Holguín worker explained to this newspaper that after completing their journey, of about 15 daily trips, the tricycles are stored in Agency No. 2 located on Peralta Street between 20 de Mayo and Independencia, in the Santiesteban District. “There they are also charged connected to the electrical grid,” he points out.

The electric tricycles that have arrived in the city of Holguín are not yet using solar energy to recharge their batteries. “With the blackouts that we are suffering in this city, we will see just two or three tricycles in the parking area because the others will not have been able to charge the batteries,” predicted another rider who made the trip to the Balearic Islands.

Electric tricycle traveling the Las Baleares-Vocacional route, in Holguín / 14ymedio

However, the director of the agency, Julio César Coré Garcel, assured the official press that the new means of transportation are part of a program of the Ministry of Transportation to move “progressively toward changing the energy matrix.”

“They can’t cope because they are small and for the volume of passengers that moves in this city they look like toys,” adds a woman. “I pay up to 100 pesos for a horse-drawn carriage when I have an emergency, but most of the time I don’t move in this part of the city.”

According to the woman, the driver of her vehicle assured her that they were only measuring demand and that possibly the vehicles that will arrive in the coming months will cover the so-called route of the three hospitals. But, distrustful, the people of Holguín prefer a bird in hand rather than the promise of several dozen in flight.

“We need 200 or 300 of these tricycles for this city to move again and for getting around to not be as agonizing as it is now,” the customer calculates. “But we also need large buses that transport more passengers at once because this, one little sip at a time, isn’t going to fix it,” the woman considers.

The same night, this Thursday, Holguín residents suffered a long blackout that lasted until dawn in numerous neighborhoods. Surely, as soon as the power supply was cut off, some of the first customers of the tricycles thought about the vehicles, connected, at the taxi agency, to a power outlet without power.

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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.

State Premises at Night, Small Private ‘MIPYMEs’ the Next Morning

In Holguín, as in the majority of the Island, private businesses are rapidly replacing dilapidated State warehouses

In another warehouse, which once was for the Holguín Beverage and Soft Drinks Company, the products of the Rey de Reyes mipyme* [MSME in English] are now exhibited. / 14ymedio
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel García, Holguín, 8 April 2024 — They go from being buildings with peeling facades to looking freshly painted, with bars on the windows and air conditioning inside. The process of leasing shops, offices and state warehouses to the mipymes* (MSMEs, or medium, small and micro-sized enterprises) in Holguín extends, as in Havana and other cities in Cuba, before the eyes of the residents of the city, who face the gradual privatization with expectations and doubts.

In front of the old vehicle workshop of the Comar Base Economic Unit, belonging to the Holguín Fisheries Company, this Friday morning a line of customers was waiting to enter. In the wide warehouse on Aricochea Street, between Maceo and Mártires, you can no longer hear the rattling of the faucets or perceive the smell of fat and fuel that characterized the place.

Now, after a capital remodeling, the Obra Real mipyme is there, with a wide assortment of food, toiletries and household items. In the line, some who arrive for the first time in front of the restored building are astonished. “I almost didn’t recognize it. I passed by here often, and it was covered in grease; it’s totally changed,” a man who was waiting to buy detergent told 14ymedio. continue reading

The warehouses of the Copextel company on the Central Highway, Holguín, have been leased to a mipyme / 14ymedio

Obra Real has four locations in the city of Holguin, and its catalog includes everything from packages of La Estrella brown sugar, imported from Panama, to fans that are recharged with small solar panels. “The prices are high, but right now I have to come here to buy flour because there is no bread in my bakery,” the man adds.

The bidding process for these private companies to rent a state premises continues to lack dissemination and transparency. “They told me that they are renting the space of the Copextel warehouse on the Carretera Central Calle Martí, in front of the Electric Company, but when I went to ask, they had already ’granted’ it to the owner of several motorcycle workshops,” an entrepreneur interested in the place who asked for anonymity tells this newspaper.

“In this city, when night falls, a space belongs to the State, and when you wake up the next day it’s now under the management of a mipyme but no one knows very well how,” he says. “The rumor is that donations must be made to hospitals and gifts to officials so that they put you on the list of beneficiaries.”

Another warehouse on Libertadores Avenue, where until a few years ago oxygen tanks were stored for patients who needed them, went from the hands of Public Health to the small private company DaSens, dedicated to the fabrication of cleaning and personal hygiene products. Now, with a blue awning at the entrance, it’s a rare day that there are not a dozen people waiting to enter.

Children’s colognes, hair dyes, household cleaners and dishwashers are part of the mipyme’s offers, most of them imported in bulk and packaged on the Island. At the entrance, the store has a sign of a smiling woman carrying a bag of newly purchased products. In the line of those waiting to enter, however, the faces do not seem as happy.

The place that belonged to the old bus terminal Santiago-Habana is now under private management / 14ymedio

“Before, these places were closed and not used. It’s good to give them to individuals so they can at least fix them up and sell something,” Lázara, a resident of Reparto Peralta, explains to this newspaper. “I’m here for a cologne for my grandson, but I don’t know whether I’m going to find it today because all the prices have gone up, and the mipymes take advantage of the fact that the state has almost nothing to sell.”

In another warehouse, which once belonged to the Company of Drinks and Soft Drinks of Holguín on the Central Highway at San Pablo Street, the products of the Rey de Reyes mipyme are now displayed. On one of its outside walls, a newly painted crown in red accompanies the name of the place. The detail does not go unnoticed by the buyers who arrive.

“We kings are going to have to be early to be able to buy anything, because you can come one day, you turn around, and the price has already increased by 50 or 100 pesos,” said a woman who carefully read the sign with the products and prices that is exhibited outside. “Of course, an employee of a mipyme might be rude, but they usually treat you better than the ones in the state stores.”

Among the “improvements” over the state shops, the woman says that “they have good refrigeration, and when you buy a chicken it’s hard as stone, not half thawed.” She adds that “the stores have air conditioning and refrigerators on display, and some have made large investments in signs and glass counters so you can really see the merchandise.”

However, the woman believes that they have also “copied some of the worst things from the state stores. They never give a discount even if the merchandise is about to expire. They use the formula of ’combos’ a lot to force you to buy products that do not interest you, because if you’re looking for a bottle of oil, then you have to include some instant drinks or a package of coffee.”

The building where oxygen tanks were stored for patients went from the hands of Public Health to the small private company DaSens / 14ymedio

The list goes on. The warehouse of the once-powerful Copextel, managed by the military and dedicated to computer products, has also been rented to a mipyme. Although on the facade it still says “integral solutions,” the inside points to more mundane merchandise. Boxes of chicken, packages of detergent and bags of rice now occupy the space that was once intended for computers, monitors and printers.

Despite the fact that its walls have not yet been painted, it’s just a matter of time before the current managers remodel the property and hang colorful posters outside. Once restored, people who pass by on the Central Highway will have no doubt. “Look, there’s another mypyme,” they will say, as is heard more and more in the neighborhoods of Holguín.

*Translator’s note: MIPYME = MIcro, PEequeña (small) Y (and) MEdium Enterprise

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 Pharmacy in Holguín Is Stoned in Protest Against 15-Hour Blackouts

TRD Latin America in the Alex Urquiola distribution in Holguín / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Holguín, Miguel García, 14 March 2024 — Popular discontent with the long blackouts is at the origin of several protests in the city of Holguín, where this Tuesday a pharmacy located at the intersection of Martí and Fomento streets was stoned. The event was confirmed to this newspaper by local sources, who also pointed out that last Thursday morning, the old Latin America foreign currency store in the La Colorá neighborhood had its windows broken.

This type of event, in addition to the cacerolazos — demonstrations where people beat on pots and pans — and an increase in police surveillance, are increasingly frequent in areas that experience the worst of the energy crisis, as reported by 14ymedio previously. Holguín is one of the provinces where long blackouts occur, which can last up to 15 hours in a single day.

A resident of the Alcides Pino popular council told this newspaper that since the power outages began, “incidents expressing discontent occur almost daily. They haven’t spilled into the streets, but there’s no shortage of cacerolazos when there’s no power. The discontent is widespread.”

As for the stores with broken windows, he says that the authorities have not stood idly by. “They are sending police and red berets (special security) at night to guard the foreign currency stores to prevent people from breaking windows. It’s not the first time that’s happened in Holguín,” he adds. continue reading

“There are also many patrols making rounds in the city and on Carralero Street”

“There are also many patrols making rounds in the city, on Carralero Street and in the Dagoberto Sanfield neighborhood, where one of the senior police commanders lives. In addition here are other military personnel, and there is always a patrol keeping watch as soon as night falls,” says the holguinero.

A woman in Holguín interviewed by 14ymedio asserts that, in addition, the long blackouts prevent the normal operation of any work center and are an obstacle to procedures of any kind. “My husband has been standing in line at the offices of the Ministry of the Interior for four days to change the official route for our pedicab, and he has not been able to, because when it’s his turn, the current goes off and service is interrupted,” she says.

“Life becomes difficult in many ways when the current goes off. There are parents who are not sending their children to school because, between the coming and going, the power goes out two or three times in the early hours of the morning, and neither they nor their children can sleep (without an electric fan). Not to mention the food. I know people who have chosen to cook with wood in the face of blackouts of more than 15 hours,” she says.

The other aggravating thing is that, “despite having so many hours of blackout, the cost of electricity continues to rise. It’s inconceivable!” she emphasizes. Last year, the official newspaper Ahora! published the results of a survey based on the complaints of many people in Holguin about the increase in their bills during July and August, despite power outages of 12 hours or more.

Latin America foreign currency store in the Alex Urquiola neighborhood in Holguín / 14ymedio

The response of the Electric Company at that time was that after the restoration of the current, when equipment is connected – mainly refrigeration – the consumption increases.

The holguinera also says that in some state centers there are on-call workers, as well as heads of the National Police Sector and State Security agents, “ready to take to the streets and repress.” The “order,” she explains, is to put down any demonstrations that expresses dissatisfaction with the regime.

On March 9, the cacerolazos began in Holguín after several days of power outages. The Manuel Angulo dental clinic in Pueblo Nuevo in the main municipality was stoned, and hours later it was under guard by State Security.

At the same time, another demonstration in the municipality of Florida, in Camagüey, managed to get the authorities to restore service, but not before assuring that everything remained “calm” in the neighborhood.

* Errata: Initially, the information reached 14ymedio’s Editorial Office and the testimonies on the ground spoke of stoning of the exterior windows of the Martí y Fomento Pharmacy, but on another visit to the place and thanks to the warning from our readers, we confirmed that, in that case, it had been an accident in which a car hit the windows.

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.

Long Blackouts in Cuba Provoke Popular Protests in Holguin and Camaguey

This Saturday night there were protests in Holguín and the municipality of Florida, in Camagüey, after the long blackouts of recent days on the Island / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel García, Holguín, 10 March 2024 — Cacerolazos* in several neighborhoods of the country and throwing stones at a State institution marked the protests that took place this Saturday night in cities such as Holguín and the municipality of Florida, in Camagüey, after the long blackouts that have occurred in recent years, lasting for days throughout the Island.

“The Manuel Angulo Dental Clinic in Pueblo Nuevo was hit with stones in the middle of the blackout, and in the 26 de Julio and Alcides Pino neighborhoods they ‘played cazuelas’* last night,” a Holguin resident described to 14ymedio.

“Last night all the police sector chiefs of the Popular Council of Pueblo Nuevo were on guard and ready to repress,” warns another neighbor, who also confirmed that the dental clinic that was stoned remains under State Security surveillance this Sunday.

A few videos that have come to light on social networks record some of the cacerolazos that took place on Saturday in Holguín. Currently, much of the city remains without electricity, so the mobile signal is weak or non-existent and users cannot publish images of the protests because they do not have an internet signal. continue reading

“The Manuel Angulo Dental Clinic in Pueblo Nuevo was hit with stones in the middle of the blackout and in the 26 de Julio and Alcides Pino deliveries they ‘played cazuelas’ last night

Other testimonies that reached the 14ymedio editorial office confirm that in the capital of Holguín the repressive forces of the regime continue to be “on guard” against the possibility of new protests emerging in the streets.

For his part, journalist Luis Tan Estrada confirmed on his Facebook page with several sources that, this Saturday night, several residents of the Camagüey municipality of Florida “took to the streets to protest in the midst of the blackouts.”

“Although the authorities of that territory tried to prove the opposite through posts on Facebook, the reality was different,” the reporter insisted when referring to a publication by the Party secretary of that municipality on the social network, in which she illustrated with some photos that the people were “enjoying the tranquility of my Cuba, free and sovereign.”

But in reality, Tan Estrada describes, his sources informed him that the atmosphere in Florida “got hot” and that shortly after the protest “they turned on the electricity.” Other reports also confirmed demonstrations in Batabanó, in the province of Mayabeque.

The blackouts will continue all day Sunday. The Electrical Union predicts for this day a deficit of 1,045 megawatts (MW) and an impact of 1,115 MW during peak hours. Last Friday, an impact of 1,566 megawatts was recorded at the time of maximum demand, an unprecedented number since the energy crisis worsened two years ago.

*Translator’s note: ‘Cacerola’ and ‘cazuela’ both translate as ‘pot’ and a ‘cacerolazo’ or ‘tocan cazuela’ where people bang on pots and pans is a common form of protest across Latin America.
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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 Single Meal a Day for the 76,175 Vulnerable Cubans Cared for by the State

Dining room of the Family Care System (SAF), La Guantanamera, on Miró Street between Agramonte and Morales Lemus in the city of Holguín

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel García, Holguín, 25 February 2024– This Friday, Tomás, 81 years old, felt lucky. “Today they did offer a strong course, a boiled egg, and there was pea soup that I brought home. With this cold weather, the body is asking for something like that,” he lists the food he bought at the dining room of the Family Care System (SAF) from the Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood in the city of Holguín. A subsidized trade network especially hit by the economic crisis that Cuba is going through.

“Normally, at the end of the month, there is always a shortage of protein and it is a miracle that there are still eggs”, explains Tomás to 14ymedio. For the price of 2.60 pesos per egg, the old man bought a boiled egg and also added a portion of white rice for 2.65 pesos, a portion of boiled cassava for 14.00 and a thin pea soup for 1.65. To accompany the menu, he added a soft drink, made with syrup, for 5.00 pesos.

“I don’t like to eat there, I prefer to bring food home and decide at what time to eat what,” he explains. In his humble kitchen, Tomás places the pots with the food he has bought at the SAF and decides what will be served for lunch and what he will save for dinner. He knows that he won’t have anything else to put in his mouth during the day, so he tries to organize himself.

Portion of food from a SAF canteen in Holguín this Friday: boiled egg, pea stew, boiled cassava and soft drink / 14ymedio

“Sometimes there is no protein, although in my dining room the workers are quite combative and they fight with the people of the municipality to send them supplies, but one can see that it is becoming more and more difficult for them to achieve this each time”. This month, Tomás has eaten an egg and a sausage similar to blood sausage as a main course. Fruits or vegetables haven’t arrived “for years”, he says. continue reading

“The workers make an effort, they buy the spices, many times out of their own pockets, so that it has some flavor”, adds Tomás, who has been eating at the SAF since 1996, when they began to operate. A physical disability, added to aging, has made him dependent for almost three decades on a mechanism that he prides himself on being the “founder” of, and being familiar with every detail of it: its best moments and its current deterioration.

In the entire province of Holguín there are more than 6,400 people who, like Tomás, receive a food ration through the SAF canteens, according to data published by the official press at the end of 2021, but the number may have grown significantly to the same extent that inflation and shortages increase. In Holguín’s capital, the number currently exceeds 3,500 registered people, distributed through 13 dining rooms.

“A few years ago, they gave us breakfast, lunch and dinner”, recalls the retiree, who has a pension of 1,543 pesos per month (a little more than five dollars at the informal exchange rate) and spends an average of between 20 and 25 pesos a day at the SAF. “They even used to sell snacks in that place, but all that changed when Raúl Castro took power in 2008. They began to slash what was deemed as ‘unnecessary expenses’ and we lost snacks and breakfast, leaving us with only one meal a day”.

Inés, 79 years old, does not remember those first moments of abundance in the SAF, because she only became a user of those canteens about four years ago, with the arrival of the pandemic. “My husband died and my pension is not enough for my meals. Just to get the rice, the oil and the seasonings, all the money would disappear and I would have nothing left for protein”, she says.

A social worker from Holguín noticed Inés’s vulnerability after several reports from neighbors. “They came and filled out a form that is in my file.  The form reached the Municipal Administration Council, where they approved me, but it took time. It took almost three months. They enrolled me in the Villanueva dining room, which is where I still am now”.

Inés had to prove that she did not have culinary implements to cook. Only then did she manage to benefit from the SAF canteens.  / 14ymedio

The 76,175 people registered in the SAF who attend 445 soup kitchens of this type in Cuba have had to go through this process, with greater or lesser speed. A service that is frequently criticized for the poor quality of its food preparation, which often lacks spices, oil or fats. The deterioration of the dishes is not only due to official shortages, but also to the looting of products carried out by the employees themselves, as this newspaper has echoed in previous reports.

“Everyone has to live, so, amid deliveries of ever-diminishing supplies and the need for employees to have some income, what reaches the plates is less and less,” Inés acknowledges. “I eat it because I don’t have anything else, but the food is not good, I don’t want to eat it, sometimes I even hold my breath while I chew it to avoid tasting it”.

“One requisite to be accepted in the SAF is not having cooking utensils: stove, pots, pans or anything like that. No gas stove or electric stove, you have to show that you cannot prepare the food you are going to consume”, explains the old woman. “You have to prove that you are a critical case, that you cannot work, nor do you have a family to take care of you.”

“Since I started eating there, I have lost almost 30 pounds, because what they sell is very little for each person and, of course, you can only buy one serving. It’s not that I can say ‘give me two eggs’ and I take them home, I get one and that’s what it is”, she points out. “The prices are still cheap, and the fear that other old people and I have is that they are about to raise everything”.

This week, fear has spread among people like Inés and Tomás, because the deepening of the economic crisis and the lack of foreign currency to purchase food abroad are pushing the SAF to the limit. “There was a meeting with an official from the provincial Gastronomy Company to talk about the future of the SAF,” says the woman.

“Since I started eating there, I have lost almost 30 pounds, because what they sell is very little for each person”

The manager warned the canteen employees that the import situation is critical, and the producers’ commitment to deliver food to serve vulnerable people is not being fulfilled. “We are studying other ways through the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) to collect food for the elderly in the area”, she said.

The allusion to involve the CDR’s in the collection of food, grains and other products to guarantee food in the SAF has generated deep concern. “At the moment they are working poorly, but at least they are there, I can’t imagine waking up without being guaranteed at least some watery peas and a little rice”, Inés fears.

“What they sell us now is not even enough for a cat, imagine for a person, but it’s something”, she concludes.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

The Youth Club in Cuba Ends a Project That Was More About Politics Than About Computers

In the neighborhood of Pueblo Nuevo in the city of Holguín, another Youth Club is experiencing deterioration and no longer provides services to the public. / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana / Holguín, Lucía Oliveira and Miguel García, 3 March 2024 — Where before there were tables with screens and keyboards, now there are boxes of vegetable oil, piles of spaghetti packages and bags of powdered milk piled up. Two of the most important buildings of the Youth Computer and Electronics Club in Holguín have been leased as warehouses to small private companies in the city. The initiative, originally created in 1987 to be the computer spearhead of the Cuban regime, has been in frank deterioration for years.

The economic crisis has hit the Youth Club network hard, because it needs frequent investments in computer equipment. “The machines are now very old, and  we piled up some of them in a corner because they don’t even turn on,” an employee of the Lenin neighborhood premises in this eastern Cuban city tells 14ymedio.

“It’s been months since we became a warehouse for the products of private businesses in the area,” the worker admits. “The management of the Holguín Youth Club must collect eight million pesos per month for services, but since we provide fewer and fewer of our own services to the population, we have to make money in a different way.”

Previously, the money was obtained from customers who paid for “machine time” by renting a computer for a few hours, which teenagers and children from nearby neighborhoods used mainly to play video games. But most of the money came from the State budget, which thought of this initiative as the “apple of their eye.” continue reading

“Any little kid now has a mobile phone that is much better than the computers we had here”

“We also offered antivirus updates, a copy of the Ecured encyclopedia and La Mochila* (an official alternative to the ‘weekly packet’ [a collection of TV shows, music and digital material, much of it from abroad]). In recent years we didn’t have much, especially after people were able to connect to Wi-Fi networks and the internet,” he emphasizes.

The arrival, in December 2018, of the web browsing service through mobile telephony seems to have struck a mortal blow to a Youth Club network that was initially designed to centralize the use of new technologies. “Any little kid now has a mobile phone that is much better than the computers we had here. If they don’t have one, they ask their parents or a friend and can download and play whatever they want.”

Despite its loss of social importance, the Youth Club for Computation and Electronics continues to be defined on its digital site as “a network of technological centers, with computer solutions” at the fingertips of any Cuban. It adds that it has “a wide portfolio of products and services,” but a tour of its Holguin center points in another direction.

The entity’s office in the Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood is closed. “We don’t have a reopening date at the moment,” a custodian tells this newspaper. “Perhaps when we reopen  there will be a store here because that’s what is being done with the others,” he says. Outside, the unpainted facade and a sign with faded colors are far from the impeccable presence that the Youth Club once had.

“All this fell out of favor with the departure of Fidel Castro from the leadership of the country, because everyone knows that this was a project of his”

“All this fell out of favor with the departure of Fidel Castro from the leadership of the country, because everyone knows that this was a project of his,” María Victoria Contreras, a worker for two decades at the Havana Youth Club, tells this newspaper. “I was among the founders, and I can say that here the resources were endless. Unlike other sectors, we lacked nothing.”

Contreras says that at first they had a lot of demand, “even a line outside, because almost no one had a computer at home, and the kids wanted to sit in front of a screen, touch a mouse. I saw many children play with a keyboard for the first time when I worked at the Club;  there are things you never forget.”

“The first Youth Club that was inaugurated was the one on N Street, between 21st and 23rd next to the Cuban Pavilion in Havana,” recalls the retiree. “The technology we had at that time was keyboards with monochrome screens, which was a success for us.” However, “now investments are needed to build this network, and the money no longer arrives as before.”

Yordanis, a teenager in the 80s, discovered his passion in those places after spending several hours in line to gain access. Now a graduate of computer engineering, he recognizes the importance of the Youth Club in his life but considers that the project “was not updated at the same pace as the technologies.” For this professional, “the infrastructure has not been modernized, internet access is poor,  and the user experience leaves a lot to be desired.”

The Youth Club of the Lenin neighborhood in Holguín has been converted into a merchandise warehouse for private businesses/ 14ymedio

“You can’t start a state-of-the-art video game on a computer where the mouse doesn’t work well, the keyboard lacks letters or the screen can’t support the definition of graphics for the current interfaces. It’s frustrating and, in addition, people don’t want others to be looking over their shoulder at what they’re doing,” he adds.

The Central Palace of Computing and Electronics, located at the intersection of Amistad and Reina streets in front of  Fraternidad Park, in Central Havana, is the largest installation of this type in the whole country. The property has undergone all kinds of transformations and different uses throughout its more than six decades of existence.

First, the colossal building was the headquarters of the American Sears chain in Havana. Nationalized after the coming to power of Fidel Castro in 1959, the place spent years closed to the public and converted into bureaucratic offices. In the 1980s it was inaugurated as the Centro market, a free trade experiment that lasted a short time and fell out of favor during the process of Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies of 1986.

The old Sears building experienced another period of closure until 1991, when it reopened its doors as a Computer Palace. “Its huge rooms and many floors were always too complicated for this new function because it has always seemed more like a large store than a place to go to use a computer,” acknowledges a founding worker of the place.

“As he did with other emblematic buildings of Havana, he decided that the old Sears was not going to be dedicated to consumption nor was it going to give one more peso to anyone”

“But Fidel wanted to teach a lesson to all those people who were going to stand in line at the Centro market in the early hours of the morning to buy and resell the jams, beers and tins of cumin on the black market,” he says. “As he did with other emblematic buildings in Havana, he decided that the old Sears was not going to be dedicated to consumption nor was it going to give one more peso to anyone.”

“In those days we also gave courses to learn how to use programs and other tools, we even had a Geroclub for older people who wanted to approach a computer for the first time, but that is no longer done,” the former employee tells 14ymedio. “This was a political project rather than a computer project. It was designed to create the “New Man” in computing, and that objective was lost.”

The former worker of the Youth Club believes that the extension of new technologies “changed everything.” Cubans “prefer to enjoy a movie, a game or a videoconference at home with some friends or sitting in a park, but those facilities are more and more abused every day and don’t even make you want to sit in one.”

“Now there are other priorities,” the employee summarizes. In the list of preferences, the new forms of economic management are winning over the old official programs, marked by massiveness and bulky budgets. The city of Holguín is going at full speed in that reconversion; where before it was about getting online to play games or program, now it’s about buying rice and liquid detergent.

*Translator’s note: *La Mochila (Backpack) contains official State content as opposed to El Paquete (the Weekly Packet), which contains non-political content and is bought on the black market.

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.

Bad Smells and Feces Floating at the Entrance Force the Closure of a Doctor’s Office in Holguin, Cuba

“Between the bad smells and the feces floating at the entrance, maintaining hygiene is impossible.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel García, Holguín, February 10, 2024 — “I don’t know what’s worse, the plague or the lack of attention,” says Clara, a few feet from Office 24 of the Pedro del Toro Saad health clinic in the city of Holguín. On the outskirts of the premises, located on the road to the Mirador de Mayabe, a fetid liquid springs up from the sewer pipes and accumulates at the entrance. The spillage began last December, less than six months after the property was subjected to a “capital repair.”

“Just when we were under the illusion of being able to have higher quality care, we began noticing how the entrance was filled with sewage,” explains Clara, a diabetic with high blood pressure who lives nearby. “The doctor and nurse immediately reported the problem, but there’s no way they can work there because it’s a health hazard. Between the bad smells and the feces floating at the entrance, maintaining hygiene is impossible.”

The spillage began last December, less than six months after the office was subjected to a “capital repair”. (14ymedio)

The Hilda Torres neighborhood clinic serves 1,032 patients in the area, including two pregnant women. After closing the premises, the health authorities referred the patients to Office 25, which is some 650 feet away, but the congestion in the consultation rooms and the excessive number of patients are detriments to the care that they can receive. “It’s not worth going there; it can’t cope with all the patients. You spend hours for nothing and have to go back home.” continue reading

A week ago, after many criticisms and complaints, a vehicle specialized in evacuating the contents of the septic tank arrived at Office 24. “It should have come several times because of the large volume of waste, but it only came once because there is no fuel,” complains another resident. “Everyone knows this; we have repeatedly called the Polyclinic, Hygiene and Epidemiology, and nothing happens.”

The Hilda Torres neighborhood clinic serves 1,032 patients in the area, including two pregnant women

With an aging population, the Hilda Torres neighborhood also has a rough topography. “People who are in a wheelchair, the elderly with walkers and all of us who suffer from a locomotion problem find it very difficult to get to the other office because there is a steep hill,” adds the neighbor. “But once you arrive, you have to arm yourself with patience because it is always full of people. I calculate that in total there are more than 2,000 people who are now served there.”

“Closed for hygiene.” What was one of the health pillars of the Island is going through difficult times due to lack of investments and the loss of qualified personnel. (14ymedio)

The Family Doctor program in Cuba, which was originally designed for each office to provide care to between 600 and 700 patients, has been deteriorating with the exodus of professionals, the departure of others on official missions abroad and infrastructure problems. What was one of the health pillars of the Island is going through difficult times due to lack of investments and the loss of qualified personnel.

On the road to the Mirador de Mayabe, the panorama could not be more emblematic of what is happening along the entire Island: a closed office, the sewer waters covering part of its entrance and the logo of a rod with a coiled snake still hanging on the facade of the installation. The reptile seems to be lying in wait for the moment when the waste extraction vehicle comes back and patients can return to the benches, stretchers and blood pressure monitors.

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.

Not Even the ‘Integrated’ Neighborhoods in Cuba Are Saved From Garbage Piles Everywhere

The volume accumulated in the containers is such that it would take several days of work and trucks to clean it up completely. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel García, Havana, 15 January 2024 — Not even the Cuban military are saved from the mountains of garbage that are seen everywhere on the Island. The neighborhoods of Villanueva 2 and Villanueva 3, in the city of Holguín, where hundreds of workers of the Ministry of the Interior reside, is about to be swallowed up by the mountains of waste that accumulate around it. Despite the fact that a few days ago the Comunales [Communal Services] company collected part of the waste, the accumulated volume is such that it would take several days of work and countless trucks to clean it up completely.

Bags flying in the wind, several vehicle beds full of waste and a rotten smell that floods the air is the panorama facing the neighbors in the morning when they leave their homes. “You can’t even have the windows open because the flies get everywhere,” complained a resident in the area, located behind the Pedro del Toro Polyclinic of the Pueblo Nuevo People’s Council. “This started as a little bit of garbage but now it already occupies the space of several buildings.”

The nearby buildings, most of them five floors erected by residents, are of recent construction, and in them, in addition to members of the Ministry of the Interior, live some doctors and people from Holguin who lost their homes during the passage of Hurricane Ike  in 2008 and had to wait more than ten years for a new home. “This is a very politically integrated neighborhood, and people are fuming because we have been abandoned,” a neighbor explained to 14ymedio. continue reading

A few meters from the garbage dump, the facilities of an organoponic nursery languish due to the lack of supplies and the absence of personnel interested in working there due to the low salary. (14ymedio)

“When we moved here, this was supposed to be a neighborhood that was going to have special attention but everything has  deteriorated,” claims the holguinera. A few meters from the garbage dump, the facilities of an organoponic nursery languish due to the lack of supplies and the absence of personnel interested in working there due to the low salary.

In March 2021, a report on official television boasted of the resurgence of the organoponics system in the province. The report attributed the revival to the new economic measures, which allowed wages to go above 2,000 pesos and, in addition, the division of profits resulting from the sale of products. In the images disseminated there was no shortage of lettuce, radishes and chives, all freshly grown and available to customers.

Two years later, an entourage led by Ernesto Santiesteban Velázquez, first secretary of the Communist Party in Holguín, visited the surroundings of Villa Nueva 3 where an organoponic nursery was built that would be baptized with the optimistic name of “New Dawn.” The official inspected the areas for the cultivation of vegetables and fruits.

However, this January, instead of the promised cucumbers and kidney beans, the most common product on the lands adjacent to Villa Nueva 2 and 3 was garbage. The harvest of filth is the only one that seems to grow stronger and over-fulfill the plans for this neighborhood.

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.

Child Beggars, a Growing Problem in the Cuban City of Holguin

Children enter and leave a private business during the day and at night. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miguel García, Holguín, January 6, 2024 — The youngest is called El Gatico [The Kitten] because he can sneak through any hole, jumps over walls and appears in the most unexpected places. She responds to the name of Rosita, and from the age of five she has been asking for money on the streets of Holguín. She and other children have formed a group who wander in the cafes, bars and restaurants.

In the private Bolas Bar, located in the popular neighborhood of Pueblo Nuevo, they move between the tables, get on top of the customers begging them to share some of their food or, instead, to slip some bills in their hands. Rare is the day when these children with emaciated bodies and worn clothes, undermined by malnutrition, do not appear in the area.

Despite their young ages, which range from six to 14 years old, the children who make up this group sleep many nights on the street. Their parents, some alcoholics, others ill with HIV and all very poor, urge them to look outside their homes for everything that can help them survive on a day-to-day basis. Food, money, some clothes torn from a clothesline or a light bulb stolen from a doorway: everything works for them.

Sometimes, those who are there eating and drinking give them a soft drink. (14ymedio)

“This is one of the most critical cases in Holguín, and the State does nothing about it despite the reports we have made,” says Marcia, a social worker who investigated the situation of the children and presented a report on their vulnerability. “These children have been in this situation for years; the girl has been begging on the street since she was five years old. At first they were with an adult, but now that she is 11, she goes alone.” continue reading

“Someone passed through Pueblo Nuevo and took a photo of Rosita sleeping on the street after midnight. She goes to elementary school, but in the afternoons and evenings she dedicates herself to begging. Many times she goes barefoot because she doesn’t even have shoes,” says the social worker. “In these days when the temperatures dropped, they were without coats, with very few clothes.”

Several complaints to the local authorities have ended in evasive and bureaucratic responses. “Once they fined Rosita’s mother, but that’s not what needs to be done. She is also a victim. What is needed is to help that family, support them and get that girl and everyone else off the streets before a tragedy occurs,” the woman points out.

Several complaints to the local authorities have ended in evasive and bureaucratic responses

As the days go by, some try to help by buying the children in the group some food or giving them some Cuban pesos, but the fear of the majority is that “their numbers are increasing,” says a neighbor of Pueblo Nuevo. “The one you see there has already formed his own group of children to ask for money; before he belonged to the one his brother created,” he explains to this newspaper. “That other one is not from this neighborhood but arrived and now sleeps in the doorways.”

Children between six and 14 years old are in this situation of begging. (14ymedio)

“They don’t want people to take photos because they obviously don’t want to be identified. They climb the balconies of the buildings. The Directorate of Attention to Minors of the Ministry of the Interior and the Prosecutor’s Office know about these cases, because the social workers have denounced this a lot, and both the Communist Party and the local government are aware,” says Marcia.

“The life that Rosita and El Gatico are leading, in addition to the other children, is known to everyone, but there’s a lot of talk and little action,” she says bitterly. Between the walls, wine red, of the Bolas Bar, a little one stretches his hand and asks for a soft drink from a customer who is eating there with his family. After receiving a bottle of lemon soda, the child takes a long drink and runs away.

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.