In Cuba the Lowly Cucumber Is Becoming More Expensive Every Day

One of the cheapest vegetables in produce markets has gone from 50 to 300 pesos in the span of a year.

This week, cucumbers at the produce market at 19th and B streets in Havana’s Vedado district rose to 300 pesos a pound. / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, May 26, 2024 — Appreciated by some and disdained by others, the cucumber can cause a pitched battle at the dinner table if there are any of its staunch detractors are there. But, until recently, it mostly went unnoticed. And then its price spiked.

This week, cucumbers in the produce market at 19th and B streets in Havana’s Vedado district rose to 300 pesos a pound. Available in medium and large sizes, the shiny specimens on display at one of the best stocked markets in the Cuban capital garner attention for reasons other than their attractive presentation. “I don’t know if I’m here or in Dubai, because, at this price, it doesn’t seem like we’re in Cuba,” a customer complained on Friday.

“I don’t know if I’m here or in Dubai, because, at this price, it doesn’t seem like we’re in Cuba,” a customer complained on Friday

Just a year ago, the price of cucumbers at this same market was 50 pesos a pound. Why is it that it now costs six times more than it did just twelve months ago? The answer points to the country’s pervasive inflation, which has raised the cost of living, especially food. “With the price of vegetables these days, you can’t afford to eat healthy,” says the woman. continue reading

“In the past I’ve bought tomatoes when they were in season. And at my house we really like avocados in the summer. But lately I’ve been switching over to cucumbers because for me, they’re a better deal.” According to this consumer, they offer some practical advantages that make cooking easier. “They last a long time if you store them properly in the refrigerator. You can cut off one piece to make a salad and save the rest for another meal.”

Still, the cucumber has ardent opponents in virtually every home. “My son doesn’t like it because he says it gives him digestion problems,” the woman admits. “My grandmother showed me how to avoid this by first cutting off the ends and rubbing them against the cucumber. You also have make some grooves in it with a fork,” she explains.

Along with sweet potato and pumpkin — the most complete and cheapest food items provided by many private businesses — the cucumber is the item most often left uneaten on dining hall trays and in cardboard boxes. While diners are quick to devour “congris,” the very thin pork cutlet that looks like it was cut with a laser rather than a knife, they disdain the slices of the squash with the very white seeds.

Graphic showing the cost of cucumbers in the produce market at the corner of 19th and B streets in Havana’s Vedado district / 14ymedio

Though they may avoid it when it shows up on their plates, many people use it on their faces, prepare concoctions with it to hydrate their skin, or put it in pitchers of water to drink when dieting. Self-care has elevated it to the category of a miracle drug that both removes bags under the eyes and makes dull hair shiny.

“I buy it for my mother but nobody else in my house will eat it,” admits a young man who has just paid 370 pesos for three cucumbers at the market known as La Boutique. “You can’t buy tomatoes because they’re very bad at this time of year, lettuce and chard season is already over and avocados are just starting to come to market so the price is sky-high. All that’s left is the cucumber.”

“My mom sometimes makes pickles. Recently she has been obsessed with the idea that we have to prepare food that doesn’t require refrigeration because, with these power outages, everything spoils,” the young man says. “I don’t like it, because when I was I was at school they gave it to me in the morning and in the afternoon. But I will eat it in a pinch.” He adds, of course, he prefers it with some oil, vinegar. “And if you can put a few slices of onion on top, even better.”

Without even trying, the young man has assembled a list of ingredients that would now cost any Cuban home in the three figures to prepare. A dish worthy of someone on a Dubai budget.

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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.

Nothing At the New Ten Cent Store in Havana is Available for Ten Cents, Only for Hundreds or Thousands

Curious locals waiting outside the store / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, May 20, 2024 — The new store at 704 Carlos III Street in Central Havana has been causing quite a stir. It opened today with an array of merchandise worthy of New York or Los Angeles and with prices to match. Though it is managed by a private company, it shares its premises with a state-run pharmacy.

With Cuba in the middle of a sweltering heat wave, the clean windows, newly installed signage and the promise of air-conditioning were enough to attract some curious onlookers this morning. In a nod to one of the most iconic Havana stores of the 1950s, the store’s management company, Mexohabana, has repurposed the Ten Cent brand name for its storefront.

In addition to a wide assortment of cheeses — they range from the well-known gouda to mozzarella to the exquisite parmesan — the store also sells oatmeal cookies, chorizo, Iberian ham and numerous products labeled “made in USA.”

“It’s obvious this is for people with money,” said a neighbor from a nearby building who had been eagerly anticipating this day. Local residents have been waiting for the store to open for two months, since the beginning of March, when word began to spread that the existing state-owned establishment would be sharing its space with a private one.

“It came out very nice and it looks like they invested a lot of money on the decor. If feels like you’re entering another country,” said the woman, who ultimately left empty-handed. Near her, a man was buying two one-kilogram packages of rice, some sliced ham, some ground cumin and some wheat bran crackers. For the few items that easily fit inside his medium-sized shopping bag, he spent more than 4,500 pesos. continue reading

“Nothing here costs ten cents. It’s all hundreds or thousands,” said another customer, who was buying a small lighter for 400 pesos. Those with more money to spend received a complimentary Chupa-Chupa* on opening day. But as one of the employees pointed out, it would cost 50 pesos if they wanted another.

“It all looks very American. There are lots of jams, dressings, sauces and cookies,” one woman told her friend, who preferred to wait outside because the place was already packed with people. “The service is good,” she reported back, “but from the moment you walk in they start asking you if you want something. I was feeling a little pressured. I’d rather have more time to look around before I decide.”

What was obvious to anyone entering the store was that the the Ten Cent name is just a marketing gimmick. This establishment bears no relationship to the low-cost subsidiaries of the North American parent company, F. W. Woolworth Company, that were so popular in Havana in the first half of the 20th century. The only thing that remains of their attractive prices is the memory.

The part of the building that still operates as a drug store seemed like the far side of the moon on Monday compared its neighbor. While the pharmacy’s employee responded with a negative monosyllable to anyone who dared inquire about medications for blood pressure, allergies or nerves, a sign at the adjoining private business urged customers to “eat and drink for life is short!”

Their respective clientele were also very different. While the people mulling outside Ten Cent sported imported clothing and footwear, sunglasses and even a hint of perfume, those headed to the dispensary were in much more modest clothing and carried worn-out bags over their shoulders. A few inches apart, the social differences were all too glaring.

“And what’s this?” asked an elderly man as he happened upon the new private-sector business. The man, who had not walked through the building’s wide covered arcade for months, was amazed at “the resources devoted to this.” But even astonishment was not enough motivation for him to check it out. “Why go in only to leave empty-handed?” he asked.

Two teenagers passing by could not resist the temptation. For a few brief minutes inside Tent Cent, they were able to escape the intense heat outside. They cast their eyes over the well-stocked shelves and salivated over the steaks and ground meat, which they had probably never seen in quite this way in their entire lives. The also laughed at a slice of blue cheese that was worth several thousand Cuban pesos.

*Translator’s note: A Spanish-brand lollipop.

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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 Massive Exodus Leaves Cuba with an Abundance of Secondhand Clothes and Home Appliances

“What’s for sale now are the belongings of local people who are leaving and can’t take everything with them”

When garage sales became legal three years ago, it allowed many business which had been operating on an informal basis to do so legally.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 18 April 2024 — Women’s purses, babies’ shoes and several small home appliances are piled up on one of the tables. “These items have just come in and I haven’t had a chance to organize them yet,” the saleswoman tells a young customer, pointing to the Oster blender in a corner of a store operating out of a garage in Havana’s Vedado district.

“If you want, I can show you the cookware catalogue,” the vendor adds as she opens some black bags containing children’s books, household accessories and a huge teddy bear with a red heart in the middle of its chest. “Give me your number and I’ll send you photos through WhatsApp. We have flat screen TVs, Bluetooth speakers and a couple of microwaves. All used but in good condition.”

Cinthya, a 38-year-old woman who has been selling secondhand goods for three years, has never had so much merchandise. “I’m not accepting anything else until I can get rid of what I already have. Business is very slow. What used to sell in a few days now takes weeks or even months,” she says.

“I have a network that alerts me when a family is getting ready to leave”

Cynthia and her husband, who drives a Ural motorcycle with sidecar inherited from his father, visit houses to evaluate everything from pots and pans to bottles of water that she might be able to sell later. “I have a network that alerts me when a family is getting ready to leave. But I only take on serious clients, people who have been recommended.”

There has long been a market for secondhand goods in Cuba, a country that has lurched from one crisis to another for decades. This type of business has not always been legal, however. When authorities lifted restrictions on privately run garage sales three years ago, it allowed many businesses which had been operating on an informal basis to do so legally. continue reading

“People associate secondhand goods with out-of-date clothing like what used to be sold in ‘trapi-shopping’ stores,” says Cynthia, referring to state-run retail outlets common throughout the island in the late 20th century that sold low-quality, government-imported clothes. “What’s for sale now are the belongings of local people who are leaving and can’t take everything with them.”

“At first, I accepted everything I saw and lost a lot of money. But now my husband and I only buy what we know will sell,” she explains. “We make sure to test the appliances. They can’t have dents or scratches. And no equipment cobbled together with pieces from here and there.”

“Modern televisions, bedding and towels in perfect condition, cutlery, pots and pans, clothes”

Cynthia notes in her catalogue that she prefers “modern televisions, bedding and towels in perfect condition, cutlery, pots and pans, clothes.”

“People start out wanting to sell their house and everything in it so they can leave the country. Then they realize it would take too long if they wait for the house to sell first and then auction off the furnishings and equipment later,” explains Cinthya. “That’s when we come in. We go and evaluate what they want to sell.”

Other vendors buy secondhand items from markets in nearby Panama, Mexico or Florida for resale on the island. “Nowadays, it’s really hard to turn a profit in the used-goods business,” admits Leo, a young “mule” who lives in Taguasco, a town in Sancti Spíritus province.

“I have my contacts in Panama and a few years ago I got a visa that allowed me to take frequent shopping trips. I was able to ship back some secondhand goods as unaccompanied baggage. But now there is so much stuff for sale here that I’d rather focus just on clothing and new shoes,” he says.

“The owners themselves try to sell everything before they leave they leave [the country] on the [humanitarian] ‘parole’ program or by some other way,” says the Sancti Spíritus resident, who prefers to remain anonymous. There are a lot of people in this situation, trying to get rid of a washing machine, a refrigerator or children’s clothes. I knew some people who even sold a toilet bowl before getting on the plane.”

“The most problematic items are mobile phones, computers and other electronic devices”

Leo believes that, although secondhand electronics are cheaper than comparable, brand-new products sold in MLCs — the island’s hard-currency retail stores — buyers remain very leery. “They know that the person who sold you the audio equipment won’t be here next week when it stops working and you want your money back.”

“The most problematic items are mobile phones, computers and other electronic devices that require skill and knowledge to figure out if they have a problem invisible to the naked eye,” he explains. “I tried doing this myself for awhile until I had an issue with a tablet I bought from a someone who left for Nicaragua. I sold it to a neighbor and it didn’t even last three days. That’s when I got out.”

“In addition to what I bring back from Panama, I deal in secondhand restaurant and business utensils. Mainly prep tables, table and chair sets, forks, spoons, knives, glasses. I’ve even sold bar counters.” As Leo points out, all these objects have one thing in common. “No cables or light bulbs so no surprises. What you see is what you get. You don’t have to worry that it won’t turn on one day.”

A few steps below Leo’s operation, arranged very informally, are items for sale that have been with Cuban families for generations. Coffee cups that belonged to the clan’s matriarch, pillows on which dozens of heads have rested and living room sets in need of some glue and new rattan.

Countless belongings, once destined to remain with their owners for the rest of their lives but which, because of the migratory stampede, have ended up in garage sales or ads on some digital website. They carry descriptions that reveal their histories and their owners’ desperation to make some money off them before they leave, or rather before they are able to leave.

“I am selling an orange juicer, twelve ceramic plates brought back from the GDR [German Democratic Republic] in the 1980s, a glass tray that is used for the oven and an electric toaster, all for 10,000 pesos,” reads a Facebook post. “The tableware is very pretty, with plates and bowls. It has sentimental value for me so I hope whoever buys it will take good care of it.”

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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 Pastry Chef Quit So I Closed the Business’

Deciding not to rely on a hired employee puts limitations on private businesses / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, April 10, 2024 — Regular customers of a privately owned bakery on San Lázaro Street in Central Habana were surprised this week to see the owner of the business both kneading dough and working the counter. “The cook left the country so this is now a one-woman show,” explains the entrepreneur, one of many who have been hit by the exodus affecting Cuba’s private-sector economy.

“This is the third cook I’ve lost since I opened,” says the woman, who owns a shop specializing in breads, desserts and cookies. “He was making money here but, of course, it doesn’t compare… He had signed up for the US humanitarian parole program* last year and they just told him that it had been granted. From the time he found out until the time he left was less than a week. I didn’t have time to look for someone else.”

The employee’s departure has had a very negative impact on the bakery’s profits. “I can no longer take orders for weddings or parties because I can’t keep up. Also, I have had to limit the types of bread that I sell. I’ve lost thousands of pesos in a few days compared to the sales I had in previous months.” continue reading

To avoid unwelcome surprises after training an employee in the ins-and-outs of their operations, many small and medium-sized business owners prefer to rely on their own family members. “Here we have my wife, my two daughters and me,” says Luis Mario, owner of a shop specializing in birthday buffets in Havana’s Cerro district. “I feel more secure because nothing happens from one day to the next without me finding out about it.”

Last year, we  hired a courier. If he made ten deliveries a day, it was a lot. One day, I come into work only to find out that he had left [for Nicaragua] on the ’volcano route’”

Last year, we  hired a courier. If he made ten deliveries a day, it was a lot. One day, I come into work only to find out that he had left [for Nicaragua] on the ‘volcano route‘,” he says. “I had to make the rest of the home deliveries that week, and I then decided that I wasn’t going to hire anyone else who could leave me in the lurch overnight.”

He notes, however, that his two daughters are awaiting approval of their “humanitarian parole” application from the United States, but that he will find out “well before they get on the plane.” If the two young women do manage to emigrate with their respective husbands and children, he and his wife will join them later. “When that time comes, I will liquidate everything and close up shop. But initially, when my daughters are no longer here, I will have to limit the number of orders I can accept.”

The strongest impacts of this massive flight occur when the émigré fulfills a specialized role: technicians in assembly or repair of equipment, chefs, nurses, pastry chefs, designers and other positions that require training and experience. “The pastry chef and the accountant left me, so right now my business is closed,” laments Yusimí, owner of a cafeteria in Nuevo Vedado, municipality of the Plaza de la Revolución.

“The pastry chef was very good and young, the truth is that it seemed like a miracle that he was still in Cuba and now the miracle is over.” The employee who was in charge of accounting and invoices was a friend of the owner of the establishment since they were teenagers. “I can’t even be annoyed with either of them because I completely understand that they want to prosper out there and achieve their dreams, but I recognize that this has sunk me. I don’t know if I will be able to reopen.”

“Do you plan to leave the country soon?” they asked María Eugenia, 57, when she went to a home in El Vedado for an advertisement to care for a bedridden elderly woman

Among the questions that have been repeated most frequently in job interviews for months is, inevitably, the one that inquires about emigration: “Do you plan to leave the country soon?” María Eugenia, 57, was asked when she went to a home in El Vedado for an advertisement to care for a bedridden elderly woman. “I don’t like to lie, so I told them that my son had started the family reunification process for me to go to the United States,” she explains.

“And then the interview was over,” she concludes. “They were kind, but they told me that they couldn’t hire me because the lady was going to get used to me, she was going to get attached to me and, in the end, I was going to stay a short time.” But María Eugenia believes that this requirement is excessive: “Who right now in Cuba, at the age of being able to work, does not have some plan to leave here?” and she herself answers: “It could be a crazy plan, but you have one.”

“The best team is the one that is made up of only one,” says Fernando, a technician in installation and repair of air conditioning and refrigerators. “I worked for a couple of years with my son but now he is living in Las Vegas, I haven’t wanted to hire any other assistant because this is almost like a marriage, you have to adjust to the other person, synchronize yourself. If they leave you later, you’re lost.” Deciding not to have an employee brings limitations.

Fernando concludes: “There are jobs that I cannot accept or I have to ask the client who hires me for help, but I prefer to go through that and not spend a day taking the tools on my motorcycle, a previous commitment to install air conditioning and an assistant who doesn’t arrive because he’s at the airport waiting to get on a plane.”

Translated by Anonymous and 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.

The Mountains of Garbage Cause Distress Over the The State’s Inefficiency

In the neighborhood of Luyanó, residents scattered the garbage until it blocked the street; in other areas of Havana they have set fire to the mountains of trash

Blocking the passage of cars with the trash from the garbage dump on Reforma Street, corner of Rodríguez in Luyanó, has been a way to draw attention to the matter / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 9 April 2024 — A narrow path for motorcycles and bicycles was all that was left this Monday on Reforma Street, at the corner of Rodríguez in Luyanó, Havana. A neighbor, annoyed by the trash that had been accumulating there for weeks, spread it around until it created a barrier that prevented the access of vehicles, one of the many ways in which Cubans are protesting the collapse of the garbage collection system.

From the balconies, some encouraged the man to place branches, boxes and bags of waste to totally block traffic. “Do it, go on, let’s see if they’ll come now!” a woman shouted indignantly, adding: “This has never happened before in this neighborhood, not even in the worst times!” The exclamations of other people reinforced the situation of despair that has taken over the habaneros, who have been living amidst dirt and trash for months.

“The cars have to turn because when they approach the corner they realize they can’t get through,” says Adela, a neighbor who watched everything from the door of her house on the ground floor. “This is not against anyone in particular. There are people who live on this block and have not been able to get their cars out. Maybe they’ll listen to us and remove all that crap.” continue reading

Part of the garbage dump on the corner of Estancia and Conill, in Nuevo Vedado, Havana, was reduced to ashes / 14ymedio

A few meters from there, a day before, “they set fire to the garbage on Rodríguez and Villanueva Street,” a resident tells 14ymedio. The blue wall behind the hill of trash was scorched this Monday after the flames burned for a long time and reduced part of the trash to ashes, especially the dry leaves, pieces of wood and cardboard. “After a while the firefighters and even the police came, but the Communal Services Company never came to pick all this up. They asked if anyone saw who lit the match, but no one said anything. People are very pissed off, and even the most decent person may be the one who started the fire, because we are all desperate.”

In Nuevo Vedado, the garbage dump on Estancia and Conill Street also went up in flames on Saturday afternoon. In that same block, on the opposite corner, the hill of debris and trash that has not stopped growing for more than a year and a half was set on fire last January, although the Comunales company has made some sporadic attempts to eliminate it.

Among those who live nearby, the shared opinion is that neither of the two incidents was accidental. “Setting the garbage on fire is a way to attract attention,” says a neighbor of nearby Marino Street. “They only come to pick it up when a fire is reported; they arrive after the firefighters, if they arrive at all, but for sure they won’t come if nothing happens.”

Among those who live nearby, the shared opinion is that neither of the two incidents was accidental

In Holguín, this Sunday night the panorama was similar. When it got dark, a fire started in the garbage dump of the Villa Nueva 3 neighborhood, where mainly officers and members of the Ministry of the Interior reside. “My wife called the firefighters, and they told her that the fire was already reported. We could see five different points where it was burning,” says Luis, a resident in the area.

“The stench was the worst part, but people seemed almost happy, because they thought that now the problem would be solved,” he explains. The next morning, the huge garbage dump was still in place, blackened by the fire but intact in its smell and size.

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.

The Rich Are Also Fleeing Cuba, Selling Their Properties at a Discount

Even some of the gigantic mansions in Siboney confiscated by the Revolution are for sale.

The island’s residential real estate market is saturated due to a mass exodus that is bleeding the country dry / Houses and Apartments for Sale in Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya/Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 3 April 2024 — Juan Carlos divides his time between Milan and Havana. The 52-year-old’s children, wife and parents all live in Italy but, for more than two years, he has been trying to sell an old mansion in Havana’s Vedado district which has caused him “more headaches than happiness.” Located a few yards from Línea Street, the house was a project that fulfilled a life-long dream that, as he puts it, “blossomed then failed.”

In the late 1990s, Juan Carlos received a scholarship to study art at an Italian university. When he left José Martí International Airport, he knew there was no going back and that he had to make a life for himself outside the island. “I had always lived with my parents and my sisters in a small apartment, so from a very young age my dream was to have my own home, one that was spacious, bright and had an area I could use as my studio.”

Ultimately, Juan Carlos married an Italian woman and, in 2014, began the process of repatriating to Cuba. He had lost his residency status after not visiting his country for several years. “There was a lot of excitement and several of my artist and designer friends were part of a wave of people getting Cuban identity cards again.”

One of the benefits of having Cuban residency is the ability to buy a house. “At the time, my wife and I were making good money. Her father had also died and left her a sizable inheritance so we decided to buy the place in Vedado. It was my life-long dream and I was finally able to make it come true.” continue reading

One of the benefits of having Cuban residency is the ability to buy a house. “It was my life-long dream and I was finally able to make it come true.”

One of the benefits of having Cuban residence is the ability to buy a house. “At the time, my wife and I were making good money. Her father had also died and left her a sizable inheritance so we decided to buy the place in Vedado. It was my life-long dream and I was finally able to make it come true.”

Juan Carlos reports that it cost almost as much to repair the house as it did to buy it. Other problems cropped up once constrution was underway: rusted beams, dampness in the walls, issues with the concrete. They even had to redo some of the column capitals. “They started coming apart as we were painting them.”

The process was long and costly. “I had to go to Cuba five times a year so, in addition to construction expenses, there was the cost of airline tickets. It seemed like the house was eating money. Every month we spent thousands of dollars to restore and maintain it. We had to hire two custodians to make sure our building materials weren’t stolen.”

Finally, in April 2022, six years after buying the house, the work was done.

Apartments are also for sale in Havana’s legendary Focsa Building, one of the city’s most stylish when it was completed in 1956 / 14ymedio

Juan Carlos describes it as “a dream come true.” But, by then, he no longer wanted to own property in Cuba. “I had spent long periods in Havana and everything was deteriorating a lot. I thought about how to make some money out of it, maybe by renting it to a diplomat, or to an entrepreneur who wanted to open a restaurant. But I realized that doing that would have meant spending all my time keeping an eye on the place because [as the old saying goes] ’it’s the owner’s eye makes the horse fat.’”

In May of that same year, he decided to put the newly furnished home up for sale. The problem now, however, is that no one wants to buy it. “I have to list it with several real estate agencies and I’ve also dropped the price several times. I am currently asking $150,000 for everything but it’s been two years and, so far, there are no takers.” The island’s residential real estate market is saturated due to the mass exodus that is bleeding the country.

A quick look at local real estate listings says it all. A colonial-style house in Vibora Park that has been outfitted to operate as a nightclub, described as “a golden opportunity,” is on the market for $60,000, with 80% its contents included (“from wines to coffee makers,” the listing states). A 120-square-meter apartment in Vedado with seaside views is for sale at $80,000. A “recreation estate” with a four-bedroom house and a 1,450-square-meter extension is available for $50,000.

Though many of the listings do not indicate prices, there are lots of photos suggesting a high degree of luxury

Other listings suggest there has been some haggling going on. The asking price for penthouse in Vedado, covered in marble and with the ocean below — its elderly owner is also visible in the photos — has gone from $270,000 to $190,000.

Though many of the listings do not indicate prices, there are lots of photos suggesting a high degree of luxury, most of them taken after obviously expensive remodelings. One of them is a 1950s property in Nuevo Vedado with seven bedrooms, four bathrooms, a patio, terrace and jacuzzi. Then there is one of the spacious apartments in the Geralt Sisters Building, completed in 1958 with all the latest amenities of its era. Its exterior is now falling to pieces after years of neglect.

One of the problems when selling these houses is that anyone who dares set foot in the neighborhoods where they are located is scared away. This is the case with an apartment in San Lázaro. Advertised as a “luxury penthouse with ocean views in the heart of the city” in Central Havana, it is surrounded by ruined buildings and piles of garbage on every street corner.

Another quirk of the saturated real estate market is that now even the enormous mansions in Siboney, which were confiscated after Cuban Revolution by the regime’s leaders, are up for sale. The problem here is that, because they were nationalized after their original owners were exiled, they could be subject to future lawsuits.

Rita, a Cuban who works as a private residential real estate agent, explains the situation: “Before, these types of properties were handled with some discretion by an agency. Now, the owners are so desperate to sell that they post the listings themselves on Facebook for all to see.”

“I’m not going back to Cuba, which means I will lose my residency status once I have been out of the country for twenty-four months, but I don’t care anymore”

What owners like Juan Carlos want is to move their money out of Cuba. “It’s a large amount and I will have a lot of problems when the time comes. But everyone is in the same boat. They want hard currency and they want it to take overseas,” he says.

His plan is to wait a few months, then reduce the price. He does not plan on going back to Cuba once the property is sold. “I will lose my residency status once I have been out of the country for twenty-four months but I don’t care anymore,” he says.

“I thought my sons would grow up in this house, that Cuba would grow and move forward, but I was wrong. Between one thing and another, this venture has cost me and my wife more than a quarter million dollars,” says Juan Carlos, who has some mixed feelings about his house. “It’s very pretty. In Milan a house like this would have cost me a fortune but now no one wants to live in Cuba now.”

With its stained glass windows, long marble staircase, imported black granite in the kitchen, stately bathtubs and enormous mirrors in the living room, the mansion — like so many other Cuban properties whose owners once dreamed of living and growing old on the island — is still on the market, waiting for a buyer.

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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.

At 140 Pesos a Bunch, the Price of Carrots on the Streets of Havana Has Doubled in One Year

A “mountain” of carrots on Valle Street, near Trillo Park in Central Havana, on Saturday / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, March 30, 2024 — On Saturday morning a man leaned over a mountain of carrots placed on Valle Street, near Trillo Park in Central Havana. At 140 pesos a bunch, the price was slightly lower than what the city’s private vendors were charging but far from the 70 pesos that was the going rate in the same spot in late March 2023, or the 80 pesos at the market on 19th and B streets in Vedado, based on weekly figures compiled by 14ymedio. Known jokingly as “La Boutique,” the market on 19th and B streets can induce approach-avoidance conflict in Havana residents. It is common knowledge that, within its perimeter, you can find not only the highest produce prices in the city but also best quality and widest variety of merchandise, a stark contrast to the many stunted cassavas and sickly tomatoes for sale at other private markets and state-run establishments.

Fruits such as soursop and star apple, which are never seen in other stores, can frequently be found at La Boutique. Plastic shopping bags here are in short supply but can be had if you are willing to pay extra for them. Domestically grown grapes, mameyes for smoothies and tamarind paste stand ready to go into a refreshing juice drink. Imported heads of garlic, with cloves four times the size of the local variety, are among the items for sale here.

Nearby, there is no shortage of unlicensed vendors selling lobsters, shrimp and a wide variety of fish filets. There is also an abundance of drivers, ready to deliver a client’s purchases to his or her door, as well as currency exchangers who can swap out a bagfull of Cuban bills for a hundred dollars. In the midst of this vibrant and varied marketplace, it is the carrots that stand out. Clean, almost shiny, and without a trace of their leafy tops. Of course, their price might be double those found in the pushcarts and tiny public squares of the poorest neighborhoods.

Evolution of carrot prices from March 2023 until today / 14ymedio

This week, the price of carrots at 19th and B streets approached 150 pesos a bunch, almost double what it was a year ago but nowhere near the shocking peak of 600 pesos in October 2023. Though healthy and versatile, the carrot is not often used in everyday Cuban cooking, where vegetables, generally speaking, do not play a big role or are served only in small portions. Though continue reading

demand for tomatoes grows in the cooler months and the avocado is king of the table in summer, the carrot — a root vegetable rich in beta-carotene, vitamin A and antioxidants — does not enjoy the same popularity.

During the toughest years of the Special Period, Cubans devised recipes that substituted carrots for the food items that were not available. This is how the “candy coquito” was born. Grated carrots were used instead of wheat flour in puddings while the fruits that normally went into guava or mango jams were exchanged for this hardy tuber. Perhaps this is why many diners associate carrots with the hardships of that crisis as well as those of the current one.

For those who like the vegetable, however, its price might discourage them from buying it as often as they did before. The cost of four bunches of carrots at La Boutique is almost equivalent of a quarter of the monthly minimum wage and close to half of a Cuban retiree’s very small but very common 1,400-peso pension

That is also why, on Saturday, those who prefer to save a little went to the open-air market near Trillo Park, even though the merchandise was covered in dirt and lying on the ground as if it were garbage. They are ten pesos a bunch cheaper than those at 19th and B, which is not much. But if you do not watch what you spend, peso by peso, buying food can become impossible. For many Cubans, there is a red line that they dare not cross when it comes to expenses, even if that means eating much worse. That line is sometimes an intense carrot color.

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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.

Much Excitement in Havana over the Arrival of the Year’s First Rationed Potatoes

In the long line that takes up both sides of the street alongside the park, the topic of conversation is the quality of the product / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 25 March 2024 — They crane their necks and look, calculating how long before they reach the counter. The streets are damp after the weekend’s heavy downpours and the water seeps through the soles of their shoes. Most of those who got up early today to line up in front of the kiosks under the blue tents in Central Havana’s Trillo Park are elderly. Their mission: to buy the potatoes that the ration stores are putting on the Cuban capital’s shelves for the first time this year.

In the long line that takes up both sides of the street alongside the park, the topic of conversation is the quality of the product. “I’ve heard they’re rotten,” says a 70-year-old woman who has just gotten in line, “ready for a fight.” She carries a small shopping cart that converts into a chair in case her wait turns out to be a long one. “My daughter sent it to me from the U.S. because she knows that my legs hurt a lot when I stand for a long time.”

On this cool Monday morning, some buyers are wearing jackets, others wear coats. Almost all have bags slung over their shoulders. “They’re selling five pounds per person for 11 pesos and there are two of us in my house,” says a man sporting a Real Madrid shirt. “But it’s been very humid lately and the quality doesn’t look good. This is where you see the effects of the rotten potato plague.” continue reading

In spite of complaints about the product’s condition, the overriding feeling among the peope here is one of excitement at seeing the spuds for the first time this year. They know that, once they get them home, they will be able to stretch the daily rice ration and make dishes that have long been absent from Cuban tables such as stuffed potatoes or, to please the grandmother of the family, mashed potatoes topped with a fried egg. Anything beyond that would be dreaming because the quantities available on the rationed market do not allow for much else.

Some distance away, in the doorways of Galiano Street, private vendors sell everything from diapers to Bluetooth speakers. Customers can also buy potatoes here without having to wait in line and without all the pushing and shoving / 14ymedio

My grandchildren have been waiting days for this moment so I can make them some fries but that would be wasteful,” says another woman waiting in line at Trillo Park. “Today, I’m going to make them what they want but I’m saving the rest for soups and stews because we’ll get more meals out of them that way.”

Local officials have released a district-based distribution schedule and, in turn, each local governing body has its own program based on whose turn it is to buy potatoes on any given day. Customers must check to see if the number of their local ration store matches the number that appears on the kiosk boards. Even if they do, there is no guarantee that the buying process will be easy.

“I got up before dawn because I knew it was going to be wild,” explained Dayron, a young resident of San Rafael Street. He managed to get a spot in line for himself and two neighbors whom he says could not leave their house because, he said, “They are very old.” This morning there is also no shortage of coleros,* street vendors and arguments. In Cuba, the potato has the ability to fill empty plates and encite passions.

Some distance away, in the doorways of Galiano Street, private vendors sell everything from diapers to Bluetooth speakers. Customers can also buy potatoes here without having to wait in line and without all the pushing and shoving. “They’re 150 pesos a pound,” an unlicensed vendor tells an elderly woman who has approached him, drawn by the vision of clean, dry and almost shiny tubers. “If you buy from me, I’ll throw in the bag for free,” the man adds. But the price scares off the woman, who continues on towards nearby Zanja Street.

A young man in extremely white tennis shoes, who is trying to avoid the muddy puddles on the sidewalk caused by the earlier downpour, approaches the vendor and hands him a 1,000-peso bill, then a 500-peso bill. Ten pounds of potatoes are loaded into a transparent nylon bag, its contents clearly visible. As he leaves, heads turn to look, their faces grimacing with envy.

*Translator’s note: People others pay to wait in line for them.

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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 Creole Mojo Falters With the Rise in Price of Garlic in Cuba

A street vendor of garlic / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, March 24, 2024 — Yucca with creole mojo, tamales with a good portion of sofrito on top and the marinade for meat. In each there is an ingredient that leads and surpasses in importance to all the others: garlic. Cuban cuisine basically smells like the aromatic condiment that accompanies a good part of everyday recipes.

However, ensuring that garlic cloves end up next to the black beans or the boiled malangas is becoming more and more difficult for the pocketbooks of Cuban families. Traditionally sold in the form of bulbs, cloves or strings, garlic is one of this year’s products that has experienced a greater price increase in the agromarkets that 14ymedio monitors every week.

At the beginning of January, on Plaza Boulevard in the city of Sancti Spíritus, a string of garlic reached 1,000 Cuban pesos, and this season’s offer for bulbs and cloves barely appeared on social platforms. “We can’t sell untied garlic because it’s not profitable,” said a seller from a well-known agromarket last January when this newspaper questioned why customers had to buy a complete string of 50 small bulbs. continue reading

“Almost everything was seasoned with the popular bulb, and it was also used in herbal teas for many ailments and in skin plasters”

“I put a small bulb in the garlic juicer and there’s plenty of space,” complained a buyer. “It’s not worth peeling because the cloves are so puny that it takes a lot of work; it’s better to crush them all together and use them like that to at least give some flavor to the food.” This is the method to “not give up eating with some garlic.”

“No Martyrs or Leaders,” the New Directions for the Diminished Cuban Bodegas

This newspaper was able to confirm that the images of the country’s former leaders were no longer in at least a dozen places where they were previously exhibited.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, Natalia López Moya, 16 March 2024  — “They told us to remove the photos,” explains the employee of a bodega (ration store) in Nuevo Vedado, Havana, before the question of a customer surprised by the disappearance of the images of Fidel Castro, his brother Raúl and Ernesto Guevara who, until recently, alternated on the wall with the blackboard that announces the ever-shorter list of available products. “They called from the Ministry of Internal Trade and advised us that we could not have any martyrs or leaders,” he says.

The practice of placing images of leaders of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), guerrillas and people who fell in combat during the revolutionary battles, was very common in the ration stores. “You went with your libreta (ration book) to buy something, and instead of beans you found a poster with a smiling Camilo Cienfuegos or propaganda from a PCC Congress,” says Liuber, a resident of San Lázaro Street in Central Havana. He was surprised a week ago when he arrived at his bodega and found “nothing; those faces were no longer on the shelves.” continue reading

“You went with your ration book to buy something and instead of beans you found a poster with a smiling Camilo Cienfuegos”

This newspaper was able to confirm that the images were no longer in at least a dozen places where they were previously exhibited before the eyes of those who entered. A butcher’s shop on Basarrate Street in El Vedado, which until recently showed a portrait of Ernesto Guevara, with a beret and a thin beard, no longer had the photograph, previously located on the table behind the counter.

“It seems they don’t want people to continue taking photos of the bodegas and butcher shops without food but full of propaganda and posting them on social networks,” says another bodeguero in Old Havana who also received the “direction from above” to remove the images “that had been there for more years than the tomato sauce that didn’t arrive for the libreta.

The butcher shop on Basarrate Street replaced the painting of Che with an abstract / 14ymedio

However, the employee clarifies that the new regulations have not reached them in writing. “They told us at a meeting that the counterrevolution was using the photos they took inside the bodegas to create popular discomfort and associate the leaders of the process with the shortages.” The woman regrets the decision because “those images attracted tourists, who came in, started talking to us and some even left us a little gift.”

Now, the little rice that arrives every month for the standard quota does not pose for the cameras next to the face of a leader sheathed in his olive green uniform, and the sugar that is delayed in the supply no longer shares space with a poster of a guerrilla with a rifle on his shoulder. The political altars can no longer be next to the meager ration of food that is sold in the Cuban bodegas and butcher shops.

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.

Blackouts Come to Havana While the Rest of Cuba Sinks Into Darkness

Store that required payment in MLC (freely convertible currency) on Belascoaín Street in Havana, closed due to lack of power on March 7, 2024

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 7 March 2024 — Without much notice or publication of the schedule, long blackouts have returned to Havana. The Cuban capital, which for weeks had the privilege of electricity while the provinces sank into power outages of more than ten hours a day, has not managed to avoid the crisis caused by fuel shortages and the deterioration of the Island’s thermoelectric plants.

This Thursday, last summer’s events were repeated in the most populous city in the country. Outside a private store on Carlos III Avenue in Central Havana, a bored employee waited in the dark, trying to avoid the heat. Behind him, the name of Las Columnas (The Columns) was displayed on a counter, along with cell phone cases, charging cables, devices to measure the number of steps that are taken each day and some bluetooth speakers.

All the products for sale in the small business require a connection to electricity, at least to be charged. An electricity that the people of Havana are beginning to lack, even in neighborhoods that in previous years were “forgiven” from power cuts due to the presence of several hospital centers or an underground electricity system, so obsolete that the authorities themselves fear turning it off.

14ymedio

“I walked near the Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital; the whole area was in the dark, and you couldn’t hear the power plant that sounds like a dragon; when it’s on you can hear it for several blocks,” a retiree told this newspaper. She was frustrated when trying to get her pension out of an ATM on nearby Belascoaín Street; it was out of service due to lack of power. continue reading

The famous La Cubana hardware store, on the corner of Reina and Lealdad streets, popularly known as Feíto and Cabezón, was also closed to the public due to the blackout. Despite selling its products in freely convertible currency (MLC), a modality designed for those who have income in foreign exchange, the premises lacks a generator that would allow it to continue operating in these circumstances.

The customers who arrived looked through the entrance windows with frustrated expressions, trying to spot the merchandise they had come to buy or if any employee deigned to approach and give an explanation about the time of the possible reopening. “It’s the same old song. If the blackout continues after two in the afternoon, they will probably not attend to anyone else,” said a man who moved there from Cojímar in Habana del Este. “They told me that there was a piece here that I need for the sink but it has been a total frustration.”

The famous La Cubana hardware store, on Reina Street on the corner of Lealtad Street, popularly known as Feíto and Cabezón, was also closed to the public due to the blackout / 14ymedio

In La Algarabía, a private cafeteria on Neptuno and Escobar streets, also in Central Havana, silence was the tone of the morning. There were no customers at the tables, in the dark despite the strong sun outside, and the workers sat near the entrance, waiting for the electricity to return. “Without light there is no profit; without light nothing happens,” said one of them.

A map of part of the city, with zone 1 surrounded by red, became popular this Thursday in several WhatsApp groups. The image warned about the neighborhoods that were without electricity, a mapping of the blackout  which the eyes of the residents of Havana must get used to again so they can plan their lives accordingly.

This Thursday, the same thing was experienced during the six-hour blackout by the residents of La Timba, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Plaza de la Revolución municipality, despite its proximity to the Council of State. The well-to-do residents of Kohly Avenue in Nuevo Vedado were also affected. The tall buildings near Tulipán Street and Boyeros Avenue, built in the years of the Soviet subsidy, was the worst hit due to the paralysis of the elevators, indispensable to access the higher floors.

The famous La Cubana hardware store, on the corner of Reina and Lealtad streets, popularly known as Feíto and Cabezón, was also closed due to the blackout. (14ymedio)

“To top it off yesterday, no water arrived, so today we’re in a blackout and without water. We don’t know if, when the electricity returns, the cistern will have been able to fill up or not,” complains a resident of the 18-storey building located on Factor Street, near Conill, known as “the pilots’ building” by the professional sector that benefited from its apartments in the 1980s.

On social networks, residents of other provinces barely hid their joy because the Cuban capital finally has joined them in the energy crisis. “Ah, in Havana the power is also going out,” said a netizen on the Facebook page of the unpopular Electric Union of Cuba, which predicted a deficit of 1,210 megawatts for this Thursday. But beyond the regional rivalries, the signal sent by the Havama blackouts was “bad for everyone,” summarized another commentator.

“If there are now blackouts in Havana, what awaits the rest of Cuba is total darkness,” a woman predicted.

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.

Paseo Galleries in Havana, a Palace of Consumption Turned into Ruins

The store that was a symbol of opulence now displays dirt and destruction everywhere / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 24 February 2024 — Careful!” a woman managed to say this Friday to a child who was rushing along the entrance ramp of the Paseo Galleries, in Havana’s Vedado district. The floor slabs, full of holes, forced customers going to the market, located on the first floor, to walk gently to avoid falling or spraining an ankle. The deterioration of what was one of the consumer palaces of the Cuban capital in the 90’s seems to know no limit.

Everywhere you look you will only find destruction, grime and peeling paint. With barely any lighting at its entrance, the cloudy day was of little help for those who entered the three-story establishment, located right across from the luxurious Cohiba Hotel and a few meters from the ocean-front wall of the Malecón. Most of those who arrived went to the market — which requires payment in freely convertible currency (MLC) — on the first floor, managed by the Cadena Caribe of Cuba’s GAESA* military conglomerate.

Access to the place through the exterior ramp is the prelude to the extreme deterioration that is exhibited inside / 14ymedio

Inside the store, the floor is in better condition and at least the lamps have most of their bulbs working, but the presentation of products is more reminiscent of a warehouse than a store. “Everything is piled up, in order to find a price sometimes you have to go among the mountains of bags or cans,” complained a customer who came in search of powdered milk. In the back, the meat sales area had a small line.

“This place sucks, but it’s what I have closest to my house and I came here to buy butter,” commented Moraima speaking to 14ymedio; she is a retiree who receives remittances on her MLC card from her son, who resides in continue reading

Sweden. “This small bar [90 grams] costs 1.70 MLC,” the woman criticized. Behind her, the price board announced “baby octopus” at 16 MLC per kilogram; seven units of Asturian blood sausage for 4.25, and 200 grams of smoked salmon for 35.

“Everything is very expensive and the place is depressing. They charge in foreign currency and abuse in Cuban pesos,” said Moraima. “This cart with oil, peas, a package of chickpeas, tomato sauce, flour, butter and a little ham is already costing me more than 50 MLC,” she explained to this newspaper. “With this, I’m spending more than half of what my son sends me monthly; he has to work very hard to send me 100 MLC.”

Access to the place through the exterior ramp is the prelude to the extreme deterioration that is exhibited inside / 14ymedio

“All this is in this condition because they know that even if it is a dark cave, people are going to have to continue coming here to buy,” another customer said out loud while waiting for an employee to appear to open a bag with packages of children’s candy. “They say that until they read the barcode, they can’t tell me how much it costs,” he was losing his patience.

“They don’t sell anything fresh and there is a disgusting smell in the market, it smells like rotten fish, I don’t know how they can be open like this,” questioned another buyer. “I used to come here, I even bought a Spanish pressure cooker years ago that turned out to be very good, but this place doesn’t even look like that anymore, this is in total decline.”

For those who do not want to risk their lives going down or up the access ramp to the supermarket, there is still the risk of taking the stairs with several broken steps on their edges and which has not seen a broom come by in months, perhaps years.

The Jazz Café, located on a mezzanine with a stunning ocean view, now resembles a haunted house, full of dust and cobwebs. “It closed a little before the pandemic and never reopened, a shame because this was always full and it was a unique place in Havana,” lamented a worker who was trying to push a cart full of goods being careful so the wheels wouldn’t fall into the ramp’s potholes.

A meeting place for musicians, national and foreign clients looking for company, the Jazz Café charged about ten convertible pesos (CUC), in the days when the CUC was still in circulation, which included a basic dinner and a musical show. The place remained full past midnight, especially on weekends, and the access staircase became an improvised catwalk of young girls showing themselves to the tourists.

With a careful design and sculptures that imitated jazz players in full improvisation, the Jazz Café became a unique space in the Havana night. “The proximity of the Cohiba Hotel guaranteed that this would be full, but right now there is little tourism and those who come asking if the club is open what they find is this, an abandoned place,” acknowledged a taxi driver who charged 2,000 pesos for a ride to the nearest municipalities to those who left the supermarket this Friday.

For the most empowered customers, Galerías Paseosreserves its boutique shopping area for dresses that exceed 200 MLC and sneakers from famous brands. But even those places of supposed glitz do not escape the dirt and crisis of the environment. Thus, Adidas shoes alternate with stained glass, expensive perfumes with cracked floors, and leather purses with stained walls.

Access to the place through the exterior ramp is the prelude to the extreme deterioration that is exhibited inside / 14ymedio

At least three of those businesses were closed this Friday without explanation. With the lights off inside, the stores, located on the third floor, gave the impression of having been abandoned with the merchandise inside, and no employee of the complex could attest as to when they would reopen. “Come by on Tuesday or Wednesday to see if they are selling again”, a custodian suggested to a teenager who inquired about the shoe shops.

The workers’ faces are also streaked with apathy. What was once a very attractive place to work has ceased to generate interest. “Everything is paid by card, customers almost never leave tips, and when they do, it is in pesos,” acknowledges an employee who this Friday helped a couple carry their purchases to the car.

“Many people have also left because they received their parole visa or left by way of the volcano route,” the man acknowledged. When foreign currency stores opened for Cuban customers in the 90s, working in one of those stores was, automatically, the beginning of starting to be part of a wealthier social class, but now the situation is very different.

“Inspections, hard work and little encouragement,” the employee summarized the situation of the Galerías Paseo workforce. “This has gotten really bad, I’m looking for a job in one of those MSMEs that pay better and where there isn’t as much drama as here, because I might as well have to stay until the next day for an audit than to put up with complaints from a client who is absolutely right, because what they should do with this place is to shut it down, it cannot continue operating in these conditions.”

In the bathroom on the top floor, only the one for women was open, which had three cubicles and at least one of them was out of service. A cardboard over the bowl with a bucket on top prevented the use of the toilet and the smell that came from inside made some of the urgent customers who came to that area give up. There was also no water supply for hand washing or flushing toilets.

The magical world looks faded and opaque / 14ymedio

But the best “surprise” was at the exit. A colorful sign welcomed Mundo Mágico, a place that a few years ago was the children’s store. “No, we no longer sell toys here, now we only sell the ‘basic products module’ [from the rationing system] for the people of this area,” an employee responded grumpily to a clueless customer who was looking for some dolls.

Above the worker’s head, blue, red and yellow letters recalled that period when Galerías Paseo was the consumer palace of a Havana that could afford to go shopping and enjoy the journey.

*Translator’s note: Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A. (GAESA) is a Cuban military-controlled umbrella enterprise with interests in the tourism, financial investment, import/export, and remittance sectors of Cuba’s economy.

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.

An ‘Almendrovich’ — A Taxi With a Unique History — Tours Havana

The Chaika has an adaptation that allows it to carry up to six passengers, in addition to the driver / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 21 February 2024 — It was one of the fleet of GAZ 14 Chaika cars that Leonid Brezhnev gave to Fidel Castro in the 1970s. Now, it serves as a collective taxi like any old almendrón* and travels the route between the Parque de la Fraternidad and Santiago de las Vegas, in Havana. “Since there is no tourism and we have to put food on the table, the Cubataxi company has us picking up the fares,” says the driver this Wednesday, while transporting five customers on a cold Havana morning.

With a glossy black body and an intimidating length, the Chaika has an adaptation that allows it to carry up to six passengers, in addition to the driver. Where there used to be ample space for travelers to stretch their legs, an improvised seat has been placed such that it requires them to raise their knees.

But even these transgressions do not tarnish its stately bearing and the historical value of the vehicle, a symbol of a time when the Kremlin’s wallet seemed bottomless when it came to propping up the Cuban regime. “This was one of the ones used for Fidel Castro’s bodyguards, that’s why it’s not armored,” adds the driver when asked by a client.

“This was one of those used for Fidel Castro’s bodyguards, that’s why it is not armored”

According to another Cubataxi employee, “Fidel never really liked the Chaikas. He used them for a short time and switched to other capitalist-made cars, which were the ones he preferred,” he says. Of those 15 GAZ cars continue reading

that the general secretary of the CPSU sent to the island, “there are only about five left circulating on the streets and they are dedicated to tourism, but now almost no foreigners are arriving and we are working with Cubans.”

The so-called Soviet limousines were widely used at the time as protocol vehicles to transport important visitors arriving to the Island. Presidents, high diplomats and political allies traveled in those cars that demonstrated the proximity between the Kremlin and Revolution Square. When they began to provide services to tourism, travelers went crazy to take pictures with those fossils from the Cold War.

The enthusiasm was not shared by Castro. “The first cars he had in 1959 were Oldsmobiles for him and his entourage, then the Alfa Romeos arrived. He rode in the Chaikas for very little time just to please the bolos, the gossipers, and finally he opted for the Mercedes-Benz, “adds this employee who, before Cubataxi, worked in the protocol service of the Council of State.

“Most of the people who get into these Chaikas now don’t know anything about their history, they think they are old cars like any other. But nothing like that, this is as tough as a Chevrolet but it is exclusive because there are very few left and everyone who sat in those seats was a minister or higher,” he says. “People, when they find out where a car like this comes from, scoff and say it’s an almendrovich*, but this is a piece of history, a museum piece with wheels.”

*Translator’s note: Classic American cars are called ‘almendrones‘ in Cuba, a reference to their ‘almond’ shape’, and are used largely as shared taxis. ‘Almendrovich‘ is an additional play on words for these ‘Russian’ almendrones.

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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.

Home Delivery Now a High Risk Job for Cuban Drivers

Some couriers deliver goods that Cubans living overseas have bought for their relatives back home as well as takeout orders from bars and restaurants. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 14 February 2024 — A company logo, a restaurant’s refrigerated packaging or the typical colors of a home delivery service are enough to catch the eye of a thief. In a country ravaged by economic crisis, couriers transporting goods to customers’ homes are being targeted. Easy to spot, with some on bicycles and others on motorcycles, they are increasingly victims of robberies and assaults.

With one arm in a sling, 21-year-old Ismael relates his story. “I picked up an order that included several main dishes and some beers from a restaurant for a customer in Playa. It wasn’t late but it had already gotten dark,” he says. “When I got close to the iron bridge over the Almendares River, a guy came out of nowhere with a pipe in his hand.”

During the assault, Ismael shielded himself with his forearm to avoid being hit in the face and ended up with a fractured ulna. “They took the backpack and everything it had in it,” he says. “The contents of the thermal container, which had the logo of a well-known home delivery service on it, cost more than $80. The customer had paid the bill up front using a payment app.”

After growing hungry and impatient while waiting for Ismael, the customers contacted the delivery service but it was hours before they received a response

After growing hungry and impatient while waiting for Ismael, the customers contacted the delivery service but it was hours before they received a response. “We are very sorry for the inconvenience,” the message read. “Our courier has been assaulted and is now in the hospital. We will arrange for a new delivery but it will not be until tomorrow because, at the moment, we have no other employees available.” continue reading

Home delivery services are becoming more common in Cuba. Some deliver goods that Cubans living overseas have bought for their relatives back home. Items can include anything from food products to hardware store purchases to home appliances. Perhaps the best known are the e-commerce platforms Supermarket and Katapulk.

“They might use panelitos [small vans], which are always safer, but even they attract a thief’s attention,” acknowledges Vladimir, who worked at Supermarket — an online grocery store — for three years. Now using his own vehicle, he delivers remittances for a company headquartered in Miami that sends cash on an informal basis to the island.

“Things weren’t too bad during my time at Supermarket. I just had to make sure the vehicle’s doors were secured to avoid the occasional robbery but we were already talking about it back then. We were talking about how they would come at you with a blunt instument at a street corner because they knew you were transporting things of value.”

By “things of value,” Vladimir means a box of frozen chicken, a rice cooker or a package of cassava. “It’s best to use cars that don’t have the company logo on them and that are not obviously used for deliveries. If you’re carrying valuable goods, the risk is greater,” he says.

This week Annia and Pascual, a married couple, waited more than ten hours for a driver to deliver some drill bits

This week Annia and Pascual, a married couple, waited more than ten hours for a driver to show up with some drill bits, which they needed for changes they were making to a kitchen wall. “The only thing left to do on our renovation project was to drill some holes in the stone and we needed some very specific tools. We saw someone was selling them on Revolico [a digital classified ad site] and decided to have them delivered,” says Annia.

After a frustrating day-long wait, the couple received a voice message from the driver. He told them he was at the hopital because someone had attacked him and stolen all the merchandise he was carrying. Between the drill bits, a hammer drill and some hydraulic parts, the thieves made off with items worth more than $300.

“Luckily, we hadn’t yet paid for anything — we didn’t have to pay until the driver arrived with the order — but it did force us to stop work. And we’ve been worried about the boy, who is very young. They hit him in the head really hard but at least they didn’t kill him. The way things are these days, you can lose your life over just about anything,” says Annia.

An article published on Sunday in the official State newspaper Granma on the role of the police in crime prevention explained that authorities have increased security “through operational and policing actions in different aspects of the country’s economic and social life, including transportation, storage and food distribution.” They are, of course, talking about state assets. Beyond filing a complaint or hiring private security guards, individuals have few options for combatting crime.

“We’re always hiring drivers but, for nighttime deliveries, we now prefer they have a car,” says the manager of one of Havana’s online delivery services. “We’ve had several assaults in the last few weeks. When that happens, everyone loses out. Customers don’t get what they ordered, we have to reimburse them for their loss and the driver bears the brunt of it.”

“I no longer use the the backpack they gave me at work. I’d rather use a plain bag because where some read the name of the company, others read ’Rob me.’”

What not too long ago had seemed like the ideal job for someone who had his own vehicle — whether it be a bicycle, a scooter or a car — has become a high-risk profession. “I don’t use the the backpack they gave me at work anymore. I’d rather use a plain bag because, where some read the name of the company, others read, ’Rob me!’” explains Ricardo, whose employer has allowed him to revise his work schedule.

“I don’t deliver at night. I don’t deliver to neighborhoods on the outskirts of Havana. I don’t go into buildings; I do the handover on the street. I don’t let customers change the delivery address once the order has been placed.” To his long list of “don’ts,” Ricardo adds, “I don’t work Saturdays because those days are more dangerous and a lot of people are looking for ways to make some easy money. I don’t stop at stop signs or at railroad crossings. If I see a light is about to turn red, I circle around until I can go or I take a detour.”

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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 Arrival of a British Cruise Ship Revives Old Havana for a Few Hours

The police stopped traffic so that tourists could comfortably leave the Customs building. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 9 February 2024 — The British cruise ship Marella Explorer 2 returned to Havana this Friday, and, as often happens, its passengers, who bring foreign currency, have preference. A patrol guarded the area closest to the pier, and the police even stopped traffic so that the tourists could comfortably leave the Customs building, some of them carrying suitcases.

Although there were some travelers who stayed on the ship, many went for a walk and others went by bus to the nearby historic center of the Cuban capital or to other tourist places.

From land, you could glimpse the ship’s splendor, the giant screen at the edge of the pool and the huge satellite antenna. Several spas, a club-casino, bars and restaurants are some of the services offered by the cruise, which is only for adults and belongs to TUI Group of  the UK and Germany. continue reading

Marella Explorer 2 will dock at four ports to link passengers to the Island’s recreational offers.

The British cruise ship is part of the fleet of TUI Group, a leading company in tourist travel. (14ymedio)

The cruise is part of the fleet of TUI Group, a leading company in tourist travel (United Kingdom-Germany). It only allows adults and includes spa services, a club-casino, bars and restaurants.

In Old Havana, the merchants rubbed their hands together. On Obispo Street they offered an exchange rate “at a good price” – 280 pesos per dollar (the informal rate reported by El Toque for this Friday is 298). The children in the area rehearsed some phrases in English asking for “money,” and the streets near the bay again experienced the frenzy that once characterized them.

When the sun goes down, everything will be over. The tourists will return to their ship, the children of the neighborhood will return to their quarters, and the illusion of a dynamic city will have vanished. There will still be, of course, the silhouette of the Marella Explorer 2 with its swimming pools, its luxury areas and its broadband internet.

In Old Havana, the merchants rubbed their hands together after the arrival of the cruise ship. (14ymedio)

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.