San Lazaro, a Havana Street that Wears Rouge and Has Cracked Balconies

Like every year around this time, it is a matter of dressing up the street so that the high-ranking figures of the government who walk through it get a different impression. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia Lopez Moya, Havana, 25 January 2023 — “They are applying rouge to San Lázaro street again,” lamented a neighbor from Centro Habana this Tuesday morning. The facades of the long avenue are being painted so that, on the night of January 27, it will house the official March of the Torches, with the presence of Miguel Díaz-Canel.

In the face of what will happen on Friday, brigades of builders have erected scaffolding, hauled paint and begun to brush on a wall without cracks or on a balcony about to collapse. As every year around this time, it is a matter of dressing up the street so that the high-ranking figures of the government who walk through it on the eve of José Martí’s birth get an impression that is very different from reality.

“I came to eat at this little tavern but it is difficult to go in because they have erected scaffolding on the door, the drops of paint fall on the clothes of the passersby,” a young woman who has seen several of “these retouching processes” explained to 14ymedio that it won’t last long “because they use poor quality paint and they don’t do it very carefully either.”  The colors are also very limited, so far, a poor palette of blues and pinks. continue reading

“I came to eat at this little tavern, but it is difficult to enter because they have put a scaffolding on the door, the drops of paint fall on the clothes of the passersby”

“It is outrageous how they are plastering the corners of the balconies that have partially detached from the buildings and then they paint them, everything is a coverup of reality, where it can be seen, but, of course, not a coat of paint or a spoonful of cement inside.”

The painting of the facades is only an advance. Before Friday, the street will be filled with a strong security operation that traditionally begins up to two days before the March at El Vedado and Centro Habana, neighborhoods where the University of Havana is located, the venue for the event that will begin around 8:30 p.m.

In recent years, the country has mourned various tragedies in the days leading up to this celebration. A tornado caused great destruction in areas of the capital in 2019, leaving eight dead, 200 injured, and more than a thousand homes destroyed. In 2020, the collapse of a balcony caused the death of three girls in Old Havana, although the government did not suspend the official act despite requests from citizens.

Looking ahead to what will happen on Friday, brigades of builders have erected scaffolding, hauled paint and begun to paint. (14ymedio)

In 2021 it was suspended due to the pandemic, and last year it became a display of the regime’s political muscle after the popular protests of July 11, 2021.

The first March of the Torches was organized on January 27, 1953 as a tribute to José Martí on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Although Fulgencio Batista’s government did not grant permission to carry it out, the students marched without the police intervening.

After 1959, the pilgrimage became a governmental act in which the ruling party participated, with the presence of the greatest leaders of the Communist Party, the University Student Federation and representatives of other political organizations of the regime.

Many young university students attend due more to pressure than conviction, although it is very common for them to make an appearance for a few minutes and then end up escaping through the streets where the caravan goes through.

Translated by Norma Whiting
____________

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.

Alquizar, Cuba, Feels Abandoned Since the End of the Year, With No Coffee, Sugar or Oil at the Ration Store

A ‘Bodega’ (Ration Store)  in Alquízar, in the Cuban province of Artemisa. (The Artemisian)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 1 February 2023 — “Before, here people could use lard to cook, but there is almost no one who raises animals and to make matters worse, since last year they have not sold oil through the bodega [ration store],” complains Liubis Torriente, 32, a resident of the municipality of Alquízar, in the province of Artemisa. “Nor has sugar or rationed coffee arrived, we are about to have to eat red earth.”

In the Liubis bodega, nestled in the center of the small city to the southwest of the Cuban capital, the employee spends her days sitting idly by waiting for the products that do not arrive. “I’m tired of everyone coming and venting their discomfort on me because no merchandise has arrived, but it’s not my fault,” the woman told 14ymedio, on condition of anonymity.

“Here they have forgotten us, we do not have the importance of Havana and nor do we have the emergencies of those affected by hurricane [Ian] in Pinar del Río, so we are in no man’s land, we do not matter,” says Liubis. “My sister lives in Havana, in the Plaza de la Revolución municipality, near the Council of State, and they did sell sugar there,” she says.

The shortage situation fundamentally affects those who live in the urban areas of Alquízar. “At least the farmer who has a piece of land can solve some food with his crops, his laying hens or his cows, but those of us who have a house here in the town don’t even have that,” says this mother of two children at primary school. continue reading

And the three missing products can hardly be produced for self-consumption. “We stocked up on the fat we needed for day-to-day life with the pigs we had, but more than three years ago I stopped farming because we couldn’t get food for the animals anymore,” explains Arturo, a farmer who lives in the town of Pulido, on the outskirts of the urban center.

“Without the pork fat, we are completely dependent on the oil from the bodega or the one we buy off the shelf [in the informal market].” Arturo’s family has been eating “plantain fufú” — fried mashed plaintain — for weeks, he says. “There isn’t even enough fat to fry a little onion and what my wife has done is put the chicken skin in the pan so she can cook with it.”

The vegetable oil that is sold by as a part of the ‘standard basket’ in the ration store is mostly imported or soybean oil, which is refined and bottled on the Island. The rationed coffee and sugar come from national production, which is mostly state-owned, and the marketing of both products constitutes an official monopoly.

“When there is a lack of sugar or coffee, you have to deal one way or another with the black market or with the stores [that only take payment] in MLC [freely convertible currency]”, emphasizes Arturo. “You can use some honey to sweeten, and stretch the coffee by adding roasted peas, but sooner or later you have to end up buying them in hard currency.”

“Before, any house you entered here they would offer you a little cup of Hola coffee, the kind that comes from the bodega. If you were lucky, you would have a Cubita or Arriero colada bought in the mall, but now when people manage to have coffee it’s Bustelo or La Llave that their Miami family sent themor they bought it from a mule, very expensive, by the way.”

The lack of sugar especially outrages the residents of Alquízar, a region that in the past also made cash with typical sweets such as guava bars that were sold on the side of the roads. Now, in the absence of the ingredient, all the private production of sweets, fruit smoothies and preserves has come to a standstill.

According to Leticia Ojeda, commercial director of the Food Group of the Ministry of Internal Commerce, at the end of last year, with the plummeting of the harvest, it was decided to protect the “regulated [rationed] family basket” and social consumption destined for the Education and Health sectors, but the Alquizareñas wineries do not seem to be included among those prioritized.

In mid-January, Ojeda pointed out that four provinces had not been able to finish the distribution in some of their municipalities. He mentioned Artemisa, Matanzas, Pinar del Río and Havana, whose sugar deliveries in February were only 60% guaranteed, up until then. An announcement that makes the residents of Alquízar fear that it will be weeks before the empty bodegas have those products again.

____________

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.

San Antonio de los Banos, Where the Spark of Cuba’s July 2021 Protests Was Lit, Continues to be Punished

The reasons for the residents of San Antonio de los Baños to “take to the streets” are still intact: lack of freedoms, inflation, blackouts and garbage accumulated on every corner. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 26 January 2023 — Odalys remembers that day very well. “People began to come out from everywhere, headed for the park,” she evokes a year and a half after the July 11, 2021 popular protest in San Antonio de los Baños, Artemisa, ignited the spark for the historic demonstrations that shook Cuba. Since that time, the reasons for the residents of the municipality to “take to the streets” remain intact: lack of liberties, inflation, blackouts and garbage accumulated on every corner.

“Look at that park for children, it’s pure rust,” the woman describes to 14ymedio. The destroyed sidewalk, the ravaged grass and three rickety swings make up the desolate panorama. Around the merry-go-round, bags of waste accumulate and a little further on, a mountain of rubbish borders the bridge over one of the tributaries of the Ariguanabo River. “Here you cannot live, we continue in the same situation.”

“The blackouts have already started again and they last up to six hours,” stresses the woman, who remembers going out “banging on a can with a spoon,” on that 11th of July to show her discomfort at the poor conditions of the small city. A city that was once an important agricultural center, a transport node between Havana and the southwest, as well as a frequent venue for humor festivals and cultural events. The International Film School, also undermined in resources and importance, continues to operate in the area.

Unlike that Sunday in July, now the streets are only used by those who are on their way to work or school, those who are anxiously looking for some food and those who are heading towards an office to request a passport that allows them to travel outside Island. The cries of “Freedom!” have been replaced by the demands of a neighbor who urges another to arrive on time and line up for soap or frozen chicken. The trials against the protesters of that day have spread fear, just as waste of all kinds is spread throughout the city, without the Community Services trucks picking it up.

____________

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.

Nobody Understands the ‘Algorithms’ of the Cuban Peso Stores

She slides her hand along until she finds her designated shopping date, but then looks further to find that all she can buy is two packets of picadillo [ground meat]. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 18 January 2023 – She traces along the notice board with her finger. “This one’s my store”, she whispers as her forefinger reaches the sales schedule of a shop in the outskirts, in Calle Galiano, Havana. She slides her hand along until she finds her shopping date and then looks further to find that she can only buy two packets of picadillo [ground meat]. After having figured out the complicated method being used, Nancy has ended up frustrated and without hope once again.

“You need to have a degree to be able to understand these Cuban peso stores*”, the woman complained on Wednesday morning after deciphering the convoluted process of getting basic supplies like frozen chicken, detergent or sausages. As the months have gone by, the mechanism for buying products and paying for them in the national currency has become more and more complex. “If a foreigner came up and read this he’d think we’d all gone mad, completely mad”, the lady moaned.

Five years ago it was convertible pesos that opened the doors to the best selection of goods, but today, as well as the money, you need also to pay with high levels of stress and time in order to get hold of whatever food ingredients you need. In the inexact science of the state market, very often there’s a lack of logic and too many corrupt employees, too many re-sellers, and too often the phrase “we don’t have any”. The rationing algorithm ends more often with hunger than with satisfaction.

With doctorates in absurd business practice and degrees in poverty, the Cuban people have studied an infinite number of courses at the university of misery. The qualification awarded brings them more shame than pride. There are days when, after hours of waiting and a hard mental effort to unscramble all the bureaucratic speak, one is limited to getting hold of maybe just a pack of sanitary napkins, or a litre of vegetable oil.

*Translator’s note: A “peso store” is a store that accepts payment in Cuban pesos — the currency in which Cubans are paid their wages. An “MLC” — also called a “dollar store” — is a store that accepts payment only in moneda libremente convertible (freely convertible currency) such as dollars or euros, which Cubans acquire be receiving remittances from family or friends abroad.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso 

____________

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.

Cuba: ‘What Use is an App to Track Buses if There are No Buses’

The app offered to provide real-time location information for buses on routes in Havana, but there is a big gap between what was announced and what has been achieved.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 17 January 2023 — The looks of those that wait go from the mobile phone screen to the avenue. After a while, a bus stops at Porvenir Street, in Havana, although it hadn’t previously been seen on the mobile phone app ’MovilWeb Urbanos’. Between vehicles that disappear from the map and others that appear out of nowhere, the tool generates more distrust than certainty.

The beta version of MovilWeb Urbanos, exclusively for Android, threatens to become a failure, as did the Donde hay app, which attempted to inform clients of which products were in stock at the state-run stores. Instead of avoiding long walks and hours in line, that mobile app became a target for mockery and complaints, just as is happening now with its first cousin dedicated to public transportation.

“You see the application and there are no buses nearby, and suddenly one appears which hadn’t been there,” complained a user who unleashed his discontent in an article published by the official press Cubadebate where they recognized the precipitous fall from grace of MovilWeb Urbanos. It was that very outlet which, with much fanfare, announced the launch of that tool in October last year.

The app offered to provide real-time location information for buses on routes in Havana, but there is a big gap between what was announced and what has been achieved. Sixteen-year-old high school student Richard recalls the enthusiasm when he heard the news of that launch. “I thought it would save time and stress getting to school but in the end it failed me so often that I deleted the app from my mobile phone.”

“The problem is fundamental, because they assume that all buses have a GPS installed and that it is activated at all times,” questioned the adolescent. “But if you are following the bus route it’s possible that halfway through it disappears from the map and then you don’t know at what time it will arrive at the bus stop where you are,” he adds. A disaster which causes frustration and distrust among users. continue reading

Developed by GeoMIX, an agency of the Geocuba business group in collaboration with several entities of the Ministry of Transportation, the app doesn’t cover the routes of all Havana terminals and when you search for buses that travel high demand routes such as the P2 along Rancho Boyeros Avenue, a short message warns that “there is still no information.”

Of 135 bus routes included in the Beta version, including primary routes, feeder routes and complementary routes, only half offer information to monitor its vehicles. Some details which have changed since the launch of the tool, such as a change in the point of departure, have not been updated and in those cases the changes have not been reflected at all the bus stops.

The constant internet interruptions and areas of low data coverage which characterize the internet connection provided by the telecommunications monopoly, Etecsa, add another layer of insecurity to MovilWeb’s use. Congestion on the network, a cloudy day that slows down navigation or an area without 4G can all render the app inoperable.

But the human factor seems to be the cause of the biggest problems. According to Rafael Barrios Garriga, the Deputy Director for Development at the Provincial Transport Business of Havana (EPTH), in those areas, each dispatcher must manually enter the vehicle departure and arrival data for the app to update but “on occasion the person responsible for updates does not do it.”

“Add to this the drivers who irresponsibly disconnect the devices. MovilWeb also allows us to identify those who do that. With those drivers we conduct an analysis and we recently issued guidance to prevent this,” the official tells Cubadebate, though without referring to the reasons the drivers choose to turn off the buses’ geolocation.

“It is big business to use urban transport vehicles as if they were private, that is, drive a route they create, decide on the number of passengers to be transported and even the price they charge privately,” reported to 14ymedio an EPTH driver who a few months ago decided to leave his post “on the bus” and opted for a position “at the terminal, with more peace and less surveillance.”

“What Use is an App to Track Buses if There are No Buses?” adds a state employee. “That makes no sense and since they announced that that thing for mobile phones would begin working we knew it was not possible to maintain all of that information because, simply, we don’t even know when a car will be able to leave the terminal nor what day it will be in or out of service.”

In May of last year, the Governor of Havana, Reinaldo García Zapata acknowledged during a meeting that in Havana, only 30% of bus fleet was operable for public transportation, “which is why the situation is dire.” The problem has been exacerbated in the last several months and, although the data have not been updated, one only needs to visit the bus stops in Havana to sense the decline.

Along with its errors, MovilWeb Urbanos has reached a low point for mobility in the city. Faced with its constant blunders, many riders have learned to lower the credibility of the tool though they continue to use it. “I use it, but I accept the risk that the information is not real. I’ve seen it all: buses that appear as if they are going in one direction and it is the opposite, buses that appear as if they are on another bus’s route, etc.” complained another user.

On Tuesday, an old Giron bus painted with images of giraffes and lions — that at one time covered routes serving Cuba’s National Zoo — stopped at the corner of Boyeros and Calzada del Cerro. “Come on, we’ve reached Carlos III,” yelled the driver and a dozen older passengers headed toward the open door. The vehicle never showed up on the MovilWeb Urbanos app, where the wide avenue appeared completely empty on the map.

Translated by: Silvia Suárez

____________

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.

With Sellers but No Buyers, Prices Plummet in Cuba’s Housing Market

In the current real estate climate, prices are falling and homes remain on the market longer. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia Lopez Moya, Havana, 11 January 2023 — “Business has dried up,” 52-year old Victor Manuel Soto says categorically. Soto closed his real estate office in Cuba, packed his bags, left for Nicaragua and then headed to the southern U.S. border, which he recently crossed. “Almost no one is buying houses. Out of every ten properties I sold, nine belonged to owners desperate to sell.”

After prohibiting individuals from buying or selling their homes for decades, the government finally legalized such sales in late 2011. In a country where 85% of homes are privately owned, Soto and his wife suddenly saw that managing real estate transactions could be a gold mine. “My wife left her job as an accountant at a state-owned company, I left my position at the Ministry of Tourism and we began setting up our own business.”

At first they only posted houses for sale on classified ad sites dedicated to buyers’ specific interests,  assuring sellers they would post their listings only on the most important digital platforms. “Later we put together a web of contacts and were able to offer a more comprehensive service, such as taking care of the required paperwork, following all the legal procedures but doing it much more quickly.

But four years ago Soto noticed that his income had started to decline dramatically. “We had fewer and fewer people who wanted to buy. Most of our clients were coming to us because they wanted to sell and wanted to do it quickly,” he says. “Currently, supply exceeds demand. Or to put it more simply, there are many houses for sale but few interested buyers.” continue reading

In the current real estate climate, prices are falling and homes remain on the market longer, with successive price reductions and sellers offering to include appliances and furniture at no extra cost. “Most of the people I knew who were in the real estate business have closed up shop and have gone into other lines of work.”

Falling prices have forced many real estate agents to quit. “A few years ago the average price per room in Havana was between 10,000 and 12,000 dollars. A three-bedroom apartment, for example, could go for $30,000 to $36,000 depending on location and  building condition,” says Nicia, a self-employed real estate agent who is still active in the business.

In 2013, two years after home sales were legalized, the emerging real estate market saw 80,000 transactions according to data from the Mercantile Property and Heritage Registry, an agency of the Ministry of Justice. All indications were that the number of sales would continue to grow, or would at least remain stable.

“Now we’re seeing three and four-bedroom homes going for less than $25,000 because the owners are eager to sell to get the money they need to emigrate. And for agents or brokers, when prices get this low, we lose the ability to make money ,” she laments.

“At the peak, around 2015 or 2016, when prices were high because it had become legal to buy and sell homes in Cuba, real estate agents were making good money. But that bubble burst. Now you have to work ten times as hard to earn a buck and even then it’s not easy,” she says. “A few years ago we had a lot of foreign clients buying homes through friends or loved ones in Cuba. Now that’s happening less and less.

Nicia recalls that in March 2016, when Barack Obama visited the island, she managed to close six sales in just one month, two of them involving Cuban-American or European buyers. “There was this idea that the country would be opening up and that it was time to buy property here. But that enthusiasm has been waning. Right now, I have two houses for sale: a pair of houses that I sold just last year.”

“To sell a home, you have to find ways to entice buyers. A low price is one way but so is a house in move-in condition, or one that’s already furnished,” she points out. “The few clients I have now are looking to buy because they managed to downsize and want a place that doesn’t need any work.”

Nicia herself believes her days as a real estate agent are numbered. “I’m trying to get together the money I need to move to Spain with my two children. All three of us have Spanish citizenship but we still need a bit of money so we can start a new life there.” She is turning her business over to a cousin but, as she says, “it’s not worth very much now because the market has tanked.”

’It’s also a headache because it’s a complicated business. Many of the first licensed real estate agents were forced to shut down. I have colleagues who ended up in court for charging the client a commission.” Though the practice is illegal, buyers typically pay realtors between 10% and 25% of the total sale price.

“The tax increase on home sales was also a big blow to us,” Nicia acknowledges.” Initially, the tax rate was set at 4% for buyers’ asset or inheritance transfers and the same for sellers’ personal income. But in 2017 it went up. Now it’s determined by the house’s characteristics, such as its location and size.”

“With higher taxes, the collapse of the market itself, too few buyers and sellers who want to be paid in dollars, which they then send overseas, we’re earning less and less. Though they won’t admit it publicly, the only realtors who are surviving are those with connections to people in government or to foreigners who can afford to wait for the market to improve.

Some of these real estate startups have come up with strategies to attract buyers such as an “auction” in which the house is listed at price that can change in an online bid. Among them is Lucas Inmobiliarias, which has a large portfolio of single-family homes, mansions and farms with prices that, in most cases, exceed $100,000. So far, however, no buyer has submitted a bid on any of the four properties currently being auctioned on the company’s website.

There is no shortage of listings on the company’s website. Page after page contains photos of spacious buildings, gardens with leafy trees and even swimming pools inviting viewers to take a dip. But every month the listings reappear, accompanied each time with a price reduction. A house in upscale Miramar, which won an architectural design prize in the 1950s, was posted on the site two years ago and is still for sale.

____________

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.

Cuba: State Employees in Holgun Don’t Receive Their Salaries Due to a Lack of Money in the Banks

Among the most affected are the employees of Education and Public Health. (Municipal Directorate of Education of Holguín)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 13 January 2023 — State workers in the province of Holguín are experiencing delays in the collection of their monthly salaries. Among the most affected are the employees of Education and Public Health who have not been able to receive their salaries due to lack of cash in the banks, according to testimonies collected by 14ymedio.

“Several state companies have not been able to get the money,” laments an employee linked to the Ministry of Internal Commerce in the city of Holguín. “When my company’s economics officer contacted the bank, they told him that at the moment the payment cannot be made because they do not have enough cash.”

“This is a very sensitive time of the year because we have just come out of all the Christmas celebrations and people are short,” acknowledges the employee. “People spent what they had and what they did not have to try to guarantee dinner on December 31 and now the news comes that the payments are going to take time. How are we going to hold out until the money arrives?”

Some workers have suggested that their salary be put on their magnetic card, associated with a bank account where the salary is deposited, in order to be able to carry out at least electronic operations such as paying for electricity or others for which it is not necessary to withdraw cash, but the proposal has not received a positive response.

“You cannot pay in cash or with a deposit on the card because in any case if they go to the bank they will not be able to extract that money. We have to wait for the Banco de Crédito y Comercio (Bandec) to notify us that we already have the deposit to start pay the payroll,” emphasizes the accountant of a Credit and Service Cooperative in Holguin, also affected by the lack of money. continue reading

According to her account, up to now the civilian workers of the Armed Forces and also of other official dependencies have been able to be paid, but the most serious problems are the personnel of Education and other ministries that have a large volume of workers and who pay them at the same time. “In those sectors, there are those who should have been paid at the end of last year and still haven’t been able to,” she asserts.

Some state workers have had better luck, such as those from Telecristal, the local telecentre, who managed to collect their salaries, but “it was almost a stroke of luck,” admits an employee of the institution who preferred anonymity. “I was able to be paid, but my husband, who works in another company of the Ministry of Agriculture, has been put off for days.”

Some state agencies in the province have been able to access the salaries of their workers, as is the case of Tabacuba, whose payments were made around January 4. The payment dates vary between entities and especially if they are permanent workers, by contract or by agreement.

The lack of cash is not a something new and the Banco de Crédito y Comercio itself was forced to report, half a year ago, that it had run out of Cuban pesos to load into ATMs in some cities in eastern Cuba.

At that time, the Bandec authorities attributed the problem to the lack of high denomination bills and excused themselves, among other reasons, for the “coincidence of salary payments” in almost all the companies in the eastern part of the country.

____________

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.

Garbage Collection in Cuba: From Creative Resistance to Desperate Patch

“Many containers have lost their hitch and we had to get working to solve it because otherwise it would be more work for us.” (14 and a half)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 3 January 2022 — The rattle of the Community Services trucks has people climbing sidewalks to make way for the giant. Two men get out and push a garbage container cracked on its sides. Among flies and shouts, customers waiting to shop at the Plaza de Carlos III see the garbage bin rise, embraced by an improvised cloth band and drop the waste inside the truck. “Tremendous invention!” ironically exclaims one. “That is the creative resistance that [Cuban president] Díaz-Canel is talking about,” another mocks.

The trick is more desperate than artifice. “Many containers have lost their coupling and we had to get up to do something because otherwise it would be more work for us,” laments one of the workers from the State company who carries one of these bands in case he needs them. “Without this, part of the garbage would fall on top of us when we lift the container or we would have to use shovels to throw it into the truck. Nobody wants to work in these conditions, but it is what it is.”

For decades, Cuban authorities have boasted of the achievements of the National Association of Innovators and Rationalizers (ANIR), an entity that seeks to inventively solve the problems of supplying spare parts. But behind the praise, when an employee replaces an imported gear with one made on a domestic lathe or repairs complex foreign machinery with wire and old tubes, there is more desperation than ingenuity. continue reading

“First we had to invent a soyuz (coupler) to be able to use the garbage trucks donated by Japan with these containers because they were not compatible”

“First we had to invent a Soyuz (coupler) to be able to use the garbage trucks donated by Japan with these containers because they were not compatible,” Walfrido, a former garbage collection truck driver, explained to 14ymedio. Last April, the state worker was blunt when he defined the “little blue ones”:  “They are not just bad, they are very bad.” After a few months, the original Soyuz was useless because, in most cases, the latching mechanism of the tanks broke.

When the azulitos (little blue ones) began to appear on Havana street corners a few years ago, they had that air of novelty that had many believing that the garbage problem in the Cuban capital was going to be solved. But the poor quality of these waste bins soon began to be noticed and was fatally combined with the looting that their less colorful cousins have always been subject to but have also ended up torn to pieces or disappeared in the streets of the Island.

“The pay is low, the salary is not enough for hardly anything and the working conditions are very difficult, but if the daily norm is not met then they are paid much less,” Walfrido details. “Now these bands have been devised, tomorrow we will have to use something else, and the day will come when the garbage will be collected all over Havana with a bulldozer if things continue like this,” he laments. While the “creativity” is provided by the Communal Services employees, the challenge falls onto the residents of the city, who will have to live with more mountains of waste.

____________

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 Security Fines and Blackmails Users of Social Media in Cuba

Decree 370, known as the “whip law,” monitors Cubans’ social media content. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 7 January 2023 — Yanara called her best friend and said to her in code: “My son’s unwell, could you bring me a thermometer?” This was just a strategy to get her old university friend to visit her so she could then tell her what was really on her mind. Two days earlier she had been called to a police station in El Vedado, Havana.

“At first, when they summoned me, I thought it had something to do with my business, because I’m self-employed and I sell various things from a street stall”, she told her friend. “But when they took me to a small room I realized it had something to do with State Security. There were three plain-clothes officers, all very young”.

Between those four walls, Yanara found out that that the secret police had been monitoring her Facebook account. “They had pages and pages of everything that I had shared or written on my time-line, at least over the last year”, she said. “They began by asking me why I was using this way of criticising the government when there were already existing mechanisms like the People’s Power and accountability meetings”.

After an hour of recriminations and threats over her postings, Yanara left the station with a fine of 3,000 pesos, which she says she’s going to pay. “I think it’s unjust but I’m really scared because I have a little boy, a business to run and a mother who has no one to look after her but me”, she told her friend.

The police justified the fine citing the law passed in July 2019 “concerning digitisation of Cuban society”, the Decree 370, known as the “whip law” — a ruling which claims to “elevate technological sovereignty for the benefit of society, the economy, security and national defence” and to “counter cyber-aggression”. continue reading

Amongst Yanara’s presumed ’crimes’ were those of “distributing, via public data networks, information contrary to social interests, morals, good behaviour and personal integrity”, which has been compared, as applied to the virtual world, with the crime of “pre-criminal dangerousness”, a legal term which has been used widely against opponents and dissidents.

The content of her posts, which cost her an interrogation and a fine of 3,000 pesos, included memes, some of which ridiculed Miguel Díaz-Canel, comments about the long queues/lines for food and criticism of the deterioration of Havana. “Nothing that you wouldn’t hear said on the street, but they said this type of thing shouldn’t be published on the internet”.

This Habanera, born in the middle of the eighties, likes to keep everything she does under the strictest secrecy. “If this happened to me, who only posts memes and other friendly stuff every now and then, then I imagine there must be lots of other people who’ve also had to pay this fine for saying next to nothing at all”. In the same police station where she was questioned “at least three other youths  were waiting with a similar summons”.

There have been plenty of reports circulating since the start of Decree 370, about the imposition of fines for posting certain types of content on social media, but the majority of those reporting these reprisals have been activists, government opponents or independent journalists. It’s indeterminate the number of other people who have been punished in this way but prefer to keep silent.

“I set my Facebook to private and deleted some posts”, says Yanara. “I don’t want any problems and they made it clear that they were going to carry on monitoring everything I write, who I give ’likes’ to, or what I share on my time-line. It shouldn’t be like this on social media, it’s like walking down the street and having a police patrol following you”.

Cristian, a young man from Camagüey who is preparing for university entrance this year, went further. “I deleted my Twitter and Facebook accounts after I got a verbal summons, supposedly from the director of my pre-university course, but when I arrived at his office there were two State Security officers waiting for me.

The adolescent was questioned about the show of support he’d given on the internet for the 11 July 2021 demonstrators and for “sharing mercenary content”. The secret police threatened him with the whip law and warned him that university entrance was an honour that was only granted to revolutionaries! His Facebook account lasted until that day. Only his family knew about that encounter.

I don’t know whether any of my fellow students have had the same experience, and now when I’m walking down the street I ask myself if other people have also gone through anything similar and said nothing”, Cristian wonders. “I’ve seen friends suddenly disappear off social media and I thought that maybe they were wrapped up in some project or other but after that interrogation I’ve come to believe that they also must have got a summons for what they were posting”.

Decree 370 isn’t the only law to try and put the brakes on citizens’ criticisms on the internet. In August 2021 Decree 35 came into force which penalised anyone who gave voice to ’fake news’ in Cuba, or promoted it, or published offensive or defamatory messages that prejudiced the “prestige of the country”, or “social and ethical damage, or incidents of aggression”.

The law includes a long list of cybersecurity areas, from digital attacks or physical damage to telecommunications systems up to access to, and dissemination of child pornography content, all of which only merit a level of danger which is ’medium or high’. On the other hand, the category “social subversion”, described as actions which attempt to affect public order, is considered ’very high’ risk.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

____________

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.

Another Year, Another Shortage of Ration Books in Cuba

Sign in a Cuban store saying that they won’t be issuing new ration books. (Facebook/Jonatan López)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya and Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 29 December 2022 — “Customers please be aware that in January we will be using the same ration book as 2022. So please look after it!” Messages like this one, written hurriedly on a scrap of cardboard and stuck carelessly onto the shop door, have been appearing in numerous stores in Cuba over the past week.

These are the only sign of something that’s about to happen yet again: that they haven’t printed the new ration books that normally would get issued in December, for use from January onwards.

The ministry of Interior Commerce confirmed this on Thursday on its Facebook page. In the announcement, in which it also assures that “the distribution of already established family hampers for January is guaranteed”, they inform that “there are some changes to the usual timely distribution of ration books for 2023, because in six provinces, and, partially in another three, their production has not yet been completed”.

Because of this, the text continues, “food products corresponding to the January quota will temporarily be recorded in the 2022 book, for which a procedure has been sent out”.

This newspaper has established, by telephoning a number of grocery stores, that this is happening in Havana — in the Central, Cerro and Revolution Square districts. “There are problems in getting hold of next year’s books and people are going to have to continue to use this year’s”, they explain over the phone, “most likely beyond January or February – there’s no date yet”. continue reading

The only district that appears to be free of the problem is Luyanó, where, despite the scarcity, and all the general problems associated with buying from state shops, they have actually received the ration books.

Beyond the capital, there is a shortage reported in Sancti Spiritus. There, the stores are recording January orders in the old books.

The fact that there’s a lack of these things — things which have been a daily norm ever since rationing started in 1962 — isn’t new. It was exactly the same last year.

A statement from the Ministry of Internal Commerce later clarified that there were “delays in the importation of basic printing materials”, which delayed the “production and distribution” of the document, which is essential for obtaining basic subsidised foodstuffs. In other words: they’d run out of paper.

One would read from this announcement that until they re-establish the distribution of these documents in the western and central districts, that they’ll have to keep using the 2022 ones. And to avoid confusion, it would be appropriate to “cross out things that have already been bought” before adding to the new ones in the space available “on the January and February pages” of 2022. This December, Cubans are feeling a bit… deja vu.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso 

____________

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 Cheapest ‘Street Drink’ in Cuba Now Costs More than the Daily Minimum Wage

Though the price marked on the metal trolley was 25 pesos per freshly poured glass, a paper sign above it now announced that the product had gone up by five pesos. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 20 December 2022 – At first it quenches the thirst but later you’re left wanting another, and then another. Granizado [English: ’slush’] is the cheapest drink you can get whilst out and about on the streets in Cuba, but in times of inflation even this glass of ice, water and syrup has seen its price arrive at a level beyond the pockets of anyone who only earns the monthly minimum wage.

Known as raspado in other Latin American countries, Cuban granizado has been there for the common people through thick and thin. Consumed with peanuts, this sugared drink was a lifesaver during long hours of waiting for the bus at dawn before any breakfast, and even in the improvised social gatherings on the Malecón in Havana when you didn’t even have the price of a shot of rum.

But even this modest sip has become unrecognisable. In only a decade granizado has become more than ten times more expensive. If a glass of it cost 2 pesos in 2012 now it’s 30 — a price that’s alienated even its most loyal customers: pensioners, those with few resources and adolescents who can’t afford a can of fizzy drink. continue reading

On Tuesday morning, a cart selling granizado appeared opposite the steps of the entrance to Havana University. With its range of flavours including strawberry, cola and ice-cream, it was noticeable that no one approached it to cool themselves down in the December heat with a cold sugary drink. Though the price marked on the metal trolley was 25 pesos per freshly poured glass, a paper sign above it now announced that the product had gone up by five pesos.

On the benches nearby dozens of people formed a long queue (line) for the buses, which, increasingly spread out now, line up from Calle San Lázaro. In earlier times they would have hung around and had a granizado first, but most of them are elderly and their pension doesn’t provide them more than 2,000 pesos a month. It’s just too much to spend more than a day’s pension on a coloured squash drink that disappears in three mouthfuls.

The sellers, however, justify the price increase. “No one sells me anything cheaply. I have to get up really early every morning and pay for the the ice at the price that it’s at on the day”. A bag of ice of between 6 and 7 pounds never goes below 80 pesos and “you have to add to that the cost of the syrup and the paper cups”. In order to get hold of the supply of most of these materials one needs to get onto the black market.

The granizado man continues with his list of complaints: “It’s increasingly more expensive for me to keep the cart in a secure place, and then there’s the fines that sometimes I get for selling on some corner where I shouldn’t be, or then some spiteful inspector wants to get money out of me… All this just adds up and adds up”. His story might sound logical enough and try to minimise the rise in prices but it doesn’t manage to change many of his customers’ decisions.

What was a drink to be grabbed in ordinary life for everyday need, to give you a swig and move you on for another half hour, has now been added to the list of things that can no longer be afforded, a bit like it all ended up with a beer, a soft drink or even a bottled water.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso  

____________

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.

‘I Can’t Serve You Because You’ve Been Reported Dead’

“I went to Oficoda [Office in charge of rationing in Cuba] and they told me that in their records my ration book registration was circled, with a number “1”, and it appeared that I was dead”. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 24 November 2022 – Ricardo, 77, rose that morning in good spirits, not imagining the awful surprise that awaited him in the grocery store where he went to buy his rations for November: “I can’t serve you because you’ve been reported dead”, the assistant replied after being given his ration book.

Three days and many formalities later, this habanero pensioner was finally able to prove that he was still alive.

The store assistant had explained that he needed to go to the Consumer’s Registry Office (Oficoda) with his ID card, his ration book and any evidence that proved that he hadn’t died. The scene was like it was lifted from the black comedy Death of a Bureaucrat (1966), but instead of happening on the cinema screen it was happening right there in Havana in 2022.

“I went to Oficoda and they repeated that in their records my ration book registration was circled, with a number “1”, and it appeared that I was dead”, Ricardo told 14ymedio. “It was a really absurd situation, because how are you supposed to prove to an official that you’re alive, if not just to walk up to her and talk, and ask questions”, he joked. “In the end I moved up closer to the woman and asked her: Miss, do I smell like I’m dead?”

Joking aside, correcting the error not only took Ricardo quite some time, and a ton of paperwork, but he also had to postpone getting his quota of rice, cereal and other produce. “While I was there in the Oficoda another three people arrived who were in the same situation. Two had been taken for having died and the other one for having emigrated”, he said. continue reading

The process of digitalisation of data at Oficoda started in 2018. Although at first the authorities presented this process as a means to speed up and improve the procedures offered to the population, the truth is that their real objective was to identify relatives of deceased or emigrated individuals who continued to buy food rations in their place.

The obligation to cancel the ration book of a deceased or emigrated person isn’t a particularly new or original one. Resolution 78, passed by the Ministry of Interior Commerce in 1991, imposes this rule on people who are in prison, in care homes, in long-term hospitalisation or resident abroad for more than three months, and they have between ten and sixty days to be taken off the ration book system.

However, the rule has hardly been applied for decades, and this has contributed to the existence of thousands and thousands of “ghost consumers”. In 2021 alone, in the province of Ciego de Ávila, 15,000 of the 437,000 registered total no longer even lived in the country, according to data from the Department of Identification, Immigration and Alien Status published in the official press. This phenomenon applies across the whole Island and has gotten worse in recent months, with the massive exodus of people from the country.

With Cuba’s economic crisis and its lack of currency for buying products abroad, Oficoda has tightened up its investigations into the existence of these ‘ghost consumers’. The digitisation of its register will certainly have helped in this process, but errors, and the reliance on unchecked information from store managers or other consumers, along with corruption itself, have all left a substantial and continuing potential for irregularity.

Ángela, a resident of Luyanó, Havana, told this newspaper: “They managed to duplicate my ration book. I went to sort something out at Oficoda and when they put in my family data they found there was a duplicate book”. Up until then somebody else had been buying bread and other regulated food products designated to Ángela and her family members, but no one had noticed it.

“I don’t have a photocopier in my house for making a copy of the ration book. So who did that?”, she complained. But the official just answered vaguely, “There must have been an error during the digitalisation process”. During the hour and a half that Ángela spent at the centre trying to sort out the problem, at least two others arrived with similar problems. They were all given the same excuse about probable errors in digitisation.

It isn’t just a routine problem to have your ration book duplicated or to be removed from the system because you’re presumed dead — it becomes a real headache for victims. This document, which has been used by every Cuban since as long ago as  1962, has actually gained in significance in the area of state commerce in recent years. Instead of disappearing, as optimists had predicted, these days it has become indispensable for obtaining products which until recently were on sale more freely.

“Being presumed dead not only stops me from buying the regulated amounts of rice or coffee, but also from getting a packet of chicken or even a bit of washing powder”, says Ricardo. Ever since that fateful morning, every time he wakes up he looks closely at himself in the mirror, touches his chest, breathes in and tells himself, with some relief: “I’m alive. And I hope Oficoda knows it too!”.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

____________

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.

Cristal, the National Beer that Became Unattainable for Cubans

The terrain lost by national beer has been filled by foreign brands that don’t maintain stability either. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 13 November 2022 — At another time, Havana’s Malecón would have been filled with lines around the kiosks that this weekend sell drinks and different dishes as part of the 503rd  anniversary of the founding of the town of San Cristóbal de La Habana. Now, however, most customers pass by the counters, read the prices and leave without buying. The prices that are the most frightening are those for beer: 250 pesos for a can of Cristal, the brand that once accompanied so many family parties and that filled Cubans with pride.

“Now it’s easier to find a Corona, a Heineken or any other imported beer than a Cristal. When you find it, calm yourself, because it’s the most expensive,” according to one of the curious people on Saturday who approached a small makeshift bar under a blue canvas with a metal platform, a few meters from the National Hotel. “No one can explain why a product that is made in this country is more expensive than another brought from Holland or Mexico,” added the man, who finally left empty-handed.

Known as “Cuba’s favorite,” Cristal has been disappearing in recent years from the shelves of shops and restaurant tables. Its national production, in the hands of the joint venture Cervecería Bucanero S.A, isn’t doing well due to the lack of liquidity, the instability in the arrival of raw materials and the devaluation of the Cuban peso that, increasingly, pushes Cuban beers to exclusive sale in markets in freely convertible currency or to online commerce portals.

The terrain lost by local drinks has been filled by an infinity of foreign brands that don’t maintain stability either. “You come one day and there is a good German lager, and the next day it’s no longer there and instead there’s a Chinese beer,” complained another customer who finally chose to drink a national production malt, also at 250 pesos per can. “When has there been a popular celebration in which people aren’t standing around the drinking kiosks? It’s just that they get scared as soon as they see these prices,” he remarked. continue reading

Inflation and the economic crisis have been combined so that the capital commemorates its birthday with dull parties that raise little enthusiasm among the Havanans. The city of fast-paced nightlife and bars that never seemed to close has been filled with phrases like “Do you remember?” Or “Before we had…” Cristal beer, which refreshed so many throats and fueled the revelry, has also been added to the long list of nostalgia. The drinkers, who once exalted its flavor, have changed the epithet that accompanied it. It has gone from being “Cuba’s favorite” to become “Cuba’s loss.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

____________

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.

In ‘Power-Cut Cuba’ Electric Vehicles Are Charged Up From Balconies

Illegal cables are helping to charge up the electric vehicles that little by little are starting to appear on the streets of Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 11 November 2022 – Long extensions, or ’electrical clotheslines’, are as common for Cubans as are power cuts. With many metres of cable which run from one block to another it’s possible to get around the lack of power, or even to light up a whole quarter illegally, without being metered. And now the cables are helping to charge up the electric vehicles which are, little by little, beginning to appear on the streets of Cuba.

Motorcycles, tricycles and quad bikes form part of this fleet that needs no fossil fuels to get it moving, but it needs to be connected to the electricity supply, a service which is becoming more and more unstable because of the poor technical state of the Island’s power stations. “I payed nearly 7,000 dollars for this tricycle and though I really like it, sometimes it’s a real headache trying to get it charged”, says Liam, a young Hababero who earns a living as a food delivery driver.

“I live on a high storey, so I can’t just pick up the bike, fold it in half, put it in the lift and connect it to the electric socket in the flat. The battery itself is too heavy for carrying from one place to another”, says the delivery man. “I’ve managed to get a neighbour to pass me a cable from their [lower] balcony and I pay them a monthly amount for the service”, he says. Scenes of electric cables like this stretching from balconies down to shiny new vehicles parked on the street are becoming more and more common.

Although the authorities announced months ago that they were working on the installation of solar powered outlets in locations that would ensure the charging of these vehicles with 100% renewable energy, the process has been slow and they have hardly even been able to install a few power points, for state companies. “I’ll have to be able, one way or another, to charge up the tricycle at home, but even that is a box of surprises because you don’t know when there’s going to be a power cut”, complained Lisandra, a resident in the city of Ciego de Ávila. continue reading

“What we do is, if we don’t have electricity in our quarter we try to get it by connecting to another”, she adds. “For that, we have to go everywhere with an extra extension cable, just in case”. The old ’electric clothesline’ which has saved so many Cubans from long hours of darkness, that is, from the punishment of Unión Eléctrica, is now helping them to get around: “Pass me the cable over the balcony so I can charge up the car”, is already a not-unfamiliar thing to hear on the Island of the power cuts.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

____________

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.

Inspectors Fine Garage Sale Vendors in Havana

If the building’s residents complain, the chances of getting a visit from an inspector or the police increase astronomically. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia Lopez Moya, Havana, 5 November 2022 — A sign that, only a few days ago, was advertising a garage sale on 26th Street in Havana had suddenly disappeared, leaving customers to wonder if the owner had either skipped town or had nothing to sell. The truth is the sale was cancelled out of caution after officials announced that they would be keeping a closer eye on this type of retail activity, making sure only “authorized items” were being sold.

“I can’t risk getting fined so I didn’t open this weekend,” says Tahimí, a 38-year-old Havana resident who got on the garage sale bandwagon as soon as it was legalized in 2021. “Some of what I sell are second-hand clothes and shoes but my biggest sellers are housewares and other imported goods,” she says.

Cuban officials have begun cracking down on illegal commercial activities. This has not only put coleros — professional line-sitters — resellers and hoarders under greater scrutiny but also threatens others involved in the retail trade. At a recent meeting of senior officials in Havana, there were calls for greater oversight of garage sales, the sites at which they take place and the types of items being sold there.

The announcement caught the attention of anyone who had ever set up shop in a stairway, at a building entrance or in a parking garage. These makeshift stores might sell anything from clothing and wallets to light bulbs, fast-acting glue and cigarettes. “I guess we’ll only be selling used goods or things we happen to have at home,” laments Tahimí.

She recalls that, in late 2013, the government banned the sale of imported goods in private stores, which were being supplied by “mules” returning from trips to countries such as Mexico, Panama and Russia. But last year’s protests forced the government to quickly adopt a set of measures intended to quell popular discontent. Legalizing garage sales was one such measure.

Though the new rules did not require a garage sale operator to have a business license or to register as a self-employed worker, he or she still had to get a permit from the Municipal Administration Council, at a cost of 50 pesos. A few weeks later the regulation was “updated” and the permit requirement was eliminated. “No one told us what we could or couldn’t sell but recently I’ve met several neighbors who were fined for displaying food and coffee.” continue reading

Others choose not to give in to fear. “Nobody has told me that I can’t sell these things,” says a vendor who operates on Tulipán street in the Cerro neighborhood. On a small table he displays several types of sunglasses, USB sticks and a couple of universal remote controls, all new and in their original packaging.

“No one told us what we could or couldn’t sell but recently I’ve met several neighbors who were fined for displaying food and coffee.” (14ymedio)

He points out, however, that longtime street vendors on Galiano and Monte streets, people “who have been doing this their whole lives,” are receiving the same fines as those who operate garage sales. It is difficult to distinguish between them because the merchandise they are selling increasingly corresponds to items in short supply at state-owned stores, forcing consumers to turn to the informal market for all manner of everyday items.

Residents in Luyanó alert vendors when they see “a red and white minivan approaching.” It ferries inspectors to the neighborhood to conduct checks on garage sales and private vendors. Garage sales are now only allowed to operate on weekends and may only carry second-hand goods and one or two duplicates of new items vendors might have at home.

Witnesses report that infractions are subject to fines ranging from 3,000 to more than 10,000 pesos. These are particularly hefty sums considering how widely this type of activity was tolerated until very recently.

To evade oversight, some garage sales have moved online. “Selling bales of used clothing in good condition,” reads a classified ad on Facebook. “A combo of pants, shoes, blouse and feminine accessories at a very good price,” reads another, which adds “No  need to leave home, the merchandise comes to you.”

There are also those who act as suppliers to the vendors. “I have clothes for garage sales, available separately or as twelve pieces packaged together” reads another classified on a page seemingly overflowing with deals on both second-hand and brand new items. Many ads are placed by families planning to leave the country, of which there are more and more every day, and who cannot fit their belongings in their suitcases.

But it is not just officials who are keeping an eye on garage sales. Residents in one twelve-story building in Nuevo Vedado complain that an operation of this type has invaded their stairway and is attracting people “who are constantly coming and going,” shopping for and trying on clothes. “It’s fine that they’re making a little money but they’re using a public space for their own personal gain,” one neighbor remarks.

If the building’s residents complain, the chances of getting a visit from an inspector or the police increase astronomically. “They can always find some reason to shut you down or to fine you because no one can get just by selling only what you’re allowed to sell,” she adds. When it comes to garage sales, the era of just looking the other way has come to an end, and only a little more than a year after they were legalized.

____________

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.