Safety Concerns Force Cuba’s Restaurants to Cut Back on Home Deliveries

Recently, reports of robberies and assaults, perpetrated mainly on motorcyclists, has frightened many owners of these types of vehicles.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia Lopez Moya, Havana, January 10, 2022 — El Biky did not have a single empty table on Saturday night and no one seemed worried about his or her safety on this normally busy corner of Infanta and San Lazaro streets in Havana. No one except the staff at this well-known restaurant, which has decided to suspend nightime home deliveries so as not to expose their drivers to the ever growing number of attacks in the capital.

One employee’s explanation left Vilma, a customer who had called to place an order, speechless: “The motorcycle couriers have created a crises over all these assaults. They’re afraid to deliver at night.”

“I was told you delivered until 7:00 PM. It’s only twenty past seven and all I want is a cake. Can’t you ask one of the drivers to deliver it to me?” pleaded Vilma over the phone. But she could not twist the employee’s arm. He told her that the new schedule, which took effect at the end of last year, was the result of “constant complaints by motorcycle couriers.”

The restaurant is located in Vedado, one of the most centrally located parts of the city, near the Malecon. Nevertheless, last weekend the neighborhood surrounding the restaurant was devoid of pedestrians and vehicles, a situation which further frightened motorcycle couriers.

Since the final days of 2021, reports of robberies and assaults, which have been perpetrated mainly on motorcyclists, has frightened many owners of these types of vehicles. The response by cafes and privately owned restaurants, which managed to stay afloat during the most difficult months of the pandemic by offering home delivery, has been to shorten delivery schedules. continue reading

La Rosa Negra, a privately owned restaurant in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado district and popular for its moderate prices, posted this on its Facebook page on December 29: “For reasons of safety we have decided to reduce the hours during which our home delivery service will be available.”

The restaurant’s management said it would not be making deliveries after 8:00 PM. The next day, however, it announced the cut-off would be 6:00 PM, to coincide with the summer nightfall.

It is not just the increasingly common robberies of motorcycles on Cuban streets that the couriers fear. They also risk having their deliveries stolen, or falling victim to the “customer trap.” In this case, someone posing as customer will request a home delivery and ambush the courier upon arrival, taking everything he is transporting, including the vehicle.

“You need four eyes on the street at all times. Driving a motorcycle comes with the threat of physical harm. If they come at you with a club or stick, you have no way to protect yourself,” says Yantiel, a courier who freelances both for a privately owned restaurant in Playa and for Mandao, an popular online service that offers a variety of products through its mobile app.

The delivery schedule cutback has had a big impact on these restaurants’ bottom line. “We get most of our orders close to dinner time. If we can’t make home deliveries at that time, we earn a lot less,” admits the owner of one cafe in Central Havana which delivers pizzas throughout the capital.

But even in daylight hours, couriers take precautions. “I don’t go inside anyone’s house. I don’t go to any floor in an apartment building. And I carry this with me,” says a young man who opens a compartment at the rear of his motorcycle to show 14ymedio the metal pipe hidden inside.

Authorities have not have not officially commented on the increase in assaults though the Ministry of the Interior did issue a statement saying that complaints about this on social media, in particular those related to the theft of electric motorcycles, “are events that occurred in previous years or are fake news.”

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July 11th Protesters in Artemisa, Cuba Receive Sentences of Up to 12 Years in Prison

Eddy Gutiérrez Alonso was sentenced to 8 years in jail. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 9 January 2022 — For the crimes of public disorder, contempt, assault, and insulting national symbols, 13 protesters who participated in the peaceful protests on July 11th (11J) in the municipality of Artemisa, were sentenced on Friday; sentences ranged from 4 years of ’limited liberty’ to 12 years in prison.

The trial was held at the end of November in the courtroom of the People’s Provincial Tribunal of Artemisa, the province where the first popular protests occurred, in the municipality of San Antonio de los Baños. During the trial, family members denounced the fabrication of crimes and the use of false witnesses, used by the prosecutor to seek longer sentences.

Luis Giraldo Martínez Sierra (27 years old) received the longest sentence, 12 years in prison, followed by Yeremin Salcine Jane (31 years old), with a 10-year sentence. Victor Alejandro Painceira Rodríguez (26 years old) was sentenced to 7 years and José Alberto Pio Torres (28 years old), Iván Hernández Troya (25 years old) and Yoslen Domínguez Víctores (33 years old) were all sentenced to 6 years.

Javier González Fernández (34 years old) and Alexander Díaz Rodríguez (41 years old) will have to spend 4 and 5 years in prison, respectively, while Eduard Bryan Luperon Vega (21 years old) and Yurien Rodríguez Ramos (42 years old) were sentenced to 4 years of forced labor without internment.

For his part, Yoselin Hernández Rodríguez (39 years old) faces a sentence of 5 years of ’limited liberty’, while Leandro David Morales Ricondo (23 years old) faces a 4-year sentence of the same. continue reading

In the case of young Eddy Gutiérrez Alonso (24 years old), the sentence was 8 years behind bars. “I was crying all night. For going out to protest he must spend 8 years in prison,” his girlfriend, Rachel, became indignant during the conversation on Friday, after learning of the tribunal’s decision. “I’m very depressed with all of this, I still have not processed the sentence.”

The document which describes the sentences, to which we had access, was issued on December 27, 2021, but the political prisoner’s family members and defense attorneys received it on Friday. It is signed by the judges of the Municipal Tribunal of Artemisa, Yurisander Diéguez Méndez, Ernesto Amaro Hernández and Leonel Llerena Díaz. Furthermore, it should be stated that all of those tried were given joint penalties for various crimes.

Of all those accused, it is said that “they walked in the middle of the public road, obstructing all traffic,” on several municipal streets in Artemisa. As they walked, “they raised and agitated their hands, so people would follow them,” while also “screaming ’police dickheads’, ’police motherfuckers’, and Díaz-Canel motherfucker’,” this last phrase directed at President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, “which exacerbated the spirits of those present and contributed to other people joining.”

Among the accusations against Luis Giraldo Martínez Sierra, the tribunal said it took into consideration his decision to “snatch from a government official” a Cuban flag, “which deserves respect for all it represents and the implicit honor it carries and in lashing out against the said symbol, demonstrated total irreverence.” The “facts” are described as “severe” because he also “decided to snatch the national symbol from the hands of a woman, physically smaller than him, shows a level of aggression on the part of the accused.”

With regard to Yeremin Salcine Jane, the judges considered “his active role in citizen disorder,” that he “uttered demeaning phrases against government officials,” in addition to “assaulting agents who were there to fulfill a mission, for which he hit and intimidated one truck driver so drivers would abandon their attempt to drive on, acts which resulted in marked violence and aggression in the public roadway.”

Of Eddy Gutiérrez Alonso, they stated that “in addition to disturbing the peace and offending government officials, he assaulted agents who were trying to contain the crowd’s illegitimate advance, for which he hit, threw a jar and intimidated the driver,” of a military truck, “so he would be unable to continue driving.”

Regarding the truck, the document also mentions the vehicle is a HOWO, “olive green, with ’PNR’ on its front doors, referring to the National Revolutionary Police, and belongs to the Military Unit 5274 Brigade of Prevention Troops of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Havana.”

Some of the accused, “lay on the ground to prevent the truck from advancing,” described the sentencing document. “Later, they stood in front” of the vehicle and “with their hands, lashed out against the vehicle and its occupants, striking the front of the vehicle, Eddy joined in, forcefully striking the passenger side door of the car several times with a closed fist and damaging it.”

The document continues, while the truck was turning a corner onto another street, Eddy “grabbed a plastic bottle from the floor and threw it into the cab,” in the direction of the driver, “without injuring him.”

In another part of the country, Matanzas province, another trial resulted in six-year jail sentences for Tania Echevarría, Leylandis Puentes Vargas, and Franciso Rangel Manzana for protesting on 11J in the municipality of Colón, reported Radio Televisión Martí this Saturday.

Manzano and Puentes, members of the Pedro Luis Boitel Party for Democracy, have been in prison since July 11th.

The families of the 13 people sentenced in Artemisa, as well as those of the opponents in Colón, have said they will appeal the sentences imposed on the political prisoners.

Translated by: Silvia Suárez

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Dozens of Cubans Demand a Ticket to Nicaragua in Front of the Conviasa Office in Havana

A group of Cubans this Thursday in front of the Conviasa office in the Miramar Business Center in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 6 January 2022 –  “We want a flight date,” dozens of Cubans shouted at the top of their lungs as they gathered this Thursday morning in front of the office of the Venezuelan airline Conviasa in Havana, which is in charge of selling flights between Havana and Managua.

As the days go by, the desperation of Cubans to find a ticket and be able to fly to Nicaragua grows. “Today we almost broke the windows of this place,” says one of the customers who, filled with resentment, spent the afternoon in front of the office located in the Miramar Business Center.  The man in his 30s, along with other people, continued to sit outside the building.

“Here you have to come every day, sir, they are going to add flights and more flights,” says another woman sitting a few meters away, very hopeful that she will soon fly to Managua.

“We are not selling tickets. We have reported that sales are suspended for the moment, it is what we have reported all the time,” said an airline employee on Thursday, adding that at the moment they do not know when the tickets will go on sale again. She assumes, she said, that “until the reprogramming progresses,” although she also commented that company authorities in Caracas, Venezuela, were meeting to “see what solution they could come up with for the problem.” continue reading

On December 6, in the same commercial office, Conviasa employees specified that starting on January 1 they would begin to sell tickets for the Havana-Managua-Havana route normally. Then they detailed that prices ranged from $500 to $1,000 in freely convertible currency (MLC).

The frequencies were scheduled for Wednesdays and Saturdays, with the first flight leaving on December 15. In the first trips they were accommodating “people who had already bought the ticket” before flights were suspended due to the pandemic, said an employee. “In case of no-show, tickets will be sold to those in the normal line.”

Customers, looking forward to January 1 and to better organize themselves have, since then, began signing up for waiting lists started by Conviasa staff in mid-December.

Representatives of the airline reported that at the moment the website is not selling tickets from Havana and that they will only be able to make the connection through Panama City-Managua-Panama City. This newspaper was able to verify that there are flights available between these two cities on Mondays and Saturdays in February for a cost of 750 dollars which includes a 10 kilo carry-on and a hold luggage weighing 23 kilos.

“We come every day and this here remains hot,” says another customer who was staying in in front of Conviasa Thursday afternoon. “And because of what happened today they even put agents in plain clothes to take care of this [the office]”, but that will not prevent him from continuing to search for information and from being able to buy his ticket, he assures.

Since, on November 23, the Nicaraguan government established a free visa for Cubans , getting a ticket to Managua has been the main concern of many who see, in the Central American country, the escape route in the midst of the severe political crisis and economic activity that crosses the Island and that has deepened in the last two years.

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A Wall Threatens to Collapse a Few Yards from Havana’s Historic Cemetery

The deteriorated sidewalk blocking her passage left a woman resigned to waiting for the traffic to slow down to cross the street. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 8 January 2022 — The collapses and deteriorated houses are not only a thing in Old Havana; just two wooden supports support the weight of a wall in poor condition on Zapata Street that borders the Colón Cemetery, in El Vedado. Passersby constantly pass through the area and this Saturday, an old woman — cane in hand — was walking a few inches from the dangerous wall.

“Grandma, stay away from there, it could fall at any moment,” a young man advised the lady, but the wall was not the only problem. The deteriorated sidewalk blocked the passage of the woman who ended up resigned to waiting for the traffic to slow down to cross the street.

Zapata is not just any avenue. A few yards further on it approaches the Plaza de la Revolución and is a frequent route for official vehicles. Now, from the closed windows of their air-conditioned cars, the Cuban leaders will see the wooden shoring and some walkers risking their lives near the deteriorated wall.

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Not Only Buses Travel the Streets of Havana With One Wheel Missing

In the image, a truck of the Communal Services company of Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 8 January 2021 — Trucks and buses that circulate with three tires on the rear axle, instead of four, are no longer an exception on the streets of Cuba. Given the lack of spare parts, exacerbated by the economic crisis of recent years, state services have chosen to keep their cargo or passenger vehicles in operation even when they do not meet the minimum safety conditions.

First it was a Yutong bus that transported workers from the AICA laboratories without one of its four rear wheels, and this Friday a photographer from 14ymedio ran into a truck belonging to the state company of Communal Services of Havana in the same conditions.

Parked very close to the Ayestarán road, the vehicle, which is dedicated to transporting debris — large volumes of garbage or remains from tree pruning — was missing one tire.

“The lack of one of the traction tires causes complete instability,” warns Antonio, a mechanic with more than ten years of experience in the Mercedes Benz company workshops in the capital. “It can cause losses in the steering of the vehicle and, if that tire is overloaded and bursts, the vehicle can tilt to one side and cause an accident.”

The design of these axles “is planned in this way to support a certain weight,” explains the specialist auto mechanic. It is a danger, he continue reading

insists, that the vehicle is in this state because “when one of these tires is missing, the remaining one is overloaded, even causing the suspension of the vehicle to be affected as well.”

Antonio warns that “there are some vehicles that serve tourism — a prioritized sector in Cuba — with bald tires and repaired steering. Imagine that it could be left for other vehicles!”

Javier Valdés worked for a time in the workshops of the extinct Fénix limited company, linked to the Office of the City Historian, in Old Havana. After emigrating a few years ago, he acquired a small trucking company in South Florida.

“Applying my knowledge as a professional mechanic, a heavy vehicle that transports people or cargo should circulate with all the wheels with which it was manufactured,” says Valdés. In his experience, “the lack of one of these tires can cause the vehicle to lose alignment and therefore the suspension is out of adjustment, the wheels wear out, or a tire explodes.”

In the event that the vehicle runs without weight “missing one of the wheels of the rear pairs,” Antonio details that “everything will also depend on the physical quality of the remaining tire, but it is not at all recommended that they move on the road in these conditions.”

If it has the axels for it, it’s  better have two tires, Javier insists: “I do not recommend that any vehicle travel the roads if it is missing a tire, and even less the roads of Cuba which are full of potholes, which is also a factor that directly affects the tire resistance.”

Each vehicle is designed to fulfill its function as it should, and in this sense, the mechanics agree that “if the design of a truck foresees a maximum load weight of 50 tons, with one less tire, this capacity is greatly reduced.”

In Havana, the deterioration of the vehicle fleet was recently recognized by Leandro Méndez Peña, general director of Transportation in the capital, who recognized, for example, the existence of a severe deficit in public transportation by pointing out that only 49% of the total bus fleet is in operation. The situation is visible to all and, on any street in Havana, vehicles appear that are not fit to circulate.

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Without Private Vendors, Three Kings Day in Cuba Would Be Impossible

Viewed as a relic of a bourgeois, consumerist past, Three Kings Day celebrations in Cuba have been on pause for decades. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia Lopez Moya, Havana, January 6, 2022 — Are you selling any toys? Where can I find dolls for sale? These and other questions could be heard throughout Cuba on Wednesday, the eve of Three Kings Day. In recent months toy supplies have been limited and this, combined parents’ financial worries and the often last-minute scramble for presents contributed to the tense atmosphere at Cuban children’s stores.

The only toys for sale at state-owned shops were a few board games. Meanwhile, private vendors capitalized on parental anxiety by offering imported goods at inflated prices. As in previous years, the vendors’ merchandise — items brought in by travelers from Mexico, Panama and the United States — was among the few available options available.

Three Kings celebrations in Cuba have been on pause for decades. Seen as a relic of a bourgeois, consumerist past, the government decided to replace it with Boys and Girls Day, moving the date for familial gift-giving to the third Sunday in July.

Items such as stuffed animals, toy guns, balls, tops and kitchen sets were selling for between 500 and 3,000 pesos apiece. (14ymedio)

With the dollarization of the economy in the 1990s, the tradition of giving presents to little ones on January 6 began to gradually make a comeback. But it is a return the Cuban regime has never been happy about and which government media outlets have strongly criticized on several occasions, deriding it as little more than an excuse for wasteful spending and consumption.

In spite of all this, dozens of parents gathered outside the only toy store on continue reading

Obispo Street on Wednesday, among them Marisol. The mother of two, who was looking for toys for her children, arrived just in time to watch a store employee carting away the last available items for sale: a few packages of disposable diapers. Shortly thereafter, the store closed its doors.

“They’re not selling anything here,” observed a man who was standing outside. “Half of Havana has paraded through here today looking for toys. I’ve told everyone the same thing. Go to Casa Perez. You’re sure to find something there,” he advised Marisol, who thanked the man for the information before heading towards Neptuno Street.

The toy shortage at state-owned stores is due partly to a dilemma these retailers face. They must sell merchandise purchased with hard currency from foreign suppliers for Cuban pesos. Selling toys at the country’s foreign-currency stores might solve this problem but it would create a wave of popular unrest and the government knows it.

Continuing her search, Marisol headed to Fe del Valle, a small park near San Rafael Boulevard, where private vendors often set up sales tables. On this day the makeshift stalls offered a wide array of toys, jams, footwear, jewelry and other items for sale. The wide selection of merchandise lifted her spirits.

“At that moment I felt the sky open up. I thought I’d be able to buy toys for my children and even something for my little niece,” she told 14ymedio. Her spirits quickly sank, however, when she realized that the prices for the items on display were well beyond her reach.

Items such as stuffed animals, toy guns, balls, tops and kitchen sets were selling for between 500 and 3,000 pesos apiece. “It’s hard to believe. A regular Barbie  for 1,200; a plastic Hulk 2,000,” said Marisol, who had a budget of 1,500 pesos thanks to a remittance from a cousin in the United States. “I’ll keep looking at the state stores and, if I don’t find anything, I’ll go back and see what I can do.”

Prices for the items on display were simply unaffordable. (14ymedio)

Marisol decided to try her luck at the hard-currency store on Carlos III Street but an employee there explained that the store had not gotten any toys for a long time. “I suggest you try the private vendors because it’s going to be hard finding anything at the state stores,” the sales clerk added.

With no other options, Marisol headed back to Fe del Valle and checked each and every stall in search of the most affordable option. “Can’t you please give me a discount? I need to get presents for my two children and my niece,” she explained to one of the vendors. “Don’t complain about the prices. I didn’t tell you to have so many kids. Life is hard for all of us,” the vendor responded.

Among the most affordable but least attractive options were the so-called “street-vendor toys” — cars, trucks and toy soldiers made from molten plastic, whose quality is far below that of the imports — which few people were buying. “Those are the toys for poor kids,” noted one woman.

Finally, Marisol settled on three bags, at 500 pesos each, which included cookies, candy and a small toy. “Never in my life did I think I would be spending 1,500 pesos for a handful of trinkets but these are the times we are living in this country.” A time when celebrating Three Kings Day is no longer prohibited but but is prohibitively expensive for many people.

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A Bus Travels Through Havana With a Missing Wheel and Nothing Happens

A Yutong-brand bus transporting some workers from the AICA laboratories back home was running with one tire missing. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 4 January 2022 — The lights of the bus that covered route A3 in Havana last night were barely shining ten meters ahead. “Look, there is the long one and you can hardly see anything,” the driver complained. “The head of the base told me that the mechanic had fixed it, but nothing, this does not work, so I do not know what changed,” he said annoyed, but although the visibility was so limited, he did not seem to fear for the trip. “I know the route like the back of my hand.”

The driver’s assistant, in charge of collecting the fares, also helped to put the gears with the lever. “Help me for a while because this is tiring,” asked the driver. “As you can see, this bus is ramshackle, the gearbox is bad and I drop second and third gear, so you have to keep a steady hand pressing the lever when these gears are engaged,” explained the driver before the unusual scene that threatened the passage.

The breakdowns of buses are a constant in Havana. (14ymedio)

These anomalies illustrate the state of the public transport equipment in the capital. “Of the 878 buses that the capital owns, 435 are in use, which represents 49%,” Leandro Méndez Peña, general director of Transportation in Havana, recently explained. continue reading

The official added that one of the solutions to optimize the shortage of vehicles was to authorize a greater capacity as long passengers wore their masks correctly and the buses were constantly sanitized. These measures, far from solving the problem, were the breeding ground for a series of thefts of cell phones and wallets to be unleashed inside the crowded buses.

Nor has the hygiene maintenance measure been visible. Many vehicles move around the city with a notorious filthiness and, in some cases, the breakdowns are patched with flagrant precariousness, as in the case of a bus that used old cardboard to cover holes in the floor, as 14ymedio was able to verify in a journey the last week.

Sometimes old cardboard is used to cover holes in the floor. (14ymedio)

Split seats, doors and windows without hinges or boarded up with metal plates in the absence of glass and the articulated accordions totally smashed are images that are repeated on any of the routes that travel through Havana every day.

On the afternoon of this Monday, a Chinese made Yutong-brand bus that was transporting some workers from the AICA laboratories back home circulated along Cerro Avenue, awakening murmurs among several passers-by who were stunned when they realized that one of the rear tires was missing.

“I was standing with my daughter trying to catch a bus to Esquina de Tejas, when I saw that it stopped in front of me to drop off two workers from the company,” a resident told 14ymedio. The driver of the state vehicle closed the door just as the man asked if he could take them.

“At that moment I got a little upset, because the bus was almost empty.” However, when he noticed that one of the tires was missing on the right double wheel on the rear axle, he changed his mind. “I am surprised that he can drive in those conditions,” said a passerby. Meanwhile, he commented to his little girl: “We will wait a little longer, sometimes what happens is serendipitous, and that bus can crash at any time.”

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

Cuban Brigadier General Humberto Francis Pardo, in Charge of Fidel Castro’s Security, Dies

General Humberto Francis Pardo, who died this Monday in Havana. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar / Natalia López Moya, Havana, 28 December 2021 — Reserve Brigadier General Humberto Omar Francis Pardo died this Monday in Havana, as 14ymedio confirmed on Tuesday. His body, which will be cremated, is at the Calzada y K funeral home, located at Calzada number 52, in El Vedado. A source close to the family told this newspaper that the military man had suffered from Alzheimer’s for years.

He was born in Santiago de Cuba in 1945 and studied in the Soviet Union between 1965 and 1969, according to the Internet forum Secretos de Cuba. “When he returned to Cuba, he carried out military missions, at least in Angola, Ethiopia and Nicaragua,” says this website.

As brigadier general, Francis Pardo was in charge of the the Ministry of the Interior’s Personal Security Directorate, the invisible apparatus with the most power on the island, and was in charge of Fidel Castro’s security. He had under his command the “elite” brigade that has more than 3,000 troops, “shock troops” to face protests.

Considered one of the most powerful Cuban military personnel, Francis Pardo was replaced from his duties as Head of the General Directorate of Personal Security (DGSP) in August 2016. Raúl Castro replaced him with his grandson Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, son of Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, the “czar” of the State company Gaesa. continue reading

Until that moment, within the military scheme, General Francis at the head of the DGSP commanded an anti-attacks brigade that was made up of snipers and experts in all types of explosives, in addition to the counterintelligence service, which in coordination with other State agencies controlled all the information of that brotherhood, the family circle and friends. Vice Minister of the Interior under Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, the military man was also in charge of an international relations department that coordinated with other secret services visits to Cuba by persons of interest and personalities.

General Francis was awarded the Order “June 6” of the First Degree in recognition of 55 years of accumulated service in the ranks of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior. His “consecration, skill and reliability performance, fundamentally in the organization and direction of protection activities for the main leaders,” of the Cuban regime was highlighted.

All the official reactions after the death of Francis Pardo were published long after 14ymedio reported the death of the soldier. The first communiqué was released by the Interior Ministry, which specified that Francis Pardo had “a brilliant record of service in protecting the physical integrity” of the main Cuban leaders and “in defense of the Revolution.”

It also noted that “his remains were on view” at the Calzada and K funeral home, “for a subsequent ceremony with the corresponding military honors.”

For his part, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez on his Twitter account described Francis Pardo as “a brave combatant of Personal Security,” who was “head of that troop of loyalists during 30 of his 56 years of service in the Ministry of Interior, under the orders of Fidel Castro and his brother Raúl.

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

A Private Business in Cuba Buys Sugar from its Customers to Make its Chocolates

“We buy sugar” says the sign in the chocolate shop. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 23 December 2021 — A sign with the phrase: “We buy sugar,” caught the attention of all the customers who came to the Bombonera Kakao chocolate shop located on the well-heeled 12th street between 23rd and 25th, in Vedado this Thursday. The quality of the products this private business has meant that not a few Havanans go to the establishment ready to buy their merchandise, especially around Christmas and on Valentine’s Day.

Located in the midst of state businesses that take payment in foreign currency, Kakao exhibits a varied range of products derived from chocolate, despite the fact that it has its main raw material, another of the most used ingredients in its elaborations, sugar, is scarce to the point that it has forced the owners to put the sign on the door.

The island’s shortage of supplies not only hits Cubans with fewer resources, but also causes havoc in the self-employed sector, where many have found it necessary to resort to unusual supply methods — most of them illegal — in order to manage the raw materials necessary for their business.

It is a curious thing for many of those searching for the crystals, to find the unusual request to purchase. In the absence of a stable supply that the State must guarantee to the self-employed in the wholesale stores, the same clients who access their business end up being the potential suppliers.

Iván, a young man who came to the establishment in search of the exquisite chocolates and chocolate figurines offered there, was impressed when the clerk explained: “We don’t have any sugar left and we haven’t been able to get it. Luckily we have continue reading

chocolate, although if you realize it we have been forced to raise prices a little because every day everything is more expensive.”

After choosing some of the smaller chocolates, Iván promised to return to buy one of the Christmas offerings. “They are a little out of reach of my pocket, but at home we will treat ourselves at the end of the year with one of those chocolates,” he said to the seller while pointing to a figure of Santa Claus and another of a Christmas tree, with a price of 1,300 and 1,000 pesos, respectively.

The shortage that the island is experiencing also causes havoc in the self-employed sector. (14ymedio)

“We will be open throughout the end of the year, including the 31st, it all depends on whether we get the blissful sugar,” was the merchant’s reply.

Anabel is another of Kakao’s regulars. “Whenever I can I go and treat myself, and on February 14 I am a fixture there,” she tells 14ymedio. A friend who was browsing the stores that only take payment in dollars in search of soda to accompany the Christmas dinner, saw the sign in the chocolate shop and called her to tell her.

“If you want chocolates, run here because these people have run out of sugar and they will close at any moment,” the friend told her, to which Anabel replied: “I put my boots on, I’m going to bring them 10 pounds of white sugar that I had saved for emergencies and I’m going to exchange them for an expensive chocolate.”

National sugar production is going from bad to worse. According to official figures, last year the country was only able to provide 416,000 tons of the product for national consumption, since it has committed to China the annual sale of 400,000 tons. The Island consumes annually between 600,000 and 700,000 tons.

Last July, the state sugar group Azcuba announced that the 2020-2021 harvest was “one of the worst in the history of Cuba”, meeting only 66% of the planned target of 1.2 million tons.

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Operation Cosmetics: Products Missing From Cuban Markets for Months Reappear

Agricultural markets in Havana suddenly offered special supplies hours before Christmas Eve. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 25 December 2021 — After a year marked by shortages, in the last days of December the Cuban government has launched an effort to try to erase the image of the empty market stalls. Agricultural markets in Havana experienced a special supply hours before Christmas Eve. Vegetables, legumes, meats and even fruits that had not been seen together for a long time came up for sale.

“The pallets are full and the prices are less exaggerated than in previous days,” said a man at the entrance of one of these premises, who also noted the presence of inspectors from the municipal government. “Sure they come to look on their own account, these days they always sharpen their teeth,” the man whispered.

The strategy, however, was not enough to fill all of Havana’s markets nor to satisfy customers who continue to regret that prices remained very high despite the slight reduction. Others, spoke sarcastically about the evident objective of “making up the scarcity” in the face of “the Christmas photo” and expressed their fears about a twist in the deficit in the coming weeks.

“What I want to know is where all this merchandise was put, surely in January they will be empty again,” commented a lady while reviewing the list displayed in a market in the Cerro municipality. Pineapples, cabbages and tomatoes fail to appease popular unrest in the midst of one of the hardest economic crises of the last half century on the Island.

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The ‘Guillotine’ of Monte Avenue Threatens to Behead Passersby

The elderly, students, and shop customers are among the potential victims of a collapsing wall. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 21 December 2021 — Elderly people who go to buy bread in a nearby store, customers of an adjoining shop, students coming or going from school on the popular and central Monte Avenue at the top of Águila Street, all are among the potential victims of the ‘guillotine’.

Neighbors have given this name to the side wall of a building because of its resemblance to the French artifact invented more than 200 years ago to behead inmates sentenced to death. “At any time, the guillotine could take its toll on one of the old men who stand in line to buy bread,” Ramón, a resident of the area, explains to 14ymedio, pointing out that the store puts out bread twice a day and many older people wait in front of the door for hours to buy.

This situation means that at times the line is so long that many people are standing just below the structure that is in danger of collapse.

The hustle and bustle generated by traffic, the honking of vehicles and the din of passersby who walk past the stalls of the self-employed, from portal to portal, make the imminent danger that lurks silently over the heads of many go unnoticed. The neighbors, aware of the risk, demand a solution from the authorities before a misfortune occurs.

This Monday, around four in the afternoon, a line formed outside the Monte Nuevo bakery. Julio, a 67-year-old retiree, said he was unaware of the guillotine. “I have been coming here for months to buy bread, and I had not noticed. Now I won’t walk under that place anymore,” he says without further ado. continue reading

“The miserable pension that I collect, the pandemic and the crisis that this government has caused have wreaked havoc on my mind. Survival in these times is very difficult for ordinary Cubans, while they [the rulers] live like kings.”

The neighbors, aware of the risk, demand a solution from the authorities before a misfortune occurs. (14ymedio)

Julio remembers that a few days ago, about 200 meters from the bakery, a man lost his life due to the collapse of a building that had been under a demolition order for 15 years. “Do you know when they are going to come running to repair or demolish that? When it collapses it will cause another death. Another Cuban squashed like a cockroach,” he says while pointing his index finger at a small group of high school students, who are passing underneath the structure in poor condition. “I hope I’m not one of these guys,” he adds.

“Apathy” is the first word that comes to the mind of the person in charge of putting chlorine on the hands of those who frequent the Panamericana Monte and Águila store when asked why the ‘guillotine’ is not fixed or demolished. “Luckily, everything indicates that the building is in good condition. The only bad thing is that side wall,” he told 14ymedio.

The worker says that a long time ago the adjoining building was dismantled, leaving the side out in the open. Corrosion has affected the wall for years, causing it to fall apart and to begin to show structural damage on the corner.

The huge crack that originates at the base of the first floor and reaches the roof of the third floor of the building at Máximo Gómez (Monte) and Águila provides less and less support for the structure.

“At other times large pieces of concrete have fallen, but, fortunately, no one has been injured,” continues the store clerk. “Then someone from the Government appears and orders that tape be installed to prevent people from walking underneath,” he explains, although, as the days go by, “the tape disappears again and people trust it and pass by.”

About six meters from the wall there is a bathroom that receives hundreds of people every day, but the self-employed person who manages it understands perfectly that his chair should be located “as far as possible from that wall, in case it collapses.”

Next to him, another retiree who survives by selling plastic bags sums up the situation: “What we are experiencing is a disgrace, because that problem with the wall can be solved in a moment if they close the passage under the portal, or in a couple of days if they come and demolish it.” According to him, there are many who avoid the danger zone, however, “there are more who pass by, fleeing from the sun.”

“We know that it is possible, because in the collapse of the other day, in less than 24 hours they had cleaned and propped everything up,” he adds. “Of course, all this was done quickly because there was a death and that does not suit the leaders, because it is bad publicity for the tourists. They do not fix the ‘guillotine’ because, simply, nobody cares.”

For now.

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Buses, Cuba’s Cellphone Thieves Favorite Places

As the bus continued on its route, “not even a pin could squeeze in,” one of the witnesses tells this newspaper. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 14 December 2021 — It is not enough to wait for hours at the bus stop, make the trip packed in like a can of sardines, but the passengers on Havana’s buses must also take maximum care of their purses, pockets and especially their mobile phones, which have become one of the most stolen objects in public transport.

Some notice when they get off, when they try to make a call and their phone is only a memory. Others realize it while still inside the bus but they can do little to identify the possible thief of a device that has cost them several months of work or that they have obtained through their relatives abroad.

“I had just bought it when I got on P2,” said a 42-year-old from Havana who was the victim of one of these thefts, speaking to 14ymedio. “That day I felt lucky because I even managed to reach a seat, then a woman with a child came up and I gave her the seat. Shortly after I felt that I was missing the mobile phone that was in my pants pocket.”

The man was immediately suspicious of the woman, who had clung to him when sitting down. “A passenger offered to call my number to hear if it rang somewhere, but only got the message that it was ’off or out of coverage area.’

“I asked the driver, almost crying, not to let anyone get off and to wait for the police, but he replied that that was not his job, his job was to carry the passengers and that was what he was going to do.” A few minutes later, the victim pointed his steps towards the Dragones police station to make the complaint. “I still have no cell phone,” he says several weeks after the robbery. continue reading

In these cases, the complaint must be made not only to the police, but the theft of the device must also be reported to the Telecommunications Company (Etecsa). The state monopoly then blacklists the mobile’s IMEI number, a unique identification that is easy to monitor once the device is back in use with a SIM card issued by that entity.

However, there are many who never make the police report or the report to Etecsa. They fear that the cell phone that was stolen from them is being investigated because they initially bought it on the black market. Or, in other cases, they do not want to be involved in a police investigation that will bring subpoenas and their name entered in a database of open investigation processes that can bring future complications.

Three weeks ago, Alberto, a doctor who works in a polyclinic in the capital, prepared to ride on Route 43 to return home after leaving a shift at work. His Xiaomi mobile phone had cost him 200 CUC ($200) last year, and he carried it in one of the pockets of his uniform. “I don’t remember feeling anything, it must have been during the pushing inside the bus that my cell phone was stolen,” he confesses. When he got off the bus, he looked for the device and could not find it.

“I went to the police and, thanks to the management of a friend in a unit, I was able to make the complaint, but to this day my phone does not appear,” he says angrily when he remembers that he had some contacts of his patients in his address book and the numbers of all students for whom he is the thesis tutor.

Carmen, who works at a technology company for the Economy on Ayestarán road and must take the P16 to get to her workplace, was the victim of the theft of her phone on one of those trips. “I need it a lot because my mother has Alzheimer’s, and whoever takes care of her calls me whenever a problem arises,” she says. “My son had to spend all his savings to be able to buy another one,” adds the woman, who claims to have heard of other similar robberies on the same route.

Last week, another young woman had the same fate as Carmen. She got on an A50 bus, a route that connects the National Bus Terminal, in Plaza, with Guanabacoa. On the way, the bus “was filling up, until noteven a pin could squeeze in,” one of the witnesses told this newspaper.

Among the passengers were several students who had boarded the transport to return home. At one point during the trip, one of the students was heard saying: “Reiner, hurry up, call me on the phone, they stole it from me.” His friend called and the mobile phone rang at the back of the bus and the girl tried to get there, but “without being able to specifically identify where the sound was coming from.”

“Call me again, he’s still here,” the student yelled. However, on the second attempt they had already turned off the phone, adds the witness. At that moment the bus stopped at a stop and many people got out.

“I’m going to the police right now, that phone is an Alcatel of the kind that Etecsa sells in MLC (freely convertible currency),” the girl. “My mom bought it for me with a tremendous sacrifice.”

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Cuban Health Workers Upset by the Distribution of a Cash ‘Stimulus’

“What is the fault of those of us who get sick with covid or anything else?” the health workers complain. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 6 December 2021 — The delivery, on December 15 ,of a “stimulus” in national currency to workers in the health sector is generating controversy among doctors, nurses, dentists, technologists, graduates and other workers of the Ministry of Public Health.

The measure, which the Government presents as a recognition of the labor of its workers during the pandemic, “does not cover those who for various reasons were not present or who voluntarily did not undertake all the tasks.” Thus, all those who at some point, during the pandemic, requested a license, medical leave or worked remotely, will be unable to collect the bonus.

The letter, signed by the Deputy Minister of Public Health, Luis Fernando Navarro Martínez, establishes the rules to be taken into account to make the payment of the stimulus in cash effective “to the professionals, technicians and other health workers who have worked in confronting the pandemic.”

However, the decision to recognize the work of health personnel is overshadowed by the requirements to take into account, when evaluating who is eligible and who is not to receive this unprecedented benefit in the recent history of this country, because “it is for those who really deserve it.”

“Those who ‘of their own free will’, they say, as if I had not assumed the tasks because I did not feel like it, but who was going to take care of my young son then?” a worker at a Polyclinic in the capital tells 14ymedio before issuing a warning: “I did work for a long time during the pandemic, until my mother could no longer take care of my son, continue reading

and since on the 15th they did not pay me the stimulus, I asked to resign and leave,” she says, upset.

Although it is true that for a good part of the sector it will be beneficial, especially in these times of excessive inflation that further devalues ​​the already symbolic state wages, there are discrepancies between those who do meet the requirements and those who find it unfair that other colleagues are not paid equally.

Such is the case of a doctor at the Manuel Fajardo hospital. “Yes, we are going to receive it this month and we will collect depending on the basic salary of each person. The normal salary of about 5,300 is paid on the 10th and then they will pay the same amount as the basic on the 15th, 5,060 pesos in my case, I’m a doctor. ”

This doctor does not believe that it is fair that some receive help and others do not, since he “is aware and saddened that a nurse who was allowed by the 60% law to be able to take care of her child, and a doctor with maternity leave, will receive extra.” At the same time she recognizes that they have a more difficult situation due to having small children and that, therefore, their personal expenses are higher.

The workers at the Joaquín Albarrán polyclinic, in Centro Habana, “are beside themselves from the insult,” according to a person who has ties to some of them. “They tell me that when the union met to explain what the matter was about, there was tremendous uproar, because it was enough to have one unjustified absence for them to not pay someone the incentive,” he says.

“What is the fault of those of us who get sick from covid or anything else?” Asks another worker in the sector. The man explains that he was absent from his position as a nurse in another polyclinic because he was “very ill and with hemoglobin at 6, that is, on the floor,” and adds that, as soon as he recovered, he returned to work. Now, he protests, the situation is that “with those days recorded, I’s invalidated from collecting the famous incentive.” In addition, he blames the union for being willing to comply with all the orders “from above” and not defending his rights as a worker.

Another doctor, excited and grateful for the action by the ministry, commented to her colleagues in a medical office: “I think they are doing it so that if the new omicron strain should cause a lot of damage and we have a setback in this regard, nobody is going to miss work, not even if they have small children, not even if they get sick or anything. ”

Some health centers in the capital have rejected the certificate models presented to the ministry, since “when calculating the parameters, we only took into account the absences, certificates and licenses of this last year,” when the plan was that the last two years of work would be taken into account.

This situation hurts several workers who “classified as eligible” to receive the salary stimulus, but who will no longer be chosen when the new document includes the labor criteria for this year and the previous one. “We are very sorry and we feel sorry for our workers, but it is what it is,” laments a worker from the Human Resources Department of one of these centers who agreed to speak with 14ymedio on condition of anonymity.

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Official Fairs Return to Cuban Parks to Confront Human Rights Day

Students in Trillo Park this December 9 in the afternoon. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 9 December 2021 — The protests of July and the call for the Civic March on 15N (15 November) have made the Cuban regime nervous. It is enough for a group of activists to propose a demonstration for officialdom to redouble the police presence, stage a fair in the place and mobilize dozens of members of the State Security. If, in addition, the event is planned for Human Rights Day, the unease of the Government multiplies.

A day in advance, from this Thursday several Havana parks have been taken over by students who do not understand very well what they are commemorating. In the squares you can see improvised tents with food stalls and revolutionary music at full volume. The calculated event will last until December 10 to cover any possible act of civic vindication.

“The teacher told us that today and tomorrow we had to counteract the possible marches in the parks,” says Joan, a student who is in the eighth grade at a basic high school in Centro Habana. “They gave us an early dismissal so we could attend the activities.”

Although at first the teacher explained to Joan and his classmates that they were going to carry out “exploration and camping activities, as they do on camping trips”, what Joan and his classmates found in La Normal park, in Manglar Street, was “a tent and music recorded at full volume.” continue reading

In the squares there are improvised tents with food stands and revolutionary music at full volume. (14ymedio)

“They were also setting up an improvised stage where someone will surely play later,” explained the 14-year-old, who also noted the insistence from the directors of his school that the students remain in the park. “We started to play soccer and those of us who had a mobile phone connected to the Wi-Fi network, until I got tired and snuck home.”

The same scene is repeated in other parks in the capital, where a strong presence of young people dressed in the school uniforms of various levels can be observed. “There is a circus in Trillo Park today,” an elderly resident of Centro Habana told 14ymedio. “They tell me that in Central Park and the one in front of the Design Institute, there have also been tents since yesterday with sales of bread and other products that have been missing, plus the characteristic show with revolutionary background music,” he said.

In 1998, a similar mobilization of high school students and members of the Union of Young Communists congregating in Butari Park, in the Havana neighborhood of Lawton, ended with them attacking several activists who had chosen the place for a peaceful demonstration during the day for Human Rights.

The incident included blows against the cameras of the foreign press, one of which was significantly damaged. One of the correspondents’ microphones was stolen by the mob and several dissidents were detained in the days before and during December 10 itself. After that the opposition figure Óscar Elías Biscet launched a call to march in that square

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Cubans Without Masks Are Fined, Tourists Are Not

Tourists walking without masks through Old Havana this Monday, December 11, 2021. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 8 December 2021 — “To the Cubans for having the wrong face mask on, the full weight of the law, but foreign tourists who walk and walk through the streets without a mask are invisible,” complains Pedro, a resident of Old Havana who sees the double standards as evidence that the Cuban Government always acts at its convenience.

The resident, who lives a few yards from the Plaza de Armas, witnessed the arbitrariness of the authorities this Monday, when a group of foreigners walked without masks towards the popular site of the Capitol building and at the same time, two yards from the scene, four inspectors fined a young man at the door of his house.

“They fined a young man who was at the door of his house with his mask on his chin because he had just finished smoking 2,000 pesos,” says Pedro. “The boy even showed the inspectors the smoking cigarette at his feet that he had just thrown away and it was not enough proof: he ended up fined.”

Since the reopening of the country to tourism, on November 15, the number of foreign visitors who stroll through Cuban streets has increased. But tourists do not seem continue reading

to be aware of local regulations to avoid getting sick from covid-19 and nor do the authorities remind them.

In the squares, the taxis from the airport, the waiting rooms of the air terminals and the lines in front of a restaurant, most of the tourists are seen without a mask, nor do they respect the distance of a four-and-a-half feet between people, advisable to minimize the spread of the virus.

“Now there are three ways to know who is a foreigner: by the currency with which they pay; because they are always looking up instead of watching for the holes in the sidewalks; and because they walk bare-faced on the streets,” joked a barber this Tuesday on Reina de La Habana Avenue.

“They will have hard currency and they will be vaccinated, but I do not serve anyone who enters here without a facemask,” he declared.

In establishments that provide private services, the inspectors live fining anyone who wears the mask improperly. This Tuesday, Jhony went to get a haircut at a barber shop in Centro Habana and was able to see how two young people who were waiting in line were fined for wearing the mask on their chin.

“One of the fined boys complained to the inspectors that tourists walk the streets without a mask,” says Jhony. “The reaction of one of the inspectors was drastic: ‘Oh no, what I was going to give you was a fine of 200 pesos to go easy on you, but now you’re leaving with 2,000’.”

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