‘We Don’t Even Have Bread for Communion’ Says a Priest in Cuba

Every diocese orders the hosts it needs from the nuns, picks them up in Havana and pays a modest fee to help support the sisters. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia Lopez Moya, Havana, 3 November 2022 — The monastery of the Discalced Carmelite nuns of Saint Teresa in Havana produces most of the communion wafers, or “hosts,” consumed by the island’s Catholics. On Wednesday the nuns announced in an online statement that they would not be able to manufacture or sell any more of them, paralyzing a distribution system that has been operating for decades.

“We’ve been working with what little flour that was left but we’ve already run out of that stockpile,” wrote the nuns, for whom the sale of hosts was one of their sources of income.

The announcement has aroused the solidarity of many Catholics on the island as well as of Cuban exiles in Spain and the United States, who have taken the opportunity to send raw materials to the Havana convent. The sisters have also set up a phone line for anyone who might want to help.

“Since production has been halted, we’ll have to stretch the existing hosts, almost like [the biblical parable of] multiplying the loaves,” says Fr. Jose Luis Preyo, a Spanish priest working in the town of Caibarién, in Villa Clara province. “We’ll have to divide each host into two or three pieces until the supply is replenished.”

Pueyo explains that priests from every parish goes to their local bishops once a month to pick up hosts for their congregations. “It’s not a product that will keep indefinitely,” he points out. “It’s better not to wait too long before consuming it. That’s why production and supply have to be ongoing.”

As for the Carmelite nuns of Havana — they were the subject of the 2015 Spanish documentary “A Million Hosts” — he describes their work as “doing a favor for the  island’s dioceses.” The money they receive for the continue reading

hosts also allows the convent to be economically self-sufficient. “If this turns out to be a chronic problem, which seems unlikely, we would have to import hosts from overseas, as we do now with sacramental wine. We would also have to find dioceses or parishes to produce them, which has already happened to some extent, or to consecrate ordinary bread,” says the priest.

As for the latter option, Pueyo says that this could only be done with bread made from wheat flour without any additives or fillers, something impossible to find in Cuba.

“The hosts are distributed on a monthly basis,” says Pedro, a lay administrator in Villa Clara. “Every diocese orders the hosts it needs from the nuns, picks them up in Havana and pays a modest fee to help support the sisters.

Pedro speculates that the host shortage will lead to rumors about the Catholic church’s relationship with the government. He claims the nuns have an agreement with the regime to supply them with flour but that the government has not lived up to its end of the deal.

“It’s worth noting that Pope Francis does not supply the flour, as some people think, nor is it his responsibility. Every country has its own system for producing and distributing hosts.” He says some hosts are also produced at the local level in Cuba though he admits he does not know how this is done.

Sebastian, a layperson working for the diocese of Matanzas, claims the Carmelites produce all the hosts consumed by the western half of the island. “Years ago the nuns were able to modernize their operation. It’s not ordinary bread. It’s a wafer whose dough must be cooled in a very exacting way, then placed on very hot metal sheets, where it is shaped and cut,” he explains.

Sebastian does not believe a shortage of communion wafers will disrupt religious life in Cuba but he cautions, “It will severely impact the lives of thousands of Catholics who attend Sunday mass.”

He also points out that Catholics are not the only ones affected. “Evangelicals, Anglicans and Orthodox Christians rely on the archdiocese to provide them with hosts for their own religious services.”

“It’s not the first time we’ve faced a crisis but, so far, we’ve always been able to overcome any obstacle. But this time there’s an announcement that speaks louder that a thousand words about the hardships we are facing. It is as though the old saying ‘We don’t even have bread for communion’ were literally true.”

Shortages of raw materials have significantly affected churches and church-related endeavors. Sebastian recalls that, some time ago, Vida Cristiana — a nearly 60-year old Jesuit publication that was one of those which published the Carmelite nuns’ announcement — faced a serious paper shortage. Dozens of other Cuban religious publications faced the same problem, forcing them to delay printing or to shut down entirely.

“Another problem is the electricity shortage. What kind of manufacturing operations can survive  blackouts that last for more than twelve hours?” he asks.

Although the protests over shortages and blackouts seem to have subsided, many people in the country’s interior still suffer from long power outages. These hardships, along with the imprisonment of demonstrators and worsening living conditions, have led the island’s priests and nuns to denounce the situation.

Alberto Reyes, a priest in Camaguey province, posted a message of support to the demonstrators: “Given the unacceptable lack of electricity in Esmeralda, if anyone is going to hold a peaceful protest, let me know so I can ring the church bells.”

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

The Delivery of Passports is Delayed for Thousands of Cubans Eager to Emigrate

Cubans line up outside a DIIE office to get their passport. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 3 November 2022 — This Tuesday, Liliam and Jorge went for the third time to the office of the Directorate of Identification, Immigration and Aliens (DIIE) in Centro Habana, and their passport was not ready although they have tickets to travel to Nicaragua next Saturday. The mass exodus, together with the economic crisis, is delaying the delivery of travel documents.

“We managed to book the flights, paying more than a thousand dollars each, but if they don’t give us the passports in the next few days we can lose that money,” the mother of two children, who will also travel to Managua, explains to 14ymedio. “They were supposed to deliver everything on October 25, and nothing has arrived yet.”

The delay in deliveries is confirmed by an employee of the office located on Castillejo Street, on the corner of Jesús Peregrino. “We don’t make the passports here; we have to wait for Sepsa (Empresa de Servicios Especializados de Protección, S.A.) to bring them, but they don’t have fuel for their vehicles,” he tells this newspaper.

“They must travel in a safe vehicle because we’re talking about very sensitive documents, which must be guarded until they reach their destination,” he adds, like the cash from the banks or exchange offices.

“That has extended the period between requesting a passport or identity card and when it can be picked up,” the employee adds. “Now it’s taking about 30 working days, where before it was two weeks, but that may be more dependent on how the issue of transport is resolved and the number of requests for new documents.”

The place is full of people every day, and it’s difficult to find an empty space on its two floors to sit down, due to the avalanche of applicants. Most of those who go to the office do so to start the procedure for a new passport, although there are also those who want to request the mandatory extension of that document every two years, and others who need an identity card. continue reading

I have just retired and have stopped the whole pension process because I lost my identity card, and although four weeks ago I applied for a new one, I haven’t received it yet,” complained Rodolfo, a neighbor of nearby Salud Street, who is still waiting to start several official procedures. “They gave me a paper that supposedly replaces the card but in many places they don’t accept it.”

As soon as the doors are opened in the Castillejo office, a worker lets the first group in. Those who enter are placed in rows of seats until they are called, one by one, to go to a table where another employee in front of a computer enters the person’s data to call him later. On the upper floor are the areas for taking fingerprints and photos.

“They can have everything very well organized, but what’s the point if the delivery times are late?” complains Rodolfo. “Since I arrived today I have even seen people crying because they had everything ready to leave the country believing that they were going to get their passport on time and then found out that there are serious delays in delivery.”

In front of the premises, Idania looks through her window at those who begin to enter the second round of calls, after the obligatory break from 11 in the morning to 1:30 in the afternoon to save electricity in the state premises. “I’ve lived here since I was born and I’ve never seen such a long line. Whole families are coming to get their passports and emigrate,” she tells this newspaper.

“In these days there is so much delay in the preparation of the documents that I have seen people who have even tried to give money to expedite the procedure, but the employees can’t do anything,” she says. “This is not the place where they make them; they have to wait for them to be brought, and if there is no gasoline for the cars there is no way.”

“And it’s not only here. The 17th Street office in El Vedado is the same, with a permanent line and delivery dates of more than a month and counting,” she says. “There are people who come from other municipalities with the illusion that it will be faster here, but it’s a general problem, and no one escapes.”

Idania estimates that every morning, when the DIIE office begins to open, there are already “more than a hundred people outside waiting to enter.” Throughout the day that figure can continue to multiply several times. “In this place, quietly, they are serving more than five thousand people a week, and if only half come to ask for their new passport, then we are talking about many people.”

In silence, so as not to bother employees or get into problems that delay the process, fifty people wait on the ground floor, sitting and listening to the rules, read by a worker with a martial tone: “Here you cannot use your mobile phone; to call or receive calls you have to leave. You must be aware of the person in front of you so that you don’t miss your turn*, and you aren’t allowed to speak loudly either.”

After the indications, there are a few minutes of silence that break when a young man goes down the stairs and shouts with annoyance: “I’ve been doing this and nothing more for a month. Another day lost and no passport!” A murmur of indignation runs through the room, and several people go out on the sidewalk to use their cellphones. “We won’t be able to leave on Friday. They are still not delivering the passports that were supposed to be available in the second half of October,” one is heard saying.

*Translator’s note: In Cuba, people line up by asking “who’s last?” when they arrive, and then waiting until the next person to join the line behind them asks the same thing. Once the ’order’ of those waiting is established, people can then move around, a convenience particularly when lines can be hours long.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Mexican Company Magnicharters Denounces Theft of Luggage from Their Flights to Cuba

A letter has been sent to Cuban Airports and Airport Services, and to the authorities at José Martí International Airport Terminal 3. (México Destinos)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 22 October 2022 – The tourist operator Bojórquez has sent a stern letter to the Cuban airport authorities, denouncing the misplacement of suitcases, removal of belongings from passengers’ luggage, and the substitution of waste matter for passengers’ property, in flights operated by the Mexican airline Magnicharters. The company considers these matters to be criminal and is even threatening legal action.

“Our airline takes seriously the care and protection of our passengers’ belongings”, warns the letter, dated 19 October, which has been seen by 14ymedio. “Every day we see an increase in this activity”, it emphasises, alluding to the interference with, and theft from, luggage. The letter, signed by Armando Bojórquez Patrón, president of the tourist operator Bojórquez, details some of the troubling discoveries they have made.

“Misplaced suitcases, suitcases broken, opened, with damaged locks (padlocks, cable ties), removal of contents, substitution of contents with other items in order to keep the baggage weight the same, broken items left inside cases, empty perfume bottles, used and soiled items of clothing”, explains Bojórquez.

The letter, sent to Cuban Airports and Airport Services and the authorities at José Martí International Airport Terminal 3, explains that the airline “backed the Cuban destination, under the conditions of the travel agents charter”. This season, in addition to carrying passengers between Cancún, Mexico City, Mérida and Havana, as well as on the new route of Cancún- Holguín, the company is transferring Cuban migrants who have been deported from Mexico. continue reading

“That is to say, in an active way it is maintaining its services to Cuba not only in a tourist capacity but in a governmental one”, Bojórquez emphasises. The company operates these routes with a fleet of Boeing 777’s, each with capacity for 136 passengers. Although Magnicharters “takes seriously the care and protection” of its passengers’ belongings, “it is becoming impossible” to maintain its standards on its routes to the island.

The airline, which flies mainly to Mexican beach destinations, had 12 aircraft in 2016, but with the arrival of the pandemic it was forced to keep a number of them grounded. There is a hold-baggage limit of 25kg plus 20kg hand luggage on the Cancún-Havana route, which makes the company a perfect choice for Cuban ’mules’.

The ticket price of 278 dollars makes the route between the Cuban capital and the Mexican resort an attractive proposition for those importing goods for resale on the black market in Cuba. “They are flights loaded with purchases — white goods, clothes, footwear and other products — carried for later profitable sale at the highest price”, admits an employee of the General Customs Service who works at terminal 3 of Havana airport.

Bojórquez’s letter demands that the Cubans do more to protect luggage: “It’s our intention to ensure that all parties are able to activate the mechanisms for security and protection to which we are duty-bound, in the handling of passengers’ luggage, and that we don’t lose, through being lax, the prestige that we have all earned in our daily operations”.

Last April, Magnicharters cancelled their flights between Havana and Managua, Nicaragua, a route which had been particularly profitable given that each ticket sold for over 3,000 dollars. This cancellation came in shortly after conversations about migration had been held between the Cuban and Mexican governments, in which they pledged to maintain an “ordered and secure” migration.

The letter ends by calling for the “minimisation of these unfortunate incidents” and the company offers its “collaboration in avoiding these occurrences, already happening repeatedly on Magnicharters’ flights” to Cuba. The document has already had an impact in the baggage section at José Martí airport, where management are looking to evade responsibility and are seeking out the culprits.

This very week several tour operators arrived in Havana on Magnicharters flights, at the invitation of the Cuban tourist authorities. “When they arrived at their hotel they noticed that their luggage had been partly interfered with and stolen from”, an airport source told this newspaper, who blamed the incidents on the Mexicans themselves. “They seem to have occurred back there at the airport of departure, but we haven’t been able to verify that yet”.

However, other employees consider that what is happening fits with a “type of theft which is unique to Cuban airports where the workers are paid a very low salary and are put in daily contact with luggage containing belongings that are worth more than a whole month’s wage”, a worker connected to the main Cuban airport terminal told 14ymedio.

There are frequent complaints of luggage theft at Cuban airports and among victims’ testimonies are repeated accounts of broken locks, removal of items such as clothing, shoes, perfumes etc, as well as substitution of these items with old clothing, newspaper and even stones.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso

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

The Police Sweep up Vendors from the Doorways of Havana

Police operation carried out last week in a shop on Neptuno and Galiano, in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 23 October 2022 — The urban landscape of Havana lacks an important element these days: informal vendors who, in parks and doorways, offer everything from matches to soft drinks. A police operation carried out last week swept up these vendors, who sell basic products that are scarce in state stores.

“Not even one was left. These doorways on Galiano Street were always full of people selling many useful things for the home,” said a resident in Centro Habana who, approached the central avenue with the intention of buying a washer for his Italian coffee maker. “At first I thought it was too early and they hadn’t arrived, but a neighbor told me that the police had removed them.”

According to this resident, the raid took several minutes. “They arrested some and took away all the merchandise. Others were fined and warned that if they see them here again the fine will be even higher,” explains Luisa, a resident on nearby Águila Street, who rents part of her room to informal sellers to keep their merchandise.

The operation reached the self-employed fair also located on Galiano Street. Although those who sell there are licensed to sell local handicrafts and other privately-produced goods, according to the police, some were offering industrial products brought from abroad or bought in stores in freely convertible currency. continue reading

Fe del Valle Park, in Centro Habana, without the vendors’ tables. (14ymedio)

The usually-bustling place on Tuesday was practically empty and without the in-and-out of customers that has characterized it for years. Through the doorways in Galiano, from time to time you can see police, who monitor the area so that the street vendors don’t return. A daring one manages to take advantage of the fact that the agents move away to quietly hawk sponges and small bags of detergent.

“There are people who say that it’s the fault of the resellers who hoard the little they buy in the store and then resell it, but most of the things that these vendors sell are brought from abroad,” explains the woman, alluding to the mules that import all kinds of goods from Mexico, Panama, the Dominican Republic and the United States.

“If you need a sewing needle right now, where do you buy it?” asks Luisa. “Many of the things they sell don’t exist anywhere else, for example, dyes for clothes, lighters for gas stoves or shoe polish,” the woman says. “None of them have become rich selling all that junk,” she emphasizes.

The panorama, when you walk along Reina Street or San Rafael Boulevard is strange without the small tables or blankets on the ground of these informal merchants. The hope that some of their most assiduous customers have is that the waters will soon reach a level when the police raids against them end, and then the stalls will return with their tubes of glue and belts for men.

They do this all the time but then the vendors come back,” considers another neighbor. “Now they are again with the ’battle against illegalities,’ but they don’t recognize that these sellers solve a problem.” In the Fe del Valle park, where until a few days ago the tables alternated with bargains and school items, now there are only a few people sitting on the benches or connecting to the wifi area. It looks like the same place as a few weeks ago, but it no longer is.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Despite its Enormous Benefits, Etecsa Runs Out of Resources

Etecsa is one of the few Cuban entities that generates large earnings, and, nevertheless, it is in crisis. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 17 October 2022 — With its blue logo, air-conditioned offices and no competition in the national market, the Cuban Telecommunications Company (Etecsa) is experiencing a paradoxical situation: it is one of the few national entities that generates a large income, and, even so, it is in a difficult financial situation.

“We’re tying pieces of cables together in order to solve the breaks,” complains José Ángel, a worker of the state monopoly, a company that is experiencing “the worst crisis since its creation,” an employee of the Plaza de la Revolución municipality tells 14ymedio. “The bosses still have privileges, but we are without the resources to serve customers.”

José Ángel lists everything they lack. “There are no landlines to replace the old ones; we lack the boxes to install inside homes; the supply of cables is also having many problems, and even mobility is affected by the shortage of fuel.” The rosary of hardships stimulates the desertion of employees who once saw in Etecsa a “comfortable and privileged” place to work.

“This has changed a lot in recent years. They used to sell us products at a preferential price, but that happens less and less,” says a worker at the customer service office located in the Trade Market. “Here we are a little better because this place is very central and works like a display window, but in the other municipalities they can practically not even turn on the air conditioning.”

Every 15 days, Etecsa launches a cell-phone recharge promotion with extra bonuses to be paid from abroad. In 2019, computer science graduate Luilver Garcés Briñas estimated that on each of those occasions the state monopoly could be earning more than 7 million dollars from abroad. continue reading

But most of that hard currency isn’t invested in the telecommunications infrastructure. “About 90% of what Etecsa collects leaves the company in a large item marked “undefined,” clarifies another employee linked to the accounting area, who prefers to remain anonymous. “With what remains, it’s very difficult to maintain a quality service because we can’t make large investments.”

The lack of liquidity is also beginning to take its toll on Etecsa with its foreign investors. “In 2022, for the first time in 15 years, we haven’t been able to fulfill our financial commitment to Nokia,” the Finnish company that has worked on the Island to implement part of the data service for cell phones. “Investors are pressing us like crazy, but there’s no money,” says the accountant.

“A point has been reached where a large investment has to be made to improve connectivity, because the submarine cable with Venezuela is not enough now,” adds the source, who assures that alternatives are being sought with the Government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. At the same time, he says: “Although negotiations are in the works with Mexico for the possible laying of another cable, such a project will need investments, and the company is not able to make them right now.”

“The problem is that cell-phone usage has grown very fast, and we went from almost zero to approaching the 8 million cell phones we have right now. Customers are increasingly making use of data, downloading and uploading videos, making video calls and watching movies on the Internet, and all that is overtaxing the infrastructure we have, which is not expanding and improving at the speed needed,” he explains.

Bad news will continue to accumulate for the monopoly. Etecsa has not updated the exchange rate between hard currencies and the Cuban peso, as state exchange offices have done since last August. The delay in assuming the new exchange rates brings many distortions, including for immigrants, who find it better to send euros or dollars in cash to their family in Cuba to pay for a recharge, instead of paying for the service from abroad.

“A recharge from the United States costs between 20 and 23 dollars, and my relatives in Cuba receive 500 pesos of fixed amount, plus the bonuses that Etecsa promotes,” explains Indira, an immigrant from the Island who has been in Miami for a few months. “That same amount of money in Cuba is equivalent to about 4,200 or 4,500 pesos, enough to put eight packages of 500 pesos and still leave money for a smaller package.”

“Every day that passes without Etecsa correcting this great difference, more people here realize it and prefer to send the money for the recharge directly to the relatives,” says the young woman.

In the customer service center, the phone rings and the operator says: “Good morning, Marilú is taking care of you, how can I help you?” On the other side of the line, a subscriber complains with an annoying tone that his landline has not been working for three months and that he has reported this five times. “I’m going to put it on the list, but right now we don’t have supplies for repairs,” the employee says.

Calls with similar claims will continue for the whole day. In his daily report, José Ángel receives calls to attend to breakdowns in his municipality. “I’m going to see what happens, but if you need cables or boxes I can’t do anything. I’m only going to fulfil the formality that we review the problem,” he says while driving a van with a half-deleted Etecsa logo.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Dozens of Cuban Medical Students Leave Their Careers to Emigrate

The pandemic has taken away the desire of many students for a medical degree, poorly paid and with poor working conditions. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 14 October 2022 — A few weeks ago she got married, in a white, short suit, with flowers and many photos. But the celebration for Kirenia, 22 years old, was in the simple formal procedure for her to reside in Madrid with her husband, a young Cuban who is also a nationalized-Spaniard. Behind her will be her medical career, almost about to conclude, which she abandons for fear that Cuba’s social services will hinder her exit.

“It’s been the most difficult decision of my life because I love my career,” says Kirenia, an outstanding student not only in her course but also throughout the University of Medical Sciences of Ciego de Ávila. Her parents supported her from the first moment and encouraged her to leave before obtaining her degree. “I have several classmates who are doing the same thing.”

Kirenia doesn’t know if she will one day be able to graduate as a doctor in Spain, but she will not do so in Cuba. “My grandfather and grandmother are retired doctors and have to work, because their pensions are not enough,” she tells 14ymedio. “Washing dishes in a café in Madrid I can probably live better than them.” continue reading

The winner of many school contests in her teenage days, Kirenia now no longer has a “head for books and studies” because she only thinks about the moment when the plane takes off and she can look from the window at how the lights of the Island move away.

“Since I made the decision, I can’t even sleep. I have the feeling that something is going to happen that is going to stop me from leaving, but my family tells me that I have to calm down and that everything is going to be fine.” Kirenia already announced at the Faculty her decision to leave her career but attributed her departure to a pregnancy and the need to spend more time with her husband and future baby.

However, the truth is that she can’t imagine “working more than twelve hours a day in a hospital where there are no medicines, the toilets are so dirty that many doctors spend their entire day without even urinating, and they earn a little more than 4,000 pesos that don’t serve for much.”

Together with other colleagues they have created a WhatsApp group where they exchange any scholarship opportunity to leave Cuba. “There are more than twenty, most of them are third, fourth and fifth year medical students. If they are given a scholarship, they are willing to leave medical school” and join the almost 200,000 Cubans who have arrived in the United States since last October, or, unspecified, those who have left for other countries.

The Faculty of Medicine has been one of the jewels in the educational crown in Cuba for the last 60 years. The mass graduation of health workers is part of the official policy and is displayed as one of the great achievements of the revolutionary process, in addition to providing doctors to medical missions abroad, one of the main sources for hard currency on the Island.

In six decades, between 1959 and 2019, Cuba graduated 376,608 people in different branches of the Medical Sciences, of which 171,362 were doctors. The number of those who have left their profession to exercise other economically more rewarding professions and those who have emigrated is handled with secrecy, but in hospitals there is often a shortage of qualified staff and specialists.

Artemisa province is a dramatic case: more than 20 medical students from the same year abandoned their studies, all together. “It’s not just to take advantage of Nicaragua’s no-visa policy,” Inés, the friend of one of these deserters, explains to this newspaper. “It’s also because the rumor that they will be ’regulated’ [that is denied permission to leave the country] once they earn the degree is getting stronger, and they are afraid,” she adds in reference to the ban on leaving the country that the Government applies to students who finish strategic careers, such as Medicine.

On the other hand, in the provincial hospital, “several health workers have requested exit permits and, once granted, have emigrated permanently,” says the same source. “Some ask to be discharged; others leave without doing so because they [the authorities] can delay it, and others have taken advantage of gaps in the system; for example, that they’re in their last year of specialty and have not been ’regulated’.”

In the case of Yander, age 24, the reasons for requesting dismissal from the Victoria de Girón Faculty of Medical Sciences, in Havana, were different. He entered the first year of the program a few months before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. All students were, in one way or another, sent to support hospitals in the face of the large avalanche of people infected with the virus.

“I had hardly any experience and I had to face situations that I don’t want to live through again,” he tells 14ymedio. “The main problem for me was not the fear of getting sick; I got infected twice. I also didn’t make this decision from seeing so many people die without being able to do much to help them, because even oxygen was scarce.”

Yander got tired of the health authorities using students and recent graduates “as if they were furniture… Nobody was asking us anything. They moved us back and forth to support here and there, but the conditions in which we worked were terrible. There was a week that I could only eat bread with something and a juice that I don’t even know what it was because it only tasted like water with sugar.”

“The situation of doctors is something that you have to experience to see.” The young man decided to end his career as a doctor on the day that “a companion was upset because his mother with cancer was dying, and we didn’t even have a painkiller to give her. The man assaulted me and a nurse with a chair.” That night, when he returned home, Yander hung up his white coat for good.

He now has a business selling birds in Cerro. “What I learned at the Faculty I use a lot in the care of these animals, and I also sell hamsters, turtles and rabbits, in addition to the food they need.” The days when business goes badly, Yander still earns what a doctor achieves in a week. “I don’t miss it at all; rather I feel that I was saved from disaster.”

Economic problems also tipped the balance for Nelson Sánchez Ramos’ daughter. “We decided that the best thing for our daughter is to abandon her studies,” this man wrote on his Facebook account. “The disparity between what a professional earns who must study six years to save lives and what the frontmen of the regime receive, makes you reflect on your future and the future of this country.”

Sánchez’s wife, a graduate of Medicine, ” was forced to stop practicing the profession because it’s very difficult for her to get used to living on a salary” that doesn’t even guarantee a regular breakfast. “My girl lost motivation for her studies and now she has to make a huge effort as many university students in this country do, to graduate from a profession that they may abandon in the future to be able to fulfill their dreams, or for something as basic as guaranteeing an adequate diet for her and her children.”

Wage contrasts are obvious between what a doctor earns and what the members of the Ministry of the Interior earn. “Cubans interested in training as prison officials will receive 6,690 pesos of monthly salary, after a course of five and a half months, while a newly graduated doctor earns 4,610 pesos; a resident studying his specialty receives 5,060; and in the case of doctors with finished specialties, the salary ranges between 5,560 and 5,810,” concludes Sánchez.

Others abandon their studies to use all their energies to leave the country. “My son left Medicine in his fifth year and sold everything he had to pay for the ticket to Nicaragua. He has already been in the United States for three months and works in a brigade of builders. His friends at the Faculty see him as a hero,” says Frank Vilaú, father of a 26-year-old boy. “Now he is earning enough to help his girlfriend, who also left medical school, to get out of Cuba.”

But the exodus is not only happening in university education and, specifically, in the faculties of Medicine but also at all educational levels. René, a 45-year-old father from Havana and about to leave for the United States with his children through the family reunification program, visited the youngest’s high school to communicate to the teacher that the child would no longer continue attending classes because of the imminent departure.

“The teacher almost burst into tears and told me: ’No one is going to be left here. I have several students who are in the same situation, and other teachers have also told me that the same thing is happening in their classrooms.’”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

‘Let’s See if They Are Going to Fix Our Houses’ With the Millions from the Restoration of the Santa Clara Convent

The imposing structure of the convent occupies a huge block outlined by the emblematic streets Habana, Cuba, Sol and Luz of Old Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 21 September 2022 — Julita is 57 years old and sells avocados next to the Santa Clara de Asís Convent, the oldest cloister in Havana which is in the middle of a capital restoration to return it to its former splendor. A few meters from its painted yellow walls the residents of the area dream that the investment will be enough to also renovate a neighborhood sunk in housing deterioration and crisis.

“Until now, they haven’t told us anything that they’re also going to repair some nearby houses, not even the potholed streets that are quite cracked,” a resident of Calle Sol, who was born in the tenement where she and about twenty families now live, with explains to 14ymedio. “Since 1965, when my mother brought me into this world, the people on this lot have been waiting for their little dwellings to be fixed up.”

Across the entrance where Julita offers her avocados – “some are ready to be eaten today and others tomorrow” – rises the imposing structure of the convent that occupies a huge block outlined by the emblematic Old Havana streets: Habana, Cuba, Sol and Luz. The wall that surrounds the garden and the rest of the facades offer little information about the works that are taking place inside. continue reading

Only one entrance for vehicles allows you to browse and talk with an animated custodian who declares that the works “are already halfway through” and that they are in the hands of a Cuban cooperative, whose name he avoids giving. The view from that location does not help much to get an idea of the repair process, since there are no workers, no hustle and bustle of trucks with materials, and, other than the bored security employee in his booth, no other people can be seen.

 There was “a lot of movement in the neighborhood” a few days ago when the future headquarters of the College of Arts and Crafts of Santa Clara was visited by the ambassador of the European Union in Cuba

 “It is going to be a school and it will be ready in 2024,” explains the man at the top of his voice several meters from a fence that encloses the entrance to the place. But a walk around the block is enough to conclude that the prognosis may be rather optimistic, because only the part of the building that faces Havana Street shows signs of being restored. The rest still shows the scars that time, laziness and the natural elements left on the convent.

Julita and her neighbors saw “a lot of movement in the neighborhood” a few days ago when the future headquarters of the College of Arts and Crafts of Santa Clara was visited by the ambassador of the European Union in Cuba, Isabel Brilhante, according to the Spanish agency EFE. “We realized that someone important was coming because the area was filled with policemen and they even picked up the garbage. Then the diplomatic cars left and everything went back to the way it was before.”

Private Businesses in Cuba ‘Are For Sale With Everything Inside’

The number of premises for sale or rent has multiplied in recent months. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 16 September 2022 — With the doors closed, the interior empty and a “For Sale” sign in the window, a private restaurant on Infanta Street, in Central Havana, is one of the many businesses for sale in Cuba, where the economic crisis and mass exodus have made entrepreneurship an almost impossible path.

The place, where a restaurant was planning to open, never served a single dish because its owners gave up the effort, and they now have put it up for sale for $400,000. “You can rent the whole space for $3,000 per month,” they add via WhatsApp, when a potential buyer is interested.

The closure of the paladar (private restaurant), which didn’t even have a sign with its name, affects the neighbors who were waiting for its opening to see tourists and hard currency arrive in the neighborhood, the money it takes to get out of the hole in which most families have sunk, in an area that doesn’t have the glamour of El Vedado or the attractions of the historic center of Old Havana.

“They didn’t even manage to sell a frying pan, but they spent a lot on the investment, because before this was it very deteriorated,” Pocholo, who lives some doors away from the failed restaurant tells 14ymedio. “They even built a mezzanine to enlarge the space. Then came the ’monetary order’*; tourism didn’t return as expected, and having a paladar is crazy right now.”

Getting the raw materials, paying for what a place open to the public consumes — from toilet paper to electricity — and paying employees has become a chimera for many private business owners on the Island. To this is added the fact that, given the situation in the country, the sale of any possession can help in the extended project of emigrating. continue reading

I’m selling a hair salon with everything inside,” announces Dayana, a 38-year-old Habanera who until a few months ago offered her services in a small space on San Rafael Street, near Galiano Avenue. “I know I’m not going to recover my investment, but I need the money urgently,” she tells this newspaper. “I’m selling for $25,000, and it’s worth almost twice as much.”

Dayana’s living room was equipped as a hair salon and beauty center. “Everything is new, from the bathroom tiles to the water installation. I have put in a heater, a kiwan safety system for water pressure; everything is freshly painted, and I have two floors,” she says. “I’m offering it with all the accessories needed to keep it running and with a very loyal clientele.”

Dayana says she began to transform her house into a private business five years ago. “If someone had told me at the time that I was going to end up selling all this and buying a ticket to Nicaragua, I would have laughed in their face.” But her husband took “the route of the volcanoes” a few months ago, and the rigors of the couple’s separation have been added to the crisis that Cuba is going through.

Interior of a paladar (private restaurant) for sale in Havana. (14ymedio)

“I no longer know how much I’m going to charge people who come to remove hair or have a facial, because I have to buy all the products in dollars or MLC ( freely convertible currency), but I have to charge for the services in pesos. So I can’t work.” She regrets having to shut down what she considers to be “the greatest pride” of her life.

“I’m selling a working cafeteria, located in El Vedado, because I’m leaving the country,” Suselle says emphatically in an ad that she has posted on several classified sites and that she has also sent to friends and acquaintances on Telegram and WhatsApp. “The payment is in dollars to be deposited in the United States.” Since she disseminated the offer, she clarifies, she has received only a couple of calls.

“I understand that there are few people interested because many Cubans want to leave the country, and buying a business of this type is not among their projects right now,” Suselle admits. “But it’s also a good time to invest, because I’m selling this same business for a price well below what it cost.”

On the buying and selling sites, there are ads that are repeated for several weeks or months, and from time to time the price drops a little more. “Reduced to $17,500, take advantage now,” says one that has appeared again and again on the digital sites for more than half a year. “Two in one: house and business of photocopying, printing of documents and copying of movies and series,” it adds.

“I have 24 hard drives full of audiovisuals and two Canon computers.” The salesman emphasizes what so many others say about their businesses: “it’s working and making money,” but few seem interested in the “bargain” that is advertised. “Half of the money here in dollars and the other in the United States,” the announcement ends.

Next to the premises there are also complete kitchen sets, display refrigerators, large capacity fryers, dishwashers, banknote counting devices and cash registers, all the furnishings that accompany restaurants and cafes. “I’m selling more than a business; I’m selling a dream,” says the owner of a rental house for tourists in the city of Holguín.

“Five bedrooms, five bathrooms, garden and swimming pool,” the announcement details. “I’m in a hurry so I’ll listen to proposals, but don’t call me if you don’t have dollars.” In the photos he has posted next to the ad you can see a ranch in the yard, a pool table and a spectacular view of the city. And the message concludes: “The villa is delivered with everything inside.”

*Translator’s note: A reference to elements of the ‘Tarea ordenamiento’, the [so-called] ‘Ordering Task’ which is a collection of measures that include eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), thus leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and a broad range of other measures targeted to different elements of the Cuban economy.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

The Shortage Reaches the Famous Canteen of the Ministry of Agriculture in Cuba

Ministry of Agriculture, located on the corner of Conill and Rancho Boyeros, in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, 13 September 2022 — “We spent days eating saltines because there’s no rice or food,” complains an employee of the Ministry of Agriculture. The man is considering leaving his job if “lunch continues being so bad” in the institution that governs state production of the Cuban farms, located in a 17-story building on the corner of Conill and Rancho Boyeros, in Havana.

“People believe that since this is the Ministry of Agriculture we must be swimming in abundance here, but there is none,” advises one of the entity’s workers who prefers to remain anonymous. “The last few months have been very difficult, and the cooks have to be inventive in order to serve something.” The greatest deficit is from the products that arrive from the fields.

Although from 2009, then-president Raúl Castro promoted a process of eliminating lunch in state centers, many of the ministries and institutions of the major hierarchy maintained that practice. At a subsidized price, but with little variety and low quality, the employees of these entities receive a daily portion of food to continue their working day.

Now, the economic crisis, which has deepened in recent months, together with inflation and the low productivity of Cuban farms, have put at risk the lunch of these workers, who, until recently, were privileged within the state sector. Guillermo was a cook for many years in a unit of the Union of Young Communists in Havana, and he confirms it.

“When the shortage was already affecting everyone, in my workplace the UJC cadres were still allowed to have a snack, coffee in the mornings and lunch with a protein every day,” he tells this newspaper. “But since the beginning of this year, everything has gone downhill.” continue reading

“Sometimes I thought that they invented meetings, even if they had nothing to say, in order to justify the consumption of rolls, coffee and soft drinks as a snack,” Guillermo explains. “The same day I found out that no more lunch was going to be served, I asked for leave, because what’s the point of being a cook in a place that isn’t cooking.”

In the Ministry of Agriculture, the rigors of the employees’ canteen reached the ears of the head of the branch, Ydael Pérez Brito. “He said that this had to be solved, and how was it possible that there wasn’t any cassava, malanga or sweet potato here to give to people who go to the canteen,” says an employee of the security area of the institution.

The canteen, located on a side wing of the building, which faces Santa Ana Street, is a huge room that for years has been large for a Ministry that has seen its workforce decrease as the state salary is devalued and the prices of basic products rise. “This was built at the time when the Soviet Union sent money, a lot of money,” the source says.

“In this place, food was served that was the envy of any restaurant. The food, vegetables and fruit were plenty, not to mention pork and chicken.” But those trays with varied food options remain only in the memory of the workers who have been in the institution for more than three decades.

“Most people now bring something from home to last all day because many times it’s not worth going down to the canteen,” the worker explains. “But with the bread situation, there’s no guarantee of bringing a snack, so the only choice is to go and see what they serve.”

In recent weeks, the huge room has been emptier of diners and food. “This looks more like a funeral home than a Ministry of Agriculture, because lunch is dead, dead.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

The School Snack Is The Most Recent Victim Of The Economic Crisis In Cuba

The school snack, which began to be distributed in 2003, included a glass of soy yogurt and a bread roll that could contain sausage, cheese, ham or a croquette. Photo is of a ‘morning assembly’ at an elementary school. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 5 September 2022 — A kiss at the door of the house and his mother’s gaze following him until he turned the corner was part of Jeancarlos’ routine this Monday. The eleven-year-old boy resumed school on September 5, and, unlike a few months ago, he will no longer be able to have even half a bread roll for a snack.

Since school stopped for the summer holidays, a lot has changed on the Island. The blackouts were prolonged, the Cuban peso sank in the face of foreign currency, and flour became an increasingly scarce product. The cookies and rolls that underpinned the students’ snacks have practically disappeared.

“In order for him to take a roll with something in it to school, someone in the house has to stop eating their own,” explains Jeancarlos’ mother, referring to the rationed products. But the sixth grader is not the only student in the family. “My daughter started first grade, and I gave her my roll because she’s small and doesn’t understand why she can’t have a snack,” she explains.

Days before restarting the school year, she investigated possible solutions. “A small package of cookies costs 100 pesos at a minimum, and there is nothing to give my son, so I won’t even tell you about that option because it doesn’t solve the problem,” she explains to 14ymedio. An informal merchant sold her “a soda extract that guarantees that at least he doesn’t bring just water to school.” continue reading

Recently, the young Trilce Denis launched a sour diatribe against the ruler Miguel Díaz-Canel through a video posted on her Facebook page. “Now I want to know, when school starts, what snack will be given to the children; I’m already sick from nervousness,” she said.

Denis complained that even when she could arrange a snack for her son, he would have to eat it next to other children who couldn’t bring any food. This concern is shared by many parents who fear an increase in social inequality expressed in the economic inability of families to offer bread to their children.

The contrasts are seen not only in the quality of footwear or the backpack in which students carry their books, but also in the mere fact of having some cookies, sandwiches or bread, which means belonging to a certain social class that has access to stores in freely convertible currency or receives remittances from abroad.

Ulises, 43, landed this Saturday in Havana from Miami. After arriving in the United States six years ago, it’s the third time he’s returned to the Island to visit his sister and two school-age nephews. “Most of my suitcases were full of food,” he tells this newspaper. “Drinks of all kinds, flour, cookies and bread,” he says.

“I brought her everything they need for next month’s snack. Then we’ll see how to manage so that they can bring something to eat to school, but for the moment at least they have solved the first month.” Instant soda powder, milk powder and some jams were part of the “family rescue,” as Ulises called his luggage.

“With the flour I brought, my sister has already started making her own bread because no one can eat the bread from the ration book: it’s acidic and hard.” But the first days of school won’t be the most difficult test for families with children and teenagers. “Normally, during this first week of September, everything is more relaxed. The worst will come later,” admits Ulises.

On the site for classified ads, there’s an abundance these days that promise “packages of cookies ideal for school snack” or “assorted jams in independent envelopes, perfect to take to school.” But prices deter many potential buyers. A package of four sweet cookies with “chocolate chips” at 200 pesos shows the increase in inflation.

“It’s not just about putting something in your mouth; at this age teenagers are very sensitive,” said a father outside the ’Protesta de Baraguá’ Junior High School in Central Havana. “My son tells me that he doesn’t want to bring anything because he feels sorry for his friends who don’t have anything, but that means he goes all morning without eating anything, which can’t be good.”

Outside the school, while the students were getting ready for the first morning, some parents recalled that there was a time when “a hearty snack” was implemented for secondary school students. “The government didn’t want the kids to be wandering the streets, so instead of going out at lunchtime they were given bread with something inside and yogurt,” one mother said.

That school snack, which began to be distributed in 2003, included a glass of soy yogurt and a roll that could contain sausage, cheese, ham or a croquette. This was so the students didn’t have to go home at lunchtime, because many didn’t return to school. But the initiative, supported by the economic comfort that Venezuelan oil allowed, barely survived a decade.

“I’m one of those teenagers who threw bread around the school and played ’throw the sausage’,” said one of the parents outside the Centro Habana Junior High school. “Who would have thought that I was going to be here now dreaming that at least my nephew would have something like that?” Times have changed, and now the snack is a luxury that few can afford.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Wasting Electricity to Take Revenge on the Blackouts and the Cuban Regime

As a quiet revenge, squandering is also a form of protest. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 19 August 2022 — María de los Ángeles spent the hours after the electrical service returned to her Los Sitios neighborhood in Centro Habana with her balcony doors open and the air conditioner turned on. Like many Cubans, the 64-year-old refuses to save energy in the short time that she enjoys the supply, as a way to get even for long blackouts.

Despite the fact that the official media are full of phrases that call for saving as much electricity as possible, the energy sector is experiencing the same situation as so many other state services in Cuba. People tend to lash out at official inefficiency by wasting water, gas, or kilowatts when they finally reach their home. As a quiet revenge, squandering is also a form of protest.

“In my house they turned off the electricity from ten in the morning to two in the afternoon and then again at night,” María de los Ángeles tells 14ymedio. “When I saw that the light bulbs came on, I didn’t turn off any of them, so I left them on all morning.” In the block where she lives, many others did the same. “I’m not the one who’s going to save electricity for these incapable people,” she stresses.

The predatory nature in the face of these services dates back to the time when the Cuban regime widely subsidized the supply of electricity, water and gas. Keeping the television on all day, never turning off certain lamps or leaving the stove burning permanently so as not to use up matches became very widespread practices. The official discourse even flirted with the idea that at some point in “the construction of socialism,” all of this would be guaranteed free of charge to the population.

But the other side of the subsidies has been the deterioration of the country’s infrastructure, which forces thousands of families to carry water from distant places, improvise an electrical supply through a ‘clothesline’ — wiring extended from somewhere else — or cook with firewood for lack of other fuels. The mixture of free services and deficiencies gave way to a very peculiar consumer: the predator of all kinds of public service. continue reading

“In my house we have electricity for six hours a day,” says Raudel, a young man from the city of Alquízar, in the province of Artemisa. “The time we have electricity, we have to do everything: turn on the water pump, cook, try to refrigerate the food so that it survives the next blackout, iron, wash, charge our mobiles and enjoy something on TV.”

Curiously, the last electricity bill that Raudel received, already in the midst of the energy crisis, was very similar to the one from a year ago, when he paid about 3,000 pesos a month for the service. “The bill isn’t lower because we can no longer stand it when the electricity comes on. I tell my children to do whatever they want. If they want to have the room air conditioner on all that time, let them do it. If they want to make a pizza in the electric oven, let them do that too.”

Raudel has a small lathe workshop, where he also does blacksmithing and metal welding. “I hadn’t worked much for years because the cost of electricity skyrocketed, but now I don’t limit myself. Sometimes I use the current all night,” he admits.

Last year, when the energy crisis had not yet reached its present serious situation, the official newspaper Granma recommended “freezing bottles of water at night and leaving them out during the day, so as not to have to open the refrigerator as often,” and also “put together as many pieces to iron or wash.” However, to the extent that blackouts have increased, the reaction of consumers seems to be going in the other direction.

“When I was a child I was part of the Click Patrols and I was obsessed with checking my house if there were any light bulbs turned on unnecessarily,” recalls a resident of the city of Sancti Spíritus. “But over time I began to wonder where all that energy I was saving was going to end up, if the service was becoming more expensive and of poorer quality.”

Julio, a neighbor from Santa Clara, thinks the same. “There is talk of saving, but is it worth saving? They will continue to turn off the electricity and live well themselves, without suffering the many needs that we people have. They, those of the Government, do not have blackouts.” Julio considers the wastefulness as a silent protest. It is the only thing that can be done “from home and without ‘pointing to us.’ A grain of sand against those who misgovern this country.”

“Seeing those photos of Havana completely dark,” says the man, “where the only thing that is lit up are the hotels, gives an idea of ​​what is happening in Cuba.”

The times are not the same either. From the 1980s when Cubans had a few electrical appliances, it has passed to the current moment in which cooking food depends in many homes on rice cookers and electric pressure cookers, frying pans, fryers and ovens* all of which must be connected to an electrical outlet. The number of telecommunications devices has also skyrocketed.

“Three people live in my house, each one with a cell phone, we also have a tablet and a laptop,” lists the Sancti Spiritus woman. “When the electricity comes on after a blackout, you have to connect all that immediately to have it charged when the power goes out again. Also, two rechargeable lamps that we use to avoid being in the dark have to be charged.”

The Electric Union of Havana made a recent call to lower consumption in order to alleviate the blackouts in the city: “The rest of the customers of the other blocks would be greatly benefitted at this time if we save and it will reduce the time the customers of block 4 are affected,” wrote the state monopoly on its Facebook account, a text that provoked a barrage of insults from consumers. Most openly declared that they were not going to monitor a consumption they paid dearly for and that was not stable.

One commenter summed up her challenge: “I do iron with the air conditioning on and use the hair dryer for towels. I do what I want with the electricity I pay for.” The Internet user received dozens of messages of approval and sympathy from those who also use their light switches as revenge.

*Translator’s note: These single purpose appliances were pushed by the government over the years, as ways to save electricity compared to major appliances. 

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

The Euro Becomes the Most Sought-After Currency in Cuba and Reaches 123 Pesos

The price of the euro in Cuba contrasts with the international price of the European currency, which has fallen in recent months against the dollar. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia, López, Moya, Havana, 4July 2022 — The price of foreign currencies in Cuba is unstoppably taking flight again after the decline they experienced at the end of May. Among them, the euro once again outperforms the dollar by far. A euro is worth around 123 pesos in the informal market this Monday, compared to the 110 that the dollar costs, according to daily monitoring by the independent magazine El Toque.

The figure contrasts with the international price of the European currency, which has fallen in recent months against the dollar (this Monday it is at 1.04 per dollar).

“I prefer to buy euros because I have plans to leave the country, but not immediately,” Nelson, a young man from the Havana municipality of Cerro, tells this newspaper, summarizing the needs of many other Cubans. Nelson explains that in case he needs the currency to be able to shop in freely convertible currency (MLC) stores, he can deposit those euros on his magnetic card, which he cannot do with dollars. And he adds: “In case you need to buy a ticket or manage a visa for Panama, I can also use it.”

During the month of June, after a resolution by the Central Bank of Cuba that prohibited embassies from converting their peso accounts into foreign currency, several consulates, such as those of Spain or Panama, announced that from now on, the procedures at their headquarters would be charged in euros.

The value of the MLC is also experiencing an increase, something that has relieved many families who obtain remittances from abroad and who over the past month saw their purchasing power reduced between the low price of the currency and inflation on the Island, which continues upward. continue reading

“As soon as I saw that it was starting to rise, I asked my family to please stop selling the MLCs that I sent so cheaply and to wait,” says Liuba, a Cuban living in Miami. “Two weeks ago my mother sold them for 108 and today she was able to sell them for 115.”

Last May, currencies suffered a collapse in the informal market, just after the Cuban Economy Minister, Alejandro Gil Fernández, declared that a “special” exchange rate would be established for some producers, state and private, of consumer goods. high demand.

Without specifying at what price, he simply pointed out that it would be between the artificial official rate of 24 pesos and that of the black market, which in those days reached 125 pesos for MLC.

Traditionally more familiar with the dollar, informal vendors have quickly caught up with the European currency to spot counterfeits and reject bills that may have trouble being deposited at the bank. “I do not accept those that have written signs, some broken part or are very old,” replies one of those money changers in a WhatsApp group used by customers and merchants.

Many private businesses have also joined the euro wave and offer their cards in three or even four currencies. “In this restaurant you can pay in Cuban pesos, MLC, dollars and euros,” a waiter from a paladar (private restaurant) on San Lázaro street in Central Havana boasted this Saturday. “You can even pay in pesos and MLC by transfer. We are pricing the euro at 117 pesos,” he stressed. Two tourists who drank a couple of beers each and ate some starters settled their bill, 17.70 euros with a 20 euro bill. The change, “in Cuban pesos,” the employee clarified.

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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.

Belts and Big Shirts to Cover the Cuban Leaders’ Obesity

The references, monikers and criticisms for so many extra pounds are constantly heard in the streets of Cuba. (Municipal Administration Council of Old Havana)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 25 June 2022 — Last Thursday, at a fat contest in celebration of Father’s Day in Nicaragua, a man with a circumference of 57 inches around his belly was the winner. The peculiar award has caught the attention of Cubans, who in recent years have seen their relatives lose weight due to the crisis while the senior leaders’ bellies grow every day, as shown by the images published in the official press.

60-year-old Ricardo Páiz is the proud Nicaraguan who swept the belly competition in the “Papá Panzón”(Potbelly Dad) competition, but if the contest were held in Cuba, it is very likely that the first places would fall on one or another cadre of the Communist Party, the administrator of a state entity or the Provincial Governors, many of them with weight problems.

Although the kilogram excesses are generally associated with poor nutrition, having a high position in Cuba carries the “privilege” of being able to binge eat, while the majority of the population deals with the difficulties of finding something to put on the table. The trend towards athletic and sporting politics seems not to have reached Cuba, where its ruler, Miguel Díaz-Canel himself, has experienced a notable weight gain since he became president.

While clavicles protrude in some, bellies grow in others (Standing, left, President Diaz-Canel). (@RGZapata500/Twitter)

The bulk, which they often try to cover up with girdles that squeeze the bellies but are noticeable in front of the cameras, wide shirts, baggy jackets and filtering the angle of the official photos, generates discomfort among Cubans, who see in their leaders’ obesity a clear indicator of the abundance at their tables. References, monikers and criticism about so many extra pounds are constantly heard on the streets of Cuba.

“Fat necks,” “the first belly of the Republic,” “the paunchy,” “the potbellies” and many other nicknames have been added to the glossary of the popular ridicule against ministers and partisan cadres. This, despite the fact that there is a high prevalence of overweight people in Cuba at 59%, while obesity has already reached 25%, according to FAO data. But the current crisis could be taking away some of those “life preservers” around the abdomen.

“Fat necks,” “the first belly of the Republic,” “the paunchy,” “the potbellies” and many other nicknames have been added to the glossary of the popular ridicule against ministers and partisan cadres. (Granma photo)

Between 1990 and 1995, the most difficult years of the Special Period, the Cuban population lost an average of over 12 pounds of weight, according to a study published in 2014 by the British Medical Journal. The data of the current crisis are still unknown but most of those interviewed by this newspaper say that both they and their relatives “are now thinner and eat less” than five years ago.

But while clavicles protrude in some, bellies grow in others. Manuel Marrero, the Cuban Prime Minister, shows one of the most obvious pictures of obesity and his attempts to hide his belly in public are no longer of any use. “He was lucky they removed the mandatory mandate, because he was going to need a bed sheet to cover his face” says María, a 65-year-old from Havana who has lost over 15 and a pounds in three years.

Camagüey’s governor, Yoseily Góngora López, is another of the most extreme cases of overweight among Cuban officials. In August 2022, the activist of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, José Luis Acosta Cortellón, was arrested and accused of threatening Góngora on social networks for publishing a meme in which he alluded to Góngora’s obesity.

Manuel Marrero (in dark blue shirt), the Cuban Prime Minister, is the most evident picture of obesity, and his trying to hide his belly in public no longer works. (Twitter/ @MMarreroCruz)

“Just by awarding someone an important position causes that person’s weight to go up immediately”, complains Antonio, a retiree from La Lisa, who clarifies that “it’s not a question of fatsophobia or believing that all people with a few extra pounds are corrupt, but the amount of overweight that is seen in party leaders when out in public is immoral.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Avocados Cost Almost a Dollar, Another ‘Green’ Unattainable for Cubans

The price of avocados is making a fruit previously present on most Cuban tables unattainable. (Martina Badini)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 15 June 2022 — It is green and unattainable for most Cubans, but this is not about the dollar. Like every summer, the avocado returns to the island’s markets, but this summer its price has doubled compared to the previous year. Where before one fruit cost between 40 and 50 pesos, now it costs between 80 and 100, an increase that keeps it from appearing on the tables of many households.

The rains of May mark the beginning of the avocado season on the Island. “Those downpours are what give it the touch. Although before that you can find some plants that have already ripened, it’s better to eat them when they are more flavorful,” a customer pointed out this Monday while examining the offerings from a cart vendor in Centro Habana.

“But it seems that this time the rains have been golden, because the avocado is very expensive,” said a buyer, sarcastically, finally deciding to buy one still a little hard, “not for today, it still needs to ripen but the ripe ones cost 90 pesos and I prefer to pay ten less even if I have to wait to eat it until tomorrow or the day after.” Behind him, a woman who was asking about the price winced at the number and turned away with her empty bag.

Although in Europe and other countries with a colder climate, the avocado is seen almost as a luxury, the abundance of trees in Cuba, the advantages of the climate and the cultivation tradition have made it a product as common on tables as apples or oranges are in other geographies.

“The avocado makes a meal, but now it’s unaffordable,” pointed out another customer at the agricultural market on 19th and B, a place run mainly by private vendors and whose traditionally high prices have earned it the nickname of “the boutique.” “It is true that this place is expensive, but here you find things that are no longer in other places,” defended a young man who was selling from a platform in the face of the complaints of those who passed by. continue reading

“Everyone in the family knows that you can come here to buy fruits and vegetables that don’t appear in any other market, except in the Playa area where people with more money live and even broccoli is sold.” According to the merchant, “the avocado began to arrive weeks ago, but the rains have greatly complicated the shipment to Havana.”

“People complain that it is expensive, but everything is and at this time of year there is very little lettuce, tomatoes are practically gone and what is left is a good slice of avocado with the meal,” he details. “I can’t do anything else because it’s already expensive for me here, everything has gone up a lot in price and moving merchandise from the field is costing a lot due to lack of fuel.”

In the nearby municipality of Güira de Melena, the family of Reinier García confirms this increase in price by telephone. “On our farm we have a dozen avocado plants, four of which we have sold a few years ago,” he explains. The sale of these trees is not registered and is a risky business for both parties.

The purchaser of the tree buys, for a fixed price which can be monthly or annually, the production that the plant will give. In good seasons, when the rains arrive on time and the hurricanes do not damage the tree much, you can “get a good slice,” explains García. “But there are bad years and then we all lose, the one who bought gets killed because he doesn’t earn much and we get killed because people don’t have the patience to wait for better times and withdraw from the agreement.”

“The avocado seems strong but it is a product that requires care. From the time it is planted until you begin to harvest fruit, a lot of years go by and everything can be ruined by a plague, lightning or a cyclone,” the farmer enumerates. Then comes the transfer, because even if it is done with the green avocado, “if you don’t move it correctly, everything will collapse.”

García counts on a brother-in-law to move the merchandise to Havana and distribute it among various merchants in the area of ​​El Vedado and La Víbora. “I’ve been days without getting fuel and when I find it it’s a ‘just a sip’,” says the driver of an old Plymouth speaking to this newspaper. Only the ‘inventions’ and ‘additions’ he’s made to the vehicle allow him to continue rolling on the roads.

“I offer the small avocado at 50 or 60 to the seller, the larger ones can reach 70 or 80 depending on the quality. The Catalina is the one that people like the most, because it has a lot of flavor and is larger. With this one you don’t need anything else, not even lemon, vinegar or oil on top, because it already comes from the bush fully seasoned,” he says.

But accompanying the main course with one of these Catalina adds a figure that lower-income families cannot afford. “Each egg cost me 20 pesos, I found a pound of rice at 50 after walking all over. So a meal for five people cost me 150, plus 100 that I paid for the avocado,” says Dinorah, a resident of the Havana municipality Diez de Octubre.

In Dinorah’s family there are two retirees with minimal pensions and the rest are her grandchildren, minors. “I spent more on one meal than I earn for a day’s pension, and I can’t do that so I’m not going to continue buying avocados, it’s a luxury I can’t afford,” she concludes. “We will have to wait to see if the price drops in July or August.”

The situation is not exclusive to the Cuban capital, where prices are usually higher. This Tuesday, in the La Plaza de Sancti Spíritus market, an avocado cost 100 Cuban pesos, almost the same as in a central corner of Centro Habana near Plaza de Carlos III, where the products tend to be more expensive. Even traditionally agricultural areas are not spared from inflation where ,until recently, avocado was a common ingredient on tables during the summer.

“Right now I’m going to pick the avocados from my trees and I’m going to try to pay with them, because they’re already worth almost the same as a dollar,” jokes Reinier García. “And I’m not complaining, at least my family doesn’t lack avocados and with that we can make a meal, but what it costs us the most to buy is everything else: oil, soap and toothpaste.”

Garcia does not rule out barter. “People from Havana are already coming here as far as Güira de Melena to exchange clothes for food or toiletries, for avocados and root vegetables,” he explains. “We have to be watching over the bushes through the night, because this is like having the bank safe open and in sight.”

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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.

Omens of the Deaths of Historical Leaders in the Call for May Day in Cuba

Miguel Díaz-Canel and Raúl Castro, during the May Day 2019 march. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerA poster placed at the entrance of an apartment building in Havana summarizes the tone of the official call for the upcoming May Day parade. After being suspended for two years due to the covid-19 pandemic, the authorities have wanted to put a less formal stamp on the event and the result is disconcerting.

The list of ten reasons to go to the Plaza de la Revolución that day has been written by hand on several sheets that spell out reasons more similar to those used to participate in a camping trip or a family party than a political rally. As a “fraternal meeting” to “share with distant loved ones,” the list describes the first reason to attend the official celebrations for Labor Day.

The call also ensures that it will be an occasion to break the routine and take “the best photos and artistic designs directly with excellent people.” Only some of the reasons listed contain any ideological nuance, such as “showing that we are not afraid and that unity makes us invincible,” a veiled allusion to the popular protests last July, which brought together thousands of people throughout the country, or the assertion, without much conviction, that “there is socialism for a while.”

The ten reasons to participate in this May Day break down reasons more similar to those used to participate in a camp than in a political rally. (14ymedio)

However, the most striking of the reasons for participating in the parade is the one that advances the possibility that some of the octogenarians who control the threads of power in Cuba will not survive until next year’s call, warning that “perhaps it will be the last time in the presence of important people in the work of the Revolution.”

The enumeration closes with the invitation to “fill the Plaza until the Malecón dries up,” paraphrasing the lyrics of a song by Jacob Forever, a Cuban reggaeton player, currently residing in Miami, who during the day of the demonstrations on July 11 asked the people to take to the streets peacefully: “Between all of us we can achieve the freedom of Cuba,” the singer assured at the 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.