Rust Has Taken Over Havana’s Playgrounds

Some children are forced to make up their own games under the structures that used to support the swings. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 21 November 2021 — “This looks like the tetanus park with so much rust on the structures,” complains a mother who has arrived with her son to take advantage of the reopening, after a long closure, of the playground on 104th between 39th and 41st, in the municipality capital of Marianao. “The merry-go-round is practically a foot chopping blade, a complete disaster,” she says before leaving with her little one. “Let’s go, this is no time to end up in the hospital.”

Far from having taken advantage of the closure that they have experienced for more than a year due to the pandemic to renovate the facilities, the parks have reopened in conditions of worrying abandonment and deterioration, which has resulted in the discomfort of parents and even some children when noticing the bad condition of the swings, slides, and other games.

“Papi, why is everything broken and dirty?” a little girl asks innocently at the 1004th Street park, to which her father replied: “The economic crisis my love, the country does not have the resources to fix anything right now.” How can he tell a little girl that the government prefers to invest in luxury hotels for tourists? To make her displeasure pass, the father decided to take the little girl to eat an ice cream in the cafeteria on the corner. continue reading

Some children are forced to settle for inventing games under the structures that once supported swings and boats, the smallest under adult supervision, but the largest were at their mercy. “Boys be careful!” shouted a woman who was watching her son from a bench to others who running across the place while they played. “You have to see things in this country, even the fence has been stolen,” she exclaimed annoyed, while pointing out the more than 10 meters of mesh that the park is missing.

How can he tell a little girl that the government prefers to invest in luxury hotels for tourists rather than parks? (14ymedio)

The enthusiasm with which the state newspaper Granma announced on November 14 the reopening of the parks, coinciding with the anniversary of Havana — a date moved up by the Government to discourage the Civic March — led some parents to take their children to enjoy some leisure time in them. “Joy takes the parks of Cuba,” the official newspaper headlined, but in La Pera, a man who had approached with his family commented: “Those who have to take over the parks are the masons and metallurgists, because more than joy what this level of abandonment offers is sadness.”

“Oh God, be careful Pabli,” exclaimed a girl of about nine years old in this same park located in the Plaza municipality, when she saw how her friend had leaned against a wall of blocks that constitutes the perimeter fence that, just at that moment that the stones broke away. For months, some people have been stealing several of those stacked blocks as a last resort in the face of a lack of building materials for sale.

The incident gave the little ones a scare, although some of the restless children who usually play in that place, often come home with cuts and scrapes produced by some broken metal or a loose screw. “Hopefully they will come to fix the park before a misfortune occurs with a child,” said an older woman who, with the help of her cane, was heading towards a line on one of the corners to shop in the Rapidito at Requena and Lugareño.


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.

Tips to Tourists to See the Harsh Reality in the Cuban Paradise

Tourists passing down 23rd Street in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 20 November 2021 — I like the complicity of my terrace, especially at that time when I don’t know if it’s day or night, and the city wakes up smelling of the sea and freshly brewed coffee. In front of me the Capitol is projected with its golden dome and its monumental architecture, which not only dwarfs man, but also hides a city that suffers from neglect, heartbreak and the incompetence of a government more interested in appearances than in realities.

Upon arrival, dear tourists, you will find buildings gnawed by 60 years of indolence. With their cracks and exposed steel descending to their foundations, weakening their structures and causing them to collapse in some cases without warning. Collapses that condemn humble and working families to live in shelters, which look more like ghettos than temporary homes.

You can search, investigate, find those families who live in deplorable conditions in marginal neighborhoods that you can’t even imagine exist in the “Cuban paradise” that was described to you by the travel agency. If you do, you will discover people whose hope dies in the archives of oblivion or in the worn-out cliché of the lack of resources produced by a ’blockade’ (the US embargo) that only seems to exist for the most humble sector of society. continue reading

You should know beforehand that the ultra-worn excuse of lack of resources was disproved when in 1991 they squandered millions to satisfy the pride of a self-centered, hypocritical and lying dictator. And it is an easily disproved lie if we calculate the number of luxury hotels that are now being built in a few months. From those same terraces, they will be able to appreciate with their own eyes the harsh reality that the media under the control of the dictatorship try to hide from the world.

You, as I watch from my beloved terrace, will witness how the cancer of abandonment and indolence devours a city left to its own devices and where the few resources that exist are sold in the currency of the American enemy.

Your cameras will show the world the great scam of this failed and outdated system, designed to limit man’s progress in order to subdue and make him dependent. So I invite you all, camera in hand, to seek and show the world the fallacy.


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.

Repression Stifles the 15N March in Cuba and Spreads Popular Unrest

The streets of Havana continue with a strong police operation. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 15 November 2021 — Since dawn on Monday, State Security agents dressed in civilian clothes were deployed in squares and parks and took the rooftops near the Capitol building in Havana, as part of the operation to prevent the Civic March called for three in the afternoon of this November 15, a march that ultimately could not be carried out because of the repression.

“This is hot,” shared Yuniel, a young man who gave testimony to 14ymedio in the vicinity of Central Park. This 28-year-old from Havana was one of the few who dared to leave his home, in a day in which many parents prevented their young children and teenagers from setting foot outside their homes for fear of being arrested.

Plainclothes officers who pretended to be standing in line outside a store, streets with few passers-by, and vigilante groups on street corners marked this Monday, a day when repression managed to drown out the call to march, but also left a deep malaise among citizens, fed up with the increase in controls experienced on the island after the protests of July 11.

When the clock struck three in the afternoon, the time agreed for the Civic March, the almost deserted streets in some areas of Central Havana, Old Havana, Cerro and Plaza de la Revolución were the panorama on display. Many restless political police officers on the street corners, the occasional passerby in their daily work, and some people dressed in white.

“Here in Prado there are police, military and many segurosos – State Security agents — the atmosphere is very tense. I also see the international press, red berets and repudiators. When I was walking here I saw a small group dressed in white going up to Central Park, but very small,” described a young woman from the downtown promenade, who insisted on pointing out the presence of many “disguised policemen, especially dressed in blue and red.”

A couple of young people were detained near the Paseo del Prado while shouting “Patria y Libertad” under the terrified gazes of continue reading

some neighbors who were watching them from balconies or windows. The two men, yet to be identified, were quickly intercepted and arrested by police, according to a video posted on social media.

Galiano, one of the main streets of Centro Habana and the street that the protesters walked on July 11, remains closed to vehicles from its beginning on the avenue of the Malecón to Calle Reina. The road, a commercial artery with many covered walkways and close to Paseo del Prado, was considered as an alternative route for those who planned to march on 15N.

The day was atypical, without bustle and lines. “In one of the Carlos III’s stores they were selling bread and ham in national currency,” Yuniel said. One of the shop assistants showed her fear and mentioned that she was “crazy to go home” but had to be there until 9 pm. “They forced us to work,” she said.

The bank branch on Calle Aranguren, which normally closes at 3:30 pm, moved up the end of the day. “Today and tomorrow it closes at two in the afternoon,” said a civil guard to an astonished customer. Many private businesses did not open their doors and others warned their customers that they were suspending home delivery until next Wednesday.

Dozens of independent activists, artists and journalists have been detained in the last hours or remain under siege since Sunday to prevent them from leaving their homes. One of the few people who has been able to evade the police siege was the independent reporter Iliana Hernández, who left to march at 3 pm.

“My mission was to show them [the Government] that it was not impossible to escape as I have done on other occasions,” Hernández said in a video shared by CiberCuba. She also said that at some point in the next few hours they will arrest her but the important thing was that at three in the afternoon she was on the street “dressed in gray because today is a gray day for Cuba.” “It is sad that we have to live this way but for that we are fighting not to live like this anymore.”

Despite the surveillance, some went out dressed in white to tour the city, the color that the organizers of the call had promoted. Others showed their sympathy with the March in other ways: A 60-year-old state worker proudly showed the screen of her mobile with an image of her cousin “making an L with her hand the symbol of freedom” and let this newspaper know his how to sync with him for 15N.

“I do not see an end to this, if every time someone disagrees they go, they stage an act of repudiation,” said the woman, alluding to a change. “We are going to run out of young people, that is the greatest thing, but hopefully [the change] will come soon.”

For his part, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, Bruno Rodríguez, described this Monday as a “failed operation” referring to the call for a peaceful march on 15N, declared illegal by the Government.

“There is a lot to tell about all the good that has happened and there are also some things to reveal about this failed operation that tried to articulate and that has been a complete failure,” he said referring to the protests in a live broadcast from the website of Foreign Ministry’s Facebook page.

Rodríguez dedicated a large part of his speech to highlighting the reopening of the Island and spoke of the #CubaVive label used by officialdom in the last hours to show that the Island is experiencing “normal tranquility.” The hashtag also appears on several posters that have been used by the Rapid Response Brigades and repressors in acts of repudiation of opponents and members of the Archipiélago platform.


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.

With Mop Cloths in Short Supply, No Cuban Towel is Safe

Old towels, ripped-up sheets and T-shirts are now being used to clean the floors of Cuban homes. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia Lopez Moya, Havana, November 13, 2021 — Old towels, ripped-up sheets and T-shirts are now being used to clean the floors of Cuban homes. In the absence of mop cloths, which have been missing from store shelves for months, families set aside articles of clothing to use at the bottom end of the traditional mop stick, a stalwart symbol of Cuban house cleaning.

“It seems we’re going backwards in time,” a lady is heard to say on Thursday outside a store selling powdered bleach. The woman, old enough to remember the challenges of the Special Period, recollects how in the 1990s her house had no towels: “They were none for sale and the few we already had we used for cleaning.

“For months it’s been hard to get basic products like food and detergent. But you can’t find mop cloths anywhere. I haven’t even seen them in the hard currency stores,” explains a resident of Havana’s Cerro neighborhood.

Official priced at 15 pesos ($0.62), production relies on imported raw materials, which have been in short supply since late 2019. Officials warned of shortages and in provinces like Villa Clara they explored the possibility of limiting sales to the rationed market. The shortage has caused the price on the informal market to skyrocket, to as much as 150 pesos.

A meme on social media captures the gravity of the situation with a touch of humor characteristic of this medium. “The order has been given to arrest the sweatshirts,” reads the text, echoing the words of President Miguel Diaz-Canel during the July 11 protests. In this case, however, the victims are the towels, shirts and T-shirts destined to be used for cleaning floors.


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.

Busted Shoes for Cuban Families without Remittances

Manuel, a father waiting in line outside El Peñon, is looking for shoes for his five-year-old daughter, who starts school on November 15.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, November 4, 2021 — Manuel is waiting in line outside El Peñon because he is looking for shoes for his daughter, who starts school on November 15. The store, located on Calzado del Cerro, is part of the state-owned Caribe retail chain and sells damaged or defective merchandise.

“I understand what you’re all saying but children are not allowed inside,” says an employee who has come outside to explain store policy. Protests break out from many of the parents in line. Just as some are about push their way inside with their little ones, the matter is resolved when, at the request of one mother, the manager gives the green light and allows children inside.

A year and a half into the country’s ever-worsening, perennial economic crisis, footwear remains one of the Cuban public’s most essential luxuries. Shoes can be found at stores selling goods for foreign currency, which most people do not have, or at privately owned businesses, where prices are also very high.

When Manuel opened the box and saw the soles of the shoes were almost completely detached, his spirits sank. (14ymedio)

In fact, Manuel had spent the morning looking at the wide variety of footwear in the display windows of the Plaza de Carlos III retail mall. But with no relatives living abroad, shopping there is an impossibility. For Cubans like him, divided into social classes based on the kind of currency they have, places like this have become symbols of a new kind of apartheid. continue reading

Having finally managed to get inside El Peñon, Manuel heads straight to the footwear section, the busiest place in the store. “Yeni, you’re not going to believe this! I found shoes for her,” a sweaty Manuel shouts into his phone. But no sooner has he hung up than he looks at the other customers and senses something is not quite right.

“Of course, they’re all detached or defective, mi amor. Why do you think they’re so cheap?” replies a saleswoman to one mother.

“Are they even worth 192 pesos?” thinks Manuel, suddenly feeling clammy.

“Mommy, I don’t want to go to school with broken shoes. My friends will make fun of me,” says the little girl. Her mother tries to calm her fears.

“Your father will take them to have them fixed and they’ll be as good as new,” she tells the sobbing child as she and her father go downstairs to pay for the shoes.

Manuel thinks the search for shoes for his daughter was over when the sales clerk cheerfully hands him the size he was looking for. But when he opens the box and sees the soles almost completely detached from the shoes, his spirits sink to the floor.

“I don’t think I can bring myself to take these home. I appreciate the service here but I find it highly insulting and inconsiderate that, at this point, I’m not able to be find decent shoes for my daughter, who I have to send to school in little more than a week,” he says calmly, with an air of powerlessness, as he slowly returns the shoes.

The situation is much the same in the rest of the store. “Have all the leaders of this country gone crazy?” asks Miguel of another customer browsing there. “An electric coffee maker that doesn’t work and is missing parts for 1,000 pesos. A broken washing machine with no motor for more than 6,000. A burnt-out flat-screen TV with a shattered screen for 3,000 pesos. This is too much!” Meanwhile, another customer is looking at clothes advertised as second-hand but which look much more like fifth-hand.

Manuel leaves the store. His steps home feel heavy. His 10-year-old daughter is waiting there for him, excited about her new shoes. “I give up. This is impossible!” he yells to her mother before explaining what happened. A curious neighbor, who overhears the conversation from another apartment in the building where they live, leans out to tell him that he has some shoe glue he could use to put them back together.

After thanking the helpful neighbor, Manuel quickly returns to the store, ready to tell the clerk he has changed his mind and now wants the dilapidated shoes. But it has already closed. “Three in the afternoon and the store is closed to the public without any explanation,” he says. “I’ll come back tomorrow. Just another day in paradise.”


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.

The Death Throes of Havana’s Brand New ‘House of Preserves’

Passersby raised their eyebrows at the nearly empty list of products on the display board at La Casa de las Conservas in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 3 November 2021 — Not even two months have passed since its opening, but Havana’s La Casa de las Conservas (House of Preserves) already looks like a shadow of the establishment that opened its doors in September. Few products, windows almost empty and the discouragement of a clientele who believed that the state business was going to last a little longer before declining so precipitously.

“The problem in this country is that nothing has a fixative,” laments a customer, referring to the characteristic of a good perfume that allows its aroma to linger for long hours. This lack has definitely been the case for the state store, located on Ayestarán street, between May 19 and Néstor Sardiñas, in the municipality of Cerro, an establishment that the Havana Tribune promised on September 12 “will have a permanence of products” that “will be controlled and regulated.”

The House of Preserves has not been able to support the pulse of a very high demand or the fluctuations of supply, in a country that is experiencing one of its worst economic crises in the last half century. The attractive products at the opening gave way to jams and vinegar supplied by mini-industries and much less valued by customers. They arrived without labels, they only had a small piece of paper attached with the description of the content and in very rustic packaging. The quality of the contents also left a lot to be desired.

This Wednesday, only two products were for sale: a tomato and olive based salsa manzanillera, and a thick liquid of “seasoned onion,” neither continue reading

of much interest to buyers. Passersby raised their eyebrows at the nearly empty list of products on the display board, shrugged their shoulders and in many cases launched a phrase against the state’s mismanagement of commerce.

The shortage cannot even be attributed to customers’ hoarding, as the store opened with the restriction that allowed customers to purchase only one of each item and required that their identity card be scanned “so that the same person does not buy again for a month” a buyer complained on September 13.

A jar of “onion condiment” made with onions, garlic, laurel and oregano. (14ymedio)

In its beginnings, when the curfew was still in force until five in the morning, desperate buyers hid in nearby portals and stairways to be among the first in line at the store. But now, “it’s no longer worth it,” confirms a nearby resident, who then complained about the noises of those who lurked behind the trees or in the hallways. But she also misses the options to store offered to solve her problems of what to put on the table.

“It lasted less than a bad can of preserves,” she jokes. “But not just any can, but one of those that looks rusty from the moment you buy it and you know that when you open it the tomato puree will spew out to the ceiling,” she explains with the longing of those who had been able to buy there “products that weren’t fancy or high quality but they did help stretch a meal.”


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.

Almost 20 Years Waiting for the Architects to Avoid a Disaster in Central Havana

“The building was built in 1948 and has never been touched.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 29 October 2021 — Peeling walls, cracks in the ceilings of several apartments and, above all, structural cracks keep the 21 families who live in a building on San Nicolás street near the corner with Salud, in Central Havana, in suspense. “This building was built in 1948 and has never been touched. It was reported for maintenance in 2004, architects from the community came, did the lifting and we are still waiting for them,” Miladis, one of the residents of the building, tells 14ymedio.

The 2019 tornado damaged the corner of a room in this Havanan’s apartment. “When I informed the municipal government, an architect came and told him that I needed to find a way to knock down the damaged wall and rebuild it, so that it would not fall into an access corridor of the building. And do you know what the architect told me? That it was my problem if a piece of concrete fell on someone’s head.”

Like Miladis, many residents of the building are willing to fix their homes, but due to the high prices of construction materials — due, among other causes, to the inflation that the country is experiencing — they do not have the means to carry out repair work independently. continue reading

Due to the proximity of the building to the sea, the saltpeter has been wearing down the walls. (14ymedio)

The problem is repeated throughout the neighborhood, with the exception of some houses where the recent painting of the facade reveals a private business, a private guest house that is preparing for the arrival of tourists or the existence of an emigrant in the family who sends those dollars with which you can still get some products to repair homes.

However, Miladis had to make urgent repairs because, over time, water from the downpours began to seep through the same room that was damaged in the tornado. “I had to sacrifice myself and I had a hard time with food to be able to buy a couple of bags of cement and fix that corner,” she says. “It was a repair on the outside of the apartment and whoever did the maintenance had to expose himself to the danger of hanging himself in order to fix the damaged area.”

For about two years, various building materials have disappeared from state stores. The only option to get the products at the moment is the informal market, where for example a bag of cement exceeds 1,000 pesos, or go to the foreign currency stores, where it costs 10 dollars and is scarce.

The fear that her apartment will collapse is not only what worries Miladis the most: the other apartments are in the same situation and the structures of the entire property have begun to give way. “The building is exposed to the saltpeter, its proximity to the sea makes everything worse.” Indeed, the buildings near the Malecón suffer especially the effects of the sea and none of the various government programs have solved the problem of frequent collapses.

Across from Miladis’ building there was an apartment on the second floor in very poor condition and its owner had to demolish it with his own efforts, because he never received help from the capital’s government, Miladis recalls. “It was a scandal because the neighbor threw all the rubble onto the street and they wanted to fine him, but he was between a rock and hard place and the authorities had to send for the rubble to be collected.”

As in the case of Miladis, there are thousands in the capital, which will be 502 years old on November 15. When asked what solution she saw for his building, she was blunt in her answer: “What is needed is another government.”


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.

Havana’s Botanical Garden Reopens but Without Its Chinese Carp

President Diaz-Canel releasing koi, or carp, in 2019 during the reopening of the Botanical Garden.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 18 October 2021 — After many months, the National Botanical Garden reopened its doors on Sunday. Visitors have to first make a reservation by phone. Entry fees are 10 pesos for adults and 5 for children. The first visitors, encouraged by great fanfare in the official press, found a less exciting experience than was promised.

“The Chinese carp weren’t there. I didn’t see a single one,” says Alian Aramis, a young man who was visiting the park with his family. During a visit in 2019, President Diaz-Canel released the fish, which are actually Japanese, from a tank.

“I was surprised not to see them because before they were always around the wooden grove where people used to feed them. I asked a worker who told me that the caretakers had stolen them during the months the park was closed.”

Food choices are limited: three menus which include a main course of roast pork, pork chops, pork liver, rice with black beans, green salad, a root vegetable, dessert and a soft drink for 300, 200 and 150 pesos respectively. There were also some appetizer and beverage choices. “The food was acceptable and the service was good but how much you spend depends on the person, says Aramis. “I was worried but I didn’t see the missing carp on anyone’s plate,” he jokes.

Although several beverages were available, the ice cream shop was continue reading

closed. A soft drink in a glass cost 5 pesos and a liter of beer goes for 120. “You could buy limited amounts of Coral soda for 3 pesos and bread roll with mayonnaise. If there were six people at your table, you could buy ten packets of low-quality candy eggs for 12 pesos a packet, 4 bags of Pellys chips for 35 pesos a bag and bottle of rum for 325 pesos, if I remember correctly,” says Aramis.

“We were able to visit the Japanese Garden. It’s very peaceful, very nice, but several plant viewing pavilions were closed due to repairs,” reports Aramis, who regrets that the children were not able to enjoy the amusement park to the fullest because several rides, though in place, had not yet been secured to their floors and  could not be used.

One of the Botanical Gardens’ main attractions is the Canopy, or tirolesa. Installed at the beginning of last year and opened the following August, the ride is the first of its kind in Havana.*

“I tried to make a reservation but it was no use. They told me it’s booked every day for the entire month of October,” complains Aramis, who could only observe the few lucky souls suspended from a cable beyond. They flew over the almost 800-meter, five-segment course for the price of 300 pesos.

*Translator’s note: The website describes it as “a pulley suspended by cables mounted on a slope or incline…designed so that users are propelled by gravity, sliding from the top of a hill to the bottom on a cable.” 


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.

El Cochinito, a Culinary Disaster

At El Cochinito salt was presented on small plates because there were no salt shakers and indentations from the fingers of previous customers were visible on the short white piles.(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia Lopez Moya, Havana, October 17,  2021 — The almost twenty calls made the previous day to reserve a table at El Cochinito suggested it would be a complicated lunch. Upon arrival, it was impossible to ignore the unusual scene of a woman sweeping the entrance to the restaurant with a giant squeegee.

While we waited for the employees to finish their staff meeting, a few people were lining up at the outdoor cafe to buy bread with cheese and soft drinks, all to go. One employee had the arduous task of walking back and forth from the cafe to the kitchen — I estimate about thirty to forty yards roundtrip — every time a customer placed an order.

El Cochinito, a once glittering, busy and popular state-run restaurant, centrally located on 23rd Avenue in the heart of Vedado, had reopened its doors for in-person dining. The requisite 24-hour reservation can be made by phone or at the restaurant.

Let’s see, my love,” said the hostess, who could not find my name on the reservation list. “Don’t worry. It’s not the first time this has happened. Give me your name, I’ll write it down, then we can seat you,” she says, embarrassed.

The restaurant consists of a somewhat hidden room with a few tables, another cooler, more open room, a garden patio that wraps around an old, leafy tree, and a bar. El Cochinito’s wait staff, most of whom are women, is particularly cordial and professional.

The same cannot be said for the variety or quality of the food. Prices are continue reading

ridiculously high and more akin to those of a privately owned restaurant.

It was hard for me to understand why the garden patio, which has an ample number of tables (a plus if you are trying to prevent the spread of Covid) was closed to the public, especially on an afternoon when the weather in the capital was so pleasant.

A worse surprise was the annoyingly loud noise of a power tool (possibly a drill), which served as the intermittent accompaniment throughout lunch and drowned out the very tasteful music, at an appropriate decibel level, playing in the background.

El Cochinito, a state-run restaurant, has not regained the renown that it had more than 30 years ago, when it was a benchmark of Cuban cuisine. (14ymedio)

Besides having few items, the menu did not provide enough information. Serving sizes in grams were not indicated, forcing staff to approximate those sizes with their hands.

Then came the culinary disaster. I was dumbfounded when, after a 25-minute wait, the starter course, picadera Cochinita, arrived: three absolutely tasteless croquettes made of fried dough with salt sprinkled on top, two balls of stale cheese and two of chorizo. All for the “modest” price of 70 pesos.

Not much was on the beverage menu. The only option for customers who do not drink alcohol was lemonade frappé, which had a taste so intensely sour it stung the tongue. A tap beer of average quality was 25 pesos. A bottle of Cristal beer and the orange soda, also in a bottle, were warm. One customer complained to the manager that his bottle of beer had so much foam in it that, after two minutes, its volume had shrunk by half.

Among the main courses, the grilled lobster, or enchilado, for 100 pesos stood out. Unfortunately, the only diners who might be drawn to it would be those who did not know that the meat comes from the head, legs and antennae. “People think that for 100 pesos they are going to get a lobster tail, but it is not like that. That’s why I always warn customers who order it,” said the waitress. “It’s actually made up of by-products, as if the customer wouldn’t notice.”

The restaurant is known for its pork dishes, which are prepared five different ways. I decided on the masas fritas, marinated, deep-fried pork cubes, and roast pork ribs, at 120 pesos each. The masas were dry and flavorless, without a drop of pork fat, only overly lean meat. The pork ribs were more of the same but with cold, stiff and lumpy barbecue sauce served on the side.

The side dishes cost extra and also left much to be desired. The white rice was skimpy and, when black beans came mixed with it, they were on the verge of being uncooked. The sweet potato with mojo was the only root vegetable on the menu, and the mixed salad featured only cucumber, lettuce and beans.

To top it all off, the salt was presented on small plates because there were no salt shakers — indentations from the fingers of previous customers were visible on the short white piles — and the cruets were in storage because they had to “stretch the oil.”

Jam with cheese was the only dessert option, which I skipped because it was the same cheese used in the appetizer.

Coffee before the check was not an option simply because they did not have any.

With drinks, appetizers, main courses and dessert, the bill came to between 700 and 1,000 pesos for two people, which seemed excessive to me given that there was no relationship between the quality and the cost of each dish.

This state-run restaurant has not regained the renown that it had more than thirty years ago, when it was a benchmark of Cuban cuisine.

As I was leaving, a foreign medical student, who did not have a reservation, was asking the doorman to let him in. After being told no,”because all the tables are reserved, the young man pointed to the many empty tables in the patio, to which the doorman replied that seating there was not allowed, without further explanation.

I hurried home; I could feel a bit of indigestion coming on.


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.

Prepaid Cards, Another Desperate Attempt to Prevent Gasoline Theft in Cuba

Though officials have stepped up inspections, Cupet gas stations are still accepting cash payments “on the side.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia Lopez Moya, Havana, October 14, 2021 — In spite of strenuous efforts by the government, Cubans remain reluctant to stop using cash to buy gasoline. A policy requiring customers to pay by card at Cupet service stations, which are operated by state-owned conglomerate Cimex, was expected to take effect by December 2020. The policy is far from being implemented, however, and continues to arouse misgivings among the public.

Those misgivings were acknowledged this week by Villa Clara’s official press, which reported that forty-one of the fifty-five gas stations in the province only accept payment by magnetic or disposable prepaid cards. “At the moment the process has slowed down because we are not accustomed to this new form of payment,” admitted Eduardo Acosta, Cimex’s regional sales manager, on a local CMHW radio broadcast, adding that not all filling stations have been able to install scanners for the cards’ QR code.

He noted that, as with any new measure, there is widespread resistance but that this was now government policy and part of the “reordenamiento“(reordering).*

In a later exchange, reporter Abel Falcon expressed skepticism of Acosta’s explanation: “It’s a tactic to prevent what’s been going on, which is the illegal diversion of gasoline.” He added, “The administrative bureaucracy often moves too slowly and creates bottlenecks. Then Cubans wonder why they have to pay for other people’s mistakes.”

“If you could get the card anywhere in Havana, it wouldn’t be a problem,” says a taxi driver who works in the capital. “The problem is continue reading

that it’s not for sale at every Cupet station. You get there, wait hours in line and then you have to turn around and try to find it somewhere else. And they don’t tell you whether they accept cash or not.”

Acosta addressed this issue during the radio interview, claiming the company was in talks with the state telecommunications company Etesca to sell cards through their retail branches.

When Cimex announced the new payment system in March 2020, it gave vague reasons for “modernizing the network” without providing further information. It made the announcement the day before Cuba closed its borders to tourism in an effort to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The pandemic caused the company to postpone the rollout from August to December, at which time it also introduced disposable or “scratch” cards, which reveal a unique number when scratched. They work like a prepaid phone card and can be purchased in 25, 75, 125, 250, 500 or 1,250-peso denominations.

“There’s another problem,” adds the taxi driver. “You have use the entire amount on the card. For example, if you have a card for 500 liters, you can’t buy 250 and use the rest later. Or if you have a twenty-liter card but your car only needs fifteen, what are you supposed to do with the rest? You have to carry an empty plastic jug just in case. And no car in Cuba will tell you exactly how many liters you have left, especially an old one.”

“The cards are taking up a lot of our time because you have to go through the system and sometimes the system is down,” adds another taxi driver, who joined the conversation. He cites power outages, which are happening with increasing frequency on the island, as one of the causes. “You buy a card and then you can’t pump the gas. It’s a very modern system but we don’t have the technology to handle it. If we’re having problems now, imagine what it’ll be like with the new one.”

“This is not about making life better for the customer or facilitating anything,” says the first driver. “The only reason they have for doing this is to prevent people from stealing gasoline. They’ve tried to do it a thousand times before but have no idea what they’re doing.”

The crusade against corruption at Cupet stations was famously launched back in 2005 by Fidel Castro himself, who sent thousands of “social workers” to gas stations in an effort to prevent fuel theft. “It ended up being a total failure,” says Lizy, an employee at a gas station in the capital, “because social workers started getting in on the action.”

These groups, a Cuban version of Mao’s Red Guards, are the same ones who used to distribute home appliances to neighborhoods from which the government recruited the shock troops it deployed to suppress dissent. They too ended up being part of the network of corruption, diverting resources to the black market. Less than a decade later, few of those workers are still employed at gas stations. Embezzlement even made some of them millionaires.

Lizy confirms that working at a Cupet station “has a lot of benefits.” She claims that, in a few months, employees can go “from a scooter to a car to a house.”

Authorities have stepped up inspections and Lizy acknowledges things have become quite difficult but, she claims, “Business will go on and it won’t matter that there’s no cash.”

The “business” to which she refers begins once fuel is delivered to the station. “For example, the delivery man tells [the station employee], ‘There are 150 liters of oil and 100 liters of gasoline here for you. You have to pay me X amount.’ [The employee] pays him his share and it then it gets sold under the table. From there the money is distributed. That’s how it’s always worked,” she explains

Though payment by card is being required, customers “know the ropes” and some ask to pay in cash. “Nothing has changed. The money is still going to Cupet workers,” she says.

*Translator’s note: The comment refers to the Tarea ordenamiento, the [so-called] ‘Ordering Task’ which is a collection of measures that includes eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), 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  many others throughout the economy. 


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.

The Law of Supply and Demand Draws Cubans to Garage Sales

Garage sales have exploded since their formal authorization three months ago. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia Lopez Moya, Havana, October 12, 2021 — Clothes, shoes and small appliances, but also electrical outlets, a screw, hair clips, earrings, silicone, an ornamental plant, an old hookah and even a pre-1959 phone book. You can find anything at garage sales, which the government legalized on July 20 and are now proliferating across the island.

“In Cuba you can sell everything because no one has anything,” says a buyer from Central Havana who has become a regular customer at these types of businesses.

Retail merchandise for sale in Cuba’s national currency is in short supply. Increasingly, items such as shoes and clothing cannot be purchased with pesos and not everyone has the dollars needed to shop at the burgeoning hard currency stores. Customers can find products at online classified ad sites such as Revolico but prices there can be astronomical. As a result, garage sales, where prices are lower, have become an economical and pleasant shopping alternative for many Cubans, especially those most disadvantaged.

“Here in Central Havana, people are putting any little spare space to use. It could be a hallway next to a staircase, a tiny corner in a tenement or even empty building. A whole retail network has already sprung up,” say Iris, a vendor who, along with her cousins, has set up shop in a family member’s garage.

In a quick stroll through the neighborhood, 14ymedio found seven such operations.

Though garage sales have operated for years in Cuba — their popularity grew in 2013 after the government outlawed sales of imported goods in private stores, which were supplied by mules importing items from Mexico, Panama and Russia — they took off after being legalized as part of a package of emergency measures intended to calm public discontent after the July 11 demonstrations.

Though local authorities did not initially require sale organizers to obtain commercial licenses or register continue reading

as a self-employed workers, they were required to file permit applications with the Municipal Administrative Council and pay a fifty-peso fee. The fee requirement was subsequently waived on August 12 when the government updated the regulations.

There were, of course, other strict requirements. Items for sale had to be for domestic or personal use only — whether used, pre-owned or new — and transactions had to be carried out in garages, on front porches or in other residential areas in ways that did not obstruct pedestrian or vehicular traffic. The resale of products purchased through the rationed market or in hard currency stores, such as toiletries and food, was prohibited.

Shortages are so acute, however, that there are some laws that not even sixty-two years of total state control can undo, such as the law of supply and demand.

“Everyone comes here,” says Iris of her fellow vendors. “They even sell toiletries the rationed stores sell: low-quality brands like Daily and Lis.” Inspectors do not bother them, she says, because Cubans’ need for basic products is so urgent.

One example is tobacco, a product so difficult to obtain that fights often break out when it goes on sale at state-owned stores. At one garage sale, customers could buy H. Uppmann filtered cigarettes for 160 pesos and unfiltered for 140. (The price is almost double at state stores.) The vendor has the items out on a counter, in full view. “If an inspector comes along, I tell him I’m a smoker and that they’re mine,”  explains the vendor, who asks to remain anonymous.

Augusto, another garage sale vendor from Nuevo Vedado, employs different strategies to avoid being fined. “You have to be very careful about what you display because obviously [the inspectors] are not idiots. They could come and accuse you of selling things illegally” he says. For example, if he has several watches for sale, he will only display one.

Augusto is happy transactions like these are now legal. He and his family, who used to own several tourism-related businesses, have been laid low by the pandemic. They have adapted by selling their personal belongings, in some cases at very good prices. This weekend he is doing particularly very well. “I was dying of boredom being cooped up at home,” he confesses.

The capital is not the only city where this type of business is expanding. Lucretia from Santa Clara says, “My house has a front patio and it’s near Vidal Park so several friends and I organized a garage sale.” For the first one they had very few things: some kitchen towels that her grandmother made, some cables and parts of old laptops they had gathered together, old shoes and clothes they no longer wore. They were better prepared the second time around, collecting everything their relatives had to offer. “We even sold a small children’s bike,” she says. “That time we raised more than 2,000 pesos.”

Another advantage to this type of transaction is the flexible payment options it offers customers. For example, there are vendors who will set an item aside if the customer does not have enough money to pay for it at the moment.

Other conventional businesses also take advantage of garage sales. In Old Havna the owners of a bakery located on an undesirable corner have divided the premises in two. In one half they sell bread, meringues and ground peanuts. In the other other there are clothes, shoes, keys, scissors, locks and a whole arsenal of things.

“That’s how far we’ve fallen” says the Central Havana customer. “These are things humans invented a long time ago but, in the commercial Middle Ages we’re living in now, it’s like a major event.”


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.

Officials Station Rapid Response Brigades Near Key Government Sites

On Tuesday, police and State Security agents patrolled the area along 19 de Mayo Street between Ayestaran y Amezaga streets in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, October 12, 2021 — The Rapid Response Brigades (BRR), the regime’s shock troops, were mobilized on Tuesday after the Cuban government refused to to allow a public march on this coming November 15. In neighborhoods where the July 11 demonstrations were most intense, state-employed workers, police and State Security agents were sent in to patrol the streets.

The presence of the BRR at Aranguren and Ayestaran streets, one of the busiest intersections in in Havana’s Cerro district and one of the closest to Plaza of the Revolution, has created a “tense atmosphere” according to Yulieska, an area resident. Even activity at the neighborhood’s underground market has been curtailed as people wait for the heavy security presence to diminish.

On July 11 a huge cordon of police, State Security agents, soldiers and young military draftees prevented demonstrators from reaching the Plaza of the Revolution. Hundreds of Cubans marched through the streets from Old Havana to Cerro before being stopped by security forces. Hundreds of people were arrested during the incident and some were injured.

“It’s a very protected area because they want to stop people from getting to the Plaza in the event of a protest,” explains Yulieska.

The Plaza of the Revolution complex houses the Palace of the Revolution and presidential offices, the Cuban government and the Cuban Communist continue reading

Party Central Committee. Adjacent areas are home to important ministries such as the Armed Forces, Interior, Communications, and Economy and Planning.

The Plaza, a enormous open space flanked by a tall tower and presided over by a statue of Jose Marti, has served as the stage for large rallies and official events for decades. For this reason, the government is trying desperately to prevent hundreds or thousands of people from gathering in an area that it sees as a symbol of the massive popular support that the regime enjoyed in its early days.

In other districts such as Central Havana, the pinch point of the July 11 protests, and in other neighborhoods such as Vedado, residents confirm the visible presence of State Security agents and plainclothes policemen. At Martyr’s Park, Infanta and San Lazaro streets, and the area around the Yara movie theater, many security personnel can be seen.

During the July 11 protests, officials mobilized the BRR along with workers and young military recruits. They were given sticks and baseball bats to confront thousands of demonstrators calling for freedom.

The brigades were conceived and created in the early 1990s to serve as a paramilitary police force that would allow the regime to control outbreaks of popular unrest. In an effort to avoid the image of men in uniform taking repressive actions against civilians, Cuban officials formed these “brown shirt” brigades as a first line of defense against public protests.

The BRR have played a prominent role in acts of public repudiation against dissidents and activist groups, most notably the Ladies in White. But they first came into their own in August 1994 when, together with police and construction workers armed with sticks, they confronted demonstrators during the popular revolt known as the Maleconazo — the Malecon uprising — which led to the so-called Balsero [Rafter] crisis.


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.

Havana Restaurants Reopen with Exorbitant Prices and at Full Capacity

It has become impossible to get a table at Rey & Gaby before November (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar & Natalia Lopez Moya, Havana, October 9, 2021 — Rey & Gaby is fully booked until sometime in November. Currently, it is impossible to reserve a table at this privately owned restaurant in El Vedado. Before the pandemic set in, the place always had empty tables. Now that restaurants in Havana are reopening, it has become a go-to place, in spite of its prices. “Rey’s pizza is 150 pesos, which would have been about six convertible pesos. It used to cost three,” remarks a customer who was checking out the menu at the entrance this weekend.

It is not an isolated case. Reservations at the nearby Cocina de Esteban are also up. The place is large and the staff plan to seat anyone waiting in line. But since restaurants reopened on September 24, the number of reservations has exceeded all forecasts, even at state-run establishments.

At the pizzeria on the corner of 23rd and I streets there were five people waiting in line. “We can take your name and, if something opens up, we can seat you but everything is by reservation,” says an employee. She points to the menu board.

“Everything has gone up a lot. Before, you could get a pizza for six or ten pesos. Now it costs forty,” complains a man in his sixties as he waits in line with his two teenage granddaughters.

Not all restaurant and cafe owners are thrilled, however, at the prospect of reopening. Barbaro Dominguez claims continue reading

that, during the quarantine, he learned a lot about how to do business. That is why he is not planning to continue selling pizzas from the covered entryway of his house near the Vía Blanca.

“When I closed, there were 1,000 cases of Covid a day in the country. At the time that seemed like a lot. Now they tell us we can reopen but I’m not sure my family will be safe under these conditions,” he admits. “This is where we live. The bed where my daughter sleeps has a window that overlooks the area where I sell pizzas. If someone sneezes outside, coronavirus could get under the sheets.”

Dominguez does plan to keep operating but will focus on home delivery, which he believes will be much safer. “It’s better for me. I doubt that by year’s end I will still be behind the counter on my front porch,” he says. But not all the changes are driven by the pandemic. “I’m on various websites where people who live overseas buy food in dollars for their relatives who live here. They pay in real money.”

Operating under the names Mercadito XL and Hasta Tu Casa (To Your Door) Dominguez has turned his cafe into a small supermarket that delivers anything from a package of sausages to a bag of prebaked bread rolls to a pack of beer. “It solves a ton of problems like the obnoxious drunk on my front porch and the inspectors who always want more and more money.

“People are complaining about the prices at all those terrace restaurants because, of course, they charge in Cuban pesos and have to exchange a dollar for 70 or even 80 pesos. Every day they have to write the prices on the chalk board because things are constantly changing. I only accept dollars. The people who buy from me are those who have greenbacks,” he says.

Dominguez has posted a classified ad for several items in his cafe. “I am selling a bar, refrigerator with a glass display door, tall wooden stools and a sink with a drain for kitchen work,” the ad reads.

But a beer does not taste the same at home. At least that is what Dayana and Monica think. It has been a year since the two young women sat face-to-face at a restaurant. As soon as restrictions were lifted, they headed to the Maximo Bar, a privately owned establishment near the entrance to the Havana harbor.

“Between the two of us we spent 3,000 pesos but it wasn’t just for the items themselves. We wanted the experience of eating and drinking in a public space,” admits Dayana. The couple met in March 2020 and their relationship has been marked by the pandemic, which is why they want to finally enjoy being in a restaurant together.

“Yes, it’s expensive but we are willing to pay for the experience. We’ve spent months thinking about it. Even if it had cost a fortune, we would have figured out a way to do it, though I don’t know if we would be inclined to do it again tomorrow. Today is the first time but next time I’ll be checking the prices first and maybe we’ll have to settle for some other place,” one of them admits.

There are also those who are frightened by the growing number of zeros on restaurant menus. At the Malecon’s seawall, some carry their thermoses of tea or coffee, their hidden tankards of rum almost rusted out after months of not being used.

“Before, there used to be other problems,” says Lazaro, a fisherman from the outskirts of La Punta. “You were Cuban or you were a tourist. You paid or you didn’t pay… but now everybody is afraid. No one dares take a sip from a stranger’s bottle.”

The drunk guy who used to come here every day died of Covid in March. And the fisherman that I used to share soup with passed away in July. I’m the only one left around here. I used to worry about people bothering me. Now I wish people would come over. No one is fishing and no one goes near anyone else.


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.

Havana Residents Make Themselves Heard Through ’14ymedio’

Sewer at the corner of Infanta and San Lázaro, in Havana. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 8 October 2021 — A few days after this newspaper echoed the dire state of many streets in Havana, which puts passersby at risk, citizen complaints have achieved something. Aguas de La Habana (Havana Water), responsible for leaving numerous sewer manholes without a lid, has closed the one that was open on the busy corner of Infanta and San Lázaro, just outside the Alma Mater bookstore, according to 14ymedio. “Now we will have a few fewer sprains,” commented a resident from the Plaza municipality, close to the corner.

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.

Havana’s Coppelia Ice Cream Parlor Opens a ‘Line for Failures’

Telephone reservations at the ‘Cathedral of Ice Cream’ have not prevented the long lines or frustrating wait. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 3 October 2021 — A week ago the Coppelia ice cream parlor in Havana resumed table service but only for customers with a telephone reservation. The new access mechanism to the ’Cathedral of Ice Cream’ has not prevented the long lines or frustrating waits that have been an inseparable part of the place for decades.

“This damn country!” a child was heard saying this Saturday as he waited under the shade of a tree with other kids to enter one of the public service areas. The little boy’s expression provoked laughter and also the mother’s scolding: “Child, do you want me to be imprisoned? Do me a favor and calm down.”

Nine days have passed since the reopening and criticism of the new mechanism is already being heard. Tricks to skip it are also proliferating. Regular customers at the store on the central corner of 23 and L, in Havana’s Vedado district, prefer to take their place in the “line of failures,” the line where those who trust that several of the users with reservations will not show up.

“The guards’ business has already started. This will never change here,” said a man who complained about the parking area for vehicles — under the sun — where they had to wait to enter. “It is clear that it is convenient for them to have this line hidden back here, so that we do not see the ’line breakers’ who pass for a few pesos without calling or waiting.”

There were also those who learned of the requirements to have a reservation only when arriving at the place. Like a lady who was surprised to find out. “They don’t invent anything good, everything is putting the people to work. I’m from San Miguel del Padrón and I don’t have a phone, so if I’m around here and it occurs to me to have an ice cream, should I go home and ask the neighbor can I borrow the phone to make a reservation? “

The woman mentally calculated her possibilities looking at the dozen people who were waiting and gave up on ice cream: “I’m leaving, there are many people here, if nobody fails to reserve then I will only have to line up and sunbathe for fun.”


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.