Private Businesses in Cuba Hide the Chicken and Other Products To Avoid the Capped Prices

State foreign exchange shops sell the same items at more expensive prices

The EJT agro market at 17 and K in El Vedado, Havana, usually with very well stocked shelves, was almost empty / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez/Olea Gallardo, Havana, 3 July 2024 — A day after the new measures announced by the Government on June 27, which establish a maximum profit margin of 30% on private sales to the State, it is not yet known with certainty whether or not the prices are capped for six products in private retail stores. There is only one thing certain: these basic necessities included on the list of capped prices by some municipal governments this weekend disappeared from the shelves on Tuesday.

On Saturday, the authorities of Plaza de la Revolución (Havana), Jobabo (Las Tunas) and Pinar del Río published lists of products with maximum prices for cooking oil (900 pesos per liter), chopped chicken (680 per kilogram), powdered milk (1,675 per kilo), sausages (1,045 per kilogram), pasta (835 pesos per kilo) and powdered detergent (630 pesos per kilo). But yesterday, Monday, when the regulation was supposed to come into force, in municipalities like Boyeros they said that they didn’t know anything, and among the businessmen it was all rumors and confusion.

“Does anyone know anything about the official prices? We’re confused.” The comment of Yulieta Hernández Díaz, president of Grupo de Construcciones Pilares, summed up the state of the matter well. continue reading

This Tuesday, the bewilderment of Cubans is even greater. The agro market operated by the Youth Labor Army (EJT) of the Armed Forces, at 17 and K in El Vedado, Havana, usually very well stocked, had almost all its shelves empty. The few products for sale were piled up together on the top shelves on the K Street side.

Prices of meat products in the state foreign exchange store La Época / 14ymedio

The sellers, however, responded to the surprised customers with a simple shrug of the shoulders. “They say they don’t know, but it’s clear that they must know something,” said an old woman. It was the same in the Arango market in Luyanó. “There’s nothing on the shelves; it’s dead, empty, a very strange thing,” a neighbor told this newspaper.

In the butcher shop at 17 and K, which operates as a private business, there was only chicken breast and picadillo [chopped meat]. The clerk said that he didn’t know why there were no chicken quarters or thighs, but customers could hear him talking on the phone with someone who told him that he that he had to change the blackboard: “Now I have to put the prices in kilograms.” He didn’t mention the amounts.

In the private business (MSME) Zona K’liente they weren’t selling the bird either. “There is no chicken or milk anywhere.” “There is no chicken and there won’t be,” was the forceful response of the butcher of the 19 and B market, also in El Vedado. The reason? “Because they capped the prices.” And he cried out: “Better to raise chickens at home!”

Something happened, of course, in the last three days, and the authorities were reluctant to report it. A butcher from Sancti Spíritus gave the explanation to this newspaper: yesterday he was introduced to some “comrades” of the Party along with two inspectors, who warned him of the entry into force of the regulations and “they read the prices.” They didn’t give him any citation: “It was just a verbal warning, and they told me that there could be consequences if I increased the price of those products.”

“They say they don’t know, but it’s clear that they do”

It was just what an anonymous official source had warned in an audio that spread like wildfire since Saturday, in which the “established” prices were specified. The voice, with an accent from the west of the Island, assured that “groups of confrontation” were going to go to private businesses to give them “a wake-up call.” Subsequently, it warned, there might be “a forced sale of these products or confiscations of them for the social institutions that also need these products.”

As a result of the uncertainty and the threats, private individuals have simply hidden the merchandise. Also in Sancti Spíritus, a neighbor said that he had managed to buy chicken in a nearby MSME, “just for being trustworthy”: 10 pounds at 4,000 pesos.

“Chicken cannot have disappeared from the face of the earth; it’s here in Cuba, but they hide it because they don’t want to sell it at the prices dictated by the State,” explained another Cuban, a resident of Central Havana. “It’s always the same: they capped the price of taxis, the taxis disappeared; they capped the price of malanga and the malanga disappeared. Well, now chicken has disappeared.”

In four years, as seen in an official graph, private sector sales have gone from 4.1% of the total to 44.4% / Onei

Meanwhile, in the State stores selling in freely convertible currency (MLC), there were not only the lost products in that had been sold in pesos, but they were much more expensive. In La Época, in Central Havana, detergent of 1.5 kilos was at 5.45 dollars (1,908 pesos at the informal exchange rate), and 1.25 kilos of Argentine chicken was at 6.55 dollars (2,293 pesos).

“They’re never going to cap themselves, as you can imagine,” said a client at the doors of the MLC store.

The effort to attack the MSMEs (micro, small and medium-sized enterprise) by imposing a profit cap on them has been criticized by specialists such as Pedro Monreal, who insists that the way to contain inflation, which has not stopped growing exponentially since the entry into force of the so-called Ordering Task* (2021), is none other than the reduction of expenses.

The economist has again published a revealing post on Tuesday, based on figures published yesterday by the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (Onei) that indicate the spectacular increase in the weight of the “non-state sector” in retail sales. In four years, as observed in an official graph, private sector sales have gone from 4.1% of the total to 44.4%, while state sales went from 95.9% to 55.6%.

It remains to be seen whether prices will be discussed on State TV’s Round Table program scheduled for this Tuesday, to which “leaders of the Communist Party” are invited to “analyze partisan actions based on boosting food production in the country.” Cubans know what the end of the film is: a shortage of products and more difficulties to obtain them.

*Translator’s note:  The Ordering Task was a collection of measures that included eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso (CUP) 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.

Spanish Agency Announces a Competition to Rehabilitate Havana’s Galiano Street

View of buildings along Havana’s Galiano Street, whose facades would be restored as part of an urban renewal project / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez/Olea Gallardo, Havana, 22 March 2024 — Plans to restore iconic Galiano Street in Central Havana seem serious this time around, at least for the impoverished block between Virtudes and Conde Cañongo. On Thursday, the local government publicly solicited proposals for the “recovery, maintenance and restoration of the facades” of the buildings in this area.

It is a highly unusual but understandable move given that the area is part of the so-called Galiano Street Comprehensive International Revitalization Cooperation Project, financed by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID).

The buildings whose facades would be restored are numbers 201 to 211 on the east side of the street and 202 to 212 on the west. Not included is number 210, which the official press release describes as being in very bad condition. continue reading

In a visit to the site on Friday, 14ymedio learned that the building, whose address should be 210 since it is on the even side of the street but which is mistakenly numbered 211, is in ruins though it is still inhabited on the ground floor.

The building, whose address should be 210 since it is on the even side of the street but which is mistakenly numbered 211, is in ruins though it is still inhabited on the ground floor

The area is known for its nightlife — bars such as Cumbaking, 212 and V&S are located there — and as a hotbed of fistfights, drug dealing and prostitution.

The stretch includes precarious apartment buildings such as those at numbers 201, 204 and 205, which has a state-owned store, La Cancha, on the ground floor, that has been rented out to small private vendors, popularly known as merolicos.

Another building, number 208, retains its original Sevillian tiles, remnants of a more glorious past. Built in the 1930s, it once belonged to José Alvarez Ruiz, a businessman whose initials can still be seen on the facade of the building. Housing took up the upper floor; a loan and jewelry business occupied the lower floor. In the 1940s, the building housed the Cuban branch of Remington Rand, an American company that manufactured sewing machines and typewriters, and imported a wide range of office supplies.

Nationalized by the state after the Cuban revolution, the striking building had had several uses — these included the headquarters of the Comittees for the Defense of the Revolution and a library — until the roof collapsed in 1999.

The area is known for its nightlife — bars such as Cumbaking, 212 and V&S are located here — and as a hotbed of fistfights, drug dealing and prostitution / 14ymedio

The announcement posted jointly by the municipal government and AECID on the official website indicates that proposals must include a separate budget, in Cuban pesos, for each of the building facades on both sides of the street.

Similarly, they point out that restoration of facades must include “all required actions such as carpentry, lighting, ironwork and any others needed to restore the facades to their original state.”

The construction period for each facade may not excede four months “from the delivery of the client’s letter of authorization letter to the bidder.”

According to a AECID document signed on June 30, 2021, the agency foresees a total of seven such projects on the Island at a cost of of 3.5 million euros

The Galiano Street restoration project, sponsored by AECID, is nothing new. State media announced it with great fanfare back in late 2022, even reviving the thoroughfare’s old name: Avenida de Italia. The goal, as reported at the time, was to convert the area into “an innovative urban district and a reference for the principles of the circular economy, digital culture and creativity and the enhancement of products from supply chains.”

On Thursday, the same day the competition was announced, the street was also referred to by its old name on the website of the Information Technology Fair, which is taking place in Havana. State media reported a plan to install “broadband telecommunications infrastructure using fiber optic cables along three kilometers of Galiano Street — from Reina Street to the Malecón — for the benefit of 109 properties, with an average of twelve customers per property.”

According to a AECID document signed on June 30, 2021, the agency foresees a total of seven such projects on the Island at a cost of of 3.5 million euros.

AECID’s budget for what was billed as a “comprehensive revitalization of Galiano Street, preserving its urban and architectural values and enhancing its commercial, recreational and cultural character” was originally 312,000 euros, with a May 2023 completion date. Neither the Spanish agency nor its Cuban partner has provided an explanation for the delay in plans.

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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.

Cuban Women Live at the Margins of a Regime Led by Men

It is women who mostly stand in Cuba’s endless lines to get food / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez and Olea Gallardo, Havana, 8 March 2024 — The eleventh congress of theFederation of Cuban Women (FMC) was formally closed this Friday by the six men who govern the destiny of the country. The female quota in the presidium made up of Raúl Castro, Miguel Díaz-Canel, Esteban Lazo, Manuel Marrero, Roberto Morales de Ojeda and José Ramón Machado Ventura is covered by one woman: Teté Puebla, member of Las Marianas in the Sierra Maestra and first (and only) Brigadier general woman on the Island.

“The Feminist Path is Not Exclusive to Women,” the State newspaper Granma headlines its note on the occasion of March 8, in case things were not clear.

At the same time, the ruling FMC assures that “the development of scientific research is urgently needed to study the implementation of public policies with a gender perspective to move towards full equality.” And we must “overcome the meeting schedule.” And “update communication codes.”

Far from so many words, the streets show that the face of Cuba, increasingly empty, increasingly poor, is that of a woman / 14ymedio

Far from so many words, the streets show that the face of Cuba, increasingly empty, increasingly poor, is that of a woman. It is women who continue reading

mostly stand in endless lines to get food. The oldest ones have to bring their own stool to endure the hours and the heat.

If you have to put a color on those faces, it is fundamentally dark. The color of those who cannot emigrate due to lack of resources / 14ymedio

If you have to put a color on those faces, it is fundamentally dark. The color of those who cannot emigrate due to lack of resources.

The oldest ones have to bring their own stool to endure the hours and the heat / 14ymedio

State workers, informal saleswomen or retirees – the luckiest ones, with emigrated families – all have poverty and boredom in common. Neither the FMC nor the men who protect it have solved their problems one bit in 65 years.

State workers, informal saleswomen or retirees – the luckiest ones, with emigrated families – all have poverty and boredom in common / 14ymedio

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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.

Three Hours Stranded on the Highway, Cubans and Tourists Suffer the Negligence of Viazul

After half an hour, the driver gave his diagnosis: the transmission belt broke and, worst of all, he didn’t have a spare. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Olea Gallardo, Havana, 4 January 2024 — The trip from Ciego de Ávila to Havana by bus is neither short nor cheap, but Maidelys is already used to it. This habanera has been traveling that road by public transport for ten years every time she has a vacation, to visit a sister in the central province. Although the distance is about 400 kilometers, or 250 miles, the trip between the two cities by road takes almost eight hours. That is, if there are no unforeseen events like those that happened this Wednesday, which caused her to arrive three hours later.

As has been customary for a long time, another brother, an emigrant, had given her the ticket, which cost 28 euros, buying it on the Viazul website, where payment is only accepted with foreign cards. Very few can afford these prices, so the vehicle, coming from Santiago de Cuba, was full of foreign tourists, many of them Cuban-Americans, with very few domestic travelers.

The bus left at six in the morning from Ciego de Ávila, and Maidelys fell asleep right away, until they reached the next stop, Sancti Spíritus. “Fortunately it was one of the comfortable buses, because in some Astros [National Bus Company] I can’t get a wink of sleep,” she says. “Once I traveled in one that had no floor in front of my seat, and I spent the whole trip thinking that if I fell asleep I would fall through the hole.”

“There’s a goldmine here,” is how Maidelys described the atmosphere of Las Palmas restaurant. (14ymedio)

Another advantage of going in a “tourist” vehicle is that they have hot food at the stops. “With the bus of the proletariat, there’s only sugar and more sugar,” Maidelys jokes, referring to the soft drinks and cookies sold at the government stops.

At kilometer 139 of the National Highway, after passing Santa Clara, the bus stopped for breakfast. “There’s a goldmine here,” is how Maidelys described the atmosphere of the Las Palmas restaurant, a “grill” where the meat dishes cost 2,000 pesos, the sandwiches go from 600 to 1,200, and a continue reading

malted milkshake costs 500. They also sold boxes of cigars for 120 dollars, although some foreigners haggled until they got them down to 110.

Everything seemed to be in order – they had already passed through the provinces of Cienfuegos and Matanzas – when with just under an hour and a half left to reach the capital, at kilometer 72 on the highway, at the height of Nueva Paz in Mayabeque, the vehicle stopped.

“At first you only heard the driver and someone else, like a baggage handler, and no one worried,” says Maidelys. “But then the air conditioning turned off, and people began to protest, saying it was a lack of respect, what with the cost of the ticket.”

An almendrón — a classic American car operating as a shared taxi — stopped to help, but they didn’t have the right part, and then a Transgaviota bus, which didn’t have any spare parts either.” (14ymedio)

After half an hour, the driver gave his diagnosis: the transmission belt broke and, worst of all, he did not have a spare. He did not say  if they would have to wait for another vehicle or if the company would send help. “There is a review department that is supposed to handle all breakdowns,” Maidelys says. “It shouldn’t happen because they’re charging you up the nose, and none of these buses have the comfort they’re supposed to have.”

The driver himself, she says, acknowledged his impotence before the travelers who complained about the breakdown: “He told us that the rule said that after five years the buses should be renewed, but that Viazul has not had new buses for at least 15 years.” The laughter of those present testified to the lack of credibility of the driver’s excuse for such precariousness: “the blockade.”

Soon, as the minutes passed and there was no solution, the good mood gave way to restlessness. “There were people with flights at two in the afternoon, another with a ticket for 1:00 pm, but he already knew it was lost,” says Maidalys. The most dramatic case was that of a young mother who was traveling with her daughter to get to Nicaragua — from where she would probably make the journey to the United States:  she cried when she saw her money for the bus tickets wasted.

Those who did not have a plane to catch were the most resigned, and they spread out on the ground. (14ymedio)

Those who did not have to catch a plane were the most resigned, and they spread out on the ground, like Maidalys. From a mound she saw how the bus driver desperately stopped other vehicles to ask for help. “An almendrón [a 1950s American car operating as a shared taxi] stopped, but they didn’t have the right part, and then a Transgaviota bus, which didn’t have spare parts either,” she says.

And she continues with the surreal parade that soon populated the place: “A pastry seller appeared and then someone who sold preserves, to get us to buy a kilo, but the worst thing was that an old woman who got on in Santa Clara began to hyperventilate. I don’t know if it was from anxiety or fatigue, but they said that there was no ambulance to pick her up.”

It was more than an hour after being stranded that they began to call the passengers whose final destination was terminal 3 of the José Martí International Airport, to get them into another vehicle. “But they were warned that they had to stand up,” Maidelys says. With that bus, a fan belt also arrived, but it didn’t solve the problem either.

“We had to wait almost three hours for another bus to come and pick us all up.” (14ymedio)

“We had to wait almost three hours for another bus to come and pick us all up,” says Maidelys, who finally arrived at her destination, the bus terminal near the Plaza de la Revolución, at the end of the evening. “I had a piece of meat in my suitcase. It was frozen but I was already afraid that when I arrived in Havana it would be cooked. Rather than Viazul, they should call it Viacrucis [the Way of the Cross].”

The only happy person during the trip, she indicates, was a passenger who, in the middle of the journey, learned that she had received Spanish citizenship: “She started screaming like crazy, and it’s no wonder. She’s not going to have to put up with the things of this country anymore.”

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.

Vima Foods, Spanish Emporium which Sells Low-Quality Items for High-Quality Prices

Vima’s products are prominently displayed on all the retail websites where customers overseas can make purchases for delivery in Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Olea Gallardo, Havana, December 14, 2023 — The wedding last weekend in Havana of Víctor Moro Morros-Sarda and Alexandra Lacorne made the news in Spain’s gossip columns for having brought together several figures who frequently make appearances on their pages. Among the 400 guests were Tamara Falcó, Marchioness of Griñón, daughter of Isabel Preysler and sister of Enrique Iglesias; and her cousin, Álvaro Falcó, Marquis of Cubas. They were accompanied by their respective spouses, Íñigo Onieva and Isabelle Junot, the daughter of Philippe Junot, former husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco.

Only readers of Hola! and similar magazines would be interested in such an event were it not for two things: the luxurious wedding, which lasted several days, took place at a time when Cuba is going through one of its worst crises of the last quarter of a century, and the groom is the son of Víctor Moro Suárez, founder of Vima Foods, a brand of imported products which have been omnipresent in Cuban hard-currency stores for decades.

The company is described by Vanitatis as “an international food group” and by El Debate as “a multi-national distributor of food products with offices in Havana, New York, Coruña and other locations.” For the island’s residents Vima Foods is synonymous with low-quality at high prices.

I can only imagine that Vilma’s ham croquettes must be the worst in Spain because there’s nothing in them. They’re just flavored flour

“They seem like a scam to me,” says Mariam, a Havana native who has not bought any of the company’s products for two years after falling ill from eating a can of Vima tuna which she bought at a hard-currency store. “They are third or fourth-class products sold for high-class prices.” continue reading

Mayonnaise, mustard, tomato paste and other sauces, a wide variety of canned goods, cured meats, frozen foods (vegetables, fruits, meat, fish and shellfish, and even bread) pre-cooked foods, cheeses of various sizes, jams, syrups, powdered milk, yogurts, olives, cooking oils, legumes and grains are just some of the many Vima items for sale on the Island, all of them imported.

These products are prominently displayed on all the retail websites where overseas customers can make purchases for delivery in Cuba.

One of their most popular items is their croquettes. But Mariam has nothing good to say about them either: “I can only imagine they must be the worst in Spain because their ham croquettes have nothing in them. They’re just flavored flour.”

When people in other countries were asked how they perceived the brand, Carlos — who emigrated from Cuba two years ago — said, “I don’t know anyone in Spain who buys it. Fortunately, I myself have never seen it in a supermarket because I remember it was the worst.”

Vima World describes itself as a “family-run company founded in 1994” and a group “whose origens began in Galicia’s fishery sector.” On the same website it claims it operates not only in Spain but in forty other countries as well, and that it also has offices in Panama, the Domincan Republic, Mexico, the United States, China and Cuba.

Its founder has never hidden his ties to the island. Victor Moro Suarez (son of Victor Moro Rodriguez, who died in 2021) was a politician during Spain’s transition to democracy. He also headed a frozen food conglomerate. He spent more than twenty-five years in this country, where he served as president of the Association of Spanish Businessmen in Cuba.

What is murkier are the origins and expansion of his multimillion-dollar business. The so-called Panama Papers, a series of leaked documents obtained from the database of the Mossack Fonseca law firm by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in 2016, revealed that Vima World was on the list of companies which had been registered in tax havens.

“I found a work niche in the Caribbean, starting in Cuba, and that circumstance led me to form this group of companies.” The ICIJ search engine indicates it was founded in January 1994 in the British Virgin Islands. However, Moro Suarez himself acknowledged in an interview with the local Galician press almost two decades ago that his empire started in Cuba. When asked by the journalist how he ended up with one hundred and sixty employees serving twenty million meals around the world, the businessman responds, “I found a work niche in the Caribbean, starting from Cuba, and that circumstance led me to form this group of companies.”

An article in La Voz de Galicia (The Voice of Galicia) four years earlier confirmed, “Vima was created in Havana in 1994 to take advantage of the opening of the Cuban market to tourist investment and became the main supplier to hotels and restaurants.” It reporthed that, in 2002, Vima World, “a distributor based in Vigo and 100% owned by Galicia’s Moro family” was the sector leader in Cuba, with control of 15% of food distribution and 25% of supplies to hotels. It is said to have earned 25 million euros in 2001.

How was a foreigner able to launch and then head a business in Cuba in the mid-1990s and achieve these results in just seven years? It is one of Vima’s unknowns. It is especially striking given that its appearance on the island happened to coincide with the Special Period — after the fall of the Soviet Union and the loss of its subsidies to Cuba — a time of  dollarization and despair.

Also puzzling is how a firm like Vima World S.L., which has been around for almost thirty years, did not show up on the National Registry of Foreign Commercial Ventures until this past October.

The fact that official news outlets such as Cubadebate have reported that its Havana office is in the  Berroa neighborhood — also home to the mysterious Diplomarket — traditionally under the control of Gaesa, the all-powerful business consortium run by the Cuban armed forces, only reinforces the the idea that it is well connected with officials in the highest echelons of power. The author of that article noted that, according to his sources, Moro Suarez has been seen seated alongside figures such as Fidel Castro and Cuban singer/songwriter Pablo Milanés.

The media outlets that reported on the Moro-Lacorne wedding mentioned none of this. They focused instead on other details such as the most recent photo of Moro-Suarez next to his wife, Mariquita Morros-Sarda, in the traditional Spanish mantilla worn by maids of honor.

The usual syrupy, superfluous prose was all about dresses and extravagant waste. Staying at the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, one of the most expensive in the city, the guests enjoyed a “pre-wedding” party at the Tropicana cabaret, reserved solely for them for the occasion. They moved around in glittering vintage cars and attended a ceremony held in the Havana cathedral itself. Many of the guests, like the influencer Belén Barnechea, shared relaxed images of the streets of the capital, day and night, with shots that in no way illustrated the true and calamitous state of the city. A lavish Havana of glossy paper under the canopy of Vima Foods.

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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.

Patients Go Through an Ordeal To Be Treated in the Calamitous Cuban Hospitals

A doctor working without light, in a polyclinic in Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Olea Gallardo, Havana, November 30, 2023 — The bursting into tears last Monday of Dr. Yoandra Quesada de Bayamo (Granma), who is being tried along with five other colleagues for the death of a 23-year-old patient, is nothing but the vivid image of what remains of healthcare in Cuba, the eternal jewel in the crown for revolutionary propaganda.

What the surgeon said to the journalist Ernesto Morales – “all your colleagues leave, you are working alone and without materials, exposed to being killed one day by a desperate relative” – is verified daily by any Cuban who steps into a healthcare center. The situation of primary services is especially dramatic.

“There are no syringes, there are no reagents for the tests, there are no nozzles to give aerosol, there are no esfigmos [sphygmomanometers] to take blood pressure.” Aleida, who unravels this litany, is still young, but she is beginning to have problems with hypertension, a condition that leads to the number one cause of death on the Island. continue reading

“One day when I arrived at the hospital with high blood pressure, they wanted to give me oxygen, but there were no mouthpieces, so the doctor gave me the hose and said: ’don’t put it in your mouth, put it close, so that you feel the oxygen.’” Aleida couldn’t do it, because of the stench that the instrument gave off and out of shame. “I took it and told him: look, this doesn’t smell good. But in addition, I felt ridiculous, with that oxygen escaping everywhere.”

That day, she was lucky, because she usually has to walk miles and make a pilgrimage through several centers before finding one where a device to measure blood pressure is available. “The first time I went to the polyclinic near my house, where there were no esfigmos anywhere, the doctor told me: I can’t take your pressure, little girl, but come and sit here, the only thing I can give you is a long talk.’”

There are no syringes, there are no reagents for the analyses, there are no nozzles to give aerosol, there are no sphygmomanometers to take blood pressure

Who does have sphygmomanometers? “Foreign residents often have them and are always given a more pleasant treatment than Cubans by the way,” says Aleida. Faced with the exodus of specialists, outside the Island or to other jobs that provide them with better salaries, the Government tries to solve the lack of labor with exchange students, who cover the emergency rooms.

Luis, who is only 40, is frightened. He has been urinating blood for a few weeks and still doesn’t have the results of the tests he was finally encouraged to do. He was unsuccessful the first time he went to the hospital because “they didn’t have reagents,” but they did the second time. “But then I had to bring the syringe myself because they didn’t have them either.” Now he waits anxiously for an appointment with a specialist: in eight months.

Mild diseases and once-luxurious centers are not spared from the debacle. The 19 de Abril polyclinic, in Nuevo Vedado, for example, the favorite place to take foreign visitors on an official trip to the Island, has serious infrastructure problems.

“There are cracks at a 45-degree angle on several important walls, even cracks that can be seen on both sides of a window,” observes Juan, who for many years dedicated himself to construction and recently had to go to that health center for rehabilitation due to a dislocation. “The building was built during the Revolution, so it is no more than 65 years old.”

The wave of indignation over the trial of the six doctors of the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes hospital accused of negligence not only made the Ministry of Public Health react, which had to clarify that the process is carried out “with adherence to the guarantees established in the laws,” but continues to have echoes.

In the face of the exodus of specialists, the Government tries to solve the lack of manpower with exchange students, who cover the emergency rooms

Thus, in the midst of the controversy, the Communist Party of Cuba in Granma province decided this Wednesday to dismiss its first secretary, Yanaisi Capó Nápoles, and to put in Yudelkis Ortiz Barceló instead. The official press did not detail the reasons and highlighted Ortiz Barceló, who comes from being a member of the Executive Bureau to “attend to ideological political activity” in the Provincial Committee of the PCC in Santiago de Cuba.

This Wednesday, four doctors residing abroad signed a harsh letter addressed to José Ángel Portal Miranda, Minister of Health, in which they sympathize with the doctors “unjustly accused.” The letter, signed by Alexander Jesús Figueredo Izaguirre, Arnoldo de la Cruz Bañoble, Sergio Barbolla Verdecia and Jorge David Yaugel, describes what happened in Bayamo as a “national shame.”

“The accusers should point out those really responsible for that death. These doctors are also victims of the conflict between their professional commitment and the impossibility of succeeding in the conditions in which they are forced to treat their patients,” the doctors said in the text. “The ones responsible for diverting the resources provided by the medical brigades” are the ones who should appear before the courts.

The regime has received “billions of dollars” in the last decade, money that “has not been invested in the Cuban health system as was argued at the time to justify the arbitrary deduction of between 70% and 90% of the salaries* of the brigade members during all these years.” With this, they continue, “there would have been more to keep the health system in optimal conditions and pay decent wages to professionals in the sector.”

These doctors are also victims of the conflict between their professional commitment and the impossibility of succeeding in the conditions in which they are forced to treat their patients

Among their demands is that from now on they pay health workers “the full salary when we go out to provide services to other countries and not just give us a minimum stipend from it,” as well as an “immediate” salary increase for all those who work in the health system.

They also commented on the case of Amelia Calzadilla, who from Spain, where she managed to escape a little more than two weeks ago, asks doctors to refuse to work in such terrible conditions.

She is not the only one who thinks like that on the Island. “The situation requires a general strike, but if you say this in public they’ll put me in prison.” The woman, who doesn’t want to be more precise, predicts: “One day everything will stop working; the doctors will not go to the hospital to work; the teachers will not go to school; the ration-store shopkeepers will not take care of the ration stores; and then the system will collapse. Because if there’s nothing anywhere, what’s the point of all this?”

*Translator’s note: Cuban medical personnel serving on ’brigades’ or ’missions’ in foreign countries are paid a very small percentage of what those countries pay Cuba for their services.

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.

Two Buildings Renovated with Saudi Money Now Occupied by Friends of the Cuban Regime

Armed with walkie-talkies, security agents control access to both properties. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Nelson García and Olea Gallardo, Havana, 22 November 2023 — Judging from the buildings at 202 Obispo Street and 653 Cuba Street in Old Havana, one would never guess it has been sixty-five years since the Cuban revolution. Neat and tidy, with smooth walls and new paint, the buildings — recently renovated with Saudi money — contrast with the surrounding buildings, which remain on the brink of collapse.

Local officials were present at the inauguration ceremony on Saturday, which marked the the 504th anniversary of the city’s founding. The state-run press covered the event with its usual fanfare.

Tribuna de la Habana reported that the reconstruction was carried out by the Office of the Historian of the City of Havana with help from the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD). The eleven renovated homes at 653 Cuba Street – the former Palace of the Marquis of the Royal Proclamation – and another thirteen at 202 Obispo Street are to be occupied by “families who were facing difficult housing situations.”

It seems, however, that the apartments, described by the newspaper as “renovated and very comfortable,” are not being occupied by people of modest means. “No way,” said a local resident on Wednesday who has been observing the comings and goings. “What few families like that there are were very carefully chosen.” Security agents armed with walkie-talkies control access to both buildings.

Neat and tidy, with smooth walls and new paint, the buidings — recently renovated with Saudi money — contrast with the surrounding buildings, which remain on the brink of collapse.

Inside, all is luxurious, pristine and quiet. “You think they’re going to give these homes to someone who isn’t shouting ’Viva Fidel’?” the woman asks rhetorically. “These are not for average people.”

As Tribuna de La Habana reported, the FSD also financed the Havana Aquarium, located in the city’s historic center. That project was also managed the Office of the Historian, which had become its own power center under the command of the late Eusebio Leal until the Cuban armed forces took it over after his death and depleted its resources.

What the newspaper did not say is that this same fund also financed the grandiose Fidel Castro Ruz Center, which opened in Havana’s Vedado district in late 2021. At the time, a source from the Office of the Historian confessed, “The money was supposed to be for housing but some of it was used for the center and for the Capitol restoration as well.”

Inside, all is luxurious, pristine and quiet. “You think they’re going to give these homes to someone who isn’t shouting ’Viva Fidel’?” (14ymedio)

In 2017 the SFD loaned Cuba 26.6 million dollars for the Office of the Historian’s building restoration and social welfare program which, officially, was supposed to help alleviate Havana’s ongoing housing crisis.

14ymedio has learned through unofficial sources that another the project made possible by the SFD is the Práctico del Puerto building, which has views of the Plaza de Armas, the Royal Military Fortress and Havana Bay.

Of Práctico del Puerto’s former residents, who were evicted at the start of construction, only one — Francisco Muñoz — has returned. Neighborhood residents claim that the apartments, which enjoy a spectacular view of Havana Bay, went to employees of the Ministry of Health.

Thirteen units have been “allocated” at 202 Obispo Street. (14ymedio)

Muñoz told 14ymedio in late 2021 that he was able to return to his former home in late 2021 because he spent “eight years living in front of the building, inside a container, without moving.” He also had help from Eusebio Leal, with whom he worked for twelve years as construction manager at the the Office of the Historian. “At one point a military officer even came to evict me and [Leal] came to my defense with a copy of the law in his hand,” he said at the time. As for his former neighbors, “there were people here who went to the shelter and weren’t able to return. I hear there’s a married couple still living at the shelter.”

The SFD began operations in 1975 and has as its principal objective the financing of projects in developing countries. It has approved loans to Cuba for projects related to rehabilitating hydraulic networks (122 million dollars in 2016), improving the Camagüey sewage system (40 million dollars in 2014), overhauling Havana’s water system (30 million in 2013) and acquiring medical equipment for maternity care centers (in 2010).

Of Práctico del Puerto’s former residents, who were evicted at the start of construction, only one has returned.

In 2013 the island signed an agreement to send Cuban doctors to Saudia Arabia in exchange for 10,000 dollars a month per doctor, of which each individual physician receives only 1,000 dollars in compensation.

The Prensa Latina news agency reported that Ricardo Cabrisas, the minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, paid a visit to Saudi Arabia in October to “review” the state of bilateral relations. It appears they are as strong as ever.

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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 Cuban Regime Seeks Its Salvation in the Investments of Emigrants

La Carreta restaurant, located on 21st Street on the corner of K, in the heart of El Vedado, in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Olea Gallardo, Havana, 19 November 2023 — Those who for decades were called “worms,” “traitors” and “counterrevolutionaries” have become the great hope of the Cuban regime to save the disastrous economy. A main objective seems to guide the Government of Cuba at the conference it is holding with emigrants this weekend in Havana: to attract them to invest in the Island and legalize a process that has already begun stealthily with small entrepreneurs from the diaspora.

Despite Cuban law and the U.S. “embargo” that prohibit it for the time being, several exiles have opened businesses in Cuba using the names of residents on the Island and, in some cases, in association with local authorities. Among them are the private restaurants La Carreta, Antojos and some others in Havana, in addition to the Diplomarket shopping center, all controlled by U.S. residents, with the approval or participation of the regime.

Although he did not allude to the current situation, the director general of Consular Affairs and Cuban Residents Abroad of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, Ernesto Soberón, spoke openly in an interview with Juventud Rebelde last Sunday.

Similarly, Reuters confirmed it by quoting a “senior official” of the Foreign Relations Ministry: “Cuba wants to take advantage of its growing population abroad in search of new investments that boost the economy.” continue reading

Despite Cuban law and the U.S. “embargo” that prohibit it for the moment, several exiles have opened businesses in Cuba using the names of residents on the Island and, in some cases, in association with local authorities

In the Nation and Emigration Conference, the first in 19 years, more than 400 people are participating, many of whom — no less than 40%, according to Soberón — have double residence, in Cuba and abroad. (According to the EFE agency, most of the participants whose identities transcend national boundaries are people linked to solidarity with Cuba groups abroad). “This did not happen before, which is the result of the modification of the Constitution that now recognizes effective citizenship, and there can be several,” the official insisted, talking about the 2013 constitutional reform.

Soberón added to this the measures taken last July – the extension of the validity of ordinary passports from six to ten years, the elimination of the mandatory extension every two years and the reduction of the price to apply for it – as part of the same strategy of approaching Cubans abroad. He did not name another one, which many consider as an extension of the penalty applied to most nationals who left the country: the requirement to show the Cuban passport for exiles before 1971, who were exempted from the perpetual control exercised by the political police over the emigrants).

Most have set up hotels, restaurants and other shops, many of them with remarkable success

The authorities now publicly insist that Cubans abroad must invest in their country of origin, but the truth is that it has been happening stealthily for years.

Most have set up hotels, restaurants and other shops, many of them with remarkable success. One of them is Frank Cuspinera Medina, vice president of Las Américas TCC Corporation, based in Miami, a group to which Diplomarket belongs, called, sarcastically, the “Cuban Costco.”

Cuspinera Medina is domiciled in Florida but also in El Vedado. His name appears in a letter that several Cuban entrepreneurs sent in 2021 to U.S. President Joe Biden, asking him to lift the sanctions against the Government of the Island, which harmed their businesses. In the letter he did not appear as a member of Las Américas, but of Iderod Servicios Constructivos, based in Cuba.

This last firm is not on the list of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) of the regime, but it is a company with his name, Cuspinera SURL LVI, dedicated to “providing e-commerce platform services,” the same as a branch of Las Américas TCC.

Al cubano Obel Martínez, dueño de La Carreta, le fue concedida la nacionalidad estadounidense. (Facebook)
Cuban Obel Martínez, owner of La Carreta, was granted US nationality. (Facebook)

Reinaldo Rivero is another Cuban resident in the U.S. with a tentacle in Havana: although his business is registered in the name of his mother, he is the real owner, with a foreign partner, of the busy Antojos restaurant and bar and a security agency that serves the establishments of the Espada Alley, on Peña Pobre Street in Old Havana.

A third name, with a dazzling triumph, is Obel Martínez, owner of La Carreta. Remodeled and with a rich gastronomic offer, the emblematic restaurant of El Vedado reopened in private hands last June and immediately became a place among the habananeros for the emerging middle class.

By then, Martínez had opened another business, Mojito-Mojito, in the heart of Old Havana, praised on travel pages for the owner’s enthusiasm and kindness.

His signature is in place 5,639 of the registration of MSMEs with the name Mojito Martínez and was approved in the last quarter of 2022. Precisely in December of that same year, Cuban Obel Martínez was granted U.S. nationality. In fact, according to a close source who requests anonymity, he continues to retain his residence in Miami, Florida.

“Obel fled from Castroism and now lives from it, enjoying at the same time all the benefits and opportunities of the American dream: he plays at capitalism from Havana, with the support of the local authorities,” says the same source, who echoes the discomfort created by this situation in some sectors of the regime itself, particularly within the Communist Party of Cuba, where there is a debate about the privileges granted to this new class of businessmen.

As a local development project, the source adds, Obel received a loan of 10 million pesos from the municipal government, specifically at the 250 branch of the Metropolitan Bank, located on Línea Street in El Vedado. As confirmed by official television in a report last September, La Carreta “was restored thanks to the collaboration with the government of the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución.”

Obel fled from Castroism and now lives from it, enjoying at the same time all the benefits and opportunities of the American dream: he plays at capitalism from Havana, with the support of the local authorities

The governor of the municipality, Rolando López Jiménez, explains that “he assumed the responsibility for rescuing the facility to provide a better service,” in addition to facilitating the hiring of employees and rehabilitating the apartments located above the establishment.

Obel Martínez does not appear in the report, but 14ymedio has verified that he is the one who receives the clientele of both La Carreta and Mojito-Mojito, presenting himself as the owner.

Cuban law does not allow a U.S. citizen to own a company on the Island, although the words of Ernesto Soberón in Juventud Rebelde suggest that this is about to change. However, there is another greater inconvenience, if possible: according to the embargo laws, as a U.S. resident a person is also banned from doing business in Cuba, unless they have a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

So far, the only American who has OFAC’s permission to establish a company in Cuba is John Kavulich, and he keeps his business secret, in addition to Hugo Cancio, from the online shopping site Katapulk, who has obtained a license to export vehicles from the United States.

As U.S. Treasury officials explained, following a meeting of Cuban businessmen in Miami last September, several conditions must be met in order not to break the law. Entrepreneurs residing in Cuba cannot create companies in the U.S. to sell their products or buy goods directly from U.S. companies. Similarly, Cuban-Americans cannot establish businesses on the Island unless they achieve permanent residence in the country through repatriation.

Cuba has been hoping for months that the U.S. will approve measures to help the MSMEs on the Island that, far from materializing, do not cease to provoke controversy.

Cuba has been interested for months in the U.S. approving measures to help the MSMEs on the Island that, far from materializing, do not cease to arouse controversy

Without going any further, on November 8, Senator Marco Rubio questioned the Secretary of National Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, about the fact that Cubans who arrive in the U.S. and seek refuge end up living between the two countries.

“You’re supposed to be fleeing political persecution, so you are automatically a candidate to receive money for being a refugee, food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid,” said Rubio, who compared the privilege of Cubans who can obtain these benefits after one year to the situation of refugees from other countries who have to wait five years.

“Some return to Cuba for three months at a time, and they have only been here for a year. How, if you are fleeing persecution, can it be that a year later you spend the summers in Cuba? How can it be that you travel between six and eight times a year to Cuba? I have never heard that people who flee persecution return to that place repeatedly. There’s a problem here, isn’t there?” said the Republican senator.

Perhaps Cuba will take immediate measures to regularize the situation of its businessmen with dual nationality. It is less clear that the U.S. will do so with respect to the embargo restrictions. What is a fact is that the owners of these companies continue to operate without problems.

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.

Diplomarket, the ‘Cuban Costco’, in the Hands of a Front Man for the Regime

Diplomarket is heavily guarded: “Yes, that looks like a military unit.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez/Olea Gallardo, Havana, 11 October 2023 — The opening of a wholesale supermarket in Havana under the name Diplomarket in December last year went unnoticed. Only an ad on Instagram for the company, dedicated until then only to online purchases and shipping, gave an account of the opening of the establishment, located at kilometer 8 ½ of the Carretera Monumental, in the neighborhood of Berroa, more than 6 miles east of the center of the capital.

A tweet last week from Patrick Oppmann, a CNN correspondent, put the focus of current affairs on commerce. “After years of having to look for the most basic products, it’s a bit surreal to see how a private entrepreneur has set up what is basically the first Costco in Cuba,” said the journalist on the network now called X, without specifying the name of the supermarket and assuring that Cubans can pay in pesos, dollars and euros, even with U.S. credit cards.

And yes, the images that accompanied his text verified the resemblance to the American wholesale firm: huge corridors with wholesale products placed as in a warehouse, the distinctive red color and, more revealing, the sale of Kirkland brand products, marketed exclusively by Costco.

In a visit to the store this Wednesday, 14ymedio verified that, in fact, the place is similar to the Costco franchise, which is in more than a dozen countries. It is also true that the Kirkland brand populates its shelves, but no more so than Goya, the largest food company of Hispanic origin in the United States, which just three years ago was involved in a controversy for defending the then-president, Donald Trump. continue reading

It’s designed for cars, and you always see luxurious cars and the rich people who fill those huge cars

For the rest, the differences between Diplomarket and Costco are obvious. In Costco, when buying wholesale, the products are cheaper. In Diplomarket, very few customers were seen with the large packages. Most preferred to buy the items separately, at stratospheric prices: a small bottle of Goya oil for 7 dollars, a small can of grated Goya coconut for 4 dollars, a bar of soap for 2 dollars (the complete package, 16 bars, $32), toothpaste for a little more. As for cheeses and sausages, prices exceeded 20 dollars, as for a large jar of mayonnaise. Tools and household items are also offered at an unattainable price given the country’s average salary.

Diplomarket does not require a membership card, as Costco does, and is supposed to be open to any customer, but the stratospheric prices and the remoteness of the location deter any ordinary Cuban. “It’s designed for cars, and you always see luxurious cars and the rich people who fill those huge cars,” says Mayca, a young woman from Central Havana who went once with a friend who has a private food business.

The establishment is also heavily guarded. At the first checkpoint, they take the data of the vehicles at the time of entry, and then there is another booth with guards before you enter the store. At the door, two individuals look everyone up and down. A large screen shows the movement of the security cameras, placed everywhere with warnings. “Yes, that looks like a military unit,” Mayca concedes.

Inside, a kind of “persecution” by the employees begins. You are not allowed to take photos or record videos, and the workers walk behind the customers watching every movement, disguising their zeal with kindness: “Can I help you with something?”

You are not allowed to take photos or record videos, and the workers walk behind the customers watching every movement, disguising their zeal with kindness: “Can I help you with something?

Mayca says that whenever she has gone she has felt very uncomfortable: “Not only because of the vigilance but because of the humiliation with which they treat you. “A lady almost had to return the merchandise because she didn’t bring dollars and thought that everything could be paid in Cuban pesos. At the last minute she was saved by her friend, who loaned her some American bills.”

Didn’t the U.S. correspondent say that you could pay in all currencies? Doesn’t it say that in the firm’s own ad on Instagram? The cashier laughed at our reporter’s question: “That’s over, people pay in cash in dollars.”

As for the ownership of the supermarket, neither does it have the same transparency as the capitalist brand that it intends to emulate. They do not indicate on the web or on the premises any clear information about what causes the most mistrust: who actually owns Diplomarket, a gigantic, well-stocked and clean store, guarded like a government enclave?

The firm is not on the list of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) approved by the Ministry of Economy and Planning. Moreover, according to its corporate website, Diplomarket belongs to an American company called Las Américas TCC Corporation, founded in 2011 and based in Florida.

The vice president of Las Americas is the Cuban, Frank Cuspinera Medina, who is domiciled in the United States. Two years ago, his name appeared as a “specialist” in a meeting between self-employed workers (TCP) and the National Association of Economists and Accountants of Cuba.

On that occasion, he told the Cuban News Agency that “this type of exchange allows the institutions to know first-hand the interests and needs of the TCPs” and that the official association was “an efficient way to raise the approaches presented at the meeting to the authorities in charge.”

This last firm is also not on the regime’s list of MSMEs, but a company with its name is: Cuspinera SURL LVI, dedicated to “providing e-commerce platform services

Cuspinera Medina, whose current address is in El Vedado, Havana, also appears in a letter that several Cuban entrepreneurs sent in 2021 to U.S. President Joe Biden, asking him to lift sanctions against the Government of the Island,  which were harming their businesses. In the letter he does not appear as a member of Las Américas, but as part of Iderod Servicios Constructivos.

This last firm is also not on the regime’s MSME list, but a company of the same name is: Cuspinera SURL LVI, dedicated to “providing e-commerce platform services.” It is also a branch of Las Américas TCC.

The issue is not a minor one, given the U.S. embargo against Cuba. As U.S. Treasury officials said, following a meeting of Cuban businessmen in Miami a few weeks ago, several conditions must be met in order not to break the law. Entrepreneurs residing in Cuba, for example, cannot create companies in the U.S. to sell their products or buy goods directly from U.S. companies. Similarly, Cuban-Americans cannot establish businesses on the Island unless they achieve permanent residence in the country through repatriation.

It is not clear in which category Cuspinera Medina, which maintains a low profile on social networks, belongs. About Diplomarket, Mayca is blunt: “It is not private.”

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.

Varadero Resort For Cubans ‘All Inclusive Scam’

The once luxurious resort of the Hicacos peninsular has been feeling the shadow of what it once was for quite a while. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez and Olea Gallardo, Havana, 14 September 2023 – In the bus back home to Havana from Varadero, Manuel and his wife, like many other local tourists, talked about nothing else. Every one of them, though having stayed in different hotels, felt that they had been swindled; that despite the stratospherical amount of money they had had to pay for their holiday, in return they had seen only food shortages and terrible service.

Manuel doesn’t even want to remember the name of the establishment where he stayed for four nights in August and payed almost 40,000 pesos for “all inclusive”. “All inclusive? All inclusive scam. All that was available to eat every day was cod or chicken in fricassee, or in sauce, but no pork or beef”, he tells this paper. And he goes on: “The rice was hard, the soft drinks weren’t even the normal canned ones but made up from squash, and the beer was warm, with just a whiskey here or a rum there, terrible, that was all there was to drink.

So, in the end, the couple ended up spending an extra twenty-odd thousand pesos on food from other restaurants, “which in themselves weren’t any big deal”, says Manuel. Even there they didn’t find much satisfaction as the ones that accepted Cuban pesos were the ones that offered limited menus and smaller portions.

In addition, the man lamented: “The room they gave us was dirty, full of hair, with just one tiny towel and nothing else to dry ourselves on. It doesn’t surprise me that we hardly saw any foreign tourists, if they go to Varadero they’re going to be shocked. continue reading

“The room they gave us was dirty, full of hair, with just one tiny towel and nothing else to dry ourselves on”

The once luxurious resort of the Hicacos peninsular has been feeling the shadow of what it once was for quite a while. The most recent decline began during the Covid pandemic, when the country’s borders were closed and the tourist industry was paralysed worldwide, and the residents of Varadero were confined in their homes to avoid infection. The resort has not yet managed to crawl out of this hole, a hole which the so called Tarea Ordenamiento — the ’Ordering Task’* — itself has contributed to, as reported by this paper repeatedly in recent years.

Foreign tourists have abandoned the option of Varadero, says a Spanish tourist, Francisca – who travelled to Cuba in July on a tour which took in the entire island but didn’t include the resort in the Matanzas bay area. “We didn’t go there, on the advice of a relative who had just been there and told us that the beach was disgusting, with a lack of services”, she said. “And actually all the ones we did go to – Costa Verde (in Holguín) and Cayo Santa María (in Camagüey) – also seemed very dirty to us”.

In the face of depleted numbers of international tourists, hotels tried to throw themselves into internal tourism, which, viewing general commentary on social media, hasn’t resulted in a satisfied clientele. And the complaints are not limited to Varadero.

One customer of the Starfish Hotel in Cayo Largo said that the buffet at this five star establishment left “much to be desired” and she did not reccomend the place. Another said: “I’ve just come from the Starfish Cayo Guillermo and there was no sugar even for coffee, I had to bring my own flour so that they could bake me a mini cake because they didn’t have flour either, and they were using honey as a sweetener”.

A third Cuban settled the matter of the island’s beach hotels saying: “My opinion is don’t go to any of them. They’re all bad and what’s more, expensive. There’s no correlation between what you pay and the actual quality, especially with the food”.

*Translator’s note: The “Ordering Task” [Tarea Ordenamiento] is a collection of measures that include 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 a broad range of other measures targeted to different elements of the Cuban economy.

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 Other Cuba: Luxury, Good Taste and Outrageous Prices from the Hand of a Successful Italian

The new Home Deli store in El Vedado, Havana, is a magnet. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez and Olea Gallardo, Havana, 26 June 2023 — The new Home Deli food store on Calle 12, between 21 and 23 in the heart of El Vedado, Havana, was inaugurated at the beginning of June and is not like the ones you usually see in Cuba. Clean and stocked, decorated with a certain European “rustic” style, it became a magnet days after it officially opened its doors. The emotion waned when checking the prices of the products, almost all imported.

A bag of bread, with six pieces costs 800 pesos, a small bag with washed and cut lettuce, 70 pesos, and 2,100 pesos for a small cheese. The cost of the meat was stratospheric: 20 pork skewers for 1,400 pesos, 4,500 pesos per kilogram of beef, 2,000 for chicken breast, 2,000 for ground beef, 3,000 for Italian sausage.

The powdered milk bag, similar to the one sold in other places, looked repackaged, unbranded, and cost 1,900 pesos for a kilogram and 950 pesos for half a kilo. As a curiosity, they had “artisan” pasta for sale, pumpkin and moringa, at 450 pesos a bag.

Home Deli looks clean, stocked, and decorated in a certain European “rustic” style. (14ymedio)

Promoted as a store specializing in Italian products, they offer Arioli oil (3,600 pesos a liter), Balocco and Mulino Bianco biscuits, De Nigris vinegar, De Cecco pasta, Lavazza coffee or Scotti rice. Also, other import labels, such as the Spanish Vima or Carbonell and the Japanese Kikkoman.

The store employees, all young and good-looking, are lavish with attention and kindness towards any possible client, although they do not stop watching the slightest movement and discourage taking photographs with a severe gesture. continue reading

Most of those who entered the store, dazzled by the variety and quality of the products, left discouraged after a tour of the shelves. “It’s very pretty and well put on, but this is the most expensive market I’ve seen so far,” said one woman as she left empty-handed.

Arioli brand olive oil is 3,600 pesos per liter. (14ymedio)

However, the law of supply and demand is implacable even in Cuba: if they set those prices, it is because someone pays them. This newspaper is aware that Home Deli has a large clientele among diplomats stationed in Cuba, in addition to emigrants who, through pages such as Katapulk or TSO, buy food for their relatives in the country in hard currency.

Those who can shop at the store are happy, despite the costs. “It’s the only place where I can get the products that a true Italian recipe requires,” says Lucía, a Cuban who lives in Milan and is on vacation in Cuba visiting her parents.

In addition, she praises her loyal clientele, “they make really tasty and unique spinach tarts in Cuba, not to mention the desserts. It’s not like other private companies, who live by reselling products.”

Homemade pumpkin and moringa pasta sold at Home Deli for 450 pesos a bag. (14ymedio)

The success of Home Deli has been amazing. Not only does it have that new store in El Vedado, but another in the municipality of Playa (19 avenue between 74 and 76) and a third in Cerro (318 Daoiz street, between Colón and Pizarro). In addition, they have a point of sale at the 3rd and 70 market. An efficient home delivery system makes it as modern a business as any in a country where the free market rules.

The company, however, does not only operate with that brand. Directed by the Cuban Diana Sainz and her husband, the Italian Andrea Gallina, as they appear on their social networks, is registered under the name of Mercadiana in the list of micro, small and medium-sized companies (MSMEs) and with the purpose of “gastronomic services”. In Italy, they have the company Gainz SRL, a name that combines the surnames of Gains the owners and that at the time is the provider of Home Deli.

Café Bohemia, adjacent to Estancia Bohemia, is a meeting place for cultural officials. (14ymedio)

Together, they also run the Café Bohemia and the adjacent hotel, Estancia Bohemia, in Old Havana, as well as the Paseo 206 Boutique Hotel and the café on the ground floor, Ecléctico, in El Vedado. It is not uncommon to see them in one of these places, serving the clientele with exquisite treatment, as this newspaper has verified.

“The word standard does not exist for us,” Gallina declared for a report published in “OnCuba” about his establishment on Paseo 206, which they define as “a place with its own stamp, born from the combination of both cultures” and “a warm hug between Cuba and Italy”, and where luxury and good taste are evident.

The same is observed in Estancia Bohemia (San Ignacio 364), where a one-night stay costs 187 dollars, according to the reservation pages. The Café Bohemia is, moreover, a meeting place for culture officials, ostensibly from the Office of the Havana Historian, according to its own publications on networks.

Since they began to proliferate in the streets of Havana, more than a year ago, private businesses generate, in the first instance, mistrust. The fact that some of these (MSMEs) operate in state premises without any type of announcement or public tender, only increases suspicion.

Diana Sáenz, at her Café Bohemia. (14ymedio)

If we add to this the agreements between Cuba and Russia, the last of which were ratified last month at a business forum between the two countries in Havana and which show that Moscow wants to play a leading role in the imminent economic opening of the Island, doubts are difficult to dispel.

On the other hand, especially in all private and successful businesses in the country, since self-employment was allowed, they always raise questions: “They don’t let just anyone do this, what influential figure will be behind it?”

It is not uncommon to see both Diana Sáenz and Andrea Gallina serving their premises with exquisite kindness, (14ymedio)

In the case of Home Deli, its owners have never hidden themselves, on the contrary, they boast of their achievements both in their networks and in business forums and even official media. “Diana is a Cuban entrepreneur who has established important guidelines in the leisure and food sector in Cuba,” they extol in an Instagram post.

The firm has given sensible capitalist advice: “Mercadiana, a food marketing and production MSME, emphasized the need to eliminate bureaucracy when managing business procedures, as well as a review the high tax amounts that go with how prominent they are, since it could jeopardize the survival of companies”, indicated as an example Cuba en Resumen last year.

However, Diana Sainz has not said why she suddenly decided to change the surname that she inherited from her father, Ricardo Sáenz, one of the founders of the Prensa Latina agency and the Bohemia magazine.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

Unpaid Salaries and a Limit of 5,000 Pesos in ATMs Due to the Shortage of Banknotes in Cuba

Lines to withdraw money from ATMs at the Metropolitan Bank of 23 and J. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Olea Gallardo, Havana, 11 May 2023 — For six days Roberto has been trying to withdraw cash from an ATM in Havana, the last one this Thursday. In vain. One by one, he verified what all the inhabitants of the capital say this week: you can barely extract money.

The announcer Yunior Morales posted this Wednesday with humor on his social networks. “You go to any ATM and there is no money. And tremendous cristóbal colón,” he joked, referring to the immense lines [colas in Spanish]. At the time of making his transmission, an acquaintance greeted him: “What’s wrong, Yunior?” He replied: “Here with hunger, boy, I’m hungry.” “Why don’t you eat something then?” to which he replied: “I have to withdraw money first and no ATM works.” And he ends his video jokingly exaggerating: “I have a CDR [Committees for the Defense of the Revolution] meeting about my hunger in my stomach. CDR because, you know, the CDR is hunger, gossip and conflict.”

The situation seems to spread to many other cities in the country. In Holguín, a teacher tells 14ymedio that Education workers now have their salaries divided in two: “one payment on the 5th and another on the 28th,” because “there is almost no money.” In addition, she says that “not even the employees of a bank know when there will be cash at the ATMs.”

A doctor from Sancti Spíritus says that in Public Health they are only paid by electronic transfer: “They deposit on the card, but for those who pay cash for things there is no money.” continue reading

More serious is what a state worker points out. “With payrolls made and everything, the bank does not accept payment through the cards because they don’t have money; the railroad is not an isolated situation,” he says referring to the unusual spontaneous strike organized on Tuesday by Artemis railway workers, in protest against the non-payment of their salaries in the last two months.

In Santiago de Cuba, complaints proliferate that “there is no money in the ATMs,” while groups in which human ATMs operate have multiplied on social networks. “Will exchange money in transfer for cash. I have the cash,” some say; “Will exchange CUP [pesos] transfer for cash,” say others. Some include the precise amount, such as 17,000 pesos, something unthinkable to extract in a bank.

Roberto from Havana tells this newspaper that he has verified in ATMs of “at least three municipalities” that, where before up to 10,000 pesos could be withdrawn in an operation, “and then there were 500 or 1,000 bills in the ATM, now they only allow 5,000 to be extracted,” and only in 20-peso bills.

This newspaper was able to verify this in the branch of the Metropolitan Bank (Banmet) on 23rd and J, in El Vedado, with such a central location that until recently it guaranteed any withdrawal, but the situation was chaos this Thursday. To begin with, you had to endure a gigantic line, divided into two: one to enter and another, the longest, for the ATMs. Of the six ATMs only two worked.

Inside the branch, for those who chose to extract money at the counter, the uncomfortable atmosphere was widespread and contagious. The employees were rude to people and arguing with each other; the customers were tremendously disgusted. Two elderly ladies were about to come to blows when one of them lost her place in line to go visit her sick daughter in the hospital and the other refused to let her back in: “Right now we are here,” said the latter, who lowered her voice when the threatened woman called the police.

A cashier rolled her eyes when an old man asked her what denominations she had, because he didn’t want the “little ones.” The man intended to get 40,000 pesos [$1,667] and he couldn’t. “That can happen because there are very few large bills,” the employee told him.

“Every day the same thing,” said another lady in line. “They let people pass in front who are going to deposit pesos, and if you are going to extract them, no matter the amount, they give you bills of 20 pesos.”

“They are giving priority to those who are going to deposit national currency, but almost no one comes to do that. “Do they let someone who comes to deposit pesos go first because there are none?” asked another woman who had just arrived from another cashier, from which she had tried to withdraw cash unsuccessfully. “Let them tell the truth: there is no money.”

However, the authorities are silent these days. Last month, in the face of the citizen rumor that state workers would not be paid, the Sancti Spíritus government was in a hurry to deny it. On those days, however, 14ymedio verified that cash could not be extracted at the city’s 11 ATMs.

The problems were repeated in Havana, where the provincial government reported that 150 of the 521 Banmet ATMs in the capital (30%) were broken. Then, they also said that from April 8 to 14, cash withdrawals exceeded 200 million pesos per day.

No one knows what is happening in May, but citizens are increasingly desperate. “We are going to have to pay with cocoa seeds, because paper cash is an illusion,” says Roberto, who fears that “the entire country could be paralyzed at any time.”

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.

Poverty and Hunger are Spreading in Cuba

The scenes are comparable to the previous great crisis, which at least was baptized with one of the greatest euphemisms that Castroism ever came up with: “the special period in time of peace.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez / Olea Gallardo, Havana, 30 March 2023 — The crisis that Cuba is experiencing is not only reflected in the official data, independent reports and the unstoppable exodus. In the streets, at every step, the poverty is evident. Ana María, a middle-aged neighbor of Central Havana, mentions an example: “A few days ago, on Infanta Street, a man in his 50s was going to pick up some croquettes from the floor, and when he saw that I saw him, he was embarrassed. The truth is that I was more ashamed than he was.”

These scenes are comparable to the previous great crisis, which was at least baptized with one of the greatest euphemisms that Castroism ever came up with: “the special period in time of peace.” It was common then, in the 90s, to see its imprint on the wrinkled and emaciated bodies of Cubans. Thousands of them suffered from diseases like neuropathy, which left them blind and was caused by malnutrition and the abuse of homemade alcohol.

Today’s crisis has no name, but it does have the same face: the increasingly empty cities, especially of young people and those who fall down unconscious from drinking “train-spark” (homemade alcohol), and the elderly (and not so old) who rummage through containers or beg on the street.

And it doesn’t just happen in Havana. Jorge, from Holguín, says he encounters a similar situation every day. “It has increased a lot, but a lot, the number of people on the street who are rummaging through the trash and asking for money. Today I was having a pizza and soft drink in a private place and a 70-year-old man with crutches, who couldn’t even walk, came in begging, and I bought him the same thing I was eating. Yesterday a woman who saw me counting some money on the street approached and said: ’oh, give me something for the peas’. Right after, another woman asked me if I could buy her some cassava fries. I wanted to give her 100 pesos but she asked me to buy them for her: ’They scammed me,’ she told me crying. And what breaks my heart the most is the children who implore: ’could you give me five pesos?’” continue reading

Jorge attributes the scarcity mainly to inflation, which does not let up: “One pound of pork is 400 pesos ($16.70), and you buy four pounds and they are two of meat and two of bone and fat, which doesn’t work. A carton of eggs here is worth 1,500 pesos ($62.50), a liter (33.8 ounces) of cooking oil is 1,300 ($54). People make it to the end of the month almost without oil, without rice.”

To have something to put in their mouths, people even eat the impossible.. (14ymedio)

Caption – The scenes are comparable to the previous great crisis, which was at least baptized with one of the greatest euphemisms that Castroism ever came up with: “The special period in time of peace.” (14ymedio)

Thus, families are reducing the quantities. They eat rice with a little bit of vegetables, they eat only a banana, they get used to not having animal protein. “I have a neighbor who stops having lunch to give it to her son, who is in high school. Many times I see that they eat rice cooked in bean sauce with two tomato slices because they don’t have a main course,” Jorge explains.

Something similar is told by Lisandra, from Sancti Spíritus. “I recently brought a friend a picadillo that I cooked, after lunchtime, and I realized that her boy had been given rice with beans and she had not eaten anything.”

To have something to put in their mouths, people even eat the impossible. “My mother discarded a horrible picadillo that she had boiled in hot water because someone told her that it looked like ham and she wanted to give it to the neighbor’s dogs. The neighbor let it dry because she wanted it for herself.”

Sometimes, as happened to Ana María with the man who picked up the croquettes in Centro Habana, there is shame for both parties. “When I went to say hello to a friend from the university, at lunchtime, her children interrupted her all the time while we talked: ’Mom, I’m hungry’. And I realized that she didn’t want me to see what they were going to eat,” continues Lisandra, who says: “People don’t say it, but they are going hungry.”

From San Antonio de los Baños, Artemisa, the epicenter of the mass protests of July 11, 2021, Caridad recounts: “The famine is widespread. Soon we will not exist, because we’re going to starve, and we won’t have a doctor to help us.”

The woman, in her thirties with a young daughter, lashes out at the Government: “They can’t solve anything, and they want us to keep electing people we don’t even know. Last week the power didn’t go out because there were elections, and now that there are no elections? If only we could eat all the blackouts.”

Caridad’s list is long, from electricity (“without electricity you can’t live”), to water (“we haven’t had it for five days”), food (“milk is a forbidden product and soon we’ll be talking about beans at 200 pesos [$8])” to increasingly precarious health services (“there is no medical assistance because doctors have no medicines and they are not magicians.”) “I can’t really explain how we are still alive,” she concludes.

“It has increased a lot, but a lot, the number of people on the street who are rummaging through the trash and asking for money.” (14ymedio)

“My sister and I bought a yogurt that cost us more than 250 pesos [$10] for 1.5 liters [53 oz.], and we had to pay on the informal market. When a state truck comes, it’s a slaughter, with the cost of  yogurt close to 100 pesos [$4], or 70, 80, 90 pesos. You don’t have any meat, a chicken thigh, or a piece of pork. There is no onion even if someone can pay for it,” she lets fly and continues with her litany of sorrows.

Rice, she says, is a “hot item.” “Here in this town they are selling a speckled rice, I don’t know where they get it, which contains transparent pebbles. It’s enough to make God weep. Not only do you have to spend two hours removing these particles, but on top of that they can break a tooth, and then where do you find a dentist? Everything is a stack of dominoes, and now the game is over.”

For Caridad, the moment that Cuba is experiencing could be called “minute zero,” because “we have no options at all.”

There is another widespread comment: what is most worrying are the children. “I suffer bitterly because I have a girl under the age of seven and I worry about the day to day. Even the schools don’t function now. The teachers don’t want to work because they are also hungry,” says Caridad.

For Ana María, the situation with the children is “a disaster,” and she recounts the torment of her grandchildren, who not only have to endure an insipid rice with peas every day but all kinds of propaganda in their classes. “My girl has to show something tomorrow, after a week sick with asthma,. One homework was about the tax system, nothing more and nothing less, and another about Fidel’s life as a child until he was a revolutionary leader,” the woman says. “And the boy had to talk about the Zanjón Pact and Martí’s attitude at that time and also about the elections. Tell me something I don’t know!”

Neither propaganda nor servility nor ordinary work frees Cubans from suffering. “A relative of mine, retired military and doctor, that is, with an above-average retirement, has just celebrated his 80th birthday, and between his brothers-in-law and nephews they collected something to celebrate, because he barely has any money,” says Ana María. She gives another example, her own sister, now retired from the state sector, who was “once pretty but now is skin and bones.”

Another neighbor of Ana María, a health worker, went to her house recently to implore her for something to eat, even if it was only chicken skins, because she couldn’t buy anything.”

As if that were not enough, it’s no consolation to have money to spend in stores in freely convertible currency (MLC): “Even those who have people abroad [who send them hard currency] can’t get food, because the stores are empty. Everything has to be paid to the people who steal it from state places, buy it in Havana or I don’t know where and sell it here so that people can live,” protests Caridad, the young woman from San Antonio de los Baños.

All in all, she, like Ana María, Jorge and Lisandra, are part of that 30% of Cuban families that differ from the rest because they receive help from abroad, the most paradoxical inequality created in 64 years of communism. The rest, most of them, have to settle only for what comes through the rationed market, which is not enough to last the month.

Ana María, who has no way to leave the Island, laments: “I’m now depressed when I go out on the street, the poverty, the grime, the miserable people, the starving animals. I want the aliens to take me, because it makes me want to cry.”

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.

New Stores are Born in Cuba with a Strange Alliance Between the Private and State Sectors

La Bodeguita de San Rafael, on the Boulevard of the same name, in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez/Olea Gallardo, Havana, 20 February 2023 — A new market in the heart of Centro Habana, a ration store with various items, a stationery store in the Miramar Trade Center, a fabric and upholstery store in El Vedado, a re-opened Italian pizzeria in the same neighborhood… these establishments have three things in common: they have recently opened or reopened in the capital, they have very high prices, and now — with a new or former name — they are in private hands.

In the middle of Boulevard de San Rafael, the colorful poster of a large and well-stocked shop, inaugurated this Saturday, La Bodeguita de San Rafael, is a surprise. “The best of all I’ve seen so far; it’s one of the most beautiful,” said a customer, surprised at what the state clothing store that used to exist in that place had become.

But what left most people speechless were the prices: 34-oz. soft drinks at 450 pesos ($19), condensed milk at 550 ($23), a small tetrapack of tomato puree at 380 ($16), a pound of lentils at 400 ($17), a kilo of wheat flour at 590 ($25), two pounds of rice at 650 ($27), a simple glass of yogurt at 120 ($5).

“A woman spent almost 33,000 pesos ($1,375) in front of me,” said another man who went shopping. “I don’t know what she had in her shopping bags.”

Inside the store, a couple, a foreigner and a Cuban woman were talking. He asked her: continue reading

“Why do you go to the store in MLC [freely convertible currency] if they sell here in pesos?” She replied: “Because the prices are much higher; they are inflated. For example, that package of rice will cost 2 MLC or $1.90, and here it costs 600 Cuban pesos ($25).”

“It looks like they are reselling things from the MLC stores, but that’s not supposed to happen because it’s not allowed,” speculated an old man.

What seems clear is that, once again, the same scheme of the recently inaugurated grocery store of the Miramar Trade Center is being repeated, the same as what happened with the branches of the Sylvain chain and before that, the Fress. A variety of businesses have now gone from state hands to private hands overnight, without competition or prior notice.

Therefore, the inauguration the same Saturday of a “sodería-hamburger” shop called Complejo Zapata y 12, in that same municipality of Plaza de la Revolución, was striking. It was attended by Luis Antonio Torres Iríbar, first secretary of the Provincial Committee of the Party, and Reinaldo García Zapata, Governor of Havana.

Tribuna de La Habana reflected the same thing in a note published this Sunday. The initiative, reports the official press, is due to the “productive chain” between the state Provincial Company of the Food Industry (EPIA) and the private company Epcc, “with one person responsible.”

In this association, the text released by the director general of the EPIA, Abdelín González Mesa, explains, “The state entity provides the premises, the labor force and the technological infrastructure, while the private company supplies all the imported raw material and is involved in the manufacturing  process.”

With this joint production, Tribuna continues, “the private actor has fewer costs and therefore can set more affordable prices for customers,” alluding to the surprising financing of the private company with public resources.

As stated with pomp, the establishment offers “several varieties of ice cream made in the unit itself, using natural fruits collected in the country and from imported components (chocolate, lemon, strawberry, orange and pineapple).” In addition, they boast that the offer “is marketed at prices lower than those currently set by other forms of private management”: the ice cream scoop costs 35 pesos ($1.45), and the simple hamburger costs 150 ($6.25).

This is one of the few occasions in which the official press publishes something related to new private businesses, whose proliferation was ratified by the meeting, last January, between Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel and Kremlin adviser Boris Titov.

As revealed by Russian media at the time — not by Cuban officials — both parties agreed to transform Cuba’s economy into a “private enterprise” one. For voices in exile such as the Cuba Siglo XXI ideas laboratory, this means an imminent transition from a “state-controlled economy model” to the “old elite oligarchic Soviet scheme” of taking control of numerous businesses.

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.

Cubans and Foreigners Linked to the Regime Take Over State Companies Without Competition

Sylvain de Zanja and Belascoaín, in Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez/Olea Gallardo, Havana, 26 January 2023 — A tetrapak of fried tomato sauce weighing 8 ounces for 630 pesos, some even smaller containers of mayonnaise at 280 pesos, and packet of cookies for 380 pesos, a 3.5 ounce bag of chips for 150 pesos… All imported and at reasonable prices unattainable for the average Cuba, is the new product line at the Sylvain establishments, which used to sell sweets and bread. And on some vague day at the end of the year they went from being state-owned to ending up in private hands.

Or at least, in part. The store on Zanja and Belascoaín, in Centro Habana, located on the ground floor of the famous building known as Super Cake – for the pastry shop it housed before 1959 – is divided into two, according to an employee speaking to 14ymedio: one state-owned and the other private.

In the first, the only thing for sale is garlic paste and the occasional spice for seasoning, but it is closed. “It’s empty because we don’t have materials or products to work with,” explained the worker, who, like other women, is working in the private area “to guarantee us a job while supplies arrive on the other side.”

On the private side, “there is everything,” as the neighbors marvel, “but we cannot afford it.” Not even the powdered milk: at 1,800 pesos for 2.2 pounds.

The Sylvain store on San Rafael Boulevard, in the same Havana municipality, has also been “privatized,” offering imported and expensive products similar to those at Super Cake, and the the store at San Lázaro and Hospital, which sold food before, now offers office supplies, as does as the Belascoaín branch between Monte and Campanario.

The case of the Sylvain chain is not unique, and it is part of a list that has been growing for months: that of state establishments that become rented by individuals overnight, without any kind of notice. continue reading

The same thing happened in the so-called Mercadito Ideal at 23rd and C, in El Vedado, whose outdoor area is occupied by a private stall where the items are, according to the visitors, “for the elements.” Namely: umbrellas at 2,300 pesos, soda bottles at 350 pesos or shopping bags at 850.

The Sylvain de San Lázaro y Hospital branch now offers office supplies, as does the Belascoaín branch between Monte and Campanario. (14ymedio)

Another example is the Coppelita ice cream parlor within the Hola, Ola complex, reopened last July, which a few months later accumulated several complaints on=line about the high prices of ice cream – 170 pesos for two scoops – the turbidity of having “reemployed” state workers and the scarcity of products to sell.

“How do they give that place, in a privileged area, just fixed up, to people who have nothing, who offer nothing?” some onlookers wondered at the time.

But if there is a place that has passed to a private owner and offers a service with stratospheric costs, it is the Palacio de los Matrimonios [Wedding Palace] in El Vedado. Nestled at 25th and N, in an old mansion from the early 20th century that fell into disrepair little by little, a couple could get married at the cost of just a 5-peso stamp.

Now, and after a slight remodeling that, according to the neighbors, was carried out by a foreigner to whom they “gave” the business, the place is called ModaHabana Novias, and sold as “Havana’s Italian atelier.” It offers the following, according to information sent to its clients: “We are dedicated to the rental of wedding dresses and men’s suits, the organization and coordination of the entire wedding, venue management, we also offer micro-wedding services in private residences, photography and photoshooting around the city, makeup and hairdressing, catering services, buffets, wedding cakes, management of alliances in jewelry stores, among other options.”

Mercado Ideal at 23rd and C, another of the state premises leased to private hands. (14ymedio)

The firm’s offers range from an “economic line,” which consists of a wedding dress between 8,000 and 10,000 pesos and the “maid of honor” dress included, to a “luxury” line: a wedding dress for 70,000 CUP and, “free”, an “Italian” suit for the groom, from the Carlo Pignatelli brand, the tornadoda (reception) dress, those for the bridesmaids and the ladies and gentlemen, make-up and hairstyle service at home, the bouquet with imported flowers and a garter belt.

In addition, the company offers a hairdressing service for 4,000 pesos and a bouquet with five imported roses for 5,000 pesos, prices that are equivalent to the monthly salary of a state worker.

“They are privatizing the country little by little and silently,” lamented a client who left the place in terror after asking about prices. “What worries me is that they are the ones keeping things for themselves. Nothing is said in the state media or on television.”

Last week’s meeting between Miguel Díaz-Canel and the Kremlin adviser Boris Titov confirms this trend that has been seen on the street for months. The meeting showed not only that Cuba wants to take its relationship with Russia to “a higher moment,” as the island’s president declared, but this consists of letting Moscow guide in a future opening.

Coppelita ice cream parlor, inside the Hola, Ola recreation center, in Havana. (14ymedio)

As revealed by the Russian media – in no case by the Cuban officials – both parties agreed to create a center to transform the Cuban economy “from private companies.” This means, for voices in exile such as the Cuba Siglo XXI [21st Century Cuba] think tank, the imminent transition from a “model with a nationalized economy” to the “Russian market mafia scheme,” in which the old Soviet oligarchic elite took control of numerous companies.

In reality, there are rules on the Island that regulate the bidding for the rental of state premises by individuals, but the truth is that the official press, always given to propagating any trifle that suits the regime, has not publicized this.

The Official Gazette of April 21, 2022 specifically establishes the procedure in detail. Among its articles, there is the one that indicates which principles should govern the tender: transparency (“the knowledge of the actions and decisions of the tender that the participants have for an effective social and popular control”), equality (“that the participants have equal rights and opportunities”), publicity (“that the different actions and decisions of the bidding procedure are public”), concurrence (“all those who meet the general conditions that are established have the right to participate in the bidding”), competition (” the possibility is guaranteed to all potential bidders to participate in the process, without being able to introduce limitations that have no technical, legal or economic basis”) and “reasonable efficiency” (“that the selection is most convenient for the public interest”).

The process, in any case, requires the “existence of establishments that it is decided to lease, working or closed” and that “the Council of the Municipal Administration or the Governor, as appropriate, make the call for the start of the bidding process for the lease of the establishment,” according to an official website in May. Everything can take a minimum of 15 business days.

Curiously, the day after the publication of that Gazette, and to date, no public tender or the name of its owner has been known, Fress reopened in the Plaza de Carlos III as a restaurant and store in Cuban pesos.

Three days after the publication in this newspaper of that news and of numerous complaints on-line due to the high prices of the premises, the establishment was closed “due to technical problems,” and the company’s premises in Playa, a restaurant with home delivery, also suspended activities.

Wedding Palace, in the Havana neighborhood of El Vedado. (14ymedio)

“They held an emergency meeting here in Carlos III because of the criticism on social networks, and starting tomorrow they can only sell processed food,” some workers explained to 14ymedio, which collected the testimony of several customers during those days.

The general opinion was summed up in the following: “I have nothing against the privates, but the problem is not that it is private, but that it was impudent. Why some yes and others not?”

The questions remain unanswered. Last August, the newspaper Sierra Maestra published a list of state premises that were going up for tender in Santiago de Cuba, the results of which is unknown. Some of them were Soditos, the state-owned cafeterias spread over various neighborhoods that sold everything from ice cream to condoms, including bread, tea, juices and soft drinks, with great success among the population.

Just a few weeks ago, the Habana Radio website reported the tender for three other properties by Gestión del Patrimonio: Obispo 328, O’Reilly 107 and Obrapía 107. All of them are historic buildings located in Old Havana.

The call for the first, however, expired on November 24, 2022. The second expires on February 5 and corresponds to the establishment where the Sargadelos store was located, a Spanish firm from Galicia that disassociated itself from that project on the Island about five years ago. Finally, the term of the third call ends on February 8.

To find out all these details – property, conditions, dates – it is necessary to opt for the tender, and to follow the intricacies of several clicks, something far from the “transparency” and “publicity” that the law establishes.

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