The Saratoga Hotel’s Decline Began as Soon as the Military Took It Over

The Hotel Saratoga in all its splendor, in March 2014, after it had been restored. (CC/LukaszKatlewa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodriguez / Olea Gallardo, Havana, 11 May 2022 — Though an explosion at the luxurious Saratoga Hotel last Friday led to the deaths of at least forty-three people and the destruction of an iconic Havana landmark, the seeds of its demise were planted within its walls much earlier.

Specifically, this was in 2016,  when the Armed Forces Ministry seized the property from Habaguanex — a company had been operating under the auspices of the then all-powerful Office of the Historian of Havana, directed by Eusebio Leal — and handed over to the Gaviota group.

Leal’s agency had been successfully operating a number of tourist-related commercial properties when they were taken over by the Revolutionary Armed Forces Business Administration Group (Gaesa), led by Raul Castro’s former son-in-law, General Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Calleja.

“The Gaviota people were driving the Saratoga into the ground,” claims one former employee, a man in his forties who prefers to remain anonymous. He quit working there two years ago and swears he will never go back. “Everything became run down and they weren’t taking care of anything,” he reports. continue reading

This was a far cry from 2005, when the Saratoga — built in 1880 and operated as a hotel at the corner of Prado and Dragones since 1933 — reopened as modern five-star establishment after a long period of decline that began with the triumph of the Cuban revolution. The restoration was carried out the Office of the Historian and financed by foreign investors.

One of those investors, who prefers to remain anonymous, tells 14ymedio that the tab for refurbishing the Saratoga — part of an ambitious plan by Leal to restore Havana’s historic city center — was on the order of fifteen million dollars.

“An English developer sought out investors in several European countries, including Spain,” he explains. That developer was Coral Capital, a company founded by Amado Fakhre, an Anglo-Argentinian with roots in Lebanon. “We liked this project because we always believed, and still believe, in the future of  Cuba,” says the investor. “And we never thought the current governent would last this long.”

According to this investor, however, everything changed once the property was transferred to Gaviota. “It all went downhill from there,” he says, though he acknowledges that investors also realized that the developers, led by Fakhre, did not have much experience in the hotel business. “They tried to make agreements with international [hotel] chains but were not successful. And, on the whole, the way they handled the negotiation with Gaviota was disastrous.”

The relationship of Fakhre and Stephen Purvis, his partner at Coral Capital, with the Cuban military brings to mind the popular fable about the frog who agrees to transport a snake across a river only to be stung by the scorpion in mid-stream, dooming them both. The two men were arrested — first in 2011 and again in 2012 — and accused of bribery. They remained in detention until their trial in 2013, when they were found guilty of “misdemeanor corruption” and released.

However, some media outlets report that Fakhre was forced to sign a confession stating that he had been detained for “having revealed state secrets” and spent twenty months being interrogated by the political police in a government safe house.

According to a 2016 article published in Vice, his business had invested a total of tweny-eight million dollars in the Saratoga.

Eusebio Leal’s star shone brightly even when Fidel was still in power and it did not dim until a long time thereafter. A flattering 2009 article in the official press noted that Habaguanex, which was created in 1994, operated no fewer than 300 tourist facilities. These included restaurants, shops, markets, cafes and lodgings with a total capacity of 546 rooms. These operations were touted as examples of “sustainable” development, whose profits went to “both the rescue of buildings that make up the Historic Center and to various social programs.”

“One morning, the elderly were invited to an extravagant breakfast at Casas Museos as part of a cultural event. And this was no run-of-the mill event,” reports a dancer who who worked with the Office of Humanitarian Affairs, which was also affiliated with the Office of the Historian

“Everything was carefully worked out,” she explains. “Partnership agreements and donations from from overseas as well as the income that Habaguanex generated as a company from all its hard-currency stores and hotels.”

“Not just anyone worked for them,” says the artist, who defends the management skills of Eusebio Leal, who died of cancer on July 31, 2021. “The Office of the Historian was a country within a country. They were powerful but they did things well. I worked there for many years and I know the efforts that were made.”

“In the end, they were audited and everything was taken away from them,” she says, alluding to the moment the Armed Forces took control of Habaguanex’s most attractive assets.

Once its foreign investors pulled out, the Hotel Saratogo languished under Gaviota’s management. Other former employees report deteriorating working conditions and the loss of financial incentives that the hotel’s foreign managers often provided on an informal basis to their workers in addition to their salaries.

“The first thing to go at the Saratoga was the art. But before that was the class,” says another former employee. “When it was part foreign-owned and part Habanguanex-owned, the Anacaona restaurant on the ground floor was packed on Christmas Eve. But under Gaviota, it wasn’t even a shadow of its former self.”

Gaviota — proprietor of the luxurious Grand Hotel Manzana and manager of the Kempinski — has close to sixty hotels and villas throughout the island with close to 30,000 bedrooms, most of which are administered by foreign companies.

It is the operations under foreign management that enjoy the best reputations while the hotels over which the military conglomerate has exclusive control have not managed to achieve the same level of customer satisfaction.


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

‘They Want to Get Rich at the Expense of the Pain of Cubans’

There are still dozens of Cubans in Guyana, spending money that is beginning to be unsustainable for their families. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Olea Gallardo, Havana, 8 April 2022 — Juan and Ernestina (fictitious names) arrived in Georgetown, Guyana, on March 15 to process their family reunification visas. They had been ’claimed’ by their daughter, Miriela, based in the United States since 2011, who also prefers to remain anonymous because she insists that her parents are “in the hands of a mafia.”

The process — mandatory since the United States Embassy in Cuba suspended services in 2017 after the appearance of diplomats with strange symptoms known as “Havana syndrome” — should have been simple, but it has become a trial of anguish and expense.

Before arriving in Guyana, the couple, who are around 70 years old, had “12 days of anguish,” says their daughter, first because there was no ticket on any airline. “We spent hundreds of dollars calling Copa [Airlines] and they didn’t sell us a ticket because, according to them, they were full until July.” Thanks to a contact, they got a flight with a stopover in Panama, at no less than almost 5,000 dollars each.

A few days after buying that ticket, the Panamanian Embassy in Havana announced that Cubans would need a transit visa to set foot on its territory traveling a third country. Although the decision, which provoked demonstrations for days in the vicinity of the consular headquarters and continues to be a source of protest, mainly affected those who planned to emigrate to the United States irregularly via Nicaragua, it also hit those who, like Juan and Ernestina, had undertaken a legal route. continue reading

Both had the consular interview between March 16 and 30, just the dates for which the immigration authorities forced the rescheduling of tickets , since the transit visa had to be requested 15 days in advance. At the last moment, the option of flying to Guyana via Trinidad and Tobago on Caribbean Airlines came up and they took it. Paying, yes, says Miriela, “another ridiculous price.”

Once in Guyana, the problems were far from diminishing. To begin with, the accommodation was not what they had been promised in the advertisement. “In theory, the hostel is a small house with all the minimum conditions. At first they tell you that they charge 90 dollars a day, but when you arrive, it turns out that they charged 100 a day for an apartment,” says Miriela. Similarly, the price included breakfast, lunch and dinner.

However, the quality and quantity of that “full board” was slight, so her parents had no choice but to go to a market to buy what they needed. With the excuse that the accommodation “is not in a very good area,” Miriela denounces, “they charge them to take them to a market far from there, by taxi.”

However, the serious part came with the clinical exams required by the US Embassy as a requirement to grant the visas. “My parents had the tests exactly 15 days ago and supposedly the results are not there,” says Miriela, who insists that “if you give them 200, 300, 400 dollars, depending on how hard you press them, or if they suppose that you have it, the analyzes appear in a matter of seconds.”

That clinic, International Medical Center, was certainly the subject of a scandal in November 2021, when its owner, Dr. Colin Roach, was murdered, a crime for which two employees were arrested, without their identity being revealed.

Miriela calculates that currently the clinic’s workers are 80% Cuban and the other 20% Guyanese and Venezuelan. For this woman from Sancti Spiritus, it is obvious that the clinic and the hostel are involved in “corruption.”

As an example, she relates how one Saturday from the lodging they offered to go to the medical center to collect the tests. “If the clinic only works from Monday to Friday, does it make any sense that the owner of a hostel, who has no relationship with the patient, shows up at her business with the results of the tests?” Miriela wonders “There is obviously influence peddling and an unequivocal link.”

Cuban Berta García Reyes, who went through the same ordeal of obtaining a family reunification visa a few months earlier, in December, argues that “the flow of people is so great that many Cubans don’t have time to get checked before going to their consular interview, so they are forced to reschedule an additional appointment at the embassy to bring the results of the medical checkup, which can take 10 or 12 days, and after bringing those results to the embassy, ​​you have to wait for them to give them to give you a date to finally pick up your visa.”

This, she explains, “has led people to turn to these corruption mechanisms in clinics to speed up their check-ups and results. And it is common for it to be in hostels where they are told who they should go to to resolve their case.”

García Reyes does not know the sum of money in all cases, but she does know “with certainty” that “there are those who have paid a thousand dollars for an accelerated and valid check-up.”

In her case, her problems began at the consular interview itself, when, to her surprise, she was told that she had to “complete and conclude the medical check-up,” even though she had already had those tests six days earlier. “At the hostel, I found out that they had called from the clinic to let them know that I had to go to the hospital,” says García Reyes.

At the clinic, the doctor told her that “a shadow” had been observed on the X-ray image and she diagnosed her with “cystic fibrosis,” and that she should therefore undergo a sputum test “for suspicion of tuberculosis.” There were also other Cubans there whose plates also turned out to be “suspicious,” the woman narrates, “and they had to undergo the same sputum analysis. In some cases they were asthmatic people, and there were also those with COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease]. They informed us that they had to follow the protocol, that is, the sputum test to rule out tuberculosis in all cases.”

All this was very alarming for García Reyes, because the results of the sputum test took between six and eight weeks, which, of course, delayed the time until she would be reunited with her daughter in the United States, but, above all, it made it made the whole process more expensive. “She had to continue to cover my lodging and food expenses – which until then was 45 dollars a day and, by having to extend the accommodation, they lowered it to 35 dollars a day – as well as other additional expenses, for transportation and telephone,” says Bertha.

Added to the anxiety produced by all this was one more concern: “Cubans always feel fear, especially when we are in the process of entering the United States and we believe that they can deport us for anything.”

So at first she went along with it, but it didn’t last long. “As the days went by, I felt I had to do something. We Cubans who were in that situation ended up connecting through the networks. I knew about cases that were in Guyana even before me, since the first week of December, and I also knew that the last sputum test for previous cases had been done on November 11, when the reagent ran out [to process the sputum sample].”

At that time, they concluded that “either the doctors at the clinic were incompetent, incapable of establishing an accurate diagnosis and proceeding accordingly, or else behind everything there was a business involving the clinic and the owners of the hostels, which benefited from the extension of the Cubans’ stay in Guyana.”

The rumor was that the clinic “accepted bribes in exchange for repeating X-rays or changing the results of medical examinations from those who were willing to pay for it.” Meanwhile, hostels were “keeping all their rooms occupied at full capacity.”

García Reyes alludes to the fact that the consular headquarters is fully aware of the situation. “We shared in the hostels with all the other Cubans, who arrived and left with their perfect medical results, those who, if we had tuberculosis, would have brought the disease to the United States. That clearly indicated to us that the medical personnel and even the embassy officials knew that we were not actually sick, so they were not even the least bit concerned or interested in resolving the situation.”

However, each time they pointed this out to officials, they were told that they were just “following protocol.”

“Many of us think that the rumors that began to spread in February (officially confirmed in March) about the restart of the consular services of the US Embassy in Havana were in some way influencing an increase in corruption among the medical centers in charge of doing exams for immigrants and the hostels where they stay, urging them to make the most of it while Cubans continue to be forced to do the paperwork in Guyana,” García Reyes details.

The wheel “began to unlock” for her after her statements to various US media, such as América TeVé and Telemundo, which publicized the problem. From there, congressmen like Marco Rubio also began to demand solutions for the Cubans stranded in Georgetown.

After Berta’s complaint to US television stations, and although without referring to the complaints, the Embassy authorized an additional doctor, Dr. Arya Devi Karyampudi, from St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital, to perform medical examinations on visa applicants.

Until then, and since Colin Roach’s murder, only Dr. Yonnette Roach had been staffing the International Medical Center. She was the one who saw Juan and Ernestina.

In this regard, Miriela continues to express her doubts about the responsibility of the United States Embassy: “If they are rescheduling most of the appointments because they are showing up without the documents, isn’t it obvious that something is happening with the clinic? What are they going to do about it?”

On March 22, without referring to the complaints, the US consular section in Guyana added two other doctors: Zulfikar Bux, from St. Joseph’s Mercy Hospital, and Dev Persaud, from the Midway Specialty Care Center.

The delays, in any case, are not new, and for this reason last December the United States announced the increase in personnel at its diplomatic headquarters in Georgetown.

With not much success. Laments like those of Juan, Ernestina and Berta multiply in the Facebook group “Cubans united for family reunification,” many of them pointing directly to the consular headquarters as being responsible for the situation.

“You have to denounce these people, those from the embassy are in a plot with the hostels so that you have to spend more time here,” says Justo Toledo Luis. “When you go to the interview they ask you what hostel you are stayig in. Nobody leaves here in less than a month.”

Nierys Bermúdez refers to the owners of the hostels as “fraudsters,” charging guests $300 to “resolve” their medical check-up. “They want to get rich at the expense of Cubans’ pain, it’s too much,” she says, in the same vein as Zurileydis Domínguez Vichot: “What I think is that, as always, they make a lucrative deal off of our suffering.”

The criticism in the Facebook group has turned into praise, thanks and blessings since, this Wednesday, when the United States Embassy announced that it will resume processing in Havana the IR-5 category visas, which recognizes parents who are being claimed by US citizens.

In spite of everything, the diplomatic headquarters in Cuba insisted again that next month’s will be a “limited” resumption, which means that the Embassy in Georgetown “will continue to be the main place of processing for the majority of Cuban immigrant visa applicants.”

In addition, the embassy warned that applicants who have been notified before April 1, 2022 that their case is ready to be processed, will continue to be required to fly to Guyana. Those who have been notified after that date will have their interview scheduled in Havana.

“Given the limitations of their resources,” they added, they are not accepting “transfer requests from applicants.” They also do not have “an exact date” for when the diplomatic headquarters “will begin to process the full range of visa services for immigrants and non-immigrants,” but they assured that they will continue to provide “essential services to US citizens and a limited processing of emergency visas for nonimmigrants.”

For Berta García Reyes, the process was “without a doubt, the worst and most stressful experience” of her life, the cost of which “has been countless humiliations, mistreatment, indifference, contempt, helplessness, abandonment, anguish, to such an extent that some wanted to return to Cuba and wait for a new date.”

There are still dozens of Cubans in Guyana, spending money that is beginning to be unsustainable for their families. Miriela and her husband have spent 14,000 dollars, not counting the tickets from Guyana to the US. “And the old man’s interview is on April 22. Calculate how many dollars an average family needs for this process,” she laments with this newspaper. “Coming illegally to this country is cheaper than leaving through legal channels.”


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

123 Cuban Healthcare Workers Return from Mexico and the Secret of Their Location is Revealed

The sending of Henry Reeve brigades to Mexico has been characterized by controversy and opacity. (Latin Press)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Olea Gallardo, Havana, 30 March2021 –The details of the mission of the Cuban doctors in Mexico continues to be learned drop by drop. This Monday, when 123 medical personnel from the Henry Reeve Brigade returned to the island, of the nearly 500 deployed in that country since December, the official Cuban press confirmed that they had been working in military institutions.

“The aid workers treated a total of 408 suspected or confirmed patients with SARS-CoV-2 in the operational units of temporary hospitalization Chivatito, Campo 1ª and Sixth Mortar Battalion,” reports Prensa Latina, who says that “the performance of these 84 doctors, 38 nursing graduates and a specialist in electromedicine won them the recognition of the Ministry of Health of Mexico, the Ministry of National Defense and the Government of the capital of the country.”

Until now, neither Mexico nor Cuba had specified the hospitals where the health workers who arrived in December were assigned, and the Cuban State newspaper Granma limited itself to saying that they were “in the temporary hospitalization operating units,” without giving further details. continue reading

The first center mentioned on Monday by the official news agency (Chivatito) is the Covid-19 Installation Military Hospital created by the Ministry of Defense on one side of Los Pinos, the former presidential residence, where source who preferred to reserve his identity told 14ymedio at the time that at least 260 doctors were working in Mexico.

According to that source, these were housed “in units without being able to leave them, they sleep in bunks, and were divided into three brigades,” and two of them deserted.

The group that returned this Monday is the third group of those deployed in December to have returned to Cuba: a first contingent (of 160) did so on March 1 and another (of 95), two weeks later.

The sending of Henry Reeve brigades to Mexico has been characterized by controversy and opacity. On March 15, it was learned that the Mexican Government had paid one and a half million dollars more than what it had originally said (about six million) for 585 health workers on the island who had been working between April and July 2020.

The information was provided to the Mexican digital medium La Silla Rota only through a request to the transparency portal InfoCDMX — to which public institutions are, in principle, obliged to respond by law — and after a wait of half a year.

That they have been housed in military institutions has made it more difficult to learn about the ’mission’ that began in December. In theory, the Ministry of Defense is subject to the same rules when it comes to requesting information via transparency, but in practice, the authorities often refuse to provide it, alleging national security reasons.

Another thing happened in June of last year, when complaints about the work carried out by Cubans in hospitals in the Mexican capital came to light both on social networks and in the main Mexican newspapers.

For the rest, it remains unknown how much Mexico paid for the almost 200 healthcare workers that were stationed in Veracruz on the same dates or for the 500 that it imported in December, of which 378 have already returned to Cuba.

It is also unknown which government agency made the disbursement. The response to La Silla Rota, via transparency, named the Ministry of Health of the Mexican capital, but at the time, both the owner, Oliva López Arellano, and the head of Government of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, emphasized that Cubans were hired “through an agreement with Insabi,” the Health and Welfare Institute created by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, which has been the target of numerous criticisms in the country.


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

While the Government Proposes to Limit Acopio, Farmers Want to Eliminate It

Farmers believe that the new measures support only “on paper” what they had already been doing. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Olea Gallardo, Havana, 6 November 2020 — Measures announced on this Thursday’s Roundtable TV program suggest a tentative relaxation of the agricultural market.

For example, private farmers will be able to sell part of their production on their own, provided that they first comply with Acopio’s* agreed deliveries. This is what emerges from the convoluted words of the Minister of Agriculture, Gustavo Rodríguez Rollero, during his television speech: “Products that, due to their logistical or financial problems of collecting and trading entities cannot be purchased in accordance with the provisions established in contracts, may be sold through other forms of commercialization”.

This will resolve a frequent complaint of Cuban farmers: that Acopio lets part of the products rot by not having the means to collect them. continue reading

The minister stated that with this new policy “the country intends to make the entire collection and marketing system more flexible, and eliminate the monopoly role of Acopio, the Business Collection System”.

“This month, the product balance is 100,000 tons, that is, we still have a product deficit of over 50,000 tons that we have not generated”, acknowledged the Minister of Agriculture

Rodríguez Rollero acknowledged that agricultural production is far from meeting the basic needs of the population: “30 pounds per capita per month, per inhabitant, some 154,000 tons of agricultural products, whether meats, vegetables and fruits,” the minister explained. “This month the balance of products is 100,000 tons, that is, we still have a deficit of over 50,000 tons of products that we have not produced.”

To try to alleviate the severe food crisis that Cuba is plunged in, the Council of Ministers announced other provisions. Among them, flexibility in the hiring of workers by “individual producers, landowners and usufructuaries (leasers), those having the legal right of enjoying the profits of property belonging to another”, the approval of “tax incentives” and the “recovery of bovine livestock.”

“This does not affect or benefit us in the least,” Rolando Villegas, a farmer from the Guane area in Pinar del Río, tells 14ymedio. “The crops that are a distribution monopoly, such as the tobacco that we produce, continue the same way, as is the case with coffee growers and those who grow cocoa or potatoes”, he warns.

“In addition, the goals that Acopio sets for us to sell to the State are high and prices are low. Many times, we have more losses than profits to meet those amounts”, Villegas points out. “what little remains after complying with these standards often goes to our families’ self-consumption, and there are farmers in this area who for years have had direct agreements with paladares (private restaurants) and food businesses” for direct sales.

“What is the difference?” a farmer asks himself. “That now we can declare on paper what we have been doing for a long time”

“What is the difference?” a farmer asks himself. “Now we can declare on paper what we were doing a long time ago,” he says. “I did not watch The Roundtable program yesterday because we didn’t have power, but some friends told me that they were going to announce the death of Acopio but it didn’t happen, it’s still alive, kicking and screwing us.”

Raúl Castro’s government had already implemented similar measures in 2011 aimed at opening up the field, but reversed them in 2016 without offering an explanation.

Cuba imports more than 60% of the food it consumes, as well as a large amount of agricultural consumable goods, and Cuban producers have been asking for a relaxation of the rules for the countryside for years.

Last April, with growing shortages due to the closure of the borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the League of Independent Farmers and the Cuban chapter of the Latin American Federation of Rural Women launched the initiative “Without the Countryside There is No Country” which asks the Government for five concrete measures to liberalize agriculture: freedom for production and distribution, freedom to set market prices, freedom to import and export without State mediation, elimination of taxes for ten years and delivery of permanent property titles to all producers.

*Translator’s note: Acopio is Cuba’s State Procurement and Distribution Agency

Translated by Norma Whiting


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

Cuban Priests Are Tired of ‘Two Types of Dictatorships: The Ecclesiastical and the Governmental’

Father Fernando Heria, priest of Ermita de La Caridad, in Miami. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Olea Gallardo, Havana, 5 November 2020 — Fernando Heria, a priest of the Ermita de La Caridad, in Miami, spread a message on his social networks in which he expressed his solidarity with Father Alberto Reyes, parish priest of the church of San Jerónimo, in Esmeralda, Camagüey. On November 1 Father Reyes published  a text on his Facebook wall in which he lamented the fear and oppression suffered by Cubans, in addition to criticizing the silence of the ecclesiastical curia.

“I share the cries of hunger and thirst for justice that a brother priest, Camagüey’s Father Alberto Reyes, has bravely shouted on behalf of all the children of the country, from the throats of our patriots: Mariana Grajales, José Martí, Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, Máximo Gómez, Antonio Maceo and many other brothers and sisters, a firm cry for the freedom and dignity of los hermanos,” says Heria in his posting made public on Monday.

“For years in each ad limina visit [the visit that bishops must make from time to time to Rome] with the Pope, they always ask: why are there so many Cuban priests who leave their homeland and go to serve in the diaspora?” continues the Father. “To which the Cuban bishops have always responded unfairly: because of the attraction of money. Enough of so many farces!” continue reading

Heria explains that if the priests stay in the diaspora, they do so because “they are tired of living under two types of dictatorships: the ecclesiastical and the governmental,” and he thanks Father Alberto Reyes “for making clear what this priest (me) has been telling the Cuban bishops, that it is their fallacy, regarding you, the priests, with the odor of sheep, who are the only hope of a noble people who wait, wait and wait for their freedom and respect for their dignity of being.”

The letter ends with an appeal to the 17 Cuban bishops, both ordinary and emeritus, to shout “enough is enough” and ask that they “set our noble Cuban people free for the love of God and the country.”

In his publication last Sunday, Father Alberto Reyes lamented suffering “the silence of my bishops.”

“It is not true that the Church has not spoken, it is not true, because all of us are the Church, and many lay people, priests, religious, even a bishop speaking personally, we have said what we think and we continue to say it,” the priest continued. And he clearly stated, “This country needs a change, it needs a transition, it needs to live and stop dragging its existence, and at this moment, in my opinion, only the Catholic Church is in a position to lead a dialogue and propose a transition.”

For this reason, Reyes concluded, “the people look to the bishops, and expect a clear position in favor of justice, freedom, in short, the Gospel.”

Reyes is one of the three Cuban priests who in recent weeks has been very critical of the social and political situation on the island. The first was Jorge Luis Pérez Soto, parish priest of San Francisco de Paula, in the municipality of Diez de Octubre, in Havana, who at the end of October said in a homily that “the Catholic cannot be apolitical, that is a lying word that only speaks of cowardice.”

“When a ruler is not willing to resign, is not willing to get out of the way for the common good, for the good of his people, for the good of his society, that Caesar is a tyrant,” Pérez said at a Sunday mass.

A few days later, Father Laureano Hernández Sasso lamented the deafness of the Cuban leaders. “Why do we have to beg? Why does President Miguel Díaz-Canel talk and talk and never say anything? Or do we have to tell our president that we cannot continue like this?” the priest wrote in his Facebook account.

In the past, several statements signed by the Cuban bishops have raised hives in the ruling party. One of the best known was the pastoral letter “El amor todo lo espera” (Love waits for all), signed by the Cuban Conference of Catholic Bishops in September 1993, during one of the hardest years of the economic crisis after the fall of the socialist bloc of Eastern Europe.

“The fight for justice is not a fight against which one can remain neutral, because this would be tantamount to putting oneself in favor of injustice,” the bishops said in that letter that was directly criticized by official spokesmen, including the journalist Lázaro Barrero, who called it a “telenovela title.”

Two decades later, the bishops published another pastoral letter entitled “La esperanza no defrauda” (Hope does not disappoint), which was read in all the churches of the country and which made a profound assessment of the Cuba of that time: “A new generation of Cubans, born in recent decades, has its own interpretation of our reality, with its own aspirations and interests, different from those of their predecessors. This generation lives with the firm desire that not only the present is better than the past, but that the future is better than the present,” they wrote.

The various declarations of priests inside and outside the Island are taking place a few days before the biannual celebration of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba. Many parishioners and members of the Church hope that a pronouncement on the acute crisis the country is experiencing will emerge from this meeting.


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

The Covid Outbreak in Ciego de Avila General Hospital is Due to Negligence

Doctor Antonio Luaces Iraola General Hospital of Ciego de Ávila. (Radio Reloj)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Olea Gallardo, Havana, 18 September 2020 — With 19 positive cases of Covid-19 reported this Friday, Ciego de Ávila continues to be the second province in number of infections, behind Havana, and its situation is not improving. The most worrying data is that it accounts for 9 of the 19 critically ill or seriously ill patients in the entire country, even more than the 6 in the capital province, according to official data published by the Ministry of Health.

One of the most active local sources of contagion is the one that began at the Doctor Antonio Luaces Iraola General Hospital, the main one in the province, from which a hundred coronavirus patients were transferred to neighboring Camagüey — where there is still no contagion — last week.

When the news of the outbreak became known, through the official press, the hospital authorities held the workers responsible for the situation and their “non-compliance with the protocols.” Later, the local media gave space to praising the work carried out by the hospital, and described it as “almost a war maneuver to carry out routine procedures such as childbirth or tracheal intubation.” continue reading

However, a doctor and a nurse, who offered their testimony to 14ymedio on condition of anonymity, insist that the cause is negligence. “The corresponding tests were not being carried out on the patients who appeared with respiratory problems, and instead they were being treated as if it were asthma, allergies or bronchitis,” details the doctor.

“For years we have had a bus that transfers patients who must undergo hemodialysis,” adds the nurse. “As the transportation issue has become more complicated with the pandemic, other patients are also collected, including asthmatics and people who need routine treatments.”

“The problem was that in the same bus, patients who needed dialysis coincided for several days with others who obviously had Covid-19,” said the nurse. “The result is that at one point we had more than half of the patients in the nephrology ward also infected with the coronavirus.”

“When we found out, these nephrological patients had already spent time with their families, entered other areas of the hospital and had direct contact with doctors and nurses who had no protection,” she denounces. “A disaster and irresponsibility.”

Within the official data, in fact, it can be observed that several of Ciego de Ávila’s critically ill or seriously ill patients also suffer from kidney failure. This is the case for an 82-year-old citizen of the capital municipality, as well as another age 66 with kidney failure, a third age 65 with hydronephrosis, and a fourth age 68 with chronic kidney disease.

The province fell back to phase 1 on September 9, when it registered a total of 17 local contagion events. At that time, Miguel Díaz-Canel again blamed the outbreak on the “indiscipline” of the citizens.

Meanwhile, the keys, a popular tourist destination in the same province, are preparing to receive another flight from Canada, and the ruling party insists that “rigorous epidemiological control measures” are being carried out in Jardines del Rey to protect tourists and employees.


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

23 Indian Workers for State Construction Company Almest Infected With Covid-19

Hotel construction in progress in Miramar where construction workers from India tested positive for COVID-19 work. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Olea Gallardo, Havana, 16 September 2020 — A total of 23 construction workers who are Indian citizens who are in Havana are part of the new group of people infected with Covid-19, according to the latest official figures, as reported this Wednesday by the Ministry of Health.

All of them are male, aged between 26 and 59, and reside in the municipality of Regla. The authorities detail that they are keeping 114 known contacts under surveillance.

These are the Indian workers who arrived in Cuba in 2016 hired by the Bouygues construction company for the works of the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, in the Manzana de Gómez building, in Havana.

At the time, it was speculated that the French company had resorted to the exception introduced by the Government in the Foreign Investment Law that authorizes “special regulations” in relation to foreign workers in “special circumstances.”

Three months later, these foreigners were working for the state-owned Inmobiliaria Almest and the official press praised their performance — “they perform three or four times more work than Cubans,” they said.

Although the official media did not specify the salaries of the Indian workers, business sources informed press agencies that it ranges between 1,200 and 1,600 euros per month, more than 20 times the salary that a Cuban builder earns.

The Indians continue to work in the capital, according to this newspaper, in the gigantic hotel works of 3rd and 70th, carried out by Almest in Miramar, Playa municipality, and which consist of three luxury hotels, with more than 500 rooms , divided by a two-story shopping arcade.

As declared to the official press by Daysi Malvares Moret, Director of Development of Almest, the property will be the tallest hotel in the capital, with approximately 154 meters, exceeding the Habana Libre (27 floors and 70 meters), which continues to be, as at was at its inauguration, the tallest hotel in the capital.

This outbreak of the coronavirus is the second most important associated with the construction of hotels, after the one that occurred weeks ago at a construction site in western Havana.


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