The Puzzle Of Housing In Cuba / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Construction of Housing. (DC)
Construction of Housing. (DC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 7 January 2016 — A year after the elimination of the National Housing Institute, the irregularities that led to dissolving that powerful government agency continue. Excessive paperwork and delays are an annoyance to the population that has barely seen any benefits from transferring its functions to other state agencies.

On 5 January 2015 Decree Law 322 took effect, ending the decades-long reign of the National Housing Institute. Since then, the Ministry of Construction assumed the power to govern the housing policy of the country, while other functions were given to the Institute of Physical Planning (IPF), the courts and the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

During the last twelve months, 200,000 complaints have been received about procedures related to housing. This figure exceeds the documented dissatisfaction against the agency that previously dealt with these issues, as reported during last December’s session of the National Assembly. continue reading

Diana Rosa Suarez, legal director of the IPF, told the official media that there are delays in the procedures, mainly those related to technical advice and planning regulations, although there are also delays in materials and shortages of personnel, especially qualified people.

The official defended her organization, saying that the current document that certifies housing as “inhabitable” – for newly constructed or repaired homes – now includes more data than before. Among these are measures of the property and its boundaries and even the house number that is going to be attached to the façade.

However, the arguments of the IPF representatives don’t appease the critics. Caridad Rodriguez, a resident of the Regla district in Havana, believes that “things may have changed up there, but down here they continue as before.” The retiree says that asking for the services of the community architect is supposed to take two weeks, but you have to wait four months.

“To sell my house I had to get it on the property registry,” the lady explains, “so I needed a specialist to confirm that the property boundaries coincide with those on the paperwork. After getting the opinion of the architect, I had to wait 45 days for the registry office to give me a certified deed to the property. Now, I’m looking for a new buyer for the property because the previous one was in hurry and withdrew his offer.”

In Villa Clara province, 70% of the comments from citizens in last year’s Accountability Assemblies referred to problems in legalizing titles to land and housing or access to subsidies, as reported at the parliamentary meeting in the Palace of Conventions. The same thing happened in the provinces of Las Tunas, Granma and Sancti Spiritus.

The Institute of Physical Planning, led by General Samuel Rodiles Planas, is also increasingly unpopular. Many see this institution more as a brake than an accelerator on the initiatives of people to construct housing by their own efforts.

In an effort to combat the urban illegalities and violations, there has been a proliferation os demolitions of housing or additions that have been used for decades to expand living space.

In the Alamar neighborhood, Vladimir Pacheco, who lives in a two-room apartment on the ground floor of a five-story building, built two bedrooms attached to his home, as he interpreted it a no man’s land. “I came here with my wife and two sons in 1976,” he told this newspaper.

“In the eighties my daughter was born and by 2004 we were nine people counting my four grandchildren,” he adds. The man decided to extend his unit on land at the base of his apartment. In July of last year, inspectors from the Institute of Physical Planning announced that they would demolish the construction. “My two sons say that if they tear down the rooms they’ll launch themselves on the sea,” says the worried homeowner.

A notary in the Havana municipality of Playa, a lawyer who asked not to be identified, told 14ymedio that now it must be recognized that the procedures have become more complex. “The day that in this country we can build all the houses that people need, we are going to have to change all the mechanisms that exist today,” he says and confesses that “otherwise they will have to import notaries from elsewhere.”

The real challenge of housing policy goes beyond illegalities and corruption, beyond urban violations or determination of boundaries. The lawyer says, “The problem is much more complicated than shortening the lines or the waiting time for a document, and at the same time it is as simple as placing one brick on top of another.”

Hard Times for Cuban Sugar Cane Harvest / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A sugar cane field in Cuba. (Flickr / CC)
A sugar cane field in Cuba. (Flickr / CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, 28 December 2015 – Guarapo,  sugarcane juice, may be harder to get in 2016, thanks to the climate, obsolete technology and missed payments to producers, all of which are affecting the current sugar harvest, according to information presented to the National Assembly on Sunday by the directors of the AzCuba Group.

Delayed payments from the last harvest to private, lessee and cooperative producers total more than 95 million pesos and are of particular concern in the provinces of Holguin, Mayabeque, Matanzas, Camagüey and Granma. continue reading

According to AzCuba president Orlando Celso Garcia, the drought in July and August and the excessive rain in the months of November and December also will negatively affect the sugar harvest.

The delay in starting by a group of centers in the so-called “little harvest” is another negative factor, and is due to the immaturity of the cane and infrastructure problems in the sugar mills.

According to AzCuba’s official figures, the technological and input needs of the sector required 173 million pesos in imports, but only 98 million pesos worth was approved.

Data from the last harvest were handled very discreetly in the official press, and no figure was given for the number of tons produced. A summary of the report prepared by AzCuba and published in the newspaper Granma limited itself to saying that although “the plan fell 4% short of what was expected,” production “grew 18% over the previous harvest.”

Cuban sugar production reached 8.5 million metric tons in 1970 and fell to 1.1 million metric tons in the 2009-2010 harvest, a figure that had already been reached on the island in the early years of the twentieth century.

One Year After December 17, Who Took The Lead? / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

Raul Castro and Barrack Obama announced on December 17, 2014 the normalization of relations between Cuba and the US
Raul Castro and Barrack Obama announced on December 17, 2014 the normalization of relations between Cuba and the US

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 17 December 2015 – Several articles have already appeared alluding to the first anniversary of the normalization of relations between Cuba and the USA and evaluating the results.

For some nothing has happened: nothing has changed. But diplomatic relations were restored and there have been some institutional agreements on drug control, human trafficking and postal services.

For his part, President Obama issued several resolutions which, according to various political analysts, converted the embargo into Swiss cheese, and he started to talk about the issue of compensation, while several high-level political, diplomatic and economic delegations from the United States have come to Cuba to study and propose solutions and agreements, although little or nothing has been achieved. continue reading

The Cuban government also has a proposal of its own: “There can be no normalization of relations between the two countries while the blockade and the Cuban Adjustment Act are maintained and Guantanamo Naval Base is not returned,” it says, adding, “we will not take a step back… we will not make concessions,” which in good Castilian means: the investments that we are going to allow here are those of interest to the Cuban government, under the conditions we set.

One thing has become very clear: the Obama administration’s willingness to advance the development of multilateral relations, and to cooperate in various fields with the Cuban government and society, and the unwillingness of the government in Havana to take concrete steps that do not benefit the narrow interests of the Government-State-Party, by which they do not mean those of the entire Cuban people.

The Obama administration, responding to strategic interests in the region, has demonstrated to the world, to its own people and to the Cuban people its readiness to advance in the normalization and strengthening of relations with Cuba, taking a series of steps within the purview of the executive branch. It has made ​​clear that there are a number of laws related to the blockade-embargo which can only be repealed by Congress, which has been working to try to lift them.

The Cuban government is “standing its ground.” It knows that for there to be movement in Congress with regards to the laws of the embargo-blockade, it would have to start a clear process of democratization in Cuba, there would have be an amnesty, decreeing freedom of expression and association and it would have to initiate a dialog with the opposition and those who think differently, and with the whole nation, about a new constitution and a new democratic electoral law.

But it gives no signals in that direction, as much as it is the only existing party and according to the current constitution directs the destiny of Cuba and resists implementing the agreements of its own 2011 6th Communist Party Congress. These agreements addressed the establishment and development of self-employment, cooperatives, business autonomy, and the opening to foreign investment. Meanwhile, the economy continues to tank and the Cuban government’s image constantly deteriorates.

It is clear: if there is freedom, if there is democracy, if there is respect for human rights, no one is going to come to demand you comply with these precepts. It was written long ago: a political democratization and a diversification of the economy would permit a cushioning of the impact of investment and closer relations with the United States. Falling on deaf ears.

Moreover, in the last month, Nicaragua’s closing of its border with Costa Rica, to block Cubans from heading to the United States, has created a regional immigration issue with many sharp edges. Everything indicates that Cuba is behind the Nicaraguan decision, as part of its announced interest in eliminating the Cuban Adjustment Act. However, what it seems to have done is demonstrate to the world the inability of its unproductive statist economic system and the lack of political and civil liberties in Cuba which, instead of attracting young people pushes them to emigrate, at the same time it has shown its interest in complicating, rather the solving, the Cuban-US referendum.

Who has come out ahead in this process? The government of the United States has demonstrated flexibility, tolerance and a willingness to resolve the dispute with Cuba. And this has been a point in its favor.

The government of the Cuba has demonstrated the exact opposite: inflexibility, intolerance and an unwillingness to resolve the dispute, and in addition, the inability to anticipate changes, and even its flouting of its own constitution by failing to comply with the guidelines of the Communist Party, because, in its Stalinist fashion, it believes that it would be “like delivering the Revolution to its class enemies: the self-employed, the cooperatives, the small, medium and large capitalists.”

Cuban leaders have confirmed that in order to remain in power, they are capable of reneging on Party agreements that they themselves shaped, agreements that should guarantee the economic, political and social development of the country, decentralize power, diversify and broaden the productive forces and the productive relationships that expand the economy.

One would have to conclude, therefore, that even the Communist Party, under pressure from its bases, conceived solutions that go against the interests of populist and decadent statism represented at the highest levels of the Party and the government. This also would be another point in favor of Obama’s policy which, instead, favored economically aiding Cuban entrepreneurs, for which the Cuban government has not provided the necessary facilities.

Today, the Cuban government does not want to walk the blue carpet laid out by Obama, nor the red one laid out by its own Communist Party, nor a combination of both. It prefers to continue riding on the old nag, lame and battered by the most vulgar Stalinism that does not help to solve the problems with the United States, and that leads to the abyss Raul once spoke of, although I do not think that is the path he wants to travel.

Clearly, what happened in the presidential elections in Argentina and in the parliamentary elections in Venezuela points to a complication of the Latin American scenarios for this stagnant Cuba. In addition, it makes a democratization of politics and the economy more urgent than ever.

Ladies in White Headquarters Surrounded by State Security / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Kiosks selling food and drink in front of the headquarters of the Ladies in White. (bertasolerf)
Kiosks selling food and drink in front of the headquarters of the Ladies in White. (bertasolerf)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 18 December 2015 — On Friday morning, the political police surrounded the headquarters of the Ladies in White in the Havana’s Lawton district, blocking entrance to several activists who arrived for the traditional literary tea held every Friday, as confirmed to 14ymedio by Juan Angel Moya, former prisoner of the Black Spring and husband of the movement’s leader, Berta Soler.

The opposition also reported that as of last Wednesday several kiosks selling food and drink to the public were placed around the site. State Security in Cuba frequently uses this practice to close access to the homes of activists. continue reading

Despite the arrests and the police cordon, dozens of women have made ​​it to the headquarters of the organization where, as part of the meeting, the film The Empty House, by Cuban director Lilo Vilaplana, was shown.

Opposition figure Martha Beatriz Roque reported that the police took Ladies in White Mayelín Santiesteban and Mirta Ricardo Tornés off the bus they were taking to Havana from Artemisa, to prevent them from reaching the activities at the headquarters in the capital city.

The police operation also seeks to prevent the activists approaching the courtroom for crimes against state security, in the court located at Juan Delgado and Carmen streets in Havana’s 10 de Octubre district, where the trial of Ariel and Ricardo Gonzalez Sendiña will be held on Friday. The young men are the children of Lady in White Lazara Barbara Sendiña and are charged with the alleged crime of theft and slaughter of livestock.

The Thaw and St. Lazarus Fight Over a Date: 17D* / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

An image of Saint Lazarus in a Havana Street (14ymedio)
An image of Saint Lazarus in a Havana Street (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, 17 December 2015 — Dawn broke, this Thursday, to hundreds of pilgrims and promise keepers in the sanctuary of Rincón, south of Havana. The front pages of the world’s newspapers celebrated the first anniversary of the announcement of the thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States, while the people of the island lit candles to a figure with sores and crutches. The 17th of December has been imposed as a date of diplomacy, but in this land it is still the day of Saint Lazarus, the saint of the sick and marginalized.

Ramón Zulueta is one of the pilgrims who waited for midnight in the crowded chapel where some pray to the Catholic image, while others call it Babalu Aye. A few months ago Ramón watched his only son depart for Ecuador, a son who is now a part of the thousands of Cubans stranded on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. “I come to ask the saint to help him,” he explains to 14ymedio, holding in his hands a small wooden airplane he has brought as an offering. continue reading

A couple of teenagers who have come from Matanzas pray very near the altar, asking that “they won’t close it,” in reference to the possible elimination of the Cuban Adjustment Act that grants the island’s residents immigration privileges to enter the United States. “I already told the ‘old man’ that if he helps me get there, from that side I am going to send to raise a life-size image,” promises the young man, kissing his fist.

A few yards away is a couple accompanied by their young children, among them a baby of barely six months. “We want a healthy and prosperous 2016,” asks the woman, who runs a private diner in the nearby town of Santiago de las Vegas. “For us, not much has changed,” she said, when asked about effects of the reestablishment of relations between Washington and Havana, but added, “something will happen for us now.”

Next to the color purple and garments made from jute sacks to please the leprous saint, some of those gathered wear clothes printed with the stars and stripes from the country to the north. One of the most obvious transformations of the last 12 months is the proliferation of Uncle Sam’s ensign without triggering the official repudiation of years past.

Cuban-Americans are also present at the scene. “Now it is easier to travel,” says Victoria, the daughter of exiled parents who have never returned to the island, but to whom she will take back a collection of photos of “the places they loved.” The measures adopted by Barack Obama to ease the sending of remittances have greatly helped the oldest members of her family, “who are on this side,” she said.

Among the avalanche of diplomatic statements and meetings between the two governments, the Cuban people try to capitalize on the most practical accords, which so far “are few,” reflects Victoria. The increase in the amount of remittances and the expansion to 12 of the number of reasons Americans can travel to Cuba are, right now, “the most popular measures.”

“It has gone very well for me,” says Esteban, a young man of 32 who works as a waiter in a private restaurant in the Playa district in Havana. “A lot of yumas come to eat now and they leave good money,” he comments. For Esteban, the best part of this year of reestablishment of relations between the perennial enemies is, “the custom of leaving a 10% tip is sneaking into Cuba,” he says smiling.

Early in the morning a man arrives dragging an enormous stone on his back. The sun’s rays barely penetrate the shadows all around. It is estimated that every year more than 15,000 pilgrims arrive in less than 40 hours in this village in Boyeros to ask for better health or more fortune. The majority are very poor people, although the new emerging middle class can also be seen.

“Last year I came on foot, three miles, but this time I made a greater sacrifice. I paid a Panataxi from Central Havana to the junction,” jokes a man who sports a shirt with Barack Obama’s face. “I am asking Saint Lazarus to enlighten us and open the ways of this country, because if not I don’t think I will spend next 17 December here,” he says, while placing a red candle beside others already lit.

Family members of prisoners also pour in. “My son has already ‘pulled’ five years and he has three left,” says a lady who prefers not to give her name and who carries in her hands a picture of an old man with his two dogs licking his wounds. “I come to ask Babalu to open the prison bars for my son and for so many young people who all they have done is try to survive in this country.”

In the sanctuary some hold hands and pray quietly. Others take out their phones and cameras to take pictures. Yassiel, 27, has filmed a dozen short videos at the entrance to the place with the promise keepers carrying heavy wooden arms or legs. “It there were a wife zone here, I would load them up right away,” he comments.

However, internet connections are very far away from the traditional sanctuary that seems frozen in time. Neither Barack Obama, nor Raul Castro, nor even the pious Saint Lazarus have managed to allow Cubans to fully enjoy the miracle of connectivity this year. “No man lives only on promises,” comments Yassiel, and it is unclear if he is saying it to the image of this man with sores and a sad face who, today, has reclaimed his 17D.

*Translator’s note: Like Americans say “9-11” instead of September 11, 2001, Cubans say “17D” instead of 17 December 2014, the day Barack Obama and Raul Castro jointly announced the restoration of relations between the United States and Cuba.

Alarm Bells on the Route of the Illegal Market / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Informal vendors of glasses, a product that comes into Cuba mostly through mules. (14ymedio)
Informal vendors of glasses, a product that comes into Cuba mostly through mules. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 27 November 2015 – Children’s clothes and sneakers were a part of the goods being called out by an illegal vendor this Thursday on Galiano Street in Havana. Although it is just four days until the migratory restrictions on Cubans announced by Ecuador take effect, alarm has already spread among merchants and “mules.”

The news of the new visa requirement for Cubans, starting on December 1, has fallen like a bucket of cold water, and not just among those who were planning to leave with Quito being the first step to their final destination: the United States. The bad news also affects a wide network in importing, distribution and sale of illegal goods that range from cleaning supplies to sophisticated appliances. continue reading

This Friday, when there are still no tangible effects of the change, the vendors already anticipate a drastic fall in their merchandise and customers fear the loss of variety in clothing and footwear now available on the illegal market. On the street, many speculate that the probability that prices will rise in the coming days and will trigger sales, especially so close to Christmas.

The mules who arrive in Havana on the Taca flight that landed shortly after five in the afternoon on Thursday felt fortunate. Coming from Quito, after a stop in San Salvador, the Cubans felt like shipwreck survivors and were received with relief by their families outside the airport.

The luggage belt was full of the so-called bolas – suitcases full of clothes, shoes and home appliances, wrapped in nylon in the airport of origin. The customs dispatch the bolas first and the passengers with suitcases have to wait behind the priority of the obvious freight traffic. Despite strict legislation approved in September 2014 on non-commercial imports, a whole network of corruption guarantees that the merchandise passes through the controls without major incidents.

A young man of 32, who asked to remain anonymous, was one of the fortunate ones who ended his trip to Ecuador without legal holdups. “We arrived just in time,” he told 14ymedio on his arrival at Terminal 3 at Havana’s José Martí International Airport, where he heard about the announcement of the new restrictions on Cuban nationals entering Ecuador. “There was a rumor there that they were going to close the door soon, but we never imagined it would be so soon,” he added.

The boy’s luggage contained everything from Christmas wreaths to a carpenter’s saw. “I should have risked bringing more stuff, because now I don’t know when I’ll be able to travel,” he lamented while his cousin helped him to push two carts full of bolas and boxes between which a flat screen TV also peeked out.

From now on Ecuador will apply the same restrictions as Panama, Mexico and the other nearby nations, which already require Cubans to have a visa to enter the country. Instead, holders of Spanish passports or Cubans with five-year visas to the United States will be able to travel freely, as before, to all those countries, including Ecuador. For informal traders, this path was a safe route despite the high ticket prices, which in the high season can exceed $1,000 US.

The buyers have also benefited from the use of this Ecuadorian trade route. The high prices of products in state sores push many families to buy their clothes and shoes in the illegal market, following an unwritten maxim often shared on this island: priority to individuals, rather than the State.

A pair of sneakers, which in the hard currency stores cost around 45 convertible pesos (roughly $45 US), can but got for half the price and of better quality. “You see these Adidas? You can’t find them here,” says Victor Manuel, a high school student who says he lives for clothes. “That’s what matters most to me,” he says.

The official press published a note this Friday on the new immigration rules for Cubans going to Ecuador. In the same issue, an article criticized the preference for foreign products among Cuban children and youth. The main reproach is directed directly to backpacks and accessories with the faces of Barbie dolls which are some of the products the mules import from Ecuador.

Despite the fears, some traders seem confident that the situation will be resolved. “We’ll find another way, we always have done,” assured the young man who arrived on the Taca flight. The bolas that he brought on his last trip from Ecuador barely fit in the family car that came to pick him up at the airport.

A New Campaign For Marriage Equality Announced / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

LGBTI Pride march in the Paseo del Prado in Havana in 2011 (Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo)
LGBTI Pride march in the Paseo del Prado in Havana in 2011 (Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 25 November 2015 — After forty years together, Roberto’s partner died this year from a respiratory condition, but he will not collect a penny of the widow’s pension because in Cuba same-sex unions are not legally recognized or protected. Situations like this are in the sights of several independent organizations that demand rights for the LGBTI community, and that have just launched a campaign for marriage equality.

“We also love,” is the slogan under which different civil society groups will demand a legal framework that allows unions between people of the same sex, and equality of rights between homosexuals and heterosexuals. The initiative was presented to the press this Tuesday and will go public on the first of December. continue reading

Among the groups involved in the project is Corriente Martiana (Current [José] Martí), which is working on this project in coordination with the Cuban Foundation for LGBTI Rights, led by Nelson Gandulla in Cienfuegos province, and which shares the lead in the new campaign with the Integration Project of the Gay Community in Cuba led by Navit Fernandez in Havana.

Other entities not directly related to the LGTBI environment have begun to get involved in the project after being invited to show solidarity, such as the Candidates for Change project.

The organizers have developed several initiatives. including the presentation of a written request to the People’s Power delegates during weekly office hours they have with their constituents. Each of the activists should ask for a receipt that gives evidence of the request and that will accompany the collective petition that is finally delivered.

Moises Leonardo presents the campaign for marriage equality
Moises Leonardo presents the campaign for marriage equality in Cuba

The collective petition will be delivered to the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) and the Cuban Parliament, Moises Leonardo, spokesperson for the Corriente Martiana, explained to 14ymedio.

“First we will present it in municipal assemblies, then in the provinces and finally to the National Assembly of People’s Power. We will seek the support of artists and personalities of our culture, as well as a number of independent civil society organizations that want to join us. The campaign starts the first of December and will last six months, but even when that date has passed it will be ongoing.”

This campaign seeks to protect a couple’s rights, such as inheritance or insurance payments with respect to accidents at work, as well as obtaining legal protection for the distribution of property in the case of a separation.

“The intention is to climb one more step in the defense of human rights for a sector of the population. Practice tells us that the LGBTI community is very united in defense of their rights, and that encourages us a lot,” added Leonardo.

The Frustrated Trip of the Deported / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A group of Cubans protest in Paso Canoas, on the border of Costa Rica and Panama. (Alvaro Sanchez / courtesy / El Nuevo Herald)
A group of Cubans protest in Paso Canoas, on the border of Costa Rica and Panama. (Alvaro Sanchez / courtesy / El Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 14 November 2015 — They were seated in the back row when the passengers entered the plane. Cubana Airlines Flight 131 took off Thursday from Mexico City with four deportees on board. The Cuban bureaucracy calls them “returned by air” and they represent only a portion of those who are repatriated en route to the United States.

In recent months the number of Cubans leaving for the north has grown, as also has the number of those who are intercepted and returned to the island. Most are not dissuaded after a forced return and try again. Their worst nightmare is not immigration officials, but an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act. continue reading

From October 1, 2014 to this September 30, 43,159 Cubans reached the United States. The main entry points were the border areas of El Paso and Laredo (Texas), Tucson (Arizona) and San Diego (California).

“This was my third attempt, the first was on a raft and in the second they sent be back from Panama,” says Clara, 48, who was returned from Mexico this October. She considers her return to the island a real catastrophe. “I had sold everything to leave and when I got here I was repatriated without a penny in my pocket and no house to live in,” she explains.

“I had sold everything to leave and when I got here I was repatriated without a penny in my pocket and no house to live in”

Clara now sleeps on the couch of a relative in San José de las Lajas, Mayabeque. “I only have what I had in my hand luggage,” she adds. Her trip was frustrated at the Benito Juarez International Airport, where she was considered a potential migrant to the United States. She came from Havana, where she managed to get a visa to the Aztec soil, but her family in Miami, was left with the table set and their dreams frustrated.

“They took me to a room that was full of Cubans who were also to be returned” says Clara, recalling that fateful day. “We had to wait there for Cuban planes to have room to return us,” she details. The woman had a hotel reservation for seven days in Mexico City. “I already knew that if they asked me I would have to say I was not planning to visit any border area.” The truth is that the next day she was planning to leave for Nuevo Laredo and from there enter the United States.

Advice passes from mouth to mouth. “Don’t be nervous, don’t talk too much, just give short answers,” her daughter had warned her; having made the same journey she is now living in Miami’s Little Havana. But Clara was a bundle of nerves when they inquired about the reason for her trip. “I started to stutter and that was suspicious.” Afterwards they asked her how much money she had brought with her.

Clara was a bundle of nerves when they inquired about the reason for her trip. “I started to stutter and that was suspicious.”

“I had $200 and they told me that was a proof that I wasn’t going to spend a week in Mexico City, because it was very little.” She wasn’t able to make a phone call to warn her relatives of the situation in which she found herself and spent the rest of the night in a room with dozens of compatriots. “Everyone was in the same situation: they wouldn’t let us enter but we didn’t want to return.”

Some Cuban exiles carry out the first protest of their lives on foreign territory. Riots, hunger strikes and clashes with authorities have become common practice when they have been left stranded at airports, border crossings and immigration detention centers. This Friday, a group of them blocked the Panamerican Highway on the border between Costa Rica and Panama to demand that they be allowed to continue along the road. If they are returned to the island, they won’t be the same people who left.

“I returned a big mouth, I won’t shut up for anything,” relates Clara, who says she has “acquired a taste for freedom” in her three attempts to leave. For the Cuban authorities the best outcome is that people like her leave again, “because we no longer fit in here and they know it,” she says while pointing upwards with her index finger. “What I want is to leave, so I’m not going to fix something that has no solution.”

“What I want is to leave, so I’m not going to fix something that has no solution.”

On the flight back to Cuba, Clara agreed to give ten dollars to another passenger to borrow her cellphone just as they landed. An employee of the State airline, in his double role as a flight attendant and guard of the deportees, said they couldn’t get off until all the other passengers had gotten off. “We had to wait for two “uniforms” to come and get us and they gave them our passports,” she said.

Then they took her to an office at José Martí Airport, where they took down all their data and gave them warnings. The chairs in the room remained filled with the deportees who were arriving on other flights. “It didn’t stop, every time there were more, coming from Panama, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico.”

When she left there, she managed to make the call. “They sent me back,” she told her daughter. On the other end of the phone line she heard the long moan. The failed trip had cost the family $3,000, months of planning and the stress of every minute when they didn’t know where she was.

This mother of a family shudders to remember that day when an immigration officer stepped between her and her dreams. But she isn’t giving up: “Nothing matters here, nothing attracts me, I just think about leaving again.”

Yogurt, Scarce and Bad / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Consumers report the loss of product quality with soy yogurt due to failures in refrigeration and sanitary control. (Youtube)
Consumers report the loss of product quality with soy yogurt due to failures in refrigeration and sanitary control. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, 11 November 2015 – The shortage of soy yogurt in the regulated market has worsened in recent weeks, and this product intended for children between 7 and 13* years of age is also characterized by its low quality.

The shortage of soy yogurt has worsened in recent weeks in the regulated market where the product intended for children aged seven to thirteen years it is also characterized by its low quality.

Designated mostly for the “basic family food ration” and school meals, soy yogurt began to appear on the island in 2003, but manufacturers have never been able to fulfill their commitments for 275,500 tons annually. continue reading

In the last session of the National Assembly in July, industry officials blamed the instability of Party managers, technological obsolescence and the deterioration of refrigeration systems for the distribution problems.

On that occasion, the Minister of the Food Industry, Maria del Carmen Concepcion, reaffirmed the importance of soy yogurt and agreed on the urgent need to “find immediate solutions.” However, over the months the problem has worsened rather than improved.

The points of sale, distributed in each municipality, should be supplied three times a week, so that each child receives twelve bags in a month. Consumers complain that the quota is never met, but it is possible to find the same yogurt in the unregulated markets*.

“It shows up once or occasionally twice a week, but it is not safe,” an employee of a dairy in Central Havana explained this Tuesday, while a mother complained that “sometimes it doesn’t arrive for a whole week.”

Consumers also reported a loss of product quality due to failures in refrigeration and sanitary control.

In some areas the product has been replaced by a powdered mixture to prepare it, but with little acceptance among customers. “People do not want it because you need milk to mix it with. Made with just water the children don’t like it,” says an employee of a market in Havana’s Vibora neighborhood.

Modesto Perez, director of the dairy complex in the capital, explained the technical problems facing the industry on national television this week. “Maintaining stability and three operating boilers is complex. Whenever there is a situation with a boiler, production stops because steam is essential to the production.”

In the middle of this year the official press announced that nine million convertible pesos (CUC) would be earmarked to “gradually resolve the issue of technological obsolescence in the production and distribution of soy yogurt.” The results are not yet visible to the consumer.

Across the country the situation is repeated; the 15 companies that produce this food are all affected by breakdowns that prevent or hinder production. The most affected regions, including the capital, are Bayamo, Guantanamo and Santiago de Cuba.

*Translator’s note: Children under 7 receive a cow’s milk ration in Cuba; older children do not. See also: Children without milk, and Soy yogurt meant for children ends up feeding pigs.

The Cancellation of A Cyber-Gathering In Camagüey Sparks Outrage / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Juan Antonio García Borrero during a conference. (Youtube)
Juan Antonio García Borrero during a conference. (Youtube)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Camaguey, 2 November 2015 — The peaceful city of Camagüey experienced a shock among its intellectuals this weekend. The well-known film critic Juan Antonio Garcia Borrero denounced the “intellectual conservatism” that led to the suspension of a cyber-gathering programmed for this Thursday in Café Ciudad. In his blog, Cine cubano, la pupila insomne (Cuban cinema, the insomniac pupil), the specialist reflects on the “tribal thinking and institutional self-censorship that follows from it.”

“I seem to be living a nightmare,” García Borrero said in a post, in response to being informed by the leadership of the Office of the City Historian that the gathering could not be held, “despite having been promoted in all the media.” His first reaction was to “take a breath, breathe deeply… I won’t give them the pleasure, neither those here nor there, of making me into a disaffected person,” he wrote in a brief post. continue reading

Known for his work in rescuing and spreading Cuban cinema, Garcia Borrero has had a blog for more than eight years, where he reflects on the seventh art. His work as a blogger has also led him to approach the digital publication scene and he participated in the First Forum of Audiovisual Consumption, held in Havana in 2014, an experience that he had tried unsuccessfully to move to this native city.

The idea of the forum, according to the author of the book BLOGuerías – published by the Cuban publisher Acana in 2009 – “was born of personal exchanges that at some point” he had engaged in with the former Cuban Minister of Culture, Abel Prieto. Initially, the event was scheduled in Camaguey city, but the lack of time to organize it moved the first event to the capital.

Following the Havana meeting, Pedro de la Hoz Gonzalez, vice president of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), informed the provincial section of the organization of the “confirmation of the announcement of the Second Forum on Audiovisual Culture” for 30 and 31 October. However, the event did not happen. It was the local “UNEAC which has put the most obstacles in the way,” complains García Borrero.

Emotionally affected by the forum’s not being held and the cancellation of the cyber-gathering that would have taken its place, the film critic shared with his readers on the Internet his concern that the authorities would insist on decreeing his “civil death” in Camagüey. “It doesn’t matter. I will always have the cave, the solitary refuge to which Nietzsche alluded*,” he explained.

Garcia Borrero’s complaint arrives within a few of a meeting of the G-20 Group in Havana, which is promoting the implementation of a Film Law, a detail referred to by the critic Gustavo Arcos, in an article he published this Friday in defense of the Camagueyan, and denouncing the “tacit conspiracy of some people in power in the country to put an end to everything that has to do with initiative in the audiovisual field.”

Arcos says that this intention is seen “in the arbitrary bans on [private] 3D movie rooms,” decreed at the end of 2013, and in “the current resistance to implementing a Film Law.” The specialist adds that these attitudes, “the systematic attacks on the weekly packet,” and also seen in the “continued mantle of suspicion and threats that are launched against journalists, bloggers, graphic designers or artists linked to alternative publications, web pages or spaces generated by individual initiatives.”

The controversy over the cancelled cyber-gathering has barely begun and it could be joined by many other intellectuals, given the prestige enjoyed by Garcia Borrero, as an outstanding professional and honest man. The scene of the creation, production and film criticism in recent weeks in Cuba resembles dry grass about to catch fire. What happened in the city of Camagüey could be the spark.

*Translator’s note: “Wherever there have been powerful societies, governments, religions, or public opinions — in short, wherever there was any kind of tyranny, it has hated the lonely philosopher; for philosophy opens up a refuge for man where no tyranny can reach: the cave of inwardness, the labyrinth of the breast; and that annoys all tyrants.” Friedrich Nietzsche, Schopenhauer As Educator, 1874. Source of this English translation here.

Carcinogenic or not, Cubans Want Red Meat / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Meat for sale in the market in Camagüey. (Sun Basulto Garcia)
Meat for sale in the market in Camagüey. (Sun Basulto Garcia)

14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 29 October 2015 — “For me, no one can get me to quit this bad habit, I’ve tried vegetables and beans,” intones the troubadour Ray Fernandez in one of his songs. The main character in this song is named Butcher, and he spent ten years in prison for the theft and illegal slaughter of cattle.

Despite the legal prohibitions on the island that govern the raising, slaughter and sale of cattle, and the recent declarations by the World Health Organization about the carcinogenic properties of red and processed meats, Cubans do not seem willing to give up the dream of a steak, a hamburger or a nice hash on their plates.

This week, the official press reported the findings of a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Backed by more than 800 studies conducted by 22 experts in 10 countries, the entity classified the consumption of red meat as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The classification of processed meat was stricter; it was stated to be “carcinogenic to humans” and placed in Risk Group 1, along with tobacco, asbestos, arsenic and alcohol. continue reading

At the close of 2014, the island had a little over four million head of cattle. The severe drought in recent months has caused the mass death of hundreds of thousands of cattle throughout the country, so that the figure may be less at the end of this year. The number still falls short of the six million animals that existed in 1959, which at that time was one head per capita.

The progressive deterioration of cattle ranching in Cuba came along with the overvaluing of beef among diners. “Here people dream in red,” jokes Migdalia Fuentes, a retired doctor who specialized in oncology. “The tradition of eating meat is very difficult to eradicate, because for decades it has been the ideal food, the dreamed of meal,” she emphasizes.

The specialist agrees with the WHO report, adding, “Many cases of colon cancer that I treated during my working life were related to the out-of-control consumption of meat.” She adds that, “if people knew the damage it does, they wouldn’t desire it so much.”

In 2014, cancer, diabetes, cerebrovascular diseases and chronic respiratory disease accounted for 67.7% of total deaths in Cuba. For WHO, each serving of 50 grams (0.11 pounds) of processed meat consumed daily, the risk of colorectal cancer increases by 18%, according to findings published in The Lancet Oncology.

However, the information has been received with reluctance and ridicule among Cubans. “You have to die of something,” say the majority of those surveyed by this newspaper. Others question the publication of the news in the national media. “They are trying to convince us that meat is bad and we shouldn’t eat it because there isn’t any,” says Ismael, a father of two who, this Tuesday, bought a package of processed hash in the central Carlos II market in Havana.

Private and state restaurants have not yet noticed a decline in orders for meat since the WHO announcement. “Here, people who have money still prefer a good cut of beef, while those with fewer resources have to settle for pork or chicken,” said an employee of the restaurant located in the Sociedad Cultural Rosalia de Castro in Old Havana.

The Golden Pig butcher shop pig in Havana. (14ymedio)
The Golden Pig butcher shop in Havana. (14ymedio)

“Beef is connected in the popular imagination with good health,” says the oncologist Fuentes. “When I was little and I felt bad, my grandmother made me a meat soup or gave me a good steak. That remains in the collective subconscious and it is very difficult to convince people otherwise.”

Bertico’s story is much like that of the butcher who inspired Ray Fernandez’s song. He served twelve years in prison for leading a gang that was dedicated to killing cows on the plains of Villa Clara. His clients were mainly people living in Havana who risked a penalty of up to one year of imprisonment for the crime of receiving. “Here cows are sacred, as in India,” jokes this peasant hardened by illegal slaughter and imprisonment.

“There are those who eat it and don’t go to prison,” Ray Fernandez also satirizes in his song, in reference to those who have a better supply of beef as a privilege related to their proximity to power. For people without a ministerial portfolio, nor the rank of a high lieutenant colonel, the only legal option is to acquire it in the hard currency market. A little over two pounds of beef top round can run to 20 convertible pesos (over $20 US) in those places, the equivalent to the average monthly salary.

Those sentenced for the crime of illegal slaughter rarely have their sentences reduced, nor are they released on humanitarian grounds. Among the 3,500 prisoners pardoned for Pope Francis’s September visit to the island, there were those convicted of murder, manslaughter, rape, pederasty with violence, and the corruption of minors. But there were none sentenced for the theft or illegal slaughter of cattle.

The few vegetarians who maintain a meat-free diet are seen as “freaks” in this country. “People get upset when they invite me to eat and find out that I don’t eat beef, or chicken or even fish,” says Maura, 36, who has been a vegetarian for at least a decade. For this native of Cienfuegos living in Havana, “It is more expensive sometimes, and more difficult, to buy vegetables than it is to get meat.” However, she feels happy with her decision, “I wake up every day very healthy.”

Most Cubans feel very attracted to the red fiber, perhaps because it represents the forbidden, or because of a culinary tradition that celebrates meat. The World Health Organization will have to work very hard to convince them otherwise.

Any Day Is A Bad Day To Die Alone / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Cuba could become the most aged country in the Americas
Cuba could become the most aged country in the Americas (14ymedio, Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 23 October 2015 — The National Funeral Home, nine at night. In one of the rooms only one person is found. A woman is rocking in the chair furthest from the coffin. She’s filing her nails. “Who was the deceased?” asks someone from the doorway. “I don’t know; I’m here waiting for my daughter who went to the bathroom,” she answers. When she gets up and leaves, the casket is left alone. No one has come for the final goodbye.

The image of a society where families take responsibility for grandparents until the end of their days has shattered in recent decades in Cuba. The aging population, economic problems and high rates of migration among the young are some of the reasons that many elderly people find themselves without family support or company. continue reading

“You can plant a tree, raise a child or write a book, but that does not mean you won’t be alone when the reaper comes,” says Manolo, 81 years old, who lives in a rooming house in the Los Sitios neighborhood of Havana. A retired engineer, he has lived alone for more than 20 years since his son left for the United States during the rafting crisis. Among his greatest fears are dying with no one nearby and “that they find me because of the stench,” he says ironically.

According to official figures, 18.3% of the Island’s 11.1 million residents are over age 60, and by 2025 it is estimated that the elderly will exceed 25%. Cuba could become the most aged country in the Americas. The situation presents not only a challenge for the health care infrastructure and social security system, but also for family organization and humanitarian agencies.

Although it is still common to find grandchildren, parents and grandparents under the same roof given the serious housing problems, the cases of old people who live alone also have increased in recent years. According to the 2012 census, in 9% of Cuban homes at least three generations live together, but in 12.6%, old people live alone.

Every day, those people have to overcome the obstacles of solitary old age. Low pensions or lack of family affection are among the reasons that they do not spend their last years in the material comfort and affection that they always dreamed of. Instead, they have to take care of themselves, appealing to neighbors in search of support or asking for help from humanitarian organizations.

Laura, 64 years of age, is one of more than 3,000 volunteers from Caritas who assist some 28,000 people, especially the elderly, throughout the country. There is a lot of work given the increase in the number of people who are growing old alone. She believes that in a few years she, too, will need help because she never had children and she was widowed five years ago.

“I give food to some because they have problems getting around, while others I keep company on one afternoon or another, and I talk to them,” explains this retired teacher who lives on the outskirts of the city of Ciego de Avila. Based on her experience, “there are more old people living alone because many of their children have left the country.”

Across the hall of the rooming house in Los Sitios, where Manolo lives, an old woman has just been taken to the hospital. “Her daughters do not know, because we have to wait for them to call from Spain in order to give them the news,” he says. Nevertheless, the man believes that once admitted she is going to be more careful because they cannot keep taking care of her.

Bedridden, the woman needed her neighbors to help her bathe and eat. “Everyone living here is old, and we can no longer carry her to the bathroom,” the old neighbor worries. “The daughters send money for disposable diapers and skin cream, but they are not here to help day in and day out,” says the old man.

However, the Public Health system does not seem to be prepared to deal with the marked aging of the Island’s population, either. Of the more than 83,000 doctors in the country in 2013, only 279, some 0.33%, were specialized in Geriatrics and Gerontology.

In rural areas the phenomenon of old people living alone seems to occur less often, but it is still worrisome. “The youth don’t want to learn about the countryside, and they leave, so that this has turned into a town of old people,” says Maria Antonia, 69 years old and resident of Vertientes, Camaguey. One of her sons is working in Veradero in a construction crew, and the other “joined the military, and they gave him a house in Havana,” she explains.

The woman has a surprising routine for someone her age. “I get up before five to brew the coffee that I later go out to sell in some places.” She can be on her feet three or four hours in the morning to offer her merchandise. “When I return home, I am in a lot of pain,” she says. “But what am I going to do?” she asks resignedly.

“I only have neighbors when I am in pain and need to go to the doctor,” explains Maria Antonia, who suffers from heart disease. Nevertheless, she says she prefers her current situation of solitude to ending up in a nursing home. “No, that would kill me; I need to be active,” she says. For months she has not been able to clean because of arthritis in her hands, and she pays a woman to clean her house. “I’m fading little by little,” she explains uneasily.

More than 142,000 senior citizens reside in Camaguey province, but there is a capacity of only 911 beds in 13 nursing homes plus 24 daycare centers for the elderly. In statements to the local press, Doctor Jesus Regueira, head of the Elderly, Social Assistance and Mental Health section of the Provincial Public Health Department, has lamented that the availability of beds does not correspond “to the potential demand.”

However, most of the elderly consulted for this article say that the lack of family affection is the greatest problem of living alone. “Sometimes I spend days without talking to another person,” says Maria Antonia. “What I fear most is leaving this life without anyone knowing; it scares me that there is no one to close my eyes.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Education Launches a New Offensive against the “Weekly Packet” / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A Cuban accessing the “Weekly Packet” from his laptop at home (14ymedio)
A Cuban accessing the “Weekly Packet” from his laptop at home (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 25 September 2015 – Under the name To Educate Yourself, the Ministry of Education announced Thursday a collection of documentaries, films and music that it will begin distributing monthly in its learning facilities during the current academic year. In open competition with the illegal weekly packet of audio-visual material, this official rival seeks to establish itself as “an attractive offering of Cuban education” through content of “good taste.”

The compendium is aimed at those among whom the weekly packet is a hit. The majority of Cuban children and teens frequently watch cartoons, video clips, series and films that are distributed on the black market. In order to compete with those materials, the Ministry announces that its offering has “a search engine so that the user is not lost searching among more than a terabyte of data.” continue reading

The new product will include courses and tutorials for the self-study of foreign languages, computation, agriculture, and masonry, as Barreto detailed. Some materials will be accompanied by animated graphics and a tool to display video, text and photos at the same time, reported the official.

However, the official announcement did not address how copyrights will be managed on To Educate Yourself. Cuban television and national media frequently overlook payment for rights to films, concerts and musical recordings, especially those coming from the United States, which are the majority.

Divided into folders, like its rival alternative, the file will contain a section called Learn to Look with “expert commentaries and interesting facts so that the young form critical judgment about what they are watching,” Barreto specified.

The Cinesoft manager added that a second packet aimed at teachers and entitled The Teaching Library will also be distributed every fifteen days and will consist of books, articles and theses.

Given the serious material problems which plague labs in many of the country’s learning centers, To Educate Yourself will include a collection of virtual labs for Physics, Chemistry and Biology so that “when [the students] truly perform the exercise, there will be less risk that they will break some implement or spill a substance.”

This is not the first time that the government has tried to compete with the weekly packet. Distribution in Youth Clubs of the Backpack, a collection of audio-visual materials, began in August 2014; so far it has had a poor popular reception.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

In The Medical Missions, More Hardship Than Money / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Cuban doctors who defected from missions in Venezuela demonstrated in Bogota, Colombia on 22 August. (Dened Vega 14ymedio)
Cuban doctors who defected from missions in Venezuela demonstrated in Bogota, Colombia on 22 August. (Dened Vega 14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, 12 September 2015 — Tania (not her real name) is one of the 3,525 workers of the Ministry of Public Health from Camagüey who work in around 50 countries around the world. Her medical mission abroad just ended and now she is trying to readapt to her own country. However, two years away from her native province has changed this therapy and rehabilitation specialist forever.

“Despite all the difficulties I had to face there, I now have the impression that I have traveled back in time,” she explains. Her stay in Venezuela was not without setbacks. Living in a poor neighborhood in Caracas, Tania had to deal with violence, food shortages and the increasing animosity among many Venezuelans against Cubans who are on official missions.

“It never crossed my mind to escape, because I have my two children here and they would punish me so that I couldn’t see them for years” continue reading

There are 2,063 aid workers in Venezuela from this Cuban province. Most of them provide services in the so-called Barrio Adentro (Inside the Neighborhood) and Operation Miracle missions. Several of Tania’s colleagues were distributed among the states of Apure, Aragua, Carabobo, Guarico, Miranda and Zulia. She says she “was luckier” to stay in the capital, “where there are more options.”

Of the 323 health technicians from Camaguey that were recorded in the middle of this year in the South American country, not everyone made it to the end of the regulation time. “We had multiple desertions and one way to prevent people from continuing to escape to Colombia or the United States was to take away our passports,” this woman explains. And she adds, “It never crossed my mind to escape, because I have my two children here and they would punish me so that I couldn’t see them for years.”

Through the US program known as Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP), as of 2006 a provision was implemented that allows Cuban physicians who participate in official medical missions to qualify for a visa to enter the United States. More than 720 health professionals from the island escaped from Venezuela between January and late August this year.

Tania had a fixed goal in mind, “to make money to enlarge my parents’ house and have a private place for my marriage and my children,” she says. However, the money accumulated in months of hardship in Caracas was not enough to complete the long-awaited housing. “All construction materials are very expensive and we could not finish the bathroom or the kitchen.” After two years of work she managed to save the equivalent of five thousand dollars, which she brought home with her.

Tania had a fixed goal in mind, “to make money to enlarge my parents’ house and have a private place for my marriage and my children

“I had to sweat for this little piece of land,” she says. “We were in a shared house and drank instant soup almost every day,” she says of her life in Caracas. “All I bought was something to bring to my children, a flat-screen television and a laptop for the older one.”  To achieve this she had to “give up many necessities. We lived like dogs in a shelter, on top of each other, without any privacy,” she remembers.

On her return to Cuban, the young woman has taken up the business of reselling food products and drinks, which she buys at a discount thanks to a magnetic card she received for having been on a foreign mission. “Here,” she says, while showing the plastic rectangle, “I have accumulated the Cuban salary paid to me every month that I couldn’t collect over there, as well as a bonus in convertible currency.”

As a health professional who participated in Barrio Adentro, now she gets a discount on products she buys in stores in convertible currency. “It can reach 10 or 15 percent off, particularly for soft drinks and beer.” So the specialist in rehabilitation therapy and is now dedicated to reselling drinks to families who are organizing wedding parties or quinceañeras (girls’ fifteenth birthday parties). Everyone wins.

“We lived like dogs in a shelter, on top of each other, without any privacy”

“With that I’ll be able to get the dishes and the plumbing fixtures I need to buy,” she says. However, she believes that the remuneration that she received for her work abroad was “not much for the effort.” It was not only the workload, she says. “I had a friend who had a nervous breakdown because she was trapped in a riot in the street; she’s still under psychiatric treatment and, as she didn’t finish out her contract, she didn’t get the salary bonus.”

Despite the difficulties, Tania wants to return to a new mission. “I already have contacts in South Africa for an individual contract,” but this time, she explains, “I will take my family… and if I ever saw you, I don’t remember.”

A Command of English Will Be An “Indispensable” Requirement For University In Cuba / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

University of Havana. (14ymedio)
University of Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma/EFE, Havana, 7 September 2015 – In the coming years, the command of English will be an “indispensable” requirement to receive a university degree in Cuba, according to an announcement made this Monday by the Minister of Higher Education on the island, Rodolfo Alarcon.

The education minister made it public along with the other changes that will begin to take effect in the 2016-17 school year, and will also include the creation of two-year programs of study. From now on English will disappear as an obligatory subject in the university class schedules, but the new rule will be implemented to the extent that the conditions are created in every province in the country.

Even though a university student has complied with all the requirements of their specialty, according to the minister, they will not receive their diploma “if they have not taken the exams to qualify as an independent speaker of this language.” continue reading

Alarcon confirmed the words offered by Cuban vice president Jose Machado Ventura about the learning of English. “We have to resolve the problem of Cuban professionals not being able to express themselves in the universal language of our time,” said the official. The lack of teachers in this subject in general education cannot continue to impact graduates of higher education from arriving at their professional life without the power to sustain a simple conversation in a language that is universal in the academic environment.

To achieve this objective, the universities will offer the students “courses and access to computer platforms to allow them to learn independently,” he added. However, he admitted that the measure will be applied gradually because first, “we have to create the conditions to apply them.”

The new rule will be implemented to the extent that the conditions are created in every province in the country

Alarcon said they will work to achieve an international standard for the English degree that Cuban universities will offer.

Among other changes, a new educational level called Non-University Higher Education will be created. Admission will require mastery at a high school level. “The programs will last two, two and a half, or three years, according to the case,” the minister detailed, and “will be used to prepare people for specific occupations in the labor market.”

The main changes will affect access to the encounter courses and distance education. The current application of entrance exams for this form of education “has become a barrier not only cognitive, but also psychological, for these people who are workers and who have not studied for years.” In the near future, the student could enter with a high school diploma and move directly to the education without an entrance exam.

Directors and specialists of the Ministry of Higher Education will be available to answer questions about the new measures through the digital site of the newspaper Granma starting at 3:00 pm on Tuesday.