Steak: Prohibited for Ordinary Cubans / Polina Martinez Shvietsova

cubanet square logoHAVANA, Cuba, 10 September 2103, Polina Martinez Shvietsova, –If you sell tenderloin or minute steak from your doorway, Caution! You could put yourself behind bars. Before 1959 it wasn’t like this. The country possessed a livestock of around six million head of cattle, the same number as the Cuban population, there was one cow per person. Cuba was a great producer of sugar cane, which, among other benefits, represented the feed base for our livestock in the Republic. continue reading

The products derived from this bovine multitude were for the daily consumption of the people.  Beef was not lacking in the butcher’s shops, plazas and stores on sale for different prices.  If a rich man ate fillet steak, the poor skirt steak — from there came la Ropa Vieja — beef was attainable for any pocketbook. A portion of this meat was destined for export and industries of processing and preserving. Also the skin of cattle was used in the making of shoes such as the well-known brands “Ingelmo” and “Amadeo.”

In the early sixties, the nationalizing interventions took place in Cuba.  The hardest hit businesses were the American owned, including the livestock businesses in the east of the country.  Then the humble man of the countryside was integrated into the defense “of the country.”  Thus abandoning the agricultural work and development of livestock herds.

Some peasants continued cultivating and trying to survive, despite the nationalizations of small farmers, because the “benevolent revolutionary state” had given, and then taken away, some twenty caballerías (a Cuban land measure) were expropriated from the great landowners and their proprietors by inheritance.

The peasants of the Escambray — in the east — were forcibly removed from their lands and exiled to new urban communities in the distant province of Pinar del Rio in the far west. They formed the Centers for Agricultural and Livestock Teaching and Polytechnic Institutes. They organized large dairies, such as that of Jimaguayu, in the province of Camaguey, and “El Valle de Picadura” in Matanzas.  But everything was slowly abandoned to inertia and official disinterest, until it was left in ruins.

In centers for bovine development, feed for the livestock came, by and large, from Soviet subsidies. Our darling cows were fed with grains like peas, sorghum, corn and some agricultural by products from sugar cane. Nevertheless, after the abundance and excessive squandering suddenly appeared diversion and robbery of resources.

Nearly twenty years after the end of Soviet subsidies, the lack of beef for the populace remains as dramatic as in the old times of “economic bonanza.”  Only a few Cubans are able to perform balancing acts and taste it even once a year.  Even in the large markets which sell in CUC, the lack of beef and its derivatives is notable.  For the greater part of half a century, steak has been a prohibited dream for the humble person in Cuba.

From Cubanet

10 September 2013

The Two Mariels: Mega-Port and Ghetto / Polina Martinez Shvietsova

HAVANA, Cuba — The mega-port of Mariel and the impoverished town of Mariel are two sides of the “prosperous and sustainable socialism” — wealth and poverty — which Raul Castro promotes as a “solution” to Cuba’s problems.

The Brazilian company Odebrecht S.A. and Cuba’s Almacenes Universales S.A. — a subsidiary of the GAESA business group, run by the Cuban Armed Forces — make up the ZDEM business partnership. These two companies formed the Mariel Comprehensive Development Zone (ZDIM), which is managed by Almacenes Universales. Its mission is to provide services to the shipping companies that operate in the mega-port and use its container terminal. These facilities were built to meet the needs of Cuba and provide services to other countries in the area.

Brazil has agreed to provide 800 million dollars of credit subsidies to Cuba. The president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, and Raul Castro inaugurated the first phase of the port’s operation. continue reading

The town of Mariel covers 270.6 square kilometers and has a population of 44,597. It is divided into five people’s councils: Mariel Urbano, Boca Mojica-Henequén, Cabañas, Zayas-Ingenito y Quiebra Hacha. The average monthly salary for state workers not employed by the mega-port is 19.50 dollars.

“The town itself is in ruins,” a young pediatrician at the Orlando Santana Hospital tells us. “Why is it so neglected,” she asks, “when we have a multi-million dollar project like ZDEM so close-by?

Silence hangs over the House de Culture. A woman who works there, Consuelo, notes, “The art instructors keep giving lessons as best they can, but young people would rather go to the La Cañita nightclub where regaetton bands and some other son or timba groups play. They sell watered-down draft beer. People are always getting drunk and it leads to violence.”

Emblematic of Mariel is Motel La Puntilla. Built in the 1960s, it remained in operation until sometime after 2000. Now only a small private-event space remains open.

“You are not allowed to take photos as La Puntilla,” an employee who requested anonymity warns me. “Word has it that a company from Artemisa is going to renovate the motel, that a budget has been approved by the province, but no one knows when that will happen,” she adds.

We stroll around the abandoned motel. The swimming pools are empty but otherwise seem to be in good shape. The building, however, requires a significant capital investment.

If you have money you can find pork, beans, fruits and vegetables, but I have to pedal a lot just to eat,” says a bicycle taxi driver, who operates from one end of town to the other, adding, “A pound of pork cutlet is 40 pesos. A pound of rice costs 5 pesos. And you have to buy it from private sources because of shortages at the state-run markets. To give you an idea, a pair of shoes costs 20 CUC.

Leonel, another bicycle taxi driver, explains, “Public transport is a disaster. There is a bus that runs three times a day between Mariel and Havana and costs 2 pesos. A fleet of private taxis charges 30 pesos for the ride to Havana but not everyone can afford to pay that.”

An elderly man in his eighties noted, “They let us fish in the right side of the bay. And if we catch something one week, we reel it in. We can sell needlefish, emperor fish and marlin for 30 pesos a pound.”

In the town of Mariel only the main streets are paved, including the stretch where the Cuban Communist Party headquarters are located. The the rest are full of potholes, leaks, empty trenches and standing water. While its inhabitants look with hope towards the mega-port, there are rumors that foreign investors want to demolish the old Mariel and construct a new town around mega-port.

Cubanet, May 12, 2014,

12 May 2014

Tabarich: Nostalgia for Soviet Russia / Polina Martinez Shvietsova

A restaurant catering to a thousand Russians. Or is it for the geriatric and diplomatic sets? Is the Cold War still with us?

HAVANA, Cuba — A few months ago there was a rumor making the rounds of the Cuban capital. A new Russian restaurant was about to open in Havana. The place, to be called “Tabarich” (or Tovarich in its English transliteration), would be located in Miramar, an enclave favored by the geriatric jet set, diplomats and others with access to hard currency.

Tabarich’s predecessor — the casino and cabaret Montmatre, which also catered to the elite — had been built during the era of the Cuban republic. After the revolution it became another restaurant, the Moscú (or Moscow), as part of a 1960s revitalization project for the Rampa, according to the  movie director Enrique Colina.

In the 1970s and 1980s the Moscú had a certain splendor. Several generations of Cubans, including Carmita, a resident of Guanabacoa, recall its “wide variety of dishes.” Margot, a resident of Lawton, remembers its “carved wood ceilings and the graciousness of its staff.” For others like Desiderio Navarro the memories are not so fond. “Moscú and my wallet were light years apart,” he says.

1394132670_Montmartre-calle-P-Vedado-La-HabanaA public bath in the 1980s in what had been the Moscú restaurant, formerly the Montmartre cabaret.

A fire devastated the building in 1990, which coincided, perhaps conveniently, with the fall of the Soviet bloc. “It might have been a premeditated fire,” notes Arturo, an elderly gourmet.

The cabaret Montmartre, where French singers Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier once performed.

In the 1990s relations between Russia and Cuba cooled but after 2000 they took a new turn. In 2007 the National Coordinating Committee (NCC) was formed with the blessing of the Russian embassy in Havana and Cuban authorities. It was made up of  Russian women with some Cuban-Russian members. Their goal is to preserve Russian culture and the traditions of a community numbering about 1,077 Russian speakers.

The prospect of rehabilitating the old Moscú was considered and, while it was well-received — or at least seems to have been — nothing came of it.

Tabarich opened its doors in October 2013. “I was thinking about the Russian community living in Cuba and Cubans nostalgic for the Soviet era,” its manager, Pavel, tells me, adding, “It was designed with the turmoil of that historic period in mind.”

The restaurant is owned by two brothers: Anton, who lives in Russia and provides the funding, and Andrey, who remains on the island as its business manager. The Russian dishes offered are prepared by Cuban chefs who specialize in Russian food. If you would like a Russian dish such as pelmini dumplings with Smetana sauce and a glass of Cristal beer, the bill in hard-currency will put a big dent in your pocketbook!

Cubanet, March 6, 2014 | 

The Reform Czar Doesn’t Authorize Private Cooperatives in Tourism / Polina Shvietsova Martinez

Marino Murillo, the so-called Reform Czar
Marino Murillo, the so-called Reform Czar

Marino Murillo argues that the conditions are not conducive . Afraid of private talent? Of losing control?

HAVANA, Cuba . – ComTur, an alternative project for the development of tourism, tried to start up within the law, to generate local and community development. But it has been stopped.

A source close to the project reported, “One of the members sent a letter to Minister Marino Murillo on 30 October 2012, to get approval. The minister responded with the bad news: ComTur’s legalization was not approved. According to this source, Murillo, “Noted the project, but said he still cannot authorize the formation of a private cooperative for tourist workers, because the conditions are not conducive.”

ComTur calls itself a Consulting Partnership project. It’s objective would provide advice to rural and urban communities. It would also offer its services to groups of self-employed, relative to their lodging and food offerings relative to tourist potential. They would also advise, relative to tourism, on natural and social-cultural resources in these areas.

This project was developed on the basis of the so-called “Guidelines for the economic and social policy of the party and the Revolution,” the road map of the “updating of the Cuban economic model.”

In the Guideline 264, page 33, Chapter IX, Tourism Policy, states, “To design and develop as part of the municipal initiative for the territories, attractive tourist offerings as a source of hard currency income: accommodation, food services, social, cultural and historical activities, horseback riding, rural tourism, observation of flora and fauna, among others.” continue reading

ComTur is composed of professionals and academics who have treasured long experience and results in the management of community and tourist plans in Cuba and abroad. They are seeking to channel all their knowledge in ways that is beneficial for the country, and at that same time allows them to earn a fair return for their professional services.

The specialists began their consulting work in the city of Santa Isabel de las Lajas, in Cienfuegos province, for the purpose of enabling festivals in memory of Benny More there. Another place where the work of ComTur could be useful is in the capital community of Regla. “They should pay attention, it’s an iconographic place of traditional popular culture, the cradle of the Regla Guaracheros. This town is the strategic axis for the promotion of international tourism and is in the area of the future development program of Havana Bay.”

The response of the “Reform Czar,” is further evidence of the chronic ineptitude of those who pull the strings of the system, and its sick fear of creating legal spaces for private talent.

Cubanet, 13 March 2014, Polina Shvietsova Martinez

Abortion on an Island Where Women Don’t Want to Give Birth / Polina Martínez Shvietsova

Aborto-hospital-1-300x149HAVANA, Cuba, October, – Cuba has been suffering a fertility crisis since the late seventies. And although voluntary abortion is legal, it is a problem because the island’s birthrate is below the replacement rate, with a consequent aging population.

Abortion is also a health problem, as it is used by young people as the main method of contraception.

There are young women who have had three to six interruptions. According to statistics from the National Fertility Survey (NFS) in 2009, 21% of Cuban women between 15 and 54 years have had at least one pregnancy which ended in induced abortion or a “menstrual regulation.”

Such behavior, the study indicates, is sustained by “confidence in the Cuban health system” and the right of access to such service. However, it is necessary that the public, especially young people, understand that voluntary abortion is not a method of contraception.

At the root of the problem is the increasingly earlier onset of sexual intercourse, promiscuity, the little and poor use of contraception. This brings a pregnancy which, in turn, brings an abortion, and, ultimately, infertility, as well as problems such as ectopic pregnancy, another cause of infertility in women, cervical cancer or whose occurrence is increasingly frequent at early ages.

Aborto-2Cuban women delay the age when they first give birth. Health professionals must be prepared to work with a high-risk pregnant population: women over 35 years of age.

Also keep in mind the pregnancy among teenagers. According to statistics from the Fertility Survey, about 85% of young people know that there are contraceptive methods but do not use them. While 60 % report having used the, but for the vast majority they do it sporadically.

The scarce family doctors try to persuade women of childbearing age to become pregnant. This leads to a suspicion of possible directions from the government to curb the population decrease, rather than to stimulate the birth rate, as is done in other countries.

It occurred to me to ask at random, “Does anyone know any happy young couple?” Encountering stable and happy young couples is very rare. Many couples do not want children because of unemployment, low wages, the  currency, the deterioration of housing, overcrowding with several generations living together, and a great desire to emigrate.

Polina Martínez Shvietsova

Cubanet, 5 November 2013