The Teachings of ‘Don Castro’

Fidel Castro, born 91 years ago, has been reduced to slogans that Cubans pay no attention to as they pass by them. (EFE / Ernesto Mastrascusa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 14 August 2017 — With so much secrecy, so much myth and legend, it is not even known for sure if this August 13 was the actual date of the 91st anniversary of Fidel Castro’s birth. His life was so surrounded by exaggerations and lies that even the moment he was born and the name with which he was registered are open to question.

However, beyond any doubt, the day was propitious to reflect on the legacy of the former Cuban president, an imprint that has been reduced in officialdom’s Conceptualization of the Socialist Model to “his concept of Revolution” and the stubborn “conviction that yes we can achieve victory” with our own efforts. continue reading

That concept of “Revolution” – which is presented as his political will – is so ambiguous that it can be taken both as a result obtained and as a goal to be achieved. This theoretical hodgepodge is evidence of the lack of depth of the author’s thinking and his tendency to political opportunism, which allowed him to create slogans to encapsulate different moments.

Official media reproduce such a definition as a method for achieving dissimilar goals, the final fruit of a process or a tangle of moral values ​​close to the commandments of good behavior. However, in the absence of the violent component – which typifies any academic definition of Revolution – lies its main failure, to which is added the absence of the class approach that could be expected from a Marxist-Leninist.

The main teaching Fidel Castro has left us, which teachers warn their students they should pay attention to because “it will be on the test,” is voluntarism. The Commander-in-Chief instilled the idea that whomever is willing to defend a position at the risk of his own and others’ deaths, becomes invincible.

It does not matter if the cause to be defended is erroneous or valid. The cardinal rule, according to this theorem, is to accept a goal with unlimited enthusiasm and persevere in its realization at whatever price necessary.

Examples are the eradication of all vestiges of private property during the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968, the 1970 sugar harvest which attempted to yield 10 million tons of sugar, the idle effort to genetically transform livestock,or the purpose of combining study with work in the forgotten Schools in the Countryside. Along with these is a long list in which we should mention the energy revolution, the municipalization of universities and the extension of the cultivation of moringa.

Intensive grazing brought to Cuba by a French scientist, construction ‘microbrigades’, consecration in scientific research centers, special programs of rabbits, geese or buffalo, the doctor for 120 families, all called by the name ‘Plan Fidel’ and many other initiatives carried the personal imprint of one who considered himself an indisputable specialist on any subject he was superficially interested in.

Nothing and no one could stop Fidel Castro, except his own indiscipline and the sudden reluctance that came over him when he discovered some new object of obsession.

A monument recently erected in Crimea to his memory says that “victory is perseverance,” a bitter reminder that Fidel Castro was the worst disciple of his own teachings. He was only consistent in the act of never admitting that he was defeated, as defined in his favorite motto: “turning the setback into victory.”

Athletes may be able to inherit their legacy to win a competition seemingly against them, but in politics and economics it is nefarious to obsess over an apparently miraculous solution.

One should not persevere in the error, is also what we learned from Fidel Castro.

The Private Sector is the Victim of the Government’s Double Speak

A private restaurant in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerReinaldo Escobar, Havana, 5 August 2017 — The brake announced last June has just materialized. By canceling the awarding of licenses in several areas in which people have been allowed to work for themselves, and stopping the award of new licenses in several others, the government has confirmed fears about the advance of the private sector, and put at risk the small spaces of efficiency won by the population.

This week the Official Gazette published the decision to not grant new authorizations for this form of non-state management “until the perfection of self-employment is concluded.” This formula hides a misleading term — perfection — too subjective to be the object of legislation.

Fears are also growing before what remains to be achieved. Both the last Council of Ministers as well as the recently concluded session of the National Assembly, made clear that there is a package of regulations directed at the self-employment and cooperatives sector that will be announced in the coming months. continue reading

Many business owners fear losing their investment if draconian requirements are applied to them, but those principally affected may be the consumers. They are facing the risk that the good service and better quality that the private sector has achieved in areas such as food service, lodging, appliance repair and transportation, among many others, could be a thing of the past.

This week’s decision was preceded by official statements about illegalities and tax evasion. It is expected, then, that the upcoming regulations will aim at prioritizing the fight against violators, rather than seeking solutions such as the establishment of wholesale markets, commercial import permits or tax incentives.

Punishment and penalization seem to be the only ways in which the Cuban government deals with its citizens. On detecting irregularities the only way the government resolves them is with coercive measures, such as suspending the issuing of licenses, an increase in the number of inspectors, or the demonization of the economic prosperity achieved by the most successful.

This confrontational attitude shows that autonomous forms of management continue to be a necessary evil for the ruling party, while the figure of the small businessman remains an antagonist of the “New Man,english beach blue flag status

” which was once intended to be created. The enemy does not land on the coast or found opposition parties, but offers tasty pizzas at home, manages beauty salons and opens websites to promote its services.

The government is trapped in a contradiction. On the one hand the government wants to prevent the private sector from growing too fast, but it exhibits the sector as an example of the progress of the reforms promoted by Raúl Castro. At the end of the first half of this year, the growth of those engaged in self-employment, with 567,982 workers, has been used in international forums and debates as a sign of openness and development.

However, that figure may be affected in the coming months. When the licenses returned by those who were disappointed and failed to succeed exceeds the number of licenses issued for new affiliates. It is easy to predict a decrease or at least a paralysis in the volume. Stagnation and the duration of this slowdown will have negative repercussions on the exercise and influence of the private sector in the national economy. A digression that could cause enthusiasm to decline and paranoia to grow.

The Dark Side of Voter Registration in Cuba

Voter lists that are posted in public places include the name of each voter, their last names, date of birth and personal address. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 July 2017 — The starting point for the Cuban electoral process is undoubtedly the disclosure of the voter register, the list of all those who have the right to mark a ballot at the polls. The preparation, public character and possible omissions of these lists decisively influence the course of the whole process.

The electoral commissions of each constituency creates this listing starting from something with a vague legal character known as the “Book of Registered Addresses.” A document that, as a general rule, is managed by the person in each precinct in charge of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) Vigilance Front.

The book has multiple functions, from serving as the basic voter list, to functioning as a control mechanism to prevent people who don’t have that address on their identity cards from living in a particular building. For years, the register from each CDR has been used as evidence to fine, evict and deport to another province, residents alleged to be illegal. continue reading

From this collection of names to what are clearly police matters, a process that should have a merely civic focus is entertwined.

One of the least known features of the island’s electoral system is precisely this lack of a permanent and independent entity that is responsible for registering voters and that deals with all the formal aspects of an electoral roll. Instead of that, it remains in the hands of a notoriously political organization like the CDRs.

In the announcements made by the official press on the elections, this detail, of transcendence importance, is ignored. The fact that, at the base of the People’s Power one can trace the signs of ideological control over this governing body, is not something that the media controlled by the Communist Party want to shine a light on.

Every time elections are called, the commissions that bring them to fruition begin to form, and after fulfilling their functions they dissolve. This process is a substitution for the National Electoral Councils with elected members that exist in other countries, and that answer to the voters and possible observers.

The 1992 Electoral Law gives the Council of State the responsibility to designate the National Electoral Commission, which, in turn, appoints members in the provinces. These make up the municipal commissions that select the members at the district and precinct level. They are the ones who choose the members of the Electoral College for each precinct.

As in a sequence of Chinese boxes of which no trace will be left, each of these commissions is dissolved as soon as the voting is over. They will only be constituted again, presumably with other members, when the Council of State calls for new elections.

In each municipality, the Registry of Voters is prepared with those who have the legal capacity to exercise the right to vote. The Law is ambiguous when it expresses that the citizen is registered, without specifying whether they do it of their own volition or if, without being consulted, they are included in the list.

A few days before the polls are opened, the printed voters lists are posted in public places. Next to the name of each voter, one can read their date of birth and personal address. In all the years that this method has been in use, few have commented on the violation of privacy represented by the disclosure of these private data.

The information is displayed for at least 30 days to provide an opportunity to correct errors or request the exclusion or inclusion of a person. A demand that can be made by the interested party, their representative, or an immediate family member.

There are very few cases of citizens who request to be excluded by on the basis of some kind of political disagreement. In fact, those who have some inclination to opposition are often erased from the lists because they did not vote in the previous elections. To demand the right to be registered is the only way that abstention is recorded in case of not voting in the elections.

Beginning on September 21, while residents of a neighborhood line up to buy bread or the latest products arriving in the ration market, the will see these election registers. Few of those who look for their names on these lists will

Instead of questioning the creation of the lists, the majority of voters will take advantage of them to discover that Roberto’s second dame is Filomeno, or that the single lady on the fifth floor just turned 50. They will find out that Yolandita was registered at birth under the name Ricardo, and that Teresa’s husband is not registered at his wife’s address. And so political control will have connected its first link.


A Group Of People With Disabilities Organizes Outside The Cuban State

Architectural barriers are a constant in the life of the Cubans that makes life impossible for many people with physical disabilities. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 24 July 2017 — In a crowded bus, two women discuss who is entitled to the disabled seat. While one carries a cane, the other shows an ID card from the Cuban Association of Limited Physical Engines (Aclifim), an official entity with more than 74,000 associates that sets ideological requirements (i.e. fidelity to the government) to maintain membership.

Aclifim, along with the National Association of the Blind (Anci) and the Cuban National Association of the Deaf (Ansoc) call themselves Non-Governmental Organizations. However, complaints about their political bias led a group of activists to create a support group for people with disabilities without any conditions.

The Cuban Inclusive Culture Network, created last year, faces a difficult challenge in a country where much remains to be done for the social integration of people with disabilities. Added to this is the lack of legal recognition that allows its members to work under legal protection. continue reading

Juan Goberna, one of its founders, woke up one morning and was not even aware that it was daylight. After several operations that failed to restore his sight, he decided to start using a cane. In those early days in the dark he approached Anci hoping to take a Braille course and receive a computer program that read texts aloud.

Accompanied by his wife, Goberna arrived at the NGO’s office in the municipality of Central Havana with his identity card in his pocket, five pesos in stamps and a certificate that declared him “legally blind.” “What revolutionary organizations do you belong to?” asked the clerk filling out his form.

The activist still shows indignation when he remembers the scene. “I told her I did not belong to any and from there everything changed,” he explains to 14ymedio. The official informed him that his case had to be referred to the Ministry of Justice to verify if he belonged to any “human rights” group.

Two weeks later they told him that he could not be a member of Anci because the statutes do not allow the disaffected in its ranks. After several attempts and appeals to different entities claiming his right to membership, Goberna has only had silence for answer.

Last year luck smiled on him. During a trip to Peru, organized by the Institute for Political Freedom (IPL), the idea arose, along with other activists, to create an independent entity to “visualize the difficulties faced by people with disabilities and promote a change of thinking towards them.” The organization does not discriminate against anyone because of “their physical, sensorial, intellectual, cultural or ideological characteristics.”

Today, the network has 15 active members and has managed to have representation in several provinces. In September of last year, some of these pioneers attended the VIII International Congress of Persons with Disabilities, held in Medellín, to learn about the work developed in different countries of the region.

The Network collects testimonies from people who are in a precarious situation and are victims of institutional or family neglect and has also identified at least six cases of violation of the right to join Anci, Aclifim or Ansoc for ideological reasons.

Last Saturday, during their last meeting, the members of the independent group proposed to disseminate the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which Cuba is a signatory and whose content is scarcely known on the island. In addition, they want to disseminate updated concepts about disability, accessibility and inclusive culture, among others.

For Susana Más, an independent journalist and member of the Network, “it is unacceptable that people working in the media, intellectuals and artists who are supposed to be up to date in the use of language, work outside these concepts.” The reporter opts for a “sensitization campaign” around the term “person with disability, instead of disabled.”

Relative to the NGOs set up by the government, The Inclusive Culture Network does not consider itself an opposition organization or an enemy entity. “What we would most like to do is to cooperate with these entities, not in the spirit of disqualification or competition, but as something complementary,” insists Goberna.

For the moment, the Network is dedicated to highlighting attitudes and denouncing the existence of architectural barriers, so that those with a disability are not seen as sick, and for those around them to shed their discriminatory prejudices, indifference or pity.

The biggest difficulty they have encountered so far is the negative attitude of the institutions they go to in search of information or to file complaints: the first thing they are always asked is whether they are authorized or if they belong to an official entity.

By Show of Hands

A man exercises his right to vote in the elections to the Popular Power in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 21 July 2017 — In recent weeks, the official media have spared no space to explain the details of the Cuban electoral system, which they call “the most democratic in the world.” However, the infographics, data and explanations published so far neglect details that “firmly maintain” the mechanisms to avoid surprises.

Between September 4th and 30th the candidates for delegates of the People’s Power will be nominated. The process will occur in the different areas which together make up the 12,515 districts distributed across the 168 municipalities of the country. On this occasion, it is the first step in Raúl Castro’s departure from power in February 2018. continue reading

The call for citizens to participate in these assemblies is traditionally issued by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) Organization, with a clear political origin and a strong ideological affiliation. From wall signs, personal reminders, to written citations, all are a part of the strategies to call people to vote.

In the days leading up to the meetings, the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) militants who live in each zone meet to agree on the positions depending on the directions that come from the higher levels. In these meetings they are warned how they should act in case any disaffection toward the Revolution is proposed, and which candidate enjoys the PCC’s sympathy.

Only voters of the district have the right to propose and be proposed in the assemblies of each area. In order to do so they have to ask for the floor, speak in the order granted to them and briefly explain the reason for their proposal. The nominee must show his agreement with being proposed and only then will he or she be put to a vote.

All voters may express their opinion for or against the candidate and the vote is made directly and publicly, in the same order in which each candidate was proposed. Each attendee has the right to vote for only one nominee and in the event of a tie a new nomination is initiated.

When the Electoral Law in its article 83 remarks that the vote is “public,” it minimizes one of the most important keys of the electoral system of the Island and that make it more controllable by the powers that be. At that initial stage of nomination, voters must express their preference by show of hands, that is with their faces uncovered. In a country full of masks and fears, few dare to show their neighbors a preference for a critical citizen.

When in one of these assemblies an elector proposes a candidate with a reputation of being politically uncomfortable, he knows that, immediately, the militants of the neighborhood will request the floor to discredit the nominee. The mechanism of “cauterization” of any nomination that does not conform to the tastes of the ruling party will be activated immediately.

In the midst of the meeting, a member of the PCC will warn in a loud voice, “this man is in the pay of the empire,” and someone else will speak up to express his doubts because someone “who feels himself to be Cuban votes in favor of this mercenary…” The performance seldom has to be carried out, because the instinct for self-preservation dissuades the majority of voters from suggesting a dissident for delegate.

They find it so difficult to encounter someone who, from dissenting positions, aspires to be a delegate, or to find another who dares to propose one to the assembly. How many will raise their hands in favor of a dissident after the militants make it clear they do not like the nomination? Almost nobody. This simple trick will have ensured the first and most important purge of the electoral system.

To ensure the minimum secrecy required by the vote, it would be enough to distribute a simple piece of paper among each of the participants so they could write the order of their candidate preferences. But that would add the privacy that the ruling party wants to avoid at all costs.

This variant would have the added value of eliminating the chance that someone, in the midst of counting the raised hands, violates – consciously or otherwise – the provision that allows each person to vote for only one candidate. In short, it would smooth out the process and make it more democratic and effective.

Not for nothing, was the elimination of voting on the nomination of candidates by a show of hands one of the proposals most repeated by those who believe that the current electoral process would be governed by new legislation as promised by Raul Castro in February 2015.

Changing what looks like a detail of slight importance, a methodological pedantry, would open a space for the plurality of citizen participation; it would allow us to express ourselves without fear on a critical topic: the presence of different thinking among the base.

Keeping the first piece of the Cuban electoral framework as it is now is only a way of perpetuating the fear that harms the civic action of a good part of the population. It is precisely the suppliers of this fear who prefer to leave things as they are.

It Is No Longer Forbidden To Get Rich In Cuba

The MarAdentro paladar (private restaurant) in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 July 2017 — The most controversial point of the Conceptualization Of The Economic And Social Model has been changed with discretion and without public announcements. The concentration of property and wealth that was prohibited in its first version, is only regulated in the final document, released after the last session of Parliament.

The change of formulation, which is of major importance, has passed without pain or glory in the national and foreign press. However, that relaxation entails a victory for the reformist forces within the official apparatus. A triumph that paves the way for the mid-sized private company on the island.

The definitive version of the Conceptualization has few essential differences when compared to its first proposal released in May 2016. The “most discussed” document in the nation’s history has become old to the extent that the internal and external reality outstrips it in momentum. continue reading

Perhaps the fear its becoming irrelevant led its drafters to prefer the present tense to formulate precepts and principles for future application. A grammatical style that has confused more than one naïf, who took what they dreamed of achieving and projected it as already done.

To avoid pressures, the managers of the document also clarified that it isn’t about a “finished and static template,” but rather an “active and perfectible pattern.” This condition avoids dogmatic interpretations, but it also gives the Conceptualization a very comfortable elasticity for those who implement it.

Despite the vagueness of certain concepts, one of the statements in the text provoked strong arguments from the beginning. Item 104 of the original version read: “The concentration of property and wealth in natural or legal persons is not allowed.” A bucket of cold water for the entrepreneurs.

During the months that the document was discussed at Communist Party headquarters and among other chosen ones, no other matter provoked more debate. Some warned of the dangers of categorically denying this accumulation of wealth, and others pointed to it as the end of the present system. The latter just lost the game.

The new version softens the prohibition and clarifies that the concentration of property and material and financial wealth in non-state natural or legal persons will be regulated. The change in nuance shows that pragmatism prevailed above orthodoxy.

However, there is also no carte blanche so that a citizen can create a restaurant franchise or purchase numerous homes for rent. The Conceptualization is not deprived of the excessive scrupulousness of the official discourse that praises humility and stigmatizes the prosperous, but nor does it allow itself to be owned by those who promote strict egalitarianism.

If in the initial version of a starring element of the text was the absence of the concept of “exploitation of man by man,” whose eradication is the main objective of the socialist system, now it continues to be present through a euphemism.

In Cuba, “ownership by non-state ownership and management of part of the surplus of the work of contracted persons is allowed,” it reads; but immediately clarifies that “socialist relations of production prevail.” Something very different from what happens in “social systems based on the exploitation of the work of others,” according to this new version.

With its patches and changes, the Conceptualization has ended up being a demonstration of the different tendencies of those who participated in its final development. A sequence of ideas to please both reformers and conservatives, to sit well with both dogmatists and innovators. The editors intuited that Thomas More did not get his head cut off for writing Utopia, but for being disloyal to the King.

The concept of privatization that is presented in its pages is a good example of these contradictions. It talks of “temporary transfer of ownership or management of certain means of production owned by all the people to non-state economic actors” and goes on to warn immediately that such a transfer should not “compromise the principles of our socialism.”

To calm those who fear the distribution of the pie, the document pointed out in its first version that the state retains the capacity for strategic decision or domination over these means. Something softened in the final version, where it “maintains the exercise of the principal powers that correspond to him by virtue of the status of representative of the owner.”

The changes in the text show the fluctuations in the coming course and also its anchors in the past. The current Conceptualization presents as “particularly relevant antecedents” the Programmatic Platform born from the First Congress of the Communist Party and the Program of the Cuban Communist Party that was issued in 1986. At first, however, the document only recognized as precedent “History Will Absolve Me.”

The nuances introduced in the new version are the result of what has happened in the last year: the death of former President Fidel Castro, the crisis of the leftist governments in Latin America and the coming to power of an unpredictable actor in the United States. The document that was born to be letters chiseled in marble now looks like an elastic canvas full of patches and gaps.

The Mistakes of Raúl Castro

Raul Castro announced that he would step down in 2018, ten years after assuming power. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 15 July 2017 – In his most recent public speech before Parliament, General-President Raul Castro offered a self-criticism about “political deviations” under which the private sector and cooperatives are governed. “Mistakes are mistakes, and they are mistakes… they are my mistakes in the first place, because I am a part of this decision,” he emphasized.

In the list of mistakes he didn’t mention, he should have put in first place the absence of a wholesale market to serve these forms of economic management. It that option existed, honest entrepreneurs wouldn’t have to turn to the diversion of state resources to get raw materials and equipment to allow them to produce goods and services in a profitable way.

The greatest advance in this direction has been opening shopping centers were goods are sold “wholesale,” meaning in large volume sacks or boxes, but with the retail price per unit unchanged. continue reading

If, in addition, self-employed workers were allowed to legally import and export commercially, with the required customs facilities, then these forms of management would be on an equal footing with the state companies, and be able to perform efficiently.

The underreporting of income to evade taxes is a problem that exists in most countries where citizens must pay tribute to the state treasury. As a rule, evasion of these payments is seen as a dishonest act where taxes are fair, and as an act of self-defense where the state tries to suck the blood out of entrepreneurs.

When governments have the vocation to grow the private sector, they reduce taxes, whose only role is to redistribute wealth and increase the financial capacity for social spending, but not to act as a drag to reduce individuals’ ability to grow and prosper.

Raúl Castro’s most profound mistake, when he decided to expand self-employment and the experiment of non-agricultural cooperatives, has been to do so with the purpose of depriving the state of “non-strategic activities, to generate jobs, deploy initiatives and contribute to the efficiency of the national economy in the interest of the development of our socialism.”

This opportunistic vision, of using an element alien to the economic model as the fuel to advance it, generates insurmountable contradictions. An entrepreneur who starts a business is interested in increasing his profits (according to Karl Marx) and growth. He does not care that hiring workers will reduce unemployment and that their particular efficiency will have repercussions on the country’s economy. Much less, that his good performance contributes to perfecting a system that takes advantage of his success in a circumstantial way.

The entrepreneur dreams that in his country there are laws that protect his freedom to do business, that his money is safe in the banks, and that he has the right to import and export, to receive investments, to open branches, to patent innovations without fear of unappealable seizures or sudden changes in the rules of the game. Without fearing a report will arrive on the president’s desk detailing how many times he has traveled abroad.

The entrepreneur would also like to be able to choose as a member of parliament someone proposing such laws and defending the interests of the private sector, which he does not see as a necessary evil, but as the main engine to advance the country. Not understanding this is Raul Castro’s principal mistake.

The Death Throes of a Formerly Great Cuban Department Store

From the former glamorous Fin de Siglo, all that remains is a building with serious structural problems, empty and stinky. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 28 June 2017 – The shit, not the metaphorical kind but the kind that stinks, makes it nearly impossible to read the name Fin de Siglo, End of Century, imbedded in the granite floor. In five decades, one of the most emblematic Havana stores has transitioned from glamor to abandonment, passing also through experiments in socialist distribution and the self-employment sector.

Founded in the long ago 1897 and located on the central corner formed by San Rafael Boulevard and Aguila Street, Fin de Siglo was among the most important commercial establishments in Cuba, along with La Época and El Encanto. In its place today, however, there remains only a building with serious structural problems, vacant and stinky.

During what Fidel Castro labeled with euphemistically the Special Period in Time of Peace – a time of great economic hardship after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of its financial support for Cuba – Fin de Siglo sold only to distinguished workers awarded “vanguard” status, and to newly married couples. A nice 1992 documentary, made by the Belgian Madelin Waterlet and the Pole Simon Saleski and named after the store, relates the surrealist moment. continue reading

During the so-called Special Period in Time of Peace the business sold only to the distinguished workers awarded “vanguard” status and to newly married couples

That form of the socialist marketing could not be sustained for long and with the gentle winds of economic reforms the ground floor of the building was set up for private sector retailers to sell sandals, household utensils, objects for religious rituals and clothing.

Many tourists also came to acquire an ashtray with the face of Che Guevara or canvases from which shone the skin of beautiful mulatas. But a month ago the sellers were reassigned among the soulless state stores.

The authorities justify the relocations with the deterioration of the building. However, private individuals who paid rent for space in the building insist that their contracts with the state Empresa de Comercio stipulated that 30% of lease proceeds would go to repairs, which were never made.

At the end of 2012, the sellers were informed that restoration work would begin on the building, but after a few weeks and the placement of wooden beams to prop up the top floor, the works did not continue.

In order not to lose their clientele, the vendors proposed that the local government allow them to become a non-agricultural cooperative (CNA), a form of economic management which, as of January this year, had 397 examples throughout the country dedicated to food, personal and technical services.

However, the initiative did not prosper and for several weeks now the retailers have been relocated in nearby stores such as Cancha, Florida and Sublime, smaller and more poorly located.

“I have lost a lot of money in this move and also this place does not have the minimum necessary conditions,” says a clothing saleswoman with a counter in the Cancha store who preferred anonymity. However, she acknowledges that “Fin de Siglo also had problems because of the heat, the lack of windows and the constant obstructions in the sewer pipes.”

The merchant believes that if they had let the tenants invest the conditions of the ground floor would have been improved, since each year the premises collected about 3 million Cuban pesos (roughly $120k US) in rent receipts. “Why didn’t they use part of that for reconstruction?” she protests.

The merchant believes that if they had let the tenants invest the conditions of the ground floor would have been improved, since each year the premises collected about 3 million Cuban pesos in rent

Some vendors have placed handmade posters in the windows of Fin de Siglo alerting customers to their new locations. There is no obvious construction work taking place in the building but all the outlets and the bulbs from the ceiling lights are missing.

Carlos Alberto, a young jeweler wants an explanation. “When someone finds out what they are going to do there, let them come and tell me.” The artisan doubts the official version and maintains that the building will be “remodeled to become a store selling in convertible pesos” – that is to the well-to-do and tourists – a speculation which the authorities of the municipality of Central Havana do not want to comment on.

At the Sublime establishment, a CD vendor predicts a worse future for the emblematic store. “It’s going to be just like the Duplex cinema, a block away, which one day was closed because it had a problem in the bathroom and today is a ruin,” he says.

The Lethargy Of A Coastal Town In Camagüey

Many houses are empty and uninhabited because their owners have moved to other towns in search of greater economic development. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Florida, Cuba, 26 June 2017 — “The sea water cleans everything,” Agustin reflects as he calls out his merchandise. This 74-year-old forensic assistant now works renting inflatable boats for the fishermen of Playa Florida, in Camagüey, a coastal strip where tourists rarely come and the economic crisis is strongly felt.

“I came here to escape the odor of death, and I did,” jokes the worker, one of the few residents in the unpopulated streets on Friday. On every side many of the few houses that do not seem vacant exhibit a “for sale” sign. “All of Playa Florida is for sale but no one wants to buy it,” a resident jokes. continue reading

Lacking the natural beauty of the north coast, with no functioning industries and no important crops, the area is experiencing times of hardship that have worsened in recent years. On the entrance road, a rusted out anchor gives visitors a preview of the lethargy they will find here.

Only 24 miles separate the fishermen’s village from the municipal center, but it takes between four and six hours to cover the route due to the poor state of the road and the lack of public transport. On both sides of the road, the invasive marabou weed rises defiantly.

“Without tourists there is no money,” says Bururu, an informal realtor. 

Lack communication characterizes the village. Nowhere among its crowded streets has a public telephone been installed and cell phones only manage to pick up a signal near the medical clinic, due to the poor coverage of the area.

The lack of mobility also sinks the area’s small businesses. The private restaurant Comida Criollo barely survives after being opened five years. Alfredo, the paladar’s chef, says that “from time to time a foreign tourist arrives.” People who “explore every corner with a map in hand,” but they are fewer and fewer.

Of the 4 million visitors who arrived in Cuba last year, only a few dozen came to this coast without white sands or crystal clear water, where to take a dip the bather must wear shoes to avoid the mud, stones and mangrove roots.

“Without tourists there is no money,” Bururu, an informal realtor, tells 14ymedio. The high number of homes for sale has caused a collapse of prices in the area. “A two-room house with a covered porch, cistern and garden can cost less than 1,000 CUC (roughly $1,000 US),” he says.

“People do not want to stay because there is nothing to do here”

“They put a jacuzzi in the bathroom and all the furniture inside is from the mall,” says Bururú while pointing to a newly painted building. The dealer takes his time to describe the characteristics of each house, hoping to make at least one sale.

“People do not want to stay because there is nothing to do here,” he explains to the 14ymedio. The man blames the stampede on the fact that “there are no recreational options and also nowhere to work”. “[The fishing] is not as good as in other places, so it gives you something to eat but not enough to make a living,” he emphasizes.

Near the coastline, a fisherman removes the scales from a sea bass he caught that morning. “I promised it to a family that wants to celebrate the birthday of their youngest son,” he tells a woman who inquires about the price of fish.

“The fishing is very affected since they built the embankment,” says the fisherman. “This area used to get a lot of oysters, but that has decreased a lot,” he adds.

The coast has also been affected by rising sea levels, to the extent that rumors of relocating the village have increased in recent years

The narrow and rugged access road divides the wetland in two and it has lost a part of the mangroves in its southern area. “Experts came here to research it and said that cutting the flow of water had increased the salinity and that is killing the mangroves.”

In 2009 the United Nations Small Grants Program provided more than $40,000 in funding for ecosystem recovery, but eight years later the damage has hardly been reversed. “The sea water has entered the river Mala Fama inland,” says the fisherman.

The coast has also been affected by rising sea levels, to the extent that rumors of relocating the village have increased in recent years. Wooden palisades are trying to slow down the push of the waves during hurricanes, but they seem like ridiculous chopsticks in the face of the immensity of the Caribbean.

The picture of deterioration is completed by the Argentina Campsite. where for months there has been neither electricity nor water. Julia, the guard who watches the entrance of the abandoned place, is categorical. “Here in Florida Beach, the only thing that is abundant is gnats and mosquitoes.”

Trump, The Military And The Division Of Powers In Cuba

Members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces are present in all of Cuba’s power structures. (Prensa Latina)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 June 2017 — The recent decision by the president of the United States to limit commercial relations with Cuban companies controlled by the military highlights a rarely explored corner of the national reality.

Anyone who knows the Island minimally knows that there is nothing like what can be called a “division of powers” here. It was demonstrated recently when the deputies to the National Assembly of People’s Power unanimously raised their hands to “back” some program documents from the Communist Party, documents that the deputies had no legal capacity to approve but politically could not disapprove.

In other countries, it is to be expected that Congress will oppose what the Executive has proposed or that the Judiciary will rule unconstitutional what a Parliament has approved. In most nations, when some measure, new policy, or any law is applied, analysts wonder how the unions will react or what the students are going to do. In Cuba it is not like that. Those who rule give the orders and the rest obey or go to jail. continue reading

The ostensible presence of individuals from the military sector in power structures, especially in economic management, may lead one to think that the army enriches itself this way and that having so many resources in its hands makes it easier for it to repress the people. This reasoning thus forms part of the belief that there is some kind of division of powers and that introduces a huge error in the analysis.

The presence of colonels and generals (retired or active) in charge of tourism companies such as Gaviota, or powerful consortiums such as Gaesa, Cimex and TRD among others, may not mean the militarization of the economy as much as it means the conversion, the metamorphosis, of soldiers into managers.

Devoid of or “healed” of an authentic “working-class spirit,” they handle with the iron fists of ruthless foremen – loyal to the boss – any dispute with the workers. Their habits of discipline lead them to do what they are ordered to do without asking if it is viable or absurd. They do not demand anything for themselves and anything that improves their standard of living or working conditions (modern cars, comfortable homes, trips abroad, food and beverage baskets…) will be considered as a favor from the boss, a privilege which can be paid for only with loyalty.

Although difficult to believe, they are not backed by their cannons or their tanks, their influence is not determined by the numbers of their troops or the firepower of the armaments they control, but by the confidence that Raúl Castro has in them. It is as simple as that.

When we review the extensive documentation issued by the different spheres of the outlawed political opposition, or by the officially unrecognized civil society, we can barely observe any protest against the dominance that the military has gained over the economy in the last decade.

Civil society’s priorities are different. The liberation of political prisoners, the cessation of repression, freedom of expression and association, the right to choose leaders in plural elections… In the area of ​​economics, what is being questioned are the difficulties faced by private entrepreneurs in starting a business, limitations on access to the international market, excessive taxes, and the plunder to which the self-employed are subjected to by the inspectors.

The most perceptible concern in this sense is that placing these soldiers in key points of the economy is engineering the future economic empowerment of the ruling clans in a virtual piñata, which implies self-annihilation of the system by the heirs of power.

If it were not so dramatic it would be laughable to imagine the infinite solutions that the Cuban rulers have to circumvent “the new measures” announced by the president of the United States. All they have to do is change the name of the current monopolies and place civilian leaders in charge of supposed “second level cooperatives,” already foreseen in Guideline 15 from the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.

This magic trick or, to use a Cubanism, “shuffling of the dominoes” would force the mammoth American bureaucracy to make a new inventory of entities with which trading is forbidden. “As the stick comes and goes,” they reorganize their forces while remaining at the helm of the country and watching Donald Trump’s term expire.

To perform this trick it will not be necessary to gather the Party together in a congress, nor to consult the constitutionalist lawyers, they would not even have to inform the Parliament. To make matters worse, in the streets there will be no protest against the chameleon gesture of the military exchanging their uniforms and their weapons for guayaberas or business cocktails.

Consensus and Dissent in the Face of Trump’s Cuba Policy

Hundreds of people gathered in the vicinity of the Manuel Artime Theater to show their disagreement with the change in policy toward Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 June 2017 – Over the weekend the official media have repeated ad nauseam the declaration of the government in response to Donald Trump’s speech about his policy toward Cuba. The declaration’s rhetoric recalls the years before the diplomatic thaw, when political propaganda revolved around confrontation with our neighbor to the north.

Beyond these words, many on the island are breathing a sigh of relief because the main steps taken by Barack Obama will not be reversed. The remittances on which so many families depend will not be cut, nor will the American Embassy in Havana be closed.

On the streets of Cuba, life continues its slow march, far from what was said at the Artime Theater in Miami and published by the Plaza of the Revolution. continue reading

Julia Borroto put a bottle of water in the freezer on Saturday to be ready for the line he expects to find waiting for him Monday outside the United States Embassy. This 73-year-old from Camagüey, who arrived in the capital just after Trump’s speech, remembers that Trump had said “he was going to put an end to the visas and travel, but I see that it isn’t so.”

The retiree also had another concern: the reactivation of the wet foot/dry foot policy eliminated by Obama last January. “I have two children who were plotting to go to sea. I just sent them a message to forget about it.”

The hopes of many frustrated rafters were counting on the magnate to restore the migratory privileges that Cubans enjoyed for more than two decades, but Trump defrauded them. Hundreds of migrants from the island who have been trapped in Central America on their way to the US were also waiting for that gesture that did not arrive.

Among the self-employed, concern is palpable. Homeowners who rent to tourists and private restaurant owners regret that the new policy will lead to a decline in American tourists on the island. The so-called yumas are highly desired in the private sector, especially for their generous tips.

Mary, who runs a lodging business in Old Havana, is worried. “Since the Americans began to come, I hardly have a day with empty rooms.” She had made plans on the basis of greater flexibilities and hoped “to open up more to tourism.”

On national television there is a flood of “indignant responses from the people” including no shortage of allusions to sovereignty, dignity and “the unwavering will to continue on the path despite difficulties.” The Castro regime is seizing the opportunity to reactivate the dormant propaganda machinery that had been missing its main protagonist: the enemy.

However, away from the official microphones people are indifferent or discontented with what happened. A pedicab driver swears not to know what they are talking about when he is asked about Friday’s announcements, and a retiree limits himself to commenting, “Those people who applaud Trump in Miami no longer remember when they were here standing in line for bread.”

Of the thirteen activists who met with Barack Obama during his trip to Havana, at least five expressed opinions to this newspaper about the importance of the new policy towards Cuba.

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), was at that table in March 2016 and was also mentioned on this occasion by Donald Trump during his speech. The activist had planned to be in Miami for the occasion, but at the airport in Holguin was denied exit and was subsequently arrested.

“It is the speech that had to be given and the person who could have avoided it is Raul Castro,” the former political prisoner asserts categorically. Ferrer believes that Obama did the right thing whenhe began a new era in relations between the two countries but “the Castro regime’s response was to bite the hand that was extended to it.”

In the opinion of the opposition leader, in the last 20 months repression has multiplied and “it was obvious that a different medicine had to be administered” because “a dictatorship like this should not be rewarded, it should be punished and more so when it was given the opportunity to improve its behavior and did not do so.”

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, was also prevented from flying to Miami to attend the event. For her, the words of the American president were clear and “if the Cuban regime accepts the conditions that Donald Trump has imposed on it, Cuba will begin to change.”

Soler believes that the Cuban government’s response is aimed at confusing the people, who “do not know exactly what is going on.” She says that Trump wants to maintain business with Cuba “but not with the military, but directly with the people,” something that the official press has not explained.

Opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa, who manages the platform #Otro18 (Another 2018), is blunt and points out that “returning to failed policies is the best way to guarantee failure.” The measures announced by Trump, in his opinion, do not help the changes, and they once again give the Cuban government “the excuse to show its repressive nature.”

The dissident believes that the new policy tries to return the debate on democracy on the island to the scenario of conflict between Cuba and the United States, “just when it was beginning to refocus the national scenario on communication between the Cuban State and its citizens, which is where it needs to be.”

The director of the magazine Convivencia, Dagoberto Valdés, believes that there is a remarkable difference between the discourse itself “which seems a return to the past with the use of a language of confrontation, and the so-called concrete measures that have been taken.”

For Valdés there is no major reversal of Obama’s policy. “The trips of the Cuban Americans, the embassy, ​​the remittances are maintained… and the possibility of a negotiating table remains open when the Cuban Government makes reforms related to human rights.”

Journalist Miriam Celaya predicted that the speech would not be “what the most radical in Miami and the so-called hard line of the Cuban opposition expected. What is coming is a process and it does not mean that from tomorrow no more Americans will come to the Island and that negotiations of all kinds are finished,” she says.

In her usual poignant style, she adds that “regardless of all the fanfare and the bells and whistles, regardless of how abundant the smiles, and no matter how much people laughed at Trump’s jokes, it doesn’t seem that the changes are going to be as promising as those who are proclaiming that it’s all over for the government.”

Celaya sheds light on the fact that the official statement of the Cuban government “manifests its intention to maintain dialogue and relations within the framework of respect.” This is a great difference with other times when a speech like that “would have provoked a ‘march of the fighting people’ and a military mobilization.”

Instead, officialdom has opted for declarations and revolutionary slogans in the national media. But in the streets, that rhetoric is just silent. “People are tired of all this history,” says a fisherman on the Havana Malecon. “There is no one who can fix it, but no one who can sink it.”

Trump And Cuba, Or How To Bet On The Wrong Winner

President Donald Trump (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 13 June 2017 – In less than 72 hours President Donald Trump will declare in Miami the new basis for the United States government’s policies towards Cuba. At that time the decisions of his predecessor Barack Obama, during the process of normalization of diplomatic relations with the island, could be paused or reversed.

The magnate will make the announcement into a spectacle like so many he has starred in since he has been at the head of the greatest power on earth. He will gesticulate, commit himself to human rights and elicit enthusiastic applause, but then he will return to the White House and the Island will fall off his agenda.

Why entrust the fate of this country to a man who has failed to keep a single one of the election promises he made to his own people? Is the policy toward Cuba the only thing that will turn out well from someone who has behaved like a political bull in a china shop? continue reading

Trump will try to please the voices asking him to tighten the screws on Havana. Sanctions, cutting back and revoking the measures taken during the thaw are among the demands of those who bet on confrontation, a strategy that has had half a century to demonstrate its ineffectiveness.

The president will especially address himself to those who insist on “turning off the tap,” cutting off communication and shutting down supplies to the longest dictatorship in the West, as if such measures will cut off the electricity, water supply or internet access to the homes of the Community Party elite.

It is symptomatic that demands for economic strangulation rarely spring from those who wait long hours for a bus, depend daily on the bread that is distributed in the rationed market and have to stretch a monthly salary that is barely enough to survive on for a week.

On the other hand, blaming Obama’s “soft hand” for the wreck of normalization leads one to forget that those in charge in Cuba did not seize the opportunity for fear of losing control. They were more frightened by Obama’s speech at the Gran Teatro de La Habana than by any threat of military intervention.

Those who have aspired for decades to unconditional surrender, to revengeful justice, and to “all or nothing” with Castroism, did not lose any time in putting roadblocks in the way of the process started on 17 December 2014. Starting this Friday they will be forced to accept everything that happens after Trump’s decisions, or to recognize this is not the way to emerge from a dictatorship.

The figures for arbitrary arrests compiled by the Cuban Human Rights Commission are unlikely to decline significantly, the Ladies in White will still be unable to march down Fifth Avenue in the west of Havana, and opposition groups will remain illegal and persecuted by the police.

What will be the foreseeable consequences on the Island of a return to the politics of the cudgel? An increase in repression and a better positioning of the more conservative sectors. The Plaza of the Revolution, the tyranny of the Castros, the regime… or whatever you prefer to call it, will not be alone in facing the tightening of the screws from Washington.

Russia, China, Angola, Nicolas Maduro and comrades from North Korea, Congo, Zimbabwe and Iran will rush to take sides with Raul Castro. Meanwhile, in the streets of the Island the population will mark Trump’s measures with renewed “marches of the fighting people,” shouting anti-imperialist slogans and accepting the postponement of the old promises of the Revolution.

Faced with “the new onslaught from the empire” the government will reinforce its aptitude for entrenchment. In the upper echelons of power there will be no cracks or disagreements. Persecutors will strengthen their power and enjoy the impunity to crush any resistance.

Trump will not achieve, with his new measures, a new march by university students with a “Down with the Dictatorship” poster, nor will the unions call for a general strike against the government, nor will the farmers march to the cities demanding land.

It is not even clear whether the president will serve out four years in office, cornered as he is by political scandals, alleged Kremlin intervention in the elections that brought him to power and his unfortunate way of managing politics through incendiary treatises or threats.

His decisions will not provoke another Maleconazo on the island like the one of August of 1994. That popular protest was spurred by the desire to escape the country, not change it. Those dramatic events were not sparked by the opposition, nor did they generate political changes, just the Rafter Crisis.

Such an outbreak would be a nightmare for a leader with a marked nationalism and an evident anti-immigrant phobia.

This Friday the American president will have his moment in front of the Cuban exile. The applause for him will be short-lived. The placebo effect of his announcements will dissipate to give way to the stubborn reality that no decision of a foreign government will change Cuba, regardless of whether Barack Obama or Donald Trump is at the head of it.

Cuba’s Parliament Positions Its New Straitjacket

The Constitution of the Republic does not establish that the deputies have the obligation or the assignment to analyze documents issued by the Communist Party. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerReinaldo Escobar, 1 June 2017 — With its usual unanimity, the National Assembly of People’s Power, on Thursday, supported the documents submitted to it by the Council of State. The extraordinary session put the final stitch in the straitjacket that the Communist Party of Cuba (CCP) is placing on the Parliament and other organs of power for the coming years.

Since Wednesday, the committees gathered at the Havana Convention Center have expressed their support for the Conceptualization of the Cuban Social Economic Development and Social Model and the updating of the Party Policy and Revolution Guidelines for the period 2016-2021. continue reading

The final versions of the documents were presented to the deputies, after a long process of debate that included modifications, additions and deletions. The Third Plenum of the Central Committee had given them the green light in mid-May, and all that was left was for the members of the Eighth Legislature to raise their hands to ratify their support.

In the Constitution of the Republic, where the powers of the Parliament are specified, it is not established that the Members have the obligation or the assignment to analyze documents issued by the PCC, nor those that the Council of State presents before them.

The absence of a healthy and democratic division of powers that the country suffers has become more visible in the last hours, with the act of parliamentary meekness that has meant that the non-partisan entity supports the documents emanating from the structures of a militancy.

The absence of a healthy and democratic division of powers that the country suffers has become more visible in the last hours, with the act of parliamentary meekness

So as not to overstate the confusion about responsibilities, the government chose the verb “to back,” rather than “ratify,” “vote” or “approve,” for what happened on June 1. In the selection of the word, the formal character of what happened was evidenced, for under no circumstances would the deputies have had the power to disapprove the documents.

If anyone had a question about parliamentary autonomy first vice-president, Miguel Díaz-Canel was responsible for dissipating it when he stressed that “everything that is approved here comes as recommendations prized by the higher echelons of the Party.”

When the Party “submits to the consideration” of the National Assembly its programmatic guidelines, it is not subordinating itself to this supreme body of state power, but using it as a docile executor of its policy. It makes the legislature the implementer of the narrow limits which Raul Castro wants to leave as a frame for the political class of the country before vacating the presidential chair next February.

Not in vain, the General stressed in his closing speech of the session that the documents backed by the legislature will permit “changing everything that should be changed,” but at “a speed that allows us to reach consensus.” An affirmation with which he reiterates his preferences that the transformations happen “step by step” or “gradually,” but in which he also reveals his fears.

When the Party “submits to the consideration” of the National Assembly its programmatic guidelines, it is not subordinating itself to this supreme body of state power, but using it as a docile executor of its policy

But the unanimity reached in these two days is not that strong either. In several of the speeches, the deputies made clear the distance between the theoretical postulates that were established as inviolable laws in the construction of socialism, and the times in which the island is living. Under the apparent uniformity lies the clash between entelechy and reality, plans and results.

In several historical moments and national instances in which this tension has manifested itself, the Solomonic – or chameleonic – formula has been called on to be able to continue to say that the country is guided by Marxist-Leninist doctrines, but shaded with “our own realities and experiences.”

The dominance of social property over the means of production and the exercise of power by a single party are the two pillars on which the whole program is dispersed in guidelines, conceptualizations and programs. However, there is no longer talk of eliminating the exploitation of man by man, nor is the superior society aspired to defined as “Communism.”

The National Assembly expects another bitter drink, because the Party does not legislate, at least directly. The PCC will have to instruct the deputies to determine the amount of wealth that citizens will be able to accumulate, and whether the redistribution of resources generated in non-state forms of production will be accomplished by way of taxes or confiscations.

At that time, the parliamentarians will be pushed to sew fine stitches and to reinforce with them the guide to action left to them by “Castroism.” It will be the last chance this organ of the Popular Power has, before becoming a total ventriloquist of the Party.

The Future Is Built With Cement … But There Isn’t Any

A house under construction in Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 26 May 2017 — The cranes show off their slender anatomy in some areas of Havana where several luxury hotels are being built. Apart from this landscape of progress, private construction and repairs face technological problems and shortages. This week it has been cement’s turn.

“This is the third time I have come and I am leaving with an empty wheelbarrow,” a customer on the hunt for construction materials complained Thursday in the Havana’s La Timba neighborhood. The employee standing behind the counter confirmed that “they are sending less than before and every day more people come to try to buy it.” continue reading

To send, to arrive and to supply are the verbs used to refer to the state distribution of any product, be it eggs, milk powder, or tiles to cover a roof. There is an enormous supply chain responsible for distributing construction materials, in a country where 39% of the housing stock is in “regular or poor” condition.

Since the beginning of the year, gray cement has become the biggest headache for those involved in construction, a situation that has worsened in recent weeks.

Several employees of stores specializing in construction materials that offer their goods in convertible pesos say that in 2017 they have not received cement

Several employees in the stores in the capital specializing in construction materials and that sell their goods in convertible pesos, told 14ymedio that since the beginning of 2017 they have not received cement.

The government has chosen to place the product in the network that sells in Cuban pesos, the so-called national currency, in the face of previous criticisms of excessive prices in the foreign exchange network. However, a network of corruption, diversion of resources and re-sales makes it almost impossible to get one of those sacks with the precious gray powder.

The government has turned over the sale of cement to the open markets in national currency, but the shortage continues for those who repair or build houses. (14ymedio)

The national cement industry has not yet recovered from the blow that resulted from the fall of Europe’s socialist camp and the withdrawal of the Soviet Union’s subsidies to Cuba. At present, six factories on the island managed to produce slightly more than 1.4 million tonnes of gray cement last year, a figure well below the 5.2 million achieved in the same period in neighboring Dominican Republic, a country with a comparable population (about 11 million inhabitants), according to a report from the Producers Association.

The government has assigned the Construction Materials Business Group (GEICON) to produce cement in each of its variants, in addition to other building materials such as aggregates, blocks, and flooring elements, along with asbestos, fibroasphalt and roofing tiles.

The sales and marketing director of the group, Rubén Gómez Medina, recently explained on national television that despite the sector’s recovery over the last five years, it still cannot meet demand.

“Since we started, the prices of aggregates have changed from one day to the next and no one can tolerate that.”

The situation becomes complex for self-employed masons, and also for those who are part of a non-agricultural cooperative. “As there is no wholesale market, when we are contracted to do a job we have to place responsibility for the materials on the customer,” says Carlos Núñez, who two years ago obtained a license for that occupation.

The entrepreneur remembers that at first they calculated a budget that included everything, the plans, the materials and the labor. “Since we started, the prices of aggregates have changed from one day to the next and no one can tolerate that.”

A bag of gray cement last year cost just over 6 CUC in an official store. In the open markets the same bag is sold in national currency at the equivalent of 7 CUC. The lack of supply has meant that in the underground market, where it is also scarce, the price doubles and in some areas reaches as high as 18 CUC.

Cement, along with pork or cooking oil, is one of those goods that set the pace of the everyday economy. Its disappearance or shortage is a direct blow to the population’s quality of life.

Of the more than 23,000 homes that were built during 2015, less than half were erected by the state. The rest were built by the private sector.

Now, for many, the only option is to buy gray cement on the black market, or to sleep outside one of the open markets all night to see if there’s an early delivery.

On the outskirts of Fe del Valle Park, mixed among the dozens of people who connect to the Internet in this popular Wi-Fi zone, resellers abound. The site has a reputation for being a place where you can find everything, “even 12 gauge electric cables for electrical installations,” a young man nicknamed El Chino proclaims without modesty.

So as not to be confused with a police informant or an inspector, the buyer should pronounce the question in the most roundabout way. “How’s the cement coming along, pal?” El Chino arches his eyebrows and with a precise professional air answers, ” P350, which is for mounting plates, goes out of here at between 10 and 12 CUC a bag and P250, for plastering, goes for 9.”

He pauses, as if he is sorry for what he is about to confess and adds, “But right now there isn’t any.”

Several cooperatives say that part of the production in the western area has been sent to the province of Guantánamo for the repair of houses damaged by Hurricane Matthew

At the Ministry of Construction (MICONS) the officials questioned do not clarify the reasons for the shortage, although several cooperative members engaged in construction assert that part of the production of the western zone has been sent to Guantánamo province to repair the houses damaged by Hurricane Matthew.

A MICONS employee, who preferred anonymity, does not agree with that explanation and insists that “since a group of measures to promote construction by self-effort was implemented, there was a building explosion that was not foreseen in the production plans for the materials… Important hotels are being built and the supply to those places can’t be allowed to fail, so it has been prioritized,” he adds.

The most recent version of the Foreign Investment Opportunities Portfolio describes the objective of the authorities to “promote the construction of infrastructure and industrial maintenance, mainly for the nickel, oil and cement industries.” But so far potential investors are wary of putting their money in ventures on the Island.

“What has happened is that the cement industry is bottoming out and can not withstand the pressure of the high demand,” an engineer with 30 years of experience in the sector, who prefers to be called Osvaldo – not his real name – to avoid reprisals for his statements, tells this newspaper.

“It’s a chain of inefficiencies that ends up breaking down at the weakest link: the customer”

In 2016 the country’s factories have had serious problems due to the lack of maintenance but transportation has also burdened the results. “We depend on the Cuban Railways to transfer part of the material used in cement manufacture,” Osvaldo said. “It’s a chain of inefficiencies that ends up breaking down at the weakest link: the customer.”

“No new equipment or parts are coming into the country. In many factories, the furnace engines, the mechanical couplings and the mills are badly damaged,” he adds.

“This industry is the engine of prosperity, because it is the one that allows houses to be built, people to have more amenities and there is progress,” Osvaldo proudly says. “But if we do not invest a good amount of money we will continue as we are, between improvisations and defaults.”

To illustrate his comment, the engineer shows the side wall of a newly built house that is still waiting to be plastered. “It’s because I haven’t been able to find the cement anywhere,” justifies the owner.

Behind the ‘Information Note’

There is no permanent entity in Cuba that governs the nation’s electoral processes. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 18 June 2017 — The regular readers of the official press have learned that the most innocent headlines can hide the most interesting news. Phrases such as Notice to the population or Information note, which defy any elementary lesson in journalism, alert those initiated into the special “granmer” of the Granma newspaper that, behind the candid title, there could be hidden some threat, a hope, or the apparent fulfillment of a formality, so that no one can say that this or that detail was never published in the press.

On Thursday, the Directorate of Identification, Immigration and Immigration (DIIE) published an “Information note”in the official media in which it announces to Cubans permanently resident in the country that its offices will be open to “update the address from where they will exercise their right to vote.” continue reading

The note then invokes Electoral Law No. 72 of 1992 to specify who has the right to active suffrage.

The real information that underlies all this, is that the first steps have now been taken to initiate the elections that will result in the final departure of Raul Castro from the job of President of the Councils of State and of Ministers. Perhaps even more significant, is that this process will begin without the new electoral law having been promulgated, regardless of the fact that the coming of the new law was announced by the president himself in February of 2015, at the conclusion of the Tenth Plenary of the Communist Party Central Committee.

There is no permanent entity on the island that governs the electoral processes, so the preparation of the Register of Voters is a task that falls on the Ministry of Interior through its offices of the DIIE. This is where it is registered whether a citizen resides in the national territory and whether or not he or she is under some legal sentence that limits his or her rights.

Oddly, the Information note makes it clear that people will be able to go to the relevant offices in any of the municipalities in the country “regardless of their place of residence,” but does not clarify if voters can exercise suffrage in the specific district where they physically reside, even if that is not the legal address recorded on their identity card.

Thousands of people throughout the country are living as tenants in private homes without being “properly registered”; many of them, especially if they live in the capital and are from other provinces, are prevented from finding a job, even with private employers, because they can not show “an appropriate address” in their identification document.

In the interest of reducing the number of people who do not vote, the state might be willing to overlook – for the purposes of voting only – what it will not tolerate with regards to finding work or enrolling one’s children in school.

No doubt the upcoming elections will be as uninteresting as any others have been. The absence of a new law indicates that the Candidacies Commission will continue, and that it will be these bodies that prepare the lists of aspiring deputies, while maintaining the prohibition against any of these candidates from presenting a political platform.

As has been the case to date, voters will have to be satisfied with nothing more than biographical data (prepared by the commissions, not by the candidates themselves), along with a photo. They will have to vote for their representatives without having any idea whether or not these individuals are in favor of foreign investment, if they want to increase or decrease non-state forms of production in the country, or if they are likely to be for or against it if the day comes when acceptance of same-sex marriage is introduced. They will not even know if their preferred candidate wishes to allocate the nation’s budget to build sports stadiums or theaters.

Of course, there will be no polls speculating on what will be the name of the person who will occupy the presidential chair in February 2018. Who are they going to put forward? It is the question that the majority of those few people interested in the subject at all tend to ask. Perhaps we will have to wait for another Information Note to get a clue about this great unknown.