Legalizing Documents Is an Almost Impossible Mission for Cubans From the Provinces

The line for passport and criminal record requests at the Camajuaní identity card offices. (Yankiel Gutiérrez Faife/14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yankiel Gutiérrez Faife, Camajuaní, 17 April 2023 — At the doors of the Camajuaní Collective Law Firm, located on Agramonte Street, between Maceo and General Naya, Janet, an elementary school teacher in Santa Clara, has just been given the run around after four months of waiting. “Yesterday was the last day we could get our documents stamped as legal. No more will be done until further notice,” one of the institution’s lawyers informed her.

After almost half a year of struggle with the institutions, Janet had managed to correct the errors in a document where her parents’ name was misspelled, and she was able to obtain three birth registrations and a marriage certificate. Having overcome the exhaustion of acquiring those papers, the law firm’s refusal portends more waiting in line.

Processing and legalizing documents is one of the most overwhelming processes faced by Cubans. After a “way of the cross” of bribes, going back and forth and long lines, nothing guarantees that a birth registration or a university degree will be ready in time to take a trip or enroll in a foreign university. From the purchase of a stamp to the signature of an official, there is only one constant: the desperation to get out of the bureaucratic labyrinth.

International Legal Consultancy on Colón Street, in Santa Clara. (Yankiel Gutiérrez Faife/14ymedio)

The situation is well known in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the institution that usually puts the decisive stamp on a document for it to be valid beyond Cuban borders. Unperturbed, the director of Consular Affairs, Ernesto Soberón, admitted the slowdown of all procedures and insisted that his office was taking “the necessary measures to respond to the increase in demand for service.” But, in reality, he didn’t promise anything. continue reading

The helplessness of Cubans lining up in front of law firms, civil registries and consultancies is the real drama. Aware — some more than others — of how bogged down the process has become, they look for alternatives and perfect several “tricks” to lighten the wait. But not everyone has the resources or the ability to overcome obstacles with good luck.

“In Santa Clara,” explains the lawyer of the Camajuaní Collective Law Firm, “there are also thousands of documents on the waiting list to be sent to the Foreign Ministry. Until we overcome this delay, we will not restart the service,” she affirmed. However, another of the lawyers had a recommendation: “Go early with your identity card to the Legal Consultancy of Santa Clara. Very early,” she insisted, “because turns in line are very limited, and if you don’t have an appointment before April 3, the doors will be closed until May.”

At five in the morning, Janet left her house, managed to catch a ride and went to the office on downtown Colón Street in Santa Clara. Her hopes were dashed as soon as it got light, when she saw that the line was already around the block, most people waiting to legalize documents. The lawyers started working at eight and, fortunately, Janet managed to get a turn.

“When I manage to deliver the papers and sign the contract to legalize my documents, I will feel relieved,” she says, knowing that she has only taken the first of many steps. “We have to live day by day so we don’t end up crazy.”

Once the document is deposited in the consultancy, the mechanism is put back in motion. The papers of the lucky ones who have signed their contracts will begin a rugged trip to Havana and, if everything is in order, the documents will be returned to the provinces months later. Even after suffering this delay, those who get their documents feel that the wait has had results.

Everything is very different when the lawyers themselves fail to comply with the clauses of the legalization contract, which theoretically obliges them not to delay the response to clients for more than 45 days. The actual waiting period, which reaches six months — often the documents have already expired after the wait — far exceeds what is stipulated.

A few weeks ago, the director of the Legal Consultancy went to the line herself and announced that it would no longer be possible to make an appointment in person. “At the end of April we will make the Ticket application available to users for all reservations,” she announced.

Several of the customers in line confronted the official with a barrage of additional questions: “Why don’t the collective law firms of the municipalities receive and legalize the documents? How can  they change the process without official notice? Why do they want to concentrate all the work here if they don’t have the necessary conditions?”

As if it were an article of faith, the director of the Consultancy referred to Soberón’s announcement, which “suggested” that the rules of the game had changed due to the increase, by 16%, in the demand for procedures in the Embassy compared to 2022. “It’s not in our hands,” was the justification. “We don’t move the documents; we only contract for the services.”

The department headed by Soberón allegedly accepts about 1,000 documents a day, out of some 3,000 that they receive on average. The number of pending papers is overwhelming, explains one of the Consultancy workers, and the slow pace is aggravated because, in reality, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continues to accept the same number as before, despite the official statements.

“Sometimes what takes the most time is the transfer of documents from the provinces to Havana, more difficult now due to the fuel crisis,” explains Fredy, a self-employed man from Santa Clara. “Customers themselves have recommended looking for ways to speed up the process, to ’decentralize’ to the eastern and central areas of the Island.”

The most viable solution so far is the one that seems least practical: traveling to Havana. Both Janet and Fredy have received the advice to rent a car and register on the waiting list of International Consultants and Lawyers, the International Legal Consulting or at Claim, a company dedicated to the protection of intellectual property that also legalizes procedures. You can also go to a Collective Law Firm in the capital or to Transconsul.

Civil Registry of Camajuaní. (Yankiel Gutiérrez Faife/ 14ymedio)

That’s what Claudia, a 24-year-old from Villa Clara, did, who was told to take her documents for legalization to the Embassy of Spain in Havana. “I sent them for legalization in January, and I’m still waiting. In order not to miss the appointment at the Embassy, I had to request proof of my parents’ marriage, get an appointment through a friend of my uncle’s and go to Havana to legalize the documents with Transconsul. It was a little faster there, 50 days or so,” she calculates.

In addition to the travel costs — in most of these institutions you have to go in person — each center has its own rules and peculiarities. Even in Havana there are long lines, the applications don’t work well and the phones are always busy.

“In reality, the law firms there are at the level of those in the province,” denounces Amelia, skeptical of the “technique” of traveling to the capital. “I had to get my daughter’s birth certificate. Every week I send my uncle who lives in the capital to ask about the procedure. They tell him that they will call when it’s ready and that he has to wait.”

One of the most frequent exits is the illegal way. Dubiel, a 23-year-old man from Santa Clara, who tried several times to solve his problem with an appointment at Claim, hired a “turn seller.” The price was 5,000 pesos [$208], to which was added the payment of the car trip, about 22,000 additional pesos [$917].

“My family in the United States sent me dollars. I sold them on the street, and that’s how I was able to pay for the trip. I was in a hurry and couldn’t afford to spend time with the law firms in Villa Clara,” he explains. The contact for the person who “facilitated” the appointment was found in a Facebook group.

Others offer, in private mail, the legalization of the document within 30 days, provided that 50 euros are paid for each procedure, in addition to a stamp of 500 pesos [$21]. “Apparently, it’s a business with the foreign officials themselves,” says Dubiel.

It is expected that digital processing, through state applications, will contribute to eliminating the “cluttering” of documents, but in reality it has complicated the picture. “Due to the lack of stamps, the customer can pay the tax on the document in cash or through an e-commerce platform. If the physical stamp is brought, we will send it along with the document. Otherwise, the amount can be paid digitally. There is no problem,” says another of the lawyers of the Santa Clara Consultancy.

With so many obstacles and in the face of a migratory exodus that has not ceased for months, the discomfort is growing. “After so much exhaustion standing in line at the civil registries, there are people who have documents from December and January that the lawyers won’t even look at. That’s why they have to pay, and it’s not cheap at all; it’s disrespectful,” says Maribel, a housewife from Santa Clara who is determined to get Spanish citizenship through the Law of Democratic Memory.

“If they really wanted to end this situation, they would open new branches for legalization services in the provinces,” she says, rejecting Soberón’s claims. “It’s no secret to anyone that people are now desperate.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Drivers Assaulted, Houses Looted and Cattle Stolen: Insecurity Grows in Villa Clara, Cuba

In such an isolated enclave, the horse-cart drivers maintain an indispensable link with the neighboring towns. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yankiel Gutiérrez Faife, Camajuaní, 9 April 2023 — Jinaguayabo is near the sea. To the north are the luxurious keys of Villa Clara; to the south, Remedios, at the end of a run-down road, where the horse carts circulate, at a slow pace and under the sun. It is a poor, rural town, with fewer than 700 inhabitants and from which everyone ends up leaving. In such an isolated enclave, the cart drivers maintain the indispensable link with the neighboring towns, but their routes, usually quiet, are now infested with assailants.

Gerónimo, who owns a passenger cart, leaves for work at seven in the morning. “At that time it’s easy,” he explains to 14ymedio. “It’s when the people of Jinaguayabo travel to Remedios, to study or to work. Then I have another route to bring them back, from three to seven at night, when they return to town.”

Several weeks ago, he says, he found three people waiting on the side of the road, and they asked him for a ride to Remedios. They got into the cart, two in the back seat and one next to him. “When we were coming to the bridge, the one behind me put a belt around my neck and forced me to park in a ditch,” says Gerónimo, who immediately obeyed his attacker.

The others were in charge of checking his pockets: they took his  phone, some bluetooth headphones, his watch and the proceeds of the day, 2,500 pesos [$100]. “At least they left me the horse and the cart,” he says with some relief. “Now I have to see if I can buy what I lost again, because the police are not going to find the thieves.”

Despite the isolation and poverty, Jinaguayabo has always been close to the most tense events in Cuba. Located near the first settlement of the Spanish conquistadores in Villa Clara, besieged by corsairs and pirates and centuries later by insurgents, the town has not been oblivious to violence. However, its inhabitants complain that the atmosphere is electric, and they feel afraid being on any road at night. continue reading

“You can no longer go by bike to Remedios, as before,” complains Daivel, a 19-year-old whose parents have banned him from traveling at night the three miles that separate Jinaguayabo from the so-called “eighth village” of the Island. “I used to pedal there on weekends, but now they won’t let me go for fear that something will happen to me along the way. If I go to Remedios, I have to sleep with friends and come back in the morning,” he says.

The situation is repeated in other rural towns, such as Taguayabón — to the west, between Remedios and Camajuaní — where thieves prey on people during the November carnivals. At two in the morning, when everyone is drunk and their senses dulled in the dark, it is easy for bandits to take a wallet or watch, or to corner a clueless villager.

They also manage to force the doors to houses, which are less protected because, as Maria points out, “in the countryside everyone knows each other.” She and her husband returned from the festivities in the early morning and discovered a broken window in their home. Inside, she says, “everything was a disaster. They had taken a cell phone and cash, which I had hidden in the closet.”

Crime is so widespread that you can no longer trust even the workers you hire. Daniela, a housewife from Remedios, hired a bricklayer known by the family, 26-years-old, to change the tiles and the sink in the kitchen. “He came to work for a single day and didn’t finish. He told me that he had a fever and a cold,” she says. That same night she was robbed of a powerful LED light that she had in the yard. “My husband, who knew that the boy was in bad company, went to his house. He himself had stolen the lamp, taking advantage of the fact that he knew the house, and exhibited it very brazenly in his yard,” the woman says.

In the marginal areas of the cities or in the rural towns the situation is unacceptable, but it is even more serious in the homes of the farmers. Francisco, a guajiro whose farm is in the vicinity of Rosalía, near Taguayabón, had two oxen with which he worked on his plot.

After working and taking a bath, Francisco used to have lunch and take a nap, while the animals grazed near the house. “In short,” he says, “when I was sleeping very peacefully, the bandits had been ’paying attention’ to me for many days and knew my routine. They had studied me.” At nightfall, he saw that the oxen had disappeared.

A television program funded as propaganda by the Ministry of the Interior, “Behind the Footprint”, shows a police squad that quickly solves criminal cases. “But real life is not like that,” says Francisco, who didn’t wait for the authorities to take action on the matter.

Some neighbors helped him organize a search party, and they found a broken fence and tracks. Beyond, near the town of Palenque, they discovered a scrub where the drunken thieves were butchering the animals. The second ox, tied to the fence, tried in vain to free itself.

“We caught three thieves and the police took them,” says Francisco. “But they have already freed one of them. Usually they are released for lack of interest in the investigation, or the police don’t even bother to come.”

Woman talking on the phone in front of a motorcycle workshop that was robbed last month. (14ymedio)

No one is safe. Not even in the center of big cities like Santa Clara. Ernesto, owner of a motorcycle repair shop not far from Etecsa’s offices — just one block from Vidal Park — was robbed of one of the vehicles he had in the warehouse at nine at night, while his family was watching the telenovela.

The thief broke the fiber cement roof of the workshop and took a motorcycle with just two and a half years of use, which needed paint and a new battery. However, he did not realize that Ernesto had installed cameras and did not have his face covered. “It wasn’t difficult to identify him,” he says. “A week later, the police caught the thief and recovered the motorcycle. However, I know I was lucky.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Placetas, Cuba’s Private-Sector Aluminum Capital

In Placetas the workday begins and eight in the morning, with the clamour of the furnace and steam from molten metal rising out of the ovens. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yankiel Gutierrez Faife, Camajuaní, 2 April 2023 — The municipality of Placetas, one of the economic engines of Villa Clara province, is also the aluminum mecca of Cuba. Initially, its foundries were clandestine operations but were later licensed by the government as small and medium-sized private businesses (SMEs). They still follow their own rules and still have difficulty finding raw material, but they attract hundreds of workers and are among the few industries that have managed to prosper in central Cuba.

Aluminum has long been the most versatile and common metal found in Cuban homes, used for tableware, doors, windows, spare parts, benches and seating. Salaries are good, from 300 to 350 pesos a day, but the risk of workplace injury is high. It depends on the type of object and the size of the project. Even still, business is booming.

At eight in the morning, a clamor can be heard coming from the furnace as steam from molten metal rises out of the ovens. One of the factories, operated by two locals, consists of two high-ceilinged warehouses built near their homes.

The process of melting and molding takes place in one of the warehouses. Skilled workers shape the product, assembling its parts and welding the pieces together. In the second facility, they later sand and paint the objects. The forge has forty-eight workers, who toil tirelessly in front of the fiery ovens. continue reading

“When we started in 2012, this was all illegal,” admits David, one of the factory’s owners. “At first we were making pots and pans, oil stoves, cutlery, plates and glasses. In 2016 everything changed, we made the leap to producing windows and doors in small quantities and only sold to local customers. Fortunately, this led to us getting a business license and then of becoming an SME.”

The major obstacle facing David and other producers is finding aluminum, which they initially got from the Placetas Raw Materials Company. The state, he says, was stingy with the amount it sold them, which is why they turned to “collectors,” scavengers who collect or buy any bit of aluminum they find on the streets.

Finally, they were offered a contract by the Cuban Fund for Cultural Assets, which agreed to supply them with an adequate amount of aluminum. In return, David and his partners had to agree to a favorable price for producing benches and trashcans for city parks, security bars for government buildings, light fixtures for city streets and assorted pieces of furniture.

However, they are still committed to using privately collected and recycled metal, which provides a source of income for retirees who collect and sell used aluminum beer and soft drink cans. There are also now several privately owned recycling companies such as Hila Metal Sur, which is owned by one of their partners.

“The life of the foundry worker became a little more comfortable,” says David.  The other factories still had to look for alternative sources of raw materials, however. Today, there are other producers affiliated with the Fund in Placetas. They are part of the government-run Provincial Metal Shaping Company, known as Metalconf. Meanwhile, independent artisans now operate as SMEs.

One such artisan is David, who explains that the work is “spread around” to the various factories. “Those affiliated with the Fund are contracted to produce roofing panels, lamp posts, swings and other articles ordered by the government, which gets everything at a discount. In turn, it provides foundries with subsidies to manufacture objects that are later sold in industrial product stores. Meanwhile, smaller-scale producers specialize in kitchen utensils,  though the bulk of their work is blinds, doors, chairs, armchairs and tables.”

According to official sources, Metalconf itself has several factories in Placetas, as well as its own distribution and marketing divisions, that export to other countries in the Caribbean.

David notes it is the SMEs themselves which determine prices. An aluminum door usually costs 6,900 pesos and a window 5,500. A table with four matching chairs is 13,000; two armchairs with a sofa and coffee table goes for 15,000 pesos. He points out that his company offers free home delivery. Once a week, a truck transports their products to Santa Clara, Camajuaní, Remedios, Caibarién and to Placetas itself.

Rodrigo, one of the partners in another local foundry, is worried about the adverse working conditions of his thirty employees. Half of them are directly involved in production while the rest spend their time looking for recyclable aluminum. He has still not registered his business as an SME but hopes to do so as soon as he has completed all the paperwork.

“The foundry workers are exposed to toxic substances and lead poisoning on a daily basis, to say nothing of the burns from molten metal splashing out of the mold,” says Rodrigo. “There’s concern that they often don’t have the necessary protective gear, such as heat-resistant gloves, leather boots or belts. It’s also hard to get protective goggles and sturdy overalls.”

Rodrigo’s foundry, which turns out cutlery and other kitchen utensils, operates like an artisan’s studio. Pieces of aluminum are tossed into a furnace and melted down. The mold is covered with earth, and once ready, the liquid metal is poured through a hole at the top. After several hours, the molten metal will have cooled down – it solidifies quickly because it hardens at a very high temperature – at which point the mold is broken and the piece is removed.

“Then comes the finishing, which consists of filing the piece down, assembling it and spray-painting it,” says Rodrigo. He surmises that it is rare for any house in Villa Clara – or in all of Cuba for that matter– to not have a  piece of aluminum that was “made in Placetas.”

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

With the Blackouts, Charcoal Making Starts Up Again in Cuba

Between the sun and the weight of the logs, being a charcoal burner is an overwhelming routine for two retirees, but in Cuba they need to find a way to make a living. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Yankiel Gutiérrez Faife, Camajuaní, 21 February 2023 — The hands of Emilio, a 66-year-old farmer, say everything about his trade: rough, firm, and smeared with soot. For decades he has gotten up at dawn, along with his brother Daniel, and they go to work in the fields of Vueltas, a town a few kilometers from Camajuaní, in Villa Clara. Five years ago, when blackouts became common again in Cuba, they decided to build charcoal ovens.

Emilio translates his business into figures: up to 25 sacks is the yield from each oven and each one is worth 300 pesos. What the resellers do next is not his problem. The effort is enormous to achieve an acceptable result, but the market is on the rise. The charcoal burners are one of the few sectors that have benefited from the scarcity of fuel, the lack of gas and the instability of the National Electric System.

Emilio’s house, the typical Guajiro construction, made of wood, is on the side of a dam, a few meters from his ovens. He likes to brew coffee before the sun rises, take his first puffs of tobacco and, to stay in shape, he stretches before going to work.

To make a charcoal oven, the men have to prepare the process a month in advance: sharpen the machetes, cut the marabou, pile up the trunks and put them to dry for several weeks, in a place where the sun hits them hard. (14ymedio)

To make a charcoal oven, the men have to prepare the process a month in advance. Emilio and Daniel sharpen their machetes and go out to cut the invasive marabou weed. They pile up the trunks and put them to dry for several weeks, in a place where the sun hits them hard. For the transfer they use a cart towed by oxen, but the hauling of the sticks is their responsibility. Between the sun and the weight of the trunks, it is an overwhelming routine for two retirees, but they have to have something to live on, Emilio affirms with resignation. continue reading

After five years of work, the soot doesn’t leave their bodies no matter how much they wash. Often, Emilio calls one of his neighbors at dawn, to share his coffee. “Did you bathe well yesterday?” the man often asks, pointing to a spot behind the ears or on the charcoal burner’s elbow. Emilio laughs and goes looking for his brother to start working again.

Daniel helps him lift the pile of wood for the oven. They arrange the trunks one next to the other, and they form five or six layers of sticks, depending on the thickness. Then they cover everything with a layer of grass, another of earth and some palm fronds. The oven is lit from the center. After a week of slow burning, the fire will have reached the surface. The result: the yellowish pieces of marabou will have turned into gleaming pieces of charcoal.

They have to spend the whole week watching over the pile, in case some accident happens or the fire gets out of control. While everyone sleeps, Emilio spends several nights awake in front of the wooden piles. There he must be watching in case the oven explodes or the fire catches somewhere. “You could pass the charcoal and spoil it,” he says. “It’s like cooking.”

The oven is lit from the center. After a week of slow burning, the fire will have reached the surface. (14ymedio)

The process is difficult, but there is a lot of demand in the towns and cities. “In the last year the consumption of charcoal has increased and it shows, because many people come to the countryside looking for someone who is selling it. In the town everything about cooking has become complicated, many do not have gas, there are blackouts and there is a great shortage of fuel right now,” he says.

At one point, Daniel explains, his main client was Gaviota, the hotel company managed by the Armed Forces. Due to the proximity of the northern keys – one of the most important tourist poles on the Island – Gaviota bought charcoal for cooking. However, the pandemic brought the suspension of contracts.

Surely, Emilio assumes, Gaviota will contact them again, but the brothers suspect that the business will not be favorable for them. “We would have to see,” says Daniel, “if they continue as before, there is no deal. After the Ordering Task*, individuals began to pay us 300 pesos for the sack. Before they paid 10, but the Government offered us 8. They always want to take it at a lower price and that doesn’t suit us.”

“Young people don’t want to do this job,” laments Yuri, another 63-year-old retiree who gave up farming and sold his cattle after suffering multiple thefts. In Rosalía, a rural town not far from Vueltas and Camajuaní, there are only four people who make charcoal. “We are all gray-haired,” says Yuri.

Emilio translates his business into figures: up to 25 sacks is the yield from each oven and each one is worth 300 pesos. (14ymedio)

“Some boys from around here tried to start the business. When they saw the work that it takes to make just one sack, they immediately gave it up,” says the farmer. Yuri sells a can of charcoal for 100 pesos to a contact in Santa Clara, who comes to his house every month to pick up the merchandise. “I can’t give charcoal away,” he said, alluding to the rising prices. “The job does not only consist of cutting the marabou, you also have to spend many sleepless nights, taking care of the piles.”

With the decrease in blackouts at the beginning of the year, the demand for charcoal fell. But the less optimistic know that as soon as the heat returns, the most prudent thing to do is to have an alternative on hand. Gas stoves, increasingly rare in homes, are also facing a supply shortage at the Villa Clara filling plant.

Although the most common thing in the countryside, Yuri notes, is still firewood. “People here don’t have much of a need for charcoal, but in a pinch, it’s always good to have a few cans on hand,” she explains.

Bibian, a housewife from Camajuaní, remembers that in the eighties there was no electricity in the neighboring area of La Bajada. “My mom was used to cooking on charcoal and wood stoves,” she recalls. “When clothes had to be ironed, the irons were heated over the fire. For cooking, the same thing, and I even liked the taste of smoked food better.”

For Bibian, in the kitchen firewood is superior to charcoal. “It burns much better, the embers last longer and retain heat better. The downside is that wood smoke affects your health a lot, it hurts your lungs. Charcoal smoke does less damage,” she says.

The situation of La Bajada did not improve during the Special Period. “The oil at that time was gone, there wasn’t even enough for transportation. So my husband went to the fields to see what he could get and returned with a sack of charcoal. It cost him 300 pesos. It was a lot, but from that time, every time the power went out I went to the stove and the charcoal got me out of trouble. My rice never spoiled again because of a blackout,” smiles Bibian.

Maritza, another housewife from Taguayabón, a neighboring town, shares Bibian’s opinion about the usefulness of charcoal in times of scarcity. Her stove is made of welded rods and she lights the coals by burning a piece of nylon, when, as is often the case, she has no oil. “They only give us fuel in the hurricane season, and very little, barely for two months,” she complains. Charcoal is fussy to light, she says. Her method to light it is to get at least a couple of lumps to burn well. “Then I put a fan on them to fan the flames and quickly reach for the pots.” The technique, which others also perform with a hair dryer, has never failed her. Although, of course, this can only be done when there is no blackout.

Ramón, 56, calculates that the price that used to be  charged for a single sack of coal in Camajuaní – about 100 pesos – is now less than what a can costs. “Not everyone has gas, in the villages there is no firewood, it is not like in the countryside. There is no free fuel either. A sack of charcoal, for those who cook every day, lasts a little over a week.” The bills at the end of the month, he reflects, are scary.

The measure used by charcoal burners is an old square tin, from jam or oil. The resale price of each can in Camajuaní is 150 pesos. The sack that is bought directly from the charcoal burner costs 300 pesos. The resale of the complete bag can reach 450 pesos. As the summer months and blackouts approach, the charcoal trade is reviving. Now, on Facebook or on the Revolico online sales portal, prices are rising at the rate of inflation. For Emilio, Daniel and Yuri, the effort and the long sleepless nights will have been worth it.

*Translator’s note: The “Ordering Task” is a collection of measures that include eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and a broad range of other measures targeted to different elements of the Cuban economy.

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

‘The Grandchildren Law is Going to Drive Us Crazy’ Complain the Employees of the Civil Registry in Cuba

The real difficulty in small, sparsely staffed municipal offices is being able to attend to the large number of requests (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerYankiel Gutiérrez Faife, Camajuaní | 14 February 2023 — The peace of a small town like Camajuaní, in Villa Clara, is only disturbed for three reasons: partying, surprise supplies in hard currency stores and the queues at the paperwork offices. The most extensive is the one that is organized every morning in front of the Directorate of Identification, Immigration and Aliens, in the vicinity of the Police unit, although those of the Civil Registry and other dependencies of the Ministry of Justice have nothing to envy.

Spain’s Democratic Memory Law – called the “law of grandchildren” – triggered requests for documents and caused a deficit of stamps at the national level to which Camajuaní was no stranger. But the real difficulty in small municipal offices is being able to attend to the large number of requests that are made with very few personnel and even fewer technological resources.

Located on Raúl Torres Street, the Camajuaní Civil Registry sees applicants arrive almost at dawn. “We cannot serve everyone. There are too many orders and we can only collect ten cards per day,” explains Migdalia, one of the local workers.

Stunned by the accumulated requests, Migdalia tries to calm things down in the queue and expedite the procedures. “If they don’t suspend the ‘law for grandchildren’ soon, we’re going to go crazy or we’re going to ask for a leave. I can’t sleep without taking my nerve pills,” she laments.

The line can be organized first thing in the day or “inherited” from the night before. A calculated business of coleros and “friends” keep turns to have guaranteed entry to the office when morning comes. There are even private “guardians” who ensure order and take turns watching at dawn.

Located on Raúl Torres Street, the Camajuaní Civil Registry sees applicants arrive almost at dawn. (14ymedio)

“Lists until March 18 are already in place to collect the documents in the registry,” says Miriam, a primary school teacher who has to give all kinds of excuses at work to go out and line up. “Those of the corrections, on the other hand, are already organized until April 11.” continue reading

The uproar of the applicants is such that the neighbors have filed numerous noise complaints and, in some cases, have thrown buckets of water from the doorways of their houses during the night to dissipate the noise and be able to sleep.

In theory, all the necessary documents can be requested electronically. The Ministry of Justice provided a digital form which should facilitate the process. But the reality is quite different.

“Civil Registry forms have been available on the Ministry of Justice website for a year,” explains Yanet, a shop assistant at the nearby freely convertible currency (MLC) store. “At the time, this measure managed to speed up the process and stop the queue. However, today it’s one more obstacle. Everything is slower. What I could solve in three or four days before, now I can’t even do it in a week”, she points out.

“People are already very upset. The situation is the same in all offices. Very slow, and when they finally give you the documents, they always have errors and you have to start the process all over again. It’s a never-ending story”, complains Anabel, a housewife. “The most common justification is to say that this whole situation with the ‘grandchildren’s law’ is unforeseen, since they did not plan it. But people are not to blame for that.”

“People are already very upset. The situation is the same in all offices. Very slow, and when they finally give you the documents, they always have errors

Jamikel, a young man from Santa Clara, had to request paperwork in Camajuaní for his father, who spent a week lining up, but to no avail. He intended to request a verbatim copy of certain documents. When it was finally his turn to pick up the papers, and after a twenty-mile drive and seven-hour wait, the officials told him that he had done everything wrong and that he had to reactivate the application. His son then helped him complete the online process. “We’ll have to see if he’s got better luck this time,” says Jamikel.

In Vueltas, in a period of a month or two, they print the documents and call the interested party to mark their turn in line to pick them up. (14ymedio)

The other option the elderly and those who do not have smartphones have is to go to the Youth Computer Club of the town, where a technician will help the interested party when requesting documents. Even if the effort does not produce results, the 10 pesos fee for each request is still due and payable.

Some have suggested that the Ministry of Justice offer the option of reviewing the document in PDF format before picking it up. The applicant could then verify it and, if there is an error, request the correction by e-mail. “But no. They prefer for everything to have obstacles and to complicate everything”, says Alicia, Yanet’s partner at the MLC store.

To make matters worse, the delivery of documents follows a rigid but inefficient order: Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays are for regular processing, Wednesdays for corrections, and Thursdays for those who need documents related to agriculture. Altogether, they only deal with thirty collection requests per week, while on Wednesdays ten additional files are received for corrections, and on Thursday another ten for procedures related to agriculture, which are resolved more quickly, for a total of fifty.

“Then one has to hear Díaz-Canel talking about eliminating bureaucracy, but they create more. Everything is hypocritical and disrespectful”, Alicia insists. “It seems unbelievable that the Ministry of Justice is one of the main defaulters of delivery deadlines.”

Miriam, a woman from Santa Clara who tried to evade mistreatment and bullying at the Santa Clara Civil Registry, finds herself in a similar situation and has not been able to process a document that she has been looking for since October. “The birth registration is supposed to be in Colón, Matanzas, but that civil registry is not even in the digital application system”.

The situation of the Civil Registry offices in other towns in the province is just as precarious. Vueltas, a few kilometers from Camajuaní, is part of its jurisdiction. The workers review the procedure code, previously assigned by the website of the Ministry of Justice. Then, within a month or two, they print the documents and call the interested party to get their turn in the queue to pick them up.

As for Remedios, a neighboring municipality of Camajuaní, the stagnation is similar. Both the list to carry out the procedure as well as the list of corrections will not be complete until the month of April.

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

No Dreams, No Entertainment, No Work, This is How the Young Live in Villa Clara, Cuba

They split the cost of a couple of bottles of rum, not too expensive, and look for an empty bench near to the bandstand in the park. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yankiel Gutiérrez Faife, Camajuaní, 8 January 2023 — Nearly all their friends have left, but Javier and Érica, two young people from Santa Clara, are still in Cuba. Leaving will be almost inevitable. With the Island’s economic situation, having children isn’t an option. Besides, at twenty-five years of age, where are they going to find a decent job, a house, or an environment less hostile?

A few weeks ago, after having scraped together enough money, they decided to celebrate the anniversary of their engagement at the Conuco Grill restaurant. The restaurant’s barbecue and its creole atmosphere have become legendary in Santa Clara. Javier and Érica reserved a table and ordered steaks, some salad and rice, and beers. Just as they had begun to eat, there was a power cut.

The owner, in order to ease the frustration of his customers a little bit, put lighted candles on each table. “The service was brilliant, and we were really happy with the food at the restaurant, but the power cut destroyed the magic of the evening”, Javier told this newspaper. “You try not to blame the waiters or the restaurant owner, because it’s not their fault, but the fault of those above“.

Nevertheless, says Javier, the power cut didn’t affect the bill at all: the couple ended up paying 1,360 pesos in total. After the meal Conuco Grill’s owner explained to them that intermittent power cuts are already a common occurrence and their impact on his business has been brutal. He has thought about buying a portable generator but the restaurant doesn’t yet make enough profit to be able to afford such an investment.

More than one year after he started Conuco Grill, his only option for solving the problem is to try and fit in with the timetable of scheduled power cuts that Unión Eléctrica publishes for the province. But, he tells us, even this data isn’t reliable.

Forty kilometres from Santa Clara , in Taguayabón, a group of young people the same age as Javier and Érica are trying to decide which village to go to for the evening. If they do manage to get a bus to Remedios or Caibarién they could grab a snack in its colonial streets or let off steam on the waterfront. However, more probable is that they’ll have to make do with going only as far as Camajuaní, and even then they’ll probably have to walk home. continue reading

Eventually they manage to get a lift from a truck and leave Taguayabón behind – barely illuminated, the village passes the night in a graveyard-like silence, as no one can afford to organise a house party, roast a pig or even share a bottle of rum. As far as the young people are concerned, the usual thing is to meet on a bench on the squalid main street above the bridge, or hang around waiting for someone to put some music on.

The truck drops them on Independence Street, opposite a cinema converted into a warehouse and the town dump. They decide to split the cost of a couple of bottles of rum, not too expensive, and look for an empty bench near to the bandstand in the park. You can hear them singing, between swigs of liquor, until dawn.

Michel, one of the group, arrived at the village’s discoteque on Saturday night and was met with a power cut. “It’s already lasted for two hours”, they told him. Someone suggested they go to the bandstand and said they’d bring a speaker to connect to their phone to entertain themselves for the evening. Michel himself collected 300 pesos from each member of the group and bought a bottle of Havana Club and an energy drink — Tigón — as a mixer.

Between sips from plastic cups, they began to share how angry they felt. One of them said that his grandmother, called Josefa, wanted to celebrate his nineteenth birthday with him when he came home on leave from military service, as he had done that Saturday. She went to buy some whiskey and some beers”, he said, “but the only shops that were open, on the main street, didn’t have any power. She waited a bit, it came back on and she bought the stuff… but when she got home she found there was another power cut”.

Another of the young men, David, told them that his dad had taken his little  brother to the Rainbow park in Santa Clara, and when they arrived there was no electricity. The boy waited for the rides to come back to life, but in vain. “All they could do was walk around”, David complained.

It’s better to go back to Taguayabón before midnight. Otherwise, you have to walk via the road between Camajuaní and Remedios, in complete darkness.

Camajuaní ’s situation – which is replicated in all of Villa Clara’s municipalities – is deplorable. Years ago there were at least six restaurants, a discoteque, several bars and cafeterias, all state owned. These days they’ve become ramshackle buildings, practically abandoned and with little to offer, or they’re on the point of being remodelled to cater for the little tourism there is.

Once they’re refurbished they will be out of reach of the ordinary citizen, let alone the younger people, whose costs are doubled if they want to spend time with their partner and whose parents aren’t able to permit themselves any additional luxuries.

“The worst thing is that we’ve stopped thinking about our dreams, just in order to dedicate ourselves to survival”, Jaime explains — he’s a young waiter from Santa Clara. He feels stuck, bored with everything, ruled by routine and poorly paid, and he feels he’s going nowhere in life. “Nothing in sight, no destination”, he says, ironically.

One frustrating thing, claims Jaime, is that the older folks think that the current generation is “badly adjusted” because they criticise the government but then want to leave the country instead of “resisting” like they’ve been taught to do. It’s quite common to be “tormented” with stories about the Special Period and to hear the old worn-out saying: “What have you got to complain about? – you have it better than we did in those times”.

The lack of decent employment opportunities is obvious. “You can do anything to earn your living”, Jaime accepts, “but that’s not the  same as fighting to achieve your dreams”. Many young people say that not only are they unable to plan to have children, but as things stand, nor do they want to. “If we bring children into the world with all this going on, their lives will certainly be worse than ours”.

What’s the solution?: “Leave Cuba”, Ariel replies without any doubt. He had been decided to leave since he was very young. “I thought the situation would carry on the same and that I would be able to put up with it for a few more years, but I couldn’t”, he tells us. Like thousands of other Cubans he crossed the Darién jungle in Panama towards the United States and today he lives there with his wife and her father. “It seems impossible that anything could get any worse but it still takes us by surprise”, he says in an exchange with his friends who stayed in Villa Clara.

“If you’re against the government it only brings you problems to remain here”, says Jorge, 23, resident of Camajuaní. His parents live in the USA and he remained with his grandmother and his uncle, but they also are now on the point of leaving. “Continuity is now no longer an option for the young”, he says, alluding to the regime’s slogan of keeping firm to their ideological position and of not changing anything.

“Well, I don’t get into politics”, explains David, who started to study medicine a few years ago. “I could lose a career which has cost me a lot of sacrifice. I haven’t gone hungry and gone without only to lose it all in the end”. And he adds, half jokingly: “When I graduate I’m off to Haiti. They live better there than in Cuba”.

Translated by Ricardo Recluso 

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

Honey, a Profitable Profession for Cuban Beekeepers When the State Deigns to Pay Them

The honey producer’s loyalty has to be absolute: he can’t sell in the informal market, nor keep too much honey for his own use. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yankiel Gutiérrez Faife, Camajuaní, 31 Although bee honey is one of the things that has “disappeared” from the Cuban family pantry, the State knows how to sell it abroad, and at very high prices. The purity and quality of the product have earned an international reputation for the Island’s honey, and it’s not uncommon to find it in the supermarkets of Europe and Latin America, with all kinds of packaging that advertises its origin as a sign of superiority.

Beekeeping escapes the usual rules of trade in Cuba. The State pays the farmer for honey at a better price than the informal market. The loyalty of the producer, of course, has to be absolute: he can’t sell in the informal market, nor keep too much honey for his own use. Otherwise, the inspectors can confiscate the equipment, retain the honey and make him pay an exorbitant fine.

“This profession does not take as much effort as dedicating oneself to agriculture,” says Lele, a 56-year-old farmer living in Rosalía, a rural town in Camajuaní, in the province of Villa Clara. “But not everyone has the courage to face the bee stings. To get an assistant, I have to call on several houses looking for someone who wants to work,” he complains.

Lele started as a beekeeper to collaborate with a friend of his. Over time, he acquired nine hives and had an estimated annual production of six to seven tons of honey. Everything must be delivered to the state-owned Cuban Beekeeping Company (Apicuba), which then moves it to the processing plant, evaluates the quality and determines the price.

Almost all beekeepers turn to the State instead of looking for private buyers. “It’s more profitable,” Lele explains. “The producer earns from 35,000 to 40,000 pesos per ton, and, if in Apicuba they consider the honey to be exportable, they pay him an additional 600 MLC (freely convertible currency).”

The “trick” of this added payment is that the producer must pay a “counter-value” for each MLC received. That is, in order to receive the currency you have to deduct from the 35,000 pesos of your payment the equivalent of 600 MLC, but at a favorable exchange rate of 24 pesos, which means earning 14,400 pesos. In sum, for each ton of exportable honey you can get 20,600 pesos and 600 MLC, which Apicuba will transfer to your ’credit’ card. continue reading

However, payment is frequently delayed and depends on the distribution of the lots that the State allocates for export. The farmer can deliver a certain amount of honey to Apicuba, but until it is sent abroad he will not receive the full payment.

It’s been more than a month since I paid the MLC’s counter-value to Apicuba for the honey I delivered,” complains Yaniel, a producer from Camagüey. “I know that they already sent the export shipment in September, and my money has not yet appeared on the card. The answer they give me is that it is the bank’s fault. I’m still waiting.”

Many beekeepers also complain about the bureaucracy that they must conquer before receiving their money — sometimes five or six months late. Apicuba requires having the identity card photocopied on both sides, a document that accredits the producer as part of a cooperative, and another copy of the contract signed with the State for the current year.

The farmer goes to work in a cart towed by oxen. He carries his instruments: a centrifuge, smoker, bellows and a tank to collect the honey. Protected by a beekeeping suit, hat and veil, Lele carefully removes the frames from each hive — the squares that the bees fill with honey. He gently removes the bees, takes off the seal (wax layer) and extracts the honey with the help of the centrifuge.

After straining the mixture, he fills the tank and returns the honeycomb to the box. This procedure is repeated with each of the hives. The purity of the final result is remarkable.

From that collection, Apicuba takes care of the rest. The Cuban State, which pays 600 MLC per ton of honey to the producer, sells it on average at more than 4,000 euros per ton to the most avid buyers: Germans, Dutch and Spanish. The price varies depending on whether it is bulk, packaged, monofloral, multifloral or pollen. Some publications have indicated that Cuban honey is sold for 20,000 euros a ton.

However, data from the Ministry of Agriculture of Spain for the 2021-2022 campaign indicate that bulk honey reached 4,620 euros per ton, while the multifloral variant was sold for a maximum of 3,620 euros. The packaged pollen was sold for 12,000 euros. In any case, the disproportion between the profit of the Cuban state and the remuneration of the farmer is enormous.

In the informal market, the sale does not reach the same level. There are few quantities available in MLC, and the one on the street has a presentation that leaves a lot to be desired, not to mention that the honey itself is of unreliable origin.

There are other advantages for the producer, says Lele. The broken and old frames of the hives can be re-used: they are placed in a boiler on the fire, and the wax that melts, once cleaned, is also bought by Apicuba to renew the boxes.

Lele’s bees collect wildflower pollen. Their hives are not sprayed with any chemical, and, when some strange body — such as cockroaches and other intruder insects — is inserted into the boxes, he himself extracts it.

Accepting the conditions of Apicuba is the only way to benefit from the sale of honey abroad, a business whose numbers are increasing, as the prestige of Cuban production grows, says Lele. “We can only keep what’s destined for our own consumption,” he says, “otherwise they can take away our means and our hives.”

But Apicuba, Lele explains, does not offer farmers the necessary resources. He has been using his own for five years, and there is nowhere to find protective equipment, tanks and even a simple mesh to make the veil, indispensable to protect the face from bites.

Leonardo, another beekeeper from Rosalía, is concerned about the incidence of tropical diseases in his bees. Their hives have been decimated by the destructive rogue mite, a species that lives parasitically from bees and exterminates them.

Purity, the first quality criterion for exports, cannot be compromised by drugs. “It does not suit the State,” says Leonardo, “because this would affect the price of Cuban honey in the world market, which greatly values everything that is processed without chemical substances.”

The mite sucks the hemolymph of both larvae and adult bees. It drains their strength and make them custodian of a virus. Then the animal’s body begins to be affected, the wings atrophy and they can’t work. “Then the workers come and end up expelling the sick bee,” Leonardo explains. “They think that one that doesn’t work doesn’t eat, and doesn’t have the right to live either.”

“When this disease enters the hive,” he says, “the only thing that can be done is to observe how the bees are dying little by little. The State is not going to sell us the medicines to cure them. The last thing they want is for us to alter the organic state of the honey.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

In Cuban Prisons, Prisoners Survive Thanks to Private Initiatives

The family of political prisoner Andy García Lorenzo manages the funds and ensures that they are distributed fairly. (Facebook/Roxana García Lorenzo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yankiel Gutiérrez Faife, Camajuaní, 26 November 2022 — Without the help of charitable organizations and private donors, prisoners would be on the verge of starvation in Cuban prisons, where they receive from the State the bare minimum to survive. “Lately the contributions have been greatly reduced,” laments Jonatan López, brother-in-law of political prisoner Andy García Lorenzo, who inspired the Funds for the Victims of Communism initiative. “We have up to 110 beneficiaries, but now we have resources for only about 44 detainees.”

“We’re a bridge for delivering food to prisoners in Cuba. We receive small donations from people who are sympathetic to the cause and help low-income families,” explains Jonatan López in conversation with 14ymedio.

“Andy knew what it was to go to bed hungry, without being able to satisfy himself with the small portion of food they get in jail,” López says. On each visit, they assure, they tried to bring the young man everything he needed. “But he always asked for more, because he wanted to share his food with the others.”

Funds for the Victims of Communism — promoted on social networks under the name of Help the Brave of 11J [11 July 2021 protests] — is responsible for raising money so that families can provide prisoners with food, toiletries, cigarettes and everything they need during their imprisonment. continue reading

The organization takes care of raising money so that families can provide prisoners with food, toiletries, cigarettes and everything they need during their imprisonment. (14ymedio)

The economic crisis on the Island and the increase in the price of food and basic necessities have had a negative impact on the situation of prisoners, and it’s difficult to provide them with the bag of supplies during family visits.

The visibility of the García Lorenzo family, following the multiple complaints made by its members, contributed to the project gaining notoriety and interest from donors. After initially refusing to send money, they decided — in December 2021 — to create a structure to collect funds.

The initial recipients were 15 families of political prisoners in Villa Clara, but the direct transmissions of Roxana García Lorenzo — Andy’s sister — and the complaints of other activists allowed increasing the number of donations and expanding the scope of the organization.

At the moment, the funds are destined for the families of 44 inmates in the western and central regions of the Island, for whom 3,000 pesos per month are deposited on their cards to buy products intended to cover their basic needs. The same amount has been given, at least once, to 110 prisoners.

Jonatan López, recently exiled in Germany, explained to 14ymedio that “to assist 110 prisoners, 4,500 to 5,000 dollars must be paid monthly, in order to distribute 6,000 pesos to each prisoner. And even so, their needs are not fully met, but it would be a huge relief for those families who, in many cases, have run out of their main economic livelihood,” he said, alluding to the fact that the work of many of the young people arrested was what supported their families.

The García Lorenzos manage the funds and ensure that they are distributed fairly. Activist Samuel Rodríguez Ferrer, a resident of the United States, is responsible for managing the PayPal and Zelle accounts opened for donations, which are then sent in their entirety to Cuba, without subtracting administrative or promotion expenses from the initiative. Ways have been found, says the activist, so that “the dictatorship does not access this currency” at the time of the transfers.

In addition, as they clarify on their website, the organization “is not political, nor is it affiliated with any party, organization or government. We do not receive a federal grant from the United States, or from any other country. Donations come from individuals and independent companies.”

Jonatan López records the donations in a public Excel document, to ensure transparency, while Pedro López, his father — also in the situation of asylum seeker in Germany — and his wife, Roxana García, from Santa Clara, are responsible for managing the organization. Through different channels, with the help of people traveling to the Island, the money reaches the families of the inmates.

“This project is so that they don’t feel alone, and they know that there are people outside and inside helping them,” Pedro López explains to 14ymedio. “You go against the dictatorship, they try to isolate everyone who dissents, and one of the ways is to tell them that they are alone. They try to demoralize them,” he says.

Despite their exile, Pedro and Jonatan López took measures so that the project didn’t stop. So far, they say, State Security has not confiscated their supplies, which in some cases are transported on national buses.

“It’s not difficult to work from the outside. We created an infrastructure made up of the same relatives, so that it wouldn’t stop when we left,” Pedro López says.

The work of the organization has not been without controversy. Several opponents have opined that the project “accommodates the relatives of prisoners,” which prevents them from “protesting” for the freedom of their relatives. These criticisms “do not make sense,” says Jonatan López. “The funds barely alleviate the situation of the families, and, in addition, the prisoners are not to blame for not assuming a ’frontal position’ against the regime in their homes.”

“We believe that it’s unfair to deprive them of this help, which is only the most basic, food, because their families don’t want to protest,” added the young man who, exiled in Germany due to pressure from State Security, confirmed to this newspaper his willingness to continue working on the project, combined with other initiatives such as I lend you my voice, Justice 11J, Where you fall, I’ll pick you up and the Accompaniment Groups of the Cuban Conference of Clergy (Concur).

For her part, Roxana García — known for her strong denunciations of the Government for the harassment of her brother — remains in Cuba, along with her parents, to continue demanding his freedom and that of the almost 1,000 political prisoners of the Island.

Several relatives of the prisoners have expressed their gratitude to the Funds for the Victims of Communism. Yanet Rodríguez from Holguin pointed out that the project has provided “help to the east of the country,” since most of the initiatives of this type are concentrated in the western region or the main cities of the Island.

Saily Núñez, wife of protester Maykel Puig, described the work of the organization as “extremely transparent,” while Niurka Ricardo, mother of prisoner Mario Josué Prieto, described the project as “something extraordinary and very human,” since it guarantees the food and medicines that are sent in the jabito (“little bag) to the inmates.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

‘Four Years Have Passed and the Cuban Government Still Hasn’t Paid Us for the Hogs it Bought’

With the promise of benefits and good sale prices, officials had attracted local producers. The situation, in practice, is very different. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yankiel Gutiérrez Faife, Camajuaní, 28 October 2022 — The cart towed by an old Soviet tractor left the rural area of Camajuaní in Villa Clara province headed to Remedios. It was loaded with seven pigs whose owners, five farmers who rented the transportation, had made the decision to sell to the state.

With the promise of benefits and good sale prices, the officials had attracted local producers who hoped to stock up on better, well-fed cattle and were able to make the sacrifice. The situation, in practice, was very different.

The agreement consisted of paying half the value of the hogs in cash and the other half in animal feed: maize, fodder and soy. The deal made sense to the producers, as they could use the money and at the same time, were guaranteed food for the other pigs they kept on their farms.

The tractor unloaded the hogs in Remedios and after a long line, the officials weighed and appraised them. They were good animals, well raised, and fattened and they received half of the agreed-upon price in cash. “We don’t have the rest yet, but soon you’ll receive a call to come pick up the feed,” they said.

“It’s been four years,” bemoaned Juan Domingo, “and to this day no one has contacted us.” Along with Ivis, Janiel, Daniel and Elier, he awaits payment for the 28,000 peso debt — in feed for the hogs — that the government continues to delay.

The man stated that since then, they’ve been through the pandemic, the Ordering Task* and different social and financial collapses on the Island. “We’ve insisted, of course, to know why the delay, but they don’t have a response.” continue reading

They’ve attempted to fill the gap in soy and maize imports with cassava and the palm nuts, historically used to fatten hogs. (14ymedio)

“I lost hope for recuperating that feed,” Ivis told 14ymedio. “They behave as if the hogs never existed, they speak to us with a secrecy when we ask for explanations,” said the woman who agrees with Juan Domingo that the selling hogs is not viable in Cuba.

Raising hogs requires resources and a lot of effort. In the yards of Cuban homes, there was always a bucket where each day, food scraps were deposited. That mix of leftovers was called sancocho, just like the local dish. However, the shortages and the food crisis means that, at the end of the week, there is very little to throw into the bucket.

The price for the “formal” feed for the animals is more absurd by the day. “The cassava, maize and soy are nowhere to be found,” complains Ivis. “A sack of soy could cost 5,500 pesos. The crop residues can be used to feed hogs, but they do not fatten them like the industrial fodder.” All this, says the farm woman, limits the weight of the animals and draws out the fattening process, indispensable for the slaughtering and consumption.

They’ve attempted to fill the gap in soy and maize imports with cassava and the palm nuts, historically used to fatten hogs.

The crisis, however, has resulted in a chain of failures: without imported feed, the government’s debts to producers have grown; neglecting the breeders compromised pig breeding at the provincial level and at one point, the effects were felt throughout the country. “We producers did not have a choice but to cancel our agreements with the state,” stated Juan Domingo. The feed shortages led most pork producers to abandon their work.

In another municipality of Villa Clara, Zulueta, farmer José Luis bites the bullet to keep his 23 hogs fed. “I had 40 hectares of land planted before the crisis,” he stated alluding to the pandemic and the collapse of the Island’s energy sector. “This food is exclusively for the animals and I’ve been preparing it for years.”

Meanwhile, the price of meat has reached abusive levels in any type of market, be it the informal market or the state-owned butcher. “350 pesos per pound is excessive,” calculates José Luis who bemoaned being unable to fatten his hogs enough for them to reach an acceptable weight by the time they are slaughtered.

“The current crisis didn’t begin with the coronavirus,” said the farmer, “but rather two or three years prior, when the Ministry of Agriculture began to promote the ’substitution’ of imported feed.” There was no such change, rather, the feed no longer entered the country, even though it was impossible to cover the gap with national production.

“The agreements with Porcino (the state-owned company that processes and distributes meat) establishes the amount of feed that must be obtained through our own means. They offer no more than 60% or 70% of the feed needed for the animals and it never arrives on time,” he said.

The feed shortages led most pork producers to abandon their work. (14ymedio)

The government’s debt to farm cooperatives mirrors, at a local level, its financial behavior at the international level–delays, extended payment periods or requests for debt forgiveness.

Despite all this, the official press continues to present the government as a “sponsor” of the self-employed that benefits certain lucky farmers. Several weeks ago Granma praised Yusdany Rojas, owner of a farm in Camajuaní, who maintains an unfathomable 800 hogs. And aspires to own 4,000 in a few months, if the bureaucrats give him “more land” and the bank provides enough credit.

Rojas received an official visit by Miguel Díaz-Canel and other officials in his private “slaughterhouse.” He owns, moreover, a tobacco field, sugar cane and other crops and a meat processing plant. The photographs of the successful farm were circulated on all official media.

The reality told by the state press does not mention the real difficulties faced by producers, the shortages and lack of resources faced by farmers. And as of now, neither do they dedicate space to explain when and how the Cuban government plans to honor its word and pay its debts.

*Translator’s Note: Tarea ordenamiento = the [so-called] ‘Ordering Task’ is a collection of measures that include eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), thus leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and a broad range of other measures targeted to different elements of the Cuban economy.

Translated by: Silvia Suárez

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

Hallelujah! Cuban Pharmacies Suddenly Stocked with Medicines about to Expire

Medications that are about to expire have been made available for sale by the government. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yankiel Gutierrez Faife, Camajuani, 16 October 2022 — On Friday a crowd of locals gathered in front of an old mansion that now serves as a pharmacy. As if by magic, the store shelves were filled with medicines that have not been seen for months. The sudden abundance generated suspicion. Where did all these drugs come from?

An employee provided a simple answer: “They’re about to expire.” The scene was repeated in nearby towns such as Taguayabon as well as municipalities such as Remedio and Santa Clara. The outrage of those waiting in line quickly grew.

Why did public health officials wait so long to provide these drugs? What warehouse were they being stored in and why are they about to expire. Frantic over having to process and sell the medications, pharmacies in the province are trying to make them available to customers as quickly as they can.

Outside the pharmacies, people openly express their frustrations. “Bad management, like everything else,” says Ramon, one of the residents, “I don’t understand why there was nothing before and now it’s here in record time. It’s because they had it in storage.” continue reading

Miguel, another customer, suspects the drugs came from the National State Reserve Warehouse, where the government stockpiles medications to deal with critical shortages. “I asked the employees and even they don’t know where they came from,” he says. “All that matters to them is that they sell them before they expire.”

“They should lower the price,” argues another customer, who observes that Cubans will consume any medication, even if it is out-of-date, as long as it does not “look funny,” is not off-color and is not visibly disintegrating.

“Yesterday, my sister-in-law told me that medicines would be available,” says Yudit. “So today I got up early to see if I could get paracetamol, loratadine, diazepam and chlordiazepoxide. But it was no use. I was only able to get some paracetamol tablets, for 3.40 pesos, and loratadine, which cost me 8.60.”

Unsurprisingly, the situation is not unique to Villa Clara. As soon as word got out, lines also formed in front of the pharmacies in Sancti Spiritus and Havana.

“It’s not that they’ve expired; it’s that they’re about to expire,” explains Juan, an allergy sufferer from Sancti Spiritus “But a lot of drugs are still not available. I still can’t buy ketotifen, montelukast or any other antihistamine.”

Maria Eugenia’s hands are sweaty and her eyes dart from side to side. For months the 65-year-old Havana resident has been unable to get the medications a doctor prescribed for her persistent anxiety, from which she has suffered since her husband died several years ago and her son emigrated, leaving her alone on the island.

“I can’t go without chlordiazepoxide,” she says. “At the pharmacy where I am supposed to get it, several of us are in the same situation. Our nerves are shot and we can’t get the medication we need.”

Recently, Maria Eugenia waited in line from midnight till the pharmacy in Central Havana, where she has to buy the medication she urgently needs, opened the next morning. “They said they had to set aside some of the nerve pills for people who have a heart disease. But it was a lie.”

By dawn, she says, “It looked like a line of crazies because you could clearly see the huge anxiety on all our faces. But when the pharmacy opened, the employees told us they had not received any of our medications.

Frustrated and desperate, Maria Eugenia turned to the black market, where she paid 350 pesos for twenty chlordiazepoxide tablets. “They were made in Cuba so they must have been stolen from some store or pharmacy,” she speculates. She noted that the expiration date on the bottle was October 2022.

“I am going to go ahead and take them because I don’t have any other option,” she says. I don’t have the luxury of waiting to find some other tablets that aren’t about to expire and I cannot get by without this medication. I go out every day knowing I have a few pills in my bag. Just knowing that calms my anxiety.

Many Cubans cope by anticipating these situations: “You have to pester the doctor and ask for your prescriptions every month. You never know when the medicines are going to arrive and you have to be prepared.”
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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

In Camajuani, the Cuban State Leaves the Majority of Farmers in Poverty

Despite the poverty and the impossibility of making profits in dollars, the Government continues to sell agricultural inputs in foreign currency. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yankiel Gutiérrez Faife, Camajuaní (Cuba), 24 September 2022 — Like most Cuban farmers, Ernesto gets up before dawn and has coffee. Half of his house is made of boards; the other is covered with fiber cement. He isn’t poor, but the money he earns has to be reinvested in crops.

His land, located on the outskirts of Camajuaní, Villa Clara, used to be fertile and welcoming. But it has been dry for years and doesn’t produce unless it’s fertilized with expensive fertilizers, sprayed with insecticides and weeded. “When you can’t get these resources,” the farmer tells 14ymedio, “the harvest is lost.”

Ernesto wants to grow 15 bean plants. Between the payment of the workers, the plow and the liquids, he has to spend 25,000 pesos on planting. A small fortune that took him three months to gather, in addition to getting used to remote management through Revolico, the buying and selling website where he got six liters of the herbicide glyphosate, for 1,675 pesos each.

The driver of the tractor that had planned to drag the plow charged him 6,000 pesos, plus fuel money, another 2,200. “All I have been able to achieve has been with my money, without credits or loans,” says Ernesto. “And I haven’t even been able to start planting with that.”

“What’s lucky is that I sell almost everything from what I produce,” he concludes, “and I also have something left for my house. If not, I have nothing.” continue reading

Rarely does the State pay attention to them when they complain to farm agencies, and the resources never arrive on time when bought. (14ymedio)

A few kilometers from Camajuaní, on a farm in the town of La Sabana, Armando grows mangoes and guavas that he then sells to Acopio. This State company distributes them to the Los Atrevidos canning factory, in Remedios. “The people of Acopio seemed serious,” he says, “until one day they really let me down.”

Armando planned to send six boxes of ripe mango, and they kept waiting for him all weekend. Under the heat of August, some mangoes began to rot. “I couldn’t wait any longer,” says the guajiro, who had to sell the lot to a merchant from Camajuaní, who quickly dispatched it.

“When I called Acopio to complain, they shamelessly explained to me that without fuel for the trucks they couldn’t buy the mango,” he says. “With that level of instability, how can you trust the State to do business?”

Miguel also lives and works in Camajuaní but, unlike Ernesto and Miguel, his resources are very scarce to keep his crops in good condition. Lately he doesn’t even sell what he harvests, but dedicates it to the consumption of his own family.

Old and with ailments, Miguel depends on his squalid checkbook. “It  doesn’t give me enough for insecticides,” he laments. He has tried to thrive with other alternatives: earthworm hummus, animal feces and a mixture made with tobacco wedges and rotten vegetables, “but even so the pests don’t give up.”

An attempt is made to eliminate pests with earthworm humus, animal feces and a mixture made with tobacco and rotten vegetables, but they don’t even give up. (14ymedio)

Bordering on extreme poverty, Miguel’s house doesn’t even have a bathroom, just a toilet of boards in the courtyard. Despite the poverty and the impossibility of making profits in dollars, the Government continues to sell agricultural inputs in foreign currency. Most farmers don’t have or don’t know how to apply for a freely convertible currency account. These are very new processes, modes of payment to which they aren’t accustomed and a suffocating bureaucracy that turns marketing into a nightmare.

Some of them, the wealthiest, have been able to hire laborers and equipment. Others follow the tradition of facing the countryside alone, from sunrise to sunset, and resign themselves to austerity and the departure of the children, who rarely remain in rural villages.

Ernesto, Armando and Miguel are not affiliated with any cooperative. Rarely does the State pay attention to them when they complain to farm agencies, and the resources never arrive on time. “What there is goes to State producers,” they’re told.

Díaz-Canel has a special affection for Camajuaní, and it’s not enough for him to pave the way for the well-shod mafia, omnipotent in the territory; now he also supports his “chosen” farmers. (14ymedio)

It’s not strange that these three men, accustomed to difficulties and bureaucracy, have been perplexed by a recent headline in the the Communist Party newspaper Granma, which spoke of another Camajuaní producer: “If Yusdany can, why can’t others?” said the paper, citing none other than Miguel Díaz-Canel.

The plump president, on an official visit to the town of Villa Clara, had gone to the brand-new private “slaughterhouse” of Yusdany Rojas, a 31-year-old farmer. Rojas feeds the huge amount of 800 pigs on his farm, while he sows tobacco to sell to those who remove the veins of the leaves. In addition, he grows cane and other crops on its land and has space for a “small” sausage factory.

Díaz-Canel is portrayed with the young Yusdany, fascinated by the growth of the pigs and the “self-management” of the farm, where problems don’t take their toll. “He needs land,” says Granma, so that the local bureaucracy feels pressured in the face of the dilemma: the five pieces he owns are no longer enough.

“We were used to the State giving us everything for a long time as if we were pigeons,” he says, and his words almost sound ironic, “but now they have freed our wings and what we have to do is learn to fly.”

Yusdany sells his products to tourism and State-owned companies. The bank is lavish when it comes to granting loans, and the pigs are in good health. “Very soon I will have 3,800 pigs,” Rojas promises, and no one doubts it.

Almost 4,000 pigs, 86 employees, 5 pieces of land that will soon multiply and the personal blessing of Díaz-Canel. The president has a special affection for Camajuaní, and it’s not enough for him to pave the way for the well-shod mafia, omnipotent in the territory. Now he also guarantees that “chosen” farmers, such as Rojas, will prosper and entertain them in the official media.

Ernesto, Armando and Miguel ask themselves the same question, which becomes a complaint: If Yusdany can do it, why can’t we?

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

Sugar Cane Workers are Barely Surviving in Camajuani, Cuba

The La Julia cooperative, which must now assume all the local production for the harvest in Villa Clara, is also in full decline. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yankiel Gutiérrez Faife, Camajuaní (Villa Clara), 10 September 2022 — The inhabitants of the Camajuaní valley, in the province of Villa Clara, have known better times for the intensive cultivation of sugar cane. Today, many of the characteristic towers of the sugar mills that gave prosperity to the settlements of Carmita, Fe, Rosalía, La Julia and Vega Alta are in ruins.

A few continue to barely produce, and the workers don’t receive their salaries for months. This is the case of Rosalía’s macheteros, the cane cutters, who saw their cooperative close fifteen years ago. There, enough cane was cleaned and cut to fill a dozen wagons, and it was then transported for processing to the Fe sugar mill, officially renamed in 1960 as the José María Pérez Sugar Agroindustrial Complex.

Now, in Rosalía, the ruins of the old collection center are piled up, and the government has ripped out the railway line. The locals have been taking everything, from fiber cement tiles to metal beams. There were only the walls left, but the neighbors also chopped up the concrete blocks to take them  away.

The sugar plantations of La Julia, which must now assume all the local production for the harvest, are also in full decline. The cows and horses of the farmers continually enter their fields to feed.

The damage further delays the poor cultivation of the cooperative, which, of the 20 tons that it cut before 2018, will only be able to contribute five this year. continue reading

About 320 people work in the La Julia cooperative. Mechanical engineers receive a salary of 5,000 pesos; technicians earn a little less; and workers, who must use their machetes in the heat under deplorable conditions, earn only 2,500 pesos a month, equivalent to about twenty dollars at the official exchange rate.

“The Fe mill buys the cane from us at 700 pesos a ton, but the cooperative must maintain its autonomy,” José Luis, a worker at La Julia who prefers to use a fictitious name, tells 14ymedio. “That means that our salary depends on the income we can get.”

They are rarely paid on time. The sugar cane bureaucracy is indebted to the max to the Central Bank of Cuba, and that delay is directly reflected in the payment of workers.

Margarita, a worker who is transported by cart every day, from Taguayabón to La Julia, explains to this newspaper how the counterpoint of credits and debts works. “The industry has been a disaster for years,” she says.

The credit offered by the bank, she explains, “has an expiration date,” so that, if it’s not paid back on time, there’s no way to pay the macheteros. The possibility of offering land to the workers is being analyzed, but these individuals will face the same problems as the cooperative: shortage of fuel, lack of supplies, machetes, gloves, clothes, shoes, water backpacks.

“If there’s no pay for the workers there, there will be much less for the individual,” she adds.

It’s a vicious circle, José Luis clarifies. The mill also has debts, “which three million pesos must go to,” he calculates, “and without a detailed report of what is going to be done, the bank won’t provide the necessary credit to start the operation.”

Ruined by bureaucracy and malfunctions, no one could imagine today that the Island’s sugar industry was once the first in the world. (File, Archive)

Each step hinders the next, and the most affected is always the humble worker, who has no other remuneration. “On more than one occasion they stopped paying me,” laments Eliecer, a machetero from  La Julia. “They told us that there was no money that month, but the truth is that it happens all the time. That’s why many have asked for leave, but life is very hard and we’re all stuck with whatever we get,” he says.

“Not to mention that workers waste a lot of time trying to get to the cooperative,” adds José Luis. When there’s no fuel to bring them from home, the work day is lost, or the worker himself has to figure out how to get there.

“Last week only 160 liters of fuel were available for transporting the workers,” he says. When they were used up, we had to wait and declare the work as “interrupted.” Nor is there enough fuel for the tractors, the plows or the cultivators. Insecticides and fertilizers are in the same situation.

The man admits that “when things are under private administration, people respect it.” However, “when it’s from the state, no one cares.” That explains why the local farmers bring their animals, day or night, to eat the cane. “Fines have been imposed on them,” he says, “but it’s no use at all. It doesn’t stop anyone.”

In addition to the precariousness with which the macheteros of La Julia live, there are several rumors, which are passed on by word of mouth in the workers’ settlements. Although no one has confirmed it yet, the farmers believe that the mills will no longer produce sugar for export, and will be able to provide barely a portion of the sugar needed for the island.

They believe that, instead, the government intends to sell the molasses to China, at a very high price. In that country, they say, they will use it to manufacture alcoholic beverages and purgative honey, which has a medicinal use, in addition to using it as fertilizer and feed for livestock.

Ruined by bureaucracy and malfunctions, no one could imagine today that the Island’s sugar industry was once the first in the world. This year, the government has reduced the number of mills that grind sugar during the harvest to 23. Small but “efficient,” as Miguel Díaz-Canel described it, this season’s production will not reach even half a million tons of sugar.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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

No Blackouts in Taguayabon, Cuba

Taguayabón and Rosalía seem to be among those “untouchable” points on the map of Cuban blackouts.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yankiel Gutiérrez Faife, Taguayabón (Villa Clara), 23 August 2022 — A blackout in the city is not the same as one in a rural area. When the power goes out in an urban center, even in smaller towns, the buzz of voices begins to break the silence, the heat gets people to talk, scream, bring their furniture onto the porch, and it is possible to smoke and listen to a portable radio.

In contrast, in a settlement, on the side of the road, or by an old sugar mill, blackouts are all-consuming and inhospitable. It’s the ideal opportunity for local thieves, nocturnal marauders, and bandits who always know the area’s uneven geography very well.

Amid the energy crisis some places in Cuba are apparently spared the outages scheduled by Unión Eléctrica. The settlements of Taguayabón and Rosalía, between Camajuaní and Remedios in Villa Clara, seem to be among those “untouchable” points on the map of Cuban blackouts.

The residents, accustomed to an Island where nothing is logical, know that at any moment they will lose the “privilege” of electricity. Suddenly, they explain the miracle alleging that both settlements are close to an area the government considers essential to the functioning of the province, however precarious.

In an “exceptional” stroke of circuit luck, both settlements are near General Docente 26 de Diciembre Hospital, at the entrance to Remedio, and the meat packing plant known as Osvaldo continue reading

Herrera in the people’s council of Vega de Palma on the route to Vueltas.

The bus always takes the same route as the meat: as soon as it passes Camajuaní it takes the bumpy road to Vueltas. (14ymedio)

The population of each of these areas is small, and thus they do not use excessive amounts of electricity; Taguayabón has 3,308 residents, Rosalía 235 and Vega de Palma 238. Vueltas, Camajuaní, and Remedios, which have tens of thousands of residents, can’t be spared the blackouts.

“We are well,” a resident of Taguayabón told 14ymedio, “but that does not mean we don’t know anything about the blackouts and the protests in other areas. In Camajuaní and Remedios they shut the power off six or twelve hours in a row, but those towns around here haven’t had a blackout in a month. Some joke that this is the new Marianao [a desirable neighborhood in Havana] and they want to move here.”

One ride on the hellish “Slaughterhouse bus,” which takes workers from Salamina near Santa Clara to Vueltas, is enough to make you understand the importance of the meat packing plant in Vega de Palma. The rickety vehicle, loaded with university students, sleep-deprived travelers, and employees of Cárnicos Villa Clara, runs slowly down the road to Camajuaní and takes a detour toward Salamina.

That slaughterhouse, along with two others — Lorenzo González in Sagua and Chichi Padrón in Santa Clara — is responsible for providing the raw materials to the Vega de Palma packing plant. The bus follows the same route as the meat: as soon as it passes Camajuaní it takes the bumpy road to Vueltas, passing el Entronque, another poor settlement.

The Osvaldo Herrera packing plant is run by the Ministry of Food Industry. It employs 250 workers and produces croquettes, canned goods, and sausages, including the unpleasant Cuban version of mortadella, the consumption of which is rationed by the government. Some of the products, those of higher quality, are sent to hotels in the nearby area of Cayería Norte. Another, non-negligible percentage of the sausage “tubes” ends up on the informal market or available through online food stores, which require prepayment in dollars from abroad.

The products at Vega de Palma also require flour from Cienfuegos, and soy from Santiago de Cuba necessary to make mincemeat, another gastronomic headache for Cubans, while other companies provide nylon, cardboard, and preservatives to package the products.

In Vega de Palma there are two sausage-making machines, one meat grinder and one for boneless meat, five steamers with a capacity of 1,500 kilograms, fans, showers for cleaning the meat, and cold storage.

Yolanda, an employee at the packing plant, tells 14ymedio that for a long time her company has not had a backup generator for emergencies. “It depends entirely on the national electric system,” she states, “and although no one confirms that is the reason we don’t have blackouts, we know. Everything would spoil!”

“Some joke saying this is the new Marianao and that they want to move here.” (14ymedio)

If a blackout would break the cycle, the hotels wouldn’t have sausage, the butchers would not receive the monthly mortadella ration and the government would add another crisis to its long list of unresolved problems.

Nonetheless, not even uninterrupted power guarantees the packing plant’s function. Ernesto, another one of the employees, states that the company does not work every day.

“Sometimes the work is interrupted because there is no gas for the trucks that bring the meat from Salamina. Other times, what is missing is the raw material. We run out of wheat flour and it is impossible to make croquetas. Then we have to make mincemeat or mortadella, while we have the pork or chicken,” he concluded.

The other “guardian angel” against blackouts for these rural settlements is the hospital in Remedios. With 480 workers, of which 67 are doctors and 138 nurses, patients in serious condition are sent here from nearby municipalities including Camajuaní, which only has one polyclinic serving outpatients.

In the old yet very effective hospital, there are pediatric, obstetric, gynecology, anesthesiology, general surgery, intensive care, clinical laboratories, and other wards. A prolonged power outage would be fatal during surgery or for patients on life support.

Of course, neither the colossal packing plant nor the hospital in Remedios provides long-term guarantees. The residents suppose the government has weighed its options: it maintains the power supply because it would be more expensive to fuel generators for both centers.

No one holds out too much hope that the situation will remain as is, of course. If small towns in the Villa Clara countryside have not been affected much by blackouts, it is precisely because they are small. The Cuban government and its energy bureaucracy know where to shut off power and for how long. It is the reason for popular discontent, less controllable as time goes on, and its direct consequence — the nighttime protest.

Translated by: Silvia Suárez

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

The Odyssey of Buying a Ticket to Get from One Province to Another

The Taguayabón bus stop, near Camajuaní, Villa Clara. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yankiel Gutierrez Faife, Camajuaní, 2 July 2022 — I live in Taguayabón, near Camajuaní, in Villa Clara province. For months I have been waiting for July to come so I can spend a few days with my mother in Havana, visit relatives and see the city.

I was up by 8:30 Monday morning. Having waited a month for tickets to finally go on sale, I logged onto the the Viajando travel app. It seems a lot of people had the same idea because no sooner had I accessed the site than the connectivity problems and system failures began.

I selected my tickets and was ready to pay but the app could not connect me to Transfermovil, its payment platform. “This operation could not be completed due to a connection problem with the server. Please try again later,” read the message on the screen.

I tried multiple times to complete the process in the allotted ten-minute window but all attempts failed. Each session eventually timed out and I had to start over. For an hour and a half I kept repeating the process, without success, so it occurred to me to just go in person to the agency’s offices in Santa Clara instead.

The offices are eighteen kilometers away and, with the dreadful public transport situation, this meant waiting one to three hours for a Transmetro bus, a truck or a Giron bus. If you manage to get any of them, the price is 20 pesos to the Arnaldo Milian Castro hospital, where you then have to pay 30 to 50 pesos for a horse-drawn carriage to take you to the bus terminal. continue reading

Frustrated by the time I had wasted and not thrilled with the alternative, I thought about contacting my friend David, who lives in Santa Clara, and asking if he could do me a favor and buy me a ticket. I did and he agreed.

David hopped on his electric scooter and headed for the ticket office located in the Inter-Province Bus Terminal. By the time he arrived, there were already twenty-three people waiting in line. Several of them had experienced the same problem that I had. They were unable to buy their tickets and were extremely frustrated

Some complained about app errors, others about the small number of available seats. Currently, there are only two buses a day from Santa Clara to Havana — one at 1:00 PM and the other at 11:50 PM — which are not enough to meet demand. After internal borders were reopened and inter-provincial travel resumed, officials claimed they would add more buses to the route. However, the fuel shortage has made it impossible for them to keep their promise.

After waiting almost an hour in the hot sun, my friend was finally able to buy two tickets for July 26, at 80 pesos apiece. Minutes later, all the tickets had sold out and many people had to leave without having achieved their objective.

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

Rosalia, a Forgotten Hamlet in the Center of Cuba

One of the homes in the forgotten Rosalía hamlet, in Camajuaní. (Yankiel Gutierrez Faife)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yankiel Gutiérrez Faife, Camajuaní (Villa Clara), 19 March 2022 — Rosalía is a rural area in Camajuaní, poor and in decline, like so many small towns in Cuba. This place, full of history, was prosperous thanks to the sugar industry, but today is almost abandoned by its population, despite its good land and cool climate.

In its best times, the place in the province of Villa Clara had a center for the collection of its production and a railway, with its switch, which today is just ruins; there was an infirmary for small aid, which disappeared and even the primary school has been threatened with disappearance. The place is so small that it only has one road with the occasional bog, which makes it difficult for its citizens to circulate.

Transportation is by family carts and bicycles, but not everyone has one. Years ago there was a public bus with several daily frequencies, but over time it decreased and it only came “when it could.” After the pandemic, it was eliminated and has left residents without any means of transportation.

Every morning some children, young people and adults are seen at the door of the bodega, next to the embankment, hoping that someone driving by will kindly do them the favor of taking them to Taguayabón, the neighboring town, where their schools are and where there is the highway that connects Camajuaní and Remedios. continue reading

Elisa is one of those few young women with a bicycle and every day, at 5:00 am, she pedals the four kilometers to reach the highway, where she will board a transport to get to her work as a seamstress.

Like her, there are other women who work in the outskirts and take their children to school by bicycle.

Those who decide to stay in Rosalía continue to farm and keep their cattle. (Yankiel Gutierrez Faife)

The oblivion in which Rosalía has been left makes many of its inhabitants think of migrating, even four kilometers away, to Taguayabón, where life becomes easier.

Others, despite the shortcomings, are committed to continuing to keep their farms full of crops, cattle, horses, birds or beehives. This is the case of Lele, as his neighbors affectionately call him, a man who has been a beekeeper for 10 years and, between September and November, loads his oxcart with the tools to collect honey.

Lele delivers his product to the State, which will export it to the European market and Rosalía’s honey will end up being sold in a German market at a price that the beekeeper cannot even imagine and of which he receives a minimal part.

Juan, another resident of Rosalía, survives thanks to the small farm inherited from his grandparents and his crops of cassava, peanuts and, sometimes, beans, which help him feed his family and face the widespread shortages on the Island.

In the countryside, products such as oil, which reaches 600 or even 700 pesos when it is found, are even more scarce than in the cities.

Despite all the difficulties, Lele, Elisa and Juan have made the decision to continue with their lives in Rosalía and have resisted the temptation to move to Taguayabón, as many of their neighbors have done in search of services that no longer exist in their little hamlet.

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