Lack of Fans, the Lifelong Annoyance / 14ymedio,Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Customers in a Havana electronics store, in line to buy fans
Customers in a Havana electronics store, in line to buy fans

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 30 June 2016 – The star of home appliances in Cuban homes is not the television, nor even the powerful refrigerator. In the summer, the leading role belongs to a less serious but very important object for heat relief: the fan. But what happens when buying one of these pieces of equipment becomes a real battle against shortages, lines and bureaucracy?

For several weeks, temperatures have exceeded 86 degrees throughout the country, and like every year, the demand for fans is skyrocketing. However, in the government’s chain of “Hard Currency Collection Stores” (TRDs), the supply of these devices fails again, especially in Havana’s most populous districts, among which are Centro Havana, Cerro and 10 de Octubre. continue reading

Last weekend customers in the long lines in the centrally located Carlos III Business Plaza were alerted about the arrival of a new batch of fans. “They came!” shouted an employee to those awaiting the unloading of the coveted merchandise. Two hours later, more than a hundred people waited to carry home their “friend” with blades and motor.

“They didn’t come for more than a month,” explained an employee to 14ymedio while he helped test one of the devices for a family that arrived with two small children. Consumers came from several areas of the city since it’s the “only place they’ve supplied with them,” commented a worker from the nearby Nguyen Van Troi clinic.

The great flow of customers and the poorly functioning air conditioning in the well-known store made fan buyers resort to newspapers or magazine covers in order to fan themselves in the midst of the intense heat of the facilities.

“I don’t leave my house without my personal fan,” explains Eneida, a teacher who is dedicated to tutoring students for university entrance exams. “This is my special fan, it never fails, I don’t have to wait hours to buy one, and it doesn’t need electricity,” the woman says ironically about her popular fan, made with a thin wooden slat and colored cardboard.

One of the rooms in which they sell scarce equipment was also set up to relieve the long lines in the Carlos III Plaza electronics department. The prices of these pieces of equipment approached 34.45 CUC, the monthly salary of a Public Health professional, in spite of the fact that they are of low quality and have a high rate of returns because of technical defects.

A tour carried out by this daily of other stores in the city yielded similar results. In the majority of them there are no fans for sale, not even the most expensive ones that commonly “don’t sell as fast,” according to an employee of the Puentes Grandes mall.

The location, in the west part of the capital, has not received devices of this kind for more than four weeks and “all those that arrived last month were returned by customers because they had problems,” added the worker.

Other provinces also suffer the fan shortage, among them Santiago de Cuba, known for its high summer temperatures. In the store at Troch and Cristina, a scalper whispers of the sale of a turn in line to access the business and reach one of the few fans on display. At a price of 39.45 CUC, the devices ran out before midday, to the annoyance of buyers and under the watchful gaze of several police officers who were guarding the place to prevent hoarding and fights.

The black market is delighted with the shortage situation of the in-demand appliance. In the illegal distribution networks prices have soared, and advertisements on digital classified sites offer products that are scarce in the state sector.

“I have pedestal fans called Cyclones that throw out a world of air,” said a young man outside of the Carlos III Plaza among the eager buyers who were waiting to enter the electronics department. “They are made in the USA and have remote control,” proclaimed the salesman who, for 90 CUC (roughly $90 US), heralded “a bargain and no waiting in line.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Crime Lurks Around ATMs / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

The little security in the areas where around many ATMs contributes to the assaults. (14ymedio)
The little security in the areas around many ATMs contributes to the assaults. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 16 June 2016 — “It was about six in the evening and I had taken money from an ATM, when I saw the knife.” So says Carmen, 71, about the time when she was attacked by two young men who stole her entire pension for the month on 10 de Octubre Avenue. The little security in the areas where many of the ATMs are located contributes to the assaults, a topic discussed last week at a meeting between members of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and government representatives in the capital.

In addition to losing 243 Cuban pesos, Carmen has inherited from that traumatic moment the fear of reliving a similar situation. “From that day I hardly go out into the street alone and when I’m going to collect [my pension] at least two of my children accompany me,” she explains. continue reading

During the meeting with the PNR, a representative of the Provincial Administration Council (CAP) of the People’s Power of the capital confirmed the increase in robberies around ATMs. Police major Manuel Alejandro Godinez warned that “security measures” will be taken to address “the increase in assaults” at the cash machines, whose victims are mostly elderly people.

In Havana there are 398 ATMs of the 700 in the country, although the years and wear have taken more than a dozen of them out of service. Vandalism has also contributed to the reduction in the number of cash machines, like that suffered last May be three ATMs in Branch 295 of the Metropolitan Bank in the Luyano neighborhood in the Diez de Octubre district.

However, the biggest concern for the police authorities focuses on the increase in the first half of this year of robberies, as was noted at the meeting. The most affected municipality is still Centro Habana followed by Arroyo Naranjo, Diez de Octubre, San Miguel del Padron, Marianao, La Lisa, Boyeros, Guanabacoa and Habana del Este.

“These are events that occur primarily in outlying neighborhoods and where there is a higher crime rate,” a government specialist in Central Havana who works in crime prevention explained to this newspaper, declining to give his name. “The most common victims are elderly, because they are easier to frighten and because the country has more than one million magnetic cards issued to retirees.”

Major Godinez said during the meeting that the neighbors should be alerted to “avoid older people from frequenting these places alone.” He also stressed that the police have arrested several youths, suspected perpetrators of this type of theft, who are “under investigation” and “some are minors, so their parents will be sanctioned for not having them under control and monitoring their children.”

One solution for reducing theft is to better illuminate the areas around cash machines, says a customer who frequently uses the ATM on the main street of Villa Panamericana. “Sometimes I come here and it is pitch black, you can’t see your hands in front of your face,” she says.

However, Cubans have no choice: they need cash to pay for purchases, since magnetic card payment in shops is often hampered by poor communication between point-of-sale terminals and the bank.

Distribution Of Cars And Laptops To Doctors Begins / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

A rental car like those to be allocated to doctors. (Cubarentacarros)
A rental car like those to be allocated to doctors. (Cubarentacarros)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 13 June 2016 – After months of waiting and amid growing expectations, a few weeks ago the distribution of cars and computers at subsidized prices to Public Health workers began. The distribution, which for now is limited to Havana, has raised passions due to the small number of vehicles allocated to each hospital. At Calixto Garcia University Hospital, only three cars have been received so far, to be given out among dozens of employees.

Doctors at the Pedro Kouri Topical Medicine Institute (IPK) have already received “laptops and the designation of some vehicles,” according to a source at the Provincial Health Department in the Cuban capital who spoke to this newspaper but preferred to remain anonymous. The official explained that the distribution began in the institutes and hospitals in the capital as a pilot project to be extended, later, across the entire country. continue reading

The plan includes enabling internet accounts for doctors and specialist in the healthcare sector. That initiative began last September when the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) opened internet access to its professionals through accounts on the network of the Medical Science Information Network (Infomed).

The cost of each vehicle will range between 3,000 and 7,000 Cuban pesos (CUP), the equivalent of 150 to 300 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) [and the same in dollars], although the first 200 are being delivered free to prominent doctors. After this first stage, the beneficiaries will be able to get bank loans to finance the purchase. The computers are being sold for about 600 Cuban pesos each.

The National Institute of Oncology and Radiobiology (INOR) received four vehicles to allocate, like the rental cars for the tourism sector. Other facilities have had better luck, such as the Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital, which received 12 vehicles, according to an employee linked to the union leadership.

Health personnel have criticized the small number of cars being distributed and the ways in which they are being handed out. The authorities have not made public the rules for allocating the cars, leading to disgust and even small conspiracies.

At Calixto Garcia, one of the cars was assigned to Dr. Martha Larrea, professor and chair of the center’s Scientific Committee, who a few years ago returned from a mission in South Africa. “She has a car,” says an employee unhappy with the decision. “She served on mission in a country where all the doctors want to go because they pay well, and to top it off, they assign her car without seeing that she already has one,” he protests.

In other hospitals in the capital, where the distribution has already begun, the first deliveries have prioritized managers and staff linked directly to the Ministry of Public Health.

Outside the capital expectations are growing. The young doctor Yanelis, who manages a medical practice in the community of Veguita Galo in Santiago de Cuba, considers the measure a “very good” thing, focused on reducing the “leakage” of doctors who leave during missions in other countries.

Doctors Gertrudis and Carlos, a married couple who travel every day from the town of Il Frente to Juan Bruno Zayas Hospital, are excited about possible access to Internet connections, but are skeptical given the poor coverage in the area where they live. “Given how bad the cellphone service is here, imagine the internet,” they warn.

In June 2014, the Cuban government raised salaries for health professionals on the island. The increases ranged from 275 CUP to 973 CUP, the latter for grade two medical specialists.

Korea, That Distant But Nearby Country / Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

The audience outside the Infanta Multicinema during the first day of the South Korean cinema week in Havana (14ymedio)
The audience outside the Infanta Multicinema during the first day of the South Korean cinema week in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 28 May 2016 — When Cuban children playing mention distant countries, they talk about Singapore, Burundi and Korea. But in the latter case, they do not think about the country controlled by Kim Jong-un, but the one on other end of the peninsula, where Samsung was born. With film production the same thing happens: the theaters fill up for productions coming from the land of Hyundai and remain empty if the films come from the country’s “eternal president.”

With all seats occupied and dozens of people outside the theater, the screening of the first movie of South Korean Film Week in Havana occurred this Thursday at the Infanta Multicinema. The event, which this year celebrates its third edition, was organized by Cinemateca de Cuba with the Cuba-Korea Exchange Association. continue reading

The audience that gathered in the centrally located theater turned out to be very diverse, especially considering that Cuba does not have diplomatic relations with South Korea and this Asian country lacks official representation on the island. Nevertheless, officials from the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) attended, along with the very official Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP).

Also in attendance were South Korean students residing on the island and several diplomatic representatives of other nations, including the ambassador of the People’s Republic of China.

The founder of the Busan International Film Festival, Kim Dong-Ho gave the welcome in Spanish and said that a week of the films of his country would help with “understanding Korea” and “improving our relationship.” After he praised the cultural level of Cubans he closed with an emotional “thank you” that hastened the applause of spectators. Then came darkness and with it a point of light that widened on the screen.

The night gave way to “A Hard Day,” by South Korean director Kim Seong-Hoon. The thriller maintained its suspense until the end, with the avatars of Detective Gun-Su, trying to hide the body of a person he ran over. A standing ovation just as the credits started to roll confirmed that the organizers were right to choose this film to “break the ice” for the week.

Among those responsible for the careful film selection is Susana Molina, vice president of ICAIC, who told 14ymedio that “all the films in previous years have been good quality, but the curation of these was done by Tony Mason and also this edition presents a wider program.”

The programming for Korean film week will run until next Thursday. Stand outs among the films are titles such as: I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK, Moebius, 200 Pounds Beauty, Coin Locker Girl, and The Satellite Girl and the Milk Cow. Productions that deal with romance and survival in a world of violence, as well as police dramas and the conflicts of an obese girl trying to make it in the world of pop music.

However, few moments are likely to exceed those of opening night, when the cinema mixed diplomacy with a certain dash of showbiz. After the screening of the first film, the celebrations moved to the Bar Su Restaurante in Miramar, where the surprise of the evening was the presentation of young Cubans who sang in Korean and danced typical dances of the region.

From the tables nearest the stage well-known actors such as Enrique Molina, Isabel Santos and Luisa Maria Jimenez applauded and laughed, all spellbound by that distant but nearby country.

Cubans Cheer the First Cruise Ship From Miami / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

The Carnival Lines cruise ship 'Adonia' arriving at the port of Havana. (14ymedio)
The Carnival Lines cruise ship ‘Adonia’ arriving at the port of Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 2 May 2016 — The clock struck nine as the cruise ship Adonia entered the bay of Havana. Dozens of people enthusiastically welcomed the first pleasure boat to come to the island from Miami in the last 50 years. The government did not need to issue an official call for citizens to gather there, Cubans showed up spontaneously to welcome the boat.

Traveling on the ship was Univision journalist Tony Dandrades, and the crowd welcomed him with cheers. They shouted out his name and called out in chorus “we love you.” The greeting was a show of admiration for his work which comes to Cuba by way of “the antenna” (satellite dishes) and “the weekly packet.” Dandrades shared a few minutes with the public and said he was “very happy” to be here. He then assumed his role as a journalist and said, “Now I’m going to interview you,” and gathered impressions of the day from those present. continue reading

Ana, a CubanAmerican who had been in the US for 48 years without visiting the island, told 14ymedio she was “very emotional.” With tears in her eyes she repeated, “I am Cuban,” and was received by dozens of Cubans to whom she said, “I am optimistic about the future of Cuba and its people.”

Mily Gonzalez Martinez said she left Cuba when she was four. Born in Ciego de Avila, she has been living in the United States for 46 years. Also in tears, she said: “I am very excited, very happy and glad to be here in Cuba.” And then she said: “Although I live in Miami, I grew up Cuban, my mother would not let us speak English at home.” On the changes that have recently taken place between the two countries, she said: “We have a lot of hope that these changes are good for the future and that this means they are beginning to open more doors for the people of Cuba.”

The United States firm Carnival carried about 700 people on the cruise, including some dozen CubanAmericans. This is an unprecedented event. In 1999, the government decreed a ban on Cubans entering or leaving the national territory by sea, with the aim of avoiding and preventing “terrorist actions” of which “Cuba has been a victim on numerous occasions since the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.”

The arrival of the cruise ship on the island has been marked by controversy. Members of the Cuban exile community in Miami filed a lawsuit for discrimination against the cruise company Carnival, the world’s largest, when it announced that on its new route to Cuba tickets would not be sold to Cuban Americans.

The protests against the giant of recreational ocean travel led it to reverse its decision, and on April 18 it was announced that there would be no distinctions, all passengers would be welcome regardless of national origin. The Cuban government also relented and allowed Cuban Americans to arrive by sea to the island.

Travelers on the Adonia requested visas for cultural, sporting, religious or academic purposes, given the existing restrictions in the United States on tourist trips to the island. The cruise will also visit the Bay of Cienfuegos, on the southern coast of the country, and Santiago de Cuba in the east of the island.

The spontaneous welcome of the cruise passengers this Monday occurs 24 hours after the May Day parade of “confirmation and commitment” to the Revolution, held in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.

Monday morning the story came to a happy ending when a crowd cheered the 'Adonia' entering the port of Havana with Cuban and US flags. (14ymedio)
Monday morning the story came to a happy ending when a crowd cheered the ‘Adonia’ entering the port of Havana with Cuban and US flags. (14ymedio)

On the newly opened floating dock at Paseo de Paula, there were handshakes and tears of emotions. It is an event that marks a before and after in the long separation of the Cuban family.

An individual with an American flag was removed from the crowd by a group of people who appeared to be members of State Security, according to what this newspaper was able to verify

People also swarmed around the area from the Muelle de Caballeria to the San Jose warehouses, where there is currently a huge artisan and souvenir market. From there, many shouted with joy, captured the historic image on their digital cameras and cellphones, and waved Cuban and American flags.

The cruise ship 'Adonia' entering the port of Havana. (14ymedio)
The cruise ship ‘Adonia’ entering the port of Havana. (14ymedio)

The ship was escorted by several boats with 590 people on board, of which about half were representatives of media, according to the newspaper El País.

Passengers aboard the cruise ship disembarked after noon, facilitated by a worker from Cuban Customs. The employee said that the “Cubans and crew members” would be subjected to “rigorous control” to verify their visas.


Living Near A Wifi Area Is Like Winning The Lottery / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Santa Amalia Park in Arroyo Naranjo, Havana, one of the wifi areas enabled in the Cuban capital. (14ymedio)
Santa Amalia Park in Arroyo Naranjo, Havana, one of the wifi areas enabled in the Cuban capital. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 30 April 2016 – Like an arbitrary lottery, Havanans dream of having a WiFi zone installed near their homes. These outdoor places to connect raise the price per square foot of real estate in the immediate vicinity and help local businesses flourish. Speculations about where the new wireless antennas will be placed absorb everyone’s interest.

The local division of the Cuban Telecommunications Company SA (ETECSA) told local media on Thursday that they are currently working in different districts in the capital to open ten new public WiFi areas, in a first step to meet the commitments for this year. continue reading

Engineer Iris M. Duran Fonseca, a specialist in ETECSA’s Marketing, Communication and Business Management Support division, said the new service will benefit the municipalities of Plaza de la Revolucion, La Lisa, Centro Habana, Habana del Este, Arroyo Naranjo, Boyeros and 10 de Octubre.

Arroyo Naranjo currently has one of these areas in Santa Amalia Park, where hundreds of people connect to the internet daily to communicate through social networks or by Imo, an application that lets you chat in real time with family abroad.

Alejandro, a young student in high school, told 14ymedio the advantages offered by this connectivity, despite the high price, which is 2.25 CUC (about $2.25 US) per hour of navigation. “I come every day,” he claimed, since he discovered that he could connect near his house. “Always in the evenings, because I go to school in the mornings and then I communicate with la pura (his mother) who lives in Spain,” he said.

The Mantilla Council in Arroyo Naranjo has been one of the outlying areas visited by ETECSA’s WiFi implementation specialists. El Parque de la Leche, on Caballero Street, between Pizarro and Ponce de Leon, is where the new technology will be installed. To that end, the park is in the first phase of a total refurbishment.

Yolanda, a retired teacher and resident of the area, says that since they put the first WiFi antennas in the capital she has been able to communicate with her son who lives in the United States. “Now with this Samsung phone he sent me I can see and talk to him; he left in 1994 and since then has not come over to the island,” she explains.

Neighbors near the park highlighted the need to rescue this completely abandoned place. “This may be a better option,” said Sergio Mendez, who feels happy because the “area is coming alive.”

“They will have to light the place well and also fix the access roads, because they are in poor condition,” insisted Elena, an executive member of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR).

The custodian of Mantilla park criticized the instability of the builders in this first phase. “They come one day then don’t come the next, and so the work scheduled to be completed later this year will never be completed. If they aren’t consistent in their work, the effort will be in vain,” he said.

Food vendors see the WiFi zone as a chance to improve their businesses. “There will be more people here, so soft drinks, food and the navigation cards will be in greater demand,” said Rosi, who sells sandwiches and milkshakes a few yards from the park.

The ETECSA communication specialist said it was necessary to “evaluate a set of elements according to the Board of Management of each territory and other agencies such as the National Police, the Electric Basic Organization and local representatives of Communal Services.” However, she said that neighboring towns have been included, some rural, in order to improve the communication services of their residents.

A director of the Arroyo Naranjo Council of the Municipal Administration told this newspaper that Mantilla Park was selected because it was located in a marginal area and has considered very dangerous. “Now we have to take steps to eliminate crime a little, lighting the area, putting surveillance cameras and constant control of the police in the area, which will reduce the tragic reports quite a bit,” he said.

So far, in Havana there are 17 public WiFi areas already equipped with lighting and with improved amenities. In early February, the newspaper Granma reported that the capital will have 30 new WiFi areas this year, two more for each municipality.

ETECSA also announced that in the coming months it will enable connectivity in at least three parks for each province and in other sites with a large influx of people, such as recreational and cultural centers. However, managers clarify that it will be done when the conditions exist to install the necessary technology and when they can guarantee both the comfort and security of Internet users.

Havana Hides its Beggers / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

For several days, brigades from the Ministry of Public Health are interning the city’s beggars in health facilities to get them off the street. (14ymedio)
For several days, brigades from the Ministry of Public Health are interning the city’s beggars in health facilities to get them off the street. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 17 March 2016 – Fixing up the Latin American Stadium and repairing the streets where Barack Obama’s motorcade will travel are just a part of the preparations before the coming of the president of the United States to Havana this Sunday.

Nancy Navarro, a nurse at the January 1st Teaching Polyclinic in the Playa district, told 14ymedio that there was a meeting at her workplace to prepare a census of the people wandering around the city. The process also included an assessment by professionals specializing in mental health, who in the company of other technicians are responsible for picking up the beggars, “on the street or even in their homes.” continue reading

A doctor from the Fifth Canaria Health Center in the municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, said that “seniors roaming the streets of Havana’s various municipalities will be interned” there. The employee acknowledged that she expected an influx of a little more than 200 elderly, “although this is a very high figure for the facility because it does have ideal conditions for sheltering them.”

Yaneysi Rios, a doctor at the 14th Clinic in the municipality of Habana del Este, explained that many homeless people do not have family and need to be hospitalized for life. “It is up to us to see to these people who belong to our medical center, many are elderly and that have no family nor do they receive care from any parallel institution. In reality they need to be hospitalized for better care of their health,” she added.

One of those elders who wanders around the city is Rogelio. He can be seen in a centrally located park in Vedado as well as in the remotest neighborhoods on the outskirts. “I’m retired from transport for more than 15 years ago and since then I collect cans in different places and in nightclubs. With over 42 years of work I have no place to live, so today I stay here and tomorrow there,” he said.

Now he is trying to hide from the eyes of the police and medical teams who are inspecting the streets. He does not want to go to a detention center because he prefers “to have my independence.” Xiomara Kindelan agrees with him. Her 69-year-old brother was taken to one of those temporary centers while she wasn’t home. “Truly he roams” she declared, “but if they had told me to control him so he would not to leave the house for several days, I would have no problem, ultimately he is my younger brother.”

Neighbors on Monte street, in the municipality of Old Havana, watched when employees from Public Health approached several people begging in the streets and put them on a bus. A worker from Community Services in the area said that since early Monday the raid has been massive: “I have not seen anything like it and I have spent years working here, anyone with the hint of a being beggar was forced on the bus, many are elderly people living in the area who have children and grandchildren who are dedicated to their care.”

Reinier Lopez, a resident of Monte Street at the corner of Angeles, said he was angry because his grandfather was taken away “like a dog in the street… I do not agree with these actions, I am a trained young man and for five years I have devoted myself to my job, my house and caring for my grandfather who is 78. Now he is in a place for people with mental disorders it is not the right thing when you have family members who care for you,” he argued.

Although these measures were never officially announced, some homeless migrated to more distant neighborhoods, while the families of others are hosting them temporarily until Obama finally says goodbye to the island and life returns to normal.

“I do not want to keep doing away with little animals” / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Sterilization campaign. (14ymedio)
Sterilization campaign. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, 25 February 2016 – “The latest puppies I drowned in a bucket at birth,” said the owner of a female dog about to be operated on this Wednesday as a part of the sterilization campaign in Old Havana. Similar stories were heard in the line, long but well-organized, of those waiting to get an appointment for the free surgeries.

As of last Monday, many of those interested gathered at the site accompanied by their pets, that ranged from pure-bred animals to mutts without pedigree. “I don’t want to keep doing away with the little animals,” said another lady who lives very near to the makeshift clinic on Oficio Street; her dog had had three litters.

There are thousands of abandoned dogs and cats in the country, and no programs to protect or adopt pets. In an attempt to alleviate this situation, there are periodic initiatives sponsored by the Office of the City Historian and a Canadian group, the Spanky Project. continue reading

María Gloria Vidal, president of the Society for Animal Welfare, lamented a few months ago in the official press that the Cuban population “suffers from certain culture and level of responsibility on the keeping of animals,” so when economic hardships affect a family “the solution is to get rid of them. Most of the time are thrown into the street.”

Since the late eighties, several groups have tried to promote Animal Welfare and Protection Act, without success. In 2000 a meeting of on the control of the dog population sponsored by the World Association of Animal Protection was held, but so far neither the Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, nor the Ministry of Public Health have implemented the agreements reached at the event.

“Here is is difficult to find food for people, imagine also keeping an animal,” says Flora, a retired teacher who took her dachshund to get the surgery because she fears “having to share” her limited resources “with more animals.” Flora says she has never abandoned a pet, “I would die before I’d through an innocent into the street.”

Appointments for the sterilization operations ran out early in the last three days. Susana Hurlich, a Canadian leading the project, explained that the plan is to take care of 40 dogs and 40 cats every day until 26 February, and they have also registered some groups of animals picked up in hopes of adoption.

Hulrich explained that “given the demand for the campaign, we are now starting a new list” and they have taken steps to prepare “a space in Quinta de los Molinos” although there is still no date for its opening.

Initiatives like this should be “repeated more often” said Damian, a young man waiting his turn with a male Boxer. “We need to teach children from an early age to love animals, in order to avoid what we are seeing with abuse and abandonment,” he added.

Yanelis Nunez, a resident in the 10 de Octubre municipality, looks at the sterilization campaign with relief. “I have two cats and one has given birth several times. I think it’s time to tie it off,” she said. Nunez said that for these animals the situation for abused and abandoned animals “is worse,” because “there is much less sensitivity to it than with dogs.”

An investigation by Aniplant revealed that in Cuba about 1,500 convertible pesos a year is spent on sterilization for every 5,000 dogs, while the slaughter of these animals caught in the street uses more than 10,000 liters of gasoline a year, just to transport them. They are taken to places where overcrowding and the cruelty of the practice of euthanasia horrifies pet lovers.

The Spanky Project proposal has emerged to improve this situation. The association is led by the Canadian Terry Shewchuck, who was vacationing in Cuba several years ago and found himself alarmed as the absence of a system to care for animals. For over a decade, his group has provided clinical care and sterilization services to thousands of pets.

This coming Saturday the campaign will offer vaccinations and deworming in the Laika clinic, also in Old Havana. A moment that will again draw to the scene dozens of people who share a common feeling: a love for animals.

*The ambulatory clinic with instruments donated by the Canadian side has been opened in Casa Calderson on Oficio Street, between Santa Clara and Sol, Old Havana. Due to its limited capacity it invites interested pet owners to book an appointment by calling +53 78609463.

Living Under Someone Else’s Roof / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Apartment building in Havana. (EFE)
Apartment building in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 20 February 2016 — After seven years in Havana, Carlos continues jumping from one rental to another, subject to the whims of the those who rent to him, and the lack of legal certainty for tenants.

Despite the 2010 legislative change that eased the renting of homes, rooms and premises, the legal housing stock in Cuba is extremely limited, among other reasons because of the fears of many landlords that they could be stripped of their properties. This suspicion has as a precedent the expropriation carried out in 1960 by the Urban Reform Law, through which the state took ownership of all housing that was rented out by its owners, in exchange for a pension calculated based on the value of the confiscated property. The maximum allowable pension was 600 pesos* a month.

Most of those affected by this measure emigrated, and 56 years later it’s likely that few of them survive. But although the economic reforms of the last six years on the island have been announced as irreversible, many owners are reluctant to lease. continue reading

This is one of the factors that keeps the national rental market “irregular,” and deprives tenants of the limited guarantees granted to them by law. Carlos, 28, is a native of Ciego de Avila and since he arrived in the capital in 2009 he has moved more than ten times, “from Central Havana to Guanabacoa.” Arbitrary rent increases are the biggest problem he faces. Until recently he paid 35 convertible pesos (CUC) a month (more than $35 US) for a small room in Old Havana, but he had to leave because the owner announced a price increase.

“Most of the places where I’ve been have serious problems with the bathroom or water leaks, but as it is not my house, I don’t want to invest in it,” says the young man. The owners also don’t fulfill obligations to repair their homes, or provide minimal amenities. “I have run into everything from toilets that don’t flush to houses full of rats,” says Carlos. In Cuba, more than 60% of the housing is fair or poor condition, according to official data.

Many of those who lease in the capital are people coming from another province, trying to settle in Havana. But many are couples who don’t want to share space with their parents or in-laws. Cuba is experiencing a profound housing crisis with a deficit of more that 600,000 housing units, and an average annual construction of no more than 30,000 homes.

But not all cases are like that of Carlos. Zoila, 41 and from Santiago, has a degree in economics and works in the capital and claims to have had no problems “with shelter.” She came “on the right foot [legally**] in 2013” and since then has been paying 60 CUC for a house for herself alone, for an indefinite period.

As an economist working in the private sector she has a monthly salary that allows her to pay such a high rent, but someone working for the state would find it impossible to maintain payments that high. “I would have to go stay for a while in my parents house in Santiago,” she admits.

Many owners who have emigrated rent to foreigners, especially now with the rise of tourism and the opening to foreign investment that enable entrepreneurs to work in Cuba.

Current legislation gives Municipal Housing Directors the right to cancel a lease if, within the rental property, there are “illegal or antisocial activities, by the owner, his roommates, tenants or their companions.” The law leaves open to the interpretation of government institutions what can be considered “illegal” or “antisocial.”

In the Havana neighborhood of Nuevo Vedado, a small house that is rented for a long time can cost up to 180 CUC monthly, and a large house can exceed 300. Very few nationals can pay those prices, but those renting them focus on foreign students or entrepreneurs planning stays in Cuba of longer than three months.

As in any real estate business, there are highs and lows dictated by the invisible hand of the market. Article 74.1 of Decree Law 322 specifies that the payment of these leases is “by price freely agreed upon.” The lowest average in the capital is one convertible peso a day. This is called the “cruise price” and the only thing offered for less are properties with no bathrooms, and no security or guarantees.

Renting by the hour has also greatly expanded, in the so-called “riding schools” that function as motels. But this method can be a source of problems for the owner. “With each customer, I’m playing with fire. If a man comes here with a large woman and it turns out she is a minor, I could lose my house,” a Central Havana resident who rents a room by the hour told this newspaper.

This self-employed man is considering renting for longer periods, but fears that “people would become attached to the place, and then they won’t want to go and I would have to call the police.”

Translator’s notes:
* It is impossible to calculate the exact value of this in purchasing power then or now, but today 600 Cuban pesos is worth about $25 U.S.
** Cubans from elsewhere in the country cannot legally live in Havana without acquiring a resident permit.

Standing Water Causes Dengue Fever Outbreaks In Arroyo Naranjo / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta

Only in the central market of Carlos III is a bottle with less than 3.5 ounces of insect repellent available, and the price is 1.65 convertible pesos, the equivalent of the salary of two days wages. (14ymedio)
Only in the central market of Carlos III is a bottle with less than 3.5 ounces of insect repellent available, and the price is 1.65 convertible pesos, the equivalent of the salary of two days wages. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta, Havana, 10 February 2016 — Unexpected rains earlier this year have required the strengthening of anti-vector campaigns against the Aedes aegypti mosquito. In several areas of the Arroyo Naranjo district, in Havana, standing water has caused an increase in cases of dengue fever, according to public health sources.

Maria Mendoza, a doctor with the Mantilla Polyclinic, said that in recent weeks more than twenty people with fevers have been reported in the area, and others have gone to the doctor with symptoms characteristic of dengue fever. “The situation is quite serious,” the specialist added. continue reading

A doctor at Julio Trigo Hospital details that rooms for people with dengue fever remain full because “this municipality has several unhealthy neighborhoods and slums, many streets are unpaved and the sewers are not working.” The doctor fears that under such conditions “zika will come to the country and we’ll have a situation favorable to its propagation.”

The problem is worsened by the shortage of repellents and mosquito nets in the stores in the city. A search conducted by this newspaper in shops and markets in Havana, including pharmacies that sell products both in local currency and in convertible pesos, confirms the scarce supply of these products.

Only in the centrally located Carlos III market, in Central Havana, was it possible to find a bottle with less than 3.5 ounces of repellent, and the price was 1.65 convertible pesos (CUC), equivalent to two days’ wages. Mosquito nets, meanwhile, are only for sale in departments for newborns, at small sizes and prices that exceed 15 CUC (more than $15 US).

Cases of patients who are not reported to any health center are also increasing. Many prefer to endure the illness at home rather than in a hospital, where hygienic and supply problems abound. In the case of Lucia, who had “fever, headache, red spots all over my skin,” she declined to be admitted. “”I didn’t even tell my family doctor,” she said.

TV ads warn that when a person is infected with dengue and is bitten by the Aedes aegypti mosquito it acts as a bridge to transmit the virus to others. If the patient does not remain isolated under a net, the chances of infecting family members and neighbors increases significantly.

As a part of urgent measures to eradicate the infestation in the most affected areas of Arroyo Naranjo, family physicians have developed plans for educational talks in the neighborhoods with the highest rate of infestation. In Las Manzanas, with an increased number of identified cases, they have also increased fumigation and inspections for breeding sites and larvae.

Jorge, a vector campaign worker in the Fraternidad neighborhood, explains that “with these rains, the mosquito lays her eggs anywhere water collects and this is how the epidemic grows.” He also warns, “Another danger is the accumulated garbage on street corners and makeshift dumps that trigger outbreaks.”

For many residents in the district, the greatest danger in the area is no longer badly lit streets or the frequent robberies, rather it takes the form of a small mosquito that spreads the dreaded “Breakbone Fever.”

Santiago Hides Its Indigents / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Raw material collectors have been warned “not to appear” until the festivities have concluded (Yosmani Mayeta)
Raw material collectors have been warned “not to appear” until the festivities have concluded (Yosmani Mayeta)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago, 23 July 2015 – The builders hurry to give the last touches to building projects, and the communal brigades obsessively clean the streets. A few days before the celebration of its fifth centennial, the city of Santiago is bustling. The imminent arrival of the delegations to the ceremony for the Assault on the Moncada Barracks has also caused the local authorities to gather up the many vagrants of the historic center.

The psychiatric institutions of the city have established monitoring services for the areas surrounding Cespedes Park in order to proceed with the detention of the mentally ill and homeless or those who beg near the tourist destinations. “Everything must be clean,” explains one of the members of a medical brigade that handles such tasks.

For those who reside in the city of Santiago it is evident that something is missing from the landscape of the so-called “golden kilometer” where the first houses, established in 1515, and the Holy Basilica are located. Absent are those figures, often scrawny and in dirty clothes, who stretch out their hands or display a prescription so that the passersby will give them “some help to live.” continue reading

The cathedral entrance is one of the busiest places for those displaced people who, with a figure of Saint Lazarus, a candle and a little plate, spend the days waiting for parishioners to throw them some coins. Now they are not even seen, due to having been confined in hospital wards until the more than 4,000 guests of the festivities leave.

Regina Lobaina, a nurse at the Gustavo Machin Psychiatric Hospital, confirms to 14ymedio the hospitalization of the vagabonds and explains that although “many have family and receive aid from provincial social assistance, poor living conditions force them to beg on the more affluent streets.”

However, not only the destitute have been removed from the “family portrait” that is being prepared for the city’s anniversary. Those who gather raw materials in the vicinity of downtown have been warned “not to appear” until the week concludes. Bernardo, retired from the Ministry of the Interior, is one of them. He picks up cans in parks, bars and public places because his pension is not enough, but recently they have “knocked down his business,” he explains.

The facilities of the Train Terminal have also been “cleaned” of indigents. Lourdes often takes shelter there, but recently has searched for another roof under which to spend the night “until all this is over.” Her house was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, and she says she has slept in all kinds of places, including the provincial Party headquarters. “My children are in the Shelter for Homeless Children because I cannot have them with me,” she adds.

Lourdes says she “has been lucky” because at least she has not been confined. “I prefer the street even though it is hard because a hospital room is worse,” she asserts while she gathers her belongings in a bag that years ago lost its handles and zipper. Bernardo, Lourdes and the other indigents are superfluous to the showcase of the fifth centennial of Santiago de Cuba which is preparing to be shown off to journalists and authorities.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The water does not come to Santiago de Cuba / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Tanker truck on a street in Santiago de Cuba. (Yosmani Mayeta)
Tanker truck on a street in Santiago de Cuba. (Yosmani Mayeta)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 9 May 2015 – The drought has become an undesirable comrade for the residents of Santiago de Cuba. For years, the city has suffered low rainfall, deficiencies in the water supply system, and an erratic distribution policy.

In the midst of the celebrations for the fifth centenary of the city’s founding, the contents of a water truck cost the equivalent of ten convertible pesos on the black market, almost half the average monthly salary. The families who can’t pay it have to be satisfied with storing in tanks and buckets the trickle that comes out of the taps once or twice a month.

In recent months, the water supply situation has become more drastic, and although the rains flooded a part of the center and west of the country, they have not made it to the east. The residents of Santiago’s slums and neighborhood look to the sky in hopes of a downpour that will fill the reservoirs and improve the situation of agriculture. continue reading

Dayana Despaigne, mother of two, uses the water given to her by some neighbors with more resources, to clean, wash and do the cooking. She says she doesn’t have the money “to buy the water,” so she hopes for the generosity of others or of the “the workers on the aqueduct” supplying the neighborhood where she lives.

Not far from Dayana’s house is the Chicharrones neighborhood, where Luisa Hernandez said that “almost a month has gone by with no water coming to the block, and this is not only the fault of the drought.” The lady complains of the lack of organization and a regular supply schedule and says that “they have forgotten to open the aqueduct when it touches us,” referring to the taps that allow the water to flow to different areas of the city.

The situation extends to the area known as Venceremos, where the water comes every 15 days. On this occasion, according to comments from Juana Milagros Bonne, “They passed us up, because it’s been more than twenty-five days without a drop and it seems that for now it won’t come our way, because we have been informed that there is a break and that the cistern that supplies us is empty.”

The water trucks, commonly known as “pipes,” should help to ease the situation when the water doesn’t come through the actual water pipes. However, much of their cargo ends up diverted to the black market, where there is a growing demand due to need.

A resident of Altamira commented to 14ymedio that on several occasions they have bought water from the trucks because “the cycle is very long and my tank supplies several family houses.” But he considers “ten convertible pesos to be a lot of money,” and “in the neighborhood we’ve never seen the supply trucks sent by the government to supply water to the people.”

The problem is not just that the water doesn’t fall from the sky, but how much is lost through leaks and breaks. A worker on the aqueduct revealed to this newspaper that “the meters that measure the water are in poor condition in many houses, which negatively affects the wasting of water.” The employee also recognizes that “the company does not have the necessary means to repair the networks in the short term.”

Just two years ago, Raul Castro made a speech at the 26th of July celebration in the Santiago capital where he set as a goal repairing the water system throughout the city. Today, many families in the area give up a good part of their wages to pay for the water trucks or the water carriers who sell buckets and bottles. Water days don’t seem to arrive for Santiago de Cuba.

Book Fair Falls Short of Expectations / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeya Labrada

Zuleica Romay, President of the Cuban Institute of the book, writing a message against gender-based violence. (Y. MAYEYA)
Zuleica Romay, President of the Cuban Institute of the book, writing a message against gender-based violence. (Y. MAYEYA)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeya Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 28 April 2015 — The 24th edition of the Santiago of Cuba Book Fair did not meet official forecasts, nor was it up to the celebrations for the 500th anniversary of the foundation of the city. In the event, which closed its doors last Sunday after five days of activity, 85,000 books were sold. Between 250,000 and 300,000 people attended the reading fair, despite the high prices and the narrow range of titles on offer.

The authorities of the Cuban Book Institute (ICL), however, defined the fair as a success. “We are succeeding in having each event resemble the territory where it occurs, with the provinces leaving their cultural imprint on the fair and writers feeling more at ease to interact with their readers,” said Zuleica Romay, president of the organization. continue reading

Ramon Alvarez Cortés, President of the Organizing Committee of the fair, also spoke of an “excellent, successful and wonderful” event. His opinion, however, contrasts with that of readers such as Moraima Lescay, resident in the municipality of Palma Soriano, who complained of not being able to buy the textbooks she was looking for because they ran out in the first two days of the fair. To this Santiago resident, children’s texts were at “unaffordable prices” relative to wages.

Among the youngest, there were more positive reviews. Javier Méndez, a young man from the María Rafael de Mendive high school, for example, said he was “satisfied” with this event and considers it as “the best edition in the relation to the past”. According to the young man, this time “there was more variety in the books” and he could even buy at an affordable price the three volumes of “One thousand and one nights,” in an adaptation of Oriente Publishers.

Some participants regretted that children’s texts were “at unaffordable prices” relative to wages.

Ideology and politics monopolized much of the presentations. During the last days, they launched books like Palomas Blancas (White Pigeons) by Ramón Labañino and Enigmas y otras conversaciones (Enigmas and Other Conversations) by Antonio Guerrero, two of the five spies who returned to Cuba in December of last year after being imprisoned in the U.S.

Another title put forward at the fair was Estados Unidos: El precio del poder (The United States: The Price of Power), written by the son of the Cuban President, Alejandro Castro Espín. However, the public better valued the texts of the national award winners Leonardo Acosta and Dr. Olga Portuondo Zúñiga, to whom this fair was dedicated.

Portuondo Zúñiga said she was surprised by the number of people at the provincial events, from Pinar del Rio to Santiago de Cuba, and said that she will continue writing “for a growing audience.”

On Sunday, the last day of the Book Fair, there was a clear denunciation of gender violence. On the so-called Orange day, various initiatives, organized with the support of specialists from the United Nations, warned about the physical, sexual and psychological harm or physical suffering caused by acts of aggression against females.

The presence of Zuleica Romay contributed to the visualization of a problem affecting Cuban society, although there is little room for it in the media.

Ideology and politics monopolized much of the presentations

More than one hundred people wrote and signed messages rejecting violence against women. Romay, for example, explained that a victim of violence is also someone who grows up in it and then reproduces the violent behavior: “Let us give love to our children so that they can give love when they are older,” he added.

A professor of psychology at a university in the eastern part of the country, who attended the meeting, said that Santiago de Cuba is one of the provinces with the most cases of this kind of violence and that in the last two years about ten women have been killed for this reason.

The fair featured, for the first time, an exhibition area dedicated to the United Nations. From the 22nd to the 26th of April, readers had access to several publications of this organization and its regional specialists. Between the texts and multimedia which were presented, some also reflected on the situation of the city after the passage of Hurricane Sandy and the long process of recovery that they have been undergoing.

Translated by Alberto

Will the mattress arrive before the baby turns a year old? / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta

Woman with a mattress (Yosmany Mayeta)
Woman with a mattress (Yosmany Mayeta)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 28 March 2015 — The Gonzalez family baby slept her first weeks in a plastic tub lined with sheets and blankets. She could not use the crib because her parents did not manage to buy the mattress that is assigned by the Santiago de Cuba ration market to expectant mothers.

Shortages of the product and delays in its arrival to those in need create discomfort and situations like that of this baby in homes all over the country but with greater severity in the eastern region.

Outside of some stores intended for that purpose there are long lines of pregnant women and their families to buy the so-called “module basket” that is given at a subsidized price to each mother. The prices in the free market are unaffordable for a good many families. They need at least 50 convertible pesos (CUC) in order to get a mattress in the hard currency market, while the average monthly salary does not exceed 20 CUC. continue reading

Many of these mothers will celebrate the first birthdays of their children without the children having been able to enjoy a crib with a mattress. Such is the case of one young woman who preferred to remain anonymous and who was waiting this Wednesday in the line of the El Atardecer industrial products store. Her daughter is about to turn a year old, but she still has to sleep in a crib with an old mat repaired many times and that was loaned to her by a relative.

Yamile Fonseca, resident of the Nuevo Van Van area, had a little more luck and says that “almost when the ration book was expiring I could buy the mattress, but that was a pure pain and a line that no one could stand.” Others simply give up and resort to the illicit market or inherit part of the “basket” items from a sister or a cousin.

Beatriz Mena, clerk at an Industrial store, says that “they have only brought the product twice” to the store where she works. In those cases “they have sold to those mothers whose basket ration book is expiring and whose babies are turning a year old,” the others have had to wait until they are resupplied, she said.

When the product arrives at one of the commercial units devoted to that purpose, then the drama becomes the line. Jose Bonne, father of a 10-month old girl, staked out the front of the Industrial this Tuesday from four in the morning in order to be able to be one of the first. “When I arrived there were already more than ten people who, since earlier hours, were marking their place in line in order not to be left without the mattress.”

The manager of the store in the Altamira suburb said that “it has come to the unit on several occasions but the ones who have not bought are still more than those who have left with the product.” The lady says that “the mattresses that they leave are very few, and we have a great number of pregnant and newly post-partum women and the demand outstrips the quantities supplied.

Another person, who preferred not to give his name, says that “when the mattresses arrive at the industrial products stores, now the clerks in cahoots with the management get most of them, which are sold to those whose turn has not come up, but who pay extra money and so acquire them ahead of time.”

For her part, Yelaine Suarez said that when the mattresses arrive in the commission stores there are people who dedicate themselves to the sale of places in line for the amount of ten convertible pesos. “It is unfair to see how they take advantage of the opportunity in order to do things like that.

Cuban women point to economic problems and difficulties in materially supporting a baby as among the main causes for the low birth rate that the country is now experiencing; the Total Fertility Rate fell in 2012 to the worrying figure of 1.69 children per woman.

David Fernandez, resident of Alturas de Versalles, says that in the Altamira store they got crib mattresses at 300 pesos national currency, sold off the ration book. The resident of the place asks how it is possible that there are stocks for that but not for those women who have the “basket” ration book.

The complaints come and go and many babies keep waiting to sleep in a crib with a mattress. Meanwhile, their parents improvise a little bed and take turns standing in line in front of the store.

Translated by MLK

Heavy Police Operation against Merchants and Carriers / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 21 March 2015 — Since early this Saturday, a heavy police operation had as its objective self-employed workers, street vendors and private carriers in Santiago de Cuba. The forces of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) reported that the raid was aimed against high meat prices in the farmer’s markets and the sale of potatoes in illegal distribution networks.

Most of the arrests and fines occurred in the Venceremos and Altamira suburbs of Santiago de Cuba. The uniformed agents arrived in the first hours of the morning and demanded the vendors show their licenses for engaging in commercial activity. Until midday, the toll of the operation was the seizure of dozens of kilograms of pork meat and thousands of pesos in fines.

Romilio Jardines, vendor of meat and agricultural products, was fined 700 Cuban pesos, although he said that his merchandise was not removed. Nevertheless, he affirmed that “they came prepared in case one refused.” The operation included special forces known as “black berets” who surrounded the area’s markets and the main streets of both suburbs. continue reading

Alexander Benitez was among merchants who suffered the seizure of his products. “The found me selling pork meat at 27 pesos a pound in the doorway of my house and they came and demanded the license,” recounts this Santiago native. “When they saw that I had no license they confiscated the meat, the scales and also fined me 1,500 pesos.” Benitez says that he approached the police to get the scales back “because they were borrowed” but “they handcuffed me and put me in the police car.”

One of the covert sellers, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed that it was true that “many self-employed workers have very expensive meat and a pound of potatoes for seven pesos, but the government in the state markets has none at any price.” The residents of the province complain that the tuber has still not been distributed to the people through the network of state markets, although in other cities its sale has already begun.

Not only sellers of meat and agricultural products were the objective of the police operation, but also drivers of cars and motorcycles were investigated. Among them the driver of a private transportation truck who was fined 2,500 pesos and had his license plate taken away. One motorcyclist for a state enterprise also was sanctioned 30 pesos for not having changed the license plate to the new system that has been implemented in the country.

By the beginning of the afternoon, many merchants and carriers in the Venceremos and Altamira suburbs were fined, but once the police began to withdraw their forces, the areas around the farmer’s markets started slowly to fill again with vendors and drivers.

 Translated by MLK