Storytellers and Stories / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 12 December 2017 — Attuned to the recently concluded so-called “general elections,” which did not really interest anyone or represent any change in the political life of the country, different articles have appeared in the written press comparing these elections with those held in Cuba during the era of the Republic, as well as others that continue to be carried out in most democratic countries. Among other points of discord, one article compares the candidates of then and now.

The article asserts that candidates of that time were corrupt and opportunistic and that they did not represent citizens, dedicating themselves to getting rich at the expense of the State’s resources. What if they did! continue reading

However, they all had a full name, a record of their service, proposals for the government and followers. The ones we have now are totally gray, lack names and surnames, are only known in their own homes, if at all, at lunch or dinner time, they lack a record of service, have no proposals and no followers. They are, in short, simple strangers, who pass through their offices without sorrow or glory, they agree unanimously and are lost, when they leave, among the population.

The article also says that the bourgeoisie and the wealthy were criminals, and that they had obtained their riches by exploiting the workers and the peasants.

Before these assertions some questions arise: Who built our towns and cities? Who developed the country? Who built all the valuable things we have today? We must assume that it was not the workers or the peasants who were exploited.

If everything happened that way when everyone was bad, why, now that everyone is good, does nothing work and the country, instead of advancing, has retreated?

Perhaps we can find in this trend the current reluctance and apathy of most Cubans. We have stopped believing in the storytellers and their stories.

Translated by Alberto

Let No One Paint Anything! Only the PCC Can Smear … / Somos+

Cuba is ours. I am Fidel.
Cuba is ours. I am Fidel.

Somos+, Alexei Games, 9 December 2017 — The laws in Cuba are written, but they are applied in a selective and discriminatory manner. These two images (there are thousands) show that on the walls of public entities and institutions of all kinds, one can paint or place insignias, advertisements, graffiti and whatever else occurs to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) even if it does not comply with any urban regulation.

I tell you all this because, as a member of the Methodist church of Jagüey Grande, Matanzas, it hurts me that we can not put a sign on the front of our temple that says “METHODIST CHURCH.”

Several times our pastor has made efforts to get “someone” to authorize the sign. The last few times, in his visits to the physical planning office they dared to tell him, “Why do you want to put a sign on it if everyone knows that this is the Methodist Church of Jagüey?”

Another justification offered was that you can not paint directly on the walls, though it can be done on a signboard with some measures regulated according to the law of physical planning. However, it is impossible to legally obtain this signboard anywhere in Cuba, except on the black market,  but that is another subject.

However, this municipality is full of signs and posters everywhere and none of them complies with the law that our Church must comply with. If we paint the wall of the temple, it is very likely that some sanction will be invented and that surely the wall will have to be repainted so that the sign can not be seen. But … Who sanctions those who have smeared paint in Cuba in violation of its own law?

Translated by Alberto

Cuban Migrants Criticize The High Prices Of Airfares To Mexico / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Cuban migrants stranded in Mexico wait to buy airplane tickets to Mexico
Cuban migrants stranded in Mexico wait to buy airplane tickets to Mexico

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 6 May 2016 — Accustomed to standing in long lines on the island, thousands of Cuban migrants stranded in Panama were waiting for hours Friday to buy an airline ticket to Mexico. Among these “middle class rafters” criticism was rising over the high price of airfares which has reached $805 for an adult ticket.

José Antonio Quesada and his wife, both lawyers, are among those who were waiting in the sun today to get tickets. As of May 5, the Panamanian Government authorized the sale of airline for Cuban migrants and at least 800 of them have already purchased their tickets to continue their journey. continue reading

The two attorneys spent 1,669 dollars in tickets, including the trip by bus to the airport, the equivalent of more than five years wages for a in Cuba. Both have managed to raise the money with the help of relatives in Miami, but they are concerned because they have no more cash for when they reach the U.S. border.

Quesada and his wife traveled from the island to Ecuador with the intention of settling there and improving their economic condition. However, the obstacles to legalizing their residence and finding jobs pushed them to make a difficult journey through Colombia and the Darién jungle. They departed with the hope of taking advantage of Cuban Adjustment Act which grants immigration benefits to all residents of the island who reach United States.

Now the two professionals are among the lucky ones who have been able to purchase a ticket for flights starting next Monday to the city of Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas State, Mexico. The cost of the trip by plane for a child between 2 and 11 years is $332 whereas for a child under a year the amount drops to $160.

The sale of tickets has been marked by the absence of official statements from the Panamanian president’s office, which arouses suspicions among migrants, who fear shady dealings with regards to prices or lack of transparency in the process. “The Government does not give us information,” complains the Cuban Elizander Roque.

As of noon this Friday hundreds of migrants from the island had undertaken, on their own, to travel to the David’s Mall, 25 miles from the shelters where they are staying in Los Planes, Gualaca, to buy tickets.

The prices have surprised Sisleydis Moret, a 25-year-old Cuban who says she feels “desperate” at not having enough money to buy them, due to the expenses of supporting herself during her stay in Panama.

The ticket from Panama to Mexico costs $805 per each adult. (Courtesy)
The ticket from Panama to Mexico costs $805 per each adult. (Courtesy)

Her companion in the hostel, Keily Arteaga, age 29, is in a similar situation. “The news was like a bucket of cold water,” she says and comments that, “now we don’t have the money they are asking for.”

Arteaga, who resides in a house in San Isidro, left Ecuador because she was not able to legalize her immigration status. She had “a good job” but she was illegal, which mean that “all the doors” were closed to her, she explains. She says she has taken advantage of “all of this turmoil” of the immigration crisis in Central America to reach Panama.

Those who travel accompanied by several family members experience the most delicate situation. Isleyda Lelle said she was glad to hear that tickets sales had begun to Mexico, but now she needs to wait for her mother, resident in the United States, to help her “complete” the cost of the trip for her, her brother and her sister-in-law.

For Andy Llanes, the situation is more difficult because he says that he does not have “a single dollar” to buy the ticket. “My journey was very hard, we were attacked along the way and they stole from us all that we had.” In the trip to Panama he details that his partner “was raped and now the poor woman is pregnant from the Coyote who abused her.”

Llanes says the only thing he owns is the “flip-flops” he is wearing and says that if he cannot continue the trip, he will stay in Panama because “I won’t return to Cuba even if they threaten me with death.”

Alfredo Córdoba, regional head of the National Migration Service in the Chiriqui province told 14ymedio that he still does not know what will happen to those Cubans who cannot afford the airfares.

An official source who requested anonymity explained that Cuban migrants found in Puerto Obaldia have not received their passports yet and so far there are no specific directions about whether they will or will not be part of the humanitarian program.

This newspaper has gotten in touch with both the Panama National Migration Service and the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but so far we have not received answers to our questions.

Ed. note: Since this article was written the price of the airfare was lowered and then the sale of tickets was cut off altogether. Translations of articles detailing these subsequent events will follow.

Translated by Alberto

Cuban Small Farmers Association Defends State Monopoly On The Export Of Coffee / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

A grower selects mature coffee. (EFE)
A grower selects mature coffee. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 5 May 2016 — The National Bureau of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) in Cuba rejects the recent measures from the U.S. Department of State which include coffee among the products produced by the non-State sector in Cuba that can be imported into the United States.

In a statement published Wednesday, the Association lambastes the flexibility, which came into force on 22 April, allowing the import into the United States of coffee and textile products from “independent businesspeople” in Cuba. continue reading

John Kavulich, President of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, acknowledged at the time that Washington aims to support the small private sector of the island with this measure, although he highlighted its “very limited impact.”

However, ANAP does not appear to assess new business opportunities in the same way. The organization, created in May 1961 defines itself by its “social character” and claims to represent “the interests of Cuban farmers.” In response to the US State Department actions, it explains that “the objective pursued by this type of measure is to influence the Cuban peasantry and separate it from the State.”

The entity, with around 200,000 members, details that something like that “cannot be permitted, because it would destroy a Revolutionary process that has provided participatory democracy, freedom, sovereignty and independence.” The National Bureau statement does not say, however, if farmers devoted to the cultivation of coffee were consulted before the statement was published.

Among the arguments put forth in the statement released in the official press is the fact that “no one can imagine that a small agricultural producer can export directly to the United States… To make this possible Cuban foreign trade companies would have to participate and would have to produce financial transactions in dollars, which so far they have not been able to achieve,” added.

ANAP presents itself in different forums as part of Cuban civil society, but this statement says that the Cuban peasants are “members of the socialist society” and they exist “as part of the State and not as opposed to it.”

The text which repeats an idea that has been raised by several figures of the ruling party in recent months, says: “We face the objective of the imperialist policy of promoting the division and disintegration of Cuban society.”

In 2014, Cuba managed to produce 6,105 tons of coffee, an amount that does not cover annual domestic demand, which stands at 24,000 tons. This figure is very far from that achieved in the decade of the 1960s, when more than 62,000 tons of this grain were produced.

Translated by Alberto

Sale of Airline Tickets to Mexico Begins for Cuban Migrants Stranded In Panama / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Hotel Milenium. (Silvio Enrique Campos)
Hotel Milenium. (Silvio Enrique Campos)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 5 May 2016 — Panama began selling airline tickets, on Thursday, to Mexico for Cuban migrants who find themselves stranded in the country. Tickets cost $805 and the first to benefit from the measure will be those staying at the Millennium Hotel, in the province of Chiriqui, according to a high ranking official who spoke to this newspaper and asked not to be identified.

Starting this coming Monday, two daily flights will connect to Nuevo Laredo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, operated by Copa and Aereomexico airlines. Along with the cost of the airfare, to qualify for a Mexican visa the mirgrants will also have to pay 34 dollars for the journey by bus to the Panamanian airport and the trip to the border between Mexico and United States. The airline will offer a differential rate for children between age 2 to 11, of $322, while children one year and under will fly for $160. continue reading

So far, nobody knows if the Cubans who have recently arrived in Panama and who are not on the official lists of migrants will be part of the agreement with Mexico.

A Cuban who came to the immigration offices in the city of David, about 30 miles from the border with Costa Rica, told 14ymedio that some days ago migrants began to receive money through Western Union and MoneyGram to buy their tickets.

“Regardless of the high cost per ticket, we have been asked for a medical checkup, three ID format photos and a photocopy of our passports,” said the migrant, who asked not to divulge his name.

Many of the stranded are worried about not having enough money to pay the cost of the airline tickets.

Panamanian official institutions claim not to have a report on the costs entailed for the nearly 3,500 Cubans who find themselves stranded in their territory. However, the local press reported on Thursday that about $19,000, just from the Presidency’s discretionary funds, have been destined to the immigration crisis in the first three months of this year.

Translated by Alberto

Mexico Is Not Deporting Cuban Migrants Despite Minrex Announcement / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

A group of Cubans show the exit permits they received today in Tapachula, Mexico.
A group of Cubans show the exit permits they received today in Tapachula, Mexico.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 4 May 2016 — Mexico continues to grant “exit permits” to Cuban migrants arriving in Mexican territory from Central America, according to comments made to 14ymedio by an official of the National Institute of migration in Tapachula, Chiapas. On Tuesday, the Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Minrex) released in a statement saying that a memorandum of understanding between the two Nations to “ensure a regular, ordered and safe migration” was now in effect.

The document Minrex is referring to is part of a set of agreements signed by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, during Raúl Castro’s last visit to Mexico with the purpose of strengthening relations between the two countries. continue reading

The publication of the official note triggered alarms among the thousands of Cuban migrants scattered across the continent, for whom Mexico is a necessary stage on the way to the southern border of the United States. The media never had access to the document, signed last November during Raúl Castro’s visit to Mérida, although the note of the Cuban Foreign Ministry clarifies that its purpose is to “enhance the cooperation between the two countries in the fight against illegal migration.”

This newspaper got in touch with Chiapas’ 21st Century Immigration Station, and an official who asked not to be identified said that they have no instructions to stop granting exit permits to Cuban migrants.

Mexico’s Foreign Secretary confirms that he is aware that the agreement has taken effect, and said that it is an update of what was already in effect. However, officials were surprised by the Minrex announcement and said they are considering issuing a public statement.

The official “exit permit” that Cuban migrants continue to receive from Mexican authorities.
The official “exit permit” that Cuban migrants continue to receive from Mexican authorities.

Luis Enrique Pastrana is the owner of the Plaza Emmanuel Inn in Tapachula, Chiapas. He has devoted himself for some years to hosting dozens of Cuban migrants seeking to reach the immigration station. As he said to 14ymedio, “Cubans fear that the exit permit will be withdrawn but so far everything remains the same.”

According to Pastrana, on Tuesday 21 Cubans who were staying in his hostel received the document, and this Wednesday another 11 guests have arrived who plan to follow the same path.

“Every day many Cubans arrive and replace the ones who leave, although people are fearful since a rumor is spreading saying the laissez-passer, as they call it, won’t be issued anymore,” he said.

After crossing the Guatemalan border, Cuban migrants gather outside the immigration offices from six in the morning and into the afternoon to receive the document authorizing them to travel through Mexican territory, with the condition that they must leave the country within 20 days.

Rosmery Valledor is a Cuban architect who was stranded in Panama. From 2012, she lived in Venezuela but she decided to emigrate because of the difficulties she was going through there. As she says, “the situation in that country is unsustainable.”

Valledor spent more than one month in Panama until she succeeded in continuing on her journey across Central America in a clandestine way.

For her, the most difficult thing about the journey was “the terror to which we are subjected by the coyotes (guides).” The young woman says it is “a journey for which you need not only money but also a lot of courage.”

“We were afraid that once we got there they would not want to grant us the laissez-passer, but we went to the immigration station and they agreed that the next morning we would be assisted without any problem,” she added.

According to the Mexican daily La Jornada citing IMN (Mexican Immigration), since the end of October of last year 7,455 Cubans have appeared before the country’s immigration centers, an unusually high number since records have been kept. Of these, 243 were sent back to the island.

Contacted by telephone, an official of Cuba Embassy in Mexico said he knew nothing about the matter and referred it to the press officer, who did not answer calls.

Translated by Alberto

Private Kindergartens Are Growing In Numbers / 14ymedio Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

2016 marks the 55 years since the founding of Day Care Centers. (14ymedio)
2016 marks 55 years since the founding of Day Care Centers. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 28 April 2016 — Kids play in the living room with pieces of legos, wooden toys and some soft toys. The place is bright and two specialized assistants keep each infant under their watchful eyes. Behind the door, the license of the self-employed owner hangs in a frame. Due to the deterioration of state-owned day care centers, private kindergartens are growing in number, supported by the new law.

The Government proposed to reverse this situation at the 55th anniversary of the founding of children’s day care centers. To achieve this, it not only seeks to significantly expand the capacity, but also totally renovate many of the sites and raise the quality of staff training working in such a sensitive sector.
continue reading

At the end of 2014, 1,078 private kindergarten were running under state control with an enrollment of 139,878 children. As of the middle of last year, at least 49,000 families who had applied for an opening at one of these centers still had not gotten a response, according to insight provided by the National Director of Preschool Education for the Ministry of Education, Maria de los Angeles Gallo Sanchez.

The official, however, said that each year the enrollment for day care centers increases with more than 2,000 openings, although she acknowledged that there is insufficient growth to meet demand in the country. Various specialists consulted by this newspaper believe that issue is also one cause of the country’s low birth rate.

In 1978, the global rate of fertility in Cuba fell below the 2.1 children per woman and in 2012 reached a worrying rate of 1.69, a figure that it threatens to turn Cuba into the ninth most aged country in the world. But even that fall in the birth rate has not eased the problems for families seeking to access a place in the day care centers.

In order to be enrolled at this level of education, a child needs as an indispensable requirement that her mother is actively working. However, complying with that requirement does not guarantee a space. Municipal commissions charged with allocating spaces analyze each case and grant the opening in correspondence with the demand for economic and social development of the territory.

Once the opening is obtained, the family must pay an almost symbolic monthly fee for the service, which in the case of very low-income households may be practically null.

Carmen, the electric company worker, is one of the cases of mothers who have not yet succeeded in getting access for her daughter to one of these state-own centers. “I filled out the application when the baby girl was six months old, so that she would be able walk, feed herself, and say a few words at the time of admission, but so far I have not received a response.”

With a salary that barely exceeds 500 Cuban pesos a month (about $20 US), Carmen is thinking of opting for a place at a private house dedicated to the care of infants. It would be a significant economic sacrifice but she says she will feel “more calm” because “there are many well-prepared people that have left the State sector because of poor conditions and have built their own child care businesses.”

At the end of June 2015 there were 1,726 people devoted to work as “child care assistants” in the non-state sector in the country, and 34% of them are in Havana. They range from more modest places, like that of Juana Núñez, a retired teacher who has opened one of these private day care centers in her home.

“I’m retired and now I care for 12 children,” comments the lady, who lives in Arroyo Naranjo. “Here I teach them how to walk, talk, eat alone, in addition to the basic school subjects for their age,” she explains while showing some books with illustrations, learning games and colored crayons she has for the children to use.

The monthly fee for hiring the Juana’s services is a 20 convertible pesos ($20 US), the monthly salary of a professional. Despite the high price, the caretaker says that she does not have enough room to respond to the high demand. “Sometimes parents arrive and assure me that they can pay more, but I have no space,” says the educator.

The more expensive places are also almost full. A private kindergarten under the direction of Cárdenas Yaquelin is located on the central 23rd street in Havana. On-site employees have degrees in their respective specialties and give courses in language, theatre, and other skills. In addition to that they are proud of their nursing services.

The place is divided into three rooms according to the age. “Each area can have up to 10 to 12 children with their caretaker and their assistant. The infant room is air-conditioned and has an educator with 3 certified nannies. We take infants from their first month,” details Cardenas.

The prices for a service like that can reach up to 80 convertible pesos a month, according to the service agreement, which may include lunch, snacks, uniforms and transportation.

However, Cardenas is not accepting new candidates until she does some renovation to expand the place. “The only thing I am hoping for is that after the end of my investment there will be a baby boom and clients will come in abundance,” she speculates. But in the Cuban case, the stork seems to be unreliable. The most popular nest–the State-owned day care centers–lack the space and conditions to respond to an eventual increase in births.

Translated by Alberto

Why Is the Official Press Crying Over the Fall in Oil Prices? / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Nicolas Maduro enters the SAAC (South America and Arab countries) Summit on Wednesday in Riyadh. (Presidential press)
Nicolas Maduro enters the SAAC (South America and Arab countries) Summit on Wednesday in Riyadh. (Presidential press)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 26 April 2016 — All of my life I’ve heard from mouth of the main leaders of the country that the high prices for many of the products sold in Cuba are caused, among other variables, by the “high cost of fuel on the world market.” This, according to them, raises the price of production processes inside and outside the country, creating an upward spiral that affects the price of goods and services.

“What small and underdeveloped economy can grow with prices of 126 dollars barrel of oil? Only rich countries can pay that, those who want the world to continue to be the same so that the South can’t develop. The imperialists are like this, they want to dominate the world according to their own desires.” Phrases like these were heard everyday on TV programs like The Roundtable.

Today, oil prices have fallen by nearly 75 percent, and the newspaper Granma acknowledges that this affected the recently announced “price adjustments” of certain products the government sells in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).

Then, I wonder: What are Oliver Zamora Oria and all official Cuban journalists who speak on the subject doing accusing U.S. and Saudi Arabia of “not cooperating” with the intention of some OPEC members to increase prices ? Isn’t Cuba, a net importer of fuels, greatly benefited, like most of the planet, by the current prices?

In my opinion, we should be jumping for joy, because I assume that if we can afford cheaper crude oil, then the agricultural sectors , transport, energy, industry etc. will be stimulated… What is the point of the strange anger of the Cuban Government press about the failure of the last meeting held in Doha, Qatar?

Many can be the interests that move the editorial decisions of the media monopoly in Cuba. But, definitely, the general interests of the nation and a greater benefit for the public are not part of them.

Translated by Alberto

Two Russian Deputies Propose Reestablishing Signal Intercept Station in Cuba / 14ymedio

Raul Castro and Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin
Raul Castro and Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin

14ymedio biggerTwo Russian Deputies put forward a proposal to President Vladimir Putin to study the reestablishment of the Lourdes signals interception center in Cuba, as well as the deployment of Russian missile launchers on the island “to protect the interests of Moscow and its allies,” as local media reported this Wednesday.

The initiative comes as a response to the agreement between the United States and Turkey which will allow the deployment in May of high mobility tactical missiles (Himars) in the Southeast part of the Ottoman country, near the border with Syria, to deal with attacks by the jihadist group the Islamic State. continue reading

“We believe it is possible to use the Soviet experience to contain the current expansionist intentions of United States,” said Valery Rashkin and Sergei Obukhov, members of the Communist Party, in explaining the request.

The center for signals interception, located near Havana, was shut down in 2002. However, the director of the Department of Latin America in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in an interview last February that Moscow had no intention of opening military bases on the island.

Translated by Alberto

Vandalism Worsens the Deteriorated Traffic Signs of Cuban Streets / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A traffic sign on the verge of disappearing. (14ymedio)
A traffic sign on the verge of disappearing. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 28 May 2015 – As a result of vandalism and slackness affecting the deficient signage of roads and streets, drivers traveling through Cuban streets must mix expertise with a guessing game.

The lack of these important roadway elements worsens with vandalism, as stated on Thursday by officials of the National Center of Traffic Engineering speaking to Juventud Rebelde (Rebel youth) newspaper. In the first four months of this year, there were 144 acts of vandalism against road signs, of which 60 occurred in urban areas.

The provinces most affected by predation are Cienfuegos, Villa Clara and Havana, with effects ranging from the most serious – causing accidents – to generating misinformation about the locations of sites or their distance. continue reading

The lack of explanatory signs especially affects those who have no experience on the road, such as tourists who rent a car or drivers who venture into an area for the first time.

Vandalism, however, has many faces, and though none of them is justifiable, some of them point to the material shortage that the population encounters. The absence of a market where iron or steel angles, screws and metal plates can be legally acquired, leads people needing these materials to ignore ethical considerations or civilized coexistence.

The absence of a market where some materials can be legally acquired can lead to predation

There are a lot of animal pens, garages for cars or even walls and informal housing ceilings built with “recovered materials” which were once traffic signs. That is without counting the most serious damage, which with similar purpose, has been wreaked on electrical transmission towers or even on railways.

The problem affecting traffic signs is not a minor issue. The absence of a legal advertising infrastructure with commercial purposes means ads for concerts, notices of housing swaps, car sales and many other private classifieds find their space on a Yield or a No Parking sign. On the other hand, there is an inadequate policy of installation, replacement, and maintenance of these important elements by the State.

Translated by Alberto

About 60,000 Havanans Receive Water via Tanker Trucks / Rosa Lopez, 14ymedio

At the end of February the situation got worse because of leaks and electrical problems (14ymedio)
At the end of February the situation got worse because of leaks and electrical problems (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 25 May 2015 – A sound that is inseparable from the streets of Habana Centro (Central Havana) is the screech of the trucks filled with water, with their metal wheels on the asphalt. This symphony of necessity has become more intense in recent months because of the frequent cuts in supply that the city has undergone due to repairs, breakages and a drought affecting the entire country. More than 58,760 people receive water through tanker trucks, as affirmed, this Monday, in the Trabajadores (Workers) newspaper.

In Havana more than half of the water being pumped is lost in leaks, 20% of which are located in the so-called household networks, inside homes and buildings. For the engineer Antonio Castillo, Deputy Director of Operations for the Havana Water company, the situation is unsustainable in the medium and long term. “Supply basins are like bank accounts. If you deposit, but take out more than you deposit, you have less and less, and if you stop saving, one day you’ll have no money. That happens with the water,” he declared to the official press. continue reading

In late February the situation began to worsen because of the disastrous combination of leaks and electrical problems that caused large losses at La Cuenca Sur reservoir. About 45,000 residents of Habana Vieja, Plaza de la Revolución, Diez de Octubre, Centro Habana and Cerro municipalities in Havana were severely affected.

In order to reduce leaks, sector specialists propose to continue with network rehabilitation plans and impose a new fee on the charge for service for the residential sector. Meanwhile, capital residents are demanding shorter water delivery cycles and a higher quality of the precious liquid. “The water is very hard and this damages the pipes and bathroom iron fittings, that’s why there are so many leaks,” says Ruben, a self-employed plumber in La Lisa municipality.

Capital residents are demanding shorter water delivery cycles and a higher quality of the precious liquid

Others demand, as soon as possible, the enactment of a water law to regulate the consumption of this important natural resource. “Although in December the Council of Ministers approved a stricter policy, they are still indiscriminately wasting something that should be treated as a real treasure,” expressed Yaquelin de la Osa, engineer and promoter of a more focused policy on caring for the environment and natural resources.

Apart from the specialized opinions or those with in the environmental field, the main demands come from a population sector that needs to bring the water into their homes with wheelbarrows, buckets and bottles. “I don’t remember when was the last time that I could take a shower, because for several months I have had to bathe with a pitcher,” says Xiomara, resident of a tenement room at Marqués González street in Centro Habana.

Everyone agrees that repairs to the hydraulic networks are necessary, but the slowness and lack of efficiency with which they are tackled causes discomfort among many Havanans.” This seems like a city after a bombing,” said an owner of rooms for rent for tourists located in Amargura street in in Habana Vieja, who must deal with the holes and trenches in the street every day to find customers. The municipality is being subjected to a replacement of the water networks which will be completed in 2017 and which has a budget of more than 64 million.

I don’t remember when was the last time that I could take a shower, because for several months I have had to bathe with a pitcher

The water that should fall from heaven hasn’t performed as expected in this rainy period. Downpours that flooded parts of the city in late April and early May failed to fill the cachement areas supplying the city. Precipitation was not abundant in the southern provinces of Artemisa and Mayabeque, which are the main sources of supply, nor in the Almendares-Vento basin, which supplies 47% of the water which is destined to Havanans.

As the situation worsens, Havanans wake up trying to detect clouds on the horizon and fall asleep with the sound of the trucks on the pavement.

Translated by Alberto

Voters vote in the second round of local elections / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 27 April 2015 — More than 1.2 million citizens were summoned on Sunday, 26 April, to the second round of the elections to choose delegates for the municipal Assemblies of People’s Power in 1,166 constituencies of 149 municipalities.

Voters exercised their right to vote at more than 3,300 poll locations, between seven o’clock in the morning and six in the evening. At the end of the process, the precinct workers counted the ballots.

In the first round, on 19 April, 11,425 delegates were elected from a total of 27,379 candidates. This Sunday, voters were called back to the polls in constituencies where candidates failed to get more than 50% of the valid votes.

During the first round of the elections, the percentage of abstention reached 11.7%, almost six points more than in the similar elections of 2012. The President of the National Electoral Commission, Alina Balseiro Gutiérrez, attributed these results to the fact that “tens of thousands of Cubans” are on temporary visits abroad.

However, several analysts attributed the increase of abstention, as well as the number of blank ballots submitted, to a “growing discontent” among the population. Also, according to left-wing opponent, Pedro Campos, in truly democratic elections, “the ruling party would lose in the first round.”

This year, among the candidates there were at least two regime opponents, branded as “counter-revolutionaries” by the Electoral Commission. Hildebrando Chaviano (Plaza de la Revolución municipality) finally attained a total of 189 votes, while Yuniel López O´Farrill (Arroyo Naranjo municipality) got 233.

Translated by Alberto 

Anticipated News of Another May Day / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Celebration of May 1st in Cuba. (FLICKR/CC)
Celebration of May 1st in Cuba. (FLICKR/CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 30 April 2015 — Like all ritual ceremony, the parade for International Workers Day involves previous preparation and specific purposes. Along with 26th of July events and the Triumph of the Revolution’s anniversaries, May 1st has always stood out as the celebration that mobilizes the most people in Cuba.

In some of these parades around a million participants have been recorded. Depending on the directions coming from the top of the hierarchy, they are sometimes organized under neutral mottos, such as “To defend the homeland”; in others the motto can be more specific, such as “Against the imperialist embargo” or, like last year’s motto, “For the return of the Five Heroes.” The 2015 parade’s main motto is “United for the construction of socialism” and official chroniclers claim that it will be massive, compact, strong, unforgettable and other similar adjectives. continue reading

In the capital, starting at midnight on the night of April 30, the main avenues surrounding the Plaza of the Revolution will be blocked to traffic along with a parking ban. If rain does not play us a trick, from early morning on May 1 the march will deploy in 18 groups which will begin gathering at previously planned staging points. At the front, there will be 50,000 public health workers, headed by members of the Medical Brigade that confronted the Ebola epidemic of in Africa.

The selection of this group to represent the vanguard of the vanguard has different connotations. Perhaps the most significant is related to the new winds blowing in the relations between Cuba and the United States as of December 17. Sheathed in their protective suits, physicians and Cuban nurses worked side by side with American specialists and many times carried out their work under the direction of and with the resources of the United States.

This time the State Security will have to be attentive to any extremist who shows up with insults against Obama or extemporaneous fundamentalisms

They’ll need an eagle eye to detect any anti-imperialist messages in the placards held high. This time the State Security operation, which traditionally deploys close to the platform to detect any provocations “from the enemy,” will have to be attentive to any extremist who shows up with insults against Obama or extemporaneous fundamentalisms.

Like every year, visitors from half the world will gather to contemplate the magnificent spectacle. More than 1,800 representatives of nearly 200 organizations from 68 countries have already confirmed their participation. Of these, 285 are American. The majority are trade union members, but groups of solidarity and social movements will also be present. Many of them will also be present on Saturday, May 2, at a scheduled meeting on international solidarity to chart the new course that they will need to focus on, now that there are no longer imprisoned heroes, that Cuba will no longer be on the list of countries who collaborate with terrorism, and that the embargo seems to have its days numbered.

Workers, soldiers, students, athletes will wave their flags so that the present continues to resemble the past

The pattern of the parade, the model to follow, is directed from the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana. Each province organizes its own events, but with little room for improvisation. So in each provincial square the parade will start with public health workers in a number that will total around 300,000 across the country, including those who work in the Antivector Brigades (brigades that fight for the elimination of the Aedes Aegiptis mosquito responsible for Dengue Fever), known as “the grays,” reinforced with the presence of young recruits from the Military Service, which in the ranks of the Youth Labor Army are devoted to detecting and eliminating sources of mosquitoes and who receive a white Public Health logo T-shirt that they wear in proletarian march.

The choreographers in charge of this colossal dance have determined that the last marching group at the parade will be the young people. Workers, soldiers, students, athletes, intoxicated by hormones and adrenaline, will wave their flags and march singing or dancing. With the same ecstasy in which some cultures victims went to the altar of sacrifice, they will be swearing eternal loyalty to elderly leaders, they will be ratifying their commitment to socialism and to the Cuban Communist Party Guidelines, and they will be offering up their future so that the present continues to resemble the past.

Shortly afterwards an army of sweepers will eliminate the trash.

Translated by Alberto

A Math Test Shielded Against Fraud / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

Students waiting to access the admission examination in mathematics at Havana’s José Miguel Pérez High School. (14ymedio)
Students waiting to access the admission examination in mathematics at Havana’s José Miguel Pérez High School. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunida Mata, Havana 28 april 2015 — “This is more protected than Plaza of the revolution,” a teenager joked this Monday just before sitting down for the math test for college admission. Yesterday, dozens of schools across the country held the difficult test to enter higher education. The rigor of the evaluation content has increased this year, after a string of cases of fraud that marred last year’s test.

The National Committee of Admission and Job Placement of the Ministry of Higher Education made a prior call for “discipline, punctuality and rigor” in order to carry out the process of University admission. This time, control measures have also been reinforced to deliver and protect the sheets containing the admission exams. “The chain of custody has been guaranteed,” a teacher boasted this Monday outside Old Havana High School as she answered the questions of curious parents who gathered at the site in the early hours of the morning. continue reading

Rigor has not only been expressed in greater control measures for the distribution of the exams but also in the difficulty of the tests. “They made it a difficult test,” complained a young man at the exit; for him the “math problems were complicated and the equation questions had some kind of trick.” In conversation with 14ymedio, several students expressed their suspicions that the complexity of the examination was intended to serve as a “warning” so that last year’s irregularities wouldn’t happen again.

The Municipal People’s Court of Marianao imposed, last November, heavy penalties for those responsible for leaking tests in the process of higher education admission for the academic year 2014-2015 in the province of Havana. A similar event happened at the Faculty of Medicine of Santiago de Cuba, where second year Anatomy and Statistics tests were leaked along with the fourth year English test and the well-known state test that all sixth year students must cope with.

Teachers and methodologists involved in the scandal were sentenced to from 18 months up to 8 years in prison. During the police investigation, it came out that several of these teachers trained groups of students, without legal authorization, based on the leaked test questions. The figure of the tutor – a teacher privately contracted by families, outside of the schools – has become famous in Cuba to prop up the deterioration of teaching quality in the schools themselves. 

The figure of the tutor – a teacher privately contracted by families, outside of the schools – has become famous in Cuba to prop up the deterioration of teaching quality in the schools themselves.

The events led to a new math test held on May 6, 2014, to the modification of the Spanish and history tests and to the “extraordinary repeat test for these three subjects,” as Granma newspaper explained at that time. Repeating the state test and the indefinite invalidation of the diplomas of the medical students involved in the leaking also occurred in Santiago de Cuba.

In order to avoid the repetition of such incidents in yesterday’s math exam, examination sheets were distributed to officials and managers during the weekend in sealed envelopes, requiring a signature to open them. “This year we have managed to avoid that teachers have prior access to questions; only school principals and heads of Departments are allowed to handle the exams”, assured a methodologist from the Playa municipality.

The official press echoed the words of René Sánchez, President of the National Committee on Admission and Work Placement of the Ministry of Higher Education, for whom the current round of testing is characterized by “transparency” and “purity.” As the official explained, we should now add that there is no access “to the fraudulent” in the slogan “The University is for Revolutionaries.”

This year, the majority of university openings correspond to medical, pedagogical, technical and agricultural majors. High School graduates compete for a total of 57,375 spaces in daytime course options and the so-called “encounter courses” – that is courses where students attend classes. Although there are more places than students for the examinations, much of what is offered is not of interest to young people. The pedagogical and agricultural careers are considered among the worst and students foresee them as a road to sacrifice with low wages and little social recognition.

In a few days, once the results of the tests are published, students may request a requalification process of a review of their scores.

The Spanish examination for University admission will be held on 30 April, and on May 4 that of Cuban history. In the meantime, the repeats for all these tests will take place between June 18 to 24.

Translated by Alberto

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