Under Threats, Parents of Baby Killed by Vaccine Leave Cuba

On October 16th, 2019, Caballero and her husband were summoned, via phone call, to appear on the same day for an appointment at the Public Health Ministry Headquarter in Havana. 

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 6 November 2019 — Yaima Caballero, mother of the 1-year-old baby girl who died last October after receiving a vaccine, decided to leave Cuba to Mexico after receiving threats from the State Security (political police). “They told me I could end up in jail for making unfounded allegations,” she told 14ymedio.

On October 16, 2019, Caballero and her husband, Osmany Domínguez Soler, were summoned via phone call to appear, on the same day, at the Public Health Ministry Headquarters in Havana. Supposedly, the meeting was to give them “updated news” on the investigation about the death of their daughter, Paloma Domínguez Caballero, on October 9th, after receiving the MMR vaccine (mumps, measles and rubella) in a clinic in Alamar, a suburb in Eastern Havana.

Upon their arrival to the appointment, two officers from State Security were waiting for them to warn them about the allegations they had been sharing on social media in the past few weeks. Instead of receiving details about the cause of death of their daughter, the agents urged them to keep it quiet. continue reading

“We were escorted to a huge meeting room with a very strong air conditioning. And no phones allowed,” says Caballero. A while later, the head of the Mother and Infants Department showed up, with Roberto Álvarez Fumero, and three other men who did not identify themselves.

Two of the individuals interrogated the parents about several details of their life and the moments before and after the death of their little girl. After Caballero and her husband repeatedly asked for it, one of the agents identified himself as Lieutenant Colonel Hernández Caballero and the other one, who was wearing the logos from the Ministry of Interior, only shared his last name, Arrebato.

“They asked a million questions, included the date of my very first period and how the nurse held the vaccine vial,” remembers the mother. Outside the building, several family members were waiting for the couple, whom had warned them if “in three hours” you haven’t heard back from us, report the situation right away to the independent press.

“They kept repeating all the time that they knew about our publications on social media,” explains Caballero. The grieving mother was reprimanded for having made “false and grave accusations” in which she said “my daughter was killed, murdered” and that is not how this works, one of the officers told them.

“We are doing our job and that takes time,” one of the agents explained to the parents and repeated to them, in several instances, that “it is a crime to make false allegations against other people and institutions, and those crimes are punished with jail time.” The mother demanded information on how to legally file “a formal complaint or press charges because what happened was a homicide. I don’t know who or what did it, what I do know is that my daughter was killed.”

Before their daughter’s death, the parents had been planning a trip to Mexico. They did not have a final date for it, and Caballero’s passport was expired. “I renewed my passport last Monday and was told it would take 20 days, but after that meeting on Thursday, I received a phone call the following day and was told my passport was ready.

The mother insists she was coerced during that meeting in the Ministry’s Headquarters. “I was threatened that if I continued making unfounded accusations, I would end up in jail. I had to leave the country because I will not be silenced.”

Dr. Roberto Álvarez Fumero, Director of the Maternal-Infant Program at the Public Health Ministry, who was present during the meeting, told El Nuevo Herald that it was a routine interview to gather more information about the baby.

“We asked her about previous immunizations, about the conception, labor and delivery. We spent almost two hours talking technicalities needed for the investigation conducted by the ministry,” said the doctor via phone interview from Havana.

Álvarez Fumero said he could not confirm the attendance of State Security Agents to the interview. “I personally invited the parents to the headquarters, and as far I can remember, it was a cordial interview. The mother was the one who did most of the talking,” added the doctor, who is recovering from a car accident.

Álvarez Fumero reiterated that, due to his own recovery from the accident, he was unable to stay on top of the investigation surrounding Paloma’s death and he still does not know if a final official report has been issued, explaining the baby’s cause of death.

According to the Criminal Code, the crime of “defamation against institutions and organizations” can be construed against anyone who “publicly slanders, denigrates or belittles said institutions, carrying sentences from three months to a year in prison and a fine of $300 Cuban pesos.

While the commission from the Public Health Ministry investigates the cause of death of Paloma Domínguez Caballero and the hospitalization of other four children, experts point out two probable scenarios: a problem or failure in the vaccine’s manufacturing process or a failure to follow the procedures to store the vaccines.

In the first scenario, the responsibility will fall on the world’s largest producer of vaccines, the Serum Institute in India. On the second one, the blame would be on the Cuban side.

Almost a month after her daughter’s death, Yaima Caballero continue to speak out on social media and demand justice.

Translated by: Mailyn S. Cappuccio


The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. You can help crowdfund a current project to develop an in depth multimedia report on dengue fever in Cuba; the goal is modest, only $2,000. Even small donations by a lot of people will add up fast. Thank you!

Cubans Unable to Withdraw Money from Accounts with Foreign Currency

Every day, banks start with long lines of clients interested in opening accounts with the newly legalized magnetic cards to receive deposits in dollars, euros and other foreign currencies. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, November 5th, 2019 — Bank accounts freezing has been implemented in Cuba and not many knew about it. Marta Karla just learned it the hard way when she tried to withdraw $500 US she deposited in her account six months ago, which she was required to do to qualify for a Panama visa at that country’s consulate in Havana.

The resident of Havana, age 38, now must wait three weeks to recover her own money, deposited in Fincimex, the financial branch of the Cuban military conglomerate Cimex.

Hundreds of Cubans are in a similar situation; in the past few days they have tried to withdraw dollars from their bank accounts and they have been met with elusive excuses. “I am being told they have put my name down in a waiting list and they will let me know when they have the money,” said Maria Karla. continue reading

At the Fincimex office located on 3rd Avenue and 6th Street, in the Playa municipality in Havana, an employee confirmed this situation to 14ymedio. “All withdrawals from accounts in foreign currency are delayed because right now we do not have the cash,” she explains. “We have to wait until we are back to having a cash flow in the given foreign currency, then we can start giving the money back to each client that makes the withdrawal request.”

In the middle of the cash flow crisis Cuba is going through, authorities have kicked off a new chain of stores. It is the State’s attempt to pocket the dollars that the “mules” are taking out of the island to acquire merchandise in foreign countries. That outflow of hard currency is also aggravated by the purchases of foreign currency being made by Cubans seeking to emigrate.

In the waiting line at the Fincimex office, José Raúl Pacheco is waiting to withdraw his money and close his bank account, but holds little hope that he’ll go back home that day with his dollars in his pocket. “They told me I have to wait, but I need my money now. A bank’s role is to safe keep our money until we need it, not until whenever they want to return it to me.”

Fincimex is a financial entity that works as an intermediary for the remittances sent to the island, and issues magnetic debit cards that, unlike those cards issued by the state-controlled banks (Popular, Bandec, Metropolitano), can be used in economic transactions anywhere in the world and to make online purchases.

Fincimex deposit accounts are often used by Cubans seeking to emigrate out of the island, as an evidence of their financial self-sufficiency, a common consular requirement prior to issuing a visa, mostly to Panama, Mexico, Colombia and other countries in the region.

After the Cuban government’s announcement last October that the dollar and other foreign currencies will be allowed to legally circulate again on the island, the value of the dollar has increased significantly in the black market, and the value of the “convertible peso” (CUC) has tanked, and there is also an increased demand for the commonly called “verdes” or “fulas” [American dollars].

Within the black market, where “private” or “individual” transactions take place, the dollar value just rose to $1.18 CUC, well above the official exchange rate of $0.95 at the beginning of 2019. This hike has motivated many people like Pacheco to withdraw their dollars from the bank to resell them in the black market. A young man who is set to emigrate to Puerto Rico and wants to bring some money with him is his first client.

“I have saved $900 dollars from a car I sold last year, and part of the payment was in hard currency,” he adds. “I wanted to keep it in the bank because I do not have safe conditions to keep that kind of money in my house, and because at Fincimex I was given a magnetic (debit) card.”

Now Pacheco has learned the hard way that blue card he was issued back then is good for nothing; it cannot be used for purchases in the new hard currency stores being opened all over the island. “To do that, I was told I need to open an account in another bank, or a different account with Fincimex and wait for them to issue me a green card.”

These hurdles pushed Pacheco to make the decision to withdraw all his dollars from Fincimex and resell them to make some additional profit. Although in the official exchange offices (Cadeca) the prices have not changed ($0.87 dollars for $1 CUC) because it is the State-controlled exchange market, those offices do not sell dollars, they only buy them back for the government.

“I have been in several banks in three different municipalities to buy dollars because I have t0 travel this week, to no avail,” explains a woman outside the Metropolitan Bank office on 23rd Ave and J Street in Vedado. “Here the employee told me they only have $30 dollars in the register and I need $70, so I will have to wait and see if they get more (cash) in throughout the day,” she complains.

Since the opening of the new stores operating only in hard currency was announced, more than three weeks ago, every day the banks wake up to long lines of clients waiting to sign up for the new magnetic (debit) card to use with their accounts in dollars, euros and eight other foreign currencies. “I am going to stay out here but I will have to get back in the line later on, to ask again if they have enough dollars to sell me.”

The woman adds that, even though the liquidity of foreign currencies in the banks has decreased in the last few months, “it was already a problem that have been affecting clients for over a year.”

In 2018 she had to “rent” $1000 dollars to use them as financial statement requirement for her older son to apply for a visa, and after he showed the statement in an European consulate, she had to return the money, paying a small fee for the temporary loan of the dollar bills.

The increased demand for the dollar is not only prompted by the opening of the new stores; it is also fueled by the fear of a sudden monetary exchange that would merge both currencies now circulating in the nation: the CUP and the CUC. Hoarding the “verdes” has become the safest alternative for Cubans planning to travel abroad, to open a small business or simply because they want to safeguard their life’s savings.

The decreased in tourism from the United States has also contributed to the scarcity of “the enemy’s currency“, as ironically, dollars are called in the Cuban streets. After the diplomatic rapprochement between Washington and Havana, lots of small private businesses located in high traffic tourist areas started accepting this currency as form of payment.

“The dollar is under a search and rescue (operation),” jokes a young Cuban American outside a Metropolitan Bank office in Linea this past Monday. “Last year when I came to visit my family, nobody wanted to accept my payments with American dollars because they’d lose money at the exchange and today everybody is asking me if I brought fulas.”

Translated by: Mailyn Salabarria Cappuccio


The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. You can help crowdfund a current project to develop an in depth multimedia report on dengue fever in Cuba; the goal is modest, only $2,000. Even small donations by a lot of people will add up fast. Thank you!

Military Aircraft Crashes Near Guira de Melena

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, February 26th, 2019 — Residents from the Güira de Melena municipality, Artemisa Province, witnessed a “mid-air explosion” on Tuesday morning, according to the information posted on Facebook by Artemisa’s newspaper. “Around 11 am, there were reports of sightings of an aircraft on fire and two pilots ejecting from it with parachutes.”

Witnesses said “there were no casualties or injured.” However, there is no information available about the two crewmen.

An official source from the area, contacted via telephone, told us the aircraft involved was a MiG-23 and confirmed it crashed near the town “La Cachimba.” continue reading

In April 2017, in the same province, an AN-26 air force plane crashed against La Pimienta Hill, in the Candelaria Municipality, leaving military crewmen dead.

A video posted by the YouTube channel Conexion Cubanos shows the moment when a group of farmers working in the area and some neighbors run towards a smoke column. On the ground the remains of an aircraft on fire can be clearly seen, and the moment when the firefighters arrive and start to put the flames out with water hoses. The model/type of aircraft cannot be clearly seen. Seconds after, a chopper circling around brings in 3 armed soldiers. Before the video ends, a voice can be heard yelling:”If I see any cell phone on, I will confiscate it.”

The images show the aircraft crashed right next to the structure of an abandoned warehouse without a roof, in what used to be a state managed farming operation. These types of derelict structures are frequently seen in the valley of Güira de Melena, an agricultural area where, in the past, the government also tried to develop cattle and poultry operations.

Last year, a commercial aircraft operated by Cubana de Aviación crashed shortly after take off at José Martí International Airport in Havana. One hundred and twelve died in the crash, including the entire crew. The official report with the causes of the crash of the plane, leased from the Mexican company Global Air, have not been yet published

At the end of 2018, Russia announced a loan of more than 38 million euros to Cuba, earmarked to purchase military equipment. After a meeting between Miguel Díaz-Canel and Vladímir Putin in Moscow, the Kremlin said it was planning to award a loan to Havana to acquire airplanes, helicopters and armored vehicles, among other things.

During the midday newscast, that airs between 1 – 2 pm on the main official TV channel, there was no mention of the incident.

Translated by: Mailyn S. Cappuccio


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